House of Commons
Tuesday 14 January 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Legal Aid Access
It is a pleasure to be in the Chamber, Mr Speaker, with you in the Chair.
Access to justice is a fundamental right and the Government are committed to ensuring that everyone can get the timely support that they need to access the justice system. However, legal aid is only part of the picture. We are also enhancing the support and offer to litigants in person by providing a further £3 million of funding over the next two years to ensure that those representing themselves in court understand the process and are better supported through it. We are additionally investing up to £5 million in a legal support innovation fund alongside many other initiatives.
I should declare my interest as a former legal aid barrister. One of the first emails that I received following my successful election as Member of Parliament for Derbyshire Dales was from a constituent about legal aid issues. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that we do not waste legal aid on those who do not need it or on poor administration and excessive charges, and focus legal aid on provision for truly vulnerable people who really need it?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. She brings a huge amount of experience in family law to this place. She has made an important point. The Government have always made it clear that it is important that legal aid should be targeted on those who need it most. Applicants for legal aid funding are subject to a stringent merits test. We have begun a review of the legal aid means test to ensure that those who need legal aid, particularly the vulnerable, can continue to access it in future.
Before asking my question I want to put on record the fact that my thoughts and, I am sure, those of the whole House are with the prison staff at HMP Whitemoor and their families after the horrific attack last week.
Over a year ago, the UN special rapporteur said that Conservative cuts to legal aid had
of their human right to a remedy.”
Is it not the case that if the UN special rapporteur returned today they would make exactly the same finding because the Government have not done anything to address that? Is that failure to respond the result of incompetence or is it simply because they do not care?
I do not accept the accusations made by the hon. Gentleman. I have made it absolutely clear that access to high-quality, early legal aid can be important in supporting people in resolving their problems at an early stage. Last year, we spent £91 million on early legal advice through legal help, and our total spend was £1.7 billion. We are in the process of launching a series of pilots offering support to people with social welfare problems such as housing. I believe in access to justice, which is a fundamental right, and the Government are committed to ensuring that everyone can have the timely support that they need.
What people who are denied their basic rights need from the Government is action, not words. The UN special rapporteur said that the cuts had “overwhelmingly affected the poor” and disabled people. Labour is calling for the return of all legal aid-funded early advice, which would be a lifeline for the single mother standing up to a lousy landlord, the worker standing up to a bullying boss, or the migrant fighting cruel Home Office policies. Does it not say everything about whose side the Government are on that they are deliberately preventing those people from defending their hard-won rights?
No, I do not accept that. I go back to my earlier point: we believe in access to justice, particularly early legal support for those people who absolutely need it. We have pilots, and the innovation fund is being introduced. The Government remain firmly committed to helping those people who need early legal support and legal advice.
What can be done to stop millions of pounds of public money being spent on legal aid to support the defence of terrorist suspects who are accused of the most heinous crimes?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He makes a fair point, but this is about people having access to justice when they need it. As I said, the Government remain committed to ensuring that people have access to justice and support when they absolutely need it.
In March 2018, 22-year-old Luke Morris Jones of Blaenau Ffestiniog was the first man to die in HMP Berwyn following a heart attack caused by psychoactive substance abuse. His family, who in this instance did receive legal aid, remain concerned, following his inquest last month, that electrical equipment in cells such as kettles can be used to create the spark needed to take Spice. Will the Minister commit to work with others in reviewing whether electrical equipment such as kettles should be removed from cells holding prisoners with a history of Spice abuse as a matter of urgency?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her question. Although prisons do not fall within my portfolio, I fully understand why she would be concerned about the issue and about the tragedy of the gentlemen who lost his life. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State would be more than happy to meet the right hon. Lady to discuss the matter further.
What assurances can my hon. Friend give me that legal aid is reaching those who need it most—not only in my constituency, but across the UK—in order that they can access justice?
I welcome another new Member to the Chamber today for MOJ oral questions.
We have made it very clear that we remain committed not only to providing legal aid to those who need it, but to developing further means of legal support including the expansion of early legal advice to help some of the most vulnerable people in society with social welfare problems such as housing. We are committed to finding effective solutions, because it is often early legal advice that makes the difference.
Will the Minister share with us any plans she has to reverse the hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to legal aid budgets under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 that have been so destructive of access to justice in this country?
I think it is fair to say that I have been setting out some of the action points that we are taking forward. We have had the post-implementation review of LASPO, and are looking at various means of legal support to help with social welfare issues. We could not be clearer that we support legal aid and legal support for those who need it, and we will continue to do so.
Criminal Appeals: Victims of Crime
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for his tireless campaigning for victims over the years. Partly as a consequence of his campaigning, the unduly lenient sentence scheme was expanded in November to cover 14 more offences, including child sexual offending, stalking and harassment, in order to ensure that the victims of those crimes have a right of appeal if they feel that the sentence handed down by the judge is unduly lenient. I would urge any victim who feels that that is the case for a qualifying sentence to avail themselves of the ULS scheme.
Nobody has done more to widen the scope of the unduly lenient sentence scheme than the Secretary of State. However, may I ask the Minister to continue expanding the scheme? There is currently no ability to appeal against ridiculously lenient sentences for offences such as burglary, possession of a knife, actual bodily harm, and even for rape when dealt with in a youth court. Surely we owe it to the victims of crime to give them a right to an appropriate sentence.
I wholly agree with the sentiment that my hon. Friend is expressing. Let me reassure him on the question of rape defendants in the youth court. If the judge feels that the crime is sufficiently grave and merits a sentence of more than two years, they can move the case to the Crown court, where it is then eligible for the unduly lenient sentence scheme. In the past few years, the number of referrals under the ULS scheme has increased significantly. In 2018, 1,066 cases were referred to the Attorney General, who passed 140 on to the Court of Appeal; the sentence was increased in 99 of those cases. We keep the ULS scheme under continual review and will certainly consider very carefully my hon. Friend’s representations about its scope.
The hon. Lady is quite right to raise that issue. I do not have the figures she asks for immediately to hand, so perhaps I could undertake to write to her. Let me assure her that this Government are certainly committed to making sure that miscarriages of justice are properly investigated, and if there is anything more that needs to be done, she can rest assured that we will do it.
I very much welcome what the Minister says about procedures for unreasonably short sentencing, but my constituent Ellie Gould was brutally murdered by Thomas Griffiths this time last year and he was given only a nine-year sentence, much to the outrage of the family, and me, because he was only 17 at the time, although he was 18 when he was tried and convicted. Surely the hurdle is too high for referral to the Attorney General. It should be much lower to make it easier for the courts and for the families to seek the Attorney General’s referral to the Court of Appeal.
I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is meeting my hon. Friend next week to discuss precisely that case. Not every case referred to the Attorney General will be referred onward to the Court of Appeal, because obviously the Attorney General has to assess the case in the light of statute. I know that the Lord Chancellor is looking forward to his meeting with my hon. Friend and will be discussing that particular, very distressing case in some detail.
Perinatal Women: Custodial Settings
I, too, welcome to your place, Mr Speaker.
I know that the hon. Lady is very interested in this very important area and chaired a roundtable that a former Justice Minister attended. It is absolutely right that pregnant women in custody should get the care that they deserve. I hope she will be reassured to know that there is a two-day programme that prison officers can attend to ensure that they get the appropriate training to deal with women in custody who are pregnant. However, we recognise that there are more things that we can do, and before the election was called we had already started a fundamental review of pregnant women in custody and the operation of our mother and baby units.
The current review of the operational guidance for the mother and baby units is welcome, but guidance is not enough. Will the Minister agree to meet me and the charity Birth Companions to discuss the recommendations in its new birth charter toolkit and the need for mandatory standards, so that prisons are scrutinised and indeed held to account for perinatal care?
I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady, who is very experienced in this issue. Last week I visited HMP Bronzefield where I spoke to people on the mother and baby unit. Birth Companions operates from that prison, but I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady and take advantage of her expertise.
The Liberal Democrats would scrap all sentences for women apart from the most serious offences. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that that creates double standards in the justice system?
We have to recognise that the treatment of women in prison, their sentences and the treatment once they are sentenced might be different from men and if they are victims of crime. In our female offenders strategy, we recognise different treatment; but of course people who commit crimes must be punished for them.
I listened carefully to the Minister when she said that prison officers can access training. Does she agree that it should be mandatory for prison officers who are working with pregnant women to have such training, and can she confirm what proportion of prison officers have already accessed that training?
