House of Commons
Monday 20 July 2015
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Teaching is an increasingly popular career choice for the best and brightest. Some 73% of graduates starting teacher training hold a 2:1 or above—the highest proportion ever—and last year we recruited 94% of our postgraduate initial teacher training target. We have exceeded our postgraduate recruitment target for primary trainee teachers for 2015-16 and are making good progress with secondary recruitment, but we have more to do to ensure the best graduates enter training.
With only 61% of teacher training places being filled in 2014, with 38% of teachers leaving the profession after one year, with thousands of new teachers never reaching a classroom and with thousands more leaving the profession because of stress and exhaustion, will the Secretary of State acknowledge the crisis in teaching and tell us what she will do about it?
I am afraid that I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s figures. I just said that last year we recruited 94% of our postgraduate initial teacher training target. We also do not recognise the claim that so many teachers are leaving the profession after their first year. In fact, more than 90% are still in the profession after their first year. Of course, we recognise the pressures on teachers, who do a fantastic job up and down the country, which is why I launched the workload survey last year and why we have introduced specific schemes to recruit teachers to specific subjects. In addition, as I mentioned, we are already ahead of our primary teacher target for this year.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for the question. She is absolutely right that the quality of teaching is the most critical factor in determining whether our young people get the best possible education, enabling them to fulfil their potential. As I have said, 73% of graduates starting teacher training hold a 2:1 degree or above, which is the highest proportion ever.
I am afraid that the Secretary of State is completely complacent and in total denial about the teacher recruitment crisis and the teacher training situation. I noticed how she glossed over the secondary figures in her answer and hoped we would not notice. If she will not listen to us—we know she will not—will she listen to headteachers, who consistently report difficulties recruiting teachers, and act now to train and retain more teaching staff?
It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know he is absolutely right: I will not listen to him. However, I do engage with headteachers up and down the country, who tell me about their successes with recruitment, as well as the challenges that remain. As I said, we recognise that there are pressures. As the economy recovers, of course recruitment to something as worthy as teaching will become more of an issue, but that does not mean it is worth talking down the profession, as Labour and the teaching unions sometimes do. The teacher vacancy rate remains as low as 1%, while 90% of those entering teaching are still in the profession after their first year.
Please can we have more former members of the armed forces in our schools? Members of Her Majesty’s armed forces display the very best of British values, so will she look to supercharge the Troops to Teachers programme to get more of these outstanding individuals into our classrooms?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that the skills that those who have served in our armed forces can bring to working with young people in schools up and down the country are enormous. I was delighted some months ago to visit the latest recruits to the Troops to Teachers training scheme in Bristol, all of whom were brilliantly engaged and will be a huge asset to the classroom. Of course, we believe in the military ethos programme, and I have also set aside £50 million to grow the cadet forces in our schools.
Will the Secretary of State recognise that in Northern Ireland we are training more teachers than we need or can use, but to a very high standard? Is she working with the devolved Governments to make sure we maximise the opportunities for everyone in all four countries?
I have not had that conversation with the devolved Government, but I am happy to do so. I think that the hon. Gentleman, like me and all Members, recognises that the quality of teaching is the single most important factor in helping our young people to reach their potential, and I am delighted to hear that things are going so well in Northern Ireland.
Children’s centres play a valuable role in our communities. It is right for local authorities to decide on the nature of provision on the basis of local need. If there is a viable nursery in a children’s centre, of course we will strongly encourage it to help to deliver our manifesto commitment to assist families with the cost of childcare.
In 2010 the Prime Minister said that he backed Sure Start centres, but since then more than 800 have closed, including a number in my constituency. Why are the Government not giving local authorities the necessary resources, so that they can go on helping Sure Start centres to deliver the excellent early-years and childcare provision that we know they can deliver?
I agree that Sure Start centres provide some excellent support for young families. Where we disagree is that the hon. Lady wants to go on counting buildings and we want to focus on outcomes. I hope Opposition Members will join me in welcoming the fact that more than 1 million families are benefiting from Sure Start centres. As for nursery provision, only 3% of Sure Start centres currently offer day care, but we want to ensure that when centres are viable, they can deliver.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question on a key point. There is a lot more that we can do. Last week I announced a consultation on how we can incorporate other types of service in children’s centres, and I should very much like to discuss with my hon. Friend how family hubs might be part of that.
In proceeding with their plans to expand the provision of free childcare in Scotland, the Scottish Government have stressed the importance of high-quality early learning to giving our children the very best start in life. Does the Minister agree that access to free childcare is vital to tackling social and educational inequalities early in life, and will he explain how the United Kingdom Government intend to support those aims through their expansion of free childcare to 30 hours a week?
Obviously I agree with the hon. Lady, and that is why, the last Government having introduced 15 hours a week of free childcare for two-year-olds, we are extending free childcare provision to three and four-year-olds, raising the quality of childcare, and making it affordable for parents.
The Scottish Government have announced plans to extend free childcare to 30 hours a week for all three and four-year-olds. As the Minister will know, that is more ambitious than his plans to extend provision only to families in which both parents work. Does he not recognise that by restricting free childcare in that way, the UK Government are missing an opportunity to tackle inequalities by targeting early-learning provision at more disadvantaged families?
Our plan to give 30 hours a week of free childcare to working parents of three and four-year-olds would apply to 75% of children. The difference between our position and that of the Scottish Government is our belief that enabling parents to work provides them with the best route out of poverty. As well as offering free childcare, we are subsidising some of the poorest parents by means of universal credit, thus meeting 85% of their childcare costs.[Official Report, 21 July 2015, Vol. 598, c. 3MC.]
23. Given that parents will use the 30 hours for full day care, what consideration has been given to the fact that the children will now need to be fed during that time, and what additional training and funds, if any, are being provided to facilitate that? (901108)
Removal of the childcare duty from children’s centres and savage early intervention cuts of 56% have stretched children’s services to breaking point. Holiday childcare costs have risen by 25% since 2010, and almost 90% of local authorities do not have enough space to meet summer demand. Will the Minister now commit to investing in children’s centres to help solve this problem as free entitlement is expanded?
I am happy to compare our record on supporting young families with that of Labour any time. Let me remind the hon. Lady of what the National Audit Office said about Labour and Sure Start: it said it was unviable, underfunded and failing to reduce inequality. Under the Conservatives, two thirds of all disadvantaged children under the age of five are benefiting from Sure Start centres.
Free schools are helping to raise academic standards and tackle disadvantage, ensuring social justice is at the heart of our education reform programme. Over 250 free schools have opened since 2010, and our manifesto commits us to at least 500 more during this Parliament. By 2020, free schools will have created over 400,000 new school places.
The only restriction that applies to the establishment of new free schools is that there must be demand and need for those free school places. That is our policy. I would be interested to know the policy of the UK Independence party, and indeed Labour, on free schools.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We need local authorities to be co-operative and to work with us to identify sites for free schools. This is an important way of improving the quality of schools and the number of school places, and we expect local authorities to work with us to identify suitable sites.
Does the Minister share my concern about the standards in these free schools? Is he concerned that they might not actually provide the improvement in the quality of education that the Government claim, and can he point to any evidence that free schools have improved the standard of education in any areas where they have opened?
Our education reforms are giving every child, regardless of background, a strong academic grounding and rigorous education. Through the pupil premium—a 2010 Conservative party manifesto commitment—we have invested an extra £6.25 billion in schools so all pupils can fulfil their academic potential. Disadvantaged pupil attainment is increasing and the gap between them and their peers is closing.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. According to some estimates, one in five children is living in child poverty in my constituency. Many of my local schools are, however, doing a fantastic job of giving local children on the pupil premium equal opportunities. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the introduction of the pupil premium by this Government is improving outcomes for these children?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and can confirm that the pupil premium is having an impact. It is right that the most disadvantaged pupils are supported by targeted funding, which is why we will continue to provide the £2.5 billion pupil premium this year and have made a commitment to it in our manifesto. This is down to excellent schools, such as St Gregory’s Catholic college in Bath, using the best evidence-based strategies to transform their pupils’ life chances.
The Russett school in Weaver Vale is a special educational needs school that has been rated outstanding by Ofsted. It is to become a special multi-academy trust in September. What will my right hon. Friend do to encourage further outstanding SEN schools to become leading sponsors and mentors for similar schools?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am keen to encourage more special schools to become academies and, like the Russett school, set up multi-academy trusts to support not only other special schools but mainstream schools. We have had great success, with 146 special schools converting. Regional schools commissioners have responsibility for supporting schools to become academies, and I know they will strongly encourage further special schools to convert.
