House of Commons
Monday 11 September 2017
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Core funding for schools with high needs will rise by an additional £1.3 billion across 2018-19 and 2019-20, in addition to previous spending plans. We will implement new funding formulas from April 2018, meaning that funding will finally be allocated on a fair and transparent basis. Together, these reforms will give schools a firm foundation that will enable them to continue to raise standards, promote social mobility, and give every child the best possible education.
My right hon. Friend recently met Shropshire teachers to learn of some of the financial constraints they are under. The new funding formula will go some way to addressing the huge disparity in funding that Shropshire schools get in comparison with inner-city areas, but can she give me an assurance that no school in Shropshire will see its budget cut as a result of this new funding formula?
I can. The £1.3 billion we are investing in schools will ensure that the formula provides a cash increase of at least 1% per pupil by 2019-20 for every single school, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, with gains of up to 3% per pupil per year for the most underfunded schools that need to catch up. For the time being, local authorities will still be responsible for finalising the distribution of funding to individual schools in their area, in consultation with those schools, but the money will be provided for all schools to gain from the new national funding formula.
In Liverpool and other cities, there is a real concern that the new formula could mean that schools lose out. Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that issues such as deprivation, prior attainment and mobility will be significant factors in any new formula?
I recognise the points that the hon. Gentleman makes. I was committed to making sure that we protected the funding for children with additional needs under this formula, and that is what I hope we will be able to do. It is, indeed, particularly important for communities such as his own.
The final part of the process is to set out the Government’s response to the second stage of the consultation. We will do that very shortly. It will include a number of further final steps in relation to the formula, including for primary schools. I will set that out at the time.
14. Thank you, Mr Speaker. In Oxford West and Abingdon, many schools are struggling to meet the needs of pupil premium students in particular. The funding formula has historically been especially low in my constituency. What will the Secretary of State do to address this issue? (900752)
We are bringing forward the funding formula because there is a long-standing inequity in our schools funding that many Governments have dodged tackling. We cannot expect all schools to achieve the same high standards when so many of them are funded on a very different basis from one another. I believe that we are doing the right thing in bringing forward this fair funding formula. I will set out the final terms of that formula shortly. I am very proud that we have finally been able to take this step. I thank the many Members of this House who have given their input and feedback to the consultation.
Schools in rural areas have been underfunded for many years under the current formula. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the matter of sparsity will be given due consideration in the revised formula and that schools in places like Cornwall will start to close the gap on the national average?
The Secretary of State should be coming to the Dispatch Box first and foremost today to apologise for the collapse of the multi-academy trust in the city of Wakefield. Part of the problem is that schools are waking up to the fact that they have lost £2.8 billion since 2015. Despite another funding consultation, will she confirm or deny the figures from the National Audit Office and, while she is on her feet, apologise to the people of Wakefield?
Schools will do better out of the funding formula than they would have done had the Labour party won the last election. The Labour party only guaranteed a cash freeze, but we are going beyond that. Schools will do better under this Government than they would have done under a disastrous Corbyn Government. We are proud of the raising of standards in schools during our term in office. Nine out of 10 schools are good or outstanding, and that is something that we should be talking up, not talking down.
Education and Training: Access
People of all ages, backgrounds and incomes must have the opportunity to get the skills that they need. Last year, more than 655,000 people aged 45-plus participated in further education. To help older adults from low-income backgrounds, we provide full funding for English and maths, and courses for unemployed people, support through community learning and advanced learner loans for those with specific financial hardship. Loans to help remove cost barriers associated with upskilling are important, because they enable those on lower incomes to acquire the skills that they need.
Since 2015, the number of part-time students aged over 30 has dropped—by 10% in the first year alone. Funding for the adult education sector will remain frozen for five years after 2020. That real-terms cut has led to a drop-off of almost 16,000 in the number of people aged 30 and over being able to afford access to further education. Will the Secretary of State confirm what actions her Department is taking to halt this nosedive in the number of older part-time students seeking to improve their education opportunities, or have she and the Government already written those people off?
There is absolutely no question of this Government writing anybody off. In fact, social mobility is at the heart of everything that is driving our policy. I would point out other areas where the Government are putting in substantial amounts of money. The Government are spending up to £5 million on the returner programmes to enable people to retrain and upskill, particularly in social work and our allied health professions. This is important for people who have taken a career break because of caring responsibilities. We set an ambition in our document “Building on the Industrial Strategy” to make sure that we have a proactive approach for people to learn throughout their lives.
I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that assurance. There were more than 3,000 apprenticeship starts in the over-60 age group. As somebody who belongs to that age group, I welcome opportunities to make sure that apprenticeships are available for absolutely everybody, whatever their background and whatever their age.
25. Last month, following the unprecedented and, thankfully, unsuccessful legal action to prevent publication, Ofsted was able to publish its damning report on learndirect. Given that other FE providers in a similar situation might have had their contracts terminated, is the Minister really comfortable with handing over £45 million of public money to a training provider that has been deemed inadequate in outcomes for learners? What message is she going to send to learners, and when is she going to get her eye on the ball? (900763)
I take exception to the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that I do not have my eye on the ball; I most certainly do. In addressing this issue, we have been focused on precisely what he mentions: the needs of learners. It is essential that learning provision and apprenticeship training are of the highest quality for both learners and employers. If any provision is judged to be inadequate, we will take action to protect learners. In this case, the provision judged to be inadequate by Ofsted—apprenticeships—is no longer offered by learndirect.
As the Minister is aware—I thank her for her swift involvement—Somerset Skills and Learning is experiencing a severe shortfall in funding. It provides invaluable services for adult learning, especially for people with low incomes, as well as providing grants for a range of other organisations, such as Compass Disability and Neroche Woodlanders—the latter is running a mental health project—in my constituency. Could I have the Minister’s assurance that the situation will, in some way, be ameliorated so that the courses can continue?
I praise my hon. Friend and her colleagues from Somerset for promptly bringing this to my attention. We met last week, and we have a meeting with the Education and Skills Funding Agency later today. I should mention, although it is not pertinent to this particular issue in Somerset, that procurement in transitional arrangements represents only 13% of the budget. My hon. Friend and other colleagues have made strong representations about the work that is done in Somerset.
University Technical Colleges
There are currently 49 university technical colleges open or opening this month, and one is planning to open in 2018. We will publish information on new application arrangements in the coming weeks.
The Minister and the Secretary of State are both aware of our great ambition in Gloucester to create a new UTC for pathways into health and care —the two biggest sectors of employment in Gloucestershire —but since the cancellation of the last bidding round, the question is how and when we can take this forward. The Minister has suggested it will be soon, but can he give us any further idea?
We are committed to ensuring that many more young people have access to high-quality technical education, and UTCs have an important role to play in this. However, the experience of the UTC programme has been mixed to date. Our priority is to support existing UTCs, so that they are able to offer good education. We are learning lessons from those that are open at the moment, and we will publish application arrangements for new UTCs in the coming weeks.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Alan Johnson, the former MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, who fought for many years to get the Ron Dearing UTC opened in Hull? It has actually opened its doors this morning for the very first time, and one of its priorities is to encourage more young women to study engineering and technical subjects.
I certainly add the Department’s and my congratulations to the hon. Lady’s. That is an important achievement, and we are strongly committed to the UTCs, which will help the Government in our ambition of creating parity of esteem between technical education and more academic routes.
Our assessment has seen great success in the 12 early delivery areas: more than 15,000 children were able to benefit from the 30 hours entitlement ahead of the offer rolling out in full, taking huge pressures off families’ lives and budgets.
Last week, 29% of families with eligibility codes for this term had not yet secured a funded childcare place. Will the Minister update the House on what progress has been made, and will he say whether there are specific parts of the country where securing a place is proving particularly problematic?
I was very pleased that by the third day of term last week—Wednesday, when we had the urgent question—71% of parents had found a place for their child. We are looking at the picture up and down the country, and where there are situations of insufficiency, we have made available £100 million of capital funding, which will fund an additional 16,000 places where we need them.
16. Back in 2015, David Cameron promised that the 30 hours would, in his words, be “completely free”. Every nursery I speak to in Cambridge tells me that it is having to cross-subsidise and often charge for extras, including lunch. Will the Minister tell us in what sense that is completely free? (900754)
We saw some—I think, deliberately—inaccurate reporting this week in the Sunday Mirror, which forgot completely that we are going to have three intakes in the year. As I have said, we have had more than 200,000 this time, and we will have a new intake in January and another one after Easter. This offer is worth £5,000 per child, a great fillip for families who want to get more hours at work.
In their manifesto, the Government said that they would deliver high-quality childcare for working families, supported by thousands of new nursery places every year. However, as they roll out their policy of 30 hours of free childcare, Ministers have admitted that 110,000 children of working parents will not be eligible for the extended childcare entitlement simply because their parents do not earn enough, shutting out families who most need the additional support. That strikes me not as high-quality childcare but as another broken manifesto commitment, akin to the Government’s betrayal on working tax credits in 2015. Does the Minister have any plans to deliver for the lowest-earning and hardest-pressed parents?
The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that during the roll-out in the pilot areas 23% of mothers and 9% of fathers could take additional hours. More importantly, people who could not get work at all because of the cost of childcare can now be in work, earn money and supply a better lifestyle for their families.
