House of Commons
Monday 29 April 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—
School Exclusions: Timpson Review
I am very grateful to Edward Timpson for the thorough work he has been leading on exclusions. The review has gathered substantial evidence and will report shortly, and I will then respond.
The all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which I chair, found through an extensive freedom of information request that a third of local authorities have no space left in their pupil referral units. We know that excluded children who are not offered a full-time place at a pupil referral unit are at an increased risk of being involved in crime. We were told that the Timpson review was finalised last year. We are still waiting for a publication date to be confirmed. When will the Secretary of State confirm that date, and when will the Government act?
I commend the hon. Lady for the work that she and her colleagues do on the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which is a terrible scourge for us all to grapple with. I am not in a position to give her a date for publication of the Timpson review. It will be soon, but we have to be careful not to draw a simple causal link between exclusions and knife crime.
According to the most recent figures collected by the Education Policy Institute, in one year, nearly 55,000 children have disappeared from school rolls without explanation. The Secretary of State cannot tell us why, nor can he for those excluded officially, because his Department collects no further information on them. While we wait for Timpson to report, will the Secretary of State commit to my call—one that is supported by Ofsted, the National Education Union and many people across education—to scrap the “other” category as a reason for exclusion, which now represents 20% of exclusions in our schools on his watch?
To continue the theme of simple links that should not be drawn, it would be wrong to associate that figure of 55,000 with any one category. There are many reasons why children may be taken out of school—for example, emigration. We are concerned, of course, about exclusions. That is why I invited Edward Timpson to carry out this review. It would be wrong of me to pre-empt what he has to say, but we will report back soon.
As well as having concerns about delays to the review, I am concerned about other forms of exclusion that may fall out of scope. I am aware in my constituency of the use of isolation units in schools, where students are removed from lessons and placed in single booths to work on their own, often for several days at a time, with no therapeutic intervention, as a form of punishment for poor behaviour. Often that results in the student no longer going to school. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss ending the draconian use of isolation units?
I know that there was a good debate on related matters recently in the House. We support headteachers and schools in making decisions on proportionate use of behaviour management. It is important that that is proportionate, but headteachers and schools are generally in the best position to make those judgments. We also issue guidance from the centre, which we keep under review.
I am delighted when children and young people take an active interest in these incredibly important issues, and on a number of environmental topics, children and young people have very much taken the lead, but my message to them is: on a Friday afternoon, the best place for you to be is in school. That is where you can learn to be a climate scientist or an engineer and solve these problems in the future. Being absent from school tends to disrupt learning for others and causes an additional workload for your teachers.
Exclusion should only be used as a last resort, but it is worth remembering the disruption that the child can cause to everybody else’s education in a class. Can my right hon. Friend tell me how the number of exclusions is going as a trend—for instance, was it higher 10 years ago?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He is right that permanent exclusion should be a last resort, and in my experience of headteachers, it is: it is a decision that they come to after a great deal of soul searching. He is also right that as well as the effect on the individual child, we have to think about the effect on the other 27 children in the class and, indeed, the staff in the school. There has been an upward trend in the number of exclusions in the past few years, but it has not reached the highs we saw under previous Labour Governments.
Does the Secretary of State agree with me that when permanent exclusions do happen, it should not be the end of something, but the start of something new and positive to get that child’s education back on track? Will he look at whether powers are needed by the regional schools commissioners to enable them to work with local education authorities to ensure excluded children are not just left wandering the streets?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend that exclusion must be the start of something new and positive, as well as the end of something, and that is why the quality of alternative provision is so important. I pay tribute to the brilliant staff and leaders who work in our alternative provision settings, 84% of which are rated good or outstanding. However, we know there is always more that can be done, and that is why we have our innovation fund and other initiatives.
The Secretary of State surely knows that he lost nearly 9,500 pupils on his watch last year. They went off roll, and we had no idea where they went. Following on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Frith), one in 12 pupils who began secondary school in 2012 and finished in 2017 were removed from school rolls. Given the scale of the problem, will the Secretary of State not tell us when the Timpson review will be published and commit to Labour’s pledge that schools should retain responsibility for the results of the pupils they exclude?
I have not ruled that out, as the hon. Gentleman will know. I am sure he will join me in welcoming the consultation we have put out on children not in school and on maintaining a register of children not in school, including the duty to make sure that extra help is provided for home educating parents, where they seek it. There have always been absences from school, as he will know. We have made great progress over the years on absence and persistent absence from school, but we need to make sure that more is done.
Creative Projects: Early Years Experience
Creative and practical subjects form a key part of the early years foundation stage statutory framework, which is mandatory for all early years providers, including of course schools.
I have some experience in this area, as the former Chair of the Select Committee on Education. Is the Minister not aware that, over several years, we have seen how the push to study for early years testing has really pushed the practical and the creative out of the classroom, and could we bring it back? Will the Minister talk to Tristram Hunt, who is the director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, which has learning hubs, practical hubs and making hubs, and learn from his experience?
I would certainly talk to Tristram Hunt. Expressive arts and design is one of the seven areas of learning set out in the early years foundation stage statutory framework, and it involves exploring and using media and materials, and being imaginative, including through design and technology, art, music, dance, role play and stories.
I do, indeed, agree with my right hon. Friend. Between 2016 and 2020, we are spending almost £500 million on a range of music and creative arts programmes.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), does the Minister not accept that the emphasis on testing only English and maths—not just in primary school, but throughout—is having a detrimental effect on experiential learning, project learning and creating people with a lust for learning, not those who can just regurgitate facts?
No teacher or school leader would disagree about the lust for learning and making learning fun, but testing is the building block that allows us to make the investment and have the focus necessary to produce the extraordinary results that we are producing for children and families up and down the country.
Does the Minister agree that the early years stage should include a broad range of learning goals, including communication, physical development and self-confidence, as well as of course a thirst for knowledge?
I certainly do. Our proposals retain 17 early learning goals to reflect the breadth of the current early years foundation stage approach as well.
Good-quality music tuition builds our young people’s creativity, skills and mental wellbeing. Accessing it is a challenge in poorer communities such as my own. What assessment have Ministers made of an art pupil premium to level this imbalance?
Art, music and design are compulsory in all maintained schools from age five to age 14. All schools, including academies, are required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum.
Will my hon. Friend ensure that digital and IT skills play a role in the early years curriculum to ensure that our young people encounter early on the technologies that they will need to become familiar with as they progress through school?
I certainly agree; I know that my hon. Friend is a passionate advocate of IT literacy.
I am grateful to the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), for visiting Space Studio West London in my constituency to see young people making robots and getting involved in other engineering projects such as sustainable energy. My mobile phone was charged wirelessly this morning by an invention of theirs.
Does the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), agree that employability comes from having practical learning? Will he join me in trying to make sure that creativity is encouraged in all our schools? Will he support my arts and makers fair, which will showcase work by young people across Hounslow?
I certainly agree with all that. I will certainly support the fair that the hon. Lady plans in her area, and I am sure that my colleagues would join me in visiting it.
That sounds very exciting, I must say. I have been to the hon. Lady’s constituency a number of times, but I have merely spoken. The notion that I might create a robot has never been put to me—thankfully.
The Minister may be aware of the recent “Sounds of Intent” report, which showed that targeted music lessons for under-fives helps close the gap, particularly in deprived areas and for children with complex needs. Can the Minister tell us whether he believes that every child should have access to music while at nursery? If so, what audit is he doing on quality? He may agree that putting a CD on at Christmas is very different from having a professional come in on a weekly basis. If he believes that quality is important, what is he doing to ensure that music has a greater role in the early years foundation stage?
We plan to spend around £3.5 billion on early education entitlements this year alone, and that targets the most disadvantaged in society. The hon. Lady rightly mentions music, which is very much part of the creative portfolio that children under five should be enjoying. Part of our funding, of course, is for making sure that we deliver all that and more in our fantastic early years provision.
Immigration Leglisation: Tertiary Education
My visit to Space Studio West London this morning was excellent; a robot even transported my ministerial pack across the room. I was incredibly impressed.
On the immigration White Paper, I should say that the Government are undertaking a period of extensive engagement on the future of our immigration system. It will consider the views of business, academic institutions and employers. That will ensure that the future immigration system works for the whole UK, including students in tertiary education.
EU nationals are an integral part of academic institutions in Scotland, accounting for 20% of total staff and playing a crucial role in the research and teaching capacities of our colleges and universities. The £30,000 salary threshold is a critical threat to that. Does the Secretary of State personally support that policy, or will he finally support scrapping it?
As the Minister responsible in a different Department for science, research and innovation, I recognise the challenges presented by the £30,000 cap recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee. I understand that there is a period of consultation on this cap at the moment. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to make his representations known to the Home Office. I have also been working with the high-level group on exiting the European Union on this issue.
The SQA—Scottish Qualifications Authority—exams started in Scotland last week and today pupils are sitting exams in German, politics, biology and Gaelic. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing them the very best of success. Gur math a thèid leibh!
The inclusion of international students in net migration figures continues to cause deep concerns across higher education, and it now seems that EU nationals will be subject to the same harsh regime. Can the Minister confirm that from 2021 EU nationals will pay annual fees of up to £25,000 to attend university in England?
There will be an urgent question on this issue later, but it is important to reflect on the fact that the Government have already committed for the 2019-20 academic year that there will be home fee status for EU students for the 2020-21 academic year. We will be making an announcement on that very shortly. It is also important to recognise that the number of EU students has risen by 3.8% since 2017. The Government want to ensure we do our best to attract the best and the brightest internationally, which is why we recently published our international education strategy. I want to ensure we do not just attract global talent from the EU. The key point here is to ensure we do not discriminate against EU students versus international students, but that we have a system that works for all students across the globe.
The UK’s hostile immigration environment seems to know no bounds. EU nationals will now experience the same harsh conditions as other international students. It seems that the Government are happy to ignore advice from universities, business and civic society in their attempt to curb international student numbers. What impact assessment has been made of potentially losing high-calibre EU students who may well decide to study in a more welcoming country?
On the urgent question, I will not comment on specific leaks when it comes to matters of policy yet to be decided, but we have to look at this issue in the international context. The number of non-EU students is also up, by 4.9%, which is testament to the fact that we have world-leading universities. Four out of the top 10 universities are in the UK, including Edinburgh in Scotland. We need to plan to ensure we have a sustainable system that backs talent coming to this country, both in terms of research and science. We will also be announcing an international research innovation strategy. We want to ensure that students come here, but we need to make sure it is affordable for the British taxpayer.
The Minister talks about numbers, but he will know that, according to the OECD, the UK market share has fallen from 12% in 2010 to 8% in 2016. That is equivalent to £9 billion in lost export earnings. He will also know that there is strong cross-party support for an amendment to the immigration Bill, which I have tabled with the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), to reverse the policies that have led to that decline. Will he agree to meet us, so that together we can persuade his Government colleagues of the need to back those changes?
I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I am sure he remembers that when I was a Cabinet Office I happily worked with him on an amendment he tabled to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 regarding student registration. However, since 2017, the figures show a rise in EU and non-EU students. He mentions market share. He is absolutely right that we want to do more and that we need to do more. That is why we published our international education strategy, which has the ambition not just of raising the complete value of international education from £30 billion to £35 billion by 2030, but of putting in the figure of 600,000 students. It is not just about having a system that works around visas, but the whole student experience and ensuring the UK is the best place to study globally.
Leaving the EU: Tertiary Education
The Government remain focused on securing a deal that will ensure an orderly exit from the EU. We are considering all aspects of how exiting the EU might affect education, including the delivery of the Government guarantee, attracting international students and staff, and access to student finance.
In contrast to Scotland, the Secretary of State proposes to remove home fee status from EU students after Brexit. This has created such concern that the Norwegian higher education Minister is advising students to avoid the UK. Is the Secretary of State proud that his plans are causing European students to avoid our universities?
I recently met the Norwegian Minister the hon. Lady mentions, Iselin Nybø, to reassure her of the UK Government’s commitment to student programmes such as Erasmus and scientific programmes such as Horizon 2020. What I am not happy with is Members talking down our higher education system when the Government want to ensure that we bring more students here. We are looking at how to do that as part of our education strategy.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Government have proposed a temporary leave that will apply to EU citizens for 36 months, allowing EU students to complete their third-level degrees here in England. However, the majority of Scottish degree courses last for 48 months, and thus EU students will face the threat of being forced to leave before finishing their education. Will the Minister advise on what steps he has taken to address and right this policy, which will harm Scottish universities?
I recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman makes and the potential impact on Scottish universities, as does the Home Secretary, whose officials have been working closely with mine on this. The Government are now considering how best to ensure that students on four-year courses are easily able to move into the student system once their European temporary leave to remain expires. If European economic area or Swiss citizens wish to stay in the UK for longer than 36 months, they will need to apply and qualify for an immigration status under the main study routes of the UK’s new skills-based immigration system. Alternatively, they will be able to apply, under tier 4 of the points-based system, for a student visa to cover the full length of their course.
Our higher education institutions—including the Open University, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month—are world class, but sadly, despite what the Minister says, the Government are letting those universities down. They are not giving clarity at the moment over access to Erasmus+, they are not guaranteeing continued access to Horizon Europe funding and there are fears over research grant collaboration with EU partners.
Now there are reports that the Government are preparing to charge EU students—[Interruption] Stop chuntering!—who currently pay UK fees, a hugely increased international rate, and to scrap their support when we leave the EU, with or without a deal. The Minister is wrong: statistics from the Russell Group show that EU student numbers are 3% down, and EU postgraduate numbers are 9% down for 2018-19. The Education Secretary is said to be pushing this forward. Does the universities Minister agree with it, and is it Government policy?
The hon. Gentleman talks about uncertainty, but it is uncertainty that he himself has created, as one of the Members who has not voted for a deal, which would have provided certainty on student mobility and student finance. The deal, if passed, will allow us to begin work on a future relationship that ensures that we can work together, with our universities sector and with our European partners. Although we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving our European neighbours behind. We want to continue those close partnerships, which is why I have been in Brussels attending the European Competitiveness Council—I hope to do so again on 28 May—to ensure that we can associate into Horizon Europe. I want to continue to work on the possibilities for student exchanges. It is important that we maintain our university system not just as a European one but as an international one as well.
