House of Commons
Monday 24 June 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I must advise the House that last Friday I received notification from the petition officer for the constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire, in respect of the recall petition for Chris Davies. The recall petition process for the constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire, established under the Recall of MPs Act 2015, closed on Thursday last at 5 pm. In total, 10,005 people signed the petition for the removal of Chris Davies as Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire. As this number was greater than 10% of those eligible to sign the petition, the petition was successful. Chris Davies has therefore ceased to be the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, and the seat is accordingly vacant. He can no longer participate in any parliamentary proceedings as a Member of Parliament. I shall cause the text of the notification to be published in the Votes and Proceedings and in the Official Report.
[The notification will appear at the end of today’s proceedings.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
I am sure colleagues have enjoyed the bevy of sport over the weekend, especially the tennis, but I think we would all want to congratulate the Lionesses on winning 3-0 against the Cameroon and, of course, on reaching the quarter-finals, where I hope they will quickly dispose of the Norway option to get to the semi-finals.
The use of children’s rights impact assessments is widely promoted across the Department and wider Government, and our assessment template is designed to help staff to give due consideration to the UNCRC when making new policy and legislation.
May I first take a moment to congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on serving 10 years in the Chair? That is worthy of recognition.
Will the Minister give some indication of when the results of the consultation on the restraint of children will be published? The consultation closed in January 2018, having commenced in 2017. When is it going to happen?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who helped to make sure those pilots happened. We are investing £9 million in holiday activities and food programmes. This summer, children in 11 local authorities will receive healthy meals, learn about the importance of healthy eating and enjoy enriching physical activities during the summer holiday. Decisions on the programme beyond March 2020 will be taken as part of the spending review, but I certainly think it has been a great success.
I also congratulate you on 10 years, Mr Speaker. What is quite scary is that we have been here for four of them now.
On Friday I had the pleasure of meeting Hillhead High School S3. They are taking part in the “Send my Friend to School” campaign, which talks about the right of children all over the world to access education under the convention. What steps is the Department taking to work with the Department for International Development on ensuring that the right to education we enjoy in this country is accessed all around the world?
We work closely with other Departments. In fact, the permanent secretary of the Department for Education has written to all other permanent secretaries to make sure that we deliver on our promise. Of course, we are making that commitment across Government
All I can say on your 10th anniversary, Mr Speaker, is that you do not look old enough.
Article 23 of the convention guarantees the right to education for children with disabilities, yet just this weekend we heard how that basic right has become a privilege, with parents forced to go to the courts to get support for their children. Years since the Prime Minister promised to tackle the burning injustices, and just weeks before she is due to leave office, they burn brighter than ever before. Can the Minister tell us when the Prime Minister and the Chancellor will stop haggling over our children’s future in the press and come back to this House with a statement announcing the funding they so desperately need?
As the hon. Lady knows, we have increased funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities by £250 million, taking it to £6.3 billion. We have also introduced a system that covers the ages from zero all the way up to 25, through the 2014 reforms, and so many more children and young people are eligible for education, health and care plans, with rights of appeal. Inevitably, this leads to an increase in the number of appeals, but the vast majority of cases are handled without going to appeal—only 1.6% of them go to an appeal decision. As she will know, many local authorities have almost no appeals whatsoever and we are attempting to learn from best practice and spread it throughout the system.
The 30 hours’ entitlement has been a real success story for this Government, with an estimated 600,000 children benefiting in the first two years of the programme.
Nursery schools in Chester are closing and parents are being charged for extras just so that the nursery schools can make ends meet. Will the Minister not accept that there are real problems with the funding of this programme, and will he agree to review it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his supplementary. We do keep a close eye in monitoring the provider, the market and of course the cost base. Under the early years national funding formula, our average rates to local authorities are higher than the average hourly costs of providing childcare to three and four-year-olds, but he makes an important contribution, in the sense that we have to keep an eye on the costs. Ofsted has essentially done the work; the number of childcare places has remained broadly stable since the introduction of the 30 hours’ programme.
The cost of childcare is prohibitive for many families and can dissuade women from returning to the workplace, but those financial pressures are doubled and sometimes tripled for parents of multiples. What work is the Minister doing to assist those families to deal with the especial financial challenges of childcare provision for twins and triplets, particularly those families on middle incomes, who may not qualify for the child allowance or other benefits?
Clearly, the programme aims to make sure that parents who are working are able to receive the entitlements. Of course, we deliver entitlements for two-year-olds for the most disadvantaged families in this country, but I will happily look at the question of parents with twins or triplets as well.
Mr Speaker, this is the limited edition Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” tie, which is very appropriate at this stage in our parliamentary life.
May I say to the Minister that I do not want statistics? The National Day Nurseries Association is based in my constituency and a Prime Minister many years ago prioritised “Education. Education. Education.” What he knows, and I know, is that early years stimulation is the most important priority of any Government, so why is early years care so expensive for young couples and young women in this country, and why has the Minister not done something about it?
The numbers are important in this case and the 600,000 children benefiting from the 30 hours in the first two years means 600,000 families who have been able to go out to work. Of course, 700,000 of the most disadvantaged families with two-year-olds have also benefited. We are spending £3.5 billion on entitlements, which is a record to be proud of. I should also mention the hon. Gentleman’s tie, which is very beautiful.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this Government’s reforms, such as the 30 hours’ free childcare for three and four-year-olds, are helping more children to grow up to develop their full potential, regardless of their background?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. The parents whom I have met and with whom I meet regularly tell me that it has made an enormous difference. Parents who hardly saw each other are able to work and to see each other and their child. One lady said movingly that her child came out of his shell because he was able to spend more time with children his age, too.
On many occasions, the Minister has told us that what he really cares about is quality and sustainability. Will he explain how he is improving quality when the National Day Nurseries Association’s most recent data shows that 55% of childcare settings plan to spend less on training; that one in five settings are lowering the quality of food served to children to make ends meet; and that more than 40% of settings have cut back on learning resources? On sustainability, 17% of nurseries in deprived areas anticipate closure in the next year. How is that sustainable? Given that the Minister’s priorities are not being met, will he at least acknowledge that some nurseries are struggling and take action to ensure that deprived areas are not disproportionately affected?
I am sure the hon. Lady will agree with me and the whole House that the organisation that should be responsible for quality should be independent from Government, and that organisation is Ofsted, which states clearly that the overall quality in the sector remains high. Ofsted says that 95% of the providers in the early years register that have been inspected were judged to be good or outstanding. That is a good track record. We can always do better and the hon. Lady is right to say that we have to keep a close eye on funding, because some providers are challenged, but that does not mean that we do down the whole sector. It is wrong to talk down the sector in that way.
Congratulations on your 10 years in office, Mr Speaker.
We are spending £43.5 billion on schools this year, but we recognise the budgeting challenges that schools face and will continue to listen to teachers, to help us to inform decisions about future funding. As we prepare for the spending review, the Government are determined to ensure that schools have the resources they need to deliver high-quality education and that our reforms continue to drive up education standards.
I thank the Minister for meeting me and local headteachers from my Enfield, Southgate constituency last week. I know that he gets the problems with school funding, but I do not believe that the Chancellor does. Will the Minister join me in demanding more funding for schools from the Chancellor?
