House of Commons
Thursday 8 September 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
On the front page of today’s Order Paper it is noted that on 9 September 1916, Lieutenant Thomas Michael Kettle, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Member for East Tyrone from 1906 to 1910, was killed in action at Ginchy during the Battle of the Somme.
We remember him today.
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
We continue to support the roll-out of superfast broadband to reach 95% of UK homes and businesses by December next year, and we are reinvesting funds from project savings and revenues specifically to help those people in harder-to-reach areas, such as rural communities.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her promotion and wish her well in her post, which I am sure she will make a great success of. Is she aware that, while 84% of properties in my constituency have access to superfast speeds, 9.5% still do not have access to 10 megabits per second and 2% have no access at all to even basic broadband? Many of those remote communities include farms and businesses that want to expand and get on and diversify, but they are being held back, so what more can she and her team do about that?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words; I do appreciate them. He has pointed out that more than four in five properties in his constituency have access to superfast broadband; it is very important that they know that and make sure, if they wish, that they can access it. I know that very well, given that I also represent a rural constituency.
We are looking to make sure that there is access to superfast broadband for all in rural areas. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that the project savings and revenues for reinvestment are already being made available to local projects across the UK, which can then determine how and where that money is best spent. So far, nearly £130 million of take-up revenue has been confirmed for reinvestment in local projects nationwide, and we expect up to £150 million of savings in addition. More than £10 million of that is being reinvested in hard-to-reach areas in Norfolk.
A lot of my constituents have written to me recently about the problems with superfast broadband and lack of access to it. Obviously, if people do not have access to it, their non-access is 100%. They want certainty in timescale and when it is going to happen. What can the Secretary of State do to increase that certainty?
I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s comments, which are exactly the same as those I receive from my constituents. I am working, together with the Minister for Digital and Culture, to make sure that we communicate to all people and businesses when they can expect access to superfast broadband. We are also making sure that universal service is available to all in the timeframe set out.
The village of Harrington in the borough of Kettering is just two miles from the town of Rothwell, and yet it has had tremendous difficulties in persuading BT to provide it with superfast broadband. Farms on the outskirts of Harrington are almost in despair that they will never get it. What reassurance can the Secretary of State give my constituents that they will be connected?
Does the Secretary of State agree that the existence of not spots in urban areas is often the result of a combination of cock-ups, including commercial rivalries between companies, which are sometimes overlaid with developers taking their eye off the ball at the wrong time and local authorities not getting their act together? Whose responsibility is it to sort that out?
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. As a fellow graduate of Imperial College, I hope to find in her a fellow champion of the digital economy. However, although I welcome her to her place, she should be ashamed of the situation we are in. In 2016—four years after the last Labour Government’s commitment to universal broadband for all would have come into force—hundreds of thousands of British citizens do not even have the speed to download an email and can only dream of the speed necessary to watch the parliamentary channel and see your good self, Mr Speaker. Will the Secretary of State disavow her predecessor’s laissez-faire attitude and tell us what she is going to do to end that disgraceful situation?
The hon. Lady and I are both alumni of Imperial College, a great institution that does so much to further science and technology and to ensure that we have the right skills in the digital market so that we can be a world leader. I have to take issue with some of the comments she has made, however. This Government have done more than many others and this country is well ahead of, many others in broadband provision. I fully appreciate that if an individual does not have access to broadband, they feel somehow that that is not right. It is not right; we are determined to get it right, and we will get it right. I absolutely and totally disagree with any suggestion that there is a laissez-faire attitude in the Government. This Government are a Government for all the country—for everyone—and we will deliver.
Local TV makes an important contribution to British broadcasting, with around 1.5 million households watching it each week. Twenty-one channels have launched since November 2013, with a further 13 due to come on air next year.
The Minister has highlighted the successful development of local TV. That success is underpinned by a partnership with the BBC, which provides an income stream in return for sharing news content, but the arrangement is now at risk with new proposals for commissioning local content. Will the Minister agree to meet the local TV network to discuss how the proposed public service content fund could be used to provide continued support to local TV?
Yes, I would be delighted to do so. The detailed arrangements that were set out in the BBC White Paper are a matter for the BBC, but it will clearly want to consult and engage with all local media. I would be enthusiastic about meeting local TV providers with the hon. Gentleman. It is disappointing to have sedentary voices from the Opposition shouting that local TV is not relevant. I think it is hugely relevant, and I look forward to working across this House to deliver it.
May I draw the Minister’s attention to Estuary TV, which was established 12 years ago at Immingham in my constituency, and is now based at the Grimsby Institute? It is a long-established channel. May I invite the Minister to follow his predecessor and visit the station, which I am sure will give him an extended interview?
Well, how could I turn down an offer like that? I love Grimsby. It is great to come to Cleethorpes with my hon. Friend, and to Grimsby, too. I hope that even these exchanges may find their way on to Estuary TV. As with other brilliant local TV stations that I have appeared on in the past, I look forward to visiting this one in the future.
May I also welcome the new Secretary of State and her team and wish them well? Has the Minister had any opportunity to read the report on the BBC by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, and in particular the Committee’s unanimous recommendation that there be a separate Scottish six o’clock news? Moreover, have the Minister or his colleagues talked about that with anybody senior at the BBC, and can he reassure us that there will be no Government interference to try to thwart the “Scottish Six” when it is launched?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and I know that there have been extensive discussions with the BBC at all levels about the draft charter and the framework agreement. I am afraid that he will just have to wait a short while longer for more detail about that.
May I take the opportunity to congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment and welcome her team to the Front Bench? May I also add my congratulations to our brilliant Olympians on their stunning success in Rio and wish our Paralympians similar success?
Local television services face the threat of serious cuts if the Government press ahead with their plan to make the BBC pay the cost of free licence fees for the over-75s. As a social benefit, that has hitherto been paid for by the Exchequer, and rightly so. Transferring the cost to the BBC could mean a loss to the corporation, and effectively to other licence fee payers, of up to £608 million a year, threatening programme cuts across the board. Will the Government think again about this utterly misguided decision?
I simply do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation. There was a very good licence fee settlement, which the BBC welcomed. If he is coming out against providing free TV licences to the over-75s, he ought to say that that is the Labour party position.
The Government support culture in the north-east through Arts Council England investment and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The north-east has a thriving and growing arts scene that we want to support, such as the National Glass Centre and the Cultural Spring programme.
I am thrilled to hear the Minister talk about culture in the north-east, and I would love to take him to the National Glass Centre in Sunderland and the Arts Centre in Washington. Does he agree with me that the disparity in Arts Council funding between the north-east and places such as London is one of the reasons why it would be excellent for Sunderland to become the city of culture 2021 to showcase our city’s cultural contribution to the rest of the UK and to the world?
The hon. Lady has made an excellent case for an application to become the city of culture 2021. I am hugely looking forward to the city of culture 2017 in Hull next year. No doubt her comments will be picked up. I would love to come to Sunderland soon to see some of these things for myself.
The Government have delivered the majority of the recommendations set out in the Leveson inquiry report.
May I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment? The long grass into which the Government have kicked the Leveson review is getting ever longer, but the issue is not going away. The previous Prime Minister signed a cross-party agreement, and this House overwhelmingly passed section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, so when will she implement it?
