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Commons Chamber

Volume 618: debated on Monday 19 December 2016

House of Commons

Monday 19 December 2016

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Education

The Secretary of State was asked—

Free Childcare

1. What progress her Department is making on the provision of 30 hours of free childcare to working parents. (907938)

We are committed to ensuring that we have the high-quality, affordable childcare that families need, and are on track to deliver 30 hours of childcare to working parents. We are investing record funding of £1 billion per year by 2020 and have announced a fairer early-years funding system. Eight early implementer areas are already providing nearly 4,000 places one year early.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Last week I visited Hadfield Nursery School in my constituency. That excellent and very well respected local nursery is a maintained nursery. It is concerned about the level of funding it will receive when the 30 hours provision comes in. Will she give us some reassurance on that, and would she like to visit Hadfield Nursery School, because it does a great job and everyone there would be delighted to see her?

I thank my hon. Friend for that very kind invitation. I would be more than happy to visit both him and the Hadfield Nursery School in his beautiful High Peak constituency. He is right to highlight the importance of maintained nursery schools. We have committed to providing local authorities with an additional £55 million per year for nursery schools until at least the end of this Parliament.

On the same subject, is it not really the case that the 30 hour promise is being funded by stealing resources from state-run nurseries that employ fully qualified headteachers and staff? Will the Secretary of State tell us what analysis she has undertaken of the damage that will be done by the cuts she is making to the funding of state-run nursery schools?

That is a rather churlish comment, if you do not mind my saying so, Mr Speaker. We are investing more money in this policy than any Government have ever spent on it before, some £6 billion. The hon. Gentleman needs to be a little more appreciative.

I assure the Minister that working parents in my constituency very much welcome 30 hours of free childcare for their children. Will she set out for them, and in particular for those with disabled children, how she will make sure there will be sufficient funding to give disabled children the best start in life through that 30 hours scheme?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was at Sheringham Nursery School in Newham last week, which is an early implementer and is already seeing the massive difference the scheme is making to working families. There is an inclusion fund that will go to children with special educational needs and disabilities.

I hope the Minister agrees that the early-years pupil premium provides vital support to some of our most disadvantaged children. Like the hon. Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham), we know that nurseries are facing financial pressure now, and many worry that they will not be able to care for the most vulnerable children when the 30 hours scheme is introduced. Will she therefore guarantee that all of the £50 million early-years pupil premium money will go to our most vulnerable children, and that that vital resource will not be cut this Parliament?

Yes. The pupil premium, which we introduced, will continue and will continue to go to the most vulnerable children.

Good and Outstanding Schools: Places

2. What steps the Government are taking to improve the number of available places in good and outstanding schools. (907939)

We are committed to making sure that as many children as possible have a good place at school. The latest Ofsted annual report clearly shows that standards have risen compared with 2010, with almost 1.8 million more pupils now taught in good or outstanding schools. Proposals on additional measures to increase the supply of good new school places are set out in the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation.

I welcome that very encouraging reply from the Secretary of State. One issue raised with me by constituents and school governors is securing school places for siblings so that brothers and sisters can attend the same school. Will my right hon. Friend look at that as part of her plans to improve the number of places available?

Any changes to the overall operation of the code would of course be scrutinised by this House. My hon. Friend will probably be aware that admissions authorities are responsible for setting their own admissions arrangements, but the code already allows them to prioritise siblings, and some admissions authorities already choose to do so.

Headteachers in my constituency tell me that their efforts to get their schools to become good or outstanding are sometimes stymied by changing expectations from Government and changes that they feel are not evidence-based. Will the Secretary of State reassure headteachers in Bristol West that expectations will not keep changing without a very good reason?

I had a chance to visit a Bristol school last week, which was a fantastic opportunity. That school is working with Bristol University. On our continued reforms, we want to make sure that we see improvements in classrooms. The hon. Lady will no doubt welcome our recent launch of the strategic school improvement fund. That fund is about making sure we can get the investment to schools that need to improve quickly and effectively.

Good and outstanding secondary school provision must include the provision of technical and professional education, which is essential for our skills base for the future. Does the Secretary of State agree that university technical colleges play a really important role in that and can and should be good or outstanding?

I agree. As with all schools, we expect them to deliver high standards. I had the chance recently to go to Didcot UTC, which provides a fantastic education—a very different education perhaps, but one that works for them and their interests. It is getting very good results because of that.

It is my understanding that in the past two years, over 60 schools have been rated inadequate where an academy order has been issued but a sponsor has yet to be identified. How does that uncertainty help to improve standards in those schools?

We are committed to ensuring, when we see schools not achieving the results they need for their children, that we have a strong approach that steadily improves the schools and works with them to improve. Where they cannot improve, we want to ensure that, through academisation, changes take place in terms of leadership and school sponsorship that mean schools have the flexibility and the freedom to be able to get better.

As a former Acton resident, the Secretary of State will I am sure share the concern of local parents that the Ark primary school—secured with much fanfare in East Acton to match its near neighbour, which has an outstanding reputation—now has a full roll of students and a secured site but no physical building. Will she do everything she can to pressure the education funding authority to find the shortfall that Balfour Beatty wants for its bid price? East Acton is the most deprived ward of Ealing borough. It is in the bottom decile for the whole country and—

Order. The hon. Lady has made her point with great force and eloquence, but it does not need to be made at any greater length.

As the hon. Lady recognises, I very much enjoyed living in Acton. It is important to raise standards in Acton schools. I will look very carefully at the particular issue she raises and perhaps write to her to find out what we can do to speed things up.

Easingwold school in my constituency—I must declare an interest as two of my children attend this school, but so do 1,000 other children—has been placed in special measures and will now, of course, become an academy, which I support. The choice of academy has been announced and subsequently retracted, pending surveys of the school. Clearly, either the process is flawed or the way this has been handled is flawed. Will the Secretary of State look at this matter urgently to resolve these problems?

I am aware of this matter, because my hon. Friend has played his role as a fantastic local MP and already raised it with me. The Department is looking to see whether we can make sure the barriers preventing the school from getting a great sponsor that will help to improve it, not just for his own children but for all the children, can be quickly removed.

Special Needs Schools Multi-academy Trusts

Multi-academy trusts enable the sharing of staff and expertise that can help to foster truly excellent special educational needs provision. Special schools can be successful both in multi-academy trusts that specialise wholly in supporting children with special education needs, as well as in multi-academy trusts that offer special provision alongside mainstream provision. Some examples of multi-academy trusts that offer special provision can be found in our new good practice guidance, published on 9 December.

I was going to ask the Minister to issue further guidance. I do not think the 9 December guidance had been issued when I tabled the question, so I am grateful for that and encourage him to look at special needs schools operating within multi-academy trusts solely as special needs schools. There is an enormous difference in special needs schools between thousands of pupils and hundreds of pupils.

I expect nothing less from my hon. Friend in terms of the pressure he is able to bring to bear on the Government. He raises an important issue. We continue to support and provide guidance for the growing number of MATs in this area. I encourage any newly forming MATs to get in touch with their regional schools commissioner, who will be able to support them and help to direct them towards further sources of support.

I thank the Minister for meeting me a few weeks ago to discuss the contents of my ten-minute rule Bill on special needs and, in particular, on the admission of autistic children to schools. He mentioned at that time that the arrangements were not ideal and needed some adjustment. He mentioned a consultation. Can he please give us any more information on that?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill and have a lot of sympathy for the cause it enshrines. I can commit to a consultation early in the new year, and I know that he and others who are interested in this issue will want to contribute.

Improving Educational Outcomes

Great teachers are critical to improving educational outcomes. Teaching is a profession, and we support the professional development of teachers, including through the new £74.2 million teaching and leadership innovation fund and the new charter college of teaching. We are also investing in improving curriculum expertise and specialism, particularly in maths, which I saw for myself first hand on a recent visit to Shanghai, China.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. In “Education Excellence Everywhere”, a paper produced in March 2016, there was a good proposal for a free national teacher vacancy website to ensure that the costs of recruitment were kept down for schools. What progress is the Secretary of State making on that proposal?

My hon. and learned Friend mentions the commitment we made in the March White Paper to a website offering a free route for schools to advertise teacher vacancies and, in doing so, providing teachers with easier access to information about job opportunities. We have worked closely with schools and teachers, and we are testing out different approaches to how to deliver that website most effectively, so we can make sure that it will be of maximum value to all schools.

