House of Commons
Tuesday 10 May 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before questions
That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough constituency of Tooting in the room of Sadiq Aman Khan, who since his election for the said Borough constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, in the County of Buckingham.—(Dame Rosie Winterton.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of his proposals to reform the NHS bursary on future levels of recruitment into the medical professions. (904937)
The reform to the NHS bursary will lift the cap currently placed on university places for nurses, midwives and allied health professions. Universities will be able to train up to 10,000 extra students by the end of this Parliament. This increase in UK graduates will reduce NHS reliance on expensive agency staff and staff from overseas.
I am certain that the Minister will want to congratulate the SNP on sweeping spectacularly to a historic third successive term, all on a manifesto pledge to protect rather than abolish the nursing bursary in Scotland. The serious question is this: how does the Secretary of State plan to monitor the impact that the removal of the bursary might have on students from poorer backgrounds who are training as nurses in England?
I would like to congratulate my friend the leader of the Scottish Conservative party, who has led the extraordinary resurgence of Conservatism and Unionism north of the border.
I regret very much that the SNP is not endorsing our plan to give opportunity to thousands more people who want to become nurses, especially those from under-privileged backgrounds. We will of course monitor the reform, not only as we continue our process towards making a decision, taking account of all the equalities analysis that will be done in the interim, but after the final decision has been made.
It is recognised that there is a high proportion of mature students of nursing and other health professions. How does the Secretary of State plan to mitigate the effects of the removal of the bursary and provide support to students who have family commitments or who already have a student loan from a previous degree?
The NHS benefits enormously from mature students entering the service, and that is why we have already said that we will be looking at offering second-degree bursaries in the scheme. The consultation is clear: it asks a number of open questions, inviting responses from nurses and nurse trainees about how best to support mature students. We will be looking at those carefully as we formulate our conclusions.
With the increased cost of training as a nurse and a 1% pay freeze throughout this Parliament, how does the Secretary of State plan to recruit and retain sufficient nurses in permanent posts in the short term, so that patient care and staff wellbeing are not negatively affected?
South of the border we have been able over the past six years to increase the number of nurses, both in training and in the service, which has been made possible by the stronger economy and the stewardship of the NHS, in such contrast to the developing picture in Scotland. We are able to expand the numbers in training by up to 10,000 between now and 2020 as a result of that innovative policy, and that is why it should also be adopted in Scotland.
We have indeed, and it is remarkable that south of the border we have seen a university that would equate to the fourth largest in the country filled every year as a result of the reforms to higher education funding, and a university the size of the University of Leicester filled with those who would not previously have gone to university as a result of the reforms that we introduced in 2011. I want to see those benefits extended across the range including to those who have not so far had them—namely, student nurses.
Considering the importance and the central role of nurses in the medical profession and in helping people when they are ill, how long does the Minister expect it will take on average for a nurse working in the NHS to pay back the total debt that would be accrued under the Government’s proposed replacement for the bursary scheme?
It depends of course on the career progression of that particular nurse, but the repayment terms will be precisely those for students of other degrees. Newly qualified nurses will not pay any more than they do currently, and the exact rates at which they will pay back—9% above £21,000—are outlined carefully in the consultation document. I recommend that the hon. Lady looks at it and sees the benefits that will come from the reform that, were it to be adopted in Scotland, would provide an enormous benefit to the service north of the border.
I start by congratulating the Secretary of State on becoming the longest serving Health Secretary in history. It is an important-landmark, not least because it is the first target that he has managed to hit.
On NHS bursaries, last week the Minister said that
“more mature students are applying now than in 2010.”—[Official Report, 4 May 2016; Vol. 609, c. 197.]
However, a written answer given to me yesterday by the Minister for Universities and Science appears to contradict this. Indeed, it shows that numbers of mature students have fallen in the past five years by almost 200,000. Given that the average age of a student nurse is 28, and in the light of the clear evidence from his own Government, will the Minister correct the record and commit to looking again at the impact of these proposals on mature students, who form a significant part of the student nurse intake?
I, too, as I know will all my ministerial colleagues, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on a remarkable tenure in his post.
It is clear that mature student numbers dropped immediately after the higher education reforms, but they then started rising and have now exceeded the rate before the reforms. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the details of that. We are also clear that we need to nurture mature students, which is why the consultation asked the specific question that it did. We want to invite answers from the service about how best we can do that because we are clear that the current system is not working as well as it should.
Specialist Nurses: Disabled People
2. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of specialist nurses in supporting disabled people. (904938)
Specialist nurses make a valuable contribution to the care of disabled people. They have specialist post-registration qualifications, which are attained through additional training. There are now 3,000 more nurses working in the NHS than in May 2010, ensuring that disabled people continue to receive the highest possible quality care.
It is true that the skills mix and the way in which specialist nurses have changed over the past six years may well account for the variation that the hon. Lady has noticed—I am willing to write to her with the detail—but the total number of nurses has increased, and we are giving better and more varied training to nurses across the board so that they can deal with the specialist problems that are increasingly the core part of their work.
I thank the Minister for his response. Specialist nurses are vital for the care and support that they provide for patients and families, not just for the elderly but for the disabled. What is his Department doing to ensure that funding for specialist nurses is maintained and that we do not end up in the situation that we have in Northern Ireland with Four Seasons, which is responsible for 62 homes in Northern Ireland and 450 across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
Funding for nurses has increased over the past six years. It is because of the sixth largest increase in the NHS budget that we can guarantee that nursing numbers will remain in that strong position for the remainder of this Parliament. That will include specialist nurses. My role is to make sure that as many nurses as possible get additional training so that we have a wider and richer skills mix, specifically so that nurses can develop their careers—something that I am afraid was often made more difficult rather than easier under the previous career structure.
The biosimilars—the generic versions of biologic products—represent part of the extraordinary range of new drugs that are becoming available for the benefit of our patients. The Government are committed to ensuring access to drugs for UK patients at the highest level of quality and safety, and to ensuring that effective biosimilar medicines are available. That is why we are leading, not just here but in Europe, the regulatory regime through the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency as the lead assessor and rapporteur. In the NHS, the chief pharmaceutical officer, Keith Ridge, and the commercial medicines unit in my directorate have put together a framework agreement for biosimilars, and through the medicines optimisation programme we are looking specifically at biosimilars, and we have set up a national biosimilars medicines group.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. May I ask also that where NHS pharmacists are involved in oncology clinics, there is a higher prescribing of biosimilars? What steps are in place to encourage more oncology clinics to involve NHS pharmacists at the start of the patient’s treatment journey?
Not surprisingly, my hon. and, in this field, learned Friend makes a very important point. We have set up a number of initiatives to that very end: to make sure that our pharmacologists and pharmacists in the system are alert and have all the information they need to increase the prescription of biologics and the generic versions, biosimilars. I will happily write to her, describing a range of initiatives that are in place which we are pursuing to that end.
One of the issues around the adoption of biosimilars and, indeed, driving down the NHS drugs budget generally is the lack of local analysis of patterns of prescribing against efficacy and cost. I wonder whether the Minister would consider encouraging clinical commissioning groups to appoint analytical pharmacists, who could look at this equation and recommend different prescribing decisions on a local basis.
Lyme disease is a complex infection, so we recognise that there are real challenges in diagnosis and treatment. In the light of this, I am pleased to say that the Department plans to commission three reviews on the diagnosis, treatment and transmission of Lyme disease to inform future decision making.
A constituent in Earby was struck down with a debilitating illness several years ago, which has totally destroyed her quality of life. Since then, I have been visiting her regularly at home every few months, as she has fought to get a diagnosis. Over recent months, all the evidence has started to point towards Lyme disease, but there seems to be precious little support out there for people with this condition. What more can my hon. Friend do to support constituents like mine?
In addition to the reviews that the chief scientific adviser is overseeing, we have commissioned the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to develop a new evidence-based guideline for care, specifically to respond to the sort of situation that my hon. Friend describes with his constituent. That is for publication in 2018 and it is being prioritised because of the interest in this area.
Agency Staffing Expenditure
We have taken tough measures to control unsustainable spending on agency staff, which cost the NHS more than £3 billion last year. Overall agency spend is now falling and we expect to save the NHS at least £1 billion this year as a result.
I think the hon. Gentleman is right that we have historically not trained enough staff to work in the NHS and been over-optimistic about the staff needs. That is why, in this Parliament, we will be training over 11,000 more doctors as a result of the spending review, and 40,000 more nurses.
In the Public Accounts Committee, which I sit on with the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), we have repeatedly come to this question about agency staffing. The key thing is, as he says, that the establishment level for acute hospitals is always under par, because the budget set from the centre is never enough to meet it. Will the Secretary of State go and take a serious look at this issue, and stop this myth that it is just down to the rates paid? That is part of the problem, but it is not the main problem.
Perhaps I can give the hon. Lady some comfort. I recognise that there is a big mountain to move, but the changes we made last year were not just about changing the rates paid to agencies. They were also about capping the amounts agencies can pay their own staff, because we think it is incredibly divisive inside hospitals to have two nurses doing exactly the same work, but one being paid dramatically more than the other. We are also capping the total amount hospitals can spend on agency staff. The result is that the monthly spend on agency staff is now falling and we are on track to reduce the agency bill by about £1 billion in this Parliament.