We regularly engage with the Home Office on international students, who make a great contribution to our higher education system, providing 13% of its income in 2015-16.
We recognise the value of international students in our system, which is why we have recently asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review in full the contribution that they make to our university system. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are no limits to the number of international students who can come at present. We are second in the world in our market share of international students, and we want that to continue.
As my hon. Friend has said, international students provide a wealth of benefits to our universities. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the UK higher education sector remains a welcoming place for students from foreign countries?
It is a welcoming place, as attested to by the fact that this year, for the sixth year in a row, we have 170,000 international students coming into our system, which is a record number. We want that to continue. The work of the British Council contributes to that, as does the work of the GREAT campaign. I will be in India in November drumming up business for our universities, and I expect that other Ministers will do so too.
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important question. We must ensure that our offer for international students is competitive in all respects and that they feel they will get the kind of provision that suits their needs and opportunities to learn in a workplace environment. We will study his comments with interest.
The Minister is quite right that we are doing well with international students, particularly from China and India, but universities across the UK are losing out in the recruitment of students from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, because the UK has one of the least competitive policies on post-study work in the English-speaking world. Will he commit to work with the Home Secretary to reinstate the post-study work visa?
The hon. Lady will be encouraged, I hope, by the pilots that the Home Office has recently undertaken with a number of institutions—four, I believe —to enable a more liberal post-study work regime. The Home Office and the Department for Education are examining that pilot carefully, and it is our ambition that when circumstances allow, it can be extended more broadly across the sector.
The pilot provides only a narrow range of courses that are eligible for participation in the scheme, so it needs to be widened. The Scottish National party has consistently called on the UK Government to remove international students from the net migration figures. Now that the Government figures on net migration among those students have been utterly discredited, will the Minister join us in calling for those students to be removed permanently from net migration figures?
As I said a minute ago, that would not limit numbers. The fact that they are in the migration cap does not limit the ability of institutions to recruit as many international students as they wish, provided that they meet the requisite academic standards. There is no cap and no plan to introduce a cap, and that applies to Scottish institutions as much as it does to English ones.
It is a sad fact that it actually does have an impact on the number of international students coming to the UK. For years, the Prime Minister told us that we need to clamp down on international students who overstay their visas, using figures to suggest that as many as 100,000 people are remaining in the UK illegally. In fact, we know the figure is now 4,600 students—the Government were out by 95%. Does the Minister fully support the Prime Minister’s desire to keep international students in the net migration target?
We welcome strongly the work the Office for National Statistics is now doing to improve the quality of statistics relating to international students. Like the hon. Member, we noted its preliminary conclusion that the International Passenger Survey might be systematically undercounting emigration after study. I was very pleased that the Home Office report on exit checks data, published on 24 August, showed that students are very largely compliant with immigration rules. That is an important bit of information and it underscores our intent to continue the situation whereby there is no cap on the number of students who can come and study in this country.
Social Mobility: Disadvantaged Areas
We are committed to supporting social mobility across the country, including in those areas that face the greatest challenges and have the fewest opportunities. At the vanguard of this approach, we are investing £72 million in 12 opportunity areas based in social mobility cold spots. We are working in these areas with local partners to improve educational attainment, to build opportunity and to broaden horizons for children and young people across early years, schools, and further and higher education.
One of the best gifts we can give young people is a job with prospects for a decent career. It helps with mental health challenges and gives them a sense of belonging to society. When we look at this part of our history, I think we will discover that one of the greatest achievements has been the reduction in unemployment among young people. Does the Secretary of State agree we must continue to do all we can to help people to transition, at the appropriate point, from full-time education to work?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend’s question sets out how important it is to have a strong economy producing jobs and opportunity for young people. We are working with the Careers & Enterprise Company to build a national network, which will connect schools and colleges with employers. Over half of schools and colleges in England are already supported by an enterprise adviser, who helps them to build strong careers and strong enterprise plans for their young people. In opportunity areas, dozens of key employers, including Rolls-Royce, NatWest and KPMG, have committed to providing tailored careers support to young people.
Pupils at the 21 schools managed by Wakefield City Academies Trust are among the most disadvantaged in the country. The collapse of the trust on Friday came as a bolt from the blue to them, their parents and their teachers. A leaked report in November found: that the trust was predicted to be £16 million in deficit; that hundreds of thousands of pounds had been spent on an interim educational consultant; and that Wakefield City high school did not even know which pupils were in receipt of pupil premium. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to make sure disadvantaged children do not miss out as a result of financial mismanagement and her Department’s incompetence?
I was agreeing with all the points the hon. Lady was making on how important it is to tackle low education standards in those schools and to make sure we take swift action to have the schools rebrokered so that standards can go up, but I fundamentally disagree with her that standards are falling. Standards are going up. In fact, the place in our United Kingdom where standards are the worst and falling is Wales, where Labour is in control. I really think that before pointing the finger at England the Labour party should be apologising to Welsh children, who are missing out because of a flawed and failing education policy.
In terms of social mobility, students in alternative schools are significantly disadvantaged, as a minuscule proportion get good GCSEs. What more can the Government do to give students in alternative provision the chance to climb the educational ladder of opportunity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this area. We have sought to raise standards more broadly across schools in England, and it is now important that we take those learnings—on what works and best practice—and see them spread around the alternative provision approach and system. I am determined to make sure that no child misses out on an excellent education because of the school they happen to be in, whether in Wakefield or any other part of our country.
The answer from the Secretary of State on Wakefield City Academies Trust was just not good enough, and not fair on parents, pupils—most importantly—and teachers at Freeston Academy in my constituency and many other academies. They had this announcement in the first week of the new school year—out of the blue—yet it turns out that there have been huge problems with the trust for a long time, on governance, finance, accountability and performance. Her Department has been pushing all of these schools into this model. Is it not time she had a full review of the complete failure of local accountability in these multi-academy trusts, and made sure there is enough finance and support in place for the pupils in my constituency so that they do not lose out as a result of this failed management?
We are taking swift action in Wakefield to make sure that we rebroker those schools, but, more broadly, I have to say I wish the Labour party had been as passionate about raising standards when it was in government. What children across our country actually got under Labour was falling standards and grade inflation, and what employers got was young people coming into work without the basic skills. Do you know where we still see that, Mr Speaker? It is in Wales. We will continue to raise standards in England, but perhaps Labour would be better placed to look to the area where it is in control.
22. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential that our young people have different routes open to them through which to succeed? In that spirit, what vision does she have for the future of technical education in this country? (900760)
We have been passionate about making sure that children who post-16 and post-18 want to pursue a route that is not purely academic have every bit as gold standard an education as their peers who want to follow more academic routes. That is why we are introducing T-levels. They were announced earlier this year in the Budget, which the CBI called a “breakthrough” Budget for skills. It will not just be good for raising attainment among and developing the potential of those young people; it is critical for our businesses that they have these skills. This is a win-win situation.
The provision of 30 hours of free childcare is already working across the country. A recently published independent evaluation of the early roll-out programme shows that more than 80% of providers are willing and able to offer the extended hours. The Department will be investing an additional £1 billion per year by 2019-20 into the free entitlement, including more than £300 million per year to increase the national average funding rates paid to local authorities.
As I have pointed out, we carried out a pilot to show that this could work. We also got a review of childcare costs done that was described as “thorough” and “wide-ranging” by the National Audit Office. We have increased the minimum funding rate to £4.30 per hour, which means that £4.41 is paid for three and four-year-olds in Ipswich and £5.20 for two-year-olds.
In Liverpool, Walton, 36% of children are growing up in poverty, and unemployment is twice the national average. Did Ministers give any thought to how this policy would only further entrench the development gap between those most disadvantaged children still just getting the 15 hours a week and those with parents in secure employment getting the 30 hours a week?
The most-disadvantaged children get 15 hours at age two, and we have the early-years pupil premium to help with those children as well. We are closing the attainment gap. The hon. Gentleman talks about worklessness. This funding for working parents means more people getting into work and taking the jobs that this successful economy is creating.
Reception: Starting Age
We remain concerned that some summer-born children, particularly those born prematurely, are missing the reception year when the essential teaching of early reading and arithmetic takes place. However, it is important for us not to cause any unintended consequences elsewhere in the system, and we are therefore giving careful consideration to how we might make any changes. Further information will be available in due course.
As my right hon. Friend will recognise, it is two years since we had an Adjournment debate on this subject, and there is increasing frustration about the fact that the code of conduct has not yet been published. Will he agree to provide a timetable showing when he might publish it, and will he also agree to meet me to discuss the unintended consequences?
My hon. Friend has been a champion of summer-born and prematurely born children, and I pay tribute to him for that. He and I share the view that when the parents of such children exercise their right to delay their entry to school until they turn five, the children should be able to start school in reception if that is in their best interests. However, the issue is complex, and it is important for us to consider carefully the impact of changes on the earliest sector in particular. I should be delighted to continue our conversation and discussion about these matters.
Surely the Minister realises that, while it is true that the summer-born question is difficult and complex, it must be linked with a terrible stain on our education policy: the fact that little children who have been identified as bright up to the age of 11 are lost to the education system post-11. What is going on with the failed policies of a Government who cannot help kids who are bright at 11 and who disappear afterwards?
