House of Commons
Monday 11 March 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Sixth Form Curriculum
We want young people to have a range of options so that they can mature and develop the skills they will need in adult life. There was a wide consultation on reforming A-levels to ensure that they meet the needs of the future, and the new T-levels will increase the options available. I should add that £600 a year for each additional student taking maths A-level to increase take-up is now on the table.
The Minister will be well aware that we have seen a significant reduction in the take-up of subjects at sixth form level, with a 57% reduction in German, a 38% cut in Spanish, a 35% cut in French and a 38% drop in science, technology, engineering and maths—STEM—subjects. This is down to a 21% real-terms cut in education funding for sixth forms. Does she not share my concern that the young people in the secondary schools in my area will not have the same opportunities as we enjoyed when we were at school?
We recognise that there is an issue around languages, but when I think about some of the good work that is being done on STEM subjects in particular, I am very impressed with what is going on.
It is extremely important that girls and women have exactly the same opportunities and are represented at all levels, not only in engineering. We know that 44% of our STEM ambassadors are female, and we are investing in programmes such as the advanced maths support programme and the stimulating physics network, both of which help to increase participation, particularly among girls. I have seen lots of apprentices over the past week, and interestingly, more than a quarter of the apprentices in STEM subjects are women.[Official Report, 19 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 5MC.]
With more than three quarters of schools and colleges post-16 reporting a significant reduction in support for extracurricular services and in all other means of supporting students, such as mental health services, is it not time to raise the rate and to address this real problem in post-16 funding?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has been a doughty champion of raising the rate, not least as a result of his experience in the education sector. I visited a sixth form college last Friday, and I am aware of the challenges that they are facing, as is the Secretary of State. We have protected base rates, but of course all this will be looked at in the context of the spending review.
The curriculum, diverse or otherwise, can be successfully delivered only if students attend. Will the Minister condemn the growing trend of students going on strike to protest against current political issues?
My hon. Friend believes that it is a growing trend; I do not know that it is a trend. I think we all agree that it is good when young people are passionate about the issues that they care about. I do not believe that anybody should go on strike as such, but I am sure that those students made up their studies in their own time and at weekends.
The 15,000 young people who protested about climate change last month in the Youth Strike 4 Climate were passionate and committed. Instead of condemning them or branding their actions as truancy, as some would do, would it not be better for the Government to review the curriculum to ensure that greater importance is %attached to the urgency of attending to the ecological crisis that we face?
We would like to see those young people who have an interest in climate change becoming the engineers and scientists of the future, particularly the young women among them. It is important that people who care passionately about these subjects should use that passion to take up careers that will make a real difference to our climate.
In the past few days, research has exposed one of the devastating impacts of cuts to the curriculum in schools and sixth forms: music provision has fallen by over a fifth in five years, with schools in the most deprived areas suffering the worst. That was among the concerns raised by 7,000 headteachers last week, but the Secretary of State refused to meet them. Let me make it clear that I would happily meet those headteachers any time. The question is: will the Education Secretary now agree to do the same?
Yes, we have invested £500 million in music and the arts. To put that into context, the hon. Lady should be aware that the Secretary of State met headteachers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He did not meet any on Sunday, but I am sure that he will meet more headteachers this week, so there has been no snub from the Secretary of State. He meets headteachers all the time—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the hon. Lady suggests that the Secretary of State refuses to meet headteachers, but that is not the case. That is not an honest representation of the Secretary of State that I know—[Interruption.]
Order. Please stop issuing instructions to withdraw. The statement from the Minister was borderline, because there can be no accusation of anything other than honesty in the Chamber, so I was happy to leave it there. I do not require advice or help from any other quarter.
There are 443 open free schools, and we will establish another 263. Today, I announced the approval of a further 37 special free schools and two alternative provision schools. In the spring, we will announce the successful applications from wave 13, and we recently published the wave 14 applications.
Cobham Free School’s secondary department has been in temporary accommodation since 2014. While it is welcome that the sixth form is moving in to the new site at Munro House in September, the rest of the pupils will not join them until 2021, which is frustrating for pupils and parents and will cost over £1 million. Will the Secretary of State see whether more can be done to seek early vacant possession, given the additional money and expense that would otherwise go on temporary accommodation, to get those children into the permanent site as soon as possible?
I commend my right hon. Friend for his ongoing work with the Cobham Free School and the upcoming project at Heathside Walton-on-Thames. He has met my noble friend Lord Agnew to discuss vacant possession and, as he knows, there have been delays in trying to get it, but I would be happy to meet him to discuss the matter further.
Whether free schools or not—a policy I disagree with—Stoke-on-Trent now has a huge gap in the number of places available at secondary schools to the point where 11 of my 14 secondary schools are oversubscribed, with some constituents having to get three buses to get to their allocated school in September. What is the Secretary of State planning to do about that?
This decade we are on course to create 1 million new places in schools across the country. It will be the largest expansion in school capacity in at least two generations, following the net loss of 100,000 places during the last six years of the Labour Government. Although there will always be individual situations that we need to address—we have a capital programme to do that, and I will be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss it—there are now tens of thousands fewer pupils in schools that are over capacity.
In The Times on Friday, the Secretary of State said that
“an exclusion should not just be the end of something but be the start of something new and positive.”
What is he doing to address the postcode lottery of alternative provision, particularly in areas with high amounts of exclusion? Why does the latest free school wave contain just two free schools with alternative provision? What is he doing to change that?
Three questions truncated into one.
Some alternative provision free schools are already open, and there will be more over time, and my right hon. Friend is right that today’s announcement contained two more. Like him, I have seen some outstanding alternative provision in our country, and we need to ensure that that happens everywhere.
Today’s announcement of 37 new free schools to deal with exclusions is all very well, but the fact is that the reason why headteachers feel that they have to exclude pupils is that there is simply not enough money in special educational needs and disability provision in the first place. More is not enough from this Government. When will the Secretary of State finally fund SEND provision properly?
As the hon. Lady knows, there is more money going into high needs provision—£6 billion. However, it is also true—this is implicit in what she says—that there are greater demands on the system. That is why we brought forward as a first stage the package that I announced a few months ago, including the extra revenue funding and extra capital funding, but we know that there is more to do.
Parents and children in Middlesbrough were left angry and upset last week by the announcement that 100 pupils will not receive a secondary school place in the town from September and will instead be placed with neighbouring authorities. A key cause of that is population growth. Middlesbrough Council is supporting a bid for a new free school in Middlehaven, so will the Department expedite it as a matter of urgency?
As I said to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth), there are areas where we need to continue creating new school places. That is why we have already created over 800,000 school places since 2010 and are on course for 1 million new school places over the decade.
On the free schools process, we expect to announce the outcome of wave 13 before too long.
Instead of increasing the number of free schools, will the Secretary of State look at how we could improve the quality of the free schools we already have? Plymouth School of Creative Arts does exceptional work in some respects, but it is failing in others. Will he look at investing more in making sure such failing and troubled schools give our kids the education they deserve?
That is at the heart of what we do. That is why we have Ofsted and a school improvement programme, and it is why we encourage schools to learn from one another. One of the main reasons we have multi-academy trusts is so that they are able to work together. I think the hon. Gentleman will be meeting my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards, who takes a close interest in Plymouth schools, to make sure the very best can be done.
We have reformed the curriculum and ensured we have rigorous qualifications so that employers and young people themselves can take full confidence in them.
At the end of the day, the most important thing that matters is that a child’s education is one that gives them the greatest opportunity in life. Although resources are clearly very important, what also matters is the quality of teaching, the learning environment and, above all else, leadership within schools. Does the Minister agree it is those ingredients that will really make the difference to a child’s education and to standards within schools?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and we will be investing over £20 million by 2020 through our teaching and leadership innovation fund. On Saturday I had the opportunity to talk about the benefits of diversity in leadership at the “Break the Cycle” event, and I take this opportunity once again to thank and pay tribute to teachers and leaders in our schools throughout the country.
As it happens, on Thursday—in three days’ time—we have a session with Opportunity North East to look specifically at working directly with secondary schools in the north-east. The hon. Lady is right to identify that there is a particular issue in parts of the north-east, where primary schools have strong and outstanding results, as do nursery schools, but we clearly need to do more for secondary schools, which is partly what we will be looking at on Thursday.
Of course I recognise the value of rural schools, not least as a constituency MP—I have many brilliant rural schools in my constituency. As we come to look again at the formula, of course we will look at how the different elements work to make sure that all types of schools are supported.
The hon. Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) is a jolly lucky fella to get in at Question Time, as he withdrew his own question. He is a very busy fella, with many commitments and a very full diary, but I got him in early, which I know he duly appreciates.
Surely it is impossible to raise standards in schools when 15.93% of children with special educational needs and disabilities are excluded, compared with 3.6% of children without special educational needs. What is the Minister doing to address this stark difference in exclusions?
Of course it is a matter of concern that some groups are more likely to be excluded than others, particularly when it comes to children with special educational needs, who deserve and must have our particular attention. The hon. Lady will know that there is an ongoing review by Edward Timpson, the former schools Minister, and we expect to hear back on that quite soon.
Two thirds of children who are excluded from school are found to have speech, language and communication difficulties. Tackling this at an early age would make a real difference to their life chances and, indeed, to the standards they achieve at school, so will my right hon. Friend please outline what the Government are doing to show they realise this and to tackle it?
My hon. Friend is, of course, exactly right on that. The very earliest development of speech and language is crucial; someone who arrives at school unable to communicate fully just cannot access the rest of the curriculum. That is why I have set out the ambition to halve that gap in early language development. It is also why we must look at the home, because what happens in school and nursery is not the whole picture. We have to think about the home learning environment and make sure we are giving as much support to parents as possible.
Standards in schools are wholly dependent on the recruitment and retention of quality teachers. Does the Secretary of State agree that the immigration Bill, with its £30,000 threshold, is going to be a barrier to the recruitment of teachers post-Brexit? Surely he must agree that it is time to scrap this flawed legislation.
A relatively low number of teachers from other EU countries are working in our education system. For the development of languages, for example, we could do more, and of course we will always look at the immigration system and make sure that the highly skilled people we need for our system are welcome.
Disadvantaged Children: Attainment Gap
Our reforms, backed by the £2.4 billion pupil premium, have helped schools to narrow the disadvantage attainment gap by 13% at age 11 and 9% at age 16 since 2011.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Research shows that when children fall behind in the early years it is incredibly difficult for them to catch up. Will he advise me as to how his Department is supporting disadvantaged children in those crucial early stages of education?
Of course, my right hon. Friend is correct on this, which follows on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow). We are investing more than £100 million in our early years social mobility programme, including for professional development for early years practitioners and in grant support for the home learning environment, as I was outlining. Across the country, more than 150,000 disadvantaged two-year-olds benefit from the 15 free hours entitlement, 540 of whom are in the Bexley local authority area.
Quite a few children from disadvantaged backgrounds in my constituency start school with English as a second language. That is one reason why my constituency ranks relatively low on reading skills and in social mobility indices. What is the Secretary of State doing to enhance English-speaking skills in the very early years at nursery and in primary school?
My hon. Friend is correct about this; at the early years foundation stage, providers have to make sure that there are sufficient opportunities for children whose home language is not English to learn and reach a good standard in the English language.
Rural poverty means that children in north Northumberland are doubly disadvantaged in terms of educational opportunities. Headteachers such as Nicola Mathewson at Rothbury First School, in my most sparsely populated rural community, are struggling to balance budgets because of the apprenticeship levy forced on them there. This money cannot be spent on a teaching assistant to help with reading or maths. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can free up these funds by correcting what I assume was an oversight in respect of excluding small rural schools when the apprenticeship levy framework was put together?
Of course, I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss how we can make sure that apprenticeships do work for the Rothbury First School and others in her constituency. Local authorities, which are the levy payers in this case, should ensure that schools can benefit from apprenticeships; they can combine the levy across schools or share apprentices to ensure that the money is best spent.