It was a real pleasure to meet all the headteachers to whom the hon. Gentleman introduced me on Wednesday, including Kate Baptiste, the headteacher at St Monica’s Primary School, where 78% of pupils achieve at least the expected standard in reading, writing and maths. That is way above the national average of 64%. In fact, all the headteachers were from schools with high standards. We had a constructive discussion about the challenges that those heads face in respect of school funding, and we will take all those challenges on board, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, as we prepare for the spending review and our discussions with the Treasury.
The funding crisis for schools in Bath is getting worse and worse. For example, one school has not employed a new teaching assistant in three years and another has only one teaching assistant for every 102 pupils. Only two weeks ago, teachers and parents went on a huge march in Bath to express their alarm about the threat to their children’s education. What can the Minister say to them?
The hon. Lady will be aware that schools in her Bath constituency have attracted 6.3% more funding per pupil this year, compared with 2017-18. There are now 10,000 more teachers in our system and 40,000 more teaching assistants are employed today, compared with 2010. As I said to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), we will make the strongest possible case to secure the right deal for education in the spending review.
In March, I surveyed Nottingham South schools about the effects of funding cuts, and their responses were frankly disturbing. They revealed concerns not only about their inability to buy books and equipment but about pupils being unable to attend school full time because a lack of special educational needs provision. One headteacher even told me that their school may have to close the hall and dining room because it cannot afford to undertake the urgent repairs that are needed. Will the Minister tell parents in my constituency what he is doing to secure extra funding for Nottingham schools in the forthcoming spending review?
The hon. Lady will be aware that, since 2017, every local authority has been given more money for every five to 16-year-old pupil in every school, with the biggest increases being allocated to schools that have been most underfunded. As for special educational needs funding, that has increased from £5 billion a year in 2013 to £6.3 billion this year, but as I have said to other hon. Members we will be making a strong case to the Treasury as part of the spending review process.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the report by the Children’s Commissioner and the Institute for Fiscal Studies stating that education spending per pupil at primary schools is up 80% under this Government? Across my constituency, schools are receiving a very welcome above national average uplift in funding, including schools in my most deprived areas, which will go to support pupils of all abilities to perform better and close the gap between them and their peers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to her for her interest and passion for educational standards in her constituency. She will be aware that, compared with 2017-18, per pupil funding in Medway is going up by 3.4% and in Kent by 6%. On top of the national funding formula, Medway will receive £12 million and Kent £57.7 million in pupil premium funding.
I add my congratulations to you, Mr Speaker. I hope that you get your testimonial.
Broad Oak School in my constituency is under threat of closure. It is heavily dependent on its pupil ratio, but the number of pupils it has is down by about 60%. The wider area is down by 20%. What more can the Department do to encourage local authorities to make sure that we build the homes in the areas where we have falling rolls at schools?
Of course, we have a presumption against the closure of small rural schools. Closing a school is a very difficult decision to take, but my hon. Friend is right. This is a Government who are committed to ensuring that young people can get on to the housing ladder and, because we have a strong economy and a determination to build those houses, we hope that young people will have the homes that they need.
The Minister knows very well that, while I broadly welcome the increase in funding in Wiltshire, schools that are funded under the private finance initiative have particular difficulties. Abbeyfield in my constituency has historic debt and therefore cannot become an academy. Royal Wootton Bassett has had a very big cut in its budget overall, and Malmesbury has some detailed problems with regard to IT under the PFI contract. If I were to convene such a thing, would the Minister agree to meet with the three heads from the three secondary schools I have mentioned, either here or, even better, in Wiltshire?
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the headteachers of the schools concerned. We do specifically, in most cases, fund PFI costs that relate to schools through the national funding formula, but I do understand the pressures and problems that PFI can cause during the process of academy conversion. Our officials are becoming increasingly experienced at handling those challenges, but I will meet my hon. Friend with those headteachers.
The Minister talks about the funding going into schools, but the fact that he admits that those schools have increased costs shows that there are real-terms cuts to those schools. Members across the House have told him that many times, and he would be advised to take that on board. Let me see whether he will be more open about another report, which suggests that the national funding formula will be delayed by the Treasury in order to reserve money for a no-deal contingency fund. Can he give us any guarantee today on the timetable for that much-needed formula?
We are having discussions across Government on these issues of school funding and as we lead up to the spending review. We understand the need for schools to have clarity about their level of school funding and we are committed to the national funding formula, which is a much fairer way of distributing funding to our schools.
I am not sure we are any wiser about the outgoing Prime Minister’s plans, so let me turn to the future. The leading candidate—the blond one, not the bland one—promises minimum funding of £5,000 per pupil, but can the Minister confirm that this is under £50 million a year, an increase of just 0.1% in the total schools budget? Does he accept that this amount is less than the increase promised in his party’s manifesto, less than the amount that the outgoing Prime Minister apparently accepts is needed and, I hope, less than the amount that he will ask for at the spending review?
It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specific proposals of the contenders, although I am very pleased that all the contenders in the leadership contest have made education a focus of their platforms. We are committed to ensuring that schools are properly funded, and that work is happening now as we prepare for the spending review.
Early Literacy: Phonics
There is significant evidence that systematic phonics is a highly effective method for teaching early reading. In 2018, 82% of six-year-olds met the expected standard in the phonics check, compared with just 58% when we introduced the check in 2012. Furthermore, 88% of pupils meeting the phonics standard in 2013 went on to meet the year 6 reading test standard in 2018.
I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who said earlier that early intervention is very important. I am pleased to see that, as a result of these phonics changes, England has risen to joint eighth place in the progress in international reading literacy study—up from joint 10th in 2011, and well up from the low of 19th position under a Labour Government.
My son Wilfred has just started learning his phonics—something he enjoys and that I know he will do well at, given the good base that the Government are offering. Will my right hon. Friend agree with me that boosting pupil literacy is key to getting our children the best possible start in life?
My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. Reading is a fundamental building block for a successful education, and the fact that more children are now reading more effectively will help them develop a habit and love of reading and prepare them for the higher demands on their reading ability when they start secondary school.
As my hon. Friend will know, we had this discussion when, with other Northamptonshire MPs, we met the local authority and the regional schools commissioner. It is important that children, at primary school in particular, are read to every day to improve their vocabulary. The better their vocabulary, the more easily they can comprehend what they are reading, and the more they can comprehend what they are reading, the more likely they are to read. That, in turn, will improve their vocabulary and knowledge.
I join colleagues from across the House in congratulating you on your decade, Mr Speaker. On the subject of nice round numbers, we are on track to create 1 million new places in schools this decade, primarily through building free schools and encouraging existing high-performing schools to expand.
My hon. Friend has been a strong and consistent champion for his constituents and their education. Lancashire has been allocated £140 million over 2011 to 2021. In his constituency of Morecambe and Lunesdale, the proportion of schools rated good or outstanding has increased from 64% to 86%.
Lots of things make a school good. A headteacher who I met yesterday in my constituency had written to the Department for Education for a specific answer to a question. He did not feel that he had had that answer, so I am going to ask it today; I would appreciate a specific answer. What is a teacher to say to a child who asks, “Is it okay to be gay?”
It is very welcome that significantly more children are taught in good and outstanding schools in Northamptonshire now than in 2010. The enormous housing growth in Corby and East Northamptonshire is creating real demand for those places. Will my right hon. Friend keep banging the drum for more funding from the Treasury for school places?
