House of Commons
Monday 11 December 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—
We have made significant and ambitious reforms to the education system since 2010. We have expanded childcare provision, raised school standards, transformed apprenticeships and increased university access. We will continue to drive social mobility through the whole education system and beyond into careers. Equality of opportunity is essential to make our country one that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
In light of the excellent news that we have seen the best improvement in reading standards in our schools for 15 years, not least due to the excellent work of the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that no single measure can boost social mobility more than this kind of dramatic improvement in education standards?
Absolutely, I do. In fact, it was put forward in the teeth of opposition from many Opposition Members. Last week’s international reading results showed not only that reading in England has improved for pupils from all backgrounds, but crucially that low-performing pupils are gaining the most rapidly. Just 58% of pupils reached expected reading standards in the first national phonic screening check in 2012. That figure is now 81%. There has been no welcome from the Opposition for this progress.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the recent Social Mobility Commission report showed that social mobility is an issue not just for inner cities but for our shire counties, including Worcestershire? Is that not further justification for a fairer funding formula to redress some of the relative underfunding of so many of our rural schools?
My hon. Friend is right. This was an important funding reform to ensure that all children are invested in properly. On opportunity areas, we are focusing our effort on areas of the country with the greatest challenges and the fewest opportunities. We have invested £72 million in opportunity areas, some in rural areas. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to flag up the fact that talent is spread evenly, but opportunity is not. We are determined to change that.
One Member of the House is so keen to demonstrate her commitment to equality that she is wearing what I will call a rainbow pullover, with the rainbow symbol of equality. I am referring to the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), to whose contribution we look forward with eager anticipation.
Sixth form colleges are well recognised for their role in delivering social mobility, yet that is now at risk with an underfunding of £1,200 per student, compared with 11 to 16 funding. Will the Secretary of State act to address this before it is too late?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are putting more money into making sure that post-16 education is consistently gold standard, regardless of whether young people follow academic or technical education routes. I am sure he will have welcomed the announcement in the Budget a couple of weeks ago, of extra premiums for maths students.
Since the Secretary of State was the only member of the Cabinet to get a pass mark from the Social Mobility Commission, will she now cement her reputation by intervening to stop the catastrophic decline in apprenticeship starts?
I will set out a social mobility action plan later this week. On the right hon. Gentleman’s claims about apprenticeships, starts remain on track to reach 3 million by 2020. There have already been 1.1 million since May 2015. Rather than talking them down, it would be better if he talked our education system up.
I congratulate the Minister for School Standards on the incredible work done on young children’s reading. On social justice, will my right hon. Friend consider providing 30 hours of free childcare for foster children, in line with those of working parents, by dropping the eligibility earnings cap for free childcare to £65,000 from the existing £100,000 mark?
The 30 hours free childcare policy has been incredibly popular with parents. Nine out of 10 say they very much like it and welcome it. We are actively looking at the issue my hon. Friend mentions in relation to foster children.
As chair of the all-party group on social mobility, I am very concerned to read the Social Mobility Commission’s report and the subsequent comments from the outgoing chair. Will the Secretary of State, or one of her ministerial team, agree to meet the all-party group to discuss where we go from here?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to welcome the plan I will set out later this week. I think the time has come for us all to move on from talking about the problem, which we have done a lot for many, many years, to deciding that we have it within us to work together up and down the country to now tackle it.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). Last week the Minister for Children and Families used the 30 hours of free childcare as an example of the Government’s commitment to social mobility. He knows that foster children are some of the most vulnerable, often starting school having already fallen behind their peers, and that many would benefit from access to high-quality early years education. Why have they been excluded from the 30-hours offer, and will the Secretary of State tell us when this discrimination will end?
I am pleased that the hon. Lady implicitly recognises that the 30-hours policy is a good thing, which, ideally, would be extended to more children. As I just said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), we will be looking at that.
Multi-academy Trusts: Financial Accountability
Academies and multi-academy trusts are subject to a much stronger financial accountability regime than local authority-maintained schools. Academies are required to publish audited financial accounts annually, and the Education and Skills Funding Agency oversees compliance with the funding agreement. We take swift and robust action at the first sign of failure, either financial failure or academic underperformance. The auditors gave 98% of academy trust 2015-16 accounts a clean bill of health.
In my constituency, we have suffered significant cuts in central budgets that support the most vulnerable people in our communities. Hartlepool Council has suffered cuts of almost 50% over the last five years, at a time when demands on services continue to rise rapidly. The council has tried very hard to protect frontline children’s services, but there has nevertheless been a 14% reduction in funding for them, Can the Secretary of State explain how our most vulnerable children and young people will have increased social mobility, given the significant and growing pressures on social care, funding for those—
Order. First, the question is far too long, and secondly, I am afraid that it does not relate to the matter that we are discussing. We are supposed to be talking about the financial accountability of multi-academy trusts.
We are spending record amounts on school funding. We are spending £41 billion this year, and that will rise to £43.5 billion by 2019-20. In the new national funding formula, a fair system that previous Governments have shied away from introducing, we give huge priority to funding for the disadvantaged.
During education questions last month, I raised the case of High Crags primary school in my constituency, which had £276,000 snaffled from its funds by Wakefield City Academies Trust shortly before the trust’s collapse. The school is in a very deprived part of the constituency, and, quite understandably, it wants its money back. Will the Minister tell us what he is doing to ensure that that happens?
My hon. Friend should know that no academy trust can profit from its schools, and the Wakefield trust will not be able to retain any reserves that it has at the point of dissolution. We are working with all the academies and the preferred new trust to determine what is appropriate support and proper funding.
I hope that the standard of the question is up to that of the jumper, Mr Speaker, but I fear that it may not be.
Notwithstanding what the Minister has said, the acting chief executive of Wakefield City Academies Trust managed to pay himself £1,000 a day in a company owned by his daughter and to pay £60,000 a year for clerking services. Despite those excessive sums, however, it appears that the audit committee did not meet for a full calendar year to sign off the probity of those payments. How many more academy trusts across the country are in special measures? Into how many more trusts has the Minister sent his special auditors so that they can have a look? He sent them into Wakefield, but he did not tell anyone else about what was going on, leaving the trust to fail in September during the first week of the new term.
All related-party transactions must be disclosed, and they are. We are working with the trust to transfer all 21 academies to new sponsors with a track record of improving schools and delivering high academic standards. Those transfers will take place in a way that secures the financial future of each school.
The excellent Priory multi-academy trust has been working with King Alfred school in Highbridge, in my constituency, since the school was placed in special measures last year. They have made some very good progress, but the trust’s board of directors is nervous about formalising the sponsorship until urgently needed repairs have been completed at the school. Will the Minister meet me, along with representatives of the trust and the school, so that we can resolve the impasse at the earliest opportunity?
Yes, of course; I will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to try to resolve that impasse. We are spending record amounts of capital on our school system: £23 billion in this period.
I am confused. In 2015 the Education Funding Agency conducted a financial management and governance review of the failed Wakefield City Academies Trust, but the Department refused to publish it, placing the trust’s commercial interests above the interests of the 8,500 pupils. So can the Minister answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh): how many more MATs are in peril on his watch?
As I said earlier, 98% of academy trust accounts for 2015-16 got a clean bill of health. We take the financial probity of the academy system very seriously. All academies have to publish audited financial accounts, which maintained local authority schools do not. The fact that far fewer schools today are rated as inadequate than in 2010 is a tribute to the structural reforms and the academies programme. Currently, 450,000 pupils are in sponsored academies rated as good or outstanding. Under the watch of the hon. Gentleman’s party these schools were typically underperforming, before we turned them into sponsored academies.
Schools: Capital Funding
The Government are making a significant capital investment in the school estate: we have committed over £23 billion in capital funding over the period 2016-21. This will create over 600,000 new school places, rebuild buildings in the worst condition at over 500 schools through the priority school building programme, and deliver thousands of projects to improve the physical condition of school buildings. Since 2010, capital funding has resulted in 735,000 new places and revenue funding is at an all-time high at £41 billion.
Recent research by the National Education Union and Tes found that 94% of teachers pay for essential classroom supplies, including at schools in my constituency where glue-sticks are being brought in by hard-working staff. With this in mind, does the Minister still maintain that Portsmouth’s schools have enough money and resources?
No parent should be expected to pay for the basic needs of their school, although they can, of course, be asked to fund school trips and extra things. We are spending record amounts on our school system: £41 billion this year, rising to £43.5 billion by 2019-20, and standards are rising in our school system, too, in reading, maths and GCSEs, despite a more rigorous curriculum in our secondary and primary schools.
Can the Minister confirm that, despite the additional £1.3 billion announced in July, the schools budget is still facing a £1.5 billion real-terms funding shortfall, which nothing has been done to reverse?
No. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced an additional £1.3 billion in July, as the hon. Gentleman kindly acknowledged. That means that not only have we maintained school funding in real terms, as we did in the last Parliament, but we have maintained school funding in real terms per pupil in this period up to 2020.
Currently, bids for capital spending on maintenance for schools are assessed on the state of the building. Given that there is significant competition for these bids and it is very difficult to assess the state of buildings in different schools across the country, is there not a case for also assessing the historical underfunding in various areas of our country?
We deal with the historical underfunding through a fairer national funding formula. On capital funding, we are spending £10 billion between 2016 and 2021 on school replacements, maintenance and improvement. That must be determined according to the condition of the school, and we have conducted a national survey of all schools in the country so that the system is fair.
Through the Minister, may I thank the Secretary of State and her Parliamentary Private Secretary for their superb response to the question I asked at the last Education questions session? On Friday, I was at Shiphay Learning Academy meeting its headteacher Elaine Gill, to discuss the condition of its building, and particularly the roof. Will the Minister reassure me that there will be an adequacy of funding to seriously consider the bid it is about to put forward to the condition improvement fund?
Obviously I cannot comment on a particular bid, but we are spending £10 billion on ensuring that we have sufficient capital to replace schools and improve the maintenance of schools. I hope that that answer was as superb as the previous answers that my hon. Friend has had.
We have allocated £4.2 billion since 2015 to maintain and improve school buildings. Some of that is allocated to local authorities, because they are best placed to know the priorities of the schools in their local authority area.
Sawtry Village Academy in my constituency is in serious financial difficulty, not least because of the activities of its former head, which included building a sex dungeon alongside his office for his private use. That headteacher is now in prison, but the financial difficulties of the school remain. Will the Minister kindly agree to meet me and representatives of the school to discuss the way forward?
Yes, I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the financial and academic future of that school.
Can the Minister confirm that the Budget actually cut education capital funding by £1 billion in this spending review, and that part of that cut involves removing more than three quarters of the healthy pupils capital programme? Perhaps he recalls the Government’s pledge earlier this year that the healthy pupils fund would not fall below £415 million, regardless. Will he now apologise for breaking that promise?
The hon. Lady has misunderstood the budget process. We have not cut £1 billion from the capital spending of schools. What we have done is convert an element of the healthy schools budget into revenue spending, to ensure that schools are properly funded on the frontline, because we believe that schools need to be properly funded and that is how we have managed to allocate an extra £1.3 billion to school funding—something that she and the school system have called for.
