House of Commons
Wednesday 14 December 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 1st November, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Sir John Holmes as the Chair of the Electoral Commission, with effect from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2020, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 1st November, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Dame Susan Bruce as an Electoral Commissioner, with effect from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2020, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
Oral Answers to Questions
Cabinet Office and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
The persistence and ingenuity of those who would threaten us with cyber- attacks mean that we need to work even harder to keep pace with the threat. That is why we recently launched our five-year national cyber-security strategy—supported by £1.9 billion of investment—in which we set out ambitious steps to respond to that increasing cyber-threat.
Many local firms struggle to afford the very best in cyber-protection. Will the Minister explain what more the Government could do to share their expertise so that local small and medium-sized enterprises could benefit from their experience?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. It is a regrettable fact that, increasingly, cyber-security is an essential part of normal business operations. That is why we are trying to make it easier for small businesses. We have a new Cyber Essentials scheme, which helps businesses to understand what they need to do to protect themselves. We have a cyber exchange, which provides information about organisations and businesses, and directories that can help small businesses. We also have Action Fraud, which is the mechanism by which businesses can report malicious activity.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that as well as protecting the nation’s vital infrastructure from cyber-attacks, the Government are taking appropriate steps to protect businesses and individuals from the threat of such attacks?
I can reassure the House. My hon. Friend rightly raises the issue of wider threats to infrastructure, and that was the purpose behind the setting up of the National Cyber Security Centre, where we bring together all the expertise across Government to make sure that we are protecting our national infrastructure. I am confident that we will be able to do that to a world-leading capacity.
We know that Russian cyber-attacks had an impact on the US election, and that Russian bombing in Syria had an impact on Brexit. What assessment has MI5 made of cyber-attacks in relation to the Brexit output and, indeed, the Scottish referendum?
The hon. Gentleman will know that I cannot comment on the operational details of what the security agencies are doing, but he should be reassured that our agencies have some of the best capacities and capabilities in the world. They are being funded appropriately, we are making sure that they are doing what they need to do, and they are doing what they need to do.
A cyber-attack earlier this month affecting several internet service providers resulted in more than 100,000 people across the UK losing their connection. With the economy becoming ever more reliant on digital infrastructure, what further resilience measures are the Government putting in place to protect not only businesses but consumers from such targeted attacks?
The hon. Lady is entirely right to point out the increasing threat, not only to organisations but to individuals as they live their normal lives. That is why the National Cyber Security Centre has been set up to engage with businesses very early—both on a proactive and a preventive basis, but also when there is a cyber-attack, as in the case that she cited—to ensure that customers are alerted early, that something is done to protect them, and that we learn from such attacks and make sure that they do not happen again in other parts of the economy.
We are. It would not be for me to add to the words of the director general of the Secret Intelligence Service, but it is important that we protect the integrity of our democracy. My hon. Friend can be assured that all agencies in this country are apprised of the necessity of doing precisely that.
In the light of the Russian intervention in the US election and the credible threats to the German election recognised by Chancellor Merkel, will the Minister give the House a guarantee that no cyber-attacks have been carried out on the UK that could have impacted on our democracy? Will he also inform the House what measures, in addition to the cyber-security strategy, his Government will be implementing to defend the UK from such attacks in the future?
I am gratified by the fact that the Electoral Commission says that our register is one of the most accurate and secure in the world, but we clearly need to protect the entire integrity of the democratic process. That is why all security agencies will be making sure that our systems are as secure as possible. I am grateful to the people working in the National Cyber Security Centre for the work they do—a lot of it is very difficult and technical—which is why we are better protected than most countries around the world. I intend to make sure that that capability and capacity improve and increase.
Departmental Plans: Joined-up Government
Single departmental plans represent the Government’s planning and performance management framework. SDPs help the Cabinet Office to ensure that Departments deliver the Government’s key priorities, track progress against manifesto commitments and encourage greater efficiencies in Government.
The five-year forward view for mental health encourages the Cabinet Office to oversee cross-Government implementation of proposals. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to make sure that mental health is a priority for each Department?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter, which I know is very close to her heart and is one in which she has expertise. It is very important that we co-ordinate this matter across Government because it is not just a matter for the Department of Health, although I should say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is taking this as a personal issue, as is the Prime Minister. Our purpose in the Cabinet Office is to make sure that the decisions and recommendations that the Prime Minister will make in due course are implemented across Government, so that there is a response from across the Government by the whole of the Government to something that affects everyone in this country.
The Minister referred to the benefits of joined-up and efficient Government. For those benefits to be seen and enjoyed by citizens across the United Kingdom, will he make a commitment to ongoing discussions with all the devolved legislatures to ensure that best practice is seen and enjoyed by everyone, irrespective of where they live in the UK?
I will. We can learn a great deal from each other.
Special advisers play an important part in supporting Ministers to deliver their priorities. The Government are committed to making the most efficient use of public money. As part of that, we will keep under review the cost of the civil service, which includes special advisers.
The Prime Minister has introduced a salary cap for special advisers, but The Times has reported that her own special advisers are not subject to the cap. How do the Government plan to reassure the public that the costs of special advisers are being controlled?
We are required by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to publish an annual report on the number and cost of special advisers, and we will publish an updated list shortly. We will provide information about the pay bands of special advisers, as well as the actual salaries of the more senior ones. We will also provide the total pay bill for special advisers and severance costs, including the severance payments made to the special advisers who recently left the Government.
House of Lords
The Government are clear that the House of Lords cannot continue to grow indefinitely. However, comprehensive reform of the House of Lords is not a priority for this Parliament, as set out in the Government’s manifesto, given the number of pressing priorities—hon. Members know what they are—elsewhere. Of course, where measures can command consensus across the House, the Government will welcome working with peers to look at how to take them forward.
Even the House of Lords now thinks the House of Lords is too big, so how can it be the Government’s priority to reduce the elected house by 50 Members, when under David Cameron the Lords expanded by 260?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the excellent debate that took place in the other place on 5 December, in which 61 noble Members took part over six hours. It was clear that there was a consensus among all political parties, as there is a consensus among all political parties in this House, that the size of the Lords is an issue that will have to be addressed. Our manifesto commitment set out very clearly that it was not a priority. When it comes to the boundary changes, our manifesto commitment to reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600 is critical as it will save £66 million across a Parliament and, crucially, equalise constituencies that for decades have remained unequal.
I do not think anyone is concerned about the size of Lords, but possibly they are about the size of the House of Lords. It is quite important to be accurate about these matters.
Does my hon. Friend agree that while reform of the House of Lords might not be a priority at the moment, if their lordships try to frustrate the will of the British people over Brexit, reform of the House of Lords should become a top priority?
I refer again to the debate that took place last week, in which an interesting consensus developed. Baroness Evans, the Leader of the House of Lords, said in her summing up:
“It is right that we collectively seek a solution to address concerns about the size of this House raised today while ensuring we continue to refresh and renew our expertise and our outlook so we remain relevant to the Britain of today and the future.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 December 2016; Vol. 777, c. 590.]
The House of Lords has a critical part in our constitution as a revising Chamber, and I hope that will continue.
Last week, we witnessed the outrageous spectacle of Tory peers trying to filibuster plans that would have removed the archaic charade of the hereditary peer by-election that takes place in the House of Lords, in which a small number of privileged Lords decide which among their number will join that legislature. Does the Minister not agree that that makes a laughing stock of the House of Lords and underlines the need for this House to engage in serious plans for reform?
It is a shame that there were no SNP Members of the House of Lords taking part in that debate because that party refuses to engage in the democratic process and lets down the people of Scotland by not allowing them adequate representation. Talking about frustrating processes, there was a vote in 2014 in which 2 million people voted to remain as part of the UK, but that party over there continues to frustrate the will of the Scottish people.
I am sure the Minister shares my disappointment that when there was an opportunity to reform the House of Lords in Government time in this Chamber, the main Opposition party decided to frustrate it. Does he agree that any reform of the size and composition of the Lords needs to be linked to wider reform that delivers a whole package, and should not just set a particular number on the membership?
What is important is that reform of the House of Lords is led by the Lords themselves. As the debate last week showed, there is clearly an appetite for that. We have had significant reforms, including on the retirement of peers, which has seen about 50 peers retire. I welcome the fact that the Leader of the House of Lords said at the end of the debate that she would consider
“whether a more immediate, practical step could be taken in convening a small, Back Bench-led consultative group whose work could be overseen, for instance, by the Lord Speaker.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 December 2016; Vol. 777, c. 591.]
I look forward to hearing more about the development of those plans.
How can the Government justify having more than 800 unelected Members of the House of the Lords and reducing the elected House of Commons from 650 Members to 600? There are that many people in the House of Lords that they are running short of toilets.
I am not sure about the toilets issue, but the Labour peer, Baroness Taylor of Bolton—a colleague of the hon. Gentleman with whom I am sure he often agrees—commented that while there are 845 Members of the House of Lords, average attendance is around 497. I am not sure what that does to the situation with the toilets.
Let us come back to the boundary changes. The hon. Gentleman has been around for a long time. He knows that when we look at the size of the constituencies in this House, we see that some have 95,000 constituents and some have 38,000. That discrepancy was first picked up on by the Chartists—he may have been around at that time. Two hundred years ago, a working-class organisation demanded change and we are the party that will deliver it.
We are very grateful to the Minister for his history lesson, which I accept he is in a good position to provide, but we must move on.
We have heard a great many words from the Minister. Why can he not understand that it is simply untenable to have a bloated revising Chamber with substantially more Members than this elected Chamber? This comes at a time when, as we have heard, he is ploughing ahead with his plans to reduce the size of this place. He might not think that reform of the House of Lords is a priority, but their lordships do, so what is he going to do about it?
As I stated in a previous answer, it is up to the House of Lords to command cross-party consensus in that House. Labour Members of the Lords are willing to get involved with that. But let us talk about priorities, as the language of priorities is the language of politics. Our priority is to ensure that we deliver the will of the British people in leaving the European Union. The Labour party’s priorities seem to be frustrating the Brexit process and demanding we take up our entire legislative time reforming the House of Lords. If we are looking at who should be getting their priorities straight, the hon. Gentleman should look at himself.
Government Services Online
In our manifesto we committed to ensuring that digital assistance is always available to those not online in the delivery of online Government services. All services will have a means of access for those not able to use the online service.
I am encouraged by my right hon. Friend’s answer. He rightly continues to improve access to Government services online. Will he ensure that that is done in a way that avoids excluding or disadvantaging those who, for whatever reason, are unable to access such services?
I am able to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We have travelled a great distance in the past six years, and access to online services is immeasurably better now than back in 2010. But we want to make sure that everyone is able to gain access to Government services and will provide alternative routes to them if they cannot do so online.
The Minister will know that online access has to be of the highest quality. The experience of some Departments has not been very reassuring. There are very talented people on the autism spectrum who are very good at this. Will the Minister look at recruiting many of them to help make online services better?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point to former failures of accessibility in online services; direct.gov.uk was appalling for accessibility. We now make sure that all services are accessible by design, but I will repeat his comments to the Government Digital Service for its interest.
It is proceeding well, but not well enough, and I want it to be faster.
When I look online, I find it is almost impossible to get a physical address to write to from a Government website. Is that deliberate?
It is not, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to show me the examples I will make sure that they are corrected.
We are already the world leader. We have the finest Government digital services in the world. It is not just us saying that but comparable organisations around the world. But we can still do better, and there is a great deal that I want to do. I urge my hon. Friend to look out for the forthcoming strategy on this precise matter.
The purpose of the Cabinet Office is to deliver a democracy that works for everyone, to support the design and delivery of Government policy, and to deliver efficiencies and reforms to make Government work better.
Since 2008, many Select Committees have held pre-appointment hearings for aspiring quangocrats. Will the Minister consider making it routine for Select Committees to hold formal confirmation hearings, especially when the position requires substantial control over taxpayer money?
I am not quite sure why the hon. Gentleman needs to phrase every question he asks with an insult. I know that he should look closely at our work on ensuring that Select Committees have even more influence in scrutinising Government policy. I will take his careful and wise comments on board.
I am delighted to say that last week I published the draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill, which will modernise the complaints system for public services. As my hon. Friend says, it sets out how we will create a single point of contact, make the system simpler and more efficient and give the new ombudsman a wider role in championing improvements in complaints handling.
The Minister will no doubt be aware of the 2014 Electoral Commission survey that found that 7.4 million people were missing from the electoral register—young people were identified as being particularly under-represented—so will he commit to introducing a schools registration scheme along the lines of the initiative in Northern Ireland, which has resulted in an increase in the number of young people registered to vote?
As part of our commitment to a democracy that works for everyone, I have been touring the country and investigating how we can get more young people actively engaged in politics, and I held a roundtable with youth organisations last week to discuss our strategy, but the Northern Ireland example is not something we wish to take forward, as the idea of compulsion on schools does not work. I have learned that there must be local ownership of schemes to ensure that civil society groups can encourage young people to join the register when they turn 18.
We are making very good progress with the audit, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising it. As the Prime Minister said on the steps of Downing Street,
“If you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.”
That is why we are looking at these disparities so carefully in our racial disparities audit.
I regret the experience that the hon. Gentleman’s constituent had. We have set up a group to look after victims of cybercrime called Action Fraud, to which his constituent should attend first, and we have ensured that the National Cyber Security Centre provides a personal service to businesses, but I am happy to take up his particular issue personally to make sure it is corrected.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that sometimes a cyber-attack is inadvertent and that The Register and other magazines report that a Microsoft download and update has caused a mass disconnection of computers from the internet, particularly among those running Windows 8 and 10? Do the Government have a role in advising people on how that sort of thing can be corrected?
