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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
25 June 2018
Volume 643

House of Commons

Monday 25 June 2018

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Education

The Secretary of State was asked—

Special Educational Needs: Support Services

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1. What steps he is taking to ensure that children with special educational needs are able to access support services that are close to home. [906000]

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Children and young people should receive the right support to meet their special educational needs. In most cases, that can be provided close to home through the schools and services in their local area. Services must be jointly commissioned, with a published local offer kept under regular review.

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Yet 41% of pupils attending special schools in Devon have to travel more than 10 miles to reach their school. How will the Minister support those children in Devon, to ensure that SEN provision is locally available and of a high quality?

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I thank my hon. Friend for her question. If a local authority identifies a shortage of special school places, resulting in a significant number of children with special educational needs and disabilities having to travel a long way, they need to consider creating or expanding specialist provision. We announced £50 million of funding in May this year, and Devon will receive £2.8 million from 2018 to 2021.

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19. My mum fought for me to receive a mainstream education, knowing that I, like the majority of children with special educational needs or a disability, would benefit from that. However, in 2016, for the first time in more than 25 years, more children with SEND were educated outside the mainstream education system. In response, the UN raised concerns about an education system that segregates children with disabilities in special schools. What will the Minister do to reverse that concerning trend and instead build a more inclusive education system? [906021]

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It is important to ensure that children with SEND who want to and can be in mainstream education are able to. For example, 72% of children with autism are in mainstream education. We recently announced 14 new free special schools. As I said, it is important that, where councils need further provision to help to maintain children in mainstream education, they are able to create that.

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Every year, 3,285 children with special needs are excluded from our schools—that is roughly 17 a day—and 833 children with special needs are given fixed-term exclusions. Does my hon. Friend recognise that that is a major social injustice? I know that he has his review, but surely the Department’s priority must be to address that.

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I thank my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Education Committee for that question. I do recognise that, which is why the Government have announced an exclusions review, led by Ed Timpson.

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Further to the previous question, what are the Government doing to address the issue of academies excluding people with special educational needs, which is contributing to the rise in exclusions?

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We are looking at different groups and the proportion of those being excluded, which I hope will come out through the Timpson exclusions review. We are also talking to Ofsted about the issue of off-rolling.

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Some 1.4 million children in this country display some kind of speech, language or communication disorder. That is 10% of children, as was highlighted recently in the excellent Bercow report, the second one on this. Given that children entering school with lower than expected communication skills tend to do less well academically and feature more highly among excluded children and young offenders, can the Minister give an indication of how the recommendations in the Bercow report might be implemented in our education system?

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I spoke at the launch of the—

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Ten years on.

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Ten years on from the Bercow review; I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. We are looking very carefully at the recommendations of that report. One thing we are already doing is working with Public Health England to ensure that the health workers who go to see parents at that crucial young stage are trained in speech and language therapy.

Children’s Academic and Practical Skills

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2. What steps he is taking to ensure that all children have continuing opportunities to develop academic and practical skills. [906001]

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Schools must provide a broad and balanced curriculum that prepares pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life.

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The team on the Front Bench could not beat Panama or any other country in terms of effort and talent. Is not it a fact that the earlier young children are able to use both their academic and technical skills, the better, and that this Government have cramped the curriculum? Is not it also true that we can only deliver T-levels with the support of the further education sector, which is being destroyed by Government policies and underfunding?

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In a wide-ranging question, as they say, the hon. Gentleman presents a number of different aspects, ranging from the World cup to T-levels. He is right about one thing, and that is the earlier children acquire skills and knowledge the better. That is why it is so important we have managed to narrow the attainment gap both in the early years and in primary school.

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May I welcome the advances the Government have achieved in this field and my right hon. Friend’s positive approach, contrary to what the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said? What more can be done to tackle the skills shortage in the construction sector?

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My hon. Friend raises a very important point about the construction sector, and of course we have considerable requirements because of the need to accelerate residential development. One of the first T-levels will be in construction, and we are working closely with the sector to bring that on.

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Is the Secretary of State aware of the concern in the creative industries about the contraction in the number of pupils in maintained schools studying performing arts, and how does he intend to address that problem?

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The right hon. Gentleman is correct about the importance of the performing arts. In fact, the number of children taking a GCSE in arts subjects has not really moved very much, but we very much believe in a broad and balanced curriculum, with the breadth of opportunities he would want.

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In the funding of these opportunities, where an academy runs up a debt because of the Department’s failure to supervise the academy sponsor, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Department should take responsibility for that debt, rather than leave it with the school, as appears to be the case with the Goodwin Academy in my constituency?

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Where it does become necessary to re-broker an academy, as it does on occasions—my hon. Friend and I have had an opportunity to meet to discuss this—there is a bespoke approach to make sure that the settlement for the new arrangement with the new trust is sustainable.

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Heads have recently warned that the new GCSEs are “inhumane” and that the “collateral damage”, as they call it, will be the less able pupils. Given that the Health and Social Care and the Education Committees recently found that one of the top causes of child mental ill health is the new exam regime, when will the right hon. Gentleman’s Department take action to assess the impact of the new GCSEs, and will he ensure that private schools that are opting out of the new GCSEs at the moment will be forced to take them as well?

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We take the mental health of children and young people extremely seriously; hence the recent Green Paper and the whole programme of activity. To be fair, I do not think that the concept of exam stress is entirely a new one, and at this time of year there obviously is heightened stress among some young people. But the new GCSEs and A-levels have been designed and benchmarked against the leading systems in the world to make sure that we have a leading exam and qualification system.

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Whether it is for academic or practical skills, reading and literacy are vital. In contrast to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, does the Secretary of State welcome the fact that pupils in England are outperforming their peers right across the world when it comes to reading and literacy, according to the latest PIRLS—the progress in international reading literacy study—figures?

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I very much welcome that. It has been very encouraging to see how, particularly through the focus on the phonics programme, our young readers have improved in their reading so much, and that is reflected in those international comparisons.

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The two colleges serving my own constituents are both suffering severe financial pressures. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield is absolutely right: further education is fundamental to providing ongoing education in both practical and academic skills. When are the Government going to look at FE in general and particularly at the two colleges serving my constituency?

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There are of course two enormous programmes of benefit to FE colleges. First, there is the apprenticeships programme. Through the levy, the total funding for apprenticeships by the end of this decade will be double what it was at the beginning. The other programme—the hon. Member for Huddersfield and I touched on this briefly—is T-levels, which will bring another half a billion pounds of funding.

Social Work Profession

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3. What progress his Department has made on strengthening the social work profession. [906002]

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The crucial role of social workers should be recognised and celebrated. We are improving initial education standards and providing professional development. We have established an independent regulator, focusing on better standards.

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As the Secretary of State will know, one of the reasons that we need to improve the quality of social workers in our country is to ensure that children in care can move on into employment and further education. Can he outline what more the Government are going to do to ensure that those children get the support they need?

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My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the importance and challenge of that transition. Care leavers can access a personal adviser until they are 25. They can get a £2,000 bursary if they are in higher education, and a 16-to-19 bursary of up to £1,200 from the college if in further education. Care leavers aged 16 to 24 can receive a £1,000 bursary in the first year of an apprenticeship.

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The Department’s own figures show a gap of over 10,000 in the overall children’s social care workforce. Unison analysis shows that children’s services have experienced a funding shortfall of £600 million, with more cuts to come. Will the Secretary of State explain why he is happy to see hundreds of millions of pounds cut from vulnerable children, yet he is outsourcing £73 million to train as few as 700 new social workers and introduce an unpopular accreditation scheme?

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The hon. Lady is right to identify the importance of funding and resourcing for children’s social work. The spend on the most vulnerable children has been going up. There are some 35,000 child and family social workers and that number has increased a little between 2016 and 2017.

Care Crisis Review

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4. If he will make an assessment of the potential merits of the recommendations for his Department in the Family Rights Group report, “Care Crisis Review: Options for Change”, published in June 2018; and what discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on that report. [906003]

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The sector-led review is an important contribution to the family justice system. Across government we will consider its findings and recommendations carefully. My counterpart in the Ministry of Justice and I are due to meet the Family Rights Group to discuss the report in more detail.

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Now that the Government have admitted that cuts to the national health service were a political choice, not an economic necessity, will they admit the same when it comes to local government, especially children’s social care? Will the Minister read the report from the directors of children’s services, take the action that is needed to end the crisis in children’s social care, and make the priority looking after our most vulnerable children, not tax cuts for the very wealthy?

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There is some great work taking place in children’s social care across the country. Money, of course, is a consideration, but good leadership, and strong and confident teams are making a huge difference. Across government, as has been mentioned, we are spending £1.4 billion on the troubled families programme.

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What steps are the Government taking to encourage innovation in children’s social care?

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I am grateful for that question. We have two programmes: first, the What Works programme in children’s social care and, secondly, a £200 million innovation programme to look at what really works and then scale it up.

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Does the Minister agree with the basic premise of the care crisis review that, if more money were spent on early intervention and family support, fewer children would go into care, and does he agree that that would be a good thing?

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I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a great advocate of early intervention. She is absolutely right. On top of the £1.4 billion programme for troubled families, the Government are looking at reducing parental conflict. We know that many children in need have suffered from domestic abuse. The landmark Bill that we are bringing forward bears witness to our hard work across government to deliver this. However, she is absolutely right to say that early intervention is important and the Government take that very seriously.

Childcare Settings: Financial Viability

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5. What assessment he has made of the effect of the Government’s policy on funded childcare on the financial viability of childcare settings. [906004]

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The rates that we provide to childcare providers were based on the review of childcare costs, which was described as “thorough and wide-ranging” by the National Audit Office. We have recently commissioned new research to further understand providers’ care costs.

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Last week, the National Day Nurseries Association found that nurseries faced an annual deficit of £2,000 per child on the 30 hours of childcare policy. That means that nurseries are struggling financially; a skills shortage as workers quit the sector; and fewer nurseries for parents to send their children to, or more nurseries with under-qualified staff. When will the Minister conduct an honest review of the chaos that he has caused across the sector?

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Thirty hours is a success story. The summer numbers are 340,000 children aged three and four benefiting from 30 hours a week free childcare. For those parents taking advantage of that, that is a £5,000 saving a year. We are conducting a review to look at the economics of the model, as we have done in the past, when we raised the hourly rate from £4.65 to £5. It is a huge success story, and clearly the hon. Gentleman is running scared.

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May I ask the Minister to explain how the Government intend to increase free childcare for foster carers, which is a great idea?

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My hon. Friend is right. We have listened carefully, including to many views in this Chamber, and we have delivered. As of September, foster carers who qualify for the 30 hours a week free childcare for three and four-year-olds can take advantage of it.

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The Minister will know that nursery schools, as distinct from nurseries, provide first-class education in deprived areas in the early years. However, their funding is still in doubt beyond 2020. When will the Minister make an announcement about these nursery schools and put nursery schools in Wolverhampton, which provide good and outstanding education, on a sure financial footing?

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There are 402 maintained nursery schools. The hon. Lady has championed their cause and I have seen at first hand the great work they do. She is right that the funding goes up to 2020. Clearly, we have to see what happens, but they are a very important part of the mix of provision.