In the previous Parliament a number of Ministers accepted evidence from the Education Committee that a better measure than free school meals might be parental attainment, when trying to support disadvantaged children. Will the Secretary of State look at that measure and see if it is a better way of targeting resources at those children who most need the support of Government?
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his question. My understanding is that the measure he suggests does not necessarily tell us anything more than the free school meals measure does, but he, like me, wants the best for all disadvantaged pupils in the system, and to ensure that the funding is spent most effectively, not only helping those pupils to close the gap with their peers but ensuring that the brightest and best get right ahead.
How will the Minister broaden opportunities for disadvantaged students and pupils in school, particularly primary school children, given that there are proposals in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which will be discussed later today, to eradicate various measures of child poverty?
I understand that there will be a debate on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill later today in the House, but the important point that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions made in his statement to the House was that just measuring an income target does not solve issues of disadvantage, one of which is educational attainment, and children from disadvantaged backgrounds not making the grade in basic skills such as reading and writing. Following spending on the pupil premium, we have seen the attainment in reading, writing and maths of disadvantaged pupils aged 11 increase by five percentage points since 2012.
Special Educational Needs and Autism
Many pupils with special educational needs, including autism, are currently assessed using P scales or national curriculum levels. We are changing statutory assessment to align it with the reformed national curriculum. That includes the removal of levels. We have announced an expert review of assessment for pupils who, for many reasons, are working below the standard of national curriculum tests. The review will advise on the best way to assess the attainment and progress of those pupils in future.
Schools such as Milton Park primary, where I am a governor and which has autism provision, have to include those children’s results in national league tables. I am pleased that the Government’s focus is on progress, but the results of children with special educational needs often bring down the attainment grade, and that can lead to a belief that a school is coasting—or, worse, failing. Does the Minister agree that until a separate method of recording for children with special needs is implemented, some good schools that have a large proportion of children with special needs might be put into those categories?
It is of course important that schools be held to account for all their pupils, and although I concur wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend’s desire to see all pupils, including those with special educational needs, reach their full academic potential, we need to acknowledge that a separate system for pupils with SEN would be at odds with the principles of inclusion and would fail to recognise that those pupils span the full range of abilities. Those matters will be looked at closely in the coming months by the expert review panel—something that I know she will want to follow, so as to ensure that it incorporates her views.
The Minister will be aware that children with special educational needs have a range of needs. Will he detail his Department’s plans to ensure that sport is available to all pupils and, in particular, describe his plans to ensure that classroom assistants are available to support the needs of all children?
One of the core principles of our reforms to special educational needs is making sure that every aspect of the system, whether it be education, health or social care, is working relentlessly to a single assessment of and plan for the child, so that we have a whole-school and whole-system approach—and a nought-to-25 system as well. It will mean that we move away from different parts of a child’s educational experience being truncated and re-started as they move to the next part. We are working hard to make sure that support is consistent, and we are building on great programmes such as Achievement for All, in which we have had excellent results.
I am sure the Minister will be aware of the impressive claims made about the benefits of applied behavioural analysis for the treatment of those with autism. Does he have any plans to support research into the efficacy of that therapy?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have supported research into and evidence on not only the condition of autism, but how it can best be supported in schools and more widely through a child’s education. We have funded the National Autistic Society to that end, and we will continue to look at ways in which we can support it and other organisations that are working hard in this area in the future. We know that specific types of interventions, some of which have come from overseas, need to be properly and rigorously assessed. As I understand it, the one he mentions may fall into that category, but of course I am happy to discuss it with him as we move forward.
Departmental Board (Gender Balance)
6. Whether it is her Department’s policy to ensure gender balance on its departmental board. (901091)
It is essential that we increase women’s representation across all areas of life, including UK boardrooms. I want my Department’s board to be as representative as possible. My one DFE board appointment so far as Secretary of State has been a woman—the excellent Marion Plant. We must, however, go further to make sure that women are represented in public bodies across the UK.
Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) exposed the Government’s appalling record on this issue, revealing that only 68 of a total of 200 members of departmental boards are women, with only two women on the Secretary of State’s own board. Will she agree to seek an urgent meeting with Scotland’s First Minister to learn from her of the Scottish Government’s success in not only achieving a gender-balanced departmental board, but making the Scottish Cabinet one of only three gender-balanced Cabinets in the world?
I thank the hon. Lady for that very tempting invitation. I look forward to meeting the First Minister to discuss a number of things, and this issue would certainly be one of them. May I gently point out to the hon. Lady that there are actually three women on the DFE board, because I sit on it, too?
The Secretary of State is also the Minister for Women and Equalities. Is she embarrassed at the lack of gender balance on the DFE’s board? Can she explain what steps she will take to rectify this situation, which does nothing to advance the cause of women or equalities?
Obviously, I refer the hon. and learned Lady to the exchange that we have just had. I certainly would like to see more women on all departmental boards, just as we have now seen that there are no all-male FTSE 100 boards—indeed, they have reached the 25% target. As she mentioned my other ministerial responsibilities, I might point out to her that the equalities board that has been set up has three men and eight women on it, so we are doing better in the equalities Department.
In this important issue it is not just the departmental boards that are important, but the senior ranks of the civil service. What progress has my right hon. Friend made, if any, on ensuring that there are more female senior civil servants in her Department?
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that question. He is absolutely right in what he says, and we have been talking about the executive pipeline. I am pleased to say that 45% of the DFE’s senior civil service are women, and 42% of our most senior management posts are held by women.
Subject Knowledge Enhancement Courses (Chemistry)
Thank you, Mr Speaker Bercow.
Subject knowledge enhancement courses allow trainee teachers to build on their existing knowledge to enable them to teach their chosen subject. We have reformed the programme so that the courses can now be delivered by schools and universities, and we are promoting the courses through the successful “Get into Teaching” marketing campaign. The additional training is free of charge and most participants also receive a bursary. New chemistry trainees are also eligible for a bursary of up to £25,000 in 2015-16.
The teacher supply model takes into account the national position. There will, of course, always be areas of the country that find it more challenging to recruit than others, particularly rural areas or some coastal areas. We are also faced with the challenge of a strong economy. If you really want to make recruiting graduates into teaching easier, you need a weak and stagnant economy, with low growth, recession and high levels of unemployment, but for that you need a Labour Government.
Statistics published earlier this month show that teacher retention has remained broadly stable for a number of years. Eighty seven per cent of teachers who qualified in 2013 were teaching a year later; this figure has remained roughly constant in each year since 2005. Seventy seven per cent of teachers who qualified in 2011 were still teaching three years later; and 60% of teachers remain in the classroom 10 years after qualifying.
Various recent polls have shown that up to 68% of teachers have considered leaving the profession altogether in the next 12 months. In my constituency, the prohibitive cost of housing contributes to that figure. Heads say that that prevents teachers from staying beyond their initial teacher training. What steps will the Department take to head off the coming teacher crisis in London?
I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s figures. Our figures show that 52% of those who qualified in 1996 are still teaching 18 years later. We are doing an enormous amount to encourage teachers to stay in the profession and graduates to come into the profession. We are tackling the workload problem and poor behaviour in schools and we are improving teacher training.
We hear a lot of noise from the Opposition about how there is a so-called crisis in teacher recruitment. Will the Minister put things into perspective by explaining to the House the comparison between the number of people joining the teaching profession compared with that of those leaving the profession over the past decade?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. So far this year, for example, we have received 24,000 acceptances on to teaching training programmes at universities and schools. That is marginally ahead of where we were this time last year. We have exceeded targets for primary school trainees and for history and PE teachers, and we are ahead on acceptances for maths, physics, chemistry and design and technology compared with this time last year. We do not underestimate the challenges, but those are the challenges that come from a strong economy, and I would rather have that than a weak economy.
I should declare that I am an unpaid member of the London borough of Redbridge and a member of the governing body of Grove primary school in Chadwell Heath. Just last week, both Labour and Conservative councillors expressed concern about the school places crisis in Redbridge. Given that we have one of the fastest growing populations in London, what assurance can the Minister give us that we will receive the funding necessary for additional schools and school places and that there will be the teachers there to staff them?
