House of Commons
Tuesday 8 November 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
Hunterston B Power Station
The safety of operating nuclear reactors in the UK is regulated by the independent Office for Nuclear Regulation, which is satisfied that Hunterston B is safe to operate. The issues referred to by the hon. Gentleman are addressed transparently in the ONR’s most recent annual report to Parliament. The ONR will continue to oversee these issues closely and will permit a nuclear plant to operate only if it is satisfied that it is safe.
My thanks to the Minister for that. Nuclear safety is important. The blueprint for Hinkley Point C is the Flamanville European pressurised reactor in Normandy, yet in 2015 it was discovered that Flamanville’s steel reactor vessel was faulty and at risk of splitting. The French company Areva is to be a major supplier to Hinkley Point C, yet in May the independent French nuclear safety authority discovered that more than 400 of Areva’s reactor components were dodgy and Areva admitted that it may have falsified hundreds and hundreds of its safety assessments. What assurances can the Minister give the House that Hinkley Point C, if built, will be safe?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. As he may know, the issue of the anomalies and inconsistencies associated with the Areva components has been the subject of an independent review by the ONR. The ONR has made it perfectly clear that learning from the EPR under construction in Flamanville must be taken into account in the manufacture of components to be used at Hinkley Point C.
Innovation is at the heart of our industrial strategy. Investment in science, funding through Innovate UK, and research and development tax credits all contribute to our goal of making sure the UK remains one of the most innovative countries in the world.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The latest figures from the Patent Office show that my constituency has more patents awarded than any other district in the east midlands, more than Manchester, more than Cheshire East, and is in the top 8% in the country. May I ask that the measures we take, some of which he outlined, do not stop at urban boundaries and extend into rural areas, fully using the talents of people and businesses there, including the incredible level of talent that has been demonstrated in High Peak?
I congratulate, through my hon. Friend, the innovators in his constituency on an outstanding achievement. Let me reassure him that the Government are determined to make sure, both through the industrial strategy and tools such as the innovations audits, that we are better informed and better equipped to support innovation across the country.
The steel industry is very much an industry of the future, and innovation is part of creating that future. What are the Government doing to support research and development in the steel industry, and a metals and materials catapult?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. We had an excellent debate last week about the future for steel, and I hope I made clear to him the determination of Ministers to support the sector in moving from a story of survival to one of growth. Innovation will clearly be a very important part of that, building on the quality of British steel. As in that debate, I assure him that in the capabilities review that we are funding and accelerating, that issue will be addressed.
I know that the Minister has previously flown over The Wrekin in a Squirrel—that is a helicopter—and has complimented Shropshire. May I invite him back to the Marches local enterprise partnership, which covers Shropshire and Herefordshire? What part will LEPs play in making sure that we engage and trade with Europe?
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me about a helicopter trip that had slipped my memory. I am sure relevant Ministers would be happy to make the visit at his invitation. He raises a fundamental point, and on the development of the industrial strategy, the Secretary of State could not have been clearer about the importance placed on LEPs and of Ministers engaging with them to understand fully the priorities and needs in each area of the country.
The Secretary of State said on “The Andrew Marr Show” that innovation in attracting foreign investment was in part about skills and training. Will there be a level playing field across the regions and the nations of the United Kingdom? Is his Department having talks with the devolved Administrations?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that in developing the industrial strategy, the development of skills and upgrading our skills base across the country must be fundamental to success, and we will of course maintain a high level of engagement with devolved Administrations.
In North Cornwall, we have a company called Water Powered Technologies that builds hydroelectric pumps, which enable businesses to generate electricity through renewable means and, of course, support the local economy in Bude. Does my hon. Friend agree that the hydroelectric sector should be encouraged more and that we should go further and develop these technologies to help consumers?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that huge potential remains for the UK to generate energy from our natural resources and our water assets. The real test in the future will be how competitive those technologies are against comparable technologies. I am sure that my hon. Friend does not need any lessons from us on the need to be very cost-conscious at this moment in time.
Brexit Britain faces a choice: an industrial strategy that invests in innovation to deliver smart, sustainable and shared growth; or the slashing of wages, rights and corporate responsibilities in a race to the bottom. Sunday’s report from Sheffield Hallam University, “Jobs, Welfare and Austerity”, put the price of the last Tory Government’s disastrous de-industrialisation strategy at £20 billion a year today. Will the Minister stop prevaricating and set out how he will invest in skills, research capacity and infrastructure to stimulate innovation in our great industrial regions?
The hon. Lady has a distinguished record and knowledge of innovation, but I do not recognise the picture she paints. She totally ignores the job creation under the previous Government and that manufacturing productivity has grown three times faster over the past 10 years than the rest of the UK economy. She is right—I have already stated the importance of this—about placing innovation at the heart of our industrial strategy, because it is key to productivity.
The Government are committed to providing significant infrastructure investment across the UK. Through the first two rounds of growth deals, the Government have allocated close to £5 billion to local enterprise partnerships outside London and the south-east to invest in their priorities for growth. With matched funding from the private sector, that is helping to deliver billions of pounds of investment in infrastructure throughout England. City and devolution deals have also committed more than £8 billion to areas outside London and the south-east through long-term investment funds; £1 billion will be in the midlands engine and £3 billion across the northern powerhouse.
Global businesses such as Kellogg’s, Airbus, JCB and Toyota have sited themselves in north-east Wales and have prospered, making the area one of the most successful industrial areas in the UK. We would love to see the hon. Gentleman there. Will he bring with him the investment that these businesses deserve for their confidence in north-east Wales as an area?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question and mourn the collegiality of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport now that I have crossed on to the Front Bench. I share his admiration for the work of those companies; I had the great pleasure of visiting Airbus only a week or so ago. I would be delighted to visit his area in due course. The Government support those strategic industries in many different areas.
In view of the announcement made by the Department for Transport this morning that parts of the west coast main line might not be electrified until 2024, does my hon. Friend not agree that it is essential that each infrastructure project dovetails with another? The third runway at Heathrow might well be built before the west coast main line is fully electrified.
I absolutely take my hon. Friend’s point, but these issues need to be considered in the round and there are provisions in the current structure for local funding to allow areas to share visions and investment potential.
The Government know how important the energy sector is to the north-east and in the past have made commitments about insisting on local content in projects such as offshore wind. What are they doing to assess, monitor and, if necessary, impose penalties when promises of local content are not met?
The Government have a rigorous assessment process for local content. Most recently, the Hinkley Point C station was subject to provisions for more than 60% local content. If the hon. Lady knows of any instances in which the Government are not following up on this, she is welcome to write to the Department.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) about the west coast main line, may I ask about parts of the Great Western railway that have similarly been deferred this morning, which is not great news for our region? As the Secretary of State develops an industrial strategy for the south-west, will he agree to meet MPs from that region and perhaps support us in changing the mind of the Department for Transport?
I cannot speak for the Secretary of State, but the hon. Gentleman will know that several of the LEPs are my responsibility. I meet them regularly, and will continue to champion their interests.
Will the Minister outline what discussions about infrastructure investment have taken place with devolved regions and with the Chancellor in advance of the autumn statement?
I have had the opportunity to meet both Invest Northern Ireland and the Minister for the Economy in Northern Ireland, and those conversations continue. I cannot speak for colleagues, but they also have a responsibility for the devolved Administrations.
In last night’s Adjournment debate led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) failed to tell the House that he would honour the Government’s pledge to electrify the midland main line north of Kettering. There is cross-party support for this scheme, which has the best ratio of investment to benefits in the whole country. This is the third question we have had this morning about rail electrification. Will the Minister liaise urgently with the Department for Transport to get these schemes back on track?
Of course the Government recognise the concern that has been raised. This is a matter for the Department for Transport, but I have no doubt that it will be attending closely to today’s proceedings.
Counterfeit and Substandard Electrical Goods
The Government take consumer protection seriously, and robust legislation requires consumer products to be safe. My Department funds trading standards to prevent high-risk products from entering the UK. This month’s national consumer week, starting on 28 November, will focus consumer awareness on faulty electrical goods, in time for the peak Christmas retail period.
I thank the Minister for that answer. She will be aware that, as chair of the all-party group on home electrical safety, I have a keen interest in faulty, substandard and counterfeit goods. Last year’s hoverboards debacle highlights to us the dangers of internet sales. Will the Minister consider talking to her colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about introducing measures in the Digital Economy Bill to help prevent such incidents?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and congratulate her on the work of the home electrical safety all-party group. Manufacturers are required by law to take corrective action when they discover a fault, whether the fault emerges in products sold online or in the high street. In addition to local trading standards, we fund National Trading Standards, which prevents many substandard products from coming into the UK. I will liaise with colleagues in DCMS about the issue that she raises this morning and report back to her in due course.
The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) is right, as ever, especially on this point. This is not just about safety. There is a disincentive for firms to undertake research and development and develop products if they are then going to be counterfeited. Is not the moral of the story that people should not buy cheap products from back-street traders but go to renowned department stores—perhaps those which are never knowingly undersold?
I thank my hon. Friend for that advertisement for the John Lewis Partnership. I assure the House that there are many other retailers that consumers can trust, and I think I will leave my answer at that.
We would not want to give the impression that poor-quality goods are bought from small businesses. We know that small businesses do an excellent job, and the Minister is right to make that point. She is right about the impact on consumers, but does she recognise that where there is a failure to follow standards it is often British manufacturers that are undercut by cheap imports from overseas? What does she intend to do as we head forward to ensure that coming out of the EU does not mean that standards slip and British manufacturers are unfairly treated?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all standards derived from the EU that are considered by the UK Government to be necessary, as the vast majority will be, will continue to be enforced. I can reassure him also that National Trading Standards plays a vital role in cross-boundary enforcement, and the intelligence-led approach prevents many of those products from coming into the country in the first place.
Manufacturing: Leaving the EU
The UK is the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world. My colleagues and I will continue to engage with UK manufacturing and other sectors to understand their priorities in shaping a successful Brexit and an industrial strategy that is effective in supporting competitiveness.
Nissan’s special deal is, of course, good news for workers there and for that sector, but does the Minister agree that my constituents in the manufacturing sector deserve a similar deal? Will he therefore provide this House with a full list of assurances given to the company and all the details provided to those investigating the potential state aid implications of that deal, so that we can assess the implications of that work for our overall manufacturing sector?
We ran through this last week in the statements that the Secretary of State made. The senior Nissan Europe executive Colin Lawther was very clear that the company had received no special deal, and the Secretary of State spelled out clearly the basis of the assurances given—three were about the automotive sector and one was about Brexit and our determination to make sure that in those negotiations we do not undermine the competitiveness of key industries.
Does the Minister agree that since the referendum, manufacturing has already had a Brexit dividend as a result of the fall in the value of the pound, which makes our exports much cheaper and imports more expensive, so people who produce stuff in this country have a price advantage already?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The CBI surveys and others are encouraging, but we are determined not to be complacent. Clearly, Brexit raises a number of questions and there are a number of concerns out there in sectors across the economy. It is the responsibility of this Department to engage fully with the sectors to understand their priorities for the negotiations.
Ministers should come to the beating heart of manufacturing in this country in Huddersfield. Throughout the country manufacturers are in turmoil post-Brexit. There is no Government policy and no preparation. We are going to lose markets all over Europe and replace them with nothing.
That is a very defeatist statement from someone whom I associate with sunny optimism. It is a priority for the Secretary of State that Ministers get out there and engage with areas and with LEPs to understand their priorities fully. The hon. Gentleman is too defeatist about the competitiveness of British manufacturing.
As Britain leaves the European Union, the high-value manufacturing catapult centres will play a key role in protecting innovation in the manufacturing sector. Will the Minister continue to support these centres, so that we protect our competitiveness in the future?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the catapult centres. We are extremely proud of them and we gave a manifesto commitment to continue to support them. They play a fundamental role in our vision of an innovation-led economy.
UK goods and foods can compete on quality and cost with any in the world, but freight charging can remove the cost-quality advantage. Will Ministers carry out an assessment of freight charging in other countries for the export of manufactured goods and what advantage that would give to Northern Ireland and other regions?
The Department is and will continue to be rigorous in engaging with sectors across the economy to understand the issues of competitiveness and to understand where playing fields can be levelled, so that that can inform the negotiating strategy and the industrial strategy.
An end to uncertainty for Nissan workers is deeply welcome, but there are millions of workers who want to know if they, too, have a future, and there are thousands of employers who are holding back from investment decisions, as the Engineering Employers Federation’s survey has demonstrated, until they, too, know the future. Will the Government act to end uncertainty, spelling out precisely how they will defend British manufacturing interests, otherwise it will be workers and their companies who will pay the price in Brexit Britain?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Of course, as a west midlands MP, he sits at the heart of a region that is being very dynamic and organised in expressing its determination to compete aggressively. Let me reassure him. I recognise the uncertainty—Brexit does create tremendous uncertainty and we need to recognise that—but it is the responsibility of the Government, and my Department in particular, to liaise closely with sectors across the economy and the regions to understand their priorities and inform the negotiating strategy.
Innovation and Research: Science
The Government are committed to making the UK the best place for science research and innovation. To achieve that, as my right hon. Friend knows, we are investing £30 billion over the course of this Parliament. We are also strengthening our research and innovation system by creating a new body, UK Research and Innovation.
I thank the Minister for that reply. In March the former Life Sciences Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), visited the Charnwood campus in Loughborough, the former AstraZeneca site, and invited it to become the country’s first life sciences opportunity zone, a hub for innovation and research in science. That bid is now on the Secretary of State’s desk, and I ask him to look on it favourably.
I can reassure my right hon. Friend that the Government remain extremely interested in life sciences opportunity zones and that we were extremely impressed by the leadership that Charnwood campus has shown in preparing its bid, which has great potential. I am assured that my colleague, the Minister for Universities and Science, is well aware of the bid and expects to make an announcement shortly.
So advanced is UK innovation and scientific knowledge that, prior to the referendum, this country made £3.5 billion more in grants for science and innovation than it put into EU funds. That is now all up in the air, and there is despair in some areas of UK science about the disentanglement that Brexit will cause and the threats to integrated innovation and science budgets. What can the Minister say to reassure us? What is the plan?
The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point about the funding for science research and innovation in this country. I think that she recognises that the science research budget has been protected in real terms, which is an extremely important commitment. We understand fully the concerns of the science community, which have been expressed to us clearly. Again, it is our responsibility to engage with those concerns and represent them. I can assure her that it is clear to us that science research and innovation is at the heart of our industrial strategy.
The Cheshire science corridor, which includes Alderley Park, the AstraZeneca site in Macclesfield and Daresbury, is strongly supported by the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Government support that key initiative and that life sciences will be a vital part of the northern powerhouse?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the leadership he has shown in championing that agenda. He will know from his conversations with the former Life Sciences Minister and the current Secretary of State, who is committed to the agenda, that that remains very important to the Government.
Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a very serious issue. Detectors must be safe, but currently compliance with the standard is not mandatory. I will consider any evidence the hon. Gentleman has and discuss it with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, who are responsible for the construction products regulations.
I thank the Minister for that answer. I know that the Department takes a keen interest in this issue, which is a matter of concern to the whole nation. She will be aware that in November last year the BBC reported on the dangers of substandard carbon monoxide detectors being purchased online, and Which? magazine has recently highlighted the problem as well. Given the potential for loss of life, what extra measures can she take here and now to stop the purchase of substandard detectors in the UK?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I will definitely discuss the matters he raises further with the Department for Communities and Local Government. I am aware of the Which? inspection involving various tests, which found some equipment to be defective. However, last year the Government brought forward the smoke and carbon monoxide alarm regulations, covering private landlords; at least private tenants now have the absolute protection of carbon monoxide alarms being in every room used as living accommodation where solid fuel is used.
Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon Project
We will consider the findings of the independent review of tidal lagoons, due to report by the end of this year, before deciding how to proceed on the proposed Swansea bay tidal lagoon project. We hope that the review will contribute to and help develop the evidence base for that technology. That will ensure, with luck, that all future decisions made regarding tidal lagoon energy are in the best interests of the UK and represent value for money to the consumer.
I thank the Minister for that response. He knows, I am sure, how important the project is to Swansea bay and Wales, and its potential for very good news for the renewable sector across the UK. Despite the somewhat gloomy timetable—the end of the year, the Minister says—does he anticipate that the Hendry review will give the Government the assurances that they need to deliver their manifesto promise and proceed with a pioneering project that is critical to the south Wales economy and the future of the UK energy mix? In short, can we get on with it?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that helpful clarification at the end. It is widely understood that there is support for the project among many colleagues. The Government have received an early draft, but we await receipt of the final report, which is due by the end of the year. We will give it the careful consideration that such an important issue deserves.
