House of Commons
Monday 4 July 2016
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Academies: Teacher Pay
Academies have the freedom to determine their own pay arrangements. They are not bound by the provisions of the “School teachers’ pay and conditions document”, and can set the pay of their staff at the level they consider appropriate to recruit and retain the high-quality teachers they need. Academies’ freedoms also extend to other areas, including the curriculum, enabling them to develop approaches that better meet the needs of their pupils.
For local authority maintained schools, teacher pay scales are nationally agreed, as the Minister has just said, and they give teachers a clear indication of how their salaries will increase. However, allowing academies and academy trusts to set their own pay scales means that staff pay is very variable. What assessment has the Secretary of State carried out of the effect of deregulating pay scales on teacher morale and retention?
May I first welcome the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) and congratulate her on her appointment as shadow Secretary of State? She follows in the footsteps of the long-serving hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), and I suspect she was more surprised than I was by her appointment. Having worked with her in seeking to raise standards in Oldham schools, I know how able a shadow Secretary of State she will be.
In answer to the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), flexibility is of course important. It enables academies to flex their salaries and to recruit and retain the top-quality graduates they need. It is a very worthwhile policy, and it is working.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that headteachers have the ability to flex salaries to retain the very best staff? Will he also comment on whether resigning after 48 hours in the education sector sets a new record?
What I am saying is that, with the new freedoms academies have, they are able to pay salaries to attract the best teachers. That is a very good policy; it enables them to retain and attract the graduates in maths, physics and modern languages that schools and headteachers are telling us they need to recruit.
Ah, so there is my shadow, sitting on the Back Benches. He is very welcome. I wish he were sitting on the Front Bench and not there. However, in answer to his question, we are currently considering the STRB report, and we will publish it shortly, together with the Government’s response.
24. It is likely that academies in better-off areas will be able to access more funding and therefore pay higher salaries and attract the best teachers. What will that do for staff morale in academies in poorer areas? How will they be able to attract the teachers needed to close the attainment gap? (905632)
It is a pleasure to face the Minister for the first time today. As he mentioned, we have discussed education issues in one of the areas in my constituency, in Oldham. It has been an interesting week, and I am really pleased that there are still two women at the Dispatch Box overseeing education; that is really good news.
We face a crisis in the teaching workforce, and it has not been made any better by the potential problems with teachers’ pay. Almost 50,000 teachers quit this year—the highest figure ever. More teachers left than were recruited, and applications are still falling. The crisis has left academies spending nearly £200 million more on supply teachers in the last year. Is the Minister now prepared to apologise for the Government’s accusation that the Opposition were scaremongering in raising this issue?
The truth is that there are record numbers of teachers in the profession today. There are 456,000 teachers—15,000 more than there were in 2010. Some 43,000 teachers left the profession in 2015, but they were replaced by 45,000 coming into it. Talking down the teaching profession does not help to encourage graduates to come into it. Wherever I go, I talk up the profession. I hope that the hon. Lady, in her role, will do the same.
I think that every single teacher does an absolutely superb job. Ministers should listen to teachers when they talk about the issues that teachers face every single day in the classroom. On today’s evidence, it seems that Ministers are failing and not coasting. They are not prepared to apologise. Where is the evidence that devolving terms and conditions to school level will lead to higher standards? Can the Minister tell us of any other high-performing country in which this has been done?
Academies are improving their standards at twice the rate of local authority schools; that is particularly the case for primary schools that have been underperforming and have been turned into academies. After two years, they are improving their standards by 10 percentage points—twice the rate of local authority schools—and using their flexibilities to ensure that they can recruit the best teachers into their classrooms.
Academies are able to pay higher rates of pay to keep teachers, but deregulation of pay scales means that staffing budgets can also be slashed, with the key resource—the teacher—becoming a second-class asset. What steps has the Minister taken to protect pay scales to ensure that teachers have a nationally guaranteed level of pay?
It is odd to hear people complaining that we are going to cut teachers’ salaries and at the same time saying that there is a shortage of teachers and that it is difficult to recruit. The free market will ensure, of course, that salaries—the jobs market—[Interruption.] We are living in a strong economy. We have to compete for our graduates with companies up and down the country. That is what will secure high salaries for the teaching profession.
Tomorrow’s planned strike by members of the National Union of Teachers has come about as a result of the ongoing erosion of teachers’ pay and conditions, with entitlements such as sick leave and maternity rights under threat. How does the Minister plan to protect teachers’ maternity rights under the academy system?
The strike is based on a ballot in which under 25% of teachers in the NUT voted. I agree with Deborah Lawson, the general secretary of Voice, which is a non-striking teachers’ union, who has called these strikes a “futile” and “politically motivated” gesture. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, this strike will
“harm children’s education, inconvenience parents and damage the profession's reputation in the eyes of the public”.
Does the hon. Lady agree with that assessment?
First, I add my welcome to the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner). I look forward to engaging with her on our mutual interests: education and, I understand, women and equalities. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for her work as shadow Education Secretary. I think it is fair to say that we did not agree on everything, or perhaps even much, but I do pay tribute to her hard work, and that of the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who I have also worked with over the years.
We are continuing our extensive work to remove unnecessary workload for teachers. As part of my commitment to taking action in this area, we established three independent review groups to tackle workload relating to marking, lesson planning, and data management. We have accepted all their recommendations to Government. We urge school leaders and others in the education system also to act on those recommendations, and we will continue to work on this.
Has my right hon. Friend considered lengthening the school day to allow teachers the space to plan and mark during the school day, rather than during evenings and weekends? That would also give pupils the opportunity to engage in subjects such as art, music, drama and sport that may not be part of their curriculum at the moment.
My hon. Friend will remember that in the Budget the Chancellor mentioned support for a longer school day. Many schools already offer extra activities as part of a longer school day. We are keen to support this, and hope that they will broaden their range of activities. However, if we have a longer school day, there is no requirement for teachers to increase their workload to accommodate that. We will come forward with more details in due course.
Having spoken to many teachers in Taunton Deane, it is clear to me that a significant number feel under continual pressure to adapt to a constantly changing system, and there are worries that more changes are on the horizon. Will the Secretary of State give assurances that following the White Paper, teachers will begin to see greater consistency? Will she meet me, and perhaps some local teachers, to discuss these issues?
Of course I will be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and any teachers or headteachers she might like to invite from her constituency. Our aim is to give schools and colleges as much stability as possible to deliver the ambitious reforms set out in the White Paper. We want to give teachers and leaders the confidence to make changes based on their own professional judgment. We have a workload protocol that gives schools the time to prepare for significant changes, and we are making sure that it takes fully into account the implications for workload.
I have raised on the Floor of the House on a number of occasions the problems in west Cumbria with teacher recruitment and retention, which are leading to workloads building up, to the detriment of our children’s education. I am concerned to see that figures provided by the National Union of Teachers project that Cumbria will see a 4.5% real-terms cut in funding under the Government’s new national funding formula. What is the Secretary of State doing to address that, and to ensure that there is no detriment to children in my constituency?
We are aware of issues relating to recruitment in certain parts of the country and in certain schools. I am pleased to say, as the Minister for Schools has said, that we have recruited more teachers to teacher training for the start of next year. The hon. Lady is right to say, however, that among the reasons that teachers often struggle to stay in the profession are workload, behaviour and other expectations. We will have more to say about the national funding formula. I ask the hon. Lady to wait for the consultation and to make sure that she takes part in it, but I think she will agree that it must be right that pupils with the same needs attract the same amount of money, regardless of where they are based.