Spending on agency staff has gone through the roof under this Health Secretary, and the Secretary of State’s attempt to deal with the symptoms of the problem but not the cause has left hospitals struggling to get staff at rates they are allowed to pay. In the past few weeks we have seen reports of emergency surgery suspended in Doncaster, an A&E department downgraded in Chorley and two critical care units closed in Leeds, all because of staff shortages. The Health Secretary has admitted that this will be his last big job in politics. May I urge him before he goes to get a grip on the cause of the staffing crisis? Otherwise, it will be patients who will be facing the consequences long after he has gone.
May I start by thanking the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) for his generous congratulations earlier, and indeed for making history himself by being the first Opposition Member I can remember to congratulate the Government on hitting a target?
I say to the hon. Lady that, as a result of the measures we have taken to deal with the agency staff issue, we think we have saved £290 million compared with what we would have spent since last October, two thirds of trusts are reporting savings and the price paid for agency nurses is 10% lower than it was in October. The root cause of the problem is, as the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) said, our failure in the past to recruit enough staff. One of the reasons for that is that successive Governments failed to understand the needs of nursing in wards, which is why we had the problem at Mid Staffs. Because we are addressing that, we are now able to make sure that we do not pay excessive rates for agency staff.
If I may turn to another part of the staffing crisis, all Opposition Members welcome the resumption of talks on the junior doctors contract. It is in no one’s interest—not the Government’s, not junior doctors’ and certainly not patients’—for this dispute to drag on any longer. May I implore the Health Secretary to do all he can to find a reasonable compromise this week that will keep doctors in the NHS and ensure that we have a motivated, well trained and fairly rewarded workforce to continue to deliver the excellent care we all want?
I thank the hon. Lady for her reasonable tone and absolutely give her that assurance. We have always wanted a negotiated outcome to this dispute. That is why we paused the introduction of the new contracts last November to give talks a chance to succeed, and it is why this week I have said we will further pause the introduction of the new contracts to see whether we can get a negotiated outcome. We want a motivated workforce and we are highly cognisant of the fact that hospitals that offer seven-day care and higher standards of care for patients are the very hospitals that have some of the highest levels of morale in the NHS. It takes two to tango, and I very much hope that the British Medical Association will play ball and its part this week in helping us to deliver a safer seven-day NHS.
The extraordinary pace of progress in biomedical science, not least in genomics and data, is transforming our understanding of cancer. It is leading to greater identification of more rare cancers, and indeed to more diseases becoming rare diseases. That is why we have invested so heavily in Genomics England and set up the 13 genomic medicine centres around the UK, leading in cancer and rare disease diagnosis. I am delighted that we are now setting up a Northern Ireland General Medical Council, which will collect 17,000 samples. We will implement the recommendations of the independent cancer taskforce on diagnosis and we are setting up a series of regional genetic laboratories and infrastructure. I believe the hon. Gentleman will be able to see that we are investing heavily in making sure we lead not only in the science but in the adoption of genomic medicine in the NHS.
I thank the Minister for all that, but remind him that there is concern about the implications of the cancer drugs fund details, as they will affect people with rare cancers. Is he prepared to promote progress on rare and less-common cancers as part of the new work programme for the British-Irish Council? The challenges of small patient numbers, thinner investment in research, and symptoms being less well known are not confined to his jurisdiction.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. In both Northern Ireland and the Republic, I have seen some great leadership in this field, and as the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences, I would be delighted to pick this up through that council, and suggest that our nations, working together, can collaborate better, not least in implementing the accelerated access reforms that I am putting in place. Those reforms, aligned with the cancer drugs fund in its revised format, should see us able to accelerate the adoption of drugs for rarer cancers for patients’ benefit.
In part because they are the hidden majority, people with rarer cancers are often diagnosed later, often through an emergency presentation. That can make for more aggressive treatments, which can have a longer-term impact on health. Will the Minister update the House on tailored recovery packages, and the plan to roll those out that was outlined by the Government back in September last year—a Government who have, I must say, been a great friend to the cancer community?
I am very grateful for that acknowledgment. We have put £1 billion into the cancer drugs fund, and we are completely committed to increasing the pace at which we bring cancer drugs through. It is true that cancer outcomes have improved quickly since 2010; in 2014-15, over 645,000 more patients with suspected cancers were seen. That is an increase of 71%. Almost 40,000 more patients were treated for cancer—an increase of 17%. We have announced funding of up to £300 million a year by 2020 to increase diagnostic capacity, so that we can meet the new target, which is that patients will be given a definitive cancer diagnosis or the all-clear within 28 days of being referred by a GP.
We are very grateful for all the work that is going on, and for how we are pulling together and working as a United Kingdom, but is there any way of helping those people who cannot afford to travel to the specialists to get the treatment? That is a huge chunk out of a devolved budget, and it is something that we should be working on together.
I will happily look at that as part of the discussions with the council that I just touched on. We are determined to make sure that this life science revolution is not just in the Oxford-Cambridge-London triangle, but goes out across all the devolved areas, which of course are leading on much of the science. That is why we are committed, through the National Institute for Health Research and the NHS, to creating hubs across the country, so that everybody can benefit.
Is my hon. Friend aware that about a third of people, including those with rare cancers, will, on their cancer journey, use some form of complementary or alternative medicine? Is he further aware that there is a range of new treatments out there that are being used in the private sector, including virotherapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy? The second particularly can help people who have serious effects from chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Will he look at some of these treatments and write to me about them?
I am not against people taking whatever they feel helps, but my hon. Friend will understand that in this field, in allocating every pound, we need to be guided by the very best science and evidence. Internationally, we are applauded for the quality of our assessment, and I intend to do everything to make sure that that continues.
Outcomes in cancer are not just about survival. Does the Minister agree that nowhere is the case for a seven-day NHS stronger than in palliative medicine, and will he say what can be done, in rolling out the 7/7 NHS, to address the scandal whereby only one in five hospitals has specialist palliative care cover on a Saturday and Sunday?
My hon. Friend makes a really important and specific point. He is absolutely right, and that is one reason why we are committed to our seven-day NHS. It is improving—I can share the data with him—but he makes a good point, and that is one reason why we need to continue.
Social Care Budgets
Good morning, Mr Speaker—[Interruption]—and everyone.
There is a link between adult social care funding and demand for NHS services. More recent analysis shows no definitive relationship, but Forder’s 2009 study showed a £1 reduction in social care spend increasing NHS demand by 35p. That is why Government have driven the integration of health and social care, and given councils up to £3.5 billion of new support by 2019-20.
The Royal College of Surgeons has said that
“the new council tax precept will not raise enough funds for the areas of the country”
with the greatest need. In Newcastle, it will raise £1.7 million this year, but the funding gap is £15 million. Why is the Minister’s Government making my constituents pay more for worse social care, increasing the pressure on the NHS and causing misery for millions?
The better care fund has been adjusted to recognise that not all councils can raise a similar amount of money through the social care precept, so the issue that the hon. Lady raises has been noted and recognised. The only way in which the NHS can achieve better outcomes and meet the challenges of rising demand is through an increased focus on preventive community health and social care, and closer working with local authorities. That is what the pooled budget is designed to deliver, and that is what it will do.
Indeed, good morning, Mr Speaker.
A big challenge for local authorities and adult social care is how to fund the increases in the minimum wage that care providers have to pay. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) just detailed, the 2% social care precept does not cover all the increased costs and, indeed, in some areas, it is not even being passed on to care providers. The Local Government Association asked Ministers for £700 million from the better care fund to help with that increased cost this year and next year—not in 2019. When will Ministers listen to local councils and agree to bring forward that much needed funding to support what is effectively their own policy in the care sector?
I do not think that anyone fails to recognise that the next couple of years in social care will be very tight, but that is why the better care fund is there. Work has been done to increase the amount of money available to meet the challenges that the hon. Lady raises. I have to repeat that to fund this properly there has to be a sufficiently strong economy. There has to be the commitment to funding that the Government have been able to make almost uniquely in the House. I sometimes think it would help if she recognised the strength of the economy that has been able to do that by assisting local authorities, rather than complain about the amount of money available.
Accident and Emergency Services
Although we are not currently hitting the national A&E target, hospital A&E departments continue to perform well under great pressure. Overall they are coping with 1.9 million more attendances annually compared with 2009-10, and the average wait to see a doctor remains just 38 minutes.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Many of my constituents are concerned about the temporary closure of the Chorley A&E department, which now only operates as an urgent care service. What assurance can he give my constituents on A&E cover in and around the Bolton West constituency?
May I reassure my hon. Friend that I am very aware of this issue, and I have had a number of meetings with hon. Members to discuss it? Patient safety has to be the utmost priority. We are working with the local trust, and we have been given an assurance that neighbouring hospitals will be able to absorb any extra activity, and that it is working hard to try to reopen the A&E department.
The temporary closure of A&E services at Chorley hospital has had a knock-on effect on hospitals across Lancashire, and anecdotally I hear of many more people turning up at Preston Royal. What reassurances can the right hon. Gentleman give my constituents and residents across Lancashire that he is doing everything he can to make sure that the staffing issues at Chorley are fixed and that Chorley A&E is open again?
I can reassure the hon. Lady that we have been monitoring the situation closely and have provided extra capacity at the Royal Preston hospital. Her own Royal Lancaster infirmary has recently come out of special measures and done a really good job in turning round the quality of care after protracted difficulties. We continue to monitor the situation, and patient safety is our No. 1 priority.
Following centralisation and specialisation processes to drive up the quality of clinical care, we now have patients presenting at minor injuries units and urgent care centres with conditions that need to be treated elsewhere. Will my right hon. Friend take steps to ensure that those centres own the patients’ experience once they have presented, so that we never again have a patient with a serious illness being sent out to make their own way to A&E?