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Childcare is a critical enabler to allow parents to access further education. Nottingham College, in a move reflective of the exceptionally difficult landscape facing further education, has chosen to shut its nursery in my constituency. That is wrong, and I am campaigning with local residents and councillors to keep it open. Does the Minister agree that access to childcare is an important driver of accessing further education?

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I do agree that access to childcare is very important. I will look at the specific details the hon. Gentleman mentions, but suffice it to say that we are investing £50 million more to help schools to open a nursery setting.

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May I push the Minister further on the report from the National Day Nurseries Association, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden)? Not only is there, as mentioned, an annual funding deficit of £2,000 per 30-hours child, but a third of nurseries are having to limit the funded places they offer and a third of nurseries are being paid late for the work they do. To support our childcare providers, will the Minister tell us how many local authorities will see a real-terms funding increase in the next academic year?

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The hon. Lady rightly speaks about the important research by the NDNA. Our own research demonstrates that 80% of providers are willing and able to offer places, and one third have actually increased their places.

Cold Water Shock: Mandatory Teaching

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6. Whether he plans to include mandatory teaching on cold water shock as part of compulsory swimming and water lessons. [906005]

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14. Whether he plans to include mandatory teaching on cold water shock as part of compulsory swimming and water lessons. [906015]

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In the new national curriculum, which we introduced in 2014, maintained primary schools are required to teach swimming and water safety. Pupils are required to be taught how to swim competently, confidently and proficiently over a distance of at least 25 metres, covering a range of strokes. It also requires pupils to be taught to perform self-rescue in different water-based situations.

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No doubt the Minister agrees with the Prime Minister, who told the House last week, when I raised with her the case of Michael Scaife, who tragically drowned in Slough, that she recognises there is more to do on water safety education. The curriculum swimming and water safety recommendations were made nearly a year ago. On this, the last day of the Royal Life Saving Society’s annual Drowning Prevention Week, will the Minister agree to prioritise the implementation of those recommendations?

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We were all very sorry to hear about the tragic death of Michael Scaife, who drowned while trying to save a friend. The Government take swimming and water safety very seriously, which is why we improved the national curriculum and why we support the National Water Safety Forum’s national drowning prevention strategy. The group the hon. Gentleman refers to published its report in July 2016. We then established an implementation group and the Government are currently reviewing the recommendations that came out of that report.

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The children’s Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi)—was the founder and the first chair of the all-party group on water safety and drowning prevention. Like me, he had constituents who tragically lost their lives, which was why the group was set up. Ross Irwin in my constituency drowned in Christmas 2016 and two schoolgirls drowned a couple of years previously in the same river, the River Wear. So I know this is an issue very close to the Minister’s heart and a number of colleagues from across the House have had constituents dying in such circumstances. Given that almost a third of all pupils leaving primary school are unable to swim and do not have basic water safety skills, will the Minister make it his personal ambition to ensure that every child leaves school knowing the dangers of open water and cold water shock, as well as knowing how to swim?

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I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work that she has been doing over several years to ensure that children are better informed about the dangers of water and how to be safe in and around it. I thank her for her campaigns and that of the father of Ross Irwin, to whom I also pay tribute. Thanks to the Royal Life Saving Society and Sunderland City Council, there are now improved water safety measures in place at the Fatfield riverside on the River Wear. We take these issues very seriously, which is why we improved the curriculum and why this Government asked an independent group of experts from across the swimming sector to submit an independent report, setting out how we can improve swimming and the swimming curriculum in our schools.

T-levels

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7. What progress his Department has made on the introduction of T-levels. [906006]

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17. What progress his Department has made on the introduction of T-levels. [906018]

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22. What progress his Department has made on the introduction of T-levels. [906024]

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We have made good progress. We have announced the providers who will deliver the first three T-levels from 2020. We published the outline content for them, developed by panels of employers, and have begun the process to select an awarding organisation to develop them.

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Why, with its huge success in piloting industry work placements and its leadership of best practice in the area, has Yeovil College been left out of the T-level pilots, and how can the Secretary of State help to make up for its and my disappointment?

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We have thus far selected a relatively small number of colleges to teach the first three T-levels from 2020. This is an ongoing programme and more T-levels and colleges will come on stream in the years to come. We expect to launch the process to select providers for 2021 early in 2019.

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I welcome the introduction of T-levels, which could be a game changer for the British economy. What other sectors are the Government talking to about introducing T-levels in future years?

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Eventually, as per the Sainsbury report, we will be looking right across industry and the requirements for technical and vocational education and training. We are looking at the combination of T-levels and apprenticeships to deliver learning across those routes. These are just the first three for 2020 and there will be a further 12 to come very soon.

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Small businesses account for 60% of all private sector employment in the UK. What support will the Government put in place to encourage and enable small businesses to offer T-level work placements?

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Industrial placements are at the heart of the T-levels programme. We are investing £5 million in the National Apprenticeship Service to make sure that it can be a one-stop shop. We have published “How to” guidance for employers, and we continue to work closely with bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses and small employers themselves to establish the support that they need to offer these placements.

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I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. What is the Government’s plan for mandatory work placements as part of their new T-level when the number of learners exceeds the placements available from local employers? Answers that include “remote learning” or “online” will not be accepted.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for laying out his acceptance criteria for my response. The simple point is that we are working hard from now, not starting in 2020, to build up the availability of industrial placements, because they are such an important part of the programme.

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I hope that the Secretary of State will do a bit better than he is doing on apprenticeships, which have collapsed in my constituency in the last two years, going from 350 starts to 50. Will he consider being more flexible about the time release rules for employers?

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We think the quality requirements for apprenticeships are absolutely central, and that includes the 20% off-the-job training requirement, as well as the minimum 12-month length. We should also bear it in mind that over the last few years there has been further strengthening of the overall employment market, so today the proportion of young people who are unemployed and not in full-time education is down to 5%, as opposed to 8-point-something per cent. at the change of Government. The apprenticeship programme remains absolutely vital to building up the skills level of the nation.

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The Secretary of State might be content with T-level progress, but I am afraid that many in the sector are not. There is no clarity on work placements, on bridging options post-16, on the transition years that some need or on where T-levels sit in the post-18 review. The Department’s own research warns that having a single awarding body for T-levels risks system failure, and Ofqual says the same, while his own top civil servant advised a year’s delay, which he rejected. Is he content just agreeing with himself, or would he be happy with a process for T-levels with the wheels coming off—a magical mystery tour for young people that risks becoming a ghost train?

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Dear oh dear! Gordon! I do not quite know where to go with that question, because I do not recognise its premise. I spend a great deal of time talking to employers, providers and others throughout the sector about this programme, and if the hon. Gentleman consults the Sainsbury report, he will see the overall blueprint. It is absolutely clear where T-levels fit in with the overall skills landscape, including levels 4 and 5, which also need improving. T-levels are fundamental to building up the country’s skills base, and I would expect to see him supporting them.

Education Settings

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8. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that children educated in all settings are safe and receive a good education. [906007]

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We continue to support schools in meeting their wide range of safeguarding duties, and as part of the integrated communities strategy, I have announced measures intended to safeguard children across the spectrum of educational settings, including out-of-school settings and home education.

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The Bridge School, a specialist school in Ipswich, in my constituency, offers education to pupils of all ages with profound and severe learning difficulties. Following growing concerns about specific safeguarding issues, an Ofsted report was undertaken and found the school to be inadequate on every count, which is almost unprecedented. There is now a real sense of instability at the school. Given the vulnerable nature of the children, will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss what can be done?

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Of course I understand that, and of course I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend. Where a maintained school is judged inadequate, my Department has a legal duty to issue an academy order, and the regional schools commissioner is considering all further options available to support the school through this transition.

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Schools in High Peak tell me that the vast majority of their applications for education, health and care plans are refused, meaning that children with very serious special needs, including autism, are left struggling and teachers are left trying to cope with them in large classes. What is the Secretary of State doing to assess the number of children with special needs who receive no support and to ensure that local authorities receive sufficient provision to support them all?

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The education, health and care plans are an important step forward from the previous system, bringing together, as they do, the education, health and care considerations. If the hon. Lady has specific cases, we will of course look at them.

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The Department’s highly unusual application to the court for a closure order for the Darul Uloom School in Chislehurst has not only received wide publicity but raised concern among residents and, no doubt, parents. Will the Secretary of State update us on the position and meet me to discuss the way forward for this school, which has a long-standing poor record in academic matters?

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Again, I understand those concerns, and of course I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend. We did apply to the magistrates court for an emergency order to close the school in his constituency. At a hearing last Friday, the school agreed some significant assurances, including—crucially—that the two individuals associated with the case would have no further involvement. The school will remain closed until a new trustee is appointed, who will be approved by the Department for Education.

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One group that is under-represented in tertiary education are care-experienced young people. Care leavers in Scotland will now be supported with a grant of £8,100 through college or university. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the steps the Scottish Government are taking? It was good to hear about the support packages he mentioned earlier for young people leaving care, but will he now consider a more realistic level of funding to allow these young people to access tertiary education?

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I will always keep an open mind about what more we can do to help care leavers—that is at the heart of the care leavers covenant—and of course I will continue to look at what the Scottish Government do, as well as others.

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At the weekend I was contacted by a constituent who chairs one of the maintained nursery schools in north-east Lincolnshire. She expressed views similar to those expressed by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) about funding. Will my right hon. Friend confirm his continuing support for maintained nurseries, and will he ensure that funds are in place to provide the certainty that they require?

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The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), talked about the maintained nursery sector earlier. I can confirm that we greatly value the role played by maintained nurseries, and will continue to work with them to ensure that they play that role as effectively as possible in our diverse early-years sector.

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Children are not safe when they are being taught in schools where water pours through the ceiling when it rains, as happens in one school in my constituency. What is the Secretary of State doing to end the drought in capital funding for schools, particularly those like the one I have just mentioned?

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I should of course be happy to look into the case that the hon. Gentleman has raised. We have allocated a total of £23 billion of capital for school buildings, but it is difficult for me to comment on that specific case from the Dispatch Box without knowing the details.

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Information released accidentally from Ofsted shows that only 4% of schools in the most deprived areas achieve “outstanding” ratings, compared to 58% in the least deprived. Inspections are measuring deprivation rather than the quality of teaching and learning. Does the Secretary of State not agree that that is morally repugnant?

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At the heart of our priorities since May 2010 has been raising standards for all children while also narrowing the gap, and I welcome the narrowing gap that we have seen in both primary and secondary schools. Is there more to do? Yes, there is, and that is at the heart of our opportunity areas programme, which—as the hon. Gentleman will know—identifies the pockets of under-achievement that may exist even in otherwise more affluent regions, and seeks to establish what area-specific conditions are required.

Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy

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9. What steps he has taken to implement the recommendations set out in “Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy: An independent review” by Sir Nick Weller, published in November 2016. [906008]

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As recommended by Sir Nick Weller, we have implemented a range of measures in the north to improve teaching and leadership capacity, recruit and retain teachers, and close the disadvantage gap. In 2017, nearly 400,000 more children were in good or outstanding schools in the north than in 2010.