Yes, indeed. We work with local authorities to make sure that we have up-to-date assessments and projections of the need for school places, and we fund to those projections to make sure that there is the right number of places. We are absolutely focused on making sure that we are doing that by expanding existing good and outstanding schools and putting in good new provision, which also improves diversity and choice.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Johanne Clifton, the executive principal of Billesley Primary School, and its staff and pupils on achieving an outstanding rating in all Ofsted categories? This was previously a school that was in difficulty, and it is in a very disadvantaged part of my constituency. Does he realise, however, that schools like this need adequate resources in order to maintain commitment and achievement? Even a school like this is struggling financially at the moment.
OECD Programme for International Student Assessment
Performance in the PISA ranking system has remained stable in England and Northern Ireland since 2006.
Under the SNP, Scotland’s education system has gone from being the best in the United Kingdom, with standards well above the OECD average, to third out of the home nations. Standards in reading, science and maths in Scotland have fallen to their lowest levels and are now no more than average. Average might be good enough for the SNP, but does the Secretary of State agree that the UK needs to be aiming higher and that the falls in standards in Scotland are shameful, particularly when the SNP Government claim to have education at the top of their priorities? [Interruption.]
I am not sure what the dismissive guttural noises from our friends in the SNP were all about. I share my hon. Friend’s regret about the decline in maths and science, and I am pleased that he and colleagues both here and in the Scottish Parliament are holding the Scottish Government to account.
Of course, we have regular contact with the different devolved Administrations on a range of matters, not only because there are always things that we can learn from each other, but because we have many shared interests and interdependencies, and education is yet another area where we can work better together as one United Kingdom.
May I, Mr Speaker, join colleagues in wishing you congratulations on your 10 years in your position? You have done some marathon sessions recently, and it might be worth the House of Commons Library finding out what your total hourage in the Chair would be.
This week, Scottish schools break up for the summer holidays. I am sure the House will join me in wishing the pupils and the staff a very well-earned rest. May I give my very best wishes to Mr Andrew McSorley, the headteacher at St Thomas Aquinas Secondary School, who is retiring this week? In Scotland, we ensure that all young people remain in full-time education until the age of 16. In contrast, in England we see the increased use of permanent exclusions and off-rolling, meaning that results, including PISA results, are skewed by the removal of challenging pupils. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that all students in England remain in education and are included in results such as OECD and school league tables?
May I start on the happy note of joining the hon. Lady in congratulating Mr McSorley on his upcoming retirement and wishing the best to the pupils and staff at schools across Scotland as they move towards their holidays?
There are more years of compulsory education in England than there are in Scotland. As for permanent exclusions, of course I regret it when children have to be expelled, but sometimes it is necessary, and necessary sometimes because of the other 27 children in the class. In fact, the rate of permanent exclusions that we see in schools today is lower than it was a decade ago when the Labour party was in government.
Sixth-Form Students: Funding
Mr Speaker, may I add my congratulations to you on your 10 years in the Chair? I remember fondly sitting on the Opposition Benches by your side when I was first elected and being guided by your wise advice.
I fully recognise the critical role that sixth forms play in social mobility. When I visit colleges and sixth forms, I see living examples of that. We have protected the 16-to-19 base rate until the end of the current spending review period, but I am very aware of the cost pressures on providers and of the fact that funding has not kept up with costs. We are looking closely at 16-to-19 funding in preparation for the spending review.
I welcome what the Minister said about the value of sixth-form colleges such as Wyke in Hull North, which does an enormous amount of vital work to promote social mobility and develop the skills we need for a modern economy. There were 17.5% austerity cuts under the coalition Government. If we want to put that money back into the system, why do we not scrap tax relief for the charitable status of private schools?
As I said, I am very aware of the cost pressures. Decisions such as the one the hon. Lady suggests are a matter for Her Majesty’s Treasury. There is more money available, particularly to colleges, through apprenticeships. The money spent on apprenticeships will have doubled by 2020, and T-levels will attract an additional £500 million per year when fully rolled out, but as I say, we will consider this ahead of the spending review, because I am aware that funding has not kept up with the costs.
Schools in my constituency have been arguing for more funding at every level, but they particularly want a funding settlement for 16 to 19-year-olds that represents the pressures on them. What more can be done to ensure that there is a long-term settlement, not a year-on-year settlement? Planning long term is something that schools find enormously important.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The difficulty with managing budgets on an annual basis is that, in order to make provision and plans that are sustainable, colleges and schools often need a longer-term settlement. I am sure the Minister for School Standards and I will be raising exactly the point that she has made.
The Government’s own review of tertiary education said that there was no justification for funding 18-year-olds in sixth forms or colleges at a lower rate than 17-year-olds and recommended that the baseline be raised. Does the Minister accept that the cuts in 2013 were a big mistake?
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and congratulations.
I know that my right hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for more further education funding, but the main estimates memorandum for 2019-20 shows that resource expenditure on further education on a like-for-like basis is falling by 3.3% in cash terms and more in real terms, and the Department for Education’s capital budget for FE is also set to decrease by 40% from £186 million to £112 million. Can she explain the reason for the reduction and its impact?
I had a delightful visit to a college in my right hon. Friend’s constituency of Harlow that does an excellent job. Many further education colleges are doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances. As I have made clear, we are aware that funding has not kept up with costs.
I am very aware of the number of apprenticeships, but comparing numbers before and after the reforms we have made is a bit like comparing apples and pears, because we have put quality at the heart of apprenticeships. The number of people starting on the new employer-designed standards in the first half of 2018-19 has increased by 79%, which is an indication of the quality. An apprenticeship must now last for a year, and there must be 20% off-the-job training. There has been an increase of 10% in apprenticeship starts in the first half of 2018-19, compared with the same period in 2017-18.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but chambers of commerce such as Business West do not think that the two-tier system is working as well as it could. Specialist Gloucestershire Engineering Training believes that more funding for small and medium-sized enterprises would enable them to train more engineering apprentices. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is something the Treasury should look at closely in the autumn spending review?
We are determined to make the apprenticeship system work for small and medium-sized enterprises, and smaller businesses get 95% of their training costs paid. We will move smaller businesses on to the apprenticeship system: we want to do that well and smoothly to make sure that we make it work for them.
Can the Minister explain why very good companies with generous apprenticeships and training schemes are making a net contribution to the Treasury through the levy scheme rather than being rewarded through tax relief or in other ways?
Indeed. We are hearing about the ups and downs of funding for apprenticeships, but the National Audit Office told the FE Ministers in March in no uncertain terms that there was a clear risk that the apprenticeship programme would now be financially unsustainable. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has said that it could be overspent by £0.5 billion this year. The Minister told FE Week in January that she thought that the apprenticeship budget would be “alright until July”. July is next week. Does she still think that?
Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has said, previously the apprenticeship system is working well, and levy payers in particular—and also small businesses —are grabbing at the opportunities that apprenticeships offer. I am aware of the budgetary pressures on the system and we will make representations ahead of the spending review on that point.
SATs: Pressure on Students
Assessment means that we can ensure that pupils everywhere are getting the standard of education that they should. Of course we want pupils to do their best but that should never be at the expense of their wellbeing.
Congratulations, Mr Speaker.
I recently visited a primary school in my constituency rated good by Ofsted since 2005. The headteacher brought to my attention the level of difficulty and stress that key stage 2 children face when undergoing SATs. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can minimise exam stress for young children and would he like to complete one of the old tests with me?