My hon. Friend is a far more astute reader of IT journals than I am. We are aware of our responsibilities, which is why we have set up the Cyber Essentials website, but I will relay his comments to those who know more about it than I do so that they can reflect on them.
As I have stated, the Government are absolutely committed to ensuring we go forward with consensus in the House of Lords on the reform and size of that House. The debate, which I have outlined already, demonstrated that there was a consensus, and the Leader of the House of Lords is working to established that Committee, as I have said. That is the Government’s approach.
Both Ministers have talked about creating a democracy that works for everyone, so will they look further at making sure that first past the post is rolled out for mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections?
I sat in on my hon. Friend’s ten-minute rule Bill, which I listened to with intent, but while the Government are absolutely committed to first past the post as an electoral system, as set out in our manifesto, we need to ensure that the conduct of elections set out in legislation is carefully managed.
John Cryer. Where is the feller? Dear, oh dear.
The hon. Gentleman says it is a devolved matter. It is rightly a devolved matter, and it would not be right for me to comment on it here.
Tomorrow this House will debate the Government’s broadband universal service obligation. Does the Minister agree that we must complement the excellent work of the Government Digital Service with a real commitment to superfast broadband wherever we can take it?
It is right, which is why our manifesto was the most ambitious of all the main parties for the roll-out of superfast and ultrafast broadband, and my hon. Friend will hear a lot more about it in the weeks to come.
The Prime Minister was asked—
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I will have further such meetings later today.
May I take the opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, and all Members of the House a merry Christmas and a happy new year?
In the light of the Foreign Secretary’s display of chronic “foot in mouth” disease, when deciding on Cabinet positions, does the Prime Minister now regret that pencilling “FO” against his name should have been an instruction, not a job offer?
Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. We have heard the question, but I want to hear the Prime Minister’s answer.
I join the hon. Gentleman in wishing everybody a happy Christmas. I will of course have an opportunity to do that again on Monday, when I am sure the House will be as full for the statement on the European Council meeting. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Funny, that seemed to come from this side of the House but not from the Labour side. I have to say that the Foreign Secretary is doing an absolutely excellent job. He is, in short, an FFS—a fine Foreign Secretary.
Order. I want to hear the voice of Cannock Chase.
Rugeley has a really bright future ahead, but only if we are ambitious, bold and visionary in our redevelopment plans. Will my right hon. Friend outline how the Government’s industrial strategy can create the conditions that will help us to build a sustainable local economy and highly skilled jobs for future generations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that communities across this country have a bright future ahead of them, but we need to ensure that we create the conditions for that future. That is why we will be producing a modern industrial strategy that will show how we can encourage the strategic strengths of the United Kingdom and deal with our underlying weaknesses. It will enable companies to grow, invest in the UK and provide those jobs for the future, but we also need to make sure that that prosperity is spread across the whole of the United Kingdom and is prosperity for everyone.
May I start by wishing you, Mr Speaker, all Members of the House and everyone who works in the House a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year?
Sadly, our late colleague Jo Cox will not be celebrating Christmas this year with her family. She was murdered and taken from us, so I hope the Prime Minister will join me—I am sure she will—in encouraging people to download the song, which many Members helped to create, as a tribute to Jo’s life and work and in everlasting memory of her.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue. I am sure that everybody in this House would wish to send a very clear message: download this single for the Jo Cox Foundation. It is a very important cause. We all recognise that Jo Cox was a fine Member of this House and would have carried on contributing significantly to this House and to this country, had she not been brutally murdered. It is right that the Chancellor has waived VAT on the single. Everybody involved in it gave their services for free, and I am having a photograph with MP4 later this afternoon. Once again, let us encourage everybody to download the single.
For the benefit of those observing our proceedings from outside, I should state that the Prime Minister was, of course, referring to the outstanding parliamentary rock band MP4.
I applaud the work of MP4, but for the benefit of air quality I am not a member of it! I thank the Prime Minister for her answer.
Social care is crucial. It provides support for people to live with dignity, yet Age UK research has found that 1.2 million older people are currently not receiving the care they need. Will the Prime Minister accept that there is a crisis in social care?
I have consistently said in this House that we recognise the pressures on social care, so it might be helpful if I set out what the Government are doing and the position in relation to social care. As I say, we recognise those pressures. That is why the Government are putting more money into social care through the better care fund, and by the end of this Parliament it will be billions of pounds extra. That is why we have enabled the social care precept for local authorities. We recognise that there are immediate pressures on social care. That is why this will be addressed tomorrow by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in the local government finance settlement. We also recognise that this is not just about money; it is about delivery. There is a difference in delivery across the country. We need to make sure that reform is taking place, so we see best practice in the integration of health and social care across the country. We also need to ensure that we have a longer-term solution to give people reassurance for the future that there is a sustainable system that will ensure that they receive the social care they need in old age. That is what the Government are working on. There is a short-term issue; there is medium-term need to make sure local authorities and the health service are delivering consistently; and there is a long-term solution that we need to find.
The Care Quality Commission warned as recently as October that evidence suggests we have approached a tipping point. Instead of passing the buck on to local government, should not the Government take responsibility for the crisis themselves? Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to inform the House exactly how much was cut from the social care budget in the last Parliament?
We have been putting more money into social care and health. [Hon. Members: “How much?”] We have been putting more money in and, as I say, we recognise the pressures that exist. That is why we are looking at the short-term pressures on social care, but this cannot be looked at as simply being an issue of money in the short term. It is about delivery; it is about reform; it is about the social care system working with the health system. That is why this issue is being addressed not just by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, but by the Secretary of State for Health. If we are going to give people the reassurance they need in the longer term that their social care needs will be met, we need to make it clear that this is not just about looking for a short-term solution. It is about finding a way forward that can give us a sustainable system of social care for the future.
The Prime Minister does not seem to be aware that £4.6 billion was cut from the social care budget in the last Parliament. Her talk about putting this on to local government ought to be taken for what it is—a con. Two per cent. of council tax is clearly a nonsense; 95% of councils used the social care precept, and it raised less than 3% of the money they planned to spend on adult social care. Billions seem to be available for tax give-aways to corporations—not mentioned in the autumn statement—and underfunding has left many elderly people isolated and in crisis because of the lack of Government funding for social care.
Many councils around the country have taken the benefit of the social care precept and as a result have actually seen more people being able to access social care and more needs being met. Sadly, there are some councils across the country—some Labour councils—that have not taken that opportunity and we see worse performance on social care. The right hon. Gentleman once again referred to money, so I remind him that the then shadow Chancellor said at the last election that if Labour was in government there would be “not a penny more” for local authorities. When recently asked about spending more money on social care and where the money would come from, Labour’s shadow Health Secretary said:
“Well, we’re going to have to come up with a plan for that”.
This Government have cut social care and the Prime Minister well knows it, and she well knows the effects of that. She also well knows that raising council tax has different outcomes in different parts of the country. If you raise the council tax precept in Windsor and Maidenhead, you get quite a lot of money. If you raise the council tax precept in Liverpool or Newcastle, you get a lot less. Is the Prime Minister saying that frail, elderly, vulnerable people in our big cities are less valuable than those in wealthier parts of the country?
This is a crisis for many elderly people who are living in a difficult situation, but it is also a crisis for the national health service. People in hospital cannot be discharged because there is nowhere for them to go. I ask the Prime Minister again: the crisis affects individuals, families and the national health service, so why does she not do something really bold: cancel the corporation tax cut and put the money into social care instead?
The right hon. Gentleman referred to Newcastle council in his list. I have to say that Newcastle City Council is one of the councils that saw virtually no delayed discharges in September, so elderly people were not being held up in hospital when they did not need or want to be. That shows that it is possible for councils to deliver on the ground. Councils such as Newcastle and Torbay are doing that, but councils such as Ealing are not using the social care precept and the result is different. The difference between the worst performing council in relation to delayed discharges and the best is twentyfold. That is not about the difference in funding; it is about the difference in delivery.
Councils across the country work hard to try to cope with a 40% cut in their budgets, and the people paying the price are those who are stuck in hospital who should be allowed to go home and those who are not getting the care and support they need. The social care system is deep in crisis. The crisis was made in Downing Street by this Government. The former Chair of the Health Committee, Stephen Dorrell, says that the system is inadequately funded. The current Chair of the Health Committee, the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), said that
“this issue can’t be ducked any longer because of the impact it is having not just on vulnerable people, but also on the NHS.”
Why does the Prime Minister not listen to local government, the King’s Fund, the NHS Confederation and her own council leaders and recognise that this social care crisis forces people to give up work to care for loved ones because there is no system to do that? It makes people stay in hospital longer than they should and leads people into a horrible, isolated life when they should be cared for by all of us through a properly funded social care system. Get a grip and fund it properly, please.
The issue of social care has been ducked by Governments for too long. That is why this Government will provide a long-term sustainable system for social care that gives people reassurance. The right hon. Gentleman talks about Governments ducking social care, so let us look at the 13 years of Labour government. In 1997, they said in their manifesto that they would sort it. They had a royal commission in 1999, a Green Paper in 2005 and the Wanless report in 2006. They said they would sort it in the 2007 comprehensive spending review. In 2009, they had another Green Paper: 13 years and no action whatsoever.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. This is an appalling strike and he is right to raise the discrepancy in the attitude of ASLEF; we have seen driver-only operated trains on rail networks in the UK for decades and they are on Thameslink. I hope that the talks at ACAS are going to lead to an end to this strike, but I have a suggestion for the Leader of the Opposition, as he could do something to help members of the public. The Labour party is funded by ASLEF. Why does he not get on the phone and tell it to call the strike off immediately?
We join the leader of the Labour party and the Prime Minister in wishing great success to the Jo Cox single, which is available for download on Friday—I am sure we are all going to download it.
Civilians have suffered grievously from the bombing of hospitals, schools and markets. The United Nations believes that 60% of civilian casualties are caused by airstrikes. In the past 24 hours, the United States has stopped the supply of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen. When will the UK follow suit?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have a very strict regime of export licences in relation to weapons here in the United Kingdom. We exercise that very carefully, and in recent years we have indeed refused export licences in relation to arms, including to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
The US Government have just said that
“systematic, endemic problems in Saudi Arabia’s targeting drove the US decision to halt a future weapons sale involving precision-guided munitions”.
The Saudis have UK-supplied precision-guided Paveway IV missiles—they are made in Scotland. The UK has licensed £3.3 billion-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the bombing campaign. What will it take for the UK to adopt an ethical foreign policy when it comes to Yemen?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the intervention in Yemen is a UN-backed intervention. As I have said previously, where there are allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law, we require those to be properly investigated. We do have a relationship with Saudi Arabia. The security of the Gulf is important to us, and I would simply also remind him that Saudi intelligence—the counter-terrorism links we have with Saudi Arabia and the intelligence we get from Saudi Arabia—has saved potentially hundreds of lives here in the UK.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of looking at a sustainable way in which we can support integrated health and social care, and a sustainable way for people to know that in the future they are going to be able to have the social care that they require. As I said earlier in response to the Leader of the Opposition, we recognise the short-term pressures that there are on the system, but it is important for us to look at those medium-term and longer-term solutions if we are going to be able to address this issue. I was very pleased to be able to have a meeting with my hon. Friend to discuss this last week, and I look forward to further such meetings.
We do raise the issue of human rights when we meet the Gulf states, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in relation to the role that Russia is playing in Syria. There is a very simple message for President Putin. He has it within his own hands to say to the Assad regime that enough is enough in Aleppo. We need to ensure that humanitarian aid is there for people and that there is security for the people who have, as the hon. Gentleman has said, been heroically saving the lives of others. I am sure that that is a message that he and others will be giving to the Russian ambassador. It is in President Putin’s hands; he can do it, why does he not?
First of all, I absolutely join my hon. Friend in congratulating everyone who took part in Singing for Syrians. I am sure the whole House welcomes the work that that group is doing and the money that it is raising and putting to extremely good use. The House was struck when she mentioned the number of people who are on the waiting list for prosthetic limbs. Our humanitarian aid support for Syria is the biggest such effort that the UK has made. Of course we are giving money to the refugees who have fled from Syria. We are also working diplomatically to try to reduce the suffering and to ensure that the sort of aid and medical support that she is talking about gets through to the citizens of Aleppo. We will continue to ensure that our humanitarian aid is being put to good use—helping those who are vulnerable and also helping those who need the education and support to be able, in due course, to rebuild Syria when it is stable and secure.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. I recognise that there are many people who are just about managing and struggling to get by who find themselves having to revert to support from companies that do, sadly, charge the sort of interest rates that he is talking about. Action has been taken in relation to some of those activities in the past, but I will look at the issue that he raised.
I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend has raised; it is one that is shared by many Kent MPs who see this problem only too closely in their own constituencies. May I assure her that the Government share the desire to ensure that we do not see this fly-parking of lorries across Kent and that we do provide suitable lorry parking facilities in Kent? I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), is looking at this issue very carefully. I recognise, from my time as Home Secretary, the pressure that can be put on the roads, villages and towns in Kent at particular times. The Government are working on it, and we will find a solution.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the issue of decent mobile coverage does not only affect the highlands. There are parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland that are also affected. The Government have very strong commitments in relation to this; we have very strong commitments in relation to broadband. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will deliver on those.