Academic A-levels: Knowsley
Knowsley Metropolitan Borough will benefit from an initial A-level offer in September 2018 through Knowsley Community College’s imminent merger with St Helens College. The 2018-19 prospectus has now been published, setting out the A-level offer available, and the Department is also working with Knowsley’s local authority to ensure the implementation of Knowsley Better Together, which is the wider local plan for improving access to A-levels in Knowsley.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but in a number of meetings with Knowsley MPs over the past year, her Ministers have promised to bring in a recognised excellent provider to restore academic A-level provision to Knowsley. The provision of some college vocational A-levels is a welcome development, but it is not enough. What progress has the Department made on delivering the promises made by her Ministers to local MPs over the past year?
I was happy to meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues, and I am sure she will remember from the letter I sent her following that meeting that I have asked my officials specifically to convene a further meeting locally to agree an approach on the maths support programme, which will focus on improving level 3 maths, and on the English hub roll-out for Knowsley.
The new A-level provision from next September in Knowsley is very welcome, but will the Secretary of State commit to working with the local authority and the commission established under the leadership of Christine Gilbert to ensure that more young people in Knowsley are able to take advantage not only of academic A-levels but of vocational qualifications?
We want to ensure that that kind of offer is available for every child in our country, including in Knowsley. As the right hon. Gentleman suggests, there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that the education offer on people’s doorsteps in Knowsley gets better over the coming years. He will know that a lot of work is going on locally, and that is complemented by our national focus on standards. I have written to him about this, and I am happy to do my role in ensuring that we work together to improve education outcomes for children in Knowsley.
The Government are committed to tackling our long-term shortage of STEM skills in order to grow the workforce that we need for a dynamic economy. An additional £406 million for maths, digital and technical education was announced in the Budget, including a new post-16 maths premium and a new £84 million programme to improve the teaching of computing, both of which aim to encourage the increased take-up of STEM subjects.
Children in England are benefiting from the Government’s focus on STEM subjects, but does the Secretary of State agree that all children in the UK should be encouraged to study such subjects? A shortage of STEM teachers in Scotland risks undermining children’s opportunities, including at Inverurie Academy in my constituency.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Scottish Government have failed to deliver better education standards across the board for Scottish children. In fact, looking at Scotland’s PISA results, standards dropped across all testing areas between 2012 and 2015. That is the Scottish Government’s legacy for their children. Scotland is behind England in science, maths and reading, which is a shocking indictment.
At last week’s meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on the UK oil refining sector, I met several young ambassadors who had excellent suggestions for encouraging young people to study STEM subjects. One suggestion was that Ofsted should measure the number of engineers that schools produce, rather than how many of their pupils go to university. Will the Secretary of State consider that?
We are moving in the right direction. The hon. Lady is right to make a point about the pipeline, which means not just better grades at GCSE, but more young people taking A-level maths—now the most popular A-level. We want that to carry on into university and then into careers. We have actually seen a 20% increase in the number of girls taking STEM A-levels, but there is much work to be done.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be aware of the excellent support that we have been given in Haywards Heath by the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), in helping to reopen the sadly closed Haywards Heath sixth-form college. Does the Secretary of State realise that that college would be the perfect location for a STEM college in south-east England?
My right hon. Friend raises an interesting proposal, and I am pleased that he is working so effectively with the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills. We need not only to improve our investment in STEM, but to change young people’s perceptions of STEM so that they can see what a fascinating career can lie ahead after doing STEM subjects at A-level and, critically, STEM degrees. That is how we can steadily continue to change the situation for the better.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will know that STEM teachers in Scotland need a university-level qualification in a STEM subject, so we have retained the professionalism. However, my question is about getting girls into STEM. As we approach Christmas, the gender stereotyping in toys is simply depressing, with boys being presented with technical toys while girls are expected to become pretty home makers—even Lego is making the distinction, with princess Lego sets. What representations is the Secretary of State making to toy manufacturers and retailers to ensure that gender-neutral toys are promoted and that girls are encouraged into STEM?
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills will shortly be holding a roundtable on such issues, but she should focus more broadly on the underlying strategy of getting more young girls and women into STEM careers. The good news is that the number of women accepted on to STEM undergraduate courses increased in England by 25% since 2010.
Coding and Programming Education
We are committing £84 million of new funding between 2018 and 2023 to support computing teaching in schools, which will include training up to 8,000 secondary teachers to teach the new computing science GSCE, a national centre for computing education and an online resource for the A-level. That will support schools in delivering the new computing curriculum, which includes coding from key stage 1, and our reformed GCSE and A-level, both of which have a strong focus on programming.
Cornwall is one of the fastest growing areas for tech start-ups in the whole country, and it is vital to address the challenges that we face on rural poverty as we move from a place-based economy to a skills-based economy. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the secondary schools and the colleges in Cornwall are ready and raring to go to fill those gaps in that growing market in the economy?
We recognise both the challenges and the successes in Cornwall. My hon. Friend, of course, is one of Cornwall’s greatest champions. Cornwall and the Scilly Isles is one of the first areas where we are establishing a skills advisory panel with the local enterprise partnership to bring together local representatives, including local businesses; train providers and colleges; and develop a comprehensive analysis of the area’s skills needs to help ensure that skills provision meets those needs.
The success of T-levels, which will incorporate coding and programming in education, will largely rely on addressing the chronic underfunding of our colleges, so was the Secretary of State disappointed, as Bury College and Holy Cross College in my constituency were, that the Chancellor ignored the pleas to address the great iniquity of post-16 funding? What will the Secretary of State do about it?
Maybe the hon. Gentleman missed the announcement of £500 million of extra funding for technical education post-16.
Local authorities have the power to ensure that children being educated at home by their parents are well educated and safe, but I am not confident the power is being used properly everywhere. That is why the forthcoming consultation on revised guidance for authorities and parents is so important. Every child needs a good education, including those who are home-schooled.
Mr Speaker, I am ever so slightly disappointed that you did not notice my excellent sweater.
I have now.
Has the Department made any assessment of the skills that parents need to home-educate a child successfully?
Certainly there are some very good examples of home education being delivered, in some cases by qualified teachers, but it is important that home education is not, for example, used as an alternative to exclusion or, indeed, because of the lack of provision of correct special educational needs. We are very much on the case.
Many Traveller children are home-schooled, yet only 4% go to university, compared with 43% nationally. The race disparity audit showed Traveller children having the worst educational outcomes of any group, so will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can ensure that Traveller children access education like every other child in the UK?
Certainly Traveller children are the outliers in many of the statistics that we see. Local authorities have no specific power or duty to monitor the quality of home education, although their duty to identify children who may not be receiving suitable education enables them to make informal inquiries and start a process that can, but seldom does, end in a school attendance order.
Does the Minister agree with the chief inspector of schools, Amanda Spielman, that so-called off-rolling, which includes home-schooling and alternative provision off site, is one of the big scandals in our education system? The Institute for Public Policy Research estimates that 48,000 children are now off-rolled. What will the Government do to give local authorities the powers and capacity to deal with this issue, and to force multi-academy trusts to stop off-rolling people in the pursuit of standards?
That is certainly against the admissions code. As I have already said, I am not satisfied that these rules are being applied properly on every occasion. That is why we will soon consult on revised guidance for parents and local authorities, with the aim of clarifying how local authorities can take effective action when children are not served well by home education.
Children in Care
We are driving forward reforms in children’s social care to ensure that all vulnerable children and families receive the highest-quality care and support. We have invested more than £200 million through the innovation programme to test and develop better practice, including testing approaches to help vulnerable children remain safely in their own home.
With record numbers of children being taken into state care, and with more and more families being subjected to statutory investigation, funding for children’s social care is increasingly directed at such last-resort interventions, instead of at supportive measures to help families at an earlier stage. Given the lifelong cost to children of this skewed model, will the Minister consider a fundamental review of children’s social care to ensure that families are supported to achieve the best outcomes for their children?
I agree with my hon. Friend that a serious programme of reform for children’s social care is needed. We set out our vision for delivering excellent children’s social care in “Putting children first”. It outlines our reform programme, which seeks to improve the quality of social work practice; create systems and environments where great social work can flourish; and promote learning and multi-agency working, where all involved in supporting children and families can work effectively together.
The hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) is absolutely right on this, and there should be agreement across the House that early intervention is not only more cost-effective, but more effective in human terms. Does the Minister accept that there is a crisis in the funding of children’s care, and that unless we are prepared to make the money for early intervention available up front, we will simply force local authorities to chase the crisis and not do the early intervention work we need?
I absolutely agree that early intervention, and innovation to learn how it can be more successful, is vital to delivering good children’s social care. That is why we have our £200 million innovation programme, which aims to ensure that we can best deploy the resources we make available to local authorities.
The Minister is presiding over a rise in care numbers and a shortage of foster carers. More than 70% of children’s homes are now run for profit. These providers are warning of imminent closures if his Government do not get their act together and tackle the issue of backdated sleep-in shift payments, which have led to debts of up to £2 million for some homes. Where on earth does the Minister propose placing our looked-after children when his Government’s reliance on the private sector fails?
The hon. Lady draws attention to the figures. Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service statistics show an increase of 14% in care order applications in 2016-17 compared with 2015-16, although the latest available figures for 2017-18 show a plateauing compared with the previous year. I pay tribute to all those who are developing effective children’s care—not only those in the private sector, but the many local authority providers and of course foster carers who operate outside local government employment rules.
Teacher Recruitment and Retention
Teacher numbers are at an all-time high: there are 15,500 more teachers than there were in 2010; postgraduate recruitment is at its highest level since 2012-13; and in 2015-16 we welcomed back 4,200 teachers into the classroom, which is an 8% improvement on the 2011 figure. However, we are absolutely not complacent; we continue to invest in teacher recruitment and are actively addressing the issues that teachers cite as a reason for leaving the profession.[Official Report, 18 December 2017, Vol. 633, c. 3MC.]
I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, but I draw her attention to the situation in my constituency and the evidence from the School Teachers’ Review Body, which has stated that there is
“a real risk that schools will not be able to recruit and retain a workforce of high quality teachers to support pupil achievement.”
It says that is particularly the case given the predicted increase in pupil numbers. What action have the Government taken to address teacher recruitment and retention? Will she meet me and local heads to discuss this matter?
Retention rates are broadly stable over a 20-year period. In fact, the overall vacancy rate for all teachers is about 0.3%. The hon. Gentleman asks what we are doing on the quality of the people coming into teaching, and I can tell him that the proportion of people entering teaching with a degree or a higher qualification is now 98.5%, which represents a 4.3% increase since 2010. Indeed, 19% of this year’s cohort of trainees have first-class degrees, which is a higher proportion than in any of the past five years.
Given that the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 is now on the statute book, will the Secretary of State meet me and the National Custom & Self Build Association so that we can explain how the Act’s provisions can be used to recruit and retain teachers in difficult-to-fill subjects?
I would be happy to meet, or for a ministerial member of my team to meet, my hon. Friend. This excellent Bill came through Parliament at an important time, and I am happy to talk to him about how we can make sure that young people coming through our education system are connected up with the great career opportunities that await them when they leave.
Given what the Secretary of State just said about our excellent teachers, I hope that we can all agree that it is time to end the real-terms pay cuts for teachers. However, the Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that this will lead to schools squeezing non-pay spending and reducing the workforce without extra funding. The Chancellor wants us to believe that he has ended the public sector pay cap. The Secretary of State wants us to believe that she has ended cuts to schools. They cannot both be right, so which one of them is putting the “con” into the Conservatives?