At least one prison officer in each establishment has already undertaken the training, so there is specialist support, and more women than that have done it; I would be very happy to provide the figures in due course.
Victims of Domestic Abuse
We are committed to doing everything we can to end domestic abuse. It is an appalling crime that ruins far too many lives. It is vital that we better protect and support victims of abuse and their children and bring more perpetrators to justice. That is why we introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill in July last year and set out a comprehensive action plan of non-legislative measures directed to this end. We reaffirmed our commitment to this Bill in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December.
County lines drug gangs are involved in the largest exploitation of our children that this country has ever witnessed. Children from all walks of life are being groomed by these gangs. Given that women and girls are particularly at risk of being abused and exploited, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the criminal justice system is doing more to protect our women and girls, particularly using the Modern Slavery Act 2015?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I know that she brings a huge amount of expertise in this area, which is to be welcomed. This Government recognise the risks to girls and young women who are exploited by these ruthless gangs. That is why the Home Office provided £400,000 this financial year for young people’s advocates in London, Manchester and the west midlands, to work directly with gang-affected women and girls, especially if they have been victims or are at risk of sexual abuse by gangs, including county lines gangs. I can assure her that colleagues in the Home Office are also working with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to take full advantage of powers in the Modern Slavery Act.
It takes courage to leave an abusive relationship. Living in fear of the next punch or being told that you are worthless, stupid or cannot cope alone destroys confidence. When people find the courage, they often turn to frontline workers and great charities such as the Stroud Women’s Refuge. Will my hon. Friend explain what the Department is doing to ensure that the people at the frontline of supporting domestic violence victims are prepared to adapt in order to assist victims as the new legislation comes in?
My hon. Friend makes some powerful points. She brings to the Chamber experience in legal matters, particularly divorce and family law. Our ambition is to build a society that has zero tolerance of domestic abuse and actively empowers victims, communities and professionals to confront it. We know that the legislation we are introducing will need to be supported by all those on the frontline, and we have started implementation planning for the Bill with all those who will be affected by the provisions.
The previous Government implemented an independent review of the family courts’ treatment of domestic abuse survivors. Domestic abuse survivors across the country will be watching with interest to see how that review is taken forward. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how that review can make the impact that is necessary?
I have a very simple answer: absolutely. I know that the hon. Lady takes an interest in that matter. We made a manifesto commitment in this area. We are determined to improve the family justice response to vulnerable victims and witnesses, including victims of crime. It is worth noting that in May 2019, we announced a public call for evidence, led by a panel of experts, to gather evidence to help us better understand this. I look forward to meeting her.
There is significant evidence from domestic abuse charities and police forces across the United Kingdom that during major sporting events, the number of domestic abuse cases increases. With the Six Nations in a few weeks’ time, what work is the Minister doing with the rugby unions across the UK, from the stadiums to television programming and working with the rugby players themselves, to explain that domestic abuse is clearly wrong and that there is never an excuse for it? There needs to be more investment to tackle the causes of it, which includes these sporting events.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, highlighting the fact that domestic abuse is out there in so many different areas, and not always where we expect. With regard to rugby, I would need to go away and ask a few questions, but I thank him for raising that in the Chamber and for highlighting the importance of bringing forward the Domestic Abuse Bill, to see an end to these abhorrent crimes.
Sentencing Policy for Prolific Offenders
Mr Speaker, may I welcome you to the Chair? This is the first opportunity I have had formally to do so, other than in the ceremony of appointment.
We have already started work to overhaul our sentencing framework. We know that prolific offenders generally have multiple and complex needs linked to their offending behaviour, in particular relating to drugs, alcohol and mental health. We will be introducing new sentencing laws, including more robust and effective community penalties.
The Lord Chancellor speaks very well on many matters of sentencing, but one of the things that came up in the manifesto that I would be particularly interested in hearing him speak about is extending sentences for some of the worst offences. On page 18 of our manifesto, as he will remember—indeed, I am sure he wrote it—there is a call for extending child cruelty sentences as well. I would be very grateful if he tried to introduce Tony’s law, named after baby Tony Hudgell, who was so brutally assaulted by his birth parents before, thank God, he found love with his true parents, the Hudgell family.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his consistent campaigning on this issue. He will remember my own involvement in getting child cruelty law updated to cover psychiatric and psychological harm because, frankly, it was out of date. I would be happy to talk to him about it. It is important to remember that there is an interrelationship between this offence and very serious offences of violence that tragically are inflicted on children and for which, for example in section 18, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.
The average rate of reoffending in Derbyshire is 27.1%, which is lower than the average for England and Wales, but my constituents in Derby North are still rightly concerned about career criminals. What plans does the Minister have to bring down reoffending further both in Derbyshire and in England and Wales?
I welcome my hon. Friend back. We have missed her for the last two and a half years; it is good to see her back in her place. I pay tribute to her for her community campaigning in Derby North. She is absolutely right to raise the issue of career criminals. Sadly, there is a cohort of people who are very hard to reach, which is why all options have to be open to sentencers, including custody. But it will be part of our plans, canvassed in a White Paper ahead of any sentencing legislation, to see what extra programmes and measures can be taken to deal with that particular cohort of persistent offender.
For far too many, prison is the worst place to tackle the issue of debt, substance abuse and mental health problems that led them to commit crimes in the first place. Figures that I uncovered show that nearly half of all women sent to prison were homeless—up 70% in just four years. Many thousands are stuck in a destructive cycle of short sentence after short sentence, which costs a fortune, does nothing to reduce reoffending and fails to keep the public safe. Is it not about time that the Government face the facts and, finally, properly invest in alternatives to prison for less serious offenders?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that that is precisely my policy. It is not just about being tough on crime, though public protection is important; it is about being smart on crime as well. Having had experience as a sentencer, the last thing we need to do, with respect to him, is to reduce sentencing options and prevent sentencers from imposing short sentences where appropriate. That has to be one of the tools in the box. Frankly, at the last election, he and his party advanced a mistaken policy.
Unlike the Conservative party, we care about what works. The Conservatives like to claim that they are not ideologues, but the Government’s own evidence shows that 30,000 fewer crimes would be committed each year if the Government properly invested in alternatives to prison. Does the Justice Secretary accept that his Government’s decision to chase headlines in the right-wing press, rather than acting on the evidence, will leave people right across our country facing higher levels of crime? Is it not time that he acted on his own Department’s evidence and put an end to ineffective super-short prison sentences?
It is a bit rich to be lectured about ideology and an ideological approach by the hon. Gentleman. After nearly 20 years in practice and now over 30 years’ experience of the criminal justice system, the approach that I and my team will be taking will be a multi-layered approach that will emphasise the importance of protecting the public and making our streets safer, while at the same time increasing the sentencing options on community orders to deal with the drivers of less serious crimes such as drug addiction, alcohol addiction, family relationships and accommodation. We understand it, we absolutely get the point and that is what we are going to be getting on with.
One of the areas of sentencing policy that has already been reviewed and consulted on is the whole question of death by dangerous driving, particularly when drugs are involved, such as in the tragic case of my constituent, Bryony Hollands. The previous Government committed to legislate on this issue to lengthen sentences in certain circumstances. This is not in the Queen’s Speech. Are this Government committed to legislate and, if so, when?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that point. I have met in this place families of victims of this appalling crime and worked with hon. Members across the House on the issue. I want to get on with it. The commitment remains absolutely crystal clear. I very much hope that we can have a vehicle to do that. I am going to be doing a sentencing Bill this year; that could be one vehicle. I want to get on with this as soon as possible. We will have the time and the support of the Government to change the law in the right direction.
At the moment, there exists a loophole in the law that allows prolific sexual offenders to groom 16 and 17-year-olds with impunity. The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Church of England, the Offside Trust and the all-party group on safeguarding in faith settings are all calling on the Government to close that loophole to protect children. Will the Minister please meet me to explain why the Government have not acted thus far?
Again, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her consistent campaigning on these issues; we have worked together on them over many years. I am interested in the overall issue of grooming because it affects not only children but adults with learning disabilities. The Law Commission is looking at this issue now, but we cannot wait. We need to get on with change. I certainly will meet her and talk through the issues with her at the earliest opportunity.
My Broxtowe constituents have raised the TV licence fee with me and asked whether my right hon. and learned Friend has plans to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee and whether he has made any assessment of how that might impact the volume of cases brought before the magistrates.