If the Secretary of State really does want to help teachers with the workload pressures that they are under, she has to do much more to tackle the serious shortage of teacher colleagues in schools and the duplicative paperwork that teachers are coping with, and not rely so much on the Minister for Schools, who sees the wonders of the free market as the solution.
The Minister for Schools does a fantastic job, and it is a delight to have his sunny outlook in all of our ministerial meetings. There are schools across the country that manage workload issues. When I visit schools, I always ask about workload, and it is interesting that there are some schools—they are very similar—where teachers are supported in terms of workload, and others where there clearly are issues. I challenge the hon. Gentleman to make sure that when he next visits schools in his constituency, he takes with him, or looks at, the workload report, and asks teachers and heads in the staffroom how they are getting on with implementing the recommendations. I accept that there are recommendations for Government, Ofsted and school leaders; between us all, I am sure that we can make progress.
Academies: Parent Involvement
The White Paper set out our commitment to ensure that parents have a more significant voice in schools. We will build on existing effective practice in academies to strengthen the expectation that they will listen to the views and needs of parents. We will also launch a new parent portal, setting out key information that parents need to know about schools.
Parent governors play a vital role in schools across the country and in my constituency of Gillingham and Rainham. The excellent portfolio holder for children’s services in Medway, Councillor Mike O’Brien, asks the Minister to confirm that the parent governor role will continue under the Government’s new plans for academies.
I agree with my hon. Friend and the excellent Councillor Mike O’Brien, whom I know well and wish all the very best, that parents play a very important role in the governance of our schools. I fully expect that to continue as more schools become academies. High-quality governance is vital for the success of our schools, and boards need governors with the right skills to perform the role well. Many parents have the skills to make them effective governors, and boards will continue to appoint them as governors for that reason. There is nothing in the White Paper proposals to prevent academies from continuing to have elected parent governors if they wish to.
The Secretary of State sought to ban parents from becoming school governors. She has blocked Ofsted from inspecting academy chains, and she refuses to have any democratic oversight of regional school commissioners. In her final days in office, with school improvement stalled, according to the chief inspector, has she not realised that the command-and-control, “Whitehall knows best” approach to schools and education does not work?
This seems like an upside-down House: the Labour Front Benchers are on the Back Benches, and its Back Benchers are on the Front Bench. We intend to increase academy engagement with parents by creating an expectation that every academy will put in place arrangements for meaningful engagement with parents and for listening to their views and feedback.
Yes, I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. Of course they will. The Europa School provides an excellent education. Since it became a free school in 2012, it has been rated good by Ofsted, and it continues to provide a very high-quality education.
Parents in my constituency have been left feeling bewildered and angry after an academy order was issued for Sedgehill School but was withdrawn for six months because the regional schools commissioner could not find a sponsor. What does this uncertainty say about the state of the Government’s academy programme, and how can this uncertainty possibly be good for pupils?
What it says is that the regional schools commissioners are very selective about the sponsors that oversee our academies programme. That is why two thirds of secondary schools are now academies, one in five primary schools is now an academy and standards are rising faster in academies than in local authority schools.
I would also like to pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), and her team for the work that they did with MPs from across the House to convince the Secretary of State that full-scale forced academisation is not right for our children or our communities. As glad as we are that the right hon. Lady was for turning, she still plans to convert schools into academies across vast swathes of our country. Will she now rethink her description of parents as “vested interests”, which added insult to injury?
May I correct the hon. Lady? Her predecessor was not the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell); it was the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), and I regret that she felt it necessary to resign. The academies programme is very successful, even without taking the powers that we had suggested. The programme is moving at pace—there were 200 academy conversions last month—and sponsored academies are improving faster under this arrangement. I hope that the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) will support a programme that began under the Labour party, although it began under a new Labour Government, not this old Labour Opposition.
A fairer funding system is crucial to deliver our aim of educational excellence everywhere. It was a proud moment when Her Majesty said in her most recent Gracious Speech:
“There will also be a fairer balance between schools, through the national funding formula.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 May 2016; Vol. 773, c. 2.]
The first stage of our two-part consultation on a national funding formula closed in April, and I thank everybody who responded to it. We are carefully considering the many responses we received.
As the funding formula consultation progresses, will my right hon. Friend listen carefully to the voices of parents in Staffordshire—a county that has done relatively badly out of former formulas because it has areas of social deprivation—so that schoolchildren from the Kerria and Glascote estates in Tamworth have the same opportunities as those from Wolverhampton?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I know that he is a powerful champion on this issue. Of course we will listen to the views from Staffordshire, and I know that the Schools Minister has met a number of delegations from Staffordshire already. As I said earlier, the intention is that children with the same needs do not attract different amounts of money simply because of where they live. The new formula will ensure that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds receive additional funding. The reforms are significant, so we are determined to get them right, which is why we will consult extensively.
I am interested in that answer. What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that the new funding arrangements for high-needs blocks are implemented promptly, and that low-funded counties such as Suffolk do not have to wait many years until they receive the level of funds to allow them to meet the needs of vulnerable learners?
My hon. Friend demonstrates the desire of Members from all parts of the House and from different counties to ensure that the funding formula is looked at. We are distributing additional high-needs funding. This year, Suffolk will receive an extra £1.2 million. As I have said, we are considering carefully the responses to the first stage of the national funding formula consultation on high needs, because we are determined to ensure that those who have been underfunded in the past benefit as quickly as possible.
I warmly welcome the announcement that South Gloucestershire and Stroud College has been successful in its application for the SGS Pegasus free school. It will be an 80-place school for autistic pupils, opening in September 2017. Can the Secretary of State assure me that Pegasus and other schools in South Gloucestershire and in my constituency of Thornbury and Yate will receive their fair share of funding following the introduction of the new formula?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My Ministers and I want to ensure that all schools receive their fair share of funding. South Gloucestershire and Stroud College has indeed been successful in applying to open the SGS Pegasus free school. Free schools form an integral part of the Government’s education policy to improve choice and drive up standards in schooling.
I did not expect to be on the Back Benches today, having resigned from a job that I relished doing over the past few months, but we are where we are.
Yesterday on the television, the Secretary of State again presented the illusion that school budgets have been protected over the course of this Parliament, yet she and I both know that school budgets are facing significant cuts in real terms, which are having a huge impact on the frontline. Given that the Chancellor has all but abandoned his fiscal approach, will she be the first person at his door to ensure that our schools have the real-terms budget protection they need?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, because I could see how much she loved doing her job as shadow Secretary of State for Education. The truth is that we have protected the overall schools budget in real terms. This year, the core schools budget will be over £40 billion, which is the highest amount on record.
What would the Secretary of State say to Schools NorthEast, which represents 1,000 schools in my region and has said that
“the Government risks fuelling the North-South divide in education by proposing to fund schools with similar characteristics differently, based on their location.”?
I would completely disagree with that assertion. I ask the hon. Lady to ensure that she and the schools in her area take part in the next stage of the consultation. She should not forget the funding that has already been allocated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor as part of the northern powerhouse fund for schools.
I am afraid that the Government’s claim that they are providing fair funding is unravelling as fast as the pledge of £350 million for the NHS on the Vote Leave bus. Will the Secretary of State confirm that analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that the new funding settlement will implement an overall cut of at least 8% in school budgets?
