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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 608: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2016

Cabinet Office

The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Democratic Participation

Some elements of participation, such as polling day turnout, lie far beyond the powers of mere Government and depend on the importance of the poll and the brilliance or otherwise of the campaigns. However, Governments can help things such as voter registration, where we are about to begin canvassing pilots to make the registration process quicker, cheaper, and more digital. We are also working with groups such as the British Youth Council, Operation Black Vote and Universities UK to encourage under-registered groups to sign up, and partnering with our embassies abroad and the Electoral Commission to run registration drives in the run-up to the polls on 5 May and 23 June.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. Nevertheless, in the week before the Scottish Parliament elections and the elections to the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, this Government have overseen the disenfranchisement of over 770,000 people by the introduction of self-assessment in terms of the registration process. How can this Government hold their head up and say that they are increasing participation?

The registers are being reduced by the entries of people who have moved house or who have died and are not therefore likely to turn up and vote. There is, however, a parallel problem of the missing millions of people who have never been on the register and need to be found. We cannot cross them off because they are not on it, but we all collectively, on a cross-party basis, need to get out there and sign these people up. If the hon. Gentleman wants to join in a cross-party deputation to do so, I would be only too delighted to help.

Does my hon. Friend agree that equally important as ensuring that those who are entitled to vote are able to vote is making sure that genuine candidates are not disenfranchised by people who get on to the electoral register who ought not to be on there because they are there through fraud?

Absolutely. It is crucial that we have a register that is both complete and accurate. I therefore look forward with great anticipation to the report on electoral fraud by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles), where I am sure he will cover this, among other things.

What specific work are the Government doing with students and young people to ensure that they are registered to vote?

We are taking a number of different approaches. First, we are working with Universities UK and the Association of Colleges. A great deal of work is being done in universities themselves. We are also examining very closely the work that is being done in places such as Sheffield University to sign up students when they first arrive and enrol. We are doing a great deal, but there is probably more as well.

I congratulate the Government on driving up democratic participation in the EU referendum by publishing their leaflet, which I understand is up for the Pulitzer prize for the best work of fiction. Does the Minister agree that that is driving more people to take part in the EU referendum because they are so cross and want to leave?

I am glad that my hon. Friend enjoyed the read. I point out to him that some 85% of the population say that they want to hear more about the issues from the Government. If that serves to drive up participation among either remainers or leavers, then I am sure that both he and I will be pleased.

There is much concern about the Government’s new proposals for public appointments in that they might decrease social mobility. Sir David Normington has gone so far as to say:

“Grimstone’s proposals would enable ministers to set their own rules; override those rules whenever they want; appoint their own selection panels; get preferential treatment for favoured candidates; ignore the panel’s advice if they don’t like it; and appoint someone considered by the panel as not up to the job.”

Would the Minister like to answer that?

Before the Minister does so, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the appointment process in the context of the drive to increase democratic participation.

Indeed, Mr Speaker—yes. Social mobility in public appointments is very important for democratic participation.

I am not sure how I link any kind of answer to democratic participation, but I none the less point out that we adhere consistently to the Nolan principles in everything that we do in this area.

I appreciate the Minister’s answer to my creative question. I do not believe everything that I read in the papers, but this week it was revealed that the Culture Secretary had recommended five candidates for the position of trustee at the National Portrait Gallery. Three were Tory donors and one was a former Tory Minister. Is that a way of improving democratic participation for Tory cronies?

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is trying to raise a serious point, but this is an example of the principle of if you are in a hole, you should stop digging.

National Citizen Service

2. What plans the Government have to increase the number of young people participating in the National Citizen Service. (904713)

We have ambitious plans to make NCS a rite of passage for young people. We have committed more than £1 billion to grow the programme to reach the majority of 16-year-olds by 2021 and we would like NCS to benefit every young person, regardless of where they live in the United Kingdom. It is therefore extremely disappointing that there is currently no NCS programme in Scotland or Wales, despite the generous funding made available through the autumn spending review.

Last summer, I was invited to a highly successful lunch event for veterans and others organised by a group of young people through the NCS scheme. This year, those on that scheme are running a social action project, which involves creating a sensory garden for young adults with learning difficulties. Does the Minister agree that the skills learnt through the programme—confidence building and teamwork—are making a real difference to young people in getting them into work and closing our skills gap?

Indeed. It is absolutely true that NCS is creating a generation of more responsible and engaged young people. The skills that NCS participants in Taunton are developing are echoed widely around England and Northern Ireland. Indeed, 90% of participants say that NCS helps them develop key skills for the future. UCAS now recognises NCS, and taking part is becoming a sought-after addition to any young person’s CV.

The Minister will know that I am a great supporter of NCS, but is it not underfunded? At the moment, we must be honest and admit that it reaches mostly into more affluent communities and not those with kids from poorer backgrounds. That is the truth and the Minister should do something about it.

Two hundred thousand young people have been through the NCS programme so far and we are aiming to increase that number significantly by 2020. We have made £1 billion available to do that. We are doing extremely well on diversity: 21% of NCS participants are eligible for free school meals compared with the national average of 8%, and 27% of participants are from non-white backgrounds, compared with 19% throughout the country. We are therefore doing better than the national average.

