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Volume 608: debated on Wednesday 20 April 2016

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.

On her 21st birthday in 1947, a young woman declared that her whole life, whether long or short, would be dedicated to the service of our nation. Nobody could possibly argue that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has done anything other than fulfil her promise to the nation with dignity and grace.

People across the country will be marking the Queen’s 90th birthday tomorrow in many different ways. Many right hon. and hon. Members will have joined their women’s institutes in the Clean for the Queen initiative, tidying up our neighbourhoods. Some will raise a small glass and many will have a proper knees-up tomorrow.

When the Prime Minister next has an audience with the Queen, will he pass on my best wishes and those of the whole House to our remarkable monarch? Long may she reign.

I am very glad that my hon. Friend has raised this matter. I will certainly pass on his best wishes and those from right across Yorkshire. Tomorrow is an important landmark, not only for Her Majesty the Queen, but for our country and for the Commonwealth as a whole. She has served our nation with such dignity and ability for so many years—64 years —on the throne. It is right that the House will have the opportunity tomorrow to pay tribute to what she has done, and I know that the whole country and the whole House will want to join me in saying, “Long may she reign over us.”

I am also looking forward to wishing her a happy birthday tomorrow, but until then, could the Prime Minister explain why he is intent on forcing good and outstanding schools to become academies against the wishes of teachers, parents, school governors and local councillors?

The short answer is that we want schools to be run by headteachers and teachers, not by bureaucrats. That is why we support the policy. We also support it because of the clear evidence of academies. If we look at converter academies, we will see that 88% of them are either good or outstanding, and schools started by academies see a 10% improvement, on average, over the first two years. The results are better, education is improving and I say let us complete the work.

The Prime Minister has not managed to convince the former Chair of the Education Committee, his hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), who said:

“Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children.”

Why is the Prime Minister ignoring evidence of Select Committee Chairs, and so many others, on this issue?

The results speak for themselves. Under this Government, 1.4 million more pupils are in good or outstanding schools. Let me take the right hon. Gentleman to a school near where he lives. Let us try the Downhills primary school, which is not far from his constituency. It was in special measures and taken over by an academy, and two years later it was a good school. The question I put to the Leader of the Opposition, and to so many other Labour MPs, is this: why do you want to stand on a picket line under a banner saying “Save our failing school”?

As the Prime Minister well knows, every teacher, parent and pupil wants the best that they can get for their schools, and a good education system. Many are concerned about top-down reorganisation. If he will not listen to the former Chair of the Education Committee, will he listen to his hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince)? He said this:

“if a school is well governed, well run and performing well, it should be left alone and allowed to do its job.”—[Official Report, 13 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 445.]

Will the Prime Minister explain why good school leaders should focus their time and resources not on educating children but on arbitrary changes imposed from above?

Let me make two points on that specific issue. I would say to outstanding or good schools that they have nothing to fear from becoming academies, but a huge amount to gain, and we want even outstanding or good schools to be even better. In truth, academies and greater independence, and letting headteachers run their schools, has been hugely effective. This is something that was started by the Labour Government and given rocket-boosters by this Government. We have seen massive improvements in our schools because of academies, and we say, “Let’s get on with it, finish the job, and give all our children a great opportunity.”

I am sure the Prime Minister is aware of the views of people in Oxfordshire on this issue. Councillor Tilley, the Conservative cabinet member for education in the Prime Minister’s county, said:

“I’m fed up with diktats from above saying you will do this and you won’t do that.”

The Prime Minister claims to be an advocate of devolution. Is he not concerned about criticisms from his hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), who says that

“there is little accountability or parental involvement”?

Does the Prime Minister understand the anger that so many people feel because a system that they do not want is being imposed on them and on what are often already very good if not outstanding schools?

It is always good to get a lecture on diktats from someone whose press secretary is an avowed Stalinist, but I will pass over that. Creating academies is true devolution because we are putting power in the hands of headteachers and teachers. Of course we will find people in local government who want to keep things exactly as they are, but one of the reasons I so strongly support academies is that when they fail, they are intervened on so much faster. Local authority schools are often left to fail year after year after year, and I think that one year of a failing school is one year too many. Let us encourage academies, build a great education system, and have opportunity for all our children.