As ever on health matters, my hon. Friend speaks wisely. The fundamental issue is a high level of confusion about what happens to patients when they are faced with a bewildering choice about what to do when they have an urgent health need that needs resolving. They can call 111, try to get an urgent GP appointment, go to a walk-in centre, go to A&E and many other alternatives. We need to resolve that and make it simpler for patients so that they go to the right place first time. Urgent work is happening to ensure that we do that.
The closure of the A&E unit at Chorley and South Ribble district general hospital has ramifications across the north-west. I am informed that North West Ambulance Service has taken on three private ambulances at a cost of £70,000 each a month to provide the extra cover that is required. Does the Secretary of State accept that it is a false economy when he allows A&E units to close on his watch? He simply passes on the costs to other parts of the fractured NHS over which he presides.
I recognise that we have a difficult situation in Chorley and that people in that trust are working very closely together. The chief executive of the trust pointed out that the reason for the closure was that neighbouring trusts were not respecting the caps on agency staff that she was respecting. It is incredibly important that, across the NHS, we have a concerted effort to bring down the prices paid for agency staff, which I think is the root problem here. However, we are monitoring the situation closely.
But how will my right hon. Friend’s powers to ensure good quality accident and emergency provision in hospitals across Greater Manchester be affected by the devolution of health and social care responsibilities to Greater Manchester councils?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that, although we are happy to put the local authorities in Greater Manchester in the driving seat for some major changes, including what I hope will be the first full-scale integration of health and social care across the NHS, we are monitoring the performance against national standards. We will be able to see exactly how well they do on patient safety, waiting times and so on, and whether they live up to the big promises that have been made.
Junior Doctors: Industrial Dispute
Talks are now taking place between NHS employers and the British Medical Association to try to resolve outstanding issues around the junior doctors’ contract.
In his recent letter to the head of the BMA, the Secretary of State offered to discuss improving work-life balance, especially for people with family responsibilities. How exactly does he plan to do that with a contract that the Government’s own quality impact assessment has identified as especially disadvantaging women?
That is not correct. It is worth saying that the reason for the dispute is a manifesto commitment to a seven-day NHS that the Government made to the people of England and that the Scottish National party has not made to the people of Scotland. The weekend effect does not happen just in England. There are studies in Scotland, including the Handel study, which states:
“The excess of admissions ending in deaths at weekends compared with those during weekdays seen elsewhere were also found in Scotland.”
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that yes, we want to improve the quality of life for junior doctors so that they can live and work in the same city as their partners, and we are looking at the solution to that problem, but that he might think about doing the same thing in Scotland.
Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that Secretary of State Dean Rusk always said that jaw-jaw was better than war-war, and that it is welcome that the negotiations have resumed with the BMA on this difficult problem? Does he also accept that everyone wishes the talks well so that we can get a meaningful agreement that ensures a seven-day NHS for the benefit of patients and their safety?
My right hon. Friend speaks very wisely. Indeed, I was thinking about the talks as I spoke on my mobile phone and he was having a cigarette just outside the House yesterday morning. He is absolutely right about jaw-jaw. That is why I think that across the whole House we wish the talks well. However, for them to succeed all sides need to recognise their objective, which is a safer seven-day service for patients. I hope that, on that basis, we will be able to make progress.
I too am glad that the Secretary of State has reopened talks with the junior doctors, but I am a little concerned by the claim that the only issue is Saturday pay, whereas the doctors tell me that they fear the danger of exhaustion. Has he seen the analysis by Cass Business School suggesting that it is impossible to avoid high levels of fatigue under the new contract?
What I have done in the new contract is precisely to try to address those issues by reducing the maximum number of hours that junior doctors can be asked to work every week from 91 to 72 and by stopping junior doctors being asked to work six nights in a row or seven long days in a row. These are important steps forward, and the hon Lady may want to look at Channel 4 FactCheck and other independent analysis of the safety aspects of the new contract which say that this contract is a safer contract.
I would just say that stating it does not make it happen. Junior doctors have looked at the rotas that have been put out as exemplars, and they will not be able to avoid high levels of fatigue. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that, now that we have more data suggesting that the weekend effect may just be statistical, we actually require clinical research because he does not know exactly what the problem is that he is trying to fix?
The new data that the hon. Lady has talked about have been heavily contested this week by some of the most distinguished experts on mortality rates in the country. Academics do sometimes disagree, but Ministers have to decide. The fact is that the overwhelming evidence—whether it is on cancer, cardiac arrests, maternity or emergency surgery, and whether it is in big studies, small studies, UK studies or international studies—is that there is a weekend effect. This Government are determined to do something about it, and I gently say to the hon. Lady that she might consider whether something similar should be done in Scotland.
18. I am fully signed up to the national health service, and that is why I want to see the reopening of Chorley A&E as soon as possible. Many of my constituents use it.In his compromising mood, will my right hon. Friend ensure that, as he talks to the junior doctors, whom I value greatly, the one thing that he will not compromise on is delivering a full service seven days a week? (904954)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the end, the British people’s passion for, and commitment to, the NHS is based upon its offering the highest standard of care for patients. It is sometimes difficult to take these decisions and sometimes we have arguments around them. I want to reassure him that my compromising mood is not a temporary thing. We have always wanted a negotiated solution, but there is one bit that we will not compromise on: the moment that the Government start doing things that mean that we are not delivering safe care for patients is the moment that we will fundamentally shake confidence in the NHS. This Government will not allow that to happen.
Healthcare Costs (EU and UK Citizens)
For 2014-15, it is estimated that the UK owes other European economic area countries and Switzerland £674 million and is owed £49.5 million by other EEA countries and Switzerland for healthcare activity received in that year.
My constituents in Kettering are increasingly fed up with our national health service paying for the healthcare of foreigners who come to this country to freeload on our system. What more can be done to make sure that hospitals and other healthcare providers bill foreign citizens for the NHS services that they use in this country?
The Government take extremely seriously the issue of making sure that only those who should have access to NHS services do access them. Let me make an important point about the figures that I have just given. Some 80% of that imbalanced statistic represents our pensioners who choose to retire to Europe, typically for sunnier weather. The figure is 80% because many more UK pensioners retire to Europe than European pensioners retire here, and there will always be an imbalance. I am sure that even the keenest Brexiteer would not claim that Britain would be sunnier outside the EU.
Will the Minister encourage her Back Benchers to study the expert evidence that was given recently to the Select Committee on Health on the issue that the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) has just raised, our access to free healthcare in Europe, and the economic shock that our leaving the European Union would cause to the NHS finances and to major public health measures such as clean air and clean water that benefit us immensely? Every single one of them told our Committee that leaving the European Union would be disastrous for the NHS, disastrous for health and disastrous for public health.
On this, I am happy to say that I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I encourage all colleagues to look at the evidence deposited with the Committee. Just last year, UK European health insurance card holders—5.5 million people—were able to travel to any other EEA country or Switzerland safe in the knowledge that they would be able to receive free healthcare or reduced costs arising from healthcare if they needed it. That offers great peace of mind and shows that Britain is safer in a reformed EU.
Health and Social Care Integration
I concur with the remarks that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), just made.
The Government recognise that the NHS and adult social care face significant demand pressures, and established the better care fund to join up health and care. In 2016-17, the BCF will be increased to a mandated minimum of £3.9 billion, with additional social care funding of £1.5 billion by 2019-20.
NHS Cornwall has a significant overspend in 2015-16 because of the cost of keeping people in acute hospitals rather than their being cared for in the community. Despite the commitment and enthusiasm in Cornwall to achieve meaningful integration of health and social care, the pressure on NHS Cornwall finances threatens this badly needed integration. Does the Minister agree that investment in this today will lead to significant savings for the future and better outcomes for patients?
I am aware of significant problems in Cornwall that a number of Members have brought to me, and they are very complex. The clinical commissioning group is building on existing work with NHS England to address the financial challenges facing NHS Kernow and the wider local health and care system. Statutory directions were put in place late last year to support the CCG’s work with local partners in ensuring that services are affordable as well as good. An independently led capability and capacity review is being completed and an action plan is being implemented. I encourage the CCG to continue to work closely with NHS England to help to put its finances on a firmer foundation to achieve its integration plans. There is a further meeting planned locally tomorrow.
We recently had a Westminster Hall debate on care workers not even being paid the national minimum wage, and now we have private social care providers saying that they will not be able to afford the new national living wage. How does the Department intend to address this impending crisis?
It is absolutely essential that workers are paid the national minimum wage, and for care workers that includes travel. The Department has been very clear in that regard. Extra money is being provided to local authorities to pay for social care, as we know, but matters are tight—I am well aware of that. We are looking to providers and local authority providers to meet their statutory obligations to ensure that hard-pressed care workers have the financial support they need to do their vital job.
Five Year Forward View
We are making good progress in implementing the five year forward view, including £133 million invested in new models of care and 18 million people benefiting from extended GP access.
It is estimated that a third of patients in acute hospitals could be better treated elsewhere, for instance at home, and in east Kent our vanguard aims to address this with new models of care, but it is early days. Will my right hon. Friend advise us of what he is doing to drive progress on new models of care, bringing together health and social care so that more people are cared for in the right place?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to what is, in a way, the most fundamental point of the five year forward view, which is getting care to people earlier to help them live healthily and happily at home. Perhaps the most significant announcement we have had in the past few weeks has been the extra £2.6 billion a year that will be invested by the end of the Parliament in general practice. That is a 14% increase that will allow us to recruit many more GPs and, I hope, dramatically improve care for her constituents and others.