Whenever I meet young people in my constituency, they tell me that the thing that could most affect their educational outcomes is a curriculum for life and compulsory personal, social and health education in all schools. The curriculum is inadequate, having been last updated before Facebook was even invented, and teachers go unsupported and untrained. If yesterday’s briefings to the newspapers are to be believed, the Government are considering bringing in compulsory PSHE. Is this true and, if so, when will it happen? It is urgent.

I was very clear in my first Education Committee appearance that I felt this was an area that we needed actively to look at, which is what we are doing. It is not just a question of updating the guidance; it is about the schools where it is taught—and, I would say, the quality of the teaching that happens as well.

14. As someone who did pure maths and applied maths, as well as physics and English at A-level, I am very keen on mathematics teaching, and I was just wondering what is the Secretary of State’s assessment of the recent mathematics teacher exchange between the United Kingdom and China. (907956)

I think it has worked fantastically well so far. Over the last two years, we have seen 131 teachers from England visiting Shanghai and 127 teachers from Shanghai visiting English schools, and through that exchange our teachers have observed Shanghai teaching methods. In the 48 schools participating in the study, the teachers have implemented changes, which have led to increased enthusiasm for mathematics—hopefully as strong as my hon. Friend’s was at school—deeper engagement, increased confidence and, critically, higher attainment.

One of the best ways to support teachers in improving educational outcomes, particularly for children with special needs, is through the pupil premium. Will the Secretary of State therefore explain why the level of the pupil premium has been frozen at current levels through this Parliament?

The pupil premium was introduced by the previous coalition Government and it is continuing to be supported throughout this Parliament precisely to make sure that funding gets to those children who need it most. Last week, I announced the national funding formula, which also prioritises resources going towards disadvantaged children.

The Secretary of State will know how traumatic it is for students and teachers to get children through GCSE maths and English resits, which can often blight their post-GCSE studies. Can we have a curriculum that is vocationally based for numeracy and literacy, which would give people the skills they need for work—without having to go through this traumatic and often wasteful experience?

It is important that all children leave our education system with something to show for their names, particularly in maths and English—ideally at a level congruent with their potential. We brought in the GCSE resit policy, because we think that students who achieved a D grade and were therefore pretty close to the better standard should have another go at doing so. However, the functional skills qualifications have been well received by employers and we want to look at how they can also play a role in enabling all our young people to show their accomplishments.

Grammar schools represent the Prime Minister’s flagship policy for improving outcomes, but according to today’s edition of The Independent, officials in the Department have said that there is no chance of a new selective school before 2020. Will the Secretary of State tell us how many selective schools will be built during the current Parliament?

The consultation finished last week, and we will now look at the responses. However, I think we should recognise that we need an education system that provides more good school places, especially for children living in parts of the country that do not have access to them. I hope that, rather than carping without making any suggestions, we can have a good debate following the consultation, and also provide those additional grammar school places.

Teacher Shortages

The school workforce census reports a fairly constant vacancy rate of 0.2% of teachers in post. New analysis, published in September, of the proportion of schools with at least one vacancy showed some variation between regions since 2010, with London consistently having the highest proportion of vacancies. The Department is trying to identify the schools that are experiencing the greatest teacher shortages and help them to meet those challenges.

Good teaching depends on retaining good teachers in the profession. Does the Minister not accept that the consistent underfunding of schools in disadvantaged areas such as the north-east makes retaining teachers very difficult? Will he look again at the area cost adjustment of the national funding formula, which could well have the perverse effect of sending money away from disadvantaged areas and into more affluent ones?

We have protected the core schools budget in real terms throughout this Parliament and the last. Moreover, we have grasped the nettle and introduced fair funding, which the Labour party failed to do throughout its time in office. One of the elements of that fair funding is ensuring that there are sufficient funds to tackle disadvantage and lower prior attainment.

Schools in Somerset have great teachers, but find it hard to recruit. Does my hon. Friend agree that adjusting the funding formula will help rural areas such as mine to attract and retain excellent teachers?

My hon. Friend is right. Authorities around the country, particularly those in the f40 group, have been underfunded for many years. As I said to the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), we were the first Government to grasp the nettle and introduce a much fairer system to replace those historic, anachronistic and unfair national funding formulas.

Following last week’s announcement of the proposed funding formula, may I ask the Minister how it will help us to recruit and retain teachers, given that all but one of the secondary schools in my constituency will lose money as a result of the formula?

The national funding formula has been introduced to ensure that we have a fair funding system. We shall be consulting on that fair funding system over the next 14 weeks, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will send in his representations.

If an outstanding academy in the New Forest, minutes from the seaside, is finding it difficult to recruit an English teacher, what hope is there for schools anywhere else?

My right hon. Friend has raised an important point. The national fair funding formula will help schools to acquire the resources that will enable them to use the discretion that we have given them in respect of how they reward teachers, especially teachers of certain subjects whom it is difficult to recruit.

May I take this opportunity to wish the House Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr?

The Association of School and College Leaders has warned that opening new grammar schools may worsen teacher recruitment. Does the Minister not think that priority should be given to incentivising teacher recruitment and retention, rather than taking the retrograde step of providing new grammars that will do nothing for teachers, pupils or parents?

We are prioritising teacher recruitment. We met 94% of our target last year and 93% this year, and we are recruiting more teachers in sciences than before. I think that the hon. Lady should take account of the number of teachers who are entering teacher training. She should also acknowledge that there are 456,000 teachers in our schools today, which is an all-time high, and that there are 15,000 more teachers today than there were in 2010.

Careers Advice

May I take this opportunity to thank the hon. Gentleman for the work he does in the all-party group on education?

Helping all young people to get the careers education and guidance they need to climb the ladder of opportunity is crucial to delivering real social mobility, and that is why we are investing £90 million over the Parliament to ensure that every young person has access to advice and inspiration to fulfil their potential. This includes further funding for the Careers & Enterprise Company to continue the excellent work it has started, including £1 million for the first six opportunity areas.

I thank the Minister for that answer. The all-party group on education is conducting an inquiry into how we prepare young children for the careers of the future, and specifically that seems to require not just the academic skills, but the also the soft skills. Do the Government feel they are doing that ably enough, or are there to be changes? Also, will the Minister attend the launch of our document when it is produced on 7 February?

The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point: not enough schools are encouraging their children to do not just soft skills, but all skills, and technical education and apprenticeships. We are working hard to change that. We have made sure that schools have to talk about apprenticeships and skills when giving careers advice. As I have said, we are investing many millions of pounds into the Careers & Enterprise Company, which is going to look after 250,000 students in some of the areas of the country that have the least careers provision. We are doing everything we can. In terms of the important event the hon. Gentleman mentions, I will do my best to attend, but will have to check the diary.

The Minister is right: the introduction of the Careers & Enterprise Company will do a great deal to improve careers advice among secondary school students. However, to encourage more girls into a science, technology, engineering and maths career we have to start earlier, in primary schools. Can he confirm that increasing diversity in STEM careers that lead to greater productivity will form a central part of the STEM-related industrial strategy, and will he work with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to do so?

My hon. Friend is right: we need to do everything possible to ensure that young people do STEM subjects and that we encourage them to do so. That is why we are investing a lot in STEM apprenticeships. It is also why the get in, go far campaign focuses heavily on STEM subjects and encourages more women to do apprenticeships and to have the skills we need.

I am glad to hear the Minister’s support for young people studying STEM subjects. Does he therefore share my disappointment that GCSEs in environmental science and environmental and land-based science have now been discontinued?

There are alternative qualifications, but I would add that we are creating a state-of-the-art technical education system with 15 different pathways, which will have important technical routes and qualifications. They will have prestige and give employers the qualifications they need.

The Minister knows that university technical colleges can be a fantastic route into apprenticeships, degrees and jobs. The proposed Gloucestershire university health UTC will be a magnificent example of this, but when will the delayed deadline for UTC applications be announced?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of UTCs, and he has been an incredible champion of apprenticeships and skills in his own constituency since being elected. I will speak to my noble Friend Lord Nash, the UTC Minister, about the specific question he raises.