Order. The Government should have grouped this question with Question 4. For some reason, they did not do so, but I will take that question now.

4. I am very grateful. The Minister is right that NCS is proving invaluable for young people across the country. In Dorset, there was recently a successful scheme called “From yard to garden” about replanting trees. I would be grateful if the Minister gave advice and guidance to Members of all parties about how they can get more involved in that excellent programme. (904717)

I know that my hon. Friend is doing all he can to support the NCS in his constituency. Every Member can help by visiting a local NCS programme to raise awareness and ensuring that local schools and colleges encourage students to participate. The Secretary of State for Education and I will shortly write to all Members to highlight how everyone can make a contribution to NCS.

Last summer, I visited an NCS scheme in Dukinfield in my constituency and I was hugely impressed by the work with young people, but many of those young people raised with me the wider cuts to youth services. Has the Minister conducted an impact assessment on how those cuts have affected the aims, ambitions and objectives of the NCS programme?

That question gives me the opportunity to say how disappointed I am that local authorities choose to make cuts in their service provision. We are investing more than £1 billion in NCS in this Parliament and the overwhelming majority of that funding will flow through delivery organisations, most of which are public or VCSE—voluntary, community and social enterprise—organisations. Beyond that, we are also investing more widely in the youth sector through programmes such as Step Up To Serve and the British Youth Council, and supporting local authorities to reshape their youth provision.

10. The Minister gave a statistic in response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), but what steps is he taking to encourage NCS participation by young people from a black and minority ethnic background? (904723)

I thank my hon. Friend for asking about the participation targets. It is really important that every young person—every 16-year-old—gets the opportunity to take part in NCS, because the programme not only creates a more cohesive society and adds to social mobility and social engagement, but delivers value for money. The statistics that I cited earlier show that it is a programme of which we, the Government and the whole country can be very proud.

Government Grant Agreements

3. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of an anti-lobbying clause in Government grant agreements on the ability of charities to scrutinise Government policy. (904716)

6. What assessment he has made of the compatibility of the proposed anti-lobbying clause in Government funding agreements with the terms of the Government’s compact with civil society organisations relating to campaigning. (904719)

As set out earlier this month, we are continuing to work on this issue with charities, universities and others. The principle is clear: taxpayers’ money should not be wasted on Government lobbying Government.

Will the Minister not admit that this policy is a mess? The Government have been forced into a U-turn by research scientists, so the clause will not apply to them. Will he undertake urgently to review the operation of the entire clause and, at the very least, commit to an ongoing review so that we can be sure that the freedom of speech of charities and other organisations is not undermined?

As we have said, we are reviewing representations and we will take a decision on the form of the clause. We are pausing on implementation, but we are committed to ensuring that taxpayers’ money is used for the good causes for which it is intended and not wasted on Government lobbying Government.

Six years after the Government promised to crack down on lobbyists, the big corporate lobbyists are free to lobby, in secret and anonymously, but the worthy charities are having their lives made a misery by new bureaucracy. Why do the Government consistently dabble in the shallows, worrying the minnows, while the big, fat salmon swim by unhindered?

I am an enormous supporter of the work of charities, but I find it extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman seems to be a supporter of lobbyists using money only when it comes from taxpayers. I think that taxpayers’ money should be put to better use.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when our constituents give money to charity, they expect it to be used directly to help those disadvantaged people whom the charity claims to help, and that if they wanted it to be used for political lobbying, they would have made a donation to a political party?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when people donate money, they want that money to be spent on the services provided by the charity, and that most people in this country would be shocked at the amount of money spent on administration and lobbying?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that charities play an enormous role in alleviating suffering, improving good causes and strengthening our communities. Let us make sure that when money is donated to a charity—as it is by many of us, possibly everyone, in this House and many people around the country—it is spent on the good causes for which it is intended.

The Government have succeeded in uniting the entire British voluntary sector against them, including household names such as the girl guides, Mencap and Oxfam. Indeed, their actions in trying to suppress debate and discussion are reminiscent of a totalitarian political culture. If voluntary organisations come across systemic child abuse or practices such as female genital mutilation, are you really saying that they should remain silent and not seek to influence Government, when a change in the law could outlaw such practices?

And nor are we. It is an absurd suggestion. The principle that taxpayers’ money should not be used to lobby Government is perfectly reasonable and one that most people support.

A leading board member of the Charity Commission has written an essay calling for the UK to leave the EU. That comes after the Charity Commission tried to clamp down on charities engaging in the EU debate. Is the Minister able to explain why the Charity Commission rule on campaigning appears to be, “Do as I say, not as I do”? I welcomed his clarification that charity voices should and could be heard on the issues that affect them, but it flies in the face of the Charity Commission’s recent gagging clauses. Will the Minister confirm that charities are now allowed to speak out, but only if they agree with him?

Electoral Reform

My hon. Friend will remember that in the last Parliament we held the alternative vote referendum, in which this country resoundingly rejected a proposal to abandon our tried and tested first-past-the-post system in favour of an alternative. I believe that we should respect that result and the clear democratic decision that it represents, and therefore we have no plans to change the voting system.