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When the strategy was announced, £80 million of funding was attached to it, but just months later that was rowed back to £70 million. Now, according to the vice-chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, nothing at all has been spent. Can the Minister tell me how much has been spent so far, and how much of that has been spent on recruiting teachers in Bradford in particular?

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We continue to spend on a range of programmes in the north, and some of the results are reflected in the figures I have just given. Bradford is of course one of the opportunity areas to which I referred, and £1.5 million has been provided to fund school improvements there. We are seeking to support the work of Bradford for Teaching, and Academy Ambassadors is working to further strengthen multi-academy trusts across the north. Altogether, more than £767 million of additional pupil premium funding was allocated to schools in the north, which over-indexed on pupil premium funding in comparison with the rest of the country.

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The Government did indeed commit themselves to spending £70 million on improving educational attainment in the north. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that they have in fact spent considerably more than that?

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I am happy to confirm that we remain committed to all areas of the country. In English education there is nothing as simple as a north-south divide. There are areas of educational under-achievement in the north, the south and the middle. We ned to seek them out wherever they are, and provide the support and accountability that are needed to ensure that those children too can thrive.

School Budgets

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10. What estimate he has made of the number of schools that will have a cash terms reduction in their budget in 2018-19 compared with 2017-18. [906009]

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Through the national funding formula, we are giving every local authority more money for every pupil in every school in 2018-19 and 2019-20. However, we have always made it clear that local authorities remain responsible for determining schools’ final budget allocations in these transition years, in consultation with their schools.

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I thank the Minister for his answer, but I am horrified by what it contains, because the reality is that in my constituency, in the Borough of Tower Hamlets, there will be £28 million of cuts by 2020 in an area with the highest child poverty in the country. Where is the fairness in that, and will the Minister and the Secretary of State show some guts and stand up to the Prime Minister, perhaps like the Defence Secretary, and call an end to the billions of pounds of cuts in national funding of education?

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Under the national funding formula we prioritise children from disadvantaged backgrounds; that is a key element of the way we allocate funding in a fairer way. In the hon. Lady’s constituency, the average per pupil funding for primary schools under the national funding formula when it is fully implemented will be £6,140, compared with the national average of £4,193 per primary school pupil. For secondary, the hon. Lady’s schools will be funded at £7,965 per pupil compared with the national average of £5,380.

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The Minister knows that I have written to him and met him to discuss some of the budgets of schools in my constituency, which seem to be going down, at variance to the impression the Government would give; and those schools where the budget is going up seem to have their costs increasing at a faster rate than the increase in funding they are getting. Will the Minister look again at the schools budget in the Shipley constituency? Will he perhaps write to me with his understanding of what each school is getting this year and in the next financial year compared with the last financial year, and will he commit to making sure they get adequate funding? And if he is looking for a pot of money, perhaps the overseas aid budget would be a good place to start.

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Of course I will write to my hon. Friend as he asks, but I have to say that we are spending record amounts of money on schools, some £42.4 billion this year. There has never been a sum as high spent on schools in our history, and it will rise again next year to £43.5 billion, and we announced an increase in school funding last July to the tune of £1.3 billion. That was the result of successful negotiations with the Treasury.

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21. All Birkenhead schools, like schools throughout the country, suffer real cuts in their budgets. Will the Minister meet me to seek ways by which we automatically enrol all poor children for free school dinners, and, as importantly, the Government’s initiative, the school premium? [906023]

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The right hon. Gentleman makes some interesting points and I will take advice on his suggestions, but I must say that we have guaranteed the pupil premium to the end of this Parliament: it is over £1,300 for every pupil eligible for free school meals attending a primary school, and nearly £1,000 for every disadvantaged child attending a secondary school.

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Does the Minister agree that there is nothing morally superior about maintaining a blatantly unfair existing system, and is it not fair and reasonable therefore to target increases in school funding on schools, such as those in Worcestershire, that have been relatively underfunded for decades?

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This Government have grasped the nettle and are introducing a fairer, more transparent funding system, which the previous Labour Government shied away from.

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The Chancellor gave a guarantee that not a single school would lose a single penny—no ifs, no buts, no small print, but an ironclad, copper-bottomed guarantee. Now he is trying to wriggle out of it like a second-hand car salesman. If Private Pike is prepared to go to war to get funding for defence, why is the Education Secretary waving the white flag rather than meeting his guarantee on schools?

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The national fairer funding system is giving every local authority in the country more money for every pupil in every school in 2018-19 and 2019-20, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that school funding will be maintained in real terms per pupil in those two years. But we have always been clear that for these two years we will allow some discretion to local authorities as to how they allocate that funding to each of their local schools, and that is why the points the hon. Lady made arise: because we have given discretion to local authorities.

Academy Trusts

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11. What steps he is taking to respond to poorly performing academy trusts. [906011]

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As the Secretary of State outlined in his speech to the National Association of Head Teachers, we will support and hold to account trusts with poor educational, financial or governance performance. We will continue to act swiftly and robustly to turn around academies that Ofsted has judged inadequate, bringing about leadership change if that is necessary.

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I thank the Department and the Secretary of State for agreeing to meet me and colleagues last week to discuss our concerns about the performance of the University of Chester Academies Trust. Now that they have heard our concerns, can the Minister assure us that they will deal with these matters as swiftly as possible?

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Yes, we will. The University Church of England Academy was judged to be inadequate by Ofsted in April last year. There was then a question of whether the multi-academy trust could provide the support that that school needed. Following a recent Ofsted monitoring visit to the academy, the Department took the view that insufficient progress was being made and that the leadership of the trust was not taking sufficient action. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the hon. Gentleman confirming that the academy was going to be brokered to a higher-performing multi-academy trust, and we will do that as swiftly as possible.

Neurodiverse People

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12. What steps his Department is taking to improve the learning experience for neurodiverse people. [906012]

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I witnessed at first hand the work of the Autism Education Trust at the Rise School in Feltham, in helping to train schoolteachers, receptionists, caretakers and others across the teams in schools. About 175,000 people have been trained to recognise and help children with autism.

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Rossie Stone set up Dekko Comics in my constituency two years ago after suffering from dyslexia throughout school. He found that by creating a gamified version of school lessons, he was able to improve his academic performance rapidly. Will the Minister consider how using gamified methods of teaching can rapidly improve learning outcomes for people who are neurodiverse?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are looking at innovation across the board in the Department, and one of the areas that we are looking at is gamified work. I have seen some excellent work being done with children in Luton.

STEM Subjects

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13. What steps his Department has taken to increase the take-up of STEM subjects. [906014]

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The Government are committed to tackling our need for science, technology, engineering and maths skills in order to create a dynamic, innovation-driven economy. That is why we are investing an additional £406 million in skills, including maths and digital. This includes the advanced maths premium, and an £84 million programme to improve the teaching of computing, which should help to increase the take-up of these subjects.

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The Oil & Gas Technology Centre in Aberdeen is a major promoter of STEM subjects. Does the Minister agree that it is essential to prioritise the take-up of STEM subjects if we are to have the engineers and technicians that we need for the future?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is why we are encouraging more students into STEM education across the entire school system. We have seen a 17% overall increase in entries to STEM A-levels since 2010. In physics, it is overall at its highest level since 1996. However, there is clearly a lot more to do, which is why we are focused on doing a lot through careers and through the university system.

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One of the major factors affecting the uptake of STEM subjects is the expertise of the teachers. However, Department for Education data show that one third of physics teachers in England do not have a relevant degree in the subject. Rather than simply accepting that as an unfortunate reality, what steps is the Minister taking to upskill STEM teachers? Will he commit to following Scotland’s example in making a relevant degree a requirement for entering the profession?

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That is a very good question. We have subject-level enhancement courses for teachers. Also, there is a £26,000 tax-free allowance to attract teachers into the sector to teach STEM subjects. We are also helping to improve their skills as they go through the system.

Free School and Academy Programmes

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15. What assessment he has made of the effect of the free school and academy programmes on GCSE results. [906016]

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Based on last year’s GCSE results, converter academies and free schools had higher Attainment 8 and Progress 8 scores than the average for state-funded schools overall. In fact, eight of the top 10 schools for progress made by pupils were either academies or free schools. That is evidence that free schools and academies are delivering high standards for their pupils, and that particularly includes disadvantaged pupils.

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The Department for Education has identified target local authority areas for raising standards. Further to my right hon. Friend’s answer, does he agree that free schools that are accessible to anyone, wherever they might live in that area or beyond, will increase parental choice and improve standards?

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My hon. Friend is right. Since 2010, the creation of the free schools programme has been a huge success. Those schools, which often serve disproportionately disadvantaged communities, have unleashed innovation and driven up academic standards. To give just one example, 92% of disadvantaged pupils at Reach Academy Feltham achieved grade 4 or above in English and maths last year.

Higher Education: EU Students

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16. What his policy is on the eligibility of EU students starting courses in English higher education institutions in 2019-20 and 2020-21 for home fee status and student loans and grants. [906017]

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EU students, staff and researchers make an important contribution to our universities. We want that contribution to continue and we are confident, given the quality of our higher education sector, that it will do so. Information on eligibility for the academic year 2019-20 will be made available for students and institutions as soon as possible.

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We need much more urgency. The admissions process is open and people are waiting to apply to medical and dentistry schools and universities such as Cambridge, but they face a real drop-off unless certainty is given soon about the status of EU students next year. Why do the Government not support British universities, which are among our great export earners? Is this just another day, another Brexit blunder?

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We hugely support our universities. Applications for courses starting in the 2020-21 academic year will not open until September 2019. We will ensure that students and institutions have the information they need very soon.

Post-16 Education: Social Mobility

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18. What steps he is taking to improve social mobility in post-16 education. [906020]

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We published a plan last year for improving social mobility through education, which set out the actions we are taking to increase social mobility. A crucial part of that is a career strategy, which I launched last year. Legislation came into force this year, including a requirement to allow further education technical and apprenticeship providers to have the opportunity to talk to young people. At the heart of the career strategy are those Gatsby benchmarks, which will make sure that young people get good careers advice.

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In a country with world-leading education, why is there such a significant attainment gap for those with English as a second language?

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This is absolutely crucial. Obviously, someone who cannot speak English will be at a disadvantage. We have done a great deal more to improve the roll-out of ESOL. On the work we are doing in primary schools, the proportion of six-year-olds meeting expected standards in the phonics screening check has risen dramatically.

Children’s Centres

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20. What recent assessment he has made of the (a) effectiveness of children’s centres and (b) ability of families to access those centres. [906022]

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It is right that local councils decide how they spend on children’s centres. Our priority is to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children overall. It is not just about bricks and mortar, but about using and improving evidence about what works.

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Given that there are now at least 1,240 fewer designated Sure Start children’s centres than there were in 2010, will the Department commit to retaining the remaining two thirds of the original centres and invest in improving the range of services they offer?