Yesterday the Health Secretary admitted to the Health Committee that “we didn’t protect the entire health budget” in the last comprehensive spending review. I am pleased that he appears to have adopted a bit of straight-talking, honest politics, so in that spirit will he now admit that the very real cuts to public health budgets over the next few years will make it harder to deliver the “radical upgrade” in public health that his five year forward view called for?
In the spirit of straight talking and honesty, which I think is an excellent thing, perhaps the hon. Gentleman might concede that those cuts and efficiencies that he is talking about would have been a great deal more if we had followed Labour’s spending plans—that is, £5.5 billion less for the NHS than this Government promised, on the back of a strong economy.
Last week I agreed to pause the introduction of the new junior doctors contract for five days and return to talks with the junior doctors committee. I commend the junior doctors for their decision to return to talks. They have agreed to suspend the threat of further industrial action and those talks are now in their second day. We have always been clear that we want to see a negotiated solution to this dispute, and the resumption of these talks shows that the Government’s door is and always has been open to meaningful talks.
Last Friday I met my constituent Lisa Cass whose son Ben was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Ben had been showing signs of the four T’s of type 1 diabetes—toilet, thirst, tired and thinner—and Lisa took him to her local GP for an appointment. No test was done on the day at the surgery and a blood test was booked for the following week. The following day Ben was back at his GP’s surgery after a rapid decline which could have been fatal, and the air ambulance was called. Thankfully—credit is due to the excellent medical professionals who treated Ben—he is now doing well and is managing his condition. However, this case shows the need for awareness of type 1 diabetes to be improved right across the country. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and my constituent to see what more we can do to raise awareness of type 1 diabetes and its symptoms among health professionals and the wider public?
Of course I am happy meet my hon. Friend and his constituents. A close friend of mine who wanted to take a place in this House ended up dying tragically early because he had type 1 diabetes and was not able to get the care that he needed, so I am very aware of those issues. What we are doing in England, which is different from Wales, is publishing transparent indicators of the quality of diabetes care CCG by CCG. Those data will be published before the summer recess and will enable us to look at the disparities in care. I am sure there is more we can do.
Research published yesterday by NHS Providers and the Healthcare Financial Management Association showed that half of mental health trusts had not had an increase in their budget in 2015-16 and just a quarter of providers are confident that they will receive a funding increase for this financial year, 2016-17. Will the Secretary of State finally admit that the supposed additional investment in mental health that he talks about so often has not materialised for the patients and services that need it most? What is he going to do about it?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for her support for me in the recent London marathon. With reference to her question, it is precisely for the reasons she gives that it is so important for us to make sure that CCGs do transfer the extra money that is available for mental health into mental health services. That is why there will be more transparency and a scorecard for CCGs. She is absolutely correct—it is essential that that money flows through and we are determined to ensure that. Yesterday’s report only shows how right our current actions are to make sure that that happens.
T3. The Havant Men’s Shed movement has created community workspaces across my constituency, helping to boost mental health and wellbeing, especially for older residents. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the movement on its work and come to Havant to open its new building? (904930)
Yes. My family know I am a keen supporter of the shed movement, just as I am a keen supporter of the 5 Live Saturday afternoon movement and the beer in the shed movement. I can assure my hon. Friend that an opportunity to visit the Havant Men’s Shed movement will be an important part of the ministerial diary in the very near future.
T2. During March, at one of my local trusts the A&E ambulance target was missed for 937 patients, and more than 4,000 patients waited for more than four hours in A&E. Staff and management agree that this is a trust in crisis, with many wards staffed to less than half the minimum safe staffing levels. Patient safety is being compromised every day. Will the Secretary of State please stop passing the buck and act to stop the downgrade of Dewsbury and Huddersfield hospitals, because it is clear that our local healthcare is in absolute crisis? (904928)
The hon. Lady mentioned to me yesterday that she would raise this issue today. We are absolutely not passing the buck; the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), had a very productive meeting with her and local representatives to address these issues. She is right to have concerns about some of the safety indicators, but it is also true that summary hospital-level mortality for the trust has improved, and there are encouraging improvements in morale, as recorded through the NHS staff survey. However, there are worrying things, and we will continue to monitor them closely.
T4. Last month, Coperforma took on the patient transport contract for Sussex. Unfortunately, since then there have been unacceptable and serious delays for some very sick and elderly patients. May I have assurances that the Department of Health will follow up this issue? (904931)
Sussex CCGs are responsible for monitoring Coperforma’s performance, and High Weald Lewes Havens CCG acknowledges that, as my hon. Friend said, the early performance of the new non-emergency patient transport service has not been acceptable. For that reason, the CCG, on behalf of all Sussex CCGs, has begun an inquiry, with the aim of making a report available by June, and with interim progress reports. We will of course monitor the issue carefully.
T5. In my corner of Essex, there is a primary care crisis: demand for GP services is rising, the supply of GPs is falling and many surgeries are simply no longer accepting new patients. What assurance can the Minister give me that we will definitely get more GPs, and when will we get them? (904933)
The concerns the hon. Gentleman raises are very real, and they are shared by GPs around the country, which is why we put so much work into analysing them. The recently published “GP Five Year Forward View” addresses a number of concerns brought to us by GPs, but the determination to have 5,000 more doctors working in general practice by 2020 is a reflection of the fact that making sure there are enough doctors physically to work in general practice is an important aim of the Government’s.
T8. My constituent Archie Hill and his parents, Louisa and Gary, were really excited when, on 15 April, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommended that the drug Translarna—a breakthrough drug for children with Duchenne muscular dystrophy —should be funded by NHS England. Hon. Members can imagine what happened when, on 4 May, NICE unexpectedly announced that it required extra time to come to an agreement with NHS England. What is going on? We thought this drug had been cleared. Time is of the essence, because the boys affected are eligible for this drug only if they are still walking. Can we please look into this issue, and can we please go back to the original timetable? After all, these boys have had to wait several years to get to this stage. (904936)
I commend my right hon. Friend, and we have had numerous discussions over the last year on this subject. She can rest assured that I am actively doing everything I can to make sure we expedite this. She will understand that there are important negotiations with NHS England, NICE and the company at the moment, which are key to making sure we can get this drug accelerated quickly.
T6. Other EU countries charge us £650 million a year more for the health treatment of our citizens abroad than we do for the treatment of their citizens here. Is that because we cannot charge them, or because we have not got our act together? (904934)
The answer, regrettably, is that for many years we have not got our act together. That is why I have changed the system of incentives for trusts to make sure that they get a premium for identifying EU nationals they treat and that we can then recharge the treatment to their home countries. We are, as a result, now seeing significant increases in the amount we are reclaiming from other countries.
Community hospitals are immensely valued by the communities they serve. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the proposals for south Devon, which will particularly affect my constituents living in Dartmouth and in Paignton?
Yes, I am happy to do that. I have a number of community hospitals in my own area. It is really important that even as the functions and jobs that community hospitals do inevitably change, we recognise that they have a very important long-term future in the NHS.
T7. Wigan A&E is expected to take a third of the patients turned away from Chorley A&E owing to Chorley’s unplanned closure, yet it has a similar ratio of staffing vacancies. What extra resources are being given to Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust to help it to cope with this crisis? (904935)
We are making sure that neighbouring hospitals have the resources to deal with the temporary closure of Chorley A&E. The more patients that any hospital sees, the more resources it gets. This is none the less a very worrying situation that we are monitoring very closely.
The success regime review in Devon is causing real concern about the future of acute services at North Devon District Hospital. Does the Minister recognise that the unique geographical circumstances of Barnstaple mean that the reduction of any of those services will, for some of my constituents, mean a round journey of more than 120 miles to access them?
I do recognise the unique geographical circumstances in my hon. Friend’s constituency. That is precisely why the success regime is being led by local clinicians. I hope and expect that in formulating plans they take account of all the views and all the clinical needs of his constituents and his own views.
There is growing concern that the additional investment in children’s mental health services committed last year is not getting through to where it is intended. What will the Secretary of State do to guarantee that that money gets through to help children with mental health needs? It would be scandalous if it did not get through. Transparency is not enough.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for all the work he did in relation to this. I can assure him that the £1.25 billion committed in the 2015 Budget will be available during the course of this Parliament. As I said to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), it is absolutely essential to me and to us that we make sure that that money does get through to CCGs. The regime will be more transparent, but there will be a determination to expose it to make sure that the money is spent on child and adolescent mental health services, as it needs to be.
My right hon. Friend will be well aware that the business case for the rebuilding of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital has been dragging on within the NHS for more than six years. We now seem to have a decision for the Trust Development Authority to make. Will he put pressure on the TDA to approve this business case so that work can begin this summer?
As my hon. Friend knows, I have done a shift as a porter in that hospital and seen for myself just how much it needs the extra investment to transform its facilities. I will happily look into the matter for him, and I am keen to see it progress as fast as possible.
The Minister will be aware that mortality rates in England and Wales have increased by 5.4% in 2015—the biggest increase in the death rate for decades. She will also be aware that mortality rates have been rising since 2011. Has she done any analysis of what has been behind those trends? Specifically, with the Cridland review starting, what will her Department do to negotiate with Cridland on the increase in the pensionable age to take account of the recent changes taking place?