Last week, I spent an interesting afternoon at a local school in my constituency. I visited Duncombe primary school, which is a good to outstanding school, and I had a long discussion with the headteacher, parents, parent governors, and year 6 pupils. The year 6 pupils were very interesting. Hawan, Tasnia, Eamon and Maryanne asked me to ask the Prime Minister: why are you doing this? They love their school, and they like it the way it is. They do not want any top-down reorganisation. He has not even convinced the former Education Secretary, Kenneth Baker, who said that he does not “quite know why” the Government are doing this. What is the Prime Minister’s answer to those smart pupils in year 6?

My answer to those pupils in year 6 is very much the answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave. I have been following his tour of the school, and this is what he said:

“I want to see a family of schools and I want to see them properly funded.”

Of course, with our reform to the national funding formula, there will be fair funding right across the country. With our plans for academies, there will be genuine families of schools that choose to group together. Here is the point about outstanding schools. Not only will they be able to get better, but in groups of academies, they will be able to help other schools to improve. That is why we need this reform: to make good schools even better and to help to raise the aspiration of all. That is what it is all about.

We appear to be heading into some kind of fantasy land. The Institute for Fiscal Studies states that school spending

“is expected to fall by at least 7% in real terms”

in the next four years—the biggest cut since the 1970s. So why on earth is the Prime Minister proposing to spend £1.3 billion on a top-down reorganisation that was not in his manifesto? Teachers do not want it, parents do not want it, governors do not want it, headteachers do not want it and even his own MPs and councillors do not want it. Can he not just think again and support schools and education, rather than forcing this on them?

Let me answer the question about spending very directly. We protected spending per pupil all the way through the last Parliament and all the way through this Parliament. We are spending £7 billion on more school places to make up for the woeful lack of action under the last Labour Government. That is the truth on spending.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about fantasy land, and I think the Labour party this week entered fantasy land. The Labour party is abandoning Trident in Scotland and it has selected in London someone who sits on platforms with extremists. When I read that the Labour party was going to ban McDonnell from its party conference, I thought that was the first sensible decision it had made, but it turns out that it was not the job destroyer that the Labour party wanted to keep away from its conference; it was one of Britain’s biggest employers. No wonder Labour MPs are in despair. Frankly, I’m lovin’ it.

Q3. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees with the Treasury forecast issued on Monday, which warns that if we stay in the European Union, there will be 3 million more migrants by 2030? Last year, my right hon. Friend and I were elected on a clear manifesto pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. How will we be able to deliver on that pledge unless we leave the European Union? (904564)

The point about the Treasury forecast is that it takes the Office for National Statistics figures and the Office for Budget Responsibility figures and it does not alter them; it is trying to make a very clear and pure argument—backed by the Governor of the Bank of England yesterday—that shows what would happen if Britain left the EU. There is a demand out there for independent and clear statistics, and that is exactly what the Treasury has provided.

It is believed that the recent murder of Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah was religiously motivated. This week, Christian, Jewish, Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim faith leaders launched a campaign across Scotland entitled United against Extremism. Will the Prime Minister join me and colleagues from all parties in supporting the aims of that campaign to support and foster understanding and stand up to extremism?

I will certainly join the right hon. Gentleman. This was an absolutely shocking murder. What it demonstrates, and what his question hints at, is that we need to stand up not only against acts of appalling violence such as this, but against the extremist mindset that sometimes tries to justify such events and other such outrages.

I am in total agreement with the Prime Minister. The murder of Asad Shah is just the most recent example of sectarian extremism targeting the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in the UK, including reports of Ahmadiyya being refused employment, businesses being boycotted, schoolchildren being bullied and shunned, and people such as Aamer Anwar who have worked to bring faith leaders together facing death threats. Does the Prime Minister agree that such extremism is totally unacceptable in a country where we believe in free speech and religious tolerance? The time has come for all community and all faith leaders of all religions to stand up against extremism.

I certainly agree that faith leaders can play a huge role in standing up against extremism and I welcome what they do, but we need to be very clear about what we are facing. The attack on Ahmadiyya Muslims by other Muslims demonstrates once again that what we face is not some clash of civilisations between Islam and Christianity or Islam and Buddhism. What we are seeing is a small minority within one of the great religions of our world, Islam, believing that there is only one way—a violent, extremist way—of professing their faith. This is a battle within Islam, and we have to be on the side of the moderate majority and make sure that they win it. We have to really understand what is happening, otherwise we will take the wrong path.