I am taking my time to make sure I listen to all sides on this matter. I have already had a meeting with Hacked Off and I am going to meet all representatives; I wanted to hear from all victims of press abuse. I will take my time and make sure I make the decision in the right way.
May I join hon. Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend on becoming Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport—the best job in the Government? Does she share my concern about the continuing loss of both jobs and titles in the national and local press? Does she agree that there may be a case for saying, if there is a recognised regulator, that its members will be given the protection afforded under the Leveson recommendations, but that to impose the cost penalties would simply result in the loss of yet more newspapers?
I am having to fill my right hon. Friend’s really enormous shoes as best I can, because he did an absolutely fantastic job in this role. He sums up the dilemma that we face. We want to have a free press, and we want to make sure that we have a strong and vibrant local press. I know from my own local titles just how important they are to people. They read the Leek Post and Times, the Biddulph Chronicle and The Sentinel, and they want to have such a strong local press.
The hon. Gentleman will know that some cases are pending, and until they have been completed there can be no progress on Leveson 2. I assure him that this is not being kicked into the long grass. We are looking very carefully at all the arguments from all sides to make sure we have a free press that protects the citizen.
I warmly welcome the whole of the new ministerial team. I am particularly delighted at the survival of the Sports Minister, whom I daily want to hug—[Interruption.]—still want to hug. However, as one of those whose phone was hacked back in 2003, I would just say to the Secretary of State that the victims of phone hacking—many of them were not politicians, but were other victims of crime, including members of the armed forces—are desperate for the Government to stand by the promises they made to them. First, they promised there would be Leveson 2. Can she say today that there will be? There is no reason why she should not do so, because every previous Secretary of State has done so. Secondly, why on earth have they not implemented section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013? It was a cross-party agreement. We would love her to death—I would hug her, too—if only she implemented it.
Oh my goodness—the promise of a hug from the hon. Gentleman is difficult to resist. He will know from my previous time in government that I always listen to victims of crime, make sure that their voices are heard and take note of everything they say, and I would very much welcome the chance to sit down with him and discuss his point of view. I want to make sure that we do this based on the evidence, and that we do it properly.
I am disappointed that there was no hug offer straightaway. Historic buildings provide an important tangible connection to our past and bring alive our heritage in real and exciting ways. Grant support is provided by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for historic buildings through Historic England, the church and cathedrals repair fund and the architectural heritage fund, among others. In addition, funding is available from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
If the Minister would like a hug, I am very willing to give her a hug. I also welcome the Front-Bench team to their places. Kedleston hall is a grade I listed building, and Kedleston Voice, an action group in my constituency, has campaigned against the granting of planning permission on land that used to belong to the estate, only for the planning inspector to overturn the council’s decision. The group believes that is damaging to the environment of the hall. Will the Minister put measures in place so that no other grade I listed building is affected by housing too close to an historic setting?
I have been made aware of that particular case in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Across the House I think we all face similar frustrating outcomes in planning matters in our own constituencies when the local authority has made one decision and the planning inspector another. Ultimately, it is an issue for her to take up with colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government. However, there is protection of the historic environment through statutory designation and planning policy. When determining planning cases, local planning authorities must have regard to the national planning policy framework, including its policies on conservation enhancement of the historic environment. We shall continue to stress the importance of that aspect of consideration.
We work closely across all Departments on heritage matters. I am very proud to be heritage Minister, because it is an incredibly exciting part of what we can deliver in this country. I have regular conversations with the Heritage Lottery Fund. There has been an incredible distribution of its funds across the entire country, but there is of course always room for improvement. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to discuss that further with me, I am very happy to do so.
Must farm near Whittlesea and Flag Fen bronze age centre near Peterborough are among the finest bronze age settlements in western Europe. Peterborough City Council is the lead agency for developing a Heritage Lottery Fund bid for £3 million to develop a bespoke bronze age heritage centre. May I warmly invite my hon. Friend to visit the site and, more pertinently, to support that unique project?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, as it enables me to thank the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (David Evennett), for his excellent maternity cover in my absence. He visited the site that my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) alluded to. There was an excellent Westminster Hall debate on this matter. I will of course be pleased to visit if my diary allows.
I would like to use this opportunity to hail Team GB’s historic medal haul in Rio. I am sure that the rest of the Chamber will join me in paying tribute to the incredible achievement of all our athletes.
You may remember, Mr Speaker, that the last time I was at the Dispatch Box you arrived a little late to a debate, as you had been watching your hero Roger Federer at Wimbledon. It was a shame that he was not at the Olympics because of an injury, but I am sure you enjoyed watching our flagbearer Andy Murray’s wonderful gold medal-winning match, alongside all the other British successes. Our greatest Olympic performance in a century owed much to UK Sport’s no-compromise approach and an increase in funding.
Since we were last at the Dispatch Box, the Office for Civil Society has moved into the Department and I have a fantastic ministerial team. I pay tribute to all the previous Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) and Baroness Neville-Rolfe for their sterling work.
The Paralympic games began yesterday. I know the whole House will join me in wishing Paralympic Team GB well. I am delighted that Lee Pearson was selected as the flagbearer at the opening ceremony. He is a stunningly successful Paralympian who has won medals, most of them gold, at four different games. I am very proud to say that he is one of my constituents.
I can also announce that Sir Nicholas Serota is the new chair of Arts Council England. Sir Nicholas has a superb pedigree in the arts and is stepping into the shoes of Sir Peter Bazalgette, who did a brilliant job.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her new role. I wrote to her in July, as co-chair of the all-party group on women’s sport and fitness, to tell her of our concerns about the impact we felt the loss of listed events could have on women’s sport. There is a threat to listed events, because the threshold of qualifying criteria of 95% reception for public service broadcasters is at threat due to the level of streaming used to watch programmes. Can she let me have a response to my letter? If we do not have reassurance, this matter should be dealt with in the Digital Economy Bill.
I am aware of the issue; it has been raised by a number of Members. We need to ensure that we have sport on free-to-air, so that we increase participation and make sure people enjoy sport. The Minister for Digital and Culture will be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this matter further.
The Peak district is most definitely a very important part of both the Macclesfield and Staffordshire Moorlands constituencies. I know my hon. Friend is a great hill walker and often walks in The Roaches. I enjoy walking in his constituency, too. I absolutely agree that we should be promoting the Peak district and all national parks as great places for outdoor activities. The Sport England inspired facilities fund has invested nearly £170,000 in mountain biking, gliding and sailing at venues and clubs across the Peak district. I am sure the whole House will join me in welcoming that.
In the Secretary of State’s keynote speech in Liverpool on 9 August, she set out plans for social impact bonds to address deep-rooted social problems, notably drug and alcohol dependency. She failed, however, to make any reference to the nightmare of gambling addiction, in which fixed odds betting terminals play such a major role. Why have the Government refused consistently to address this scourge in our communities, which damages so many lives and families despite being raised so often by hon. Members in this Chamber.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. At one point I thought I was going to be like the loser’s ribbons at the FA cup final—taken to the game but not used. [Hon. Members: “Aah.”] The sympathy vote.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and I will take a look at that particular instance. The proposals come from the sector itself and are necessary to ensure that elderly and vulnerable people are protected from poor fundraising practices, including high-pressure tactics. Committing to a proper fundraising practice should not be viewed as a regulatory burden, but as a means of restoring and increasing public trust in charities.