Money cannot compensate someone who has been accused of a very serious criminal offence and who then finds that the details are in the press along with their name. Nothing, in truth, can restore their reputation after it has been trashed in those circumstances. In 2011, I tried to change the law with a private Member’s Bill. Today, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that it was time to introduce new legislation. Will the Prime Minister agree at least to consider changing the law so that everyone, with a few exceptions, has the right to anonymity if they are a suspect in criminal proceedings until such time as they are charged?
I recognise the interest that my right hon. Friend takes in this issue. She will know that it has been debated on a number of occasions in the House. The general assumption is that someone should not be named before the point of charge, but there is an allowance for the police to be able to raise someone’s name if it is a case where they believe that doing so will perhaps help other victims to come forward. This is of particular concern in matters of sexual violence—rape, for example—or where the police believe that the naming of an individual will help in the detection of the crime. This is a delicate issue, and I recognise my right hon. Friend’s concern. The College of Policing is looking at it very carefully, and is due to provide new guidance to the police in the new year in relation to the media.
We must all take responsibility for decisions that we have taken, whether we take them sitting around the National Security Council table or, indeed, whether we take them in the House, with the decision it took in 2013. The hon. Lady raised the question of UK-led action in relation to the protection of civilians. The UK has been pressing for action in the United Nations Security Council, working with the French. The two most recent emergency UN Security Council meetings were called for by us, and the most recent took place yesterday. As she will know, there have been six UN Security Council resolutions which have been vetoed by Russia. The most recent was also vetoed by China. We continue to work with the United Nations, but if we are to get a solution that works on the ground other countries have to buy into it, and it has to be a solution that Russia buys into, as well as the regime.
I have received a message from Nick from Grantham—actually, it was a text message from our hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles). For the avoidance of doubt, this is one text message that he is willing to have read out in public. Other than getting rid of his tumour and making a swift return to this place, nothing matters more to him than ensuring that round-the-clock emergency services are restored to his local hospital in Grantham. Will my right hon. Friend receive the petition that he has organised, ensure that the passionate views of his constituents are heard, and above all reassure people in that rural area that they will always have access to safe emergency care for them and their families?
I am sure the thoughts of the whole House are with our hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), and I wish him the very best for his recovery as he goes through this illness. I recognise the strength of feeling he has about the emergency services in his local hospital. I believe that those concerns are shared by our new hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson). I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford that the process that is taking place, which is looking at the development of local services, is about listening to local people, hearing the local voice and, above all, ensuring that the services available to people in their local area are the right services for that area and that they can be delivered safely and securely for local people.
No. Obviously we have put the social care precept in place in recognition of the pressures on social care, but I am very pleased to say that we have seen many examples over the country of good local authorities ensuring that they are keeping council tax down, including the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which cut council tax for six years running.
On 14 August my constituents George Low and Ben Barker were the victims of a vicious knife attack in Ayia Napa. George Low, sadly, died later that day from his injuries. The two culprits fled to northern Cyprus, where they were arrested on unrelated matters. Despite representations made by the Foreign Office, one of those men was recently able to walk free, and it is feared that the second man will follow shortly. Will the Prime Minister do all she can to help to bring justice for George Low and Ben Barker for what was an horrific, vicious attack that was completely without provocation and has been devastating for both their families?
I am sure all of us across the House send our deepest sympathies to the family of George Low, and our very best wishes to Ben Barker for a full recovery from the terrible injuries that he suffered as a result of what was, as my hon. Friend said, a violent and completely unprovoked attack. The case was raised most recently with the relevant Government by the Foreign Secretary during his visit to Cyprus on 30 November, and he set out clearly our desire to see those guilty of this attack brought to justice. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to offer help and support to both families. We will continue to raise this issue, and I am sure the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will keep my hon. Friend informed of any developments.
We will need to address such issues as we look at the arrangements that will be in place following our exit from the EU. I am sure everybody recognises the significance of the Arbroath smokie and other products from around the United Kingdom. At the end of his question the hon. Gentleman said “should we leave the EU”. I can tell him that we will be leaving the EU.
On 19 December 35 years ago, 16 people lost their lives in ferocious storms off the coast of west Cornwall. Eight of them were men from Mousehole, who had launched the Penlee lifeboat, the Solomon Browne, to rescue the crew of the Union Star. Thirty-five years later, this tragedy still haunts the village of Mousehole and West Penwith, and many people mark the anniversary every year. Will the Prime Minister join me in remembering these brave men and the loved ones they left behind, and pay credit to all our lifeboat men and women, who are prepared to risk their lives for those in peril on the sea?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. I absolutely join him in marking the 35th anniversary of the Penlee lifeboat tragedy and in sending our sympathies to all those families who were affected, but also to the local communities who were affected, as he has set out. I am sure everybody in this House would want to pay tribute to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution as well and the tireless work it does. As an island, it is important that we have that security and safety around our shores. The RNLI works tirelessly to protect people who, as he said, are in peril on the sea, and we pay tribute to it.
I say to the hon. Lady that I am keen to ensure that we can protect the rights of EU citizens living here, but I am also keen that the rights of UK citizens who are living in the EU are protected as well. The Home Secretary, I think, is aware of the proposals that have been put forward and is looking at them very carefully.
In October, hundreds of people from across Europe attended a neo-Nazi rally in Haddenham, a small village in my rural constituency. What steps is the Prime Minister taking to tackle racial hatred?
First of all, can we once again, from this House, send a very clear message that there is no place for racial hatred in our society? This is so important. The Home Office has done a lot of work on racial hatred and hate crime. It has published a hate crime action plan, which shows what we are going to be doing during the lifetime of this Government. Of course, earlier this week, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary proscribed the right-wing organisation National Action, which means that being a member of, or inviting support for, that organisation will be a criminal offence. It is important that we take every step we can to stop racial hatred in this country, and I was pleased to announce on Monday that Britain will be the first country in Europe to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.
The hon. Lady is right to raise the role that education plays in ensuring the futures of young people in Bradford. That is why I am pleased to say that there has been an increase of nearly 16,000 children in Bradford who have been at good or outstanding schools since 2010. We are taking action to ensure the quality of education, but I want to make sure that there are enough good school places for children across the whole country, and that is what our education consultation is about.
I came to Prime Minister’s questions today from an incredibly moving and powerful private session with the Work and Pensions Committee, where we talked and listened to victims of modern slavery who are now living in safe houses—I do not think I will ever forget it in my life. Please will the Prime Minister take her enthusiasm and the passion with which she drove this issue as Home Secretary and work with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions? These people are vulnerable. When they come to the jobcentre, so often their background and their cases are not understood. As with survivors of domestic violence, they need to be fast-tracked through the system. If ever vulnerable people needed the state to step up and support them, it is these people. Please can we do more?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Nothing brings home the absolutely horrific nature of the crime of modern slavery than actually sitting down and hearing the testimony of a victim. These people have, very often, gone through the most horrendous, dehumanising experiences. It is absolutely right that the Government brought forward the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It is right that we have been looking at how victim support is provided and at the national referral mechanism—a whole number of steps—and of course we will work with the DWP in looking at the support that is given. She makes an important point in referring to jobcentres, but of course it is not just about jobcentres. One of the things we need to do is to ensure that those in authority who come into contact with people who have been the victims of modern slavery are able to recognise the signs, and able to treat it in the right way and deal with people sensitively and sympathetically in an appropriate way.
First of all, my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary has been taking steps in relation to the general performance of Southern railway. We have stepped in to invest £20 million specifically to tackle the issue and bring a rapid improvement in services. We announced Delay Repay 15 from 11 December for the whole of Southern railway, which will make it easier for passengers to claim compensation. We have announced that we will give passengers who are season ticket holders on Southern a refund for a month’s travel. We have been looking at the wider issue. The hon. Lady raises the question of the current strike. There is only one body responsible for the current strike, and that is ASLEF. This a strike by the trade unions, and she should be standing up and condemning that strike, because it is passengers who suffer.
The £1.5 billion of additional funding for the better care fund is both needed and welcome, but the problem is that this money is not available until 2019. Will my right hon. Friend therefore look at seeing whether some of this funding can be drawn down earlier than that in order to alleviate the pressure on social care in areas such as Devon, where there is a very high level of elderly people?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point about the short-term pressures on social care. That is why the Government have been looking at what measures can be taken to alleviate those short-term pressures. As I say, my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary will be making a statement on the local government finance settlement tomorrow, but we do need to look at the medium-term issues of delivery and the longer-term reassurance that we can provide to people in ensuring that we have a sustainable system of social care that gives people the comfort of knowing that they will be cared for in their old age.
May I join colleagues who urged people in this House and beyond to go out and buy the Jo Cox Foundation single by the excellent MP4, which is not just available on download but in hard copy for those of us who prefer that kind of thing?
Every day since the Brexit result on 23 June seems to have been a good day to bury bad news, and the worst news is in our social care and health system: the daily wave of tragedies, indignities and near misses; the £2.5 billion shortfall in social care funding; and thousands of operations already cancelled. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Health said that the NHS and social care needed more money, yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not offer a single extra penny for health or social care in the autumn statement. Which of the two does the Prime Minister agree with? Will she take this opportunity to provide health and social care with the money it needs this side of Christmas?
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be making a statement tomorrow on the local government finance settlement. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits for that statement.
Back in 2010, the overseas aid budget was around £7 billion a year. By 2020, it will have more than doubled to over £15 billion a year. The shortfall in social care funding by 2020 is estimated at about £2.5 billion a year. Surely the Government priority should be to look after the elderly, vulnerable and disabled people in our own country before we hand money over to other countries. Will the Prime Minister take some of that money—a small amount of that increase—from the overseas aid budget and spend it on elderly, vulnerable and disabled people in our own country? Surely charity begins at home.
I think it is absolutely right that the Government are taking steps on the pressures on social care here in the United Kingdom, but it is also important for us that we take into consideration those who are in different circumstances across the world. This Government’s record of ensuring that 0.7% of our GDP is spent on overseas aid is a record second to none. We should all be proud of the help and support that we are giving to people around the world who, often, are living in incredibly difficult circumstances. We look after old people here in the UK; we also take seriously that moral responsibility for people around the world.
National Funding Formula: Schools/High Needs
With permission, I would like to make a statement on the second-stage consultation on the Government’s proposals to create a national funding formula for schools, copies of which can be found on the gov.uk website.
Since 2010, this Government have protected the core schools budget in real terms overall, but the system by which schools and high needs funding is distributed now needs to be reformed, to tackle the historical postcode lottery in school funding. These crucial reforms sit at the heart of delivering the Government’s pledge to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
Our school funding system as it exists today is unfair, opaque and outdated. The reality is that patchy and inconsistent decisions on funding have built up over many years, based on data that are sometimes a decade or more out of date. What has been created over time is a funding system that allows similar schools with similar students to receive levels of funding so different that they put some young people at an educational disadvantage. For example, a school in Coventry can receive nearly £500 more per pupil than a school in Plymouth, despite having the same proportion of pupils eligible for the pupil premium. A Nottingham school can attract £460 more per pupil than one in Halton, despite having the same proportion of pupils eligible for the pupil premium. As those figures demonstrate, our funding system is broken and unfair, and we cannot allow that to continue.
Our overall proposals for the principles and broad design of the schools and high needs funding system—as set out in the first stage of the national funding formula consultation by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan)—were widely welcomed. Today we set out our response to that, and the final stage of putting in place a national funding formula.
First, we are proposing a consistent base rate for every pupil at primary and at secondary level, which steadily increases in value as they progress through the system between primary and secondary. This is the largest factor in the formula, accounting for more than £23 billion of annual core schools funding and more than 70% of the funding total.
Secondly, we are proposing to protect resources for pupils who come from disadvantaged families, and we are taking a broad view to target £3 billion of funding annually for those who are most in need of support. Our formula will prioritise not only children in receipt of free school meals but those who live in areas of disadvantage. That will help to support many more families who are most likely to be just about managing to get by.
That is alongside our broader commitment to maintain pupil premium funding for deprived pupils in full. That will be protected at current rates throughout the remainder of this Parliament. We have listened to the responses received to the first stage of the consultation, so our funding formula will include a factor for mobility to reflect the number of children who join a school mid-year. That is in response to London, which called particularly strongly for that in reply to the consultation. We will also protect small, rural schools, which are so important for their local communities, through the inclusion of a sparsity factor.
Thirdly, alongside a basic amount and an uplift for disadvantage, we will direct £2.4 billion in funding towards pupils with low prior attainment at both primary and secondary school to ensure they get the vital support they need to catch up with their peers. Our proposed reforms will mean that schools and local authorities all across England that have been underfunded for years will see their funding increase. Our proposed formula will result in more than 10,000 schools gaining funding and more than 3,000 receiving an increase of more than 5%. Those that are due to see gains will see them quickly, with increases of up to 3% in per pupil funding in 2018-19 and up to a further 2.5% in 2019-20.
At the same time as restoring fairness to the funding system, we are also building significant protections into our formula. No school will face a reduction of more than 3% per pupil overall as a result of the new formula, and none will lose more than 1.5% per pupil per year. For high needs funding, which provides local authorities with the money they need to deliver the extra support required by our most vulnerable children and young people—those with the most extreme special needs, whether they are in special schools or mainstream schools—we propose to allocate more than £5 billion a year in funding. That will mean that no local authority will see its funding reduce as a result of the introduction of the formula.