As the Secretary of State will be aware, one institution that does close the disadvantage attainment gap in the early years is our valued maintained nursery schools. As hundreds of headteachers gather in Parliament today to lobby their MPs before we go on a march to Downing Street, may I, first, pay tribute to the children’s Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), for securing the down payment of £24 million for these maintained nursery schools? May I also ask the Secretary of State to redouble his efforts and work across government to make sure they have a long-term, secure funding stream?
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words about the schools Minister. [Interruption.] I mean the children’s Minister. Did I say schools Minister? He is also very good. I do recognise the particularly important place that maintained nursery schools have. With this recent announcement, local authorities can plan with confidence for the full academic year. As the hon. Lady knows, we are also doing further work to look into the value added and additional services that maintained nurseries provide.
Will the Secretary of State listen to a little bit of advice? A lot of people in the educational world want him to be a big beast. They want to know what he stands for and what he is passionate about. If he cannot be passionate about identifying which little children have talent but are lost to the system by the time they get to 11, he will be nothing. Why does he not take it seriously, bring back children’s centres and early years support, and do something about underprivileged children as early as possible? Be a big beast!
Wow. I believe my commitment to social mobility and closing the disadvantage gap is strong. I used to chair the all-party group on social mobility before I came into this job, and believe that social mobility is at the very heart of what we do. It is the core purpose of the Department for Education to ensure that every child, whatever their background, has the maximum opportunities available to them. I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that since the party of which he is a member was last in government, we have narrowed the disadvantage attainment gap at every stage—from nursery to primary, through secondary and into higher education.
It may come as no surprise to anyone at all that I am not about to commend the Scottish Government for their approach. Actually, in the last few years England has seen record rates of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds being able to go to university. We need to work further on not only access but successful participation, bringing down drop-out rates and increasing completion rates, and making sure that everybody has full access to the most stretching opportunities available to them.
We know that per pupil spending in England has fallen by 8% in the past 10 years, which has led to many schools now having to rely on substantial parental funding—in some cases, it is up to £1,200 per year. How is the Department ensuring that schools in disadvantaged areas are able to continue to deliver for pupils, given that the parents in such areas cannot possibly consider contributing such fees?
The simple truth is that that gap has been narrowing in England. I will take no lessons from SNP Members, whose Government in Scotland are failing to narrow the gap.
As we have heard from Members from all parties, communication, articulacy and oracy are the absolute keys to closing the disadvantage gap. A child with poor vocabulary at five and under is twice as likely to unemployed at 30. We know that high-quality early years education can make a massive difference for disadvantaged children. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) for mentioning the heads of maintained nurseries who are campaigning outside No. 10 right now. Sadly, the Secretary of State chooses to lock the most disadvantaged youngsters out of the 30 hours of free childcare. Does he not agree that to make a serious attempt at closing the disadvantage gap, he must drop the requirement that both parents have to be in work to qualify for entitlement to 30 hours of free childcare?
There are currently 154,960 disadvantaged two-year-olds benefiting from the 15 hours’ free entitlement programme—a programme that was never available under any Labour Government. As for the increase in eligibility from 15 to 30 hours, that supports working families and helps to sustain employment. I gently remind the hon. Lady that we have record levels of employment in this country and the lowest level of unemployment we have seen since the mid-1970s.
Order. Progress is very slow, so we need to speed up. There are a lot of questions to get through; short questions and short answers would facilitate us in the process.
Post-18 Education and Funding Review
The Government’s post-18 review is making good progress. As part of the review, the independent panel chaired by Philip Augar has undertaken an extensive programme of stakeholder engagement and evidence-gathering with students, graduates, providers and employers, including a call for evidence that received more than 400 responses. They are producing a report that will form part of the wider post-18 review and this will be published shortly.
I thank the Minister for that answer. There have been rumours in this place about the possibility of reduced or variable tuition fees forming part of the proposals from the Augar review. In my opinion that misses the point; it is actually the cost of living and maintenance rather than tuition that causes accessibility problems at universities. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Government will properly consult the sector on any recommendations and seek to follow the evidence, rather than offering quick fixes and good headlines?
I agree that we want to maintain the financial stability of our world-class higher education and research sector. I congratulate many universities on their appearance in the QS World University Rankings last week. That is why, when the Government conclude the review, we will ensure that people from every background can progress and succeed in post-18 education to contribute to a strong knowledge economy and deliver the skills that we need.
Support for Pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
The special educational needs reforms of 2014 were the biggest in a generation. In December we announced a further £250 million in high-needs funding over the two years, bringing the total to £6.1 billion this year and £6.3 billion in 2019-20. We announced today that 3,500 extra school places will be created for pupils facing the biggest challenge in their education, with 39 new free schools to support children with special educational needs or those who have been excluded from mainstream schools.
I appreciate the Minister’s response and announcement, but it does not yet recognise the reality that schools are facing. One of my primary school teachers told me last week:
“SEND funding is in crisis. We have pupils who have been promised a place at schools with a special educational needs base, but due to a lack of this specialist provision, pupils have had to remain at our school. We cater for their needs as much as we possibly can.”
The reality is that those pupils are not getting the care that they deserve. We have only one chance of giving our children the best start in life. Minister, will you look again at the needs of all pupils being met, particularly those with special needs?
That is exactly what we are doing. Today’s announcement of 37 special free schools is on top of the 88 special free schools and 54 alternative provision schools that are already either open or in the pipeline The announcement today is in addition to that provision, which is why we are doing that. Additionally, we have put £100 million into increasing capacity in mainstream schools as well as increasing the high-needs funding for local authorities.
The Federation of Heathfield and St Francis Special Schools provides invaluable learning opportunities for more than 200 children with special educational needs in Fareham. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the inspirational head, Steve Hollinghurst, whose record of service spans 36 years, and will he set out what further support there is for these essential schools so that they can continue providing this support for our most vulnerable children?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in praising Steve for the work that he has done. Today’s announcement provides a portfolio of provision in local areas. Almost every local authority will benefit from this increase in provision.
This morning, I met students on the foundation skills course at the excellent Stockton Riverside College, which also operates in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley). What is the Minister doing to support colleges to deliver foundation skills courses to young people with high needs such as learning disabilities, including those whom I met this morning?
Colleges do absolutely critical work, and they do brilliant work with special needs children. I have seen it for myself at Hammersmith and Derwent colleges, and we continue to support those colleges.
Parents of children with SEN very rarely welcome the closure of their schools, and I say respectfully that we must treat the parents in Chippenham and Trowbridge with great sensitivity. None the less, does the Minister not agree with me and welcome Wiltshire Council’s great vision in spending £20 million on building a state-of-the-art school at Rowdeford, which will bring children from across the whole of North Wiltshire to an absolutely superb facility?
I agree with my hon. Friend that Wiltshire is doing a tremendous job in SEND provision. The inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission has been exemplary. There is a legal challenge to the investment of £20 million and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that. I know that neighbouring colleagues take a different view as well.
Restraint and restrictive practices in schools and healthcare settings carried out by adults on children as young as two with SEND have caused bruising, black eyes, carpet burns and post-traumatic stress disorder. Guidance promised half a decade ago has yet to materialise, and the Department does not count these complaints. Fed-up parents are preparing to take legal action against the Government. Despite today’s announcement of placements for children with complex needs, should not the Minister be focusing on the fact that, on his watch, some schools are no longer a safe place for children with SEND?
I had hoped that the hon. Lady would commend today’s announcement and confirm that she takes a different view from her Front Bench on abolishing free schools. If we abolished these very good free special schools, we would actually put more children with SEND at risk. We are undertaking a root-and-branch review of restraint with the Department of Health and Social Care, and we will be reporting back.
School Funding: Distribution
In 2018, we introduced the national funding formula, which distributes funding based on schools’ and pupils’ needs and characteristics, not accidents of location or history. Since 2017, we have given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school, while allocating the biggest increases to the most underfunded schools.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but given that the national funding formula only reduces the funding disparity by some 5%, when does he think his Department is going to fulfil our manifesto promise of creating fair funding for all schoolchildren, and will he meet me and colleagues from Leicestershire to discuss these matters?
I will certainly meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Leicestershire. The national funding formula is delivering rapid gains for the most underfunded schools while also ensuring stability for all schools. By 2019-20, schools in Leicestershire will receive 5.5% more funding per pupil compared to 2017-18, or is £31.5 million more in total. In 2019-20, 92% of schools in Leicestershire will already be attracting their full gains under the national funding formula.
I am here on behalf of Balham Nursery School and Children’s Centre in my constituency, which knows that it has guaranteed funding until 2020, but is deeply concerned about what will happen going forward. The people there do an incredible job bridging the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers, so what assurances can the Minister provide them with today?
Everything about this Government is about closing that attainment gap, and we have closed the attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more affluent peers by 13.5% in the primary sector—in early years and primary schools. The hon. Lady will know that we have awarded an extra £60 million funding to recognise the higher costs of maintained nursery schools. We are working with the sector as we prepare for the spending review.[Official Report, 19 March 2019, Vol. 656, c. 6MC.]
I was at the Cotswold School in Bourton-on-the-Water in my constituency on Friday. It is not even going to reach the £4,800 per pupil under the national funding formula. How can it be fair that that school gets that sort of funding, yet schools in Hackney—with a range of pupil premium funding on top—get £6,800 per pupil?
The purpose of the national funding formula is not to give every school across the country the same amount of funding per pupil. It must be right that schools with lots of children with additional needs—for example, coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, with English as an additional language or with low prior attainment—do need to receive more money to help to ensure that those children’s needs are met. It is also right that schools in areas of high costs receive extra money to reflect those costs. That is what our fairer funding system delivers, and my hon. Friend’s county will have benefited from the national funding formula.
Tithe Barn Primary School in my constituency is a low-funded school in a low-funded authority with an above average percentage of special educational needs children. The Minister has said that he will be gathering evidence on the adequacy of special educational needs funding. Is he able to give us any more information about when he will start to gather evidence, how he will gather it and who will be invited to contribute?
We understand the pressures on the high-needs budgets of local authorities up and down the country, including medical science and a whole range of other issues such as extending the age range for special educational needs provision up to 25. All those things have added pressure to high-needs budgets, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State towards the end of last year announced an extra £250 million between this financial year and the next financial year to recognise the pressures that local authorities are facing.
Figures show that our schools have 66,000 more pupils but 5,400 fewer teachers, 2,800 fewer teaching assistants, 1,400 fewer support staff, and 1,200 fewer auxiliary staff—a total workforce reduction of 10,800 from 2016-17. With weekend reports of headteachers having to clean the toilets, does the Minister still maintain that schools are not experiencing funding cuts from this Government?
As I said, since 2017 we have provided and are providing local authorities with more money for every pupil in every school. There are 10,000 more teachers in our school system today than there were when we came into office in 2010. In the recruitment cycle last year, we recruited 2,600 more teacher trainees into teacher training. It is an attractive and an honourable profession to work in. I wish the hon. Gentleman and Labour Front Benchers would support our schools and talk them up instead of talking them down.
Mental Health and Wellbeing: Support in Schools
We conducted a national survey of mental health provision in schools that showed that most take action to support their pupils’ mental health. Schools need specialist support, so under the NHS long-term plan we are introducing mental health support teams as part of a major investment in children’s mental health.
During my annual community consultation, I met students from secondary schools right across my constituency. In every school, they raised the difficulty in accessing mental health services as a top priority. The Minister said that he is encouraging schools to offer counselling. Schools want to do that, but the funding crisis is preventing them because they do not have the resources. Next Tuesday, I am hosting a delegation of headteachers from every Sheffield constituency. Will he meet them to discuss this issue?
I would happily discuss the issue. I am very proud to share with this House the fact that the funding that we are increasing to £2.3 billion a year by 2023-24 would mean that funding for children’s and young people’s mental health services will grow faster than overall NHS funding, but also, more importantly, faster than total mental health spending overall.
Saxon Hill Academy in Lichfield, like many other schools that look after severely disabled children, has a programme of sleepovers for the children. That benefits the children, and it is great for the parents because it gives them respite, but the school is now having to discontinue it because of local funding issues. Is there anything the Government can do centrally to help Saxon Hill and similar schools?