I applaud the hon. Lady’s activity today and her grip on her brief, but the answer is no. In 2016-17, the dedicated schools grant will total £40.68 billion, which is an increase of more than £4 billion since 2011-12 and the biggest amount any Government have ever spent on schools.
The Secretary of State will know that the Education Committee is very keen to press the Department on fairer funding to ensure that it delivers what it says on the tin. Does she agree that another important element of reform is ensuring that schools can plan ahead, and that it would be good if fairer funding enabled schools to do exactly that?
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend and his Select Committee have done on this issue. I know that the Minister for Schools is due to meet Members shortly to discuss it further. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) is absolutely right: not only do we have to get the formula correct and make it much more transparent, I am also very keen that schools are able to plan ahead, like we would ask any other organisation to do, so that they know how they can manage their budgets in the years ahead.
When the Government redraw the funding formula to make it fairer, as they say they will, they must remember that fair does not necessarily mean equal and that many schools face differing challenges, particularly in respect of teacher training. Will the Secretary of State therefore look at ways in which we can change the funding formula to help areas and schools with a history of low teacher recruitment rates?
I pay tribute to the work the hon. Gentleman has done to represent schools in Bradford, and I know that other Bradford Members of Parliament are also very committed to raising educational standards in their area. In talking about fairer funding earlier, I spoke very specifically about children with the same needs attracting the same amount of money. It is right that children from disadvantaged backgrounds should receive more money. I would ask him to engage with us on things such as the “achieving excellence areas”, which were outlined in the White Paper that was published earlier this year.
20. Will the Secretary of State, in reaffirming her commitment to fairer funding, set out the timetable for the consultation process and say when it will eventually be implemented?
Is there not a danger for the Secretary of State that some schools will risk losing funding and that those that gain from the new funding settlement will not gain nearly enough to offset both the freeze in the education grant and the national insurance increases?
I do not want to pre-empt the consultation. There are always dangers for Secretaries of State, but there is a danger in inaction, too. We have had an unfair national funding formula for well over a decade, and probably longer. I am not going to go down as the Secretary of State who had the opportunity to try to right that wrong but did not take it.
21. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that small rural primary schools, which are currently on the margins of financial viability, will be as secure under the new formula with academy status as when maintained by the local authority? (905629)
Deferred School Starts
Subject to parliamentary approval, we have decided to amend the school admissions code to support summer-born children in delaying entry to the reception year. We are now considering how to implement that change, and what other changes it would be appropriate to make to the code at the same time.
I thank the Minister for that answer. He will know that the delay to the consultation on the code is causing some concern, because of inconsistent responses from local authorities. May I press him further: can we ensure that the code covers the difference between actual dates of birth and due dates?
My hon. Friend has been a strong campaigner on this issue. As a consequence of his representations, and as part of our review of the code, we are considering whether it would be appropriate to use the due date of premature children rather than the birth date to determine when they start school.
Pupils from Non-UK EU Countries
As a matter of principle all children resident in the United Kingdom receive a free state school education. That provision goes back to 1880, when compulsory attendance at school to age 10 was introduced in England and Wales. The UK remains a member of the EU until the article 50 negotiations have concluded, which could take two years or more. Until the process is completed, nothing will change. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman my view, because the Home Secretary is about to make a statement on this issue: I think that EU citizens already here, including children, should have the right to remain.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but does she recognise the impact that such uncertainty is having on young people and their education? The First Minister, the National Association of Head Teachers and others are seeking precisely these assurances, so can she give an assurance that children from EU countries will be allowed to complete their education and will not be used as bargaining chips in negotiations about Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful case. There is obviously an awful lot to discuss in the light of the result of 23 June, which is not the result that I campaigned for. I completely accept his point that we should of course make sure that children of non-UK EU nationals resident here are educated.
As some Members of this House have discovered in recent days, character—whether that be perseverance, respect for others, bounce-backability or the ability to build strong relationships—is an important attribute that should not be underestimated. That is why we are working with schools to ensure that all young people can develop the character traits that will support their future success. We are investing £6 million to test approaches to character education and are delivering character awards to highlight the excellent practice that already exists.
I thank the Minister for that answer. I chair the all-party group on the British Council, which is about to launch an inquiry into the causes of extremism and radicalisation. I am sure that my hon. Friend well understands the crucial importance of the arts in developing breadth and depth of character—we will be debating arts education later today. How is the Department working to ensure that schools are provided with the right tools to build tolerance, balance and understanding in our young people?
I commend my hon. Friend for launching his inquiry. I know that there is a debate later in Westminster Hall on the EBacc, and I am sure many of these issues will be discussed. In many ways, schools provide the best protection from radicalisation by ensuring that pupils are encouraged to explore and debate ideas, and to test each other and themselves, so that they leave school with the resilience and critical thinking skills they need to challenge extremist views. To that end, we have launched the educate against hate website to provide practical advice to parents, teachers and school leaders on how to protect children from extremism and radicalisation.
18. Child abuse is rife in the UK, and I welcome the comments about character. Will the Secretary of State support my call for all primary school children to have statutory resilience and child protection lessons to prevent child abuse? (905626)
The Secretary of State is very aware of the hon. Lady’s campaign, as well as of the need to ensure that children are as resilient as they can be to the greater dangers that face them in the world in which they live. Those matters remain under review as part of personal, social, health and economic education, and we will return to them in future.
19. Thank you for spotting the link, Mr Speaker. The original question about character is all very good, but what is the Minister doing to ensure that young people have sound moral judgment and a tough backbone, so that they pick the right side of an argument and accept democratic decisions, supported by their peers and the wider populace? (905627)
We would all agree that participation in sport at school is character building, and the Chancellor announced in his Budget that moneys raised from the sugar tax will be spent on sport in schools. How much money is expected to be raised from the sugar tax, and what talks have taken place on how those funds will be spent?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight that money from the sugar levy will be spent directly on sport and physical activity. There is also a commitment of £500 million to help up to 25% of secondary schools extend their school day, and we have doubled the PE and sport premium for secondary schools from £150 million to £300 million per year, which is already making a significant impact on the quality of PE in many of our primary schools.
Character development includes turning young people to the outside world and helping them to gain confidence when thinking and working with people. Work experience in the teens is crucial, and it is damaging that Ministers scrapped the key stage 4 requirement in the curriculum. No wonder business groups urged them to do more, as did the skills commission on careers advice; and a five-year policy and funding vacuum has failed to prepare young people for that world of work. Will Ministers use the new Education and Adoption Act 2016 to restore work experience to the curriculum?
Many of us have had the benefit of work experience—I am sure some Members are enjoying that right now on the Opposition Front Bench—and we know that it provides people with a better understanding of the opportunities that they have in later life. The Careers and Enterprise Company is an important development because it seeks to open up those opportunities and create better links between schools and business.
Good mental and emotional health is a key priority for this Government, and it is crucial if we want all children to fulfil their potential both academically and for their general wellbeing. It is for schools to decide how best to provide appropriate mental and emotional health to support their pupils, and the Department is undertaking a national survey to find out what activities schools offer, including mindfulness, to help us decide how best to support schools in practice.
Having visited schools in my constituency that are running mindfulness programmes in the classroom, I know how much such programmes are appreciated by young people. Given the growing mental health crisis, there is a real urgency to innovate, and mindfulness can be part of that. Will the Minister agree to meet a cross-party group to discuss the availability of such programmes?