Given that the British people voted overwhelmingly for first past the post, does my hon. Friend agree that, as with all referendums, the vote is final and settled, and that the Government are absolutely right to push ahead with delivering their vital manifesto commitments?

When it comes to electoral reform, in Northern Ireland we are closing all our electoral offices. Surely, part of electoral reform is trying to get more people involved, and closing electoral offices is the wrong way to do it.

I will not trample on the purviews of the devolved Administrations and the Northern Ireland Office, but if the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me with more details, I would be happy to respond.

Are the Government looking seriously at how the understandable security challenges of online voting might be overcome so that future generations of young people can vote online in this country safely and securely, thereby increasing voter registration and participation?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that online activity is an increasing part of our everyday lives, whether it be shopping or anything else. As technology improves and online voting becomes steadily more secure, it is something that we will need to continue to revisit. At the moment, the prospect of potentially stealing the Government of a country is too grave to allow online voting to happen.

Does the Minister agree that we must do everything possible to bring power closer to people in every part of the country, and that a good start would be to make it easier for people to engage in politics?

I absolutely agree. As I said in response to an earlier set of questions, there is a great deal that Governments can do, but there is also a great deal that political parties and others need to do, to engage the interest of the voters.

Social Mobility

7. What discussions he has had with industry leaders on increasing social mobility in the public and private sectors. (904720)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his work in the House on social mobility. In our mission to increase social mobility, we are working with a number of leading businesses and organisations on our plans to improve life chances across the nations. That includes the civil service pushing ahead with the delivery of more than 30,000 of the overall 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020, introducing name-blind recruitment and leading the development of new national common measures of socioeconomic diversity for employers.

As it is vital that the civil service reflects the society that it serves, will my right hon. Friend explain how the Government are acting on the recommendations made in the report of the Bridge group?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are accepting every part of the recommendations of the Bridge report. He will know that we are the party of the ladder, the party of social mobility, the party of the living wage, the party of lower taxes for low earners and the party of millions of apprenticeships and millions of jobs.

Topical Questions

The Cabinet Office is responsible for efficiency in reforming Government, transparency, civil society, digital technology, cyber-security and delivering the Government’s agenda.

I commend my right hon. Friend for releasing vast amounts of Government data, which will improve transparency across Government. What further action can he take to ensure that performance improves, transparency is available to the general public and data are in a manageable form so that people can analyse them?

My hon. Friend is right that this is not only about releasing more information, but about releasing it in a way that is usable. I can announce to the House that since 2010 the Government have released 27,000 open datasets—a new high—which goes to show that we are the most transparent Government ever.

T3. British troops served fewer years in Iraq than during the first and second world wars, and the first and second world wars did not take as long as it has taken to publish the Chilcot report. Will the Minister make an apology to my constituent Pat Long, whose son was killed in the Iraq war, for these unforgivable delays, and also give a commitment to her and other families that they will see the embargoed report, rather than getting the news—inevitably there will be bad news—second hand? (904704)

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern and the concern of his constituents. He will know that the timing of the publication is a matter for the independent inquiry, which has set out a timetable. Checking for national security issues is very important, and will take place appropriately. Thankfully, we will get to the conclusion of this process soon.

T2. The Government need to keep up with the digital revolution, and I applaud the Minister’s efforts to ensure that that is being done. Does he agree that as more interaction between citizens and Government takes place online, cyber-security must keep pace with that increase? (904703)

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that cyber-security is increasingly important not just for communications between citizen and Government, but in a wide range of businesses. That is why we have laid aside £1.9 billion to improve our cyber-security during this Parliament, and why we are creating a new national cyber-security centre.

T5. We heard earlier about the anti-lobbying clause that the Minister for the Cabinet Office is determined to introduce in a drive to clean up politics. The Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 covers the lobbying of MSPs. Does he have any plans to expand the scope of the register of consultant lobbyists to cover the lobbying of MPs? (904706)

We brought in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 and made progress on this issue during the last Parliament. The crucial point about tackling lobbying through grants is that taxpayers’ money should be spent on the things it is intended for, not on Government lobbying Government.

T4. The FIFA corruption scandal and other corruption scandals around the world have shown the need for a more integrated and international approach to tackling corruption. Will the Minister push for such an approach at the Government’s anti-corruption summit next month? (904705)

In short, yes. That is of course part of the global development goals, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister led the world in establishing. One of the targets within those goals is precisely to reduce that kind of corruption, and we will emphasise that in our work to fulfil our part of those targets.

T7. What steps has the Minister taken to make Government colleagues aware of the disastrous impact that the Trade Union Bill will have on industrial relations with civil servants? (904708)

The Trade Union Bill, which is currently before Parliament, takes important steps to modernise the relationship between trade unions and their members. Although trade unions play a very important part in our national life and represent the interests of many, they do not represent the interests of all, and we must make sure that that relationship is modern and appropriate. [Interruption.]

Order. There is a lot of noise in the Chamber. The Minister must be very disappointed to have such an inattentive audience. Let us hear the words.