We also propose to give local areas a limited flexibility to redirect funding between their schools and high needs budgets, through agreement between the local authority and local schools, to support collaborative approaches to provision for special needs pupils. Those protections will allow all schools and local authorities to manage the transition to fairer funding while making the best use of their resources and managing cost pressures, ensuring that every pound is used effectively to drive up standards and has the maximum impact for the young people we are investing in. In addition, to support schools in using their funding to the greatest effect, we have put in place and continue to develop a comprehensive efficiency package.
As I said in my statement to the House on 21 July, I recognise the importance of this reform, which is long overdue. I am keen to allow the proper amount of time for all schools and stakeholders to have a chance to reflect on this detailed formula. The consultation will therefore be open for 14 weeks until 22 March, with final decisions to be made before summer next year. It is our intention that once we reach a final design, the national funding formula will properly be introduced in 2018-19. That will be a transitional year, during which local authorities will continue to set local schools’ funding formulae. In 2019-20 we will move to having our schools funding go directly to schools, so that the great majority of each school’s individual budget is determined on the basis of a single, national formula.
It is now time for us to consult on the more detailed design of the formula, so that with the help of the sector we can really get the national funding formula right. We are keen to hear as many views as possible, and I encourage Members and their constituents to scrutinise and respond to the detailed consultation documents that we are issuing. The proposals for funding reform will mean that all schools and local areas receive a consistent and fair share of the schools budget, so that they can have the best possible chance to give every child the opportunity to reach their full potential. Once it is implemented, the formula will mean that wherever a family lives in England, their children will attract a similar level of funding—one that properly reflects their needs.
The Government believe that the funding system that we propose will ensure our schools system works fairly, and I commend this statement to the House.
After many delays, the Secretary of State has finally come forward with the Government’s so-called fair funding formula. I thank her for advance sight of her statement and the raft of documents she sent me just half an hour ago.
If only the fair funding formula lived up to its name. Does the Secretary of State recall the commitment in her party’s manifesto to
“continue to protect school funding”?
Does she accept that the National Audit Office has confirmed something that the Institute for Fiscal Studies had already told us, which she tried to ignore—that the Government will be cutting the schools budget by at least 8%, and that is not changed at all by today’s announcement? Does she remember that that same manifesto promised:
“Under a future Conservative Government, the amount of money following your child into school will be protected”?
The National Audit Office has made it clear that funding per pupil will also fall by 8%. Is the National Audit Office wrong, or is the new, unelected Prime Minister ripping up the manifesto that her predecessor put to the country?
The Secretary of State said that the so-called fair funding formula would mean that no school would lose more than 1.5% of its funding per year. How can she possibly reconcile that with the projections of schools facing actual cuts of up to double that and real-terms cuts of up to 10%? Can she tell the House how exactly a funding formula can be fair when it will mean that a third of local authorities and around 10,000 schools, serving more than 2 million children, lose money? In a period when pupil numbers and inflation are rising in tandem, the pressure on school budgets will continue to increase. The National Audit Office has told us today that school budgets are facing a “real-terms reduction”. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what percentage of the schools budget will be cut over this Parliament, and how much that cut will be for the average secondary school? Will she tell us how, at a time when pressure on schools is increasing, she can possibly justify that position?
The Department has said that schools will need to make £3 billion in efficiency savings over this Parliament, but the National Audit Office has said that schools are not prepared for the “scale and pace” of the changes, and that the Department has failed to make that clear to them. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how exactly the Department will ensure that schools are able to meet her demands? Is the suggestion that schools make £1.7 billion in savings by “using staff more efficiently” just a crude euphemism for cutting the jobs of teachers, teaching assistants and vital support staff, at a point when the workforce is already facing a crisis? The Department has said that the funding formula will be about targeting on the basis of pupils’ need rather than their postcode. Can she explain why schools up and down the country will be losing out, and why many in the most disadvantaged areas will lose the most?
The only new money being offered to English schools is to expand the few remaining grammar schools, 80% of which are in Tory-held seats, regardless of where the need for places is. Does the Secretary of State accept that that means that the only parts of Britain denied new funding are the comprehensive areas of England? Does she acknowledge that nearly 60% of secondary schools across the country already receive less in funding than they spend on teaching, and that they are already running at a deficit? Will she tell us her projections of the increase in pupil numbers over the spending review period, her forecast for the rate of inflation facing schools, and therefore the rise in costs facing schools? The Secretary of State seems to believe that all these savings and all these cuts can be managed without any impact on the education of our children. Will she tell the House how exactly she will ensure that that happens in practice?
You know, Mr Speaker, they used to say the Tories knew the value of nothing but the price of everything, but now they do not even know that. They have failed on the economy, failed on protecting our NHS and now failed on our children.
I have to say that I am absolutely staggered at that response from the shadow Secretary of State for Education. There is cross-party support for reforming the national funding formula and, from representing our constituencies, we all know that it is impossible to justify the current approach. It would have been better if we had had a more thoughtful response, rather than just a diatribe of political rhetoric, from the Opposition Dispatch Box.
On some of the points the hon. Lady tried to make, the reality is that we have been able to protect the schools budget—the core schools budget—in real terms. That is because we have a thriving economy, which is generating the taxes that mean we can continue to invest in our public services. She talked about fair funding, but did not seem to understand or to have listened to my statement. Perhaps she had already written what she wanted to say, and was not actually interested in the reality. The funding formula absolutely bakes in making sure that we have the right amount of funding for children from more disadvantaged areas. In fact, we have taken a broader definition of disadvantage to make sure that it is not only the children eligible for free school meals who will get additional support. We have also made sure that the formula builds in a strong focus on low prior attainment, so that the children who have fallen behind—we need to invest in and support them to catch up—get additional resourcing. Schools with more of them will get more.
The hon. Lady seemed to fail even to hear the statement I made. I have to say that, based on the lack of engagement from the Labour Front Bench, I will sit down and give colleagues with more thoughtful questions a chance to ask them.
I certainly welcome this statement, as will many parents across the country. It has been long awaited, as the Secretary of State conceded, but it has the right tone, the right context and, essentially, the right capacity to make the changes. It will also enable schools to plan ahead, which will be very good for all schools in terms of teacher recruitment and teacher retention, which we also need to address. Will she be sure to accommodate issues about the future of local government, because there will be some changes? This is a national formula, so the future of local government must be considered in that context.
We are busy doing that already. I felt it was quite important, in the second-stage consultation, to recognise the need to understand how a little bit of local flexibility could help us to make sure that the formula works right on the ground. That is therefore part of the consultation I have set out. We have set out our plans for the 2018-19 transition year, and we are asking how we can look at this more carefully for future years. That is precisely why it is important for colleagues from both sides of the House to take the time to engage with the documents—there is a lot of data—we are publishing today.
We would all agree with the aims of a fairer funding formula, but does the Secretary of State not recognise that she is delivering this in the context of dramatic and significant overall cuts to schools budgets? Even the so-called winners under her formula will also face school budget cuts. In a constituency such as mine, which is a loser under this formula—over 50% of children are living in poverty, which makes it the constituency with the second highest level of child poverty in the entire country—school budgets losing money will mean that one-to-one tuition will be going and catch-up classes will be going. Extra-curricular activities—the drama, the Shakespeare—and all the vital things I want kids in Moss Side and Moston to do will be going as a result of her funding crisis, aside from the announcement today.
I encourage the hon. Lady to look at the detail in relation to her constituency. The documents will be published following the statement, as is the normal practice of the House, and I encourage her to look at them. Yes, we need to work with schools to help them to deliver efficiencies, but one thing we have learned over the years from such a divergent funding formula across schools is that many schools are able to deliver excellent and outstanding results on very different cost bases. That shows we need to be able to work with them to get more value out of the system and to make the investment we are putting into schools—core school funding is being protected in real terms over this Parliament—go as far as possible.
I would also say to the hon. Lady that, yes, the National Audit Office report flags up the cost pressures on schools, but there are of course cost pressures on introducing the living wage for the lowest-paid workers in our country. Some of them work in schools, and they should benefit from the introduction of the living wage. There are additional employer contributions to teacher pension schemes, which will make sure we have sustainable pensions for teachers in the long run. I would have hoped that Labour Members welcomed such steps, but we will also work with schools to help them to achieve efficiencies.
I warmly welcome the statement. May I urge my right hon. Friend not to move from the very clear timetable she has set out for the formula’s implementation? It is very keenly anticipated and looked forward to by underfunded local authorities, such as mine in Trafford.
I have set out a very clear timetable today. In spite of the fact that the Labour party clearly has no interest in having fair funding or funding that goes to the most disadvantaged children—the children who need to catch up—we will press on with this process.
The Secretary of State is to be congratulated on grappling with this issue, but, as she has indicated, the devil is in the detail, and I look forward to looking at it. The education of 16 to 19-year-olds, who are in schools as well as in colleges, had a cut of 14% during the coalition Government. There is a big difference between what they get and what four to 16-year-olds and those at university get. What will she do about that funding crisis?
The hon. Gentleman and I share a deep interest in technical education and a passion for improving it. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills is looking at how to implement a skills strategy that will make sure that our technical education system is at the same gold standard level that we are steadily ensuring our education system is reaching. We have protected per pupil core funding post-16, but we want to look at how to make sure that further education improves its attainment levels in the way that has happened across the broader schools system.
West Berkshire and Wokingham education authorities, which serve my constituency, are among those worst funded. They are finding it very difficult to keep their excellent education and their current teacher workforces going. We therefore welcome the statement. Will there be any transitional relief for 2017-18, because our financial need exists now?
My right hon. Friend will know that the previous year’s transitional relief has been carried over to the forthcoming year. Beyond that, I am now setting out the steps we will take to make funding fairer. This is important, and despite the debate that will no doubt be kicked off on the back of this consultation, we just cannot accept a situation in which a similar child with similar needs has such a difference in funding put into their education and their school for no other reason than that they are in different places. This simply cannot and should not be accepted, which is why we are setting out our solution today.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the transformation of London’s schools. In 1997 when Labour took power, schools in my constituency were among the worst. By the time we left office, they were among the best, and that continued under the last Government. That transformation happened thanks to the London challenge and continued investment. Will the Secretary of State confirm that London’s achievement will not be damaged by this formula and that London’s schools will not lose the £260 million we have heard about? We need to learn from London’s success and replicate it in other parts of the country.
I can reassure the hon. Lady that under the formula, London will continue to be well funded. Despite the percentage of children eligible for free school meals in London having fallen from 28% to 17% over the last 10 years, London still has some of the most deprived parts of our country. The funding formula will ensure that London still receives some of the best funding of any region for its schools. That is happening because it is appropriate, but what we cannot accept is areas in other parts of the country that have similar challenges of deprivation and, additionally, low prior attainment not being funded for no other reason than that they are not London. It is time to ensure that we have a fair approach, but it is a fair approach for London too.
I wholeheartedly support this announcement. For too long, Swindon’s children have been short-changed by Labour’s hopeless funding formula. Change cannot come soon enough. I urge the Secretary of State to explore options on private finance initiative schemes, which are frustrating improvement plans in many of my local schools.
That issue was raised in response to the phase 1 consultation, so we will ensure that the formula reflects the fact that there are PFI commitments that will continue in real terms. I have no doubt that that will be good news for my hon. Friend’s local area. Obviously, we do not want to perpetuate those schemes when they have steadily run down, but it is important to reflect the reality of those cost pressures on schools that are in that position.
The Secretary of State listed a number of factors—mobility, disadvantage and prior attainment—that are crucial in many constituencies, particularly those in urban areas like the one that I represent. Will she give us more detail on how big a factor they will be, because that will determine how much constituencies like mine lose out? The concern in Liverpool is that, on top of the substantial cuts to local government funding, our schools will lose out at a time when they are finding it challenging to recruit teachers and headteachers.
As the hon. Gentleman points out, in addition to the core base amount of funding, there is roughly a further 25% that is uplifted in relation to deprivation, additional needs and locational needs. Although mobility was not one of the original factors in the phase 1 consultation—in other words, this is the challenge that some schools and local areas face when children arrive during the year, as opposed to growth, which relates to steady demographic change and sometimes an influx between years—we recognised that it was important to reflect it in the formula. We have looked at the cost pressures that we think relate to mobility. We will initially base the 2018-19 formula on historical levels, because that is the one evidence base we have, but we will consider what is a sensible way to look at mobility going forward.
I welcome the statement. Gloucestershire County Council has been a poorly funded local authority, so this will be welcomed in my county. I welcome the fact that sparsity will be taken into account, which is important in rural constituencies like mine. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, based on the timetable she has set out, with the final position being reached in 2019-20, we will have delivered on our manifesto commitment to deliver fair funding in this Parliament?
I believe we will have done so. We will have brought in a formula that works more effectively and we will have transitioned it in appropriately. I believe that it will be a big step forward, particularly for schools that have been so underfunded for so long.
The Secretary of State is right that this kind of funding has to be upgraded and uprated over time. I certainly welcome that. However, is she also aware that it is the responsibility of this House to check the fairness of that over time through the Select Committee system and in this Chamber? Does she accept the implication that, overall, the challenges in our education system are grave when the chief inspector, who is about to retire, points out that so many bright children in our country, who grew bright through good primary schools up to the age of 11, are lost to education post-11? Will she do something about that? Will she also do something about the chief inspector’s deep worry that pupils in many of the big towns and cities in the midlands and the north are severely underperforming?