I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and a delegation to discuss the matter further. I am all for greater innovation in schools and for deciding how we can better support children so that they are strong and stable emotionally, which we know is a better backdrop to them being academically successful. I am sure we can arrange a meeting to discuss that further.
Mindfulness can be an important component of a wider PSHE programme, which our good and outstanding schools already implement. What progress is being made towards making PSHE statutory in all our schools?
Does the Minister agree that mindfulness can be helpful not only with the social and emotional aspects of learning but in improving the attentiveness of pupils in schools, and therefore their academic achievement as well as their personal wellbeing?
There is a small but increasing amount of evidence that backs the hon. Gentleman’s claim. That is why we want to look at this area more carefully, hence the national survey that is under way to enrich the evidence and knowledge to see what really works so that we can improve all the aspects of a child’s life to which he refers.
School Funding Formula (London)
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue and for contributing to the recent debate on education funding in London. The second stage of our consultation will detail the impact of the formula on schools. I understand the importance of giving schools stability and budget security, but in advance of that consultation it would not be appropriate to speculate on the specific impact of the formula. That would be unfair to schools and parents.
As a long-term governor, and having visited the outstanding Bevington school in Kensington this morning, can I ask the Minister to talk about the area school cost adjustment in respect of meeting the higher costs and vulnerability of schools in London?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. That is why in the first stage of the consultation we propose to include an area cost adjustment in the national funding formula—an increase for schools facing extra costs from higher wages, which will be important for London schools. We have also protected the pupil premium at current pupil rates, so every school knows that they will receive that funding on top of their core budget. London receives over 20% of the whole pupil premium budget.
Educational standards improved dramatically in London under the previous Labour Government, a timely reminder of the virtue of Labour winning elections. In the Minister’s attempt rightly to increase funding to levels needed across the rest of the country, will he confirm that school budgets in London will not suffer, thereby setting back the enormous progress that has been made?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: educational standards and attainment have improved dramatically, in London in particular, over the past decade or so thanks to teachers, parents and pupils in London. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made very clear, the purpose of the funding formula reforms is to fund need, so where there is need in London it will be funded on the same basis as need in other parts of the country.
Is the Minister aware that schools in my constituency in west London are already having to implement the biggest cuts to their budgets they have ever made? Will he assure the head teachers I met this morning that there will be no further cuts when fair funding comes in?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it very clear: the core education budget of £40 billion is the highest amount ever invested in education. We are supporting our schools to achieve educational excellence everywhere. We are reforming the funding formula to ensure that that excellence can be delivered across all schools, rather than it being determined by a postcode lottery, as it is at the moment.
Our strategy for what we are calling “achieving excellence areas” will tackle entrenched underperformance in areas where low school standards are reinforced by a lack of capacity to deliver and sustain improvement. We want to eradicate pockets of underperformance in our school system, and we will do so by targeting leadership and other school improvement programmes in areas of greatest need. We look forward to working with the first areas from this autumn.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, has called on the Welsh Assembly Government to introduce academies in Wales, saying that they improve performance. Does the Minister agree with me that raising standards is vital to helping the economy, and that it is important that political boundaries do not get in the way of business growth in my own area of north-east Wales?
How wise Sir Michael is, on this and on so much else! Raising standards is key to helping the economy grow and to improving productivity. Officials at the Department will be more than happy to hold discussions with their counterparts in the Welsh Government on how academies are raising standards. We would also be happy to discuss our education reforms over the past six years, which are raising standards and expectations in reading, writing, maths and the whole curriculum, in sharp contrast to what is happening in Wales under a Labour Administration.
The Government have acted to halt the serious decline in the number of pupils taking language GCSEs—40% of pupils in 2011 took a GCSE in modern foreign languages, down from 76% in 2000—and thanks to the EBacc, the proportion of pupils in state schools entered for a modern foreign language GCSE increased by 20% between 2011 and 2015. Our ambition is that 90% of pupils in mainstream secondary schools will enter GCSEs in EBacc subjects, including a language.
The internationalist manufacturing and business base across Rossendale and Darwen needs people with modern language skills if it is to continue to compete and succeed. What steps can schools take to co-operate with local businesses, such as those in my constituency, to ensure that the menu of language skills that pupils leave school with matches business requirement?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and one of the key goals of the Careers and Enterprise Company is to increase that engagement with business. The CBI’s recent report found that 77% of businesses valued foreign language skills and that nearly one third rated Mandarin as a useful language.
Child and Family Social Work
Excellent social work transforms lives, which is why we are establishing a regulatory body to drive up standards and raise the quality of social work training and practice. We are attracting new talent to the profession, investing in high-quality training, rolling out a practice-focused career pathway and developing a new What Works centre to ensure that social workers are equipped with the best knowledge and skills for their practice. This clear strategy to improve child and family social work is set out in the children’s social care policy paper, “Putting Children First”, which I and the Secretary of State published today and by way of a written statement. I encourage all hon. Members to read it.
Will the Minister explain how the Department’s new graduate entry routes to social work, such as Step Up to Social Work and Frontline, and including the award-winning provision of children’s services from East Sussex County Council, have impacted the social work profession?
Step Up and Frontline are beginning to have a significant impact: more than 670 Step Up participants have qualified as social workers and more than 450 students and 103 local authorities started training this year. An evaluation of cohort 1 showed high retention, and 99 Frontline participants have now qualified as social workers. An independent evaluation in March 2016 was hugely encouraging.
Children can remain in foster care until they are 21, while those in residential care have to leave at 18, which creates a truly unfair system. I have organised for MPs to pledge their support tomorrow to show that we care equally about all looked-after children. Will the Minister sign the pledge?
I commend the hon. Lady for her continued and passionate commitment to this matter, based on her professional experience and desire to make a difference. If she reads the paper, “Putting Children First”, which I mentioned a few moments ago, she will find a response to a recommendation from Martin Narey’s review into residential care explaining that we will start to pilot “staying close” for children leaving care in residential care settings. This is in line with his recommendation and I am sure will be hugely welcomed.
Children: Physical Activity
We are working closely with colleagues in the Department of Health and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the forthcoming childhood obesity strategy, which will build upon our existing measures to promote school-based physical activity for pupils. Physical education remains a compulsory subject at all four key stages in the national curriculum, which sets out our expectation that pupils should be physically active for sustained periods of time.
I have already alluded to the doubling of the PE and sport premium at primary school—we have invested more than £450 million. We are also determined to ensure that children continue to sustain participation in PE and sport as they move into secondary education. In the Government’s sports strategy, we have committed to working with the sector to better understand the barriers and issues around drop-off and to identify good practice. By knowing what works, we can be better equipped to combat the drop-off that my hon. Friend rightly mentions.
We are delivering at great pace on our commitment to provide parents with 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds. With cross-party support, we have already taken the Childcare Act 2016 through Parliament. We announced in the November spending review that we would invest an additional £1 billion a year into the system from 2019-20—more than ever before—and we are not waiting until 2017 to deliver on our commitment: around 5,000 children from eight areas will get their 30 hours a year from this September.
The Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, highlighted the danger that the Government will be unable to deliver their pledge to give three and four-year-olds 33 hours of childcare a week. In view of all our findings, what is the Minister doing to ensure that local authorities manage their childcare markets effectively or intervene if necessary?
The hon. Lady asks an important question. I am in contact with a lot of local authorities, and the Department has the local authority working group. In addition to the increased funding we have provided, we are working to ensure that local authorities have the capital they need—an extra £50 million—to create places in their local areas where there is a need.