We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us if we are ambitious to create the world’s first tidal energy industry here in the United Kingdom. Does my hon. Friend agree that key to making this work is recognising that the Swansea project is essentially a pathfinder and that the future lagoons, which will all be larger, will bring down the costs very significantly?
Yes, that has been widely suggested. It is fair to say that the issues being addressed by the review are complex and relate to a new and untried technology—potentially, a place-specific technology. The Government will need to look closely at the review’s specific conclusions and how far they can be generalised as part of a wider strategy.
The future of the British steel industry depends on the approval of vital cutting-edge projects such as the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. Will the Secretary of State please now call time on the two years of prevarication, commit to a timely and positive decision, and ensure that that decision is included in the autumn statement on 23 November?
Of course, in the context of the steel industry, it is important to recognise the commitment that the Government have made to Hinkley Point C—a major industrial commitment of their own. I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point, but we are not going to be railroaded into going beyond the timetable that has already been described. An orderly process is in place, a highly respected former Minister is running the thing, and we will be looking at the issue with the care and consideration that it deserves.
It is reliable, it is green, it would form an important part of our energy mix—and it would boost the south-west economy to boot: will the Minister support it?
I am tempted by my hon. Friend’s enticing fly, but I am not going to take it because the process must be given the proper consideration that it deserves. One of the key questions that the Hendry review and its consideration will need to address is whether the project offers proper value for money. I notice that that was not included in my hon. Friend’s list of enticing benefits.
Swansea bay tidal lagoon would power 155,000 Welsh homes for 120 years, sustain 2,232 construction and manufacturing jobs and safeguard our steel industry. Will the Government now give Swansea bay tidal lagoon the green light and trigger the new dawn of an industry worth £15 billion to Wales and the UK?
I am loving the rhapsodic language that the hon. Lady uses; to it I counterpose the boring bureaucracy of due process and proper consideration.
Business Growth Strategy
We are creating a business environment that supports growth and investment by cutting corporation tax, by investing in infrastructure, by expanding our world-beating science, research and innovation activities, by increasing the number of apprenticeships, and by devolving power all across Britain. Our industrial strategy will build on these strengths, and we will work with industry, local leaders, investors, workers and consumers to build the conditions for future success.
In Scotland, skills shortages in key areas have proved challenging when businesses are seeking to grow. The post-study work visa remains an important lever for promoting innovation and growth. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is now time to extend the post-study work visa pilot to include Scottish higher education institutes?
It is important that we attract the world’s brightest and best students to our fantastic universities, and all of us in the Government have a commitment to that. We have visa arrangements in place so that people can work in graduate jobs after that, and it is important that they should be able to do so.
Up to 100,000 jobs across the UK will be at risk if Brexit causes London to lose euro-denominated clearing business. The loss of that clearing business will also mean the loss of much of the financial markets’ infrastructure. What urgent action are the Government taking to stave off these dangers?
I am glad to hear that question from the hon. Gentleman, because it is true that the success of the financial services is not just about the City of London, but extends across the whole United Kingdom and, of course, Scotland. That is why it is important, in our negotiations, that we achieve the best possible deal to allow financial institutions, wherever they are in this country, to continue to trade freely across the EU.
Can I put in a plug for free markets and laissez-faire as the best long-term strategy?
My right hon. Friend does not need to make a plug for that. It is free markets and the knowledge that this is a competitive place to do business that accounts for our world-beating status in the G7 at the moment.
The Government regularly, and in my view rightly, promote the aviation and automotive sectors as future areas of growth in the UK economy. The world-class oil and gas industry, and particularly the exceptional supply chain, which, while centred in Aberdeen, stretches the length and breadth of the UK, is another area ripe for international development and diversification. When developing his industrial strategy, will the Secretary of State make sure that oil and gas is right at the heart of it?
I will indeed. I have visited Aberdeen already, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and I had a very fruitful conversation with not only the oil and gas industry there, but the Aberdeen chamber of commerce. It is important that this area of great strength for the UK is built on and that we extend those strengths, so that the industry can be competitive in the future.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I look forward to progress on that issue. However, whether it is oil and gas, food and drink, or the financial services sector, the attraction and retention of talent, much of which comes from elsewhere in the European Union, is absolutely central to that future. Businesses, I am sure, are saying the same things to me as they are to him. Will he ensure that we protect the status of EU nationals in discussions about leaving the EU?
Yes. The Prime Minister and my colleagues have been very clear about that. Of course we want people from the European Union who are here to continue to stay, but it is important that this is part of the discussions that we have to make sure that the rights of UK residents overseas are also recognised.
My right hon. Friend is quite right to address the importance of the oil and gas industry to Scotland, and it is also important to East Anglia. In the North sea, there are significant tax issues, which are making it harder to transfer some assets to new investors due to their near-term exposure to decommissioning. Will he liaise with his colleagues in the Treasury to come forward with proposals in the autumn statement to remove this constraint to much- needed investment?
My hon. Friend will recognise that, over recent years, there has been considerable progress and agreement between the sector and the Treasury to ensure that we have the best possible tax regime for the UK continental shelf. That will continue, and we will make sure that the regime remains competitive.
Our economy is desperately in need of more long-term strategic thinking, decision making and far less reliance on free markets and the laissez-faire approach that was mentioned earlier; I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s response to his colleague’s comments. Yet for many businesses the long term is currently a “maybe” rather than a certainty, as the uncertainty arising from Brexit places investment and survival in grave doubt. Will the Secretary of State give all companies the Nissan treatment and say how he will support all our businesses and industries through Brexit?
I am disappointed with that question. Perhaps it was rewritten by Seumas Milne when the hon. Gentleman was not looking—that might account for it. He knows very well that I will be vigorous and active right across the economy in promoting Britain as a good and competitive place to do business. That is our responsibility in government, and no one will discharge it with more vigour than me.
We are committed to creating the best environment for small businesses to start and grow. The British Business Bank has provided £3.2 billion of finance to over 51,000 small businesses. The doubling of the small business rate relief will mean that 600,000 small and medium-sized enterprises will pay no rates at all.
The Minister will be pleased to hear from Rugby’s local chamber of commerce that our businesses are doing well—so well, in fact, that there is a shortage of industrial accommodation, especially smaller units, and that is holding back start-ups and small businesses wanting to grow. Can any steps be taken to encourage property developers to provide more accommodation for this important sector?
My hon. Friend works tirelessly for businesses in Rugby, and it is great to hear about their growth. I urge him to get in touch with the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP. When I visited it in September, I was advised that the Coventry and Warwickshire growth hub is providing support to local businesses that are expanding and looking to move premises.
According to the Federation of Small Businesses, of those small businesses that export, 82% export to other EU member states. What plan does the Minister have to support small businesses through Brexit?
According to the World Bank, the UK is now ranked first in the G7 and seventh out of 190 countries for ease of doing business, and that includes trade and exports, whether to the EU or outside the EU. We achieved that status while belonging to the EU, and I have no doubt that the Government are doing all they can to ensure that we will retain that status as we transition to a new relationship with the EU.
On Small Business Saturday, I will launch my third annual small business competition in Penwortham. May I invite the Minister to join me on that day? What is the Department doing to promote Small Business Saturday?
I thank my hon. Friend for her plans to get involved in Small Business Saturday on the first Saturday of December. My Department will support Small Business Saturday with events across the country to which hon. Members are invited. In particular, they should contact their LEPs to see what is going on locally and join the hon. Lady, and all of us, in visiting a small business on the first Saturday in December.
In the United States, 23% of federal Government direct spending is with small businesses; in this country, the like-for-like direct comparison is just under 11%. Is it not time that we learned from President Obama’s success in government? If we did, we would improve quality and value for money for the taxpayer, support growth for small firms and help rebalance the economy. That is what I call a plan.
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to invest more in support for SMEs, and that is precisely what we intend to do in my Department.
Business Growth: North of England
Our investments in the northern powerhouse continue to support the growth of businesses in the north and are helping to build an economy that works for all.
Work on Yorkshire’s largest economic project—a potash mine on the North York Moors—and the drilling of the UK’s first shale gas well since 2011 are both planned to commence early in 2017, but much of the associated traffic will travel down a single lane of the A64. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and representatives from the Department for Transport and the Treasury to see how we can make sure we have the necessary infrastructure upgrades to support those key economic developments?
It would be a pleasure to meet my hon. Friend. One of the reasons why we have created the local enterprise partnerships and the growth deals is to make sure that the investment in infrastructure can go alongside economic development, and that is a big step forward.
The hon. Lady knows that when it comes to energy, it is very important that we have regard to the costs that are incurred by consumers, whether they are private residential consumers or businesses. That is why these decisions have to be taken to contain the costs that would be on bills.
Clean and Reliable Energy
The Government are committed to upgrading our energy infrastructure to make sure it is reliable, affordable and increasingly clean. The phasing out of coal and our commitment to new nuclear and new renewables through the next round of contract for difference auctions are key milestones in the energy transition that is under way.
Tidal power represents one of the cleanest and most reliable types of green renewable energy. I am sorry to bring the Minister back to this topic, but may I again press him, due process notwithstanding, to make his decision on the future of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project as swiftly as possible?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his persistence in pressing this point. I have nothing to add to the bureaucratic prose that the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), has placed so elegantly on the record. We will look at the matter seriously.
The Chair of the Select Committee, no less: Mr Iain Wright.
The UK has slipped to 14th place in Ernst and Young’s renewable energy country attractiveness index. It is our lowest ever placing, behind the likes of Chile and Morocco. EY states that various Government actions, as well as Brexit,
“have dealt a blow to the country’s already floundering renewable energy sector and its attractiveness in the eyes of investors.”
I know that the Minister, who is committed to this issue, will be concerned about that. What steps are the Government actively taking and what steps will be taken soon to secure energy confidence and investment to ensure that this promising and vital sector can flourish?
It is good to see the hon. Gentleman back safe and sound from his visit to Sports Direct.
I refute the point that the hon. Gentleman makes; it is worth recognising that the average annual investment in renewables has more than doubled in the past five years, with an average of £9 billion invested each year in UK-based renewables. We have made extraordinary strides in building renewable capacity in this country under this Government, and we expect to announce further steps shortly.
Another source of clean renewable energy is geothermal and Cornwall is the best place in the country for its development. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the Government’s support for the development of geothermal in Cornwall, and—even better—will he come and visit?
I know my hon. Friend to be a great champion of his area and of innovation there. Cornwall has interesting assets in relation to geothermal. I have written to him, but I can place on record here that the answer is yes.
On clean energy, we are close to the first anniversary of the announcement by the Secretary of State’s predecessor that all unabated coal generation would close by 2025 and that a consultation on that closure would be launched in spring 2016. As we can see, it is not spring any more, and no consultation appears to be in sight. Is that because the Department is reconsidering his predecessor’s commitment, or because the Department has not got around to writing the consultation yet?
The hon. Gentleman will not have to wait much longer for the answer to that question. The Government are committed to the transition from coal to clean energy. In fact, he will know that this year is the first in which we will generate more electricity from renewable energy than we do from coal.
In the first 100 days since the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was created, we have made substantial progress across all our responsibilities. We have confirmed Hinkley Point C, the first new nuclear power station for a generation. We have seen British engineering praised following Nissan’s decision to produce the Qashqai and the X-Trail at its Sunderland plant. We have ratified the Paris agreement on climate change to keep the global temperature rise to below 2° C. With the national minimum wage increasing and the number of UK businesses at a record high, this Department is investing in our long-term industrial growth in an economy that works for everyone.
This week, a delegation from the University of Leeds is focusing on encouraging research partnerships with businesses and academics in India, as part of the Prime Minister’s visit. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending Leeds University and businesses in the city for helping to build a reputation for the city as an excellent centre for learning and innovation?
I will indeed join my hon. Friend in congratulating the University of Leeds. In fact, I initiated this week’s tech summit in India during a visit to India two years ago, so I am delighted that it is taking place. I took a party of vice-chancellors with me on that occasion. He is absolutely right that Leeds plays a formidable part in the scientific excellence of the north.
I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that no walls or media devices have been harmed in the formulation of this question—nor have they ever been.
In the light of the enthusiasm for workers’ rights expressed in yesterday’s debate by the Secretary of State, will he join me in offering his support to delivery riders? These workers are seeking union recognition as part of their fight against bogus self-employment and to secure employment rights, such as sick pay and holiday pay. Will he commit his Government to helping in whatever way they can?
The hon. Gentleman might have noticed that we have commissioned a review of these new employment practices, which Labour did not do when it was in government. There is perhaps a problem for him in that the review is being led by Matthew Taylor. I do not know whether the former head of the policy unit under Tony Blair counts as a person he trusts with the review; nevertheless, he is engaged with the review and will report to the Government and to the House.
I will not add to what we have already said about the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, but I want to celebrate—the industrial strategy will celebrate—the work of world-leading companies such as GE Energy in my hon. Friend’s constituency and their capacity to benefit from opportunities arising from low-carbon technologies.
Our universities and scientific institutions continue to be the best in the world. We are opening the Francis Crick Institute this very week, which is an emblem of our leadership in this sector. As the hon. Gentleman will see as we discuss our industrial strategy in the weeks and months ahead, I am determined that reinforcing the position of scientific excellence and innovation will be central to our economy and to how we project the strategy forward.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we are to maintain and build on our position of excellence, we cannot be complacent about supporting infrastructure, including digital infrastructure. In my view, it needs an upgrade.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that our digital infrastructure is critical to this country and its long-term economic and industrial strategy. I draw his attention to the report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which I used to chair, on BT’s under-investment in Openreach. If he thinks that there are specific questions to address, we should revisit them after he has seen the industrial strategy.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is a vital part of the economy. It is very important that more young people are brought into farming and given the chance to do this extraordinarily interesting and valuable pursuit. This country is highly food secure. The Government support new and young farmers through the increased basic payment scheme payments and are committed to increasing the number of apprenticeships in food and farming. I cannot resist adding that I hope that people will have a chance, in due course, to study agri-tech at the New Model in Technology and Engineering institute in Herefordshire.
We first have to make sure, through consultation with business, industry and other groups across the country, that we get our negotiating mandate informed and right. Then we need to begin the negotiations, and then we can make those judgments.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will publish discussion papers on the industrial strategy as soon as possible and that they will reflect contributions made by Members who took part in the recent debate in the House?
I will indeed. I thank my hon. Friend and other hon. Members, including members of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which is doing an inquiry into this. If an industrial strategy is to endure in the long term, it needs to be rooted in as great a consensus as can be achieved around it, and of course that will include contributions from Members of this House, and organisations and individuals outside it. I will engage them in those discussions over the months ahead.
Marks & Spencer has a good record of consulting its staff. It has a regional, a local and a national body, and it consults them widely on all its plans for any changes in terms and conditions. I would add that it is rather unfair on Marks & Spencer to put it in the same bracket as BHS.
Many people in Suffolk welcome plans for a Sizewell C power station, but would the Minister not agree that it is vital that with those plans come the requisite improvements in rail and road infrastructure? Importantly, that includes looking at the pinch points on the road around the four villages of Stratford St Andrew, Farnham, Little Glemham and Marlesford.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the changes that we have made, through the growth deals and local enterprise partnerships, has been to bring major investment in line with major infrastructure improvements.
I repeat the reassurance that I gave earlier to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), whom I should have welcomed to his brief. The Government remain committed to renewable energy and will be coming forward shortly with an announcement to prove that.
The planning process for building combined cycle gas turbines on sites where coal-fired power stations have historically been situated is complex and takes too long. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss the issue and how his Department and the Department for Communities and Local Government can work together to address this matter?
Yes, I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend.
Our wonderful resurgent ceramics industry, which produces high-tech cutting-edge ceramics for the future generations, is carefully watching the Government’s Brexit plans. What discussions is the right hon. Gentleman and his Department having with the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU about trade barriers, protectionist dumping by the Chinese and the wider needs of the ceramic industry?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that ceramics is a major source of competitive advantage for this country. Whenever I am in Stoke-on-Trent and the potteries, I am always impressed by the innovation that is going on there. Of course, the ceramics industry will be very well represented around the table as the Cabinet Committee considers Brexit.
There are so many advantages to Brexit that I do not know where to begin, but one of them is that we will be able to provide state aid, which we are forbidden from doing at the moment. Has my right hon. Friend considered that particular area of support?
I want our economy to be as competitive in the future as it is now, without the need for state aid to keep it so. It is on the basis of our strengths in innovation, the talent of our workforce and the industries in which we are competitive that I want us to compete with the best in the world.