May I welcome my hon. Friend to this House? He and I have known each other for a number of years and have campaigned together, and he will make an outstanding advocate for the people of Broxtowe. With regard to the issue of television licences, we believe that there is a case to examine decriminalisation. About one in 12 cases in the magistrates courts are taken up with television licence default. We want to consult on the matter, take evidence and see whether there is a better way forward.
Staffing at Courts: Access to Justice
The hon. Member will be aware that the court system is in the middle of a reform programme, whose objectives are to make it more efficient, of course, but also to improve the user experience and access to justice. Despite the intended and planned reduction in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service headcount, I believe that access to justice has been maintained, not least through the very widespread use now of online platforms to access justice, such as issuing and replying to civil money claims online, entering and replying to minor pleas online, and online probate applications and uncontested divorce cases. So I am satisfied that access to justice is being maintained throughout the court reform process.
That reform programme, which I read as court closures, is creating delays, but there are further delays in respect of the administrative staff who are supporting the courts: for example, I am told that in Chester and other courts CPS court caseworkers are now having to manage maybe three cases at once, with all the resultant delays that that brings about. So will the Minister look at the levels of administrative and support staff working behind the scenes to keep these things moving, because at the moment we are having delays of up to two years in Chester?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his follow-up question. Questions concerning CPS staff levels are a matter for the Attorney General, but I can tell him that substantially larger amounts of money are going into the CPS—£85 million is going in over two years—to hire more staff. Also, innovations such as the common platform—the online system for handling criminal cases—will start to be rolled out very shortly, by which I mean in the next few weeks. So besides putting more money into the CPS, we are using the online system to make the staff working there more effective and efficient.
May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Speaker, not just as a neighbouring constituency MP, but as a man who is making Chorley very famous? Normally, it is famous for the Frederick’s ice cream parlour, but with you becoming the Speaker Chorley is now even more well known.
The fire sale of our courts and deep cuts to our justice system have created a perfect storm as courts are left sitting empty even while sitting days are cut. The Government’s own statistics show that on average serious cases in the Crown court are taking 133 days longer to move from the offence to completion than in 2010, leaving victims waiting months and months more for their day in court. That is not good enough. Will the Minister commit to providing proper investment in courts and court staff and promise to end the reckless closure programme?
I had not heard of the fame of the Chorley ice cream parlour, but perhaps I should add it to my list of recess destinations. [Interruption.] The Lord Chancellor says he is going to come along as well.
On the question of Crown courts sitting, we need to bear in mind that, as reported by the crime survey, the most reliable measure of criminal offending, over the past nine years there has been a significant reduction in the total number of criminal offences, from about 9.5 million offences in 2010 to about 6.5 million offences today. That is a very welcome 30% reduction under this Conservative Government, so of course, bearing in mind the reduction in the number of criminal offences, one would expect to have fewer sitting days. However, we keep the question of Crown court sitting days under continual review. Just a few weeks ago, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor increased the number of Crown court sitting days in this current financial year by 700 to ensure that we keep working through the outstanding case load. The outstanding case load is at its lowest level since 2001. We will of course keep the question of Crown court sitting days under review for the next financial year—the one starting in a few weeks— and, if necessary, we will of course increase Crown court sitting days.
Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission
Discussions with Cabinet colleagues are at an early stage, but I can say that we want a commission or similar body to examine the issues and make recommendations that restore people’s trust in our democracy and the institutions that underpin it. No decisions have been made yet on the appointment of such a body, its scope or composition. I will update the House in due course.
A key ongoing concern for public law practitioners remains the accountability of constitutional processes and safeguards. To what extent will the commission include consultation with relevant external professions, such as the legal profession, and will they be invited to have substantial input and proper scrutiny?
The hon. Lady asks a very proper question. Indeed, I would envisage the body taking evidence from third parties, outside organisations and civic society more generally to provide a thorough evidence base before any recommendations are made.
May I take this opportunity to welcome you to your place, Mr Speaker?
Following the Prorogation case, both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General have hinted that the judicial appointment process might change. Will the Justice Secretary confirm whether that will be considered by the commission?
The commission will look at a range of issues. I think I have made my position about the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of the appointments process very clear. It is nobody’s wish, I think on any side of this House, to see political influence being brought to bear on the appointment of judges. It is important to remember that we do not have a constitutional court, or a US-style system in this country and it is not something I would wish to see replicated here.
It has been reported that the commission is expected to look at prerogative powers. Currently their use can be challenged in the courts, which led to the ruling against the Prime Minister’s Prorogation of Parliament. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is imperative that the courts still have jurisdiction to look at prerogative powers?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising an important issue. After the stresses and strains we have all seen the constitution being put under as a result of the tumultuous events of the past few years, it would be wrong of the Government not to pause, take stock and look at the general constitutional position through the lens of the public because it is all about public confidence and the confidence the public have in this place being the ultimate arbiter of our democracy, which is key. But we will take time and do it in a measured way. I very much hope and expect that the commission will come up with some evidence-based solutions.
Members have every right to be concerned about what the Government are up to with the commission, given their previous noises about human rights, judicial appointments, prerogative powers, judicial review and much, much more. Those concerns are shared not just among Members, but across civil society and beyond. Does the Secretary of State agree that in any such commission Scotland’s perspective and experiences must be properly and independently represented, and that any changes proposed to the competences of the Scottish Government and Parliament must have the consent of those institutions?
I am very much aware of the important devolution aspect of this issue. It is about more than devolution, of course—the Scottish legal and judicial system was never devolved because it was always separate, and even when we did not have a Scottish Parliament, it had a separate legislative framework that was legislated for in this House. I fully understand the balance that needs to be kept and I take on board the hon. Member’s comments.
It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair in this Parliament, Mr Speaker. I very much welcome what the Lord Chancellor said about the independence of the judiciary. That is fundamental to this country’s international reputation and we should set at rest any suggestion that that should ever be compromised. Given the wide-ranging nature of the commission, will he also consider that it may be beneficial to have, serving as members of the commission, experienced former members of the judiciary who have the integrity and independence of thought that would increase public respect and regard for the outcome that we all wish to see?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent honour, which is thoroughly deserved after a lifetime in public service, both here and in other elected Assemblies. His suggestions are well made. I am already having a number of discussions with ministerial colleagues and thinking very deeply about the range of expertise and individuals that we need, and the diversity of that panel, so that we make sure that the commission, or the committee, is in the best possible place to gather evidence and come up with measured, sensible reforms.
Rapes Reported to the Police: Number of Suspects Charged
The hon. Member is right to raise this issue. It is extremely serious and, frankly, far too few reported cases are being progressed into the criminal justice system, so I entirely agree with and accept the premise of her question. The Government are taking action in this area. The extra 20,000 police officers will greatly help to get rape victims through the system and to get their cases into court. I referenced earlier the extra £85 million for the Crown Prosecution Service. A great deal of that will be targeted towards helping to progress those often very complicated rape cases. As recently as last September, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), provided an extra £5 million of funding for rape centres and ISVAs—independent sexual violence advisers—because one of the issues is rape victims dropping out of the process before the case reaches court. I hope that in the upcoming Budget and spending review, there is more we can do.
In West Yorkshire, the number of rapes reported increased by 25% last year, but just 4.4% of those cases resulted in someone being charged. The same is true across the country, so what are the Government doing to ensure that the criminal justice system is properly resourced and that it does not let down victims and add to the trauma that they have already experienced?
As I said, we are putting 20,000 extra officers into the system and £85 million into the CPS, and we are increasing expenditure on rape centres and ISVAs, although I am sure that in those areas, there is more we can do. There is also a review urgently under way to see what further steps we can take, but I believe that the actions that I have outlined, which are taking place as we speak, will move us back in a happier direction.
Court Proceedings: Proportion Covered by Court Reporters
We at the Ministry of Justice do not track or hold data on the number of reporters who report on court proceedings, but I am sad to say that anecdotal evidence suggests that in line with the general decline in local reporting, the reporting of local courts will have declined as well. When my right hon. Friend was Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, he was instrumental in making sure, at the BBC’s charter renewal, that the local democracy reporting scheme provided £8 million a year to get local reporters into the courts. I congratulate him on that step and hope that there is more we can do along those lines in future.
I thank my hon. Friend, and I thank the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), for the work that she has done in this area. Does he share my view of how important it is that court proceedings are properly reported by trained journalists so that justice can be seen to be done? Will he continue to work with the Society of Editors, the News Media Association and others to see what further measures can be taken to achieve that?