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This Government are spending £6 billion on childcare. It is not just about bricks and mortar. There are 2,300 children’s centres and they are very much part of the overall picture, but we will do what works. We have committed £8.5 million for councils to peer review each other, to see what is actually working. I hope that, like the Government, the hon. Gentleman is interested in outcomes rather than just bricks and mortar.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [906025]

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In the past month, we have announced £730 million of capital funding to create new school places. That will bring to 1 million the additional school places to be created over the decade, making it the biggest for investment in school capacity for at least two generations. Friday was Thank a Teacher Day, and we have more of them to thank than ever before, as well as more to thank them for.

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This year’s Times Higher Education rankings show UK universities falling down the league tables. Does the Secretary of State agree that that makes it even more vital that the UK relaxes any restrictions on EU academic and research staff post-Brexit, to ensure that our universities do not become isolated and cut off from development?

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Our higher education sector performs extremely well in the international comparisons. It is a popular destination for international students, including EU students, and, indeed, it remains a popular destination for EU academics.

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T2. A report by academics at the London School of Economics found that schools that introduced a ban on mobile phones saw a 2% increase in the number of pupils achieving five good GCSEs. The Minister and I both agree with school freedom, but will he consider introducing stronger guidance and more help for schools that choose to implement stronger controls on mobile phones? [906026]

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I agree with my hon. Friend that we want children off their phones and focused on their lessons. As he says, we know from research that that improves results. I am also very clear that it is for the people in charge of schools—the headteachers—to make the detail of their disciplinary rules.

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Just weeks ago, Ministers stood at the Dispatch Box, rejected our call to save the NHS bursary and promised that 5,000 apprentice nursing associates would be recruited this year to tackle the nursing shortage. Half were due to be recruited by April. Can the Minister confirm that Ministers have now missed that target by 60% and tell us how many people will start apprenticeships this year?

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We need to make sure that nursing apprenticeships and apprenticeships for nursing assistants work well. There are complex problems in the NHS, not least in providing 40% off-the-job training and the fact that those apprentices are supernumerary. I am working very closely with Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care to make sure that we make this work.

I was, in effect, a nursing apprentice. I know how well such apprenticeships can work, and I am determined to make sure they do.

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T3. When will the Minister have the opportunity to review the zoning of the area cost adjustment element of the national funding formula? [906027]

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We calculate the area cost adjustment using data on teacher pay and data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on general labour market costs. For teacher pay we use the regional teacher pay bands as zones, but we will keep it under review to ensure that funding always matches need as closely as possible.

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T6. The news from the Children’s Commissioner that there are over 30,000 children aged between 10 and 15 involved in gangs will surely be deeply concerning to everyone. What is the Department doing to tackle this problem, not least because the Children’s Commissioner identifies that many of these vulnerable young people are groomed form pupil referral units? [906031]

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I sit on the Home Secretary’s serious violence taskforce, and we are publishing revised statutory guidance, “Working together to safeguard children,” which makes clear the roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved in protecting children from gangs. The guidance also offers links to further advice on these forms of abuse. Obviously, we also have our strategy for alternative provision—the hon. Gentleman referred to pupil referral units.

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T4. Approximately 48,000 children are being home educated in England. In light of the Government’s consultation on home education, which ends next Monday, can the Minister clarify what steps his Department is taking to reassure home educators that their views will be fed into the Government’s consultation response? [906028]

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I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We are having this consultation, and there has been a rise in children being home educated, which of course includes some children with particular special educational needs who have had a particularly bad time in the school system and whose parents devote their lives to their education—I pay tribute to those parents. The rise includes other categories, but it is important that we listen carefully, and we will, to those parents in the consultation.

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T7. Does the Minister realise that more than 300 pupils were denied their first-choice school as a result of the Government cuts to local government education budgets in Coventry? What is he going to do about it? [906032]

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If the hon. Gentleman looks at the national figures, he will find that, at primary, something like 97% of families received an offer of a place in one of their top-three schools, with 91% offered their first choice. At secondary, 94% of families received an offer of a place at their first-choice school. We have created 825,000 school places since 2010, following on from a Labour Government who actually cut 100,000 school places from the system.

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T5. Hard-working teachers in small rural schools in places like west Oxfordshire are ingenious in wringing every last penny of value out of their budgets, but what are Ministers doing to ensure those schools have the funding they need to thrive? [906030]

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Our national funding formula is a much fairer way of allocating funding, and it also supports small rural schools, particularly in areas such as West Oxfordshire, by providing a lump sum of £110,000 for every school and by targeting funding to small and remote schools through the sparsity factor. That provides up to an additional £65,000 for small rural secondary schools and £25,000 for primaries.

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T8. The Centre for Global Higher Education has identified that EU academics fill gaps in subjects such as science, technology, engineering and maths where there are insufficient numbers of UK-qualified academics. With Brexit fast approaching, how are the Government going to maintain staffing levels, let alone magically increase the number of UK-qualified academics? [906033]

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As part of the EU negotiations, we are mindful of the fact that we want academics here to work with academics from abroad. The Prime Minister said in her most recent science speech that roughly 50% of researchers in the UK are from the EU—we intend that to remain the same post-Brexit.

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T9. There is still a strong demand across businesses in my constituency for technical skills. What progress has been made on the introduction of the new institutes of technology? [906034]

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Sixteen proposals for institutes of technology will go through to stage 2, which we will launch in July. IOTs are a collaboration between higher education and further education, with a focus on levels 4 and 5; traditionally, this has been rather neglected in this country but it is so crucial for building the skills base. They will also extend to levels 6 and 7. There will be a £170 million capital fund to help IOTs get off the ground.

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I have recently learned that “consequence booths”, where children spend up to seven hours in a small booth without contact with peers, are being used by academies in my constituency. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can protect children in Stockton South from this threat to their mental health?

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I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that issue.

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Will the Minister join me in encouraging young people in Walsall to attend the open evening at Walsall College, rated as outstanding by Ofsted, on Wednesday afternoon from 4 till 7, in advance of it delivering T-levels from September?

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My hon. Friend has given a great advert for T-levels. Contrary to what the shadow Minister said, T-levels have been viewed as a huge success, as shown by the broad support at the conference of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers this morning. They are a fantastic opportunity for our young people.

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Yesterday, a survey of teachers by the charity stem4 revealed that students are facing a mental health epidemic and are not receiving the support they need. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the number of counsellors, educational psychologists, peer mentors and pastoral care staff that have been lost from our schools in recent years? What assurances will he give that the proposals in the “Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision” Green Paper will bring about a genuine addition to the mental health workforce in our schools and not just replace what has already been lost?

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This Government take mental health very seriously. Some 84% of secondary schools have a counsellor to help children deal with mental health issues and stress, and we have unveiled our Green Paper, whereby we intend to improve mental health support for young people in our schools, including by having a designated senior mental health lead in every school in the country.

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The teachers I meet in my constituency want to use more of their judgment and to reduce their assessment workload. Will the new goals for four to five-year-olds achieve on both fronts?

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We are introducing a baseline assessment so that we can measure the progress that all pupils make in their time at primary school, and that will be based very much on assessment and observation.

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Northern College has recently started teaching a pioneering 10-week course to help survivors of modern slavery. Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the work of Northern College? Will he also meet me to discuss its difficulty in using public funds to fund these vital courses because of current immigration regulations?

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Of course I will meet the hon. Lady, and I pay tribute to what she is doing to make sure that the survivors and victims of modern slavery are given all the opportunities possible.

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Following the announcement on the obesity strategy, what consideration is being given to opening up school sports facilities for free after school and during the holidays to parents and sports clubs that provide constructive opportunities for young people?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. Schools increasingly use their facilities for the community and to raise further income. We take school sport extremely seriously and the obesity strategy encourages more young people to be active every day of the week.

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In last month’s Westminster Hall debate on school funding, the Minister said that per-pupil funding at Twerton Infant School in Bath would rise, but the headteacher maintains that it will not. If the Minister is so confident about his figures, will he please publish them next month?

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The figures have already been published. We are providing increases in school funding for every school and every pupil—we are providing funding to local authorities on that basis. It is up to local authorities, in discussion with their schools, to decide how to allocate that funding to individual schools. I suggest that the hon. Lady takes up the matter with her local authority.

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This morning, I attended the schools’ engineering and technology competition in Chelmsford, where Essex students had designed a wheelchair that climbs stairs. Does the Minister agree that such projects are key to inspiring the engineers of the future? Will he congratulate the Chelmsford Science and Engineering Society and all who were involved?

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Yes to all the above.

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This month, Newcastle’s £9 million Discovery free school closed following a devastating Ofsted report. The Department for Education has said that it—or rather, the taxpayer—will bear the financial cost. Does the Minister recognise that the cost to the students, the people and the economy will be borne by the city of Newcastle, which should have been responsible for the school in the first place?

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Yes; we take these issues very seriously. We take swift action when free schools such as that one fail. It was sponsored by the Newcastle colleges, with Newcastle University’s involvement, but it was not delivering the required results so we took swift action and closed it. All the pupils will be placed in other, better schools.

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What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that daily mile initiatives are included as part of the childhood obesity strategy?

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On top of what we are doing, including the £26 million for breakfast clubs and the doubling of the physical education and sports premium, we would like schools to embrace the active mile as a simple, fun and inclusive way to build physical activity.

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Earlier, the Minister claimed repeatedly that funding for the nursery sector is entirely adequate. On that basis, will more nurseries be open at the end of this Parliament than at the beginning?

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The important thing is to make sure that we have sufficiency in the system—that is, enough places—and I am confident that we will. This summer, 340,000 three and four-year-olds will benefit from 30 hours’ free childcare a week; that is to be celebrated.

Leaving the EU: Airbus Risk Assessment

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to make a statement following the publication on Friday of the Airbus Brexit risk assessment report and its implications for future investment and job security in the UK.

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The aerospace sector is one of the UK’s greatest manufacturing strengths. Directly and through its supply chains, it employs in the UK around 300,000 people in high-skilled jobs, with an average salary of £41,000—that is 43% above the national average. Of the sector’s £33 billion turnover, some 90% is accounted for in exports. From Bombardier in Belfast to Airbus in Filton, the supply chain that the sector operates is complex, precise and just-in-time. The industry is in demand around the world and that demand is growing rapidly, with the sector doubling in size every 15 years. Airbus is a very important part of that success, employing 14,000 people across 25 sites, with 110,000 people working in the supply chain of 4,000 small, medium and large companies.

On Friday, Airbus published a risk assessment, in which it stated to suppliers and to the UK and EU member states that if an agreement between the EU and the UK were not reached by 29 March 2019, its production would be likely to be severely disrupted, with a significant impact on the company. It also said that any agreement that involved significant change to customs arrangements would take time to implement through Airbus’s supply chain, and that any agreement that involved new procedures, complexity or frictions would undermine the efficiency of the company’s operations. That is completely consistent with what every part of the industry collectively has been saying directly, as well as through the ADS industry trade body and the international body the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, including in a letter to Michel Barnier at the European Commission earlier this month. Any company and any industry that supports the livelihoods of so many working people in this country is entitled to be listened to with respect.

The Government have been clear that we are determined to secure a deal with the EU that meets the needs of our aerospace firms and the thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on them and that, in particular, products made in the UK can be approved for use across Europe, that there should be no tariffs or any unnecessary friction in the trade between the UK and the EU, and that skilled employees will be able to work across the multiple sites of an integrated operation. Those objectives have been clearly set out by the Prime Minister in public and in our negotiations.