I wrote an open letter to all local authorities about the issue, urging them to take the wishes of parents very seriously, to act in the best interests of children when considering which age group they should start with, and to enable them to start school outside their own age group if their parents have elected not to allow them to start in the year in which they turn five. I believe that local and admission authorities are taking notice of that letter.
As my summer-born son starts his first day in reception today, I am all too well aware that the big gaps in attainment among his classmates are related not to the time of year when they were born, but to whether they come from advantaged or disadvantaged backgrounds. That is still the biggest problem facing our education system. Does the Minister agree that it needs to be tackled? If so, how does he square that with findings that I published last week with the Social Market Foundation, showing that 75% of the extra money that the Government are pumping into the early years will go to better-off families and less than 3% will go to those who are disadvantaged?
We take the issue of social mobility very seriously. The attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children has narrowed by 7% in key stage 4 and by 9.3% in key stage 2, in primary schools. However, we continue to work hard to ensure, and believe passionately in ensuring, that all children, regardless of background and regardless of where they live, are able to fulfil their potential in our education system, which is why the pupil premium provides an extra £2.5 billion a year for children with disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Government actively support the provision of nutritious food in schools. Free school meals are provided for the most disadvantaged pupils, and for every pupil in reception years 1 and 2. We have also committed £26 million to expand breakfast clubs in up to 1,600 schools. More broadly, we believe that helping households to raise their incomes by allowing them to be in work is the best way to lift families out of poverty and help children to lead healthy lives.
May I commend to the Secretary of State the private Member’s Bill tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), which will tackle the problem properly by ensuring that children who receive free school meals in term time also receive nutritious meals outside term time? If she feels that she cannot offer Government support for the Bill, may I also commend to her a charity in my constituency, Make Lunch, which is now providing meals in 50 locations —entrepreneurially, off its own bat—to tackle the problem, and will she arrange a short meeting with a Minister to discuss it?
As the hon. Gentleman sets out, there is a lot of good work happening in this area, and from my perspective, aside from what happens in schools during term-time, there are two key elements: having a strong economy that is providing people with jobs and employment, and, secondly, making sure people get to keep as much of their pay packet as possible, which is why we have not only introduced the national living wage but have increased the personal allowance. If we take those two things together, we see that somebody working 35 hours on the national minimum wage, now the national living wage, will have gained by £3,300 more through those two policies.
Will the Secretary of State take her lead from the Prime Minister, and welcome the Bill to abolish school hunger for millions of children, and might she follow the Prime Minister’s lead in bringing together the relevant Ministers, and then give us the parliamentary time so that Back Benchers on both sides of the House can finish the job for her?
The point I am trying to make is that the best way to tackle these issues is through families themselves being empowered and able to take the decisions and steps they want. What I am saying is we are doing that as a Government through having a strong economy, but also by making sure people can keep more of what they earn in the first place.
University Education: Access
Our student finance system is enabling record numbers of disadvantaged young people to benefit from higher education. This year, 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas in England were 43% more likely to go into higher education than in 2009-10, and, in addition, through the latest round of access agreements for 2018-19, universities have committed no less than £860 million to continue improving access and success for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I warmly welcome the fact that there are more poorer children going to university than ever before. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the initiative taken by University College, Oxford—now officially the greatest university in the world—which has reserved places every year for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, to ensure that more of them have access to world-class education?
I certainly welcome that initiative by University College, Oxford, and I am pleased to say that it is not just that disadvantaged students are accessing higher education in general; they are 53% more likely now to be going to our super-selective institutions than in 2009-10, which is an extraordinary turnaround.
Disadvantaged children cannot get to university if they do not get the grades in the first place, so will the Minister ask the schools Minister to meet us in the Furness area who are looking at a major new initiative to get the private-sector local employees involved in closing the generations-long gap in GCSE numeracy and literacy attainment?
Unaccompanied Asylum-seeking and Refugee Children
The safeguarding strategy, bringing together all work in this area and setting out further detail, will be published later this autumn.
This strategy was due on 1 May, so I am keen that we see it as soon as possible. I would like to understand the reasons for the delay and to know whether the Minister has looked at whether independent guardians might work. I was struck when I visited Lesbos and Calais that there is no admin support or signposting at all for unaccompanied children seeking to make asylum claims, so having somebody with them would definitely help.
We had a general election this year, which derailed some of the timetables for these things, but it is certainly absolutely vital that all unaccompanied children seeking asylum have access to independent legal advice and are referred to the Children’s Panel.
Statistics from the organisation Every Child Protected Against Trafficking show that just in 2015, 593 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children went missing from care. Charities such as the Refugee Council and the Children’s Society have recommended that independent guardians be appointed for such children, to protect them in future. Will the Minister consider this in the safeguarding strategy?
I was the immigration Minister until just recently and worked in this area. We were well aware of the fact that some of the relatives who took children in under the Dublin regulation had not had much contact with the families beforehand and that that might not have worked out very well, but I am certainly happy to look at what the hon. Lady is saying, particularly in the light of her experience with Amnesty and Save the Children.
PE and Sport Premium
The Government want all pupils to be healthy and active, which is why since 2013 we have provided £600 million to primary schools through the primary PE and sport premium, and why we are doubling the funding to £320 million a year from this September. An evaluation in 2015 found that the premium was making a big difference and we are considering how to assess the impact of the newly doubled funding in future years.
Yes, it is making a big difference during school term time, but ukactive’s research shows that children lose a significant level of fitness in the school holidays. Using funds from the premium and the sugar tax, what can be done to open up school sports facilities for local clubs and community groups to provide sporting opportunities outside the traditional school day?
The Government’s plans to address childhood inactivity should include healthy pupils capital funding. In February, the Secretary of State was clear that the amount schools would receive would not fall below £415 million, but just last week the Minister admitted that more than £300 million has been cut from that very programme, in a desperate attempt to prop up a falling schools budget—another broken promise to pupils across the country. How many projects will not go ahead because of those cuts, and how many children will lose out?
The hon. Lady needs to check her facts, as much of what she said is not borne out in fact. Under the new funding formula, a school will receive £1,000 per pupil for the first 16 and then £10 after that, which means that a school with 250 eligible pupils will receive £18,340.
There are more teachers in England’s schools than ever before. The vacancy rate remains low at 0.3% of all teachers and secondary post-graduate recruitment is at its highest level since 2011. However, we recognise that some schools face challenges, which is why we continue to invest in teacher recruitment—more than £1.3 billion up to 2020. In addition, our work in the 12 opportunity areas will ensure teacher recruitment and retention challenges are addressed.
That is a very complacent answer. The Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), said that the public sector pay cap is having a clear impact on recruitment and retention. Does the Minister agree with his right hon. Friend that the policy makes it harder to recruit the teachers we need?
We rely on the expertise of the School Teachers Review Body. It reported in July and we responded to that review. It has recommended increasing the pay bands in the main pay range by 2%, and by 1% for the remaining pay bands. Pay is of course important, but it is not the only factor that drives teachers in or out of the profession. Others include workload and pupil behaviour, and we also take those issues seriously.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) made a very good point, and the School Teachers Review Body, the Education Select Committee and the Secretary of State’s predecessor have all said that pay has contributed to the crisis in teacher recruitment, but—notably—not the Prime Minister. Last week, our research showed that the Government’s freeze and cap on public sector pay has left the average teacher more than £5,000 a year worse off. Will the Secretary of State get the cap lifted for schools or is she telling us that nothing has changed?
We rely on the expertise of the School Teachers Review Body and the extensive and thorough review carried out by it. It has made recommendations, which we have accepted, that the main pay bands should increase by 2%—the minimum and maximum—and that the bands for more senior teachers should increase by 1%.
There are 15,500 more teachers today than when Labour left office in 2010. We are meeting 93% of the target of recruiting graduates into teacher training. More returners are coming back into teaching in 2016 than in 2011, and more people came into teaching than left last year.
Teaching Assistants: Recruitment and Retention
Responsibility for the recruitment and retention of teaching assistants rests at the local level with headteachers and school employers, who are best placed to use their professional judgment to recruit and retain teaching assistants to best meet the needs of their schools and pupils.
That answer is simply not good enough. Low pay is a barrier to the recruitment and retention of teaching assistants. Figures from the GMB’s pay pinch report, taking the consumer prices index into consideration, show that a higher level teaching assistant has lost £9,200 over the past seven years and that that will rise to over £12,000 by 2020 unless something is done about the public sector pay cap. Is it not time that we stopped hearing weasel words from the Government about how much they value those staff and that they started to pay them the rate for the job?
We do value teachers and teaching assistants. They do a good job of phenomenally challenging work in our schools, which is why we have 1.5 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools today than we did in 2010. The hon. Gentleman is wrong about the number of teaching assistants, which has been increasing year on year. Today, there are 265,600 full-time equivalent teaching assistants in state-funded schools.
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. (900774)
Nine out of 10 schools in England are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, which is testament to our relentless pursuit of high standards through education reforms. This summer, our students took their first three reformed GCSE subjects and received their results, and there were also successes in improved A-levels, too, with a record number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds securing a place at university. We are extending high standards into further and technical education by introducing T-levels to deliver choice and build a world-class skills system. Of course, 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds is now live nationally in England for the first time, saving families up to £5,000 a year per child. All those reforms have a common theme of social mobility, and I am proud that this Government are tackling disadvantage through the education system.