Saxon Hill does a tremendous job, and respite is incredibly important. Part of the reason we have increased the funding, with £250 million over the next two years, is that we are very much cognisant of the fact that there are funding pressures on local authorities’ higher needs budgets.
The online game “Doki Literature Club!”, which is available as a free download, promotes self-harm and has been linked to the suicides of several young people. What steps are being taken within schools to raise awareness of such dangers? What steps are being taken with the Minister’s colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to tighten the regulations that currently allow children and young people to download such harmful games?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The relationships curriculum addresses these online harms directly. We also have the online harms White Paper that is to be issued imminently.
Teachers’ Pension Scheme Costs: Effect on Universities
The Department’s public consultation to gather evidence on the impacts of increased contributions to the teachers’ pension scheme for all TPS employers, including universities, for 2019-20 closed on 12 February 2019. Final funding decisions will be made in due course when the consultation evidence has been reviewed.
Modern universities across the country are deeply anxious about the upcoming charges to the teachers’ pension scheme, with one institution forecasting a 5% cut in staff members if the Government do not act. Will the Secretary of State urgently commit to supporting universities with these huge additional costs that have been earmarked for schools and colleges?
The Department’s initial analysis of each sector—state schools, further education, higher education, and independent schools—suggested that state schools and further education colleges would be most affected by the increase in employer contributions, so prioritised funding has been made available for them on this basis. However, final funding decisions will be made when the consultation evidence has been reviewed.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the most serious financial pressures are not on universities but on further education colleges and that it is time for a fresh, fair settlement for FE colleges, to ensure that learners get the investment in education that they deserve?
My hon. Friend is right that analysis has demonstrated that the FE sector would be affected. Obviously, FE colleges are most directly funded by Government grants, in contrast with higher education providers, which are autonomous bodies that are ultimately responsible for ensuring their financial viability.
Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy
As recommended in the northern powerhouse schools strategy, we are implementing a range of measures in the north to improve teaching and leadership capacity, to recruit and retain more teachers and to close the disadvantage gap. In 2018, 80% of children were in good or outstanding schools in the north, compared with 67% in 2010.
Many of the projects that the Minister has referred to today and previously have a national reach and are not solely catering for the north, which betrays the very purpose of the northern powerhouse schools strategy. Will he commit to creating a northern schools improvement board, drawing together local authorities and schools commissioners, and to extend funding beyond 2020, to deliver the regional strategy that we in Bradford need and were promised?
We are absolutely committed to the northern powerhouse strategy. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be in Middlesbrough on Thursday to announce more plans for Opportunity North East. The northern powerhouse strategy involves a range of policies. For example, we are rolling out a three-year programme of tailored support for some of the schools facing the most significant recruitment and retention problems; around 100 schools in the north will benefit from that. Five opportunity areas in the north will receive a share of £72 million to improve social mobility. In the Bradford opportunity area, we are targeting up to £1.5 million of school improvement support, improving literacy through £600,000 of investment in Bradford primary schools, including nine schools in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
Technical and Vocational Education and Training
We are introducing T-levels from 2020, with the first ones being in construction, education and childcare, and digital. With longer teaching hours and substantive industry placements, T-levels will provide a high-quality technical alternative to academic education. That builds on the growing work with high-quality apprenticeships, which are now longer and better, with more off-the-job training and proper assessment at the end.
One of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s departing recommendations when he left Ofsted was that every multi-academy trust should contain a university technical college that offers maths, science and a technical specialism. Will the Minister look at taking that forward?
We want UTCs to join suitable MATs wherever possible, as it is beneficial to both of them. It allows UTCs and MATs to offer a broad base of education, which can only be in everyone’s interests.
The Minister’s rhetoric bears no relation to what we are seeing in our schools, where vocational education opportunities are shrinking all the time, and the Government’s sense of direction seems to be narrowing our young people’s curriculum. When will the statements that the Minister makes at the Dispatch Box start to have even the slightest relevance to what people are experiencing on the ground?
I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman was last week, but it was National Apprenticeship Week. The opportunities that are available from the age of 16 in apprenticeships are extraordinary, and the Government are putting substantial investment into T-levels. For the first time, I have seen technical and vocational education get some real traction both inside and outside schools.
I know that my hon. Friend is a fantastic champion of apprenticeships in his constituency and across the country, and I am delighted to hear that he will host an apprenticeship fair in Southport in May. It was a pleasure to visit Southport College last year. There were 1,250 events during National Apprenticeship Week this year, which was a 50% increase on last year. The opportunities for young people and, indeed, older people are quite extraordinary.
The Minister rightly talks about the opportunities of the National Apprenticeship Week, but the National Audit Office says that the financial sustainability of the apprenticeship levy, which is key to the Government’s strategy, is at risk. We have a crazy situation with the overspend on higher apprenticeships producing a £500 million deficit, but non-levy payers, which are the training providers for three out of four apprenticeships, are left without funding. Following the catastrophic falls in apprenticeship starts in 2017, why is this Department now looking at another disaster, and how will this Minister stop this driverless levy going over the cliff and taking huge numbers of chances with it?
I have to say that I do not think the hon. Gentleman always believes what he says from the Dispatch Box. [Interruption.] He talks apprenticeships down. How can he possibly talk about an overspend on higher level apprenticeships? In this country, we are desperate for people who are able to do level 4 and level 5 qualifications. The National Audit Office report was a very backward-looking report. I am sure he would agree with me in private, if not from the Dispatch Box, that the difference he will have seen between National Apprenticeship Week this year and the one last year is quite extraordinary.
Everybody in this Chamber believes what he or she says from either the Front Bench or the Back Benches. It is a point so blindingly obvious that only an extraordinarily sophisticated person could fail to grasp it.
Teaching and Support Staff: Recruitment and Retention
Our recent integrated teacher recruitment and retention strategy prioritises reducing unnecessary workloads. We will ensure teaching continues to offer one of the best pensions available, and teacher pay ranges have increased by between 1.5% and 3.5% this year.
I was back for assembly at my alma mater, Montpelier Primary School, this morning. It is an outstanding school, but it is coming under pressure from churn, with Brexit moving parents’ jobs so pupils are off, while teachers, finding their salaries are not enough to meet the London cost of living, either commute from outside London or permanently move their jobs there or overseas. What is the Secretary of State doing specifically about the London pressures, which are masked by the figures he has quoted, so that teachers are paid enough to be rooted in their community, as they were in my day, not passing through?
Of course we recognise the additional cost in high-cost areas, in particular in London. It is true that there are 200 more teachers in the Ealing local authority area than there were in 2010. However, it remains a very competitive recruitment market, particularly for graduate recruitment, partly because of the historically very low unemployment we have, and that makes our recruitment and retention strategy all the more important.
It is time for the right hon. Gentleman to issue his brevity textbook. Let us have an extract.
We are spending more per pupil than any other G7 nation, but headteachers are complaining that they are cleaning the loos themselves. Something is going wrong. What is it?
On the first point, we are spending more than any other G7 nation bar the United States in per capita funding for state primary and secondary education, but there are particular cost pressures in the system. We were discussing high needs earlier, and we do need to address that particular set of pressures. There are others as well, such as the way we go about purchasing and so on, and some of the costs that are particularly rising. I want to reassure my right hon. Friend that we are looking at all of those factors.
I am pleased to confirm that we are providing £24 million of supplementary funding to local authorities to enable them fully to fund maintained nursery schools for 2019-20. Last week marked National Apprenticeship Week, celebrating apprenticeships and their positive impact on people, businesses and the economy. We have recently confirmed plans for reforms to the relationships and sex education and the health education curricula, to be implemented in schools from September 2020, so that children can be taught about mental and physical wellbeing, as well as about online safety, subject of course to parliamentary approval.
For how many more years can my Great Grimsby constituents expect Great Coates and Scartho state-maintained nursery schools to remain open?
As I said earlier, we recognise the particular place that maintained nurseries have in our system. They often provide additional, high-quality services, which we value. Work is ongoing to assess that value and of course we will make announcements about future spending as part of the spending review.
I commend Peartree Way maintained nursery school. Maintained nursery schools do a brilliant job because they cater for the most disadvantaged children in our communities. That is why we have provided the additional £24 million that has been mentioned many times today. What happens next obviously depends on the spending review. We are working with the sector, which I want to thank for its hard work in allowing us to understand the additional costs so that we can put our best foot forward in the spending review.
It is great to see the pupils in the Gallery who have been listening throughout Question Time.
In the Government’s vast backlog of Brexit legislation, they recently slipped out regulations that allow them to withdraw the UK from the European University Institute. Legal experts say that that is completely unnecessary and academics warn that it will be deeply damaging. Will the Secretary of State publish the legal advice and allow a debate on the Floor of the House—or, better still, withdraw the proposal and think again?
The Department is working closely with the EUI. The issue is around the convention, which states that the UK cannot be a member of the EUI when it is not a member state. That is why, on exit day, we will automatically fall out of the EUI. We are keen to remain involved, but it would mean looking at further association after exit day.
All employers with a payroll in excess of £3 million pay the levy, but many apprenticeships are available that can work for schools, including apprenticeships for school business professionals and teaching assistants. Of course, there is also the postgraduate teaching apprenticeship. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that further.
I am sorry; we struggled a tiny bit to hear the full question. We have several programmes on the subject of FE staff and ensuring that posts are sufficiently attractive. However, it is probably best if I say that either my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills or I will meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the college in Eastbourne.
I heard perfectly clearly. Does the hon. Gentleman want to blurt out the last sentence very briefly?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. In the past few years, the salaries of FE teachers teaching A-levels and vocational education have ended up almost 20% lower than those of the teachers at the school down the road. What will the Secretary of State or the Minister do to address that?
I am aware of some of the discrepancies between the salaries of FE teachers and schoolteachers. We have several programmes, not least the taking teaching further programme, which will encourage industry professionals into FE teaching. However, as I said, I am aware of the some of the issues around recruitment in the FE sector.
It is absolutely important that girls and women are equally represented at all levels, not only in engineering and STEM, but in all sectors. We invested in programmes such as the advanced mathematics support programme and the stimulating physics network, which aim to increase participation, particularly among girls. This week is British Science Week. I encourage all Members to get involved, not just to stress the importance of STEM education for the future of this country and for the next generation, but to ensure that women and girls can be involved in the wonders of science.
We are proud of our record in reducing the attainment gap in England, but I recognise that one always needs to go further. That starts, of course, in the early years. We are seeing progress at every stage, but there is always more we can do.
Like for like comparisons are not always appropriate, because both systems contain different elements. I am very aware of the campaign going on—the Association of Colleges and the Sixth Form Colleges Association have been doing a very good job. I need no persuasion to champion the cause of FE colleges, which have extremely complex courses to deliver and do a fantastic job. We need to get the right balance between schools and colleges. It is the case that colleges are dependent on the educational attainment of those who come in at 16, so that part of the sector matters as well.
The new times tables tests for year 4 come in soon. The test is taken using a machine. Martin, a dad of a boy with autism in Bury, is concerned that not enough provision is being made, or at least communicated to our schools as to what reasonable adjustment can be made. What provision is being made for our students who are anxious learners? Does the Minister agree that children with special educational needs and disabilities need the time and allowances to ensure that their circumstances can be managed?
The Standards and Testing Agency has a protocol in place for adjustments to be made for children with special educational needs. We have piloted a roll-out of the multiplication tables check over the past couple of years. We are rolling it out voluntarily this year and it will be compulsory next year.
I am aware that Dudley College has progressed to stage two of the competition and we expect to announce the outcome shortly. As it is a competition, I obviously cannot comment on that. IOTs are a new kind of prestigious institution. It is important to note that they are not about new buildings, but collaborations between FE colleges, universities and leading employers to deliver the high-quality technical education we need.
At a time when pupils’ emotional and mental health needs are increasing, cuts to our schools mean that teaching assistants are being lost. In Derbyshire, we are about to lose 200 early help staff. The number of school nurses is being halved and child and adolescent mental health services say that they can only see pupils where there is proof that they have attempted to commit suicide. Will the Secretary of State look at the cumulative impact of all the cuts to education and health on our pupils’ wellbeing?