We welcome the overall trend towards longer life expectancy. There are annual fluctuations, but overall the trend remains positive. The key thing is helping people to live longer, healthier lives. Therefore, tackling health inequalities among people of all ages and in all communities is embedded in policy right across the Department—for example, the investment in nearly doubling the health visitor workforce over the previous Parliament—so that we can really bear down on the things that drive those health inequalities, particularly among poorer communities and poorer children.
I thank the Secretary of State for working so tirelessly to get the BMA back to the negotiating table. Will he confirm that Saturday pay for junior doctors will be at a 30% premium, which is above that for any of the hard-working midwives, nurses, firefighters, paramedics and so on in my constituency?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She makes the important point that the proposals on the table in the new contract are incredibly generous compared with the terms of the other people working in hospitals. That is why it is very important that we have some flexibility from the BMA on Saturday pay so that we can deliver the seven-day service that we all want. It is a very good deal for junior doctors, and I think that if they look at it objectively, we should be able to come to an agreement this week, but it will take flexibility on both sides.
Will the Minister responsible for dental matters meet me and the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) to discuss dental ill health in children and how we can change the dentist contract to make it more prevention-friendly? I have got a lot more to say, but I will sit down.
Child Refugee Resettlement
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if she will make a statement on the resettlement of child refugees and the implementation of the Dubs amendment.
As I said last night, the Government are at the forefront of assisting and protecting vulnerable children wherever they are. As the House is aware, last week the Prime Minister said that we would work with local authorities on plans to resettle unaccompanied children from France, Greece and Italy. We have said that we expect the first children to arrive before the end of the year; we have not said that it will take until the end of the year for them to arrive. As I made clear to the House, we are working hard to ensure that isolated children are reunited with family and that children at risk of exploitation and abuse come to the UK as quickly as possible, but we have to be satisfied that they will receive appropriate care and support when they arrive.
The revised Dubs amendment to the Immigration Bill obliges us to consult local authorities. We must ensure that we fulfil our obligations to children who are already in the UK, as well ensuring that we have the right support for those who may be brought to the UK from Europe. The provisions in the Bill, by their nature, mean that we have to consult others before finalising our plans, but that does not imply that we will delay getting on with this. We will be contacting council leaders in the coming days, and I have already spoken to the Local Government Association about the matter.
We have always been clear that we must do nothing that inadvertently creates a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children ahead and putting their lives at risk by attempting perilous journeys to Europe. That is why only those who were present in the EU before 20 March will be eligible for resettlement, and only when it is in their best interests to come to the UK. That will avoid creating a perverse incentive for families to entrust their children to people traffickers.
We have already started to consult relevant non-governmental organisations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF and member states on how best to implement the legislation. Last Friday, I met the Greek Government in Athens to discuss how we can make progress quickly. We are already working to identify those whom we can help. We have an ongoing plan with France to improve our joint response to children in Calais. We have accepted more than 30 transfer requests since February, and more than 20 have already arrived. We will work with France over the coming days and weeks to increase the identification of children in France who have family here so that we can bring them over.
In addition, the UK has played its full part in supporting European neighbours to provide support to those who have arrived. We have provided nearly £46 million of funding to the Europe-wide response to help the most vulnerable, including children and infants. In addition, the £10 million Department for International Development fund that was announced on 28 January will support the UNHCR, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee to work with host authorities to care for and assist unaccompanied or separated children. That is on top of our Syrian resettlement programme and the children at risk resettlement scheme, which is designed to resettle up to 3,000 children at risk from the middle east and north Africa where that is deemed to be in their best interests. The Government remain committed to making a full contribution to the global refugee crisis.
We are already acting to implement the amendment. We have started discussions with local government. We have begun work with European partners and NGOs to support effective implementation, and we will bring refugee children to the UK as quickly as is safe. I am proud that the commitment of this country and this Government to help those in need, both within and outside Europe, withstands comparison with that of any other country in the world.
I have asked this urgent question because, at the end of the debate last night, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) raised the evidence that No. 10 had briefed that we would not see the first children arrive in Britain until the end of the year, which is in seven months’ time. That is in contrast with the urgency we heard from the Minister in yesterday’s debate. It is so frustrating to hear warm words and commitment, while at the same time No. 10 seems to be dragging its feet. To take the first children only by the end of the year is simply not good enough.
Let us look at the processes that should already be in place. For those who have family in the UK, the Government are processing only three to four cases a week at the moment, but more than 100 cases are pending. We need proper transparency and targets in relation to those who have family in the UK. Why will the Minister still not answer my parliamentary questions on how many applications have been made to the Home Office? Why is he still refusing to answer my freedom of information requests on how many Dublin III applications have been made? Why, if they are acting with such urgency, are the Government refusing to provide us with such information? We know that Help Refugees, Citizens UK and the Red Cross already have details of children in Europe who have family in this country who we could bring over now. UNICEF said yesterday:
“With the political will, these children could have their cases processed and be here in time to be packing their pencil cases for the new school year in September.”
Why will the Government not make a commitment at least to clear all the family cases already in the system by the time we get to the summer holidays?
As for the wider scheme, I still do not see why it will take seven months. Under pressure, the Government managed to bring in 1,000 refugees under the original Syrian refugee scheme—all tribute to them for doing so—in three months. The Canadian Government managed to take in 25,000 refugees in the space of three months. Children are at risk right now, so why will the Minister not make a commitment to accelerate the wider scheme as well? Has he even spoken to the independent schools, given that we know that 11-year-olds are still sleeping in tents in Calais on their own and 14-year-olds who want to be surgeons have been out of school for two years? Teenage boys who have been abused are at risk of being abused again, and teenage girls cannot escape from forced marriages because there is no support for them to do so. Greece and Italy do not tell the children, “Stay on the boats until we have sorted it out.” Seven months may be very fast for a bureaucrat, but it is a very long time for a child. I urge the Minister to accept the bishops’ target of taking 300 children by the beginning of the next school year. I urge him to do so.
I again underline what I said in my response to the right hon. Lady’s urgent question: we intend to make progress during the course of this year and the first children will therefore arrive before the end of this year, but that does not mean it will take seven months. As I think she will recognise from everything I have said last night and today, we are making quick progress in implementing the provisions in the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Bill. What the Prime Minister’s spokesperson has said is entirely consistent with what the Prime Minister said in accepting the Dubs amendment at Prime Minister’s questions last Wednesday. I want to be absolutely explicit and crystal clear in relation to that.
The right hon. Lady refers to what is happening in Calais in France. As I have already said, we are continuing to work quickly with the French Government to speed up the processes. We have already taken steps to do so in terms of the existing arrangements. Clearly, there is a renewed focus given our acceptance of the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Bill. I absolutely want to use that as a means of speeding up and making more effective the processing of those with links to family in the UK. Vulnerable children can then be reunited with their extended family in the UK, which is in their best interests, and will no longer be isolated in France, Italy or Greece.
The right hon. Lady should look at how we have approached the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme—we have got on with it. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees. Once we have stated our commitments, we get on with the practical implementation. We are doing that already, even though the Bill has not received Royal Assent.
We will continue in the days ahead to have those discussions within Government and with all the parties involved, so that we can make progress quickly and see that children who have family here and who are in need of support because of their vulnerability to exploitation come to the UK. I need to consult properly with local authorities in the spirit and the letter of the legislation. That is what we are doing and we will get on with it.
Order. I remind the House of what should be clear from what has already been said: namely, that this urgent question is not about whether to take child refugees from Europe—that matter has been decided by the House—but about when and how. It is about the implementation, the logistics and the timing, so let us focus our exchanges on that basis.
Britain is being generous in its support for refugees in the region and for vulnerable people coming to this country, but because human traffickers are evil people who will exploit any opportunity for their vile trade there is a big danger that the message will go out from them: “Britain is open now to child refugees. Send us your children. We will take them to Britain.” What can Her Majesty’s Government do to ensure that we provide the support that is needed, but do not send the signal that more child refugees should start to make their way to Europe?
In implementing this policy, we are very conscious of the way in which people traffickers and smugglers can twist and interpret the statements that we make. I know that no one in this House would want to see more children lose their lives in the Mediterranean sea or in the Aegean, which has, sadly, been a consequence of these people trading in human misery. I assure my hon. Friend that we take this issue seriously. The best interests of the child are at the forefront of our activity. We will continue to underline the message that this scheme is for children who were in Europe prior to 20 March, so that it cannot be open to that misinterpretation.
Yesterday’s debate was very much about how the Government came to accept the final Dubs amendment. Today is clearly about the what and where we go from here. I am glad that this urgent question was granted, because there was an apparent discrepancy between the approach the Minister outlined yesterday and what The Daily Telegraph reported this morning had been briefed from No. 10. The Minister has dealt with that.
The resettlement scheme has expanded over time. It started as a scheme to support, rather than take, refugees. It was expanded to include victims of sexual violence, then 20,000 people over five years, and then 3,000 children and families from the region. It has now been expanded by the final Dubs amendment. In fairness, where the Government have accepted the spirit of the expansion, the scheme works well. I have seen the resettlement of families in Glasgow and Colchester, where the scheme works very well. This next iteration is a challenge, but there is a huge prize if we get it right, particularly as it involves very vulnerable children who are here in Europe right here, right now.
I have some questions for the Minister. If the discussions have started, as he suggests, there must be an idea of the numbers, because there cannot be meaningful discussions unless there is some idea of how many children are involved. What is the broad number that the Government are looking at? The original Dubs amendment included a figure of 3,000. What figure are the Government at least discussing at the moment?