Obviously the School Teachers’ Review Body will be getting its remit letter shortly, but what I have tried to set out is a much broader strategy for teaching as a profession, and not just in relation to financial incentives and making sure that they are in the places where we particularly want teachers to teach. Later this week, we will issue our consultation on strengthening qualified teacher status, which I hope will be welcomed. Of course, we are working hard to remove unnecessary workload. Earlier this year, I held a flexible working summit with the professions and unions to talk about how we can make sure that teachers stay in the profession.
We are determined to reach 3 million apprenticeship starts in England by 2020. There have been 1.1 million new apprenticeship starts since 2015, but quality is also important. I am pleased that there were 24,600 starts on new employer-designed apprenticeship standards in 2016-17. That is a huge increase from 4,300 the year before.
Given that average monthly apprenticeship starts are 17% lower than they need to be to hit the Government’s 2020 target, does the Minister agree that local leaders and businesses are better equipped to meet that target than the Conservative Government?
If he talks to employers, the hon. Gentleman will find that it is only because of the reforms we have introduced, which have allowed employers to be at the very heart of the process, that we have made the progress we have. Numerous Governments have attempted to do something about apprenticeships, but it is only now that we are seeing real change.
According to a new Sutton Trust report, “Better Apprenticeships”, two thirds of apprenticeships are the result of merely rebadging existing employee training as apprenticeships. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that existing employees are participating in substantial training to develop new skills, and not just being accredited for their existing competence?
This is critical. I have talked to apprentices and employers about apprenticeships, and there is no doubt that we have a skills shortage. Employers are absolutely determined to make sure that they have the workforce they need to deliver the skills they will need for their businesses in future.
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Fareham College. In fact, I recently met an employer who has started an innovative co-operation with that college, which is doing a brilliant job and really addressing the skills shortages in the area. It is good to see employers coming together, working successfully with a local college, and making sure that they have the power behind them to get the skills that are under-represented in the area.
Will the Minister update the House on her Department’s work to encourage more people with learning disabilities to get involved in apprenticeships and join the labour market?
Yes. We are doing a huge amount of work; I know that my hon. Friend, as chairman of the all-party group on apprenticeships, is doing a lot of work himself. We have specific targets: we want people with learning disabilities to represent 20% of all apprenticeship starts by 2020. We have made progress, and the trajectory for people with learning disabilities is going up.[Official Report, 15 January 2018, Vol. 634, c. 3MC.]
We welcome the development of family hubs. Many areas are already moving towards this model of support for children and families. However, it is up to local authorities to decide how to organise and commission services in their areas. Local councils are best placed to understand local needs and how best to meet them.
Following the recent publication of “Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: a Green Paper”, may I urge my hon. Friend to encourage local authorities to provide better support for parents and carers in the area of mental health?
In the Green Paper, we commit to working with the What Works centres to publish and promote guidance for local areas to encourage the evidence-based commissioning of interventions aimed at supporting parents and carers, including parenting programmes. We are supportive of councils that wish to roll out family hubs. Ultimately, it is up to local councils to decide the best solutions for their areas.
We have put in place key reforms to drive investment in apprenticeships: employer-designed apprenticeship standards to meet their needs and drive up quality; and the apprenticeship levy to encourage sustained employer investment. By 2019-20, spending on apprenticeships in England will reach £2.4 billion, which is double what it was in 2010 in cash terms.
I recently visited Stubbing Court Training, a local training provider in my constituency that specialises in the equestrian area. Given the Government’s recent changes to apprenticeships, will the Minister meet me to talk about how we can ensure that we continue to provide the support that the Government are offering for smaller and more rural employers and training providers?
I would be extremely happy to meet my hon. Friend. In fact, I recently met my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) to discuss this issue. We need to ensure that apprenticeships work for every community, wherever they are and in whatever sector.
What are the Government doing to address the reported 61% fall in apprenticeship starts since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy?
I am a bit disappointed that the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) is not in the Chamber to listen to the rest of this question. If the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) looks at the figures more closely, he will see that there was a sharp spike of 46% between February and April this year compared with the situation in 2016. This year’s starts are therefore down just 2.8% overall. This was entirely as we anticipated. We have brought in new systems, and it is right that employers that are now paying the levy are taking the time to plan. I suggest that Opposition Members need to talk up apprenticeships and apprentices.
The aim of our Mandarin Excellence programme, which was established in 2014, was to have 5,000 pupils fluent in Mandarin by 2020, and it is on track to achieve that. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), who originally proposed this idea to me. The programme is now in 37 schools, with more than 1,400 pupils participating, all of whom are committed to eight hours of study—four hours in class and four hours of homework—each week. The intention is that by the time these pupils are in year 13, they will be fluent in Mandarin, reaching the international standard HSK (Level V).
The answers that are scribbled by those who serve Ministers are very informative, but the trouble is they are too long. It is the responsibility of Ministers to reduce their size. We are all very entertained by the Minister of State, but it would be good if he could do so more briefly.
Last week, the British Government hosted the UK young leaders’ roundtable and the people-to-people dialogue between the UK and China. Having recently visited China myself and seen the great opportunity that exists, does the Minister agree that having more schools offering Chinese or Mandarin as an option would help to strengthen the global strategic partnership between our two countries?
Yes, my hon. Friend is right. Last week we invited Minister Chen from China and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to meet 140 pupils who were participating in the Mandarin Excellence project. Minister Chen was impressed, as we all were, by the standard of the Mandarin being spoken by year 8 pupils who had been studying on the programme for just one year.
Leaving the EU: University Staffing
EU staff make an important contribution to our universities. The UK and the EU have reached an agreement on citizens’ rights that will allow EU citizens to continue living here broadly as now, which will help to provide certainty to such staff in our institutions.
Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh Napier University in my constituency have made staff redundant, citing Brexit and the UK Government’s immigration policies as a proximate cause. Napier University has advised me that potential staff members from other EU countries are turning down job offers. What concrete reassurance can the Minister give these international award-winning universities that Brexit will not further affect their staffing levels?
That uncertainty is completely unnecessary. I point the universities to the joint report issued last Friday by the Commission and the UK Government that points to our continued participation in programmes such as Horizon 2020 not just up until March 2019, but until the end of 2020. They should appreciate that important reassurance.
Many of my constituents in East Renfrewshire work in academic research and are concerned about the impact of Brexit on collaboration with European institutions. What reassurance can the Minister give to my constituents that Brexit will not put that collaboration in doubt?
They can take reassurance from the statement that was put out on Friday. We will participate in Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ beyond the point of Brexit—until the end of 2020. That is of fundamental importance to our scientific endeavour.
School standards are rising in England thanks to the Government’s reform, and the hard work of teachers and students. Last month, Ofsted published data showing that there are now 1.9 million more pupils in good or outstanding primary and secondary schools. International results show that England is rising up the league tables and that English students are outperforming their peers across the world on reading literacy. We held the first skills summit with leading British employers at the Department for Education, and we have just published our new careers strategy to ensure that every single young person, whatever their background, gets the right advice that they need for a career. Finally, we have just launched our consultation on accelerated degrees, which will not only be more cost-effective for students, but will enable university to be an option for more students.
If we want to promote opportunity and reduce inequality, we have to start in the classroom. That is where the pioneering reforms such as the phonics revolution, which was set in chain by the Minister for School Standards, have made such an important difference. But it is the teachers who have made it happen, so will the Secretary of State thank the teachers of Newark and Nottinghamshire—and those across the country—for their hard work?
Absolutely. Teachers in Newark should be congratulated on the results that they are achieving for local children. It is telling that Labour Members opposed every single change to the schools system that is driving up standards, with the help of teachers and students, including academies and free schools, the phonics check, the new curriculum, GCSEs and A-levels, and accelerated degrees. They never miss an opportunity to talk down schools and teachers, but there is always a deafening silence on welcoming actual improvements in standards. In the end, it is all about party politics.
I call Gordon Marsden—get in there, man.
Friday’s National Audit Office report on the higher education market is hugely damaging. It says that the market is failing students and that such practice anywhere else would raise questions of mis-selling. Meanwhile, the Student Loans Company is in crisis. This is all under the watch of the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. What does he say now to the NAO?
The National Audit Office rightly pointed out that students want value for money, which has been the guiding objective of our entire suite of HE reform programmes. That is why we have set up the Office for Students, which will ensure that universities are held to account for the teaching quality and value for money that they deliver to our students.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want every child to have a good school place that provides them with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the future. Thanks to changes made by this Government, and the hard work of thousands of teachers across the country, he is right to say that 87% of children are now in good or outstanding schools compared with 66% in 2010.
The academic community in the north of Ireland might have a way ahead in the light of the recent Brexit negotiations. Will the Secretary of State give the same reassurance to the academic community in Scotland which, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) highlighted, is concerned about the recruitment and retention of EU nationals?
I hope that the announcement from the Prime Minister and the European Commission on Friday will have very much allayed many of the understandable concerns that EU workers had about their future status in the UK.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. Indeed, on 4 December we published “Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: a Green Paper”. With £350 million of funding, the new measures include new mental health support teams to provide a real step change in the level of early intervention treatment available to pupils, and a clear ambition for a four-week waiting time for specialist NHS services. Of course, we will also provide new training for designated mental health senior leads in schools.
I certainly pay tribute to nurseries up and down the country that are delivering fantastic childcare, particularly as part of the 30 hours’ free funding. I am actually getting a little tired of the Labour party criticising the scheme. It is being delivered fantastically well. Some 216,000 parents registered for the September intake, and 93% have taken those places. I look forward to another cohort of children coming in on 1 January.
Children who are educated at home are the responsibility of their parents. Compulsory registration is not necessary. What is necessary is that local authorities take effective action in cases where parents are unable to provide a proper education. However, I am certainly happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his suggestion.
This is important. We have introduced the much broader education, health and care plans to make sure that young people get a much better assessment of their overall needs. I am very happy, though, to look at the particular case the hon. Lady mentions.
Parents in my constituency largely have access to schools offering faith-based education for their children, if they desire it, but every one of those schools is over-subscribed. What more can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that there is real choice for parents in faith-based education?
We greatly value the important role that faith schools play in our education system. They are high performing, they are popular with parents and they make an excellent contribution to our education system. Through the free schools programme, we have facilitated the creation of 71 new state-funded faith schools.
Sure Start schemes up and down the country are being delivered by local authorities, and it is up to them to make the decisions. However, we have already discussed the roll-out of hubs by some local authorities, which are proving particularly effective. As I say, it is for local authorities to determine what is best for their children.
Figures released recently by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) show that the proportion of students in my constituency who get the top grades and go to top universities is lower than in the south-east of the country. What action can the Government take to address that inequality?
Data published by UCAS today shows that the 18-year-old entry rate to full-time education in Walsall North has increased by 54% compared with 2006. In our last guidance to the director of fair access, we asked that areas with the poorest progression to university received particular attention.
First, the new national funding formula much better helps schools to deal with this issue of students coming into schools in year. Secondly, following the race disparity audit, we launched an exclusions review to make sure that the whole process around how a child is permanently excluded is properly delivered.
The Minister may be aware that the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee recently voted to block plans to introduce the Scottish Government’s named person policy. Does he agree that that policy is a gross invasion of privacy, totally unnecessary, and diverts vital resources from the most vulnerable? Will he confirm that this Conservative United Kingdom Government have no similar plans for such an unnecessary policy?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that there is currently no intention to introduce the named person system in England. We want a system that makes sure that children and their families get targeted help and the support that they need. Our “Working together to safeguard children” guidance is clear that services provided to children and families should be delivered in a co-ordinated way.
