House of Commons
Monday 10 October 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—
Office for Students
I welcome the shadow Ministers to their roles and also, more importantly, welcome my new ministerial colleagues to theirs for our first oral questions session.
We have made it clear that the Office for Students must have student representation, and we will take every opportunity to embed student engagement in the culture and structure of the new organisation.
I thank the Secretary of State for confirming that. During the summer, I met students from the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England, who are very concerned about rising tuition fees, the scrapping of maintenance grants and, above all, the quality of teaching. Can she assure them that they will be listened to when they express concerns about those issues in connection with the Higher Education and Research Bill?
In part, the Bill reflects our wish to secure value for money for students, which we are building into law for the first time. Our updating of the higher education regulatory framework is long overdue, and I am delighted that we are taking the opportunity to put the interests of students at the heart of it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should beware the law of unintended consequences? Adding students to the board of the Office for Students would put at risk representation and engagement with students throughout the higher education system. Will she assure me, and the student community, that the OFS will put students at the heart of the system?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I know that he has played an important role on the Public Bill Committee and presented his own proposals. As we have made clear, we do not want to be over-prescriptive. We want to set up the Office for Students and allow it to ensure that students have a voice not just through representation, but through the way in which the office itself works.
The Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016, which the Scottish Government introduced in March, has given students a much stronger voice and increased their involvement in key decision making in Scotland’s universities. Does the Secretary of State agree that students deserve to participate more in the higher education sector, and will she look to the example set by Scotland to ensure that they can do so?
I have no doubt that Scottish colleagues will wish to share the hon. Lady’s experience. As I have said, it is important to ensure that the voices of students are heard ever more clearly, and that is precisely what the Bill is intended to achieve—among other things, including improving choice for students. As was pointed out earlier, we now have a funding system that requires students to pay tuition fees, and it is vital that they obtain value for money.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her post and congratulate her on becoming Secretary of State for one of the most interesting Departments.
I welcome student representation, but may I warn my right hon. Friend that there is a danger relating to who she decides should be representatives? The National Union of Students is no longer the undivisive organisation that it was once, and a number of universities have already decided that they want nothing to do with it. How will the Secretary of State choose the students who are to be represented on the new body?
My hon. Friend sets out his concerns eloquently. During the Bill’s passage, we have made it clear that we want people on the OFS who have experience of representing, or indeed promoting, the interests of students. As I have said, the key requirement is for us not to be prescriptive, but to allow the new body to become established and then find sensible ways of ensuring—not just through the board itself, but, more importantly, through the way in which it operates—it provides a strong voice for students and represents their interests.
Both the national funding formula reform and the consultation document “Schools that work for everyone” are vital parts of the Government’s ambition for an education system that promotes social mobility and a true meritocracy. As my hon. Friend will know, work is under way on both. Future activity will be strongly driven by the outcomes of the second stage of consultation on the national funding formula and, of course, the Green Paper.
Given the mixed views on grammar schools and the huge amount of work that will be required to ensure that no child is left behind, which I certainly fear they might be, will the Secretary of State please explain how grammar schools can possibly be a higher priority than fixing the flawed funding model that has resulted in thousands of children being seriously underfunded for decades in counties such as mine?
I very much recognise my hon. Friend’s concerns about funding. This was precisely why, shortly before the House went into the summer recess, I set out my determination to get on with the work of bringing forward a national funding formula. We will be responding to the first stage of the consultation shortly and at the same time setting out the next stage of how the formula will work in practice. We also need to challenge ourselves to look at how we can have more good school places, particularly in parts of the country where there are still not enough and particularly for disadvantaged students. We need to get on with both those pieces of work.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I have made a special journey down here today to ask the Secretary of State a question. There is another group of schools that offers real social mobility and in which the education gap is the most narrowed. More than 98% of these schools are rated good or outstanding, yet they are in the areas of highest deprivation and the majority of their children are eligible for free school meals. They are our much-valued nursery schools, but their funding is putting their ongoing viability at risk. Would it not be better if she focused on their continued attainment, rather than on grammar schools?
I agree with the hon. Lady that early years provision is a vital part of the education system, which is precisely why we have been consulting on how we can have a sensible approach to its funding, but I disagree with her characterisation that we are cutting funding. That is simply not correct.
The Secretary of State will surely agree that fairer funding for schools is a top priority, but another priority must be to ensure that we have adequate skills training, especially in the professional and technical sectors. I believe that that should be a key objective of the Green Paper. Will she reassure the House that that is also her priority?
I made it very clear in my Conservative party conference speech last week that one of our biggest challenges is to ensure that we make the same progress in technical education that we have seen in academic education over recent years. This is vital for the more than 50% of children and young people who do not go on to university, and it will be vital for our employers if we are to have a Brexit Britain that can be successful.
Thanks to the casting vote of the Liberal Democrat mayor, North East Lincolnshire Council has approved a motion in support of grammar schools. Given that the coastal communities have poor educational standards, may I invite the Secretary of State to allocate some of her Department’s time to looking at the situation in North East Lincolnshire?
My hon. Friend rightly raises his concerns about ensuring that the young people and children in his area get the best possible start in life. We have published our Green Paper and are consulting on how we can achieve this. There are still too many parts of our country where good school places are not available to children, and that is unacceptable. We should look at all the measures that we can take to change that.
Is the Secretary of State encouraged by the fact that two thirds of those canvassed on this issue support the Prime Minister’s policy of increasing social mobility among those from poorer backgrounds through the increased provision of grammar schools? Will she assure us that she will not be deterred by siren voices or the barrage of criticism of this policy from those who are ideologically opposed to it even though they had the benefit of a grammar school education themselves?
The hon. Gentleman sets out the situation very clearly. He points out that, for children on free school meals in particular, grammars are able to close the attainment gap because the progress that those children make is double that of their better-off classmates. Labour wants to close that opportunity down and we want to level it up—that is the difference.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s comment that the national funding formula remains a priority. Schools in Somerset are hanging on for the introduction of that fairer funding model. Will she encourage the Chancellor to look favourably on the plight of rural schools so that they can be properly funded until that funding formula comes into being?
I assure my hon. Friend that I am very conscious of the particular challenges that rural schools face. In fact, in the original first stage of consultation, the issues of sparsity and funding, and of looking at the percentages of children in schools, were on the table because they do matter. I am well aware of the issue, and we will try to do our best in the second stage of the consultation to ensure that the sorts of challenges that schools face and need funding for are met.
The Green Paper outlined additional funding from the Treasury in relation to setting up new grammars. The hon. Lady will be aware that, at the same time as steadily bearing down on the huge deficit that the previous Labour Government left us, we have managed to protect the real-terms core funding for schools, but that is no thanks to the legacy of financial disaster that was handed over to us.
I believe the word that the Secretary of State was looking for was “no”. Perhaps she can tell us how much has been spent on trying to find any facts to support the Government’s policy of segregated schools. Spending public money on policy without any evidential basis is simply wasting it. When she last came to the House, she could not cite a single piece of evidence that the policy would improve social mobility. Has she found any since?
A lot of what the hon. Lady says is incorrect. She will be well aware that a report by the Sutton Trust clearly set out the improved attainment of free school meal children, in particular in grammar schools. It is totally untenable for her to set out her concerns about grammar schools while resolutely being opposed to any kind of consultation document that looks at how we should reform them. We want to look at how we can reform grammar schools. The education system has changed beyond all recognition over recent years, and it is right that we now look at what role grammars can play in a 21st century education system.
Since May 2014, we have provided £44 million to local authorities to implement Staying Put. The latest data indicate that 54% of 18-year-olds who are eligible to stay put chose to do so. That is a massive increase on what happened before—I am proud to say this—a Conservative-led Government changed the law. We have also seen 30% of 19-year-olds and 16% of 20-year-olds still living with their former foster carers. For those leaving residential care, we have announced plans to pilot a similar scheme, Staying Close.