In the months ahead, my colleagues and I will work closely with businesses to ensure that, under the terms of our new relationship, we can continue to enjoy the prosperity that working in aerospace brings to so many people in all parts of the United Kingdom.

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I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this important urgent question and I thank the Secretary of State for his response.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the continued operation of Airbus in the UK is vital to the UK economy and that we need to take seriously its worries and concerns? Alternatively, does he support the comments of the International Trade Secretary, who said that we should ignore the views of business? Or does he agree with the views of the Health Secretary, who said that it was inappropriate of Airbus to raise concerns? Finally, does he support the more direct approach of the Foreign Secretary, who said, “F*** business”? I know that the Foreign Secretary has to be elsewhere today; I believe that he has gone as far as Afghanistan to avoid the Heathrow vote. Are not those comments indicative of the chaos in Government over Brexit and of the Government’s approach to anyone who dares to raise genuine concerns?

Airbus has been raising those concerns privately for 12 months and getting absolutely nowhere. Can the Secretary of State explain why it is now, when it has done it publicly, that it is shouted down by Cabinet Ministers? Will he meet me and representatives from Airbus to address the serious concerns raised in the report? Does he accept that the lead-in times for investment in aerospace are long and that the sums of money are huge? For Airbus, it is all about securing the next generation of wing work, and these decisions are being taken now.

Is it not the case that, without clarity on Brexit, investment could be placed outside the UK—either in the EU itself or in low-cost producer countries such as China where the company has a plant? Airbus’s concerns are real and shared by many other manufacturers such as BMW and Siemens. The Government need to wake up and listen rather than just address Tory infighting.

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I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has more than 6,500 people employed in his constituency in good jobs, and many more in the supply chain. Members from all parts of the House have constituents whose prosperous careers and excellent opportunities come from working in this important sector. Let us be clear: this sector is one of our proudest strengths and it is expanding. The opportunities around the world grow every year and the excellence that we have needs to be nurtured and cherished. I take seriously the representations of all businesses because we are talking about not speculation or visions of the future, but the reality of the lives of many hundreds of thousands of people across the country, which is important.

It is the case that we should listen to businesses. Of course, what Airbus has said was consistent with what it has said before and consistent with what it has said to Select Committees of this House. Very importantly, it was addressed equally to the European Commission and to member states of the European Union. It is very clear that, in order to have the agreement that we seek, it is necessary that both sides of the discussions should participate. Airbus has been clear that it is in the interests of the whole country and the whole company that that should be the case. I hope that that message will be heard in Brussels as well as in this country.

The hon. Gentleman asked questions about listening to business. All Government Members recognise that the livelihoods of millions of people, and the prosperity of our country, depend on business being successful. We will not always agree with everything that businesses say, but they have the right to be heard. The hon. Gentleman was rather one-sided in his representations; I think that he should direct some of his recommendations to his own Front Benchers, who have not been a picture of clarity on what they would like from these negotiations.

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Will my right hon. Friend explain to some of his Cabinet colleagues and others that it is simply not going to be possible to opt into most of the benefits of the single market and the customs union, while rejecting every trade rule and regulatory arrangement that the member states of the EU accept as part of that deal? Does he also agree that if, at the end of our negotiations, we start erecting new tariff barriers, new customs procedures and new regulatory divergences, it is perfectly obvious that we are going to deter inward investment from companies such as Airbus, BMW, Siemens and many others, with long-lasting damage to our economy?

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It is imperative that we do not do that. I am actually more optimistic than my right hon. and learned Friend about the prospects of a deal that will avoid that. Part of what this company and others have said is that it is strongly in the mutual interest of this international business that there should be an orderly agreement that allows a very successful company to continue to trade without friction. I think that that is in prospect.

We are leaving the European Union; that decision has been clearly taken. The task before us is to make an agreement that implements that decision and which, at the same time, ensures that these avoidable threats of frictions and tariffs do not take place. That is absolutely within our grasp and it is what the whole House should back during the months ahead.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on securing it and on so eloquently setting out the importance of Airbus to our economy and the 110,000 workers whose livelihoods depend on it.

Airbus is not alone. Last week we heard from: BMW, which has 8,000 workers; Unipart, with 6,000 workers; Siemens, with 15,000 workers; and INEOS, which has 18,500 workers. These are the ones that have put their heads above the parapet, to be shot down by their own Government. The Secretary of State may say that he is listening, but the Health Secretary calls Airbus “completely inappropriate”, the Trade Secretary blames the EU and it would be unparliamentary to fully quote the Foreign Secretary, wherever he is.

Businesses are told to shut up when they call for clarity, Labour MPs are accused of scaremongering and Conservative MPs are called traitors. This Government are so insecure—so at odds with themselves and the country—that they cannot stand scrutiny. Their chaotic handling of Brexit is dividing the country, not bringing it together, and it is risking our industrial base. They should abandon their red lines, rule out no deal, accept that a new customs union and single market is in all our interests, and give business and workers the certainty that they need—or step aside for a Labour Government who will.

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We listen to the voice of business—large and small, across the country. Let us reflect on the months past. The hon. Lady knows that, around a year ago, business—again, large and small, across the country—said how important it was to have an implementation period. That proposal was put forward, adopted by the Prime Minister and has now been agreed with the European Union.

In her Mansion House speech, again, the Prime Minister responded to what business communicated very clearly in saying that we should be able to continue to be part of bodies like EASA—the European Aviation Safety Agency—which is responsible for aviation safety. That was also something that was recognised. Business recognises that this Government do listen and do act on the advice that business gives during these negotiations. It is an approach that is serious and sober. It recognises the challenges and complexity of the negotiations and addresses them in a responsible way.

I am glad that the hon. Lady calls for a degree of cool-headedness and consensus around this, because 80% of colleagues—80%-plus, I think—were elected on a platform that recognised the importance of leaving the European Union. What is before us is to make sure that the deal that we get is something that can be supported. But at every turn, her party changes its position—not for any reason of substance, but to maximise political advantage: shape-shifting to try to catch the Government out. In the past two years, we have had from Labour, at my last count, 15 tests, five red lines, four bottom lines, 170 questions and four key messages, but no coherent policy. Meanwhile, we in the Government are getting on with the task in hand, and that is precisely what she should do.

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May I thank my right hon. Friend for coming so quickly to the House? When he was answering the original question, did he notice the irony that Siemens, among many other companies, has already been showing its faith in the UK even before this, with a £200 million investment in Goole to make sure that it is able to be here because it is where the talent lies? Would he not also consider it slightly ironic if the complaints from Airbus were such that it actually moved its production to China, given that China has never even been in the European Union?

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My right hon. Friend is right. I hope that he would acknowledge that my Department and this Government are energetic in promoting the advantages of locating in Britain, and not just at the new facility in Goole—I had the great privilege of opening the Siemens blade factory in Hull, employing 1,000 people. People locate in this country because it is a good place in which to invest. We have an environment of innovation and excellence—it is a tribute to the workforce—and we want to keep it that way. It is therefore incumbent on us, when we have industrial investors who are committing for years ahead, to listen to what they say about the requirements from the negotiation. He and I completely agree that in that relationship, we want to make sure that we do not have tariffs and we do not have frictions. That is what the company wants, that is what we want, and now we need to agree it with our European counterparts.

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Airbus’s risk assessment is sobering news for those drunk on the fantasies of Brexit. Airbus has forecast “severe disruption” and “interruption of production” in the UK, forcing it to switch investment planning away from the UK. Airbus says that this is not “Project Fear” but a dawning reality. The fact is that business after business is shouting, “Brace, brace.” At the heart of this is the lack of any plan or any sense over the customs union from this Government. This, coupled with no sign of any agreement over the EU-US open skies arrangement, means that Airbus is taking flight while the planes it already has in service could be stuck on the ground here.

The UK Government’s disastrous plan to leave the EU customs union and single market risks 80,000 jobs by 2030 in Scotland. Will the Secretary of State provide details about how the Government will protect 8,000 jobs and £541 million of activity in Scotland indirectly supported by Airbus? What technical discussions has he had with Airbus and sectoral organisations on the impact Brexit will have on the industry? In the light of this, what policy changes, if any, will he take forward?

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The hon. Gentleman talks about the impact of Brexit. It may have escaped his attention that we are negotiating the terms of our future economic partnership with the rest of the EU. The representations that have been made by Airbus—as I say, directed at the UK but also other at member states and the Commission —are about what that future economic partnership should look like. I hope there will be a broad consensus in the House that it should be a regime that allows fantastic sectors and companies within them to not only continue to export in a just-in-time system in which any delay at the border undermines the business model, but also to expand production in a rapidly expanding market, not just in Europe but around the world. That is what we are negotiating, and that is the context in which Airbus has given advice to us and the other side of the negotiations.

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Order. Given that there is a further urgent question to come, thereafter to be followed by a ministerial statement and subsequently a debate on the Heathrow motion, which I can tell colleagues is extremely heavily subscribed, the Chair’s accommodation of the extensive interest in this matter will require brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike—to be demonstrated in the first instance by a co-author of the short questions textbook, Mr John Redwood.

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Does not Boeing’s decision to make a major manufacturing investment in this country show that a complex supply chain can be run with a lot coming in from outside the EU perfectly well and give the lie to the idea that we will not be able to supply the wings to Airbus?

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I want Britain to be the best place in the world to produce advanced manufacturing products, and that means we should be tenacious in looking at every way to make the supply chain competitive. Given that our parts go backwards and forwards between the UK and the continent, if we can avoid frictions, as I am certain we can, that enhances our ability to compete, which is to the advantage of Boeing as well as any other company in the industry.

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Is it not pretty damning that the Secretary of State has had to come to the Dispatch Box today to say that Airbus should be treated with respect when it tells the truth, rather than be criticised? Since the whole House knows that he understands what is at stake here, does he agree that the fact that the Cabinet is still arguing about what kind of customs arrangements it wants two years after the referendum is why a growing number of businesses despair at the Government’s inability to get a grip of this issue?

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I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. On the first point, we are an open economy. Businesses that employ people here are perfectly free to speak out and have a right to do so. It is incumbent on the Government to listen to what they say and factor that into the negotiations we are having. We have been very clear about that.

When it comes to the negotiation of our future customs arrangements, the right hon. Gentleman knows, as Chair of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, which has given this extensive scrutiny, that up to now we have been discussing the terms of our withdrawal. We are coming on to talk about the future economic partnership. We are negotiating and setting out what we want to achieve through that, and this was always the time when that would be done. For evidence from Airbus and other companies to come forward at this time is to be expected, given the focus of the discussions over the weeks ahead.

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A small business in my constituency that employs 180 people is part of the Airbus supply chain, so this matters very much to the good people of Broxtowe. I congratulate the Secretary of State on his statement and welcome it, but Airbus is not alone in having grave concerns about what the Government’s position will be on Brexit and seeking clarity. Will he assure people first that the Conservative party remains the party of business, and secondly that when British businesses speak out, they should be able to do so without fear or favour and be listened to with respect?