We have a world-class university system that is highly regarded by international students. There is no cap on the numbers of international students who can study in the UK. Indeed, we have seen a rise in the number of Indian and Chinese students coming to do so.
As my right hon. Friend will be aware, 2018 is the year of the engineer, with one of the aims being to change the perception of engineering, particularly among young women. Will she meet me, in my role as the Government’s envoy for this campaign, to discuss how her Department can work with the Department for Transport to further these aims?
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, and I praise the work that he has done on apprenticeships. It was a delight to see him at WorldSkills UK in Birmingham. I also praise the work that he is doing on the year of engineering.
The Secretary of State might not be aware of this yet, but on 4 December I wrote to her to ask for an urgent meeting to discuss the funding of high needs in Kingston. Kingston’s high needs budget is set to be overspent this year by £6.5 million, or 35%—the worst in London. Will she meet me as soon as possible to discuss this?
We are providing high needs funding of £5.84 billion to local authorities this year—next year’s figure rises to £5.97 billion—to help them to support children and young people with special educational needs. Earlier this year, we gave local authorities £23 million to support a strategic review of their special needs provision. We have allocated £215 million of capital funding to enable local authorities to create more places for those with special educational needs and disabilities. I would be happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss this issue.
A single-sentence inquiry, perhaps, and conceivably a single-sentence reply.
Dividing lines of opportunity are now seen much more between metropolitan and rural areas. Will the Minister assure me that the bold creation of apprenticeships and institutes of technology will centre on rural areas as well as towns?
We want to make sure that institutes of technology are based everywhere around the country. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to flag up the fact that rural areas are a place where we want to see more opportunity.
What is the Minister doing to help young people with hearing difficulties to obtain apprenticeships?
A lot of work and a lot of money is going into making sure that young people with learning difficulties can access apprenticeships. That is why we have set targets so that 20% of all apprenticeship starts will be people with learning difficulties by 2020.[Official Report, 15 January 2018, Vol. 634, c. 4MC.]
It is essential that we highlight job opportunities to our young people when businesses have needs. There are large gaps in the £6 billion landscape industry. Does the Minister agree that there are big opportunities to address that through our careers services?
It was a delight to launch the careers strategy last week. Its spine will be the Gatsby benchmarks, which are critical. The pilot in the north-east demonstrated just how much progress we can make if schools meet all those targets.
Class sizes in Barnsley are above the national average. As a former teacher, I know the impact that that can have. Does the Secretary of State accept that it has a detrimental impact on pupils?
As we have heard routinely today, school standards in England are rising. In the end, that is what parents care about. There are 1.9 million more children in better primary and secondary schools, and the phonics check is improving literacy outcomes tremendously. It would be good if Opposition Members welcomed that for once.
Will the Minister for School Standards join me in congratulating Swindon Academy, in conjunction with Marlborough College, on doubling its intake this year, with children from all backgrounds now having a real chance of accessing the very top universities?
I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Swindon Academy. I enjoyed visiting the school with him and meeting Ruth Robinson, its exceptional principal. The school runs special programmes to help the most able children to fulfil their potential, as well as providing very high standards of education across the board.
If the Department is serious about meeting its apprenticeships targets, surely the Minister will agree with me about the need to reclassify apprenticeships as improved education or training so that young, hard-working apprentices, such as Chloe from Hull, save money on their transport and prescription costs.
As the hon. Lady will know, transport is the responsibility of local authorities. We are determined to make sure that there are no barriers to anybody taking up an apprenticeship. As I go around the country, it is amazing to hear stories about the programme. I am delighted by its success so far.
It is always good if we can see a smiling Sammy at the end of questions.
T-levels are being developed in England, but it is not clear whether they will be available in Northern Ireland. Even if they are, the regulatory body will be England-only and based here in England. That has the potential to disrupt higher education, routes to employment and the transferability of skills. Will the Secretary of State commit to working with Northern Ireland’s Department of Education and examination board to ensure that T-levels are made available in Northern Ireland?
I think that is the hon. Gentleman’s version of a one-sentence question.
I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that. We want T-levels to be transformative in improving technical education in our country, and I have no doubt that he feels the same way about Northern Ireland. Let us meet up to discuss how we can make sure that the strategy works for every child.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the negotiations for our departure from the European Union. On Friday morning, the Government and the European Commission published a joint report on progress during the first phase. On the basis of this report, and following the discussions I held throughout last week, President Juncker is recommending to the European Council that sufficient progress has now been made to move to the next stage and begin talks on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. President Tusk has responded positively by proposing guidelines for the next phase of the negotiations.
I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and our whole negotiating team for their calm and professional approach to these negotiations. We have argued robustly and clearly for the outcomes we seek: a fair and reciprocal deal that will guarantee the rights of more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and 1 million UK nationals living in the EU, so that they can carry on living their lives as before; a fair settlement of the accounts, meeting our rights and obligations as a departing member state in the spirit of our future partnership; and a commitment to maintain the common travel area with Ireland, to uphold the Belfast agreement in full and to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland while upholding the constitutional and economic integrity of the whole United Kingdom. Let me set out for the House the agreements we have now reached in each of these areas.
More than 3 million EU citizens make an extraordinary contribution to every part of our economy, our society, our culture and our national life, and I know that EU member states similarly value the contribution of the 1 million UK nationals living in their communities, so from the outset I have made protecting citizens’ rights my first priority. But for these rights to be truly reciprocal, they need to be interpreted consistently in both the UK and the EU.
The European Union started by wanting all EU citizens’ rights to be preserved in the UK by a prolongation of EU law. They said these rights should not require any UK process to implement them, and that they should be supervised by the Commission and enforced by the European Court of Justice. Those proposals were not acceptable. When we leave the European Union, our laws will be made and enforced here in Britain, not in Luxembourg. So the EU has accepted that we will incorporate the withdrawal agreement into UK law, and citizens’ rights will then be enforced by our courts—where appropriate, paying due regard to relevant ECJ case law, just as they—[Interruption.] Wait for it: where appropriate, paying due regard to relevant ECJ case law, just as they already decide other matters with reference to international law when it is relevant.
In the interests of consistent interpretation of citizens’ rights, we have agreed that where existing law is not clear, our courts—and only our courts—will be able to choose to ask the ECJ for an interpretation prior to reaching their own decision, but this will be a very narrow remit and in a very small number of cases, and unlike now the courts will not be obliged to do so; this will be voluntary. The case itself will always be determined by the UK courts, not the ECJ, and there will also be a sunset clause, so after eight years even this voluntary mechanism will end.
The end point of this process is very clear. EU citizens living in the UK will have their rights enshrined in UK law and enforced by British courts, and UK citizens living in the EU will also have their rights protected. The jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK is coming to an end. We are taking control of our own laws once again, and that is exactly how it should be.
Let me turn to the financial settlement. Following some tough conversations, we have agreed the scope of our commitments and the principles for their valuation. We will continue to pay our net contributions under the current EU budget plan. During this time, our proposed implementation period will see us continuing to trade on current terms, and we will pay our fair share of the outstanding commitments and liabilities to which we committed during our membership. However, this is conditional upon a number of principles we have negotiated over how we will ultimately arrive at a fair valuation of these commitments, which will bring the actual financial settlement down by a substantial amount. This part of the report that we agreed on Friday, like the rest of it, is also subject to the general reservation that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This means we want to see the whole deal now coming together, including the terms of our future deep and special partnership, as I said in Florence.
These are the actions of a responsible nation honouring the commitments that it has made to its allies, having gone through those commitments line by line, as we said we would. It is a fair settlement for the British taxpayer, who will soon see significant savings compared with remaining in the European Union. It means we will be able to use that money to invest in our priorities at home, such as housing, schools and the NHS, and it means the days of paying vast sums to the European Union every year are coming to an end.
Our departure from the European Union presents a significant and unique challenge for Northern Ireland and Ireland, so it is absolutely right that the joint report makes it clear that we will uphold the Belfast agreement in full. This agreement, including its subsequent implementation agreements and arrangements, has been critical to the progress made in Northern Ireland over recent decades. Our commitments to those agreements, the principles that underpin them, the institutions they establish, and the rights and opportunities they guarantee remain steadfast. The joint report reaffirms our guarantee that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. So much of daily life in Northern Ireland depends on being able to cross the border freely, so it is right that we ensure that no new barriers are put in place.
We have also been absolutely clear that nothing in this process will alter our determination to uphold the constitutional and economic integrity of the whole United Kingdom. It was right that we took time last week to strengthen and clarify the joint report in this regard, listening to Unionists across the country, including the Democratic Unionist party. On Friday, I reinforced that further by making six principled commitments to Northern Ireland.
First, we will always uphold and support Northern Ireland’s status as an integral part of the United Kingdom, consistent with the principle of consent. As our Northern Ireland manifesto at the last election made clear, the Government I lead will never be neutral when it comes to expressing our support for the Union.
Secondly, we will fully protect and maintain Northern Ireland’s position within the single market of the United Kingdom. This is by far the most important market for Northern Ireland’s goods and services, and Northern Ireland will continue to have full and unfettered access to it.
Thirdly, there will be no new borders within the United Kingdom. In addition to there being no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, we will maintain the common travel area throughout these islands.
Fourthly, the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, will leave the EU customs union and the EU single market. Nothing in the agreement I have reached alters that fundamental fact.
Fifthly, we will uphold the commitments and safeguards set out in the Belfast agreement regarding north-south co-operation. That will continue to require cross-community support.
Sixthly, the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, will no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
As the joint report makes clear, our intention is to deliver against these commitments through the new deep and special partnership that we will build with the European Union. Should this not prove possible, we have also been clear that we will seek specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. Because we recognise the concerns felt on either side of the border, and we want to guarantee that we will honour the commitments we have made, we have also agreed one further fall-back option of last resort. If we cannot find specific solutions, the UK will maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union that, now or in the future, support north-south co-operation, economic co-operation across the island of Ireland and the protection of the Belfast agreement. The joint report clearly sets out that cross-community safeguards and consent are required from the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly for distinct arrangements in that scenario, and that in all circumstances, Northern Irish businesses must continue to have full and unfettered access to the markets in the rest of the United Kingdom on which they rely. So there can be no question about our commitment to avoiding barriers both north-south and east-west.
We will continue to work with all Northern Irish parties and the Irish Government in the second phase of the talks, and continue to encourage the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive so that Northern Ireland’s voice is fully heard throughout this process.
Finally, in my Florence speech I proposed an implementation period to give Governments, businesses and families the time they need to implement the changes required for our future partnership. The precise terms of this period will be for discussion in the next phase of negotiations. I very much welcome President Tusk’s recommendation that talks on the implementation period should start immediately and that it should be agreed as soon as possible.
This is not about a hard or a soft Brexit. The arrangements we have agreed to reach the second phase of the talks are entirely consistent with the principles and objectives that I set out in my speeches in Florence and at Lancaster House. I know that some doubted we would reach this stage. The process ahead will not be easy. The progress so far has required give and take for the UK and the EU to move forward together, and that is what we have done. Of course, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but there is, I believe, a new sense of optimism now in the talks, and I fully hope and expect that we will confirm the arrangements I have set out today in the European Council later this week.