We do recognise the additional demands relating to young people’s mental health. That is why our programme ensures a designated mental health lead in every school, a further roll-out of mental health first aid, a shortened time for CAMHS referrals and support teams operating around schools to help them with mental health needs.
We support headteachers in using exclusion as a sanction where warranted. We also believe that independent review panels provide for a quick, fair and accessible process for reviewing exclusion decisions in a way that takes account of the rights of the pupil and of the wider school community, and the ability of the headteacher to maintain a safe and ordered environment.
As a former chair of governors, I am sad to report to the House that the Northern Education Trust has failed the children who attend and who have attended the Thomas Hepburn school. The Secretary of State’s Department has agreed with the trust to the closure of the school in Felling in my Gateshead constituency. The other schools in the borough have already accepted additional pupils and are above their plan for September. Will the Secretary of State meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) to discuss how we are going to find places for the other 40 year 7 pupils who do not have places in Gateshead next September?
The hon. Gentleman and I have had a chance on previous occasions to discuss and correspond on the Thomas Hepburn school, and of course I will meet him, as he suggests.
A not insignificant number of parents feel compelled to take their children out of school and into home-schooling as a result of bullying. Will the Department’s call for evidence on home education look at the support being given to these children to try to get them back into mainstream schooling as soon as possible?
Yes, of course, and I will very happily meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further.
I feel I must respect the position of a former headteacher, no less—I call Thelma Walker.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. When a child is excluded, where the responsibility for their education lies can be ambiguous, meaning that too many pupils fall through the net. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to clarify who has responsibility for excluded or off-rolled children to stop that from happening in future?
As the hon. Lady will know, we instituted the Timpson review into exclusions, which will report back soon. She will probably also have heard me say that we have to look at the question of making sure that schools retain some responsibility for pupils who are excluded, and I expect to have more to say soon.
A recent report commissioned by the Welsh Government has shown that fining parents for unauthorised school absence has had no impact on raising attendance levels in Wales. Is it not time to have a review of that policy in England and, if the evidence shows that it does not work, to drop it?
Parents have a duty to ensure that their children who are registered at school attend regularly. We have not formally assessed the impact of penalty notices, but comparable data shows that overall absence rates have remained stable in recent years following a downward trend since 2006—a 6.5% absence rate in 2006 fell to 4.7% in 2016.
A number of schools in my constituency are facing severe financial pressures, with some having to merge year groups and rely on parental donations. The Minister says that more money is going into education, but these smaller, rural schools are really struggling. Will he meet me to discuss what we can do for these schools in my area?
As I say, we are spending record amounts on our schools and we have special provision within the national funding formula to help rural, small schools in particular. There is an extra £25 million to ensure that those schools can support themselves and there is a fixed sum for every school of £110,000, but I will meet the hon. Lady and her headteachers to discuss her schools’ particular concerns.
On Friday, I was one of 3.5 million parents who received a letter from their school concerned that costs are outstripping funding. I was threatened with detention unless I asked the Secretary of State this: when it comes to more funding—and I hope that there will be more funding—will he ensure that it goes to those areas that are currently the lowest-funded counties?
Come the spending review, we will of course be looking at funding for education alongside other Departments. Funding for education is vital for our society and the productivity in our economy, and of course, we need to continue to look at how that is distributed through the national funding formula and to consider aspects such as rurality as part of that.
EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Changes
(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on progress made in achieving legal changes to the EU withdrawal agreement and the timetable for approval in this House through a meaningful vote.
As negotiations are ongoing and at a critical stage, I am here to update the House on the latest developments. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke to President Juncker by phone yesterday evening, teams will continue to talk throughout today and the Government will make a statement later today updating the House on the progress of discussions. As previously understood, the Attorney General’s legal analysis will be updated following the outcome of negotiations, and he will publish his legal analysis of any document produced and negotiated with the EU and present it to the House before it meets tomorrow.
Clearly, I cannot pre-empt the outcome of these sensitive and urgent discussions, and I am sure the House understands that I am not able to share details or engage in speculation about talks that are still ongoing, but I can assure it that, as soon as the negotiations have concluded, it will be updated. The meaningful vote will take place tomorrow and the motion will be tabled today ahead of that debate. The House will then face a fundamental choice: back the Brexit deal or risk a delay that would mean months more spent arguing about Brexit and prolonging the current uncertainty—uncertainty that would do nothing but pass control to Brussels and increase the risks.
It is incumbent on the House to deliver on the will of the British people and to provide certainty. Tomorrow, right hon. and hon. Members will have the opportunity to do just that in a meaningful vote fully informed by the Government’s legal analysis. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and every hon. Member in the House should take that opportunity to move forward and provide certainty.
This is a Government in chaos and a country in chaos because of this mess. I left my office at 20 past 3. At that time, Downing Street was unable to confirm who would be responding to my urgent question. It seems that the WhatsApp group, a lottery or something has chosen the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) to reply to the House, when my question was to the Prime Minister.
We find out from journalists and the Irish Government that the Prime Minister is apparently heading to Strasbourg this evening, or not heading to Strasbourg this evening, hours before a meaningful vote is due. The Prime Minister was clear and categorical on 26 February. She said:
“I want to reassure the House by making three further commitments. First, we will hold a second meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March at the latest”—
there are still 24 hours to go, so who knows? She also committed to a vote on no deal by 13 March and a vote on whether to extend article 50 by 14 March. She then concluded:
“They are commitments I am making as Prime Minister, and I will stick by them”—[Official Report, 26 February 2019; Vol. 655, c. 166-7.]
This is a matter of trust. Time and again, the Prime Minister has failed to negotiate, failed to compromise and delayed and delayed. After three months, she has not achieved one single change to her deal. As we have often said, she has simply run down the clock, leaving us with a choice between her deal and the chaos of leaving the EU without any agreement. It was a bad deal in December, when it was first tabled; it was a bad deal in January, when it was rejected by the largest parliamentary margin by which any Government has ever been defeated; and it is still a bad deal today, 11 March.
These shambolic negotiations and endless delays are having real-life consequences in workplaces across the country: businesses are holding back on investment, jobs have been lost, workplaces are closing, workers fear for their jobs and the national health service and public services are having to spend millions of pounds preparing for a no-deal outcome, which the House has already clearly rejected.
Can the Prime Minister, I mean the Minister—I am sorry that the Prime Minister cannot be here, apparently—tell us what changes the Government have got to the backstop and when the Attorney General will publish his apparently new legal advice, or is it that, after three months of delay, nothing has changed? Given that they whipped their MPs to vote for the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), which said the deal could only be supported with changes to the backstop, will the Prime Minister be voting against her own deal if no changes have been secured?
Will the Minister confirm that we will, absolutely, have the meaningful vote tomorrow, and that it will not be delayed yet again? Will we also have the vote to rule out no deal on 13 March, and the vote on extending article 50 on 15 March, as promised? If the deal is rejected again tomorrow, will the Prime Minister shift her red lines, and show that she is not just willing to meet Members, but willing to compromise with them as well?
This chaos cannot go on for much longer. The fate of people’s workplaces, jobs and businesses is at stake as the Government fail to negotiate and there is simply dither after dither, and then further delay. It is time for answers.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about further delay. I have confirmed to him that there will be a meaningful vote in the House tomorrow. I have explained that negotiations are ongoing, and the Government are seeking legally binding changes that will address the concerns that have been raised in the House.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks of chaos. We all remember his advice to the Government, on day one after the referendum, to trigger article 50 immediately. I think that we can be very clear that this process would be no safer in his hands. He talks about investment. He and his party will have the opportunity to vote secure and unlock investment tomorrow by backing the deal, and they will do so fully informed by the Government’s legal analysis. He asked about the timetable for the publication of the Attorney General’s advice, and I can confirm that that advice will be published before the House sits tomorrow.
My hon. Friend firmly confirmed that the vote on the deal would come tomorrow. He did not actually mention the event, if it is defeated, of the vote on Wednesday on whether or not we leave with no deal, and, further to that, the vote on Thursday about delaying article 50 if, indeed, the House rejects no deal. I hope that that was a mere oversight and that my hon. Friend is not going back on last week’s undertakings.
I am happy to confirm that the exact words of Prime Minister in giving that undertaking, which we absolutely stand by, were
“First, we will hold a…meaningful vote”
on 12 March. If the Government did not win a meaningful vote, they would
“table a…motion…to be voted on by Wednesday 13 March…asking this House if it supports leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement… Thirdly”,
if the House rejected both those options,
“the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short, limited extension to article 50.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2019; Vol. 655, c. 377.]
It is crucial that the House has the opportunity to extend article 50 on Thursday, because we have to take back control from this shambles of a Government.
We are 18 days away from the scheduled UK exit from the EU, yet the Government still have no plan to protect jobs and living standards. This Prime Minister is guilty of neglect. She has proved incapable of governance, incapable of negotiation and utterly incapable of leadership. The truth is that the politics of the United Kingdom has become a farce. The lack of leadership from either the Tory or the Labour party has left people across the country at a loss, panicking about their futures and abandoned by their so called leaders.
This morning, Downing Street exclaimed that tomorrow’s vote would go ahead, and the Minister has repeated that. It must happen, and it is welcome, because to dither and delay yet again would be another act of grave cowardice. We cannot ignore the facts: this place is in total chaos, and the crisis engulfing the United Kingdom is deepening. In Scotland, businesses, students, farmers, academics, mothers, fathers and EU nationals are rightly worried about their futures, but this Government, this Tory party and this Prime Minister could not care less about the people of Scotland. This deal will damage our economy, destroy growth and deprive Scottish people of all the cherished opportunities that the European Union has gifted us.
Michel Barnier was very clear: the negotiations are over. He said:
“We talked all weekend and now the discussions, the negotiations, are between the government in London and the parliament in London.”
Can the Minister answer these questions? Will the Government back the Prime Minister’s deal tomorrow? Will the text of the motion on which we shall vote provide for a new arrangement in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop? Has the Prime Minister negotiated with the European Union new protections for the Scottish economy? If not, are the Scottish MPs in her party ready to resign? Scotland did not vote for Brexit, and we must not be dragged out of the European Union against our will. The sovereign right of the Scottish people to choose our own future must be respected. We are, and we will remain, a European nation.
We are all leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. Amid the right hon. Gentleman’s rhetoric, he spoke about the interests of the Scottish people. Of course, the interests of the Scottish people are in our strong Union of the United Kingdom. We want to deliver a good deal for the whole United Kingdom.
Unlike the Leader of the Opposition, may I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box? I know from my own experience that, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister is a brilliant master of his brief. The Leader of the Opposition talked about trust. Is not the Prime Minister demonstrating the trust that this House should put in her by going to Europe and negotiating with the Europeans a deal that will deliver on the requirements of the British people—unlike the Opposition?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to his work on this process. He has said many times that negotiations with the EU often go right to the eleventh hour. We have a demonstration of that today, and there will be a statement from the Government later today.
Can the Minister explain to the House why the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said earlier today:
“The…Prime Minister is travelling to Strasbourg this evening…to try to finalise an agreement, if that’s possible, to be able to put that to a meaningful vote in Westminster tomorrow.”?
Can the Minister confirm that? If an agreement that changes the withdrawal agreement or the political declaration is reached tonight, will that have the approval of the Heads of Government? If not, will it actually constitute a negotiated agreement under the terms of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018?
The right hon. Gentleman, who is the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, asked me a series of questions, and I think that he knows I cannot answer them all. My Secretary of State has reiterated to me that he is keen to give evidence to the Select Committee tomorrow, so perhaps he can update the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee on all those issues.