The hon. Gentleman was not here under the previous Labour Government when they cut 200,000 primary school places in the middle of a baby boom. One of the first decisions that we had to take in 2010 was to double the amount of spending on creating more school places. Some £5 billion was spent in the previous Parliament and £7 billion will be spent in this one.
13. What progress her Department is making on providing fairer funding for schools. (901098)
It is deeply unfair that we have a schools funding formula based on historic allocation rather than on actual need of schools and pupils. That is why the manifesto confirmed extra financial support for the least well-funded authorities for 2015-16, protected the schools budget in real terms and committed to making the system fairer. I can confirm that we will be putting proposals before the House for funding reform in due course.
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend’s answer and hope that he can continue to make progress for the students in my constituency. Will he comment on the recent National Audit Office report that recommended a fairer formula so that pupils receive funding that is related
“more closely to their needs, and less affected by where they live”?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is unfair that a primary pupil eligible for free school meals in Richmond receives £472 extra funding while a similar student in another part of Yorkshire receives almost £300 more. That is why we recently announced that the schools block funding rates for 2016-17 have been baked in the extra funding that we distributed in the last financial year to make funding fairer.
I know the f40 group, of which my hon. Friend is a member, has been campaigning for 19 years for a fairer funding formula, so I can understand his impatience. He is right to highlight the financial pressures that schools are under, especially those in underfunded parts of the country; this is one of the reasons why we are committed to fairer funding. As I said, we have protected per pupil funding in each authority from 2015-16, meeting the commitment to protect the national schools budget.
The Minister will be aware that Blackpool has among the lowest educational attainment in the country. What more, besides the hugely valuable pupil premium and the extra funding for nursery schools, can the Government do to increase attainment among white working-class children in seaside resorts—currently the weakest demographic in the country?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know he has a record of successful campaigning for schools funding. He is right to mention the pupil premium, which is designed to remove the barriers to learning faced by children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The pupil premium will provide almost £5 million in additional funding for more than 4,000 disadvantaged pupils—that is all disadvantaged children, not just white children—in Blackpool North and Cleveleys, and will help them to fulfil their potential.
Following on from the previous question, 3,000 disadvantaged children in my Banbury constituency also benefit from the pupil premium. What other measures has the Minister thought about to promote targeted spending, to help to increase fairness in education?
I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. She may know that her father, Lord Boswell, was extremely generous in his support to me in my early political career— indeed, he helped me to meet my wife—[Interruption.] Too much information. My hon. Friend rightly mentions targeted support. Some £3.5 million has been allocated to Banbury schools specifically to help to narrow the education gap.
I think we are clear that the noble Lord is a great man. He is also, famously, the author of the advice: don’t let the best be the enemy of the good. You can put a monkey on a typewriter and end up with the collected works of Shakespeare, but we will all be dead by then.
The Minister will know that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has previously raised concerns about the potential impact of a national funding formula on poorer, more disadvantaged parts of England. Although a new formula will certainly help schools in the Stockport part of my constituency, which are disadvantaged by the current arrangements, can the Minister guarantee that there will be no inadvertent impact on schools in the Tameside part of my constituency, which is a poorer borough overall?
Let me be clear: our commitment is to a fairer funding formula for schools. It is not right that schools in Tower Hamlets receive 63% more funding than schools in Barnsley with the same demographic profile. We have to do something about that, but we must take our time to get it right. We will consult widely, and I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will support us in this effort.
Figures from the Department show that per pupil funding for St Helens will be more than £150 less than the average across England this year. In addition, our local authority is being asked to take a further £23 million from its budget in the same period. Will the Minister listen to the concerns of staff in schools in my constituency, who tell me that their ability to teach and support children is being hindered and not helped by this Government and their policies?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have protected schools funding in real terms. If schools in his area are getting less funding, perhaps he should be speaking to the local authority, in particular the schools forums, to understand what exactly is going on.
This is a key issue, which is one of the reasons why the Education Committee will also be conducting an inquiry on the subject, but does the Minister agree that if we reform funding, we will answer the National Audit Office’s firm criticism of the system that it does not make sense for the pupil premium in some areas?
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee. The point he makes is, I believe, that some areas are receiving, in effect, double deprivation funding: they are receiving it both through the schools formula and through the pupil premium. We will look at the funding formula in the round to address all those issues.
Mental Wellbeing (Children)
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in an interview with The Times earlier this month, we want children to do well academically, and their attainment is supported if they have good mental health, character and resilience—something that good schools know well. To support schools, we have funded PSHE Association guidance and lesson plans on mental health, and we have worked with experts to provide advice on good school-based counselling, together with £1.5 million to pilot training to improve joint working across schools and specialist mental health services.
It is worrying to hear more in recent months about young people’s concerns about mental health issues, particularly the growing pressure they feel as a result of social media. I welcome the Government’s “Future in mind” report and its conclusions, but what steps are the Government taking to clarify responsibilities across public services and give schools extra support to ensure that we improve mental health outcomes for young people?
I want first, as a fellow Cheshire Member of Parliament, to add my voice to those who have already expressed their deep shock at the devastating events in Bosley in my hon. Friend’s constituency of Macclesfield on Friday and over the weekend. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in letting the families know that we are thinking of them.
Our joint working pilots will test single points of contact in child and adolescent mental health services to help schools understand mental health support. To clarify responsibilities, “Future in mind” recommended local transformation plans for every area. To that end, we have worked with NHS England on the guidance—it will go out shortly—which will require clinical commissioning groups to work with health and wellbeing boards, schools, colleges and local authorities to develop a clear and comprehensive offer of mental health support locally.
It is good that the Government are putting forward such measures, but has the Minister seen the report out today suggesting that the No. 1 concern of headteachers is mental health? Has he seen how emergency psychiatric admissions have doubled in only four years? Does he accept that there is a mental health crisis in our schools, and will he resolve to do more if the measures that he has put forward are not effective in the coming months and years?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the profile of this issue. We have to come to terms with the scale of the problem we are facing. I think that we are starting to wake up to that, but more action is required. For example, for the first time we now have a category of mental health for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and the CAMHS taskforce has done a great job in trying to understand how we can get a better level of identification, prevention and whole-service delivery so that children of all ages who, through no fault of their own, suffer from different levels of mental health problems get support when they need it, because the last thing we want is for that to affect not only their education chances, but their chances of having a successful and fulfilling life.
Access to Local Schools
It was recently reported that 82% of schools are now rated good or outstanding, which is the highest proportion ever, and we know that 1 million more pupils are in schools rated good or outstanding. But there is more to do, which is why our Education and Adoption Bill will allow us to intervene faster in failing schools and tackle coasting schools that are not supporting pupils to reach their full potential.
Two schools in Horncastle are working together in a truly innovative way, sharing their expertise under the Horncastle umbrella trust. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Banovallum school, a non-selective academy, and Queen Elizabeth grammar school, a selective academy, on their efforts to work together for the benefit of local children, and will she visit them with me?
I always manage to fill up my diary after Question Time. I would, of course, be delighted to visit those schools with my hon. Friend. I welcome the fact that the non-selective Banovallum school and Queen Elizabeth grammar school in Horncastle are forming a joint academy trust. Collaboration is an important part of the academies programme, and we know that academies and other schools are working together up and down the country, providing challenge and support and sharing best practice and resources.
There are insufficient school places at the secondary level in Wharfedale, which affects both my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins). This is a problem that Bradford council does not seem to care about, focusing instead on its Labour heartlands. May I encourage the Secretary of State to get her officials to look specifically at Wharfedale and provide funding for the school places that my constituents need to ensure that they can go to a good local school?
As we have heard, this Government are going to invest £7 billion in this Parliament until 2021 to create more good school places. I encourage my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) to consider whether an application for a free school might also be in order so that parents and others are in charge of providing more good school places locally.
Department for Education (Living Wage)
16. What assessment her Department has made of the potential effect on its staff of it becoming an accredited living wage employer. (901101)
My Department has no directly employed staff paid below the living wage, and from the end of August 2015 all agency staff should receive at least the living wage. I have commissioned the Department’s head of property to review how the living wage can be paid to subcontracted support staff by the end of this calendar year.
I welcome those assurances and hope that other Ministers and Secretaries of State will take note. Is the Secretary of State aware of how many direct or indirect employees of her Department have to rely on state welfare benefits to top up their wages at the end of the week?