Q6. The future of services provided by Paignton hospital has been thrown into doubt this week by news that the clinical commissioning group and the local trust are about to launch a consultation that could see it closed with no replacement. Does the Prime Minister share my concerns, and does he agree that it is vital that services are replaced and that the trust and CCG justify their actions? (904567)

I am aware of the draft proposals concerning Paignton hospital. I understand that no decision has yet been made. The plans are due to be considered by the clinical commissioning group’s governing body. Let us remember that these bodies are now, by and large, clinically-led, and I think that is important. Decisions about what services are required will be taken by that group, but if there are significant changes, they still have to meet four key tests: support from clinical commissioners, strengthened public and patient engagement, clarity on the clinical evidence base and support for patient choice. All those things have to be satisfied.

Q2. The air in our cities is both toxic and illegal, with diesel fumes contributing to 800 deaths a week—that is 40,000 a year—so why is the Prime Minister, instead of removing the most heavily polluting vehicles from our streets, lobbying the EU in Brussels, with the Mayor of London, to weaken plans to improve our air quality and save lives? (904563)

We are investing in better air quality. Since 2011, we have committed over £2 billion to help bus operators upgrade their fleets. We have seen air quality improve between 2010 and 2014, with emissions of nitrous oxides coming down by 17%. When it comes to these standards that we all have to meet, we are working with our car industry. I want a strong car industry in Britain. I am proud of the fact that it has recovered so strongly that the north-east of England now makes more cars than the whole of Italy and that we are a major investor in and builder of diesel engines, but we are going to make sure that it has the resources it needs to meet the higher standards that are set out.

Q7. It is a truth universally acknowledged that fish and chips taste best on the beaches of Skegness, and that is why 4 million people visit those beaches every year. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should work with the Environment Agency, the local enterprise partnership and local councils, build on the work of this Government that has brought jobs and growth, and extend the tourist season and build a billion-pound coastal economy by the end of this decade? (904568)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why I announced the five-point plan for tourism last year to encourage people to visit UK resorts—both people from overseas and British people—and that is exactly what is happening. Is it not interesting that in the week when we on this side of the House are supporting fish and chips, those on the other side of the House are banning McDonald’s?

Q4. More than 2,000 people have signed a petition, started by Allisons Chemist in Cockermouth in my constituency, calling on the Government not to cut the funding of community pharmacists. Given the major reports last week regarding the actions of Boots, which now faces investigation by the regulator, is it not time that the Prime Minister and his Government supported independent pharmacists, such as Allisons, which are a vital lifeline for our community and help to keep our high streets alive?


We are supporting rural pharmacies —there is a specific scheme to help there—but in the last five years there has been a massive increase in pharmacy spending. As we make sure that as much of the NHS’s resources as possible go to the frontline—the doctors and nurses, the operations and the A&E we want—we have to make sure we are getting value for money in pharmacy, while also protecting the rural pharmacies the hon. Lady speaks about.

Q10. Given his earlier important comments, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the duty of all Members to condemn without caveat all extremism and never to share a platform with any extremist?


My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we are going to condemn not just violent extremism but the extremism that seeks to justify violence in any way, it is very important that we do not back these people or appear on platforms with them. I am concerned about Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, who has appeared again and again and again—

The leader of the Labour party says it is disgraceful, so let me tell him: the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) has appeared on a platform with Suliman Gani nine times; this man supports IS. He even shared a platform—[Interruption.] The Opposition are shouting down this point because they do not want to hear the truth. Anyone can make a mistake about who they appear on a platform with, and we are not always responsible for what our political opponents say, but if someone does it time after time after time, it is right to question their judgment.

Q5. News overnight of a management and worker buy-out at Tata Steel Port Talbot will bring hope to the 18,000 people whose livelihoods are supported by the company across the supply chain. It is critical that the UK Government provide all the support they can. Will the Prime Minister become the company’s head of sales and meet personally with Port Talbot’s 20-biggest customers, who make up about 50% of its sales, to ensure that no orders for Welsh steel are lost? (904566)

We will certainly do everything we can to help the company, including with its customers, during this difficult time. Right now, we are talking with the board of Tata to make sure we answer all the questions it needs answered, because we want to have a proper sales process, with proper buyers coming forward. We want to be very clear that the Government are prepared to support that process and the outcome, and that is exactly what we will do.