I was weaned on Formula 1. It is always exciting to see success for British drivers, and, indeed, for teams. The Government are working closely with the engineering community to boost employer engagement with young people, teachers, schools, colleges and universities, and to showcase the exciting and diverse careers that are available, including careers in motor sport.
I am pleased to join the hon. Gentleman in wishing our Paralympics GB team all the very best. I look forward to heading out to Rio myself next week to watch our team, as I did during the Olympics. We have increased funding for Tokyo 2020, working with UK Sport to ensure that all our Olympians and Paralympians are well funded in the future.
Yes. I can assure my right hon. Friend that the Government are committed to ensuring that there is a place on the NCS for every young person who wants one. This summer, more young people than ever before have taken part in its life-changing programme. We will publish national data soon, but I am pleased to report real progress in my right hon. Friend’s own area: more than 1,500 young people in Hampshire are participating.
The last time I stood at the Dispatch Box, we were discussing this very issue of hate crime. Let me now reiterate that there is no place for hatred in our society. There is no excuse for it, and anyone who is a victim must report that crime. I am, of course, meeting editors and others to discuss many points, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will raise this one.
We are introducing the universal service obligation to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to benefit from high-quality superfast broadband when that is possible, and fast broadband when necessary. Broadband is no longer merely a “nice to have”; it is vital to participation in modern society, and we want to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to acquire it.
As many Conservative Members accept, it was a terrible mistake to hand over all the superfast broadband funding to one company, and communities throughout the country are suffering as a result. Will the Minister make a fresh start, and recognise the key role of competition in driving the adoption of superfast broadband?
I strongly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that competition is incredibly important to the delivery of superfast broadband, especially in fibre. I am glad to say that in the second round of Broadband Delivery UK there is competition, rather than just one company dealing with the delivery. I can also report that more than 91% of properties in the United Kingdom now have access to superfast broadband, and we will not rest until the figure becomes universal.
I am glad to learn that my hon. Friend has been inspired by Paul Drinkhall, the first GB player in 24 years to reach the last 16 in the Olympics. I would love to come and visit, but I should warn my hon. Friend that I am not sure whether my officials would allow me to do so. The last time I visited a table tennis event, I got a bit over-competitive with some table-tennis-playing pensioners.
May I take this opportunity to welcome the two new Front-Bench teams? I do not know whether my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench are as surprised to see them there as I am. None the less, will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating UK Sport on its successful Olympics? Team GB won more gold medals in more sports than any other country and came second in the table, but there is still an issue with team sports. There is more work to be done in sports such as basketball, possibly handball and others. Will she therefore join me in congratulating UK Sport but also urge it to do more work on team sports?
I of course congratulate UK Sport. Like the sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), I was in Rio and I will be visiting it again for the Paralympics. I am incredibly proud of all the achievements in all our sports, but I have to take the hon. Gentleman up on his comment about team sports. I was at the women’s hockey semi-final. There is no doubt that the women’s hockey team is one of the greatest teams we have and we should all congratulate them on their gold medal success.
The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade was asked—
Trade Negotiators: Recruitment
May I first say what a pleasure it is to see the hon. Lady in her place looking so healthy and radiant? It is especially a pleasure for her neighbouring MPs to see her.
My Department already has a strong and capable trade policy team, which has doubled since 23 June. In the next two years, we will be developing that team to build the world-class negotiating strengths needed to deliver the best outcomes for the UK. In terms of negotiators, we have already had strong expressions of interest from individuals, organisations and Governments.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but will he reassure my constituents that the trade negotiators will speak to strategically important sectors such as aerospace, which employs and trains hundreds of people in Bristol, before they begin detailed negotiations, so that we may guard against horse trading between sectors, which could damage our crucial role in aerospace and other such significant sectors?
The hon. Lady is absolutely correct. It is a question not simply of having a single team, but of having the expertise to deal with specific sectors as well as in-country knowledge. We will certainly ensure that we build a core ability among those negotiators and bring in the sector experts who are so important in getting the sort of deals that she correctly outlines. That is especially important in areas such as the west country.
A team of skilled, experienced, first-class international trade negotiators has been assembled at the Legatum Institute’s special trade commission. Will my right hon. Friend consult the commission and listen to its proposals for a much larger prosperity zone than the European Union?
As I said, the expressions of interest have been wide: they have been from individuals, organisations and Governments. All those who are willing to put their talents at our disposal are extremely welcome. We will be looking at those individuals and the strengths they have in terms of sectoral and in-country knowledge, and we want to draw from the best that is on offer.
Can the Secretary of State confirm whether he is likely to hire any consultants to manage these trade negotiations? According to a headhunter I was speaking to a couple of weeks ago—[Laughter.] Not for my purposes. According to a headhunter I was talking to a couple of weeks ago, the head of a trade negotiating team, if hired as a consultant, would cost around £750,000 a year.
It is nice to see that the Lib Dems are looking forward to repeating their election success at the next election. I always think it is nice for politicians to cover all their options. We do not intend to create a standing army of bureaucrats that would be expensive to the taxpayer. We are looking to see how most effectively we can create the skills and the cadre of negotiators we will require.
I welcome the President of the Board of Trade and his Ministers to their place. May I follow up on the previous question by saying that those in the private sector surely have a lot of experience and insight to offer in particular markets? Will he assure the House that the private sector will be consulted and its skills harnessed and welcomed by the Government?
That is correct, but I would say to counterbalance that that we also have a great deal of expertise inside Whitehall Departments, and it seems to me it would not necessarily be a good use of taxpayers’ money to contract out all these functions when we have the ability to get that knowledge into the negotiations from inside the Departments we already have. I think that a judicious mix between the two would be the appropriate way forward.
I welcome the Secretary of State and his team to this exciting new Department and look forward to working with them to promote British trade across the world. I also welcome his progress in recruiting international trade negotiators, although it seems that they may have to wait some time before they can do any actual negotiating. Does he accept that under the current EU treaty the UK does not possess competence—the right to negotiate separate trade deals—and will he confirm that the UK will assume competence not when article 50 is triggered, but only when the UK actually leaves the EU?
May I reciprocate by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to another one of his many roles in the House of Commons? Let me be very clear that while we are not able to negotiate in terms of concluding a deal while we are members of the EU, there is nothing to stop us having discussions and scoping out future agreements, and I can announce to the House that as of last week we have now concluded a deal to set up a trade working group with India to look at how we will remove barriers to trade before negotiating a free trade agreement on our exit from the EU.
Trade Barriers: Potential Cost
We are going to make a success of Brexit. As the Prime Minister made clear ahead of the G20 summit, the UK will continue to be a powerful advocate for free and fair trade.
I thank the Minister for that answer, such as it was. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and the single European market, the largest trading bloc in the world which benefits consumers and businesses across Renfrewshire and right across Scotland. Will he be advising the Prime Minister to negotiate to remain inside the single market, yes or no?