The second question is when. I absolutely agree that seven months is too long for children. There is an urgency here. We are all focused on the 10,000 children who according to Europol have gone missing. Those children are very vulnerable and in great danger. Seven months is a very long time in the life of a child, especially one who has gone through such circumstances.
Finally, what are the funding arrangements? It strikes me that the current scheme is working well because resources are being provided to local authorities and others to make sure that it beds in and that families are supported and welcomed and have the resources and facilities that they need.
What are the numbers, when will the children arrive and what are the funding arrangements?
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his comments on how we have sought to implement the scheme. As I have already indicated, we intend to follow the same approach in taking these measures forward and effecting them appropriately, with the best interests of the child in place. We are not looking to delay, and I hope we will make positive progress in the months ahead.
On numbers, the hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the amendment, which is now part of the Immigration Bill, says that we need to consult local authorities to establish what is termed the “specified number”. Although I recognise the desire for clarity, it is important to have that consultation first, to meet the requirements of the legislation. I do not want to prejudge the consultation but to get the numbers from it.
As for when, that will clearly be informed by the consultation, but, as I have indicated, we are not looking to delay. We want to make progress quickly in the weeks and months ahead. We are discussing funding across Government. The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are already funded when they arrive in the UK, and there are clear funding arrangements for local authorities. We need to be cognisant of that. We will look closely at implementing the scheme in a manner consistent with a number of existing arrangements.
This morning we are being challenged on the speed of the scheme. We have asked an awful lot of the Government and they have delivered; I am very proud that they have listened to us. I understand that turning passion and heart into practical steps takes time and co-ordination with other bodies. I would much rather encourage Ministers than berate them, and ask, for example, what can I do? What can we do as MPs to speed things up so that Ministers are not on their own in delivering this scheme?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the contribution that can be made. An example could be to have discussions with local authorities about capacity issues within the system, the availability of fostering and other support that may be provided. Indeed—as we have sought to do in implementing the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme—we should harness and channel offers of goodwill and support positive implementation, so that when children arrive they have the care, support and assistance that all Members of this House would want to see.
The Scottish National party welcomes the Government’s change of position on this issue, as we did last night. We very much support the idea that efforts should be made to get these children here as quickly as possible. We are concerned, however, about the funding arrangements for local authorities. I asked the Minister about that in the debate last night, and the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) has asked him, but we have not had a clear answer. Rather than simply describing the current arrangements, will the Minister give us more detail? Local authorities in Scotland are considering how to respond to the particular challenge of dealing with vulnerable unaccompanied children. They have already responded admirably to the Syrian resettlement scheme, and as a result have received 700 refugees since October—more are arriving each month—but there is particular concern about how the children are to be supported.
Along with the Local Government Association, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has been encouraging the UK Government to ensure that the resettlement of unaccompanied children is adequately resourced, in the same way as the Syrian resettlement scheme, but taking into account the particular demands of vulnerable unaccompanied children. Will the Minister give a commitment that the scheme will be properly funded, and will he give us some idea of what he is going to do about funding it rather than simply describing existing arrangements?
It is important to recognise that we are likely to be dealing with two distinct groups. First, there are those with extended family within the UK. As they already have family here, the pressures that might otherwise be felt—on fostering, for example—will be different from those that relate to children who are being resettled on the basis of their risk of exploitation or abuse. We need to discuss those details with local government, as well as with the different Governments with whom we are engaging. Funding is linked to that, which is why we need to hold those conversations. The Home Office already provides funding for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and I assure the hon. and learned Lady that we will be talking to the Scottish Government, and to local authorities in Scotland as well as in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, so that this is seen as a contribution that we are making as the United Kingdom.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his clear enunciation of Government policy, and this must be seen within the context of the wider refugee crisis. He will know that in September last year, the Prime Minister gave an undertaking that cognisance would be taken of religious persecution in the middle east, and the systematic slaughter of Coptic Christians, Yazidis and the wider Christian community. Will he reassure the House that a methodology will be put in place to take those issues on board when considering the settlement of child refugees?
My hon. Friend takes me to the implementation of the “children at risk” resettlement scheme, and the new arrangement under which 3,000 people from the region around Syria will be resettled over the next four years. That is not focused specifically on Syrian nationals; all nationals will fall within its scope, which I hope reassures my hon. Friend of the Government’s continuing commitment.
On 14 April I asked the Minister how many children in France who had applied for asylum or family reunion had been admitted to the UK, and he told me that the data are not held in a way that allows them to be reported on automatically. I am certain that in preparation for last night’s debate and today’s urgent question, he is aware of those data. Will he tell the House how many children with family have already been admitted, how many have applied, and whether those children with family who have leave to remain in the UK can be admitted before the school term starts in September?
As I said in my opening statement, we have accepted more than 30 transfer requests since February, and more than 20 children have already arrived. We will continue to work closely with the French Government over further transfer requests, and to support them with the identification of children who are not already in the system. On transparency, I will be looking carefully at how we can update the public and the House on our progress, just as we have done for the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme.
I am grateful to the Minister for coming to the Chamber today and for all his work. I am also grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) and those in the Department for International Development who have helped to deal with this crisis, which keeps going on and on. It is important to ensure that the right support is in place for these children when they come to this country, but does the Minister agree that we must also ensure that we do not play any part in encouraging people trafficking, or in encouraging children to make that perilous journey across the Mediterranean?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, which is why the programme will apply only to children who were registered in the EU prior to 20 March when the EU-Turkey deal came into effect. We must be careful not to add to an already difficult problem, and ensure that we send out that clear message to confront people traffickers and those who seek to exploit children.
How quickly does the Minister think that the authorities should be able to turn around a case involving a vulnerable child in the European Union who has links to the UK, so that they can be provided with sanctuary? Should they be granted five-year humanitarian protection when they arrive? We do not need placatory words from the Minister; we need a decisive action plan with a clear timetable. [Interruption.]
Order. There would be no discourtesy if the right hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) felt the need to leave the Chamber to put her device in order. She mentioned that she thought her phone was switched off, but in my experience, the right hon. Lady is never switched off.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As I said last night, we are carefully analysing the nature of the grant of leave that should be given, and there is a distinction between those who are joining family, and those who are being resettled because of vulnerability. We are holding conversations with the UNHCR to ensure that we strike the right balance, and reflect on what we have done for other schemes, such as the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme where a five-year grant is given.
I very much welcome the Minister’s statement. I pay tribute to him for all his hard work on this matter and for the work he continues to do. Colchester stands ready to play its part, as we have done in the past and look forward to doing in the future. I urge him to do all he can to speed up the process and ensure we help as many of the vulnerable, unaccompanied children as possible, as soon as possible.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the commitment he gives on behalf of Colchester. We will follow up on all offers of support from local authorities. As I indicated, we have already contacted the Local Government Association, and we will be making contacts through strategic migration partnerships and with local authorities directly. We will be getting on with this.
The Government seem to give the impression that for people coming to Britain there is a very fast track and a very slow track, which is exemplified today with vulnerable children. People in my constituency believe the fast track is when Mike Ashley of Sports Direct sends for 500 agency workers to work on zero-hours contracts and they are here in the flash of an eye. My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has been at the forefront of the campaign to try to get these vulnerable children in. Let us have a little bit more energy on the slow track!
I fear the hon. Gentleman may have strayed into the wrong debate. We have shown our commitment clearly through our work on the vulnerable person resettlement scheme and by taking firm action so that children and vulnerable adults come to this country quickly, while dealing with safeguarding and the best interests of the child. I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman.
I commend the Minister for the huge effort he and his team at the Home Office have put in. I have a specific question from the many people in Northumberland who are keen to help. They have shown a real willingness to be a part of the scheme to bring in the most vulnerable children who need protection. How can they become foster carers and ensure that they are able to take all children in need, as well as the many children in Northumberland who already need a home?
The Children’s Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson) is sitting alongside me on the Government Front Bench. He and I recognise that there is a further opportunity to encourage people to come forward to become foster parents. It takes about nine months to train as a foster parent. On teenagers and issues of specific vulnerability, if people can come forward to their local councils and say that they want to become a foster parent, that would do an awful lot to assist not just with the implementation of this scheme but with ensuring vulnerable children in this country receive the love, care and assistance we all want them to receive.
Wales is waiting to welcome refugee children. Will the Minister commit to working with the Children’s Commissioner for Wales to ensure that she is properly empowered to support refugee children and Welsh local authorities without delay?
It is clearly important that we treat as a matter of urgency the arrangements for these children. However, as the recent bombing of the Syrian refugee camp has shown, we must not lose sight of the main thrust of Government policy, which is to bring people from those dangerous camps. Will the Minister reassure the House that that remains the thrust of Government policy?
We are very clear that we believe we can make the biggest difference in the region, which is why we have committed £2.3 billion of aid and focused on resettlement schemes from the region. Peace and stability in Syria and the extended area are therefore absolutely pivotal. We recognise the needs of children in Europe, which is why we have already acted and why we are taking further action through the steps we are now outlining.
The poorest areas in this country, whose services are already overburdened, take a grotesquely disproportionately high number of asylum seekers, while rich areas, including the constituencies of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Home Secretary, take none. What are we going to do to improve public acceptability so that more children can be brought into places of refuge and to ensure that the system is fair? It is a question not just of money but of capacity. This great burden is being taken on by the areas that are poorest and least able to cope with large increases in the number of asylum seekers.