Sir Martin Narey’s recent review of the children’s homes estate recommended that the vulnerable 9% of looked-after children who are currently excluded from Staying Put arrangements are given the opportunity to take part in Staying Close. Will the Minister update the House on what plans he has for exploring Sir Martin’s recommendations?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and his continued support for care leavers in this House. A key part of our new cross-Government care leavers’ strategy, “Keep On Caring”, was the commitment to introduce Staying Close, as recommended by Sir Martin Narey. We now intend to pilot Staying Close so that we can understand the costs and practical implications before there is a wider roll-out. Part of the next phase of the children’s social care innovation programme will be an invitation to organisations to work with us to develop projects that are aimed at transforming support for vulnerable children, including Staying Close.
As the Minister is clearly staying put, which many will welcome, will he ensure that he does what he can for those children in residential care who want to stay put? Will he recognise the campaign of Every Child Leaving Care Matters, which is calling for exactly those provisions and changes on the basis that we should be looking after children who most need help—those children in care, particularly in residential care—in the same way that we do with our own children?
I am delighted to be staying put, and I will work closely with everybody to make sure that we get this right. Two people who are prominent in the Every Child Leaving Care Matters campaign are working with us to design the system that we want to create in the future.
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
The new joint inspections mean that for the first time ever Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission are inspecting vital special educational needs and disability services, showing families what is working well and where services right across education, health and care can improve. The reports, seven of which have been published so far, with many encouraging findings, will enable improvement in individual areas, provide opportunities for local areas to learn from one another, and establish a rich and growing picture of performance nationally.
As the Minister is no doubt aware, in my constituency I have outstanding provision in the Priory School—I hope to visit its new facilities on Angel Hill and Mount Road shortly. However, there are challenges in this sector, particularly in ensuring that all children are supported to make the most of their talents and abilities. What is the Minister doing to look at the quality of education, health and care plans, the rate of conversions from statements, the timeliness of those transfers and the quality of them once received?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the Department is monitoring closely the rate of conversions from statements and the timeliness of transfers through our annual data collection process. When a local authority’s performance is a concern, we follow that up with our team of professional advisers to offer support and challenge. They will also check the quality of the plans in local authorities that they visit and offer advice on improvement. That is a key part of ensuring that our reforms work for children and young people with SEND.
In Trafford, where we already have selective education, fewer than 250 children with special educational needs support statements or education, health and care plans attend grammar schools, and that is out of a total of more than 7,500 children in grammar schools in the borough. Can the Minister say how the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities will be properly taken into account in the consultation on the proposals included in the Government’s Green Paper?
The consultation is about lifting all schools to improve for all children, and the SEND reforms that we introduced in 2014 apply to all schools so that they are providing the support and education that the children in their care need to succeed. As part of the consultation on how we can improve all schools, it is important that at its heart children with special educational needs are considered fully.
I was pleased by the Government’s commitment of £200 million for capital projects for special schools, not least because the Orchard School in Newark is one of the special schools in the worst condition in the country. When will local authorities be able to make a bid for funding and is there anything more that the Government can do, because these schools are incredibly important but extremely expensive to replace or renovate?
My hon. Friend is right that we have managed to secure more than £200 million of capital funding for special schools to increase the number of placements in his area and many others. We will be giving more details shortly, but I am sure that many people not just in Newark but right across England will be looking forward to seeing how they can improve the facilities and support that are available for children with special educational needs.
I heard the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), but I was dismayed that in the “Schools that work for everyone” Green Paper there was not one single mention of children with special educational needs or disabilities. Is it not true that this Government have simply forgotten about them?
I welcome the hon. Lady back to the Front Bench. I know that she has had a number of epiphanies in the past few months, going from a remainer to a leaver to a returner, but I am pleased that she has taken up her present role, where I know she is a good fit. It is Dyspraxia Awareness Week, and I know that she is a very strong supporter of the work that the Dyspraxia Foundation and others do. She knows a lot about that issue and I wish her well in her role.
The Green Paper looks at raising standards across all schools for all children, and it includes, as I said previously, children with special educational needs. I hope that the hon. Lady will work with us to make sure that they get the best possible deal.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. One of the reasons why we want to hold local areas to account is to make sure that they do not just sit on their failures, but learn from other areas that are bringing about success. One of our intentions is to make sure that we give them the opportunity to learn from others that do it better.
The proposed apprenticeship funding policy is designed to support an increase in the quality and quantity of apprenticeships. Our proposals include incentives and support for employers and providers that will encourage the take-up of many more apprenticeship opportunities by people of all ages and backgrounds, giving many people their first step on the employment ladder of opportunity. We continue to engage with employers and providers, and we plan to publish the final policy shortly.
We are busy with our plans to introduce the apprenticeship levy. By 2020, we will be spending more than double on apprenticeships, or £2.5 billion extra. We are well on the way towards achieving our target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020, with over 500,000 starts in the past year alone.
Although I welcome the record number of people participating in apprenticeships in our country, will the Minister outline what steps the Government have taken to encourage more small businesses to offer apprenticeships?
My hon. Friend, who is a champion of apprenticeships in his area, will be pleased to know that, under the plans for the new apprenticeship levy, small businesses that hire 16 to 18-year-olds as apprentices will pay only 10% of the training costs. Furthermore, they and the providers will each receive £1,000. That will encourage small businesses to hire more apprentices.
I welcome the Minister to his place, and I welcome his commitment to social mobility, but is not the truth that he found this shambles—30% to 50% of apprenticeship funding is being cut for our most disadvantaged 16 to 18-year-olds—in the welcome pack in his in-tray? He knows that it is a shambles. Nearly a month ago, he and I spoke here to a full house of sector leaders and heard it from them. On the same day, the Prime Minister was caught on the hop when she said that she did not recognise the figures, and the chief executive of the Institute of the Motor Industry said that it was a looming car crash. With no proper impact assessment of these cuts, and with the Government’s credibility on the line, why one month later has the Minister still no solutions to these funding cuts?
I notice that the shadow Minister—I have great respect for him and am pleased to face him across the Dispatch Box—called his campaign “Save our apprenticeships”. We have been saving 2.5 million people on apprenticeships over the past five years. In 2014-15, in his own constituency, he had 1,040 apprenticeship starts, 218 under-19 apprenticeship starts and 10,500 people participating in further education. If that is not saving apprentices, I do not know what is. As I have said, the apprentice funding will be doubled to £2.5 billion. He is ignoring the increase in the STEM uplifts, the extra money spent on new apprenticeship standards and the £1,000 going to every employer and every provider when they hire a 16 to 18-year-old.
Educational Provision: Rural Areas
Local authorities are responsible for assessing educational need in their areas, and they have a statutory duty to ensure that there are sufficient school places, including in rural areas. Nearly 600,000 additional school places were created between May 2010 and May 2015, with many more delivered since then and in the pipeline. The Government have committed a further £7 billion for school places, which, along with our investment in 500 new free schools, we expect to deliver another 600,000 new school places by 2021.
Very sadly, Builth Wells and Llandrindod high schools in Radnorshire are under threat of closure. What more can my hon. Friend do to ensure that we keep educational parity across rural areas, so that pupils have access to superb local schools no matter where they live?
In May, the Government set out a package of measures to secure the continued success and sustainability of rural schools in England, including a £10 million fund for expert support to help rural schools through the academy conversion process and a new double lock to sit alongside the existing presumption against the closure of rural schools. By contrast, in Labour-run Wales, with a Liberal Democrat Education Minister, there is no presumption against the closure of rural schools.
Schools in urban areas face challenges, too, with many reporting huge difficulties in retaining teachers. Today, the Education Policy Institute revealed that one in five teachers in England is working more than 60 hours a week. What priority is the Minister giving to analysing why schools are finding it so difficult to retain teachers and what impact workload has on that?
The EPI report is based on a 2013 OECD teaching and learning international survey. In response, in 2014, the previous Secretary of State announced the workload challenge—there were 44,000 responses to that—which highlighted issues such as dialogic marking and data collection. We set up review groups to look at that, and they have reported. We have accepted their recommendations, and now we are acting on those recommendations to ease the burden of workload on teachers in our schools. We are acting, and we have acted.