During the Select Committee visit to the Shirebrook facility of Sports Direct yesterday, the positive seeds of change that we witnessed on the frontline regarding workers’ rights in the facility were contradicted by control-freakery and the surveillance of the MPs on that trip, which completely ruined all the positive things that have been happening there. We saw the surveillance of a private meeting of MPs. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is no place for this kind of behaviour in the senior parts of big business in this country, which should be outward looking and engaging with the community, not surveilling it?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I find what has been reported this morning to be extraordinary, especially for a company that has made declarations that it wants to improve its reputation and image. I merely point out that I do not think that this practice is representative. The practices in that company that the Select Committee has uncovered should not be taken as representative of the very high standards of behaviour that almost every company in Britain adheres to.
As the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) has highlighted, Ofgem’s review of embedded benefits and grid changes is in danger of having unintended consequences. One of these is the roll-out of energy storage. Will my right hon. Friend agree to look into this particular problem?
Will the Secretary of State look urgently at today’s announcement by the Royal Bank of Scotland on its funding of repayments to small businesses? Will he produce a report on the Government’s response and place it in the Library, so that we can see the Government’s view of this approach by RBS?
I have not seen the report. I will have to consider it and I will then, of course, write to the right hon. Gentleman with my reaction to it.
I commend to the Secretary of State and his team the final report of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, and particularly our recommendations on energy storage and demand-side management. I encourage my right hon. Friend to enact some of those recommendations, so that we can upgrade our energy system.
My hon. Friend provides me with an opportunity to thank all members of that Select Committee for their forensic work during its time in this House. It made very valuable contributions to public policy, and I know that its successor Committee will continue the high standard that it set. I will indeed pay close attention to the recommendations of the final report.
The restoration and renewal of this building will be a multi-billion pound infrastructure project, but all the evidence suggests that at the moment this country does not have the skills to be able to deliver it. I urge the Secretary of State to set up a specific industrial strategy to get more colleges up and down the country engaged in training people for major infrastructure and construction businesses, so that we can make sure that every single one of our constituents has an opportunity to work here?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As we acquire what I hope will be growing order books for UK companies and businesses, we will be able to fulfil them by having a workforce that is trained and skilled to the right level. The hon. Gentleman illustrates that very well.
Before we come to the urgent question, I should like to make a brief statement.
As the House will know, one of my priorities as Speaker is to support the development of emerging and developing democracies around the world. I believe that we all have a duty, as parliamentarians, to support and to champion those who are fighting for democracy in what are often difficult and challenging situations. Accordingly, I am pleased to inform the House that I am today launching a new initiative, the Speaker’s Democracy Award. The intention is to allow the House to recognise and celebrate individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the development of democratic societies and institutions across the world. I will be writing to all Members later today with more information about the award, and to invite colleagues to suggest the names of individuals who should be considered for it.
I should like to thank, very warmly, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and the hon. Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) for agreeing to serve with me on the Committee that will make the award, as well as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who initially suggested the idea to me. I hope that colleagues will nominate candidates, and thereby support this initiative to recognise those who are doing so much for the cause of democracy.
UN Vote on the Independent Expert for the LGBT Community
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the planned United Nations vote on the validity of a UN independent expert for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for her question, and warmly welcome her reappointment to the Front Bench.
As the House may know, the issue before us concerns the United Nations Human Rights Council and its recent very welcome decision to create the post of independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, or, in House parlance, what we could call LGBT. The person chosen for that role was Mr Vitit Muntarbhorn, from Thailand. The United Kingdom was successfully re-elected to the Human Rights Council only last month, but we are now having to campaign in New York, where a group of African delegations have challenged the mandate of the independent expert and are trying to reverse the decision and the appointment. I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me an opportunity to explain the steps we are taking, which I am certain will enjoy the support of the whole House. We are obviously strongly opposed to this attempt to reverse the mandate and to block the final approval of the process—something that should be seen as straightforward and procedural.
Opponents of this important mandate misunderstand its nature, which is proportionate and was properly established by the Human Rights Council. Since Friday night, when we discovered that this was happening, the UK’s entire diplomatic network has been making that point in every capital across the globe. Only this morning, for instance, my noble Friend Baroness Anelay, who is visiting Sri Lanka, secured the agreement of her hosts in Colombo to join us by supporting an amendment tabled by a group of Latin American countries, which were the main proponents of the appointment in the first place.
The Government, and all in the House, believe that the chance to live with dignity, free from violence or discrimination, should never be undermined by a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. All people are born with equal rights, and should enjoy the protection of the United Nations. Acts of violence against LGBT people take place in all regions of the world, including our own. We condemn such violence and discrimination, and we strongly support the new independent expert in his work. We will resist any and all attempts to block his appointment and his mandate.
I thank the Minister for his upfront declaration of the Government’s intent on this matter. It is however frustrating that it took an urgent question to find out the Government’s position.
As the Minister said, in June of this year the UN Human Rights Council adopted an historic resolution mandating the appointment of an independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It effectively created the first ever UN LGBT human rights watchdog. The motion put before the UN General Assembly by the African nations today could reverse that decision, aiming to defer consideration of, and action on, this Human Rights Council resolution. The motion seeks to suspend, and potentially get rid of, the UN independent expert on LGBT violence and discrimination.
This motion has a realistic chance of passing, securing votes from the African Group and many of the nations within the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. It is crucial that this matter should be raised in the Chamber because it is concrete evidence of the systematic attempt to frustrate the protection and advancement of LGBT human rights internationally.
In many countries persecution based on who people love or are sexually attracted to, or on their gender identity, is extreme. Often, this discrimination and violence is state-sanctioned. According to a UN human rights report last year, at least 76 countries retain laws that criminalise and harass people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. This includes fines, torture, hard labour, forced “conversion” therapy, lifelong prison sentences, and the death penalty.
The UK is a tolerant country, yet according to Galop, a UK-based anti-violence LGBT charity, we have seen a 147% increase in hate crimes against LGBT people in July, August and September of this year, with one in four gay young people having experienced homophobic bullying. I know the Minister is as appalled as I am at these statistics and agrees with me that it is crucial symbolically, politically and practically that the actions of the UK put a stop to this persecution once and for all and that we are strong in our condemnation of this motion. So I ask the Government to take this opportunity to show zero tolerance to violence and discrimination against LGBT people in all its forms and offer a firm commitment to working with our international allies to eradicate violence, hatred and intolerance towards people based on their gender or sexuality.
I specifically ask the Secretary of State to clarify a couple of points. Has the UK’s position been made clear to other member states ahead of the potential vote, specifically the African nations? What work are the Government undertaking to promote LGBT rights abroad both through the UN and in regular interactions with individual nation states? Finally, does the Minister intend to make his view on the Africa Group motion public and will he make a statement following the General Assembly meeting today, to update the House on this matter?
Order. I would like to think that the House of Commons is public. I think I understand that the hon. Lady would like further elaboration, but I hope we are public here, and I must say that the Minister has not knowingly been understated over the years or inclined to express himself quietly in the background—unlike me.
I do not think I dissent from a word the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has said; we are as one, and obviously I have a deep personal interest in this issue. I commend her on raising this matter for the very point Mr Speaker has just made: we are making this public through the House and this is a very useful opportunity for the House to do so. May I also say that the hon. Lady is well-named for the purpose she has adopted today?
This issue has not been publicly aired in great detail already because it has sprung up rather suddenly; it is an emerging issue that requires fast-moving diplomatic effort. It is unusual for something to be decided in the Human Rights Council and then go to the General Assembly with that assembly used as a forum to try to block something. This does not normally happen, and indeed it should not happen in this way.
The hon. Lady asked whether the UK’s view is clear. I think it now is, and the view of a united House of Commons will redouble the view of the Government. We make our view on LGBT issues very clear in all our diplomatic representations overseas. For example, advancing the interests and rights of LGBT people is very much a part of many of our Department for International Development programmes. She asked whether we will make public what happens. I think that this will be followed, although whether it justifies a statement will depend on Mr Speaker. Our views will be very clear, however, and I can assure the House that we will be fighting in every capital in the world to ensure that this decision goes the right way.
A depressing number of the countries that are likely to vote for this resolution are members of the Commonwealth. Can my right hon. Friend update the house on the work that is going on to persuade countries other than Sri Lanka not to vote for the resolution? What further work is the Foreign Office doing to take the Commonwealth countries on the same journey that the rest of the world is on in relation to rights for LGBT people?
This is a long and continuing journey of persuasion for many Commonwealth countries, and it is always very disappointing that some of them do rather lag behind on this issue. I can assure my hon. Friend that every single post in our diplomatic network has been issued with clear instructions to make representations to get their country to vote in the right way in the General Assembly, where we expect the decision to take place either today or on Thursday.
First, may I commend the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for securing this urgent question? I should also like to commend the Minister for his response. It appears that we have finally found some common ground. The Scottish National party was delighted when the United Nations Human Rights Council delivered its historic vote in June mandating the appointment of an independent expert for the LGBT community. This reaffirmed one of the UN’s key principles that everyone is equal in dignity and in rights. Anyone who truly believes in equality knows that no single equality is more virtuous or more worthy than any other, and I am sure everyone across the Chamber will agree that we must stand up for them all.
We are deeply concerned that this progress has suffered a major setback with the group of African states planning to force a vote today in the General Assembly to revoke the appointment of the independent expert for the LGBT community. Distressingly, the vote might pass, so the UK Government and the Foreign Secretary must do everything possible and use every possible channel to prevent this loathsome resolution from being approved. The Foreign Secretary’s diplomacy skills are needed now more than ever. The Minister has mentioned Sri Lanka, and perhaps the Prime Minister has secured India’s support during her trip to India. What other international counterparts have the UK Government spoken to ahead of the vote today? What efforts are they making to ensure support for a vote against the resolution? It is clear that the Minister understands that the UK’s action on this matter is critical. Will he assure us that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will leave absolutely no stone unturned in ensuring equality for all?
I am pleased and delighted to agree wholly with the hon. Lady. I can assure her that no stone will remain unturned. We are looking at a complete starburst of diplomatic effort to try to corral votes for this purpose in the General Assembly. Indeed, we are starting from an alliance of considerable diplomatic effort. We are proud to be a member of the new equal rights coalition, which is made up of more than 30 states, and we also contribute funds to support LGBT rights projects globally.
I was honoured to be present on behalf of the all-party group on global LGBT rights, which I chair, at September’s high-level United Nations meeting. At that meeting, the Secretary-General applauded the appointment of the independent expert, saying that it was an “historic step”. Is it not the case that so many of the groups that face discrimination across the world regard the stance of the United Nations on this matter as an immense encouragement in the promotion and valuing of human rights, and that the continuing appointment of the independent expert to translate international principles of humanitarian law into practical action and ensure that they are enforced will be immensely important?
I wholly agree with my right hon. Friend, whose question gives me the opportunity to say that the chosen person, Mr Vitit Muntarbhorn, is a well-respected human rights campaigner of the highest quality and character. There are absolutely no grounds whatsoever for questioning the choice of him for this purpose.
Does the Minister agree that LGBT rights are human rights and that, as such, they are indivisible from any of the other human rights that we are so proud that the UN tries to enforce? Will he accept from me the very best wishes of the LGBT community in the battle he now leads within the UN? If this human rights advocate is voted against and taken away from the UN, that will be a huge setback in the fight to make change in the 76 countries that criminalise LGBT people and use the law to oppress them.
I totally agree with the hon. Lady and am grateful for her good wishes. I hope that the vision of Members from across the Chamber agreeing on this issue will send out a strong message to any country or person who thinks that they should vote the other way or have an opinion that goes against what we would like to see.
Is it not the case that the UN expert is being appointed to protect individuals in many countries from violence based on their sexual orientation? He is not being appointed to promote or to take a particular view on sexual orientation in those countries. It will be a dark day for the United Nations if it turns its face away from somebody who is trying to protect those who should have the same rights that we enjoy in this country.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The appointment is about protecting principles as he has described. How anyone can wish to challenge that is quite beyond me.
When I was a Foreign Office Minister, I was told by one leader of a Commonwealth country that I would not be welcome to visit, so we have come quite a long way. I thank the Minister for what he is doing. Is it not time to make our generous aid conditional on respect for all humans’ rights?
I obviously speak for the Foreign Office, not the Department for International Development, but I am a former DFID Minister. The issue of conditionality always raises the moral question of stopping money, but that would then harm the impoverished people we are trying to help. It is not as straightforward as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, but I take on board the importance of campaigning strongly and using any budget and expenditure to maximise our influence over this issue.
I am grateful to the Minister and am glad to hear about the Government’s stance. As someone who was beaten unconscious some years ago because of his sexuality, I know how isolated one can feel after being attacked. Does the Minister agree that this appointment is incredibly important for people across the world who are being persecuted because of their sexuality?
Unfortunately, people get persecuted or beaten up for their sexuality in all too many places. That is exactly what we, through our efforts abroad, and the United Nations want to stop. The appointment of this champion—if I may use that word again—is essential. We must ensure that no one is able to block it.
I welcome the Minister’s strong statement and the powerful all-party support for what he has said today. I want to ask about a particular Commonwealth country: South Africa. After apartheid, South Africa adopted a constitution that included provisions against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. What representations are the Government making to South Africa to encourage it to break with other African countries and vote for the amendment from the Latin American and Caribbean countries?
My personal regional responsibilities do not include South Africa, so I am not familiar with the exact detail to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I have no doubt that he is absolutely accurate. With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will ensure that the responsible Minister writes to the hon. Gentleman.
Apart from certain African countries, how far beyond Africa into the middle east and Asia is this problem evident?
It is broader than Africa. Of course, one does not always know everything in advance about how a country will vote. The process needs to be one that secures an assurance that countries will vote the right way. However, the issue obviously does go further and that is why every single diplomatic post where we have an ambassador and representation has been absolutely, clearly and unequivocally instructed to try to persuade their host country to vote the right way in the General Assembly.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to celebrate the universality of rights relating to sexual orientation and gender identity? Will he press for them to be linked to existing human rights instruments?
The right hon. Gentleman always cleverly hides a technicality in his question, but I certainly endorse universality. Such rights are inalienable and do not depend on where someone lives. Human rights are for everybody, regardless of age, location or anything else.
The sad truth is that gay men in particular are still being persecuted in Russia and beaten up by the police. Gay men in Iran are still being executed for their sexuality. Gay men in so many other countries around the world can be arrested or imprisoned simply for holding hands. I therefore entirely endorse everything that the Minister has said today. However, is it not a particular irony for British people that 90% of those who live in Commonwealth nations live in countries where homosexuality is illegal because we, the British, wrote those colonial laws? Is it not time that we took that as an important part of campaign for a better world?
Many of those Commonwealth laws are totally out of date, highly inappropriate and should be changed. The Commonwealth system, our diplomatic efforts abroad and, indeed, this House, with all the contacts that individual Members of Parliament have across the world, should all be used to the full for that objective.
Over 400 million people live in countries where being gay is punishable by death, so I strongly welcome what the Minister has said at the Dispatch Box today. I commend the Government’s efforts to defeat the resolution. I want the Minister to consider two issues carefully. First, further to the points of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), what leadership role can the UK Government play within the Commonwealth to try to see further progress for LGBT people living in Commonwealth countries who are victims of rules written up by the British?
Secondly, will the Minister look at the advice that the Foreign Office gives to the Home Office on people seeking asylum in this country? A constituent of mine, Joan Tumwine Ayebare, a lesbian asylum seeker from Uganda, is currently at risk of deportation back to that country. She has been splashed across the front pages of the Ugandan press, and her life and safety would undoubtedly be at risk if she returned, so will he consider the advice and ask his colleagues in the Home Office to review that case in particular?
No such representations have been made to the Home Office in the past, but I am sure that they will be. The hon. Gentleman’s question also illustrates another human right: the right to life. It is therefore an essential part of our policy to oppose the death penalty in every single country where we make representations —particularly those in which we have interests and programmes on which we are spending money. The influence of the United Kingdom in the Commonwealth can go only so far in that its members are independent, self-governing countries. It is good that they are part of this broader organisation—the Commonwealth—but we have to use our influence as best we can and do not have complete power over them. Those days have long since gone. They are voluntary members of the Commonwealth, but I assure the House that we always use our best influence wherever we can and will continue to do so.
I concur with the remarks made by several Members about the Commonwealth. Will the Minister say a little more about Russia? In recent days, tweets have been put out by the Russian Foreign Ministry and repeated by Russia’s embassy in this country that are disparaging and derogatory towards gay people—part of a pattern of behaviour by Putin. How confident is the Minister that other countries in Europe are not being influenced by the Putin propaganda that is on our Freeview channels every day and put out through the internet and social media?