T6. To return to individual electoral registration and the question from the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), will the Minister give further assurances that all steps are being taken to reach harder-to-reach groups, such as private renters, of which there are very many in my constituency of Eastbourne? (904707)

Yes, indeed. We are determined to reach out to a new set of potential electors who have failed to register, as the Minister for constitutional reform, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), made clear earlier in our proceedings. I should tell my hon. Friend that every single person whose name appeared in the old register but who has been discounted under individual electoral registration would have been approached at least nine times before their name was removed.

I appeal to Ministers to face the House because much of the right hon. Gentleman’s answer was lost on the rest of us, which is to our grave disadvantage.

T9. When I used to work for a charity, I was often called by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government to give expert advice, on one occasion to a very anxious Minister just before a sitting of the Home Affairs Committee. Under the new anti-advocacy clause, will charity specialists continue to be able to help the Government, or will the new rule apply only when it suits the Government, rather than when it suits the public? (904710)

Of course charities will be able to contribute to debate. They will be able to advise and researchers will be able to bring forward their world-beating ideas, but as for the idea, supported by the Labour party, that taxpayers’ money should be used for paid lobbyists, we are going to put a stop to that.

T8. I welcome the Government’s commitment to improving social mobility in the civil service. Will the Minister join me in encouraging more private sector employers to do the same—for example, through schemes such as Inspiring the Future? (904709)

I strongly endorse that approach, Mr Speaker. If you or any other Member have not already got involved in an Inspiring the Future event, I would encourage you to do so. Not only is it good for the country but it is an incredibly enjoyable way to spend some time.

From Cabinet Office figures, 67% of people in the senior civil service were based in London last year, the highest proportion in the past five years. Given that, and the decision to close the office of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in Sheffield, does the Minister not accept that his policy of moving civil servants out of London and into the regions is failing?

We are introducing regional hubs for the civil service. Of course, many UK civil servants work in Scotland, supporting the people in Scotland. Inevitably there are a large number of civil servants in London because this is the capital of the United Kingdom, but we have to make sure that they represent the country that they serve.

We know that special advisers are required to submit their emails and telephone texts to public view under freedom of information legislation. What is the Government’s policy on the use of WhatsApp, which special advisers are using to conceal Government business from public view?

I hesitate to admit to my hon. Friend that I have never personally used WhatsApp in my life. I am happy to reassure him that all aspects of Government business are properly recorded and minuted, and are subject to FOI requests as normal, despite the rumours that he has heard.

PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Yesterday marked a momentous day for the family and friends of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. Over the last 27 years their search for justice has been met with obfuscation and hostility instead of sympathy and answers. As I said to the House in 2012 about the Hillsborough independent panel’s report, it is wrong that the families had to wait for so long, and to fight so hard, just to get to the truth. I know that the whole House will want to join me in praising their courage, patience and resolve. They have never faltered in the pursuit of the truth and we all owe them a great debt of gratitude.

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

I would very much like to associate myself with the Prime Minister’s important comments on the Hillsborough tragedy, along with Members on all sides of the House, and pay tribute to the victims and their families, and to the resilience of the campaigners who continue to strive for the truth in the pursuit of justice.

In my constituency of Eastleigh, the service that GPs provide is crucial to people’s daily lives, including at St Luke’s surgery in Botley—I have met the people at that surgery to highlight its important local value. Does the Prime Minister agree that the recent key announcement of £2.4 billion of funding for GPs is only possible because of a strong Conservative majority Government?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We made a choice to put £12 billion into the NHS in the last Parliament and £19 billion into the NHS in this Parliament. We want to see strengthened primary care. Our vision is of GPs coming together and having physiotherapists, mental health practitioners and other clinics in their surgeries, so that people can get the healthcare they need and we take the pressure off hospitals. That will only happen with a Government who keep investing in our NHS.

Yesterday, after 27 years, the 96 people who tragically lost their lives at Hillsborough, and their families, finally received the justice they were entitled to. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has apologised for the actions of previous Governments, and I join him in paying tribute to all those families who have campaigned with such dignity, steadfastness and determination, to get to the truth of what happened to their loved ones on that dreadful afternoon. I also pay a warm tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), for Halton (Derek Twigg) and for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and other MPs who have relentlessly campaigned with great difficulty over many years. I hope that the whole House will be united in demanding that all those involved in the lies, smears and cover-ups that have so bedevilled this whole inquiry will now be held to account.

Last week the Prime Minister told the House that he was going to put rocket boosters on his forced academisation proposals. This weekend, in the light of widespread unease—including among his own MPs—it seems that the wheels are falling off the rocket boosters, and that the Government are considering a U-turn. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether that U-turn is being prepared for or not?

Let me join the right hon. Gentleman in praising those who campaigned so hard and for so long to get justice for the victims of Hillsborough. This whole process took far too long, and it is right that we had the Jones report—I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham)—and responded to it. I also want to mention the former Attorney General, who took the case to the High Court for the Government himself, to argue for that vital second inquest.

On academies, I have not yet met a rocket booster with a wheel on it, but rocket science is not really my subject, and apparently it is not the right hon. Gentleman’s. I repeat: academies are raising standards in our schools, and I want a system where heads and teachers run schools, not bureaucrats.