The hon. Gentleman sets out some of the challenges that we continue to face in our education system. That is precisely why the national funding formula makes sure that resources go to schools that are in more disadvantaged areas and those that have cohorts of young people and children who are starting from furthest behind. That is not only the sensible approach; it is the right thing to do for those children and schools. For too long, that has not been built into the school funding formula. That is what we are trying to resolve today. This is the second stage of the consultation. There are 14 weeks for everyone to look at whether the way in which we have blended the different criteria is right. I think that it is.
In addition to what we are announcing today, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have launched six opportunity areas to look at how we can ensure that we have excellent education in those parts of the country where we still have not seen enough improvement.
Both Plymouth and Coventry were bombed heavily during world war two, have areas of deprivation and have similar demographics. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that the discrepancy of £500 per pupil per year simply cannot be justified? Her statement will be warmly welcomed. May I ask for maximum clarity at the earliest opportunity on what schools in my constituency will get in 2018 to help them prepare for the September 2017 budget, which is likely to be challenging?
After the statement, we will publish a lot of detail in relation to individual schools. We will take the draft final formula and apply it to individual schools’ budgets, so all Members will be able to look at all the schools in their constituency and see, notionally and illustratively, how the formula will operate. Of course, when the funding formula comes in, it will apply against the up-to-date pupil numbers and pupil data, but we want to be very clear with the House about how it will work on the ground. I encourage all Members to look at the data for their own communities. They show that although no school will get exactly the same under the new formula as it has had in the past, it will be much fairer.
Regardless of this statement, which is by no means all bad, it is indisputable that school overheads are going up and that more and more secondary schools will go into debt. Why are we continuing to squander money on pointless pet projects and restructuring? Surely that is a huge diversion now.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have seen year-on-year improvements in our education system. As one of my predecessors said on the “Today” programme earlier this week, it is important that we continue the reforms we have already got under way. That is precisely what we will be doing.
I very much welcome today’s statement on behalf of schools in my Kent constituency, which are significantly underfunded and disadvantaged by the current formula. I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to a rapid introduction of the new formula. In the meantime, will she consider seriously whether there is any possibility of interim funding for schools until the new formula is introduced?
As I said in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), the additional uplift that was provided last year will continue into the forthcoming year, after which we will introduce the national funding formula in 2018-19. Today, we are coming forward with a fundamental solution to a long-term problem that has been building up not just over the last decade, but for 20 years—some people would argue it has been 30 years in the making. Now is the time, finally, that we sort this out.
Will the Secretary of State confirm whether an area cost adjustment multiplier will be applied as a result of the new formula? The funding gap between the national average and what is received by schools in the north-east stands at £45 million a year. Will that gap increase or decrease as a result of the formula?
The formula includes an area cost adjustment. It will be based on a hybrid measure that will look at not only general labour market costs but those relating to teachers, reflecting consultation feedback. It is also one reason why expensive parts of the country such as London will continue to be well funded, even under this formula.
Wishing the fellow a full recovery, I call Mr Julian Knight.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I welcome both the substance and the tone of the statement. Schools in Solihull receive £1,300 a year less per pupil than those in nearby Birmingham. As a result, we lose teachers to Birmingham. Will the Secretary of State assure me that at least some of that unfairness will be addressed during this Parliament?
I have set out the timelines for the roll-out of this national funding formula. My hon. Friend sets out some of the by-products of the current unfair situation. That is another reason why it is important that we address that situation.
It slightly pains me to call an Everton supporter today, but I do so nevertheless.
I will keep the gloating to a minimum, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State is dressing it up very well, but the reality of what she has announced is that some schools in the most deprived parts of the country, which face the biggest challenges, will have money taken away from them and given to schools elsewhere. Would it not have been much fairer for her to have asked the Chancellor for more money to bring the gap up that way? Instead, she is making schools in the toughest areas make teachers redundant to pay for this change.
Again, there is a lot of rhetoric, but in the end the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to have listened to my statement, which was very clear that this funding formula absolutely reflects issues of deprivation and lower prior attainment, as well as local cost issues. It is a step forward in making sure that we have a much fairer approach than in the past. I do not think he would be able to justify the current situation to many parents who simply cannot understand why their children get less funding than other children purely because of where they grow up.
Earlier this year, I held a roundtable for all the headteachers of primary and secondary schools across North Dorset. One big issue they raised was the recruitment and retention of staff in a rural area where living and other costs are higher, and all the rest of it. This announcement is very welcome. The sparsity quota that my right hon. Friend has referred to will be warmly welcomed by those headteachers. On their behalf, may I simply say, “Thank you”?
I am grateful for that. As my hon. Friend points out, it is important that the formula reflects the very different challenges that schools face in very different situations and parts of our country. That is why the sparsity factor matters.
The Secretary of State will be aware that schools all over the country are finding it difficult to recruit teachers because we are not training enough of them. For example, in Slough, where we do not get as much resource although we have exactly the same kind of challenges as inner London, headteachers are desperate. House prices in Slough went up faster than anywhere else in the country in the past year. Will she assure me that schools in my constituency will not face a cut as a result of this formula but will be rewarded for their brilliant work?
The right hon. Lady should welcome the formula, because at the moment the flow of money into our schools is unfair. For a community such as hers, our proposed architecture for the national funding formula will make sure principally that funding is fair and there is an equal amount for children in primary and in secondary; then our main drivers of additional funding will be deprivation—as I said, £5 billion a year for that—and low prior attainment. That is the right way to structure the formula. Although we have seen progress in many schools in many parts of our country, we now need to make absolutely sure that resources flow towards those areas that need to lift.
The Minister for schools was kind enough to meet me recently to discuss funding for schools in Wealden and East Sussex, and I am very grateful for that. My pupil funding is just £4,433.58. My small rural schools face severe challenges because of their small size and location, and a heavy weighting for sparsity in the formula is therefore vital if we are to ensure that Wealden’s superb schools can carry on providing a brilliant education.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When we looked at the national funding formula mechanism, we saw that some local authorities do not use the sparsity factor. Our sparsity factor will go to all schools that should get additional support. That is why the formula should be welcomed.
Children in my constituency start school up to 19 months behind where they should be in terms of development. Without fantastic teachers and extra resources, they struggle to fulfil their potential and play catch-up for the rest of their lives. Will the Secretary of State tell me and schools in my constituency whether they will see their funding increase—yes or no?
There is a greater focus in this formula on low prior attainment, which should address the hon. Lady’s question.
Under the current funding formula, Kingston schools are the third worst funded in London, receiving £2,400 per pupil per year less than Tower Hamlets, which is just 14 miles away. Having campaigned for changes and for fairer funding with teachers, parents and councillors, I look forward to responding to the phase 2 consultation. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the mobility factor that I and other London MPs called for recognises the very real pressure that London and other urban and suburban schools face from children joining mid-term in large numbers?
I think it can. Obviously, my hon. Friend will want to look at the detail in the consultation, but under this formula we will put £23 million into supporting children who move in-year and their schools. As a London MP, I know that has been an issue for some London schools. But it is not just an issue for London; there was a general response to the phase 1 consultation document saying that we needed to put the issue into the phase 2 consultation and that it should be made part of the formula. That is why we have done so.
I am grateful to the Minister for schools for listening to the case for adding mobility to the school funding formula and to the Secretary of State for her announcement; I will look carefully at the details. Should she not have secured the Chancellor’s support to make sure that no school sees a cut in its funding per pupil, given the cost pressures that she has referred to?
I make two points. In spite of the need to reduce the deficit over time, which the Government have set about doing, we have protected the core schools budget in real terms. In addition, I recognise that there is a need to reduce the year-on-year reductions schools faced, so those will be no more than 1.5%. Indeed, the overall reduction for any per-pupil amount will be no more than 3%. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will welcome that.
Following on from that point, there is a similar fair funding formula in the health service, but Wellingborough is always at the bottom. It never catches up because we are not prepared to reduce the money that the best funded get. I am slightly worried that my right hon. Friend’s answer suggests that that sort of thing will creep into the school system. Are we actually ever going to move to the formula—are schools actually going to get the cash that the formula says they will?
In the transition year, some schools that are so far behind as to be eligible will get 3%; those schools that are even further behind under the fair formula will get a further 2.5% the following year, when the formula operates in full and properly. My hon. Friend is right to flag up the issue. It is important that the schools that have been underfunded see those gains coming through. That is what we are proposing.
Schools in areas such as Westminster have a combination of exceptionally high costs—not least recruitment and retention—and very high deprivation, and they are already making staff redundant. The Secretary of State partially blamed policies such as the introduction of the national living wage. Why are the Government introducing policies impacting on schools that they are not prepared to fund?
I am not sure whether the hon. Lady supports the living wage, but the Government think that it is important. We also think a further two things, however: first, it is important to introduce this national funding formula—I hope that MPs can support it as a mechanism to make sure that the funding flowing into schools is delivered fairly—and secondly, it will ensure that children growing up in deprived areas see additional funding. I hope that she will reflect on that. In addition, wherever they grow up—whether or not in a deprived community—children who need to catch up will receive additional funding through this formula.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. One group we must not overlook is parents. In my constituency, parents work hard and often tell me, “I’m paying the same rate of tax as people in other areas. Why am I getting so much less money for my children in the state school system?” I urge her, when she gets the backlash from the more generously funded areas, to stand fast, particularly on support for rural schools, and to deliver this in full and in practice.
We are at the beginning of a 14-week consultation, and it is important that everybody looks at the formula we are proposing. I think that it strikes the right balance, and I hope that it can command the broad support of the House.
I represent the 19th most disadvantaged constituency in the country—the Secretary of State spoke about disadvantage and deprivation—but can she tell parents and schools in my constituency whether they will receive more funding under this proposed formula or less?
The hon. Lady can look at the details for her own constituency once all the data are published, but I hope she will reflect on what I said earlier: we have designed the formula to ensure that the funding follows children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Indeed, we did not just consider the formal deprivation factors that many local authorities have; some local authorities, where virtually all the children are from deprived backgrounds, do not necessarily have a formal factor that reflects that, but nevertheless we tried to capture the hidden funding flowing through to help deprived children as part of the deprived factor.
For decades, Staffordshire has languished 15 places from the bottom on funding. I have heard this all before, from Tony Blair and the unelected Prime Minister—as the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) so charmingly put it—Gordon Brown, so I thank my right hon. Friend for coming up with a firm date for these reforms. Will she assure me that the children of Staffordshire will no longer be disadvantaged?
I believe that this will be a fair funding formula that will be in everyone’s interests, including those of my hon. Friend’s constituents.
I have a letter from the National Union of Teachers, which is extremely alarmed that pupils in Bishop Auckland will lose £452 over the Parliament. Will the Secretary of State tell me what will happen in my constituency? She has reassured London MPs and the home counties. In the interests of intellectual honesty, will she say who are the losers out of her funding formula?
We heard terrible scaremongering and numbers from the NUT that proved to be incorrect. It said that some schools would lose 10% under this funding formula, but, as I have set out, that is absolutely not the case. I would encourage the hon. Lady, like all Members, to look at the data for her own constituency. We will be publishing a lot of data once this statement is done, as is customary, because we want to be clear. This is a big step forward for schools funding and it is important that we are clear with people about the implications for their schools. That is what we have done.
I particularly welcome the Secretary of State’s reference in her statement to sparsity and mobility. It is great news for constituencies such as mine. Does she agree that one of the most mobile pupil populations are the children of our armed forces families? How will she promote the pupil premium that we introduced in 2011 in the funding formula?
The pupil premium is largely unaffected, but as my hon. Friend points out, there is now an element to ensure that the children of forces families are not disadvantaged when, as often happens, people get posted to different places and their children have to switch schools. That was one reason we were keen to handle the mobility issue carefully within the funding formula.
Schools in my constituency are among the lowest funded in the country, so we will look with interest at what the Secretary of State is proposing, but those schools are struggling now because of the Government’s actions: cuts to the education services grant have taken money out of the dedicated schools grant; schools are being inadequately funded under legislation on additional need; and our high-needs block is very underfunded. What will she do to assist these schools now, before the new funding formula comes in and before even more damage is done to the education of children at school now?
The hon. Lady raises a number of issues. On local authorities and school improvement, we have launched a strategic school improvement fund to ensure school improvement, particularly in those parts of the country where schools have made less progress than we would have wanted. In relation to high needs, as I set out, no local areas will see a reduction in their funding, but areas that have been most underfunded will see 3% gains over 2018-19 and 2019-20, which I hope she will welcome.
I welcome today’s statement. Hampshire is the third lowest funded local authority in the country and faces significant pressures—it needs 9,000 extra secondary school places by 2025 and 40% of its school estate is largely un-upgraded since the 1960s. Does the Secretary of State agree that today’s proposal will address the single biggest factor causing the disparities around the country—the historical nature of the funding formula—and will restore equality and fairness to the system?
Yes, I do. The old formula was arbitrary at both central Government and local authority level, which, as the formulae were set, baked in a second set of imbalances. It is now time to tidy that up and—critically—to make it fair and equal wherever children are.
The Secretary of State knows that Nottingham schools face enormous challenges in raising education standards in a city with high deprivation. School leaders are already telling me they are struggling to cope and having huge difficulties recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. We know that all schools are facing a real-terms cut in funding, but how does she think headteachers, staff, parents and pupils in Nottingham will feel when she says it is fair that their schools are being cut even deeper to fund increases in other places?
I do not think that anybody can argue in favour of a system that is simply a postcode lottery and in which there is very little, if any, relationship between, on the one hand, the needs of a school and the underlying cost base of where it is operating and, on the other hand, how much the school and the child get in funding. We are today setting out a formula that genuinely addresses that. It is a 14-week consultation, so there is plenty of time for Members to look at the impact on their local area and then take part in that consultation. I hope that MPs will do that.