When a country’s official apparatus adopts such attitudes and uses social media, it takes behaviour to utterly unacceptable new heights. We of course condemn any kind of attacks on gay people, but when they are perpetrated by a country and deliberately, it is even more deplorable than the many other ways in which we see such opinions expressed.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Has the Justice Secretary contacted you to say that she intends to make a statement to this House before recess on the crisis of violence and disorder in our understaffed prisons, in light of the disturbance at Bedford prison, and the murder at, and escapes from, Pentonville prison?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer is: no, I have received no such indication. It is only fair to remind the House, and to point out to others who might not have been aware of the fact in the first place, that there was a statement by the Secretary of State last week—last Thursday, if my memory serves me correctly. It is true enough that there have been further incidences of violence since then, but there has not been a request to make a statement today. Doubtless these matters will be returned to, as appropriate, in due course.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, may I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in my capacity as chair of the Public and Commercial Services Union parliamentary group? On 20 October, in business questions, I asked for a debate in Government time on reforms to the civil service compensation scheme. On 21 October, I wrote to the Paymaster General on behalf of the PCS parliamentary group seeking a meeting to discuss that issue. May I also remind you, Mr Speaker, that early-day motion 310 has the signatures of 99 Members of this House who are concerned about this issue? The Government intend today to issue a written statement which seeks automatically to impose changes to the terms and conditions of civil servants via reforms to the civil service compensation scheme. That is being done without the agreement of 98% of public consultation respondents, of whom there were 3,000. Can you inform me whether the Paymaster General will come before the House to make an oral statement on this issue, so that hon. Members who are very concerned about it can raise questions? Or are there other mechanisms by which Members can raise this important issue on behalf of millions of public sector workers who deliver public services?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer to him is that if a Minister wished to make an oral statement to the House, I would have received notification of that intention by now. Therefore, there is no reason to suppose that a Minister is looking to make a statement to the House today. I am familiar with the issue to which the hon. Gentleman alludes. It would not be proper for me to enter into a debate about it. I note the particular facts that he places on the record, but I am aware of counter arguments to which Ministers subscribe. It is only fair to point out that this matter has been the subject of discussion over a considerable period; in other words, it has not suddenly arisen now. It does not seem likely that it will be treated of today by anyone other than the hon. Gentleman, but he has used the parliamentary mechanism open to him to register his concern. Doubtless, given that he is a tenacious terrier, he will return to the subject after he has rested himself.
He could get another signature.
He may, indeed, attract further signatures in the process, as the hon. Gentleman helpfully observes from a sedentary position.
Small and Medium Sized Co-operative Development
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a bill to remove the requirement for small co-operative societies to appoint lay auditors; to increase the threshold for co-operative societies to disapply the full audit requirement to the same level as PLCs; to require auditors to report contingent on a threshold of share capital instead of turnover or on a special resolution at a general meeting; and for connected purposes.
Co-operatives are owned and run by the people closest to them, who may be customers, employers, suppliers or local residents. They all have one thing in common: they own the business and have an equal say in what it does and how its profits are shared. Historically, the public perception of co-operatives has been largely determined by the Co-op retail movement, but there are now more than 7,000 co-operatives, with 15 million members, and they contribute an estimated £37 billion to the economy. They range widely, covering retail, agriculture, consumer-based enterprises, creative industries, supporters trusts, local community energy schemes, housing and community care.
It is striking that according to YouGov polling from February carried out by The Hive, a new business support group designed to start or grow co-operative organisations, some 58% of people say big businesses are out of control; 59% of people say they have no control over the economy, and that rises to 62% for those who say they have a lack of influence over business; and 68% of people in work feel they have no control in their workplace. On the other hand, 62% of people see co-operative businesses as fair, whereas only 11% say the same of plcs.
It is clear that co-operatives offer a solution. They give people control of the businesses they are closest to, whether they shop at them, work at them or supply them. They also give people control over things that matter to them, in the process boosting productivity, harnessing innovation and giving them a real stake in their business. That is the co-operative advantage.
Most political parties have recognised and acknowledged the advantages that the co-operative business model has over its plc counterparts. The Labour party has committed to working with the co-operative movement to double the size of the co-operative economy in government; this would take the sector from £40 billion or so to £80 billion. To do that, co-operatives need to compete with the plc business model on a level playing field. That has been a long-standing aim of the Co-operative party and a long-standing demand from the co-operative movement. Too often co-operatives come up against the regulation and legislation designed with other business forms in mind.
This Bill aims to ensure that smaller co-operatives enjoy the benefit of a level playing field and to help unleash the potential boost from co-operation to the UK economy through higher employee engagement, which, according to Co-operatives UK could be well over £50 billion. Furthermore, through levelling the playing field for smaller co-operatives, the economy as a whole benefits from increased business innovation. Innovation accounts for 70% of long-term economic growth in the UK, and the most common sources of innovation are employees and customers.
There are thousands of smaller and medium-sized co-operatives in this country, all of which bring the benefits of the model I have already described to their communities, members and local economies. It is important to note that eight out of 10 co-operatives created in the last five years are still going strong. A combination of sharing risks, harnessing the ideas of many and the stake members have on their own business means that co-operatives demonstrate significant business resilience. My Bill calls for small but important changes to the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014. These changes and the removal of red tape will bring the treatment of co-operatives in line with that of other business models.
First, the Bill would remove the requirement for the very smallest co-operatives to appoint lay auditors. That would mean that the very smallest co-operatives, with a turnover under £5,000 a year, were treated the same way as small companies, and would not have to appoint lay auditors to scrutinise their accounts.
Secondly, it would level the playing field between co-operatives and other types of companies by increasing the turnover threshold at which co-operatives have to apply full audit requirements from £5.6 million turnover to £6.5 million. This change would put small co-operatives on the same footing as companies regarding the turnover threshold at which they have to appoint professional auditors.
Thirdly, the Bill would make the requirement on co-operatives for an auditor’s report contingent on the amount of share capital raised by a co-operative rather than a turnover threshold. It would allow small co-operatives that have not raised significant share capital to grow without facing additional requirements that are not applied to small companies. It will also mean those co-operatives that have raised significant share capital will have to have a professional auditors’ report.
To provide added protection to members, the law would give them the right to require an auditor’s report regardless of the share capital by passing a resolution at a general meeting. I anticipate that these changes would benefit thousands of small co-operative societies around the country.
These legislative changes are designed to give further impetus to a business model and movement that are flourishing but are yet to achieve their full potential. There is a powerful argument for a dedicated team of civil servants to be set up within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to act as a champion for co-operatives and—in line with the Prime Minister’s thinking—to examine ways of developing a more inclusive society that works for working people. The proposals in the Bill are small but critical to that approach.
On 3 December we will be celebrating small business Saturday. Let us give small co-operative businesses an additional reason to celebrate by supporting the Bill today.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr Adrian Bailey, Mr Barry Sheerman, Mrs Louise Ellman, Stephen Doughty, Luciana Berger, Mr Gavin Shuker, Mr Gareth Thomas, Anna Turley and Christina Rees present the Bill.
Mr Adrian Bailey accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 3 February 2017 and to be printed (Bill 90).
Grammar and Faith Schools
I beg to move,
That this House notes recent proposals by the Government to expand the role of grammar and faith schools; and calls on the Government to conduct a full assessment of the evidence relating to the effect of grammar schools and faith schools on children’s learning.
Today’s debate asks the Minister to consider the evidence before making profound changes to education policy that will affect children, their lives, their communities and our prospects as a country for many decades to come. There is a raft of evidence on the impact of grammar schools on the children in them, and on the children outside them. We know that children who get into grammar schools are more than five times less likely to be on free school meals. We know from the Department for Education itself that they are less likely to have special educational needs. We know that children who previously attended independent schools are over-represented in grammar school intakes. For these and many other reasons, we know that grammar schools, as the Government have at times acknowledged, and as the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) eloquently put it in a piece he wrote this morning, are not engines of social mobility.
Most children do not get into grammar schools, and the situation for disadvantaged children in this country is particularly stark. The Government’s case, which appears to be based on the notion that an expansion of grammar school places increases parental choice, is pretty flawed and pretty limiting. If someone cannot get into a grammar school, its existence has not given them a choice—it has given them a problem. That the Government have a plan only for some children in this country was revealed pretty well by the Education Minister Lord Nash, who said recently that under the Government’s plans parents will
“have a choice between a highly performing grammar school and a highly performing academy, which may well suit that pupil better.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 September 2016; Vol. 774, c. 1572.]
But where is the choice for children who do not get into those grammar schools?
The Secretary of State recently suggested that university technical colleges might provide an alternative. I welcome her focus on UTCs—I have one in my constituency, in Wigan—and given the recruitment problems many of them have faced, leading to the closure of three, and to two not even opening, and the fact that provision in them, which Sir Michael Wilshaw recently called “patchy”, ranges all the way from outstanding to poor, this is an area that deserves her attention. However, her proposal is troubling because, in essence, she is proposing the tripartite system of old, which collapsed last time, for many reasons, including because local authorities could not afford to establish and sustain that system. What in the funding crisis that this Government have created for local authorities makes her think that it would be different this time?
The new plans will create a great cost. We do not yet know, however, how much they will cost. In the consultation paper, the Government set out that they are planning to allocate £50 million a year to this experiment in education. This morning, however, when he appeared before the Select Committee on Education, the Minister said that he did not know how many grammar schools might emerge. The Green Paper also suggests that the Department will ask independent schools or universities to set up new schools or sponsor others as part of its bid to get all schools up to standard. How much will that cost? So far, the Government do not know and have not said. At a time when school budgets are under serious pressure in communities around the country, this is simply not good enough.
The hon. Lady talks about the cost of the proposals. Is she aware that grammar schools such as those in Kent and in my constituency tend to get lower per-pupil funding under the funding formula? Even though they receive a relatively low financial settlement, the vast majority are outstanding schools giving an excellent education.
The hon. Lady makes my point for me. Grammar schools tend to receive a lower funding allocation because, as the Minister has admitted, they tend not to take children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the funding formula is skewed to provide additional funding for children from such backgrounds. In 2016, in Britain, we can do better than this.
The Minister who will reply to the debate was a member of the Select Committee when I was the Chair. We looked at this question and we specifically considered Kent, but we had the rule that we should have evidence-based policy. Where is the evidence that people in Kent or outside Kent benefit from an educational system that is split in this horrendous way?
I do not always agree with my hon. Friend on these issues, but I certainly agree with him on that point. The issue of funding and how we spend resources that, as a result of choices made by this Government, are incredibly scarce, is important.
One way in which funds can be spent appropriately is through faith schools. In Leicester we have St Paul’s Catholic School, the Hindu Krishna Avanti Primary School, the Sikh Falcons Primary School and the Madani Muslim schools. It is important that if parents wish to send their children to faith schools, they are allowed to do so, but such schools should be vehicles for integrating communities; they should not be exclusive, but open.
I agree with my right hon. Friend’s point about integrating communities. This highlights the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). There are many types of school that provide a good education, and provided that they are inclusive, have a broad curriculum and work hard to serve the needs of their community, they do very well by their children. The important thing behind today’s motion is that hon. Members on both sides of the House, most of whom are troubled by the Government’s plans, but some of whom support them, would like the Government to proceed on the basis of evidence, especially as schools face a £600 million black hole since the Government abandoned their Education Bill, leaving councils around the country to pay for educational services without the grants to do so.
In their consultation document, the Government make a number of wide-ranging commitments to support their grammar schools plan, but they have not said yet whether this will be new money from the Treasury, or money taken from a schools budget that is already being cut for the first time in nearly two decades. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who has consistently campaigned against the Government’s proposals, has repeatedly asked for this information; could we finally have it today?
The Secretary of State is apparently consulting on the school funding formula at the same time. The Green Paper says:
“We will ensure that the formula rewards those schools that support schools with a higher proportion of lower attaining pupils and those from less wealthy households.”
Surely the issue of funding should be resolved first. Surely we should know how big the funding pot is and how the funds will be allocated before we are asked to respond to a consultation and vote on proposals that will have profound consequences for children in this country.
There is also reason to believe that people travel further to attend grammar schools. What assessment have the Government done of the additional cost of transport for children under their proposals? The proposed pot is £50 million a year for new grammar schools, but how much in total do the Government plan to allocate to the whole programme? If adequate funding is not forthcoming, that is another reason why children may be well disadvantaged under the plans.
There are other reasons, based on the evidence, to believe that the proposals will make life worse for children in this country. In their consultation document, the Government rightly identified a group of children whose parents are struggling to get by, but who are not eligible for free school meals. That group is much larger since the Government restricted access to benefits. The proportion of pupils on free school meals is now at a 14-year low, despite the fact that there are record projections of child poverty. Having created a hidden group in hardship, Ministers are belatedly going looking for them. They state in their consultation that they plan to develop some kind of methodology to understand where the children are and what impact the new plans will have on them. The most polite thing that I can say about this utterly absurd situation is that Ministers are putting the cart before the horse. May I remind the Minister that it is only a few short years since his Department commissioned Dr Ben Goldacre to help it to ensure that evidence informs policy? Now its approach appears to be to develop policy that informs its evidence instead.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we have evidence about what helps poor kids to do well at school? It is high-quality early-years education, the best heads and teachers in the schools that need them most, and an inspiring curriculum for academic and vocational qualifications. Is that not what the Government should focus on—not on expanding grammar schools?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting those aspects. I will say a little more about them in a moment, but in the meantime, I pay tribute to her for the work that she has done to make sure that we do not forget about the importance of investing in young people in their early years, not least because one of the great problems with the Government’s proposals is that by the age of 11, disadvantaged pupils are already 10 months behind their peers, and so are less likely to be able to pass that entrance exam and have a fair chance.
The hon. Lady seems to be opposed to the Government consulting on these matters and opposed to choice, which Conservative Members support. What evidence does she have that children in Buckinghamshire are disadvantaged? We have 13 grammar schools, seven of them the lowest-funded schools in the country, and 90% of our schools are good or outstanding. There is no evidence showing anything other than the grammar school system in Buckinghamshire providing a good education right across the board to all children.
The very troubling question for the right hon. Lady is: where is the choice for children who cannot get into the grammar schools? The Education Policy Institute recently produced research that showed that the more highly selective an area, the worse the schools are, disadvantaging everyone. I will happily give way to the right hon. Lady again if she will tell me what she would say to a child stuck in a system where education standards are worse due to the highly selective nature of education in their area, and who is not given a choice because they cannot get into a grammar school.
I would say to the hon. Lady: bring me that evidence from Buckinghamshire. Our non-grammar schools provide an excellent education to children in Buckinghamshire, and if she is casting aspersions on the education that they provide, I invite her to come and see some of them. It is some of the best education, but it is different from the education provided in the grammar schools.
Many children and young people, not just in the right hon. Lady’s area but around the country, will be extremely disappointed by that response. The idea that in 2016 any child is better off by being segregated and branded a failure at the age of 11, or that we are better off as a country with that system, is particularly backward-looking.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent opening speech. Is she aware that Buckinghamshire has the largest gap in educational attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers of any borough in the country? Is that a record that the House should applaud?
It is absolutely not a record that any Member of the House should applaud, as the chief inspector made clear only a few days ago.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the Government, in their approach to grammar schools, appear to be trying to have their cake and eat it? They want to talk about increasing the number of grammar schools, but not about the side effects of that, which is recreating secondary moderns. Not one study shows that children are better off in secondary modern schools.
My hon. Friend posed an interesting question to the Minister in the Education Committee’s evidence session this morning. She asked why, if he was keen to ensure that all schools improved, rather than recreating a system of grammar schools and secondary moderns, he did not just enable children to go to good schools by expanding the number of places in good comprehensive schools. The Minister did not seem to give an answer, but I hope that he will have an answer by the time he responds to the debate.
As my hon. Friend knows, in my local authority of Trafford we have selective education. We also have high-performing schools, but they do not perform well for every child, and particularly not for the most disadvantaged. Nor does every parent, or indeed the majority of parents, get a choice of school. Most parents, if they put their child forward for the entrance examination for the grammar school, find that their child is not successful and is not admitted. The choice of which school their child goes to is made by the schools, not by the parents.
I suspect that the Minister would reply that the Government want to expand the number of places in grammar schools, so that more children will get in. There is no question but that grammar schools outperform non-selective schools in terms of exam results, but the Government make a great leap in claiming that grammar schools are somehow intrinsically better for the children in them than other similar schools in the area. I want the Minister to consider for a moment that there is evidence to the contrary.
We know that when grammar schools were the norm, working-class children were far more likely to drop out of those schools. The Robbins report revealed that only 2% of children whose parents were semi-skilled or low skilled then went on to university. The Minister’s claim that disadvantaged grammar school pupils are more likely to go on to a Russell Group university, which I have heard him repeat often, is based on research that does not control for prior attainment. He also often mentions the Sutton Trust research. The 2011 report concluded:
“Given their selective intake, grammar schools would appear to be underrepresented among the most successful schools for Oxbridge entry”.