I welcome the Minister’s comments today about rural schools, and I have a large preponderance of rural schools in my constituency. However, the fact is that Taunton Deane receives £2,000 less per pupil on average than the national average. I know that the Secretary of State and the Minister are working hard in the best interests of our young people, our teachers and our governors, but can he please confirm that due consideration will be given to righting the funding disparity between our schools and our pupils?
We have protected the core schools budget in real terms, but the system for distributing those funds, as my hon. Friend pointed out, is outdated, inefficient and unfair. That is why we consulted on the principles and the building blocks of the formula in the spring of this year. That will include sparsity as a concept, and also a fixed sum, which of course helps small schools. We will issue our detailed proposals on the design and impact of the formula for consultation in the autumn.
The key to successful educational provision in rural areas is the quality of teaching. The Labour party has long believed in having qualified teachers in our schools. One area of cross-party agreement in the last Parliament was on having a Royal College of Teaching. Will the Minister update the House on how far the Government have enacted that?
There is a Royal College of Teaching. We are meeting the initial funding costs of the Royal College of Teaching, and it is going to be a great success. I should point out that 95% of all teachers in our system have qualified teacher status and that 93% of all teachers in academies have QTS.
The inclusion of a language in the EBacc increased the numbers of students studying at least one language at GCSE between 2010 and 2015, and the Government’s ambition is that more pupils in mainstream secondary schools enter the EBacc subjects at GCSE.
Absolutely. Indeed, new schools such as Northampton International Academy, which has an academic curriculum with a language specialism and also links to schools in other countries, are the sorts of schools that can really play a key role in ensuring that there are strong options for children on languages.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—I cannot tell you how grateful I am not to be excluded this afternoon. Given the importance of China in the global marketplace today, not least to my constituents who work in Bicester shopping village, does my right hon. Friend agree that our children should be taught Chinese in schools?
My hon. Friend is quite right that having more young people learning Chinese is important for the UK’s place in the world; indeed, many employers are looking for more staff who are able to speak Mandarin Chinese. This September, we launched a £10 million Mandarin excellence programme, and hundreds of pupils in England have started intensive lessons in Chinese. By 2020, 5,000 pupils will be working towards a high level of fluency in Mandarin Chinese.
Does the Secretary of State agree that rigorous teaching of English grammar to all our pupils, not just the grammar school elite, would not only increase the uptake of foreign languages in schools, but help them to achieve success in those foreign languages?
One of the most widely spoken languages in the United Kingdom is Punjabi. What steps are the Government taking to encourage students to study that language, particularly in the light of Brexit, after which our trade with India and Pakistan will become even more important?
We are continuing with our community language GCSEs and A-levels. As the hon. Gentleman points out, it has never been more important for young people coming out of our education system to be successful not only in our own country, but in a global world.
Design and Technology
As I said in my letter to my hon. Friend, the Government believe that all students should study a broad and balanced curriculum. Design and technology is an important and valued subject, which is why we are doing a huge amount to promote the importance of D and T, and why we have reformed and improved the curriculum, working with the James Dyson Foundation and other experts to raise the quality and rigour of the design and technology GCSE. D and T is a very popular GCSE choice, with 185,000 entries this year.
We have an annual shortage of 69,000 trained engineers in the UK, with only 6% of that workforce being female. Those shortages are much more severe than in computer science. As the Minister has pointed out, the new design and technology GCSE has the same academic rigour as the other subjects in the EBacc, so will he explain to the House why he felt that computer science was more worthy of EBacc status than design and technology?
The EBacc is about a small number of core academic subjects, focused on those subjects that keep options open. I am confident that the new, reformed design and technology GCSE will lead to even more young people wanting to take this qualification in future years, once the new curriculum is in place. However, our policy objective is for more students, particularly those taking design and technology, to study the traditional sciences.
Will the Minister take seriously the role of technical education in our schools? Design and technology has been peripheralised in the opinion of many people. On the day that the Royal Greenwich University Technical College is to close, with university technical colleges closing up and down the country, there is something rotten at the heart of Government policy.
No. We have engaged in a huge reform to improve the quality of technical qualifications. That is what the Alison Wolf review did in 2011, by removing from performance tables the qualifications for which students were entered but that were not valued in the workplace. Technical qualifications taken by young people now have real value and provide proper jobs. We have also improved the quality of the apprenticeship scheme, which the Minister of State, Department for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), talked about earlier.
Will the Minister join me in welcoming UTC Oxfordshire, based in Didcot in my constituency, which opened this time last year. In fact, it was opened by Brian Cox, no less. Thanks to this Government, children across Oxfordshire can now enjoy a first-class technical education, supported by companies such as BMW Mini, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and RM Education. I hope he will find time to visit it in the coming months.
I would welcome the opportunity to visit my right hon. Friend’s UTC. The UTC programme is another example of how, with our academies programme and our free schools programme, we are providing diverse types of specific and specialist education for every child in this country.
The Minister will recall from the meeting he held with me and some excellent headteachers in Slough to discuss our teacher shortage problem that two outstanding grammar schools with excellent GCSE and A-level results are not meeting his demands on EBacc levels because they have chosen, confidently, to provide subjects—such as design and technology, art and design, and drama—they felt their students would benefit from and needed. Why cannot schools without such confidence make choices for the future of their pupils, rather than to satisfy the Minister?
It is not to satisfy the Minister; it is to ensure that young people have the widest possible opportunities available to them. We kept the EBacc combination of core academic GCSEs small enough, at either seven or eight, to allow sufficient time in the curriculum for pupils to study those subjects that interest them. That is why I have resisted calls for more subjects to be added to the EBacc.
We are transforming and reforming the technical qualifications available in schools and colleges, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools just said, to ensure that they are challenging and rigorous. We are creating clear technical education routes at the highest skill levels and will boost the capacity to deliver them through national colleges and institutes of technology in degree and higher apprenticeships. The post-16 skills plan that we published in July outlines the most radical reform of post-16 education in almost 70 years, by creating a high-quality technical track.
I welcome the commitment of the Secretary of State and the Minister to technical education, alongside more academic routes. Employers in Faversham are keen to support young people in apprenticeships, but they have told me that apprenticeships need to be more flexible and less bureaucratic, so will the Minister involve such employers as he develops the technical education system?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Technical education clearly needs to be aligned better with business needs. We are building on the apprenticeships reforms, whereby employers are designing the new apprenticeship standards to meet their needs, by giving employers a strong role in setting the standards across the 15 technical routes. They will advise on the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are needed, so that technical education has value for employers and learners alike, and is responsive to the requirements of the economy and employers.
BTECs are challenging and rigorous. It would be quite concerning if we had an over-focus on technical education, pure and simple, without maintaining a strong applied route through BTECs. Will the Minister give us a commitment about the future of BTECs?
Clearly, we had to reform technical education, because there were far too many qualifications. There were over 13,000 qualifications, and engineering had something like 500. We are looking to offer students a technical pathway if that is what they choose, and we will look at the best qualifications for those technical pathways.
More than 9,000 families in England have received bespoke therapeutic support via the adoption support fund that we set up just 17 months ago. Such support is often crucial in making a placement a long-term success. We are improving support in schools by extending access to virtual school heads and designated teachers, and we are developing new care pathways to meet the mental health needs of adopted children. The establishment of regional adoption agencies and the £14-million practice and improvement fund were designed to bring about better support for adoptive families.
At a recent inspection, the performance of East Sussex County Council’s adoption service was rated by Ofsted as outstanding. What does the Department do to ensure that best practice is shared, so that local authorities that are identified as requiring improvement learn from those that are providing an outstanding service?
First, I congratulate East Sussex County Council on its Ofsted rating. I agree that we want others to learn from the best. The development of regional adoption agencies will see local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies working side by side to deliver excellent adoption services everywhere, with a strong focus on evidencing what actually works. We are setting up the aptly titled What Works centre for children’s social care, which will disseminate and promote best practice across the country.