Brevity personified—Sir Nicholas Soames.
It was Labour’s decision in 2004 to make languages at key stage 4 non-compulsory that led to the dramatic drop in the numbers taking GCSE foreign languages. Thanks to our introduction of the EBacc, the percentage of pupils in state-funded schools taking a language GCSE has increased, from 40% in 2010 to 46% now. Our target is 75% studying a foreign language GCSE by 2022 and 90% by 2025.
Given that catastrophic mistake by the Labour party, I commend my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for the proportion of pupils taking a language GCSE increasing from 40% to 47% since 2010. Does he agree that, given the—so far, unicorn—desire to develop a really global Britain project, it will become more and more important that our students are properly equipped for a fully global world, in which Britain will have to make a new way for itself?
I agree with my right hon. Friend completely. As we enter a new global economy, we want to be able to trade with our European partners and need to speak European languages, as well as languages throughout the world, which is why we believe in the EBacc. I wish the Labour party would support our ambition to have 75% of students taking the EBacc combination of GCSEs by 2022.
The provision of languages post-16 has shrunk since 2010. This is largely due—or partly due at least—to the continually growing 16-to-18 funding gap on the Government’s watch. Is it not time to raise the rates so that, among other things, languages can prosper again post-16?
Actually, that is not the reason. The numbers taking A-level maths and further maths are at all-time highs. Languages have suffered because of the decision in 2004 on GCSEs. It is difficult for someone to take an A-level in a language if they have not studied it at GCSE.
Speaking a language greatly increases one’s employability. According to Business Insider, the No. 1 language for getting a good job is German—going by the number of job ads and the quality and pay of the jobs—yet only 3,000 pupils sat German A-level last year. The exam could be held in Westminster Hall so few are the pupils. I appreciate that the Government have an excellent record on GCSEs. Can we do more to encourage language learning at A-level?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Germany is the fourth largest economy and not far away—a few hundred miles—from this country, and we need more young people studying German GCSE, which is why we have the target of having 75% taking a modern language by 2022.
To teach more foreign languages in schools we need to recruit and retain the very best teachers. What is the Minister doing to help us retain the very best modern languages teachers, who are feeling the pressure under increased workloads and increased stress?
That is why we have introduced a recruitment and retention strategy and why we have £26,000 tax-free bursaries and £28,000 tax-free scholarships for the best foreign language graduates coming into teaching. Teaching is a very worthwhile profession. I hope the hon. Gentleman will talk it up, as we do on the Conservative Benches.
School Places: Essex
One of the first decisions the Government took on coming to office in 2010 was to double the capital expenditure on creating new school places, after the previous Labour Government cut 100,000 school places. Since 2010, some 921,000 new school places have been created, including 450 new free schools. More than £12 billion has been committed since 2011 to delivering those new schools and new school places.
My constituency is growing very fast and we need more school places. We have a new all-through school opening, but many of the other schools are expanding their places and then struggling because the funding comes with a lag. Come the spending review, will my right hon. Friend and the Education team support a campaign for fairer funding for schools in areas of very high growth?
The national funding formula allocates £287 million nationally in growth funding and local authorities also have the ability to top-slice their wider schools block funding if necessary to supplement growth funding. In 2018-19, Essex has been allocated £6.8 million in growth funding through the national funding formula growth factor, but we will, as my hon. Friend requests, make a strong case at the spending review for the right education funding for all areas.
From some of the answers from Ministers today, anyone would think they had not been in government for nearly a decade.
School places are really important for parents, but often at this time of the year many of them find it is not they who choose the school their sons and daughters will go to but the school that chooses which pupils to accept. Can I remind Ministers of the pledges they made before the last general election? Parents in Essex and across the country were promised a review of school admissions in the Conservative party manifesto. Will the Minister keep to that promise?
What I will tell the hon. Lady is that last year—which is the latest for which we have figures— 97.7% of families achieved one of their top three primary school choices, 91% achieved their first choice of primary school, and 93.8% achieved one of their top three choices of secondary school. In 2010, when we came to office, just 66% of pupils attended a good or outstanding school; today the figure is 86%.
When Aspire alternative provision Academy in Harlow was taken over by the TBAP Multi-Academy Trust in 2017, it had a healthy balance and a strong business plan. Since then, it has been revealed on the BBC’s “Panorama” programme that TBAP had been in serious debt, and its public accounts were found to be inaccurate. Aspire has been dragged down with it. Does the Minister agree that it is absolutely necessary for Ofsted to inspect multi-academy trusts to prevent that situation from occurring again? How will he support Aspire, whose headteacher is here today, and which wants to be brokered to another MAT?
As my right hon. Friend will know, we issued a financial notice to improve to the TBAP trust in August 2018, long before the “Panorama” programme was broadcast, because we were concerned about poor financial management and controls. That notice will remain in place until we are satisfied that the trust has taken effective action to address our concerns. We always act swiftly in such circumstances, and our primary concern has been to preserve the education of children and limit the impact on the taxpayer.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) on running in the marathon yesterday, while also expressing some surprise that he is nevertheless still leaping to his feet with notable alacrity.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. That is very kind. All the pain is worth it for two great causes.
Corby is the fastest growing town in the country, and it is essential for school places to keep up with that housing growth. What reassurance can the Minister give parents in my constituency that both the policy and the resources are in place to achieve exactly that?
Let me add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on his achievement in the London marathon. He will be pleased to know that in 2019-20 we have introduced a new formulaic approach to the allocation of growth funding to local authorities in the NFF. It is a fairer system, because it is based not just on what the authorities spent in the past but on the actual growth in the number of pupils. We will, of course, always keep this issue under review.
Education Funding: England
While this country is a relatively high spender on state education in comparison with other similar countries, we recognise that finances remain challenging, and we will continue to listen to professionals in the run-up to the spending review.
Like many other schools in my constituency, Fishburn Primary School is facing severe funding difficulties, to the extent that parents are holding a fundraising event to raise money for essentials. Given that a real-terms increase in funds is not coming from his Department, would the Secretary of State care to contribute a raffle prize to help to raise the money that will ensure that local children continue to receive the education that they deserve?
It is, of course, exceptionally important for schools to be properly resourced. In the Darlington local authority area, where the typical primary class size is 27, the average funding is £104,000, while in the Durham local authority area— which the hon. Gentleman mentioned—where the class size is slightly smaller at 25, the funding is a shade higher at £105,000. Of course it is right that, through the national funding formula, we ensure that schools are properly resourced for the education that they will need to deliver.
Since 2015 schools in Tower Hamlets have lost out on some £56 million—of which £7.7 million is for children with special needs—despite having the highest child poverty rate in the country. When will the Secretary of State stand up to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, and seek the additional funding that is so much needed for our children around the country?
As my right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards said earlier, we will of course put forward a strong case for education, on which so much else depends in both our society and our economy. The hon. Lady mentioned her constituency. That is an area of relatively high school funding per pupil, and specifically on high needs. I recognise the additional pressures on the high-needs budget, but £1.4 million of the additional money that we were able to secure for high needs will go to her constituents over two years.
Of the 33 schools in the Easington constituency, 28 have had their funding cut between 2015 and 2019, three of them by more than £600,000, including my former primary school, now called Ribbon Primary School. Are we to take it that the Government’s plan is to transfer resources from hard-pressed areas in the north-east to more affluent areas in the south and south-east?
Funding has been allocated on a per-pupil basis for a large number of years now, including through the period 1997 to 2010, so a decrease in pupil numbers has an effect on funding, but through the national funding formula over two years we are allocating at least a 1% increase in respect of every child in the country, and for historically underfunded areas, up to 6%.
Amounts per pupil are being top-sliced to meet a deficit in the high-needs block, so the amount actually going into the school accounts per pupil is not nearly as impressive, is it?
There is pressure on high-needs budgets. Actually, the high-needs budget has gone up from £5 billion to £6 billion over the last few years, but there are still those pressures, as my right hon. Friend rightly says. That is why it was so important to secure the additional £250 million that we announced at the end of last year.
I obviously welcome the fact that 15,200 children are now in good and outstanding schools in Somerset, as compared to 2010, but—urgently—teachers are coming to me increasingly about the funding pressures they are under, because they have more and more on their shoulders. I have just had seven schools in the Tone Valley Partnership and a raft of schools with the Redstart Trust coming to me to highlight their funding pressures, so please will the Secretary of State meet me again to understand what they are facing and to discuss it?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the strong performance of schools in her area and the improvement in Ofsted judgments. It is also true, of course, that over the two years Somerset schools have benefited from a 5.9% increase in per-pupil funding, but I will of course be more than happy to meet her again to talk about the high-needs pressures and others that she mentioned.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight this exceptionally important issue, and it is vital that we have the right education and the right support for every child, whatever their unique personal make-up. As I say, there have been pressures on the high-needs budget, which I totally recognise. There have been multiple reasons for that, as schools up and down the country identify. I will be happy to meet her to discuss the specific issues that she mentioned and how best we can address them.
The hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) is also a successful marathon runner who deserves the approbation of the House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kind words. May I take this opportunity to thank everyone across Barnsley for supporting me yesterday?
When the Government announced their new institutes of technology earlier this month, there was not a single one in South Yorkshire or West Yorkshire, and just two across the whole of the north. Will the Secretary of State review that decision and support new applicants from those areas?
The creation of institutes of technology is a very exciting development, and there will be more to come. This is a great opportunity to improve the provision of higher technical education throughout the country; as time goes on, I anticipate that there will be more of them.
I join Mr Speaker in congratulating the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) on their great efforts in the marathon.
School Funding: North-East
Funding for schools in the north-east has increased by 2.9% per pupil compared to 2017-18, which is equivalent to an extra £77.4 million in total, when rising pupil numbers are taken into account.
The Government are continually telling us that record levels of funding are going into education, but it is about time we found out where it is going, because the average secondary school in the north-east will be £190,000 a year worse off than it was in 2015.
No; as I was saying to the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), the national funding formula allocates at least 1% over two years in respect of each pupil, and that goes up to 6% per pupil in historically underfunded areas. In a few exceptional cases, it is even more than that. It is incredibly important that we have the right resourcing in place for children’s education throughout the country, and that is another reason why we will be making a strong case on behalf of education in the spending review.
On Saturday afternoon, I heard the amazingly talented steel band from Prince Bishops Community Primary School. The Secretary of State has cut the amount per child by £600 in that school. It is in the top 10% of most deprived wards, so can he explain why this has happened?
We have not done that. As I was saying a moment ago, we have increased the allocation of funding in respect of each pupil through the national funding formula. Local authorities make the final decision on the allocation of funding between schools, according to issues such as the proportion of children with special educational needs, but I would be happy to sit down with the hon. Lady to look specifically at the numbers that she has talked about in respect of that individual school.
Apprenticeships: Careers Guidance
All schools and colleges must provide careers information, advice and guidance to 12 to 18-year-olds. Since January 2018, schools have been required, under what is commonly known as the Baker clause, to invite providers of technical education and apprenticeships to talk to pupils, in order to give them the full picture of their options. A third of technical education and apprenticeship providers say that the situation has improved since that requirement came in, but we know that there is more to do.
Employers have told me that they work in a constantly evolving environment, and that if we are to avoid falling behind the rest of the world, we need a workforce that is able to cope with digital change. What is the Minister doing to ensure that engineering apprenticeships include training in digital skills, so that no young person is left behind in the modern digital economy?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that it is increasingly important for young people to have those digital skills. I refer him to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s website, where he will be able to see the 400 apprenticeship standards that have been developed, many of which involve digital skills. From 2020, we are introducing the first T-levels, the first of which will be a digital T-level.
State-funded schools in England must offer a broad and balanced curriculum, which for maintained schools includes the national curriculum. Subject to the consultation outcome, Ofsted’s new framework will place the curriculum at the heart of inspection, with an emphasis on schools providing a broad, balanced and ambitious curriculum for all pupils, together with an emphasis on the EBacc for secondary schools.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Across the House this afternoon, colleagues have mentioned the importance to a broad-based curriculum of music, drama, sport, public speaking, outdoor pursuits and many other things. I am delighted to hear that Ofsted will need to look at this, but does he agree that it is vital that these activities should be offered by all schools in all areas, not just by the schools in which parents and others can provide contributions to ensure that these activities happen?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. All the areas that he has cited are vital for children in schools. Art and music are compulsory in the national curriculum up to age 14, and the Government have provided almost £500 million between 2016 and 2018 for arts education programmes. As he pointed out, Ofsted’s proposed framework increases the emphasis on schools’ provision of a broad curriculum, and inspectors will also expect to see rich extracurricular activities for pupils.
Mr Fysh? Let us hear from you on this—the curriculum, T-levels, etc.
I congratulate Yeovil College on its achievement. I can tell my hon. Friend that £38 million of capital will be made available for T-level development and that an extra £500 million a year will be allocated to that sector of our education system once the courses are up and running.
We are under considerable pressure of time, but time must be found to hear the voice of Watford.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Before anyone asks, I did not run the marathon yesterday; I thought I should give other hon. Members a chance. However, I would like to declare a new—
How about saying, “Question No. 16”?
Conditions Improvement Fund
I congratulate all colleagues who ran the marathon. The disbursements of funding for successful projects under the condition improvement fund 2019-20 will start in June.
I must disclose an interest, in that I am now a director of the Watford UTC, and I thank Lord Agnew for all the help he has given that university technical college.
I am delighted that four schools in Watford were successful in their bids to the fund for improvements, which is known as the CIF—I know that that sounds like a disinfectant, but it is actually really important. The successful schools were Watford Grammar School for Boys, the Grove Academy, the Orchard Primary School and Parmiter’s School. This is excellent news, but will my hon. Friend give me an idea of when the schools will receive the money from this welcome funding boost?
Academies and sixth-form colleges can apply for funding over two financial years. The funding starts in June, and allocations for new projects will continue up until spring 2021. My hon. Friend has been a champion for children and schools in Watford.
This month we published a consultation on proposals for a register of children not in school, including a legal responsibility to register children and for authorities to provide extra support for home-educating parents. We announced the first 12 institutes of technology to boost higher technical skills in science, technology, engineering and maths, setting more young people on a clear path to a high-skilled, high-wage career.
