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Commons Chamber

Volume 621: debated on Monday 6 February 2017

House of Commons

Monday 6 February 2017

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Speaker’s Statement

I wish to make a short statement to the House.

A fortnight ago, the House of Commons Commission endorsed a proposition upon which I confess that I am myself very keen—having, indeed, originally suggested it myself—that a wider range of less senior procedural Clerks should have an opportunity to sit at the Table alongside more experienced colleagues to familiarise themselves with Chamber practice and procedure. At the same time, the Commission endorsed a proposition from the Clerk of the House, reflecting the overwhelming view of his colleagues, that Clerks should no longer wear wigs at the Table in the Chamber. They will also cease to wear court dress, but they will continue to wear gowns, so as to be distinguishable as experts in parliamentary procedure—not lawyers, and certainly not Members. Details are in a letter from the Clerk of the House to the Chair of the Procedure Committee, which is available on the Committee’s website and in the Vote Office.

Colleagues will be pleased to learn that this change will in the longer term save money. It will, I believe, be welcomed by those Clerks who serve or look forward to serving at the Table, and it will moreover, in my view—which I recognise may not be universally shared—convey to the public a marginally less stuffy and forbidding image of this Chamber at work. The new regime will start soon after we return from the short February recess.

Oral Answers to Questions

Education

I call Karen Buck. Not here. Well, one person who is here—I can see that very clearly, to my great satisfaction—is the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames).

The Secretary of State was asked—

Education Funding: West Sussex

We are replacing the historical postcode lottery in school funding with a proper, transparent national funding formula that is fair whereby funding will be allocated to schools based on the needs of pupils. Compared with the alternative of the current postcode-lottery approach, the fairer funding proposals on which we are consulting would mean a £14.6 million annual increase in funding to local West Sussex schools.

I am sorry, Mr Speaker; you caught me without my wig.

Almost all the 286 schools in West Sussex find their budgets under extreme strain, so they welcome these new developments, but as West Sussex is already one of the lowest funded of all the shire counties, will my right hon. Friend look very carefully in particular at the budgets of small rural schools, which find themselves unfortunately and unfavourably treated?

Of course, my right hon. Friend will be aware that we are in the second phase of the consultation on the introduction of the national funding formula. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to finally reach a settlement on fair funding that really works. I know that he and many other colleagues will have their views about how they want the formula to work, and he is right to raise them.

Order. I listened carefully to the response from the Secretary of State, who has not broadened the matter, and therefore the question appertains exclusively to West Sussex.

Order. The hon. Gentleman’s Chester constituency is a considerable distance from West Sussex, but if, and only if, his question focuses exclusively upon West Sussex—

West Sussex’s education funding has increased by 1.9%—I am very pleased to hear that—but other areas close to West Sussex will have received cuts of up to 1.3%, so why is West Sussex being treated so much more generously?

The hon. Gentleman is a very fine man, but I am not sure that he would triumph if he appeared on “Just a Minute”.

I recognise that the funding formula means that schools will receive different settlements from the ones that they have had in the past. We are trying to ensure that every single child, wherever they are growing up in England, gets the same amount of funding, but that there is then a top-up in relation to additional needs, such as in respect of deprivation, which has been based on out-of-date data up until now, or indeed additional funding for low prior attainment.

Will the impact of the new formula in West Sussex dis-proportionately disadvantage rural primary schools in the way that it will elsewhere?

The introduction of the formula leads to different effects in different parts of the country. Obviously, we are putting in place a fair funding formula, but it has to work for all schools. We are having the second phase of the consultation to try to ensure that we get this right. We have particularly focused on helping small rural schools by relating an element of the formula to sparsity. There is also a lump-sum element. I am interested to hear all colleagues’ views in the consultation.

The Secretary of State’s answers so far will give no comfort to schools in West Sussex, which will have had an 8% reduction by 2019, or anywhere else that is facing real-terms funding cuts. Does she stand by her party’s manifesto pledge that every school in Britain, including every school in West Sussex, will receive a real-terms spending increase per pupil during this Parliament?

As ever, the hon. Lady is not clear about whether she even supports the concept of fair funding. I would have thought that all MPs would want to see all children getting fair schools funding across the board. A record amount of money is going into our schools budget and we have protected the core schools budget in real terms. There is record funding, but it is important that we ensure, through the fair funding formula, that it is distributed fairly.

National Funding Formula: Devon

4. What representations she has received on the effect of the proposed funding formula on schools in Devon; and if she will make a statement. (908589)

We received 6,000 responses to the first stage of the consultation on the national funding formula, which sets out the principles and factors to be used in the formula. We continue to receive representations on the second stage of the consultation, which closes on 22 March. Our proposals for funding reform will mean that schools will, for the first time, receive a consistent and fair share of the schools budget, addressing the anachronistic unfair funding system that has been in place since 2005.

Exeter schools already suffer a double whammy—they are in one of the lowest funded counties in England, and they have to subsidise the high cost of providing school transport and keeping open small rural schools—yet the new funding formula will actually make them worse off. How will the Minister explain that to my constituents and to the schools themselves?

In Devon, as a result of the new funding formula and on the basis of the figures for 2016-17, school funding would rise from £377.2 million to £378.7 million, an increase of 0.4%. In the right hon. Gentleman’s Exeter constituency, there will be no overall change in the level of funding, although there will of course be changes between schools. Whenever we introduce a new national formula and illustrate it on the basis of the current year’s figures—in this case, 2016-17—some schools will inevitably gain and others will lose. Overall, 54% of schools across the country will gain under the new national funding formula.

If these proposals are adopted, the historically underfunded constituency of East Devon will have 15 primary schools that gain while 20 lose out, and all our secondary schools will lose out. That is clearly neither fair nor acceptable. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and other Devon MPs so that we can make our point yet again?

I am very happy to meet my right hon. Friend. I think that the Secretary of State has already met Devon MPs to discuss this matter, but I am sure that she will do so again.

I understand the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire). There is a small fall in overall funding in his constituency, although 40% of schools in East Devon will see a rise in income on the basis of the new formula. The new funding formula attaches a higher value to deprivation than Devon’s local formula, so schools in Devon with a low proportion of pupils from a disadvantaged background or with low prior attainment do less well under the national formula. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will continue to make representations through the consultation, which closes on 22 March.

Order. By his earlier reference to the situation “across the country”, the Minister extended the question beyond Devon, allowing other would-be contributors to ask a question.

The head of one of my local academy trusts tells me that his school will lose more than 2.5% of its overall budget as a result of the national funding formula alone. That figure is higher than the 1.5% cap promised by the Government. Does the Minister share the trust’s view that the cuts will have the biggest impact on deprived and vulnerable children? If so, what are the Government doing?

No, I am afraid that the hon. Lady is wrong. We aggregated all the local funding formulae across the 150 local authorities and looked at the level of deprivation. We are allocating 9.5% of the national funding formula to deprivation, which is broadly in line with the existing position. We have also increased the amount in the funding formula that goes to children who start school behind. The scheme is deliberately designed to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are falling behind. I would have thought that the hon. Lady, representing the constituency that she does, would support a fairer funding system that helps those particular children.

19. Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire), Devon’s small rural schools and the long distances that our pupils have to travel mean that we need more funding. While I welcome fairer funding, we are starting a long way behind. (908604)

I accept my hon. Friend’s comments. Schools in his constituency will gain about £300,000 of funding overall—a 0.6% increase. On the basis of illustrative figures for 2016-17, 70.6% of schools in his constituency will actually gain funding, compared with 29% that will lose a small amount.

20. By 2020, the national funding formula will lead to a loss of £339 for every primary pupil and £477 for every secondary pupil. In my constituency, the figures are even higher, with primary schools losing £558 per pupil and secondary schools losing £717 per pupil. How can the Minister justify that when the child poverty level in my constituency is 36%? (908605)

Because the hon. Lady’s constituency will remain one of the highest-funded areas of the country. She is right that the per pupil funding rate in Lewisham, Deptford will fall from £5,708 to £5,550 as a result of the national funding formula, but that is still one of the highest in the country. The prosperity of London as a whole has increased over the past 10 years, with the proportion of children on free school meals falling from 27% to 18%, but it still has some of the highest levels of deprivation. That is why, under the new national funding formula, London’s funding remains 30% higher than the national average.