Leaving the EU: Funding for Further Education

7. What assessment she has made of the effect on further education institutions of the potential loss of access to the (a) European social fund and (b) European regional development fund after the UK leaves the EU. (907948)

Following the European Union referendum on 23 June we are considering all aspects of how the vote of the people of the UK to leave the EU might impact on further education institutions. This includes consideration of institutions’ access to EU funding sources. We are committed to ensuring the FE sector remains effective in delivering learning that provides individuals with the skills the economy needs for growth.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has committed to stability and certainty in the period leading up to our departure from the EU. Further education institutions in Glasgow—including Glasgow Kelvin College in my constituency—and across the UK will need that certainty in any post-Brexit scenario. Those colleges have benefited from European social funding to the tune of £1.5 million this year alone. Brexit was not a matter of Scotland’s choosing or of Glasgow’s choosing. Will the Government commit to abandoning the empty “Brexit means Brexit” rhetoric, publishing detailed plans, providing certainty and standing by our colleges on funding?

Leaving the European Union will mean that we will want to take our own decisions on how to deliver the policy objectives previously targeted by EU funding. The Government are consulting closely with stakeholders to review all EU funding schemes in the round, to ensure that any ongoing funding commitments best serve the UK’s national interest while ensuring appropriate certainty.

Given that all EU spending in Britain is simply returning part of our gross contribution to the EU budget, would it not be sensible for the Government simply to commit now to replacing EU funding with UK Exchequer funding, thereby keeping everyone happy?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. As I have just said, the fact that the British people voted to leave the EU means that the United Kingdom Government will decide how best to spend the money that was previously going to the European Union.

Colleges Scotland has received more than £250 million in EU funding in the past 10 years to help fund capital projects. Given that it was this Government who gambled away Scotland’s EU membership, what is the likelihood of their replacing this type of vital funding in the years ahead?

I find it interesting, given that the hon. Lady’s party’s position is to campaign for more powers to go from Westminster to Scotland, that she would rather have funding decisions made by an authority in the European Union than by one in Scotland. Having said that, she will know that the Chancellor has announced that the Treasury will guarantee structural and investment funding bids that are signed before the UK leaves the EU. This includes funding for projects agreed after the autumn statement, provided that they represent good value for money and are in line with the Government’s strategic priorities, even if they continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.

Our further education colleges benefit hugely from European structural funds such as the European social fund, as has been mentioned. The Government told me in February that the Skills Funding Agency had received £725 million from the European social fund, and that in 2014-15, £120 million went directly to FE colleges from European funding. That money guarantees thousands of apprenticeships, jobs and new skills. Can the Minister guarantee that the Government will replace that £120 million after Brexit? Will FE colleges that provide higher education courses then get the same Government guarantees on replacement funding as universities?

I had hoped that, in the spirit of Christmas, the hon. Gentleman might have welcomed the 900,000 apprenticeship participation figure, the highest on record in our island’s history. As I have said, access to European funding is just one aspect of college business that will be impacted by the decision to leave the European Union. We are considering all the aspects of how FE colleges could be affected. It is also worth noting that, by 2020, the adult FE budget will be the highest in the nation’s history if we include apprenticeships and adult learner loans in the budget as a whole.

Apprenticeships

8. What steps her Department is taking to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds to take up apprenticeships. (907949)

Order. If the Minister knows that he is going to answer the next question, he is very welcome to remain standing at the Dispatch Box. No one would think that there was anything disorderly or unreasonable about that, and he should feel welcome to do so.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, but it is good for the calories in advance of Christmas.

We are committed to ensuring that apprenticeships are as accessible as possible to all people from all backgrounds, and we are making available more than £60 million to support apprenticeship take-up by individuals from disadvantaged areas. Our get in, go far campaign aims to encourage more young people to apply for an apprenticeship and more employers to offer opportunities. We are increasing the number of traineeships to further support young people into apprenticeships and other work.

What measures is the Minister putting in place to overcome the barriers to accessing apprenticeships and to ensure that schools’ promotion of apprenticeships is good?

I mentioned that we are putting £60 million into deprived areas to encourage trainers to take apprentices from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. We are putting a lot of funding into helping 16 to 18-year-olds into apprenticeships by supporting businesses and providers. We are supporting health and social care apprenticeships if the local authority has a health and social care plan. We are also supporting apprentices with disabilities and giving £12 million to the Union Learning Fund. This Government are committed to ensuring that the most disadvantaged people can do apprenticeships and get on the ladder of opportunity for the jobs and skills of the future.

From next April, many schools will have to pay the apprenticeship levy—yet another cost. For one Hounslow school, it will mean an additional cost of £15,000. Will the Minister agree to meet me, my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) and concerned headteachers in Hounslow to discuss the levy’s impact on schools and academies?

I am of course happy to meet the hon. Lady, but the whole idea of the apprenticeship levy is to change behaviours and ensure that we become an apprenticeship and skills nation. If the school that she describes has apprentices that meet the needs of the levy, not only will they not pay any levy but they will get 10% on top.

Small businesses often give apprentices the best experience, but they find it difficult to offer the time and resources to support them. What steps is the Minister taking to encourage small businesses in particular to take on more apprentices?

My hon. Friend is a champion of small business, both in his constituency and in the House. We are doing huge amounts to support small businesses to take on young apprentices, including a huge financial incentive for both providers and businesses. Very small businesses do not have to pay any training costs if they have 16 to 18-year-olds. We have also cut national insurance contributions for employers when apprentices are aged under 25.

The apprenticeship scheme must be and should be better publicised both in high schools and, I suggest, in primary schools to encourage those who do not feel comfortable in academia to understand that other options are available. Will the Minister specify how the Department plans to implement any such publication system in schools?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, as he so often does. Wherever I go around the country to meet apprentices, I often find that they have not been encouraged by their schools. We are looking hard at how to ensure that careers guidance encourages skills apprenticeships and technical education. As I said, we are investing £90 million in careers, including in the Careers & Enterprise Company, which has some 1,300 advisers in schools around the country getting kids to do work experience and acquire the skills they need.

Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy

9. What plans the Government have to respond to the independent review by Sir Nick Weller, “A Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy”, published in November 2016. (907951)

We are committed to tackling educational inequality so that all pupils can fulfil their potential. We welcome the important contribution that Sir Nick Weller’s report is making towards delivering that objective, including its recognition of the benefits of an academic curriculum and robust governance structures.

Northern schools have been improving, but there is more to do. A northern powerhouse challenge that is as well funded as the London Challenge programme was under the Labour Government would be welcome for schools such as the McMillan Nursery School in my constituency—an outstanding school led by an excellent headteacher, Andrew Shimmin, and his staff. What support will be available to schools such as that, which is already doing its best in a disadvantaged area?

As Sir Nick’s report shows, there is an achievement gap between the north and the south, which is why the Chancellor announced in the March 2016 Budget £70 million of new funding between now and 2020 to support a northern powerhouse schools strategy.

The Minister knows that Trafford is the best performing local authority area in the north of England, yet it is also one of the f40 group of worst-funded authorities. I am sure he can imagine the concern that last week’s draft funding formula will lead to all secondary schools and a number of primary schools being worse off. Will he look at the nature of the funding formula as a matter of urgency to ensure real fairness to those authorities that have been underfunded?

Overall, f40 authorities will see significant gains through the national funding formula—some £210 million in total. I acknowledge that in Trafford there is a loss of 0.4%, but the current local formula there underfunds primary schools compared with secondary schools. Trafford gives £4,212 for each key stage 3 pupil but the figure for primaries is only £2,642. Under the proposed NFF, Trafford’s secondary schools will lose but its primaries will gain.

The Education Policy Institute found that academy trusts are no better at raising standards than local authorities, so why does Nick Weller’s report say that expanding multi-academy trusts is

“key to driving up standards in the North”?

Is it because he is very well paid by a multi-academy trust, or is there perchance any evidence for what he suggests?

It is because he is experienced in running a very successful MAT. We know that sponsored academies increase standards very rapidly, certainly more swiftly than the predecessor school.

One cause of the underperformance in northern schools that the report identifies is the challenge of teacher supply. Does the Minister agree that one way of improving that would be to recruit more former members of the armed forces into our teaching profession?

Yes, I do, and we have a scheme that does just that. As the years go by, it is recruiting increasing, albeit small, numbers of highly qualified, experienced ex-military personnel.

Secondary School Closures

10. Whether her Department has closed any state secondary schools within three years of their conversion to a single trust academy. (907952)

We have not permanently closed any converter academies within three years of their conversion to a single trust academy. However, we have rebrokered or merged converter academies.