I recognise the great role the Government and the Minister have played in championing and supporting adoption, so he will share my concern at the statistics his Department released on 29 September, which show a reduction for the second year running in the number of children being placed for adoption and being adopted. What is the main reason for those figures, and what action are the Government taking to turn them around?
It is worth remembering that there were 4,690 adoptions in 2015-16—an increase of 35% on 2011-12. The latest figures, to which my hon. Friend refers, are due in large part to over-responses to the Re B-S judgment in 2013. They are disappointing figures. That is why, through the Children and Social Work Bill, we are amending legislation to improve the way decisions about long-term care options are taken, so that adoption is always pursued when it is in a child’s best interests. The Government’s adoption strategy, which we published in March, sets out plans to redesign the whole adoption system to ensure that we have the foundations in place to build a lasting change that benefits children.
After several months of negotiations, we have secured the exam boards’ commitment to continue to provide all but one of the existing language qualifications at GCSE and A-level. I place on record my thanks to Rod Bristow of Pearson and Andrew Hall of AQA for their help and support in securing a long-term future for those important qualifications. It is right that we have a range of language qualifications available, reflecting the diversity and dynamism of today’s Britain.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his answer and on the negotiations that have taken place.
Every year, thousands of young people from the age of five onwards begin learning Gujarati, Urdu or Punjabi, expecting it to lead to a long-term qualification. What steps can my hon. Friend take to make sure that those qualifications are secure not just for an interim period but in the long term, and that the teaching staff are available to provide that education?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in helping to secure those qualifications, particularly in Gujarati, working with the Consortium of Gujarati Schools. I am pleased that we have secured the continuation of qualifications in community languages. There will be no gap in provision—the existing qualifications will continue to be offered until 2018, when the new qualifications are introduced. We continue to support the recruitment of high-quality language teachers, including by offering bursaries of up to £25,000. There are also many successful and long-standing Saturday schools, which help to ensure that culture and languages continue to be taught.
We want motivated, enthusiastic teachers in our schools, and the latest OECD teaching and learning international survey reported that 82% of the teachers surveyed in England agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with their job. We recognise the challenges for the profession, however, such as unnecessary workload, which we continue to address. The latest official statistics show that teacher retention rates one year after qualification have remained stable at around 90% for 20 years. In 2010, 70% of teachers were still teaching five years later, and more than 60% of teachers remained in the classroom 10 years after qualifying.
The figures are not dissimilar to those in other professions. We realise that there are workload challenges, which was why we set up the workload challenge in 2014. There were 44,000 responses, which we analysed carefully. Three top issues were raised: dialogic deep marking, data collection and the preparation of lessons. We addressed all three issues by setting up three working parties, led and staffed by experienced teachers and headteachers. They reported and made recommendations, which we accepted, and action has now been taken.
Thousands of EU nationals across the UK play key roles in children’s education, be it as classroom assistants, teachers, janitors or cleaners. We cannot overestimate how morale is affected by xenophobic rhetoric such as we heard last week at the Tory party conference. Does the Minister agree that it is time to do the right thing and give a solid guarantee that EU nationals can remain and contribute to our children’s education?
Despite the Minister’s earlier response, the Education Policy Institute has shown how excessive hours are driving record numbers of teachers from the profession, including friends and former colleagues of mine. NASUWT has found that half of teachers have been to see a doctor in the past year due to work-related illness, and one in 10 have been prescribed antidepressants. We know that the Minister is on the record as not valuing those of us with the postgraduate certificate in education, but can he not see that the Government’s failure to support teachers is at the heart of the crisis in teachers’ morale?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Education shadow Front-Bench team. I understand the challenges of the teaching profession, and we are taking action. That is why we set up the workload challenge in 2014. The report published today by the Education Policy Institute is based on the 2013 TALIS. When that survey was published we looked at it very carefully, which is why we conducted the survey that we did and are taking action. The key thing is that 1.4 million more pupils are in good and outstanding schools today than there were in 2010, including 4,500 more in such schools in Trafford and 27,900 more in the city of Manchester.
This Government are determined to make this a country that works for everyone, and education is at of the heart of that ambition. I have already had the opportunity to see some of the excellent work being carried out in our classrooms. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools has said, there are now 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010. The Department for Education has an expanded role, taking in higher education, further education and skills. That was reflected in my first announcement as Secretary of State of the six opportunity areas where we are going to trial a new approach to boosting attainment and outcomes in social mobility coldspots that have been identified by the Social Mobility Commission. We will work inside schools and outside them, with communities and businesses, to make sure that we can turbo charge those children’s opportunities.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. The reputation of Scotland’s higher education sector is of huge significance at home and in the wider world. What assessment has she made of the damage that could be caused to that reputation by the marketisation of the HE sector opening it up to unknown and disreputable new providers?
That is not at all what the Higher Education and Research Bill seeks to do. It is about opening up the higher education sector, so that we have the next wave of institutions that can provide fantastic degrees, and about making sure that there is teaching excellence. It is a strong Bill that will move the sector forward for the first time in 25 years.
I am of course more than happy to congratulate Sarah, Donna and the team on the progress they have made with the Aspire special school application, as well as on their clear commitment to children in their area with special educational needs and disability. The free schools programme has already supported the opening of 345 schools, including 13 schools with a specific focus on children with autism. I am aware that the Aspire special school aims to provide a further 112 places for pupils with autism and speech, language and communication needs.
I would like to come back to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell). The fairer early years funding plan has created a ticking time bomb for nurseries. Figures revealed by the Secretary of State’s own Department show that 25% of local authorities across the country will lose out financially. I am afraid that her earlier answer will do nothing to reassure the National Association of Head Teachers, which believes that that will lead to the closure of hundreds of nurseries. Will she today commit to a funding pledge for nurseries for provision for after the first two years, so that the pledge of 30 hours of free childcare will be honoured for all?
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Lady to her place on the Opposition Front Bench. I can reassure her that the funding formula that we have consulted on will make funding fairer, more transparent and more sustainable. Indeed, she is misinformed: our proposals mean that 88% of local authorities and their providers can expect to see their funding rates increase.
We will be announcing the response to the primary assessment arrangements shortly. It was important that we raised academic standards in our primary schools, and that is why we had a new curriculum introduced by 2014, after two or three years of preparation and consultation. We are raising standards in reading—there are now 147,000 more six-year-olds reading more effectively than they otherwise would be—and we are raising academic standards in maths and in grammar, punctuation and spelling. That is very important, and we will make further announcements about the details of the assessment soon.
The Higher Education and Research Bill will make student protection plans mandatory for the first time, putting in place systematic protection for students, which at present is very patchy and partial across our higher education system.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question; it is progressing extremely well. In 2012, 58% of six-year-olds passed the check. This year, 81% passed the check. That is a huge improvement in the quality of the teaching of reading in our primary schools.
The current rule is generally inoperative for many free schools when they begin, because they are not over-subscribed, and it only kicks in if they are. We are proposing to put in place much stronger, more effective controls to ensure that faith schools that are opening will be community schools. I would very much encourage the hon. Gentleman to read the consultation document, which sets out proposals, including that those schools should demonstrate clear parental demand from parents of other faiths or no faith and that they should twin with primary schools and other schools.
I am always pleased to meet my hon. Friend, who is a champion of skills in his constituency. He will know that people in Somerset will benefit from the increased number of apprenticeships and the 15 new high-quality technical routes, which he has heard about already this afternoon. The new National College for Nuclear, opening in 2017, will have a base in Somerset, supporting the local workforce to develop their skills and build capacity for the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant. He will also know that there have been 1,160 apprentice starts in his constituency over the past year, with 350 for the under-19s, showing the skills base in his constituency.