This is good news for people who voted leave, who were worried that we were so bogged down in tortuous negotiations that it was never going to happen, and it is good news for people who voted remain, who were worried that we would crash out without a deal. We are going to leave, but we will do so in a smooth and orderly way, securing a new deep and special partnership with our friends while taking back control of our borders, money and laws once again. That is my mission. That is this Government’s mission. On Friday we took a big step towards achieving it. I commend this statement to the House.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of the statement. Eighteen months on from the referendum result, the Prime Minister has scraped through phase 1 of the negotiations after 18 months, two months later than planned, with many of the key aspects of phase 1 still not clear.
This weekend, Cabinet members have managed to contradict each other. Some have managed to go even further and contradict themselves. We respect the result of the referendum, but due to the Government’s shambolic negotiations it is getting increasingly difficult to believe this is a Government who are even capable of negotiating a good deal for Britain. These negotiations are vital for people’s jobs and for our economy. Our future prosperity depends on getting them right. So let us hope that today we can elicit some uncharacteristic clarity from the Prime Minister.
First, on the financial statement, can the Prime Minister confirm the figure quoted by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that we will pay between £35 billion and £39 billion in exit payments? After this weekend’s confusion, can the Prime Minister clarify whether this payment is conditional on securing a final deal, as the Brexit Secretary said, or whether it is an obligation for the UK to pay, as the Chancellor said? If it is conditional, how much is it? When can the Prime Minister publish a full breakdown of the settlement, and does she agree that the settlement should be audited by the National Audit Office and the Office for Budget Responsibility? Does she yet have any indication of what level of ongoing payments the UK will make to the EU for ongoing participation in joint EU programmes and ongoing membership of EU agencies?
Secondly, on the issue of citizens’ rights, can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government have agreed that the European Court of Justice will oversee the deal on EU citizens’ rights for the next eight years, and that the UK courts will have “due regard” to ECJ decisions indefinitely? Can she therefore update the House on her red line that there will be no future role for the ECJ? What will that mean for trade negotiations?
Importantly for British citizens living in EU countries, can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government’s negotiations mean that they will maintain all their existing rights indefinitely? Will she confirm today that UK pensions will continue to be paid and uprated for all British citizens?
Thirdly, on the complex question of the Irish border, there are again conflicting statements—this time between the Brexit Secretary and, of course, the Brexit Secretary. Can the Prime Minister confirm whether the deal reached last week is legally enforceable? Article 46 of the agreement seems pretty clear that it
“must be upheld in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of any future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.”
What does regulatory alignment mean? Does it mean the exact same rules, or different rules with similar outcomes? If it is the latter, who will adjudicate on whether those different rules are similar enough? Which policy areas are covered, and how long will regulatory alignment last? Is it only for the transition—the implementation period, as the Prime Minister calls it— or is it permanent?
Finally, on deadlines, the Government wasted time on phase 1, partly with a general election that I am sure the Prime Minister now regrets calling. The Government originally aimed for phase 1 negotiations to be complete in October. Then everything was ready for an announcement last Monday. Ultimately, we saw a rather fudged agreement late last week. Has this experience given the Prime Minister reason to consider dropping the unnecessary exit date of 29 March 2019 from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill? I am sure the whole House—indeed, I think probably the whole country—would rather get the best possible deal a little bit later if it meant a better deal for people’s jobs and the economy.
The second phase of negotiations will have a huge impact on our relationship with our largest trading partner. The Brexit Secretary committed to deliver the “exact same benefits” as now. Does that remain the Government’s aim? I assume it does, as the Prime Minister has just said that the UK will maintain full alignment with the rules of the internal market and the customs union.
I have left the trickiest question till last. Can the Prime Minister explain what the Brexit Secretary actually meant when he said that he wanted to have trade relationships in the future that are CETA-plus-plus-plus? Can she explain what on earth he was talking about? [Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary is trying to bring clarity to the situation. I wish the Prime Minister well in adjudicating that debate.
I hope the next crucial phase of negotiations is not punctuated by the posturing, delays and disarray that have characterised the first phase. I am sure the whole country would welcome clarity from the Prime Minister on exactly what has just been agreed.
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that the only posturing taking place has been on the Opposition Front Bench.
The right hon. Gentleman talks quite a lot about alignment. I set out our objectives for the Brexit negotiations very clearly in my Lancaster House speech, and I set them out further and in some more detail in the speech I gave in Florence. Meanwhile, the Labour party has had 12 different Brexit plans. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman has had so many Brexit plans he cannot even reach alignment with himself.
To answer the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, he started off by saying he wanted to uphold the referendum result. Later in his comments, however, he said he did not want to accept the leave date of 29 March 2019. We are leaving the European Union on that date. That is what the British people voted for, and that is what the Government are going to put in place.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the financial settlement. We have agreed the scope of commitments, and methods for valuations and adjustments to those values. The calculations currently say that the valuation would be £35 billion to £39 billion, so the answer to his question is yes. He asked whether that was conditional on securing a deal. It is clear in the joint progress report, and I have repeated it in my statement just now, that the offer is on the table in the context of us agreeing the next stage and the partnership for the future. If we do not agree that partnership, then the offer is off the table.
The right hon. Gentleman asked how much we were going to pay into joint programmes. That is all part of the negotiation in phase 2, and it will be negotiated depending on the programme and depending on the agency, should we wish to remain part of it. He asked whether I would confirm that the European Court of Justice would oversee the rights of EU citizens for the next eight years. The answer to that is no, because it will not be overseeing the rights of EU citizens for the next eight years. I made it absolutely clear that citizens’ rights would be determined by the courts here in the UK. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the legal nature of that agreement. It will be brought into law in this country in the withdrawal and implementation Bill that will be presented to the House. He asked about the payment of pensions for UK citizens. Yes, that will continue. He asked whether the arrangements that were in place in relation to citizens’ rights in the ECJ would have an impact on other parts of the deal. Paragraph 41 of the joint report makes it very clear that this in no way prejudges discussions on other elements of the withdrawal agreement.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about alignment. What is necessary is that we have the same objectives. We may reach those objectives in different ways, but what we need to ensure—and this is not a theological argument; it is about the practical decisions that need to be made—is that the trade across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland can continue, and that is what we will be looking at. The Taoiseach and I have been very clear in our discussions: we both believe that we should be working to ensure that that can be achieved through the overall agreement between the UK and the EU, and that is indeed what we should be aiming for.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the trade deal, and about CETA-plus-plus-plus. We have always said that we are not looking for a deal that is Norway, and we are not looking for a deal that is CETA. What we are looking for is a deal that is right for the United Kingdom. Sadly, we know what a Labour approach to these negotiations would mean. It would mean paying the European Union billions of pounds every year in perpetuity. It would mean following EU roles with no say on them. It would mean no divergence whatsoever from EU rules in the future. It would mean zero control of immigration. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that that would not make a success of Brexit; it would be no Brexit at all.
Let me first congratulate the Prime Minister on her triumph last Friday. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I hope that that is maintained, because I have never previously known the days following a British Government’s entry into a treaty-like agreement with 27 friendly Governments to be followed by Ministers and their aides appearing to cast doubt on whether we have agreed to anything finally, and regard ourselves as bound at all.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” is a well-known phrase which means that details can be revisited once you have sorted out what the ultimate destination is, but which does not mean that you are going to tear everything up and start all over again on EU citizens and paying money and regulatory convergence if something goes wrong in the future? Will she confirm that we have settled the rights of EU citizens, that we know how we are going to calculate the financial obligation that undoubtedly falls on this country because of past commitments by British Governments, and that open borders do require some regulatory alignment in any country in the world if we are to have an open border—and we are committed to an open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which in part, of course, means between the United Kingdom and the European Union?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his positive comments about the stage that we have reached in the negotiations. The report that was issued is a joint progress report on the point that we have reached and the agreements that we have reached. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, it enables us to go on to the detailed negotiations on various of these issues. The area on which we have had perhaps the most detailed negotiations so far is that of citizens’ rights, which covers a range of issues relating to benefits and so forth for EU citizens who are here. Obviously, we have also had negotiations on the other elements, which are not just about Northern Ireland and the financial settlement, but about a number of issues connected with the withdrawal. Of course, that withdrawal agreement, as we have set out in this joint progress report, will be brought into UK law at the point at which that Bill is brought before this House, and this House will have an opportunity to vote on that Bill.
My right hon. and learned Friend made the point at the end about trade deals, and he is absolutely right that in any trade agreement there is a necessity for both sides to agree certain regulations, rules and standards on which they will operate. This will be no different from that; it will be different only in the sense that we are already operating on—mostly—exactly the same rules and regulations as the European Union, so we start from a slightly different place than we would do if we were negotiating with another country.
What a difference a day makes! Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said that the agreement reached in Brussels on the UK’s withdrawal was “a statement of intent” rather than “a legally enforceable thing”. The Secretary of State was put in his place by the Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland, who tweeted:
“The commitments and the principles...are made and must be upheld in all circumstances”.
This morning, the Secretary of State hit the radio waves to reveal that the deal is “more than legally enforceable”. So, for the avoidance of any doubt, can the Prime Minister tell the House today that in no circumstances will we be returning to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic? Let us make that commitment in this House today.
Last week, we had the humiliating scene of the Prime Minister being forced out of the original deal by the DUP, and rushing back to London. The Government had to rewrite the agreement so as to reach the DUP’s approval. We really have to wonder who is running the UK: is it Arlene Foster or the right hon. Member for Maidenhead?
While Members on the SNP Benches welcome both sides moving into phase 2 negotiations, the next phase will be significantly tougher and it is essential that all Governments across the UK are fully involved in the negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU—something that has not happened to this point. The provisions relating to Northern Ireland in the agreement raise major new questions over proposed UK-wide frameworks. Let me be clear: any special arrangements for Northern Ireland must now be available to all nations of the UK. The SNP will continue to speak with one loud and clear voice. The Prime Minister must commit today to keeping the UK in the single market and the customs union; to do otherwise would be catastrophic for jobs, workers’ rights, people’s incomes and living standards.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm in this House that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I have to say to him that this is not the first time that I have made that statement in this House; he can google it and find from Hansard how many times I have said it. Indeed, if he had listened to and looked at my statement, he would have learned that I said that “the joint report reaffirms our guarantee that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
The right hon. Gentleman asks about the circumstances and anything that relates to Northern Ireland being given to Scotland. Northern Ireland is, of course, in a different position from Scotland: it is the only part of the UK that has a land border with a country that will remain in the European Union, and it is in fact already the case that there are a number of unique and specific solutions that pertain to the island of Ireland, such as the common electricity market and the single phytosanitary area. Various resolutions have already been put in place to recognise that physical relationship between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman asks yet again for the UK to stay in the single market and customs union. I said, again, in my statement that we will be leaving the single market and the customs union, and we will be doing that because we will be putting in place the vote that took place in 2016 to leave the EU. I repeat to the right hon. Gentleman: he talks about the statement I have made and the commitments of this Government, but it would be good for him to stand up and say he supports, as I have in this statement, the continued constitutional and economic integrity of the whole United Kingdom.
I join my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on driving through an improved agreement on Friday, which many thought would not be feasible. She has been incredibly clear in the past about the fact that the two-year period that follows our departure will be an implementation period. Is it still the Government’s position that that implementation phase will be used to implement all that has been agreed, and not, as some say, just to carry on with no change at all?