The Minister for Children and Families has mentioned today’s publication of “Putting Children First”, which provides much-needed reforms to children’s social care—often a much under-sung service. I am sure that colleagues will condemn tomorrow’s strike action by the National Union of Teachers, which is both unnecessary and counter-productive. It will harm children’s education, inconvenience parents and damage the profession’s reputation in the eyes of the public. Finally, I would like to send my appreciation to teachers and students across the country who will receive their key stage 2 results this week.
Following the safe and successful return of Major Tim Peake from the international space station, what plans does the Secretary of State have to work with the UK Space Agency to promote space and science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, especially among women and girls?
The hon. Gentleman raises a really important issue, and we of course want to see more young people studying STEM subjects. My first boss in the House in the last Parliament, now Lord Willetts, told me that there were two ways to engage young people in science—space or dinosaurs.
T2. Following a rather poor Ofsted report for the local authority in Portsmouth, will the Secretary of State outline what support her Department can give to help schools in Portsmouth to become centres of excellence? (905634)
My hon. Friend is a strong promoter of educational excellence in Portsmouth. Centres of excellence in initial teacher training will be designated on the basis of criteria such as the quality of trainee teachers recruited, the quality of training courses, the outcomes for trainee teachers and training providers’ effectiveness in recruiting. We expect to confirm the schools and universities that have been designated as centres of excellence for the 2017-18 academic year when the allocation of training places is made in the autumn.
Ten days ago, we had the Government’s latest figures for apprenticeships. They showed that only one in four apprenticeships was going to young people under 19, whether it be in the number of starts or participation, and, even worse, that there were only 12,000 traineeship starts compared to 109,000 apprenticeship starts for under-19s. Does this not show that, after all the time and money Ministers have devoted to apprenticeships, they are still flailing around for a coherent strategy to get young people under 19 to the starting-block—either for traineeships or apprenticeships?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. Following the apprenticeships review in 2012, employers are designing new apprenticeships that are more responsive to the needs of business. More than 1,300 employers are involved; 241 standards have been published; and more than 160 new standards are in development. In the last Parliament, there were 2.4 million apprenticeship starts, and the reforms to technical education will build on that. This is a very successful part of our education system.
T3. One of the concerns about the fairer funding formula is what happens to sixth-form students. Can Ministers confirm that fairer funding will apply to sixth-form students in particular, and clarify what is proposed for sixth-form colleges? (905635)
My hon. Friend will be aware that in the spending review, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed funding of £4,000 per pupil for post-16 education, and that remains the case. Obviously, where there are school sixth forms, reforming the national funding formula will impact on the whole school budget. I do not what to pre-empt what the consultation will say, but I am sure we can have a discussion once we have published it.
As the Secretary of State knows, there are already examples of academies ignoring the concerns and views of parents, and removing the requirement to have a parent-governor or parent-governors will make matters worse. The White Paper proposes that parents should be able to petition to have their academy moved from an under-performing multi-academy trust to a different MAT, will she tell us how that will work?
I refute the first part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question. I do not know of any academies or schools that ignore parents’ concerns. As for the second part, we will make that clear when we have published the Bill. I very much hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be part of the Committee that scrutinises the “education for all” Bill.
T4. Some schools and headteachers are nervous about becoming academies. I believe they need not be, but what reassurance and guidance can the Minister give them on the path to academisation? (905636)
The process of conversion to academies will be assisted by the Department and once a school notifies the Department it wants to convert to academy status, with all the professional freedoms that that brings, there will be a named official who will help it through the process.
T9. When research shows that six out of 10 LGBT students have experienced homophobic bullying, there is much to be done to improve life for LGBT pupils. Following her support for UK school diversity week, what plans does the Secretary of State have to ensure schools offer an LGBT-inclusive education? (905642)
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must ensure that there is an absolutely inclusive education. I do not want to see any young person missing a day of education, and certainly not because they are worried about being made fun of or not being able to be who they are. The hon. Gentleman will know that I have already announced over £3 million for specific homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. That is having an effect. I pay tribute to the charities who are working across the country to roll that out and I look forward to continuing to support, and to expand, that work.
T5. As my right hon. Friend knows, before coming to this place I was a teacher. Teaching colleagues have concerns, which I share, about the appointment of Amanda Spielman as the new chief inspector of Ofsted. She does not hold a teaching qualification or have classroom experience. Does this appointment risk eroding the standing of the teaching profession and teachers’ esteem and morale? What assurances can my right hon. Friend give? (905637)
I thank my hon. Friend for her very heartfelt question. [Laughter.] Well, I do not think that the appointment of the new chief inspector is funny, but a recent shadow Education Secretary, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), apparently does. Amanda Spielman has a passion for improving children’s lives through education. Her work at ARK has transformed the life chances of children in some of our most disadvantaged areas.
I know parents and teachers want Ofsted to inspect in a fair, consistent and reliable way that supports improvement. The chief inspector’s role is not to tell teachers how to teach or to second-guess them; it is to run Ofsted, to provide an inspectorate, to build on evidence and tell the Secretary of State what sometimes she does not want to hear. I know that Amanda Spielman will do that on behalf of teachers across the country.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the recent report by the Traveller movement showing that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children are four times more likely to be excluded from school than other groups, yet 100% of appeals against exclusions from Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children are successful. What action is the Secretary of State taking to address this state of affairs?
We had a group in the last Parliament to address this very issue, and we are considering how to take that work forward. It is very important that all children, regardless of their background, attend school and we do not have any lesser expectations for children from different ethnic groups. This is a particular group that is underperforming in our system and we need to do more to ensure that they attend school and achieve.
T6. The principal of Paignton academy, Jane English, recently received a lifetime achievement award for teaching and inspiring generations of students, yet the school has been held back by having some elderly buildings that urgently need replacement. Can the Minister update me on when funding will be made available to do this? (905639)
First, may I take this opportunity to congratulate Jane English on her lifetime achievement award? She has done a tremendous job. The condition improvement fund was three times over-subscribed this year, which is why the school was unsuccessful—there were a lot of quality bids. I can give my hon. Friend the reassurance that the next fund will be opening in autumn 2016.
Durham county council is part-way through the legal process of merging South Stanley infant and junior schools to form a primary school, but on Friday the Department issued a notice that the infant school will now be part of Greenlands junior school as a new academy, completely ignoring any consultation with local parents. How does that fit with what the Minister has said about the involvement of parents in these decisions?
T7. More schools in Medway are now being rated outstanding and good. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the excellent work of Councillor Mike O’Brien, the cabinet member for children’s services at Medway council, who, alongside council officers, school leaders and parents, is working hard to raise standards in Medway? (905640)
I pay tribute to the work of Councillor Mike O’Brien and I am sorry to hear that he is not well. He is a hard-working and conscientious Medway councillor who is dedicated to serving his constituents and to improving education. His nine years’ experience on Medway Council and his years on Gillingham Borough Council have made him a very effective local representative. Our thoughts are with him and his family at this time.
The children of Thoresby primary school have an abundance of common sense and kindness, and I was delighted that they were awarded the National Character Award last week by the Children’s Minister. Does he agree, however, that we also want to instil determination, grit and tenacity in our young people?