I do not have those figures to hand. I am happy to ask, although it could be regarded as quite intrusive to ask members of staff about their personal financial situation. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which is reflected in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s recent Budget: we want people who are working to receive the right wage for their work and not to be reliant on state hand-outs.
Given that we are at the end of the academic year, this is the right time to thank all teachers and all staff working in schools and educational establishments up and down the country for their hard work in this academic year. I am sure all Members will want to wish all pupils who have taken exams this summer and who are nervously waiting for their results the very best of luck when those results are received.
The Government are investing in making it easier for schools to equip themselves with defibrillators. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in addition to contributing to the safety of staff and pupils, this is an excellent way for pupils to learn about first aid and to increase awareness of health problems, as well as being a practical incentive?
I know just how important this is from my own constituency experience and the work of the Joe Humphries Memorial Trust. My Department is encouraging schools to purchase automated external defibrillators as part of their first aid equipment. New arrangements to make these life-saving devices more affordable were launched in November last year as a result of collaboration with the Department of Health. We might make a special arrangement for the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, who said last week that his party’s leadership debate needed shock treatment with a form of defibrillator.
It is Stoke-on-Trent Central.
I join the Secretary of State in thanking teachers and headteachers for all their hard work this academic year and wish pupils the best of luck with their exams. Last week Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools warned of serious safeguarding concerns resulting from inadequate systems for tracking in-year transfers of pupils. There are 350 cases where the destinations of pupils were not clearly recorded. Will the Secretary of State confirm that she has confidence in the system for reporting and tracking in-year transfers, and is entirely satisfied with the regulations as they relate to faith-based independent schools?
I am grateful to the chief inspector for raising these issues. These are concerning matters. That is why we are going to amend the current regulations on the information that schools collect when a pupil is taken off the register, to make it easier for local authorities to identify children who are missing education. We are also stressing the importance of schools and colleges following their existing procedures for dealing with children who go missing from education, particularly on repeat occasions. If we need to do more, we will do more.
Does that mean that for the purpose of ensuring the safeguarding of children the Secretary of State is no longer happy with generic descriptions such as “moved abroad”? Are those the regulations she will be changing? As we enter summer there is a risk that more young people could be drawn to travel abroad to Syria. The Labour party welcomes the Prime Minister’s announcements on children’s passports this morning, but what discussions has the right hon. Lady had with the Home Secretary and the Communities and Local Government Secretary about preventing young people from travelling to Syria? What actions are being taken by Ministers across Whitehall Departments to mitigate this risk to young people over the school holiday period?
I have had extensive discussions with fellow members of the Cabinet, including the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, on those important issues. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that this is a difficult time of year, in relation both to young people who might go abroad to places such as Syria, and in particular to vulnerable girls, who may be persuaded to undertake some sort of forced marriage or female genital mutilation. We will take—and, indeed, have taken—action by issuing guidance to schools and working with other authorities to ensure that we know where young people are and that we work with parents and communities to make sure that they are not going abroad unnecessarily.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Government place phonics at the heart of the early teaching of reading, and that is reflected in the new national curriculum. The coalition Government provided £23 million in match funding to more than 14,000 primary schools to boost the quality of phonics teaching. In 2012, we introduced a phonics screening check to identify those children still struggling with reading. Three years on from its introduction, the screening check shows that over 100,000 more six-year-olds are on track to becoming confident readers.
I am told that, having forced schools across the country to become academies, the Department now finds that the bureaucratic oversight is too difficult and is trying to force them all to become part of large academy chains. That may work for normal schools, but it is very difficult for studio schools and university technical colleges. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there is no truth in that rumour and that there is no pressure on schools to join academy chains?
I do not know where the hon. Lady has got that from. Being part of a chain and having that support can offer advantages to schools, but the whole point about the self-improving, school-led system that my Department oversees is that it is exactly that: school led. It is for schools, governors, heads and teachers to make decisions about the way in which the schools are run.
T3. We have spoken an awful lot today about fairer funding, and I welcome the extra £390 million that came my way, to Cambridgeshire, last year, and the fact that it will be consolidated for next year. We have talked about consultation to understand the best process for moving forward. Will the Minister or one of his representatives join me on 21 August, when I will host a meeting with key stakeholders, headteachers and Ofsted representatives in South Cambridgeshire to discuss why our schools still need more? (901078)
I note my hon. Friend’s invitation on 21 August, which I sadly cannot accept because I will be on my summer holiday. However, I welcome the invitation and will be delighted to meet those representatives on another occasion.
On every educational and efficiency measure, sixth-form colleges outperform all other sixth-form providers. When will the Government treat sixth-form colleges fairly in taxation terms and take steps to establish many more sixth-form colleges throughout the country?
Mr Speaker, as you know, I am a shy and retiring type, so I was only too happy to remain unheard on the Front Bench.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s questions. He is right that sixth-form colleges make strong arguments on this matter, but the blunt truth is that extending the same VAT provisions to them would cost the Chancellor £30 million every year, and those sorts of decisions will be considered in the spending review. However, the arguments that sixth-form colleges have made have been heard loud and clear.
T4. I, too, hope that the Minister has overcome his shyness because this question is also coming his way. Colleges in my constituency complain about in-year cuts to funding and the lack of a three-year funding programme. What representations are being made for a three-year settlement for 16-to-19 education so that colleges can plan for the future rather than having to deal with sudden crises? (901079)
I hope that my hon. Friend therefore welcomes the fact that 16-to-19 funding allocations to further education colleges, sixth-form colleges and similar have been confirmed and are not targets for in-year cuts this year. The allocations that were announced in March have been maintained for this year. He is right to point out that the ability to plan ahead makes life much easier for any organisation, and I will certainly take into discussions on the spending review that argument about the value of stability.
Landhead primary school in Ballymoney in my constituency was one of the recent winners of the national flag display to celebrate Magna Carta. There was a celebration here in Parliament square and at Runnymede. Now that the celebrations are starting to draw to a close, what are the Government’s long-term proposals to ensure that Magna Carta and, indeed, the celebration and support of Parliament continues to be part of the education process?
I congratulate that primary school on taking part in the important celebration of Magna Carta. We have reformed the curriculum, both at primary and secondary school, to ensure that it is more knowledge-based, particularly in history. That will ensure that future school leavers will understand and know more about our important British history.
T5. The latest figures on the dedicated school grant for 2015-16 show that pupils in my urban Torbay constituency receive significantly less per pupil than their counterparts in other urban areas such as Nottingham. What steps will the Secretary of State be taking to address that funding imbalance, as highlighted by the Campaign for Fairer Funding in Education, or f40? (901080)
That is yet another clear example of why the school funding system needs to be reformed. Torbay receives £1,530 extra for each pupil on free school meals, while schools in other parts of the country can receive £5,000. However, as a result of last week’s announcement, Torbay will receive an additional £1.52 million and will continue to receive that funding because of the £390 million being baked into the school formula.
T6. I recently joined pupils at Paddox primary school in Rugby for a class in their outdoor forest school, and the school recently made a successful bid to the Aviva community fund for permanent structures that will enable students to use it all year round. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to encourage other schools to follow Paddox primary’s lead on outdoor learning? (901081)
My hon. Friend brings a whole new perspective to the issue of school building design—a very in-tents form of education. Paddox primary school is, of course, an outstanding school and the Government’s approach is to give such schools the freedom to make such decisions, particularly if they believe it will help children to learn their multiplication tables.
Primary schools in Brent regularly have classes of 29 children with 21 different mother tongues. How is it possible that a fairer funding formula can discount against such schools relative to others that do not labour under such difficulties?
Surely a review of provision in an area ought to include all provision in that area, so why, in their publication “Reviewing post-16 Education and Training Institutions”, are the Government not including all provision, such as schools, UTCs and so on?
T8. Children in Kingston and Surbiton perform above the national average in speech and language at age five. However, the poorest children are still almost twice as likely to fall behind later in their education, despite the best efforts of their teachers. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is evidence that high-quality early education, linked to the presence of well-qualified staff in the early years, has a positive impact on speech and language development for the poorest children? (901084)
Apparently, the Minister has questioned the value of free school meals for young children. Has he read the excellent evaluation of the universal free school meals pilot in County Durham, and if not, shall I send him a copy?