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The answer to my right hon. Friend is: yes, and yes.

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When the Health Secretary suggested that Airbus should get behind the Prime Minister’s position, which of the positions on customs was he referring to: a customs partnership, maximum facilitation or customs arrangements?

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If the right hon. Gentleman had read what Airbus said, on which my right hon. Friend was commenting, he would know that it gave a forensic analysis of its requirements when it comes to imports and exports. The import of that was that it needs to avoid frictions and tariffs, which is precisely what the Prime Minister has committed to.

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There are no tariffs on the aerospace industry under world trade rules, are there?

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The aerospace sector includes various components that do attract tariffs, and it is very important that we should have zero tariffs on all such components.

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I am pleased that the Secretary of State is being sensible and listening to the concerns of business, unlike some of the disgraceful comments of his colleagues. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what assessment his Department has made of the impact on jobs and investment in the aerospace sector not only on Airbus, but on companies in the supply chain, such as UTC Aerospace Systems in my constituency, of leaving the single market and the customs union?

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The supply chain of Airbus and indeed of every company in the sector is pervasive right across the UK, and many employers—small and large—across many of our constituencies contribute to it. The hon. Lady asks about the impact of leaving the single market. The purpose of the negotiations in the months ahead is to make sure, as we leave the European Union and as we leave the single market—she knows that it is not possible to be a member of the single market and to be leaving the European Union—that we have an agreement that allows us to trade without frictions and without tariffs. That is our purpose, and it is what the Prime Minister has very clearly set out. It is within our grasp, and I am confident we will be able to achieve it.

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Is not the truth that the kind of Brexit deal that will fully safeguard our industrial base will be one that requires significant compromises? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are fast approaching the moment when we need to spell out, for the benefit of business and industry, what those compromises look like?

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My right hon. Friend is right that any negotiation of course involves give and take. That is true on both sides, and it is important to remember that these observations have been addressed to the European Union as well as to the UK. My right hon. Friend talks about the time. As I said to the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), now is the time when we are moving on from discussing the terms of our withdrawal to what our future economic partnership looks like. This is precisely the time at which we will set out and agree, I hope, a long-term future in which Airbus and many other companies can prosper.

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Airbus and its supply chain are significant employers in north Bristol, so will the Secretary of State set out what assessment his Department has made of the number of jobs that need to be put at risk, the number of families’ lives that need to be devastated and the amount of damage that needs to be done to British industry before the threshold is met for the definition of a duff deal on Brexit, and will he at that stage join me and others in calling for a people’s vote?

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I think the hon. Gentleman would be more productive if he engaged with the substance of the negotiation. We are leaving the European Union, and what is required is to reach an agreement that avoids frictions and tariffs. It is perfectly possible to agree such an accord with the European Union. That is our purpose, and we will faithfully implement it.

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Thousands of jobs in the north-west depend on Airbus and its supply chain there. Does the Secretary of State agree that close regulatory alignment is also a requirement to help to ensure that trade is as frictionless as possible?

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My hon. Friend is right in alluding to the fact that an aeroplane, which is what we are talking about, is a combination of products from different countries. They need to come together—this is inherently international—so to have standards for wings that are different from standards for engines and parts of the fuselage would clearly be incompatible with having a plane that flies. There is good sense in having an agreement that brings coherence to what is a single product manufactured in different parts of Europe.

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I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

My constituents, many of whom work at Airbus plants in Newport or across the Severn bridge in north Bristol in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones)—also face devastation from the prospects of a hard Brexit. Will the Secretary of State therefore join me in condemning the leader of the Welsh Conservatives for his comments describing Airbus’s remarks as “hyperbole”, “threats” and “exaggerating”, and agree with his ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), who has described senior Cabinet Ministers’ comments as “both unworthy and inflammatory”?

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I have said very clearly, as I hope the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge, that it is entirely reasonable for any firm that employs people and pays taxes in this country to contribute its expertise and experience to the discussions that we are having.

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Article 50 provides that the withdrawal negotiations should take into account the framework for the future relationship between the departing member state and the continuing EU. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the lack of clarity, about which Airbus is quite reasonably complaining, is a consequence, at least in part, of the flat refusal by the European Union to discuss that future relationship?

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One of the things that Airbus has set out is what it regards, correctly in my view, as the serious consequences for it of a Brexit without an agreement. It is in all our interests, on both sides of the channel, to have an agreement that avoids that. My right hon. Friend is right that it and the various trade associations, some of them international, to which it belongs, have made the same points to other member states and to the European Commission. I hope that it will be heard in Brussels as well as in every other part of the European Union.

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As the record shows on urgent questions, I almost always call everyone. Today, I fear, that will not be possible and quite a lot of people will not get in, but the shorter the questions, the more who will. I call Jonathan Edwards.

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These warnings from Airbus, other manufacturing companies and, indeed, other sectors are not new to the British Government, as their own economic impact assessment shows that leaving the single market and the customs union will be hugely damaging. Is not the reality that for the Welsh economy the UK’s Brexit policy is a game of Westminster roulette where every chamber is loaded?

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The hon. Gentleman should be more constructive. Given that the whole country—the United Kingdom—voted to leave the European Union, we should be engaged in making sure that we have the best deal possible. I talk regularly with colleagues in Wales about what is required in the terms of that agreement. He should contribute to that, rather than wishing away the results of a referendum that clearly he did not want.

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If Airbus makes good on its ridiculous threats—and I do not think it will for one minute—how much of the billions of pounds of taxpayer subsidy, paid for by the British taxpayer, would it have to pay back?

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I disagree with my hon. Friend. I think that the company has set out what it requires to be agreed in the negotiations so that it can continue to prosper. It is true that the company, like most companies in the aerospace sector, has been part of a successful investment with the Government in innovation and training. That is one foundation of our success, and I very much want that to continue.

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Fourteen thousand jobs directly affected; over 100,000 in the supply chain, including in our crucial aerospace cluster in Wolverhampton. What does the Secretary of State think is in the minds of leading Brexiteers when they hear warnings like this, which are anything but ridiculous? Does he think that they take them to the heart, or do they in the end believe that this is a price worth paying, because the overall imperative of controlling immigration comes before any economic or employment consideration?

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My experience gives me confidence that the evidence and the facts will ultimately determine the outcome of the negotiations; respect for the facts on both sides of the negotiations will be what determines a solution in the interests of both sides. That is what I am determined to pursue. When companies offer evidence, as others are completely free to do, it should be considered in a serious and sober way, and used to inform those discussions.

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The aerospace industry is important to my Tewkesbury constituency. Did the Secretary of State notice, on the day of the announcement, that American company, GE Aviation, announced that it was going to rebuild its propeller business, which supplies a significant proportion of the world’s propellers, in my constituency of Tewkesbury, here in the United Kingdom? Is that not a vote of confidence in what we are doing?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) pointed out earlier that companies invest here because it is a good place to invest. My hon. Friend’s constituency and the area around it have proved successful because there is a critical mass—a cluster—of related firms. It is important that we do everything we can to ensure that we maintain and add to the strength of that cluster, and I am absolutely determined to do so.

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Ideology before jobs; doctrine before the economy. It used to be that the Conservatives were the party of business, but now they are the party of fears. When will the Government give clarity to business and hard-working families, heed warnings, and commit to staying in the single market and the customs union?

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Day in, day out, I meet businesses and persuade them of the advantages of this country. I have to report that one of their concerns is the policies of the hon. Lady’s Front Benchers, which are a very significant deterrent to investment in this country.

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Some months ago, when I visited Airbus at Broughton, I was briefed in detail about its considerable investment in both capital and skills for specialised wing work. Is it not a fact that it would be extremely expensive for Airbus if it were ever to contemplate trying to relocate that work, be it to Hamburg or Toulouse?

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My right hon. Friend takes too pessimistic a view. We do not want Airbus to be located in this country because it is too difficult for the company to go elsewhere; we want it to be here with enthusiasm because this is a good and profitable place to invest. I am determined that the deal we secure and the investment we make through our industrial strategy will add to our strengths and make us even more attractive. We should have a counsel of optimism rather than defensive pessimism.

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Unlike the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), my constituent Kyle Robinson, a Unite shop steward, works at Broughton every day. He wrote to me this weekend to say that the current situation for him and the families I represent is potentially catastrophic. Will the Secretary of State ensure that when he takes up the invitation from my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) to meet him and the company, the unions get an invite as well?

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The company has good relations with the trade unions and meets them regularly, as indeed do I. The hon. Lady should reflect that when the country took the decision to leave the European Union, there was always going to be a period before the negotiations were concluded when anxieties would be felt. Our purpose and determination is that those negotiations should be concluded so that there will be confidence to invest in the future and we can create many more jobs for her constituents.

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Given what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) said, and given Boeing’s £40 million investment, is it not important that we listen to all voices in this argument, rather than concentrating on one voice, which may have a different view about Brexit, disproportionately more than others?

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Companies in the aerospace sector—big and small—report very similar requirements: we should avoid frictions and tariffs. That is consistent with many other employers who create valuable jobs in this country. It is important that we listen to not just one voice but them all.

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Since aerospace regulations tend to be made on a worldwide basis rather than on an EU basis, the tariffs on manufactured goods are low or zero, and the UK is an important market for Airbus. Does the Secretary of State accept that we should take some of these warnings with a pinch of salt? If Airbus has concerns, it ought to direct them towards the EU negotiators who seem to be putting every obstacle in the way of the Prime Minister’s objective of frictionless future trade.

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We need an agreement. The right hon. Gentleman is right that regulatory standards are increasingly international, but the idea that we would find ourselves unable to operate to the standards required for aircraft produced in Europe would be unacceptable not only to Airbus, but to Bombardier in Northern Ireland, which communicated in very similar terms its requirements for the future.

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Given that the clear aim of the Government, and indeed Airbus Group, is to achieve a frictionless and zero-tariff exit agreement, has not the statement from Airbus generated more heat than light? Is not the simple truth that we make the engines, wings and landing gear for the Airbus, that it is incredibly important that we continue to do so, and that there is no reason for us not to arrive at an agreement that enables us to do so?

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I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that the House can tell that I regard the prospect of a good agreement as being within our grasp. That is our objective, and it is what this company and many others want from us.

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Airbus makes great play in its statement of the need to remain in the European Aviation Safety Agency, because regulating in that way means that planes can fly. What confidence can the Secretary of State give to my constituents, including the chair of the trade union group and the 1,500 people in my patch who work there, that we will still have that proper regulation after Brexit?

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That is precisely what the Prime Minister set out in her Mansion House speech: we want and need to secure an agreement such that we will not require a different set of regulatory standards. I am confident that we will be able to agree that.

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Airbus is also a key player in the space sector, which is important for many jobs in my constituency. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the partnership that we are looking for will cover co-operation on standards and a deal on services, so that maintenance contracts and the like can continue to be fulfilled?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is no hard and fast distinction between manufactured goods and services, and that is especially illustrated in the aerospace sector. If, for example, Rolls-Royce sells an engine, the money that it makes in the years ahead is from maintaining and servicing that engine. That involves skilled engineers being able to travel, so it is very important—again, as part of our agreement—that such services should continue to be supplied uninterrupted.