May I likewise welcome the Minister? Before his well-deserved promotion, he was an excellent Parliamentary Private Secretary—[Interruption.] That was before my demotion, but there we are. Has not the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) just shown us exactly what the Leader of the Opposition should have done in an urgent question that is entitled “EU Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Changes”? The nub of the matter is that we would be better served by a forensic examination of the January letter from Presidents Tusk and Juncker, in which much was conceded by the EU, and that now needs to be turned into legally binding text. Many complain about delay, dither and the consequences for workplaces, but does the Minister agree that all that could be solved if the agreement was passed tomorrow?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. Of course we should pass this agreement, but it is vital that the Prime Minister has gone in to negotiate right up to the last moment so that she can address the concerns of this House. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the letter from the Presidents took some steps to address those concerns, but we have sought, and we will continue to seek, legally binding changes.
The Minister could not answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). The status of tomorrow’s meaningful vote matters because we want to be sure that the Government will not use any shenanigans to avoid further votes later in the week. Will the Minister confirm that if by the end of tomorrow Parliament has not approved a withdrawal agreement and future partnership that have been agreed with the EU for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, the Government will go ahead on Wednesday with the vote on no deal, followed by the vote on the extension of article 50?
I have already confirmed that by repeating the Prime Minister’s assurance, and we do accept that section 31 of the withdrawal Act is binding.
Should the country leave the European Union without a deal, what would be the liabilities owed to the European Union?
My right hon. Friend asks an interesting question, and of course there are a range of different views on that. The House of Lords Committee has taken one view, and other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will take others.
I think that the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) was asking for the view of the Minister. The clue is in the nature of the exchange. If an hon. Member or right hon. Member gets up and asks a question, he is interested in the view of the Minister, not of some other Committee in some other place. I would have thought that that was fairly straightforward, but there you go.
The Minister says that he does not engage in speculation, but may I encourage him to make an educated guess? If the Prime Minister’s deal is passed tomorrow, how many more years of very public Tory bickering will the country face as the UK seeks to establish its new relationship with the European Union?
The right hon. Gentleman asks a question about what might happen if the deal is passed. I think that he should get behind the deal and support it, because we would then secure the implementation period that would provide certainty to businesses and citizens in this country while we negotiate the future relationship and ensure that it is put in place. It is certainly my aspiration to ensure that that is done before the end of the implementation period.
The European Union has known for some considerable time that we are going to have this vital vote tomorrow. Supposing it actually does offer to pull a rabbit out of the hat sometime late tonight, what would that say about the bad faith in which it has been negotiating?
It is our determination to progress the negotiations in good faith, and we have done so throughout. I am sure that the European Union will want to show its good faith by meeting the concerns of this House.
Will the Minister acknowledge that tabling an amendment with Government support tomorrow to make support conditional on a not-yet-negotiated agreement would fulfil neither the letter nor the spirit of the Prime Minister’s promise?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman should await developments later today and see what the Government put forward tomorrow. I have been very clear that we absolutely stand by the Prime Minister’s commitments on the meaningful vote and on what follows.
I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and congratulate him and his colleagues on getting the European Union to agree to set up a taskforce or workstream to work up the Malthouse compromise proposals. Will he commit to getting those into the legally binding text, so that there will be an implementation date that is fixed for the future?
I know that my right hon. Friend speaks with considerable experience in these issues. The alternative arrangements have been a crucial part of this conversation, and they will continue to play an important part in our negotiations. We are seeking legally binding changes.
Does the Minister care at all about the real impact of his Government’s utter incompetence on real people? In my constituency, American Express, the biggest private sector employer, is deeply concerned about recruitment problems because of his recklessness. Will he answer a very simple question? Will he himself vote against no deal if the Prime Minister’s deal is lost tomorrow?
I want to take the first opportunity to vote against no deal by voting for the deal in a meaningful vote. That is the best way to secure the absence of no deal and to secure the interests of this country.
The Minister has arrived at the big time and he is doing well. He has told the House that the Attorney General will publish any revised legal advice before the House sits tomorrow, which I am sure the whole House will welcome for obvious reasons. With regard to the motion that we might then have to vote on, will we get sight of it tonight, or will it be placed in the public domain only when the Order Paper is published electronically in the small hours of the morning?
My right hon. Friend asks an important question. The Government will bring forward the motion as soon as we possibly can, but I cannot necessarily guarantee the precise timing given that the negotiations are still ongoing.
Section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 says that the vote must be on “the negotiated withdrawal agreement”. Does the Minister accept that a vote tomorrow on anything other than that would not count as the second meaningful vote and would not fulfil the Prime Minister’s promise of 22 February, when she said that
“we will hold a second meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March at the latest”?—[Official Report, 26 February 2019; Vol. 655, c. 166.]
I can only reiterate what I have already said, which is that we will be holding the meaningful vote tomorrow. Of course, exactly what is brought forward by the Government will depend on the outcome of the negotiations, which are still ongoing.
With regard to the legal changes required to the withdrawal agreement, this House voted for the entire removal of the backstop. Does it not strike my hon. Friend as incongruous at the very least that it is harder to the leave the backstop than it is to leave the EU under article 50?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, as always. The Government have heard loudly and clearly this House’s concerns about the backstop, and they are what the negotiations are to address. I am confident and hopeful that we will come forward tomorrow with something that will allow even him to support the Government’s deal.
Given the mess that the UK Government are in at this eleventh hour, does the Minister think that his boss—the real Prime Minister—will ultimately be grateful for the ruling secured by myself and other Scottish parliamentarians from the Court of Justice in Luxembourg that article 50 can be unilaterally revoked and that there is a way out of this mess for the United Kingdom?
I simply say to the hon. and learned Lady that the way forward for the United Kingdom is to agree a deal and to leave the EU with a deal.
If the withdrawal agreement is defeated and this House assents to leave the EU without a deal following the votes this week, does my hon. Friend agree that there will be a whole series of permissions and protocols that we will need the EU to agree to in order to manage that situation? In those circumstances, why would the EU not turn around and make the obligations within the withdrawal agreement a prerequisite to it agreeing to any of the things that we need from it?
My right hon. Friend asks an interesting hypothetical question, but the best thing that we can do this week is to secure a deal that this House can support and then get it through the House so that we can avoid such eventualities and speculations.
May I press the Minister on the timing of the motion for tomorrow? For those of us wishing to speak in the debate, it would be particularly helpful to have the text of the motion so that we know exactly on what we are going to be voting. Will he please put it out by 5 o’clock today?
The hon. Lady sets a deadline to which I cannot commit, but the Government will bring forward the motion as soon as we can based on the outcome of the negotiations, which are ongoing.
The Government are formally seeking a legally binding text on the Malthouse compromise as an alternative to the backstop, aren’t they?
My right hon. Friend is as pithy as always. I can confirm that the Government are seeking legally binding changes to address the House’s concerns about the backstop.
The Minister needs to be very clear about the timetable. As I understand it from the answers that he has given, as much as he can give them, he is committing on the Government’s behalf to a meaningful vote tomorrow, and the motion will be tabled as soon as the Government can do so, which I think means as soon as they get all their ducks in a row. In any event, as far as I understand it, it must be published by the close of play this evening, which is 10.30 pm. Does the Minister think that that would then allow enough time not just to consider it, but for right hon. and hon. Members to table the necessary amendments to it? How does any opinion from the Attorney General then fit into that important timetable?
The Attorney General has committed to providing the House with his legal analysis of any document published by the UK and the EU as part of this process, and he will do so ahead of the debate. We will ensure that the Government’s motion is tabled as soon as it can be. The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) will appreciate that, with negotiations ongoing, I cannot commit to a specific time on that, but I take note of Mr Speaker’s advice from the Chair.
Well, I do not think I am offering the hon. Gentleman advice, but what I can give is a very clear indication of what the procedures of this House require. It is not by way of advice; I am telling him, on behalf of the House, what the position is.
The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) is correct in her understanding of the required deadline for the tabling of a Government motion to appear on the Order Paper tomorrow. I understand the Minister’s natural reluctance to commit to a specific time, pending the progress or otherwise of negotiations, but the deadline is the rise of the House.
In so far as the right hon. Member for Broxtowe and other hon. and right hon. Members might legitimately be concerned about the matter of adequacy of time for the possible tabling of amendments, it would perhaps be helpful to the House if I indicated that, in extremis—that is to say if circumstances require it—manuscript amendments will be taken. [Interruption.] That is absolutely the case. I do not need any help from the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), who would not have the slightest idea where to start. I know what the position is, and I am helpfully indicating it to the right hon. Member for Broxtowe, which I think will help the House.
Many questions this afternoon seem designed to construct negotiating hurdles that are impossible for the Prime Minister, or any Government, to jump over. I have met lots of constituents in Gloucester over the last three days who want to see this issue resolved as sensibly and quickly as possible. Can I therefore give my hon. Friend the Minister all encouragement for the Prime Minister to come back with legally binding changes that will make a huge difference, particularly to the Northern Ireland situation, and then for this House, 80% of whom were elected on manifestos to respect the referendum, to get behind the deal and see it through?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. All I can say to him is that I hear the same thing from my constituents in Worcester as he hears from his constituents in Gloucester.
The Minister is asking Parliament to accept that, two and a half years after the referendum, he will give us maybe just a few hours to consider the deal that the Prime Minister may or may not conclude sometime overnight before we have one of the most important votes this Parliament will ever hold. That is not acceptable, is it?
The hon. Lady knows that negotiations often go to the wire, and I think it is absolutely right that the Government should fight for the best possible outcome to those negotiations, especially when we have been instructed to do so by this House. That is what we are doing.
Does the Minister agree that the intransigence of the EU on making legally binding changes to the backstop, whether to the time limit or an exit mechanism that would enable many of us to support the deal, justifies our concern that, if we ever enter the backstop as it stands now, the EU would never let us leave?
My hon. Friend clearly expresses the concerns that have been raised on both sides of the House about the backstop, which is why we are seeking to address those concerns through a legally binding change.
Tonight I was supposed to be meeting the Farmers Union of Wales in Caernarfon, rather than being here. Those hard-working and resourceful people battle the elements to produce the finest beef and lamb in the world. When they find that something they are doing does not work, they change what they do. What lesson for tomorrow’s proceedings does the Minister derive from their success?
It is important for those farmers that we get a deal with an implementation period, and with the good trading terms that that can provide, to make sure that Welsh lamb and beef can continue to be a huge success internationally.
The withdrawal agreement gives certainty to the British and European citizens most affected by Brexit; it gives our businesses the certainty of a transition period; and it brings certainty about the size of the bill we have to settle. Does my hon. Friend agree that the one individual who is bringing uncertainty, by his refusal to negotiate and compromise, is the leader of the Labour party?
Order. That is absolutely no responsibility of the Minister. It was a disorderly question; an answer is unnecessary and it was a complete waste of everybody’s time.
The Government intend to publish a motion, an agreement and legal advice on that agreement. Can the Minister commit to ensuring that we have all of this before the beginning of the debate tomorrow? Will he also ask the Attorney General to come to give a statement about the legal advice, so that we can ask questions on it in advance of tomorrow’s debate?
Yes, I do commit that that information will be available before the debate tomorrow, and the Attorney General has been clear that he will publish his analysis.
The Minister is answering the questions admirably, but we have heard from those on the Opposition Benches the desire for time to look at the legal advice and the motion, and time to table amendments and to consider them. Given that the Opposition are, in effect, requesting an extension to the meaningful vote, will the Minister take from this that we should perhaps consider putting off the vote until Parliament has time to consider what the Prime Minister brings back?
I note my hon. Friend’s representations, but the Government are clear that we will be having the meaningful vote tomorrow.
The thing is there is only one possible motion that can be considered tomorrow for it to be a meaningful vote under the Act. It is very straightforward and the Government themselves argued repeatedly to the Procedure Committee that if the motion had any other riders added to it, it would not be legally competent—it would not have any legal effect. So the Government could publish the motion now. I could publish the motion for them now—and, for that matter, the business motion which we will have to have tomorrow, because of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. They could also introduce that now. Then we would be able to have proper scrutiny. Isn’t it time we had some proper scrutiny and we stopped flying by the seat of our pants all the time?
The hon. Gentleman talks about proper scrutiny. He will know that the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have been at this Dispatch Box literally hundreds of times facing proper scrutiny on this issue. We will bring forward the Government’s motion for tomorrow’s debate as soon as we can.