This is the last Education questions ahead of thousands of young people starting their GCSE and A-level exams. All hon. Members will want to take this opportunity to wish those young people well, and to thank the hard-working teachers in all our constituencies who have helped them to prepare.
Can it be confirmed that if EU students studying in Scotland apply for immigration status after a three-year grace period, they will not be given any priority, and that if they are rejected by a hostile Home Office, they will be sent packing before they have completed their course?
My hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation set out earlier the arrangements that are in place to allow people to convert, and to ensure that young people from other countries are able to take full advantage of the excellent education available at universities in Scotland and in England. Of course, there are four-year courses in England as well as in Scotland.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on continuing to press the case for the funding that further education needs. We are reviewing the sustainability of further education ahead of the spending review. I pay also tribute to my hon. Friend for her particular work on apprenticeships.
Last week, we heard that 55 staff at the University of Winchester are facing redundancy as a result of the Treasury’s pensions bill, and the University of Cumbria is considering leaving the teachers’ pension scheme altogether. Will the Minister rethink before that trickle becomes a flood?
The Department had a consultation that also looked at the teachers’ pension scheme for further education, schools and independent schools. Obviously, there is only so much money to go around. We need to ensure that organisations such as further education colleges, which have no choice but to offer the teachers’ pension scheme, are protected.
I understand that this is unwelcome news for universities that are having to face increased bills, but in terms of ensuring that universities are financially sustainable, recent reports have shown that the universities sector is in good health. We need to ensure that universities work with the Office for Students, which is clear that when it comes to universities’ registration plans, financial sustainability is key and is marked down for five years. We want to work with universities to make sure they can offer the best experience to students.
I am sure those watching will say that the Minister’s response of “unwelcome news” is just not good enough.
One of the most important things in the education sector is the early years provision. Will the Education Secretary confirm that funding for Sure Start has fallen yet again? It is down by another 12% on his watch. Now that the Prime Minister has announced and promised an end to austerity, can the Education Secretary tell us when the cuts will stop for our tots?
This Government are spending £3.5 billion on early years entitlement, and we are absolutely committed to ensuring that pupils get the best start in life as early as possible. The hon. Lady hits on the crux of the issue: to ensure that we have an education system that is sustainable and works for everyone, we need to make sure that all parts of the Department for Education are properly financed.
The hon. Lady’s commitment on the teachers’ pension scheme has to compete with other commitments within the education system. We will have an urgent question later about EU student finance, and I see in the papers that she has stated she would give free tuition fees to EU students. The point here is that money for EU students comes out of the pockets of Sure Start. The issue she has to address is where the money is coming from in the Department for Education for all her unfunded announcements. It is simply not acceptable for her to stand at the Dispatch Box and make commitments that will only disappoint people in the long term.
I call Mr Green; get in there, man.
I agree with my hon. Friend that in many instances, it may be better to build a new primary school than to expand an existing school, and a variety of factors will need to be weighed up in making such decisions: the quality of existing provision; the impact on existing schools and the community; and the overall costs and value for money.
As we have said a number of times during this Question Time, under the national funding formula, every local authority is being funded with more money for every pupil in every school—a minimum of 1% more, and up to 6% more for schools that have been historically underfunded.
If a school receives a pupil after the census cut-off date, it does not receive the per-pupil funding for the rest of that financial year. This is costing schools in my Lewes constituency around £4,000 per pupil. What is the Minister going to do to look again at the issue of the census cut-off date?
Lagged funding, of course, has an advantage in providing stability for the school system. Particularly where pupil numbers fall, for example, a school will know that it will not see an immediate drop in its funding. We keep the growth factor funding issue under review for those schools that are experiencing exceptionally high increases in pupil numbers, and we also keep this factor of the national funding formula under review.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Philip Augar and his team for the very thorough piece of work they are doing, looking at post-18 education and its financing. Of course, that covers both the university route and others. It is an incredibly important piece of work. I do not have a date to give the hon. Lady today; I will avoid using the “s” word, but we will come back on this before too long. While I am on my feet, let me say that we have mentioned everybody else who ran the marathon and who has stood up today, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) also put in a very creditable performance.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green); I was not aware of that, but I am now, and I thank him for what he has done.
Although I welcome the focus on phonics, recent research suggests that that method of teaching is less effective for children who have a specific learning disability, such as dyslexia. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that resources will be allocated to provide teachers with the specialist training needed to support those pupils who find it hard to learn using phonics? Will he ensure that this research is taken into account when assessing the literacy levels of dyslexic children?
My hon. Friend is right; quality teaching with a differentiated approach ensures that pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, including dyslexia, develop key skills, such as spelling. We are funding the Whole School SEND Consortium, in order to bring together practitioners and networks, so that they can build a community of practice, identify school SEND improvements, and exchange knowledge and expertise.
The national funding formula came into effect in 2018-19, the last financial year, and it is in effect in this financial year, 2019-20. We are maintaining per-pupil spending in real terms in both those financial years. As I have said, since 2017 we have been allocating to local authorities more money for every pupil in every school.
Ah yes, Mr Wragg. You were a teacher. I think we should hear from you.
It was an undistinguished career, Mr Speaker. May I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for visiting Romiley Primary School in my constituency with me on Friday, for very constructive discussions with the headteacher and governors? I urge him to have similarly constructive discussions with our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on matters such as the apprenticeship levy, per-pupil funding and the high needs budget.
I very much enjoyed and got a lot from my visit to Romiley on Friday; I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Discussions with headteachers and governing bodies are so important in learning about specific pressures on schools, and in helping us to develop our response to them.
I know the hon. Lady is passionate about the care system, having been a social worker. We are introducing reforms—both workforce reforms with the national assessment and accreditation system, and through the investment we are making in “Strengthening Families, Protecting Children”, for which £84 million was announced at the Budget. Of course, we will also put our best foot forward, working with the sector, to make sure that the financial challenges are highlighted at the spending review.
May I put an eccentric point of view to the Secretary of State? If we make a manifesto commitment, we should keep it. Two years after breaking our manifesto commitment to set up Catholic free schools, we were promised new, voluntary-aided Catholic schools. I am told by the Catholic Education Service that not a single one has yet opened, anywhere in the country. If it is a pipeline, it is a very long one. What is he doing about it?
Schools do take a while to build. My right hon. Friend is right that I made a commitment, including a personal commitment to him and others, that we would make sure that faith schools, including Catholic schools, would be able to open in areas where there was the demographic need and the demand for them. That commitment absolutely remains in place.
Yes. Our resource management advice programme is all about helping to support schools in what they do best. We expect the headteacher and the chair of governors of a small primary school to be expert at a remarkably wide array of things. It is absolutely right to offer support to schools, including on things such as financial management, but that is there to support the work that schools do in education.
I recently met David Prince and his 12-year-old daughter Holly, who is visually impaired. Holly benefits hugely from the specialist teacher advisory service provided by Hampshire County Council, but the council proposes cutting the funding for this life-changing service, which helped Holly to learn to use a cane, and trained her in mobility. Will a Minister work with me to help Holly, her father and Hampshire County Council find resources so that vulnerable children in Fareham do not have to go without a rich education?
I will happily look into that case and take it offline.
When the Timpson review finally passes the editing process at the Department for Education, will it include an analysis of whether a lack of funding for pastoral and family-support staff is driving exclusions?
The hon. Lady will not have too long to wait for Edward’s report and our response to it. When it comes, she will find that it is a comprehensive and thorough piece of work. We have been looking carefully at all the relevant aspects to make sure that we can guarantee that, as was said earlier, when somebody is excluded, it is not only the end of something, but the start of something positive and new. We support schools’ being able to make such decisions, which remain an important part of behaviour management in schools.
I thank the Secretary of State for the support that he and his Department have given to Fowey River Academy, which is re-brokering out of the discredited Adventure Learning Academy Trust into the Leading Edge Academies Partnership this Wednesday. The re-brokering process has been complex, so will the Secretary of State look into it to see how we can minimise the disruption and uncertainty for all those involved?
My hon. Friend is right that we have to get the process right. We continue to keep the process under review. I would be happy for either myself or my noble Friend Lord Agnew to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that case.
Recent figures show that areas with the greatest need have seen the biggest decline in the number of apprenticeship starts in the past year, with new starts in Bradford South falling by around 50%. I thank the Minister for visiting my constituency, but I am extremely concerned that the current apprenticeship scheme may be widening rather than narrowing the gap between different parts of the country. Will the Minister outline her plans to remedy the situation?
It was a pleasure to visit the hon. Lady’s constituency, where we saw examples of real excellence in the provision of apprenticeships. We have two specific projects, including the 5 Cities project, which is increasing diversity, and we are working in four separate areas to see whether we can make sure that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds can access high-quality apprenticeships, because they often lack the social capital that others from less disadvantaged backgrounds have.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Jenn Willmitt and her team at Willenhall E-Act Academy, which has been moved out of special measures following a recent Ofsted inspection?
I absolutely join my hon. Friend in congratulating Mrs Willmitt on that achievement.
The rationing of special needs funding means that Derbyshire County Council is asking schools not to apply for support until pupils are at least two years behind in educational terms, meaning that they often never get the support that they need. Will the Secretary of State look with me at how county councils are implementing this rationing, to ensure that pupils get the support that they need when they need it?
We have launched ambitious SEND reforms, which I have spoken about at the Dispatch Box before, but I will happily meet the hon. Lady to look at the specific issue she mentions.
Will Ministers join me in congratulating Queen Emma’s Primary School in Witney on its recent Ofsted success, and will they join me in noting that it is the school’s use of phonics combined with a broad, attractive curriculum that is providing an outstanding education for the children of Witney at primary, secondary and beyond?
The mention of phonics is usually a magnet for the right hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb).
I was determined that no one else would answer this question, Mr Speaker. I send my congratulations to Queen Emma’s Primary School on a wonderful set of results in its Ofsted inspection. Phonics is the most effective way of teaching young children to read, and 82% are now reaching the expected standard. There is a direct link between reaching the expected standard in a phonics check and reaching the expected standard in the key stage 2 reading test: 88% of those who reach the expected standard in a phonics check go on to reach the expected standard in reading at key stage 2.
The Minister previously spoke warmly of his desire to maintain good relations with Europe after Brexit. Is he aware of the very recent comments by Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, that students should not be “victims of Brexit”, and that he intends to write to the Prime Minister to say that the EU will never accept the Government’s hike in tuition fees for EU students? How does the Minister think that the PM will answer?
We are about to have an urgent question on this specific issue, but I would say that this is part of negotiations on our future partnership with the EU, which we could be having now if people like the hon. Lady had voted for the deal and allowed us to get on with it.
We have run out of time, but in admiration of the marathon man—or one of the marathon people—in the Chamber, and his persistence in springing to his feet despite his athletic endeavours yesterday, I call Mr Tom Pursglove.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; that is very generous. As it is highly topical, may I ask how my right hon. Friend is getting on with encouraging schools to roll out the Daily Mile initiative, particularly given that I have visited the Hazel Leys Academy in Corby to open the new running track? The school is embracing the initiative, and that is great—fantastic. Will the Minister congratulate it?
It is a pleasure to congratulate the school and highlight how important the Daily Mile is, as well as the work we are doing with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that as many schools as possible deliver the Daily Mile.
Tuition Fees: EU Students
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on Government policy regarding tuition fees for EU students after the UK has left the European Union.
The Government have repeatedly made it clear that we absolutely value international exchange and collaboration in education and training as part of our vision for a global Britain. We believe that the UK and European countries should continue to give young people and students the chance to benefit from each other’s world-leading universities post exit.
Over the weekend, the media reported on a leaked Cabinet document discussing Government policy on EU student access to finance products for the 2020-21 academic year and beyond. At this time, I want to tell the House that no decision has yet been made on the continued access to student finance for EU students. Discussions at Cabinet level are ongoing and should remain confidential. I will make no comment on this apparent leak, which is deeply regrettable.
Students from the EU make a vital contribution to the university sector. It is testament to the quality and reputation of our higher education system that so many students from abroad choose to come and study here. As I stated earlier, since 2017 EU student numbers are up 3.8% and non-EU student numbers are up by 4.9%. In July 2018, we announced that students from the European Union starting courses in England in the 2019-20 academic year will continue to be eligible for home fees status, which means that they will be charged the same tuition fees as UK students and have access to tuition fee loans for the duration of their studies. Applications for students studying in academic year 2020-21 open in September 2019 and the Government will provide sufficient notice for prospective EU students and the wider higher education sector on fee arrangements ahead of the 2020-21 academic year and the subsequent years, which, as I have just stated, will obviously reflect our future relationship with European Union and the negotiations on that going forward.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. We have all read in the leaked reports that the Secretary of State plans to withdraw the home fee status for EU nationals from 2020 onwards. The Minister cannot confirm the Government’s policy today, so when will universities get the certainty they need to plan for their future? Has his Department carried out any assessment of how many EU students would no longer study here as a result of this change?
At a time when the finances of universities are a matter of increasing concern, what impact will these changes have on the sustainability of our institutions? This issue should concern us all. International students make a net contribution to the public finances of tens of billions of pounds a year, so can the Minister tell us how much our public services will lose if fewer EU students come to study here, and how much education exports would fall by if EU students lost home fee status?
Only a month ago, the Secretary of State, along with the International Trade Secretary, launched an international education strategy. They said that education exports would reach £25 billion a year by 2030 and international student numbers would reach 600,000 by the same year. How can they publish this strategy one month, and then pursue a strategy that will undermine it the next? Does he still expect that 600,000 international students will come to the UK every year by 2030 if this rise in tuition fees is introduced?
Time and again, this Government have undermined our universities through their shambolic handling of Brexit. The future of Erasmus and Horizon 2020 are already in doubt, and now the very opportunities that we offer to young people from across the EU are being taken away. It is not in our interest to build walls between our world-class universities and our nearest neighbours, yet this Government are committed to doing exactly that.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this urgent question. It is important that we all recognise that EU students and staff make a vital contribution to our universities. It is also important that those people understand that the Government are determined to ensure that, even though we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving our academic research partnerships behind. While I sit in the Department for Education as Minister for Universities, I also—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) is chuntering; either he wants to hear my answer or he does not. When it comes to setting out a position, it is important that this House does not go down a route of unnecessary negativity and does not somehow send out a message that the United Kingdom is an unwelcoming place.