The hon. Gentleman needs to recognise the significant pressures that counties such as Kent and others have been experiencing in dealing with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. He makes a broader point about asylum dispersal. We have around 100 councils that fall within the dispersal zones and are in conversation with 20-plus about extending the numbers. I hope, however, that he will recognise the new provisions in the Immigration Bill for a statutory underpinning of a dispersal mechanism for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to ensure a more even sharing of the requirements across the whole UK.
I, too, thank the Minister for his comments and his hard work over many months—not just in recent times. I am glad we are focusing on putting the right resources in place on the ground, but will he assure me that areas and counties such as Kent and Medway, which have experienced pressures over the last 12 months, will not be pressured to take further young people, given their existing burden?
I am very aware, from my discussions with the leader of the council and other hon. Members, of the pressures that Kent has experienced over many months. I can assure my hon. Friend that the new mechanisms and statutory underpinning of a national dispersal arrangement for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will address those pressures and ensure that Kent and other councils experiencing such pressures are not overburdened, as they have been.
I commend the excellent work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) in leading the campaign on this issue and welcome the Government’s new approach, but may I ask the Minister, who has talked about transparency, why he has refused to answer my right hon. Friend’s parliamentary questions and the freedom of information request? In particular, we want to know the number of applications being made so that we can judge how quickly the Government are acting.
I have already provided the House with information this morning about children who have arrived in the UK and those applications accepted as “take charge” requests, and I will reflect further on what data can be provided, but clearly we are reliant on the French Government in relation to assessment. One key issue is the identification of children in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk. We are engaged in that work with the French Government in order to help achieve that.
I commend the Minister for his significant and long-standing commitment—it did not just start with the consideration of the Dubs amendment—to work for the best interests of lone children. Can he confirm that the lead he is taking in relation to additional expertise in Calais and the imminent dispatch of 75 experts to Greece is resulting in family reunions being expedited and that that will continue in the coming weeks? On transparency, can the results be published alongside the quarterly statistics?
As I have just indicated, I will consider further what information can be provided so that people can assess how the Government are progressing. When I was in Athens on Friday, I discussed directly how the experts we wanted to be deployed in the coming weeks could be used effectively and could bring a focus on issues of vulnerability, exploitation and support for vulnerable children.
The Minister says that we cannot get 300 children here in time for the start of the school term because he needs to consult local authorities, but that is why, a calendar month ago in the House, following my conversations with leaders on Merseyside, I asked him whether he had spoken to local authority leaders about educational needs for children coming here. He said then that he had, so will he confirm that consultation with local authorities started at least a month ago?
If the hon. Lady looks at the legislation—the amendment was approved last night—she will find that it imposes a legal duty on the Government to carry out that consultation on the basis of the revised arrangements on resettlement from Europe that we have accepted. We need to look closely at that. It extends from the work on child resettlement from the region. There are pressures on fostering, children’s centres, mental health and other facilities. We want to get this right, but there should be no imputation that we are delaying in doing so.
I have been contacted by constituents about this issue, as have many other Members. Some have said that they would be prepared to provide a placement for one of the refugees being resettled in this country. What work will be done to take up some of those offers? If they are not suitable for this programme, will the Minister consider whether they might be suitable for wider fostering placements, given the need for them?
I thank my hon. Friend and others for indicating the support from their communities. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that we continue to work closely on this. The Under-Secretary of State for Refugees, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) and the Home Secretary are looking closely at the community sponsorship mechanism that might provide new means for recognising children and others fleeing persecution who might be able to come to this country. I hope to be able to update the House on this shortly.
Order. I have just been reminded by the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) that today is the 76th anniversary of Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister. I note in passing, despite the absence—the relatively rare absence—of the hon. Member in question from the Chamber, that today is also the 76th birthday of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). [Interruption.] Recover your composure, Mr Doughty.
I was taken aback by your encyclopaedic knowledge, Mr Speaker.
Citizens Cymru in Cardiff and the Vale has been very clear about the need to take urgent action on this issue. It wants to know from the Minister whether we are talking about a ballpark figure of 300? I understand that he will not give us a specific number, but is this the sort of figure involved, which Citizens Cymru and the Archbishop of Canterbury have asked for? The Minister has talked about the best interests of the child and I agree with him absolutely on that, but does he agree, given the conditions that we have heard some of these children are in, that seven months is unlikely to be in the best interests of the child?
I have already responded and made it clear that we will make progress during the course of the year. That does not mean that we are waiting seven months to do so. I underline that very clear message once again. I appreciate the desire for clarification on numbers and expectations, but I underline again that we need to do so in consultation with local authorities. That is what the Bill says; that is what we will do.
I very much support the pragmatic and responsible position outlined by the Minister on unaccompanied children, but does it not assert a worrying incapacity, particularly on the part of France and its structures, for maintaining the safety and security of vulnerable children?
The main point at issue is the children who have family here in the UK and how we can work speedily with the French Government to ensure that they are reunited with their family members here. We have been engaged in that work, but we have also supported the French Government on improving the conditions in and around the camps in northern France. We will continue to support them in their endeavours.
I want to push the Minister a bit more on the resources that will be required—not just for the speedy identification, processing and resettlement, but for the support that the children will need in the communities that they finally make their home. Many will almost certainly need educational support, but they might also need mental health and counselling support, too. What resources will the Minister make available for the child refugees?
That is precisely why we need further consultation with local government—to identify the pressures that will need to be satisfied. It is also why I have highlighted the different issues involved in these children rejoining a family, so that they can receive the support, love and care that they need from an established family group. As I have said, we need to look at this very carefully in the light of the best interests of the child.
I believe strongly that Ministers have been right all the way through to say that we should not incentivise or encourage perilous sea journeys. It is clear that other countries in the region should be doing more, so what pressure are Ministers putting on those countries to do that—not least to stop criminal gangs and traffickers being able to paint this an opportunity?
As my hon. Friend may know, we have established an organised immigration crime taskforce to strengthen our own knowledge, intelligence and action against the smugglers and people traffickers, working with Europol and at a European Union level to retain focus on confronting the smuggling networks. That is allowing us to work with other European countries to take firm action not just close to our shores, but further afield.
Will the Minister guarantee that children whose families are already in the United Kingdom will be cleared in time for them to start school in September? Will he also agree to publish a timetable showing when unaccompanied children in Europe can come here?
As I have said, we want to make rapid progress. We are already taking children with family connections to the United Kingdom from France, and we want to find ways of improving the process further so that, when cases are identified, we can take charge and ensure that those children come to the UK quickly. There are vulnerable children in Italy and Greece, which is precisely why we are opening a dialogue with those countries. We want to understand their systems properly, and join up with them effectively so that we can identify such children and act to enable them to come to this country.
The Minister has spoken about the extra 75 staff who will help with child refugee resettlement. What will be the role of those staff, what will be the timescale for their deployment to help identify vulnerable children, and how will this move help to speed up the process?
Some of the 75 experts whom we have offered to the European Asylum Support Office to contribute to its endeavours in connection with the EU-Turkey deal will help with processing. Others will be translators. We have also offered medical support, as well as officers who will be able to identify vulnerability issues. I had conversations with EASO about this when I was in Athens on Friday. We have identified the people concerned, and we want them to be deployed quickly—within, I hope, a matter of weeks.
We now come to the statement on key stage 2 tests. Before I call the Minister for Schools, I should inform the House that the Speaker had granted an urgent question to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), but the hon. Gentleman has withdrawn it in the light of the Government’s offer to make a statement on the matter.
Key Stage 2 Tests
With permission, I will make a statement about key stage 2 tests.
Last night the Department for Education was made aware of an issue involving the key stage 2 English grammar, punctuation and spelling test, which was mistakenly uploaded on to a secure website by Pearson. Pearson is the external marking supplier contracted by the Department to mark the tests.
At this stage, we know that the test was mistakenly uploaded at about 5 o’clock yesterday evening. It was uploaded on to a secure site, which was not accessible to anyone without approval from Pearson. Pearson was informed that the test was on its site by markers during the course of the evening, and removed the material from the site at 9.1 pm. The Department was separately alerted to the situation at about 9.30 pm by the media, and contacted Pearson immediately to establish the facts. Pearson’s records show that during the short period when the materials were live, 93 markers—all with the appropriate clearance—accessed the material.
It is worth emphasising that the only people with access to the site are contracted markers, all of whom are under a contractual obligation not to share sensitive information. I should also point out that it is standard and appropriate practice for key individuals to be given prior access to assessment material in order to ensure that the delivery of tests and marking of papers can occur in a smooth and timely way. Some 23 senior markers had access to the material from 1 April, and 153 team leaders had access to the material from 11 April.
Clearly, in this system, it is essential that people in positions of trust can be relied on to act appropriately. Unfortunately, in this case, it appears that one person could not, and leaked the key stage 2 English grammar, punctuation and spelling test to a journalist. I have spoken to Rod Bristow, the president of Pearson UK, this morning to ask for a full explanation of how this mistake occurred. He has accepted full responsibility for the error and has committed to investigating the matter quickly and fully.
Specifically, I have asked Rod Bristow to look at two issues. First, how did the material come to be uploaded on to the secure site in error? This was clearly a mistake which should not have been possible. Secondly, I have asked that all records be examined and all information interrogated so that the culprit who leaked this sensitive information can be identified. I am satisfied that Pearson understands the seriousness of the issue and the need to take action quickly to provide clear and unequivocal answers to these two questions. Once I have this information, I will consider what action it may be appropriate to take. I will explore the full range of options available to the Department, including looking at contractual and other routes to seek redress.