I strongly concur and can certainly give my right hon. Friend the commitment he asks for. Certainly from the perspective of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, staff are given training to facilitate access by journalists, and the Ministry is currently giving very active and relatively imminent consideration to ways of making sure that court decisions and proceedings are brought more directly to the public.
Human Rights Framework: Reform
I have been discussing this issue with my Cabinet colleagues and will continue to do so. The United Kingdom is committed to protecting and respecting human rights and will continue to champion them both here and abroad. As set out in our manifesto, after Brexit we need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution, including the balance between the rights of individuals and effective government.
I welcome you to your place, Mr Speaker.
Before the general election, the Conservative manifesto promised to update the Human Rights Act 1998. Since its introduction, the Act has successfully protected countless citizens across the UK from human rights abuses, so can the Secretary of State tell me which specific aspects of the Act need updating?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave in the context of the constitutional commission. Updating Acts is something we do regularly in this place. The Human Rights Act is now just over 20 years old. Aspects of its operation have worked very well; others deserve a further look—for example, the operation of the margin of appreciation and how Strasbourg case law is adhered to. All those issues are relevant and material to the work of the commission.
Christine Bell, professor of constitutional law at Edinburgh Law School, has said that
“any unilateral repeal of the HRA by Westminster would…violate the Sewel Convention”.
Does the Secretary of State agree? If not, why not?
The hon. Lady will remember that our manifesto talked about updating the Act, not repealing it, so her question is literally academic.
The Human Rights Act is also part of the constitutional backbone of devolution, so again will the Secretary of State agree that there should be no change to that Act, given all its implications for devolved competences, without the express agreement of the Scottish Parliament and Government? Otherwise, what sort of democracy are we living in if one Parliament can change the competences of another with such ease and little respect?
As I said to the hon. Gentleman in a previous answer, I am in the spirit of working constructively with a fellow Parliament and fellow parliamentarians. I want to ensure a situation where the whole of the United Kingdom can benefit from improvements and rebalancing, and that applies equally to the people of Scotland. I hold out an olive branch to him today. I want us to work together on these issues. We can achieve far more working together than by pursuing pointless independence referendums.
Prison officers are some of our finest public servants, and I have had the honour and pleasure of meeting many of them, not just as a Minister, but as a practising member of the Bar. The incident at HMP Whitemoor was quickly resolved thanks to the bravery and professionalism of the staff who intervened. Their courage in protecting others cannot be overstated. HMP Liverpool is driving prison officer safety through an increased focus on key work as part of our offender management in custody investment, through a new drugs strategy and through the improved use of data to understand the reasons for violence, but we recognise that more needs to be done, which is why were are introducing PAVA, a synthetic pepper spray, to protect staff from incidents of serious violence or where they are in imminent or perceived risk of serious violence.
Would my right hon. and learned Friend kindly update the House on the ambitious reform programme by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work when he was courts Minister. As he knows, the programme that he helped to spearhead is already improving both access to justice and efficiency. More than 300,000 people have now used new online services established to enhance access, such as to make civil money claims, to apply for divorce or to make a plea to low-level criminal offences. Last year alone, more than 65,000 civil money claims were made online, with nine out of 10 users saying they were satisfied or very satisfied with the service.
I, too, welcome you to your place, Mr Speaker. Let me also align myself with the comments of both the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State about staff at HMP Whitemoor.
Our probation service should keep us all safe, but this morning another damning report said that understaffing in a national probation service that is dealing with the most serious offenders is putting public safety at risk. Those shortages leave staff overworked and unable to conduct due diligence, force them to take on too many cases, and are a direct consequence of the Government’s decision to break up the probation service, so will the Minister commit herself to returning staffing across the service to safe levels in order to undo the serious damage they have caused?
I welcome this morning’s report from the inspectorate of probation. Its publication is timely, given the changes that we are making to create a more unified probation service. That transition has already taken place in Wales.
Having read the report, I am pleased to note that it says that leadership is good throughout the service. Of course we need to recruit more probation officers, and we are doing that—800 officers who are currently being trained will come on board imminently—but we also recognise that as we recruit more police officers, we need to recruit more prison and probation officers as well, and we are taking steps to do so.
I thank my hon. Friend for his tireless campaigning on animal welfare. I am, of course, delighted that Finn’s law reached the statute book last year, and increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years is a manifesto commitment which we intend to deliver as quickly as possible. It builds on the fact that—I am proud to say—this country has among the world’s best animal welfare provisions, including a tough ivory ban, CCTV in slaughterhouses, and a ban on the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Following the 2017 Unison case, employment tribunal fees are due to be refunded. The programme is under way, and many tens of thousands of fees have already been refunded. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that the Ministry of Justice is looking carefully at the position to ensure that everyone who is eligible for a refund does indeed receive one.
My hon. Friend—whom I welcome to his place—is absolutely right. We have looked at the system and recognised that it could be improved, and we have made those changes in Wales, where the national probation service has taken responsibility for supervising all offenders. I look forward very much to visiting Wales on Thursday to see how those changes have been implemented. I understand that the transition has proceeded very smoothly, and I look forward to speaking to staff there in order to ensure that when the same transition takes place in England, it too will proceed smoothly.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I have to say, with respect to him, that the characterisation of “public good, private bad”—or, indeed, vice versa—is wrong. There are plenty of examples of privately run prisons that are more than passing muster with the inspectorate, and are doing an excellent job. I have always believed in a mixed approach, and I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that will continue. I will base my decision on hard evidence rather than on blind ideology in which, I am afraid, his Front Benchers have indulged far too much in recent years.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he did on the Homelessness Reduction Act, which has been very effective. I am pleased to be able to tell him that the latest statistics show that more than a quarter of the referrals to local authorities under the duty to refer were made by either prison or probation services. However, we need to work more broadly as well to ensure that when offenders come out of prison they have somewhere to go. We have a pilot with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that involves a two-year wraparound service. When an ex-offender comes out, they are helped to find a home and to understand the duties of their tenancy so that they can stay in their home and manage it over the two-year period.
I welcome the new Member to his place on the Opposition Benches. We recognise the valuable work that law centres do in our local communities around the country, and we support them through grant funding and legal aid contracts. In two of the early visits that I made when I went into the Ministry of Justice, I visited the law centre in Southwark and another in south-west London to gain a deeper understanding of the tremendous work they do. He can rest assured that we support our law centres and the work they do, to ensure that the people who need support can receive it.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work both as a Minister in this Department and as a campaigner on this issue. I share his approach to these issues. Since we launched the going forward into employment scheme in January 2018, we have recruited 29 ex-offenders who are currently in post in civil service roles, with a further 20 due to start in post shortly. I commend the work being done on Ban the Box, the private sector community initiative, which I actively support.
When the Prime Minister was Mayor of London, the number of stop and searches steadily declined, but they became more effective and intelligence-led. As a result, the arrest rate significantly increased. Now that the Prime Minister has decided to increase stop and search, the reverse has happened. They are less intelligence-led, and arrest rates are declining. Does the Secretary of State agree with me and with the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime that stop and search is an important tool, but it is not the only answer, and that a long-term public health approach that puts prevention at the heart of policing is the way to tackle knife crime?
I agree that stop and search is a vital part of our fight against knife crime. When the use of stop and search was dramatically reduced between about 2014 and 2018, we saw a reduction in the number of convictions and, shortly afterwards, an increase in the number of offences. Leading police and crime commissioners, including Jane Kennedy, the former Labour MP and Minister who is now the police and crime commissioner in Merseyside, have said that the fair and effective use of stop and search remains one of the most powerful tools that the police have at their disposal. With body-worn cameras now in use, some of the issues to do with communities feeling disrespected have been largely addressed. However, this is only part of the battle against knife crime, as the hon. Lady says, and I pay tribute to her work as chair of the knife crime APPG. Preventive work and work in schools are important as well.
Do Ministers agree that the crime of burglary has devastating effects on those who have been burgled? Will they increase the sentences available for people who have committed that offence?
My hon. Friend is right to remind us that burglary is a crime not just against property, but against the wellbeing of people whose homes are violated. He will be glad to know that average sentences for burglary have increased over the years from an average of 21 months to 28 months. I will have a further conversation with him about this, but I assure him that sentences are going in the right direction when it comes to dwelling house burglaries.