T9. Is the Secretary of State aware that many schools in Norfolk, particularly in Norwich and King’s Lynn, are doing a huge amount to help children with special needs to be integrated into the mainstream? However, the statementing process still takes far too long. What does she propose to do about it? (901085)
I commend the schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which provide some outstanding education for children with special educational needs. We brought about comprehensive reforms to the special educational needs system because the statementing process was not centred around the family, took too long and did not necessarily embed the quality of assessment that we need. We have moved to education, health and care plans—a single assessment involving education, health and social care services—so that the child and their family get a truly comprehensive support service to enable the child to achieve their academic potential.
I apologise for the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), the Minister with responsibility for public health, cannot be here to respond to this urgent question. She is returning from an international tobacco control summit, which she attended at the request of the French Government, and could not be back in time.
In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, thousands of patients contracted HIV, hepatitis C or both infections from NHS-supplied blood or blood products. This is rightly described by many as one of the great tragedies of modern healthcare. I would like to start by echoing the apology made by the Prime Minister in March and to say, on behalf of this Government, how sorry we are for what happened.
Since 1988, five ex-gratia support schemes have been set up to support those affected. While the current schemes of financial support have made a significant difference to the lives of many beneficiaries, we acknowledge that many people remain unhappy with the current system of support. I also know that many will have anticipated a more comprehensive statement on progress.
Ministers have listened to many of the criticisms of the current schemes. This is a very difficult issue, and many different voices on this matter will need to be taken into consideration in the context of the spending review. We then plan to give individuals affected by scheme reform the opportunity to express their views via a public consultation. That has never been done before in the history of the schemes.
The four UK Health Departments have been working together closely on this matter and will continue to do so. As a result of the direct links established between the Scottish Government and patient groups in Scotland following the publication of the Penrose inquiry, the Scottish Government are undertaking their own consultation with patient groups in Scotland. We look forward to seeing the results of that activity. When we launch our consultation later this year, we will continue to work with Scotland. That will enable all four countries to share their learning and therefore have far more robust information to inform the shape of any future reformed scheme.
As was previously announced, up to £25 million was allocated to support the transition to a reformed scheme. I confirm that we do not intend to use that for the administrative costs that might be associated with reforming the existing schemes. We expect to announce our plans for that money in the light of the consultation and once we have an understanding of how a new scheme might be structured. We intend to consult on proposals for a reformed scheme later this year.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I am mindful that I have just two minutes to deal with 30 years of injustice in this case. Members will know that this is the worst treatment scandal in the history of the NHS.
On 14 January, the all-party parliamentary group on haemophilia and contaminated blood published a report about how the current support is wholly inadequate. After the publication of the Penrose report on 25 March, the Prime Minister told the House that
“it is vital that we move as soon as possible to improve the way that payments are made to those infected”.
“if I am Prime Minister in May, we will respond to the findings of this report as a matter of priority.”—[Official Report, 25 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 1423.]
On 3 June, the Prime Minister promised
“a full statement…before the summer recess”.—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 584.]
At 2 pm last Friday, a written statement was laid in the other place. In short, it means no extra help for victims for at least two more years. Tabling it in the other place when the Commons was not sitting was very shabby indeed.
I have four specific questions. First, when will we see a timetable for consultation on a reformed scheme of compensation? Will any of the £25 million be spent in 2015-16, as was promised by the Prime Minister?
Secondly, two years ago the Government sold an 80% stake in Plasma Resources UK, the company that creates plasma products for the NHS, to Bain Capital for £200 million. Was that capital receipt ring-fenced to compensate those affected by contaminated blood? If not, why not?
Thirdly, on 2 June the Secretary of State for Health wrote to one of his own constituents:
“Any additional resources found for a settlement will be taken away from money spent on direct patient care for patients in the NHS.”
Is that really the Government’s intention? Will the Minister comment on the starkly different approach the Government took in compensating Equitable Life victims?
Fourthly, there are now drugs available that would allow people like my constituent Glen Wilkinson to clear hepatitis C, but they are not available automatically on the NHS. The NHS gave him the infection and the NHS could now treat him. Where is the justice in withholding those drugs?
I cannot overstate the feelings of anguish that have been caused by the Government’s conduct in recent days. Many victims feel that they are being left to die in misery so that the costs of any eventual settlement scheme become more affordable. Before the election, the Prime Minister promised urgent action. Now is the time to deliver.
The hon. Lady has been a doughty campaigner on this issue for many years, along with others. I have a constituent who has been affected by this appalling tragedy. I know that many Members come to the House with similar experiences of talking to their constituents, so I understand the issues that she has raised today.
The hon. Lady is right to say that there is a long history behind this appalling series of events. We are seeking to address that now in the consultation that we are about to take forward. We are moving with some speed, compared with what has happened before. We had the Penrose report; then the election intervened, as she will understand, but it was one of the first items on the agenda that I was party to on returning to the Department of Health after the election. We are moving at speed to construct a consultation that will take into account the views, feelings and wishes of the beneficiaries for the first time ever, so that we hear their personal stories and give them a voice in a way that they feel has not happened so far.
The hon. Lady has rightly identified that there is a monetary implication. This matter has to be considered within the bounds of the spending review—it could not be otherwise—and it will come within the parameters of the Department of Health budget.
The hon. Lady asked about the timetable. The £25 million identified by the Prime Minister has been identified for this financial year. Should it not be allocated this year, it will be rolled over to the next year, so it will not fall if it is not spent. She also asked about the compensation fund, and I shall return to her with a written reply on that. She correctly made the point that some people will feel that time is running out and that they need a resolution quickly. That is why, within a few months, we intend to launch a consultation that we want to be completed very quickly—preferably within eight weeks, but should beneficiaries prefer, within 12 weeks. We will then launch the revised parameters of the schemes by the end of the year. We are moving quickly, and we intend those provisions to be in place so that people can feel the benefit, and feel that their voice is being heard and reflected in the changes that the Government have made, fulfilling their promises to do so.
May I save the Government the time of the consultation by referring them to the report issued earlier this year by the all-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, which I co-chair with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson)? It made three recommendations: first, we need to make trusts and funds operate for the beneficiaries; secondly, we need a full and frank apology; and, thirdly, we need a full financial settlement for the victims. The victims are dying. Let us not wait any longer.
My hon. Friend is right to say that action needs to be taken. He will understand why, if we are to do the right job for victims and the beneficiaries of previous schemes, we must do so in a considered way and with speed, but it must be a proper process. Large amounts of public money are involved, and we must also ensure fairness to those people who have suffered as a result of this terrible series of events. I hope my hon. Friend will understand why we will undertake a consultation, even though it will be short. That does not preclude beneficiaries coming forward now with their views about what should be changed in the existing schemes to ensure fairness and equity in the schemes that supersede them.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) who has been tireless in pursuit of answers for the victims of contaminated blood. Her powerful words today will have spoken for many people across the country.
This scandal is one of the worst injustices this country has seen. Thousands died, and thousands of families were destroyed through the negligence of public bodies. For years, the response from Governments of all colours to the victims could be described at best as grudging, and at worst as dismissive, and it falls to this Parliament to resolve today to end this injustice once and for all.
The Prime Minister’s apology in March marked an important moment on the journey for justice, and we welcomed his commitment to respond to the Penrose report
“as a matter of priority.”
We do not doubt the sincerity of that commitment, but does the Minister understand the disappointment that people felt when instead of the promised full statement, a written statement was released at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon, which failed to answer the key questions? The Minister failed to set a clear timetable for when the £25 million promised by the Prime Minister will be made available to those currently receiving support, and I think I heard him imply that it might go into the next financial year of 2016-17. May I press him further? Will he work to ensure that the funding is made available to victims this year, as I think that is what people want to hear from him today?
On disclosure, I welcome the fact that the Government have committed to releasing additional documents, but does the Minister accept that alongside that release we need a process to help families understand those documents and finally to get to the full truth of what went wrong? Will he commit, at the very least, to a panel on the Hillsborough model, or to a public inquiry, to provide a full commentary on the extent to which disclosure on this matter would add to public understanding of the scandal?
Finally, although no amount of money can ever fully make up for what happened, we owe those still living with the consequences the dignity of a lasting settlement. People will therefore be disappointed that any decisions on future support appear to have been postponed until the spending review. Will the Minister put a timeframe on when the Government will make their next statement about a full and final settlement? Given the widespread concerns about current arrangements, does he acknowledge that the longer this goes on, the longer we leave in place a system that is not working and leaves victims going cap in hand for support, which only adds to their sense of injustice?