May I warmly welcome today’s statement on behalf of schools in Nottinghamshire, which have been poorly funded for a long time? In particular, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is part of addressing the lazy assumption that there is no deprivation in rural areas and counties? Counties such as Nottinghamshire and towns such as Newark have pockets of extreme deprivation—in former coalfield communities such as Ollerton and in Ashfield and Mansfield—and it surprises me that Opposition colleagues do not recognise that.
I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. The funding formula now enables us to take a proper, validated, evidence-based approach, including to deprivation, which was often driven by data that were 10-plus years out of date. It is time to fix that, and that is what we are launching today.
Does the Secretary of State recognise and understand the grave concerns of schools in my constituency and across Cumbria with above-average numbers of children with high needs that the change to the funding formula for teaching assistants, which will require schools to fund the first 10 hours rather than the first eight, will significantly impact existing budgets and mean cuts in those schools? Is it not the case that the proposed floor for maintaining the existing budget will be of little help if the current numbers of high-needs pupils continue to rise?
I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to look at the consultation. Alongside having an element of funding for local areas based on historic spend levels, which vary, we will look at population and needs within that as strong proxies for understanding how much funding we think should flow to different places. That will put us in a much fairer position, but as I have set out clearly, as part of that we will also ensure that no area will lose any funding as part of the transition.
Having wrestled with the education funding formula in local government for 20 years before I was elected to this place, I welcome the principle of fair funding, and in particular sparsity and the other elements contained within it. However, as a fellow London MP, my right hon. Friend will know that the cost of living in London is much higher than in the rest of the country. With 85% of a school’s budget typically spent on staffing, the need to pay staff extra salaries for recruitment and retention is paramount, so will she outline what extra money will be given to cover the cost of living and to protect schools from losing money?
The area cost adjustment should enable us to do that effectively. As I have said, it is not based just on overall labour cost assumptions; it is based on cost assumptions in relation to teachers more specifically, so it should enable us to reflect that in the funding formula that we have now put in place. My hon. Friend will of course have a chance to respond to the consultation, but that is what we have tried to do.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s statement. Will she explain the flexibility between local authorities? For example, in 2010 the funding for children’s services in Haringey, one of London’s poorest boroughs, was £102 million and in 2017-18 it will be £46 million, although the population has grown and the children are no less needy. How does she see that interplaying, and will she explain how it will be addressed in the consultation?
I was talking about two flexibilities in the consultation. They include, in relation to the high-needs fund that we are now consulting on, the ability for local authorities that will still receive high-needs funding to share some of that with mainstream schools, if they feel that is a better way of operating to provide for special needs locally. Of course, some special needs children are in mainstream schools and some are in special schools. We wanted to include an additional flexibility for 2018-19, so that where there is agreement locally that the funding should flow the opposite way—from the schools budget into high needs, perhaps because of the way that special needs are delivered locally—that should be possible if there is overall agreement from the majority of schools. That is what we are consulting on. We want to look at whether there is a longer-term approach, but the whole point of the second-stage consultation is to get feedback on those proposals.
I warmly welcome the statement on fairer funding for schools. It is not right that constituencies such as mine have a £2,000 difference per pupil compared with other constituencies. I noted with interest that the Secretary of State identified as one of the reasons the fact that the data are a decade out of date, so going forward it is fundamental that we have the correct data, particularly in areas of high growth. Will she assure me that the data will be collected sufficiently late in the year, so that we know the accurate figures per pupil for the following school year?
As part of the figures for deprivation we will be using IDACI—the income deprivation affecting children index—which essentially looks at how deprivation affects children in particular. It was last updated very recently, so it gives us a fresh database to use. In relation to broader pupil cohort characteristics, the census is updated in October every year and that feeds into the following academic year’s funding formula details. Those two things should mean that we have up-to-date data to feed in.
Is it not the case that this reform of the funding formula, which many of us agree needs to happen, would have been much easier had the Chancellor given some additional money to fund some of the changes? Also, notwithstanding what the Secretary of State has said, will not every single school in the country face real-terms cuts in their budget, including even those that gain, or think they gain, from the change to the funding formula? One way of tackling disadvantage is the pupil premium, so it would be interesting to hear what discussions took place about the pupil premium in making these changes. The Secretary of State said that the pupil premium “will be protected at current rates throughout the remainder of this Parliament”. Can she confirm whether that means rates as they are now or real-terms increases through the Parliament?
We said that we will continue to put around £2.5 billion into the pupil premium, which is separate from the additional funding that will be uplifted on top of core basic funding rates, as part of the consultation that we are setting out today. Both those things underline the fact that this Government are determined to ensure that our schools funding really supports children in some of the toughest parts of the country who are most likely not to come out of the schools system with the outcomes that we want for them to be able to fulfil their potential.
The people of Worcestershire will welcome this statement because funding per pupil is £1,000 lower there than in neighbouring areas. Does the Secretary of State recognise that not everybody who lives in the countryside lives in some kind of rural idyll and that there are pockets of poverty and deprivation right across our countryside, including in my constituency, so investing in our children’s futures based on need and fairness is absolutely the right move?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why it is so important that we move to a sensible approach to how deprivation should be captured. It is also why we wanted to take a broader approach than using just those children eligible for free school meals. We did not want that cliff edge, so we will be looking at three components: existing eligibility for free school meals, children who have been eligible for free school meals over the past six years, which gives us a sense of the underlying need, and IDACI, an index that captures a broader definition of deprivation.
Teachers in my constituency are increasingly telling me about the funding pressures they are under. I was interested to hear the Secretary of State admit that young people in my constituency were at a disadvantage—she specifically cited the case of Halton, so I assume she knows it. What will the real-terms increase be for Halton pupils? She must know that, because she has cited Halton.
I quoted what the current position was. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be interested to look at the details for his local community, once we release them, when this statement to the House is finally finished.
Schools in York have some of the lowest, if not the lowest, per pupil funding in the country, with some schools in London receiving more than £3,000 per pupil more, leaving schools in York on the brink of making some very difficult decisions, despite delivering excellent education. What message can the Secretary of State send to schools in York that have been waiting for this announcement for far too long and want to see it implemented as soon as possible?
I think this will be a much fairer approach for all schools, including those in York, and we are taking steps to introduce it rapidly over the remainder of this Parliament, which is good news.
Order. I hope that everyone who wishes to ask a question of the Secretary of State will have an opportunity, but now that she has been answering questions for over an hour, it would be appropriate if questions were short and sharp, or we will be here all day.
Funding should be related to need, and this is a long-standing problem. In Liverpool, which is one of the most deprived areas, over 58% of the budget has already gone, and the NUT says that over £602 per pupil will be lost under the Government’s programme. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that the students of Liverpool will not lose out in this redistribution of funds?
I encourage the hon. Lady to look at the details that will be released by area and by school. To give her some reassurance, this is a formula that absolutely wants to ensure that we direct funding fairly, but also in relation to need, whether it be disadvantage or indeed low prior attainment. We think that the formula should be driven by data that, as I have said in my answers to other hon. Members, are more up to date. I encourage the hon. Lady to look at the consultation and at the details that will be released as part of it.
I welcome today’s statement, and schools in Cornwall will be very grateful that, at long last, the historical underfunding of its schools is being addressed. I am pleased to be part of the party of government who are at last dealing with it. I would like to raise the particular issue of the pupil premium and eligibility to it being based on free school meals. It is often difficult to get parents to register for free school meals, because of personal choice or the stigma they believe is attached to it, yet these data are already held by other Departments. Can we not get cross-Government co-operation so that people can be registered for free school meals automatically, rather than having to go through the process?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We want all children eligible for the pupil premium and free school meals to be properly registered. We have done a lot of work to try to make sure that that is the case. As my hon. Friend sets out, there is still a challenge ahead of us, and I am looking at what we can do to try to make further progress because it matters.
I do not resent in any way the idea that Members are representing their constituents in rural areas. If particular concerns need to be taken into account, it is right to do so. The problem I have is that that should not be at the cost of urban schools, where significant levels of deprivation exist. In Oldham, the current proposals could see a loss of over £400 per pupil under the new formula; and for some schools, up to £600 per pupil could be taken away from the council’s budget. The town is already struggling to recruit and retain good-quality, high-performing teachers. We know that because it is one of the areas being looked at by the Department for special intervention. May I have an absolute commitment from the Secretary of State that we will not get into a “them versus them” argument, but that a proper review will take place to make sure that every school has sufficient funding to meet its demand and needs?
Order. Before the Secretary of State answers the question, let me say that I have allowed the hon. Gentleman some leeway because he has waited a long time to put his question. However, it does not follow that he should take twice as long to put it. I do not criticise him specifically today, but I hope that we can be a little faster now.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to see the impact on his own local constituency, but I think this formula is a step forward to make sure that wherever children are, funding is there. As I have said on a number of occasions, it very much bakes into the formula the idea of having money follow disadvantage and need. I think that is the right approach to take.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State and the schools Minister for listening to my concerns and those of so many of us from the south-west about school funding. I congratulate them on correcting the real unfairness in the funding that schools in the Wells constituency have had to endure for too long. Does she agree that this is the start of a series of investments in the south-west that will correct an imbalance in funding to our region, and that she has blazed a trail that other Departments will surely follow?
That was a fantastic question. I, too, would like to take the opportunity to thank the Minister for School Standards, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), for the work he has done on this complex project that we have undertaken. My hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey) is absolutely right that we want to see children in the south-west achieve their potential. This is a funding formula that will mean—I think, for the first time—fair funding, which I believe will help a number of a children, and perhaps some of the children in my hon. Friend’s local community.
I am delighted to speak as a Member from the county of Cambridge, which has for decades been one of the lowest funded councils in the whole country. I would like to press my right hon. Friend a little further on the interim funding, which some Members have mentioned. I do not wish to be ungrateful, but last year the interim funding was completely swallowed up with pension and national insurance increases. We are building schools like they are going out of fashion. It has to be subsidised, but the funding has to come out of the main pot while, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer) said, the number of pupils is going up. There is a high cost of living and an average mortgage is 16 times the salary in South Cambridgeshire, so please, please, please will my right hon. Friend look at the interim funding again, because just the same is not going to be enough?
We will be rolling forward, but my hon. Friend’s point underlines why it is important that we move on beyond an interim approach to put in place a final funding formula. That is what the consultation is on. As my hon. Friend says, it will affect areas that have been underfunded for a very long time. That is why we need to get on with it.
West Suffolk—[Interruption.] I always do my best to help my colleagues, but I mean West Sussex, which has historically suffered from very low funding and very high costs, being outside the London weighting. Can the Secretary of State give me any reassurance that we will benefit from the area cost adjustment?
I hope my hon. Friend will see some improvement in how the funding works, following the introduction of the fair funding formula. He mentions costs, which is precisely why one of the key factors we built into the formula is an area cost adjustment to make sure that schools in locations with higher innate cost bases have that reflected in the funding that pupils have attached to them.
I welcome the statement. Does the Secretary of State agree that it starts to address the myth that constituencies such as Cheltenham in Gloucestershire do not have areas of deprivation? The reality is that Cheltenham has intense urban challenges. This formula is starting to address funding on the basis of need and not postcode.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Up to now, school funding has been the ultimate postcode lottery, and funding has been overly determined by where children were growing up. That is completely unacceptable. If we are to make Britain, and in this case schools in England, a country with schools where all children can progress, we have to get on with fair funding.
The prize for patience—this shows what happens when you sit behind the Speaker’s Chair—goes to Jason McCartney.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and merry Christmas to you.
How far will the inclusion of a sparsity factor go in protecting the small and rural schools that are so important to my local community?
I think it will help. It will go together with a fixed lump sum, which is also part of this formula. Overall and on average, small rural schools will benefit from the formula.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Government plans were announced last week to close half of Glasgow’s jobcentres. We were supposed to be getting a consultation on three out of eight of these closures. I have raised the matter of access to that consultation with the Leader of the House and with the responsible Department for Work and Pensions Minister. A week later, it still does not appear on the DWP website. Given that this is happening over Christmas, I am sure you can understand my frustration and that of my constituents, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you give me some guidance on how I can make the Minister get this up on the website? It is really not on that, a week later, it is still not there for public consumption.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his having indicated to me that he intended to make it. He will appreciate that it is not, of course, a matter that I can address from the Chair. The Chair has no power whatsoever to make Ministers do what Members ask them to do. I know that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have, with some passion and understandable commitment, raised this matter several times in the House. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall next week. I hope that is right, because that is the correct place in which to air a matter such as this in some detail. At the same time, with the hon. Gentleman having raised the matter now at this busy time in the Chamber, I am quite sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have noted what he has said. They will have appreciated that the matter is one of great importance in his constituency, so action might come soon from the relevant Department.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During Prime Minister’s Question Time, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) raised the important issue of Southern’s appalling service and the present strikes that are victimising passengers. However, the hon. Lady failed to condemn the RMT and ASLEF unions and failed to declare an interest in the Chamber as a recipient of RMT funding. As a new Member, can you please advise me on the protocol for such declarations of interest in the Chamber?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising an important matter. In order to keep the proceedings of this place open and accountable, it is vital that, when appropriate, Members always declare an interest where they have one. However, it is not a matter for a Chair or for me to make a judgment as to whether any particular Member should have declared an interest at any particular point. I say to the hon. Lady, and more generally to the House, that Members would be advised to err on the side of openness and accountability. When they think that there might be an interest to declare, they really ought to declare that interest.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will understand my delight and pleasure at coming out at No. 2 in the shuffle for International Trade questions tomorrow. My question was about whether the Department had made an assessment of the potential effect of leaving the EU customs union on levels of employment. I subsequently received an email from the Department saying that the matter had been transferred to the Department for Exiting the European Union. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) has a question on the Order Paper about the impact of leaving the customs union on levels of foreign investment into the UK, and my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees) has a question about the potential effect of leaving the customs union on future trade agreements. How can we know to which Department to address our questions? I can quite understand why the Department for International Trade does not want to answer my question, which relates to a large increase in unemployment, but can we have some consistency from the Government?