I had the great pleasure of attending the apprentice graduation ceremony in Dounreay in my constituency, and it is great to see young people being equipped with skills for their careers. What can we do to make it easier for small companies in my constituency to engage with and take up the apprenticeship scheme?
One of the things that we have pushed in England through the apprenticeship levy is to ensure that large firms will be able to pass some of that levy down to smaller firms for them to use. It is critical that we reach our target of getting 3 million apprentices by 2020. This is about having a strong economy, producing strong opportunities and ensuring that SMEs can help to connect young people with apprenticeships.
T2. As the Secretary of State is aware, apprentices and technical education are an important part of our educational offering, and I am fortunate in my constituency to have an excellent-rated apprenticeship provider called In-Comm. What more are the Government doing to increase the number of high-quality apprenticeships for young people? (900775)
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have introduced the levy, which is an important part of encouraging sustained employer investment in high-quality apprenticeships. The Institute for Apprenticeships, which was set up in April, has developed standards to replace frameworks, ensuring consistency of achievement, and we have enshrined the term “apprenticeship” in legislation, which is important for raising their prestige. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to praise the work done in her constituency; I recently visited an employer that has 54 apprentices on the go at any one time.
Order. The emphasis in topical questions is supposed to be on quick-fire questions and quick-fire responses. I am not sure that that has been altogether grasped either by those who advise Ministers and tend to write out long and tedious screeds or even by Ministers themselves, but it would help if it was.
Last week’s stunning National Audit Office report said that the Department for Education could not show that £200 million from LIBOR funds pledged by the Government for 50,000 apprenticeships for unemployed 22 to 24-year-olds had actually been used for that purpose. Eighteen months ago, when I tabled four parliamentary questions on the issue, Ministers ducked and dodged answering. Was the £200 million shoved down a Treasury sofa, or was it just pocketed by DFE? What is the Secretary of State going to do now that the NAO has found the Government out?
Nobody, neither the Treasury nor the Department for Education, is shoving money down the sofa—£200 million was given to the Department as part of the apprenticeship budget, and that was allocated in the 2015 spending review. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman cared to listen, he might find out the answer. I am satisfied that the money is being spent on those who need it.
T3. I recently visited two excellent primary schools in my constituency, West Wimbledon and Joseph Hood, both of which want to know when the Secretary of State will publish the full details of the national funding formula and whether she will confirm that no school will see a reduction in its funding as a result. (900776)
We will be publishing it very shortly. As I have said to other hon. Friends and colleagues, we will ensure that no school loses as a result of the national funding formula. In fact, schools will gain, unlike what would have happened had Labour won the election.
T4. This House should be commended for legislating for relationship education for all primary schoolchildren, which will create a more tolerant society and benefit child protection. Will the Secretary of State outline the introduction of that relationship education and tell us the additional resources she will be giving to schools? (900777)
I very much welcome the hon. Lady’s support for the steps the Government are taking, and I welcome her role in supporting relationship education in her previous role on the Opposition Front Bench. We will set out the details of the engagement process that will be getting under way to make sure that we get the next proposals right. It is important that we are sensitive to this particular topic and, given her interest in this area, I hope she will continue to stay involved.
In answer to the first topical question today, the Secretary of State identified how a company can use its apprenticeship levy down the supply chain. Does she agree it is a good idea to allow companies to go even further down the supply chain to support science, technology, engineering and maths teachers? That will not only encourage links between businesses, schools and teaching but will encourage more bright graduates to go into STEM and other subjects.
The relationship between employers and schools has never been more important, particularly in the STEM subjects, which are so crucial to British business. Whether we are raising standards in maths and science or whether the university technical college programme is formally connecting employers and education, the Government are looking across the board to ensure that that relationship is strong.
T5. I very much welcome what the Universities Minister had to say last week about excessive pay packages for university vice-chancellors and the measures he is taking to try to get vice-chancellors to justify those packages to their university courts. Does he really think that that will make a difference given that vice-chancellors are paid so much more than the £150,000 talked about? (900778)
I thank the hon. Lady for her words of support for our intervention. It is important that there is transparency and accountability on how funds are used, and I am confident that the Office for Students will use its powers effectively to achieve that.
The Secretary of State will know that West Somerset is an opportunity area, and we have a big reskilling requirement to take full advantage of the construction of Hinkley Point C. Does she share my concern, therefore, about the reduction of funding for Somerset Skills & Learning? And will she encourage her Department to do all that is necessary to restore the funding as quickly as possible?
T6. Nottingham faces at least a decade of growing demand for secondary school places. Although the local authority has a duty to provide places, it has no power to direct the city’s 16 secondary schools, all of which will soon be academies, to expand provision or even to admit to their full capacity. Will she act now and require all publicly funded providers to engage and work with their local authority on place planning, or is she simply determined to put her ideological faith in free schools before the needs of our city’s young people? (900779)
It is important to see local authorities working with schools effectively and working with them to expand if they are popular. The bottom line is that through the free schools programme we have brought forward thousands of badly needed school places and extra choice for parents, and overwhelmingly these schools are doing a great job at educating our children.
Given that fractured family relationships can be such a driver of disadvantage for many young people, will Ministers consider how relationships education can equip young people with the skills to help them strengthen their family relationships, particularly as they mature? Will the Minister meet a group of concerned Members about this issue?
We have said that we are making relationships education in primary school mandatory, because we feel that children need to go into secondary on a firm footing, understanding this area, and they can then build on that with sex education. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and other colleagues; obviously, this is an important topic for the House.
T7. The Minister will know how many summer-born children needlessly end up on the special needs register because of the lack of specific targets and support to help them close the gap on their older classmates. What guidance and resources is the Minister giving to schools so that children get the help they need? (900780)
As I have said, we have written to local authorities to say that they should take the best interests of children into account when determining which year group summer-born children go into. It is important that children who start school immature or with other special educational needs get the support they need, and our schools are providing that support.
Broadfield House in my constituency was, sadly, the site of the first free school to be closed by the Department for Education, and the building has remained empty for far too long. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the building will be brought back into educational or at least community use in the near future?
T8. Lewisham has the highest level of hospital admissions in London for self-harm among 10 to 14-year-olds. With an average of three children in each classroom currently suffering from a mental health condition, how long will it be before we see the publication of the promised Green Paper on children’s mental health? When we will see real action backed up by proper funding? (900781)
We will be publishing that paper later in the year. In the meantime, we have already committed to expanding the single point of contact plan, which is making sure schools have an identified point of contact within the NHS. We can learn and build on that excellent initiative.
The number of children being schooled at home has almost doubled over the past six years; we have 441 in Warwickshire, including children of my constituents. Is the Secretary of State convinced that each of these children is receiving an education suitable for their age, aptitude and ability?
T9. It cannot be right—can it?—that sixth formers are given 21% less funding than 11 to 16-year-olds, so will the Government respond to the constructive campaign by the Association of School and College Leaders, the Association of Colleges and the Sixth Form Colleges Association by fundamentally reviewing post-16 funding? (900782)
The hon. Gentleman had a Westminster Hall debate last week where we discussed this issue at length. Although he does not like me going on about this, I would direct him to what we are doing with apprenticeships and T-levels, which also has an impact and will produce funding in those colleges.
Personal finance education in schools is a key way of skilling up young people, so will the Minister meet me soon to discuss further plans to make available to schools a textbook on personal finance education through the all-party group on financial education for young people?
Financial education is important. It is in the national curriculum and in the maths curriculum, which is an essential way of children becoming financially literate. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and I am particularly keen to discuss textbooks.
There are limits to the influence and voting proportion that local authorities can have in multi-academy trusts. This is about a new independence for academies. I have been discussing with my hon. Friend the particular multi-academy trust about which he is concerned, and I am happy to continue to have those discussions with him and with my noble Friend Lord Nash.
Flammable cladding has been found on university halls of residence and privately provided student accommodation throughout the country. With students returning to that accommodation in the coming weeks, what will the Secretary of State do to ensure their safety?
The higher education sector has taken this issue very seriously indeed. The Department has had a positive and comprehensive response from all 238 HEFCE-funded providers and designated alternative providers. When issues have been identified, providers have been quick to respond to protect student safety. Officials will continue to work closely with those in the Department for Communities and Local Government who are reviewing private student accommodation.
Michaela Community School, a free school that I have the honour of chairing and having co-founded, was recently graded outstanding in its first Ofsted report. My right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards has visited the school; will the ministerial team join me in congratulating the staff, teachers and pupils at Michaela—led by the inspirational Katharine Birbalsingh—who are transforming young people’s lives?
I congratulate the Michaela school, all its staff and its headteacher. They have done an outstanding job which has now been reflected in the Ofsted report. Most important is the impact that has had on those young people’s futures, which are significantly enhanced by their going to that school.
Earlier, the Secretary of State announced more funding for schools. Will she acknowledge that schools are undergoing a £3 billion reduction in funding because of efficiency savings? That is nearly double what she is offering instead. Does she agree that she is giving with one hand while taking away more with the other? For schools such as those in Hackney to remain excellent, we need decent funding so that they do not have to lose teaching staff.
I am not sure that I do agree with the hon. Lady. Following my £1.3 billion funding announcement, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that we were going to see real-terms protected per-pupil funding across the remainder of this spending-review period.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Debate resumed (Order, 7 September).