If no school has been closed within three years of such a conversion and no academy closed solely as a result of a bad Ofsted report, and if there is no reliable estimate of the costs of closure or of the availability of alternative places, future demand, real travel patterns and journey times to alternative schools, how do the Government justify reneging on their promise to pupils and parents to rescue Baverstock Academy in my constituency, rather than close their school?

No decision has been taken yet by Ministers on the future of Baverstock Academy, which has twice now been put into special measures by Ofsted. Ministers are going to consider all options, and of course the view of parents and the community, before reaching a final decision. The key factor will be ensuring that children get good access to a good education.

Increasing Educational Opportunity

12. What steps the Government are taking to increase educational opportunity for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. (907954)

Increasing educational opportunity for disadvantaged pupils underpins our commitment to make sure that our country works for everyone, and through the pupil premium, worth £2.5 billion this year alone, we are narrowing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. That can be seen in Eversley Primary School in Enfield, and I want to take this opportunity to congratulate it on its excellent work on the pupil premium and on winning the high aspiration award.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, recognising the great work of Eversley school, among others, in my borough. I wish to draw on the responses from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills and touch on the “Getting ready for work” report. Given that school links with local employers have let down the most vulnerable, in particular, may I commend to the Secretary of State the good example of Transport for London’s Steps into Work programme, which is bucking the national trend; instead of only 6% of those with learning disabilities getting into work, some 57% are doing so.

I am aware of that programme, and indeed as part of our opportunities area work we are working with both the CBI and the Careers & Enterprise Company to strengthen links between employers and schools. The TfL programme shows how, when we get a closer relationship between employers, local schools and young people, especially those with learning disabilities, it can really make a difference in employment rates.

The Secretary of State must know that there is a serious problem whereby disadvantaged young people are identified to be clever and bright up to the age of 11, in good primary schools, but then we lose them and they fail in secondary. I know she is reluctant ever to answer a question about skills and apprenticeships, but is she also aware of how many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are locked into the further education system, unable to get their GCSEs in maths and English? When is she going to do something about that? We are talking about tens of thousands of young people.

At key stage 4, the attainment gap between more disadvantaged young people and those who start off from better backgrounds has been getting lower. That is, in part, because we are putting resources into the system, but we are also steadily improving the system itself. The hon. Gentleman talks about further education: one of our key aims across this Parliament is to make sure that technical education delivers the same gold-standard education as academic education delivers for those following academic routes.

In answer to my earlier question, the Secretary of State failed to commit to building a new selective school during this Parliament. Today the Education Policy Institute has released evidence showing that the 11-plus test cannot be tutor-proofed. Does she agree that selection at 11 will favour families that can afford it and do nothing to improve the educational outcomes of the most disadvantaged pupils?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. As usual, we have had criticism from the Opposition, but no alternative policies whatever—and, indeed, a continued failure to set out whether they would close existing grammars. It would be fantastic to get clarity at some stage on Labour party policy. We want more good school places for children, particularly disadvantaged children. We know that disadvantaged children on free school meals who get into grammars see their attainment gap close by the time they leave.

Times Tables

13. By what age pupils are expected to know the times tables up to 12; and what proportion of children of that age in (a) Northamptonshire and (b) England know those times tables. (907955)

The new national curriculum that came into force in September 2014 expects every pupil to know their multiplication tables to 12 times 12 by the end of year 4.

Well done! We have strengthened primary maths assessment to prioritise fluency in written calculation and we have removed the use of calculators from key stage 2 tests.

We have not made an assessment of the proportion of children in Northamptonshire or England who know their multiplication tables by heart, but we have pledged to introduce a multiplication tables check for primary school pupils in England to ensure that every child leaves primary school fluent in their times tables up to and including 12 times 12, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) says, is 144.

Does the Minister agree that learning the times tables is an absolutely essential part of success at maths? What is the Government’s official view on the best way for times tables to be taught and learned?

We do not have an official way for times tables to be taught, but we expect every child to know their tables. The provision is inserted into year 4 so that children are fluent in their tables, can recall them with automaticity and can then tackle long multiplication and long division in years 5 and 6.

Physical Exercise in Schools

We want all pupils to be healthy and active and have the opportunity to engage in sport and physical activity. That is why physical education remains a compulsory subject at all four key stages in the national curriculum. Since 2013, we have given more than £600 million directly to primary schools to improve the breadth and quality of PE and sport provision; that will double to £320 million a year from 2017.

Given the urgent need to tackle child obesity and physical inactivity, will my hon. Friend say what steps he is taking to work with organisations such as ukactive, the Outdoor Industry Association and The Daily Mile foundation, as well as local organisations such as Active Cheshire, to follow the example of Upton Priory School, where my daughter goes, to take forward more Daily Mile initiatives?

As a fellow Cheshire MP, I am aware of some of the excellent work that local schools and local groups, such as Active Cheshire, do in partnership. We welcome initiatives such as the Daily Mile, and I will be meeting the foundation in the new year. They all help teachers who have the autonomy to make good decisions on behalf of their pupils to have an array of excellent quality initiatives to use. We continue to promote those through county sport partnerships.

The Minister is too modest in declining to take the opportunity to say that he has, over many years, led by example through his repeated and impressive marathon running, with which the whole House should by now be well familiar.

Physical activity is really important to equip the next generation with the skills to contend with both their physical and mental health. Alone, however, it will not contend with our nation’s obesity crisis; we know from the child measurement figures how challenging that issue is for our country. Will the Government be bringing forward compulsory personal, social, health and economic education so that we can equip the next generation with the knowledge and skills to know what they should be eating as well as what physical activity they should be doing?

I have already told the House that PE is compulsory at all four key stages. The Secretary of State has set out the need to improve the access to, and the quality of, PSHE, and we are continuing to look at that very carefully. Just to stop the press, I will be taking part in the London marathon again next year to continue my efforts to lead by example.

Topical Questions

May I, too, wish everybody in the House a happy Christmas?

The latest Ofsted figures show that there are now nearly 1.8 million more children being taught in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. Our Schools that Work for Everyone consultation has now ended, and we look forward to responding to that in due course. In the past few weeks, we have announced a £140 million strategic school improvement fund and published the next stage of the consultation on our national fairer funding formula for schools across England, which will finally bring an end to the historical postcode lottery on school funding. I also had the chance to see our excellent teacher exchange programme in Shanghai, China, earlier this month, as well as to visit many great schools in our own country.

Team GB gave an incredible performance at this year’s Rio Olympic games, bringing home 67 medals. One third of the medal winners went to private schools, compared with 7% of the population. What else are the Government doing to encourage even greater participation in sport in our state schools?

Since 2013, we have provided over £600 million to primary schools through the primary PE and sport premium, which is steadily starting to make a difference. In fact, in independent research, schools reported an 84% increase in participation in extracurricular activities. But we know there is a lot more to do, which is why we have doubled the premium to £320 million a year from autumn 2017.

I, too, would like to wish the Secretary of State and all Members of the House a merry Christmas, but it ain’t going to be a very merry Christmas for our schools. The recent Government consultation document says there will be a floor on schools’ funding so that no school will lose more than 3% of its funding per pupil as a result of the changes to the funding formula—a hugely necessary protection, as some schools face cuts that are too severe to manage. Not only has the National Audit Office shown that, despite the floor, schools are facing funding cuts of 8% per pupil, but it has criticised the Department for failing to make the scale of the coming cuts clear. The Secretary of State has two choices—

Order. The hon. Lady will resume her seat. I am sorry, but if we are going to have a right for the Opposition Front Bench to come in on topicals—I make this clear now, with immediate effect—it must be done very briefly; otherwise, it completely absorbs the time that is for Back Benchers. A single sentence from the hon. Lady will suffice.

Thank you—sorry, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State has two choices: will she cut the funding in 2020, or will she issue guidance to schools on what those cuts will be?

We are consulting on proposals for a new national funding formula. I think everybody accepts the current system is unfair, untransparent and out of date, and it does not support our aspiration for all children to be able to reach their potential and succeed in adult life. There is often little or no justification for the differences that local areas and schools get at the moment. The consultation is now under way, and I have no doubt that hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to respond to it.

The former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), is the most recent senior Conservative to say that the Prime Minister’s plans to include international students in migration figures are not sensible. Will the Secretary of State join the Opposition and commit to doing everything she can to reverse this foolish policy and to ensure that students are removed from the migration statistics?