I fully appreciate the hon. Lady’s point, but she knows that it is not a matter for the Chair to decide which Department should answer which question. That is, and always has been, a matter for the Government to allocate. I understand the hon. Lady’s disappointment and that she was hoping to have her question addressed on the Floor of the House tomorrow, but I will say two things. First, regardless of which Department answers her question, I am sure that she will get the same answer. Secondly, having so eloquently made her point today, I hope that Mr Speaker will look favourably upon the hon. Lady when he calls the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) or the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) to ask their questions tomorrow of the Secretary of State for International Trade and that the hon. Lady might well have an opportunity to ask her question. Whether she gets an answer is not a matter for me.
Financial Regulation of Funeral Services
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 require pre-paid funeral plan contracts to be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority; to amend the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001 accordingly; and for connected purposes.
I rise to propose this Bill as a result of “Funeral Poverty in Scotland”, a report commissioned by the Scottish Government and published in February this year. It was written by Citizens Advice Scotland and John Birrell, who chairs the Scottish working group on funeral poverty. The Scottish Government have accepted this excellent report, which has a series of recommendations, including the need to address the regulation of prepaid funeral plans. I thank Fraser Sutherland from CAS and John Birrell for their work with me on this Bill proposal. I also wish to thank the Fair Funerals Campaign, which has supported me in the run up to today.
Before I begin my speech in earnest, I should say that I am an advocate of funeral plans as the best means of avoiding funeral poverty, allowing people to pay in advance, in full or in instalments, for their own funeral. I have also had meetings with the Financial Conduct Authority and the Funeral Planning Authority, the industry’s internal regulator, to discuss the proposal, and they were both constructive in their response. It was also welcome to see supportive statements this morning from the National Association of Funeral Directors and from Dignity, one of the largest funeral plan providers. We are approaching a consensus on change being required.
I am proposing this Bill in the context of a 90% rise in the cost of funerals over the last decade. In my area, North Lanarkshire Council increased burial and cremation charges by 39% last year—the steepest rise in Scotland—and the average funeral cost has risen 7% in the last year in Scotland as a result. After paying for an average funeral in the UK today, there is unlikely to be much change from £4,000. The Scottish Government are taking action in those areas and will next year publish a funeral costs plan to address the main drivers of funeral poverty. When the Scottish Government take on responsibility for the benefit, they are also committing to process applications for funeral payments within 10 working days to reduce the reliance on borrowing to pay for funerals.
The additional costs are placing an unbearable burden on the already stretched finances of bereaved families, many of whom are getting into serious and unmanageable debt when they lose a loved one, as has been raised in the House by, among others, the hon. Members for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), both of whom both support the Bill, and the hon. Members for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) and for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck). People are rightly turning to funeral plans as a way of addressing that incredible financial pressure, which often arrives suddenly on family members. Funeral plans are like vouchers for funerals that are paid in advance and redeemed when the policy holder passes away. People can sign a contract describing how they want their funeral to take place and pay for it in advance. There is also an added advantage in that people can secure the funeral at today’s prices.
Funeral plans are described in article 59 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001 and article 60 details how the plans can be exempted from FCA regulation if the funeral plan company undertakes to secure the sums paid by the customer through whole life insurance or if they hold the funds in trust—with some further stipulations about how the trust should be constituted and thereafter handled. The whole life insurance market, specifically over-50 plans, is another area that needs to be considered and is addressed by the CAS report, but it is not the focus of this particular Bill.
As I said, I spoke to the chief executive of the FPA and he understands my concerns and those raised by CAS. I also appreciate that he is not responsible for all funeral plans sold and that the FPA does all it can to satisfy complaints when they arise, but a debate is necessary on whether the current system is the best to ensure consumer confidence in what is going to be an ever more important area of the market in coming years.
In compiling the report, Citizens Advice Scotland found evidence of apparent mis-selling by some funeral plan salespeople. Some funeral plans cover all associated costs for the funeral, but others cover only basic funeral director costs. It has been suggested that some salespeople are misleading customers about what is included in the contract they are signing up to. One member of a focus group quoted in the report said:
“They were very pushy and I think trying to pull the wool over my eyes. I knew the amount they were quoting wasn’t enough to cover the cost, so I think they can mislead people.”
That calls into question the practices of some salespeople involved in funeral plan contracts. Some of those are third-party salespeople who are paid on a commission basis for selling contracts, which makes me a little uncomfortable, as this can encourage people to chase harder for sales than to ensure the consumer is entirely aware of, or happy with, what they have signed up to. Charles Flannigan, the managing director of Donald McLaren Ltd, a funeral directors based in my constituency, has told me that when he asks his customers why they have chosen to take out a plan with him the majority say it is because they are fed up with cold calling by funeral plan companies. That is of major concern to me, and I know it will be of concern to others in this House. He has also given me numerous examples of elderly people who have been coerced into buying plans that either are more expensive than necessary or are where the customer has not been asked any questions specifically about the funeral to be provided. In one case, the funeral plan company apparently waited until after the 30-day cooling-off period to deliver the funeral plan documents, and explained that the funeral director of choice had refused the funeral plan but listed others who might carry it out. The gentleman had specifically purchased the plan in order to be with that particular funeral director, who informed him that he had been mis-sold the plan as it did not include all of what he had wished for his funeral.
Mr Flannigan is particularly keen to see closer involvement of funeral directors in the selling of funeral plans, so as to avoid unintended issues in the contracts arising. Heather Kennedy from the Fair Funerals Campaign has said that there are some excellent funeral companies that are rising to the challenge presented by funeral poverty—their processes and prices are transparent, they talk openly about money and make different options available. As with any other industry, however, there are others who do not, and are charging too much for their plans and at-need funerals. I hope that some of those areas of concern may be addressed here.
Another case study was highlighted by the east of Scotland citizens advice bureau, which reported a client complaint regarding a funeral plan. The client felt that no matter what she does she is not going to get the funeral she wants or had planned for. She was told when she bought the plan that it could be at any funeral director and it would cover all the costs. It later turned out, after she had signed the contract, that the nearest funeral director who will honour the plan is 30 miles away and she will get only the “basics” from the funeral director. The director she wanted to administer the funeral will not do it, as the plan is held with another company, and the plan provider has told her she will lose a lot of her money if she cancels. She has got nowhere with the complaint.
Finally, the provision of funeral plans is not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which protects against insolvency events, nor are these plans covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service, which provides an independent complaints and adjudication service free to the consumer. Although the FPA has taken action to address these criticisms, a bonus of this Bill being accepted and enacted by the Government would be that these schemes were open to offer additional consumer confidence.
In conclusion, I hope that by my proposing this very reasonable Bill, the UK Government will look seriously at this issue and engage in a positive dialogue to ensure that consumers who are often in a vulnerable and bereaved state are adequately protected.
Question put and agreed to.
That Neil Gray, Patricia Gibson, Roger Mullin, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, Liz Saville-Roberts, Diana Johnson, Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir David Amess, Gavin Robinson, Carolyn Harris and Rosie Cooper present the Bill.
Neil Gray accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 February 2017, and to be printed (Bill 112).
[16th Allotted Day]
Equality: Autumn Statement
I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected amendment (a) in the name of the Prime Minister.
I beg to move,
That this House notes with concern the disproportionate impact of the Government’s policies on women; further notes that, as a result of proposals in the 2016 Autumn Statement, 86 per cent of net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit changes since 2010 will come from women, according to the House of Commons Library; notes with concern analysis from the Women’s Budget Group which states that by 2020, in every income group, black and minority ethnic women will lose the greatest proportion of their individual income and that low income black and Asian women will lose around twice as much money as low income white men as a result of tax and benefit changes; and calls on the Government to affirm its commitment to ensuring that women and protected groups are not disproportionately affected by tax and benefits changes, to conduct an urgent assessment of the cumulative impact of its policies on women since 2010, to take the necessary remedial steps to mitigate any disproportionate burden of tax and benefits changes on women, to publish a full equality impact analysis with the 2017 Budget and to develop and publish a gender equality strategy to improve the position of women over the remainder of this Parliament.
It is a pleasure to be here today to discuss this important topic. The advancement of equal rights for women is often associated with certain historical milestones, such as the right to vote, the movement to end violence against women and girls, and reproductive rights. Although those are obviously hugely important, the key facet of the ongoing battle for gender equality is gender economic equality. Many women never question their right to open a bank account, own property, or even buy wine or beer in a pub, but those rights, now taken for granted, were actually hard-won. For much of history, and even up to 40 years ago, women were not allowed to handle money, and having a job was seen as a sign of financial desperation. It was only in the 19th century that women were allowed to own their own home. Until the Married Women’s Property Act 1882, common law in Britain deprived women of the right to keep their own property or even hold their own money. As late as the 1970s, working women were refused mortgages in their own right, and were only then granted mortgages if they could secure a male guarantor. It is only since 1980 that women have been able to apply for credit in their own name, and it was not until 1982 that women were allowed to spend their own money in pubs with the confidence that they would actually be served.
Those changes involved fearless and outspoken people challenging the status quo, questioning out-of-date assumptions, and pushing Governments and society to the realisation that economic equality and independence for women must be the norm. Today, Labour is pushing for the next step in this battle for economic equality: for the Government to ensure that their policies advance, rather than hinder, progress. Unfortunately, all the evidence points to the Conservative party turning back the clock on gender economic equality, and nowhere has that been more apparent than in their major financial announcements, such as the autumn statement.
Research from the House of Commons Library, commissioned by Labour, has revealed that as of the most recent autumn statement, 86% of net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit changes since 2010 will have come from women. That figure is up on the one at last year’s autumn statement, which was 81%, but remains the same as the one at the Budget earlier this year. Someone who happens to be a woman from a black or minority ethnic background is set to lose out even more under this Government. Joint analysis from the Runnymede Trust and the Women’s Budget Group has shown that low-income black and Asian women are paying the highest price for this Government’s failed austerity agenda.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when we talk about the disproportionate cuts affecting women, what that so often means in practice is their children going without? That is why we have seen a huge spike in child poverty, reversing all the good work that the last Labour Government did.
My hon. Friend, who has long been a campaigner in this area, is absolutely right about that. I do not understand why people do not consider the economic impact on the entire country if we hold back certain sectors of our population.
Does the hon. Lady accept that more women who have children are in work in this country than in the rest of Europe?
That is a wonderful thing, and what we want is for them to reach their full economic potential, rather than, as happens at the moment, getting paid less than they ought.
The analysis shows that by 2020, individuals in the poorest households will lose most from tax and benefit changes, but in every income group, BME women will lose the greatest proportion of their individual income. Low-income black and Asian women will lose around twice as much money as low-income white men as a result of tax and benefit changes. The Women’s Budget Group has also highlighted analysis showing that disabled people are losing significantly more as a result of those changes than non-disabled people, and disabled women are losing more than disabled men. According to its analysis, disabled men are losing nine times as much income as non-disabled men. Disabled women are losing twice as much income as non-disabled women. By 2020, families with both disabled adults and disabled children will lose more than £5,000 a year as a result of tax and benefit changes, as well as services to the value of nearly £9,000 a year as a result of Government cuts to services. Do Ministers believe that that figure is acceptable and in line with assertions from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor that their party is the champion of equality and fairness? We know that Budgets and policy decisions are simply not gender-neutral.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that she seems to be suggesting having no plan and no sustainability? Does she accept that welfare spending tripled in real terms between 1980-81 and 2014-15? We believe that that is unsustainable and does not balance the books.
I think I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Does she recognise that there are groups in our society now that are being made poorer by this Government? That is the position that we are in, and that is what the statistics are telling us.
It has been proved that this Government frequently do not recognise gender differentials, and that assumptions are made in policy making that include biases in favour of existing unequal gender relations. Women are particularly vulnerable to being hit harder by Government policies, for a number of reasons. First, social security payments make up a greater share of women’s income than men’s, as women earn less in the labour market. Secondly, women pay less direct tax than men, because they tend to earn less. Women make greater use of public sector care services than men, because they have greater caring responsibilities. Finally, women are hit harder by Government policies, because a higher proportion of women are employed in the public sector. I ask the Minister how those factors were taken into account in the drafting of the most recent autumn statement?
Labour has already committed to a gender audit of financial statements when in government, the aim of which is to make gender equality a significant element in considering and recommending policy options. That would ensure that proposed measures contained no legal, economic, social or cultural constraints to gender-equitable participation and that policies were implemented in a gender-sensitive and equitable manner.
That process, which is often referred to as gender auditing or gender budgeting, now takes place in more than 40 countries around the world. It was originally inspired by the early experiences of countries such as Australia and then given further momentum by the United Nations commitment to gender budgeting in the Beijing platform for action.