T8. I thank the Schools Minister for his recent visit to the Acorn alternative provision academy in my constituency to see the excellent work that it is doing. Does he agree that the delivery of high quality and innovative alternative provision education is vital to raising the life chances of children who find themselves in the most difficult and challenging situations? Can he update the House on the work that his Department is doing to support alternative provision across the country? (905641)
I was actually expecting a question on term-time holidays from my hon. Friend, but I am nevertheless delighted to join him in congratulating the Acorn AP academy. It is an excellent alternative provision academy with a real focus on academic achievement for vulnerable pupils. I certainly agree that outstanding alternative provision is vital, and in our education White Paper we set out reforms that will help to build a world-leading system of alternative provision. The reforms will incentivise schools to commission high-quality provision and make the schools more accountable for the outcomes of alternative provision pupils.
The Secretary of State was telling us earlier about her plans to support young people who leave care, whether it is foster care or residential care. Will she tell us where the new members of staff are going to come from to support them and where the young people are going to live?
The hon. Gentleman needs to look carefully at Martin Narey’s report and at our response in the social care policy paper. This is not a question of simply expanding the current provision; we are trying to find innovative ways of supporting young people out of care that will serve them much better in the long term.
Ensuring that students have access to the latest technology is key to raising standards in schools. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Havant College on its pioneering partnership with Google, which ensures that every student has access to a tablet computer?
Yes, I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Havant Sixth Form College on harnessing the expertise and ingenuity of Google’s staff and products. The intelligent selection and use of technology in schools and colleges can be a great asset in helping to improve educational outcomes. I hope that this screed was within the time limit, Mr Speaker.
Is the Minister of State surprised to learn that when I shared his latest response to my correspondence about teacher shortages in Slough with our local headteachers, they found it cynical and said that it failed to address the real recruitment and retention problems that they face? Will he meet me and those headteachers to discuss a practical arrangement to deal with the teacher shortages in our town?
Of course I will meet the right hon. Lady and the teachers from her constituency to discuss this issue, which we take very seriously. We are competing for graduates in a strong economy, and we have recruited 15,000 more teachers since 2010. There are 456,000 teachers in the teaching profession, and 14,000 more teachers returned to teaching last year. That is a higher figure than in previous years. Teaching is still a popular profession, but we are dealing with the challenge of a very strong economy and competing in the same pool for graduates. We take this issue seriously, which is why we have very generous bursaries to attract the best graduates to teaching.
I was rather surprised to find that the number of children being home schooled in Warwickshire had trebled over the past three years. There are 452 such pupils in the current year. Will Secretary of State tell us what provisions exist to ensure that such children get a full and rounded education?
We have already made it clear that we want to know more about what is happening to children who are home educated. The majority will be educated extremely well, but we believe that there is more to do on this. We also want local authorities to know when children are being withdrawn from schools in order to be home educated, and I expect further proposals to follow.
Last month, Baker Small gloated on social media about a win in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. Since then further information has come to light, revealing that Baker Small is advising councils on making it harder for children to be given assessments for an education, health and care plan to help cut costs. That goes completely against the principle of the Children and Families Act 2014, which is to create a less adversarial system. Can the Minister assure me, the House, and parents of children with SEND that he is doing all that he can to end the practice, and may I ask what he is going to do about Baker Small?
Let me put on record that practices of that kind are totally unacceptable. The new tribunal arrangements that we introduced were intended to make the system less adversarial and more inclusive for parents and young people, so that we could achieve a better resolution of any problems that emerged. We will continue to watch carefully how matters develop, but the hon. Lady can be reassured that we do not accept that that practice is appropriate.
EU Nationals: UK Residence
EU nationals make an invaluable contribution to our economy, our society and our daily lives. They should be assured that, as the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have repeatedly said, there will be no immediate change in their status in the UK. The Prime Minister has made it clear that decisions on issues relating to the UK’s exit will be for a new Prime Minister. I am therefore not in a position to make new policy announcements this afternoon.
The discussions that we have with the European Union to agree the arrangements for the UK’s exit will undoubtedly reflect the immense contribution made by EU citizens to our economy, our NHS and our schools, and in so many other ways; but they must also secure the interests of the 1.2 million British citizens who live and work elsewhere in the EU.
The Home Secretary was clear yesterday when she said that we should seek to guarantee that the rights of both groups were protected, and that this would be best done through reciprocal discussions with the European Union as part of the negotiations to leave the EU. It has been suggested that the Government could now fully guarantee EU nationals living in the UK the right to stay, but that would be unwise without a parallel assurance from European Governments regarding British nationals living in their countries. Such a step might also have the unintended consequence of prompting EU immigration to the UK.
It is in the best interests of all for the Government to conduct detailed work on this issue, and for the new Prime Minister to decide the best way forward as quickly as possible. In the meantime, let me stress that EU nationals continue to be welcome here. We have seen some truly abhorrent hate crimes perpetrated against EU nationals in the past week or so, and we will not stand for attacks of that kind. They must be, and will be, tackled in the strongest possible terms.
EU nationals can have our full and unreserved reassurance that their right to enter and to work, study and live in the UK remains unchanged, but to pre-empt future discussions at this point would risk undermining our ability to protect the interests of EU and British citizens alike, and to secure the best outcome for both.
I hate to teach the Minister about British constitutional organisations and structures, but ours is a Cabinet Government structure. Irrespective of whether Prime Ministers decide to leave, the Cabinet can still make decisions.
May I point out to Ministers that people are not bargaining chips? It is deeply offensive to assume that this country retrospectively changes the rights of its citizens. It is a duty of Government to allow people to live their lives and to make arrangements and predictions. We have 3 million EU citizens in this country, and 1.2 million British people live in the EU. They have a right to expect the Government to make clear statements.
The Minister may have read a letter to The Sunday Telegraph in which Members of Parliament, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), Frances O’Grady of the TUC, Simon Walker of the Institute of Directors, and Sunder Katwala of British Future—the Co-op is also concerned—say that it is the duty of this Government to state clearly and unequivocally that any EU citizen here will maintain and continue to enjoy the rights that they have acquired. Anything else would represent a failure of the Government to protect their people and future obligations. The Minister may also be aware that the House of Lords is far from happy with the Government’s position. Will he do the right thing now and not turn people into bargaining chips and not worry about what might happen in future but at this moment stand up and say that we honour human rights, that EU citizens have made an important and valuable contribution that will be honoured and that those who are here will continue to be here?
I entirely understand the basic premise of the right hon. Lady’s point, which is that we should seek to reassure EU nationals here in the UK and British citizens in other EU countries. On that broad premise, we are not poles apart. The question is about how we achieve that objective, which raises several complex issues. She will understand that we are talking about not only the right to reside, but employment rights, the right to study, entitlement to benefits, access to public services, and the ability to be joined by family members.
This is not, as the right hon. Lady seeks to characterise it, about viewing people as bargaining chips in some way; it is about getting the best possible outcome for EU citizens who are here and for the 1.2 million British citizens who are elsewhere in the European Union. The Government are absolutely focused on getting the best possible solution through discussions with the European Union. She and other EU nationals who are here and contributing to our society can be assured that that is absolutely at the forefront of what we are seeking to achieve in the negotiations that will follow.
I am sure that everyone on both sides of the House wants to see no disadvantage given either to EU citizens living in this country or to UK citizens living in other European countries. I detect the faint whiff of synthetic indignation over this entire urgent question process. What judgment has the Minister made about the best way to protect the interests of the more than 1 million British citizens living, and in many cases working, in other EU countries, so that no one is disadvantaged at the end of this process?