Well, there wasn’t much of an answer there. Will the Prime Minister tell the House—[Interruption.] If Conservative Members would be patient, they might hear the simple question that I am putting to the Prime Minister. Will he tell the House whether he will bring forward legislation to force good and outstanding schools to become academies against their wishes in the upcoming Queen’s Speech? Yes or no?

Obviously, I cannot really pre-empt what is in the Queen’s Speech, but on this one example I can help out the right hon. Gentleman. We are going to have academies for all, and it will be in the Queen’s Speech.

We look forward to that, but there is still time for the U-turn that I am sure is at the back of the Prime Minister’s mind. It has been reported that the Government are considering allowing good local authorities to form multi-academy trusts. Ironically, that would give local authorities more responsibility for running schools than they have now, although the Prime Minister has previously suggested that local authorities are holding schools back. Why is this costly reorganisation necessary for schools that are already good or outstanding? Why is he forcing it on them?

As I said last week—this is good; I like repeats on television, and I am very happy to have them in the House as well—outstanding schools have nothing to fear from becoming academies, and indeed they have a lot to gain. Just because a school is outstanding or good does not mean that it cannot have further improvement. We want outstanding schools to help other schools in their area, often by being part of an academy trust. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned local authorities—[Interruption.] He has asked two questions so far, with two very clear answers. Third question, and third clear answer coming—[Interruption.] Simmer down. Perhaps if he could deal with the anti-Semites in his party, we would all be prepared to listen to him a bit more—perhaps we will come on to that.

Of course, there are lots of ways in which schools can become academies: they can convert and become academies; they can be sponsored by an outside organisation; they can work with other schools in the area; they can look at working with the local authority. Those schools that want to go on using local authority services are free to do so. I am very clear: academies are great and academies for all is a good policy. What we are now seeing from Labour, I sense, is that it is moving in favour of academy schools. Perhaps when the right hon. Gentleman gets to his feet, he can say: does he favour academies or not?

The Prime Minister will be aware that repeats on television sometimes get more viewers than they did the first time round.

The chief executive of the largest academy chain in London, the Harris Academy, has warned that a far more fundamental thing that the Prime Minister should be worrying about, rather than whether schools should become academies or not, is teacher shortages. The academies do not want this; parents do not want it; teachers do not want it; governors do not want it; Conservative councils and MPs do not want it. Who actually does want this top-down reorganisation that he is imposing on our education system?

Okay. Question 4, answer 4: here it comes. The right hon. Gentleman asks who wants this. Let us start with Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools. I think he is someone worth listening to. He said that

“academisation can lead to rapid improvements…I”

firmly

“believe it is right to give more autonomy to the front line”.

The OECD has been in the news today, so let us try that. This should not be too controversial. The OECD states:

“I view the trend towards academies as a very promising development in the UK, which used to have a rather prescriptive education system”.

So it supports it. What about the endless academy trusts who support it?

The right hon. Gentleman asked another question, and, very keen for full answers—[Interruption.] If you shout, you will not hear the answer. He asked about teacher shortages, but the fact is that there are more school places and more teachers under this Government than there were under Labour. Why? Because we have got a successful economy, and we are putting it into our schools and our children’s future.

There are, of course, still record numbers of children in over-sized and super-sized classes, and that is getting worse. If the Prime Minister is looking for support for his academisation proposal, he might care to phone his friends, the leaders of Hampshire, West Sussex and his own Oxfordshire county council, who are deeply concerned and opposed to it. He might care to listen to Councillor Carter, the Conservative chair of the County Councils Network, who said that

“the change will lead to a poorer education system”.

Why, then, is the Prime Minister pushing this through with so much opposition and concern, and when it is such a waste of money, when we should be investing in teachers and schools, not top-down reorganisation?

I am glad the right hon. Gentleman is quoting Conservative council leaders, and because they keep the council tax down and provide good services, I hope we will see more of them in 10 days’ time. To be clear on teacher supply, there are 13,000 more teachers than there were in 2010.

To give a wholly accurate answer to his fourth question, the right hon. Gentleman asked who else supports academies. Let me quote Helena Mills of the Burnt Mill Academy Trust. She said:

“I used to be very sceptical about, and resistant to, academy status. But during the process of developing the…Academy…I have been increasingly convinced that”

this

“is the way forward.”

That is what more and more people are saying. That is why 1.3 million more children are in good and outstanding schools. That is why almost nine out of 10 converter academies are good or outstanding schools. On this side of the House we are very clear: we back aspiration; we back opportunity; we back investment in our schools; we want every child to get the best. It is Labour that wants to hold back opportunity and have one-size-fits-all.

A pattern seems to be developing. [Interruption.] It is quite simply this: the Prime Minister has a Health Secretary who is imposing a contract on junior doctors, against the wishes of patients, the public and the rest of the medical profession; and he has an Education Secretary who is imposing yet another Tory top-down reorganisation that nobody wants. When will his Government show some respect and listen to the public, parents and patients, and indeed to professionals who have given their lives to public service in education and health? When will he change his ways, listen to them and trust other people to run services, rather than imposing things from above?

I tell right hon. Gentleman the pattern that is developing: we can see 1.9 million more people being treated in our health service; and we can see 1.3 million more children in “good” or “outstanding” schools. That is the pattern that is developing: a strong economy, investing into our public services. The other pattern that I have noticed, standing at this Dispatch Box, is that I am on my fifth Labour leader—and if he carries on like this, I will soon be on my sixth.