Reading jail is a hugely important historical site. It is the burial place of King Henry I of England and also where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated. The building is currently up for sale by the Ministry of Justice. Will the Secretary of State or the prisons Minister agree to meet me before any decision is made on the sale and also to meet local campaigners and representatives?
I am pleased to have already spoken to the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) about this matter. As the hon. Gentleman knows, bids are already in, and they are commercially sensitive. If it is appropriate for me to meet him, I will be happy to do so, together with his neighbour.
Before we move on, I advise the House that we will have 45 minutes for the urgent question and 45 minutes for the statement, so please let us help each other out.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what support has been made available to Flybe, its passengers, and the regional airports that facilitate many of its routes, and whether he will make a statement.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this matter. She is a strong advocate for her local airport.
Let me stress that Flybe remains a going concern. Flights continue as scheduled, and passengers should continue to go to the airport as usual. I must also emphasise that regional air carriers and airports are vital to the Government, playing a key role in providing connectivity between communities, regions and nations across the United Kingdom.
The speculation surrounding Flybe relates to commercial matters. The Government do not comment on the financial affairs of or speculation surrounding private companies. We are working hard, but there are commercial limits on what a Government can do to rescue any firm.
Be in no doubt, however, that we understand Flybe’s important role in delivering connectivity across the entire United Kingdom. This Government are committed to ensuring that the country has the regional connectivity that it needs. That is part of our agenda of uniting and levelling up the whole country. We do not have good enough infrastructure in many areas, and people do not feel they have a chance to get to the opportunity areas with high-skilled and high-paid jobs. That is what this Government are addressing now.
I hope the House will appreciate that I regret that I am not able to go into further detail at this stage, but I will update the House further when it is appropriate to do so.
Flybe is, as the Minister said, an important regional airline, serving the UK market for business and leisure travel. I must confess from the outset that Southampton airport sits on the boundary between my constituency of Romsey and Southampton North and the Eastleigh constituency, but it employs many of my constituents and, of course, serves the much wider region. It is a crucial part of Hampshire’s connectivity, located adjacent to the mainline to London Waterloo and the M27 motorway, and it serves the cruise terminal at Southampton. It is in every sense a transport hub for the south-east, and about 90% of flights out of Southampton are run by Flybe.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is working hard on this issue, for which I sincerely thank him. He has been diligent in keeping me updated and has been in close contact with colleagues across the country who believe that the Government need to find a practical and pragmatic solution to the current reported difficulties, as indeed I do. It is a sensitive time for the company, but my questions today are not criticisms. We are seeking reassurance from the Government that solutions can be found.
I welcomed the comments from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this morning about regional connectivity. He specifically referenced Northern Ireland, and Southampton airport has a thriving route in and out of Belfast, not to mention Glasgow and Edinburgh, with onward routes to Aberdeen. It is a hub that serves the whole United Kingdom.
I do not wish to put the Minister in a corner, but I hope that he may be able to expand a little on what might be achieved with regard to air passenger duty, which has long been a concern to airlines and airport operators. We leave the European Union at the end of this month, which might give us some opportunity to consider the freedoms that there could be from state aid rules. I do not expect the Minister to make any sweeping announcements from the Dispatch Box, but I hope he and his officials are closely considering it.
What powers does the Minister have to protect the key strategic routes operated by Flybe and, of course, to protect its staff? Flybe employs 200 people at Southampton, and the airport employs some 900 people. A far wider supply chain relies on a thriving regional airport with a functioning operator.
We have an opportunity to use every lever of government to make sure that regional connectivity is maintained to ensure that businesses can operate smoothly and that people can move around the country seamlessly. I seek reassurance from my hon. Friend that he is pulling all those levers.
I thank my right hon. Friend once again for working hard on behalf of Southampton airport. I am acutely conscious of the fact that some 94% of Southampton’s passengers are Flybe passengers, and she makes an important series of points about the airport’s importance to her region. Indeed, I gather the airport is also important to inbound tourism.
My right hon. Friend tries to tempt me on to the topic of APD. It may help the House if I make it clear that Transport Ministers never comment on air passenger duty, which is a matter for the Treasury, and I do not intend to change that now. I will not be making any comments on air passenger duty.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on securing this important urgent question. It is agreed on both sides of the House that Flybe, a great British brand, is a hugely important regional airline that provides a vital lifeline and connectivity for many of our communities. News of its difficulties will worry workers and passengers alike.
There is clearly a case for Government intervention, and I trust the Government will learn the lessons from their inept response to the Thomas Cook collapse, which saw other nation states being prepared to step in while this Government sat on their hands and contacted the company only after it was too late. We cannot have a repeat of that debacle. Flybe’s workers and passengers deserve better.
What restructuring plan has been agreed as part of the Government’s support, and what discussions is the Secretary of State having with the trade unions Unite and the British Airline Pilots Association? Will the Minister and the Secretary of State commit to ensuring those unions are fully engaged in the process?
The Government must avoid simply feathering the nests of the new consortium, including Virgin Atlantic and the Stobart group. Surely they knew the scale of the financial challenges facing them when they acquired the business. What was known to the new owners at the time of their acquisition? Prior to the acquisition, did they seek assurances on Government assistance and an indication of the Government’s intentions for APD? What discussions is the Minister having with the industry about transitioning to greater sustainability, including electric flights, and about whether current plans are compatible with reducing emissions?
Slashing air passenger duty across the board would make a mockery of the Government’s supposed commitment to climate emissions. It would also benefit a wealthy minority. Some 70% of UK flights are made by a wealthy 15% of the population, with the great majority of people not flying at all. Aviation is set to be the biggest source of emissions by 2050, with Ministers planning for demand to double.
The Government’s own advisory body on climate change has said that the UK is “way off track” to meet its climate change targets. Rather than proposing to slash aviation tax, will the Minister not listen to the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change for a frequent flyer levy that would remove people who fly just once a year from taxation while making wealthy frequent flyers pay more?
I encourage the Minister to do all he can to support Flybe and its workforce, and to protect passengers, but can he assure the House that his Government will simultaneously and fully accept their responsibility to protect the planet?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, particularly as we agree on the importance of Flybe to the country. The Government are working hard to find what they can do to support the company. I cannot and will not provide a running commentary on those discussions. He will note that the Secretary of State is not here to answer the urgent question, as he is having discussions in Whitehall and is working hard on behalf of the airline.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the environmental aspects. Domestic aviation constitutes 4% of UK aviation’s overall emissions. He mentioned the advice of the Committee on Climate Change, which it gave to us just before the election, and we are looking forward to consulting on it imminently. In addition, the transport decarbonisation plan is coming soon.
We are acutely conscious of the fact that aviation has an important role to play in meeting our net zero target by 2050, and I am working very hard on finding the answers to those questions.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker, which I know is important to many of us. I thank the Minister for his constructive engagement with me and many other colleagues on this matter.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Flybe to Cornwall Airport Newquay and the wider Cornish economy. Contrary to the characterisation from the Opposition Front Bencher, it is many ordinary working people and small businesses in Cornwall that rely on the connection that Flybe provides, both across the whole country and, through Heathrow, internationally. May I therefore urge the Minister to do all he can to ensure that Flybe is able to continue operating? If he is able to use his influence to cut APD, he will have my full support in doing so. Will he confirm that the public service obligation route to Heathrow is not dependent on a particular airline and could be easily transferred should the worst happen to Flybe?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. As he will know, some 74% of Newquay’s passengers use Flybe, so Newquay is also highly dependent on this airline, not least for a lot of its inbound tourism. He commented on the PSO flights. We will continue to work with the county council in Cornwall, the joint funder of those flights, to make sure that that service continues into the future.
First, may I ask what impact assessment has been undertaken on the effect of losing connectivity between Scotland and various UK regions if Flybe does go down? How many of these routes have been assessed as lifeline routes? What assessment have his Government made of the Flybe Heathrow slots if Flybe does not operate and of what that would mean for future connectivity? We know that Flybe operates outwith ATOL—the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence scheme—so what consumer protections are available for customers booking with these types of carriers? What changes do the Government propose to bring in to protect consumers? Where are we on the proposed legislation changes promised after the collapse of Monarch and then Thomas Cook? Given that there was no Government intervention previously, why are they now looking at doing something—we do support Flybe continuing to operate? Is that not firm proof that the Government need a comprehensive plan, rather than reacting with short-term fixes? What additional supports will the UK Government bring forward across the entire sector that they have ignored to date?