All I am asking the Minister to do is consider the whole range of evidence on this subject and base education policy on it accordingly. This morning before the Education Committee we saw what happens when Ministers do not do that. He was forced to admit that in areas of selection, the impact on children in non-selective schools is mixed. Until now, he has been fond of citing one report by the Sutton Trust, which says that there is no negative effect on children who are not in grammar schools in areas where there is selection, but against that the Education Committee was able to cite Dr Becky Allen, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Education Policy Institute, and the education journalist Chris Cook, who found that the only thing that shifts in areas where selection is introduced is who does well, not how many do well, and that, put simply, the better-off do well at the expense of the rest.
Policy Exchange set out clearly the stark impact in terms of lost opportunities and earnings for those who do not attend grammar schools, and the Institute for Social and Economic Research says that for girls there was some raised wage potential, but not for boys.
The evidence this morning was that there was no negative effect in areas of selection or a slight negative effect of one tenth of a grade in those pupils in non-grammar schools in selective areas. There are other reports that say that the negative effect is slightly higher, but what the hon. Lady is describing and what those reports are describing is the current situation, and it is the situation that prevailed when Labour was in power for 13 years. The consultation document seeks to find a solution to that problem by requiring all new grammar schools that are established and all grammar schools that want to expand to help raise the academic standard in those non-selective schools in those areas—something that her Government did not propose, and her party today are not proposing.
What I am asking the Minister to understand is that this new approach set out in the consultation document is based on no evidence. If he says that we have to discount all the evidence that we have had about the education system thus far, it is incumbent on the Government to prove that this new, expensive approach, which will be highly disruptive to children’s education and to the education system as a whole, will be better for children. This morning at the Education Committee the Minister was forced to admit that there is no evidence that it will be better.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) put to the Minister a simple proposition: there are areas of the country, as we have already heard, where selection still exists. Kent is the one that my hon. Friend mentioned to the Minister when he said that if the Minister is so sure that the new system will work and if he is so keen to explore new ways of working, why does he not pilot it in one area of the country. I ask him please not to inflict an experiment based on such flimsy evidence on millions of children who cannot afford for the Government to fail.
As chair of the advisory board of the Sutton Trust, I get sick to death of Ministers in this Government quoting Sutton Trust research out of context and selectively. They should read the report and see what the Sutton Trust actually says.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was reflecting this morning when I listened to the evidence session that education policy is always plagued by ideology and by personal experiences. No Government have ever managed to escape from that, but I have never heard a Minister rely as selectively on the evidence base as I heard this morning. What the Government propose to do will have profound consequences for children. I welcome the fact that they are consulting, but I do not welcome the fact that so far, based on everything that I have seen from the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the Minister’s evidence this morning, the Government are not listening.
The consultation paper says that the Government might ask grammar schools to
“take a proportion of pupils from lower income households. This would ensure that selective education is not reserved for those with the means to move into the catchment area or pay for tuition to pass the test”.
That highlights a very real problem and it is a very strong statement. Can the Minister tell us what he means by it? Many free schools introduced in the previous Parliament by Ministers in the Government in which he served claimed to be inclusive, because the proportion of children on free school meals that they took was similar to the national average. However, a closer look at what those free schools were doing revealed that many, such as the West London free school, were admitting as high a proportion of children on free school meals as the national average, but fewer children on free school meals than in the local community. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government are committed to schools that reflect their neighbourhoods and, if so, whether he means by that statement in the consultation document that schools will reflect the levels of disadvantage and diversity in their own communities?
The plans for a more inclusive intake get thinner by the minute. As I said earlier, by the age of 11 disadvantaged children are 10 months behind their peers. Does the Minister have any evidence that asking grammar schools to work with primary schools, which seems to be the big idea to address the issue, will eradicate that difference? How quickly does he think that will happen? More troubling is the finding from the Education Policy Institute that the more selective an area, the fewer the benefits to children in grammar schools. A wealth of evidence already exists. When that is assessed against the Government’s stated goals, it shows their plans to be deeply, deeply flawed.
The consultation paper makes no mention of the impact on society. It is not that long since the Conservatives had a party leader who appealed to their one-nation tradition. Surely no Government of that one-nation stripe would seek to deny children and young people in this country the opportunity to get to know one another. Surely the goal of an education system is to give every child the opportunity to fulfil their potential, both academically and socially, and to allow children to gain social enlightenment, not just social advantage, and live a larger, richer, deeper life as a consequence.
Instead, this Government appear to be set on a path that will pit children against one another and make losers of us all. The tragedy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) has highlighted so often, is that there are real problems in the education system. Attracting and retaining teachers remains one of our biggest challenges. The National Audit Office report highlighted a shocking rise in the number of teacher vacancies between 2011 and 2014. In the face of this, it is baffling why the Government are rushing headlong down a road that will make the situation worse. A poll for The Times Educational Supplement found that more than half of teachers would not work in a grammar school. Three quarters of teachers and headteachers are opposed to these plans. Why does the Minister think he knows better than all of them?
It would make more sense if the Government said, “Look, we’ve considered every option for dealing with some of the problems in our schools system. We can’t find anything else that works, so this is something that we are prepared to try”, but I saw recently that the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) had asked the Government whether they had considered the merits of streaming children in comprehensive schools, rather than pursuing the grammar schools route. The answer came back that they had not. This is the worst sort of dogma, of which we have seen too much in education policy over the years. Worse than that, it will cost the nation dearly.
There is no other country in the world that is proceeding in the direction of trying to segregate children over and over again. Poland, for example, which has delayed selection in recent years to improve its results, has seen a boost in maths, reading and science as a result. Finland used to be a favourite of Education Ministers. When I served on the Education Committee, we used to hear a lot from the former Education Secretary about how brilliant Finland was. We went to have a look for ourselves. It is one of the least selective countries in the world.
Many counties are now trying to end the divide between technical, vocational and academic education, recognising that in the decades to come most of us will need a combination of all three. The hon. Member for Stroud and I visited Germany a few years ago to look at its education system. As Sir Michael Wilshaw recently pointed out, Germany has had a similar model for most of the post-war years and is now attempting to disassemble it, because of worries about its effects both on students and on the country’s productivity, not to mention international rankings.
In the coming years, we will succeed less for what we know, and more for how we use that knowledge. The system of education that this Government are pursuing was not fit for the economy of the 1950s, let alone that of the 2020s and a world in which Britain stands outside the European Union, and we urgently need to address our growing skills gap.
This morning, the Minister told the Education Committee that those who shout the loudest in opposition to his plans are doing the least to address the problems we face. Let me say to him now, on behalf of everybody who cares about children’s education in this country, that that is profoundly offensive. Let me ask him first to put the interests of children above party politics. Will he acknowledge that the previous Labour Government put significant funding into the education system, bringing us up to the European average after years of our schools being terribly and harmfully neglected? As a result, we saw a 31% rise in the proportion of children and young people getting good GCSEs, and I know that because I was working with them in the voluntary sector at the time. The difference in those years was stark: there were more teachers, better buildings, and IT facilities in schools, often for the first time.
One of the things we learnt in those years in government is that frequent interference in the education system can be incredibly damaging; it can undermine the morale of teachers and school leaders and children’s achievement. Perhaps the Government could learn from what Labour got wrong in office, but they should please also learn from what we got right.
If we are to try to end the dogma, let us think about how we learn from the best schools. This morning, the Minister said that grammar schools are very good—I have heard him say that repeatedly—but just for once could he admit that some comprehensive schools in this country are very good, too? The Education Policy Institute said in September:
“If you compare high attaining pupils in grammar schools with similar pupils who attend high quality non selective schools, there are five times as many high quality non selective schools as there are grammar schools.”
Sir Michael Wilshaw said this weekend:
“The latest research shows that the best comprehensives are doing better than grammar schools for the most able children.”
Why are the Government not praising them and looking to them?
I will tell Members why I think that is such a great problem. As Estelle Morris, the former Education Secretary, pointed out last month:
“Many selective schools do well by the children they choose, and of course they should contribute to education beyond their own doors. But does their success with bright, motivated young people from supportive home backgrounds give them the skills and experience to turn round schools with large numbers of struggling and disaffected children?”
The answer lies on Ministers’ own doorsteps, and if they would only take the ideological blinkers off, they would be able to see it for the benefit of children. The Minister recently admitted in a Westminster Hall debate on grammar school funding that grammar schools are, by definition, unlikely to take children who are struggling or on free school meals. Why, then, would they be the major source of expertise on how to help those children succeed?
Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), there are lessons we can learn about what works. The most dramatic improvements in education that we have seen in my adult lifetime came as a result of the London Challenge programme, which brought comprehensive schools together to lift standards for all their children. We replicated that in Greater Manchester, where I live, with great success—so much so that, even when the Government dismantled the scheme, those teachers carried on working together because they said, “If there is a child in any school in Greater Manchester who is not doing well, that is our collective responsibility and we will come together to sort it out.” They understand that collaboration is the key driver of school improvement, not competition, and that, as the OECD has repeatedly proven, strong autonomy coupled with strong accountability are the ingredients of a great education system.
Ministers have rightly pointed to the absurd situation we have at present where in some parts of the country we already have selection, by wealth and house price. I would have more sympathy with that argument if the Government had not pushed through a benefits cap that has socially cleansed large areas of the country and forced tens of thousands of poorer families to move out of inner London, and if they had not introduced a model of free schools in the last Parliament that allowed schools to draw their own catchment areas and exclude poorer areas.
The answer to the Minister’s problem is surely to make every school a good school. The fact that the Government appear to have completely given up on that, in Britain in 2016, is such a pitiful sight for young people in this country. There are far too many—
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Lady, and I appreciate that she is speaking with passion and that the House is listening to what she is saying, but I will point out that, even though we have quite a lot of time this afternoon and there is not an awful lot of pressure, she has now been speaking for over half an hour—it has passed quickly, because she is speaking with such passion. She does not have to finish immediately, but I am sure that she will be drawing her speech to a close soon.
As a matter of fact, Madam Deputy Speaker, I intend to draw to a close, by reminding the Minister that too many children in this country are unable to learn because of overcrowded housing, poverty and family pressures, and by telling him that the education maintenance allowance and Aimhigher, both of which were abolished by his Government, lifted the number of academic children in my constituency who went on to finish college and go to university by 40% in just six short years. Nothing that the Prime Minister, the Education Secretary or the Minister have said so far on the subject leads me to think that those children are their priority. Instead, they are fond of telling us when we object to policies based on such flimsy evidence that these policies are deeply popular.
I say to the Minister that there is a warning from history here. The Crowther report, commissioned by a Conservative Secretary of State in 1959, highlighted the public clamour that had grown up against a competitive element in grammar school selection. By 1964, when the Conservative party lost the general election, grammar schools had become deeply unpopular with three out of four voters, because segregated education is, by definition, divisive. Perhaps that is why the policy was set out not in his party’s manifesto, but in that of the UK Independence party, one of the most divisive forces in the country.
I will bring my remarks to a close, because many hon. Members wish to speak. In trying to divide children in this country, the Government have succeeded in uniting a range of voices, including the teaching unions, the chief inspector of schools, their own mobility tsar, the previous Education Secretary, the former Universities Minister, the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer and a significant number of MPs from all parties in the House. Together, we will ensure that the Government do better than this.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me a great opportunity to discuss this issue once again today, because of course the Education Committee was at it this morning for two and a quarter hours. I must say that it is very impressive that both the Committee and the Chamber are busy dealing with the subject in this way. I wish that we were given an opportunity to do the same on matters connected with exiting the European Union, because it would be of great benefit if the Chamber could discuss those in similar detail.
One of the concerns with the whole question of grammar schools—this is proved by what I have just said—is that it is a bit of a distraction from some core requirements of our education policy, one of which, of course, is fairer funding. That was alluded to by the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who is a former member of the Education Committee. We cannot escape the fact that too many schools are suffering because of the unfair system for allocating money, and we have to get that right. I suggest that that is definitely a priority for the Government.
Another priority must be to make sure that all primary school children can make the transition from primary to secondary in a way that lands them well. A good landing requires numeracy, literacy, appropriate life skills and the sense of confidence that comes from having been to a proper and effective primary school.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is an interesting contrast in this country? In health, the money follows the patient, but in education the money does not follow the pupil. One of the challenges with the funding formula is that many children get educated in a different local education authority but not at the level of funding they would have received had they remained within their own authority.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that very good point. It is clear that the disparities between authority areas, and therefore schools, is too great for us to be complacent. We must take action.
The third area of alternative priorities is the post-16 sector. Too many people in any year group post-16 are not proficient in numeracy or literacy. According to the OECD, backed up by the World Economic Forum, about 20% of any year group are not comfortable with numeracy and literacy. That is not good enough for a modern economy that aspires to be open and to conquer social mobility and productivity. We have to focus on what matters, so I repeat that the issue of grammar schools is something of a distraction.
Whatever we say about education policy, we must be mindful of two things. First, social immobility in this country is simply too great. The fact is that there are communities with too many young people who are basically trapped, and who stay trapped—that is the difficulty. That is the first issue that we must always think of when considering education. The second point, which is just as relevant, is productivity. If we can have a more productive economy, we will by definition have one with more skills and higher salaries and wages. That is a contribution to social mobility—enabling people to improve and develop. The two things are linked.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that the third issue should also be about social cohesion? Does he share my concern about some of the proposals on faith schools? I recognise the contribution that they make, but can he think of a single reason why the child of an atheist parent like myself should be excluded from a school because of their parents’ lack of faith? Does he also share my concern that 100% selection by faith risks driving communities into further segregation and does nothing to improve social cohesion?
I thank my hon. Friend for that instructive intervention. It goes off the issue of grammar schools, which I was hoping to talk about, but she is right that the issue of faith schools should be addressed. I say two things. First, we must have an inclusive society; we cannot parcel people up in that sector and say, “That’s you—off you go!” That is not acceptable. We must make sure that our faith schools do not do that and instead are all embracing. It is the outward-looking school, of whatever faith, that will do a good job.
I have mentioned successful faith schools in Leicester. My first school was a convent school in Aden, Yemen, and atheist children went to that school. The point made by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) is right: although such schools are faith-based, they need to be able to take people from other faiths. Many members of the Hindu faith attend Catholic St Paul’s school in Leicester. Faith schools can be a powerful force for integration as well as providing faith for those of a certain religion.
One day I will have to get to Leicester, given that it had such a good football team and all the experiences that the right hon. Gentleman has highlighted. It is important for people of faith and atheists to learn about each other. That has to be the guiding light when we are talking about such schools and communities.
The Education Committee held an evidence-check session this morning because we believe in evidence, which must be the cornerstone of policy making. Of course, values matter too.
My hon. Friend gathered valuable evidence from the excellence that he saw when he visited grammar schools in my constituency. Does he not recognise that that excellence across 163 schools is also valuable evidence from which we need to learn? We need to work out how we can magnify it across the country as a whole.
I certainly did enjoy visiting the school in Salisbury and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that visit. It was exceptional; we talked about politics and highlighted the great work of a former Member of this House, the right hon. Sir Edward Heath. I was pleased to do that, especially given that we are now discussing Brexit so frequently.
Grammar schools are good schools, but the question we have to ask ourselves all the time is about all the other schools. That is at the heart of the matter. There are 3,500 secondary schools: what do we do about the 3,400 or so schools that we depend on for the vast majority of our teaching?
When we heard evidence this morning from Dr Becky Allen, was the Chair of the Select Committee struck, as I was, by her comment that not a single study claims that children are better off in a secondary modern? The evidence from Anna Vignoles of Cambridge University was that selective systems are definitively not a force for social mobility. Does not following the evidence suggest that selection is not the way to go?
I want to formally welcome the hon. Lady to the Education Committee; she spent her first two and a quarter hours with us this morning, and I trust that she will want to repeat the experience on a weekly basis. I am coming on to the evidence, but she is absolutely right: our witnesses were explicit.
We heard from a number of policy experts, academics and representatives from the Department as well as the Minister for School Standards himself. We had a feast of opportunity to probe these issues, and that is what we did. Witnesses told us that grammar schools do well but that schools in their surrounding areas suffer. That is fairly obvious if the best teachers and brightest pupils are pulled away.
One thing that was not properly addressed was the issue of capacity versus scale. We might well want to improve the capacity of schools, but if we do so by simply having more grammar schools, we risk weakening existing grammar schools by pulling pupils away from them. We heard from the Minister that many grammar school pupils are travelling three to four times the distance that they would ordinarily travel if they were going to a local school. That must suggest that the grammar school is picking up pupils from further away than their local area, so the issue of scale becomes relevant.
Professor David Jesson from the University of York said that reintroducing selective education is “perverse”—that might be extreme, but that is what he said. He went on to say that only 3% of grammar school pupils are on free school meals. Now, that is a fact—it is evidence. It may well be that grammar schools can be encouraged, stimulated or whatever to improve that figure, but it has been 3% for several decades. So the question must be, can we really expect it to rise? That is an issue the Minister for School Standards may well want to address in his closing remarks.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the comments he has made, but I am curious to know what he thought of the evidence we had today in the Education Committee about comparisons with countries such as the Netherlands, Singapore and Hong Kong. Selection is a very strong part of their education systems, and they dramatically outperform Britain in the programme for international student assessment tables and other international tables when it comes to achievement.