I am not just saying this, but as it happens I last did one of the SATs papers—SPAG, or spelling, punctuation and grammar—on Thursday or Friday last week. As I said in an earlier answer, the point of the assessments is to assess schools and make sure that wherever children grow up they get the standard of education that they deserve. The SATs are not about testing children, and they are not public exams that will stay with children into their adult life. They are not like GCSEs: nobody in a job interview will ever ask, “What did you get in your SATs?” We trust schools and teachers to administer SATs in an appropriate way so that stress is not put on to children. I meet many teachers who do exactly that.
I also offer my congratulations on your decade in the Chair, Mr Speaker. Interestingly, it is children born since you started sitting in the Chair who are coming up to taking SATs. I have heard countless stories from teachers up and down the country that they have kept children in during break times or sacrificed time that they would have otherwise spent on other subjects to prepare for SATs. Does the Secretary of State take no responsibility for that stress put on teachers, which inevitably filters down to children? Frankly, is it not just time to scrap SATs?
No, it is not. Notwithstanding the hon. Lady’s clever linking of your decade in the Chair with the age of children doing SATs, Mr Speaker, it is common practice around the world to have standardised assessment of one sort or another in primary schools. That was not always the case, but more and more countries—including most of the high-performing ones—recognise that they need a standardised way to assess children’s progress in different parts of the country. It was Government policy when the Liberal Democrats were in coalition with the Conservatives and, of course, it was policy when Labour was in government.
No, not in the same way. Standardised assessment is part of a suite of methods that we use, and Ofsted inspection is, of course, another very important part. The fact is that before we had standardised assessment, there were individual schools and, indeed, substantial parts of the country where children could have been let down not for one or a few years but for many years, and nothing was done about it, starting with the problem that nobody knew about it. SATs are a very important part of our architecture to raise attainment and, critically, to narrow the gap in performance between the rich and the poor.
I congratulate you on your 10 years, Mr Speaker. Sir Thomas More, who held your fine office, went on to become both a martyr and a saint. [Laughter.] I clearly hope it is the latter for you, Sir. And after this, maybe we could have a discussion about which moisturiser you use.
England’s schoolchildren are among the most tested in the world. Headteachers are telling us that high-stakes examinations are associated with increased stress, anxiety and health issues, but the Secretary of State has let the cat out of the bag: we are staying stable in the programme for international student assessment rankings. That was the gold standard that this Government were going to be tested by, but that is sophistry, for standards have gone nowhere under this Government. The pressure and workload of the existing school assessment regime have also led to teachers leaving the profession in droves. Labour’s pledge to scrap key stage 1 and 2 tests has been universally welcomed by teachers and parents alike. Given that the Minister for School Standards was already consulting on scrapping key stage 1 tests, is it not now time for the Secretary of State to make the same commitment?
It is not. May I in passing acknowledge that Robert Bolt, the author of “A Man for All Seasons”, was, I think, a constituent in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency? It is not and never will be the time to get rid of standardised assessment at primary school. As I said earlier, more countries around the world are seeing the value and importance of it. We do not know what the Labour party’s alleged replacement for standardised assessment tests would be, but we do know two things about it: first, it would be less reliable; and secondly, it would require a lot more work for teachers.
We have reformed the national curriculum and qualifications, raising expectations and providing rigorous GCSEs and A-levels, in which universities, employers and young people themselves can have greater confidence. As of March 2019, 85% of children were in good or outstanding schools, which is in part due to our reforms.
Formal partnerships between schools in different sectors, such as that between All Saints’ Academy and Cheltenham College in my constituency, are an excellent way of sharing best teaching practice, enriching extracurricular provision and boosting the professional development of staff. Does the Minister recognise the scope of such partnerships for driving up standards in all our schools?
My hon. Friend is right: such partnerships are excellent. They raise standards, not just in state schools; they bring benefits to the independent schools that take part in them. The Government have just announced a new grant fund, which could be used either as seed funding for new partnerships or to expand and deepen existing ones.
In response to questions about school standards and, indeed, school cuts, the Government often try to persuade us that nothing is wrong by citing the number of children in outstanding schools. Yet over the past year, 80% of the 305 schools rated outstanding by Ofsted saw their ratings fall. Will the Minister therefore now be honest about the impact that austerity is having on our schools?
We would expect the outstanding schools that are re-inspected to have a higher propensity to be either good or lower, because Ofsted inspects outstanding schools only when a risk factor, such as a drop in standards or complaints from parents, has been triggered.
Post-18 Education and Funding Review
Congratulations, Mr Speaker, on your 10th anniversary. If you view it as a marriage to this place, then this is your tin anniversary. May I say, however, that you have certainly not had a tin ear when it comes to representing all voices around this House? [Hon. Members: “Groan!”]
Turning to the question, the independent panel’s report, chaired by Philip Augar, reports to the Government. It is an important interim step in the review of post-18 education and funding. The Government will consider the panel’s recommendations carefully and conclude the overall review at the spending review. The Government have not taken decisions with regard to the recommendations put forward.
I associate myself with the many fawning tributes to your period in office, Mr Speaker. [Laughter.]
I am not sure what was more embarrassing about the launch of the Augar review, the former Minister describing it as a report that will
“destabilise university finances, imperil many courses and reverse progress in widening access”,
or the current Prime Minister acknowledging that, after nine years of Tory cuts, further education has been “overlooked, undervalued and underfunded”. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the Government’s approach will be one of levelling up funding and not of robbing Peter to pay Paul?
It was an excellent launch of the report at the Policy Exchange; I do not remember the hon. Gentleman being there. I thank Philip Augar for an excellent piece of work, which has 53 recommendations, and I encourage all Members to read it. One disappointing factor was that there was not a single question from the media about further education until right at the end; it was all about higher education. That is a great shame. The report is a post-18 review looking at creating unity of purpose, following students across all parts of their life course. That is what the Government will consider when it comes to looking at the 53 recommendations as part of the spending review. We must ensure that the report is taken as a whole and that HE is not just plucked out.
There are many positive recommendations in the Augar review, including the proposed lifelong learning loans which will be very welcome, but the proposed tuition fee cut could have a negative effect, reducing the money available for widening access. Can my hon. Friend assure me that we can ensure fair access and good outcomes for students, and not just seek a headline? Can we make sure that funding for universities is not reduced?
Certainly. Unlike the Labour party, I am proud of the fact that the HE system has put an additional £6 billion of resource into universities since 2012 as a result of the fee level rise. On ensuring quality in our system, we want to look at the recommendations. One of the panel members was Edward Peck, vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, of which I think my hon. Friend is an alumnus. It is right that we now work with all vice-chancellors. As Universities Minister, I will be hosting a series of roundtables to consult the sector to ensure that its voice is clearly heard.
National Funding Formula
The national funding formula provides additional support for small primary schools and rural schools. For example, the sparsity factor allocates £25 million specifically to schools that are both small and remote. Coupled with the lump sum, a small rural primary school could attract up to £135,000 through those factors alone.
Village schools are incredibly important institutions in rural life, but their numbers absolutely collapsed over the past 40 years. Will my right hon. Friend look very closely, in the run-up to the spending review, at increasing further that lump sum and the sparsity premium, so that we can protect these institutions?