Question proposed (7 September), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Amendment proposed (7 September): to leave out from ‘That’ to the end of the Question and add
‘That this House respects the EU referendum result and recognises that the UK will leave the EU, believes that insisting on proper scrutiny of this Bill and its proposed powers is the responsibility of this sovereign Parliament, recognises the need for considered and effective legislation to preserve EU-derived rights, protections and regulations in UK law as the UK leaves the EU but declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill because the Bill fails to protect and reassert the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty by handing sweeping powers to Government Ministers allowing them to bypass Parliament on key decisions, without any meaningful or guaranteed Parliamentary scrutiny, fails to include a presumption of devolution which would allow effective transfer of devolved competencies coming back from the EU to the devolved administrations and makes unnecessary and unjustified alterations to the devolution settlements, fails to provide certainty that rights and protections will be enforced as effectively in the future as they are at present, risks weakening human rights protections by failing to transpose the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law, provides no mechanism for ensuring that the UK does not lag behind the EU in workplace protections and environmental standards in the future and prevents the UK implementing strong transitional arrangements on the same basic terms we currently enjoy, including remaining within a customs union and within the Single Market.’.—(Keir Starmer.)
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
Before I call the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who will open the debate and be subject to a six-minute limit, may I please make a plea? I ask colleagues not to come to the Chair, or cause someone to come to the Chair on their behalf, with any of the following inquiries. “Am I on your list?”—if you applied, you are. “Am I going to be called?”—you might be, or you might not. “If so, when will it be?”, “May I repair to the Tea Room for a cup of tea and a biscuit?”, or “Is it in order for me to go to the loo?”—for which I read, “Am I about to be called?”. Please, colleagues, I will do my best, but there are approximately 90 people wanting to speak. Some might be disappointed; I am afraid that is parliamentary life. I will make my best endeavours. Please exercise the patience, stoicism and fortitude for which you all are, or hope to become, universally renowned throughout your constituencies.
This is a necessary Bill; 52% of the population voted to leave the EU, and each of us who have been voted here by our communities to represent them in this debate need to respect democracy, which is why we need to get on with the job of ensuring a smooth exit from the EU. This Bill is a necessary part of that overall process. For the Labour party to vote against the Bill at this early stage—[Interruption.]
Order. This is very unfair on the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). This is an extremely important debate, and she has been called to speak, but there is a considerable hubbub of private conversations, which is unfair and, dare I say it, a tad discourteous. Let us give her a fair hearing, which should then be extended to every other contributor to the debate.
The Labour party voting against this Bill at such an early stage could easily be seen as a blatant attempt to frustrate the Brexit process. I urge its right hon. and hon. Members to consider their position on that. I listened carefully to the hours of debate on Thursday, and I have yet to hear a single Opposition Member say that this measure is unnecessary; if it is not unnecessary, they should vote for it. There are strong arguments to say that this Bill needs amending, but none that says that it is unnecessary. I shall vote for the Bill on Second Reading, but it is clear that a number of issues need to be addressed during Committee.
The Secretary of State made very compelling arguments in his opening address on Thursday, and from what he said, his intention is crystal clear: he wants this Bill to deliver maximum certainty. He was also clear about his openness to hearing of improvements and making changes to achieve them. I can understand his clear frustration that the Opposition’s concerns have not been coupled with specific solutions. I hope that he and the Minister on the Front Bench today can, in their summing up, respond to the specific recommendations that the Women and Equalities Committee made seven months ago to the Government on how to handle the charter of fundamental rights. My Committee is still awaiting a response from Ministers to that report.
The Select Committee did a detailed analysis of how to make sure that, when it comes to equality laws, the same rules apply after exit as do today; that is exactly what the Secretary of State has said that he wants to do. When it comes to equality laws, we need certainty. We need not only to transpose the laws, but to acknowledge the effect and the impact of EU institutions and the framework currently provided by the charter of fundamental rights. People voted last June to take back control of our laws and how they are interpreted, and for the UK Parliament and the UK courts to be the final arbiter, but they did not vote for a diminution of their rights.
It may not be possible or even desirable to preserve the charter of fundamental rights, and that we should retain the charter is certainly not the case that I am making, as it is so clearly dependent on EU law and institutions. I am saying that we need to ensure that its effect is captured; otherwise the backstop on equality rights would be removed, and that would not be the status quo that the Secretary of State is demanding.
There are many examples that I could use to demonstrate the importance of protecting this absolute right, and if I had more time, I would talk about its importance to pregnant workers. If we do not have a clear statement in the Bill on what basis exactly the courts and the law will be on, we need to ensure that we know on what basis the Supreme Court will be able to stop future Acts of Parliament from reducing individuals’ equality rights that are protected under the Equality Act 2010.
In effect, the current structures act as a free-standing right that cannot be overridden by domestic legislation. I am arguing not for the retention of the EU Court of Justice’s role, but for an acknowledgement that the removal of its jurisdiction needs to be addressed. The Women and Equalities Committee has put forward three recommendations, which could be easily accommodated in the Bill: first, that a clause be added to the Bill that explicitly commits us to maintaining current levels of equality protection when EU law is transposed into UK law; secondly, that the Government commit to an amendment to the Equality Act, mirroring provisions in the Human Rights Act, to make it clear that public authorities must act in a way that does not contravene the Equality Act; and last but by no means least, that when presenting a new Bill to Parliament, Ministers must make a declaration of compatibility with the Equality Act in exactly the way that they do for the Human Rights Act; that would give the courts a clear direction about the importance of safeguarding equality rights.
In summary, it is imperative that the Bill be given a Second Reading tonight to allow those important changes to progress. It is regrettable that some of the matters being debated, particularly those raised in Select Committee reports, have not been addressed before now. I am simply holding the Government to their own intent of ensuring that
“the same rules…apply after exit”
as do today. I am absolutely sure that this Government, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, have only the intention of safeguarding and strengthening equality rights, and particularly workers’ rights. As a nation, we have a proud track record on equality—it is part of our DNA—but to keep the status quo, as the Secretary of State says he wishes to, we need to indelibly embed equality in our approach to law, and in the interpretation of that law by the courts.
The Bill represents not just a step along the way towards departure from the European Union, but an unacceptable attempt by the Government to strengthen their hand when it comes to exercising legislative power—and this at a time when the general belief is that we should be going in the opposite direction, in effect giving a bigger role to Parliament.
Only three years ago, the Hansard Society published its robust critique of the system in its report, “The Devil is in the Detail”, yet this Bill confers a breathtaking range of delegated powers on Ministers. For example, the Bill, if given Royal Assent unamended, will give Ministers the power to start implementing the withdrawal agreement before this House has even had a chance to debate and vote on it. The Bill will also allow for its own amendment under delegated powers. There are instances, of course, of that happening in the past, but this is different, because the power is drawn so broadly that it could be used to amend all parts of the Act. The Bill also allows for the amendment, under delegated powers, of primary legislation already on the statute book.
Surely, if the Government were genuinely committed to a smooth Brexit that restored total sovereignty to Westminster, they would not have taken such a cavalier approach to this critically important piece of legislation. One can only conclude that the incorporation of significant delegated powers in the Bill, combined with the scope for extensive use of statutory instruments under the negative procedure, demonstrates that the Government are running scared of parliamentary democracy; or rather, that they are so arrogant that they believe that they can impose their will regardless of the opinion of the House.
I would go further and argue that the Government’s approach to the Bill threatens a chaotic Brexit, because they refuse to recognise that their use of delegated powers in the Bill pushes our democracy beyond breaking point. That attitude threatens nothing but discord if the Bill goes on the statute book unamended, and in that context, it will do little to deliver a smooth Brexit. Let me be clear: I accept that an efficient and businesslike approach is needed if we are to prepare ourselves successfully for exit from the European Union, but the Government seem incapable of accepting that this approach can be secured while according Parliament its proper and democratic role in scrutinising the powers in the Bill, and the statutory instruments that will emerge over time if it gains Royal Assent.
The Hansard Society has shown us the way, providing us with a framework for scrutiny that removes unnecessary and time-consuming procedures for uncontested SIs, while giving the Commons a more meaningful voice in the process leading to the enactment of the more complex and challenging instruments. I hope that the Government will change their mind; there is a way forward on the table. I hope that those on the Government Front Bench will indicate today that they are prepared to amend the Bill in Committee to allow for meaningful reform of the way in which Parliament scrutinises delegated powers and their use by Ministers, but so far we have had only a weak indication from the Government that they will bend on this all-important principle, and that is just not good enough. That is why I will vote against Second Reading tonight unless things change during the debate.
If I do vote against Second Reading tonight, it is not because I am voting against Brexit. That would be a huge misrepresentation of the nature of this debate and the nature of the decisions involved if we agree to Second Reading. Rather, I will be voting against a Brexit badly handled, which threatens to weaken further our long-established and hard-won democratic traditions.
This Bill is, fundamentally, not a decision-making Bill; it is an enabling Bill—it is an administrative measure. I spent many years on the Opposition Benches—on the Front Bench and on the Back Benches—practising the professional outrage we saw practised very effectively in the Chamber last Thursday and, if I may so, just now by the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith). Of course, there are scintillas of truth in the points being made, but we should remember that the big decisions have been made—on 23 June last year and in the article 50 Act. We are leaving the European Union, and a vote against the Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) pointed out, is just a vote for chaos and a chaotic Brexit, rather than a smooth transition.