First, I remind the hon. Gentleman that more Scottish people voted to remain in the UK than voted to remain in the EU. But on the subject of the single market, our objective will be to gain as much access as we can, consistent with the way people across the whole of the UK voted on 23 June. That is the purpose of our approach.
Do Ministers agree that Britain voted overwhelmingly for Brexit and we should stop listening to the doom-mongers, recognise the democratic will of 17 million people, and all work together to make this the huge success it is going to be?
My hon. Friend is right. As the Prime Minister said, Brexit means Brexit, and we need to make the most of the opportunities our departure presents, getting out into the world and doing business right across the globe, banging the drum for Britain and doing trade.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench team to their places.
We know that the Secretary of State would like the UK to be outside the customs union and his colleague the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union believes that at the end of this process the UK will be outside the single market. We also know that the Prime Minister disagrees with both of them. May I ask the Minister to ask the Secretary of State for International Trade if he stands by his statement in July when he said:
“If the price of the relationship with the single market is free movement of people, it’s a price I’m not willing to pay”?
Does he still want to leave the European single market, yes or no?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I gave to her colleague, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), just a few seconds ago. I want to make it quite clear that there will be no running commentary on the negotiations at this stage. She will know how important that is, following last year’s negotiations between the UK Government and the Scottish Government on the fiscal framework, at which time the Scottish Government understood perfectly the importance of not providing a running commentary.
“No running commentary” is politician-speak for not having a clue. How is the Minister getting on with delivering on the promise made by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that the Government would
“trigger a large round of global trade deals with all our most favoured trade partners”
It is a bit rich for Opposition Members to talk about having a clue. I noted with interest the Leader of the Opposition yesterday attacking something he called “free trade dogma”. Let us be absolutely clear: the Prime Minister has said that under her leadership, Britain will seek to become the global leader in free trade, and that is what we will do.
Our posts across the region are in frequent, regular contact with their host Governments. In my second week in the Department, I visited Burma and Thailand to promote trade and investment. Since the referendum, major Association of Southeast Asian Nations—ASEAN—economies have expressed an interest in discussing future trade relations with the UK. We have been clear that the UK will remain open for business and investment, and we are committed to strengthening our already excellent economic ties with the region.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, and I warmly welcome him to his place. As the vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Singapore, I also welcome the indication that Singapore is open to removing the barriers to trade between our countries. What discussions will he have to promote investment opportunities for UK businesses in Singapore and across south-east Asia?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his important work for the all-party group on Singapore. The opportunities in ASEAN and Singapore are absolutely enormous. In the next 15 years, the members of ASEAN will make up the fourth biggest economy on the planet. We are in constant discussions, we have trade envoys going out to the region and we are very keen to open negotiations to promote trade between our countries.
It is almost exactly three years since the Government launched their action plan for business and human rights. When the Minister goes to countries such as Burma and Thailand, are human rights on the agenda during those trade talks as well as business?
The Government are never neglectful of their duty to ensure human rights around the world. There are two clear elements involved. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is key on human rights and we will support it where we can by raising the issue when we are talking about trade.
We will continue to be a powerful advocate for free trade by playing to Britain’s strengths as a trading nation and forging our own new trade deals around the world. Fifty-six per cent. of our export value and two thirds of inward investment projects are with non-EU countries. My Department has the experience and expertise in trading outside the EU to grow our significance as a global trading nation even further.
In order to maximise the benefits of leaving the EU, the Prime Minister has appointed three excellent Cabinet Ministers to run the Department for International Trade, the Foreign Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union. Can the Secretary of State assure us that the machinery exists to enable them to follow the example of their illustrious predecessors by adopting the mantra “All for one and one for all”?
That is a difficult one! I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. I am reticent about indulging in personality politics but I am glad to see that he was as able to read the August press as I was. When it comes to our commitment to delivering on Brexit, he can be in no doubt that we will be working together as a tight team to ensure that that happens as soon as we can achieve it on behalf of our country, having made all the necessary preparations.
On 24 November, I am hosting an exporters summit for businesses in the M11 area. I thank officials in the Department for their fantastic support. Given the importance of winning new trade opportunities, does the Secretary of State agree that all Members have the chance to play their part in ensuring that more British firms export to not only Europe, but the whole world?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his personal commitment to trade and the practical way in which he is demonstrating it. He makes a useful point. All of us should encourage businesses in our constituencies to export. In a nation that built itself upon free trade, it is disappointing that only 11% of businesses export. I hope that my Department will help all Members improve that position and create the expertise required to get all parts of the United Kingdom exporting to all parts of the globe.
Will the Secretary of State explain to our European partners the huge benefit to their industries of car and truck sales to the UK and ensure that there are no obstacles to our own vehicle makers selling to the EU? While he is at it, will he persuade other Departments to behave like their European counterparts and support domestic industry and buy British?
On the latter point, the GREAT campaign has been moved to the Department for International Trade and I am keen for it to encourage people in this country to buy British where possible. He makes an important point about the wider negotiations in that the European Union has a huge trade surplus with the United Kingdom. It is more in their interest than ours—if that is possible—to maintain an open, free-trading environment.
Currently, 21 trade envoys deal with about 50 markets around the world, yet with the huge opportunities available post-Brexit, does my right hon. Friend agree that it may be wise to look at boosting both the number of trade envoys and the resources available to our people on the ground overseas?
The programme of prime ministerial trade envoys set up by the previous Prime Minister has been extremely successful and has delivered notable results given the resources initially allocated to it. The Department and No. 10 are looking at how we can improve on the success of that programme, which will depend upon the distribution of DIT’s staff overseas. I hope to make an announcement about that programme in the near future.
USA: Trade Discussions
I travelled to the US in July and had extremely productive meetings with the US trade representatives, senior White House officials, and business leaders. My message was that Britain remains open for business and that we place continued importance on the commercial relationship between the UK and the US, our largest single trading partner.
The US is the south-west’s third-largest export market with £1.59 billion-worth of goods exported in the year to March 2016, including everything from aerospace, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), to cider and cheese. We want to expand those opportunities. I have already announced that we will open three new trade offices in the US in Minneapolis, Raleigh-Durham and San Diego. We need to look at where there are markets and not simply operate on a geographical basis.
The Secretary of State will acknowledge that the most important ongoing discussions with the USA are on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Does he therefore find it strange that although the UK has voted to leave the European Union in order to reclaim parliamentary sovereignty in this country, the Government, unlike their EU counterparts, have still not made available any provision for Members of Parliament to scrutinise the secret text of the TTIP agreement, despite having promised to establish a reading room securely for this purpose in February?
While we remain in the EU, we will continue to push all free trade agreements possible, because we believe in global trade liberalisation; that includes the Government’s position of support for TTIP. It remains the United States’ clear priority to get this agreement, but I think the hon. Gentleman will accept that given the comments that have come from both France and Germany in recent weeks, and the fact that we have elections next year in both countries, the future of TTIP, at least in the immediate future, looks less than utterly secure.
There are indeed enormous opportunities with Commonwealth countries, and we will be wanting to explore with a number of those exactly how we might take forward trade working groups along the lines that we have already announced with Australia and with India. However, I point out that although we have political links with Commonwealth countries, they are not, in terms of economics and trading, homogenous. Therefore, there will be a great difference between the biggest markets and some of the smaller markets, although we will want to take a look at those that may be developing markets in the future.