We congratulate the Government on their progress in recent months, but now is the time for a resolution. This injustice has gone on long enough. Further delay adds insult and injury to that injustice. A full, fair and final resolution is now required.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his measured words. He is right to say that it falls to this Parliament to come to a reasonable and fair conclusion. He is also right to point to the Prime Minister’s apology. I know from my own experience of talking to victims that that was a very important moment for many.
The right hon. Gentleman asks about the £25 million. What I meant by my remarks is that I hope it will be spent this year in furtherance of the transition to a new scheme, but should money not be spent it will not be squirreled away for other purposes. It will remain allocated for beneficiaries.
On the timing of the statement, our purpose was to update Parliament on progress as soon as possible. Beneficiaries have been waiting for 30 years, so it is understandable that they would like to see faster work. We are working at full pelt, but that work has to be done in tandem with discussions on the spending review. This will be one of the first outcomes from the review, which is why we anticipate having a transition to the new scheme and a consultation finished by the end of this year.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman refers to a panel and to the work done by the Hillsborough inquiry. I know he has personal experience of that, not least because of his own extraordinary work in bringing it about. I would suggest that in this instance speed is of the essence. I think we all understand where we need to get to. We need to ensure that the new scheme is comprehensive in addressing the perceived and actual failings in the existing five schemes, and that that is done as quickly as possible. I would not like an inquiry to get in the way of the speed with which we can do that.
Will the Minister help me with two things? First, a constituent of mine said over the weekend that this looks like another case of the Government saying they are going to do something and then doing nothing. I am sure my hon. Friend will be able to reassure my constituent that that is not the case. Secondly, will he give us an update on making the new generation of drugs available to sufferers as quickly and as fully as possible?
My hon. Friend is entirely right to say there are some exciting medicinal prospects on the horizon. The demands, especially on those for hepatitis C, have to be seen in the round of all sufferers of hepatitis C, but this is an additional factor to be played in. We hope the particular group affected by hepatitis C will be considered by NHS England as part of its discussions on how to take forward future cures.
Penrose reported just before the election. There is an enormous amount of work going on in the Department at the moment, and this is a priority for the Department. We know we need to move quickly. I want to reassure my hon. Friend ‘s constituents that we want to have this matter settled before the end of the year.
The problem of contaminated blood products was an international one, but Penrose was a Scotland-only inquiry. It could not compel witnesses from elsewhere in the UK and that needs to be borne in mind. The victims and their families are key. Many families were infected because patients were not warned, and families have been bereaved. What consultation has there been with the Scottish Government, who held the inquiry and apologised on the same day, about this apparent delay? How much of the £25 million will be spent? We must ensure access to treatment, whether that is the new antivirals or transplants. We hurt these people; we must not let them down.
I thank the hon. Lady. It is a good example of the new mode of working between our Governments that officials in the Department of Health have been working very closely with their counterparts in the Scottish Government. Of course, most of the events that the Penrose report refers to were pre-devolution. It is therefore entirely right that the recommendation is adopted across the United Kingdom, not just in Scotland. I expect that cross and close working will continue through the course of the settlement process.
My constituent Lesley Hughes was infected with hepatitis C 45 years ago, but the condition was discovered only relatively recently. Given that she is an older sufferer, the standard drugs do not agree with her or assist her to the extent that the new generation of drugs would. Is there a timescale that I can offer her to give her hope that she will be able to move from the less effective and less tolerable drugs to the new generation of drugs?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. He may be aware that the Government have launched an accelerated review of hepatitis C drugs, and the Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), will be updating the House as soon as he has news on that. At the moment, I am afraid all I can promise is celerity rather than certainty.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for putting this urgent question and for all her dedicated work on this agonising issue. I put it to the Minister that if he had made his statement not to the House but to my constituents, including one in particular who lives in agony and fear, the reaction would have been less parliamentary than it has been this afternoon. The people who are waiting for this do not have an infinite amount of time, and the correspondence that I receive on this matter rends my heart. The consultation is taking too long, and action is essential.
I agree in large part with the right hon. Gentleman. He has been in this place for many years, and he will know that successive Governments have not acted on this great tragedy. We are moving quickly. In the wake of the Penrose report in March, the Prime Minister promised to move rapidly following the election of the new Government. We are updating the House at the moment, and we will be launching a consultation on a new scheme in the autumn. I hope that most sufferers will understand that that is about as quickly as we are able to move. The thing that they have asked for above all is action, and that is precisely what this Government are taking.
One of my constituents, Craig Sugar, is a sufferer. He has been a high-profile campaigner on this issue and he has visited Parliament. Will I be able to reassure him over the next few days that the consultation will lead to speedy action and that it will not simply be a delaying process?
My hon. Friend can certainly reassure his constituent that the purpose of this consultation is to ensure that it fits with what the beneficiaries, sufferers and victims want from the new scheme, and that it is also designed to be quick. That is why we are hopeful that we will have an eight-week consultation and that we can get on with implementing the results as quickly as possible.
I rise to speak on behalf of my constituent Tony Farrugia. Mr Farrugia lost his father and two uncles when they contracted AIDS and hepatitis C from contaminated blood. Days after the death of his father, Tony and his twin brother were separated and sent to care homes more than 100 miles apart. They were not reunited until a decade later. Will the Minister confirm that the emotional and psychological impact of such awful decisions will be included in the scope of the consultation?
The hon. Gentleman’s example is one of many that are similarly affecting in illustrating the appalling effects that this tragedy has had on individuals, their families and their extended families. I can promise him that the personal views of everyone who has been affected by this tragedy will be taken into account during the consultation. That is its purpose. It has not happened so far, but that is what we are going to deliver.
I welcome today’s announcement. It represents progress on a tragic issue that has affected thousands of people in this country. My constituent Mrs Jackie Britton contracted hepatitis C in 1982 following a blood transfusion during childbirth, although she was not diagnosed until 2011. Will my hon. Friend provide the House with guidance on the availability of drugs, particularly sofosbuvir, which has been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence? Will it be made available for the treatment of cirrhosis?
May I add my thanks to those already given to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and add to her comments about the pressing need for a settlement? I recently learned of a constituent who contracted hepatitis C in the 1980s. The reality of his life is that the drug treatment he needs is not funded, although it is available in Scotland. He is looking at paying out £35,000 for a 12-week course of treatment and cannot get life insurance for mortgage purposes. He also talks about the stress and discomfort of the treatment he has tried. His life is on hold. This is a pressing matter. What can we offer him?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight that for some people this has been a fact of life for 30 years or more. Within a year of the publication of the Penrose report, we hope to provide a scheme that settles the concerns of many sufferers. That is a fast pace at which to move given the complexity of what is required, the five schemes already in existence and the many hundreds and thousands of voices that need to be heard in the short consultation we plan to hold.
I know from first-hand experience that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary care passionately about this issue. We need to make sure that the people suffering from these diseases do not feel at the mercy of a clunky civil service-led process, and that it is being driven by people who know about the issue and want it sorted out to the benefit of those people.
In my discussions with officials, there has been a great sense of urgency and professional commitment to making sure this is dealt with as quickly as possible, and we are moving quickly. As my hon. Friend will understand, the Prime Minister has form on trying to address historical injustices. This is another he intends to address in a like manner.
There is a sense of profound disappointment among sufferers in my constituency, who see this as yet another delay and are totally frustrated with the process thus far. When the Minister talks about all these accounts and things, he sounds like a pound shop accountant rather than someone dealing with the deaths of our constituents month after month. If he has taken the £25 million off the table, will he make sure that the funds he talks about—the Caxton, MacFarlane and Skipton funds—are properly resourced in order to get our constituents through this difficult period and at least give them something to rely on?
The hon. Gentleman speaks of speed. We had the results of the Penrose inquiry in March. In the intervening period we have had the election, and now we are announcing to Parliament the remainder of the consultation period and settlement process. That is actually very quick, considering the complexity to which he alluded. I hope that the £25 million will be spent in full on the proper things it needs to be spent on, but it will certainly be used where appropriate in the transition to the new fund from the existing five.