Much of the debate is actually not about sovereignty, but about scrutiny and the proper role of Parliament, as the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge just said. There is huge complexity to deal with, and a quantity of legislative changes need to be made, but we need to keep this in proportion. If the official Opposition are really serious about having a sensible discussion about how to improve the scrutiny of secondary legislation, and particularly of the so-called Henry VIII provisions, let us have that conversation, and I would be delighted to talk about how we do those things. However, the Hansard Society proposals are far more about the procedures we adopt in this House and in the other place than about making fundamental changes to the Bill, albeit that some changes may be necessary.
My hon. Friend and I rarely agree totally on European matters, but I actually agree with him that we need a practical Bill, not a policy Bill, that enables us to have a smooth transition. Would he therefore not agree that the whole issue under debate could be solved if the Government agreed to amend the Bill so that they gave themselves only the powers the Secretary of State explained to us yesterday that he requires, and so that it achieves only the ambitions that his letter to all MPs set out? Surely no one would miss the rather sweeping powers in clauses 7, 9 and so on if they were removed, because the Government express no intention of using them in the way everybody fears.
My right hon. and learned Friend sets out the common ground we should all be on. However, the debate was not assisted by Tony Blair, who was on the television yesterday speaking about how to deal with this issue. He said:
“Paradoxically, we have to respect the referendum vote to change it.”
There is an understandable suspicion among Conservative Members that some people have not really accepted that we are leaving the European Union. The fact that the official Opposition have chosen to vote against the whole Bill underlines that they are rather reluctant to accept the decision the British people have made.
Before I move on, I should re-emphasise that the Hansard Society proposals have a lot to them, and we should be able to discuss them. I hope that, behind the scenes, colleagues will talk across parties on these matters, as one or two of us have already suggested we should.
However, let me put this in the much wider context, because we are getting rather lost in the detail of the Bill. We are forgetting what the Bill is for and the context it is being discussed in: we are leaving on 28 March—or whichever date it actually is—next year. It might be helpful to have the exit date on the face of the Bill at the outset, to provide additional clarity that negotiations are in progress, or should be.
I think everyone is getting a bit disappointed that there has not been more substantive discussion about the issues that really matter. The European Union’s position is beginning to look more and more unreasonable as it refuses to discuss the end state of the relationship that we all want to see, insisting on an up-front payment, or promise of payment, before it will discuss those matters. I have absolutely no doubt that the EU is playing for time for some reason, possibly because of the German elections, and is likely to crumble on that, and to start to talk seriously about the issues that we need to discuss.
We can talk too much and too glibly about cliff edges; I notice that even the Government have put the term “cliff edge” into their documents. Let us face it—the United Kingdom does not want a cliff edge. We are offering the rest of the European Union seamless trade, as far as possible, no tariff barriers and mutual recognition for products and services.
Absolutely right. The point is that we want that smooth transition; the only reason there is a possibility that there will not be one is the intransigence so far of the European Union. The paradox is that there are people who were very much in favour of Britain’s membership of the European Union who clearly think that the European Union will inflict the most ghastly cliff edge on our country. I think better of the EU. There are sensible people in the European Union who will not want tariffs, or tariff barriers, or new and unnecessary restrictions on trade between our two countries. They will not want to de-recognise so many of the mutual recognitions we already have. They will want to secure the jobs of their people and their countries just as much as we want to secure ours.
Even if we leave without an agreement, I think the biggest challenge is being ready in time. My biggest concern is that there are still parts of Government that do not seem to be preparing quickly enough. On the question of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the customs arrangements, are those at HMRC spending money on what we need in place in case there is no deal? I keep hearing that they are waiting for instructions, as though there will be something much clearer for them to work against, but we have to face the fact that we might well leave without a comprehensive settlement of some kind, and that our customs arrangements and all the other arrangements will have to be ready in time. This Bill enables us to do that.
I will end my speech a little early by emphasising that a vote against this Bill would be a terrible disappointment, and I would not take such a vote at face value, as I do not think that the vast majority of hon. Members in this House want to create a chaotic Brexit. They will be voting for a tactical defeat, because they know that they cannot succeed in this debate.
We should concentrate on the fact that we have far more in common with our European partners than divides us. That will be the same after we have left the European Union as it is now. I look across the Chamber at the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin); we stood together in one of the glorious Suffolk churches of East Anglia last night and sang Beethoven’s ninth symphony and the words of Schiller’s great poem, the “Ode to Joy”. Incidentally, it was composed more than 100 years before the European Union was invented and has absolutely nothing to do with political and monetary union under the European Union. We are leaving the European Union; we are not leaving Europe.
I can be mercifully brief. I wish to make two points. First, I will vote tonight for the only option that implements the referendum result. That was the wish of my constituents and that was the wish of the country. I do not wish any different view to be put forward about whose side I am on—I am on the side of the majority of people who voted to come out.
Secondly, I want to address those on the Government Benches. When we started this process, many people bravely went against their lifetime views to implement the views of their constituents, but given the frailty of human nature we have had one or two recidivists who are now thinking, having read Thursday’s debate, that there may be reasons for not doing this or not doing the other. When we come back in Committee, I will table a four-clause Bill, because the Government, by having this mega-Bill, are storing up no end of trouble from Members who are wolves in sheep’s clothing and who will try to undo the measure.
We need four crucial things from that Bill. First, we need a leave date. Secondly, we need to incorporate all European Union law and regulations. The third clause will give us the means by which the House of Commons and then their lordships review which laws we want to keep, which we want to improve, and which we want to do away with. We are voting from midnight tonight, and there is talk that it will be 3 o’clock on Wednesday morning before we vote on tomorrow’s business. With regard to the idea that this place is equipped to review all that legislation, there is shedloads upon shedloads upon shedloads, and it would fill up the House of Commons on several occasions. We therefore need a means whereby we review which legislation we will keep and which we will not. Fourthly, in case there are problems with people with their little hands on our windpipes who think, “If we can hold them to the two years, we will get what we want”, we need a safe haven.
That is what we need from this exit Bill: first, the date; secondly, the incorporation of everything; thirdly, a method of review; and fourthly, for a limited period, a safe haven. I hope that when we go into Committee, the Government will adopt those four proposals as clause 1 so that we can very quickly implement this Bill. We can then bring forward small Bills to implement other parts of the mega-Bill they are putting before us, should we need them. I hope that when the whole House of Commons is in Committee, we will carry that amendment.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) that this Bill is merely an enabling piece of legislation—a process whereby we can achieve what the country asked us to do. As I understand it, the Government are willing to consider changes in Committee. I hope that they will look at his amendments, and also perhaps mine.
I am sure that all my colleagues here, like me, have been on the receiving end of various emails about this Bill urging us to vote for it, against it or against the programme motion, or complaining about the arrangements for devolution. Voting against it certainly does not make any sense, particularly after the House passed the article 50 legislation. The Bill is the vehicle for the Government and this House to deal with a unique and extraordinary situation and ensure a functioning statute book as we leave the EU. Unless they are trying to rerun the referendum or create chaos in the process, voting against it should not be an option for any Member tonight.
Ministers have indicated that they will be flexible wherever possible. On the programme motion, however, I think, having lived through the Maastricht debates, that there is little to be gained and much to be lost by prolonging any debate unnecessarily, and eight days seems a reasonable length of time. Our businesses and organisations will not thrive with ongoing uncertainty, and this Bill increases the progress being made to provide the stability and certainty they require for a smooth transition and continuity of business post Brexit.
On devolved matters, our membership of the EU predates devolution to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. It was the UK Government who gave away these powers to the EU, and it is UK Government who will reclaim them. As far as I am aware, the Government have not resiled in any way from devolution; instead, they have recently increased the powers transferred to Wales and Scotland. The Secretary of State has reconfirmed that the current powers will remain exactly the same throughout the process, and the devolved Administrations will, in fact, prepare the devolved statute books for a smooth exit in Cardiff and Edinburgh, with appropriate arrangements for Northern Ireland. Further, he has indicated that in the interim period, if any adjustments need to be made in the areas that are being repatriated, the relevant Administrations will be consulted.
On delegated powers, I see the Bill not as a power grab, which is how it has been painted, but as a pragmatic approach to ensuring that no unnecessary complex disadvantages further burden business in the devolved countries. I hope that an accommodation will be reached on other differences in that area, and I know that the Front-Bench team is listening carefully.
I want to raise one subject on which I would like clarification. The repeal Bill, as it stands, does not prevent the continued application by UK courts after Brexit of EU law to cases in which the facts occurred at a time when EU law, including the law relating to remedies, was in force. So although, if I understand it correctly, there is provision for a Francovich case to be heard if it is lodged before exit day, and there is provision for the consideration of EU legal principles, the repeal Bill does not provide for a transitional reference—one that is made before the exit date but does not come back until after the exit date, or one that is made after the exit date. I hope that Ministers will consider a new clause that allows references on cases that are under way, and that they will look into the matter to ensure that the Government do not abuse their position or evade their responsibilities as a by-product of Brexit.