The Secretary of State has spoken about social mobility. Where is the evidence, from this country or other parts of the world, that bringing back selection at 11 will increase social mobility? I think the evidence shows the opposite. May I urge her once again to think again about this plan to extend grammar schools and instead work together to raise standards for all children in all our schools?
Of course, the two objectives are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, our school reforms will continue, and they have already seen the best part of 1.5 million children now in good or outstanding schools who were not in 2010. We see attainment driven through grammar schools in places such as Northern Ireland. It is just wrong simply to set on one side schools that are closing the attainment gap for children on free school meals and not look at how we can make that option available to more parents and more children.
On mandarin, I know my hon. Friend will be impressed of the work of St Catherine’s College’s Confucius school and the Eastbourne District Chinese Association. It is clearly important to promote language learning at home. I am pleased to note the uptake in Mandarin, even though I am a French teacher by profession. Can my hon. Friend assure me that we will continue to value opportunities for British students to study abroad?
On the last point, yes. We continue to value travel abroad. Learning a language is key to being able to travel and work abroad, and that is what the Mandarin Excellence Programme is all about. We hope 5,000 students will be fluent in Mandarin, reaching levels of HSK4 and HSK5, which go beyond A-level. We want more young people to take languages in our schools—including the language my hon. Friend teaches—following the fall in the numbers taking GCSEs thanks to the Labour party.
Today is World Mental Health Day. The Government acknowledge there has been an increase in the number of young people affected by anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions, yet so much more could and should be done to prevent them. When will the Secretary of State bring forward statutory compulsory and high-quality personal, social, health and economic education in every single school, so that we can equip the next generation with the skills and confidence to get help early on?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of mental health. In September, we announced a package to tackle bullying in schools, which we know is one of the drivers of mental health issues. She is right to raise the broader issue. We are looking at how we continue to ensure that PSHE works effectively in schools, and we are working with the NHS.
Yes, I very strongly agree with my hon. Friend. As I said earlier, we are reforming the academic route for many of our young people. However, for the majority who are more interested in a technical route in education post-16, it is vital that we now bring together different policy areas—apprenticeships, university technical colleges and the work of further education colleges up and down the country—to ensure they deliver for them.
The leaked small schools task force report shows that the Department ignored advice to continue funding small schools to provide universal infant free school meals. This will affect 566 children in the schools represented by the Education Front-Bench team and thousands more children represented by those on the Government Back Benches. Will the Minister today commit to reverse this short-sighted cut and ensure that small schools have adequate funding to feed their infant children free school meals?
The Minister was just attacked for removing the cap on faith schools. The implication was that they do not promote cohesion. Is it not a nonsense to suggest that our wonderful Anglican and Catholic schools are not broad-based and do not promote cohesion? Above all, they have good academic standards. The unacknowledged point of the cap was to stop 100% Muslim schools. It was simply not effective and was therefore useless, so the Minister was right to do away with it.
I agree with my hon. Friend—he is right. We should reflect on the fact that about a third of our schools are faith schools. Many of our children will have gone to those schools. They have an ethos and a level of academic attainment that we are trying to achieve more broadly across the whole system.
I commend the Secretary of State for announcing, or perhaps forcing, the U-turn on the nasty policy of employers naming foreign employees. Will she now give us another U-turn and announce that schools do not need to ask parents to provide birth certificates, thus potentially turning schools into immigration offices?
This is about making sure we have the right data and evidence to develop strong policy. That is a sensible approach, but it is important we respond to the concerns of schools that see additional numbers of pupils related to migration. We need to have a better sense of the stresses and strains, so that we can target resourcing effectively.
True childcare costs in Twickenham are double the current Government funding formula. Will the Minister meet me to share how we can avert a crisis and ensure that every three and four-year-old in Twickenham will be able to get 30 hours of free childcare?
We recognise that the costs of providing childcare vary enormously across different areas of the country. That is why we have just completed an early years national funding formula consultation, which proposes an area cost adjustment to reflect cost differentials in both staff and premises. Some 88% of areas will see an increase and the hourly rate for Richmond Borough will rise significantly to £5.69 an hour. I will of course meet my hon. Friend to discuss this.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Following the report by the Public Accounts Committee on entitlement to free early years education and childcare and a Westminster Hall debate on the subject that I initiated in July, the then Minister promised me that the Department was due to publish the early years workforce strategy document, addressing the shortfall in qualified staff to deliver the 30 hours of free childcare. What progress has been made?
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary for a statement on the Calais Jungle in the light of its imminent demolition and the urgent need to provide safety for children who have a family link in the United Kingdom or in whose best interests it is to be here.
Today I met my counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, and we agreed that we have a moral duty to safeguard the welfare of unaccompanied refugee children. We both take our humanitarian responsibilities seriously. The UK Government have made clear their commitment to resettle vulnerable children under the Immigration Act 2016 and ensure that those with links to the UK are brought here using the Dublin regulation.
The primary responsibility for unaccompanied children in France, including those in the Calais camp, lies with the French authorities. The UK Government have no jurisdiction to operate on French territory and the UK can contribute only in ways agreed with the French authorities and in compliance with French and EU law. The UK has made significant progress in speeding up the Dublin process. We have established a permanent official-level contact group, and we have seconded UK experts to the French Government.
Part of the role is to assist co-ordinating efforts on the ground to identify children. Since the beginning of 2016 more than 80 unaccompanied children have been accepted for transfer to the UK from France under the Dublin regulation, nearly all of whom have now arrived in the UK.
Within those very real constraints, we continue to work with the French Government and partner organisations to speed up mechanisms to identify, assess and transfer unaccompanied refugee children to the UK where that is in their best interests. While the decision on the dismantling of the Calais camp and the timing of the operation is a matter for the French Government, I have made it crystal clear to the French Interior Minister on numerous occasions, including at our meeting today, that our priority must be to ensure the safety and security of children during any camp clearance.
We have made good progress today, but there is much more work to do. To that end, I emphasised to Mr Cazeneuve that we should transfer from the camp as many minors as possible eligible under the Dublin regulation before clearance commences, with the remainder coming over within the next few days of the operation. I also outlined my views that those children eligible under the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 must be looked after in safe facilities where their best interests are properly considered. The UK Government stand ready to help to fund such facilities and provide the resourcing to aid the decision making. I made it clear today in my meeting with Mr Cazeneuve that we should particularly prioritise those under the age of 12, because they are the most vulnerable. The UK remains committed to upholding our humanitarian responsibilities on protecting minors and those most vulnerable.
With the Calais Jungle earmarked for demolition next week, what is being done to provide safety and refuge for children for whom we have a legal and moral duty of care? On the last count conducted by Citizens UK/Safe Passage UK, 178 children were eligible for sanctuary in the UK under the Dublin criteria and 212 under the Dubs best interests amendment. The Red Cross has told me today that
“the Home Office’s energy in the last few weeks has been significant and recognises the scale of the challenge.”
However, that energy is not shared by the French authorities, which do not provide appointments, interpreters or resources to make transfers in the “days” that the Home Office wants rather than the “weeks” or the “months”.
Last month, the Home Secretary told the Home Affairs Committee that she would get over to the UK as soon as possible all the children for whom we have a legal obligation, and she has confirmed today that she wants as many of them as possible over here before demolition. Last week, she said that
“compassion does not stop at the border”,
and she has been reported as saying today that the first 100 child refugees are coming to the UK “within weeks”.
Can the Home Secretary provide the assurance today that all children eligible for transfer to the UK will be in a place of safety before the demolition starts? The French accommodation centres are inadequate for children. When it comes to transportation, only 12 got on the bus to the centres on Thursday, and the next bus is not until tomorrow. The French Red Cross, however, has pledged to provide accommodation in one place for all children awaiting reunion with UK families. Will the Home Secretary ensure in her discussions with her French counterparts over the coming days that that happens before the demolition starts? Will the Government, with France, create a designated children’s centre sufficient for all children with relocation claims, whether under the Dubs amendment or Dublin arrangements, rather than risk dispersal and exploitation?