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Order. We have very little time left for this, I am afraid, so we will need short questions and short answers.

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Apparently it was at a Foreign Office reception in honour of the Queen’s birthday that the Foreign Secretary applied his four-letter expletive to the concerns of Airbus and business about leaving the single market. I can think of a few suggestions myself, but what four-letter word comes to mind for the Secretary of State when he thinks about the Foreign Secretary?

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For all of us, it is “jobs” that we want to secure from our negotiations—good jobs—and we are determined to do so.

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Is it not the case that the United Kingdom has attracted more foreign direct investment than most, if not all, our European partners, and is it not the case that today, two years on from the referendum, there is more foreign direct investment in our economy than there was in 2016?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will know that I spend time travelling around the world to encourage overseas investors to invest in our country and our economy. One of the reasons why they choose to do so is that we are a place of skills and ingenuity. We are also a place from which it is possible to export around the world, and we want to be able to maintain that. That is my purpose.

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Many of my constituents work in Newport and in Filton. I reiterate to the Minister that the Government’s failure to address the issues that Airbus raised about Brexit mean uncertain times for the workforce, and that includes the 500-plus apprenticeships that have been offered over the last five years in Wales. This is about jobs for our young people.

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I am glad that the hon. Lady refers to the 500 apprenticeships because, as she will acknowledge, the sector has prospered as never before during the last few years, during which we have had a fantastic programme of joint investment in skills and in the technology of the future. That has been this Government’s deliberate policy. Through the industrial strategy, we are taking that forward, and I am determined that we will be able to create markets around the world—including the European Union—for those products to be exported to.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and for his support for businesses on all sides that wish to make their views known, because it is important that our constituents’ jobs are protected. Will he adopt the same pragmatic attitude towards his input into the negotiations and encourage that from all sides, including Brussels?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If one has the privilege, as I and many of us do, of visiting the shop floors and workforces around the country, one sees how important these jobs are. These are good jobs providing careers and opportunities, as well as decent incomes for workers and their families. It is important that we have that always in mind as we approach these negotiations. If we do, a sensible outcome will, I believe, prevail.

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Is it not the truth that Airbus has done a great public service by injecting much-needed frankness and realism into this debate, and will the Secretary of State commend it for being willing to do so?

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As I have said to colleagues across the House, Airbus and other companies in the sector, like many other companies, have been very consistent in their approach for many months, including in evidence to Select Committees on which some Members in the Chamber sit. This has caught the country’s attention now, but it is consistent with what the company has been saying for some time.

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I declare an interest, having visited the Airbus headquarters recently. Airbus has a manufacturing facility in Alabama, USA, which is outside the customs union. It exchanges products, parts and labour without impediment. Does that not give us hope for the future?

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In the context of Europe, the company’s arrangements are remarkably effective. It combines products from neighbouring EU countries and, in many cases and in many markets, beats the competition hands down. Why would we want to disturb something that works?

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Bristol, home of Concorde, is proud of its aerospace industry, to which Airbus is critical. It is also critical to the provision of good apprenticeships in my constituency. How will the Secretary of State’s industrial strategy be delivered if companies such as Airbus are not here?

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Not only will Airbus be here, but it will be expanding its operation and recruiting more apprentices for very successful careers.

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May I welcome the Secretary of State’s firm restatement of a properly Conservative position that respects business and puts pragmatism above ideology? Will he make sure that the same applies to negotiations on our key services sector, which represents 80% of the economy?

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My hon. Friend is right. It is important that services, which make such a good contribution to our economy, can continue to prosper. That means that, whether in financial and professional services, or in the oil and gas sector in which we have such expertise, we can fly people into other countries, have them ply their trade and give advice and help, and then have them come back again. We can do that at the moment; we need to be able to do it in the future.

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It was a Tory Government who shed more than 8,000 jobs at Shotton in 1980—the biggest lay-off in one day in British industrial history. We will see history repeat itself, with 6,500 jobs lost at Broughton, if the Secretary of State does not pull his finger out. Why are he and his party prepared to sacrifice those Airbus workers’ jobs and futures for party political ideology?

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I am not, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about job losses, he should refer to the periods when his party has been in power and the devastation to the economy that that has caused. We are determined that industries that are successful now will be successful in the future. The policies of Labour Front Benchers, which are seemingly predicated on the idea that if it works, it has to be subsidised, and if it still works, it has to be nationalised, will attract no confidence in this country.

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Has the Secretary of State noticed that the European Union sells us £100 billion more in goods than the other way around? Does that not underline that, rather than following the defeatism of the Labour party, we should be bold and courageous in putting forward maximum facilitation and trade with the EU?

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Given my hon. Friend’s constituency, he knows the importance of having no frictions at the border. As he describes, there is a common interest between the two sides of the negotiations, which I am sure will lead to a successful outcome.

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Yesterday, the Health Secretary said that it was “completely inappropriate” for businesses such as Airbus to make warnings about moving jobs because of Brexit. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Health Secretary was wrong and that, in a democratic country, it is entirely appropriate for such businesses to raise their concerns? What will he do to protect the thousands of jobs in the aerospace sector in the north-west and across the country that will be put at significant risk if the Government pursue their plan of leaving the customs union and single market?

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As I think I made it clear throughout my statement, I do not agree—unusually—with my right hon. Friend on this point. I think that businesses have a right to speak out if they pay taxes and employ people, and we are determined that they will be able to continue to succeed in the future.

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Having visited the Airbus facility in Bristol, I am pleased to note the tone and nature of the Secretary of State’s remarks. Will he confirm that the aviation industry is increasingly working on a global basis—there are even direct flights from here to Australasia now—and that that will not change after Brexit?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to be able to take advantage of increasing global opportunities, but to do so without losing the advantages that we have from what have been very successful trading relationships within Europe.

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When the Secretary of State said that there should be no unnecessary friction, was he referring to discussions within the Cabinet or to the economy?

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When a matter is complex and requires a forensic attention to what companies require, there will of course be discussions, and sometimes people will not agree with each other. What is important is for those discussions to be concluded in a way that is productive for the whole economy.

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Order. I apologise to remaining colleagues, but we must move on. I am sure that this matter will arise again, and that those who were not called today will have a chance next time.

Childhood Obesity Strategy: Chapter 2

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make a statement on the Government’s childhood obesity strategy.

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Today the Government published the second chapter of our childhood obesity plan. The plan is informed by the latest evidence. It sets a new national ambition to halve childhood obesity and significantly reduce the gap in obesity between children from the most and least deprived areas by 2030.

Childhood obesity is one of the biggest health problems that the country faces. Nearly a quarter of children are overweight or obese before they start school, and the proportion rises to more than a third by the time they leave. The burden is being felt hardest in the most deprived areas, with children growing up in low-income households more likely to be overweight or obese than more affluent children.

Childhood obesity has profound effects, which are compromising children’s physical and mental health both now and in the future. We know that obese children are more likely to experience bullying, stigma and low self-esteem. They are also more likely to become obese adults, and face an increased risk of developing some forms of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart and liver disease. Obesity is placing unsustainable costs on the national health service and our UK taxpayers, which are currently estimated to be about £6.1 billion per year. The total costs to society are higher and are estimated to be about £27 billion per year, although some estimates are even higher than that.

The measures that we outline today are intended to address the heavy promotion and advertising of food and drink products that are high in fat, salt and sugar, on television, online and in shops, and to equip parents with the information that they need in order to make healthy, informed decisions about the food that they and their children eat when they are out and about. We are also promoting a new national ambition for all primary schools to adopt an “active mile” initiative, like the Daily Mile. We will be launching a trailblazer programme, working closely with local authorities to show what can be achieved and to find solutions to problems created by barriers at a local level.

Childhood obesity is a complex issue that has been decades in the making, and we recognise that no single action or plan will help us to solve the challenge on its own. Our ambition requires a concerted effort and a united approach by businesses, local authorities, schools, health professionals, and families up and down the country. I look forward to working with them all.

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We have a childhood obesity crisis, and we need action.

Of course, many of the policies announced today seem familiar. That is because they are actually our policies. Supporting the Daily Mile initiative is a Labour policy. Supporting a ban on the sale of energy drinks to under-16s is a Labour policy. Proper food labelling is a Labour policy. A target of halving childhood obesity is a Labour policy. The Minister should not be commending his statement to the House; he should be commending the Labour party manifesto to the House.

But what was not in the Minister’s response? There were no mandatory guidelines on school food standards, and no powers for councils to limit the expansion of takeaway outlets near schools. There was nothing about billboards near schools, there was no extension of the sugar tax to milky drinks, and there was no commitment to increasing the number of health visitors—and what about television advertising? We were told action was coming:

“the Health Secretary, is planning a wave of new legislation...including a 9 pm watershed”

said the Telegraph.

“Barring a last-minute change of heart, advertising for products high in sugar, salt and fat will be banned before the 9 pm watershed”

insisted The Times. But what did the Secretary of State announce yesterday? He is

“calling on industry to recognise the harm that constant adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt can cause, and will consult”.

So not even an “intention” to ban advertising of junk food—just a consultation. Surely this former Culture Secretary has not given in yet again to big vested interests?

We would bring forward legislation to ban the advertising of junk food on television. We have a childhood obesity crisis; the Government should be introducing restrictions on the advertising of fudge, not serving more up of it.

The Government talk of the role of local authorities. We agree, so will council public health budget allocations still have to wait until the spending review? Does that not mean new money will not be available for councils until 2020?

The Government have today announced 13 consultations and reviews; that hardly suggests the Government are gripped with a sense of urgency to tackle this crisis. Yet the evidence is clear: we need determined action now. I can assure the Minister that we would co-operate on the timely passage of legislation, so rather than stalling further, will he take us up on our offer? Our children depend on it.

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I have been doing this job for just over a year now and I had yet to find the party politics in child obesity, but I have to say that the hon. Gentleman has just managed to land that one correctly, if nothing else. He seems to be suggesting that everything in the plan is a Labour idea and that the last two years have been in some way a wasted opportunity since the 2016 plan. I would suggest that that is not true, and it is not even close, actually. Over half of the products in the scope of the soft drinks industry levy that we brought in under Chancellor Osborne have been reformulated, with many important manufacturers leading the way. Our comprehensive sugar reduction programme has reduced sugar in some products that children eat the most. We have also made a number of significant investments, including doubling the primary PE and sport premium to £320 million a year, transforming children’s physical activity, as well as investing about £100 million this year in the healthy pupils capital fund and £26 million over three years to expand the breakfast clubs, with a focus on the Department for Education’s opportunity areas.

But we were always clear that chapter 1 was the start of the conversation—the clue is in the name—and we are very clear that more needs to be done; that is why I said what I said in my opening remarks. That is why we are introducing the bold new measures outlined in chapter 2. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not like consultations, but what could be described as delay through consultations I would describe as getting it right, and I expect that we will come on to discuss some of these measures in the coming minutes. But we must get these measures right and make sure people cannot duck underneath them.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman spoke about public health. We are spending £16 billion in the ring-fenced public health budget during this spending review. There are many good examples of local councils doing excellent things with that money, and we will probably hear about some of them as well.