I welcome the principle of the new national funding formula, but one third of schools in North Devon look set to lose funding under the indicative figures. Will the Minister continue to listen carefully to our representations? Will he also confirm whether the indicative figures are just that and that they could be subject to some revision?

Yes, of course. The consultation is genuine and has been extended for two weeks until 22 March so that we can hear representations from my hon. Friend, from other Members and from members of the public.

Will the Minister confirm last week’s report that the Secretary of State handed back to the Treasury £384 million that was earmarked for school improvement? Does he agree with the estimate of London Councils that it would take £335 million to ensure that no school loses out under the new funding formula?

The hon. Lady should know how negotiations with the Treasury work. We negotiated a good agreement with the Treasury and have protected core school funding in real terms. We are spending £40 billion a year on school funding—a record high figure—and that is set to rise, as pupil numbers rise over the next two years, to £42 billion by 2019-20. The figure that she refers to is about the cost of academisation. That proposal continues, but we are not targeting the same timetable that was agreed in the previous White Paper.

The Minister will be aware that Torbay’s schools benefit overall from the proposals, yet the grammar schools that serve a large swathe of south Devon do not. I thank him for his courtesy in recently meeting the heads of those schools. Will he update me on when we are likely to receive a detailed response to the points we raised?

As I said at the meeting, which I enjoyed very much, schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency will gain £1.2 million of extra funding under the new national funding formula, which amounts to an increase of 2.4%. The funding of 78% of schools in his constituency will increase as a result of the formula. I listened carefully to the representations that he and headteachers in his constituency made, and I will respond to him shortly.

The Minister said earlier that it will be schools with fewer deprived pupils and better prior attainment that are likely to lose out under his proposals, but in my constituency that is simply wrong. The nine schools that will have their funding cut are in the most deprived parts of the city where, on average, children start school 20 months behind where they should be in their development. Something has gone very badly wrong with his plans. Will he look again and explain to me and the teachers in my constituency why the kids who need help the most are going to lose out?

The hon. Lady will have looked at the consultation document and seen that a very high proportion of the national funding formula is allocated on the basis of disadvantage—it is based on pupils’ low prior attainment and things such as English as an additional language. The difference is that we are basing the national funding formula on today’s data, not the data as they were in 2005. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put in place something that the Labour party neglected to do: a fair national funding formula that is based on a clear set of factors and principles, and on up-to-date data.

In East Sussex, funding per pupil is £193 lower than the national average. What more can be done for my schools in Wealden, which are both small and rural?

We have ensured that sparsity is an important factor in the national funding formula and we are increasing funding for the sparsity element from £15 million to £27 million across the system. East Sussex sees an increase in its funding overall and my hon. Friend should welcome this much fairer system. It is fairer to schools in East Sussex and right across the country.

21. Hull is the 19th most deprived area of the country. In November, when I asked the Secretary of State about the £13 million projected cut to Hull’s school budgets by 2020, she denied it. The figures have now been crunched, and actually it is a £13.2 million reduction in budgets by 2020. What should I say to the heads of the schools in my constituency? (908606)

I suggest that the hon. Lady tells schools in Hull that, because of the way in which the new national funding formula addresses historical anachronisms and because of our focus on tackling deprivation, Hull’s school funding under the formula rises from £157 million to £161.7 million, which is an increase of some 3%. In her constituency of Kingston upon Hull North, funding rises by £1.4 million, with 83% of her schools seeing an increase in funding on the basis of 2016-17 figures.

National Funding Formula: Hampshire

5. What assessment she has made of the effect of the proposed national funding formula on schools in Hampshire. (908590)

As we have been hearing, the Government want a fairer approach. It is clear that the Labour party supports the status quo of an unfair, un-transparent, outdated postcode-lottery approach to how schools funding is distributed. For Hampshire, this fairer alternative will mean extra money: £9 million of extra money every year for high-needs children in local Hampshire schools, in fact, and a further £4.5 million every year for Hampshire schools overall on top of that. My hon. Friend’s local schools in North East Hampshire will gain more than £1 million a year.

I thank the Secretary of State for those figures, which are most welcome—indeed, the county council leader said that to me the other day—but living costs are also high in Hampshire, especially in North East Hampshire. Will she consider tweaking the formula so that it includes a cost-neutral cost of living allowance, given that the average house price in my patch is £375,000, but house prices just over the border, where there is a London allowance, are £50,000 cheaper?

I am sure my hon. Friend will want to make those points as part of the consultation that is under way, but as he will be aware, our formula looks at area cost adjustments that take into account variations in not only the general labour market but specifically the teaching labour markets. Such an approach is designed to compensate schools that face higher wage costs. We have a measure that is based on salaries, which we think is the best way, but as I said, this is a consultation and I am sure he will want to put the point he makes into it.

It is quite a long way over the border to Liverpool, Wavertree, but there we go. I call Luciana Berger.

During these questions, we seem to be dealing with some “alternative facts”. According to the details I have in front of me, Liverpool schools are set to lose £3.6 million. I visited a primary school in Picton in my constituency—Picton is one of the most deprived wards in the country—that is going to lose more than 10% of its budget; we are talking about more than £100,000 for some of the most deprived children in this country. Can the Government please explain to Labour Members, and to the whole House, exactly what is going on and why they seem to be presenting something very different from what our schools are having to contend with in reality?

I think it is because we are using accurate data. We end up in a straightforward place. First, do we believe that our children should be funded fairly during their time in school, wherever in the country they are growing up? Secondly, do we believe that deprivation funding should be based on up-to-date data? If the Labour party wants an approach that is unfair and based on out-of-date data, I will be happy to see its submissions to the consultation.

National Funding Formula

Our proposals for funding reform mean that schools and local authority areas would, for the first time, receive a consistent and fair share of the schools budget, so that they can give every child the opportunity to reach their full potential. The consultation on the second stage runs until 22 March. In Gloucestershire, funding would rise from £331.5 million to £334 million because of the national funding formula, on the basis of the 2016-17 figures, which is a rise of 0.8%.

My right hon. Friend is well aware that Gloucestershire has suffered for years under the current system; there is a 61% disparity between the top-funded and the bottom-funded primary schools. Will he look carefully at the unfair proposals he has brought forward in the funding formula, because they double-count items such as deprivation, low attainment and English as a first language, and it is not fair on rural schools?

I have listened very carefully to the representations my hon. Friend makes, both today and in the various meetings we have held. The Government’s proposals for funding reform seek to balance carefully the differing needs of rural and urban schools. Schools in the historically lowest-funded areas would gain, on average, about 3.6% under the national funding formula; 676 small and remote rural schools would also benefit from sparsity funding for the first time; and, nationally, small rural schools, as a group, would gain 1.3% on average, with primary schools in sparse areas gaining some 5.3% on average. In his constituency, 64% of the schools would gain funding under the proposals, based on applying the formula to the current year’s figures.

Under the new funding proposals, Ormiston South Parade academy in my constituency will see a 2.8% reduction in its budget, yet The Times reported last week that Ormiston Academies Trust is seeking to hire a public relations agency for up to £900,000 to deal with reputational management. Does the Minister think that parents will consider that a good use of Government funding or that that money should be spent on the school?

Academies face much greater financial scrutiny than local authority schools. They have to produce annual audited accounts, whereas local authority schools do not, and the Education Funding Agency scrutinises closely, on a quarterly basis, the funding and expenditure of academies and multi-academy trusts.

22. I appreciate the challenge that my right hon. Friend faces in finding a fairer funding formula and I appreciate that this is a consultation period, but does he realise that if these changes were to go ahead as suggested, every school in Southend would lose out? I certainly cannot support that. (908607)

The new funding formula is designed to ensure that funding is properly matched to need. It uses up-to-date data so that children who face entrenched barriers to their education receive the teaching and support that they need. I recognise that my hon. Friend will be disappointed by the impact of the proposals, on the basis of illustrative figures for the 2016-17 year for schools in Southend. As he knows, we are conducting a full consultation on the formula’s details, and I know he will continue to make his views known through that process.