Commonwealth: Trade Discussions
This Department has many valued interactions with Commonwealth partners in support of our aim for the UK to be a global leader in free trade. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently visited India and will co-chair a bilateral trade dialogue there in November. He also recently met the Australian Trade Minister. In addition, several ministerial visits are planned to Commonwealth markets, and the UK will co-host the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting next year.
As my hon. Friend will have heard from an earlier question, the Commonwealth is made up of a very diverse set of economies, so there will not be one, single trade negotiation. We are already enjoying excellent trade relationships with our 52 Commonwealth partners and we are committed to strengthening those further. One example of this is that the UK is co-hosting with Malta the inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting in London in March 2017, which will be an excellent opportunity to promote greater trade and investment within the Commonwealth.
The Indian company Wockhardt exports from Wrexham pharmaceuticals to the rest of the world, including to the European Union. What comfort can the Minister give that the important regulation that exists in the single market will continue for that company in the post-Brexit world?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said a little earlier, we are reluctant to give a running commentary on how negotiations and where ideas are going to go, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are incredibly keen to recognise the important contribution to the British economy that international companies are making when they invest in the UK, such as the company he mentions investing from India.
Scotland: Trade and Investment
The Department for International Trade is a Department for the whole UK. I visited Scotland last month, met the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, and offered my support to Scottish businesses. The Export Hub is currently touring Scotland, with trade experts providing advice to 252 first-time exporters, from just two Scottish tours. Its focus is on demonstrating real live business opportunities that businesses in any part of the UK can apply for.
I thank the Minister for that response. The attraction of worldwide entrepreneurs to work in Scotland is a particular form of investment that needs encouraging. Will he speak to his colleagues and encourage a complete review of tier 1 entrepreneur visas, as current barriers have led to rejection rates of about 70%, thereby harming investment and growth?
The visa regime is constantly being reviewed by my colleagues at the Home Office, and I take note of the hon. Gentleman’s comments. In terms of having an open economy, we must welcome the concept of free trade, and ensure that we have a low-tax, low-regulation economy and access to skilled labour. The United Kingdom as a whole has a number of advantages, not least that we speak English and that we are at the centre of the world trading time zones.
When he was the keynote speaker in Scotland of the Go movement, the Secretary of State will remember how much and how many people there welcomed the fact that we had the opportunity to exit the EU and increase trade opportunities. Will he lay to rest the lie that everyone in Scotland is against leaving the EU?
Two things are clear: the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom; and the people of the United Kingdom, with an equal vote in every part of this country, voted to leave the European Union. We are taking the decision as a United Kingdom, not as separate parts of it.
This is the first time that I have had an opportunity to set out the new Department’s responsibilities. We have three tasks: promoting UK exports of goods and services to support a growing economy that serves the whole of the United Kingdom; maximising opportunities for wealth creation through supporting foreign direct investment with a renewed focus on overseas direct investment to support the current account; and delivering the best international trading framework for the UK outside the European Union, including through building our capacity to negotiate and administer a national trade policy. Like the UK as a whole, the Department for International Trade is open for business, and I am pleased to say today that we will now demonstrate that by launching an open international recruitment for a new permanent secretary, which gives me an opportunity to thank very much Sir Martin Donnelly for his fantastic work in helping build the new Department.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and his ministerial team on their appointments. Later today, the fourth industrial revolution will be debated in the Chamber for the very first time. Will my right hon. Friend commit to helping small and medium-sized enterprises involved in new and emerging technologies to export and to secure more overseas clients?
May I first congratulate my hon. Friend on securing a debate later this afternoon? The Department for International Trade supports cutting-edge British technology companies to take advantage of overseas opportunities. Working closely with industry partners such as Tech City UK, techUK and our network of international trade advisers, we assist SMEs to scale up, reach their export potential and win overseas business. Companies have the opportunity to take part in focused trade missions, key tech industry events and meet potential buyers, and we will be setting out new ways in which we intend to maximise that in the coming months.
The Secretary of State will be aware that, in the automotive business, the original equipment manufacturer focuses on the stability of its supply chain, which is typically sourced from many different countries. Has he identified those supply chains in the automotive sector in which the involvement of UK companies would violate country of origin rules once the UK has left the EU, and what advice has his Department given to those companies?
The country of origin complications is of course tied up with the point that was made earlier about the World Trade Organisation and the EU schedules. The WTO is still working on EU 15 schedules having not yet ratified EU 28, so the way in which it operates still has some way to go. The hon. Gentleman is quite right in looking at country of origin; it is one of the issues that the Government will look at as a whole when considering the options for our future relationship with European Union and outside.
I am grateful for all job applications—formal and otherwise. Whether we have a post-sanctions relationship with Russia will depend on Russia’s international behaviour, and we can only look forward to that business opportunity when we get the appropriate international behaviour by the Putin regime. When that occasion arises, if it does, I am sure that my hon. Friend has now made his well-known interest in that area a formal job application.
The latest quarterly review published by Scottish Engineering shows a slump in orders, a sharp fall in output volume and a drop in employment levels, with companies blaming the uncertainty caused by the decision to leave the EU. Can the Secretary of State tell us what he expects the effects will be on Scottish business exports if the UK withdraws from the single market?
Industry dislikes uncertainty, as the hon. Lady says, but I would add two uncertainties into the equation. The first is the uncertainty over Scotland’s fiscal position. We have seen the deterioration in the position, which makes me very grateful that the people of Scotland took the sensible decision to remain in the United Kingdom. The second is the uncertainty posed by the Scottish Government and their constant reference to a second independence referendum. I can think of no greater cause of uncertainty for Scottish business investment.
Switzerland is still negotiating its trade agreement with India, but my right hon. Friend is correct that leaving the EU will give the UK greater freedom to strike its own trade agreements, including with some of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world. As he will well know, these will not necessarily be straightforward, as these countries are tough negotiators, but it would be much simpler to negotiate a bilateral agreement, and they have shown greater willingness to negotiate a bilateral deal outside the complications that sometimes come with an EU free trade agreement, which is often a political agreement rather than a pure FTA.
I had a constructive meeting with the Japanese ambassador earlier this week. It might be worth reiterating what he said in his “Today” interview:
“There is no indication so far I have received from Japanese industries that they are contemplating an exit from the UK economy because they like it here and they have benefited from working in the UK.”
That will continue because the economic fundamentals of this country remain extremely strong thanks to this Government and no thanks to the Opposition.
We know that politicians love to don high-vis jackets, walk around factories and stand next to manufacturing goods, but the reality is that 79% of our exports are in services. The UK is the world’s second biggest exporter of services, and all the most successful export nations play to their strengths. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, in setting the strategy for his Department and choosing personnel and trade missions for the future, he will focus on services as much as on goods?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I met him in July in his capacity as joint chair of the all-party parliamentary group on trade and investment. He is right that services are vital to our economy. They provide 78% of our GDP and 80% of our jobs. It was often a frustration with the EU that it failed to deepen the single market in services. It is important to realise that we are talking not just about financial services but about digital and other services. We will make sure that they are all at the heart of our efforts as we move forward into the free trade world.