I am grateful to the Minister for his statement on this tragic occurrence. A constituent of mine, Rosamund Cooper, a sufferer, is worried that the consultation has no specific aim. Can he assure us that two of the aims will be to ensure that the hardship suffered by people is taken into account, and that they get the best possible access to the proper care and quality of care they deserve?
I hope that my hon. Friend’s constituent will be reassured by the aims of the consultation when they are published shortly. She should know that overall, we are trying to address the problems that sufferers, beneficiaries and victims have had with the existing five schemes. It is to that end that we will launch the consultation, the aims of which will be published in detail, and provide a settlement.
Taking action by the end of the year means that it will already be nearly a year since the report produced by the all-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood. While impressing on the Minister the need to take urgent action, may I return to the panel that my right hon. Friend the shadow Health Secretary mentioned? What further answer can the Minister give about setting up a panel to provide more comprehensive answers to those who have experienced so many years of agony and waiting?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that treatments, including new treatments, will be provided on the basis of need, but again, it will be for NHS England to determine how they are released to the service. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences will give my hon. Friend further details if he requires them.
Contrary to the Minister’s assertion, there is a lack of urgency, which is shown by the fact that there was no statement by the Prime Minister, as had been promised. We know the defects of the current schemes—they are not redeemable—and we know what needs to be done. Will the Minister confirm what I think he said, namely that there will be a final assessment by next March? Will he also guarantee that the money will be available, and will not be ring-fenced or offset against other departmental spending?
What I have said, very clearly, is that we will launch a consultation in the autumn, and that we hope it will be as short as possible so that we can arrive at a settlement as rapidly as possible. I also hope that it will be in the tightest possible timeframe, as the hon. Gentleman suggests.
As for the issue of money, I know that the hon. Gentleman may not understand this, but the money has to come from somewhere, and it will come from the health budget, which is where it is designated to derive from.
A constituent of mine, Sally Vickers, has lived for years with the consequences of contaminated blood transfusions, and we are having difficulty in finding accommodation that meets her needs. Her quality of life has been greatly undermined, and she may not last much longer. May I ask for the consultation to extend further than the issue of medicine and consider other needs as well?
As my hon. Friend will know, the existing schemes already provide additional support in the form of welfare or benefits. Any new scheme must not only include the measures in the existing schemes that work well but adjust the parts of those schemes that do not work well.
We understand how frustrated many people will feel about the fact that the Government can rush through measures to deal with English votes for English laws—which is not even an issue in the current Parliament—while an issue that has been lingering for 30 years will now be subject to consultation that will itself be delayed, despite a manifesto promise. The results of the consultation will then have to be worked out. Moreover, the Minister has said four times that the decision will be made in the context of the spending review. Can he assure us that budgetary considerations will not delay the process even further?
The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of English votes for English laws. That has been deferred, because the House wishes to discuss it further.
On the issue before us, a report was delivered in March, but the general election then intervened, which effectively took six weeks out of the time in which the Government could make decisions. We began work the minute we returned to government, and I have now provided an update and the prospectus for a consultation in the autumn. It will be the first consultation that the sufferers have ever been able to enjoy, and we will finish it as quickly as possible in order to arrive at a settlement. That is rapid progress, given that it has taken us more than 30 years to reach this point.
I have been listening very carefully to my hon. Friend. Will he be kind enough to make it crystal clear to the House exactly what his intentions are? I understand from what he has said that he expects a new scheme to be up and running by the end of calendar year 2015. If that is incorrect, by when does he expect such a scheme to be established?
We shall be consulting this year, the consultation will be concluded by the end of the calendar year, and we hope that a new scheme will be up and running as soon as possible after that. It will, of course, depend slightly on the outcome of the consultation, but I expect the scheme to follow very rapidly on the heels of its conclusion. None of us has an interest in delaying this any further.
First, may I ask the Minister to take this opportunity to apologise to my constituents, who are very upset that the statement was made in the other place on Friday afternoon? Does he also acknowledge that these delays—indeed, any delays on this issue—compound the original error, and can he assure the House that we will be updated regularly so that all Members can represent their constituents on this matter?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will pass the message on to his constituents that we were doing the House a courtesy in explaining that we were making progress and outlining a consultation timetable, and that the substantive statement will come in due course owing to the amount of work needed to make sure it is as full and thorough as possible. That is why we made the written ministerial statement. We intend to move as quickly as possible, as we have promised to do.
With all due respect, that is not good enough. There should have been an oral statement in the Commons, which was what the House was led to believe would happen. The fact that there was not a lot to say was not a reason to put out a written statement in the Lords on a Friday afternoon.
Will the excellent Minister, whom I have a lot of time for, confirm the position on the drugs? I have constituents who need drugs that are available but that the NHS is not granting at the moment. There cannot be much money involved; there is just red tape. Can we clear the red tape and let constituents get those drugs?
I thank my hon. Friend, and I have taken note of his comments. NHS England has just announced an accelerated review into hep C drugs, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences will give my hon. Friend further details on that, but we are moving quickly to ensure that the new range of drugs for hepatitis C in particular is brought into service as quickly as possible.
A constituent of mine is one of the 300 so-called “forgotten few” primary beneficiaries. What is the Minister’s response to him when he says that
“‘the forgotten few’ have lived with this for so long now, further hold-ups and enquiries will make things far too late for many of us, considering some are well into their 60s by now. No one can give me back my brother or the life I’ve missed but to have financial peace of mind, knowing I can secure my family’s future is the number one priority for me now, after years of hardship and uncertainty”?
There seems to be a real difference in tone and substance between the Minister’s comments today and what the Prime Minister said before the election, and I am seeking real reassurance.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s constituent that further inquiries will not provide him and his family with the service they require. That is why we are moving quickly to the consultation, which will be launched in the autumn. It will be a short one, and then we will move to a settlement. I want the hon. Gentleman’s constituent to feel that this Government have addressed his tragedy swiftly following the publication in March of the long-awaited report.
I commend the work of my constituency neighbour the Minister for Community and Social Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), on this issue.
I want to draw my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary’s attention back to the question the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) asked about BPL Ltd. Can he clarify what, if any, financial interest the Government retain in BPL? If Bain Capital realises a sale, will any of the funds be used for the financial consideration that we are discussing?
I too commend my right hon. Friend the Minister for Community and Social Care, who has done extraordinary work on this subject in the past and brings that experience and expertise to the Department.
I cannot give my hon. Friend an immediate answer on the company he mentions, but I will make sure we write to him with full details.
A constituent of mine, Brian Carberry, is a haemophiliac who was infected with contaminated blood products in the 1970s. He has now got hepatitis C. The one thing he wants to hear today is when there will be a full and final settlement and when the drugs will be made available, because there is little point after people get cirrhosis.
The hon. Lady should know that the two issues are separate. The drugs that she mentions are part of an accelerated access review, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences launched recently. It will be available to all sufferers of hepatitis C, however they contracted the disease. We hope to move to that as quickly as possible, and I know that NHS England has it in hand.
A full and final settlement is exactly where we are trying to get to. The hon. Lady will be aware that this is an enormously complex area, and we want to ensure that all the concerns of sufferers and victims are taken into account in the consultation that we are going to lead, so that we can come to a final settlement that is equitable to all.
My constituent tells me that, despite the fact that he was infected when he was in the sixth form, at an age when he saw little future, he now has a good job, a wife and, following IVF treatment, a daughter, although he still faces many challenges. Specifically, will the Minister include the right to funding for a second round of IVF? My constituent and his wife are very keen to provide a sibling for their daughter and are having to use their own funds to do so—funds that they had put on one side to support their child in future years.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the frustration of those waiting for a result, including some of my constituents. I heard what he said about consultation, but can he assure victims that a final decision will be made as soon as possible, given the decades that they have spent waiting for justice?
Counter-ISIL Coalition Strategy
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement.
ISIL poses a direct threat to the United Kingdom and to countries around the world. Last month, 30 British citizens were murdered on a beach in a brutal and cowardly attack inspired by ISIL. It is right that the United Kingdom is making a significant contribution to the international coalition to defeat ISIL and to destroy its bases in Iraq and Syria.
More than 60 countries, both within the region and from outside, are part of that international effort, demonstrating the widespread opposition to and abhorrence of ISIL’s barbarous terrorism. There is a well planned, integrated strategy to defeat ISIL that includes: action to cut off its funding; stopping the flow of foreign fighters; humanitarian assistance to both Iraq and Syria; strategic communications to tackle its poisonous ideology; and the military campaign. That strategy is overseen by Ministers from all the key nations, including the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi.