The Red Cross’s report—aptly named “No place for children”, as many who have visited the Calais jungle would testify—highlighted this weekend the humanitarian and bureaucratic nightmare. The “bureaucratic” aspect is particularly frustrating. No clear process has yet been established by the Home Office or France to identify, assess and relocate UK lone children whose best interests under the Dubs amendment are to be in the UK.
Will the Government use funds, whether they be from the Department for International Development or wherever, to establish an appropriately mandated organisation with the authority from France and the UK to identify all minors eligible for transfer and to assist in the progress of their cases, whether it be through investigating claims through family links under the Dublin arrangements or the Dubs best interests criteria? Finally, does the Home Secretary acknowledge that until we have those answers, that plan for the safety of those vulnerable Calais children will risk the Prime Minister’s words last week on the importance of standing up for the weak being just that—words?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for raising this matter, giving me the opportunity to set out what the Government are doing. I particularly appreciate his comments about the urgency of this matter, and I share his view on that, as does everybody in this House. I attended a meeting with my French counterpart for nearly two hours today. He had eight or nine people with him, as did I. It is fair to say that the bureaucratic element will now be dealt with with the sort of urgency that we want to see.
On ensuring that there is access to a children’s centre when the clearances take place, I certainly share my hon. Friend’s view that it is essential to ensure that those children are kept safe during any clearances, and I have made that point to the French Minister.
The children who can be dealt with under the Dublin arrangements are not, by any means, all the children we want to take, but it is part 1 of where we want to help. We have been pressing for a list. I appreciate that Citizens UK and other non-governmental organisations have a list, but for the Dublin arrangements to work, the children have to come through the host country. We believe that the French will give that to us this week. My hon. Friend should be in no doubt that we will move with all urgency—a matter of days or a week at the most—in order to deliver on that commitment when we get it.
In January this year, I visited the Calais Jungle refugee camp, and I remind Members that words cannot convey the horror of the conditions there. People are sleeping under canvas in sub-zero temperatures; there is squalor, a lack of sanitation, violence, and threats of sexual assault. Nobody should have to be in those conditions for a minute longer than necessary, and that is particularly true for children.
Will the Home Secretary reassure us that these children, who either have a legal right to come to the UK or whose “best interests” in the words of the Dubs amendment, would be served by that, will not be scattered to all parts of France? Will these children be in one place in a designated children’s centre?
I put it to the Home Secretary that, with her misconceived proposal to make companies keep lists of foreign workers, she has already revealed that she is out of touch with this country’s better instincts. For those children in those desperate conditions, will she step up and do what people all over the country want us to do, which is to fulfil our moral responsibilities? We need fewer words and more action.
I can reassure the hon. Lady that the only list I am interested in is the list from the French Government that will enable us to get the children who belong here safely back to this country. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that the safety of children is put first. I share her views about the horror for the children living there. It is because we are so committed to protecting those children that we are making them a priority in our arrangements with the French, and in our assistance, which the French have asked for, in clearing their camps. Be in no doubt that the French are committed to ensuring that they clear those camps. They have asked us for assistance, and we will be giving it to them in the form of taking children who have the right to be here, as I set out to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), and in the form of money, process and staff. No stone will be unturned in this Government’s assistance of the French in ensuring that we help those children come to this country when they should.
I am delighted that the Home Secretary is taking this problem so seriously, and that she is working well with her counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve in trying to ensure that those children are safe, and that the problem of the Calais refugee camp is solved. However, I am worried about the criminal gangs that are operating in the area and exploiting vulnerable people. I understand that, last year, the UK and French authorities co-operated very well, and that some 28 criminal gangs were disrupted. Will the Home Secretary tell us what success she and the French authorities have had this year in bringing those criminal gangs and their actions to a full stop?
My right hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the real villains of the camp, namely the criminal gangs who prey on the most vulnerable. It is their violent intentions towards the people who are in the camps that could be most damaging and disruptive for everybody, not just for the children but for all people in the camps. I am in close conversations with our French counterparts to ensure that they do what they can to disrupt any crime, in order that we have the safe dismantling of the camps.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s acceptance that there is a moral duty to help those children, but of course it is also a legal duty, which exists not just because of the Dublin convention, but because of the Dubs amendment passed by the House. It is clear that there is widespread concern on both sides of the House about the current lack of transparency from the Government in relation to those legal duties. Given the lack of meaningful action to date in bringing those unaccompanied minors to the UK, does the Home Secretary agree that it would be a good idea for the Government to commit to publishing a regular update on numbers and progress? Will she commit to publishing a fortnightly update?
Will the Home Secretary tell us how many children the United Kingdom is prepared to take in during the next week? We would like to hear numbers. We hear that there are up to 400 unaccompanied children in the camp—[Interruption.] I am being heckled, with an hon. Member asking how many Scotland will take. Scotland has already taken more than a proportionate share of refugees who have come to this country, and we stand ready to take as many as we can, but unfortunately we have to wait for the UK Government to act. That is what the urgent question from the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) is about.
I want to raise one final issue. I visited the camp in Calais at Easter with some of my Scottish National party colleagues and members of the Scottish Refugee Council. We heard that the last time the southern part of the camp was demolished, that happened with no warning. People came out of their tents in the middle of the night and what few belongings they had were crushed. Will the Home Secretary undertake to speak to the French Government to ensure that that sort of inhumanity does not occur again in relation not only to children, but to adults?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her question. She asked about the numbers under the Dubs amendment, which was agreed in May, and I can tell her that we have taken more than 50 in process. They are largely from Greece, because that was the area deemed to have the highest differential in terms of the children’s vulnerability compared with the UK. We are now focused much more on trying to get these children from the Calais camps, and for the past three weeks the French have been working with us on identifying them.
The hon. and learned Lady asked for details about numbers and plans for bringing children to the UK. I would say to her and to the House in all honesty and humility that we have to be careful about how much information we share publicly about those numbers and plans, because it is not always in the best interests of the children for the criminal gangs involved in trafficking them to have information about what the plans are, how many children will be taken—[Interruption.] Saying “Come on” does a disservice to the Government and to our intentions to look after those children. Simply adopting a high moral tone as if total disclosure were the answer is wrong, and I ask right hon. and hon. Members to work with us on this. I am happy to be completely frank and talk about the issue, but we do not think that public disclosure of this is in the best interest of the more vulnerable children.
Why do genuine refugees need to come from France to the UK to be looked after properly? Why cannot France process people’s asylum applications? What is so terrible about refugees living in France? Why do they have to come to the UK? Can the Home Secretary explain why these people are so desperate to get out of a safe country—France—into the United Kingdom, because I suspect that if we tried to palm off our refugees on another EU country the Opposition would be apoplectic?
I am always grateful for a question from my hon. Friend, and on this matter we have a legal obligation under the Dublin arrangements whereby children who have demonstrated that they have family over here are entitled to come here, but that process goes through the host French Government, so they have to apply for that right in France. As for additional children whom we wish to take, that battle has been fought in the Dubs amendment, and we intend to act on it.
I welcome the personal commitment by the Home Secretary to help, under the Dubs amendment and the Dublin agreement, children suffering in Calais. That is helpful. However, I must press her on the scale and timetable, as there are over 1,000 unaccompanied children and teenagers there. How many does she think Britain will end up taking and, in particular, how fast will that be? She said that all the Dublin children would be here within a few days of the camp closing. Is that all of the 178 whom Citizens UK has identified as being eligible, or is it just those who have managed to wrestle their way through the French bureaucracy, because that bureaucratic system is failing, and it is simply not acceptable for them to wait for weeks to fill in forms and wait in queues?
I admire the right hon. Lady’s tenacity in highlighting this issue. I am always pleased to speak to her about it, because I share her views about how important it is. On the numbers and bureaucracy, part of the purpose of meeting Bernard Cazeneuve was indeed to make that bridge much closer so that our officials can deliver with the urgency that she expects and which I hope to achieve. We have asked the French Government to confirm the number being given by Citizens UK and they tell us that they will do that within the next few days. Once they have done so, there will be no hesitation in acting on that as soon as possible.