What I did think was slightly amusing was that, again, in this time of Brexit, we were given the example of the Netherlands as a country to emulate, given that we are departing from the European Union and that the Netherlands is a component part of it. I take the point, but it actually rests on another, which is that we have significant cultural differences with those countries—certainly with the other two my hon. Friend rightly mentioned. The issue of whether we can actually transpose their systems, when there is such a cultural difference, would raise a few questions.
At this time of Brexit, would my hon. Friend not share my worry that, of those level 5 pupils—those able children—leaving primary school who go to grammar school, 78% achieve the EBacc, including a foreign language, whereas only 52% of those who go to a non-selective school achieve the EBacc?
The Minister is right in what he quotes, but the solution is really to make sure that those schools that are not doing well enough do better—I would have thought that that was elementary.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach, because there may be parts of the country—Cheltenham being one—where the comprehensive schools offer fantastic social mobility and fantastic value added? That might not be the case elsewhere, but it certainly is in Cheltenham, so we should intervene only with great care.
I think I can agree with my hon. Friend—he is absolutely right. His constituency neighbours mine, and I obviously know the situation in Gloucestershire extremely well.
I am going to take just one more intervention, because I think you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are going to give me a telling-off like the one you really gave the hon. Member for Wigan.
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for giving way—he is being very generous. Does he agree that quoting statistics about children who have been selected to go to a selective school to have a selective education is, by definition, not really a measure of the best solution for providing the best education for all children in this country?
Yes, I would agree with that. The hon. Lady, who is also a member of my Select Committee—I will have to pay tribute to the whole lot in a minute—makes a very astute point. The fact is that if pupils are selected on the basis of academic testing to go to a school and then do very well, people really should not be surprised; they should actually be disappointed if one or two fail the grade, let alone get the sort of figures the Minister suggested they did.
The hon. Gentleman is right, of course, that pupils who are selected and supported at home and who go to selective schools will, on the whole, do well. However, does he share my concern that, in my borough of Trafford, where we do have selective education, some grammar schools are beginning to see a rise in mental health problems among their students because of the academic pressures placed on those kids? Now, that can happen for a whole range of reasons, but it is certainly something that troubles headteachers in Trafford, and I wonder whether he would like to comment.
I thank the hon. Lady very much for that interesting intervention. She is right about two things. The first is the specific point about children’s mental health being put under pressure in certain circumstances. However, there is also the wider issue of the mental health of young people, and we need to think carefully about that, because there is evidence that the number of children being affected by mental health issues is rising, and rising too fast. That is something that the Committee, which I note the hon. Lady is not a member of, will consider in due course.
I want to finish this section of my speech, on Professor Jesson’s observation. If grammar schools are introduced as new schools, they really must make a contribution to surrounding schools and feeder schools. One way for us to achieve that—rather than simply saying that we will punish grammar schools because they are not doing something we want to do and that those punishments will include, for example, no right to expand further—is to say that such schools should be part of a multi-academy trust. If they are going to be new schools, and if we insist on having them, they should be absolutely responsible for, and indeed charged with the task of, making sure that the schools around them are really improved through direct action.
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for being so generous in allowing interventions. As I am not going to mention this in my speech in a moment, may I ask whether he is aware of the example of Bright Futures—just one of a number of examples—which emanated from a very good grammar school in the Trafford local authority area? It was then expanded to take on other schools, especially those with a high proportion of disadvantaged children, but it has palpably failed to turn those schools around, because it found that its expertise in dealing with highly able, highly advantaged children is not transferable to some more disadvantaged areas.
I am aware of the goings on in Trafford. The Select Committee went up there to look not at grammar schools or any other schools but at aspects of child protection. However, I did notice what was going on, and I take the hon. Lady’s point.
The Committee noted that the current selective system favours children whose parents can afford to pay for tutoring, and that observation is absolutely right. One witness told us that entrance tests presuppose that a child’s ability is fixed, and we all know, if we have children, that that just is not the case. We have to have a testing system that takes into account the fact that children develop at different paces and in different ways, and one of the many problems with the testing systems we have had in the past is that they do not do that.
The evidence suggests that it would be extremely difficult to create a tutor-proof test, and we explored that in some detail in the Committee this morning. One suggestion is to bump up children on free school meals by a certain number of points to equalise things. That effectively proves that any test can be fixed to achieve any aim, so we have to be really careful about how we shape such a testing process. The Government really have to look at how a test would be shaped and calibrated to achieve the outcomes they suggest they wish to see. That test would be further complicated if the Government would, as they have suggested in the Green Paper, like different age groups to go through it. We could be talking about not just 11-year-olds, but 14-year-olds or 16-year-olds, for example, so different tests might be required for different years, and that is something that will need to be considered.
The Minister told us that the Government are
“trying to end the correlation between disadvantaged backgrounds and poor performance…we want to break that link and that is what is driving our reforms.”
We, on the other hand, emphasised that what is important, beyond more choice, is improving outcomes. We have to be very careful about this. Outcomes matter most, and we should be using them to measure the schools system, rather than simply saying, “Aha, there’s plenty of choice.” Choice is a mechanism, not an outcome, and we must not confuse the two. If we do, we lose sight of what is most important, which is equipping our young people to leave school, leave college and benefit from the opportunities that they ought to be benefiting from.
I asked the Department for Education’s chief scientific adviser about this issue. I always like asking such people questions because they can, in normal circumstances, isolate evidence, have control periods, and get down to what is really making the difference—although one can hardly do that in a school, as he acknowledged. He told us that this policy,
“like all policies, requires improvement”.
I thought that was helpful, because it does, but he also acknowledged the consultation process that we are now going through. It is absolutely right that we have a period of consultation on this proposal and on other aspects of the education system.
The Committee heard some powerful evidence from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which was already in the news because of the forecasts connected to Brexit and the implications of falling taxable income. The institute told us something we already know—that the economy is completely different from what it was several decades ago. The sorts of young people we need are not academics and workers but we need them all to have skills. We know that because the evidence shows that we can produce only half the number of engineers we need each and every year and that one of the driving forces of migration has been a shortage of skills in our economy. We will all be aware of firms or professional bodies in our constituencies that cannot recruit the people that they need. We therefore know that the institute is right.
That is why our education system must reach into every home with excellence. This is about making sure that every school can safely take on a pupil and guarantee them a first-class education. It is not about lifting some pupils out of a system because they are of one type or have a certain advantage. It is about making sure that we provide opportunities for all children—excellence everywhere, which is, I think, the title, or at least part of the title, of a White Paper that we have considered. Let me reinforce that point by referring to the work of the OECD, which has already been cited. We know that the OECD likes autonomy, because it has told our Committee so several times, but it is not keen on selectivity. If we value the work that that independent organisation does in making international comparisons—I certainly do—then we should take some account of what it says. It is not particularly complimentary about the idea of having pupil selection, and we should remember that.
As I have said before, we need to have a large number of options for young people at secondary level. I describe that as fluidity—the fluidity for a young person to make the choices that they might want to make as they start thinking about their career options. That is why I am so keen on, for example, university technical colleges. It was terrible that during the ’60s and ’70s only 2% of any year group could get into a technical school. It is necessary to have good secondary schools in groups, so that they can help each other and give young people the opportunity to choose the direction of travel that suits them, on the basis of their aptitudes and ambitions, their knowledge of the economy and their employment opportunities. That is life fulfilment at its best.
It is really important that we link those things to what I said at the beginning about social mobility and economic productivity. Without both those objectives working effectively together and supporting each other, we will not make a success of anything in our country because we will be wasting talent and abandoning people. Instead, we must make sure that we use all our talents and do not leave people behind. That is what the education system should be about, that is why we are having this debate, and why the Minister is wise to have this consultation period. I hope that he responds to some of the points I have made.
I am very pleased to speak in this debate. It is the first opportunity I have had to speak in an education debate since I resigned from the shadow education brief. Almost a year ago, I led opposition to Government plans to open a so-called annexe of a grammar school in Kent. I cannot quite believe that in 2016 Britain we are seriously contemplating a return to selection at 11, given all the progress in education that we have made over the past 20 years.
Before I get to the meat of this debate, and why I believe that grammar schools will take backwards the agenda of opportunity for everybody that the Prime Minister says she supports, I want to mention social mobility, which the Chair of the Education Committee, the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), spoke about. Too often, social mobility is thought of in terms of plucking the one or two lucky ones out of disadvantage and taking them to the top—the “council house to the Cabinet table” journey. This understanding is really unhelpful when looking at the deep-seated challenges that our country’s education system faces and the complex policy solutions required to overcome them. Social mobility is, and should be, about people, starting as children, being able to make economic and social progress, unconfined by the disadvantages they begin with and achieving to their full potential.
The barriers to this in Britain today are manifold. In education, as the hon. Gentleman said, the long tail of underachievement and the educational attainment gap between the disadvantaged and their peers, which is now widening, not narrowing, under this Government, should be the focus of public policy, as it has been for the past two decades. A concerted strategy for narrowing the skills gap and the productivity gap would boost social mobility for the many. Breaking down the social barriers in accessing opportunities in work and in life is also key. None of these fundamental and deep-rooted problems is addressed by a policy that focuses entirely on the already high attainers and the already advantaged getting a more elite education. The Prime Minister says that she wants opportunity for everyone and every child to be able to get as far as their talents and hard work will take them. I agree with those aims, as would, I am sure, all of us in this House today, but her means are entirely wrong. Not only would the reintroduction of grammar schools push this agenda backwards and be “retrograde”, as the chief inspector of schools describes it, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) said, the policies and interventions that do work will also go backwards under this Government.
Let us now look at both these issues. First, on academic selection and the reintroduction of grammar schools, the evidence is clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and others have said. Internationally, the systems in countries that make greater gains for children in the bottom half of the income distribution are comprehensive, not selective. That is why the OECD has concluded that countries with selective education systems perform less well on average than countries with more comprehensive systems. In England, the highest performing boroughs are comprehensive. London, for example, outperforms both selective areas and the national average in its bottom and top results at GCSE. By contrast, the attainment gap is worse than the national average in eight out of nine fully selective areas.
May I point out to the hon. Lady that seven London boroughs are either fully or partially selective?
These are figures that the House of Commons of Library has produced for me today on grammar schools and fully selective areas, and the Minister will be aware of them.
In Kent and Medway, poorer children lag behind while richer children move ahead, and the losses at the bottom are much larger than the gains at the top. That pattern is a feature of selective areas in England. Let us compare fully selective Kent with comprehensive London. Just 27% of children eligible for free school meals in Kent achieve five good GCSEs, while the national figure is 33% and the figure for London is 45%. I have to ask the Government yet again: why not focus on sharing the good practice of London, rather than spreading the poorer practice of Kent?
Furthermore, disadvantaged children in selective areas do worse for the rest of their lives. The practice of coaching children to pass the 11-plus in selective areas is rife, as we have heard. That is why the proportion of disadvantaged children at grammar schools is so extremely and embarrassingly low—just 2.6% of kids on free school meals attend grammar schools. Overall, grammars admit four to five times as many children who went to independent and prep schools than children who are eligible for free school meals.
That is why Lord David Willetts, the former Conservative Minister, has described grammar schools as an
“arms race of private tuition for rich parents”.
Any parent would understand why that is the case. Of course most parents would want their children to go to a school full of clever children where their social networks would be developed, where it is easier to recruit and retain teachers and where success helps to breed further success. However, the majority of their kids will not get in. To suggest that the very existence of grammar schools does not disrupt the wider education system and outcomes for everybody else—the 80% who do not get in—is plain wrong. That is why, in today’s papers, school leaders in Conservative Surrey have said that they are vehemently opposed to grammar schools. They echo the many concerns raised by others about the impact of creaming off the brightest and the best and stigmatising the rest.
We, as policymakers, should be leading the debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan has said, we should be shouting from the rooftops about how great many more of today’s schools are. The top-performing comprehensives, which take in many thousands more poorer children than the grammar schools do, are just as good as, if not better than, the best grammars. Those comprehensive schools provide opportunity, stretch and good outcomes for all children, not just for a few. As I said at the start of my remarks, it is particularly important in today’s world that social networks and community cohesion should be available to everybody, and comprehensives offer those things.
I am really proud of the fact that I went to a local comprehensive school in Manchester. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan attended the same school. But hon. Members should be under no illusion simply because we have made it this far. In the era when we attended that school—Parrs Wood High School—too many children were failed. We had some great teachers, but education was poorly resourced and too many children were allowed to slip through the net.
I am proud that my eldest child now attends the same school. It is a truly comprehensive school, in which 40% of kids are on free school meals, and it achieved its best ever results this year, with 72% of children gaining five A* to C grades in subjects including English and maths. Like many of the best comprehensives, it has a strong gifted and talented programme—pretty much dropped by this Government when they came in—and fluid streaming and setting in many subjects. That is what the best schools do: they stretch all kids as they develop and create a school-wide ethos of success and achievement.
Even though education was not so great in my day, it mattered hugely to my peers and to kids from all backgrounds that they could mix socially and academically, raising aspiration and attainment for everybody. The dozens of Manchester school kids whom I meet every week can see that I went to a local comprehensive school, just as they do. They can see that there is no barrier to what they can achieve. What a damning verdict it would be on our country if we went back to an era when we told four out of every five children at the age of 11 that there was a cap on their potential and that only the grammar school kids could go far.
I could give Members many examples of outstanding secondary schools across Manchester today that are delivering real progress for huge numbers of disadvantaged kids: Wright Robinson College, Trinity High School, Manchester Enterprise Academy and Whalley Range High School—the list could go on. That is why the Education Policy Institute found that the overall improvements in education over the last 20 years, including the sponsored academy programme, have had a much more significant impact on attainment among disadvantaged children than any expansion of grammar schools could possibly have.
We are all sitting here and asking the same question: why are the Government proposing to bring back grammar schools, when the evidence is so clear? One can only assume that the decision is based on ideology and not on sound policy. In pursuit of this ideology, Ministers have scrabbled together a pretty flimsy Green Paper and cherry-picked a few bits of—I am sorry for the pun—selective evidence. First, they cling to research that shows that the tiny number of children on free school meals who get into grammar schools do better than those who do not. What a deeply dubious argument. Not only is that tiny number not comparable with the huge number of children who are not at grammars, but, by definition, those few children are already high attainers at key stage 2. If we look at the top attainers at key stage 2 from all backgrounds, we see that they do just as well at the best comprehensives as they do at grammar schools.
The point I was trying to make earlier was that that is not the case. Of the children who leave primary school having achieved level 5 in the key stage 2 SATS, 78% of those who attend grammar schools go on to get the EBacc, but only 52% of those who go to a non-selective school achieve the EBacc. So those children do not achieve as highly in non-selective schools as they do in selective schools.
If the Minister is basing an entire, huge change in education public policy on the narrow measure of modern foreign languages at GCSE, good luck to him. As he knows, we cannot compare a tiny number of pupils—I think it is 3,000—who are on free school meals in grammar schools with the tens of thousands of high achieving children on free school meals in other schools. Schools in which three or four children out of 700 are on free school meals face a completely different challenge from that faced by schools such as most of those in my constituency, where 70% or 80% of kids are on free school meals. The challenge for the latter schools in educating children on free school meals is significantly greater. The Minister is not comparing like with like, and he knows it.
Those who are not high achievers at 11—the vast majority of children, who do not get that level 5—do better in comprehensive systems than in selective ones. The Government also argue that by changing the nature of selection and somehow making getting into grammar schools tutor-proof will solve the problems. We have already heard how difficult that is, but I beg to differ in any case. If the Government are pushing forward with this policy on that basis, why not enforce a requirement on today’s grammar schools to take a larger number of children on free school meals? They should do that first and prove their point, if they are so confident of their argument, and then they should come back to the House in two or three years’ time and show us that it is possible to narrow the gap in selective areas.
The Prime Minister’s final straw in justifying the policy was that
“it is wrong that we have a system in this country where a law prevents the opening or expansion of good schools.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 806.]
She seems to see no irony whatsoever in the fact that her Government has banned the opening of good schools by anybody other than a free school sponsor, which has led to the school place crisis and a system that is in utter chaos.
I almost find it depressing that we again have to rehearse these arguments when the overwhelming evidence is clear. The evidence base for policies and interventions that work and that tackle the educational attainment gap has also become much clearer. Let us recap what they are: quality in early years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West said; a deep pool of excellent teachers; and adequate resources targeted at closing the gap and providing opportunity for all. I will look at what is happening in each of those areas under this Government.