Q2. The Government package to help potential buyers of the Tata Steel site in Port Talbot is substantial and befits the tremendous bipartisan endeavours this Government have undertaken to save the industry, and it stands in stark contrast with the distasteful, disrespectful comments of Labour’s policy adviser, who said that the steel crisis had been “good for Labour”. Is there any indication that the package could help expedite the sale of the site, which could provide the long-term viable future for Welsh steel, which we all hope for, and for the workers who live in my constituency of Gower?

(904688)

I want to thank my hon. Friend for welcoming me to the Gower yesterday. Before coming to his constituency I visited Port Talbot, where I met the management and trade unions, and had a very constructive discussion. [Interruption.] I did actually meet the Conservative leader, Andrew R. T. Davies, who does an excellent job in the Welsh Assembly. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) wants to be Speaker, he had better stop interrupting everybody, as it is not going to get him any votes—a little tip for him there. But the serious point is about the areas where we could help. We could help on power, on procurement and on the issue of pensions. There is a very constructive conversation going on, but I say again from this Dispatch Box that although I want to do everything we can to secure the future for not only Port Talbot but for Scunthorpe and for steelmaking in Britain we are coping with a massive oversupply from China and a collapse in prices. We must therefore do all we can. There is no guarantee of success, but if we work hard and get a proper sales process and get behind it on a bipartisan basis we can see success here.

Following the Hillsborough inquiry, we join in all the comments made so far in relation to the families and in paying tribute to all the campaigners for justice.

Last night, the Government were defeated for the second time in the House of Lords on the issue of refugee children being given refuge in the United Kingdom. Many Members of that House, like many Members of this one, in all parties, including on the Prime Minister’s own side, would wish us to do much, much more in helping provide refuge for unaccompanied children in Europe. Will the Prime Minister please reconsider his opposition and stop walking by on the other side?

I do not think anyone can accuse this country of walking on by in this refugee crisis. Let us be very clear about what we have done: first, we are taking the 20,000 refugees from outside Europe, which I think has all-party support; secondly, last week we announced the further 3,000—principally unaccompanied children and children at risk from outside Europe—whom we will be taking; and, thirdly, under our normal refugee procedures, last year we took more than 3,000 unaccompanied children. But where I disagree, respectfully, with their lordships’ House is that those people who are in European countries are in safe European countries. To compare—somehow—children or adults who are in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Greece with children stuck in Nazi Germany is deeply wrong, and we will continue our approach, which includes being the second largest donor country anywhere in the world in those refugee camps.

As in the 1930s, there are thousands—[Interruption.] Apparently, there is “no comparison” between thousands of children needing refuge in the 1930s and thousands of children in Europe at the present time—[Interruption.] Yes! Yes!

Order. I am not interested in someone yelling out their opinion of the right hon. Gentleman’s question. This is the home of free speech. The right hon. Gentleman, and every other Member, will be heard, however long this session takes. That is very clear.

Europol estimates that 10,000 unaccompanied children in Europe have disappeared. This is an existential question about the safety of vulnerable children. The Prime Minister thinks that it is not the responsibility of the United Kingdom to help unaccompanied children in Europe, so I ask him: who has the moral responsibility for feeding them, clothing them, educating them and giving them refuge, if not us, and everyone in Europe?

Let me answer that very directly. First, any unaccompanied child who has direct family in Britain, on claiming asylum under the Dublin regulations, can come to Britain—and quite right too. But the right hon. Gentleman asked who was responsible for refugees. The answer to that question is the country the refugees are in. I want Britain to play our part, but we have to ask ourselves whether we do better by taking a child from a refugee camp, or taking a child from Lebanon, or taking a child from Jordan, than by taking a child from France, Italy or Germany. As I have said, to compare this with the 1930s is, frankly, to insult those countries, which are our neighbours and partners.

Q3. ATP Industries Group, which is based in Cannock Wood, is one of Europe’s largest independent remanufacturers of automated transmission and vehicle electronics. Last week, it was given a Queen’s Award for innovation. It exports goods across the globe, and its international trade increased by more than 50% last year. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating ATP, and will he tell us what the Government are doing to help exporters to reach new markets? (904689)

I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating ATP. It is very difficult to win a Queen’s Award for exports, so it does deserve praise. What we want to see in our country is this. We currently have one in five small and medium-sized enterprises that export, and if we could make it one in four, we would wipe out our trade deficit. We are encouraging that through the work of UK Trade & Investment, but, as I saw yesterday in south Wales, we are also encouraging it by encouraging reshoring: by encouraging the supply and components industries—including those that supply the automotive industry—to come back onshore and invest in Britain.

Q6. In my constituency, the Zielsdorfs have lived and raised their family in the small village of Laggan for many years. Despite their full co-operation, they face an uphill and fruitless battle with the Home Office. They have had their driving licences revoked, and they are being forced out of the community that they have served, and in which they have invested, by a technicality involving their business—the local shop. Will the Prime Minister look into this grossly unfair situation, and work with me to achieve justice for the family? (904692)

I will certainly have a look at that case. If the hon. Gentleman lets me know the names involved and the nature of the issues, I will make sure that the Home Office looks into it urgently.