Will the Minister confirm that the Government do not ring-fence APD moneys for tackling climate change? What message does talk of delaying revenues or reducing APD send out about the Government’s willingness to tackle climate change?
What is the deadline for Government action, because this is going to create further market uncertainty and will hit future bookings for Flybe?
Let me start by reinforcing the fact that Flybe remains a going concern; flights continue to take off and land, and passengers should go to the airport.
I very much take the hon. Gentleman’s point about the importance of Flybe, not just to the regions of England but to the nation of Scotland and, not least, the oil and gas sector out of Aberdeen—I genuinely understand that. He makes an observation about PSO flights, both within Scotland and to London. We are looking at PSO flights policy more widely and whether we need to consider further options.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned slots at Heathrow, and he will be aware that slots are a matter for the independent ACL—Airport Coordination Limited—body. No decisions have been taken on the use of further slots at Heathrow in this regard.
The hon. Gentleman mentions protection for consumers. Those who are on a package are covered by ATOL, but, as he will know, there is separate travel insurance and those who pay by credit card will have consumer protections. We continue to review consumer protection more widely within the travel sector. He will also know that in the Queen’s Speech we announced the airline insolvency Bill, which will come forward shortly.
Once again, I reiterate that I cannot offer the running commentary the hon. Gentleman looks for on what is occurring within government.
First, let me thank the Minister for keeping me informed of developments as they have gone on and reassure him that, despite the shadow Secretary of State’s characterisation, it is not the 15% of richest people in my constituency who use this vital service. Some 94% of flights out of Southampton are operated by Flybe, meaning that any loss of service will have a detrimental impact on the local economy and jobs in my constituency. Given this Government’s pledge to back prosperity across the whole United Kingdom, will he reassure me that he will do anything and everything necessary to keep this airline afloat for my constituents and local jobs in Eastleigh?
I reassure my hon. Friend that we are working hard on behalf of Flybe and Southampton airport to find solutions wherever we can. He is right to point out the importance of improving regional connectivity across all modes, as the Prime Minister said today.
There is something of a pattern developing. We have had the collapse of Monarch and of Thomas Cook, and now the potential collapse of Flybe. When, in the last Parliament, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee took evidence on the collapse of Thomas Cook, the evidence we heard from the business and the trade unions was the same; they said that the Government were asleep at the wheel. What lessons have the Government learned from that collapse? What are they doing to ensure that passengers are protected, that critical routes that connect regional towns and cities are supported and that the taxpayer does not end up footing the bill for another corporate failure?
I hear what the hon. Lady says. I am sure she knows that across Europe as a whole the airline sector is a highly volatile market. I do not accept her comparison at all. We continue to work hard and I have made comments already about public service obligation flights.
The Flybe crisis—and it is a crisis—could soon become a major disruption for many of my constituents, with half term looming. There is clearly a short-term issue here that I know Ministers are grappling with; I wish them well and they have my support. There is an uneven playing field around APD and regulations on regional airlines and airports, and that has without doubt contributed to Flybe’s current predicament. Longer term, is there any appetite within Government to address that and the crippling impact it is having on the regional connectivity that he and the Prime Minister have rightly referred to?
I recognise what my hon. Friend says. Our network of regional airfields is crucial to our regional connectivity. I am acutely conscious of that and I am looking at all policy options.
Over the coming months it will become ever more apparent that tackling the climate emergency means rapid changes to high-carbon sectors and that aviation must decrease, not increase. Instead of bailing out polluting companies every time there is a crisis, and, in this instance, doing so in a way that is going to increase emissions, does the Minister agree that the Government should instead be developing just transition plans for high-carbon industries, including retraining workers in new sustainable jobs, involving unions and local communities, and, in this case, enhancing rail connectivity?
I think the hon. Lady overlooks what we seek to do to ensure that aviation plays its role in reaching net zero by 2050. As I have said, we will consult on our response to the Committee on Climate Change. The Minister with responsibility for future transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), is working hard looking at how to diversify the plane market, and we are bringing forward a transport decarbonisation plan. In the Department, we are informed with good ideas about how we can decarbonise transport.
As my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) ably said, the links between London and Cornwall are vital to many of our constituents, not just in his constituency but across Cornwall. Those links are important for the many small businesses that access contracts and come to London for business meetings, but also for net inbound tourism when people fly in from other countries to visit London and come down to Cornwall for a few days’ break. I ask the Minister to do all he can to ensure that the link remains.
My hon. Friend is quite right to point out the importance of the links between Newquay and London, not least for tourism. That is why we set out the public service obligation, and it is why we will carry on working with the county council to ensure its continuation.
The new owners of Flybe got the airline for a song, destroying shareholder value. They must not be allowed to profit from the public sector through subsidy for their failure. The Minister has made clear his position on APD—he will not comment—but does he recognise that that tax is damaging to the economy and costs jobs? Does he recognise that reports given to the Department for Transport and the Treasury show that abolishing air passenger duty would lead to an increase in tax income and have a beneficial impact on the economy and jobs? Will he look at those reports?
I am certain that the Treasury has heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments loud and clear.
Many airlines that face these types of difficulties would get more certainty and would be more able to get through them if they were allowed to continue to operate while in administration. Airlines in the States have done just that, and have returned and are now succeeding. Will the Government look into that type of reform when they press on with the insolvency review, which I hope will happen in the early part of this Parliament?
I am sure my hon. Friend will welcome the airline insolvency Bill and the work going on, in the light of the Green Paper, to improve consumer protection across the airline sector as a whole.
Many of my constituents work at or travel from Cardiff airport in the Vale of Glamorgan. They have already been hit by the collapse of Thomas Cook and, indeed, by Flybe’s reductions, the removal of its base—with the loss of 60 jobs last year—and its cutback of routes. Will the Minister explain whether he or the Secretary of State have had conversations directly with the Welsh Government, who are obviously crucial in terms of Cardiff airport’s viability going forward?
I am more than aware that some 30% of Cardiff’s passengers stem from Flybe. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Department and the Civil Aviation Authority are in regular touch with all the devolved Administrations to discuss the ramifications.
I apologise for my raspy tones because of a recent cold. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on securing the question.
Flybe is based in my beautiful constituency of East Devon and employs around 2,000 people nationwide, contributing a great deal to our local economy and providing essential transport links. Does the Minister agree that it is wrong to politicise the situation with Flybe, as Opposition Members have managed to do so far, and that work should be done to ensure that this vital airline continues to serve the south-west and beyond?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right to observe the importance of Flybe in his constituency. I am very much aware that, wherever possible, we should work on a cross-party basis when faced with immediate challenges.
The Minister referred to the airline insolvency Bill; will he confirm when that legislation will be brought forward? Many Members have spelled out the importance of their regional airports and domestic airlines for local economies, but what assessment has the Minister made of the future role of domestic aviation in our transport networks? How will that fit with the Department’s decarbonisation plan?
On both those questions, I am afraid the answer is “Wait and see.” We are looking to bring forward the airline insolvency Bill as soon as we can. We recognise its importance, but it is a complex policy area and there is no silver bullet, so when we bring it forward it has to be right. On the wider issue of how decarbonisation fits in and how aviation can play a role, that will be covered in the transport decarbonisation plan. I recognise that there are trade-offs to be made; we have to have a balanced approach.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on securing the urgent question and thank the Minister for his response.
The routes that Flybe operates out of Aberdeen International airport are vital to jobs and the local economy in West Aberdeenshire, connecting the energy capital of Europe, which is Aberdeen, to other energy hubs such as Teesside and Humberside. What work is being done in the Department to make sure that these economically vital routes are protected in future?
My hon. Friend is right to observe, as I did earlier, the importance of these services to the oil and gas sector in particular. The Department and the CAA as a whole are examining the economic impact of any changes that may occur across all our regional airports, but our focus is on working hard to ensure that we get the right result.
I entirely accept the importance of regional airports to jobs—Bristol airport is on my doorstep and I was a director of London Luton airport in my days as a councillor in Luton—but the fact that the Minister can come to the House to answer an urgent question about domestic flights without mentioning decarbonisation and climate change once just shows—[Interruption.] He has mentioned them in response to questions but did not mention them in his initial response. He has been prompted to do that. It is not enough to kick it into the long grass and say, “This is something we’re going to deal with in the future.” Decarbonisation and climate change need to be factored into the Minister’s response to the Flybe emergency and APD now.