We need to ensure that there is an overall balance and that all the issues are given careful consideration. We have to view things in the round. That is why it would be a mistake to view this in a narrow way and to make statements now that could impede broader discussions about the position of British nationals in other European countries. That is the right approach and is precisely why the Prime Minister set out that we need to consider things very carefully.
I should probably begin by declaring an interest: my wife, Marie-France, is a Dutch national and our three children are half-Dutch. So many British families are similar to ours, with relatives born in Ireland or in other EU countries. The 3 million or so EU nationals living here are the fathers and mothers, aunties and uncles, and grandmas and granddads of millions of British children. To leave any uncertainty hanging over their right to be here is tantamount to undermining family life in our country. That does not strike me as a very prime ministerial thing to do, but it is what the Home Secretary did yesterday. She said that
“people who have an established life here”
would be part of negotiations with Brussels. For people making a huge contribution to our society to be talked of as a bargaining chip, as was said, is insensitive to say the least. But when she adds that
“nobody necessarily stays anywhere forever”,
it becomes quite threatening.
I hope the Minister will go back and tell the Home Secretary that my kids would quite like their mum to stay here forever, if that’s okay with her. In retrospect, does he not accept that the Home Secretary’s comments were ill-judged? Is it not the case that people who have made a life here when it was perfectly legal for them to do so should not now have the rug pulled from under them? Furthermore, is it not entirely within the gift of the UK Government to remove this uncertainty today? Why is the Home Secretary not here today doing precisely that, rather than prioritising her leadership campaign? This is entirely a matter for the UK Government to decide, and it is this Government’s own decision to make this an issue in the negotiations. By doing so, are they not creating the conditions for the unwelcoming climate to continue, and for the rise in xenophobic and racist abuse we have seen?
Finally, does the very fact that we are having to hold this debate today not illustrate how flawed the referendum campaign was? Did people not have a right to know the answer to this crucial question before they went to vote? Sending any EU nationals home has enormous implications for families, for public services and for the economy, so why on earth did the Government instruct civil servants not to carry out any contingency planning on the implications of Brexit? Was that not the very height of irresponsibility? And has it not left us with “neither compass nor chart”, as Lord Hennessey has said? The Conservative party has reduced our country to chaos and created uncertainty being felt in every family. If the Home Secretary wants to be the person to lead us out of it, she needs to have the courage to come to this House and clear up her own mess.
If anything was ill-judged, I think the right hon. Gentleman’s comments were and the manner in which he approached his contribution this afternoon. I have been clear that there is no concept of bargaining chips or viewing people in that way. I have been clear on the contribution I see EU citizens making to our country, now and in the future, which is why it will be a part of that negotiation as we look towards a positive future for our country outside the EU. It would not be responsible to take a stance now that could have an impact on the 1.2 million British citizens in countries outside the UK. [Interruption.] It is not a choice of one or the other; it is a question of looking at both of them, and getting the best possible outcome for UK citizens in other European countries as well as giving assurance on the rights of European citizens who are here. It is important that we approach the negotiations in that way.
The right hon. Gentleman makes the point about the rise in community tensions, as he did fairly to us last week when the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), made her statement on hate crime. We would have common cause in utterly condemning hate crime—I absolutely condemn it again today—with the further work that will be introduced on tackling hate crime and the further work that the police are doing in our communities at the moment. We celebrate the work of so many European citizens here in our country now, which is why this does need to be part of those discussions and agreements with the European Union, to give that assurance and, yes, to get the best possible outcome for them, as well as for British citizens abroad.
Will the Minister understand that many of us regard the Home Secretary’s recent remarks as wholly inappropriate? Does he also accept that any EU citizen who currently resides in the UK will continue to do so, as he has suggested, but that once the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 has taken place, it will be a matter for domestic legislation here at Westminster to decide, in our traditional fair and reasonable manner, on what basis people should remain, having regard to the interests of UK nationals in other member states?
I underline again that we are an open, welcoming country and recognise the contribution that EU citizens make to our country, our economy and our communities. That is why this must form part of our assessment, our consideration and our negotiations and agreement with our European partners. I stress it in those terms very clearly. I hope my hon. Friend will understand why the matter needs to be viewed in that broader construct in the best interests of our country and to get the best outcome from those discussions.
May I start by observing that this is one of many questions to which it might have been prudent to have an answer before the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and her fellow Brexiteers persuaded so many of their fellow citizens to vote to leave the EU? Be that as it may, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union, and our fellow citizens who were born outside the UK are now anxious to know what the referendum results mean for them, not just now but in the future. And so are EU citizens across the UK. It is wrong and irresponsible to prevaricate about this.
In launching her bid for the leadership of the Tory party last week, the Home Secretary said:
“We will strive to make Britain a country that works for everyone—regardless of who they are and regardless of where they’re from.”
Actions speak louder than words. Why is the Home Secretary not here today to give the sort of reassurance that one might have expected in the light of that election pitch? What could be more important than her coming to this House to give that reassurance?
At the opening of the Scottish Parliament on Saturday, the First Minister said:
“We are one Scotland and we are simply home to all of those who have chosen to live here. That is who and what we are.”
Will the Minister reconsider, follow the First Minister’s example, and offer such reassurance for the whole of the United Kingdom? If he is not prepared to do that, will he clarify today in what circumstances he thinks it would be appropriate to remove the rights of EU citizens already living here?
The hon. and learned Lady has rightly highlighted that there were and will be a range of issues that need to be addressed, and obviously this is one of them. It was a consequence of the decision to leave the European Union; it was not shied away from and was clear in advance of the referendum. She makes her point in a clear and concise way. To come to her broader point, we want to get to a position where we can tell EU nationals who live in the UK that everything will be fine, that we can see them continuing here. I reverse the approach and take it from that standpoint. That is the approach that we will take as we look towards those negotiations and those EU discussions.
The hyperbole and the overstatement from the Opposition Benches will do much to frighten EU nationals in this country, more so than anything that has been said from the Front Bench. But there is an urgency to giving a clear message on the matter. EU citizens are among our top surgeons, our top consultants, our top anaesthetists. They are among our top engineers and our top architects. These are people who can work anywhere in the world and we need to be very clear that we want them here, as part of our economy.
I recognise the contribution made by all the people my right hon. Friend mentioned to our economy and also, as I said, to schools, the health service and so many other parts of our communities. I stress again that there is no change to their status now. We have to approach the discussions and focus on how we get the best possible outcome for them as well as for our own citizens, and that is what we will do.
Is it not obvious that the forced deportation of millions of EU citizens is something that no sane or fair Government would contemplate doing? Given that no Government would do it, all we see from the Minister is that the Home Secretary has an incredible “negotiating position” and is causing untold fear and misery for many people in our country. It is time the Government gave clarity on this issue.
I am sorry, but I entirely reject the assertions the right hon. Gentleman makes. We have been very clear on confronting the division in our society, and in actually doing the work and setting out the best possible outcome for EU citizens, as well as British citizens, and that is the job we will get on with.
I was glad to hear a moment ago, in one response from the Minister, that foreign residents are not to be treated as pawns in the negotiations, but I have to say that that was not the impression I had from his opening statement. Protecting their rights is the only ethical position that can now be taken. What is more, the longer the uncertainty about this question persists, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) pointed out, the greater the risk of the economic downturn and the economic consequences. The Minister has been sent to do a holding operation today. Will he now take back from this urgent question debate the clear message that waiting until 9 September or beyond is simply not a realistic option and that the best thing to do now is to just get on with granting these rights?