We will keep the formula design under consideration and we will consider feedback on specific factors when developing the formula in the future. For this coming financial year, the formula is already fixed. However, as I said earlier we are in discussion and preparing for the spending review. We want the best possible settlement for small rural schools and the education sector as a whole.
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
The 2014 special educational needs and disabilities reforms were the biggest in a generation. Care Quality Commission SEND inspectors provide evidence of progress at a local level. High needs funding has increased to £6.3 billion in 2019-20.
A survey of headteachers in Croydon showed that 85% had been forced to cut special educational needs provision. We know that 50% of excluded kids have a special educational need, that a third of councils have no space left in their pupil referral units, and that not being in school is a particular risk factor for getting involved in criminal gangs. When will the Government wake up to this emergency and act? Actions have consequences.
The hon. Lady would have been fair if she had also acknowledged that we launched a review of school exclusions, led by Edward Timpson. The Children and Families Act 2014 secures the presumption in law that children and young people with SEND should receive mainstream education—of course, 98.7% of them are educated in the mainstream. We have put £4 million into innovation funding to improve alternative provision as well.
There are clearly funding pressures on the system, which is why we have announced £250 million in additional funding to take the funding to £6.3 billion. We are in the middle of a spending review and I will be putting my best foot forward to make sure that we get the funding in place.
The £1.2 billion shortfall in SEND funding means that children with an education, health and care plan may be refused a local place because schools cannot afford to provide the support that these children need. Does the Minister agree that all children, regardless of their disability, should have the support that they need to reach their potential?
I do; all children should have the ability to reach their potential, which is why we introduced the reforms in the first place in 2014. We are beginning to see really good practice in places such as Wiltshire and elsewhere, and we learn from best practice and try to scale it to other parts of the country.
Child Health: Healthy and Active Living
The school food standards define how schools should provide healthy food and drink throughout the school day. Guidance is available for primary schools on how to use the £320 million PE and sport premium. We are also making health education compulsory, which will focus on healthy active living and mental wellbeing.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is crucial that we set achievable targets? In that regard, will he praise the golden kilometre initiative from the Mayor of Barnet to get children and young people running or walking for at least a kilometre a day?
I congratulate the mayor on the golden kilometre challenge, which is a very welcome initiative. I believe that every primary school should adopt either the golden kilometre challenge or the non-metric and slightly longer daily mile. Regular exercise is clearly linked to long-term health, which is why the new health curriculum guidance emphasises its importance.
This month, we approved 22 new free schools in underperforming areas that need the most. That brings us one step closer to delivering 1 million new school places by 2020, which will be the fastest growth for at least two generations. We announced a second wave of further education providers to teach T-level courses from 2021, bringing that total to over 100, and last week, I announced changes to in-year admissions, so that the most vulnerable children, such as those fleeing domestic abuse, can access a school place as quickly as possible.
Although demand for special needs support across the north has risen by 39%, funding has risen by only 8%. In the next school year, Sheffield will receive £3.7 million less in the high needs block than even the Government say that we need. Unable to cope, mainstream schools are excluding increasing numbers of children with special needs. Local parents say that they are at breaking point. The children’s Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi)—has admitted that more needs to be done, so when will the Government deliver what is needed for our most vulnerable children?
I acknowledge what the hon. Gentleman says about the increased strains on high needs budgets. As the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), said earlier, high needs spending has gone up, from £5 billion to £6.3 billion, and at the end of last year we put in place a package to ease the immediate strains on local authority high needs budgets. I recognise, however, that more needs to be done. For example, we need to look at how the reforms are working and at the role of educational psychologists and to make sure that where it is right for children they can be educated in a mainstream school.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating all the award winners, particularly Ethan, who won the academic studies award. Derby College does excellent work and FE colleges play an important role not only in vocational and technical education but in academic education. Some 160,000 young people study A-levels at colleges.
Although EU students arriving this year and next will continue to pay home fee rates, there is still ambiguity over their immigration status. Since they have only three years under European temporary leave to remain, students on longer courses, including all undergraduates in Scotland, have no guarantee of being able to complete their course. What are the Government doing to review this policy to ensure it works for students at Scottish universities?
I reassure the hon. Lady that those students will be able to apply for a tier 4 visa to complete their studies and that we will continue to review this matter, working closely with universities in the Russell Group, which has raised this issue with me.
As my hon. Friend will know, the Department has a statutory duty to convert local authority maintained schools judged inadequate by Ofsted into sponsored academies, whereby a strong sponsor works with the school to secure improvements in education. We take a case-by-case approach to the conversion of these schools and to addressing failure in academies, which includes consideration of all the different means by which the Government can support the future success of a school, including capital investment where appropriate.
We have had a debate on the content of the history curriculum and the role that migration and other issues play in it. We give a lot of discretion to schools and teachers over what they teach and how they teach it within that curriculum, and there are many elements in it where those issues can be taught effectively.
Last week, I welcomed some excellent students from Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form College to Westminster. The Minister will know that that college, like others, is facing significant financial challenges. What assurances can the Department give me that it will continue to work with the college to ensure that this valued local provision receives the support that students in my constituency need?
I will happily meet the hon. Lady and, of course, her colleague, but I remind her that SEND funding has risen to £6.3 billion. We recognised the pressures on the system, which is why we announced £250 million of additional funding.
Hook-with-Warsash primary school has 60 pupils in reception, but they have only one toilet between them. I think that you would consider that unacceptable, Mr Speaker, as do I. Will the Secretary of State look again at the school’s application—which has been rejected four times—and work with me to see how we can find some resources to provide what is a necessity, not a luxury?
On behalf of the deaf and hard of hearing, Daniel Jillings, from Lowestoft, and his mother Ann have been campaigning for a GCSE in British Sign Language. I am aware that the preparatory work has been done, but can the Minister assure Daniel and Ann that the Government are doing all that they can to get that exam into the curriculum as soon as possible?
I enjoyed meeting Daniel. As my hon. Friend knows, the exam board Signature has submitted content to our Department, and we are working with that. Ultimately, this is a matter for Ofqual. We have to maintain the standards of the GCSE, but we are working with both Ofqual and Signature.
We are investing up to £26 million in the introduction and improvement of stable breakfast clubs in more than 1,700 schools. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the contract with Family Action will run out by March 2020. Funding beyond that date—and the Chancellor is present—will be provided for in the upcoming spending review.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the headteacher of Dronfield Henry Fanshawe school on the two lifetime achievement awards that she received last week, which demonstrate the esteem in which the school and Miss Roche are held in the Dronfield community?
I am disappointed, Mr Speaker, that you missed the opportunity to refer to the original 1984 breakfast club in relation to the behaviour of the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). Members of a certain age will know what I am talking about.
Of course I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Miss Roche on her long service, and on being commended and recognised in this way.
A shrinking curriculum, larger class sizes, less student contact time and less student support are some of the effects of shrinking student funding for 16 to 18-year-olds. It is time to raise the rate. What order of priority is being given to speaking to the Treasury to ensure that that is done?
The hon. Gentleman is a doughty campaigner on this issue and we have spoken many times across the Chamber both here and in Westminster Hall. I will always make the case for 16-to-19 funding. I will never cease to do so; it is absolutely critical that we get the base rate up higher for schools and colleges.