I have mentioned decarbonisation at least three times. I tried to obey Mr Speaker’s instruction to keep my opening statement brief. I entirely recognise the importance of decarbonisation, and a significant amount of work is occurring in the Department, between two Ministers. I ask the hon. Lady to wait to see the documents when they are produced.
Last year, 30% of all flights from Birmingham airport were operated by Flybe, and a lot of employees of the airline and the airport will be very worried about the current situation. Can the Minister reassure me and my constituents that he and the Government are doing everything practically possible that they can do in talks with Flybe to protect jobs?
I recognise the importance of Flybe to Birmingham airport, one of our key national airports. The Government are working hard, as I keep reiterating. We are certainly doing our best.
If we are serious about tackling our carbon emissions, we must ensure that rail is an attractive and viable alternative to air travel, certainly domestically. In places where this is not possible—such as the Isle of Man, for obvious reasons—we must ensure that domestic flights in the UK are green and sustainable. For example, we should use sustainable alternatives to kerosene and look at electric low-carbon planes, as have been trialled in Orkney and Shetland. What has the Minister done specifically to ensure that UK domestic flights are as friendly as possible to the environment?
As I said earlier, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), is working on looking at alternative sources of fuel and power. The hon. Lady pointed out the example in Orkney; that is what we are working on for the transport decarbonisation plan, which will come forth shortly.
I welcome the Minister’s comments about the impact on smaller regional airports such as Humberside airport, which is based in my Cleethorpes constituency. The impact on the offshore industries and the links to Aberdeen have already been drawn to his attention, but will he also take into account the fact that Flybe works in partnership with other airlines, such as Eastern Airways, which is based in Humberside, and the possible impact of the knock-on effect?
My hon. Friend temps me to go into a great, lengthy answer about franchising arrangements with Flybe, which I am trying not to do, but I very much hear his point and I regularly wade into the detail of that.
The Minister went to school a stone’s throw from Manchester airport in my constituency, but is the voice of northern England being heard? After the Thomas Cook debacle, 2.8 million passengers were taken out of capacity. If this Flybe collapse happens, that will affect 1.8 million passengers out of Manchester airport. I know that people are worried about climate change, but APD was a tax devised by London civil servants in Whitehall cooling towers that crippled the growth of regional airports throughout our country, and we are paying the price for that.
The hon. Gentleman is always a good defender of Manchester airport—I will grant him that. As he will know, ACL determines slot allocation at Manchester. The Thomas Cook slots have already been reallocated among easyJet and Jet2. ACL has the matter in hand. I recognise Manchester’s interest in the process.
Regional connectivity is at the heart of the Government’s agenda, and the impact of Flybe collapsing on its partnerships with other airlines would be quite severe. Can the Minister provide reassurance that the Government will support Flybe until the airline insolvency legislation has come into force?
We are continuing to work hard in Government to give all the support that we can at this stage. I cannot comment further on exactly what is occurring, but I very much hear my hon. Friend’s plea.
Teesside International airport tripled its losses to nearly £6 million under the stewardship of the Tees Valley Mayor last year—after he had paid tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money for it. Flybe is one of the few airlines to provide flights from the airport—44% of them—and is critical to the airport’s future and the Mayor’s plans. The Government failed to intervene when SSI went bust, they refused to provide Sirius Minerals with a loan guarantee to unlock international investment, and they are doing nothing to support Hitachi, which is making 250 people redundant. Are the Government really prepared to continue to fail the Tees valley and to see Flybe collapse, taking regional airports such as Teesside with it?
The hon. Member will not be surprised to hear that I have great confidence in Mayor Houchen’s stewardship of both—
It’s a £6 million loss!
I am not going to get stuck into that. The hon. Member knows that elections are coming and I know that elections are coming—I know what he is up to.
Flybe flies from Leeds Bradford airport in West Yorkshire to the likes of Newquay, Southampton and Belfast. Passengers have very little alternative until we see major investment in regional and cross-country rail. Does the Minister agree that until that happens, we need to keep investing in our regional infrastructure, and we also need to crack on with trans-Pennine rail?
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. When we consider aviation, it is not just about aviation; it is also about links across other modes of transport. He will know that I am the Minister responsible for Northern Powerhouse Rail so take a very close interest in it, and I am always happy to discuss it with him.
Further to the question from the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), have the British Government received any direct representations from the Welsh Government following the news this morning?
I am not aware of any representations received.
Following the Monarch and Thomas Cook debacles, what lessons has the Minister learned and which of them will he apply to the situation with Flybe?
I would caution that the cases are not as similar as some might think. I am not going to offer a running commentary, but the Department works hard in collaboration with the CAA to monitor all airlines that operate from this country.
Of course the Government should intervene to safeguard people’s livelihoods and the economy around the country, but on a day on which we have heard about yet another increase in global ocean temperatures, when we know that parts of Australia are burning to a crisp, and when the Government are on target to hit net zero in 2099, not 2050, is it right that a subsidy that supports profitable and successful airlines should encourage and increase air travel, not result in the reductions that are essential if we are to address our commitments to reducing the effects of climate change?
The hon. Gentleman may have heard my answers, but I will try again. I am working hard with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk, to make the UK a global leader in reducing aviation emissions. The hon. Gentleman may want to wait and see our proposals when they are introduced.
Last but certainly not least, the one and only Jim Shannon.
Mr Speaker, The Bible says that
“the last shall be first, and the first last”.
I shall bear that in mind.
Absolutely—thank you so much. I thank the Minister for his response. He will know that the success of George Best Belfast City airport is down to the Government policy of connectivity and how important that is. It is also down to the success of Flybe. The Minister is probably aware that it flies from Belfast to 14 destinations in the UK—the largest number of any airline company. Some 3,400 jobs depend on Flybe across the United Kingdom, but 100% of those jobs are important to Northern Ireland. In the light of the new dawn in Northern Ireland—the Assembly is up and running, so responsibility falls on its shoulders—has he had an opportunity to speak to anyone in the Assembly such as the First Minister to ensure that Flybe retains its critical position for Northern Ireland?
Naturally I welcome the resumption of Stormont. I note the fact that 68% of passengers at Belfast City are Flybe passengers, so the company is clearly important there. I am in close contact both with the Northern Ireland Office and with the devolved Administration.
Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Iran nuclear agreement known as the joint comprehensive plan of action.
I addressed the House yesterday on wider concerns in relation to Iran’s conduct in the region. The strategic aim for the UK and our international partners remains as it has always been: to de-escalate tensions; to hold Iran to account for its nefarious activities; and to keep the diplomatic door open for the regime to negotiate a peaceful way forward. Iran’s destabilising activity should serve as a reminder to us all of the danger to the region and to the world if it were ever to acquire a nuclear weapon. We cannot let that happen.
With that in mind, today, the E3, consisting of the United Kingdom, France and Germany, has jointly taken action to hold Iran to account for its systematic non-compliance with the JCPOA. As the European parties to the deal, we have written to the EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, in his capacity as co-ordinator of the JCPOA. We have formally triggered the dispute resolution mechanism, thereby referring Iran to the Joint Commission.
Let me set out the pattern of non-compliance by the regime that left us with no credible alternative. Since last May, Iran has step by step reduced its compliance with critical elements of the JCPOA, leaving it a shell of an agreement. On 1 July 2019, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had exceeded key limits on low enriched uranium stockpile limits. On 8 July, the IAEA reported that Iran had exceeded its 3.67% enriched uranium production limit. On 5 November, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had crossed its advanced centrifuge research and development limits. On 7 November, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had restarted enrichment activities at the Fordow facility—a clear violation of JCPOA restrictions. On 18 November, the IAEA reported that Iran had exceeded its heavy water limits. On 5 January this year, Iran announced that it would no longer adhere to JCPOA limits on centrifuge numbers.
Each of those actions was serious. Together, they now raise acute concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran’s breakout time—the time that it would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon—is now falling, which is an international concern. Time and time again, we have expressed our serious concerns to Iran, and urged it to come back into compliance. Time and time again, in its statements and more importantly through its actions, it has refused, undermining the very integrity of the deal and flouting its international commitments.
Iran’s announcement on 5 January made it clear that it was now effectively refusing to comply with any of the outstanding substantive restrictions that the JCPOA placed on its nuclear programme. On that date, the Iranian Government stated that its
“nuclear program no longer faces any operational restrictions, including enrichment capacity, percentage of enrichment, amount of enriched material, and research and development.”