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Order It is unsurprising that there is significant interest in this matter, but in order to facilitate timely progress to the ministerial statement, and indeed to the subsequent debate which I can advise the House is heavily subscribed, there will need to be a premium on economy from Back and Front Benches alike, as will now be brilliantly exemplified by the Chair of the Select Committee on Health, Dr Sarah Wollaston.

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I warmly welcome the second chapter of the childhood obesity plan, which takes us so much further in a number of areas. Can my hon. Friend the Minister set out the timescale for these consultations and confirm that the responses will be considered in a timely manner, treating this with the urgency it deserves?

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Yes, and may I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for the work she has done on this? Ever since we came into Parliament together she has been championing this issue—long before it was fashionable, I might add—and she has really led the line with her Select Committee inquiry on it, to which I and other Ministers joining me on the Front Bench today, including the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), gave evidence. With most, if not all, of the consultations we are not hanging about; they will be getting under way this year.

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This is a ticking time bomb that needs to be dealt with properly. We know that children from deprived backgrounds are twice as likely to suffer from obesity, so I first want to ask the Minister how this ties in with his plans to tackle poverty. The Scottish Government’s ambition to halve obesity in Scotland by 2030 and initiatives such as the Daily Mile are extremely important in addressing this. Those initiatives have received the backing of Jamie Oliver, who has stated that Scotland

“has picked up the baton that Westminster dropped”.

The Scottish Government will support small and medium-sized enterprises that have innovative ideas for junk food alternatives. What support will the UK Government be giving to companies founded to offer alternatives to fatty foods? Does the Minister agree that restricting the powers of the Scottish Parliament to lead the way on legislation on food safety, labelling and health claims could severely restrict Scotland’s ability to lead the way in this area?

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I thank the hon. Lady for what I think was her welcome for this. Looking at the letter on the comprehensive strategy to tackle child obesity that was sent to the Prime Minister on 25 April and signed by her leader, the First Minister of Scotland, I have ticked alongside the bullet points and I reckon that 80% or possibly 90% of the things that her leader has asked for are in this plan. She has asked about inequality, for example, and we have the lowest levels of inequality in 30 years. I am not going to get into the devolution arguments, but I will say that we welcome the North Star policy that the Scottish Government have announced, with the support of Jamie Oliver—who, I might add, has been very supportive and helpful throughout this process. We matched that, but the difference is that we have a plan for how we are going to get there.

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Is my hon. Friend aware that Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council is already leading in Leicestershire in the areas of prevention strategy and tackling obesity? Chapter 2 will be widely welcomed. Has he considered talking to supermarkets about healthy shopping strategies?

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I cannot say that I have considered that personally, but I know about lots of the technology solutions that supermarkets are bringing in. I am not surprised to hear the news about my hon. Friend’s local council, and yes, this is absolutely about prevention. Last week, the Prime Minister announced a record investment of new money in the NHS, alongside our new long-term plan, of £20.5 billion a year, but that must go hand in hand with prevention. Investment and prevention are always better than cure.

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I also warmly welcome these proposals. These have been asks of the all-party parliamentary group on diabetes and of Diabetes UK for a number of years. There is a clear link between childhood obesity and diabetes, and 4.1 million people in the UK suffer from diabetes. Does the Minister agree that retailers do not have to wait for the consultation? As with the sugar tax, they can start to make the changes now to prevent diabetes in the future.

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Yes, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for this. Diabetes UK has said:

“Diabetes UK welcomes the ambitious range of measures outlined by the government in their commitment to tackling the childhood obesity crisis facing the UK.”

Its brilliant chief executive, Chris Askew, has been very supportive of this plan. This is one of the drivers of the need to tackle this issue, and no, nobody has to wait for this. There have been many examples, and I am happy to name-check Waitrose, which took the lead on not selling energy drinks to children. Its example was followed by all the other mainline supermarkets.

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I welcome the Government’s multi-pronged approach, but will the Minister bear in mind the fact that, when it comes to calls for banning advertising before 9 o’clock, such a measure would do huge damage to the economics of the commercial broadcasters, just at a time when fewer and fewer young people are watching scheduled television? Instead, they are now watching the on-demand services that are the direct competitors of commercial TV stations.

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I take my right hon. Friend’s views very seriously, but we want to protect children from the advertising of products that are high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, and we are going to consult on introducing a 9 pm watershed. He mentions online, catch-up and social media, and that is one of the reasons that this is an important area for us to consult on. We want to ensure that we get this right, and it is not about punishing the industry. The people who work in the industry and in advertising are also parents, members of society and taxpayers. They also have a stake in this and in the reason for it all to succeed.

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I am really glad to hear the Minister talk about tackling the health inequalities of obesity among children, because we know that the gap between the least deprived and the most deprived children has become more pronounced over the past eight years. Will he go into a bit more detail about what he is going to ask local authorities to do to close that gap?

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I will work with local authorities on a new pathfinders programme, which the hon. Lady may not have had a chance to look at as it was published only this morning. We want to work with them to model solutions and barriers to action through the pathfinders programme. There are already some good examples, some of which are set out in the plan, including in Blackpool and at Derbyshire County Council, which are doing good things. Many local authorities already have a number of substantial levers and powers. We want to model the best so that others, such as Liverpool, can follow.

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Why are the poorest children disproportionately among the fattest? It is not because they watch more adverts, is it?

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It could be that, but it is a job of education and about helping their parents make sensible choices, because it is the poorest in society who miss out when we get this wrong. It is about what the Prime Minister described as a “burning injustice” when she was first elected, and I agree with her.

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Breastfeeding is a protective factor against childhood obesity. Although initial rates are about 75%, fewer than 45% of mothers continue to breastfeed by six to eight weeks. There is no mention of breastfeeding in the childhood obesity plan. With health visiting services being cut, what are the Government doing to promote this important part of a child’s nourishment?

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There is no mention of breastfeeding in the plan, but that does not mean that I and my colleagues do not see it as a very important part of the early years programme. In areas that I represent, as well as, I am sure, in other areas represented by colleagues, local authorities are often actively engaged in making sure that breastfeeding is a very important part of a child’s start in life.

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It was the drive and passion of Alderman Eric van der Burg, a right-wing politician, that led to results in bringing down child obesity in Amsterdam. What more do we need to do to get local authority leaders here to see that this is actually part of their core business, not a fringe activity?

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As my hon. Friend will remember from my speaking to the Health Committee, I have also been to Amsterdam, but unfortunately not for as long as the Committee members were. The whole-systems approach taken by Mayor van der Burg and Amsterdam is very impressive and has resulted in a 13% reduction in child obesity. Local authorities can learn from their attempts to market their cities, areas and regions, and I would suggest that having a good, healthy community and a good, healthy look when people walk out of the airport and do not see massive adverts for unhealthy fast food is an important part of that.

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I welcome the Minister’s statement. Will he encourage supermarkets to offer free fruit to kids coming into the store? Nothing has changed my supermarket shop more than my local store doing so; when kids go in, they now ask for their free clementine rather than their chocolate.

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That is an easy one to agree with. Tesco has been doing that for years, and my children regularly avail themselves of the opportunity.

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May I urge the Minister not to get into some nanny state, socialist claptrap arms race with the Opposition parties, which will never be satisfied, as we heard earlier from the shadow Secretary of State? May I remind the Minister that he is actually supposed to be a Conservative and urge him to think about this from a Conservative standpoint, which focuses on things like parental responsibility and not seeking to ban anything that moves?

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I am very pleased that my hon. Friend made that very helpful contribution. I am a Conservative—I said so in my opening remarks—but at the end of the day this is a publicly funded health service that we all believe in and all love. If we want it to celebrate its 140th birthday, we need to protect it, and that means getting serious about prevention and stopping people coming into the service and getting sick. Everyone in the House—Conservative, Labour and everyone in between—should get behind that.

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As I understand it, a six-year-old will be 18 before the Minister’s proposed ban on the promotion of unhealthy food at supermarket checkouts will come into effect. Surely this is meant to be a crisis, not a long-term plan.

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I thought for one fleeting moment that the hon. Lady and I were going to agree. I do not recognise that that six-year-old will have to wait another 12 years for the measure to be consulted on and put in place, so I think the hon. Lady might need to check her math.

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I think the Minister said that one quarter of children are obese by the time they go into primary school. The figures are shocking. Surely that must mean that nought to five-year-olds have far too much refined sugar in their diet. Can we please have an emphasis on parental responsibility for those young children?

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Yes. I am absolutely clear that there are three parts to this particular puzzle: there is Government, and using the power of Government for things like a sugar tax, which clearly only the Government can do; there is business, and the reformulation we are seeing from many, many businesses is impressive and helpful; and there are parents. Parental responsibility is central to this—we cannot do it without them—but we are going to give them information to help them do it.

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The Minister’s Conservative Government introduced a tax on sugary drinks, which worked because, as we know, manufacturers have reformulated their drinks. Why does he not accept that the voluntary approach to high-sugar food is not working? Why does he not introduce regulation to cut sugar in the high-sugar foods marketed at families?

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The hon. Lady and I went through this at oral questions just last Tuesday. There is a two-part approach: the stick and the carrot. As a carrot, we have a sugar-reduction programme on fizzy drinks, and my colleagues at Public Health England are doing a calorie-reduction programme—working closely with the industry, and with great success, to reduce calories through changes to recipes and portion sizes, for instance. Yes, sometimes the Government need to wave a stick, but there are also times when they need to encourage and to help along the way. We are going to do both.

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At a time when families are struggling with the cost of living, I urge my hon. Friend to make sure that these measures do not increase prices, which hit those on the lowest incomes the most.

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I have been very aware of that throughout the drawing together of this plan. For instance, we do not propose to ban “children eat free” offers. We are talking about food and drink price promotions, such as two-for-one multi-buy deals in the retail and the out-of-home sector, to prevent needless consumption and to help parents with pester power—with which I am incredibly familiar, as I have a 10-year-old and a seven-year-old.

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The challenge is about both prevention and cure. We need to act now to help the growing numbers of children who are already obese, but in its recent inquiry the Health and Social Care Committee heard that provision of tier-3 and tier-4 services is bare. It concluded:

“Addressing health inequalities must include providing help for those children who are already obese.”

What is the Minister going to do about the commissioning of tier-3 and tier-4 services?

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is not just about some future generation; it is about the generation now that is already too big. It is about helping people through a sugar-reduction programme, a calorie-reduction programme and—something we have not yet talked about—the daily mile and the activity programme we see in so many schools in my constituency, and I am sure in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. That will help children in the future, and it will certainly help children now. It is never too late.

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I welcome my hon. Friend’s proposals, and I am grateful for his recent visit to Bexley to see our local plans for coping and dealing with childhood obesity. Chapter 2 is a good plan. Does he agree that targeting sedentary lifestyles is a top priority, and that to do so we need parental involvement?

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It was a pleasure to visit my right hon. Friend’s constituency to see how Bexley Council is using its power, money and public health grant—the council made it very clear to me that it would like more, and my right hon. Friend is a very good advocate on the council’s behalf—to bring forward a whole community response like the one I saw in Amsterdam. I would like to see much more of that in England.

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