Following the questions asked earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) and my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State more recently, has the Secretary of State met representatives of the UK automotive industry? If so, what clarifications have they sought and what have been his responses, and if he has not, when will he do so?
The UK has a highly successful automotive industry, and Ministers are seeking input from that industry on an ongoing basis in order to make sure that we are very attentive to the needs of that industry. I cannot stress too much the importance we attach to the automotive industry. It is one of our leading and most fabulous industries, as evidenced not least by the fact that nine out of 11 Formula 1 racing teams choose to come and build their cars in this country.
The Government, with industry, are working with the Aerospace Growth Partnership to boost growth and exports. Together we have committed £3.9 billion to aerospace research up until 2026. I will shortly be visiting Rolls-Royce in Derby, and I look forward to holding a separate round-table meeting with aerospace companies later this month in Toulouse.
The Secretary of State will know that there is a very healthy all-party manufacturing group. Will he come and speak to us soon, and also look at our Manufacturing Commission and our campaign, Exported by Britain? We would love to talk to him.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear, we are encouraged by comments coming from across the Commonwealth, from leaders and Ministers of countries such as Australia. Several additional ministerial visits are planned in Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth markets—for example, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. I will be in South Korea and Taiwan, and other Ministers in China, Japan and Vietnam in the coming months.
I warmly endorse what the Secretary of State has just said about Russia. I am glad he is adopting that attitude, but may I urge him to extend the same attitude towards North Carolina? I think it bizarre that he has opened a new office in North Carolina, when Deutsche Bank, PayPal and a string of other businesses and many US states are boycotting North Carolina because of its ludicrous homophobic new policy in relation to transgender people.
I made the point earlier that what we need to do to provide certainty about jobs and profits in the United Kingdom is to be in the markets where we have the greatest maturity and the greatest potential for value. That means, in the United States, not just looking at the established areas where we have personnel, but looking to where we have growing markets that can prove to be of value to the United Kingdom, its people and its businesses.
Given that in two decades’ time, one in four people on this planet will be African, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that his Department will focus on trade in Africa, because that is a sure way to keep the economies of that continent fully functioning and stable?
My hon. Friend is right. We will also require to see greater co-operation between Government Departments and a cross-Government approach to Africa. I expect to make an announcement shortly about a joint visit by myself and the Secretary of State for International Development to Africa in the coming months.
New Grammar Schools
As the Prime Minister has said, this Government are committed to building a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. We believe that every person should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, no matter what their background or where they are from.
Education is at the heart of this ambition. We inherited a system from the Labour Government, however, where far too many children left school without the qualifications or the skills they needed to be successful in life. Our far-reaching reforms over the last six years have changed this, strengthening school leadership, improving standards of behaviour in our classrooms, ensuring children are taught to read more effectively and improving maths teaching in primary schools. As a result there are now 1.4 million more pupils in schools rated as good or outstanding than in 2010.
This means more young people are being given the opportunity to access better teaching and to maximise their potential. This is what we want for all children, and we are continuing our reforms so that every child can have the best possible start in life. It is why we are doubling free childcare to 30 hours for working parents of three and four-year-olds. As I said in July, on the issue of academic selection I am open-minded because we cannot rule anything out that could help us grow opportunity for all and give more people the chance to do well in life.
The landscape for schools has changed hugely in the last 10, 20, 30 years. We now have a whole variety of educational offers available. There will be no return to the simplistic binary choice of the past, where schools separate children into winners and losers, successes or failures. This Government want to focus on the future, to build on our success since 2010 and to create a truly 21st-century school system. However, we want a system that can cater for the talent and the abilities of every single child. To achieve that, we need a truly diverse range of schools and specialisms. We need more good schools in more areas of the country responding to the needs of every child, regardless of their background. We are looking at a range of options, and I expect any new proposals to focus on what we can do to help everyone to go as far as their individual talents and capacity for hard work can take them. Education policy to that end will be set in due course.
Wow! Despite that waffle, the cat is finally out of the bag. The Government have revealed their plans for new grammar schools in England, but not in this House—we did not even hear the word “grammar” just then. Instead, they did it through leaks to the press and at a private meeting of Conservative Members. So much for the one nation Government we were promised. Will the Secretary of State promise today that future such announcements will be made here so that we can give this policy the scrutiny it so badly needs?
Perhaps the Secretary of State can tell us the evidence base for this policy today. Has she read the Institute for Fiscal Studies report “Entry into Grammar Schools in England”? If so, perhaps she remembers the conclusion:
“amongst high achievers, those who are eligible for”
free school meals
“or who live in poorer neighbourhoods are significantly less likely to go to a grammar school.”
The OECD and the Sutton Trust, and even the Government’s own social mobility tsar and their chief inspector of schools, have all cited the evidence against this policy. In Kent, where we have grammar schools, the attainment gap is far wider than it is elsewhere. So can the Secretary of State tell the House what evidence she has to support her belief that grammar schools will help disadvantaged children and close the attainment gap?
At a time when our schools are facing a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, with thousands taught in super-size classes and schools facing real-term cuts to their budget for the first time in nearly two decades, pushing ahead with grammar schools shows a dangerous misunderstanding of the real issues facing our schools. What will the Secretary of State be doing to address the real problems facing our schools today?
The Prime Minister has said this policy is justified because we already have social selection. Quite how making things worse by bringing back grammar schools as a solution remains a mystery. Perhaps the Secretary of State can tell us why she is not ensuring that all children get a decent education?
This policy will not help social mobility but will entrench inequality and disadvantage. It will be the lucky few who can afford the tuition who will get ahead and the disadvantaged who will be left behind—a policy for the few at the expense of the many. I was told that the Tories know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. I do not even think they know that anymore.
Finally, the Prime Minister promised to lead a one nation Government. She said that her policy would be led by the evidence, and she claimed that she would govern for the disadvantaged, not the privileged few, yet this policy fails on every single count. It may be a new Prime Minister, but it is the same old nasty Tories.
The first thing I would say to the hon. Lady is that we have not yet actually made any policy announcements; they will be made in due course. She has given a commentary on what I guess she presumes the policy announcement will be. I would encourage her to wait. Broadly, we are interested in increasing diversity and meeting parents’ desire for choice in having a school near to them that matches the needs of their child. We also want to see capacity built into the system, in two ways. We want more good schools near to children where they need them. There are too many parts of our country where, in spite of all the reforms we have made and the improvements in attainment that we have seen, there are still children who cannot get good enough access to a good school. We also want to build capacity by having some of our best schools work with other schools in the system to help collectively to raise attainment and standards as a whole. We want to see all parts of our education system, not just the school system but universities as well, playing a stronger, better role.
The hon. Lady asked about evidence. She quoted a report by the IFS that does mention free school meals. However, I must say that I do not understand her argument. She seems to be criticising the status quo while resolutely defending keeping it in place. It was really interesting listening to her, because, in many respects, the words echoed the voices that I heard in my childhood—people having a dogmatic debate about the education system while I studied in my local comprehensive entirely untouched by that ideological debate. What we want to do, and what we think this Parliament and the country should do, is to be prepared to look at the practical ways that we can improve attainment for our children, and to leave no stone unturned to do that.