There can be no doubting the Home Secretary’s compassion or her determination to do something about this appalling problem for up to 400 children who have a perfect right to come here. I congratulate the Government on doing more this year than last year, as the numbers have gone up significantly. None the less, this is a major crisis, and the camp will be cleared within days. It appears that there has been huge bureaucratic confusion in France, and dockets have been lost. Apparently, there are only four French officials in the camp, which is poor. It is time for the British Government to set up a taskforce, with British officials working with French officials, which should go to the camp, sort out these people, find out who they are, and bring them back.
We have certainly noticed a significant uplift in the effort, people, time and professional commitment that the French are willing to put in. Because they are moving closer to clearing the camps, they are now very keen to work with us and help us to identify the children whom we can legally take over, and my hon. Friend should be in no doubt that we are working closely with them to ensure that we can do that with all possible speed.
The Home Secretary has estimated that there are between 600 and 900 unaccompanied children in the camp, and has said that if the United Kingdom were to take 300, that would be “a really good result”. May I just suggest that for the 600 who are left alone and cold in Calais, it will not be “a really good result”? The children who have come here so far have done so mainly as a result of Citizens UK’s safe passage programme, in the absence of any system to implement Dublin in Calais. Will the Home Secretary promise the House that she will step up the efforts? Will she give a number that is credible and also massively ambitious, given the changing circumstances? Will she ensure that, through bloody-minded determination, compassion and urgency, the Government act in line with this country’s values, and give those children sanctuary and refuge?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s views about the values of this country and the need to look after those children, but I hesitate to give a number, although I am often pressed to do so by various organisations and, indeed, by our French counterparts.
I think that the right way to deal with this is to identify the regulations under which we, as a Government and as a country, have said that the children should come here, and that means Dublin and Dubs. On Dublin, we are making good, fast progress. We expect to receive a list this week, and we will move with all due haste after that. As for Dubs, we hope to ensure that children are held safely—that is exactly what I have been discussing with the French today—so that we can assist with the process. We have not reached a final deal, or arrangement, with the French to process the children and establish the swiftest way for us to assist, but I hope that we shall do so within the next few days.
I am genuinely pleased to hear the Home Secretary speak with such a sense of urgency, and to read the reports in the newspapers. It seems that the Home Secretary had a very positive meeting with her counterpart, Mr Cazeneuve. However, I want to question her specifically on two priorities.
First, we understand that an offer has been made for the French Red Cross to provide a building with safeguarding and processing space for the children. Please may I encourage the Home Secretary to investigate that urgently, and see how swiftly it might be done? Secondly, I understand that the French police and France terre d’asile are carrying out a census today to establish the number of unaccompanied children, some of whom will be fleeing from that authority. I have seen the French police myself when I have been there, and they are not welcoming to children. When will the Home Secretary receive the list, and what will she do to identify the children who are actively avoiding that process?
I will investigate the issue of the French Red Cross and get back to my hon. Friend. As for the census, her question highlights the challenges that exist in camps such as this. What we need is information, but the people who are seeking that information are often not viewed as friends of those whom they want to help. We, too, have been told that they are carrying out the census now. We have people in the camp as well—we have people advising them—and we will do our best to ensure that the census is as complete as possible so that we can use it as constructively as possible. The French have the same interest as us, which is to ensure that the children who are entitled to come to the United Kingdom are brought to the United Kingdom. Now that they are clearing the camps, that is their intention, so I expect them to give us the list as soon as they have it.
Let me first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on her appointment as shadow Home Secretary. We entered the House together, and I am delighted that she has done so well. I am sure that Home Office questions will be box office: not quite Trump versus Clinton, but certainly pretty fiery.
I welcome what the Home Secretary has announced today. She is right to make a start in getting this matter resolved, and I do not doubt her commitment. Does she agree, however, that the ultimate responsibility rests with the French, who have been warned for years about the deteriorating situation in Calais? Does she also agree that the European Union can deal with the crisis by processing and registering unaccompanied minors when they arrive in the EU—in Italy and Greece—so that there is no pull factor in Calais and other EU countries can take their responsibilities, as they should have done in the past?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is a French issue and a French responsibility: these people are in France. That is one of the reasons why it is sometimes hard for us to engage in the way that Members would like us to. The fact is that all European countries are now becoming much more aware of the need to have not so much clearer border controls as clearer assessments of who is coming in and their personal details. We will be moving towards that position throughout Europe, not just in the EU.
Past experience shows that even if the present so-called jungle is cleared, it will not be long before another one springs up, unless we do something to tackle the underlying reasons for so many people wanting to come to the United Kingdom. Will the Home Secretary tell us what is being done, with the French authorities, to tackle the underlying reasons for so many people not being satisfied with staying in France?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point: if the camp is cleared, how do we know that a new one will not form immediately? That is what happened when the Sangatte camp was cleared. It was supposed to be the final clearance, but it was not, and a new camp formed. I am in conversation with my French counterparts to ensure that they take action to prevent that happening again, and I am sure that I will be able to fill my hon. Friend in when I have more information.
With typical generosity, the British public and local authorities want to do something to help. The Home Secretary has made a personal commitment today to doing the right thing, and she is to be applauded for that, but what will happen if France does not meet its commitment to her over the next few days? Does she have a plan B?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that by the end of my two-hour meeting with Bernard Cazeneuve, we had arrived at a point at which we expect to reach an agreement. We have not reached one yet, but on the key subject of how the UK can contribute to the clearing of the camp, particularly in a way that supports the children, we have arrived at a point where we think we can reach agreement; I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a few more days, because I am confident that we will do so.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s remarks today. The people of Salisbury and south Wiltshire are certainly committed to seeing this through, and to seeing the right thing done. Does she agree that it is important for us to anticipate the widest possible range of needs in this cohort, especially in terms of educational and medical services, which are seen as particularly significant in Salisbury?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We talk about bringing over these children, who have a legal right to be here, and the communities receiving them want to help them, but these children often have particular needs, such as health needs, as a result of what they have been through, and it is essential to have an appropriate support package in place. That is one of the reasons why we want to be able to assess the children properly, so that the support packages can be well and truly in place when they come to the UK.
The Home Secretary will be aware that there is a great deal of concern in the House today about the numbers. The voluntary sector has identified for her Department 387 children as being eligible to come here under Dublin III and the Dubs amendment, for example, but there is a wait of more than three months before many can even lodge an asylum claim in France; I do not think the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is aware of that fact. This country is spending three times as much on building a wall to block those children from coming here as on trying to prevent them from being trafficked. Given the Secretary of State’s welcome commitment to getting things moving, will she reverse that ratio and put more money into the administration needed to process the papers, so that we can get those children out of that hellhole today?
I understand and share the hon. Lady’s genuine passion and commitment to this subject. However, it is not a lack of finances for dealing with the paperwork that has been slowing things up; this is a question of ensuring that the French engage with us, so that we can commit to getting the numbers through that we want. For instance, we have already referred to the 200 agreed under the Dublin agreement, and to the additional number under the Dubs amendment, but the French have begun to work with us on this only in the past three weeks. They are now focused on wanting us to take children from the camps, because they now want to clear the camps. I can confidently tell the hon. Lady that there will be a remarkable increase in our ability to take those children over and to process their claims, not because of money, but because of the political will to get it done.
May I welcome the dismantling of the Calais Jungle, if indeed it does happen this time? May I also welcome the concern and compassion shown by the Home Secretary for the plight of these children? Does she agree that Kent, which is on the frontline, has about a quarter of the total number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in this country? Will she act to ensure that there is a fairer distribution of children, so that every local authority and every nation in this country does its bit to care for these children left in this appalling situation? Will she publish on a regular basis the numbers taken by each nation and each local authority in this country?