We are determined when it comes to our universities and our EU student exchanges, and we have set out the international education strategy, which has the ambition of 600,000 extra international students by 2030, as well as setting an investment figure of £35 billion. [Interruption.] As the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) says—if she would not interrupt me—the economic importance of our higher education sector is reflected in the need to attract EU students and students from across the globe. That is the crux of the matter. We want to ensure that our nation is attractive internationally.
We have given commitments and guarantees regarding all successful Erasmus participations and regarding the Horizon 2020 science programmes, from which so many of our universities benefit. We made it a priority very early on after the referendum that we would set out the post-EU exit Government guarantee and the Government guarantee extension—that is, that we would fund the lifetime of these projects before Brexit if these applications were successful, and even post Brexit to December 2020.
We are drawing up our immigration system for January 2021 onwards. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East is again chuntering. Labour Members have called for an urgent question; either they want me to answer it or they do not. The point is that they are threatening a situation and claiming that we are somehow turning our backs to our European partners. That simply is not the case. With regard to our negotiations, I have spoken to about 15 European higher education Ministers. We need to make sure that we commit to them that Britain remains an attractive place for students from all nations across the world to come for work and to study. That is why we have established our international education strategy, why we have made the commitment on the guarantee, and why, rightly, we continue to work on our negotiations with the EU. If we had signed and passed a deal in this House, we would have had the certainty going forward to December 2020. Labour Members, with their Janus-faced—two-faced—approach, cast aspersions about the levels of uncertainty with regard to EU student funding when we would have guaranteed that funding for the next two years but they decided to vote against it. We need to work with universities globally to make sure that we raise our attainment. Our universities are world-class, with four in the world top 10 and 18 in the top 100. We want to support our universities. That is why we have published the international education strategy and why we want to work with them going forward.
Labour already offers students supposedly free tuition fees. Of course, there is no such thing as free tuition fees—they are paid for by the taxpayer, and this would cost the taxpayer an additional £12.5 billion. Labour’s additional policy, now, of saying that it would fund all EU students coming here to be able to study free of charge without having to pay back their tuition fees would cost at least £445 million a year. We have talked about magic money trees in the past—when it comes to Labour, it seems that we are talking about a magic money forest. We need to make sure that we have a fiscally responsible Government who look after our universities. That also means ensuring that we do not deceive our universities by claiming that we can spend money that we do not have.
It is not right that we should discriminate against our other international students. Does the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne believe that we should offer a student finance package for European students once we have left the EU—a system that we have belonged to as members of the EU? Once we are no longer members of the EU, is it right that we then discriminate against Indian students or Chinese students? What does she say to them? How would she address the fact that her policy would discriminate against most of the students across the globe, at the same time as not having the money to be able to fund these student places?
Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are going to spend limited hard-pressed taxpayers’ funds, it would be better to spend them on the poorest countries in this world—the developing nations—and not on some of the richest, most well-to-do countries in the world?
It is important to reflect on our obligations with regard to international policy in terms of both higher education and our sustainable development goals agreed by the United Nations. That is why, in science and research, we have looked at things like the global challenges research fund, which focuses specifically on developing nations, and the Newton fund, worth £735 million, which also focuses on those developing nations. We want to ensure that we can be developing student partnerships and exchanges with all countries. I recently met the organisers of the Fulbright scholarships. Last December, we increased the amount going into those scholarships by about £400,000. We have also set up the Generation UK programme for China.
It is interesting to hear the Minister talk about these UK taxpayer-funded schemes, because we know that many of the people involved in them are not able to get visas to come and collaborate with their colleagues here in the UK, so the system is already failing.
The SNP recognises that our EU students are a national asset. As such, the Scottish Government have confirmed that EU students starting courses in Scotland in 2020 will continue to receive free tuition, because these young people across the EU are already planning where they are going to be studying in 2020. Can the Minister confirm when the fee status of EU nationals starting courses in England in 2020 will be announced? They must know this very soon, or we will lose them anyway. The European temporary leave to remain scheme will not suit many courses, as was mentioned in Education questions. Will he therefore work with the Home Office to ensure that his scheme matches a course rather than matches an idea that suits a very small number of students?
Contrary to the assertions of the Universities Minister earlier, the Higher Education Statistics Agency reports that after years of growth in EU student numbers, enrolments of EU students dropped for the first time last year. He must recognise that. We are already making the UK a less attractive place to study, and that is economically damaging. Although he is right to recognise the importance of international students, having EU students enables richer participation in schemes such as Horizon 2020. The Government have expressed enthusiasm to participate in the successor programme. How does he envisage that happening when our credibility in Europe has been undermined? Finally, the post-study work scheme has been economically and culturally beneficial to Scotland. When will the scheme be reintroduced for international students from the EU and further afield?
I will touch on several points that the hon. Lady made. During oral questions we heard concerns raised about the right to remain. I regularly meet Scottish Minister Richard Lochhead, and I will reflect upon representations he has made to me and work with the Home Office. The immigration White Paper will look at all issues relating to visas or post-study work schemes. It is important that that consultation takes place, and I urge Members to participate in it.
At the moment, we are keen to look at association to the successor scheme to Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe. That will begin later this year. The key point is that postgraduate tuition fees are separate from undergraduate tuition fees, and we do not want to do anything that will damage the potential of UK universities to research and continue with their research partnerships. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) seems keen to keep on chuntering from a sedentary position. He is welcome to make a contribution in a moment, but I am trying to answer the points made by the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan).
I welcome the hon. Lady mentioning that this is taxpayers’ money and that subsidy is involved. It is right that we consider how that subsidy is spent effectively. I urge caution that we do not simply send out a message that EU students happen to be unique. We want students from all parts of the globe—Chinese students, Indian students and students from the ASEAN countries—to be involved and raise their opportunity, and to send out a crucial message that when it comes to soft power, the UK will remain a global leader in higher education.
I thank my hon. Friend for his explanation; I know he thinks deeply about these issues. Does he agree that if we want our university sector to continue to be world-leading, our action must match our ambition? While no decision has been made on this policy, the cumulative impact of some of our policy decisions—whether it is the proposed immigration cap, which would make it more difficult for researchers from abroad to work and study here, or this policy, which would hike up fees for EU students, or the lack of clarity on Erasmus—could be that we undermine the university sector and make it more difficult for young people from this country to live, study and work abroad, and this Government could be portrayed as one who are against young people.
I thank my predecessor for his remarks. The work that he did so soon after we voted to leave the European Union, making the Government guarantee in July 2018 and extending student finance for home fees last year, has set us in a position that is welcome among our European partners. I would also like to put on record my thanks for the work he did in establishing the high-level group on EU exit, which meets monthly. It gives the opportunity for university professionals, including the Russell Group, the University Alliance and MillionPlus, to meet and discuss issues of concern and to ensure that those are fed in internally and that we listen to those points—and we are listening.
We are listening when it comes to the consultation on the immigration White Paper. We are listening when it comes to ensuring that we have a sustainable future with our relationship with the European Union. We are listening when it comes to working on our plans for future association with and participation in the International Science Council, including on making guarantees about Horizon 2020 and looking at association on Horizon Europe. It is right that the Government do this, in tandem with working across all Departments with a cross-Government approach to looking at how we exit the European Union, and I will continue to make sure that I play my role as Universities Minister in backing our universities.
The political declaration agreed between the EU and the UK talks about establishing
“general principles, terms and conditions for the United Kingdom’s participation in Union programmes…in areas such as science and innovation, youth, culture and education”.
Do I take it from the reply the Minister has given this afternoon that the question of tuition fees—fees charged to EU students studying here in the UK and to UK students studying elsewhere in the EU—does not come within the terms of that wording, and that if that is the case, there is no bar to the Government choosing to increase those fees before any negotiations on the future partnership with the EU have even begun?
I think the right hon. Gentleman is pointing to paragraph 61—is it?—of the political declaration on the future partnership with the EU. I wish he would support the political declaration, alongside voting for the deal, because we could then get on with discussing those issues with our European partners.
When it comes to Horizon and Erasmus, part of the reason why we find ourselves in difficulties is the uncertainty that there is without knowing whether we are in a deal or a no deal situation. For all the Opposition Members talking about instability and the lack of certainty, it is on their backs that this is taking place. Those voting against the deal have prevented us from moving on to phase 2 of the negotiations.
We have made commitments on 2019-20 student finance, and we will shortly be making an announcement for 2020-21, ready for applications opening in September 2019. Obviously, any future financial obligations will be part of the spending review, and it is right that they are looked at by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, generally speaking, the rule the Government should adopt, given the unfortunate decision that this country has taken to leave the European Union and in order to make our way in the world to the greatest advantage, is that we must retain a very open system to allow the brightest and the best to come and study here from all over the world at equal rates of charging, but also with a regime that allows them to stay here and work in an orderly, sensible manner that is easily enforced?
From the international perspective of the United Kingdom’s universities, I entirely agree that we now have the highest ever number of applications from foreign countries—about 158,000.[Official Report, 9 May 2019, Vol. 659, c. 10MC.] Looking at this in the round, it is important to reflect on the fact that people want to come to the United Kingdom, and we have an obligation to ensure that we make that possible. However, I suggest that we will support our universities and ensure, as we develop our partnership with the European Union, that we do not exclude those from other foreign countries. That is why we will shortly be publishing our international research and innovation strategy, in addition to the international education strategy. It will ensure that we have a cross-Government approach not just to finance but to the welfare of students, so that when it comes to mental health, accommodation and the full range of student experience, we align in a way that ensures international students feel welcome in this country.
May I tell the Minister that this was a deeply disappointing statement? He may not have been chuntering, but he was certainly not sending out a clear message. I do not know of a university leader, or university town or city, that is persuaded by the kind of stuff he is saying about the role of universities in the coming years. The fact of the matter is that there has always been the possibility of being a citizen of Europe for someone who is wealthy, like many of the people on his Back Benches, but not for an ordinary member of this society. Our students have been able to be European citizens—that is what they value—but now they have been cheated of that. This will not be about pounds, shillings and pence, but about robbing young people of the heritage of being real European citizens.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Further to a previous intervention of his, I am looking forward to coming up to Huddersfield on 10 May. That demonstrates that I do take action when he asks about my commitment to universities. I am looking forward to meeting the vice-chancellor and other university representatives there, and I am sure that they will discuss these issues with me.
When it comes to opportunities for UK students, it is worth noting that, yes, 16,000 UK students benefit from a European education—that is obviously part of the current system through the EU structures—but that contrasts with a total of 34,000 UK students who are educated internationally, in both EU and non-EU countries. We want to be able to grow that number as well. There is, however, a disproportionate impact on the number of UK students studying in the EU compared with the number of EU students studying in the UK. We would obviously wish to rebalance that and ensure that UK students have the opportunity to study abroad, both in the EU and outside it.
I do not know whether the Minister has been to the University of Huddersfield before.
Not yet. Well, I myself gave a lecture there on 24 June 2016, and it is a very fine establishment indeed. I hope that the Minister enjoys his visit there as much as I enjoyed mine.
Last November, the EU27 and the UK agreed to the 147-point document about the future framework. Point 11, right at the top, sets out the ongoing commitment to co-operation in science, innovation, youth, culture and education. It calls for
“fair and appropriate financial contribution”
and “fair treatment of participants”. Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to help support our ongoing co-operation on science and students is to vote for the withdrawal agreement and firm up the details of our ongoing co-operation, as already agreed between the UK and the EU27?
Absolutely. As a Minister, I am keen to move to the next stages of the negotiations around our future partnerships—in fact I am desperate to do so. I encourage Members who voted against the deal to recognise that it is a great deal when it comes to continuing our education and science partnerships.
I attended the EU Competitiveness Council on 18 February, and I talked to EU Ministers. They recognise the world-leading position of UK universities and that the UK does disproportionately well out of scientific grants. We put £4 billion into Horizon 2020, but we get £5.7 billion back. Why would we not want to continue to participate in that?
We are moving on to Horizon Europe as the next process of the scientific partnerships. I will attend the EU Competitiveness Council on 28 May as Science Minister. I will discuss with colleagues on the margins issues such as Erasmus education partnerships and exchanges, which the deal would also have protected. I urge all hon. Members to give me the opportunity to go to Brussels and get on with the next stage of the negotiations.
If UK universities have to increase their fees for EU students and the EU universities reciprocate, will that not mean that only the richest UK students will be able to study abroad? What specifically does the Minister intend to do about that?
I go back to the statement. All these issues around reciprocal arrangements and partnerships are matters for future negotiations. I am keen to make sure that we can get on to that page. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will now vote for the deal, to make sure that we can do so.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, post Brexit, we want to continue to attract bright students from many countries all over the world? The proposal that we should exempt EU students from paying fees yet impose them on those from other countries is inherently unfair and, in fact, discriminatory. It does not make economic sense or reflect the open Britain that we are striving to create.
She’s not voting for your deal either.
I urge my hon. Friend to do so as well. I will not discriminate on either side of the House. It is a great deal, which will provide us with certainty. We have been closely involved with our European partners for many decades. Ensuring that we continue some of those partnerships, which have both social and economic value, is important.
My hon. Friend is right about the international perspective. People voted to leave the European Union to ensure that Britain can be outward-looking, positive, not insular and not nativist. We want to be able to reach out to other countries and meet our responsibilities on the sustainable development goals. We want students from India and ASEAN—Association of Southeast Asian Nations—countries who want to come to the UK to study, but cannot at the present time, to have the opportunity to do so. Why should European students be given a disproportionate opportunity when it comes to fee levels? She has a valid point.
UK higher education is one of our great national and international success stories, yet there can be no doubt that the Prime Minister’s immigration policies have done enormous damage to our international reputation. And here we are again—the cat is out of the bag—looking to charge EU students tuition fees and make as much money out of them as possible before the withdrawal agreement has even been signed. Will that not just use EU students as cash cows, but rob UK students of the opportunity to study abroad? How many more national success stories are we prepared to sacrifice on the altar of Brexit?