Complaining about one aspect of our school system and then saying that we should not even have a debate about that element is, frankly, an untenable argument. It is, in essence, politics and dogma coming before pupils and opportunity. It is about Labour Members prioritising, as we can see today, an ideological debate, while Government Members want a debate about the practical steps we can take to tackle generational failure and schools that still are not delivering for children who live near to them. It would be wrong to discount how we can improve prospects for those children, especially the most disadvantaged, purely because of political dogma. If Labour Members are not willing to ask themselves these difficult questions, how can they possibly come up with any of the solutions?
We do believe that selection can play a role, and we think there is evidence to show that it does for many children in grammar schools—but anyhow, we need to leave no stone unturned. We will set out our policies for consultation in due course, and I am sure that hon. Members will want to debate them thoroughly after that.
The World Economic Forum has recently reminded us that we are well down the tables in terms of literacy and numeracy. It says that some 20% of 16 to 18-year-olds struggle with literacy, and the figure for numeracy is even worse—25%. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is absolutely vital that any discussion about grammar schools does not distract us from our fundamental task of improving social mobility and ensuring that we make the best use of all the talent across the whole country and do not just talk about the few?
I strongly agree. The Sutton Trust report focused particularly on free-school-meal children and how they performed in, for example, grammar schools. The educational gains from attending grammar schools were twice as high for pupils with free school meals compared with the impact for pupils at grammar schools overall. As my hon. Friend points out, while grammars, in their own way, provide a stretching, outstanding education for many children from all backgrounds that helps them to have better prospects in life, they are one part of a very broad-based school system—a system that has been transformed out of all recognition from when grammars were originally introduced. We now need to look at how we can have a 21st-century education policy that takes a pragmatic look at the role of grammars and, of course, across the whole system. He is absolutely right that we will not lose sight of the broader reforms that we are bringing through that will improve standards across the board.
The Secretary of State represents a London constituency, so she will know that London schools have improved dramatically over the past 15 to 20 years. Does she agree that that has happened because of a focus on high standards for all children in all schools, not by going down the route of selection? May I urge her not to turn the clock back to grammar schools, but to focus on high standards in all schools in all parts of the country, for all children?
I absolutely reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will not be turning the clock back. I think that the London lessons are about collaboration, school leadership and sharing those best practice experiences across schools. The challenge that I want us to discuss is how we can make sure that all schools play a role in doing that, rather than simply setting grammars to one side and saying that they should not play as great a role across the rest of the school system. I think they should, and we want to have that debate and discussion. Fundamentally—I come back to my opening comments—this is about having more good school places for more children. It is about building capacity through better and more places and by sharing best practice, and about improving school leadership by having schools working closely together.
In Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Faversham, I am fortunate to have an excellent grammar school in my constituency. As my right hon. Friend will know, people move to Kent because of its grammar schools. Does she agree that it is not right for an excellent academic education to be available only to those who can move to the catchment areas of outstanding schools?
We need to improve diversity and choice. As the Prime Minister has said, the reality is that too often in Britain we do have selection, but it is on the basis of house prices, which is totally unacceptable in a modern Britain. We need to challenge ourselves to talk about how we can change that and improve standards for children, wherever they are in our country. Simply saying that something is off the table because of political ideology and dogma does not serve the children whose future prospects we want to improve.
May I beg the new Secretary of State to listen to the expertise that is out there? She might know that I chair the advisory council of the Sutton Trust. I ask her to listen to the Sutton Trust, because we believe in evidence-based policy, and to the chief inspector of schools, and to look at those areas that have for years had this kind of education, with the 11-plus, and at what it has done to the entirety. If she looks at Kent in depth, she will learn some lessons that might push her in a different direction.
It is time that we look at the Kent experience. I know that Kent has done a lot of work to dig into how it can get more children from disadvantaged backgrounds into its grammar schools. The hon. Gentleman has raised issues of principle, but my attitude and response is, if that is how he feels, why would he want us to discount looking at how we can make grammars work more effectively with the rest of their local communities, and not just for those children who get to them, but for those who do not? It seems to me that the Labour party’s response to all of those challenges is to raise them, but to then simply put them to one side and ignore them. I do not think that that is sensible.
Bradford is one of the worst-performing education districts in the country. There is a wide provision of some outstanding results and some very dire results. People who can afford to buy a house in a good catchment area tend to get a school that produces outstanding results, whereas those who cannot afford to buy a house in a good catchment area tend to get a school with the worst results. When can people in Bradford, including working-class people, get access to the very best grammar schools that we need? They surely should not just be a preserve of the Tory shires.
I think that my hon. Friend speaks for many constituency MPs around the country. The point is that people should have choice, and it should not be for Government to deprive them of that choice about how they want to educate their children. This is about choice and diversity, as well as about building capacity in the system.
The Secretary of State well knows that apart from giving our young people the best possible teaching, the most important thing we can do for them is to encourage them as they make their way through school. Given that we are still, as a nation, dealing with the legacy of a divided education system, why on earth does she think that subjecting more 11-year-old children to the experience of being told by their tearful parents, who have opened the envelope, that they have failed will encourage them and support their self-esteem and continuing career through the education system?
Dare I say it, that was yet another Labour MP telling us what is wrong with the current system, in his view, while also arguing that we should not look at that. The legacy that we are interested in challenging is the one left by the previous Labour Government: grade inflation; declining standards; and children leaving our education system without even the basics in maths and literacy. While I was sat on a train last weekend, I listened to a young man talking about how the fact that he did not know how to spell was holding him back at work. We managed to take power from the Labour party, but that man has to live with the consequences of an education system that fundamentally failed him every single day of his life.
We inherited a university system that had a cap on the number of children who could enter it. Record numbers of young people were not in employment, education or training. Youth employment had gone up by 50% by the time Labour left office. We are interested in not only catching up that lost ground for our young people, but making sure beyond that that we leave no stone unturned. We want to look across our entire education system to turbocharge the prospects and opportunities for all children in our country, but especially the most disadvantaged and especially those who do not currently have the opportunities that they need, deserve and should have.
I welcome the Government’s decision at least to open this debate. A statutory ban on the establishment of grammar schools should be no part of a Conservative Government’s policy. Evidence from my area, where grammar schools are available just down the road in the neighbouring council area, indicates that there is widespread support for the establishment of a grammar school. Coastal communities are particularly vulnerable to poor educational standards, so I hope that the Secretary of State will give due consideration to that if the policy goes forward. May I also urge her to consider the extension of bilateral schools?
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested to see our policies when they are published shortly. He talks about some of the elements of our secondary system. I know that he wants to make sure that his local community has access to better schools for more local children, and that is precisely what we are aiming to achieve overall.
The Secretary of State is quite right not to rule out a discussion of grammar schools forming part of the wide range of schools that we have. I declare an interest as the product of a wonderful grammar school. Would she like to visit Northern Ireland, where grammar schools still exist? In Northern Ireland, grammar schools are hugely popular. There is good education right across the spectrum, no matter what a young person’s ability. Results continue to improve and to be better than those in the rest of the United Kingdom, and there is very little private education. Perhaps she might like to go to Northern Ireland and talk to the First Minister.