For early years, yes, more resources have gone in, as the importance of affordable childcare becomes a political imperative and an economic necessity. I welcome the focus on enabling more parents to work, but the critical issue of quality early education in narrowing the gap has taken a backward step. We know that by the age of five, the developmental gap between disadvantaged children and their peers is already very clear—it is equivalent to at least 15 months—yet what is happening today is the opposite of what is needed to close the gap. Remarkably, in many parts of the country, after years of focus by the previous Labour Government and many councils, we have some of the highest-quality early years provision in some of the most deprived communities—the silver bullet of education—through many maintained nursery schools and free places in school nurseries. Yet in an attempt to deliver its pledge of 30 hours free childcare for working parents—by definition, they are more likely to be better off—the Government are prohibiting councils from investing in quality or subsidising places for non-working parents. I could go into many more reasons why the quality of early years provision is going backwards.
As hon. Members have mentioned, there is a growing teacher supply crisis in this country today. Unless urgent action is taken to address this acute problem, any other education policy is meaningless and will fail. We all know that the kids who pay the highest price when teacher supply falls, and therefore quality falls, are those who are least advantaged and least able to help themselves at home.
Finally, on resources, there have been welcome increases in education budgets during the past 20 years. Schools have been able to use additional targeted interventions, such as the pupil premium, to level the playing field in everything from one-to-one tuition and support to paying for uniforms, music lessons and school trips for kids who would not otherwise be able to afford them. However, I know from talking to heads in my area that with the biggest cuts to school budgets in a generation—about 8% during this Parliament—it is exactly such support that is going first.
Any Government who purport to have an interest in educational equality and social mobility must look seriously and quickly at these pressing issues, before we even get to those involving technical education and skills, and access to jobs. Such an agenda would keep any Minister busy, so why, after six months of unnecessary distraction with the forced academisation agenda, which has now been dropped, are Ministers creating yet another unnecessary upheaval in school structures? This time, support for their proposals is even more narrow, the evidence base even more flimsy and the outcomes even more divisive. It is time for the Government to drop these damaging proposals and get back to the task of investing in early years education, addressing the teacher supply crisis and stopping the harmful cuts to school budgets.
I rise to speak on behalf of the Church of England in this important Back-Bench debate. The Church has a long and successful history of educating children in our country. It provided education before the state did. In fact, it is still the largest provider of education besides the state. It has 4,700 schools, most of which are primaries, with 200 secondary schools. Some 84% of its primary and 74% of its secondary schools are good or outstanding.
Many of the remaining schools are in remote rural locations, although I should point out that there are some excellent rural schools. The challenge of trying to sustain a class for each year group in a remote rural area and the difficulty in attracting teachers there make it hard to achieve higher standards in those schools. The Church is committed to raising standards, and with the help of digital means and remote learning methods, it is possible to bring the best teaching to such schools. The Church has fought to sustain these schools for the sake of social cohesion, where other institutions might by now have given up. I am sure that hon. Members with rural constituencies will immediately identify with the importance of the village school, which, with the parish church, may be the only institutional hub for such communities. That underlines the importance of keeping them sustainable.
I want to scotch the myth that Church schools are forces for segregation. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, most Church schools do not practise selection at all. Where faith-based criteria apply, they do so only when schools are over-subscribed and alternative educational provision exists, so such selection applies in only a very small proportion of Church schools. The composition of Church schools reflects the social geography of their area. Some Church schools, such as those in Bradford and Blackburn, are 95% Muslim. Conversely, schools in rural areas are inevitably more likely to be less diverse, mostly as a function of patterns of migration to and settlement in urban areas. Professor Cantle, for whom I have the highest regard, observed in his recent report on ethnic segregation that inner-city people are more likely than ever before to live near those of a different ethnicity. The Church of England’s policy of being open to all therefore promotes better cohesion and understanding.
The Church sees its role as one of nurturing people to live life to the full, educating young people for hope and aspiration, and to embody an ethos of living well together. We must be getting something right because, after all, Church schools are sought after by people of all faiths and none. In September, the Archbishop of Canterbury said something important about the times we live in:
“Religiously motivated violence and extremism are…presenting a challenge…not seen for a couple of hundred years. In such…circumstances, religious literacy is key: understanding the motivations and ideas of those who commit violence is essential, even if we, rightly, condemn it.”
I want to emphasise that the Church of England is firmly committed to delivering outstanding education and promoting academic excellence, and it is more committed than ever to training up creative and innovative school leaders, but it has not yet expressed a formal position on grammar schools. In the interests of transparency, I should declare that I am the product of a grammar school. I will be eternally grateful to the Hertfordshire and Essex Girls’ Grammar School for the excellent start in life that it gave me. At that time, however, there was a binary choice between grammar and secondary modern schools, whereas there is now a much wider range of secondary education.
I could not agree more with what the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), said about the potential of university technical colleges. I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, including her comparison with other comparable advanced industrial economies with selective education. By observation, having been a German language school exchange pupil, I might say that technical education was already a much stronger alternative in that country, which promoted selective education, when I first did a school exchange at the age of 14. We now have university technical colleges in this country.
On the council estate in my constituency—its secondary schools, none of which had previously managed to get more than 20% of their pupils up to five GCSEs, are now all academies—attainment levels have risen to nearly 50%. We very much welcome the fact that we are to have a new academy for engineering. That provides an answer to the Select Committee Chairman’s question about what we are educating today’s children for. With the digital economy upon us, we need to rethink which skills and aptitudes will be needed by the next generation of the workforce if they are not to be digitally disadvantaged.
In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, I touched briefly on pupils who cross borders from one education authority area to another. In the Metropolitan Borough of Solihull, we educate more than 8,000 pupils from across our borders with Birmingham and Coventry. That is a force for cohesion and integration. I firmly believe, however, that the money should follow the pupil, as it is only fair that education authorities providing an excellent education to pupils from other education authority areas see the resources that would have been allocated to that pupil had they been educated in their own area.
Returning to faith schools, parents of all faiths and none choose Church of England schools because of the broad and rounded education they provide. I want to finish with a little anecdote that perfectly illustrates the role that Church schools can play in addressing some of the difficult challenges of social cohesion and integration in our society. Every year, I hold a carols-and-mince-pies evening in my home. Last year, I was asked by a young lady of Asian origin doing work experience whether she could bring her mother and sister. I accepted with alacrity, not least because the sister was a professional cook, and hers were the best mince pies by far. That evening, as we stood together around the piano, singing carols, I saw them singing at the top of their voices, and I was really impressed. They turned to me and said, “What did you expect, Caroline? We went to Church schools and learned all these carols by heart.”
That is a powerful illustration of the openness of Church schools, and the important contribution that they make to some of the most serious challenges we face. I urge colleagues to remember that, and the secular world to remember that faith schools offer a great deal to people of all faiths and none. Out of courtesy to the House, and because I have now revealed that I enjoy singing, I must inform you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I cannot be here for the winding-up speeches, as the Parliament choir has its dress rehearsal for its autumn concert at 4 o’clock.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman). I send my best wishes to the Parliament choir for a successful concert.
In Trafford, part of which I represent, we already have a selective education system. All our schools perform very well, but that is despite selection, not because of it. Trafford’s success reflects excellent teaching, strong schools leadership, a culture of schools working together to support one another, and very good support from families and parents. I pay tribute to everyone—staff, students and the wider community—for the excellent results that Trafford achieves.
It is important to note, however, that selection at age 11 is not an unalloyed good for everyone, or even for the majority of our children. A few weeks ago, I went to meet the headteacher of one of our very successful non-selective girls’ schools—well, I guess it is selective, in that it is single-sex—and she talked about the challenges that she and her staff team face when girls who have failed the entrance examination for our local grammar schools arrive at her school, at the very young age of 11, demoralised and dispirited, believing that they are failures and have been written off.
That headteacher’s team do a tremendous job to recover the morale and confidence of those girls, who go on to perform extremely well, but I find it offensive that we should say to young children, “You are a failure”, on the basis of an inflexible and unsuitable examination that does not reflect the wider context of what is going on in children’s lives and what learning ought to be for. If we have a system in which only one in four of our children aged 11 are told they are successful and have potential, we are getting something very wrong.
As I say, the selective system does not perform well for all our children in Trafford, nor does it deal with the postcode lottery, which Ministers have said they want to address through their proposals. In Trafford, children from the richest wards are by far the most likely to be in Trafford’s grammar schools. Those from the poorest wards, largely concentrated in my constituency, are the least likely to be in grammar schools. In preparation for this debate, I saw a graph of the numbers, and the curve was startling and shocking: a tiny proportion of children in wards such as Bucklow-St Martins and Clifford in my constituency go to grammar school, compared with a much higher percentage of children from Hale and Bowdon, in the more prosperous parts of the borough.
I always listen carefully to the hon. Lady, but is the issue not sometimes aspiration and getting applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds? If more from such backgrounds applied, could we not make some progress?
I will be very honest with the hon. Gentleman: I do not know. I just feel that a system that says to parents, “Don’t bother putting your child forward because they have no chance of succeeding,” is not a very good system either. What that headteacher told me gives the lie to what he suggests. She said that parents felt under pressure to put their child forward for the assessment even when they knew that they were unlikely to succeed. The disappointment is being compounded by a great deal of wasted effort and pain. He is right about the complexities around who applies and what happens when they do, but there is something very troubling about a graph that shows that only children from the richest parts of the borough have a high chance of entry into grammar schools. I suspect that their having supportive parents, and lots of assets in their home to support their learning through educational toys, reading, educational trips and leisure activities and so on, is the reason why they have a higher chance of getting into grammar schools. I do not negate what he says, but I strongly suspect that it is those wider social factors and family resources that dispose children from the richer parts of the boroughs to have a higher chance of entering grammar schools.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech about her experiences in Trafford, but further to the intervention from the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), is she aware that the more selective an area—the higher the concentration of grammar schools—the wider the attainment gap? Conservative Members like to argue that if only there were more grammar schools, more poorer children would attend them, but that does not stack up against the evidence.
Headteachers in my borough believe that if there were more grammar schools, by definition there would be more secondary modern-equivalent schools, too, and that for every grammar school we create, we will have to create four secondary moderns, unless the ratios of children in grammar and non-grammar schools are to change.
The Minister indicated that there would be a range of different schools available to students, such as technical schools or schools with different specialisms, and I welcome that, but we have had the latter for many years, under the academy system introduced by Labour. I already have specialist sports, science and art academies in my constituency. We do not have to overlay that with academic selection to ensure a different emphasis in the education that children receive, and we must not use division to exacerbate the attainment gap.
I want to speak about a group of children who really lose out in Trafford: children with special educational needs and disabilities, who have not been mentioned much this afternoon. In a written answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on 2 November, the Minister appeared to say that the Government were not tracking the number of SEND children in grammar schools. I am surprised if that is the case. If I misunderstood the thrust of his answer, I would very much welcome his correcting me. I am certainly disturbed if we are not following the engagement of those children and their experience in the selective system.
I can tell the Minister and the House that the numbers of children with special educational needs and disabilities in grammar schools in Trafford are shockingly low. Based on the May 2016 school census figures, we had a grammar school population in my borough of 7,539 children, 224 of whom were receiving SEN support, and just 20 had education, health and care plans or statements in place—just 20 out of more than 7,500 kids. I have seen some figures subsequently that suggest that the numbers could be even lower now.
In practice, therefore, the selective system is clearly not working and not serving SEND children in our borough. The system is not working for them. It does not work for them in a number of different ways. First, for the children and their families, the entrance exam process is very stressful—compounded, I must say, in Trafford by the fact that each grammar school sets its own entrance exam. There is not a common 11-plus across the borough—each school has its own tests—so children sit, and quite often fail, not just one, but two, three or four tests. On top of that, they will have received intensive tutoring in advance of taking those tests, where their parents can afford it, that starts for many children from the age of nine or even younger, putting incredible stress on those families and children in preparation for those tests.
I shall give way to the shadow Minister, who is my parliamentary next-door neighbour and also a Trafford MP.
I am grateful to my neighbour, who is making a very powerful speech. Does she agree that the pass and fail line of the children taking all those tests is absolutely arbitrary, because it will depend on how many grammar school places there are in the system for that current year?
Of course it will. Perhaps the Minister would like to say whether he wants to see more such grammar school places at the expense of a lowering of this arbitrary bar, or whether he believes that the right thing to do would be to ensure that every school offered a great education to every child, which would be my aspiration, and indeed was exactly what I received in my comprehensive school in the 1970s. I am a little bit surprised that, nearly half a century later, we are having to revisit the success of such schools.
In truth, it is not even selection at age 11 in Trafford; in practice, it is selection for most children at age 10, because the entrance examination is taken at the start of year 6 before many children have reached their 11th birthday. I think that putting little children of 10 years old through that kind of process is really wrong. I feel really uncomfortable about it, and I would like to hear the Minister tell us in his response what analysis the Government have made and what consideration they have given to the pressure that that kind of system puts on young children and their parents.
As I said earlier, selection is not really about parents making a choice; it is choice by the schools, which impacts particularly on children with special educational needs and disabilities. In Trafford, many parents have told me that they believe that grammar schools, deliberately or otherwise, deter or reject their children because they believe that admitting such children would have an adverse effect on their overall school results. The inspection and monitoring systems do not sufficiently incentivise grammar schools to take those children, and where they do take them, there is ample national—not just local—evidence that it is more likely that grammar schools will take SEND children only if they are at the milder end of the SEND spectrum. In other words, that means children who are more likely to be able to develop and improve.
I have heard far too many reports from parents in my constituency of the failure of the system to make adjustments for the way in which SEND pupils take the entrance tests—even if the schools have been alerted to the special needs of the students in advance. For example, a parent told me about her child with a hearing impairment. She had told the school about it and about the need for a quiet environment in which the child could take the test, instead of which the child was put at the front of the hall with about 100 children in it and no sound insulation, and the child struggled to perform. I have heard, too, that the tests fail adequately to recognise the special needs of those with autism or dyslexia. In truth, no matter how well the tests are administered and no matter how responsive they might try to be to the particular needs of children with special needs, the 11-plus system is inherently discriminatory against those special needs children, as indeed the exam board GL Assessment itself confirmed in its research of 2009.
In addition to the exam system, developments in the curriculum also discriminate against some SEND students. We have already heard about the EBacc, which the Minister appeared to regard as a measure of success among students, but in fact that measure does not work well for SEND children, and neither do some of the back-to-basics traditional teaching methods that are now being applied at GCSE in English and maths.
All this means that, in practice, the non-selective schools in Trafford end up taking a disproportionately large number of children with special educational needs. I must say in their defence that those schools do exceptionally well for those children, but it puts those schools under huge pressure and often means that parents cannot get their children into them, even though they are the local schools, because the children with special needs and statements have to take priority for the available places. Those schools also struggle to maintain sixth forms, which means they sometimes struggle to recruit the most academically specialist teachers. In practice, children in those schools are not necessarily getting the chance to have the best education and the best teaching.
It is my firm belief that greater expansion of grammar schools would make a bad situation even worse for SEND children in Trafford. I am therefore particularly concerned that the Green Paper makes no mention of SEND children at all. I specifically raised this matter with the Secretary of State on the very first occasion after the summer recess that we discussed selective education in early September, and she assured me that those children would receive careful consideration by Ministers. They do not make an appearance in the Green Paper at all. Yet, as I hope I have shown this afternoon, all my experience is that the proposals to expand the number of grammar schools will impact most negatively on those children. As the Alliance for Inclusive Education pointed out, 87% of respondents in a recent Nasen survey—this is the body of SEND professionals—said that they, too, believed that the expansion of selection would have a negative impact on those kids.
Ministers owe a very special obligation to those children—a special obligation to ensure that they can fulfil their potential, make the most of their education, and be included and educated alongside other kids. The Trafford experience shows that the opposite is true. The result is that we are failing to protect the rights and interests of disabled children, and it is endemic to the selective system to fail to do so. I would argue that it is also at odds with our international obligations under the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as our obligation to serve the best interests of every child.
If the Green Paper and the Government really want schools that work for SEND students, here are some of the things that I would like Ministers to look at that I believe will work. They should ensure that there is a special educational needs co-ordinator and a dedicated SEND champion on every school leadership team. They should ensure that there are strong, firm processes for school-to-school knowledge exchange and opportunities for children in special needs schools to share some of their learning with children in mainstream schools. They should ensure that all SEND children receive the best-quality teaching and look at how school funding can incentivise teachers to be in schools to educate those kids. Overall, they should look at the resources, the inspection regime and the incentives for schools to give special attention to the needs of children with special needs and disabilities.