When it comes to national success stories, I want to ensure that our international education strategy provides opportunities for UK students to go to every corner of the globe, not just the EU. We have provided student finance for 2019-20 and will shortly be making an announcement on 2020-21. Any future decision on access to finance for EU nationals will come later on as part of the negotiations we will take forward. The hon. Gentleman’s logic is: why not ensure that access to student finance is free for every student internationally? The Labour Front Benchers have just proposed a policy that would ensure that British taxpayers pay for European students’ fees in their entirety. I do not feel that that is necessarily best value for the taxpayer, and I am not sure his constituents would either.
Despite what all the doomsayers constantly claim, will the Minister confirm for the record what is actually happening in relation to the numbers of foreign students coming into this country to study?
As I stated, since 2017 there has been a 3.8% increase in EU students applying and a 4.9% increase in non-EU students. It is welcome that last year we had a record number of international students, both EU and non-EU, applying to our British universities. I congratulate all universities on being able to be so welcoming. We want that to continue.
The Minister must know that the university recruitment cycle for 2020 is already under way, and the ability of UK universities to attract and recruit students from the EU will be seriously affected if the fee status remains uncertain. He has the ability to settle this matter today. We do not need to vote for a flawed withdrawal agreement; the Minister could simply roll the current arrangements forward.
I recognise the hon. Lady’s point, which was made to me by Vivienne Stern, the director of Universities UK International. The recruitment procedures are ongoing. Applications for the 2021 academic year will open in September, and I am keen for the Government to make an announcement shortly. We have to go through cross-Government processes, which is one of the reasons why we have seen this unfortunate leak in the first place. As a Minister, I am keen to ensure we can put that security in place for universities. I hope to ensure that we can do so in due course.
With four of 10 of the top universities globally being in the UK, international students are fortunate to be able to access higher education in this country. As a member of the International Development Committee, I am keen that students from the developing world have the same access. Does the Minister agree that students from relatively well-off EU countries should not be subsidised at the cost of students coming here from the developing world for higher education?
When we look at the new immigration system, the new student finance system that will emerge post ’20-21 and whatever new system emerges on future scientific partnerships, it is important that we are bold and that we go beyond the status quo. What we have already established with developing countries, such as the global challenges research fund and the Newton fund, ensures that British researchers can work in partnership with researchers from those countries. We should look at expanding those opportunities.
I am keen to expand opportunities that may not have existed before and to ensure that opportunities that were there previously are able to continue. I am sure that our international education strategy, as well as our international research and innovation strategies and the spending review—when it comes to looking at investments that we will need to make, that is obviously a critical part of the next financial framework—will have that international context in mind.
I support the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) about the consequences of these proposals for universities. However, this is unfortunately yet another example of the damage that Brexit is likely to inflict on future generations of young people. The House will return to further discussion of Brexit soon. When he casts his vote on various options, will the Minister consider the damage that will be caused to our universities and to the standing of British higher education around the world by any Brexit?
I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Lady on this. The British people voted to leave, and I am determined to ensure that I fulfil my manifesto commitments to my constituency, which also voted to leave, by making sure that that happens. I want to ensure that we can mitigate any circumstances that may arise from leaving the European Union, to ensure that we continue to benefit from the opportunities that we have had as a member as we move forward into the new relationship with our EU partners and also move forward internationally.
On the votes, when it comes to looking at the deal and the future economic partnership, I ask the hon. Lady to please, although it sounds like she will not—[Interruption.] Brexit is happening, and we need to ensure that we have—[Interruption.] Hon. Members seem to query that and suggest that they do not want it to happen, but I am afraid that is what the British people voted for. I am sure that when we, as a House— [Interruption.] I cannot actually believe what I am hearing from Opposition Members. When they stood in 2017, they also said that they were going to respect the result of the referendum; it sounds like they do not believe in the manifesto commitments that they made.
However, I believe that the deal is a good one. It is vital for scientific and education partnerships going forward, which it will protect for the next two years, and will allow for future negotiations, in order to make sure that we can continue to work with our European neighbours.
As a member of the board of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and for Crawley (Henry Smith) about the importance of encouraging students from low-income countries to come here. I would like us to provide more scholarships and bursaries out of our international development fund than we do at the moment; we are falling behind quite a number of other countries, but by doing that we can increase our influence. Does he agree that it is absolutely vital to avoid any kind of cliff edge and have a smooth transition from the arrangement we have now, which is beneficial, to the future arrangement, and that we do not suddenly cut off opportunities, both for our students studying in the European Union and vice versa?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. When it comes to tropical diseases, future scientific research on climate change or the opportunities that agri-tech might present to developing countries, it is absolutely right that we look at what we can do to play our part to help the poorest countries across the globe in those endeavours. I will be happy to discuss with him, and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine when I am next up in Liverpool, any potential policy initiatives that he might have in this sphere.
On the point about a transition period, the deal is a transition. We will be able then to get round the table and open up the square brackets around our future relationship, which are currently closed because of Members’ indecision and failure to back this EU deal—the EU helped to put it together and backs it also—so that we can move forwards together, safeguarding scientific partnerships and working on education partnerships.
In many of his responses, the Minister has seemed to imply that being a member of the EU was stopping the UK having people from elsewhere in the world, but that is up to the Home Office here. He must recognise that the workforce is the biggest problem for all four UK health services. Medical and dental degrees take five years. Does he seriously think people will come here, pay enormous fees and then at three years roll the dice on whether they get a continuing visa?
It is important to reflect that leaving the EU provides us with an opportunity to decide our own immigration policy—we are beginning that work for 2021 onwards, which is why we have the immigration White Paper and consultation—and the freedom to decide our own immigration policy. On the future position of fees, obviously we have been in the EU and have reciprocal fee requirements, but we also want to make sure that international students are not discriminated against, as they currently are—the hon. Lady cannot deny that international student fees are significantly more than those for EU students. It is important that we listen to universities about what future schemes for immigration and student exchange should look like.
The Minister says he wants us to continue to enjoy the current benefits of our EU membership but after we have left the EU and that he wants us to vote for a withdrawal agreement to end discrimination against international students, but there is absolutely nothing stopping him today ruling out this increase in fees for EU students and the wider international student body. It matters greatly that we can attract people but also offer our young people those opportunities in EU countries. Does he not understand that his failure to rule out these increases today will have an impact on the decisions of students for 2019-20 in both the EU and the wider international student body?
We have already guaranteed home fees status for EU students for the 2019-20 academic year. The decision for 2020-21 will be made shortly and applications will open in September 2019. I think that the guarantee for 2019-20 shows we are keen to work on this in the negotiations. It is a cross-Government piece of work. As I have mentioned, it is vital that we work on issues such as immigration and build international relationships, but that involves the Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade, which are involved in the international education strategy, which is why I cannot give such a guarantee on the Floor of the House. It is important that we have a joined-up piece of work from the Government and that we guarantee our responsibilities to our European partners—and I hope that, to do that, the House will vote for the deal to give us that opportunity—while continuing to build on commitments internationally.
Surely, the Minister must accept as a point of general principle that if a student wants to come to the UK to do an undergraduate degree, they should be able to apply for and obtain a visa that covers the whole period of that undergraduate degree and that it is utterly unfair and counterproductive to ask them to apply for a completely different type of visa either three quarters or three fifths of the way through?
On this point about European temporary leave to remain, which we also discussed in oral questions earlier, I have spoken to the Scottish Higher Education Minister, Richard Lochhead, about the 36 months and the issue of moving to a four-year course, which disproportionately affects Scottish universities, and I have relayed those concerns to the Home Office. I hope that, given the White Paper approach to consultation, we can consider the implementation of a wide range of issues, including visas and the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. However, it is important to recognise that it is permissible to apply for a tier 4 visa to continue to study.
Will the Minister confirm that the number of EU nationals applying to UK universities is already falling and will be down this year, even before Brexit bites fully? How does he suggest that universities should mitigate that loss of student numbers on the roll?
There are currently a record 139,000 EU students at UK universities, and the number of EU applications has risen by 3.8% since 2017. It is important for us to put out a positive message rather than encouraging European students who may happen to be watching our exchanges not to apply. Of course they should apply. People say, “Erasmus will be affected, so do not apply,” but the Government have given guarantees on Erasmus, on science research funding and on 2019-20 home fee status. We will make announcements about 2020-21 before September, so that students will have the necessary knowledge when they apply.
A 17-year-old constituent of mine came to my surgery a few weeks ago in great distress. She has lived here for 16 years, since she was one year old. She is at St Roch’s Secondary School and wants to take a place at college, but she cannot obtain student finance to do so because, according to the rules, she does not qualify within the meaning of the Immigration Act 1971. Does the Minister not recognise that that is an absurd aberration? What will he do to help my constituent?
I will happily take a look at that specific issue and take it up with the Student Loans Company, which I visited in Glasgow about a month ago, and I am happy to continue our correspondence about the issue.
Our higher education sector has been one of the great success stories of recent years, and we have seen huge expansion, which has been predicated on our being part of the European Union and attracting the best international students. The Minister speaks of talking this country down, but the reality is that universities such as Warwick, which is part of the Russell Group, have lost 3% of undergraduate applications from the EU and 9% of postgraduate applications. Will the Minister meet me, and the vice-chancellor of Warwick University—one of our finest international universities—to discuss his proposals and what their economic and financial impact will be?
I should be happy to have the opportunity to meet the hon. Gentleman and the vice-chancellor of Warwick University. I do not remember exactly where Warwick comes in my universities tour, but it may be coming up shortly. I recognise its international importance. I last visited it two years ago, in a different ministerial guise, and had the opportunity to meet Lord Bhattacharyya, who, sadly, departed recently. He worked across an international field to establish the university’s manufacturing centre.
I listen to concerns that are expressed. I have quoted figures that have been published, but some Members have raised issues relating to the current academic year, in respect of which figures have not been published. I want to ensure—as I do when I go to Brussels, when it comes to some of the negotiations on Horizon Europe—that I make the positive case that we want to protect postgraduate students in particular. We are committed to spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development, and if we are to hit that target by 2027, it is vital that we have a pipeline of talent that is national, European and international. That was a long answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, but, yes, I will certainly meet him and the vice-chancellor.
I was pleased to hear that the Minister will shortly visit the University of Huddersfield. As he is coming north, I wonder whether he would like to travel a little further and visit the University of Hull. We should be very pleased to see him.
Many EU students are currently studying at Hull university. Can the Minister guarantee that no matter what they are studying, as undergraduates or postgraduates, they will not be affected by the proposed changes?
I would certainly be delighted to come up to the University of Hull, which is one of the homes of one of my poetic heroes, Philip Larkin. I think also that Lord Norton of Louth still teaches politics at Hull. I would be keen, but I cannot guarantee that that would be on the same day as Huddersfield. However, going forward, if we can get the deal across the line—again, I urge Members to allow the opportunity to be able to begin future negotiations on education partnerships and on looking at both science and research when it comes to higher education—I want to ensure that we have the opportunity to provide those guarantees post 2021, although, obviously, we have made the guarantee for 2019-20. We will shortly be making announcements when it comes to the 2020-21 academic year. Going forward, that will be a matter for future negotiations with our EU partners.
I was reading Philip Norton’s text books as part of my undergraduate studies 35 years ago, but of course, Philip Norton was a very, very young man as a distinguished academic at that time. He does not seem to have got much older as far as I can tell.
These exchanges have shown exactly the problems with the political declaration: the Minister talks about guarantees, but of course they are not guarantees; they are aspirations for future negotiation. But there is one thing he could do today, which is reassure the 17,000 Erasmus+ students who are likely to be approved in May or June this year about 2021. Could he at least do that?
The Government guarantee, when it comes to participation in the Erasmus programmes, has stated that all successful participations as approved by the EU Commission will be eligible for the Government guarantee. I wrote to every single Higher Education Minister in Europe and the European economic area to ensure that they were aware of that guarantee commitment—many were not. I think that it is often a case of communication to make sure people are aware so that when it comes to those Erasmus participations being approved, the Government will fund them—not just for the year, but for the entirety of the exchange programme as it takes place.
On EU students, the Minister will know that, as he plans to raise the drawbridge into England through raising fees, in Wales we intend to keep a welcome in the hillside by keeping fees down. What impact does he imagine that differential fee rates will have on local economies? Does he not think it premature to announce raising fees when we have not exited on exit day, we are likely to have a European election and we might not—I hope not—leave the EU at all?
Again, we have made no announcement on raising any fees. The future decision on fee rates for EU students has yet to be made, as I stated in my opening remarks. The hon. Gentleman is right that setting tuition fees is a devolved matter. I work closely with devolved Ministers, and also make sure that we have a united approach in the United Kingdom to Welsh, Scottish and English university policy. However, I also totally respect the right of Welsh higher education policy makers to be able to look at different systems—for example, the Diamond review looked at access and part-time study.
We can learn a lot from each other in due course, and I have already been to Cardiff to meet the vice-chancellor Colin Riordan, who has raised research issues. Obviously, that is a UK-specific reserved matter, and I think it is important that we continue those dialogues, but I would say that no decisions have been made. We have provided the certainty on 2019-20, and an announcement on 2020-21 will be made shortly. Any future policies will be part of those future negotiations, which, if we can have the EU deal voted through by the House, we will be able to get on with.
Rape Victims: Disclosure of Evidence
(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service whether he will make a statement on requests by the police for victims of rape to provide their mobile phone and other digital devices.
Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] Not now, mother.
There is widespread recognition that disclosure in criminal cases must be improved. As the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), whom I still call my friend, knows, disclosure of evidence is crucial for ensuring the public’s confidence in the police and in our criminal justice system. It is important to note that police forces have been using forms to request victims’ consent to review mobile phones in investigations, including sexual assault cases, for some time. What is new is the national form that was introduced today, which attempts to distil current best practice and to replace the individual versions being used by the 43 police forces, to ensure that there is consistency and clarity for complainants. That is the intention of the police.
In considering seeking such consent, the police must consider what is a reasonable line of inquiry and ensure that their approach avoids unnecessary intrusion into a complainant’s personal life. In July 2018, the Director of Public Prosecutions issued advice on investigating communications evidence, making it clear that the examination of the mobile telephones of complainants should not be pursued as a matter of course and that, where it was pursued, the level of extraction should be proportionate.