The point of the implementation period is exactly as my right hon. Friend says—namely, to ensure that the changes necessary for the new relationship to work can be put in place. Examples include the registration of EU citizens here in the UK, which the Home Office will be running during that period. It is also about ensuring that businesses and citizens have the confidence and reassurance of knowing how they will be operating during that period, that there is no double cliff edge for businesses and that they have a smooth process of change. That is the point of the implementation period. Further details of it will be negotiated in the next phase, and I am pleased that the European Commission and the President of the EU Council are clear that that should start immediately.
The most important part of this agreement is paragraph 49, which I welcome. It says clearly that
“the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”
Given that those words are prefaced by the words:
“In the absence of agreed solutions,”
can the Prime Minister please confirm to the House today that this crystal-clear commitment will apply in all circumstances, including if no trade deal is reached with the European Union?
The point of saying “In the absence of agreed solutions” in paragraph 49 is that we believe that the solution we find in relation to the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland will come from the negotiated trade settlement that we have with the European Union in the overall relationship of the UK and the European Union. If we fail to get it through that, specific solutions will be put in place for Northern Ireland. If we fail that—this is why I have described it as a last resort—we will look to the arrangement that is described in paragraph 49.
Unusually, I join my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke)—[Interruption.] Chingford, forgive me. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe in welcoming the Prime Minister’s achievements this weekend. Will she have spent as much time as I have in recent weeks and months speaking to European friends and reminding them that we are leaving the EU, not leaving Europe, and that the next stage should involve our working together to build a prosperous future together?
We should not forget Woodford Green. It would be rather unkind, and probably rather resented by the people of Woodford Green, if they were arbitrarily excised from reference to the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) that we are leaving the European Union but not leaving Europe. This is a statement that we have made on a number of occasions. We will continue to work with our European allies in a whole variety of areas in the interests of Europe as a whole. Indeed, just this morning, I had a meeting with my opposite number from Bulgaria to talk about the work we can continue to do with Bulgaria on the western Balkans, where much work needs to be done by us in Europe. We will continue to do that whether we are in the European Union or not.
Ah, yes—the Member with the bright jumper! I call Mary Creagh.
The Brexit Secretary has captivated the House with tales of regulatory impact assessments that do not exist. The Chancellor has said that the divorce bill will be paid in all circumstances, but the Brexit Secretary contradicted him at the weekend, saying that it would be conditional on a trade deal. The Prime Minister’s deal with the Taoiseach, promising full regulatory alignment, has been dismissed by the Brexit Secretary as a statement of intent. If she cannot even get her Brexit Secretary to agree with her, how on earth is she going to get a good deal that protects jobs, investment and growth in this country?
The Brexit Secretary and I—indeed, the whole Cabinet and the whole Government—are behind the agreement, the deal and the progress report that we have negotiated in relation to moving on to phase 2. We are of one accord on that. The only party that is not of one accord is the Labour party.
Across the Government Benches, there is complete unanimity about congratulating the Prime Minister on securing the agreement. If I may say so, it was a pitiful performance from the Leader of the Opposition, and I still do not know whether he actually welcomes the agreement, but he should support this major step forward. Looking to the future, around this time next year we should have begun to conclude the trade negotiations towards the trade deal, so does the Prime Minister anticipate that we will have details of our new trading relationship with the EU, or will there be a set of heads of agreement?
We have always said that we will be working to negotiate our full agreement on the future relationship that we have with the EU. Of course, it will not legally be possible for the EU to sign up to that agreement until after we have left and become a third country, because it is not possible for such an agreement to be signed while we are in the EU. The pieces of work that will now go forward will include the details of the implementation period, the details of the withdrawal agreement, which will have to go through certain parliamentary processes in European member states and will also be put to Parliament here in the UK, and our future relationship with the EU on trade, security and other areas.
In order to strengthen the Prime Minister’s leverage in the next stage of negotiations, may I suggest that she suspend tribal politics and invite the Leader of the Opposition and his Front-Bench colleagues to join her negotiating team? Whatever their tactical differences, they agree with her on the fundamentals of Brexit and on withdrawal from the single market and the customs union—disastrous though that may be.
There is a huge assumption underlying the right hon. Gentleman’s question, because he says that the Labour party actually agrees with us on membership of the customs union and the single market, but there are many views on that in the Labour party. It is not at all clear that it agrees with the Government on the future relationship with the internal market and the customs union, because it keeps taking different positions. If the right hon. Gentleman has inside information on the Labour party’s position, I would be very glad to hear it.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the outbreak of unity on the Government Benches regarding the outcome of the progress report? Does she agree that a number of matters still need to be resolved? Serious questions will be addressed, and the European Scrutiny Committee will be paying serious attention to those questions. Does she also agree that the Opposition have demonstrated not only today but over past weeks a complete inconsistency on every point of principle and detail? They are simply a national disgrace.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for his reference to the statement of unity. I know that the European Scrutiny Committee has always taken its role very seriously and will continue to do so. Its role is particularly important as we reach this point in time and as it considers these particular arrangements. Yes, there are serious issues that still need to be addressed and will be addressed in phase 2 of the talks, but the important thing was getting on to phase 2 so that we can look at such issues in much more detail. As he says, the Labour party has distinguished itself only by the fact that it has had 12 different Brexit plans over the past 18 months. It really does not know what its view is on this at all.
Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told me that the Cabinet had never even discussed the decision to leave the single market and the customs union. As we move on, we need to be absolutely clear about the Cabinet’s view, so will the Prime Minister inform the House when the Cabinet last discussed the negotiating objectives for the final trade deal?
The Cabinet has had a number of discussions on various aspects of the negotiations, and it will continue to have those discussions. The Cabinet was united behind the Florence speech, which set out the objectives, and it was behind the Lancaster House speech. The objectives for the Government have not changed, and they have been agreed by the Government.
I wish the Prime Minister every success in negotiating a comprehensive free trade deal. Does she agree that when we leave, with or without a deal, we will be trading under World Trade Organisation terms, which now include the extremely helpful and comprehensive trade facilitation agreement that allows good progress over borders for all WTO members? Does not that strengthen our position when she negotiates a good deal?
My right hon. Friend refers to the developments at the WTO, and they will of course be interesting to us as we look ahead and negotiate our deal for the future. I hope the optimism that has been shown by the European Union as we progress on to the next stage will give everybody confidence and reassurance that we can indeed agree the comprehensive free trade agreement we want for our future relationship with the European Union.
For phase 2 of the discussions, the Brexit Secretary has set a benchmark of securing a free trade agreement with the exact same benefits that we currently enjoy. Does the Prime Minister agree with her Environment Secretary and many others that if the public do not like the terms of the final deal, they have every right to change their mind?
That is a misinterpretation of what the Environment Secretary said at the weekend. I have been very clear that there will be no second referendum on this issue. This Parliament overwhelmingly voted to give the British people the decision on membership of the European Union. The British people voted, and we will now deliver on their vote.
On behalf of the thousands of EU citizens living in the Loughborough constituency and across the country, may I thank the Prime Minister for the Christmas present she has given them by providing certainty about their future in this country? It is a shame that that part of last week’s deal has not had the coverage it should have had because of the other important issues. Does she agree that her work last week is testament to the power of continued dialogue between the parties, and that those who suggest that when things get tough, we should walk away do not represent the way she attacks these issues?
My right hon. Friend is right. I hope people will look seriously and carefully at the negotiated agreement on citizens’ rights, which is important. We are in a negotiation, which takes hard work on both sides. It also takes determination, and this Government have shown the determination to get it right for the UK.
Does not CETA-plus-plus-plus amount to a similar—but not the same—set of arrangements to those in the single market and the customs union? Would not the Government have to accept a similar set of arrangements on free movement of labour?
The right hon. Gentleman and a number of others keep talking about membership of the single market and the customs union. The point is that the European Union has made it very clear that the four pillars are indivisible. We are leaving the European Union, and therefore we will be leaving the European single market and the European customs union. What we will negotiate is a separate trade deal, which we want to be as tariff-free and frictionless as possible.
Constituents of mine who have parents and grandparents living in the European Union are very concerned by comments made by the Labour party, which wanted to conclude an early deal that would rightly protect Europeans living in the United Kingdom, but would sell down the river those British citizens who live in Europe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the primary role of the Prime Minister is to defend the interests of British citizens? Will she explain in a tiny bit more detail precisely what the protections will be for British people living in Europe after Brexit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that not only I, as Prime Minister, but this Government give priority to UK citizens and ensure that they are not left behind. That is why we wanted to make sure that the agreement on citizens’ rights was reciprocal, as it indeed is. UK citizens will enjoy the rights they have on issues such as benefits payments and access to healthcare. All these issues have been addressed in this first phase of the negotiations and are reflected in the joint progress report that we have set out. What is important is that both EU citizens living here and UK citizens living in the EU27 will be protected.
The Prime Minister said at her Friday press conference that the deal arrived at represented a significant improvement from Monday, and we on these Benches agree wholeheartedly with that. May I thank the Prime Minister for her personal devotion to working to get the text, as she put it today, “strengthened” in relation to the “constitutional and economic integrity” of the whole United Kingdom? Will she confirm that the text of this agreement now makes it clear that in the event of a deal, Northern Ireland will not be separated politically, economically or by any regulatory requirements from the rest of the UK—this is along with the aim of having no hard border on the island of Ireland—but that in the event of no overall deal, nothing is agreed?
May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am grateful for the contributions that were made, as I said in my statement, by the DUP and others who were concerned about the Union of the United Kingdom? The joint progress reported was strengthened to make it absolutely clear, as he says, that of course under the Belfast agreement we recognise the principle of consent, but nothing in that agreement will lead to a separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her reaffirmation that British citizens resident throughout the EU will continue to receive uprated pensions and, as I now understand it, healthcare and health-related exportable benefits. May I ask her to indicate whether those will continue into the foreseeable future?
Yes, I can. The point of the agreement is to ensure that those rights and obligations do carry on in the future. A number of these issues are set out in the joint progress reports; there are specific references to the rules on healthcare, on social security systems and so forth. We are very clear that it is important that those rights be available for UK citizens in the EU, and they will be.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister will help us to clarify what is meant by “full alignment”. There was speculation in the newspapers this weekend that No. 10 had been selling it to the Foreign Secretary as a meaningless concept. I do not want her to say, “Full alignment means full alignment”; I want her to say whether she means it to apply to all areas of trade, or whether it is limited to agriculture and energy. Will she explain what she means by “full alignment”?
Full alignment means that we will be achieving the same objectives. I set out in my Florence speech that there are a number of ways in which we can approach this. There will be some areas where we want to achieve the same objectives by the same means. In others we will want to achieve the same objectives by different means. If we look at the areas covered currently by north-south co-operation, we see there are six of those areas. Two of them are not covered generally by the acquis—education and health—but there are other issues, such as the environment, waste and water management, the electricity market, agriculture, and questions relating to road and rail transport.
The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford looks poised to begin a 100-metre sprint. I call Mr Nicholas Edward Coleridge Boles.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am no cricket fan, but may I tell my right hon. Friend that that was a performance worthy of Geoffrey Boycott? May I ask her to clarify an important point? When it comes to the settling of the accounts—the second batch of payments—it is little understood among my constituents that these payments will be made over 20 or 30 years as they fall due, and that there is never going to be a moment when she signs some humungous cheque to settle the accounts. It would be incredibly reassuring for people to hear that from her at the Dispatch Box.