I thank the hon. Lady for that invitation; I am sure I will want to take her up on it shortly. I should emphasise to the House that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) said, this is the opening up of a debate. It is important for our children that we have that debate if we are to rise to the challenge of looking at what will improve attainment and ensure that they have good schools where they are growing up.
We will look at all the options very carefully. I recognise that this is an emotive debate, but that is because it matters. That is why we should be prepared to have a debate about this, given how much our broader school system has changed. I will look very carefully at all the arguments that are made and all the evidence that is produced, because that is important, too. I am keen to hear from colleagues on both sides of the House and we will be setting out all our policy options shortly.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s comments. All children have the right to fulfil their full potential. Will she assure the House that she is considering all methods of selection and that this is not about bringing back the 11-plus?
We will set out our policies much more broadly, but I assure hon. Members that there will be no return to the past. This is about moving forward with a 21st-century approach to our school system, and precisely not one rooted in the 1960s and 1970s. I just hope that the Labour party is able to engage in a modern debate, rather than one that is 40 to 50 years old.
In the clamour from some areas about creating new grammar schools, many people forget that the creation of new grammar schools de facto creates secondary modern schools, because the intake is skewed by grammar schools. In his speech to London Councils on Monday, the chief inspector accepted that grammar schools, where they exist, do “a fine job” with the intake they have, but said that they have a very poor track record in admitting youngsters from “non-middle-class backgrounds”. If we are to go down this road, what can the Secretary of State do to confirm that that would not be the case in other parts of the country?
That again underlines why we are right to open up this agenda for debate. In a way, we will not be able to tackle any of the issues that the hon. Gentleman cares about without a broader look at what a modern policy approach to grammars should look like. We should not simply discount the excellent education that so many children get at grammars, including children from very disadvantaged backgrounds. We should look harder at how we can make sure that grammars play a role more collaboratively in a wider, broader school system, while ensuring that they build capacity and provide more good places as they steadily improve.
Yesterday, during an Education Committee evidence session, we heard about the truism that what affects pupils’ attainment most is good teaching in the classroom. That is evidently true, but does the Secretary of State agree that structures can sometimes support learning? A 2011 PISA—programme for international student assessment—study showed that giving schools autonomy improves outcomes, so further choice for parents, teachers and students may provide further opportunities.
I think that is right. Critically, we need the right level of autonomy for schools so that they can actually get on with the job of teaching our children. We need fantastic leadership in our schools. We know from the London experience that that was absolutely critical. Heads who showed what could be done in difficult schools then worked with other schools so that they could put in place the same approaches. More broadly, we also need teaching staff who are motivated and able to work effectively in the classroom with children who can be disciplined effectively by a head who genuinely feels they have control over and can exercise leadership in their school. All those things make a difference.
Beyond that, if we are to make an impact on long-term social mobility in Britain—it will not change overnight—we need not just schools and the education family to drive social mobility, but communities, business, our universities and civil society to do so. Everybody needs to play a role, alongside core education reform, to make sure that children in the classroom and outside it can get the skills, knowledge, advice and experience that they will need truly to develop their potential.
As we open up this debate, people will have different views, but I do not believe that that is a reason not to have the debate. It is too important for that. Improving attainment and having more good school places for more children—building the capacity we need in our system so that we can have great schools on the doorstep for every child in our country—is too important simply to be put in the “too hard” bucket and for us to say that we might have a bit of a debate about it. I think we should have this debate and that we should work out what we must do to do a better job of raising the attainment of the children who currently do not go far enough.
I am not an expert on the theory of secondary education, but having attended a grammar school with a largely working-class contingent in the 1960s, I know something about the practice, from which we all benefited. Will the Secretary of State explain why it is acceptable to nurture and promote sporting excellence but not academic excellence?
My right hon. Friend raises a good point about the broader issue of selection. All children are different, so playing to their talents and natural interests is important. Parents should have more choice and diversity in the school system so that they are able to find not just a good school, but a good school that will be particularly good for their child.
The job of education in the 21st century is to maximise opportunity for the maximum number of children, whatever their background. Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said this week that a return for grammar schools would not do that, but would be a
“profoundly retrograde step that would actually lead to overall standards sliding back, not improving”.
He said that in grammar school Bexley, just 9% of disadvantaged children go to its grammar schools, while in non-grammar school Hackney, 62% of children go on to university compared with 48% in the country as a whole. Does the Secretary of State agree that where there is failure and disadvantage, the answer should not be this festival of bring-backery, but instead a focus on expanding opportunity for all schools right across the system?
Expanding opportunity is at the heart of what we are doing. Rather than jumping the gun, I encourage the right hon. Gentleman to wait to see the Government’s proposals. Yet again we have heard the Labour party complaining about the current system while seemingly maintaining a position of not wanting to have a debate about how we can make it better overall and then ensure that the entire school system can benefit from that improvement.
Order. I realise that the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) may experience some teething problems as he makes his adjustment to Back-Bench life. We look forward to hearing from him on a regular basis, but unfortunately as he is no longer a Minister he does not have a guaranteed slot. However, an expectant nation will hear him now.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am slowly adjusting myself to the metaphysical plane.
I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about diversity and choice, but will she acknowledge that a grammar school might not be suited to every town? I would not relish the prospect of informing parents in Fordingbridge, Ringwood, New Milton or Lymington that their child, not having been able to get into the grammar school, would have to be bussed elsewhere.
My right hon. Friend raises the important point that local communities need to be intrinsically involved in how their school system develops, and I assure him that we are very seized of that. I should also take this opportunity to put on record how much I enjoyed working with him in our previous roles within the Department for International Development. He did an outstanding job and was a pleasure to have as a ministerial colleague.
All of us want the best for our children, but in answering the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns)—although in my view she did not answer it—did not the Secretary of State understand the very real fear that reintroducing grammar schools also reintroduces secondary moderns? That will mean, in essence, recreating divisions when the consensus has been that we should not allow those divisions in our education system. How will proposing new grammar schools, which will bring in secondary moderns, improve attainment for all pupils in all our communities?
The fundamental premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question is wrong. This is absolutely not about going back to the past. Secondary moderns for many years did not even put their children through a single exam. Our school system has, thankfully, been reformed beyond all recognition since then, so the premise of his question is wrong. This is about improving standards for all children. He asked how we can help to make that happen. One way is by having good and outstanding schools playing more of a role and lifting other schools that can benefit from their experience and knowledge.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s focus on excellence and education for all. I invite her to come and look at the mixed economy that exists in Salisbury, with grammar schools, university technical colleges, a free sixth form, local authority schools and a multi-academy trust forming shortly. I would like to place an emphasis on the dynamics between the different types of schools. In particular, grammar schools work with their neighbours nearby to raise standards across the board. The focus on the Progress 8 score—the progress made by every school—is surely where the emphasis needs to be placed.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Collaboration and having good schools working with the broader family to raise overall attainment is important. Secondly, he is right that we should be looking to challenge schools on the progress of every single child. Part of the problem with the floor approach of getting children into GCSEs and achieving good A* to C grades was that it missed out on the often brilliant progress that schools make with children who are perhaps further back in their attainment. We should value that work, and that is the intention of Progress 8.