To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) about funding for academies, what will the Minister do to help schools such as the Whitehaven academy in Cumbria, which has been left with a crumbling building after his Government axed its capital funding, and where the teachers are now prevented from photocopying to save money? Will the Government help the pupils and parents who need support?

It is nice to hear from the hon. Lady for the third time. We are spending record amounts on capital: £23 billion has been allocated for capital spending over this spending review period. We created 600,000 more school places in the previous Parliament, and we are committed to creating another 600,000 in this Parliament. We are spending £40 billion a year on revenue funding for schools—a record amount that over the next two years will rise, as pupil numbers rise, to £42 billion. None of that would be possible if we relied on the Labour party to oversee the economy. We have a strong economy and we are rescuing it from the fiasco of the previous Labour Government.

Social Mobility

We want to see an education system that works for everyone and that drives social mobility by breaking the link between a person’s background and where they get to in life. We are delivering more good school places; strengthening the teaching profession; investing in and improving careers education; transforming technical education and apprenticeships; opening up access to universities; and focusing effort on areas of the country with the greatest challenges and the fewest opportunities, through opportunity areas.

Currently, the pupil premium is a very limited measure—for instance, children who are young carers are not recognised. In addition, it stops at 16, despite some form of education being compulsory until 18. Will the Minister therefore consider a review of the pupil premium to achieve true social mobility?

The pupil premium is worth £2.5 billion this year, and it is helping to level the playing field for 2 million disadvantaged children, including many young carers and children with mental health problems. We are also looking at the Children’s Commissioner’s recent report and, indeed, our own DFE research on the lives of young carers in England, as part of the cross-Government carers strategy that is being reviewed and developed. On the point about age, the national funding formula for 16 to 19-year-olds provides extra funding for disadvantaged students—around £540 million this year.

I welcomed the Government’s “Schools that work for everyone” Green Paper—probably as much as the Secretary of State enjoyed reading my lengthy response to it. It showed the Government’s commitment to ensuring that all pupils have the best chance of accessing a good education.When will the draft be published?

I very much appreciated my hon. Friend’s submission to that consultation. We received several thousand submissions, which we are now going through. We will respond in the spring.

I noticed that the Secretary of State did not mention grammar schools in her answers to the previous questions about social mobility. Is that perhaps because in seven out of 10 grammar schools, all the free-school-meals children could fit in one classroom? Sir William Borlase’s grammar school, which I understand is set to be the first to open a new school, has just three children on free school meals. Does she think that reflects true social mobility? Are those numbers acceptable, and if not, what is she doing about it?

We have been clear that we want to see existing grammars take more free-school-meals and disadvantaged children. The right way to go about getting no progress is to have no consultation and no policy development in this area, which is apparently the Labour party’s position.

If the Department for Education is as committed to social mobility through education as it claims, will the Secretary of State explain why cuts to the early years funding formula and to local authorities have actually weakened outstanding early years education, which is the foundation of social mobility?

Record levels of funding are going into early years. We are now extending the 15 hours of free childcare to 30. It is simply wrong to characterise this Government as doing anything other than pumping record amounts of money into both early years and indeed the school system.

School Funding: Rural Areas

8. What progress the Government are making on ensuring that school funding is fairly distributed in rural areas. (908593)

16. What support the Government plan to provide for small rural schools as a result of the proposed national funding formula. (908601)

Under the proposed formula, small rural schools will gain an average of 1.3% in funding, on the basis of the illustrative figures. We have also confirmed that the national funding formula will include a sparsity factor. That will particularly target funding on small and remote schools, which we know play an important role in our local communities. On average, small schools serving such communities would gain 3.3%, and small primary schools 5.3%.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Under these proposals, some Shrewsbury schools will benefit and others will lose. Overall as a country, we still see the extraordinary situation in which, on average, Shropshire pupils can get as little as half that of inner-city children. How can he justify parts of the United Kingdom continuing to get almost double what we get in Shropshire?

In Shropshire as a whole, school funding rises from £151.7 million to £153.2 million as a result of the national funding formula based on the illustrative figures. That is a rise of some 0.9%. In my hon. Friend’s constituency, schools as a group will see an additional £100,000 of funding.

Given that small rural schools in East Sussex are set to lose funding under the fairer funding formula, will the Minister review the need for those maintained schools to pay the apprenticeship levy, which adds to their costs, especially as fewer than half of the stand-alone academies pay that levy?

The apprenticeship levy is an important policy, as my hon. Friend will know. It is designed to ensure that we have the skills that are needed for our economy. The levy can be used to fund training and professional development in schools, and we will provide schools with detailed information on how the levy will work for them and how they can make the most of available apprenticeships.

Does the help in funding for rural schools not represent the opposite of addressing the need that I raised in a recent debate—disappointingly, the Minister did not even mention it when summing up the debate—for areas that have a high influx of additional pupils during the school year? I estimate that next year something like 600 school places in Slough will get zero funding, because, despite his talking about up-to-date deprivation numbers, he is not working his funding formula on up-to-date pupil numbers.

The formula does contain an element for growth. We also responded to the representations on mobility made by the right hon. Lady’s colleague, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). When pupils join a school part way through the year, that will be factored in. I would have expected her to welcome both those changes to the funding formula.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) had hastily to delete a tweet this week that showed that the national debt had exploded on this Government’s watch. Therefore, the sparsity formula, which was to save rural schools everywhere, has become the paucity formula. Should the Minister not tell the House that the key issue facing schools up to 2020 is the £3 billion-worth of cuts coming down the line for every school in the country?

Funding is increasing to £42 billion by the end of this spending review period. We are increasing the amount allocated for sparsity from £15 million under the current formula to £27 million. The hon. Gentleman talks about debt, but, since 2010, we have had to face the problem of tackling the historic budget deficit inherited from the last Labour Government because of their poor stewardship of the public finances. Tackling that debt and that deficit has enabled us to have a strong economy with growing employment and greater opportunities for young people when they leave school.

Apprenticeships

9. What steps the Government are taking to encourage more 16 to 18-year-olds to take up apprenticeships. (908594)

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, in 2015-16, 131,400 under-19 apprentices climbed up the ladder of opportunity to get the skills and jobs that they need for the future. We are investing millions in supporting providers and employers to employ apprentices. We also have the Get In Go Far campaign, which is working incredibly well, and we are investing £90 million in careers guidance, including in the Careers and Enterprise Company.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that statement of progress. Does he agree that a UCAS system for apprenticeships could improve the status of apprenticeships, make it easier for businesses and students to connect with each other, and end the classroom divide between those applying to university and those applying for technical education?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the UCAS issue. He is absolutely right. We are looking very hard at this, and we announced it in our industrial strategy. We want to ensure that we give technical education students and apprentices clear information with a platform similar to UCAS. We are looking at how we can ensure that it works to help to address the skills deficit and to help the socially disadvantaged.

Is it not time to place a duty on schools to allow colleges and other providers of post-16 education, including apprenticeships, access to pupils so that those pupils are fully aware of the options available to them?

As so often, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I recently visited degree apprentices at Gateshead College whose own school refused them a visit in order to talk about apprenticeships, skills and technical education. We are doing a lot of work to ensure that careers guidance in schools properly reflects the options available. We have introduced legislation and we are looking to do more to ensure that students are offered skills and apprenticeships.

Would my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Havering College of Further and Higher Education on its excellent five-week railway skills course from which 85% of students are moving on to apprenticeships in an area where there is a great skills shortage? Would he agree that a five-week course is an ideal way of encouraging less academic students to remain in education?

I am delighted to see my hon. Friend in her place. Not only do I offer my huge congratulations to Havering College; I would be pleased to visit with my hon. Friend.

The Minister quoted the statistics for 2015-16, but the proportion of apprenticeships for under 19-year-olds, compared with those for older apprentices, was basically stagnant at just 26% compared with 25.2% the previous year: only one in four of all apprenticeships. The latest stats—for the first quarter—show that numbers for 16 to 18-year-olds are getting worse, with 58,190 compared with 63,200 the previous year, which is a drop of 8%. With the head of engineering training provider JTL saying that Government funding changes could cut its apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-old by two thirds, and thousands of youngsters blocked from getting apprenticeships by being on the treadmill of GCSE English and maths resits that only one in four of them passes, where is the Government’s beef for 16 to 18-year-olds, instead of motherhood and apple pie?