For the avoidance of doubt, I should say to the whole House that I regard any reference to Geoffrey Boycott as a compliment. What is said in the joint progress report is that these payments will be made as they fall due, unless otherwise determined by the United Kingdom and the European Union.
This is a little bit of repetition, but to be absolutely clear, will the Prime Minister confirm that leaving the single market—the internal market, as I prefer to call it—and the customs union is not an option, and that anyone who is pushing for that is really still trying to stay in the EU?
The hon. Lady asked me to confirm that anybody wanting to leave the single market and the customs union effectively wants to stay in the EU; I think she meant that anybody who wants to stay in the single market and the customs union wants that. [Interruption.] She is nodding her affirmation. Yes, that is absolutely right. It is clear that actually leaving the EU means leaving the single market and the customs union.
Despite all the prophecies of doom and gloom, the Prime Minister, with her calm, true grit, has shown that Brexit can and will be done. We congratulate her on that. Of course it is a compromise, but when Brexiteers like me look at the alternative—namely, a Labour Government staying in the single market forever and having no control over immigration—it is amazing how our minds are concentrated in support of the Prime Minister. Will she confirm that, although as a great country we can of course choose to align our regulations with those of other countries, once the implementation period is over, we will have full regulatory autonomy?
That is the whole point. Once we are outside the European Union, we will be able to determine our regulations and where we wish to diverge from the regulations of the European Union. As I said in my response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), in any trade agreement there is an agreement about the rules, regulations and standards on which both sides will operate, but also an agreement about what happens when one side wants to diverge from them. The important point is that this Parliament will be the body deciding those rules and regulations.
Senior civil servants across Whitehall have reportedly been instructed from here on not to commit to writing any evaluation they make of the impact of Brexit on their industry sectors. Is that true? If so, why the cover-up?
At a time of intolerable financial pressure on defence, will the Prime Minister confirm that there can be no question of our paying billions of pounds to the European Union that we do not need to pay, unless as part of an overall trade deal?
As I said earlier, the offer in the progress report is there, as the report itself makes very clear, on the basis that we will be making an agreement with the European Union on our trading relationship, and on our relationship in other areas, such as security.
In her reply to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), the Prime Minister seemed to confirm that she believes that we will have full regulatory autonomy after we leave the European Union. Will she explain how that is compatible with regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and no hard border?
The point I made in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) was that decisions about the future rules and regulations on which this country operates will be made by this Parliament. We have said very clearly that we will avoid, and guarantee that we will not have, a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. In any trade agreement, a decision will be taken as to those rules and regulations on which we wish to operate on the same basis, those areas where we have the same objectives but will operate on a different basis, and those areas that are irrelevant to the issue of the trade agreement.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the skill and pragmatism she has shown in steering a course to this point. Does she agree that the very positive response of business over the weekend underlines the importance of maintaining an approach that is both pragmatic and ambitious? Those are the qualities on which we need to stay focused if we are to land that free trade deal with the EU.
My right hon. Friend is right, and I am pleased that business has welcomed the progress we have made as we move on to the next stage of the negotiations. It is important that we retain that optimism and ambition for the future. It is possible to achieve a really ambitious comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union, and that will be not only to our benefit but to the benefit of the EU27.
We are told that this first-stage deal is a statement of intent that is not legally binding. Does the Prime Minister agree that the same could be said of her article 50 letter, and that if a satisfactory deal is not reached overall at the end of the day, it would be open to this sovereign Parliament, as a matter of EU law and in accordance with our constitutional requirements, unilaterally to revoke the article 50 letter?
The hon. and learned Lady started off by referencing the issue of the status of this joint progress report. It is a joint progress report on the agreements that have been reached so far in the negotiations, which has enabled the European Commission to determine that sufficient progress has been made to pass on to the next stage of negotiations. Further details on certain aspects of withdrawal will need to be determined as we go ahead in the coming months, alongside the work on the implementation period and the future partnership with the European Union. As I have said on a number of occasions, that withdrawal agreement will be put into legislation here in this House.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on what has been achieved thus far, which we must hope will translate into mutually beneficial withdrawal and trade agreements, but given that that cannot be guaranteed, will she give instructions for the sum set aside by the Chancellor in his Budget last month to be expended on upgrading our customs infrastructure, in order to secure smooth international trade after Brexit and reassure business in this country?
As my right hon. Friend knows, in addition to the £700 million already allocated by the Treasury to the current year for the changes that will be needed for the contingency arrangements to be put in place, £3 billion was put forward in the autumn Budget. That will be allocated to Departments, obviously, according to their need and requirement. On the specific issue of customs arrangements, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is moving forward on them, and will have in place what is necessary in order for us to have a customs system when we leave the European Union.
Frequently with this Prime Minister, we have found that when she says nothing has changed, everything has changed. In particular, this statement talks about residents of Northern Ireland being able to cross the border freely and there being no hard border. If she thinks that it is in the best interests of Northern Irish residents to continue to benefit from freedom of movement, why is she denying equal rights to my constituents?
The hon. Lady says that something significant has changed. I suggest that she looks back in history a little, because she will find that the common travel area has been in place since 1923.
I advise the House that, in the first hour, we have had 27 Back-Bench contributions, but there are no fewer than 57 Members still wishing to participate. The Prime Minister has been commendably succinct in her replies, but some questions have erred on the side of prolixity, so there is now a premium on brevity, which is brilliantly exemplified, on almost every occasion, by Sir Desmond Swayne.
Does any regulatory alignment exclude the possibility of sharing a common external tariff?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for proving my point.
Full alignment means that we will ensure that we can operate in a practical sense on a basis that will enable that continued trade to take place between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have put forward a number of suggestions in relation to the customs union arrangements that currently exist and the customs arrangements that we will have in the future. One of those included different arrangements in relation to the external tariff. We will ensure that there is no hard border, but I think that we can come to a customs arrangement that will mean that we can have that tariff-free and frictionless trade between the United Kingdom and the whole of the EU.
The Prime Minister said in her statement that “significant savings” would be made through the Brexit agreement. Will she tell us how she knows what those significant savings will be before she has reached an agreement? If she does know them, will she publish their value to allow the whole House to see what they are?
Of course, significant savings will be made when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union and is no longer paying the price of membership of the European Union to the European Union every single year.
The Prime Minister said that there has been give and take in these negotiations. Of course she is absolutely right: we are giving the EU tens of billions of pounds, and the EU is taking them. She said that the money will not be paid unless there is a final agreement. By definition, that must mean that we are not legally obliged to make these payments because otherwise that option would not be available to us. Will she explain why she is paying tens of billions of pounds that are not legally due to the European Union when she is continuing a policy of austerity at home? Many of my constituents simply do not understand where all this extra money is coming from.
I said in my statement, and have repeated, that the offer we have made is in the context of us achieving that agreement on the future partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union. I said in my Florence speech—I have repeated this on a number of occasions—that we are a country that honours our commitments, and it is important that we do that.
The draft phase 2 guidelines say:
“negotiations in the second phase can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken during the first phase are respected in full and translated faithfully in legal terms as quickly as possible.”
When are we going to get the legislation?
We will get the legislation when we have agreed the details that are required to have that withdrawal agreement. The European Commission negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said that he wants to achieve that detailed withdrawal agreement by October next year.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on a very detailed agreement. Paragraph 73 says that the UK
“may wish to participate in some Union budgetary programmes…post-2020”
as a third country. Is it likely that those programmes could include co-operation on the three S’s—security, scientific research and student exchanges?
The simple answer is that those areas could be included. I have said—my hon. Friend will not be surprised by this, given my background— that we may wish to include a number of security programmes. We may also very well wish to remain involved in the other areas that my hon. Friend identifies. Those decisions will be part of the next stage of the negotiations, and they will be taken on the basis of what will be in the best interests of the United Kingdom.
I thank the Prime Minister for prior sight of her statement. On 26 October last year, I raised with her the danger of favouring particular sectors in any future trade deal. She replied:
“I will be cutting the best deal for the United Kingdom—all parts of it.”—[Official Report, 26 October 2016; Vol. 616, c. 281.]
On Sunday, the Brexit Secretary said that he would seek a trade deal that would be Canada-plus-plus-plus. Will the Prime Minister therefore identify the particular sectors referred to under “plus-plus-plus”?
There is no inconsistency in this. We want the best trade deal for all our trade with the European Union, and that is what we will be working to.
Will the Prime Minister agree that finding agreed solutions is critical not just for the Northern Ireland border, but for the channel ports, including the port of Dover? Will she make it a key priority of the trade talks that we ensure that we have a smooth flow of trade and the option of diversity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We recognise the importance of Dover as a border port and, indeed, that of other ports around the United Kingdom. The future customs relationship will be a key part of negotiating the trade deal. We have said that we want to be as tariff-free and frictionless as possible, and that is what we will be working to.
The issue of regulatory divergence is an ongoing matter of concern for many sectors of our economy. When the Prime Minister read the summary outcomes of the Brexit sectoral analyses, did she happen to read about the impact of Brexit on chemicals? The Chemical Industries Association has today written to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ask the Government
“to do all it can to remain within or as close as possible”
to the EU’s rule book for the sector, the exports of which are worth £50 billion a year. What reassurance will the Prime Minister give to the association?
We have been very clear that we were looking at a variety of areas in which the question will be asked as to whether we wish to retain the same arrangements, or arrangements that achieve the same outcomes but are not necessarily the same arrangements, or if we wish to diverge completely. We recognise the importance of the pharmaceutical industry to the United Kingdom—it is a key industry in the industrial strategy, which my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary published only a couple of weeks ago—but these will be matters for negotiation in the second phase.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on displaying almost Zebedee-like qualities of resilience in terms of the Brexit magic roundabout, but on the figure she has quoted of up to £39 billion, will she confirm that there will not be any more offered in the continued negotiations? Could she also set out a detailed cost-benefit analysis that I can present to my constituents?
As I indicated, if we look at the scope and analysis that has been done, the estimate is that the sum of money would be £35 billion to £39 billion, but we have said, as my right hon. Friend will have heard in answer to previous questions, that there may be some programmes of which we do wish to remain a member, and therefore we would be willing to pay an appropriate price for the cost of that. But a very good piece of work has been done on these financial arrangements, and, obviously, we take that forward, as I said, in the context of agreeing that future relationship.
Paragraph 49 of the agreement says very clearly:
“In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”
In making that undertaking, can the Prime Minister provide the reassurance that British people, businesses and public services are looking for—that she has finally closed the door to the disastrous no-deal scenario that so many Government Members have advocated?
No. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the joint progress report, he will also see that these things are all set in the context of agreeing the future partnership and the future trade arrangement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, but I remain of the view that no deal is better than a bad deal.
I came to the Chamber today thinking that we were going to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019 and that the whole House agreed. We now know from the Leader of the Opposition that Labour wants to stay in indefinitely. Will the Prime Minister confirm that we will come out in 473 days’ time and that that date will be put in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill?