Q14. The EU’s security is only as strong as its weakest border, so does the Prime Minister share my concerns not only over Chancellor Merkel’s apparent legitimisation of President Erdogan’s reservations about freedom of speech but crucially over her decision to liberalise restrictions on Turkish visas, given that that country has such a porous Syrian border and such booming identify fraud? Is he concerned that currently Chancellor Merkel seems to be outstripping everyone in making the case for Brexit? (904576)

First, it is certainly true that a country in the Schengen zone is only as strong as its weakest border—that is absolutely right—but we, of course, are not in the Schengen zone. Secondly, the Schengen zone has decided to offer visas to Turkish nationals, but we have not made that decision, and will not be making that decision. Let us remember, however, that a visa is not a right to go and live and work or reside; it is a right to visit, so let us also be clear that Turks with visas visiting Schengen countries do not have those rights or the right automatically to come to Britain. It is very important to get this clear.

Q8. In the last hour, we have had the devastating news that British Gas proposes to close its Oldbury site, with the loss of 700 jobs. Will the Prime Minister instruct his Ministers immediately to contact the company and the unions and to arrange urgent meetings either—preferably—to save these jobs or, if that proves impossible, to establish a taskforce to create alternative opportunities for this loyal and hard-working workforce? (904569)

I can certainly give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. I heard the news shortly before Question Time. We will make sure that a ministerial taskforce is available to talk to the company and the local community and to provide assistance in terms of retraining and other things.

Mrs Thatcher used occasionally to organise seminars for Ministers, with senior academics, for colleagues like me whose knowledge of modern science, she thought, needed to be improved. Will the Prime Minister contemplate similar seminars for some of his senior and very respected Cabinet colleagues with businessmen on the nature of international trade in today’s world, because some very respected figures appear to believe that one simply turns up and sells goods and services that comply with British-made rules, and that they do not have to comply with any rules agreed with the country to which one is selling. Will he include some of the many businessmen who are putting investment decisions on hold now because of the uncertainty about Brexit after 23 June, which illustrates the dangers we would run if we made our whole future trading arrangements with the outside world as uncertain as some people are trying to make them?

I always listen very carefully to my right hon. and learned Friend and will consider such seminars. I hope they will not be as frightening as seminars sometimes used to be under Margaret Thatcher. I remember that one of the very first times I met her, I was responsible for trade and industry research. She asked me what the day’s trade figures were and I did not know. I have never wanted the floor to open up and swallow me any more than at that moment.

The point my right hon. and learned Friend makes, which is absolutely right, is that just because we have friendly relations with a country does not mean that we automatically get good trade relations. We are very pleased that President Obama is coming here this Friday, but it is worth noting that even though we have the friendliest relations with the United States of America, we currently cannot sell beef or lamb to it. The point is that we do not just need good relations; we need nailed down trade arrangements.

Q9. At the Budget, the Chancellor announced the creation of a northern schools strategy, which I broadly welcome. However, I am concerned that all the progress that that might make could be reversed by the forced academisation plans. Why are the Government pushing those plans, which parents in my constituency do not want—plans that even a former Tory Education Secretary describes as plain daft and unnecessary? (904570)

The hon. Gentleman should wait for the outcome of the review that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set up. The point I would make is that some schools that have been failing for year after year have been left in that state by local authorities. We have found that the way to help succeeding schools fly and failing schools to improve is to have academies. The evidence is right there in front of us. That is why we are so keen on progressing this.

One reason why my right hon. Friend led this party to victory at last year’s general election was our pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. Can he therefore tell us, further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), why the Office for Budget Responsibility projects immigration to be above 200,000 a year for the rest of this decade? By what assumptions did it reach that figure, and can he give us some details?

To give my right hon. Friend some details, the OBR did not take into account, for instance, the agreements we have just reached with the European Union over welfare and other immigration restrictions. The Treasury document is very clear that it is not about making all sorts of different assumptions about variables, but takes a very clear set of statistics established by the OBR. That is why it was interesting when the Governor of the Bank of England came out and said that it was an analytically robust process. As for the detail, it does not take into account the agreement that we reached in Europe.

Q11. In 2009, Michelle Samaraweera was brutally raped and murdered in Walthamstow. Since 2011, a man who is wanted in connection with that crime and seven other counts of sexual violence in my constituency has been evading extradition from India. There have been more than 30 court appearances to date and another one is planned for tomorrow, yet despite the severity of the crime and the delay in those proceedings, there is no record of any ministerial or diplomatic representations from either the Foreign Office or the Home Office. Will the Prime Minister personally commit today to putting that right and to raising the matter directly with his counterpart, Narendra Modi, so that we can finally seek justice for Michelle? (904572)

I am very happy to give the hon. Lady that assurance. The British Government always raise all these individual cases if that is what the victims want us to do, just as we raise cases where there are British people stuck in the Indian justice system. I was not aware of the specific case, but if she gives me the details I will make sure that we raise it appropriately.