Our strategy is therefore comprehensive and broader than simply military action. It deals with the ideology and territory that is ISIL’s centre of gravity, which it is committed to expanding. The military element is, however, essential. The coalition has so far helped halt and hold ISIL after its rapid advance across Iraq last summer. Coalition airpower, including sophisticated UK aircraft, flies daily missions to strike ISIL targets and to gather intelligence. The air campaign is helping to turn the tide and will support ground forces ultimately to defeat ISIL.
The Iraqi Prime Minister has been very clear that those forces must be local forces. Western troops operating in a ground combat role would serve only to promote ISIL’s ideological narrative and to radicalise more people. Our expertise is being used to help train local forces and to support efforts to generate Sunni forces to retake and hold the ground in Sunni areas.
So far the coalition has trained nearly 11,000 Iraqi personnel, with the United Kingdom training over 1,700. Iraqi forces, supported by coalition airpower, have had some success against ISIL, retaking Tikrit and pushing ISIL out of Baiji and away from the Kurdish region of Iraq, and they have recently begun operations to retake Ramadi. Since August last year, ISIL has lost about one quarter of the territory it held in Iraq. Roadside and vehicle-borne bombs are slowing the progress of Iraqi forces, and I can announce today to the House that the first additional counter-improvised explosive device training team will deploy around mid-August. When complete, that will bring the number of British troops inside Iraq to about 275.
Tackling ISIL only in Iraq is illogical when ISIL itself does not respect international borders. Its command and control centre is in northern Syria, and it is from there that its weapons and fighters flow into Iraq. It is from there that its global influence spreads and the direct threat to the United Kingdom comes. In Syria, therefore, the UK is contributing up to 85 personnel to the United States-led programme to train and equip the new Syrian forces outside Syria; they will fight ISIL once reinserted back into Syria. Our aircraft are gathering intelligence over Syria for the coalition, and we are also the only country flying manned intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft over Syria; 30% of the entire coalition surveillance operation against ISIL is British.
Let me turn now to the issue of embedded personnel. As I reported to the House earlier today, while the UK is not conducting air strikes in Syria, our armed forces regularly have embeds in the forces of our close partners. Embedded UK personnel operate as if they were the host nation’s personnel, under that nation’s chain of command, but they remain subject to UK domestic, international and host nation law. Ministerial approval is required for UK embeds to deploy with allied forces on operations. Over the last 12 months, a total of five pilots have been embedded at one time or another with forces conducting strikes over Syria; none is currently involved in air strikes. A further 75 personnel have been embedded with US, Canadian and French forces in a range of operations against ISIL.
ISIL has killed many of our fellow citizens. It is actively plotting to kill more. The Prime Minister today set out our plans to tackle extremism and radicalisation at home. We are also determined to use the forces at our disposal to do more to tackle ISIL at its source, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it. Everyone agrees that ISIL represents the most serious threat we face and that we must do all we can to defeat it. We all —the UK, our allies and this Parliament—need to work together to achieve that, so why is it that the actions of our armed forces in Syria have come to light only as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request, an Act the Government now seek to water down? Is it not clear that the Government had no intention of telling this House or the country about the involvement of British forces in Syria? It is a sad reality that the first we might have known about this activity was if something had gone wrong.
The Prime Minister and other senior members of the Government were aware of the involvement of our forces and indeed approved their action. The Prime Minister told this House:
“I have said that we will come back to the House if, for instance, we make the decision that we should take air action with others in Syria”.—[Official Report, 26 September 2014; Vol. 585, c. 1266.]
This House took him at his word, so does the Secretary of State not understand why there is such anger following these revelations? How long has he known? How long have Ministers known? Were they ever going to tell Parliament? Can he not see that his authorisation could have resulted in a British pilot being captured, tortured or indeed killed by ISIL? Can he not see how such an event would have undermined public confidence in our entire strategy to combat ISIL? It is crucial that, in these important and sensitive matters, the confidence and trust of this Parliament as well as that of the British people is maintained. The Government have acted in a way that puts that trust and confidence at risk.
Turning to some specifics, can the Secretary of State be clear about how many UK personnel have been involved, when they have been involved and in what action? The Defence Secretary has stated that
“these are a handful of British pilots embedded with American forces and are part of American military operations, for which the Americans have full approval.”
He restates that position today in his written statement. But is it not the case that Parliament should have been told? He will know that British troops embedded with US forces at the time of the Vietnam war were not allowed to take part. Similarly, Dutch marines embedded with the Royal Marines were brought home before the 2003 Iraq war, and US troops embedded with the British Army were not permitted to patrol the streets of Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State be very clear with the House and explain why the Government took a different view in this case without seeking the support of this House? Furthermore, have there been any discussions with allies with regard to the use of our ground troops in Syria? Will the Secretary of State be clear that there will be no further use of embedded UK forces in Syria without parliamentary consent?
The Chair of the Defence Committee said yesterday that the Prime Minister is making up policy on the hoof. Surely what we want is a fully thought through strategic response to ISIL. We read in the papers of the Prime Minister’s plans to expand special forces and to procure more drones specifically to take on ISIL. How will that expansion in special forces be achieved from the current pool of regular forces? Can we expand special forces without an expansion of the pool of regulars? Will he be clear with the House and rule out any downgrading in the standards that we expect our special forces to meet?
On unmanned aerial vehicles, will the Secretary of State say what assets specifically he intends to procure, and over what timescale? How does he intend those assets to be operated, given that the number of RAF regular personnel will fall in every year of this Parliament?
Let me restate that we remain ready to work with the Government to defeat ISIL and will carefully consider any proposals that the Government decide to bring forward. But we all need to be clear about what difference any action would make to our aim of defeating ISIL and about the nature of any action—both its objectives and its legal basis. The Home Secretary said this morning that the Government needed to take Parliament with them. The Home Secretary was right, but does the Defence Secretary not realise that he cannot take Parliament with him if he keeps Parliament in the dark?
I find it hard to construe answering a freedom of information request as some kind of concealment. When we were asked the question, we answered it. Let me be very clear about what the practice has been under successive Governments. There is nothing new about embedding; it has been going on for the past 40 or 50 years. We have had our forces embedded with other countries’ forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the Libyan campaign, and most recently with the French in Mali. There is absolutely nothing new about that. The hon. Gentleman asked me about the parallel with Vietnam. There is no parallel, because the British Government at the time did not agree with the American action in Vietnam. We do agree with the American action in Syria, and I hope that the shadow Secretary of State also supports the American action in Syria, which is helping to keep our streets safe. That is action that we agree with, that is legal and that we fully support.
As for keeping Parliament informed, it has been standard practice not to publicise the placing of embeds with other countries’ forces, as they are their forces and their operation. However, we will always confirm details if and when asked to do so. There have been, over the years, a number of parliamentary questions asking for details of embedded forces, and we have replied to them and we will go on doing that.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the risk to our pilots. There is always risk in any military operation. I can tell him that coalition aircraft are well equipped to defend themselves and there are recovery procedures in place, but he will understand that I am certainly not, on the Floor of the House, going to go into details of those defensive and recovery measures. Nor will I comment on his question about special forces—as you know, Mr Speaker, we do not discuss details of the operation of special forces. The provision of more unmanned aircraft and the training of the pilots we need to operate them will of course be matters for the strategic defence and security review.
Let me say in conclusion that as part of the coalition we support the American actions in Syria and the strikes that are being carried out there by American aircraft, by Canadian aircraft and by Gulf states’ aircraft. They are helping to defeat ISIL and are doing so in a way that helps to keep this country safe.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, for some time now, both in Iraq and in Syria, there has been no functioning Government exercising sovereign power over large parts of the territory of either state, and the Sykes-Picot line, which was always an artificial boundary between the two so-called countries, has probably been consigned to the dustbin of history? Does he therefore accept that it is rather legalistic to argue about whether strikes are being carried out over Iraq and Syria, and that the policy decision to be made is whether we should continue to make our proper contribution to the airstrikes that the international coalition is conducting against the territory that ISIL now uses as its base, and Parliament should therefore lift this artificial distinction between strikes in Iraq and strikes in Syria?