I am amazed by the hon. Gentleman’s question. He often does not see the apprentice wood for the apprentice trees. We now have the highest number of apprenticeships on record in our island’s history at 899,000, with more than 780,000 apprenticeship starts since May 2015. We are investing millions in ensuring that employers and providers hire apprentices. We have a record to be proud of.

Student Immigration

10. What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on the Government’s student immigration policy. (908595)

Department for Education officials meet regularly with their counterparts from the Home Office to discuss a range of issues including student immigration policy. Let me be clear that the Government value the contribution that international students make to the UK’s excellent higher education sector, both economically and culturally. That is why we have no plans to limit the number of genuine international students who can come here to study.

If the Government really value international students, I suggest they reappraise the need for a post-study work visa, which would allow students to come here, integrate into communities and bring value to their campuses and communities. When will the Government revisit that?

The UK has an excellent post-study work offer. Students can switch into a number of other visa routes to take up work after their studies. About 6,000 switched to a tier 2 skilled worker visa in 2015, and there is no cap on the number who may make that switch.

Higher education is one of the United Kingdom’s greatest exports, and the Government are promoting it brilliantly. Do the Government think that, as we move forward post-Brexit, we should look to take student numbers outside the immigration figures?

The key thing is that, whether or not they are in those figures, there is no limit on the number of international students who can come here to study. The UK is the best place in the world to get a higher education, and we are delighted that, for the last six years, over 170,000 international students have come to study in the UK.

24. Recent UCAS figures show that the number of EU students applying to Scottish universities has already fallen by 5%. The University of the West of Scotland has a new global reach strategy that aims to grow the number of international students attending UWS. Will the Minister explain to the university what it should do to achieve that goal despite the Brexit barriers the Government are putting in its way? (908609)

The UK is immensely successful at attracting international students. We are second in the world in terms of our market share, behind only the United States. We continue to extend a warm welcome, and we wish that more international students would come.

Scottish universities, of course, were not included in the post-study work pilot. The Scottish Parliament’s Europe committee has today published a report calling for Scotland to have a differing immigration system; this is the third parliamentary report calling for that. Will the Minister now urge the Home Secretary to listen and include Scottish institutions in the post-study work scheme?

Scottish institutions are successful in attracting international students, and they are also successful in seeing those students switch into post-study work. It is important to note that the number switching into work after study is increasing: it was at 6,000 last year—up from 5,000 the year before and 4,000 the year before that.

Being considered an international student post-Brexit will affect whether EU students choose to come to the UK, and that will have a major impact on university funding. What discussion has the Minister had with the Home Secretary on the immigration status of EU students post-Brexit?

These questions will be considered in the context of the broader discussions relating to our withdrawal from the European Union.

Education Provision: Northamptonshire

12. What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of education provision in Northamptonshire; and what steps she plans to take to improve that provision. (908597)

We are concerned that the quality of education in too many Northamptonshire schools is not good enough, especially for disadvantaged pupils. We are using new powers to tackle inadequate schools and to move them into strong multi-academy trusts. We are also working with the local authority, teaching schools and academy trusts to ensure that schools are receiving appropriate support to help them to improve.

Educational attainment in Northamptonshire, sadly, is still below the national average. What is the single most important thing the local education authority should be doing to raise standards?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in seeking to raise standards in Northamptonshire schools. In October, together with hon. Friends representing Northamptonshire constituencies, we met the director of children’s services at Northamptonshire County Council to discuss academic standards in Northamptonshire schools. That included discussions about standards in phonics, which I would say is the single most important issue; key stage 2 SATs in reading and maths; GCSE results; and the EBacc. I have taken a close interest in the schools in my hon. Friend’s county, and we are meeting again in April to assess progress.

Unfortunately, the Minister is absolutely right. Sir Christopher Hatton school in my constituency is outstanding, but we have two inadequate schools—Rushden and the Wrenn—and the Minister will shortly meet me and the chief executive of the Hatton Academies Trust. Does he agree that local academy trusts also have an important role to play in solving the problem with Northamptonshire’s education?

Yes, I do agree with my hon. Friend. Collaboration between schools, particularly in local multi-academy trusts, is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that we spread best practice and that schools in a multi-academy trust help one another to raise aspirations and the standard of academic education our children receive.

Pupils from Disadvantaged Backgrounds

13. What steps the Government are taking to increase educational opportunity for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. (908598)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House in December, increasing education opportunity for disadvantaged pupils underpins our commitment to make sure our country works for everyone. Through the pupil premium, worth £2.5 billion this year, we are narrowing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. In 2016-17, over £8.8 million of this funding was allocated to schools in Swindon.

It was a great pleasure to welcome the School Standards Minister to Swindon Academy—a school with a predominantly deprived catchment area, a high proportion of children on free school meals, and, crucially, surplus places. Its decision to introduce a grammar scheme in conjunction with Marlborough College has given every student, regardless of background, an opportunity to opt into an academically rigorous curriculum. Will the Minister share this best practice?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards just reminded me of how impressed he was on that visit by the steps that that school is taking to provide its pupils with a rigorous academic curriculum. By trusting school leaders like those in Swindon, we are enabling them to use their unparalleled knowledge of their pupils to create new, tailor-made ways of ensuring that every child can academically succeed.

17. With regard to disadvantage, the Government are about to close Baverstock Academy in my constituency. They will not say what that costs or where the pupils will go, and will not explain the inaccurate travel and future demand data. The Secretary of State will not even respond to my request for a meeting, although I am told she has got time for a photo op elsewhere in Birmingham, where she will not be meeting Baverstock parents. Are you at all surprised, Mr Speaker, that when it comes to disadvantage my constituents have one word for Government education policy—betrayal? (908602)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, Baverstock Academy went into special measures in September 2014. The Department intervened swiftly to challenge the academy’s senior leadership team, and monitored attainment and progress closely. Throughout 2016, the regional schools commissioner sought a new sponsor for the school, but in November 2016 the Ofsted inspector confirmed that the school remains in special measures. The hon. Gentleman is right to continue to be worried about the schools in his constituency: so are we, and we will continue to do what we can to make sure that we turn this around.

Sixth-form Education

14. What comparative assessment she has made of the sixth-form education system in England and education systems in other countries. (908599)

Education and training in England are widely respected, but we are determined to make further improvements to make sure that 16 to 19-year-olds are ready for the demands of the workplace. We are reforming academic and technical education for over-16s, and we are learning from the best of international systems.

Why are sixth-formers in England funded to receive only half the tuition time and support provided to sixth-formers in Shanghai, Singapore and other leading education systems?

I am proud that we have equalised funding between sixth-form colleges and further education colleges, and that we have protected the base rate of spending for FE students and will be spending £7 billion this year on further education. We have funding pressures, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but we are doing everything we can to invest in our skills and education.

Topical Questions

The recent release of school performance statistics confirmed that the hard work of teachers and pupils across the country is leading to higher standards in our schools. Last month I announced a further six opportunity areas aimed at tackling the challenges for young people from early years right through to the world of work. When I announced the first lot of opportunity areas in October, I also made it clear that building a country for everyone means better options for the more than half of our young people who do not choose to go to university. That is why technical education is at the heart of the industrial strategy that the Government published last month. We are determined to create a gold-standard technical route so that the young people who choose to pursue it can get the skills that we, and our economy, need to succeed.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to apprenticeships. Lantoom Quarry in my constituency is a leading provider of high-quality apprenticeships leading to permanent full-time employment in many cases. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that aligning further education and training policy with the needs of employers remains a priority?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Indeed, putting the needs of employers first is at the heart of our apprenticeship reforms. That includes introducing employer-designed standards that test whether an apprentice has the skills, the behaviours and the knowledge that employers need.