My hon. Friend is entirely correct: the Catholic Education Service is a very important provider of education in our country, alongside the Church of England and other denominational groups. I am pleased to be able to confirm that we have approved in principle a new voluntary-aided school in the last couple of weeks; it is the first for some time.
Primary schools in my constituency are facing reorganisation due to the financial pressures placed on them by this Government, even though the Government claim that funding for schools has never been higher. Due to this I am aware of several schools making cuts to their classroom teaching assistants. What has the Minister to say to parents, children and teachers in my constituency who know that that will have a detrimental effect on learning in the classroom?
As I have acknowledged on a number of occasions, I know the strains on school budgets and how difficult it can be to manage them. The hon. Lady specifically raised the question of teaching assistants: there has been an increase of over 40,000 teaching assistants since 2010.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker,
Since 2016, more than 10% of childcare settings in High Peak have closed and a large number of others have contacted me to say that they feel they are no longer financially sustainable. What will the Secretary of State be doing to speak to the Chancellor and make sure those childcare settings can see a way forward?
Before I turn to the European Council, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our very best wishes to the former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. All our thoughts are with him and his family at this time, and we wish him a full and speedy recovery.
Last week’s European Council focused on climate change, disinformation and hybrid threats, external relations and what are known as the EU’s top jobs. The UK has always been clear that we will participate fully and constructively in all EU discussions for as long as we are a member state, and that we will seek to continue our co-operation on issues of mutual interest through our future relationship after we have left. That was the spirit in which I approached this Council.
Earlier this month the UK became the first major economy in the world to commit to ending its contribution to global warming by 2050, and I am pleased that the regulations to amend the Climate Change Act 2008, which are being debated in this Chamber later today, have received widespread support from across this House. Ultimately, we will protect our planet only if we are able to forge the widest possible global agreements: that means other countries need to follow our lead and increase their ambitions as well.
At this Council the UK helped to lead the way in advocating for our European partners to follow suit in committing to a net zero target by 2050. While a full EU-wide consensus was not reached, “a large majority” of member states did agree that
“climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050”,
and I hope we can build on this in the months ahead.
In the margins of the Council I met Prime Minister Conte and discussed the UK’s bid to host next year’s UN climate summit, COP 26, in partnership with Italy. This will continue to put the UK at the heart of driving global efforts to tackle the climate emergency and leave a better world for our children.
Turning to disinformation and hybrid threats, we agreed to continue working together to raise awareness, increase our preparedness, and strengthen the resilience of our democracies. I welcome the development of a new framework for targeted sanctions to respond to hybrid threats. This sends a clear message that the UK and its EU partners are willing and able to impose a cost for irresponsible behaviour in cyber-space.
We must make more progress in helping to ensure that the internet is a safe place for all our citizens. That is why we are legislating in the UK to create a legal duty of care on internet companies to keep users safe from harm, and this will be backed up by an independent regulator with the power to enforce its decisions. We are the first country to put forward such a comprehensive approach, but it is not enough to act alone, so, building on the Christchurch Call to Action summit, the UK will continue to help to drive the broadest possible global action against online harms, including at the G20 in Japan later this week.
In the discussion on external relations, the Council expressed its concern over Russia’s issuing of passports in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and reiterated its call for Russia to release the Ukrainian sailors and vessels captured in the Kerch strait in November last year.
Russia has consistently failed to deliver its commitments under the Minsk agreements and continues its destabilising activity, so with the UK’s full support the Council agreed a six-month roll-over of tier 3 sanctions, which include restrictions on Russia’s access to EU capital markets, an arms embargo and restricting co-operation with Russia’s energy sector.
In marking the fifth anniversary of the downing of flight MH17, we welcomed the announcement from the Netherlands that criminal charges were being brought against four individuals, and offered our continued support in bringing those responsible to justice.
The Council expressed serious concerns over Turkey’s drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean, and the UK has made it clear to Turkey that drilling in that area must stop. Our priority must be to see the situation de-escalated.
In the margins of the Council, I raised the issue of Iran. We call on Iran urgently to de-escalate tensions, and our priority remains finding a diplomatic solution to the current situation in the region.
A substantial part of the Council focused on what are known as the EU’s top jobs—the appointments of the next presidents of the EU’s institutions and of the EU’s High Representative. This is of course primarily a matter for the 27 remaining EU member states, and I have been clear that the UK will engage constructively and will not stand in the way of a consensus among the other member states, but it is also in our national interests that those appointed are constructive partners for the UK as well as successful leaders of the EU’s institutions.
The UK supports President Tusk’s approach to create a package of candidates across the top jobs that reflects the diversity of the European Union. As there was no consensus on candidates at the meeting, the Council agreed to meet again after the G20 this coming Sunday, as well as holding further discussions with the European Parliament. I had originally anticipated that this would be my final European Council as Prime Minister, but I will in fact have one more.
Finally, President Tusk and President Juncker updated the remaining 27 member states on Brexit. This scheduled update was part of the agreement I reached in April to extend the article 50 deadline for our departure from the EU to 31 October. The Council repeated its desire to avoid a disorderly Brexit and committed to work constructively with my successor as Prime Minister. I commend this statement to the House.
Mr Speaker, I understand that it is 10 years this week since you assumed the Chair of the House. May I just say congratulations on the first 10 years and thank you for being such a popular Speaker and for taking the role of Parliament out to the public in a meaningful way, particularly to schools and colleges all over the country? That has made a big difference.
I thank the Prime Minister for her kind words about John Prescott. We all obviously wish John all the very best. I cannot wait to see him return to full activity and to hear that voice booming out of loudspeakers all over the country exciting people in the cause of Labour, which is what John does so well.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving me an advance copy of her statement.
Last week, we came within minutes of the USA launching a military attack on Iran. Britain and other European nations must play a role in defusing, not raising, tensions, and that needs to start with the restoration of support for the Iran nuclear deal.
We note that there will be continuing EU-Morocco trade discussions. I hope that the United Kingdom Government will recognise that there is an ongoing territorial dispute over the Western Sahara and that those issues will be borne in mind during the negotiations.
I echo the European Union’s call on Turkey to cease its illegal drilling in the eastern Mediterranean; I welcome what the EU Council said on that.
I also welcome the EU Council’s discussion of climate change, which emphasises how important it is to continue to work with progressive forces to tackle the climate emergency, which this House declared on 1 May. I welcome the EU’s continued commitment to the Paris climate agreement and to deliver a practical plan of action to meet its obligations, and I also welcome the fact that COP 26 will be jointly hosted by Britain and Italy, with some events being held in London.
Yesterday marked three years since the EU referendum —three wasted years in which the Government’s deal has been rejected three times. We have endured three separate Brexit Secretaries, and we will soon have our third post-Brexit Prime Minister. It has been three years of chaos, in-fighting and incompetence. For too long, the Prime Minister allowed herself to be held to ransom by the wilder extremes in her party, instead of trying to find a sensible majority across this House—[Interruption.] Some of the wilder extremes have absented themselves today, but they are no doubt making their views known elsewhere. By the time the Prime Minister finally did reach out, it was a bit too late, and she was unable to deliver meaningful compromise or change.
Does the Prime Minister now regret that she continued to legitimise the idea of no deal instead of warning of its disastrous implications? The two Tory leadership candidates still say that if they cannot renegotiate the backstop, which EU leaders last week said was not possible, they would pursue a no-deal exit. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether she believes that no deal should be on the table as a viable option? What would be worse: crashing out with no deal in October, or putting this issue back to the people for a final say? Given the—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, it is normal for the Leader of the Opposition to ask questions of the Prime Minister, and that is exactly what I am doing.