I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) in wishing the Prime Minister every success today. On the important decisions we face this week, when will the Government publish the World Trade Organisation tariffs and quotas which are going to be needed to assess the merits of no-deal, in the event that the deal is defeated?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, although I think it is for another Department to answer. We will be having a meaningful vote on a deal that ensures that we need not have those tariff barriers between ourselves and the EU. That is one of the many reasons we should support the deal.
It will not be lost on many listening to this debate that those who are condemning the Prime Minister for not getting a deal are the very ones who have made it difficult for her to get that deal because they have insisted she rule out no-deal as an option. Will the Minister give an assurance that regardless of what the Prime Minister comes back with, she will not accept the diktat of Michel Barnier on Friday, who said that the UK can leave but the one thing that cannot happen is Northern Ireland leaving the EU unless the EU gives us permission?
I say simply to the right hon. Gentleman that it is very clear that the UK as a whole will be leaving the EU. Whatever the outcome of these negotiations, that will be the case: we will leave the EU as one United Kingdom.
I welcome my Worcestershire neighbour to his place. I know he is an assiduous doorstep campaigner and I wonder whether his experience is the same as mine in Redditch, which is that people just want us to get on with this. Does he therefore agree that it is very important that we hold the vote tomorrow so that we can express the wishes of the House and, most importantly, of our constituents, who want us to deliver on the result of that referendum?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: our constituents want us to deliver on the result of the referendum. They also want us to secure the strongest economy for every part of our country—from Redditch to Worcester, and all around the country. We can do that by backing the deal.
This is completely crazy. The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) had this absolutely right: we are nearly three years on from that referendum and yet the Minister is perhaps going to give the House three minutes to consider a motion. [Interruption.] He is shaking his head; he will not give us three minutes. So will it be half an hour—or perhaps an hour? I am not sure whether my question should be to the Minister or to you, Mr Speaker, because I feel that the House should be suspended, or at least the Government should bring forward an opportunity for the House to properly look at the motion and consider any Attorney General’s advice, because I, for one, want to table an amendment with my hon. Friends for a people’s vote, so that we can sort this out straight away.
Let me be clear that, as I said earlier in my statement, the Government will be seeking to make a statement later on today.
Does the Minister agree that no competent negotiator would take no deal off the table and that an extension of article 50 would simply be a bigger bridge to nowhere? Will he reject the representations from the Labour party and its fellow travellers in the Independent Group and rule out a second referendum?
I heartily agree with my hon. Friend about seeking to rule out a second referendum, which I do not think would provide any solutions. All it would do is prolong the uncertainty. It is absolutely right that we should deliver on the people’s vote that this House voted for and voted to respect back in 2016.
Will the Minister confirm that tomorrow we will not be asked to consider and vote on a unicorn motion—that is, a motion that contains a withdrawal mechanism that could be unilaterally triggered by the UK, which is just wishful thinking and not agreed with at EU level?
I have updated the House by saying that negotiations are ongoing, the Government are seeking legally binding changes and we will come forward with a meaningful vote tomorrow. I do not believe in unicorns and neither does the hon. Lady. We should vote for a deal.
Over the past months I have contacted hundreds of local businesses in East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and the message is loud and clear: they want the single market and the customs union. Is the Minister risking what businesses need from Brexit with his pursuance of the backstop issue? Not one of my local businesses mentioned the backstop. We need to get a consensus across the House for business, jobs and livelihood.
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. I agree with her to the extent that it is not traditionally businesses that express concerns about the backstop—or perhaps not businesses in Scotland; perhaps some businesses in Northern Ireland do—but we also have to recognise the concerns in the House. To get and secure a deal that will secure the market access about which she speaks, we need the House to vote for it. That means we need to address the concerns of communities up and down our United Kingdom.
If we are to take the Minister at his word—and I think we should—he is confirming that tomorrow the House will vote on something that is meaningful under the provisions of section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. How does he think a Back-Bench Labour Member of Parliament, standing up for his constituents in Edinburgh South, will be able to table an amendment to that motion, have it signed by MPs from across the House so that it is selectable, and understand the legal implications of the Attorney General’s information?
The hon. Gentleman asks a fair question and I respect the integrity with which he does so. The Speaker has already indicated that he would be prepared to accept manuscript amendments and I have been clear that the Government will bring forward their motion and the Attorney General’s advice as soon as they can. I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s ingenuity will allow him to pursue the ends he means to pursue in a parliamentary way.
What assessment has the Minister made of what I think is an increasingly compelling case, which is that if the Prime Minister is able, tomorrow or subsequently, to bring forward an agreement that may be acceptable to Parliament, parliamentary approval for it should be subject to ratification in a subsequent public vote?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a call for a subsequent public vote—a people’s vote. I am very clear that that is not something that this Government would ever support.
It is often said that a lawyer who acts for himself has a fool for a client. We are going to receive legal advice tomorrow that has not yet been written because the negotiations have not finished. Will the Minister ask for that legal advice to cover the fact that what we will vote on tomorrow is a negotiated agreement for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act?
The Attorney General has committed to publish his analysis in full.
Potentially extending article 50 until the end of June is, of course, welcome, but I am curious and a wee bit bewildered as to what dramatic change the Prime Minister expects by then. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us on that, but would it not be more honest, more courageous, and more statesmanlike to abandon these futile and embarrassing attempts to hold the fractured Tory party together, revoke article 50 altogether and get on with the day job?
I do not think that it would be honest or statesmanlike to turn our back on the outcome of the referendum. I know that the hon. Lady’s party likes to ignore referendum results, but our party wants to deliver on them.
It is customary on these occasions for the House to complain that the Government have sent the monkey and not the organ grinder, but on this occasion we have not even got the monkey—we have not even got the codpiece. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] While the Minister is enjoying his very exciting work experience day, can he confirm one thing that he said earlier in this statement, which was that the Attorney General’s advice would be available before the House sits tomorrow? Can he confirm that that will be the case—that it will be available before the House sits, and not just before the debate?
I just say for the benefit of hon. and right hon. Members that the hon. Gentleman’s choice of language is really a matter of taste rather than of order. I know that the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) will not take it in the wrong spirit if I say that whoever else might be in a position to complain about others’ use of language, I think that he is not on strong ground on that front. I have tended to indulge him because I know that he speaks with passion and conviction, but he tends to be rather robust in his treatment of others, so, all of a sudden, objecting to the hon. Gentleman is perhaps for someone else to do.
I was sticking up for the Minister. I am a Government loyalist.
Yeah, and I as a Back Bencher had a really good relationship with my Whips! I had a relationship with my Whips that was characterised by trust and understanding: I did not trust them and they did not understand me.
The Attorney General has said that he will publish his analysis, and I believe that to be before the House sits tomorrow.
The Minister has clearly been sent out today to defend an absolute Horlicks of a situation in Government. Given that he has already confirmed that there will be a meaningful vote tomorrow based on section 13(1)(b) of the Act and that there will not be any unicorns contained within it, can he also confirm that, if the Government cannot negotiate some last-minute changes to the withdrawal agreement and future framework, the meaningful vote tomorrow will take place on the existing negotiated agreement, which will not have changed?
The hon. Lady asks a series of hypothetical questions. The Government are negotiating, and I fully expect them to come back to this House with the results of that negotiation and then to hold the meaningful vote on those. I hope that she will be joining me in the Lobby to secure a deal as we exit the European Union.
In order to gauge whether it is worth my bothering to turn up for the statement later on, will the Minister confirm that the statement will outline legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement? If it does, will he tell us what red lines have been rubbed out to allow that to happen?
Of course it will be worth the hon. Gentleman’s while to turn up to any statement from the Government. I look forward to him seeing that the changes that the Government have been negotiating on have been achieved.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Does it appertain to the exchanges that have just taken place? [Interruption.] Oh, very well, I will indulge the hon. Gentleman. Points of order ordinarily would come later.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, but this does pertain to the exchanges that we have just had. The Minister confirmed in his answer to my question, and indeed it was confirmed in your intervention in relation to the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) that, should the Government table a motion before the rise of the House, that indeed could happen at 10.29 pm this evening and therefore no Members of this House will be able to table amendments in the normal fashion. You suggested that the rules of the House would allow you to accept manuscript amendments. Can you inform the House whether you will be able to accept all of the manuscript amendments that come in, how, given the timescale that is available, the House will be able to get cross-party signatures on those manuscript amendments, which give an indication of the support in the House, and what the process will be for our being able to place those manuscript amendments between the rise of the House tonight and the opening bell tomorrow morning?
Further to that point of order.
If it is on the same matter, I will hear the right hon. Gentleman.
Of course we all know that it is entirely in your gift, Mr Speaker, whether to accept manuscript amendments, but under these very unusual circumstances, will you advise the House—to give hon. Members from all corners a chance to plan—whether you have some idea of an indicative deadline tomorrow, by which time you would expect those manuscript amendments to be in so that they can be printed and circulated, in order that all Members of the House would know the options on the table?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) for their points of order. I am reluctant at this time to specify a deadline or an intended target time. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that I very much hope—with antennae finely attuned to the wishes of colleagues and the matter of basic courtesy in this place—that representatives of the Executive branch, who I am sure are keenly listening to these exchanges, will ensure that they get that motion down as soon as possible. If that is so, it may be that there is some time available tonight for colleagues who are interested to see what the Government have tabled. They would then have the advantage of that many more hours to consider whether to table an amendment—and, if so, which—and indeed to seek to garner support, possibly cross-party, for their amendment. However, if that is not the case, we will have to adjust as best we can.
There could well be several hours tomorrow in which Members will have sight of what has been tabled and will have the opportunity to table amendments. It is not to be assumed that we will necessarily be on to the business immediately after question time. There may be a longer period of time than that for colleagues to make their judgments about the matter. Certainly as far as I am concerned, the longer time that colleagues have to table amendments if they so wish, the better. The Government are perfectly entitled simply to put the motion down just before the close of business tonight—possibly obliged to do so because of what has taken place in Strasbourg, or possibly because of a judgment that they have made. That is not really my concern. My concern is that colleagues should be facilitated; and I will do on this occasion, as on every other, everything I can to facilitate the House. My role is to champion the legislature, not to be a nodding donkey for the Executive branch.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The annunciator tells us that there is to be a statement on Brexit. It might be helpful to the House if you were able to confirm whether it is your understanding that that is not necessarily going to follow sequentially upon the other statements that are going to be made, and that it might be quite a bit later this evening. That may have a bearing on the two points of order to which you have just responded.
Certainly that statement will be the last of any statements today, but the right hon. Gentleman is quite right in expecting that it will not simply follow after the second statement. My understanding at the moment is that that statement would either come at the moment of interruption—which, I say for the benefit of those from outside the House attending our proceedings, is at 10 o’clock—or it might come a little earlier than that. But is it to be expected that it will automatically come straight after the second statement? No. It will come when the Government are in a position to make—dare I say it—a meaningful statement to the House.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You have understandably been referring to the motion for tomorrow, but, as I understand it, there will have to be two motions for tomorrow. There will have to be a business of the House motion as well, because otherwise we can only have a 90-minute debate as this will be a motion brought forward under an Act of Parliament. It would obviously be good if we were able to have that motion as soon as possible as well.
One of the things that is of enormous convenience to Members is knowing when votes are going to happen. I would guess that, in particular, people who have family commitments and things like that may want to know that the votes are going to be at 7 o’clock tomorrow evening rather than at 9, 10 11 o’clock, or whatever, and the sooner that is established, the better.
Finally, would you confirm that it is not your view, on the whole, as much as you are prepared to take manuscript amendments, that it is really in the best interests of Parliament to proceed on some of the most important issues affecting our country on the basis of manuscript amendments because the Government have taken so much time to present their business in the proper way?
Taking the last point first, I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman and to confirm that it is certainly not my view that it is desirable to proceed on the basis of manuscript amendments. It is far preferable that colleagues should have plenty of time in which to table amendments in the usual way. If, however, that proves not to be possible, I have to adjust. It is obviously much more popular with Members of the House if I say, yes, I will consider manuscript amendments than if I simply preclude them from consideration.