This Government allowed two local authorities rated “good” for children’s services to be granted exemptions from statutory guidance, even extending these exemptions when there was no evidence of improvement. Ofsted has since rated them both “inadequate”, finding that for too long children have been left at risk and are suffering harm. Despite growing evidence of the dangers of these opt-out practices, the Secretary of State is determined to push through massive deregulation in the Children and Social Work Bill, which will allow local authorities to opt out of not just guidance but vast swathes of primary and secondary child protection legislation. Why does she think it is okay to experiment with the lives of vulnerable children?

We had a healthy debate about the power to innovate in Committee, but I am afraid the hon. Lady still fails to grasp what we are trying to achieve. Local authorities and social workers tell us that when well-intentioned legislation prevents them from doing what is best for young people, they want to be able to try new ways to ensure that the outcomes for children improve. That is why a whole raft of organisations, including the Children’s Society, have told us that they welcome the Government’s commitment to innovation in children’s social care and support the intention to allow local authorities to test new ways of working in a time-limited, safe, transparent and well-evaluated way. I would have thought the hon. Lady would welcome that, rather than trying to concoct difficult arguments about the way forward that we want to take with the Bill. It is wrong, and she should follow the path that the profession wants to take.

T3. I welcome the recent proposal to re-weight the schools national funding formula, which goes some way towards redressing the historical injustice of underfunding in rural schools in Somerset. Although some of the schools in my constituency, such as Barwick and Buckland, are set to receive about 20% more in two years’ time, other rural primary schools such as Winsham seem to have been treated very differently. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to review these anomalies? (908578)

I would, of course, be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss school funding in Yeovil. Indeed, so efficient are our offices that that meeting is already in the diary for 27 February. I should remind him that in his constituency, school funding rises by some £2.8 million under the new national funding formula, and that 94% of the schools in his constituency will see a rise in funding.

T5. In my constituency, 85% of children who attend an independent nursery do not have access to a qualified early years teacher. The proportion of our children in that situation is one of the highest in England, and it means that they are 10% less likely to be at the expected standards of early development by the age of five. The Minister has said that she wants to increase social mobility, so what effort is she making to do that in Birmingham, Yardley? (908580)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point out that our early years workforce is one of our greatest assets. We will shortly be releasing a workforce strategy, which will outline how we want to improve what already exists. We need to help employers to attract, to retain and to develop their staff to deliver the very highest quality of early years provision.

T4. As part of the fair funding consultation, will the Secretary of State consider establishing a minimum level of funding per school? (908579)

We have had representations from some low-funded authorities about whether their schools need a de minimis level of funding in circumstances in which few of their pupils bring with them additional needs funding. We are looking at that and all the other concerns that right hon. and hon. Members have raised during the consultation process, which is why it is an extended one of 14 weeks.

T6. Following investigations by the Manchester Evening News, two very serious allegations of financial mismanagement have come to light in two multi-academy trusts that operate in my constituency. One is £4.5 million in debt. In the other, lots of money has gone missing. The Minister for School Standards said earlier that the EFA does a good job of holding multi-academy trusts to account, but what more can be done to make sure that that money is recouped and those people are held to account? (908581)

It is important that we have strong governance for multi-academy trusts, as the hon. Lady points out. I would also say that we need equally strong governance for local authority-maintained schools.

T7. My right hon. Friend will be well aware that Harrow is the most multiracial borough in the country. Can she explain to the people of Harrow why every secondary school bar one and every primary school in my borough will see a reduction in expenditure under her plans? (908582)

My hon. Friend will know that 22% of the schools in his borough will see an increase in funding, and per-pupil funding on average in Harrow remains high, at £4,792 per pupil. That is higher than in many local authority areas around the country.

Leeds is reviewing its support for transport to school for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, and there is a risk that people over-16 may not get such funding. Will the Government commit to ensuring that all children in such a situation in the country get the funding they need for transport to school?

The hon. Gentleman will know that during the past few years we have been implementing the new special educational needs system. It is embedding well in many parts of the country, but there are still areas that we want to look at to make sure that every child is benefiting from the changes. I am happy to look at the issue that he raises and to meet him if he so wishes, so that we can try to make some progress.

T8. Following the focus provided by the recently launched industrial strategy, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what steps the Government are taking to ensure that every child gets the kind of STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—education that they will need in the future to access the undoubted opportunities that will exist? (908583)

We have not only focused on maths and English, but we have in particular made sure that girls in school are taking STEM subjects like never before. That is absolutely vital if we are to have the skills that British businesses need to help us to be successful in the future. I am delighted to say that A-level maths is now the most successful A-level, but we want that progress to continue and to have more STEM graduates in future years.

Adult education can transform lives, address our skills gap and address technology change, yet the number of adult learners has fallen off a cliff and the industrial strategy does not even mention it. Can the Secretary of State have a word about that?

The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that by 2020 we will be spending more on the adult education budget than at any time in our island’s history. We are investing in skills, with millions of pounds for the national colleges and the institutes of technology; we are investing in apprenticeships, with 377,000 over-19s in apprenticeships in the past year; and we are investing in adult education—that is exactly what we are doing.

T9. I am chairman of the all-party group on literacy. Today, with the National Literacy Trust, we are announcing figures showing that 86% of all English constituencies have at least one ward with significant literacy problems. Does the Minister agree that people not being able to read and write is not just an economic issue, but one of social justice? (908584)

I share my hon. Friend’s view about the primacy of reading and writing, which are fundamental to education and to social justice. That is why ensuring that children are taught to read using the method of systematic synthetic phonics—evidence from this country and around the world shows that it works—has been at the heart of our education reforms. As a result, the proportion of six-year-olds reaching the expected standard in the phonics check has risen from 58% in 2012 to 81% in 2016.

What does the Secretary of State say to my constituent Catherine Foster, who received funding in April 2015 for a health and social care diploma with a provider that has now gone into administration? She has no access to her portfolio and no qualification, but a mountain of debt. Will the Secretary of State look into this case and meet me to help Catherine and thousands of other students in this situation?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am very happy to meet her. I know that the Skills Funding Agency is doing everything possible to make sure that anyone affected by such issues has alternative education provision. I have asked the SFA to offer every possible assistance as well.

T10. Will the Secretary of State provide me with an update on when the performance tables for 2019 will be released, as it is very important for schools in Taunton Deane to be aware of them when advising year 9 pupils about which GCSEs to select? (908585)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of this information. We are currently finalising the details of the technical and applied qualifications that will count in 2019 performance tables, and we will publish the list as soon as possible.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the university technical college bid in Doncaster is vital to improving skills and increasing apprenticeships? Will she, without delay, give the college the go-ahead, or meet the local chamber of commerce and local authority to explain the delay?

I have had a chance to look around a number of UTCs during my time in this role, and many of them are producing an outstanding education that is very different from the education the young people who go to them might otherwise have had. I am well aware that Doncaster wants a response in relation to its UTC application—I very much welcome the backing that the right hon. Lady has given it—and we will confirm the decision shortly.

Too many people leave school without achieving the results they need, but is my right hon. Friend aware of the incredible work done by the British Army at the Pirbright and Catterick training camps in getting people who join those establishments without the necessary grades up to the right grade, and will he undertake to find out what can be learned from those places?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the work of the Army training camps at Catterick and Pirbright to the attention of the House. The Army has a strong track record of delivering high-quality education and training. I would be delighted to discuss these issues further with him.

Sir Michael Wilshaw recently urged the Government to tackle the comparatively low standards in many northern and midlands secondary schools, and Nottingham’s education improvement board has identified teacher recruitment and retention as its No. 1 priority. How can the Secretary of State honestly believe that cutting the funding of every single school in my constituency will help them to attract the best teachers and so raise standards among young people in some of our most deprived communities?

The Government have put huge amounts of funding into the northern powerhouse strategy to help schools across the north to lift their standards. Part of that relates to improving teacher recruitment and retention. It is not just northern schools where we want to see progress; we want to see progress in midlands engine schools and—dare I say it—schools in the east of England.

Informal European Council

Before I turn to the European Council, I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending our congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen as she marks her sapphire jubilee today. It is testimony to Her Majesty’s selfless devotion to the nation that she is marking becoming our first monarch to reign for sixty-five years not with any special celebration, but instead by getting on with the job to which she has dedicated her life. On behalf of the whole country, I am proud to offer Her Majesty our humble thanks for a lifetime of extraordinary service. Long may she continue to reign over us all.