Given the shambolic no-deal preparations so far, which were paused in the spring, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will not be ready to crash out in October? Neither of the Tory leadership candidates has a credible plan. One even claims that we can crash out on WTO terms and still trade without tariffs, which is interesting. The Governor of the Bank of England was clear when he said:
“Not having an agreement with the EU means that there are tariffs automatically because the Europeans have to apply the same rules to us as they apply to everyone else”.
Will the Prime Minister confirm whether the Bank of England Governor is correct on no deal? The former Foreign Secretary also told us that under his no deal plan he could
“solve the problem of free movement of goods in the context of the Free Trade Agreement… that we’ll negotiate in the implementation period.”
Will the Prime Minister confirm that there will be no implementation period if there is no deal?
It is deeply worrying that those who seek to lead this country have no grip on reality. The Prime Minister said that the Council reiterated its wish to avoid a “disorderly Brexit”, but I am unsure whether it will have been reassured by the statements of her potential successors.
Labour put forward a plan that could bring this country back together, but the Prime Minister refused to compromise. Whoever the next Prime Minister is, they will barely hold the support of this House, so they will certainly have no mandate to force a disastrous hard-right Brexit on this country. I want to make it clear that Labour will work across the House to block no deal. Whatever plan the new Tory leader comes up with, after three long years of failure they should have the confidence to go back to the people to let them decide the future of this country.
It is absolutely right that we recognise the 10th anniversary of your election to the Chair, Mr Speaker. It does not seem like 10 years at all.
May I correct the Leader of the Opposition? [Interruption.] Yes, surely. The Leader of the Opposition says he thinks that reality and facts are important. He said that COP 26 is coming to the UK, jointly with Italy. In fact, we are making a joint bid with Italy. Others are bidding for COP 26, so we are still working hard and I encouraged those around the European Council table to support our bid.
I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for saying that the Labour party and the Opposition support the bid, which I think is supported on both sides of the House.
The European Council meeting I attended did not discuss Brexit, no deal or the views of the candidates in the Conservative party’s leadership election, on which the Leader of the Opposition focused the majority of his comments and questions. I am supposed to be talking about what happened at the European Council. Nevertheless I am in a generous mood, so I will respond to a small number of his points.
The Leader of the Opposition talked about the talks on trying to find a compromise and a majority across the House, and we did, indeed, enter those talks. I think both sides entered the talks in a constructive spirit, and I remind him that it was he who actually terminated the talks.
The Leader of the Opposition talked about the position in relation to a no deal, which is, legally, the default option that remains on the table for 31 October if a deal is not agreed. The Government are rightly continuing their preparations for a no deal. He asked about my view on a no deal. I wanted to leave the European Union on 29 March with a deal. If he and his colleagues had voted with the Government, we would already be out.
I remind the Leader of the Opposition that I have done everything to avoid a no-deal Brexit by voting for a deal three times in the past year. He has done everything to increase the chance of a no deal by voting against a deal every time.
“Rejecting any Brexit…deal risks the worst outcome—a No Deal Brexit.”
Those are not my words but the words of his own Labour Members of Parliament.
Finally, the Leader of the Opposition talked about Conservative Members being divorced from reality. I have to say that the person in this House who is divorced from reality is the Leader of the Opposition, who thinks the economic model that we should be following is Venezuela.
My right hon. Friend will be aware there is an accelerated regulation relating to the question of payments into the EU budget. The Government have the power to veto the proposals. I received a letter from the Chancellor today, in reply to my urgent letter to him last week. Will this matter, in fact, be decided on 25 June, as originally proposed? Will the Government exercise their veto, and not merely abstain?
May I add my congratulations on the 10th anniversary in the Chair, Mr Speaker? I gather that many are asking for 10 more years. Whatever it is, let us hope that you are with us for a considerable period to come.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of her statement and for her update. Of course we support the efforts to bring COP 26 to the UK. It is important that the EU summit extensively discussed climate change—the biggest challenge we all face.
The Prime Minister mentioned that she raised the issue of Iran in the margins of the Council meeting. I am somewhat surprised it was not a major issue for debate at the Council meeting. We know that the situation in Iran is challenging to say the least. Diplomacy must prevail. I have just come from meeting with Richard Ratcliffe, who has spent over a week outside the Iranian embassy, now on hunger strike in protest against the wrongful imprisonment of his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, in Iran, where she is serving a five-year sentence for espionage. Mr Ratcliffe has welcomed the fact that Iran and the UK are talking and has called for a swift solution, stating:
“We are obviously looking for a quick resolution and that’s why she went on hunger strike. It was to say enough’s enough.”
Surely enough is enough. So may I ask the Prime Minister to consider the plight of our citizens and to move to make representations, in the time that she has left, to assist the Ratcliffes in their campaign for freedom and justice?
The Prime Minister will also have seen the Foreign Secretary’s comments this morning on the possibility of military action. We must reduce tensions in the middle east. We will work constructively with her Government in supporting diplomatic efforts, but does she agree with Opposition Members that talk of military action at this stage in the diplomatic efforts is simply reckless?
It is also important to recognise that the statement from the Prime Minister was notably light on the details of the UK’s exit from the European Union. One would have thought that, at least in the margins, that would have been the topic of some debate. Let us remind ourselves of what President Tusk said, which was that we were to use the time wisely. The Prime Minister and both candidates to be her successor have all long promised that the withdrawal agreement can be renegotiated, yet just last week President Juncker said that the EU has repeated unanimously that there will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement. Donald Tusk said the withdrawal agreement is “not open for renegotiation.” Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity today to clarify, for the benefit of her Back Bencher the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) that the implementation period is indeed part of the withdrawal agreement? Does the Prime Minister agree with the comments of EU leaders that the withdrawal deal is not up for renegotiation? Will she confirm today that she will not vote for a Tory leadership candidate supporting a no-deal exit on 31 October? Will the Government not finally accept the reality and support a people’s vote? Prime Minister, this is your legacy, your last few days in power: use them to stop the hard Brexiteers in your party who have pushed you out and who want to push us out of the European Union at any cost.
First, on the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, obviously, our thoughts remain with her and her family, and she has faced unacceptable treatment during her three years in jail. Our position is very clear: she was on holiday, visiting her relations. The right hon. Gentleman asks me to raise the issue, and I have raised it on a number of occasions directly with President Rouhani. The Foreign Secretary has continued to raise it with Iranian Ministers as well, and of course it was raised when my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East was in Tehran over the weekend. It was possible to engage on this issue of those of our citizens who are detained. As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, one of the issues here is the fact that the Iranian Government do not recognise dual nationality, and that is one of the issues behind this question of the detention of British citizens.
As regards the wider issues, at a time of increased regional tension and a crucial period for the future of the nuclear deal, it was right that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East was able to further engage with the Government of Iran about the UK’s long-held concerns over Iran’s destabilising activity and the danger it poses to the region. He was able to reiterate our assessment that Iran almost certainly bears responsibility for recent attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman and that such activity needs to stop, to allow the immediate de-escalation of these rising tensions. He was also clear that the UK will continue to play its full part, alongside international partners, to find diplomatic solutions to reduce the current tensions.