We value the very significant contribution that international students make to our universities. We welcome them, and we have no plans to introduce a cap on intake. As the Secretary of State recently announced, we will shortly be seeking views on the study immigration route, and all interested parties, including the Opposition, should ensure their point of view is heard.

T2. Getting it right early on is so crucial for life chances. Pen Green in Corby offers flagship nursery provision and early intervention, which local families very much appreciate and value. Would the Minister be willing to come and visit Pen Green, or to meet representatives of it, to discuss how the funding reforms can best support this provision? (907928)

Maintained nursery schools are a very small but very important part of the early years sector, providing high-quality childcare and education often in areas of disadvantage. They have a potentially important role in shaping best practice with other providers in their area. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and representatives of Pen Green to discuss this further.

T3. Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that many schools, including the primary school in the most deprived part of my constituency that contacted me on Wednesday, are struggling financially as a result of, among other things, the overheads that are being heaped on them, and that children with special educational needs are likely to suffer most from the financial squeeze? (907929)

In fact, under the national funding formula that we announced last week in relation to starting the consultation on high needs, no local areas will lose out. Indeed, we have been able not only to do that but to ensure that the areas that have been underfunded will be able to gain up to 3% over 2018-19 and 2019-20.

T5. Following the publication of the key stage SATs results on Thursday, we saw that whereas the national average pass rate was 54% and the Lancashire pass rate was 54%, the pass rate in my constituency was 47%. What steps are the Department taking to look at best practice in schools such as those in my constituency with a pass rate of 78%, and what can it do to help the schools that are underperforming? (907932)

I share my hon. Friend’s justifiable concern. We want all schools to use evidence-based teaching such as systematic synthetic phonics and maths mastery. To help spread effective practice, we have established a national network of teaching schools, as well as school partnerships led by schools that excel in the teaching of maths, phonics, and science.

T4. International students are vital to the economy, contributing about £7 billion, according to Universities UK. Will the Minister confirm whether this Government plan to use the new teaching and excellence framework to link student visas to the quality of course and institution as a means of cutting immigration? (907931)

No decision has yet been taken on the best way to differentiate in order to allow our best institutions to continue to attract international students. The Home Secretary has indicated that she will start a consultation in the new year, and all parties are encouraged to contribute to it.

T8. Recognising the mental health challenges faced by an increasing number of young people, what steps is my hon. Friend taking to work with third sector bodies such as YoungMinds and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to help young people and their parents to tackle self-harming, which is blighting the lives of too many children? (907935)

Every child and young person should be able to enjoy good mental health and well-being. My hon. Friend is right to raise the serious concerns about self-harm. That is why we are working closely with the Department of Health to tackle it by funding guidance for schools on teaching about it, and information and training for professionals and parents through the MindEd web portal, as well as providing funding to the YoungMinds parents’ helpline and to the NSPCC’s invaluable Childline. However, we know that there is more to do.

T6. The higher education sector in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland supported SNP amendments to the Higher Education and Research Bill to ensure fair, UK-wide representation on the board of UK Research and Innovation. Does the Secretary of State have any plans to look at this issue again, or is she happy to ignore the respected HE voices within the devolved nations? (907933)

The hon. Gentleman will have seen the amendment that the Government tabled to the Bill ensuring that there will be at least one member of the UKRI board with experience of the excellent research that goes on in at least one of our devolved Administrations.

T7. Universities such as Sunderland do a fantastic job in supporting part-time and mature students into higher education. Ministers claim to want to support this, so why was funding for widening participation cut by 50% in the autumn statement? (907934)

The hon. Lady will be encouraged to see that spending on access agreements will increase to some £800 million in the next financial year, up from about £400 million when the previous coalition Government came into office, almost doubling the amount being spent on this important area.

The Secretary of State will remember the historical and ongoing problems with flooding at Tipton St John Primary School. Will she announce an early Christmas present for the people of Tipton St John and of Ottery St Mary by announcing that her Department is going to contribute to the funding solution to relocate the school to Ottery St Mary?

Following my right hon. Friend’s meeting on 12 October with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and county representatives to consider plans to relocate the school, a feasibility study was submitted to the Education Funding Agency. Officials have reviewed the report and have been in dialogue with Devon County Council to address outstanding issues. Once those are resolved, a decision can be taken about whether any central funding contribution can be made, and whether my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) will have a Christmas present.

Given the contribution of EU nationals to the overall numbers of teachers and lecturers, what contingency plans do Ministers have should that source of recruitment diminish?

As I said in an earlier answer, this Government welcome strongly the contribution that EU and international students make to our higher education institutions. There is no plan to introduce a cap on the number of international students. We continue to welcome EU students.

The superb schools across my constituency of Wealden face the double financial whammy of being both rural and small. Under the new funding formula, only eight schools will get an uplift. May I urge Ministers to look again at the schools in Wealden that do not regularly hit the traditional markers of deprivation?

We have kicked off a consultation on introducing a national funding formula. As my hon. Friend points out, we have tried to make sure that it reflects factors that affect schools in more remote locations, as well as those with higher cost bases under the additional costs allowance. She has obviously looked at the impacts on her local schools and I am sure that she will want to provide input into the consultation.

Last Tuesday, more than 2,000 people filled Nottingham’s royal concert hall to hear hundreds of schoolchildren singing and playing together in the Nottingham Music Service “Christmas in the City” concert. Does the Secretary of State agree that the opportunity to learn to play music is hugely important in building children’s confidence and their enjoyment of school, and will she visit Nottingham Music Service to hear more about the wonderful work it is doing in our city schools, where more than 8,000 students are learning to play a musical instrument?

We have announced £300 million for music and the arts. As someone who had the chance to play music during my school years, I know how important it is. I very much hope that those children will get the benefit of the ongoing investment that this Government are putting in.

When will pupils be able to take up places in the new grammars envisaged in the Secretary of State’s policy?

Once we have got through the response to our consultation and, I hope, had the chance to change the law that prevents grammars from being opened, I hope that we will be able to make some progress.

Headteachers in Slough schools were very grateful to the Minister for School Standards when he met them to discuss teacher shortages. Unfortunately—I am sorry to bring this to the Chamber—I have reminded him twice since then that they have not received the letter that he promised them at that meeting. Can I expect it to be sent before Christmas?

I will do my utmost to ensure that they receive a letter. I enjoyed meeting them and they raised some very important points, but we are ensuring that we are filling teacher training places. There are more teachers in our initial teacher training system now than there were last year.

European Council 2016

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s European Council.

Both the UK and the rest of the EU are preparing for the negotiations that will begin when we trigger article 50 before the end of March next year, but the main focus of this Council was, rightly, on how we can work together to address some of the most pressing challenges that we face. These include responding to the migration crisis, strengthening Europe’s security and helping to alleviate the suffering in Syria. As I have said, for as long as the UK is a member of the EU we will continue to play our full part, and that is what this Council showed, with the UK making a significant contribution on each of those issues.

On migration, from the outset the UK has pushed for a comprehensive approach that focuses on the root causes of migration as the best way to reduce the number of people coming to Europe. I have called for more action in source and transit countries to disrupt the smuggling networks, to improve local capacity to control borders, and to support sustainable livelihoods, both for people living there and for refugees. I have also said that we must better distinguish between economic migrants and refugees, swiftly returning those who have no right to remain and thereby sending out a deterrence message to others thinking of embarking on perilous journeys.

The Council agreed to action in all these areas, and the UK remains fully committed to playing our part. We have already provided training to the Libyan coastguard. The Royal Navy is providing practical support in the Mediterranean and Aegean. We will also deploy 40 additional specialist staff to the Greek islands to accelerate the processing of claims, particularly from Iraqi, Afghan and Eritrean nationals, and to help to return those who have no right to stay. Ultimately, we need a long-term, sustainable approach, for that is the best way to retain the consent of our people to provide support and sanctuary to those most in need.

I turn to security and defence. Whether it is deterring Russian aggression, countering terrorism or fighting organised crime, the UK remains firmly committed to the security of our European neighbours. That is true now, and it will remain true once we have left the EU. At this Council we welcomed the commitment from all member states to take greater responsibility for their security, to invest more resources and to develop more capabilities. That is the right approach, and, as the Council made clear, it should be done in a way that complements rather than duplicates NATO.