This Government have made protecting women and girls from violence and supporting victims and survivors of sexual violence a key priority, and it is encouraging that more victims than ever before have had the confidence to come forward. However, it is surely critical that victims are not deterred from seeking justice by a perception of how their personal information is handled. They can and should expect nothing less than that it will be dealt with in a way that is consistent with their right to privacy and with the interests of justice.
This is clearly a complex area, and while disclosure is an important component of the criminal justice system in ensuring a fair trial, the police have acknowledged that the use of personal data in criminal investigations is a source of anxiety. They will continue to work with victim groups and the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure that their approach to this issue strikes the necessary, if difficult, balance between the requirement for reasonable lines of inquiry and the victim’s right to privacy. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to work with partners in the criminal justice system to deliver the recommendations in the Attorney General’s review designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of disclosure.
I thank the Minister for his response. I have indeed read the document to which he refers. Rape is among the most serious and heinous of crimes, carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Victims of all crimes frequently feel that they are treated more like the accused. For example, they are required to provide fingerprints for the purposes of elimination and asked to give their consent for their medical records to be disclosed, and rape victims have to undergo intimate medical examinations after suffering the most appalling violations. However, it is the way in which we deal with these requests that is critical. What we must not do is issue a blanket demand for the handover of mobile phones and other digital devices and then threaten to discontinue a case if a victim, especially a rape victim, refuses to hand them over.
Will the Minister answer the following questions? Will he withdraw this document, because it is going to deter victims of rape in particular from coming forward? Will he ensure that there is no blanket request for rape victims—or, indeed, any other victims—to hand over phones and other digital devices? Instead, will he ensure that any request of victims—in particular, the victims of rape and other sexual offences—is made only if the investigation, including the account of the accused, has been properly looked at and it is the view of the investigating officer, having considered all the material, that such a request should be made? Will the Minister withdraw any document that states—and condemn all assertions—that cases will be dropped if the victim does not agree to hand over any material or device to the police? Does he agree that those threats are unacceptable?
Will the Minister confirm that it is already the practice of Crown Court judges to ask, at the plea and trial preparation hearing, whether all digital material has been obtained and preserved? Does he agree that if the existing law, guidance and practice directions on disclosure were followed, they would do justice to both the victim and the accused, and that their being followed properly by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service would ensure that further distress and threats to rape victims and other victims of crime would not be necessary?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her questions. She is of course absolutely right to describe rape as a heinous crime. She is also right to remind the House that there is nothing new about requesting personal, highly sensitive information from those alleging the crime. She is also absolutely right that that needs to be done with the utmost sensitivity. She may have a different perspective—views may differ around the House—but I believe that the police have made considerable improvements over recent years in that respect.
I have read the document, and the right hon. Lady has asked me to withdraw it. It is not my document, because the process is led by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. What I can say to her, concerned as she is about the risk that the process might lead to those alleging rape not coming forward, is that an impact assessment has been carried out and we will take a strong interest in it. It is not a blanket request. As she knows, the police and the CPS proceed on a case-by-case basis. They have a heavy responsibility to pursue reasonable lines of inquiry and to make such a request only when they consider it relevant.
The right hon. Lady referred to the language in the document, and I think she asserted that the police were suggesting that if someone did not hand over their phone it would not be possible for the investigation or prosecution to continue. I may be misrepresenting her, but that is what I heard. Language is important, as she knows, and the document states:
“If you refuse permission for the police to investigate, or for the prosecution to disclose material which could enable the defendant to have a fair trial then it may not be possible for the investigation or prosecution to continue.”
I have discussed that with the police, and they see it as a reasonable statement of fact, but the language used is sensitive and can be discussed with the police and others to see how it may be improved.
My final point comes to the fundamental underlying issue. As the right hon. Lady and everyone in the House knows, we have had a long history of failure in relation to the disclosure system, which sits at the heart of our criminal justice system and public confidence and trust in it. There has to be a response, and the CPS and the police are working closer than ever before on this. The national disclosure improvement plan, which is now in its second phase, is an extremely credible piece of work, and it fits with that work to try to rebuild confidence in our criminal justice system. She knows that there is a balance to be struck between pursuing reasonable lines of inquiry and protecting privacy, and I believe that the police, with the best of intentions, have tried to strike the right balance, but they are open to improving it if improvement is needed.
Many of us struggle to be away from our mobile phones for half an hour, let alone any longer, so can the Minister reassure me that the police will be sufficiently funded to take phones away from alleged victims for the shortest possible time and to interrogate them with the most up-to-date equipment?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We all know how attached we, our friends and our children are to the mobile phone. It plays a fundamental role in our lives, and the prospect of being detached from it is genuinely alarming. I can give that undertaking. The police are aware of the need to minimise the length of time that a phone is taken away from someone. At the heart of my hon. Friend’s inquiry is a question about technology, the ability to process information quickly, the requirements of the criminal justice system and improvements to the disclosure process.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I commend the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) for applying for it.
The latest Home Office figures show that the proportion of reported rapes reaching prosecution is now at 1.7%, which is an appalling statistic. The rate was at 1.9% in January, so clearly the situation is getting even worse. The Minister knows that the issue of disclosure in our criminal justice system has been a running sore for this Government, with hundreds of cases dropped on that basis, and it is not good enough.
The Minister must accept that the Government’s cuts to resources, to the police and to the Crown Prosecution Service have restricted the capacity of those organisations to investigate and sift evidence. The Government need to get disclosure right. Of course we need relevant evidence to be disclosed in all cases, but there is a big difference between that and those who make a complaint of rape having to open up their entire digital life to be picked over.
We cannot have a situation in which complainants are asked to sign consent forms authorising the investigation of their data without limit, with the case not being taken forward if they refuse. I heard what the Minister said about the language on the form itself but if, in practice, that means, “Give us your mobile phone or the case will be dropped,” that is no way to run any criminal investigation and it will deter victims even further from coming forward.
Given the level of concern that has been expressed today, can the Minister confirm that all complainants will be entitled to fully funded, independent legal advice before they sign these consent forms? Can he at least make that pledge today? When are the Government going to accept that more resources are needed for our police and our whole criminal justice system? When will the Minister finally get this issue of disclosure right and stop failing victims?
The hon. Gentleman lets himself down by trying to make cheap political points on this issue, because we are talking about a very serious matter in our criminal justice system and its integrity. He and other Opposition Members know that the problem of disclosure has run for a very long time, going way back into the 1990s, and I would have hoped that there would be cross-party support for what is being done to make radical improvements to that process.
The hon. Gentleman will also know that one of the big game changers in recent decades has been the exponential growth in the volume of digital data and the challenge that that brings to the police. He continues to give the impression that what has been announced today is a new process, but the police have been taking and requesting access to mobile phones for some time. What today represents is a well-intentioned attempt by the police to bring together best practice in a national form so that there is consistent practice across the country and so that consent is as well informed as possible—that is the intention of this form.
I was never a specialist in criminal law, but my time as a barrister taught me that, during litigation or prosecution, both sides come under an ongoing duty of disclosure. That is a vital principle of our justice system, made all the more important in this context where we have seen a number of rape and serious violence cases collapse upon the emergence of subsequent evidence. Does my right hon. Friend agree that what has been proposed is proportionate, reasonable and sensitive, and therefore is not anti-victim but pro-justice?
I believe so. We have to be clear that there is some risk, but there is also a counter-risk, to which my hon. Friend alludes, that continued disclosure failures would lead to more cases, such as that of Liam Allan and others, collapsing at the last moment, which is disastrous for everyone involved. No one should pretend it is easy, but we are very clear, and the House should be very clear, that we need to make material, rapid improvements to the disclosure processes, because they are the heart of the integrity of our criminal justice system.
I think everyone in the House wants to see justice done and the truth established through the investigation of all relevant evidence, but I hope we can also all agree that that cannot and does not justify a general trawl through the private life of any citizen. Investigations in pursuit of information must be evidence-led and targeted. That can involve, as the Minister said, a difficult balance, but the policy, as reported today, gets that balance totally wrong.
There is a world of difference between, on the one hand, seeking to establish whether a particular telephone call was made or a text was sent and, on the other hand, insisting on carte blanche to fish through whatever is on a phone. Has the Minister even assessed whether this policy can be justified under the European convention on human rights or data protection laws? More fundamentally, as Rape Crisis Scotland has argued today, is there not a huge danger that such a policy will put people off reporting rape and sexual violence? Just what measures are in place to protect the privacy of those to whom such requests have been made? Surely there must be a more proportionate and sensible way to support justice and protect privacy at the same time.
I have some sympathy with some of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. One very welcome bit of progress we have made as a society in recent years is in building the confidence and trust of victims of previously hidden crimes, be they domestic violence, sexual violence, rape or modern slavery, to come forward—frankly, I am damned if we are going to go backwards on that. I think the House is united on that. Of course there is some underlying risk, which we will monitor extremely carefully through the impact assessment, but I am serious about the counter-risk. If the police do not get consents and if we really do restrict access to mobile phones in this day and age, we will undermine the process of critical improvement in our disclosure process. As I said, the counter-risk is of cases continuing to collapse at the last minute, which is the worst possible outcome. I am sure that he and I would both wish to avoid it.
The victims of rape are not only those who have had this terrible crime done to them, but people who have been wrongly accused. A young friend of mine was wrongly accused of rape, making his life a misery for months and months; he was bursting into tears and all the rest of it because of the stress. Only through telephone evidence that emerged was it shown that his accuser had been sexting him—this was despite his denials; he had not seen this person for years. So may I just say to the Minister that he should say to the police that this is the right course of action? Of course it has to be proportionate, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) said, justice has to be done, and that includes for those people who have been accused of rape when in fact they are innocent.
My hon. Friend makes an important point in an extremely impressive way. The whole House is united about wanting to see the country make more progress in prosecuting and convicting for rape in a more effective way, because, as the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) says, it is an absolutely heinous crime and there is huge space for us to improve. However, we have to be mindful, not least in the light of very recent highly publicised cases, of the damage when things go wrong, as in the case of Liam Allan, where lives and personal lives are ruined as a result of failures in the disclosure system and cases collapse at the last minute. That is a terrible outcome for absolutely everyone. I impress on the House that underpinning this proposal is a desire of the police to improve the understanding of what they are requesting so that consent is better informed.
I call the Mother of the House, Harriet Harman.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I agree with the way this was put by the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and I agree about just how serious the problem is. Let me tell the House about an email I received this morning from a young woman I know. I did not know she had been sexually assaulted. She said, “Six months ago, I was seriously sexually assaulted by a complete stranger. Two months after the assault, the police demanded full access to my phone, including my Facebook and Instagram passwords, my photos, stretching back to 2011, notes, texts, emails and the full history of 128 WhatsApp groups and individuals’ conversations stretching back over five years. I had no prior or subsequent contact with my attacker. I lie awake at night worrying about the details of private conversations with friends, boyfriends, business contacts, family that are now in the hands of the police. It is a gross intrusion into my privacy and theirs. I feel completely as if I am the one on trial.”
We all know, as the Minister has said, that disclosure is a problem, but we also know that there is massive under-reporting of rape cases. We also know that one of the problems in rape cases is that the victim is attacked in court and put on trial herself. The “Digital device extraction” document that has been issued today says quite simply, “Give us all your devices. We will download and review all the material, including deleted material, so that we can give it to the suspect and use it in the trial”. I know the Minister is committed to justice for victims as well as for defendants—I totally accept his good faith in this matter—so I implore him not to dig in and say that this is a good thing. There is a real problem out there that has been exposed, and he really needs to take action on it.
The Mother of the House is entirely right to state that a huge and complex raft of problems underlies this issue, and to point out that in the past there have been—but I hope will not be in future—failings in how the police used their powers and fulfilled their duties and responsibilities in this area. One thing from which I take encouragement is the police leadership’s candour in recognising that at the heart of this is a problem of culture in the police, and a need for them to take disclosure more seriously and not see it as an administrative bolt-on.
The guidance could not make it more explicit that complainants’ mobile telephones should not be examined as a matter of course, and that where they are, the level of extraction should be proportionate. The guidance makes that clear, and we expect the police to follow it. The Mother of the House makes good points about the workings of the courts in this area, and that is a priority for both Ministers who flank me—the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins).
It is important that our proceedings are intelligible for all those observing them, so if there are people present who are unsighted on the significance of the Mother of the House, it ought to be explained. The Mother of the House is the female Member with the longest uninterrupted service. In the case of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), if memory serves me correctly that uninterrupted service dates back to 28 October 1982, so the Mother of the House has served in the House for 36 years, six months and one day. I just thought it was important to make that clear. Whether or not people think it was important to make it clear, I have made it clear, and that is the situation.
I am the mother on the Government Benches.
I am very happy to accept that that is indeed the case, but as the right hon. Lady does not wish to contribute at the moment, we will hold her in reserve. We will hear from her presently.
Rape is a heinous and horrible crime, and I have seen its consequences at first hand, so I am fully aware, so far as any man can be, of its impact on a woman. At the same time, there are also concerns that if a man is found guilty but is not, that man’s reputation is damaged for the rest of his life.
Knowing rape cases as I do, having been a journalist for some 17 years and having covered the courts, I know that it is common for the defence to attack a woman’s reputation. I would like to hear from the Minister what is to prevent that happening. If the police have all this evidence going back many years, as we have heard, what can be done to ensure that only the relevant information is selected? Who will choose what that relevant information is?
Underlying this issue are decisions around reasonable lines of inquiry and tests of relevance made by the police, the prosecution and, ultimately, a judge, so there are, as my hon. Friend knows, checks and balances in the system. I come back to my fundamental point: I urge the House not to lose sight of the context of this initiative from the police, which is their taking a further step to improve the understanding of what they are trying to do to balance the right to privacy with their duty to pursue reasonable lines of inquiry. That is the context of this debate.
Of course the police must have an effective disclosure regime. The Minister just referred to there being checks and balances in the system to prevent inquiries being inappropriate, but he will know that those checks and balances are already not working, and that they are not even embedded in this document. This document goes in the opposite direction. I urge him to read the form from the point of view of a rape victim who has just been through an awful ordeal. From their point of view, it looks as though they will have their phone taken away, potentially for several months; as though the police will be able to look into all corners of it and into every aspect of their life; as though any of that information could be given to the person who raped them; and as though there are no safeguards in place at all. It is pretty obvious that the form will deter people from coming forward and pursuing cases concerning these awful crimes with the police. Surely, in the interests of justice for women who are victims of awful crimes, the Minister should pull this document back and get the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to rewrite it.