The right hon. Gentleman then went on to discuss the issue of no deal and these various points. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster pointed out yesterday that the implementation period is set out in part 4 of the withdrawal agreement. If we leave without a deal, there is no withdrawal agreement and therefore no implementation period. But the right hon. Gentleman again invited me to take no deal off the table and to do things to stop no deal. I am afraid that I will repeat to him what I have said to him on many occasions standing at this Dispatch Box, which is simply that he had three opportunities to take no deal off the table and he rejected every single one of them.
Given the welcome, strong statements by the European Council about Russia’s behaviour, does the Prime Minister share my concern about Russia’s possible readmission to full voting membership of the Council of Europe? Does she agree that it sends entirely the wrong message, coming just days after the filing of charges against Russian military officers for the downing of MH17, and when Russia remains in illegal occupation of Crimea?
My right hon. Friend has spoken up on the illegal annexation of Crimea on a number of occasions. We do not and will never recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, there has been this difference in Russia’s position in the Council of Europe. Russia has not been paying its contributions to the Council of Europe, but its membership of that body is one of the few ways available to the international community to hold Russia to account for its human rights violations.
With one of the Prime Minister’s potential successors having likened the European Union to the Soviet Union and the other having likened it to Nazi Germany, did she pick up any sense among European leaders that they will reciprocate the warmth and good will emanating from her party by making any modification to the Brexit terms that she negotiated over such a long period?
As we approach the 10th anniversary of the Anglo-French Lancaster House agreements, does the Prime Minister agree that the warmth and closeness of the military relationship between France and the United Kingdom is exemplified by the six-monthly meetings held between the Defence Committees of both Houses in both countries and by the joint inquiries carried out by the Defence Committees of this House and of the National Assembly, which signify a closeness that is as great as it has been at any time in the post-war period?
I commend my right hon. Friend for the Defence Committee’s work with its counterpart in the National Assembly. We do indeed have good relations with France. Last year, I was pleased to host a summit with President Macron in which a number of further agreements were entered into, particularly in respect of continuing that close relationship on defence matters.
On the Council conclusions on climate change, does the Prime Minister agree that all EU member states need to show leadership and sign up to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as we all hope the House will do later when we vote on the motion? If she does agree, what assessment has she made from the discussions she had at the European Council of the chances of persuading the four member states that currently refuse to do so to change their minds before COP 26 next year?
The right hon. Gentleman is right, and I want all EU member states to sign up to net zero by 2050. There was indeed a small number of member states that did not feel able to sign up to it at this stage; some of them want to look further into the implications and work through it before they sign up to the 2050 target. I will continue to encourage all member states to sign up to the 2050 target. It is absolutely right that we have led the way, but we need everybody to play their part.
The Prime Minister will know that last week the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union wrote to Michel Barnier asking that the EU accede to Britain’s request to deal with citizens’ rights outside the yet-to-be-agreed withdrawal agreement—something the EU has so far refused to do. In the margins of the summit, did Michel Barnier give the Prime Minister a nice last-but-one going away present from the Council in the form of a positive response to that request?
Michel Barnier was not present at the meeting of the EU Council at 28. On citizens’ rights, there is a question about the legal situation. If the EU is to act collectively, it is my understanding that that has to be done on an article 50 legal basis. If it is not done on an article 50 basis—in other words, if there is no withdrawal agreement and no deal—then it is up to individual member states. We have been encouraging individual member states to reciprocate the generous offer that has been made by the United Kingdom.
Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), may I press the Prime Minister a bit further on the discussions about climate change? What discussions did she have, or can she report back to us, about the need to move to a consumer principle, whereby we do not simply reach net zero by exporting all our carbon emissions—just by importing more manufactured goods and agricultural goods? What discussions did she have on that principle?
I hope that I can reassure the hon. Lady that that issue was indeed one that was touched on in the discussions that were held around the EU Council table. There was a recognition that this issue has to be addressed across the world. Yes, it is right that the UK has led and that we want Europe to lead, but we want this to be something that is adopted widely across the globe, because that is the only way to ensure that we deal with these greenhouse gas emissions.
I am not going to comment on individual potential candidates. A number of names are being mentioned around the European Union at the moment. As I have said, there was no consensus on candidates for the top jobs at the meeting last week. A further meeting will be held at the end of this week.
Both as Home Secretary and as Prime Minister, the right hon. Lady has been extremely assiduous about coming to address this House. In fact, she has probably spent more hours here than she has wanted to or than any other Prime Minister has in many years. She addressed the House within a week of becoming Prime Minister. Will she ensure that her successor addresses this House within a week of becoming Prime Minister, because it would surely be a disgrace for 41 days to pass before they did so?
When article 50 was extended by the EU until 31 October, President Donald Tusk urged the UK not to waste this time. Did the Prime Minister or anybody on the EU Council offer any view on whether this advice was being heeded? Can she tell us what obstacles she faced as she tried to secure a Brexit that her successor will not?
First, as I have indicated in response to a number of questions, Brexit was not the subject of the meeting of the EU Council at 28. We discussed various other issues that are of importance for the future not only of individual member states and of Europe, but, in terms of climate change, of the whole world. As I have always said, the issue remains the same. It is still in the best interests of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union with a deal. A deal has been negotiated, but that has been rejected by this House.
When it comes to protecting the environment, the UK has long used its relationship with its European neighbours to help leverage and magnify our call for action on the wider stage, so may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on making sure that we are the first country to legislate—or the first major economy to legislate—for net zero and that the vast majority of EU countries will follow suit? Would she care to name and shame those who are not quite there yet?
My hon. Friend is tempting me to do that. There is a reason why the EU Council conclusions did not identify those member states who do not feel able to sign up to net zero for 2050 at this stage. I fully expect, as I indicated in response to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), that those member states, in doing further work on this issue, will be able to accept the 2050 date and that we will be able to have a collective European Union approach on this matter.
Colleagues on the Labour Benches voted against the Prime Minister’s initial attempts to get a deal through because it was essentially a blind Brexit, with very little detail on the future relationship. However, the withdrawal agreement Bill tabled just prior to the European elections was actually full of major concessions to Labour’s positions and of compromises—workers’ rights, environmental issues, customs and even a commitment to a referendum vote in Committee. Does she agree that her successor should re-table that withdrawal agreement Bill? Does she share my hope that, if he does, colleagues on the Labour Benches will vote for it?
I had hoped that colleagues across the Benches in this House would be able to vote for the deal and that it would have been possible to put that withdrawal agreement Bill to a positive vote. But I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have seen from the details that I and this Government stand by our word. When we said that we would adopt certain compromises that had been put to us by the Opposition, we actually stood by that.
I turn to the issue of internet security, which was brought up at the Council. Does the Prime Minister agree that, yes, we want the UK to be the best place in the world to run an internet-based business—there is a high number of successful such businesses in North Devon—but also that it needs to be the safest place for people, especially young people, to go online?
I absolutely agree. It is important that we make this the safest place for people to go online, and as my hon. Friend said, it is particularly of significance that young people should be able to feel safe online. We also want to continue to be one of the best places in the world to set up an internet business. A couple of weeks ago, during London Tech Week, I was pleased to sit around the table with a number of companies that have been set up here in the UK, doing extremely well in this area. They all accept, too, the importance of safety for those using the internet.