As for the question of motion singular or motion plural, I think that the hon. Gentleman is, as usual right: there will need to be two motions. [Interruption.] I am grateful. It is always useful to have the ballast of endorsement from a sedentary position from the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois). I cannot count on it at all times, and therefore, when I have it, I should put it in the bank and earn interest on it. Yes, there will need to be two motions: a business of the House motion and a substantive motion relating to the withdrawal agreement. It would be helpful to know about that earlier rather than later.
At this stage, I do not know whether the Government are thinking in terms of protected time—that is to say, a guaranteed number of hours irrespective of when we start—or in terms of a conclusion of the debate at 7 o’clock and votes immediately thereafter. Again, it would be helpful to know earlier rather than later. Of course, it is perfectly possible, and highly desirable, that tonight’s statement either by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), if he is delivering it, or—more likely, perhaps—by the Secretary of State for Brexit, makes that clear. That will then satisfy not only the curiosity of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) but the interests of a great many other Members besides.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As I have always understood it, our system is based on Cabinet government. Does what we have now heard mean that the Government will be laying a motion to which they are inviting amendments from Members of this House and which will be about the most important decision we have taken since the second world war, and it will not even have been considered by the Cabinet?
Well, I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think that that is, I will not say above or below my pay grade, but on a different remuneration scale—let me put it like that. I know that he served with very considerable distinction as a Minister in the past. In fact, I remember beetling over to his ministerial office on one occasion in years gone by. He was a figure of considerable celebrity in the then Government. I have never been a Minister, still less a member of the Cabinet. Quite how a Cabinet operates, when it meets and what is discussed, I have no way of knowing, so whether the Cabinet will have met to discuss this matter, I do not know. But I can say to the hon. Gentleman that whatever motions are tabled, they will be tabled in the name, and therefore with the authority and, by implication, the full agreement, implicit if not explicit, of the Government.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. On the Government’s website at the moment, there is a month-long consultation on door closure warnings on the docklands light railway. So there is now currently more consultation on door closure warnings than there is on the entire future of our country and what is going to happen on Brexit. Do you not think that the Government are being utterly irresponsible and reckless? Is this incompetence or is it just contempt for Parliament?
I do not particularly want to get into the matter of contempt today. We have had the matter of contempt raised previously, and of course a motion was passed by the House on that matter. I hear what the right hon. Lady says. Suffice it to say that I think it is important that we treat of this business in a responsible way, and part of treating it in a responsible way is ensuring that parliamentary colleagues and, very importantly, Back Benchers have the opportunity to express their will in both written and spoken form, as well as by vote.
I do not want to reach a premature judgment. Let us keep an eye on this as the day unfolds. However the Government make their own decisions, which is obviously not a matter for me, the way in which the House disposes of business is ultimately a matter for us all, and that must meet a proper test. We must not be messed around. I am sure that that is not the will of the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who is a most courteous fellow, but we cannot allow that to happen. I hope the right hon. Lady, with whom I have co-operated closely on parliamentary matters over the last nine and a half years of my speakership, will accept that I will always try to do what is right by the House of Commons, and I give my commitment to ensure that I do so again.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not aware of any point during my time in Parliament when statements have not come one after the other. My understanding of what you said is that there will now be an urgent question and then three statements; the first two will come straight after the urgent question, but the third might not. How will it be communicated to Members at what time that statement is likely to come? Is it possible that it will come in the middle of the debate on the Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill, or will it come before or after that? When will we know, and how will we find out?
The answer is that it could come at any time, with the agreement of the Chair. I do not seek to minimise the significance of the hon. Lady’s point. However, there are precedents for most things in this House, and I can assure her that there are many precedents for statements being delivered at the moment of interruption. It is perfectly possible to have a statement that is not taken sequentially after the others but at the moment of interruption—in the case of a Monday, 10 o’clock.
It could be at 10 o’clock. However, pursuant to what the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said about people needing to honour external commitments, it might be for the convenience of the House, if the Minister is ready to deliver that statement, for it to be delivered to the House earlier than 10 o’clock. If I had a sense that it would be for the convenience of the House, I would be minded to agree to such a request. How would it become known to Members? My strong advice to the hon. Lady and all colleagues is to keep their eyes on the annunciator, and we will try to ensure that there is proper notice; it will not be at five minutes’ notice or anything like that. On that, I can assure the hon. Lady, I will insist.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am concerned, like other Members, that we have enough time to consider the motion, to table amendments and to consider those amendments before we debate and vote. You said that the debate might be some time after questions. Were you indicating that there might be statements or urgent questions, or was there something else in your mind?
No, I was not thinking of one thing rather than another, but it is perfectly possible that there could be urgent questions. As colleagues know, urgent question applications are very common in the House; they are very commonly submitted and very commonly granted by me, if I think they warrant the attention of the House. It is perfectly possible that there might be ministerial statements. It is even conceivable—I do not say for certain, but, depending on what happens at this very important time—that there could be a request to secure the attention of the House on another matter for a significant period before we even get to that debate. That is perfectly possible; the Standing Orders allow for it. I understand how conscientious the hon. Gentleman is, but he should not be unduly concerned that there will simply be no time to consider what has been put down. There’ll be time all right.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. For those of us who find the palpitations are starting in relation to the week ahead of us—the words “as the day unfolds” are quite inducing of panic in some Members, even those who do not have an Executive role—may I ask whether there is a precedent, on such an important matter, for Members not being given 24 hours to plan and discuss points of common interest with those from other Benches and so on? Is there a precedent for this sort of decision making?
I am sorry if the hon. Lady is concerned, and I do not cavil at that: these are very important times for all of us. The answer is that there almost certainly will be a precedent, for the reason I gave to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) from the Scottish National party a few moments ago, which is that there are precedents for most things in this House. If the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) is challenging me about when there was a precise precedent, I admit I cannot tell her. In fact, there will not be a precise precedent, because the particular circumstances of Brexit are a little different from anything else that has previously occurred. If she is wondering whether there has ever been such a situation, the answer is that there will have been precedents in the past.
What I am trying to do is to ensure that there is maximum time for those who care about these matters—I think a lot of Members do care about these matters, and may potentially have an interest in tabling an amendment and so on—and their interests will be protected by the Chair as effectively as I can possibly do so.
If there are no further points of order—I thank colleagues for their interest, and I hope to keep them updated—we come now to the second urgent question.
Shamima Begum and Other Cases
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on Shamima Begum, the death of her son Jarrah and other cases.
We estimate that over 900 people left the UK to engage with the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Many have been killed fighting, some remain there, some have returned and others could still come back. Some irresponsibly took young British children with them, and some had children while they were there as part of their mission to expand the so-called caliphate. We have made it very clear since 2011 that no British citizen should travel to Syria. Those who have stayed until the bitter end include some of the most devoted supporters of Daesh. One of the ways we can deal with the threat that they pose to the UK is to remove British citizenship from those holding another nationality. Since 2010, this power has been applied to about 150 people of a range of nationalities.
It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the details of an individual case—although, clearly, the loss of any child is a tragedy—but, if I may, I will address some of the issues that have been raised. First, these decisions are made very carefully. Where citizenship deprivation is being considered for national security concerns, decisions are based on advice and intelligence from the security services, counter-terrorism police, and specialist security and legal officials in the Home Office. When people dedicated to keeping our country safe give an informed recommendation, any Home Secretary should listen very carefully. Secondly, we are unable to provide support to British nationals within Syria as the UK Government do not have a consular presence there. Thirdly, the status of a child does not change if their parents’ British citizenship is subsequently revoked.
There are no easy answers. I must also think about future conflicts and the precedents that we set. I do not want any more children brought into a war zone because their parents think that they will automatically be bailed out, no matter what the risk. However, the UK is doing all we can to help innocent people caught up in this conflict. We have committed £2.8 billion to Syria since 2012—our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis—and we are on track to resettle 20,000 vulnerable refugees who have fled the country, with our national resettlement programmes resettling more than any other EU member state in 2017.
Of course, I understand the public interest, so I have asked my officials to expedite the publication of our next transparency report on disruptive and investigatory powers, including the most up-to-date annual figures on the deprivation of citizenship. This Government remain committed to protecting our citizens around the world, but I will not shy away from using the powers at my disposal to protect this country.
When she was 15, Shamima Begum made a very bad decision, and it is arguable that much of the tragedy that has engulfed her since then flows from it. It is also the case that she has recently made some reprehensible statements to the media. However, the Home Secretary will know that the Opposition believe that she and her baby should have been allowed to return home. Now we know that that baby is dead. We believed that she should have been allowed to return home because this schoolgirl, born and brought up in Bethnal Green, was Britain’s responsibility. As it happens, that is also the general view of the President of the United States. Above all, bringing the mother and baby home would have given the baby a chance of life.
Instead, the Home Secretary, in the face of a media outcry, chose to strip Shamima of her citizenship. He knows that many authorities contend that that was done illegally, because she was not a dual national. Article 15 of the United Nations declaration of Human Rights states:
“Everyone has a right to a nationality. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality”.
Does the Home Secretary accept that the child was British? Does he further accept that the British legal system does not hold children responsible for the wrongdoing of their parents? Does he also accept that, despite what Ministers have said about the dangers of sending officials into the refugee camp, aid workers, doctors and journalists go backwards and forwards to and from those camps all the time?
Does the Home Secretary further accept that, by stripping Shamima of her nationality, he made it impossible for her to fulfil her duties as a mother and bring her baby home to a safe place? Will he confirm that, as he said earlier, as well as taking legal advice, he took advice from the police and security services about the desirability or otherwise of bringing Shamima home? Can he explain why he deemed this 19-year-old, with a baby that was not quite three weeks old, more dangerous to Britain than the hundreds of foreign fighters who have already been allowed to return?
We now know that there are other British women in those camps who have been stripped of their nationality by the Home Secretary’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd). Can he assure the House that he will work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see how best those British children’s rights can be protected?
The Home Secretary’s decision in this case has caused widespread concern and alarm. We understand the issue of keeping British people safe, but this was a British baby, who is now dead. No Opposition Member condones—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Wallace, please, I respect your governmental responsibilities and the seriousness with which you take them, but I appeal to you just to listen to the exchanges. You can always look wise—that is not difficult for you—but it is best for you just to listen. As for the Parliamentary Private Secretary, Mr Hoare, you are a junior Member of the House, trying to come to terms with your responsibilities as a PPS. Your role is just to sit there and nod or shake your head in the appropriate place. It is not for you to give a running commentary on the shadow Home Secretary’s performance. I have not the slightest interest in what you have to say, and you will say no more in the course of these exchanges or I shall have to ask you to relocate yourself.
This is a very serious matter and it is unfortunate that Members on the Treasury Bench do not seem to take it with the seriousness it deserves. I say to the Home Secretary that no Opposition Member condones what Shamima Begum did—the choices she made and the things she said. But if it was his 19-year-old daughter, however badly she had behaved and however reprehensible or near criminal her choices, would he want her to bury three babies in the course of a year? The Home Secretary of course has a responsibility to protect the British public, but he also has a responsibility to appear just and fair in the eyes of the British public. This decision, which has led, as night follows day, to this less than three-week-old baby dying, does not appear just or fair to the majority of the British public.
First of all, the one thing I do concur with the right hon. Lady about is that the death of any child is a tragedy, wherever it takes place in the world. It is not something that anyone—any Member of this House—would want to see.
The Government are committed to protecting British citizens, but it is very different when it comes to a war zone where there is no consular presence. That is a fact not just under this Government; it has been a fact under successive Governments and it is true for many other European countries. For the same reasons that we do not have a consular presence, they do not have a consular presence. Whichever British citizen in that war zone in Syria the right hon. Lady might be referring to, whether a child or an adult, if there is no consular presence there is no way for British authorities—as much as someone might want to, especially in the case of a child—to provide any type of assistance.