Turning to last week’s informal European Council in Malta, Britain is leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe, and a global Britain that stands tall in the world will be a Britain that remains a good friend and ally to all our European partners. So at this summit we showed how Britain will continue to play a leading role in Europe long after we have left the EU, in particular through our contribution to the challenge of managing mass migration; through our special relationship with America; and through the new and equal partnership that we want to build between the EU and an independent, self-governing, global Britain. Let me take each point in turn.

First, on migration, the discussion focused on the route from Libya across the central Mediterranean. As I have argued, we need a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach, and that is exactly what the Council agreed. That includes working hard in support of an inclusive political settlement to stabilise Libya, which will help not only to tackle migration flows, but to counter terrorism. It means working to reduce the pull factors that encourage people to risk their lives and building the capacity of the Libyans to return migrants to their own shores, treat them with dignity and help them return home. It means looking beyond Libya and moving further upstream, including by urgently implementing the EU’s external investment plan to help create more opportunities in migrants’ home countries and by helping genuine refugees to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. It also means better distinguishing 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 action in all those areas.

Britain is already playing a leading role in the region and at the summit I announced further steps, including additional support for the Libyan coastguard and more than £30 million of new aid for the most vulnerable refugees across Greece, the Balkans, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Libya. Britain is also setting up an £8 million special protection fund to keep men, women and children in the Mediterranean region safe from trafficking, sexual violence and labour exploitation as part of our commitment to tackle modern slavery. The Council agreed with my call that we should do everything possible to deter this horrific crime, including by introducing tough penalties for those who trade in human misery and by working together to secure the necessary evidence for prosecutions that can put these criminals behind bars, where they belong.

Turning to America, I opened a discussion on engaging the new Administration, and I was able to relay the conversation I had with President Trump at the White House about the important history of co-operation between the United States and the countries of Europe. In particular, I confirmed that the President had declared his 100% commitment to NATO as the cornerstone of our security in the west. I also made it clear, however, that every country needed to share the burden and play its full part, meeting the NATO target of spending 2% on defence. It is only by investing properly in our defence that we can ensure we are properly equipped to keep our people safe.

I was also able to relay my discussions with President Trump on the importance of maintaining the sanctions regime on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine, and I very much welcome the strong words last week from the new US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, in confirming America’s continued support for these sanctions.

Of course, there are some areas where we disagree with the approach of the new Administration, and we should be clear about those disagreements and about the values that underpin our response to the global challenges we face. I also argued at the Council, however, that we should engage patiently and constructively with America as a friend and ally—an ally that has helped to guarantee the longest period of peace that Europe has ever known. For we should be clear that the alternative of division and confrontation would only embolden those who would do us harm, wherever they may be.

Finally turning to Brexit, European leaders welcomed the clarity of the objectives we set out for the negotiation ahead. They warmly welcomed our ambition to build a new partnership between Britain and the EU that is in the interests of both sides. They also welcomed the recognition that we in Britain want to see a strong and successful EU, because that is in our interests and the interests of the whole world.

On the issue of acquired rights, the general view was that we should reach an agreement that applied equally to the other 27 member states and the UK, which is why we think a unilateral decision from the UK is not the right way forward. As I have said before, however, EU citizens living in the UK make a vital contribution to our economy and our society, and without them we would be poorer and our public services weaker. We will therefore make securing a reciprocal agreement that will guarantee their status a priority as soon as the negotiations begin, and I want to see this agreed as soon as possible, because that is in everyone’s interests.

Our European partners now want to get on with the negotiations. So do I, and so does this House, which last week voted by a majority of 384 in support of the Government triggering article 50. There are, of course, further stages for the Bill in Committee and in the other place, and it is right that this process should be completed properly, but the message is clear to all: this House has spoken, and now is not the time to obstruct the democratically expressed wishes of the British people. It is time to get on with leaving the EU and building an independent, self-governing, global Britain. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and for advance sight of it, and I echo her sentiments towards Her Majesty. I wish her Majesty well at this auspicious time in her life and thank her for her service.

The Prime Minister has used this curiously named “informal” EU summit to press the EU’s NATO members to fulfil their defence expenditure requirements. The last Labour Government consistently spent over 2% on defence. The Tory Government’s cuts since 2010 have demoralised our armed forces, cut spending by 11% in the last Parliament and reduced the size of the Army from 82,000 to 77,000. As well as making these cuts, they have changed the way the 2% spending is calculated. Given that she is lecturing other countries, will she tell the House why her Government changed the accounting rules to include aspects of expenditure not previously included? The Defence Committee in 2015 noted that the Government were only meeting the 2% figure by including areas, such as pensions, not previously included. It went on to say that

“this ‘redefinition’ of defence expenditure undermines, to some extent, the credibility of the Government’s assertion that the 2% figure represents a…increase”.

To add to the disarray, this weekend, The Sunday Times uncovered a series of equipment failures and bungled procurement deals, including apparently ordering light tanks that are too big to fit in the aircraft that are supposed to be transporting them. This really does cast some doubt on the Government’s competence in this area, so perhaps it is not such a good idea to go lecturing other countries on defence spending and procurement.

Labour has long been concerned about poor planning and short-sightedness by the Ministry of Defence and long delays in delivering projects. The extent to which the MOD appears to have lost control of some of its biggest equipment projects is worrying, and it would be nice to know what action the Prime Minister is taking on this matter.

Earlier today, the Prime Minister had a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Did she make it clear to him that, as is often mentioned in this House and by the Prime Minister herself, there is continued opposition by the British Government to the illegal settlements being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?

Labour has been unequivocal about the fact that it is within this Government’s gift to guarantee the rights of EU citizens to remain in this country. There is no need to wait for negotiations to begin; the Government could do it now. This is not a question about Brexit; it is a question about human rights, democracy and decency towards people who have lived and worked in this country. Many families have had children born here, and I think we must guarantee their rights. Many of those people have been left in limbo, and are very deeply concerned and stressed. Did the Prime Minister discuss this issue with her European counterparts, and will she today provide those people with the clarity and assurances that they both need and, I believe, deserve?

We are clear that we accept the mandate of the British people to leave the European Union, but we will not accept this Government turning this country into a bargain basement tax haven on the shores of Europe.

Finally, we welcome the additional £30 million that the Government have committed to the refugee crisis across Europe. Last week at Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Prime Minister said that the UK had resettled 10,000 refugees from Syria. According to the House of Commons Library, we have resettled less than half that figure—4,414. There is an ongoing and grave human tragedy that has resulted in more than 5,000 people drowning in the Mediterranean last year and 254 already this year, and we are only at the beginning of February.

I believe that we should also note the phenomenal commitment of the Government and people of Greece to the huge number of refugees in their country, and the difficulties they are having in supporting them. What conversations did she have with her Greek counterpart on this important matter? I also say to the Prime Minister that, even post-Brexit, this is an issue that will affect every country in Europe. It is the biggest humanitarian crisis that we have ever faced in the world, and we will need to co-ordinate as a continent to address this issue with all the humanity and resources that our collective values determine should be deployed towards it.