The Ministers on the Front Bench will be particularly aware of my battles against HS2, which are well documented, and it is worth noting that even former very senior civil servants now virtually acknowledge that the Government went ahead with that monstrous project against advice. What the project has done is throw into sharp relief the need for environmental protections to be effective and maintained, so that we do not take any backward steps. Where the EU has done some good work, it has been on environmental safeguards. I think it is right to remind Ministers on Second Reading that any changes to these areas must be thought through so as not to dilute the protections and the promotion of environmental law, and I seek assurances on those matters.
In conclusion, we have all heard the rather simplistic attempts to give this process a prejudicial descriptor—hard or soft Brexit—which are a product of polarised viewpoints. I prefer a practical approach and, with perhaps a few modifications, the Bill will do what it says on the tin. It provides a method of facilitating a very complex legal and constitutional extrication, the need for which has resulted from a democratic vote to leave the European Union. I will therefore support the Government in the Lobby tonight, and I hope that many of my Opposition colleagues, as well as my friends on the Government Benches, will do the same.
Although I campaigned and argued for this country to remain a part of the European Union, I fully accept that that is not the majority view of the country. But I would argue that this is the wrong way to leave the European Union. This is not a general enabling Bill; it is a poorly thought-out, complex and undemocratic piece of legislation. One of the most fundamental problems with the Bill is that it amounts to—yes—a power grab by this Government. That power grab takes several forms, but I want to focus on just two aspects.
First, there is the widespread use of Henry VIII powers, allowing the Government effectively to bypass Parliament and change primary legislation through secondary legislation. That has, of course, happened in the past, but not on such a huge scale as is planned now. As a result of this Bill, we will see extensive use of those undemocratic powers, because some 12,000 EU regulations will be brought into UK law. Some of them will make changes for technical reasons, but, as the most recent paper from the House of Commons Library states, it is anticipated that others will enable “substantive policy changes” to be made by the Government. So changes are likely to be introduced through Committees, which is why the Government are doing their best to pack those Committees with their own MPs, against the established procedure of the House.
We are also seeing an unprecedented power grab with regard to devolution. As a Welsh Member of Parliament and a former Wales Office Minister, I have followed devolution very closely. Many of us expected, as did the devolved institutions themselves, that this Bill would make real the promises the Government set out in their White Paper.
There are many speakers, as we have heard, and I am sorry, but I would rather press on.
In the White Paper of March 2017, it was stated that there would be a significant increase in the decision-making powers of the devolved institutions. That was there in black and white. It also intimated that former EU frameworks would be subject to decisions involving the devolved Governments, but such is not the case. The Bill before us does not return powers from the EU to the devolved institutions, as promised. Instead, in devolved areas, such as agriculture and the environment, power is going from Brussels to London, bypassing and therefore undermining devolution. Moreover, this Bill in effect imposes a freeze on the legislative competences of the devolved institutions. As a report by the Welsh Assembly research department points out, the devolved institutions will not be able to modify so-called retained EU law for Wales and Scotland, but a Conservative British Government will be able to do so for England, and may even be able to do so for the devolved nations.
In the last Parliament, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee took evidence on this matter from the same academic who advised the Scottish Parliament, and he was very clear that the powers being reserved under these proposals were only ever notionally devolved, because they were of course reserved by virtue of our membership of the European Union. This is not a power grab; the Government’s objective is to make sure that the devolved Administrations finish up with more powers than they had before.
We are not talking about notional, theoretical powers; we are talking about actual powers on the statute book, and about whether one institution or another is able to enact laws according to that legislation.
There is a big difference between what was in the White Paper and what is in the legislation before us. What is more, undemocratic changes have been introduced without even a modicum of prior discussion, let alone negotiation, with the devolved institutions. This power grab by the Conservative Government is an affront to the devolved institutions, but it is also a slap in the face of the people of Scotland and of Wales. As Carwyn Jones, the First Minister, said in the Welsh Assembly in July, there is a popular mandate for what the Welsh Government are arguing. To quote him exactly:
“The 2011 referendum…saw a large majority vote in favour of giving this National Assembly primary legislative powers”,
but the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is
“an attempt to take back control over devolved policies…not just from Brussels, but from Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast.”
In his letter to Members of Parliament, dated 7 September, the First Secretary of State said that the arrangement I have described was a “transitional arrangement”. My question is: how long is this transitional arrangement for? How long is the period to which we are referring? How long is the rapid period mentioned in the explanatory memorandum? Is it one month, one year, 10 years, 20 years—how long? This Bill is an undemocratic blank cheque that, if passed, will give unprecedented powers to this Government.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Bill has as its prime objective not so much withdrawing Britain from the European Union as concentrating as much power as possible in the hands of a feeble minority Government, headed by a caretaker Prime Minister. Under the cloak of leaving the European Union, the Government seek to emasculate this House and centralise power in their own hands. If the Government were solely concerned about leaving the European Union, there are other ways that it could have been done—other measures could have been put forward—but, no, they chose this particular route. Rather than looking forward to a new and positive relationship with the European Union, this Bill takes us back to the days when the UK was totally London-orientated and inward-looking. That is why I will vote against it, and why I believe that is the right thing to do.
Our greatest parliamentary exponent of parliamentary democracy coined the phrase, “In Victory: Magnanimity.” Although, as one or two of my friends know, I am a leaver and my constituency voted 60% to leave, I think that that should be the Government’s approach, both to Parliament in the Chamber and to our European partners and allies. I do not think that it is enough just to allow time on a rainy Thursday on a one-line Whip. The Government should be as generous as possible with time, to allow the House to consider these matters. Personally, I do not see why we could not have three or four days on the Bill, as many people have put in a request to speak. After all, we spend a lot of our time discussing not very much. I would be open-hearted and generous with Parliament.
Before I refer specifically to the Bill, may I say by way of introduction that it would be useful to improve the atmosphere around the process? The truth is that this is a democratic process. Those of us who asked to leave the European Union made our arguments on the basis that we wanted to improve parliamentary democracy and put our people back in charge. That should be our whole approach, and it should be the Government’s approach.
To put that in context, I would be open-hearted and generous in the negotiations between Monsieur Barnier and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The important thing is that we are leaving, but I do not see why we should not be generous with the financial settlement. We should be as generous as the law dictates, but there is also the spirit of the law. As we have been in an organisation for 42 years, and as we have decided to leave—it has its own spending plans—I do not see why we should not assist it with some of its spending plans until 2021. After all, if we pay less, others will have to pay more. Some of my closest friends do not agree with that. We have the law on our side, but precisely because of that we can be generous.
On the rights of citizens, I have just spent time with Italian Senators who are visiting the building, and with the Italian ambassador. We need to be open-hearted and generous towards European citizens who live here, and proclaim now that we are absolutely committed to preserving their rights and those of every EU citizen, on benefits—[Interruption.] I know that we have done it, but we should keep repeating that we are determined to protect those rights. We should be open-hearted and generous in dealing with the House of Commons, in dealing with money, and in dealing with the rights of EU citizens. If we approach life and these negotiations in that spirit, doors might begin to open.
I listened to the shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—a brilliant lawyer. We are both lawyers. I am just a jobbing barrister doing criminal law in London. That is what I did when I was a young man. I cannot possibly match his debating skills. He does have a point, and we Conservatives should recognise that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) has a point; the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) has a point; my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has a point. I will, of course, vote for the Bill, because that is what the people want me to do, and it is what my constituents want me to do. There is no alternative, but amendments will be tabled when we are sitting in a Committee of the whole House. I serve on the Panel of Chairs, and I know the Government’s position is always to reject all amendments. This time, they should be positive if something improves parliamentary scrutiny. We are going to get our way; the Government have a majority, supported by the Democratic Unionist party. We should be generous with our Scottish friends. If they have a genuine desire to ensure that powers from the EU do not come to the Westminster Parliament but go to the Scottish Parliament, we should be generous towards them.
There is a lot of false anger. I have sat through many debates in which shadow Secretaries of State puffed themselves up. We have heard a lot about Henry VIII. When I was a rebel I used to care about these things. Now I am a loyalist I let the Government get away with it in many ways. Henry VIII is a bastard, but he is my kind of bastard.
I have made my point. Listen to the House, accept some amendments and ensure that this process is time limited. The key thing for our constituents is this: that we leave the EU at the end of March 2019; that any implementation period lasts only two years; and that we then become an open, free-trading nation with the whole world, with a free trade agreement with the EU. Stick to the essentials, be confident, be generous with the House and we will win this battle.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and his constructive and positive contribution.
There is no doubt that Brexit poses a great number of challenges to the Government and to MPs of all parties, not least the challenge of replacing European Union laws and jurisdiction with equivalent UK laws and regulations under UK jurisdiction. That is the purpose of the Bill. It is not really a repeal Bill; rather it is the “great adoption” Bill, as it incorporates a huge swathe of EU laws that the UK signed up to into UK law. That is needed so that there will be a legal basis for a whole range of economic, environmental and social activity on the day after we leave the EU in March 2019. For that reason, I do not regard the Bill as hugely controversial—it would be different if it were to abolish workers’ rights, abandon paid holidays and end pollution controls, but it does not. However, it is undoubtedly the case that the Bill needs amending for many of the reasons outlined by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer).
First, on the Henry VIII clauses, transferring all EU laws and regulations into UK law is an unenviable task. It would also be impossible to put every change or updated regulation before Parliament as primary legislation. This House, as we know, passes many statutory instruments, but in this case the Government need to back a mechanism for providing a filter to separate the routine, or the modest, from the more important changes that Governments may wish to make in the coming years. If a mechanism—a scrutiny Committee, for example—could provide a path for Members by ensuring that important measures would be brought before the House for debate and a vote, the Government could remove any suspicion that they seek a ministerial power grab.