I wish to draw the House’s attention to two particular examples of best practice, in Sweden and Spain. Gender impact assessment is a relatively common instrument to support the gender mainstreaming of policy implementation in Sweden. It is strongly embedded and is carried out by different levels of government, from local to national. In national Government offices, gender impact assessments are most regularly performed when drawing up documents such as Government Bills and terms of reference for inquiry committees. The implementation of those assessments is conducted in the framework of the Swedish Government’s gender mainstreaming strategy.
In Spain, gender impact assessments have been required by law in the Basque country since 2005, in the framework of the Equal Opportunities between Women and Men Act. Since 2007, gender impact assessment reports have been issued on more than 500 decrees and laws. After seven years, gender impact assessment is a consolidated practice that is strongly embedded in the Basque regional government.
Those are just two examples to demonstrate that, when it comes to mainstreaming equalities into economic and wider policy, the Conservative party is light years behind some of our European colleagues.
What gender impact assessment has the hon. Lady made of the effects of the 2008 credit crunch, and the record deficit that we inherited? Does she not recognise that the decisions that we have had to take were based on restoring the nation’s finances, which is in the interests of everyone, not just a narrow interest group?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but why do women need to bear the brunt of this Government’s austerity?
I am sorry, but I am not having a conversation.
Will the Minister agree today to follow the example set by many other nations and produce recommendations on how equalities considerations can be better integrated into the policy process?
The hon. Lady mentioned that Spain carries out gender impact assessments. What does she think of the fact that, according to the global gender gap index of 2016, Britain ranks higher than Spain on inequality between men and women?
I ask the hon. and learned Lady to think how much better we would do if we actively audited what we were doing.
Legal and international obligations on the Government mean that they need to protect and advance women’s economic equality. The Equality Act 2010, which was introduced by Labour, enshrined in law the public sector equality duty, requiring public authorities to have due regard to a number of equality considerations when exercising their functions. Labour enshrined in section 149 of that Act the provision that any public body must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to “eliminate discrimination” and “advance equality of opportunity” for those with protected characteristics, which include gender and ethnicity.
The case of Bracking and others v. the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is one of the leading cases on the application of section 149 of the Equality Act. The principles outlined in the judgment were recently summarised by Mr Justice Gilbart in Moore and another v. the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and crucially include the following: that the relevant duty is on the Minister, or other decision maker, personally; that a Minister must assess the risk and extent of any adverse impact and the ways in which such risk may be eliminated before the adoption of a proposed policy, and not simply as a “rearguard action” following a concluded decision; and that the duty of due regard under the statute requires public authorities to be properly informed before taking a decision. If the relevant material is not available, there will be a duty to acquire it, and that will frequently mean that some further consideration with appropriate groups is required.
Specifically, I ask the Minister to outline how the most recent autumn statement, as well as policy announcements since her party came to Government, comply with section 149 of the Equality Act and the requirements outlined by Mr Justice Gilbart. Assumptions and reassurances will not suffice, and the public demand to see how the autumn statement and Government policies comply with relevant sections of the Equality Act and with case law. I ask the Minister to kindly make that information available through the House of Commons Library at the earliest possible opportunity.
We should not have to hold the Government’s feet to the fire to ensure that their policies are not disproportionately impacting one particular group and reversing progress on economic equality. Sadly, previous words from the Conservative party do not fill us with much hope. On 19 November 2012, the then Prime Minister spoke at the Confederation of British Industry’s annual conference. He announced that Government Departments would no longer be required to carry out equality impact assessments. He referred to equality impact assessments as “reams of bureaucratic nonsense” and “tick-box stuff”. Do the current Prime Minister and Chancellor agree with that analysis?
The hon. Lady talks about progress, but what does she think about the fact that the gender pay gap has narrowed to a record level, and has been virtually eliminated for women under the age of 40? We have more women-led businesses than ever before. Should she not acknowledge that progress?
I have to say that it pains me that it is a woman Member who is asking that. Should I go back to my constituents and ask them to be grateful that it will only take another 60 years before they have parity of pay?
If the Government are set to continue their contemptuous attitude on equality impact assessments, will the Minster explain how else they have managed to show that due regard has been given to the impact of the autumn statement on those with protected characteristics?
The Government know how to conduct a proper audit of their policies on women and those with protected characteristics. The Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Women’s Budget Group, among many others, have outlined suggested methodologies very clearly. We have to ask why, in the light of the availability of those methodologies, the Government continue to be so evasive. Labour Members will not let go of this point. We will continue to commission and publish our own analysis at every future Budget and spring statement for as long as it takes the Government to do their duty. The question is how long the Government will continue to stick their head in the sand regarding the impact of their policies on women, disabled people and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Will things change when the impact figure rises from 86% to 89%? Perhaps it will be 95%, or perhaps we have to reach 100% before the Government carry out an audit.
The situation has become increasingly embarrassing, as the Government continue to let women down time and time again. The Treasury refuses to send a Minister to appear before the Women and Equalities Committee to answer questions on the gender impact of the autumn statement. The Government have provided insubstantial data, and last year they voted down an Opposition motion on publishing a cumulative gender impact assessment of their policies. In their amendment to today’s motion, the Government point to their distributional analysis, which provides no overall analysis of the impact of the measures announced in the autumn statement on women, black and minority ethnic people or disabled people.
A few days before the autumn statement, the Women and Equalities Committee published a report criticising the Government for their lack of clarity both on how the 2015 spending review affected women, black and minority ethnic people and disabled people, and on how the equalities impact assessment had been undertaken. The Chair of the Committee, the highly regarded Conservative MP, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), said:
“Without the information we have asked for or ministerial evidence it’s not been possible to form a view of the Government’s work under the public sector equality duty. Promotion of transparency is a central aim of the Public Sector Equality Duty requirements.”
The Committee, numerous organisations and, indeed, the Opposition have all made it clear that the distributional analysis produced by the Government is inadequate for judging compliance with the Equality Acts. The evasiveness must stop. Women and those with protected characteristics up down the country deserve and expect better. Various Ministers have refused to accept the analysis produced by the House of Commons Library that is cited in the motion. If the Minister disagrees with independent House of Commons analysis, will he say whether the Government would be willing to produce their own and make it available to colleagues? It is simply not good enough for the Government to criticise the Library analysis without producing their own.
Will the hon. Lady explain whether the House of Commons analysis includes the national living wage? Two thirds of women benefit from the national living wage policy.
The problem with the national living wage is that it is a misnomer. It is welcome that it has been increased, but we are seeking a real living wage that brings people out of poverty, and we have not seen that.
Does my hon. Friend accept that if someone represents a party whose sole interest is to conserve the wealth of people who already have it, it is absolutely inevitable that people who are unfortunately still at the bottom of the pile will remain there as long as that party remains in government?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am proud that I represent a party that wants wealth to be shared, wants everyone to reach their potential, and will not leave anyone behind.
As I have stated, the Government know how to conduct an adequate equalities audit of their financial statements and policies. Clear methodologies have been produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and they have chosen not to use them. Will the Minister agree to explain to the House how future announcements can properly take into account the impact on women, particularly those from BME backgrounds? Will the Government agree to put an end to the ducking and diving and send a Minister to the Women and Equalities Committee to answer questions on the matter? Will they agree to publish a full cumulative gender impact analysis of their policies since 2010, and will they outline how the autumn statement, and future financial and policy announcements, will demonstrate compliance with the UK’s legal and international obligations?
As I outlined in my opening remarks, gender economic equality has been at the heart of the fight for equal rights in this country. Progress has been all too slow and the victories hard-won. The Opposition can be proud that almost every major piece of legislation that improves the lives of working women has been introduced by a Labour Government. It was a Labour Government who introduced legislative protections for women under the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010. The Labour Administration were the first since the second world war to accept state responsibility for developing childcare policy, and they introduced paternity leave and increased maternity leave. We brought in Sure Start centres, working tax credits and all-women shortlists, and we have more women MPs than all the other parties in the House combined.
In 2016, under the current Government, women in the UK are more likely to work for less pay than men. They are more likely to be in chronically low-paid and insecure sectors of the economy and to be disproportionately affected by unprecedented cuts to public services.
I shall not give way, because other Members wish to contribute.
Unlawful maternity discrimination has become increasingly pervasive on the Government’s watch, with an estimated 54,000 pregnant women and new mothers forced out of their job every year. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, just 1% of those women have taken their case to an employment tribunal since the introduction of prohibitive tribunal fees of up to £1,200. As I stated at the beginning of my speech, as of the most recent autumn statement, 86% of net savings to the Treasury through tax and benefit changes since 2010 have come from women. Today, the Government have a chance to decide whether they want that to be their lasting legacy in the fight for gender economic equality. Ministers have a choice: do the Government stand by, evade their responsibilities and make life worse for millions of women in this country, or do they put their warm words into action, rectify their mistakes and create a new era of transparency and accountability on the impact of Government policy on women, disabled people, and black and ethnic minority people? We expect them to make the right choice.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“affirms that introducing tax-free childcare, increasing the national living wage, increasing investment in affordable housing, reducing the universal credit taper, boosting investment in schools to create more good school places and taking 1.3 million individuals out of paying income tax so far this Parliament will benefit all genders and races; welcomes the fact that there are more women in work than ever before; further welcomes the Government’s publication of distributional analysis along with the Autumn Statement 2016; and welcomes the action the Government is taking to develop a strong economy that works for everyone, regardless of their background.”
It is a great pleasure to move an amendment in the name of a female Prime Minister. It is the Government’s foremost aim to make sure that this is a country that works for everyone in our society, wherever they are from, and whatever their gender, race, age or background. To deliver that objective, we need to build a strong and stable economy by boosting productivity, creating jobs, and bringing our public finances under control. That is how we will be in the best position to create a sustained rise in living standards for all British people. Our entire economic approach is based on a determination to make people better off now and in future, in all parts of the UK, and across the full breadth of our society. That is why we reject the assumptions in the motion and believe instead that the plans that we have set out will deliver a stronger economy that works for everyone.
I want to reflect on the measures that we have taken to strengthen our economy in this way, because people, regardless of their race or gender will benefit from our work to restore the economy to long-term health, which begins with bringing our public finances under control. With UK debt soon reaching a 50-year high of 90.2% of GDP, we must pursue a credible fiscal path to make it fall. Over the past six years, we have cut the deficit by almost two thirds to 4% of GDP, and we confirmed in the recent autumn statement that we will deliver a surplus as soon as possible in the next Parliament, while in the interim bringing cyclically adjusted borrowing below 2% by the end of Parliament, and getting public sector net debt, as a share of GDP, falling in this Parliament too.
People across our society benefit from the business-led recovery that has been at the heart of our economic approach. We have made sure that Britain is open for business with our competitive tax regime, by cutting over £10 billion-worth of red tape, and with our extensive investment in infrastructure, skills and research. The autumn statement took that further with a whole host of measures, including the new national productivity investment fund of £23 billion over the next five years. It is as a result of such measures that over 1 million new businesses have started since 2010, taking us up to a record 5.5 million small businesses at the beginning of the year. By the way, I am pleased to say that about 1.2 million small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK are majority women-led—more than ever before—and they contribute about £115 billion to the economy in total.
With regard to the infrastructure spending, which the Minister heralds as part of the recovery, how many of the jobs that will be created by that will go to women?
I cannot say how many will go to women or men. Is the hon. Lady objecting to the infrastructure spending because she believes that it will not go to women? I will happily give way to her again.
I will make a more substantive speech about that shortly, but currently in the construction industry 1% of jobs go to women—1%. I ask the Minister again: what percentage of the jobs created by infrastructure spending does he think will go to women?
There are now more women doing science, technology, engineering and maths A-level subjects than ever before, which will ensure that more of them go into such jobs. I am trying to understand the hon. Lady’s point. Is she saying that we should not be spending money on infrastructure because that will have a disproportionate effect, favouring men? The purpose of infrastructure spending is to improve our infrastructure in order to improve our productivity—productivity that helps men and women. That is why we are doing that.
I will give way for the final time.
I am absolutely not saying that we should not spend money on infrastructure. What are the Government going to do to make sure that all the infrastructure spending set out in the autumn statement is shared equally between men’s and women’s jobs?
I will come back to the hon. Lady’s question, but I will give way to my hon. Friend first.
I am grateful. My right hon. Friend will surely be aware that Alun Griffiths (Contractors) based in my constituency, which builds motorways, has received a parliamentary award for its commitment to championing women in the construction industry. Perhaps we should look carefully at tenders and make sure that such companies are considered.
There is a very important point to be made about how we encourage more women to become involved in engineering and construction. Increasing numbers of employers are taking more steps to do that—Crossrail is another example of where that is happening. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) seems to be objecting to infrastructure spending, which is a strange position—[Interruption.]
Order. I can hear the hon. Lady—[Interruption]—and she should not be speaking so loudly when she is sitting down, especially when I am speaking. She will have an opportunity to speak soon.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The global entrepreneurship and development index has ranked Britain as the best place in Europe for female entrepreneurs, which I am sure everyone in this House will welcome and want to see us build on. Our start-up loans programme is helping entrepreneurs set up a business or become self-employed, not only through a loan, but through access to mentors. By the way, this programme issues a high proportion of loans to black and minority ethnic applicants: BME-led businesses represent 24% of start-up loan recipients, with almost 10,000 loans issued to BME recipients so far.
Our support for business goes hand in hand with the historically high employment rate that we have in the UK, with today’s numbers confirming that the unemployment rate remains at an 11-year low, with employment remaining at near record highs.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this Government are helping women at work by introducing shared parental leave, flexible working hours and 30 hours of free childcare? Those have been pioneered by this Government, putting women first in the workplace.