The right hon. Lady is trying to make this issue about British citizenship. It is not about British citizenship. One confirmation I can give to one question she asked is that it is the case that if a child is born to someone who is a British citizen at the time the child is born, that child is a British citizen, even if the parent’s citizenship is subsequently removed. This is not about citizenship; it is about the ability of the British state to help. For the British state to send officials, whether Foreign Office officials or others, into Syria in a war zone would risk the safety of those officials. That is why the Foreign Office has been very clear, ever since 2011, that no British citizen should travel to Syria in any circumstances, because it is incredibly dangerous. That is the view taken on Syria by almost every other liberal democracy, even when it comes to children from their own countries and their own citizens.
The right hon. Lady suggested, on citizenship deprivations, that the Government are somehow making decisions that are making people stateless. She rightly stated that that would be illegal under international law. That means that no such decision can be made, whether by this Home Secretary, my predecessors, or previous Labour Home Secretaries. Under international law, no decision can be made unless the Home Secretary is satisfied, based on expert advice, that that individual will not be left stateless.
The death of any British child, even one born to a foreign terrorist fighter, is of course a tragedy, but the only person responsible for the death of that child is the foreign terrorist fighter.
I think it is well established international law that one does not take away the citizenship from even one’s most unpleasant fellow citizens if it will leave them stateless. I thought it was policy not to take away citizenship unless someone had substantial citizenship of and some connection with another country. I had not previously heard it described as some sort of punishment for past misbehaviour.
May I ask the Home Secretary to address the security implications for our safety? There are thousands of European nationals who are jihadists. They are now scattering over the middle east, in camps and elsewhere, trying to get out. Does he not agree that if each European country desperately tries to turn away its own in the hope that they will go to some other country, we will actually expose ourselves to considerable danger? Is it not preferable that everybody who gives up and wants to return to their own country comes back to that country, where they can be put in the hands of the police, prosecuted if necessary, and kept under surveillance by the intelligence services for as long as is necessary?
The first point that my right hon. and learned Friend raised was on citizenship. Again, to make it clear, under international law it would clearly not be possible for the British state to remove British citizenship from anyone unless the Home Secretary who is making that decision is satisfied, based on expert advice, that that individual will not be left stateless, so he is right to make that point about international law.
On the security implications that my right hon. and learned Friend asked about, clearly there is a balance that needs to be met. The primary objective should be the safety and security of all those who live in the United Kingdom. That should be the overriding concern, based on expert advice and expert intelligence about what is necessary to protect British citizens. There is a case for more co-operation with our international partners because, as I mentioned earlier, they face many similar challenges. It is something that I discuss regularly, especially with our European partners—I discussed it just last week in Brussels with some of them—and that we are trying to get better co-ordination on so we can better manage some of the joint threats that we face.
Save the Children said that the death of this innocent, newborn baby was an “avoidable tragedy”, and I still have not heard any satisfactory explanation from the Home Secretary as to why the Foreign Secretary said that it would be too dangerous to have brought this baby to safety, when many journalists have visited the camp that the child was in on numerous occasions. I also gently say to the Home Secretary that I am sure that some of these women who were “married” to jihadi fighters did not have much choice in the decision about whether to have children or not. I do not think those fighters were too interested in a woman’s right to withhold consent to sex, never mind women’s reproductive rights.
Last time I raised this matter, the Home Secretary was very stung by my criticism and suggestion that revoking Ms Begum’s citizenship might have been contrary to law, but in the meantime, many other lawyers, in addition to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), have pointed out that the basis of his decision is questionable, because it seems quite clear that Ms Begum has no right to Bangladeshi citizenship. There are claims that the Home Secretary did not consult either the Attorney General or the Solicitor General before making his decision—something that could leave him vulnerable in the event of a legal challenge. Will he tell us whether these claims are accurate, and will he refrain from retreating behind the argument that the case is sub judice, as you have already explained to him, Mr Speaker, that that is not the case?
Other countries, including the Republic of Ireland, that are faced with this situation are not depriving their citizens of citizenship, but are taking responsibility for citizens radicalised on their watch, rather than dumping them on poorer countries whose security arrangements are already strained to the nth degree. Finally, in the camps and hospitals of northern Syria, there are many more innocent children who are not British citizens. The Kurdish authorities need more help to deal with these families and these innocents fleeing Daesh. What discussions has the Home Secretary had with his Foreign Office counterparts in respect of that humanitarian aspect of the situation?
The hon. and learned Lady suggests that because journalists are getting into Syria—into some of the camps—that it is perfectly safe, then, for British officials to enter. She will know, first, that that is a decision for journalists to make. She will also know that, thankfully in most cases—even in war zones—journalists have some degree of protection. If it was a British official, it would be a very different category of risk, and I know that she would recognise that.
The hon. and learned Lady also made a reference to women foreign terrorist fighters. All I would gently urge is that no one should make a judgment on the threat that a foreign terrorist fighter poses to our national security based on their gender. That would be entirely wrong.
The hon. and learned Lady has also questioned the legality of such decisions. As I have said—I am happy to repeat it—these decisions are never taken lightly and are based on both expert security advice, intelligence advice and legal advice. As to the last part of her question, the Minister for the Middle East, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), will be making a statement later in which he will cover that point.
Of course, the Home Secretary must decide on what is in the best interests of British public safety on the basis of information that we have not seen, and he is entirely right that it would be wrong in these circumstances to put British officials and personnel in harm’s way, as has been suggested by some on the Opposition Benches. Further to the point made by the Father of the House and former Home Secretary, however, is Britain, with its rule of law and governance structures, not wrong to leave people in ungoverned space who would then be prey to terrorists and their recruiters? Has he noted that Ms Begum was 15 when she was radicalised in London— indeed, groomed by bad people—and that her family, who want her back, and her local community have repudiated her acts and disagree with what she has said and done?
I always listen carefully to what my right hon. Friend says, and he was right in his opening comment. Much has been said about this case—many accusations and insinuations and much so-called detail—that people could not possibly know because, for security reasons, No. 1, but also for other reasons, it is not possible for the Government to share the details of any such case. It would not be appropriate. It has never been so in the past and would not be appropriate now, and as I have said, the decisions would always be taken on expert legal advice.
On the second part of my right hon. Friend’s question about the security risks posed, whether it is our security or that of others, we need to look carefully at the security threats, but first and foremost I must be concerned about the safety and security of all those who live in the United Kingdom, and, where threats remain after we take action, we will work with our international partners to minimise them.
I asked the Home Secretary about the vulnerability of this little baby, who has now tragically died, at the Select Committee session. Can he confirm that Shamima Begum’s son was a British citizen? I see no reason not to confirm that, rather than make generic statements. He also told me that he had considered the interests of the child. That is a bit hard to understand, given what has happened to this little baby. Was he advised by his officials that there would be a greater risk to this child’s life if he made this citizenship decision about the mother?
I can confirm that if a child is born to a British citizen anywhere in the world, as long as that British citizen is not a naturalised British citizen, that child is British, even if the parent’s British citizenship is subsequently removed. I have mentioned before in the House, and I am happy to repeat it, that these decisions are never taken lightly—I believe that to be true of all my predecessors—but they are based on expert advice by officials. Where a child is involved, the interests of that child are taken into account.
Can I follow the logic a little further about what is necessary to keep British society safe? I am sure that people on both sides of the House believe that the best way to deal with something such as this would be for each country to take people back, put them through the court process, prosecute them and, if necessary, imprison them. The problem is: what do we do when we do not have an offence for which a person can be prosecuted? We now have a new offence of entering a designated area. What is the maximum prison sentence that someone would serve if convicted of that offence? If it is a very short period, will the Home Secretary consider upgrading the law on treason—as was done temporarily during the second world war—to ensure that anyone who comes back will serve a very long sentence? It takes between 20 and 25 security service operatives to cover a single suspect 24/7, and that is simply impossible when there are hundreds of such suspects.
My right hon. Friend has made a number of good points. He is, of course, absolutely right: someone who returns can be prosecuted for an offence only if the relevant laws exist. He alluded to new counter-terrorism legislation that is included in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, and to the “designated areas” offence. I believe that the maximum sentence that can be received for that offence is up to 10 years. It was precisely to try to secure more tools with which to prosecute returning fighters that I made that amendment to that Bill. We are constantly considering what further improvements can be made, and what further tools can be introduced to prosecute returning foreign fighters. I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is time to look at the laws on treason, and to modernise them.
Did the Home Secretary seek advice on whether a charity already active in the Syrian camps, such as Save the Children, could have helped the British Government to remove this British baby to safety?
As I have said, these decisions are never taken lightly. A number of factors would be considered, on a case-by-case basis, and we would look at what is in the best interests of defending our national security and act on the basis of the advice that we received.
The Home Secretary faces a daily set of choices and decisions to keep the citizens of this country safe which no other member of the Government faces, and he has the support of Conservative Members in doing his very difficult job. Does he agree, however, that there is still a huge amount of work to be done for us to understand why so many British children and young people from British homes chose to go and be part of Daesh, and that we need to build trust in those communities and invest in them so that more young people feel that they have a greater stake in a liberal and free society such as ours?
I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. Much work has been done when the UK has suffered some terrible terrorist attacks, and the Government have been required to consider sensibly what more can be done to help us to understand what motivates individuals either to commit acts of terrorism here or to go and join foreign groups abroad.
My right hon. Friend rightly talked about communities and community relations. It should be borne in mind that many members of the British Muslim community do not want foreign terrorist fighters to return to this country, because they fear both the precedent that that will set for future potential foreign fighters and the radicalism of vulnerable young British Muslims by those returning foreign fighters.
Shamima Begum was my constituent. She fled to Syria in 2015, along with two other girls, after being groomed and radicalised—mainly online—and influenced by a former classmate who had left earlier. As the Home Secretary will know, the police were working in enormously difficult circumstances, but one of the errors made was their sending letters about interviewing the girls to the girls themselves instead of their parents. The police subsequently apologised for the error. The girls were minors then, and they had not committed crimes at the time when Shamima Begum fled.
I recognise, especially given what she has said in the media, the abhorrent views that Shamima Begum now holds and the fact that she has been radicalised, but, that said, no child should face punishment for the sins of its parent, and in this case that child is the child that died. I disagree with the Home Secretary’s decision to rescind her citizenship, because doing so makes her stateless, given that the Bangladeshi authorities do not recognise that she has citizenship of their country.
That said, national security and the protection of our communities are paramount. I want to flag up some of the issues that my constituents have raised, because we need to think deeply about how we deal with them. My constituents are concerned about the fact that the case has gained the oxygen of publicity, and about the abhorrent views that have been allowed to be peddled in our media day in, day out. My constituents are worried about the repercussions and the possibility of a backlash from far-right groups. I have already had cases of innocent people, who happen to be Muslim, being attacked. Those are the issues that we have to reckon with and deal with.
My constituents are concerned to ensure that if people are returned—as they should be, given the debates about nationality—they should be prosecuted and face the full force of the law. If those people are returned into their communities, we face the massive challenge of dealing with backlashes in those returnees’ localities. Our constituents become vulnerable to attacks from the far right and other religious extremists, and they may face unhelpful media attention while they are trying to get on with their lives.
I ask the Home Secretary this, once again: will he please work with the Foreign Secretary and our allies in other countries to come up with a long-term solution? We must address the problem of people who go to conflict regions, to ensure that they do not find clandestine ways to return to our country, create more insecurity and pose a greater danger to people’s lives.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said. As she said, sadly, a number of her constituents are known to have gone to Syria to join Daesh and other terrorist groups. I understand the concerns that have been raised in the community, and she touched on some of them. She might be interested to know that I recently visited a Prevent panel in Tower Hamlets to see some of its excellent work with many members of the community. It safeguards vulnerable young people not only against groups such as Daesh but against far-right extremism, which she mentioned.
The hon. Lady has said a lot, and I have listened carefully. If it would help, I would be very happy to meet her later and discuss some of those issues in more detail.
The problem is that not enough British nationals who return from Syria are being prosecuted. We know that 900 British nationals have gone to aid Daesh in Syria and Iraq. Some 180 have been killed in theatre, 360 have returned and another 360 are likely to return in the near future. Of the 360 who have returned, just 40—10%—have been successfully prosecuted. I say to the Home Secretary that that is simply not enough.