Secondly, the Government should be open to suggestions about how they can guarantee redress for individuals who feel that their transferred rights are not met by companies or government. Clarification about the provision of redress would, again, remove suspicion during the process.
The truth is that whomever was in government would have to pass a Bill of this kind to prepare for leaving the EU in March 2019. There can be little disagreement about that, unless the ambition is to thwart the result of the EU referendum and to prevent or delay the UK leaving the EU. I believe that Labour’s job is to improve the Bill by amending it, not to kill the Bill at the beginning of its passage through Parliament. Labour’s reasoned amendment
“declines to give a Second Reading to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill”.
If that amendment is successful, it will kill the Bill. According to the Public Bill Office, if this Bill is defeated today, a new Bill would have to be introduced in a new Session, or the measure would need to reintroduced in a sufficiently different form as to not fall foul of the same-question rule. Either way we look at it, defeat for the Bill implies a substantial delay in transferring EU law into UK law, thereby increasing the uncertainties while the Brexit clock ticks towards midnight.
I voted and campaigned for the UK to remain—not in a metropolitan city or university town, but in a seat where I knew a leave vote was the likely outcome. I invite colleagues who were not campaigning in such seats to visit mine. Since the result, I have argued that leave and remain supporters should bury our differences and get on with it. Complex issues such as trade will require more time, hence the need for a transitional period of minimum change while future arrangements are put in place. Some leavers say, “We don’t need any transitional plans,” while some remainers say, “Any deal must be worse than staying in.” To them I say this: life post-Brexit is not a choice between nirvana and a living hell. Some changes will be better and some will be worse, and much will pass unnoticed. We either work to make the best of it, or simply damn it for not being perfect. This calls for honest endeavour and compromise on all sides.
Whatever side of the debate Members fall on, if they honestly accept the will of the British people, they are honour bound to see this through and make the best of it. Some suggest that the general election on 8 June changed everything. Like it or not, it led to the second coalition of sorts in seven years—a confidence and supply agreement between two parties that both promised to deliver Brexit. In that general election, I told Don Valley voters:
“When Britain leaves the European Union—I will work for a deal that works for Doncaster. That means easy trade, protecting workers’ rights and tough immigration controls with strong borders”.
“I don’t support a second referendum. We need to bring people together, whether they voted Leave or Remain and make a success of Brexit.”
I repeat those words today because I have no intention of breaking my word to the voters who have returned me to this House on six occasions.
I hope that Ministers will listen to concerns about the Bill. Their lack of openness, collaboration and foresight to produce a better Bill has not helped. To the Government I say: treat Parliament with respect and be open to constructive suggestions to improve the Bill. I will work with others to improve the Bill, but tonight I cannot vote to block it; I shall be abstaining to allow it to be further discussed and amended. We have a job to do to ensure a smooth, orderly Brexit—for the British people, for British businesses, and for our continuing friendship and partnership with the EU.
It is an honour and a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who gave an extraordinarily compelling and principled speech.
This is a critical Bill. We cannot logically leave the EU if we continue to subject ourselves to EU law, courts and regulators. It is for exactly that reason, however, that some Members will use the Bill as an opportunity to scupper the process and prevent us from leaving the EU. And that worries me. In perhaps the most important—certainly the biggest—democratic exercise the country has ever seen, people voted to leave. I believe that 80% of electors in the general election voted for parties that pledged to honour the result of the referendum. If that promise was broken, the resulting anger would give rise to extreme political movements right across the UK that would change our politics forever. We can improve the Bill in Committee and on Report, but to stop it on principle is to play with fire.
I want to comment briefly on one area impacted by our leaving the EU: the natural environment. The opportunity to do great things here is almost incalculable. We have a chance not only to right some wrongs, but to make historic progress. Under the common agricultural policy, for example, vast amounts of public money are handed to wealthy landowners simply because they own land. The policy supports perverse incentives to harm the environment and shuts off the UK market to developing countries through higher tariffs. For years, environmentalists, farmers’ organisations and a whole succession of farming Ministers have dreamt of changing and profoundly reforming the CAP. Well, we now can—and we must. We will be able to ensure that the subsidies regime that replaces the CAP supports food production and improves and protects the natural environment, with a system whereby public money is genuinely a return for public good. We have an opportunity to raise standards and boost our rural economy at the same time, and that opportunity extends beyond the CAP. As a country, we have led the way on animal welfare, but we have been limited in what we can do due to our membership of the EU.
No, I will not take any more interventions.
Most critically, even though we apply high animal welfare standards to production in this country, we cannot apply those standards to the food we import, which means that instead of preventing cruelty, which is what we are trying to do, we are simply exporting that cruelty to other countries while disadvantaging our own farmers. We could address that as well.
Clearly, in other areas, the EU has been a good thing for the environment—I would not pretend otherwise. The EU has undoubtedly been instrumental in forcing us to clean up our act. For instance, our rivers and beaches are cleaner today because of the EU than they would have been.
I will not.
That is why a core responsibility of this Parliament and this Government is to ensure that those key EU regulations—the habitats directive, the birds directive and the sewage sludge directive—have absolute, meaningful, proper, full protection in British law. We have had that commitment, but I should like to hear it a few more times from Ministers during this debate.
There are legitimate concerns about this process that need to be addressed in the Minister’s wind-up.
I will not, because I am running out of time.
First, when a state fails to implement EU law today, there are penalties, but that will no longer be the case—for obvious and appropriate reasons. However, an alternative system does need to be introduced. If the present or a future Government fail, for example, to stay within air pollution limits, it must be possible for sanctions to be applied and for that Government to be held to account—that is a core ingredient in any healthy democracy.
Secondly, it is not clear that important principles, such as the “polluter pays” principle or the precautionary principle, will be fully and meaningfully absorbed into UK law. If the individual regulations are to have meaning, those principles must be embedded in UK law. Finally, the Bill enables the Government to transfer regulatory functions from the EU to domestic bodies, but it does not make that obligatory, which seems to me to be an obvious weakness. I hope that the Minister will respond to my concerns, as well as the other issues that are raised today, and provide reassurances that they will be addressed either during the Bill’s later stages, or in subsequent environmental legislation.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the referendum on re-establishing the Scottish Parliament—not just “notionally” re-establishing it, I should point out to the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). I voted in that referendum having just returned from the Erasmus programme. The re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament was backed by most of Scotland’s parties—certainly by its progressive parties. Today we are about to see the biggest devolution power grab since that re-establishment, and it that will have an impact on the devolution process the likes of which we have never seen before. As someone who returned from Erasmus to vote in the referendum 20 years ago, I have been reflecting on the impact that this process will have on opportunities for young people, among others.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) rightly highlighted the benefits of European Union membership. It has benefited our rights; it has enabled us to build a broad consensus on the need to tackle environmental problems such as climate change; it has benefited universities; and it has torn down trade barriers. Tonight we will vote on a Bill that will take powers away from Holyrood and undermine the devolution process, and that is something that we cannot thole.
I shall come to both hon. Members shortly—they will have ample opportunity.
The Government’s approach was rejected in June, and we should all be mindful of the fact that what has been delivered in its place is a Parliament of minorities. That is commonplace at Holyrood. It is something that we had to get used to, and it is something that we shall all have to get used to. A Parliament of minorities is clearly a challenge for the Government, but it is a challenge for the Opposition as well, because we must all show that we are willing to work in a constructive way if the Government are willing to listen. That is not easy for us. The SNP remains committed to Scotland’s membership of the European Union. I want to see Scotland as an EU member state, and I am proud that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to support that. However, given the devastating impact of the Government's lack of strategy, it is up to this Parliament, and all parliamentarians, to step up to the mark.
The mess that we are in is not entirely the Government’s fault. I think that Vote Leave bequeathed that mess by presenting a blank piece of paper, which means that it is up to us to try to fill in those many, many blanks. Having said that, the Government have had five months since they triggered article 50 and 15 months since the EU referendum. Ministers bear culpability for the present situation, but Ministers who were part of Vote Leave bear particular culpability. For instance, there is the Secretary of State’s own yardstick:
“I would expect the new Prime Minister on September 9th to immediately trigger a…round of trade deals”.
Where are they? In the face of such chaos, all Members have a responsibility—each and every one of us. We need to put our differences to one side.
There is scope to do that, as we have put together a compromise. On this anniversary of devolution, I want to pay tribute to the Labour party and Plaid Cymru, which were able to put aside their differences and to try to come up with a common position. I know it was not easy for Members of both parties to do it, but they did, and full credit to them both for doing so. The Scottish Government put together a committee of experts to come up with a compromise, and I note that in the aftermath of the referendum—here is the cue for Conservative Members—Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives called for retaining membership of the single market. In fact, the Scottish Conservative leader—who knows, maybe the future Westminster Conservative leader—said:
“Retaining our place in the single market should be the overriding priority.”
I would certainly hope that Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives will do the right thing and stand by their leader. I wonder if they are Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives or Theresa May’s Conservatives when it comes to this—they are staying seated, saying nothing whatsoever.
The Bill also represents one of the biggest power grabs that we have seen. I note that one MP said—