The right hon. Gentleman opened his remarks by referring to what I think he called the “curiously named” informal Council. It is the convention that at every new presidency—there are two new presidencies each year—the presidency holds an informal Council in which people are able to talk about a number of issues looking ahead to the formalities of the Council. There we are; that is what happens; and that is what we were doing in Valletta.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to my meeting earlier today with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I have to say that this was not a subject for discussion at the European Union Council last week. However, I have made the UK Government’s position on settlements clear, and I continued to do that today.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of UK nationals. As he said, it is absolutely right that we value the contribution that EU citizens are making here in the United Kingdom—their contribution to our communities, our economy, our society, and, as I have said, to our public services—but I think it is also right that we ensure that the rights of UK citizens living in other European states are maintained. It is clear from the conversations that I have had with a number of European leaders about this issue that they think that it should be dealt with in the round as a matter of reciprocity, but, as was made plain by, for example, the conversations that I had with Prime Minister Rajoy of Spain, we are all very clear about the fact that we want to give reassurance to people as early as possible in the negotiations.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the issue of refugees, and about people drowning in the Mediterranean. Of course the loss of life that we have seen has been terrible, as is the continuing loss of life that we are seeing despite the best efforts of the United Kingdom: the Royal Navy and Border Force have been there, acting with others to protect and rescue people. That is why it is so important that we stop people making that perilous journey in the first place and risking their lives, and that is why the work that we discussed at the EU Council in Valletta on Friday is so important.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about our relationship with Greece. We continue to support Greece: we have a number of experts providing support on the ground, giving the Greeks real help with the task of dealing with the refugees. I made a commitment that we would want to continue to co-operate with our European partners on this issue after leaving the European Union, because it is indeed not confined to the European Union; it affects us as a whole, throughout Europe.

The right hon. Gentleman made a number of comments about defence. Indeed, he devoted a fair amount of his response to the whole question of defence. At one point, he said that the fact that we were spending 2% on defence cast doubt on the competence of the UK Government in matters relating to it. I think this is the same right hon. Gentleman who said that he wanted to send out our nuclear submarines without any missiles on them. You couldn’t make it up.

I think that, for most states, the main business of the Council was yet another attempt to tackle the problem of mass migration from the middle east and north Africa, which is destabilising the politics of every European country. Will my right hon. Friend confirm—in fact, I think she just has—that, as Prime Minister, she will play as active a part as she did when she was Home Secretary in working with the other European Union countries to tackle the problem? Otherwise we shall have a continuing problem of attempts to come to this country.

If we are going to start returning refugees to the coast of north Africa, may I ask whether any progress is being made in the efforts that my right hon. Friend was making when she was Home Secretary to find somewhere on the other side of the Mediterranean where Europeans can finance and organise reception centres and refugees and applicants can be processed in a civilised way, and where it can be ensured that only genuine asylum seekers are let into this country?

I can give my right hon. and learned Friend those reassurances. As he has said, this issue will continue to affect us, and to affect us all. It is not confined to the borders of the European Union. We will continue to co-operate with our European partners on this important matter while we remain in the EU and beyond.

Of course, as my right hon. and learned Friend indicated, one of the concerns about returning people to north Africa has related to the conditions to which they would be returned. That is why the EU has made efforts in Niger to establish some centres to try to ensure that people do not progress through to Libya and attempt to cross the Mediterranean, and it is also why we referred in the Council conclusions to our support for the Italian initiative. The Italians have worked with the Government of National Accord in Libya to secure an agreement that they will do some work there, in particular to ensure that people can be returned to suitable conditions, and we will support that.

May I begin by joining the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Labour party in extending to the Queen the best wishes of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the occasion of her sapphire jubilee? We wish her a very pleasant day with her family, and many further jubilees to come.

I thank the Prime Minister for giving me advance sight of her short statement about what was the first European Union informal summit since she published her White Paper on Brexit. It was also the first meeting since she met colleagues in the Joint Ministerial Committee of the British-Irish Council, and, of course, the first since her visit to Dublin.

As we have already established, the Prime Minister wants no hard borders on these islands; she wants the free movement of peoples on these islands and the safeguarding and boosting of trade on these islands, and we on these Benches wholeheartedly support these aims. But given the great importance that the Prime Minister gives in the White Paper to the Union of the United Kingdom and what we are told is a partnership of equals, she will surely have briefed her European colleagues while she was in Malta about the progress of negotiations with the other Governments on these islands. So did she confirm that she will work with the Scottish Government to secure continuing membership of the European single market? Did she tell her European colleagues that we value EU citizens living in our country, that their presence will be guaranteed, and that she is prepared to learn the lessons from Canada, from Australia and from Switzerland, where it is perfectly possible to have different immigration priorities and policies within a unitary state? Did the Prime Minister remind European colleagues that in Scotland we voted by 62% to remain in the European Union and that only one Member of Parliament representing a Scottish constituency voted for her Brexit legislation?

We are getting to a stage where warm words from the Government are not enough. It is the member state that is supposed to negotiate on all of our behalves within the European Union. Scotland did not warrant a single mention in the Prime Minister’s statement. She now has the opportunity to tell us: what Scottish priorities did she raise at the European summit? Did she raise any at all?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that I have confirmed our commitment to the common travel area; I have been discussing that with the Taoiseach, and officials continued those discussions. The right hon. Gentleman referenced EU citizens; as I said in my statement and in response to the Leader of the Opposition, in the United Kingdom we all value the contribution that EU citizens have made to the United Kingdom—to our society, to our economy, to our public services. We want to be able to give them the reassurance at as early a stage as possible of their continuation. As the UK Government, of course we have a duty to consider UK citizens living in other EU states as well and, as I have said, it has been clear that there is good will on all sides in relation to this matter, but there is an expectation that this will be considered in the round and that we can look at EU citizens here and UK citizens in other member states.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked a number of questions about what I was putting forward to the European leaders of the 27. Of course, what I was putting forward was the views of the United Kingdom. It is the UK that will be negotiating; we listen, we take account of, and we incorporate views of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but when I am sitting there around the EU Council, I am doing so as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Did my right hon. Friend observe that after she had spoken to the 27 they were far more realistic, particularly with respect to the question of defence and NATO, than they had been beforehand, and in particular than in respect of Donald Tusk’s letter to the 27, which he sent them on 31 January?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; there is a growing recognition among the member states of the European Union that within NATO it is important to meet the 2% commitment for expenditure on defence. I am pleased to say that a small number of other European member states have already reached that 2% level, but others are actively moving towards that 2%—most notably, perhaps, some of the Baltic states.

Last spring, in pointing out that we export more to Ireland than to China and almost twice as much to Belgium as to India, the Prime Minister said:

“It is not realistic to think we could just replace European trade with these new markets.”

Can she therefore give the House an assurance that in the negotiations she will seek to safeguard tariff and barrier-free access to European markets for British businesses, if necessary by remaining in the customs union if that is the only way to ensure this?

Nobody is talking about replacing European Union trade with trade around the rest of the world. What we are talking about is expanding our trade across the world so that we have a good trading relationship with the European Union but are also able to sign up to new trade agreements with other parts of the world. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a number of countries are already talking to us about such potential trade agreements, and we will do what is necessary to ensure that we can expand trade around the world, including with the European Union.

Is the Prime Minister as shocked as I am that the EU, which is bound by treaty to the rule of law and human decency, is unable to offer a simple reassurance to all British citizens living on the continent that they will not face eviction?

I think that I am more hopeful than my right hon. Friend, in that I have every confidence that we will be able to address this issue as an early discussion within the negotiations. I would have liked to be able to address it outside the negotiations but, sadly, some member states did not wish to do that. However, I think that the goodwill is there to give that reassurance to EU citizens here and to UK citizens in Europe.

On the customs union, the Prime Minister has said that she insists on being outside the common external tariff. If the UK, France and Ireland all have different tariffs on goods coming in from outside, how will she guarantee to have barrier-free goods passing between those different countries? A lot of people cannot see how we can be outside the common external tariff and have barrier-free trade. If it comes to that crunch, will she agree to go back into the customs union and be part of the common external tariff in order to have barrier-free trade?

The right hon. Lady is approaching this, as a number of others have done, as a binary issue between customs union membership and having a good trade agreement with the European Union. I do not see it as such. We want to be able to negotiate free trade agreements with other countries around the world, but our membership of parts of the customs union—this is not just a single in or out question—currently prevents us from doing those free trade agreements. I am confident that we can achieve the sort of free trade agreement with the European Union that is in our interest and that of the European Union and that gives us the ability to trade across borders that we want in the future.

In her statement, my right hon. Friend talked about the new and equal partnership that we wish to build between the EU and an independent, self-governing, global Britain. She also pointed out the importance of co-operation on issues such as migration from Libya. Were there any discussions on, and what contemplation is she giving to, Britain’s continuing de facto involvement in the common foreign and security policy and the common security and defence policy after Brexit?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that this is one of the issues we are looking at in relation to the negotiations that are coming up. In the speech that I made at Lancaster House two and a half weeks ago, I was very clear that we recognised the importance of the security and defence co-operation that we have with our European partners and that we wanted to continue that co-operation.