A stronger EU and a stronger NATO can be mutually reinforcing, and that should be our aim. We must never lose sight of the fact that NATO will always be the bedrock of our collective defence in Europe, and we must never allow anything to undermine it. We also agreed at the Council to renew tier 3 economic sanctions on Russia for another six months, maintaining the pressure on Russia to implement the Minsk agreements in full.

I turn to the appalling situation in Syria. We have all seen the devastating pictures on our TV screens and heard heartbreaking stories of families struggling to get to safety. At this Council we heard directly from the mayor of eastern Aleppo, a brave and courageous man who has already witnessed his city brought to rubble, his neighbours murdered and children’s lives destroyed. He had one simple plea for us: to get those who have survived through years of conflict, torture and fear to safety. Together with our European partners, we must do all we can to help.

The Council was unequivocal in its condemnation of President Assad and his backers, Russia and Iran, who must bear the responsibility for the tragedy in Aleppo. They must now allow the UN to safely evacuate the innocent people of Aleppo—Syrians whom President Assad claims to represent. We have seen some progress in recent days, but a few busloads is not enough when there are thousands more who must be rescued, and we cannot have those buses being attacked as they have been.

On Thursday afternoon my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary summoned the Russian and Iranian Ambassadors to make it clear that we expect them to help. Over the weekend, the UK has been working with our international partners to secure agreement on a UN Security Council resolution that would send in UN officials to monitor the evacuation of civilians and provide unfettered humanitarian access. That has been agreed unanimously this afternoon, and we now need it to be implemented in full. President Assad may be congratulating his regime forces on their actions in Aleppo, but we are in no doubt. This is no victory; it is a tragedy, and one we will not forget. Last week’s Council reiterated that those responsible must be held to account.

Alongside our diplomatic efforts, the UK is going to provide a further £20 million of practical support for those who are most vulnerable. That includes £10 million for trusted humanitarian partners working on the front line in some of the hardest-to-reach places in Syria to help them to deliver food parcels and medical supplies to those most in need, and an additional £10 million to UNICEF to help it to provide life-saving aid supplies for Syrian refugees now massing at the Jordanian border. As the mayor of Aleppo has said, it is, sadly, too late to save all those who have been lost, but it is not too late to save those who remain. That is what we must now do.

I turn to Brexit. I updated the Council on the UK’s plans for leaving the European Union. I explained that two weeks ago this House voted by a considerable majority—almost six to one—to support the Government by delivering the referendum result and invoking article 50 before the end of March. The UK’s Supreme Court is expected to rule next month on whether the Government require parliamentary legislation in order to do this. I am clear that the Government will respect the verdict of our independent judiciary, but I am equally clear that whichever way the judgment goes, we will meet the timetable I have set out.

At the Council, I also reaffirmed my commitment to a smooth and orderly exit. In this spirit, I made it clear to the other EU leaders that it remains my objective that we give reassurance early on in the negotiations to EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in EU countries that their right to stay where they have made their homes will be protected by our withdrawal. This is an issue that I would like to agree quickly, but that clearly requires the agreement of the rest of the EU.

Finally, I welcomed the subsequent short discussion between the 27 other leaders on their own plans for the UK’s withdrawal. It is right that the other leaders prepare for the negotiations, just as we are making our own preparations. That is in everyone’s best interests.

My aim is to cement the UK as a close partner of the EU once we have left. As I have said before, I want the deal we negotiate to reflect the kind of mature, co-operative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy: a deal that will give our companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the European market and allow European businesses to do the same here, and a deal that will deliver the deepest possible co-operation to ensure our national security and the security of our allies, but a deal that will mean that when it comes to decisions about our national interest, such as how we control immigration, we can make these decisions for ourselves, and a deal that will mean our laws are once again made in Britain, not in Brussels. With a calm and measured approach, this Government will honour the will of the British people and secure the right deal that will make a success of Brexit for the UK, for the EU and for the world. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement. As we approach the end of this year, I think we can all agree this has been a year of enormous change in this country and the rest of the world, but with that change comes a great deal of division. As we move swiftly towards the triggering of article 50, I want to appeal to the Prime Minister not only to work harder to heal those divisions in Britain, but to make sure that her new year’s resolutions include a commitment to build better relations with our European partners so that we get the best deal for the people of this country, not just a Brexit that benefits big business and bankers.

At the moment, it is clear that the Prime Minister and Britain are becoming increasingly isolated on the international stage. If we are to build a successful Britain after Brexit, it is more vital than ever that our relationship with our European partners remains strong, cordial and respectful. It is also clear from my own discussions with European leaders that they are becoming increasingly frustrated by her shambolic Government and the contradictory approach to Brexit negotiations. The mixed messages from her Front Bench only add to the confusion. This Government fail to speak for the whole country; instead, we hear a babble of voices speaking for themselves and their vested interests.

For instance, last week we were told by Britain’s permanent representative to the EU that a Brexit deal may take 10 years, contradicting what the Secretary of State for Brexit told a Select Committee that day, when he said a deal could be struck in 18 months. There is a bit of a difference there. We also heard from the Chancellor, who told us that Britain was looking for a transitional deal with the European Union, only for the Secretary of State for International Trade to warn against a transitional deal, saying any arrangements close to the status quo would go against the wishes of those who voted to leave. The people of Britain deserve better than this confusion at the heart of Government.

Confidence is being lost. The Office for Budget Responsibility made its own judgment on the Government’s Brexit plans in November, when it published new forecasts for 2017: growth was revised down, wages revised down and business investment revised down; the only thing the OBR raised was its forecast for inflation. The Government are risking even weaker growth than they have delivered so far and an exodus of financial services, and hitting manufacturing industry very hard.

I welcome the fact that the Government have now accepted Labour’s demands for a published Brexit plan, but it is still unclear how the plan will be presented and when we will receive it in Parliament. Can the Prime Minister today do what the Secretary of State for Brexit, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for International Trade and the permanent representative to the EU all failed to do last week and give this country some real answers? Can she tell us when the House will receive the Government’s plan for article 50 and how long we will be given to scrutinise that plan? Can she also tell us how long the Government envisage the whole process taking? Can she tell us whether the Government will be looking for an interim transitional deal with the European Union? These are basic questions that have still not been answered, nearly six months after Britain voted to leave the European Union.

There were also reports last week that the UK will be asked to pay a €50 billion bill to honour commitments to the EU budget until 2020. Can the Prime Minister tell this House if that is the case? Can she update us all on the Government’s contingency plans for those projects and programmes in the UK that are currently reliant on EU funding after 2020? There is much concern in many parts of the country about those programmes.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s desire to bring forward and give greater clarity on the issue of rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom. However, if she is serious about this, why wait? Why will the Government not end the worry and uncertainty, as this House demanded in July, and give an unequivocal commitment to guarantee people’s rights before article 50 is triggered, as both the TUC and the British Chambers of Commerce called for this weekend? Not only is it the right thing to do; it would also send a clear signal to our colleagues and our European friends that Britain is committed to doing the right thing and committed to a friendly future relationship.

With that in mind, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Austrian President, Alexander Van der Bellen, on his election. I am sure we all agree that his victory in the presidential elections represents a victory for respect and kindness over hate and division, and is a signal against the dangerous rise of the far right across Europe.

I am also glad that the European Union Council leaders discussed the other pressing global issues last week, notably the terrible situation in Syria. I therefore want to use this opportunity to renew the calls I made in a letter to the Prime Minister last week for an urgent and concerted effort from the Government to press for an end to the violence and for a United Nations-led ceasefire, along with the creation of UN-brokered humanitarian corridors and the issuance of effective advance warnings of attack to the civilian population, as well as urgent talks through the UN to achieve a negotiated political settlement. It is clear that the rules of war are being broken on all sides. Labour has long condemned attacks on civilian targets on all sides, including those by Russian and pro-Syrian Government forces in Aleppo, for which there can be no excuse.

I also know that Cyprus and reunification were raised at the Council meeting. Will the Prime Minister give us an update on what was said on this issue? Britain is after all a guarantor of Cypriot independence under the 1960 treaty.

There is a lot to do in 2017, with a lot of important decisions to be made. I make a plea to the Prime Minister to represent all sides, whether they voted to leave or remain, and to make the right decisions that benefit not just her party but everyone in this country.