I note my right hon. Friend’s contribution, and I would reassert the comments I made about people not being bargaining chips. We are talking about people’s lives here, and we fully appreciate and recognise the personal significance that this has. I do say to him, though, that it is appropriate that we look at this in the round, with all the complexities and all the unintended consequences that might arise from making statements now. It is appropriate to consider it in that way and to get the best outcome.
There are unintended consequences in not making a statement now and allowing this issue to drift. There are children in schools, whose parents are French or Polish, who are in tears because they fear that they may have to leave. Extremists are exploiting this for “Go home” campaigns and repatriation campaigns that are vile, and the Home Secretary is just giving them succour. The Minister has been sent out here to waffle, while the Home Secretary, once again, has gone to ground on something that she could sort right now. Parliament is sovereign; we could sort this before the recess. Why do we not have a motion through this Parliament, which every one of us could sign up to and support, to say we will respect people’s rights if they are settled here and contributing to our country already? That is the fair thing to do.
We do have the certainty of knowing that there will be no immediate change, so people should not be fearful. Equally, others should not try to stoke up anxieties in the way that, I think, has been done in some contributions. It is important that we get this right and that people can continue in the way that they have done. Again, this process of leaving the EU is likely to take a number of years, and there will be no change while we remain a member of the European Union. People need to have that confidence and certainty. We will certainly confront any division, any hatred and any racism that we see, and the police are already taking action on that.
While I understand the immediate logic of my right hon. Friend’s position, he does need to understand that our partners are not going to be in a position to make a reciprocal commitment, because 27 nations have to agree a position in the negotiations. This is an area in which the uncertainty needs to be brought to an end as soon as possible. Since it is inconceivable that we would not grant retrospective rights, should we not get on with it immediately?
My hon. Friend is right in saying that it is important that we look at the reciprocal rights and at how we do this at an EU level, rather than with individual member states. I think that is the right approach to take. However, it is important to view this in the round, viewing the role and responsibilities of British citizens who are in other European countries, and ensuring that the actions we take do not have unintended consequences for them.
I find it hard to comprehend: the Minister keeps talking about not using EU citizens as bargaining chips, but then talks as if that is exactly what he is going to do. I also have to declare an interest: my husband is German, he has been a GP in this country for 30 years and, along with others in the community, he is anxious. The Minister says there will not be an answer for several years. In what way should people feel reassured? We caused the problem; we should set the example, and then other countries will respond in kind—just give them the reassurance.
I commend and congratulate the hon. Lady’s husband on the contribution he has made to the NHS, as have so many other EU nationals. Again, it is important to underline the fact that EU nationals who have been exercising treaty rights for a period of five years are entitled to permanent residence under existing rules. That is why we need a calm approach to these issues, underlining the existing arrangements that EU citizens will continue to benefit from, as well as looking at what those arrangements will need to be in future. That is where the negotiation plays such an essential part.
Is not my right hon. Friend making a bit of a meal of this? Why do we not just do what this House clearly wants to do—to grant the rights to these people? Could not that be implemented very quickly if we repealed the European Communities Act 1972? Does he not accept responsibility for gross negligence in not having any contingency plans?
I am afraid that there are significant legal complexities glossed over by my hon. Friend in outlining those solutions. A range of quite complex, multi-faceted issues arise. I have already highlighted things like benefit rights, access to public services, and employment rights, and there are others as well. It is not as simple as some have set it out to be. That is why we need to work through this carefully to get the best outcome.
There are 36,000 EU passport holders in the London borough of Westminster—almost one in eight of the population. This week I have been flooded by emails from people concerned about the jobs they do, the businesses they run, and the future of their children’s education. Does not the Minister understand that “not immediately” is simply not good enough? People are making decisions about their lives, their businesses and their children: they need reassurance, and they need it now.
Of course I understand the points that the hon. Lady very fairly makes. I do not think there is much difference between us on getting to that objective. That is why I make the point that I do about the certainty that people have now, and therefore working towards giving that certainty and assurance as part of the discussions at EU level. I absolutely understand the point that she fairly makes. That is precisely why this needs to be a priority as part of those discussions with our European partners, so that there is certainty for their citizens here, as well as our citizens in those member states.
Does the Minister agree that we should hold ourselves to a higher moral standard than trading off one group of immigrants against another, and immediately unilaterally declare a new immigration status of EU-acquired rights that would give people the right to reside here if they had been here for less than five years, at the same time as advertising to those who have been here for longer than five years that they now automatically have the right of permanent residence, so that as many of them as possible can avail themselves of that right?
I have already, in response to an earlier question, explained the position in relation to permanent residence. Those rights are there. Obviously we will retain and respect all existing rights while we remain a member of the European Union. My hon. Friend makes a number of points about potential solutions. Ultimately, that will be a matter for the next Prime Minister.
Will the Minister join me in condemning Lord Pearson, who has said,
“it is we who hold the stronger hand if we retaliate, because so many more of them”—
“them” being EU citizens—
“are living here”?—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 June 2016; Vol. 773, c. 1563.]
For two specific categories—the 10,000 EU doctors, just under 10% of the staff, who work in the NHS, and EU students who have just embarked on their studies—can the Minister give any guarantees that they will be able to continue?
On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, I entirely agree—those comments are simply not acceptable. On his second point, yes, we know that about 50,000 EU citizens are working within the NHS. The contribution that they make is absolutely essential. I underline the points that I have made about the certainty that they have now in relation to existing EU rights, and working towards a position where we can give clarity moving forward.
Some 55,000 members of our NHS workforce qualified elsewhere in the European Union, as did 80,000 members of our equally valued care sector. They need security, not just now, but in the long term, because the workforce crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS. In addition to welcoming the extraordinarily valuable contribution that those people make to our health and care sector, will the Minister take back the clearest possible message from this House that we need long-term security now?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining the contribution that EU and other citizens make in providing care in the NHS and in the care sector for our elderly. Obviously, as part of the negotiations, we want to ensure that there is an assurance. It exists now—I stress that again—but I acknowledge the priority she has given to it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) led the campaign that got us into this mess. May I take up with the Minister something he said about the British people living in other European countries? I declare an interest as president of Labour International. We have heard from lots of people who live in Spain and elsewhere who are very concerned about their future. Can the Minister end the uncertainty for those British people—many of whom could not vote in the referendum because they have been abroad for longer than 15 years —that they will not be forced out of Spain, France or elsewhere, by ensuring that the British Government make a quick, early statement on security for citizens of those countries here?
The hon. Gentleman makes his point well on the bigger implications and broader issues that we absolutely have to acknowledge in making decisions. That is why we need to act with care, consideration and thought, to ensure that we consider the rights not only of those from the EU who are here, but of British citizens overseas, who will be feeling equally uncertain. We need to think about both in our discussions.
As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who asked the urgent question, will know, nobody on the official leave campaign raised the prospect of sending people away and deporting people. The issue has been raised by the Home Secretary and it is a catastrophic error of judgment for someone who wishes to lead this country even to suggest that those people who are here legally, who are working and who have families and are settled, should be part of the negotiations. She has made a big error of judgment and that message needs to go back to the Home Secretary today.
I am very sorry, but I think that my hon. Friend has completely mischaracterised what the Home Secretary said. She was merely saying that people come and go: some people who work here may go back to their home countries. That is the fluidity that we see in labour markets and in the movements of people between different countries. That is what the Home Secretary was referring to. We want to work to ensure that the rights of those who are here are guaranteed, and that will form part of the negotiations.