Q4. As the Prime Minister will know from getting stuck on his way into Bath just before the general election last year, my constituency is plagued by high air pollution levels and by congestion. Given the Government’s commitment to investing billions of pounds in infrastructure—something that the Labour Government failed to do in 13 years—will he consider committing himself to looking at the construction of the long overdue and much-needed missing A36/A46 link road to the east of my constituency? (904690)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Some people think that if we care about air quality there is no room for any road building, but, of course, stationary traffic pollutes much more than moving traffic. We must make sure that the arteries that serve all our constituencies are open, and I will look carefully at what my hon. Friend has said. However, we should also recognise that air quality is improving. Nitrogen oxide levels have fallen by 17% over the last four years, and we want to do more by introducing the clean air programme.

Q11. With the United Kingdom facing its most momentous decision for a generation in eight weeks’ time, does the Prime Minister think it makes more sense to listen to all our closest friends and allies around the world, or to a combination of French fascists, Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin? (904697)

I am glad the right hon. Gentleman takes the English pronunciation of Farage, rather than the poncey, foreign-sounding one that he seems to prefer—a thoroughly good thing. I think we should listen to our friends and our allies. Looking around the world, it is hard to find the leader of a country who wishes us well who wants us to do other than stay inside a reformed European Union.

Q5. The new ISAs announced in this year’s Budget are very welcome. They will help people to save for homes and for retirement. As my right hon. Friend will have seen in this morning’s City AM, hidden fees can strip as much as a third off the gains a pension could make over a lifetime. What are the Government doing to ensure that firms investing people’s hard-earned savings reveal all the fees they charge, so that people know exactly what they will pay and can choose the investment that is best for them? (904691)

My hon. Friend has fought a long campaign on this—and rightly so. One of the things that sap people’s enthusiasm for investing in savings products is a sense that they do not understand the fees and charges, and do not know how much they will get. Since last April, we have ensured that trustees of defined contribution pension schemes report charges levied on members. The Financial Conduct Authority is committed to making regulations with us during this Parliament to require the publication of more costs and charges. We have given ourselves the legal duty to do so, but I am sure he will push us all the way to make sure it happens.

Q12. The Prime Minister and his Government did next to nothing to save the Scottish steel industry; it was left to the Scottish Government to do that. The UK Government are now breaking the promises made by Tories and Labour to protect the Scottish shipbuilding industry. Why does the Prime Minister think that Scottish jobs are so expendable? (904699)

Frankly, the Scottish Government and the UK Government should work together. One thing we should work together on is procurement. It is worth asking how much Scottish steel was in the Forth road bridge—zero! None! Absolutely nothing! Yes. What a contrast with the warships we are building, which of course we would not be building if we had an independent Scotland. We back the steel industry with actions as well as words. [Interruption.]

Q7. Hatred and ignorance lie at the heart of anti-Semitism. When those in public life express such views they denigrate not only themselves but the institutions to which they belong. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House of his commitment to fighting this vicious form of prejudice?

(904693)

It is very simple: anti-Semitism is effectively racism, and we should call it out and fight it wherever we see it. Frankly, the fact that a Labour Member of Parliament, with the Labour Whip, made remarks about the “transportation” of people from Israel to America, talked about a “solution” and is still in receipt of the Labour Whip is quite extraordinary. The shadow Chancellor said about these people:

“Out, out, out. If people express these views: full stop they’re out. People might be able to reform their views and the rest of it. On this? I can’t see it…I’m not having it. People might say ‘I’ve changed my views’ – well, do something in another organisation.”

Frankly, there will be too many hours in the day before that happens to the MP in question.

Q13. My constituent Joseph Brown-Lartey was killed at the age of 25 by an 18-year-old driving a hire car without a licence at 80 mph in a 30-mph zone. The 18-year-old was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and received a sentence of just six years, of which he will probably serve three. Two weeks ago, I, along with Joseph’s family, delivered a 20,000 signature petition calling for tougher sentences for causing death by dangerous driving. Does the Prime Minister agree that sentences for these crimes are too lenient? When can we expect to get a response to our petition and get justice for Joseph? (904700)

I have every sympathy with the family in question. I had an almost identical case in my constituency where a young girl was killed by a dangerous driver. The maximum sentence is 14 years, so the courts do have the ability to sentence longer, but I know what this means to the families. I am making sure that the roads Minister is looking again at all these issues relating to dangerous driving, and I will ensure that the case that the hon. Lady mentions is taken into account as well.

Q8. As the birthplace of the industrial revolution, Dudley is proud of its heritage, but we need economic stability to deliver a prosperous future. Will the Prime Minister come to launch the new enterprise zone in Brierley Hill and look at how we can attract more investment, create new jobs and develop the highly skilled workforce that our community needs? (904694)

I will look very carefully at whether I am able to do that, because we support the industrial regeneration of the black country. The truth is that enterprise zones have been a success. They have created nearly 25,000 jobs, attracted over 630 companies and secured £2.4 billion of private sector investment. The delivery of enterprise zones has involved a lot of hard work by local authorities. I pay tribute to them, and I wish my hon. Friend well in the black country.