On the issue of Cyprus, President Anastasiades updated us on the talks that had taken place. These are important talks. I think we all accept that we have perhaps the best opportunity for a settlement in Cyprus that we have seen for many, many years. The talks have been taking place under UN auspices between the two leaders. They have been encouraged and generated by the two leaders on the island, and it is important that we recognise the leadership they have shown on this issue. The right hon. Gentleman is right. There are three guarantors: Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom. We stand ready to play our part, as required and when it is appropriate for us to do so. There is a meeting coming up in January, and there is a possibility that it will be attended by others such as the United Kingdom. In the EU Council’s conclusions, it said that it stood ready to participate if that were part of helping the deal to come through.

On Syria, the right hon. Gentleman wrote to me asking for us to take action through the United Nations. We have consistently taken action through the UN. We have been working over the weekend to ensure that there was a UN Security Council resolution today that was accepted. As all Members will know, Russia has vetoed a number of previous Security Council resolutions, and the most recent one before today was vetoed by both Russia and China. It is very clear that we now have a resolution that has been accepted by Russia and China, and accepted unanimously by the Security Council. It provides for humanitarian access and for UN monitoring of people leaving Aleppo, which is important.

The right hon. Gentleman spent most of his comments on Brexit. He started off by talking about our wanting a deal that benefits the United Kingdom. Yes, I have been saying that ever since I first came into this role. We want to ensure that we get the best possible deal, but I have to say to him that we do not get the possible deal in negotiations by laying out everything we want in advance. That is the whole point of negotiations.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about isolation. The point is that the UK is going to leave the European Union. We are leaving the group that is the European Union. In due course, they will meet only as 27 members, because we will no longer be a member. It is clear from what happened at the EU Council that, as long as we are a member, we will continue to play our full part with the European Union.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about EU funds, and funds that are currently intended to continue beyond the date at which we would leave the European Union. The Chancellor of the Exchequer set out the position very clearly some weeks ago. Those funds will continue to be met provided they give value for money and meet the UK Government’s objectives.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the length of the process. As he knows, once we trigger article 50, the treaty allows for a process that can take up to two years. Of course, how long it takes within that period depends on the progress of the negotiations that take place. He then spoke about uncertainty and the need for investment in the UK. He gave the impression of a bleak economic picture, but I remind him that ours is the fastest-growing economy this year in the G7. Let us look at the companies that have announced new additional investment since the Brexit referendum: Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Aldi, Associated British Ports, CAF, Facebook, Google, GlaxoSmithKline, Sitel and Statoil. The list will continue because this is still a good place to invest and a good place to grow businesses.

The right hon. Gentleman then talked about confusion on the Front Bench. Well, he has obviously been looking at his own Front Bench. Let us take one very simple issue: immigration. The shadow Home Secretary suggests that freedom of movement should be maintained; the shadow Chancellor said that we should have a fair deal on freedom of movement; and the shadow Brexit Secretary says we should have immigration controls. They cannot even agree on one aspect of leaving the European Union. With the Leader of the Opposition’s negotiation technique, if he were in office, we would as sure as goodness be getting the worst possible deal we could get for the United Kingdom.

When my right hon. Friend was at the Council and reminded the Council leaders of her generous offer to allow EU citizens here in the UK to remain, and for UK citizens to receive the same privilege, did she manage to take Donald Tusk to one side and ask him simply why, when his own Government was keen to agree to that, he turned round and vetoed it?

My right hon. Friend is right that I made it clear once again that I hope the issue of EU citizens living here and UK citizens living in EU member states can be dealt with at an early stage of the negotiations. The other member states and the Council have been clear that they are not prepared to enter into negotiations before article 50 is triggered, but I will continue to remind them of our hope, for a very good reason: we want to give certainty and reassurance to people that this issue can be dealt with at a very early stage and then the people concerned can get on with their lives.

May I begin by thanking the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement and, as it is the last opportunity to do so, wish colleagues a very merry Christmas, happy Hogmanay and a fantastic 2017?

It is now more than six months since the Brexit referendum, when more than 62% of voters in Scotland voted to remain in the European Union. Tomorrow the Scottish Government will become the first Administration in the UK to publish their plans in detail. The Prime Minister has said that she will seriously engage with the Scottish Government, which is to be welcomed, and that she has a respect agenda. Will she therefore commit to meeting the First Minister to incorporate priorities of the Scottish Government in the UK negotiating position?

On security, the Prime Minister’s statement welcomed commitments on capability, including on cyber threats. Without going into details, for obvious reasons, is she confident that enough safeguards are in place regarding democratic institutions in the UK, including political parties?

The violence in the middle east was discussed in the Council, and across the House we welcome any initiatives that make a difference in Syria, but there was no mention in the Prime Minister’s statement of Yemen. Is it true that senior Ministers have known for some time that UK cluster munitions have been used in the current conflict in Yemen? When was she told about that, and when will the UK join our European partners in starting to have a more ethical foreign policy on both Saudi Arabia and Yemen?

The right hon. Gentleman will have seen that the Defence Secretary will make a statement on Yemen later this afternoon. The issue was not discussed at the European Council. We focused on the issues I mentioned in my statement.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about cyber-security and political parties. Maintaining their cyber-security is a matter for individual political parties. It is up to them to look at how they undertake that.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the document that the Scottish Government will publish tomorrow. I took a call from the First Minister this morning, in which I assured her that we will look very seriously at the proposals that the Scottish Government are bringing forward. I welcome the fact that they have been looking at their priorities. We have been encouraging all the devolved Administrations to do so, so that those priorities can be taken into account in the UK negotiations on leaving the European Union.

There is already a structure in place that enables us to discuss those priorities with the devolved Administrations. The Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations will meet in early January. It has been meeting regularly with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. There will be a further session of the JMC plenary in January. That normally meets only once a year, if that, but we are increasing the number of its meetings precisely so that we can engage with the devolved Administrations on these issues.

Does the Prime Minister agree that people in the Opposition and in business who say that we should make compromises by offering money or some control over our laws or borders to get a deal are bidding against our country, making it more difficult to achieve a good deal and misunderstanding what the majority voted for?

I agree with my right hon. Friend that the public want us to get on and get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom. They want us to leave the European Union and deliver success in doing that. It is absolutely right that we do not give out every detail of our negotiating strategy because, as I say, that would be the way to get the worst possible deal.

On Friday, along with other hon. Members from Wolverhampton, I met UTC Aerospace, which employs 1,600 people in high-value manufacturing jobs in Wolverhampton. That company raised with us membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency. When the Prime Minister says that Brexit means Brexit, does she mean that we will no longer participate in the European Aviation Safety Agency and many other such agencies, including for example the European Medical Agency?

It is precisely because we need to look with great care and consideration at the wide range of our relationships with Europe that we have taken time before we trigger article 50. This is exactly the sort of work the Department for Exiting the European Union is doing: looking at the range of organisations, some of which are linked to membership of the European Union and some of which will not be so linked to membership of the European Union, and making a decision; and, crucially, talking to each sector about what is important for them, so we understand what really matters to business.

While welcoming my right hon. Friend’s calm, considered and thorough preparations before triggering article 50, does she agree that a speedy conclusion of the subsequent negotiations will be in this country’s interests, both to put an end to damaging uncertainty and because, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, every week’s additional delay in leaving the EU costs this country £250 million net per week?

As I said in an earlier response to the Leader of the Opposition, the treaty sets out a potential two-year process of negotiations. For how long, over those two years, it is necessary for the negotiations to take is a matter for the progress of those discussions and talks. My right hon. Friend makes a very valid point that the sooner certainty can come the better that will be for business, but we need to make sure we are getting the right deal for the United Kingdom.

Perhaps the Prime Minister could then tell us with some certainty when her plan for exiting the European Union, which she has agreed to present to this House, will be ready. Presumably, it will be some time before she triggers article 50.

In their joint statement of 15 December, the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, and the Heads of State of all 27 member states, unanimously insisted that

“access to the Single Market requires acceptance of all four freedoms”

including freedom of movement and the European Court of Justice. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such an ultimatum is unacceptable and that it will not be accepted by the British people?

I have said all along that I believe that underlying part of the vote to leave the European Union was the desire of the British people to have control over immigration, and for decisions on immigration to be made by the Government here in the United Kingdom. We should deliver on that. I look at these issues in terms of the deal we want to negotiate and the outcome we want, which is the best possible deal for trading with, and operating within, the single European market, but that should be commensurate with the other requirements we have: British laws made here in Britain and control on immigration.