I thank the Prime Minister for giving me advance sight of her statement. I should also like to associate myself and my colleagues with her congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her sapphire jubilee. During the Prime Minister’s brief walkabout with Angela Merkel—during which I assume she offered her a state visit—did she raise the issue of unaccompanied child refugees? Will she now confirm that the Government will not break the promise, made by the House nine months ago under the terms of the Dubs amendment, of a safe future for those children, and that the scheme will remain open and in use for the rest of this Parliament in order to offer safe haven to at least 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are indeed putting into practice our commitment to give support to child refugees who have already made it across into Europe and to bring them to the UK. Many child refugees have already been brought to the UK under that scheme.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Given that there can be no security for Europe without the intimate involvement of the United States of America, will my right hon. Friend please redouble her efforts to persuade our continental friends—and, indeed, our friends on the Opposition Benches—that, whatever they feel about an individual President’s personal qualities, the way to proceed has to be to reach out to him, to respect his office and to keep strengthening the alliance?

My right hon. Friend is right. One of the themes at the informal Council was the recognition of the role that America has played in supporting Europe’s defence and security and of the need to engage fully with the American Administration. That is what we are doing and what I encourage others to do.

I welcome what the Prime Minister said about the importance of maintaining the sanctions regime on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine. Will she reassure the House that we will, where necessary, continue to agree such sanctions with our European partners once we leave the European Union?

I reassure the hon. Lady that as long we are members of the European Union we will continue to encourage other member states to maintain the sanctions. There are several foreign policy areas, such as on the security of Europe, on which we will want to co-operate in future with our European Union partners. Once we are outside the EU, we will not have a vote around the table on the sanctions regime, but we will continue to make our views clear.

Contrary to the rather negative comments from the Labour party, was my right hon. Friend yet again heartened by Germany? Over the weekend, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in Der Tagesspiegel that there is no question of the United Kingdom being punished for leaving the European Union and that London remains the heart of the global finance industry. What influence does my right hon. Friend think Germany will have over the negotiations?

I was aware of Wolfgang Schäuble’s comments—although I cannot claim to have read that particular publication—and it was an important point. As we move forward towards the triggering of the negotiations, we are now seeing a genuine willingness on both sides to discuss the future EU-UK relationship—the new partnership that we want—and a recognition of the role that the UK plays in Europe. Of course, Germany will be one of the remaining 27 member states, but I look forward to having further conversations with our German counterparts on the importance that they place on the City of London and the UK’s trading relationship with Europe.

The Prime Minister has guaranteed Parliament a vote on the final deal between the UK and the EU. Will she confirm that that commitment applies both to the article 50 divorce negotiations and to the free trade agreement that she hopes to negotiate? What happens if Parliament says no to the terms of either deal?

We see the negotiations not as being separate but as going together. The arrangement that we aim to negotiate is a deal that will cover both the exit arrangements and the future free trade agreement that we will have the European Union. I have every confidence that we will be able to get a good deal agreed with the EU in relation to both those matters, including our future co-operation not just on trade but on other matters, and will be able to bring a good deal here for Parliament to vote on.

I must confess that I am still reeling from the novelty of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) advocating increased defence expenditure. I warmly welcome him to the clan—we will not tell the Stop the War coalition about his newfound enthusiasm.

The sooner we can give EU residents here the reassurance that they seek, the better. Will the Prime Minister tell us which of our EU partners are so reluctant to offer reciprocal rights to Her Majesty’s subjects who reside in their countries?

I think the whole House was somewhat surprised by the Leader of the Opposition’s contribution in relation to defence spending, but we will wait to see whether that is followed up by commitments in other debates.

On the question of EU nationals, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we give that reassurance as early as possible. It is not a question of not offering reciprocal rights; it is that some member states did not want to negotiate part of what they saw as the fuller negotiations until article 50 has been triggered. It is article 50 that will trigger our ability to discuss the matter.

May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the Prime Minister’s warm words of congratulation to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her sapphire jubilee?

Given this country’s enormous contribution to the defence of Europe and, indeed, the west generally, and given that we are one of the world’s biggest contributors to humanitarian and international aid, may I urge the Prime Minister to use every opportunity in discussions with our European friends and partners to reiterate the need for them also to step up to the plate on both those vital issues, which are just as important as some of the other issues that we are discussing?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I give the commitment that I will continue to express to my European colleagues the importance of their actually stepping up to the plate and spending the requisite amount of money on defence. It is important that Europe shows that commitment.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement on the informal Council. In particular, I welcome the £30 million-worth of new aid for refugees. With recent reports of children, in particular, returning to the Jungle camp area in Calais, did she have an opportunity to discuss it with her French counterpart? What more can be done to prevent children from returning to that area in the false hope of expecting to come to the UK?

My right hon. Friend raises an important issue, and today I asked the Home Office to look at the particular concern that people, including children, are now returning to the camps at Calais. Obviously, the action that will be taken within France is a matter for the French Government, who share the concern about the possibility of migrants returning to the camps at Calais. Obviously, the French Government have already acted in relation to that matter. We will continue to operate the schemes that we have been operating, working with the French Government, to ensure that those who have a right to be in the United Kingdom are able to come here.

What discussions did the Prime Minister have in Malta on trade deals? She will of course be aware that all Members of the European Parliament will be able to vote on the EU-Canada trade deal, but her Government have gone back on their promise to hold a debate on the Floor of the House. Given the prominence given to the comprehensive economic and trade agreement in her very brief Brexit White Paper as an example of what we can expect from future trade deals, why are the Government running so scared of parliamentary scrutiny? This Government are not about taking back control for the people of the whole country; they are about taking back control for themselves.

The CETA deal, as I understand it, will be discussed today in European Committee B, of which the hon. Lady is a member. She will therefore be able to contribute to that debate.

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on the issue of acquired rights, which countries are standing out against an immediate deal based on reciprocity before the start of Brexit negotiations? Do those countries include Germany?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), the issue is whether that should be part of the formal negotiations. It has been made clear that there are those who believe it should be part of the negotiations, and therefore we will be able to consider this issue with our European colleagues once article 50 has been triggered.

What did the Prime Minister say to her fellow European leaders about her assessment of the Trump-Putin relationship, and specifically about Russian interference in western democracies, including our own?

Concern has been expressed both at this Council meeting and at others about the role that Russia is playing, in a number of ways, with its interference.

Yes, Lady Nugee, by me. It is a matter of continuing concern and will remain a subject of discussion.

Does my right hon. Friend think that, in her discussions with our 27 EU partners, we will be able to negotiate a reciprocal right for EU citizens living here and for British citizens living abroad sooner than the two-year limit set by article 50?

What I want to see is an agreement about the position of EU citizens and UK citizens at an early part of the negotiations, so that we can give them that reassurance up front and so that it will not be necessary to keep that agreement with the other 27 member states as part of the final deal. We need to have that up front at an early stage, so that we can give people the reassurance that they not only need but deserve.

On 15 July last year, the Prime Minister pledged that she would not trigger article 50 until she had an agreed “UK approach” backed by the devolved Administrations. Does she intend to keep her word?

I have been very clear: we are having a number of engagements with the various devolved Administrations, taking their issues into account. We are currently, as we agreed at the last Joint Ministerial Committee plenary session, intensifying the discussions with the Scottish Government on the issues raised in the Scottish White Paper. The decision to trigger article 50 is one that this House has been very clear should be taken. This House voted overwhelmingly on Second Reading that that should be the step we take, and we will be doing so on behalf of the UK.

I call Sir Desmond Swayne. [Interruption.] He is a very good-natured fellow but he was chuntering at me at precisely the wrong moment. We will forgive him. I thought he was standing—

The right hon. Gentleman now has the opportunity of an appointment with the House. I would be astonished if he has no view to express—it would be a first!

Unsought though it is, I am delighted to have the opportunity to ask: has there been any discussion hitherto about the assets of the European Union to which we might have some claim after 40 years of being a major contributor?