Q14. Given the strategic and economic importance of the M62 corridor to the northern powerhouse, will the Prime Minister give me and the people of Bradford his commitment to the electrification of the Calder Valley line and lend his support to the great city of Bradford being a fundamental part of the proposed northern powerhouse rail network? (904701)

We have made commitments on the electrification of north-south lines and east-west lines. I will have to look very carefully at the hon. Lady’s proposal, but we want everywhere—Bradford included—to benefit from the northern powerhouse.

Q9. In Cumbria, nuclear matters. We have the nuclear legacy at Sellafield, defence work at Barrow and the prospect of serious investment in a new nuclear plant at Moorside. Given the apparent opposition to nuclear from the Opposition, will the Prime Minister confirm that the long-term decisions for nuclear power and defence will be made in a timely manner? (904695)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that Cumbria depends to a large extent on jobs from the industries he mentions. We continue to invest in reprocessing procedures at Sellafield. As he knows, we are also looking at redeveloping our commercial nuclear industry, starting with the vital decisions at Hinkley Point, which could then have great benefits for other areas that want nuclear power stations. Barrow is home to the development of our nuclear submarines and we will hold a vote in this House to make sure that we renew Trident in full.

The Prime Minister has just suggested that child refugees who are alone in Europe are safe. Children’s homes are full in Italy and Greece, and more than 1,000 children will sleep rough alone tonight in Greece. How are they safe? Ten thousand children have disappeared in Europe. How are they safe? The agencies say that children are committing survival sex and that they are being abused and subjected to prostitution and rape. It is not insulting to other European countries to offer to help: they want us to help. So will he reconsider his position on Alf Dubs’s amendment before it comes back for a vote, and will he stop, through his attitude to lone child refugees, putting this House and this country to shame?

The right hon. Lady asks whether we are helping other European countries, and we are, not least with the £10 million we recently announced. The crucial point is this: how do we in Britain best help child refugees? We think that we help them by taking them from the refugee camps, taking them from Lebanon, taking them from Jordan and taking them when they come to this country. That is what we are doing. We have a proud record and nothing to be ashamed of.

Q10. Several small businesses that I met in Tadcaster last week are being treated appallingly by insurance companies. Four months after the floods, claims have not been settled and renewal premiums are being hiked to astronomical levels. The Government have rightly helped to introduce the Flood Re scheme to help homeowners after flooding, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the same protection should be given to small business owners too? (904696)

I recognise the problem that my hon. Friend lays out. When my constituency was badly flooded, some insurance companies paid out quickly, but others were not so fast. When we look at what happened during the winter, we see that 82% of claims have been paid out, but if colleagues have specific examples the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be interested to see them so that we can get on top of the insurance industry. We are looking specifically at whether we need a Flood Re-style approach for small businesses to ensure that they can get the insurance they need.

Three years ago, my mother fell seriously ill while on holiday in France. Thanks to the French health service, she received excellent treatment and was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer, but she is doing well today thanks to our NHS. Millions of Brits travel to other EU countries every year and benefit, like my mum, from the European health insurance card. What would happen to the card should we vote to leave on 23 June?

May I, on behalf of the whole House, wish the hon. Lady’s mother well in her treatment from the NHS? The hon. Lady raises the important point that this is one of the benefits we now have. Many of us will have used it ourselves or with our own children, and think we can make the system even better as we are. It is for those who want to leave the European Union to explain whether, if we were to leave, we would still be able to access this and other such systems, which are very handy for people when going about their holidays.

Whatever the outcome of the EU referendum, does the Prime Minister agree that one thing that will never diminish is the mutual affection and admiration between Britain and our great ally, France? Given that connection, will he pay tribute to the people who fought and won the Normandy campaign, such as the late Captain Paul Cash, the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who was killed fighting in Normandy at the age of 26 having won the Military Cross, and Sergeant Peter Carne, who, at 93, is at Westminster today, and who built the Bailey bridges that enabled the breakout from the Normandy beachhead and will receive the Légion d’honneur in a typically generous gesture from our French allies?

I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all those who served, particularly those who fell in that heroic campaign. One of the things I have been able to do as Prime Minister of which I am proudest was to go to the vigil on the 70th anniversary of our gliders preparing for the landings and to go to Gold beach to see the incredible work that was done. We should remember what they did and what it was that they gave their lives for, which was to achieve peace on our continent.

My constituent Debra has HIV, which she contracted via a partner who had received a contaminated blood transfusion. My constituent Neil has hepatitis, again from a contaminated transfusion, and he now needs a second liver transplant. Neither of them can hold down a full- time job because of their conditions’ catastrophic effects on their health, so they both absolutely rely on the support from the state that the Government now plan to slash in half. I simply ask the Prime Minister why the Government are so willing to attack people whose only mistake was to be unlucky.

What we said before the election was that we had set aside £25 million to help those who were infected with HIV because of contaminated blood. We have actually raised that since the election to over £100 million, and we are currently consulting all the groups about how best to use that money. We will actually be doing more than we said at the time of the election, which is necessary because these people have suffered through no fault of their own.