That is what I would have liked the Green Paper to concentrate on, and it is what I would like to see Ministers concentrate on now. I hope that the Minister will say this afternoon that he is prepared to consider rethinking and re-prioritising away from these damaging and divisive proposals, which do very little for a very large number of children in my constituency and which have the potential to do considerable harm to more children right around the country.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on providing the stimulus for the debate. The House will possibly be pleased to learn that I have not a great deal to add to her forensic introductory analysis, but let me begin with some obvious admissions. There are excellent grammar schools, and no doubt we could all name some. Grammar schools, like all good schools, do a fair amount for social mobility, and it is probably not wise to dismantle a successfully functioning grammar school.
None of that, however, amounts to a defence of the grammar school system—a system that undeniably separates children at the age of 11 according to simple exam performance, which is taken as a proxy for their innate ability and potential. It is a very poor proxy, based on very poor and dated research conducted back in the 1950s. It is no sort of proxy for innate ability or potential, which is often discovered much later in a child’s career. It is also—as we heard from the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) a few moments ago—a slightly arbitrary procedure, because whether a child passes or fails depends on whether there are grammar school places in the area and whether there are sufficient places. I passed my 11-plus, but when I arrived at my grammar school, I was placed firmly in the D stream. I wonder what would have happened had there only been a three-form entry. The House would probably not be burdened with my remarks here and now, and indeed my whole future might have been quite different.
It is not socially desirable to separate children into passes and failures at the age of 11. The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) has just described emotively how bad it can be: after all, those children will have to mix with each other at some point later in life. However, it is not educationally sensible either.
My first job after I left university with a philosophy degree was teaching English at a secondary modern school. It was a good secondary modern school: it had streaming and uniforms, and much of the paraphernalia that good schools are supposed to have. After a year, it amalgamated with Bootle Grammar School—Bootle being a very deprived area—and became a comprehensive. I then became the form teacher of a mixed class, half ex-grammar school boys and half secondary modern school pupils. Six months on, it was impossible to tell who had started in the secondary modern and who had started in the grammar school, in terms of attainment, ability and attitude, and in many other respects. A year earlier, however, their destiny, their curriculum, their status, their feelings about themselves, their aspirations, their whole future—and how they were regarded—would have been markedly different.
In those days, most secondary modern school pupils in Bootle left without taking any public exams, and without aspirations; but at that stage—the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) made this point—they had jobs to go to. They could work on the docks; they could work as labourers. There were car factories around. Unskilled work was available in abundance.
I subsequently went to teach at a Catholic high school, also in Bootle. It was a former grammar school which had amalgamated with a secondary modern, St Joan of Arc, and no single pupil in its entire history had ever taken a public exam apart from the Bootle school leaving certificate, which has limited cachet nowadays. When pupils left, most of them got jobs on the docks. We know that jobs of that sort have gone, and gone for good, but there are still too many white working-class kids, boys and girls, with low aspirations and low attainment, who are likely to fail any 11-plus that is put in their way as an obstacle.
That is the problem, and the Minister knows it is the problem. It is a big economic problem for our country, and it is a big problem of ours that has been identified internationally. It is what is known as the tail. It is a huge problem, and we have had enormous difficulty in addressing it. I should like the Minister to tell me how grammar schools help to deal with it. How does plucking the brightest children out of comprehensives help? How can grammar schools solve the problem of the tail?
We have never really had a problem with making clever kids cleverer; our problem is with raising the average and closing the gap. The grammar school/secondary modern model only really worked in a world in which a basic education gave a job for life. That is no longer the case, and as far as I can see, education policy can no longer be based on nostalgia. It must be based firmly on evidence, and there is no evidence in favour of the Government’s current proposals.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing the debate, which is very timely, and on her impassioned speech.
Labour is obviously committed to an education system for everyone, not just a select few, and we will oppose this regressive policy of grammar school expansion every step of the way. The Prime Minister spoke about delivering for everyone, but what matters is what she does, and her actions reveal the Government’s true colours: working in the interests of the few while everyone else is left behind; in one breath talking of creating a “great meritocracy”, and in the next announcing a return to grammar schools.
However, it is not just Opposition Members who oppose the policy. Grammar schools will not improve the lives of the many. As the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) has just pointed out, it is not desirable to fail children at the age of 11. Even the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that rejecting the stale old grammars debate was a “key test” of whether the Conservative party was fit for government. He described the debate as “backward looking”, “completely delusional”, and “an electoral albatross”. He rightly pointed out that parents wanted us to do something about the standards in many of the 3,000 secondary schools, rather than tying ourselves in knots over the return of grammar schools.
The chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw, has said:
“The notion that the poor stand to benefit from the return of grammar schools strikes me as quite palpable tosh and nonsense—and is very clearly refuted by the London experience.”
A number of Members have alluded to that experience today. The implementation of the London challenge fund revolutionised education in the capital, but, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, other schemes, such as Greater Manchester’s, were cut in 2010 as a result of austerity measures.
The Conservative Chair of the Education Select Committee, the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), who spoke so well today, told Radio 4’s “The Westminster Hour” recently:
“We have serious issues about social mobility, in particular white working-class young people”
—that, too, was mentioned by the hon. Member for Southport—
“and I don’t think that having more grammar schools is going to help them.”
Lord Willetts, the former Universities Minister, who is now the chair of the think-tank the Resolution Foundation, said that he had not changed his views since the Conservatives were in opposition and that the evidence suggested that they had failed to help disadvantaged children.
Fewer than 3% of children on free school meals attend grammar schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) spoke eloquently about social mobility in that context. Only today, as we have heard, every headteacher in Surrey signed a letter to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State opposing the expansion of grammar schools. The Government, however, are simply not listening, even though there is no evidence to support the policy.
I mentioned austerity a little earlier. According to the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, England’s schools are experiencing the largest real-terms funding cuts for more than a generation. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, schools face unprecedented pressures, and, as we heard from the hon. Member for Stroud, the Government have yet to announce when they will consult on the fair funding formula. In real terms, schools will lose a huge amount of money, rising to £2.5 billion a year by 2020, and 92% of schools will have their funding cut. The average cut for primary schools will be £96,500, and the average cut for secondary schools will be £290,000. The average loss per primary school pupil will be £401, and the average loss per secondary school pupil will be £365. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that school budgets will have fallen by 8% over the course of this Parliament. The budget was protected only in cash terms, rather than in real terms, so the schools budget is at the mercy of rising pressures, pupil numbers and the impact of inflation on true value.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on the issues facing schools today. On the budget, is he aware of the impact of the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) about fewer children now being in receipt of free school meals and therefore the pupil premium? As a result, the budgetary pressures are greatest on schools in the most deprived areas, and the families themselves are often no better off despite not requiring free school meals and the pupil premium.
That is an excellent point. Schools in poorer areas are certainly feeling the budgetary pressures. Traditionally, we had a system of subsidiarity in education funding, but this Government are trying to pull that away. On top of the figures I have just given, schools are now worried about being further punished in the fair funding formula that the Government have yet to consult on.
The freedom to practise faith and to educate children in a faith—or not—of our choosing is one of the cornerstones of the free and diverse democratic society we enjoy. The right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) made a strong defence of faith and faith schools in our system. The grammar school row has been a distraction from the lifting of the 50% cap rule on faith schools. This policy was brought in by the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). One of his first acts as Education Secretary was to require all new schools of a religious character to be open to admitting 50% of pupils from outside their faith. The measure was aimed primarily at Muslim schools, but paradoxically it had almost no impact on them. The right hon. Lady alluded to this point when she talked about the situation in Blackburn. This measure did, however, prevent the expansion of other faith schools, which has led to real shortages and a lack of choice in many parts of the country. The policy has been an abject failure. Governments must consider more sensible approaches to integration, such as establishing effective twinning arrangements with schools of different faiths, considering setting up mixed-faith academy trusts, and considering that a member of a different faith or none can sit on a governing body.
The point I was trying to make is that social geography is what determines the profile of the pupils drawn from the catchment, and there are fundamental reasons in society why particular groups tend to live in particular areas, often not unrelated to the cost of housing. But the Church of England’s open-to-all policy should mean that pupils of all faiths and none have access to the school that is nearest to them.
Faith schools also generally draw from a wider catchment area, which means they often draw pupils from a poorer subsection of society. Over 80% of them are doing well or outstandingly well, so it is no wonder that parents currently want to send their children to them. I take on board the right hon. Lady’s point, however.
Labour wants the best for all our children. As a teacher during the previous Labour Government, I saw the roofs fixed or the schools rebuilt, I saw class sizes go down and attainment go up, and I saw unparalleled investment in our early years. But under this Government, we have a black hole in education funding. As pointed out in the eloquent speech of my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), there was no mention in the Green Paper of special educational needs. We have a crisis in teacher morale, recruitment and retention, and we have scandal after scandal in academy trusts due to the lack of effective oversight. There is also chaos over the national funding formula and incompetence with regard to the testing and assessment criteria on a scale not seen before. It is a shame that Parliament does not have the equivalent of Ofsted to assess the competence of the Government; if it did, the Government Front-Bench team would no doubt find itself in special measures.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) on securing this welcome and important debate on a crucial issue facing our country.
The Government are determined to deliver the good school places this country needs. Since 2010, more than 1.4 million more pupils are in good or outstanding schools, and we have created over half a million new school places in that period, in direct contradiction to the last Labour Government, who cut 200,000 primary school places at a time when the birth rate was increasing.
Yet too often, parents do not have the choice of a good school place for their child. In 65 local authorities, fewer than half of children have access to a good or outstanding secondary school within three miles of their home. For these pupils, the chance of getting the best education depends not on talent or hard work, but on where they live and how much money their parents have.
The focus of the Government under this Administration and the previous one has been on driving up standards in schools, so that every child receives the education they need to reach their potential. Thanks to the hard work of hundreds of thousands of teachers and the reforms we have introduced over the past six years, our school system has improved dramatically.
The Government have reformed the primary curriculum, so that it is on a par with the best in the world. Evidence-based teaching practice such as “maths mastery” and “systematic synthetic phonics” is revolutionising the way primary pupils are being taught maths and how to read. This year, as a result of our reforms, 147,000 more year 1 pupils are on-track to becoming fluent readers than in 2012.
Will the Minister give way?
I am happy to give way the shadow shadow Secretary of State.
The Minister is highly amusing. On a more serious point, I am sure I will disagree with much in his speech, but I have to take issue with him if he is coming to this House to talk about this year’s SATs results. Is he pleased that after the chaos and confusion he has caused in this year’s SATs, at key stage 2 we saw a drop in the proportion of those meeting national expectations from over 80% to just 53%? Is he happy with that appalling drop in results?
The standards are significantly higher, and schools are raising their game and adapting to the new significantly higher standards. Some 66% of primary school pupils reach the expected standard in the reading tests and 70% reach the expected standard in maths. The hon. Lady is right that the combined reading, writing and maths result came to 53% but that is for the first year of the significantly more demanding SATs, based on a significantly more demanding national curriculum that puts our school system on a par with the best education systems in the world. That is the way to prepare young people for life in modern Britain and life in a globalised competitive world.
Many parents and teachers listening will be aghast at that. I give the Minister one more opportunity to apologise to teachers and parents for the fact that the Government did not embed those changes properly and did not give enough time to teachers and that the poor kids who have just left year 6 have now been branded as not reaching the national expectation. There is no difference from the children or the teaching of the year before, but because of the difference he personally has made, those results have dropped by 30%. Will he apologise for that?
But the children are better educated as a consequence of a national curriculum that is more demanding and that requires children to become fluent readers and to understand grammar, punctuation and spelling, and to do long division and long multiplication instead of chunking and the grid method. Children will leave primary school better educated—more fluent readers and more fluent in arithmetic—as a consequence of our reforms.
These reforms do take time to embed, however. We published that new curriculum in 2013, and it became law in September 2014, but of course it will take some schools longer than others to adapt to it. But one thing I am sure of is that teachers up and down this country are conscientious; they are working hard and are responding very well to a brilliant, more demanding new curriculum.
In secondary education, we have ended grade inflation and empowered teachers and headteachers to deal with poor behaviour. We have also removed GCSE equivalents and prioritised the teaching of core academic subjects, so that more children are taught the knowledge they need to flourish. But we need to do more. There are still more than 1 million children in schools that are not good enough, and that is why we are consulting on a range of measures to look at more ways to increase the number of good school places. We want to tap into the knowledge and expertise of this country’s world-leading universities and independent schools. We want to remove the restrictive regulations that are preventing more children from going to a high-quality faith school. We also want to end the ban on opening new grammar schools.
Faith schools make up around a third of all mainstream schools in England. As the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) said, the Church has 4,700 schools. Faith schools are more likely than non-faith schools to be rated as good or outstanding, with 89% of primary faith schools reaching those standards. The current rule, designed to promote inclusion by limiting the proportion of pupils that oversubscribed new faith free schools can admit on the basis of faith, has not worked to combat segregation. Worse, this burdensome regulation has become a barrier to some faith groups opening new schools. Most markedly, it is preventing the establishment of new Catholic schools. The absurdity of the current rule is exposed when we consider that Catholic schools are more ethnically diverse than other faith schools, more likely to be located in deprived communities and more likely to be rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. There is growing demand for them in this country. If this restrictive regulation is removed, the Catholic Church hopes to open up to 45 new schools by 2020, and the Church of England has said that it hopes to open up to 100 new schools in a similar timeframe.
With this greater freedom will come strict rules to ensure that every new faith school operates in a way that supports British values. We will also explore ways to use the school system to promote greater integration within our society, such as requiring new faith schools to establish twinning arrangements with other schools not of their faith. The Government are also consulting on lifting the ban on more grammar school places being created. Ofsted rates 99% of grammar school places as good or better, and 82% are rated outstanding. In a school system where over a million pupils are not getting the education they need and deserve, it cannot be right to prevent more good and outstanding selective school places from being created.
On that point, will the Minister look at the ban imposed by his Government on good and outstanding local authority schools opening new schools? Will he also ensure that maintained nursery schools— 98% of which are also good or outstanding—can open new schools? That, too, has been banned by his Government.
We want a diverse education system. At the moment, 40% of secondary schools and nearly 80% of primary schools are still run by local authorities. We want to open that up to create a more diverse system of education with more providers coming in. That includes providers such as the West London Free School, which the Opposition have severely criticised. It is providing very high-quality education. There are other examples of such a diverse system bringing in new providers, establishing parent groups and enabling teachers to establish their own schools. This is raising academic standards right across the system. We are proposing to scrap the ban on new grammar schools and to allow them to open where parents want them, with strict conditions to ensure that they improve standards for pupils across the school system.
The Minister will be aware that Torbay has retained some grammar schools as part of its schools mix. In the past, Torquay Academy, which was close to Torquay Boys’ Grammar School, was not doing particularly well. However, following the establishment of a multi-academy trust and a partnership with the grammar school, the academy was for the first time rated as good by Ofsted in all categories earlier this year and, last month, it was for the first time listed in the top five schools in the west country. It is now providing outstanding education for its pupils, and I hope that the Minister will join me in congratulating Steve Margetts and his team. Does he agree that this proves definitively that there is no conflict in having good grammar schools and good other schools for everyone else?
I could not have put it any better. That is a classic example of a grammar school working with a non-selective school to raise the standards in both schools, and it is working extremely well. We want to see that replicated up and down the country, and that is what we are consulting on in our proposals.
Under our proposals, existing grammar schools and new grammar schools would be allowed to open only if they met strict conditions designed to ensure that increased numbers of less-well-off pupils have access to a selective education. The hon. Member for Wigan asked for evidence that the proposals would work. We know that selective schools are almost 50% more popular with parents than non-selective schools, based on the preferences expressed in the secondary school application process. The most recent GCSE figures show that pupils at grammar schools make significantly more progress, relative to their similarly able peers in comprehensives, with a progress 8 score in aggregate of plus 0.33, compared with the national average of nought. The results are even starker for pupils from less affluent backgrounds. Disadvantaged pupils from grammar schools are almost twice as likely to go to a top Russell Group university than their wealthier peers who attend comprehensive schools, and they are more than three times as likely to attend one of these prestigious universities as their comprehensively educated peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
According to the Educational Policy Institute report, pupils at grammar schools achieve a third of a grade per subject higher than those at non-grammar schools, and 78% of highly able children—those who achieve level 5 at the end of primary school—who go to a grammar school achieve the EBacc, compared with 52% of highly able pupils who go to a comprehensive school. If we look at the Oxbridge entrance—
I will give way to the hon. Lady when I have finished responding to the hon. Member for Wigan’s points.
One in five of the state school-educated students at Oxford between 2012 and 2014 were from grammar schools. In Cambridge in 2015, 682 students came from the comprehensive sector and 589 from grammar schools, so almost as many students from the state sector came from 163 grammar schools as came from 2,800 comprehensive schools. Disadvantaged pupils are, as I have