My hon. Friend is right: we should all thank Kent for the enormous amount of work that it does to look after unaccompanied children. It bears the highest numbers and the highest responsibility, and does so with graciousness and generosity, and we are all very grateful to it. On ensuring that other counties and nations benefit from these children, we will put in place a national transfer scheme, so that we can indeed spread the responsibility.
Given the extreme vulnerability of unaccompanied children in Calais, will the Secretary of State commit to ensuring that the Home Office is charged with using discretion when it comes to the evidence required for establishing family links, as requested by the Red Cross?
There is legislation in place, and I would be careful about waiving legislation when there is already an obligation, as is the case with the Dublin agreement. There is, in a way, more discretion with the Dubs amendment, as the evidence is not quite as tangible, in terms of family links; it has to be proved that the children are more vulnerable staying where they are than in coming to the UK. There is enough latitude there to enable us to increase the numbers sufficiently, so that we can do the right thing by all these children.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), and note that if this situation were going on in Dover, the UK authorities would promptly register any claims for asylum, and direct those vulnerable children to the authorities of the countries in which they had family ties. Sadly, the French have not done that, which means that our legal powers and responsibilities are simply not being engaged. What practical steps has my right hon. Friend’s counterpart guaranteed to put in place to speed up the process, as that is the only means by which the UK can speed up our response?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is happening in France. We are talking about French legislation and French authority territory, and we can engage with the French authorities only as they allow us to do so. I can reassure him that, given that the French have decided to clear these camps, they are approaching our offers of help with a lot more enthusiasm and certainty of purpose. That means that we can deliver on what we all want to do, which is look after those children.
I welcome what the Home Secretary has said today. Rightly, the focus is on the appalling situation in Calais, but can she update the House on any progress on the Dubs amendment for children not in Calais? She mentioned the figure of 50, which sounds quite low. Can she update us on the work of her Department and the rest of Government, and also work with local government across the country, so that we can fulfil that goal of 3,000 unaccompanied children coming here?
We have focused on Greece and Italy, in terms of taking children according to the Dubs amendment. Our information told us that that was where the children were most vulnerable, and it was all about bringing the most vulnerable children to the UK. Of course, those children were always supposed to be refugees. The plan was always to ensure that they were Syrian refugees who needed to be transferred to the UK. We have been focusing on Greece and Italy, and we will continue to do so, but for a while, we will also make sure that, under that agreement, we take children from the Calais Jungle as well, and that work is ongoing.
I visited the Calais Jungle 10 days ago, and I welcome the commitment that the Home Secretary has made today to giving safe passage to these vulnerable children. People in the camp are genuinely frightened that it will be demolished with women and children still living in it. Does she share my concern about the fact that I met families who had made an asylum claim in France five months ago, but were still living in the camp because they have been told by the French authorities that there was nowhere else for them to go?
My hon. Friend brings disappointing news on that front. My experience of working with my French opposite number and his officials is that they are just as committed as we are to assisting in this matter. Their intention and aim is to dismantle the camp in the most humanitarian way possible. Clearly, it will be a challenge for them to do so, which is why we are offering financial and security support to ensure that it is done as effectively and as gently as possible.
I am a little concerned, because during this question and answer session there have been mixed messages. We heard initially that no stone would be left unturned in the process, but then there was hiding behind public disclosure restrictions, an unwillingness to commit to numbers and talk about waiting for the Government’s friends. The stark reality is that 80 unaccompanied children have been brought to the UK to date, and we are talking about nearly 400 being still in that camp, with a week to go to demolition. The Government must commit to numbers, confirm that they have the capability to bring in, in a short time, five times the number already brought in, and prove that they are working to identify those people and speak to their relatives in the UK.
I can only reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are doing that. We are working with the French. We are trying to identify the children who have a legal right to be here because of their family here. There is no lack of enthusiasm on our part to try to do that. There is no attempt to “hide behind” anything, as the hon. Gentleman put it. We are committed to doing what is in the best interests of the children with all speed and haste. We must be aware that there are people who wish those children evil, and we need to make sure that we protect them from the people who want to traffic them.
My constituents do not understand why, if charities and non-governmental organisations can identify 387 unaccompanied children as having a legal right to be in the United Kingdom, the French authorities are unable to do that. Is the House to understand that, as the Home Secretary is trying to tell us, by the end of this week, the French Government will have confirmed to her the definitive number and individual names of those whom they believe are entitled to come to this country?
The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend’s question is that the children are not confirmed as qualifying under the Dublin agreement unless that is actually dealt with by the French Government, so the charities provide the numbers and the lists to the French Government, because the children are in France; then the French Government have to confirm it to us. They have confirmed that they expect to do that within the next few days. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) noted, they are doing a census, and during the next few days we expect considerably more information to come from them, which we can work with.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) for tabling the question. May I draw the Home Secretary’s attention to the question from the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) about a taskforce? We seem to be arguing about bureaucracy, but these are children who need help. Cannot a British and French taskforce get into that camp and sort it out?
The hon. Lady should know—or rather, I should like to inform her—that we are doing some of that already. My officials have been over in France every other day for the past two or three weeks, and French officials come over here a lot, so that we can work together to make sure that we can deliver the outcomes that we want. As we approach the final clearances, which may be in the next week, the week after that—the French have not set a date—or the next few weeks, we expect to be very much involved in working with them in the camps to make sure that we look after the most vulnerable. I cannot give the hon. Lady more information at present. As I said earlier, we have not arrived at a final agreement with the French—there are elements that have to be further discussed and agreed—but we will arrive at one, and I hope that at that point she will be able to see us working much more closely together in the interests of everybody there.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the sense of urgency that she brings to this important issue. These are deeply traumatised children. Can she update the House on not only what mental health provision will be available for them when they come to this country, but what is being done to identify families who will have the specialist skills to help and support those children coming here under the Dubs amendment?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point: once we have them over here, how will we best look after children who have been traumatised, and families who are feeling vulnerable? We are working closely with the local authorities to ensure that they can provide the necessary support, and we can assist them.
It is really good to hear that the Home Secretary has decided to put her foot on the accelerator, but earlier this month, newspaper reports suggested that the French had issued, under Dublin III, a number of take-charge requests relating to children in the camp that had been lost or not responded to by UK authorities. Can she assure the House that there are no take-charge requests from France that will not be acted on within the next week?
I can assure the right hon. Lady that if we have all the information from the French, which we expect to get over the next week or so before they clear the camp, we will move very quickly—within a few days—and remove those children where we can. There will be no hesitation. Part of my conversation with my French counterpart was about ensuring that he and I, as the two Ministers responsible, have a direct line to ensure that there is no bureaucracy slowing down any of the action that needs to be taken.
Will the Home Secretary join me in thanking my constituents Esther and Tim O’Connor, who have visited the camp and done everything they can in a voluntary capacity to help to ease the situation, particularly for children? Has she had any discussions with her French counterpart on the Le Touquet agreement, and does she expect any changes to that agreement in the coming months?
I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking any of his constituents, particularly Mr and Mrs O’Connor, who have been so helpful in supporting vulnerable people in the camp. With regard to the Le Touquet agreement, it is well known that in the French political engagement, there is a certain discussion about it. I believe that it serves us as well as it serves France, and I confidently expect it to stay in place.
I echo the deep concerns about the condition of children in the camps. More generally, will the Home Secretary acknowledge that the Government’s approach is leading to a toxic, two-tier system focused on distinguished between “good” refugees and “bad” economic migrants, even if they are fleeing equally desperate situations? Can she say whether an adult who fled Afghanistan, faced mistreatment in Iran, travelled through Turkey, where he had no chance to work, and is now trapped in Calais, desperately trying to meet his brother in the UK, would be defined as a migrant or a refugee?
I respectfully say to the hon. Lady that we have legislation and regulations in place to help the people we can help, and they are also there to prevent people thinking that they can come here when they cannot. We must have clear signs about who this country will willingly and enthusiastically protect and look after, because we have strong, proud British values, and about who we cannot. We should not do ourselves damage or in any way downgrade our values by saying that we should do more.