I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and for advance sight of it. Following the European Council, it appears that the Prime Minister is leading our country not just out of the European Union but out of the single market and the customs union, neither of which were on the ballot paper last June. If instead remain had won by a whisker last June, would the Government have had a mandate, I wonder, for a hard remain? Would Mr Cameron have been stood there bouncing us into the euro and Schengen? Does the Prime Minister agree that, ludicrous as that sounds, it is no more ludicrous than the extreme rewriting of the referendum result that she now seeks to impose on the British people?

The majority vote in the referendum was for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. That is what we will be delivering. Once again, the hon. Gentleman raises questions about means rather than ends. What we want is the best possible outcome in the trading relationship between the UK and the European Union, and for operating within the European Union. That is where our focus should be—not on particular processes to get there.

The Council conclusions stressed the Union’s continued resolve to deepen and strengthen its relationship with Ukraine in the face of current challenges. How strongly does the Prime Minister expect her Government to support Ukraine after we have left the European Union?

It is absolutely right that the European Council was concerned and wanted to ensure that we have that continuing relationship with Ukraine. The UK is already supporting Ukraine in a number of ways. When we leave the European Union, we will look at our continuing bilateral relationships with countries across the European continent. We are already providing money to establish the national anti-corruption bureau in Ukraine and we are supporting energy reform to reduce the country’s dependence on Russian gas. We are offering defensive training to Ukrainian armed forces and supporting internal reform with the Ukrainian ministry of defence. We already have a number of areas in which we are supporting Ukraine. I expect that we would continue to want a good bilateral relationship with Ukraine once we have left the European Union.

Will the Prime Minister update us on any discussions about how successful the European Union views its arrangements with Turkey in respect of control of the border and flows of immigration?

We support the continuing EU-Turkey deal. It has had an impact on the migratory movements across the Aegean, but there are of course elements to the EU-Turkey deal, particularly visa liberalisation, with which the UK is not involved because we are not one of the Schengen member states. That matter of visa liberalisation is still being discussed by members of the Schengen border zone. As I say, the UK is not part of that, but we should recognise that the arrangements in place so far have had an impact on movements into Greece from Turkey. Crucially, we need to ensure that the process of returning people who have no right to be in Greece is operating as smoothly as possible. That is one reason why we are offering extra staff to Greece, so that the process of dealing with those claims can be carried out more smoothly.

The whole House will welcome the focus on Syria and Aleppo that my right hon. Friend has reported from the meeting. Most welcome is the additional British humanitarian support, including for UNICEF, that the Prime Minister has announced, and the part played by British diplomats and the Government over the weekend in securing the successful UN resolution along the lines of the debate here last week. Will she ensure that over the Christmas and new year holiday, the full span of Government attention will continue on securing unfettered access for humanitarian workers, medical supplies and food, bearing in mind that there are still more than 50,000 people out in the open in Aleppo who are very frightened and living in temperatures well below freezing?

With his experience, my right hon. Friend recognises that it is about not just agreeing a resolution, but ensuring that it is then implemented, so that making humanitarian aid available to people and enabling them to leave safely can be put into practice. I assure my right hon. Friend that we recognise the importance of getting momentum going on this. It will be important to do that over the coming days and weeks. Our focus on it will continue.

May I ask the Prime Minister about the risks of the cliff-edge in April 2019, which is already prompting some of our key financial institutions, such as Lloyd’s of London, to think about moving some of their business out of Britain? Does she agree with the Chancellor, who said that it would be helpful if we started to discuss a transitional arrangement going beyond that particular deadline, and started discussing it now?

The Chancellor reflected the comments I made when I spoke to the CBI, recognising the desire for business to have some certainty beyond that point of leaving the European Union. That is one of the reasons why we have already announced that we are going to bring EU law into domestic law in the UK at that point, so that people can have some certainty about the point of movement from membership of the European Union to being outside it.

At the end of November, Ilse Aigner, the Christian Social Union economy Minister of Bavaria, gave a clear warning to her coalition partners in Berlin that uncertainty could damage the Bavarian economy, as the UK is one of its most important trading partners. Does the Prime Minister appreciate that there will be significant forces in Europe supporting her timetable to trigger article 50 at the end of March in order to bring to a conclusion the arrangements for free trade that exist between us and Bavaria?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point, specifically about Bavaria, but the overall point is a very simple one. This is not just about what is in the interests of the United Kingdom; it is also about what is in the interests of the remaining 27 members of the European Union. As we negotiate that deal, I expect us to negotiate one that will be right for the UK but that will retain a strong European Union, with which we will be trading and working together on matters of mutual interest.

I welcome the extension of sanctions against Russia for a further six months, but there has been very little visible progress on the Minsk accord in recent months. What does the Prime Minister think the extension will achieve, and how can we move the process forward?

The Council was updated by Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, who have obviously been leading in relation to discussions on the Minsk agreement. Everyone is concerned about the fact that the agreement still has not been put in place. I believe that we needed to roll over the sanctions in order to show our continuing rigour, and our continuing expectation that Russia will abide by the requirements.

We see EU countries dangerously duplicating NATO’s structures, but without American participation. Would it not do much more for the defence of Europe if France and Germany, and other EU states that are members of NATO, spent a minimum of 2% of their GDP on defence?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. We want to see other countries step up to the plate. This country is spending 2% of its budget on defence; we think that others should be doing the same, and I have been encouraging them to do so.

It is clear that there are many differences among Conservative Members over freedom of movement, but is it not also clear that if the free movement of labour continued, it would make a mockery of a majority decision made by the British people in a referendum?

As I said earlier, I think one of the things that underlay the vote was people’s desire to see the British Government control immigration from the European Union. If the hon. Gentleman does not think freedom of movement should continue, I suggest that he talk to his own Front Benchers about it.

As my right hon. Friend knows, more than 10,000 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed since the beginning of the Russian-backed conflict, and progress on Minsk appears to have stalled. Does she agree that, as signatories to the Budapest memorandum, we have a special responsibility? Will she look into what further pressure we can put on Russia, and also what additional assistance we can give the people of Ukraine?

We do consider what more we can do. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary announced recently that we would undertake an extension of the training of Ukrainian forces, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is looking into whether there are other ways in which we can ensure that the Minsk agreement is implemented in full. However, I think it important for us also to work through the European Union, and to put the pressure of the EU behind the process.

Did the Prime Minister discuss with fellow leaders interference by Russia in the political processes of western democracies, including our own, through the use of propaganda and cyber? What action is she taking to investigate what may already have happened in this country, and what is she doing to prevent it from happening in future?

I think that everyone is aware of the way in which Russia is currently operating, and of the more aggressive stance that it is taking in a number of respects. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to go into detail about how we look at these matters, particularly cyber-related matters—which were mentioned earlier by the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson)—but I assure him that we take the issue of state-sponsored intervention and cyber attacks very seriously indeed.

The Prime Minister’s steadfast commitment to reassuring 2.8 million EU citizens about their position in the United Kingdom is highly welcome, but will she look at the cross-party “British Future” report, on which I worked along with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green)? It includes suggestions on how to regularise the immigration status of the 1.8 million EU citizens who are on track to gain permanent residence, but who we suggest should be granted a bespoke indefinite leave to remain.

I am aware of the report my hon. Friend refers to and can assure her that we do of course look very seriously at any proposals that come forward on this and other matters relating to Brexit.

May I press the Prime Minister on the reply she gave to the parliamentary leader of the Scottish National party, the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), on Yemen? I appreciate she was the only leader of a foreign country to address the Gulf Cooperation Council recently and the Foreign Secretary has spoken courageously about the situation in Yemen. While we celebrate Christmas on Sunday, the people of Hudaydah will be eating grass and drinking sea water in order to survive. What does it say about politics in 2016 that the richest club in the world is unable to find time to discuss one of the poorest countries?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we take the situation in Yemen very seriously indeed. There are a number of ways in which we are acting in relation to that, not least in the provision of humanitarian aid. The Foreign Office Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), was in Riyadh yesterday, and one of the issues he was discussing was the possibility of the opening of the port so that supplies can be got through to Yemen.

My reading of the Council conclusions both on migration and on defence and security co-operation demonstrate the strength of British influence, rather than the weakness, which was the Leader of the Opposition’s conclusion. Given that we do spend 2% of our GDP on defence and that we spend 0.7% on aid, addressing both sides of that argument, are we in a good position to make this case, and does it not show that when we have left the EU our European partners will still want that close relationship with us, which is why we will get a good deal?