Coming as it does from the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, that message will be heard loud and clear by both the police and the CPS. I think that this is an honest attempt by the police to pull together best practice from across a very fragmented system, in which these forms look different in different places in the country, which is wrong. It tries to pull together something that is more consistent, and that tries to inform complainants in a better way about what may or may not happen with their phone, and the consequences of that.
I have spoken to the police about this, because the Government are extremely sensitive to any risk of compounding people’s stress or trauma in this situation. The police have assured me that they have worked closely with victim groups and others on this document, and they are absolutely open to continuing to work with groups to improve it if there is a clear feeling that it needs to be improved. I will certainly take that up with them in the light of this urgent question.
Has the Minister given any thought to whether there ought to be a need for independent authorisation as another safeguard, given that such an invasion of a woman’s privacy will be undertaken through this form?
I respect where that point comes from and the underlying sentiments, but I come back to my point: we are not talking about something new in police processes or the fulfilment of their duties on disclosure. We are talking about a new, national form to replace many different versions across the country. In a way, this is an evolution of an existing process—a difficult one—whereby victims of rape or victims alleging rape are already exposed to the need to answer some difficult and sensitive questions. This situation already exists; the form is, I think, an honest attempt to try to inform that consent in a better way.
Many years ago, I worked for the police in a criminal justice capacity. My role included supporting the victims of sexual offences, including rape. The brave survivors are scarred, both emotionally and physically, and sometimes they develop a distrust of the justice system. That has been aggravated by a number of high-profile trials in which the victim, whether they be male or female, has been accused by the defence barrister of being promiscuous—as though they were almost asking to be attacked. In the light of that, and of the fact that we have such a low prosecution rate for rape, does the Minister think that this action will hinder or encourage victims of rape and other sexual offences to come forward?
I have great respect for the hon. Lady’s experience in this area, and I totally accept what she is saying about the lack of trust out there. I am happy to be corrected on this, but I genuinely think that this country—I am not making any political point here—has made great progress in recent decades in trying to encourage victims of previously hidden crime to come forward. That makes it all the more important that we get this right.
Yes, the volume of rape prosecutions has fallen. That is a concern to us, which is why we are doing a root and branch review of criminal justice processes in relation to rape. However, the number of prosecutions for sexual offences is at the highest volume ever recorded. I come back to my main point, which is that this is not a new process; it is a new form, which the police are open to improving if there is a strong view that it needs to be improved. The motivation behind the form is to try to ensure that consent to handing over mobile phones is better informed. This process is currently done differently across the country, which does need to be remedied.
The charity that I ran the London marathon for this weekend—Barnsley Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Services—sees at first hand the trauma faced by survivors of rape, and I thank everyone who sponsored me to support its vital work. In South Yorkshire, 50 out of 1,400 reported rapes over the past year resulted in a charge; that is just 3.5%. This is completely unacceptable. Let me ask the Minister again: does he honestly believe that survivors of rape giving up their privacy is the solution to addressing these shocking statistics?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her success in the marathon, and on fundraising for a very valuable charity. She is right that the volume of rape prosecutions has fallen. I have spoken to that; it is a concern for us. However, I ask her to respect the point that I am trying to make, which is that the police are already in the business of asking people for their mobile phones, because we all understand that there are things on mobile phones these days that could be incredibly important and relevant to their investigations. This process happens already, and it is because of the recognition of the difficulty around it that the police are trying to improve the system across the country through this national form. Now, it may be a good form or a bad form, and the police are open to improving it if it can be improved, but that is the motivation. I would guard against Members trying to tie this matter in with other issues, however important.
Will the Minister define what he regards as “reasonable”? The point has already been made clearly that there may be many areas of a victim’s life that it is not reasonable for the victim to disclose to the accused, the police or the investigating authorities. I want to know exactly what rights the victim has to refuse to give information, and what impact that would have on any potential case.
The right hon. Gentleman, with his experience as a Minister, knows that what represents a reasonable line of inquiry is an investigative matter for the police, and that although the prosecution will do what they can to assist in identifying potential further inquiries, those suggestions will not be taken by the police as definitive or exhaustive. The right hon. Gentleman talks about compulsion; he will know that we are talking about a form that asks for consent. Consent is not, by definition, compulsory.
In September last year, the Government published, with great fanfare, the victims strategy, but it is very hard to believe that those who wrote the document published today have read the Government’s own policy for victims. Given the huge number of women and men who have experienced sexual violence and are not reporting it—according to the Office for National Statistics, 87% of people suffering sexual violence do not report it—is it not vital that we ensure that nothing is done to prevent people from coming forward, that this document is reviewed, and that the Minister takes personal responsibility for ensuring that it is reviewed in the light of the Government’s strategy and what the House has said clearly today?
The right hon. Gentleman has served in the Government, so he knows that we sometimes have to wrestle with difficult balances. There is an extremely difficult balance to be struck between supporting the police in fulfilling their duty to follow all reasonable lines of inquiry, and our common desire to do everything we can to respect individuals’ privacy.
I come back to the heart of what the police are trying to do. This is not a new process. They are now in the business of gathering evidence from mobile phones. People are handing over phones, however difficult that is. This is an honest attempt to try to bring better consistency and better information into the system, to try to help potential victims of rape understand the process better. I am absolutely sure that that is the intention. Whether it is being executed in the best way is clearly something on which this House has different views. Having spoken to the police, I am absolutely sure that they will be listening to this carefully. They are genuinely open to discussing with all interested parties how this can be improved. We have to get this difficult balance right.
On 11 April, I asked the Solicitor General whether there will be meaningful guidance for the police and the CPS about the use and trawling of individuals’ digital data. From this form, it does not look as though that has been taken on board. It feels as though the process for disclosure is about the character and credibility of the victim, not the perpetrator who is on trial. Will the Minister rewrite the guidance? Will he set out how long a victim should prepare for not having their phone; whether a timescale could be set; and, importantly, whether the police will be transparent about what data has been copied over when the phone is returned?
The requirement on the police in relation to transparency already exists. On the guidance, again, I make it clear to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that the Director of Public Prosecutions’ advice on investigating communications data makes it clear that the examination of complainants’ mobile telephones should not be pursued as a matter of course, and that where it is pursued, the level of extraction should be proportionate. That is the guidance that both the police and the CPS understand, respect, and are implementing.
Of course there has to be disclosure relevant to the defence—nobody would dispute that—but this is about the question of what is relevant, especially when, as the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) said, an alleged assailant is a complete stranger. The impact of this full disclosure requirement, and the headlines in the newspapers, was truly atrocious. Potential victims of sexual assault or rape will have seen some of those headlines, whether it be “Digital strip-search” or “Hand over your phone now”. This is nothing short of a public relations disaster in our criminal justice system. The Minister really should take up the opportunity to review this document and correct that; otherwise fewer people will come forward and report crimes.
I certainly do not want that outcome, and neither does anyone else in this House. That would be a retrograde step. My instinct is to check the facts and look at the impact assessment, but if the mood of the House is that this document is not right, then I will certainly take that up with the police and the CPS. The hon. Gentleman knows that what is a reasonable line of inquiry is an investigative matter for the police and the CPS. On the definition of “relevant”, I am not a lawyer—the Chamber is probably bristling with lawyers—but there are many years of case study to help us to understand that point.
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the proposals from Buckinghamshire County Council requesting that all enabling work for HS2 in Buckinghamshire is paused until notice to proceed to the main works contractors has been approved.
Order. I gently point out at this stage that the question is narrowly about Buckinghamshire; it is not the occasion for a general debate about HS2. I will consider the Minister’s reply in making a judgment about whether it has been broadened, but at this point it is narrow.
Completing HS2 is Government policy and is crucial to unlocking economic growth and improved productivity in the midlands and north. It is supported by Members on both sides of this House. I therefore have no intention of halting work on HS2 in Buckinghamshire or elsewhere. There are already 7,000 people and 2,000 businesses working to deliver the HS2 project, and early works are well under way. Once HS2 Ltd has reached agreement with its suppliers and the Government are satisfied about both affordability and value for money, we will make a full business case for phase 1. This will inform notice to proceed, which is the formal contractual process that enables each phase 1 supplier to move from design and development to construction. Notice to proceed is scheduled to take place later this year. The works that are now taking place are necessary to enable the construction of HS2 to move forward in accordance with the programme, following notice to proceed.
We are aiming for HS2 to be one of the most environmentally responsible infrastructure projects ever delivered in the UK, and managing its impact on the environment during construction is a high priority. HS2 will deliver a new green corridor made up of more than 650 hectares of new woodland, wetland and wildlife habitats alongside the line. More than 7 million new native trees and shrubs will be planted, to help blend the line into the landscape and leave a lasting legacy of high-quality green spaces all along the route. It will include more than 33 sq km of new and existing wildlife habitat—an increase of around 30%, compared with what is there now. Many of the early works that are now taking place on HS2 are activities aimed precisely at creating this environmental legacy. They are being done now to ensure that they become fully established as early as possible, alongside construction of the railway.
The notice to proceed for HS2 has again been delayed, I believe until December. In the meantime, enabling works continue to blight large parts of the county, and this error-ridden project is costing our local authorities more and more. The situation is critical, with the area of outstanding natural beauty suffering irreparable environmental damage from preparatory works, rather than the “legacy” the Minister just referred to, and the costs spiralling out of control, when this project could well be cancelled. Indeed, millions are being spent on consultants to try to reduce the costs, which will in all likelihood result in failure to deliver on environmental protections and promises.
Already hedgerows have been netted or removed, machinery has been brought in to remove mature oak trees, country road verges have been destroyed by HGVs, massive ugly earthworks have appeared at our prime tourist sites, construction worker camps are surrounded by prison-like barriers, and there is the horror of the depopulated areas where homeowners were forced to sell to HS2.
It is almost impossible to hold this monster to account. Written questions are answered so poorly that I have to submit freedom of information requests to elicit basic information. I want some straight answers today. Why is only a junior Minister with other responsibilities in charge of the largest infrastructure project in Europe, which costs more than Brexit? Surely it should have its own Minister, if not its own Department. In her written answer today and in her statement just now, the Minister gives the impression that the entire decision on the go-ahead of this project comes from her. Will she be the sole Minister responsible for issuing the notice to proceed?
Why has the cost of HS2 not been updated since 2015, and what are the actual costs at today’s prices? What is the latest evaluation of the cost-benefit analysis, and why has that not been done already? When will the Treasury review be completed, and will a full report be published? Is the delivery of HS2 still being flagged with an amber-red warning, and how regularly is Cabinet updated on this project? Has HS2 applied for and received all the environmental licences and permissions required to carry out this environmental vandalism in Buckinghamshire?
What level of control and monitoring does the Secretary of State exercise over the awarding of contracts and the finances, and if he does have a level of control, why has £1.7 million that was paid out in unauthorised redundancy payments not been recovered or any director held to account? What would it cost to cancel the project now? Why, with so many doubts and unanswered questions, will the Government not agree to a perfectly reasonable request from Bucks County Council to have a six-month pause to do a total re-evaluation of this project, which has already blown its timetable and its budget before it even has the go-ahead?
The Minister’s use of the words “along the route” in her initial reply has somewhat widened the scope, which is no doubt music to the ears of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) and, to judge by his grinning countenance, the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax).
My right hon. Friend has posed a number of questions, which I will do my best to get through. She has expressed her disappointment that I am not the Secretary of State, but I am indeed the Minister responsible for this project. Not only is the project this Government’s policy, but it was in the Conservative party’s manifesto as well as in the Labour party’s manifesto. It is absolutely right that the Minister responsible for the project continues to undertake to ensure that it stays on track.
This is a good opportunity to remind the House why HS2 is so important. It is indeed a national project, and it is the largest infrastructure project in Europe. It will connect eight of our 10 biggest cities, connecting half of our country’s population, so every Member of Parliament in this place will have constituents who are positively impacted by HS2. It will create thousands of jobs directly and over 100,000 jobs indirectly, and the net positive for our economy will be well beyond £94 billion over its lifetime.
We always talk about investment in our rail network and why we need to have extra capacity when it comes to HS2, but demand on the west coast line has increased by 190% since 1995 and we are close to being unable to add any more seats or trains. People often stand the whole way on long-distance journeys, and while delays are less frequent than in the past, we need a solution, and HS2 provides that solution. It is supported by a number of leaders up and down the country, but particularly in the midlands and the north, who often comment not only to the media but to me that they are quite fed up about people in the south commenting on what is needed in the north.
My right hon. Friend wanted to know about the notice to proceed. The notice to proceed is the point when HS2 Ltd instructs its main works civil contractors to begin construction of the phase 1 railway, as set out in the HS2 development agreement, which was in the Bill that went through in 2017.
My right hon. Friend talked about the impacts on Buckinghamshire, and she has been a very passionate campaigner for her constituency. I understand that her constituents will be feeling some of the impacts of HS2’s construction, but the enabling works are absolutely crucial, especially when it comes to the environment. The early works are necessary to enable the construction of HS2 to proceed in accordance with the programme once notice to proceed is given. The existing programme of enabling works includes habitat creation, tree planting, ground investigation, the construction of work compounds, road improvements and utility diversions. This existing programme of enabling works has not changed, and it is the backbone of ensuring that further environmental mitigation can take place, which is why enabling works are so crucial. My right hon. Friend will know, because we have often talked about this, that HS2 is seeking to achieve no net loss in biodiversity across the route of the new railway.
My right hon. Friend talked about the particular impacts in her constituency, and she has been such a staunch campaigner on behalf of Buckinghamshire, which we know will be impacted by the line. A large section of the subsurface route, in the form of the 24 km Chilterns tunnel, has already been put through the hybrid Select Committee process. Furthermore, £3 million has been provided for the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, and there are the £5 million woodland fund, the £30 million road safety fund and the £40 million community and environment and business and local economy funds. Buckinghamshire has already received over 30% of all the awards it could be afforded.