With the President of the United States visiting the UK later this week, may I ask my right hon. Friend to raise the issue of the Chagos islanders? In a report last year, the Government rightly concluded that the islanders have a right of resettlement. Given the US military presence on Diego Garcia, will he raise the case of US assistance for the right of return of the Chagos islanders to the British Indian Ocean Territory?

I will certainly discuss that issue, and it is right that my hon. Friend raises it, because many Chagossians live in his constituency of Crawley. What he said is not entirely correct; the National Security Council and the Cabinet have been looking at the situation of the Chagos islanders and reviewing all the options for how we can help with their future. Those discussions have taken place and obviously we need to come to a conclusion about the best way forward.

Q12. Some people think that the worst case that has been made so far to vote to leave the EU is the claim that England is an island. Will the Prime Minister tell the House the worst argument that he has heard from the Brexiters?


I think it is probably that we would get out of the Eurovision song contest. Not only would that be incredibly sad, but given that Israel and Azerbaijan, and anyone anywhere near Europe seems to be able to enter—[Interruption.] Australia, too, so we are pretty safe from that one.

Will my right hon. Friend point out to President Obama that in a series of European Court judgments such as those in the cases of Davis and of Schrems, using EU data protection laws and the EU charter of fundamental rights, the EU has established its jurisdiction over our intelligence data and sought to prevent our intelligence sharing with the United States? Will he therefore warn the President that if we vote remain, far from gaining influence in the EU the United States will lose control and influence over her closest ally?

I am sure that the President will take all of these calculations into account before saying anything that he might have to say. Let me just make two points. First of all, this decision is a decision for the British people, and the British people alone. We are sovereign in making this decision. Personally, I believe that we should listen to advice from friends and other countries, and I struggle to find a leader of any friendly country who thinks we should leave. My second point is that, when it comes to the United States, it is worth looking at what so many Treasury Secretaries have said, going back over Republican or Democrat Administrations. It may not be the determining factor for many people—or indeed for any people—but listening to what our friends in the world say is not a bad idea.

Q13. The average property price in my borough of Hackney is £682,000, the median lower quartile rent for a two-bedroom flat for a month is £1,500, and overcrowding and demand for social housing are the highest I have seen in 20 years. Will the Prime Minister tell my constituents how on earth the Housing and Planning Bill is going to help them? (904575)

It is going to help them because we are building starter homes for the first time for people to buy, we are extending the right to buy to housing association tenants so they can buy homes—[Interruption.] I notice Lady Nugee giving us the benefit of her wisdom, but many people in her constituency would love to buy a council house or a housing association house. We also have the Help to Buy scheme, which is helping many people get on the housing ladder, and shared ownership as well. All of those things will help. Since 2010, 101,000 homes have been built in London, including 67,000 affordable homes. We need to build many more and to make them accessible to people who work hard and do the right thing. That is whose side we are on.

On a slightly environmental note still, woodland is much valued—not least for recycling much of our hot air—and ancient woodland is especially valued. With only 2% remaining, it is as precious as the rain forests and its biodiversity cannot be replaced. The Prime Minister has 331 ancient and veteran trees in his constituency; does he agree that this precious habitat ought to be protected in line with heritage sites and national monuments?

I am very lucky to have in my constituency an ancient forest, the Wychwood forest, which probably contains many of the trees that my hon. Friend mentions. I shall look carefully at what she says. Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to make sure that we plant more forests, trees and woodland, on which this Government have a very good record.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said recently and rightly that politics in Northern Ireland was on a more stable footing than it has been for some time. For our part, we will continue to offer strong leadership for a better future in Northern Ireland. People in Northern Ireland are, however, concerned about a two-sided approach to the past, as exemplified by the decision taken this week to investigate a police officer who bravely stopped an IRA bomber from trying to kill police officers at a police station 25 years ago. Does the Prime Minister agree that we have to get behind our security forces, praise them for the work they did in Northern Ireland and not persecute them as we go forward?

Let me first pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and his Members of Parliament and Assembly Members. It is right to say that politics in Northern Ireland is more stable and, frankly, more productive than it has been for many years. Obviously, these issues around the acts of the past still cause a huge amount of pain and difficulty on all sides of the debate. One thing we have to hold on to is the fact that we have an independent and impartial justice system.