I thank my hon. Friend, and I can confirm that we will be leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019. I think the fact, as he reflects, that the Leader of the Opposition was so equivocal about the Labour party’s view on this issue shows that the Opposition want to try to play to two houses: they want to say at the start that they are confirming the referendum and respecting it; and yet, at the same time, they do not want to accept that we will be leaving the European Union—and we will be leaving.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that Northern Ireland could have different customs arrangements from the rest of the UK?
No. What we have said is that we will put practical arrangements in place to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but we have also been clear that we will respect the internal market of the United Kingdom. That means no border down the Irish sea.
Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the many benefits of leaving the EU customs union is that we will be able to forge our own trade deals with countries across the world—deals that the EU has failed so far to strike? Is it not the case that that would benefit the whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, which would actually lose out if it stayed in the customs union, because it would not then get that full benefit?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We will be able to strike those trade deals around the world, and Northern Ireland will benefit from those trade deals, as will the rest of the UK.
In answer to a question I asked about the tampon tax, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that the Government continue to press for a VAT zero rate for women’s sanitary products at EU level. If the Government cannot negotiate, in two years, a zero rate for the tampon tax, what hope do we have of a trade deal?
We are leaving the European Union and we will be able to make decisions of that sort for ourselves in future.
I thank my right hon. Friend for confirming very clearly that the so-called EU divorce bill will be paid only if we are successful at negotiating an acceptable trade deal with the European Union. Does she agree that this will certainly focus the minds of EU negotiators and is our best chance of obtaining an acceptable outcome for the UK?
I am optimistic about getting that good trade deal for the United Kingdom with the EU, because actually it is in the EU27’s interests for their businesses to be able to continue to trade on good terms with the UK.
The European Union says that we will stay in the single market and the customs union during the implementation phase. The Prime Minister is saying, I presume, that we will leave at the start of the implementation phase, but will she confirm that the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will continue throughout the two years or so of the implementation phase?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the details of the implementation period are to be negotiated. Assuming that the EU Council takes the decision to move ahead on Thursday or Friday of this week, that will happen very quickly. He talks about leaving the single market and the customs union. We will do that when we leave the European Union in March 2019, but we will then have a relationship with the European Union during the implementation period to ensure that businesses and individuals have the reassurance of not needing to make two stages of adjustments to our future partnership.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on her sheer determination and stamina in reaching the stage of having this joint report? To the extent that we do have an agreement in March 2019, and that thereafter, for many years to come, we do make payments to the EU as agreed, will she consider publishing the amount of money that we are not paying to the EU so that the British people can see the benefit that they are deriving in the years to come?
I thank my hon. Friend for his suggestion. I think that in due course we will be able to show not only the amount of money that we will not be spending through the European Union, but the positive ways in which we can spend that money here in the UK.
That little-known French newspaper, L’Opinion, today quotes Mr Verhofstadt as claiming that the Prime Minister is relying on “those little Protestant allies in the Democratic Unionist party”. Will the Prime Minister make it clear to Mr Verhofstadt that she is implementing the will of the British people unashamedly on behalf of all the British people, including those of us from Ulster? Will she also confirm that the trade negotiations will include control of our fishing policy going forward?
Yes, I am very happy to say to the hon. Gentleman that what I and the Government are doing is delivering on the vote of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. In terms of going forward on the trade deals, when we leave the European Union, we will of course leave the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, and we will have to determine arrangements in relation to those for the United Kingdom in the future.
My right hon. Friend has been very busy in recent days, but may I thank her very much indeed for the birthday card that arrived on my desk this morning? Sadly, Mr Juncker’s is yet to arrive.
The Prime Minister will know that many people in this country want us to get on with leaving the European Union, so what guarantee can she give that I will not have to suffer another significant birthday before that is achieved?
I am sure that the whole House will want to wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday today. I hope that he and others will take reassurance from the fact that we have achieved sufficient progress and we can move on to the second phase. That shows that through determined work we can achieve what we want to achieve, which is a good withdrawal agreement, a good future relationship with the European Union, and leaving on 29 March 2019.
Within a few paragraphs of the Prime Minister’s statement, she reaffirms that the UK will leave the single market and the customs union, says that the Government “will fully protect and maintain Northern Ireland’s position within the single market of the United Kingdom”, and says that there will be “no hard border” and “regulatory harmonisation”. Are not those three statements contradictory?
May I congratulate the Prime Minister on acting in the national interest? I urge her to continue to show the spirit of pragmatism and compromise when regulatory alignment will benefit businesses, for example in the north-west. I am thinking of the energy, aerospace, chemicals and pharmaceuticals sectors, all of which employ tens of thousands of people in the north-west.
We are very conscious of the impact of decisions that are taken. We want to ensure that the industries that are so important to my hon. Friend’s constituency, and to others in the north-west and elsewhere in the UK, are able not just to continue, but to grow, expand and be world leading in a number of areas. We will take those considerations into account as we look at our future trade arrangements.
The Prime Minister has negotiated a financial package for exiting the European Union. Can she confirm that there is a further bill to be paid for access in the future, and that there is absolutely no question of our leaving the European Union without settling our tab for the commitments that we made prior to the referendum?
We are not talking about paying for access to something in the future. There might be certain programmes and areas of which we do want to remain a member—[Interruption.] I have given examples in the past. In justice and home affairs, there may be some areas in which it makes sense for the United Kingdom to continue to operate with members of the European Union. The commitments that are set out in the joint progress report are very clear. This is about honouring the commitments that we have made in the context of agreeing the future partnership.
In congratulating the Prime Minister and the Brexit Secretary on this very significant achievement, may I point out that when the Brexit Committee met Mr Barnier recently, he spoke about decoupling future security discussions from future trade discussions? I would be interested to hear my right hon. Friend’s views on whether that is the right way forward.
As we move into the next phase, we will be negotiating our future relationship and future partnership with the European Union. That will be across all aspects of our current relationship with the European Union, so it will be about negotiating on trade and negotiating on security. I set out in my Florence speech that we expect to negotiate a separate treaty on our security arrangements and co-operation.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly claimed today that the financial settlement is subject to the conclusion of the future deep and special partnership. May I draw her attention to paragraph 96 of the progress report, which clearly states that the financial settlement is contingent only on conclusion of the article 50 withdrawal agreement and the transitional arrangements? Will she please provide some clarity on this vital issue and confirm that her precise understanding of paragraph 96 is that the settlement is contingent only on the withdrawal agreement and the transitional arrangements, not on the future partnership?
No, that is not my understanding of the joint progress report or the position that we will be in. It is very clear at the beginning of the joint progress report that this is a set of proposals that have been put forward in the context of negotiating that final agreement. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reference to the framework for the future relationship in paragraph 96.
The Prime Minister has shown not only pragmatism and determination, but a lot of courage. I congratulate her on that, as do the 36% of my constituents who work in the financial services sector. Given the key importance of the sector to our economy, will she undertake to show the same pragmatism as we develop the proposals in paragraph 91 of the joint report, particularly when it comes to finding a pragmatic means of seeking regulatory co-operation and grandfathering existing services contracts, as suggested by TheCityUK?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the reference he has made. Indeed, the paragraph he refers to is obviously one of those that set out a number of separation issues other than citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Northern Ireland border, which were discussed in phase 1. It is important, to pick up the point he made about pragmatism, that we adopt a practical, pragmatic approach to the future, ensuring that we have the relationship we want with the European Union that will be good for the United Kingdom, but also good for the EU27.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and also for her strength of character. Will she confirm that any regulatory alignment required to ensure north-south co-operation will not require either the United Kingdom or Northern Ireland to be a member of any single market or customs union?
I am very clear that we will not be a member of the single market or the customs union, and we were not proposing that any part of the United Kingdom will be a member of the single market or the customs union separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. The whole of the United Kingdom will be out of the internal market and the customs union.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress she has made. We are getting there, but I shall be relieved when we get to March 2019. For clarity’s sake, may I ask whether, if no deal is struck on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland come March 2019 and the issue is still on the table, I am right in assuming that when we leave the EU, Northern Ireland will still be influenced by EU regulations? I think that is what she said—or have I got that completely wrong?
No, the agreement that has been reached—the terms are set out in the joint progress report—is against the background of securing the agreement on the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Of course, we do want to ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and we will be looking to ensure that in all circumstances.
When the Prime Minister and her colleagues were patting themselves on the back last week for surviving the first round of negotiations, Irish freight handler John Dunne told ITV News it was “a fudge”. He said:
“You’re either in the customs union or you’re outside of it. It’s like you can’t be a little bit pregnant, so either there is customs clearance required or there isn’t”.
He is right, is he not?
The hon. Lady will know that there are various aspects of the customs union, so actually it is not quite as simple as that. We have set out already—we did this in the summer—arrangements that we believe could be in place, which we will now be able to discuss in detail with the EU27 as we move into phase 2 of these negotiations. They would enable us to retain tariff-free and frictionless access across borders, while at the same time ensuring that we are not a member of the customs union and the single market.
While we recognise that Britain will respect any liabilities that are properly owed, will the Prime Minister reassure my constituents that the United Kingdom will not be making payments that are not paid by countries remaining in the European Union, so that there can be no question of punishment payments?
I am absolutely clear that we are not talking about punishment payments. I have said on a number of occasions that we will honour our commitments. We have come to an agreement about the scope of commitments and how those should be valued, but as I said earlier, this is in the context of agreeing the future partnership.
I thank the Prime Minister for her strong statement of support for Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. Businesses in Northern Ireland do not want a hard border, and we in the DUP are fully committed to working closely with the Prime Minister to find solutions and a good outcome in relation to that. However, will the Prime Minister confirm and commit that, in finding solutions, not only will Northern Ireland businesses have full and unfettered access to the UK market, but UK businesses will have full and unfettered access to Northern Ireland markets?
Yes, I am very happy to confirm that. What we are talking about is ensuring that the internal market of the United Kingdom is maintained, so that that flow for businesses both in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland can continue.
I join colleagues in congratulating the Prime Minister on largely excluding the influence of the European Court of Justice; others said that could not be done. With respect to the eight-year period during which courts can refer to the ECJ, will that run from the date when the UK leaves the EU, the end of the implementation period or the date from which EU citizens apply to enforce their rights, which could of course be a later date?
I apologise, I have not found the specific reference in the report, but it will be at the point at which the citizens’ rights are implemented. The expectation is that it will be on the date when we leave the European Union.
The agreement between the UK and the EU contains many welcome and significant references to the Good Friday agreement. Does the Prime Minister agree that if the Good Friday agreement were included in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, that would help build confidence in the whole process?
I would hope that there is confidence in the process from our being so clear in the joint progress report, which has been published by us and the European Commission, about the importance of respecting the Belfast agreement. As a Government, we have said that consistently throughout the negotiations. There is no difference in our position: we are very clear that we will uphold the Belfast agreement.
One year ago, I said in the Chamber to my right hon. Friend that it would be inconceivable for me to vote to take away the rights of my parents or other EU nationals. Incidentally, I understand that my parents are watching proceedings closely today. I thank the Prime Minister for honouring her commitment to me, which she gave earlier this year, in return for which I gave her my full loyalty. I look forward to the agreement in principle becoming a proper legal agreement in due course.
I thank my hon. Friend for the attention that he has given to EU citizens’ rights throughout this period, and for the discussions that he and I have been able to have on the matter. I am pleased that the agreement has been reached, as reported in the joint progress report. I also congratulate my hon. Friend, who has recently been honoured by the Italian Government. Many congratulations.