HS2 is a large infrastructure project—there is no denying that—but it is absolutely vital if we are to focus on smashing the north-south divide and provide opportunities for people who live beyond London and the south-east. It is and will be the most important economic regeneration project for a generation, and it is absolutely right that parliamentarians commit to long-term infrastructure projects that reflect the needs of our country.
The last three years of political turbulence should have taught the Government that politics has to change. The diktats from Westminster must be replaced by co-production with communities, listening to what they are saying. It is unbelievable that, yet again, the Secretary of State has failed to make it to the Dispatch Box.
Week by week, we hear of the spiralling costs of HS2, and in a week when Labour is declaring a national climate emergency, it is clear that the full carbon and environmental cost of HS2 will be deeply damaging across Buckinghamshire, not least to the irreplaceable Chilterns, if the connectivity, route and infrastructure are not refocused. It is not the concept of the project that is wrong, as urgent capacity is needed to secure a significant modal shift from cars and HGVs to passenger and freight lines, but the governance of HS2 must be overhauled and fully integrated into the network enhancements programme. Labour aspires to high speed rail, which has to have a focus on interconnectivity to facilitate investment and economic growth in the northern cities and to compete with the internal flight market, thus becoming a sustainable alternative. However, the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) is right to scrutinise the Secretary of State’s handling of the project.
Why is the Minister proceeding before a full business case, the skills capability and the real cost have received further scrutiny in the light of evidence that these measures have changed? What discussions has she had with the National Audit Office and the Transport Committee over the widely held concerns expressed over HS2 costs and environmental impact? Does the Minister believe, as has been argued by the Tory leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, that ultra-fast broadband replaces ultra-fast rail? That certainly shows a lack of understanding in the Minister’s party of the transport and economic needs of the north. Finally, will the Minister revisit the route plans to ensure that connectivity opportunities are maximised by this project?
Given how much playing of politics there was in that statement, one could forget that the Labour party actually supports HS2. In his “game changer” speech, the shadow Secretary of State for Transport spoke about its importance.
Before I go on to answer questions, we must remind ourselves that it is absolutely right that we do not focus only on what is required here in London and the south-east. In case they need reminding, I will tell shadow Front Benchers what Andy Burnham said recently:
“We don’t need London commentators telling northern leaders what we need…We need HS2”.
He—[Interruption.] If Opposition Front Benchers support northern Labour leaders, some support at the Dispatch Box, and when other opportunities arise, for the most important infrastructure project of our lifetimes is absolutely key.
I remind the House that Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said that HS2 is
“the opportunity to transform the prospects for the north—perhaps a once in 200-year opportunity.”
I know you take a close personal interest in HS2, given your constituency, Mr Speaker. You may be aware that the all-party parliamentary group on the northern powerhouse, which includes more than 80 MPs, recently put out a statement about how important HS2 is to ensure that we smash the north-south divide.
When there are criticisms of HS2 and constituents’ queries are not dealt with, it is absolutely right that we hold HS2 to account. Some individuals have to deal with the difficult impact of the line going near their homes. I am challenging HS2 repeatedly and will continue to do so. If any hon. Members have cases that have fallen short, I apologise, and I will be more than happy to hold further meetings.
As I mentioned earlier, this is one of our largest infrastructure projects and it will connect half of our country’s population. To adapt the motto of the Labour party, this line is for the many and not for the vested interests of the few who want to play politics with this important infrastructure project.
I am mindful of your own constituency, Mr Speaker, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) on her submissions just now. I simply want to ask the Minister this question. Does she agree that this monstrous waste of money, which gives no benefit whatever to my constituents in Staffordshire, has been justified? Secondly, has she read the report commissioned by Mr Trevor Parkin and other constituents of mine, and written by Mr Michael Byng? It has completely exposed the unutterable waste of money that the project represents. Will she please take note of these representations and do what I understand some members of the Cabinet are doing? They are saying that they have had enough of the project.
My hon. Friend has worked tremendously hard on behalf of his constituency, and I think him for his question. He has been disappointed by some of the behaviour of HS2 Ltd and by the fact that some of his representations have not been favoured. I recognise all his work to represent his constituency, but unfortunately I do not agree with him. This project is incredibly important for the future of our country.
We cannot lament that we do not build long-term infrastructure projects or invest in our country for future growth, while at the same time not having confidence in vital projects such as HS2. It is not about decreasing journeys, even though that is absolutely key, but about bringing communities together, spreading wealth and job opportunities, and increasing capacity for both freight and people. We do not want everyone to assume that once they have finished their apprenticeship or job they have to get to London and the south-east to secure work. We need to ensure that companies move out of London and the south-east to Birmingham and other points on the line. That will create opportunities for everyone along this route.
Does the Minister understand that there is real frustration in towns across the country that the Government are putting billions of pounds into an ever-escalating budget for a rail project to connect cities, while at the same time huge numbers of towns, including in my constituency, have rubbish train connections and cannot even get investment for the additional carriages we need, never mind rail route upgrades? Will she undertake to provide a breakdown from her Department of the amount of capital rail funding going into projects for cities and the amount of money going into projects for towns?
I am more than happy to put together a note to put on paper the amount of investment we are making in our rail infrastructure in the north. There is one budget for HS2, and we are sticking to it.
I have sympathy for the Minister as a junior Minister being handed what looks increasingly like a poisoned chalice. I am also sympathetic to the fact that we cannot have an infrastructure project without environmental consequences. But does the Minister not understand that there is mounting disquiet about two things that are linked? First, the conduct of this project by HS2 is a shambles. It is particularly shambolic in its relations with local communities and in the fact that it takes a cavalier approach to any sort of engagement, including in closing down a nature reserve on the edge of my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) without any warning or notice at all.
Meanwhile, the costs escalate. I ask the question that my hon. Friend did not answer: is HS2 still being flagged as an amber-red warning? All the evidence suggests that the cost-benefit analysis is just not there. If that is the case, that should be of great concern across the House. My hon. Friend says we should keep politics out of it, but, forgive me, this is actually what politics is about: our collectively in this House paying some attention to whether public funds are being properly spent or not.
I have not been mansplained to at the Dispatch Box before, but here we are. I am indeed the Minister responsible for this project, and I was passionate about HS2 before I was given the portfolio. I may be a Member of Parliament for the south-east, but I grew up in Birmingham and HS2 just cannot come fast enough for us in the midlands. I do not know what to say to my right hon. and learned Friend about his comments. There is only one budget for HS2, and we will ensure that we can stick to that budget. That is why it is so important to get the business case together: not only to ensure that the costs are covered, but so that we can assess the positives it will bring to our economy. As I mentioned, the notice to proceed will be made public later in the year.
I understand my right hon. and learned Friend’s frustration about some of the conduct undertaken by HS2 Ltd and any upset it may have done to his community. Since I have been Minister, I have insisted on an increase in community engagement managers and that they are appropriately embedded in their community. When cases are brought to my attention, I challenge HS2. We also have a residents’ commissioner to undertake any concerns. It is unfortunate when a project this large is undermined by the behaviour of a few who do not appropriately manage relationships locally. As I said, when it has an impact on a Member’s constituency it is difficult for them to see the greater good it will do not only for that area but for the rest of the country.
Like the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), I have opposed HS2 from its inception; I recognise that she has been a sturdy fighter against it. I notice that the Minister has not answered questions on the total cost. She talks about the midlands benefiting from HS2, but Coventry will certainly not, because it will bypass Coventry. She says it will be a vehicle for ordinary people, but we do not actually know the train fares yet. Train fares on the west coast main line are very expensive to ordinary members of the public.
The train fares will be assessed and brought forward at the most appropriate time. We want this line to be accessible to everybody, and because thousands of people will travel on the line, we have to ensure that the fares are appropriate, as they will be. This line will be incredibly important, including to the midlands. I held a series of roundtables for midlands chambers of commerce, with one recently saying that it would be appalling if HS2
“were used as a political football…It is a key piece of national infrastructure at a time when we need to be showing something positive to the world.”
HS2 is a white elephant that grows ever larger on huge amounts of taxpayers’ cash. Back in 2013, when the project was unveiled, I predicted to the then Secretary of State that its cost would spiral to £100 billion, and he laughed. He was quite right to laugh, because if it is completed it will clearly cost far more than £100 billion. Does the Minister agree that the best thing to do is to scrap this project, lifting the blight from the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who live along the route, and split the original budget between link improvements in the midlands and the north, such as reopening the Ivanhoe line in north-west Leicestershire?
HS2 has one budget: £55.7 billion. Constant speculation around the budget undermines confidence in a project that we should be proud of, considering the positive impact it will have on our communities. Tickets will be on sale several years from now, when the line is up and running. I do not doubt that, when the line is up and running, nobody will talk about this moment right here and now when every element of the project is being constantly undermined. It is not a white elephant. It is creating capacity, reducing journey times, creating jobs and increasing productivity. It is a project that we should be proud of.
The Government need a clearly funded plan for HS2, to make sure that it benefits communities in the north, rather than disadvantaging them. When will the Government accept that, without infrastructure investment on the east coast main line, the HS2 project’s second phase risks exacerbating the current capacity constraint and low speeds by increasing the number of trains on this already stretched line? Will the Government confirm when the east coast main line will receive investment, to make sure that it is ready for HS2? That could have the intended benefit of bringing together the north and the south, rather than making the north further away.
This project is to bring together north and south and east and west; we cannot have HS3, or any other name that they want to give an east-west line, without HS2. There is only one budget—£55.7 billion. The Minister with responsibility for trains has said that there is substantial investment in the east coast main line. The hon. Lady talked about wanting to increase capacity, and that is exactly what HS2 will do.
As you know, Mr Speaker, our constituents also feel that they are being trampled under the great white elephant of HS2. My question relates to the difficulty I have in getting straight answers out of HS2 Ltd. I had a meeting in my office on 1 April in which I am afraid I was slightly bad-tempered, which is not my normal manner; I apologised, but this gets right under our skin. I have had no follow-up from that meeting, although I was promised real information. I echo the calls of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), because we need to pause this project while we get answers to important environmental questions.
If my hon. Friend was indeed enraged, all I can say is it will have been a very good meeting. I am sure HS2 will be listening to our exchanges. I know that a meeting took place on 1 April. I had hoped it would be productive. If it has not been, I will hold a meeting with her and work out what we can do to take this matter forward. She has some challenging cases to deal with and has made really good representations to me and HS2 Ltd. It is because this project will have an impact on the environment that we are doing everything we can to mitigate it, from planting over 7 million trees to ensuring no net loss in biodiversity, which are all things she is passionate about.
I thank the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) for securing this urgent question. I have had conversation with her and the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) about this project. We have seen significant cost overruns with Crossrail, so there isn’t one budget, is there? There is a significant over-budget. If the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who I would say is the finance director of the project, says we should probably cancel it, perhaps we should be listening—unless, of course, that is about her ambitions in the forthcoming Conservative party leadership contest. Tomorrow, I have a meeting with the managing director of Chiltern Railways, who suggests we should consider increasing capacity on existing track and additional track on the existing line. Would that not be a better use of the budget?
I am not sure who in the Treasury the hon. Gentleman was referring to, but I remind him that HS2 is a key priority of the Government and a manifesto commitment of the Conservative party, as it is of the Labour party. We are in peculiar political times, and I do not want to see one of the most important infrastructure projects of our lifetime being kicked around like a football. It is a long-term project, and it is important that we stay committed to it and ensure it remains on budget and on track. He mentioned a meeting with Chiltern Railways. I have just been reminded by my hon. Friend the Rail Minister that over £48 billion will be spent in control period 6.
The Minister spoke in her opening remarks about the economic benefits to the midlands and the north, and it is because of those benefits that I have up until now supported HS2, but she will realise that benefits in 15-plus years’ time are a hard sell to passengers whose daily commute is being blighted. Would she consider rescheduling a project that is almost certainly going to overrun anyway and releasing some additional funding in the immediate future to improve local services and boost the economy of the north by, for example, providing additional freight capacity between the Humber ports and the west coast ports?
We are committed to funding railways in the north. My hon. Friend mentions investment around the ports, and he will see the work I have undertaken with Maritime 2050 to encourage investment in infrastructure and research and evaluation around maritime that will benefit his community. He makes a valid point. The project has taken a long time to get to this point—never mind the first scheduled trains—and as a long-term project it requires solid commitment from Ministers and Members of Parliament. If we are ever to undertake programmes of work that are truly transformative and long-term, we will have to show commitment over a long period. If £94 billion is returned to the economy and 100,000 jobs are created, it will play some part in regeneration in his community as well.
I have always supported this project—it will come through my constituency, but the benefits to my constituency will be huge in terms of jobs created, the rolling stock depot and various other aspects—but there is a problem. We were supposed to vote on phase 2b of the route in 2019, but that has been pushed back and back. My constituents near to the route are getting no answers or timeline and are having to battle tooth and nail to get compensation from HS2. I urge my hon. Friend to tell HS2 that its community engagement does not do what it says on the tin. I have met HS2 several times and pointed out areas of the route that need improvement, and every time I have another meeting, it is like the last one never happened. More importantly, in meetings with my constituents, it is also like the last one never happened.
There are two problems that I think my hon. Friend needs to address. First, the time overrun is costing money, and secondly, the engagement with my constituents is not working properly. Can we learn the lessons from what is going on with phase 1—I hope that that keeps me in order, Mr Speaker—to ensure that we do not go through this process again when we reach phase 2?
I absolutely take on board my hon. Friend’s frustration. He has already made a number of representations to me and to the Secretary of State. HS2 Ltd must get better. I am hearing that at the Dispatch Box, and HS2 will be hearing it too. HS2 must improve its community engagement: it must ensure that the community engagement managers are working effectively and in a timely fashion, and ensure that answers are given to the questions that are being posed. I do not think it is fair that Members of Parliament are having to make representations on behalf of their constituents. HS2 should be sorting out the issues so that they do not even reach MPs’ surgeries, and I shall be taking that back to it as well.
I know that my hon. Friend—a bit like me—wants the line to come as soon as possible, but there was a slight delay to ensure that we were considering Northern Powerhouse Rail. He may remember that there was also an election, which took up a substantial amount of time.