I would like to reiterate that we have no evidence to suggest that any sensitive information entered the public domain before children started taking the test today, and the tests are going ahead as planned. My officials were monitoring social media and other platforms through the night and found no sign of materials being made available. The journalist in question took the decision not to publish the test papers and I am grateful to him for that. Although this is a serious breach—and I am determined to get to the bottom of how the error occurred—it is clear that the actions of almost every marker involved have been correct and proper, and that the integrity of the tests has not been compromised. Teachers and schools should have confidence in the content of the tests and in the processes underpinning the administration of the tests in schools and the subsequent marking.
I would like to make a few comments about the wider context of primary assessment. I acknowledge that there have been errors in the administration of tests this year. While it is important that we address those errors, they should not detract from the central importance of testing in the life of a school. Tests are an appropriate and essential way for us to understand how well schools are doing, and where more support needs to be targeted so that every child is given the best possible opportunity to succeed throughout their time in school and to get the best preparation for adult life.
We have taken clear action to strengthen the primary curriculum, to ensure that children today are being taught the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy that are vital for their future success. There are some who say that tests are inherently wrong, that we should not test children and that we are creating a regime that is overly stressful. I disagree. Yesterday, ComRes released a poll of 750 10 and 11-year-old pupils for the BBC, in which 62% of pupils responded that they either “don’t mind” or “enjoy” taking the tests. That is far more than those who said that they “don’t like” or “hate” taking the tests. Altogether, more of the polled pupils reported that they “enjoy” taking the tests than “hate” them.
Testing is a vital part of teaching: it is the most accurate way, bar none, that a teacher, school or parent can know whether a pupil has or has not understood vital subject content. What is more, the process of taking a test actually improves pupil knowledge and understanding. As such, testing should be a routine and normalised part of school life. When the time for national curriculum assessments comes around, pupils should be entirely accustomed to the process.
I would like to finish by reiterating that the key stage 2 English grammar, punctuation and spelling test remains valid and is going ahead as planned. Teachers, schools, parents and others should have confidence in the test, and it will remain part of the primary assessment system. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for giving me advance sight of his statement. The Government have taken their eye off the ball. Ministers have obsessed for months over a plan for forced academisation, a plan which was never about raising standards and which was self-evidently flawed from the start. Parents did not want or need forced academisation. They made that extremely clear and played a key role in forcing the Government into a humiliating policy U-turn last week, which was confirmed by the Secretary of State in her humiliating statement yesterday. What does matter to parents, however, is having an appropriate and supportive assessment regime for their child. They want to know how their child is performing at school, how they can help to close any gaps in their knowledge and how they can support them to do their best.
The Government have let parents down at every step of the way. Today’s debacle is just the latest in a sorry line of chaos in primary assessment. First, with no proper consultation with parents, school leaders or teachers, the Government scrapped the assessment system of levels in schools with no regard to what would replace it, creating significant uncertainty and anxiety among the professionals delivering the primary curriculum. It created confusion for parents, with many schools simply attempting to reintroduce their own watered-down version of levels assessment that failed to adequately articulate exactly how well children were getting on. Ministers were then forced to push back the deadline for primary assessments after failing to deliver the necessary resources for teachers in time.
Following that came the embarrassment of the Government’s failure to introduce baseline assessment. By rushing ahead with the policy without properly involving professionals or parents, the Government failed to spot the fundamental flaw in the design, which was that the tests that they had developed were insufficiently comparable. As a result, they were forced to abandon their approach to baseline tests entirely. Furthermore, just three weeks ago, we learned that the key stage 1 spelling and grammar test had been accidentally published online in December 2015 as a practice paper. Answers to parliamentary questions show that it was downloaded more than 18,000 times before Ministers realised that there was an issue. As a result, the Government were forced to cancel the test, invalidating the work of many children, teachers and parents.
There has been a constant stream of chop and change in primary assessment under this Government. Since September, the Department for Education has updated or clarified on average at least one primary school assessment resource every other working day. The situation has become so ludicrous that the Department is now having to start clarifying its clarifications. Without a doubt, the confusion and chaos created in primary assessment has led to a damaging fall in confidence among parents and teachers about the reliability and validity of assessment in schools.
As 10 and 11-year-olds are sitting down to take the key stage 2 spelling and grammar test this morning, we now learn that the test has already been published online. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one test may be regarded as a mistake, but to lose both looks like carelessness. It could not be made up. It is a serious breach on top of a series of multiple failures. How on earth can parents have confidence in the assessment regime when the Department for Education has completely lost control of the tests for which it is responsible? How can we be confident that the rest of the test process is secure? Remember, the tests are not only important for individual pupils, but part of the performance data by which schools are judged. We can have no confidence in their being used for that purpose after what we have heard today.
The National Association of Head Teachers is right to say:
“We cannot see how school level results can be published or a national benchmark set on such shaky data.”
Headteachers and parents deserve a firm guarantee from the Minister today that no primary school will be forced to become an academy on the basis of these compromised tests. It is time for him to be honest with then, honest with himself and—[Interruption.] The reality is that parents, school leaders and teachers have lost confidence in this Government’s approach to assessment and exams. It is time for the Minister to be honest with them, honest with himself and honest with us. He needs to hold up his hands, admit that he has got it wrong and stop trying to blame others for his Department’s mistakes. It is time for him to engage properly with parents and teachers to establish an approach to primary assessment that has everybody’s confidence and not just his. He needs to look into the eyes of all those 10 and 11-year-olds who are taking the tests today and say sorry for getting it wrong and sorry for letting them down. After all, that is what we teach children to do: admit their mistakes, apologise for them, learn from them and move on. So will he now learn his lesson and turn his attention away from the misguided obsession with structures at the expense of raising standards in schools? Will he turn his focus and his energy on what really matters to parents, and get this right?
I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin)—or should I say the Lady Bracknell from Scunthorpe. I have to say to him that this Government are committed to raising standards in schools. Given the way the Opposition address this issue, I sometimes wonder whether they are as committed to raising standards as we are. In 2011, we conducted a review of the primary curriculum to ensure that it was closer to the curriculums being taught in the most successful education systems in the world. The review was overseen by the national curriculum review panel, which was made up of highly experienced headteachers and teachers in this country. We introduced the phonics check to ensure that six-year-olds were learning to read properly, and as a consequence of that reform 120,000 six-year-olds are reading more effectively today. We reviewed the reading curriculum—the English curriculum—to ensure that children became fluent readers who developed a habit of reading for pleasure. We reformed the maths curriculum so that children learn how to perform long multiplication by year 5 and long division by year 6, and so that they know their multiplication tables—up to 12 by 12—by heart by the end of year 4. Under the last Labour Government, one in three pupils were leaving primary school still unable to read, write and add up properly. Our Government are determined to address those issues.
Let me address some of the issues the hon. Gentleman raised. He talked about the removal of levels, but level descriptors were only ever intended to be used for the end of key stage statutory assessments, and yet over time came to dominate all assessment and teaching practice. That had a damaging impact on teaching and failed to give parents an accurate understanding of how their children were doing at school. The removal of levels allowed classroom assessment to return to its real purpose of helping teachers evaluate pupils’ knowledge and understanding of curriculum content. When we introduced the reception baseline in September last year, we said we would carry out a comparability study to establish whether it was fit for purpose. The study is now complete, and it has shown that the three different assessments being used by schools this year are not sufficiently comparable for us to create a fair starting point from which to measure pupils’ progress. We remain committed to the assessment of pupils in reception, and over the coming months we will be considering options for improving these assessment arrangements for beyond 2016-17. We will engage teachers, school leaders and parents in that work.
The hon. Gentleman brought up the spelling test. The investigation has uncovered further weaknesses in some of the Standards and Testing Agency’s clearance processes. I initiated that investigation, and the STA is now taking appropriate management action with the members of staff involved. We have already reviewed and tightened up the publication clearance processes.
This is a Government who are committed to reviewing the curriculum and to raising academic standards in our schools. This was always going to be a challenging month as schools got used to the new, more demanding curriculum and the new, more demanding assessments that follow that curriculum. I am confident—the Government are confident—that this is the right thing to do to raise academic standards in our schools to prepare young people for life in modern Britain and for an increasingly competitive global economy.
Parents in Kettering, of whom I am one, want their children, when they leave primary school, to be able to write neatly and legibly, spell correctly, read confidently, be able to add up, take away, multiply and divide, know all their times tables by heart, mix well with other children, realise that they in themselves have lots of potential, and have a thirst for knowledge that they can develop in their secondary school career. To what extent are we achieving that in modern Britain?
My hon. Friend rightly summarises the issues that we need to address. We need to ensure that we return to a knowledge-based curriculum, and that children become fluent in arithmetic and reading before they leave primary school. I am afraid that, under the previous Labour Government, too many young people left primary school without those skills to equip them for secondary education. I am convinced that our reforms will deliver the objectives that my hon. Friend set out. [Interruption.] The evidence is that 120,000 more six-year-olds are reading more effectively today than they were in 2012, and that 1.4 million more pupils are being taught in good and outstanding schools today than they were in 2010.
Having listened to the Minister today and heard the statement about the U-turn on academies recently, it seems to me that the Department for Education should now be put in special measures. When the Minister cannot even get the basics right in education, what confidence can we have that the Department will get the big issues right?