With regret, the E3 was left with no choice but to refer Iran to the JCPOA’s dispute resolution mechanism. The DRM is the procedure set out in the deal to resolve disputes between the parties to the agreement. Alongside our partners, we will use this to press Iran to come back into full compliance with its commitments and honour an agreement that is in all our interests.
The European External Action Service will now co-ordinate and convene the DRM process. As a first step, it will call a meeting of the Joint Commission, bringing together all parties to the JCPOA within 15 days. This process has been designed explicitly to allow participants flexibility and full control at each and every stage. Let me make it clear to the House that we are triggering the DRM because Iran has undermined the objective and purpose of the JCPOA, but we do so with a view to bringing Iran back into full compliance. We are triggering the DRM to reinforce the diplomatic track, not to abandon it. For our part, as the United Kingdom we were disappointed that the US withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, and we have worked tirelessly with our international partners to preserve the agreement. We have upheld our commitments, lifting economic and financial sanctions on sectors such as banking, oil, shipping and metals. We lifted an asset freeze and travel bans on listed entities and individuals. We have sought to support a legitimate trade relationship with Iran. The UK, France and Germany will remain committed to the deal, and we will approach the DRM in good faith, striving to resolve the dispute and bring Iran back into full compliance with its JCPOA obligations.
As I made clear to the House yesterday, the Government in Iran have a choice. The regime can take steps to de-escalate tensions and adhere to the basic rules of international law or sink deeper and deeper into political and economic isolation. So too, Iran’s response to the DRM will be a crucial test of its intentions and good will. We urge Iran to work with us to save the deal. We urge Iran to see this as an opportunity to reassure the world that its nuclear intentions are exclusively peaceful. We urge the Iranian Government to choose an alternative path and engage in diplomacy and negotiation to resolve the full range of its activities that flout international law and destabilise the region. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement. For all of us who regard the Iran nuclear deal as one of the crowning diplomatic achievements of this century and a path towards progress with Iran on other issues of concern, it is deeply distressing to see Iran join the United States in openly flouting the terms of the deal, as the Foreign Secretary has described.
I firmly agree with the action that has been taken today alongside our European partners. I welcome every word of the joint statement issued at the weekend by Britain, France and Germany in relation to the JCPOA. I agree with their commitment to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation regime. I agree with their determination to ensure that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. I agree with their conclusion that the JCPOA plays a key role in those objectives. I would have been stronger in my wording. Although I agree with their “regret” and “concern”, I would have said “revulsion” and “condemnation” over the Trump Administration’s attempted sabotage of the JCPOA and their re-imposition of sanctions on Iran.
I agree with the E3’s attempts to preserve the agreement despite the actions of Donald Trump and the reciprocal actions of the Iranian regime, to which the Foreign Secretary referred in his statement. I also agree that Iran must be obliged to return to full compliance with its side of the agreement. That was a sensible and balanced statement on the JCPOA, stressing the international unity around the importance of retaining and restoring it, and accepting that both sides have breached it in terms and that neither has any justification for doing so.
That is what makes it all the more remarkable that this morning we heard from one of the signatories to that statement—our very own Prime Minister—telling “BBC Breakfast” the following:
“the problem with the JCPOA is basically—this is the crucial thing, this is why there is tension—from the American perspective it’s a flawed agreement, it expires, plus it was negotiated by President Obama…from their point of view it has many many faults. Well, if we’re going to get rid of it let’s replace it—and let’s replace it with the Trump deal. That’s what we need to see…that would be a great way forward. President Trump is a great dealmaker by his own account, and by many others…Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and get the Trump deal instead.”
In the space of two or three days, the Prime Minister has gone from signing a joint statement with France and Germany calling for the retention and restoration of the JCPOA, to calling for it to be scrapped and replaced by some mythical Trump deal. The Foreign Secretary did not refer to any of that in his statement, and we could be forgiven for thinking that he and the Prime Minister are not exactly on the same page, but perhaps in his response he could answer some questions about the Prime Minister’s remarks.
First, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that in his discussions with his American counterparts, they have said that one of the problems with the JCPOA is that, to quote the Prime Minister,
“it was negotiated by President Obama”?
We all suspect that that is Trump the toddler’s main issue with it, but can the Secretary of State confirm that the Prime Minister was correct?
Secondly, can the Foreign Secretary tell us how this supposed alternative Trump deal, which the Prime Minister is so enthusiastic about, differs from the current JCPOA—or, like his mythical middle eastern peace plan and his mythical deal with the North Koreans on nuclear weapons, is it simply another Trump fantasy?
Thirdly, can the Foreign Secretary tell us why on earth Iran would accept a new deal negotiated with Donald Trump, with new conditions attached, when he has shown his readiness to tear up the existing deal and move the goalposts in terms of what it should cover?
Finally, based on what the Prime Minister said this morning, are we now to understand that—despite everything the Foreign Secretary said in his statement just now and everything contained in the joint statement at the weekend—it is now the official policy of the UK Government to replace the JCPOA and get a Trump deal instead, and that that would represent a “great way forward”? If that is not official Government policy, why did the Prime Minister say it, and why is he walking all over the Foreign Secretary’s patch?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her support for the action we have taken today and the action that we are taking as part of the E3. She made a number of valid points at the outset of her remarks about holding Iran to account for the technical failures, and also about the importance that we certainly attach to leaving a diplomatic door ajar for Iran to come back from its non-compliance into compliance and to live up to its responsibilities.
The right hon. Lady made a whole range of comments about the Prime Minister, which I will address. First, it is Iran that is threatening the JCPOA, with its systematic non-compliance. The Prime Minister fully supports the JCPOA and bringing Iran back into full compliance; that is the clear position and he has said so on many occasions. [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady should draw breath and allow me to respond to her remarks. As usual, she made a whole series of attacks on the US Administration, which seemed rather to cloud her judgment in this area. In fact, not just President Trump but also President Macron has argued for a broader deal with Iran—a deal that would address some of the defects in the JCPOA, which is not a perfect deal but is the best deal we have on the table at the moment, and that would address the wider concerns that the US and many other states, including the United Kingdom, have about Iran’s broader destabilising activities in the region. The US and our European partners want us to be ambitious in our diplomatic approach with Iran, and I fully subscribe to that. I fear that the right hon. Lady is rather confusing her attacks on the US Administration with sober and sensible policy making in this area.
As of now, we—the Prime Minister and the whole Government—believe that the JCPOA is the best available deal for restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and we want Iran to come back into full compliance. Equally, as was discussed in Biarritz last year, the Prime Minister, the United States and our European partners are fully open to a broader initiative that would address not just the nuclear concerns, but the broader concerns about the destabilising activity that we have seen recently, in particular in relation to the Quds Force.
The choice of the regime in Iran as of today is very simple. It can take the diplomatic path. It can come back into full compliance with the JCPOA and thereby give this country, our European partners and our American partners—and, crucially, many partners in the region—reassurance about its nuclear ambitions. If it wants to, it can also take the diplomatic path to resolve all the outstanding concerns that the international community has about its conduct. That is the choice for the regime in Iran. If it is willing to take that path in good faith, we will be ready to meet it with British diplomacy.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his support for the Iran nuclear deal, because the simple truth is that if Philip Hammond had not negotiated it, Iran would have nuclear weapons today and the middle east would be immensely more dangerous. However, it has caused a lot of stresses in the western alliance, and I would like to ask the Secretary of State’s view as to the best way to strengthen that alliance, because however tattered and strained it is, it is a vital foundation of our peace and prosperity, and has been for the past 70 years.
My right hon. Friend, of course, knows a lot of the recent history of this situation as well as—if not better than—I do. As always, the answer is for Britain to exercise its judgment and the full energy of its diplomacy to ensure that we forge common purpose with our European and American friends. I have been in the US and Brussels over the last two weeks, and will continue that endeavour. The worst thing that we could do right now would be to allow or foment divisions in that partnership, because that would only encourage the hardliners in Tehran.
I commend the Foreign Secretary on his statement, and I have to say that I agreed with every word of it. The Scottish National party very much supports actions against nuclear proliferation in the middle east. There was ample scope to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism, so I am glad that the External Action Service is going through the gears on that. I very much liked the phrase in his statement that these efforts are to “reinforce the diplomatic track”. We all agree on that. So let us go back to this morning’s interview with the Prime Minister on breakfast TV, because I think it bears repetition. He said of the JCPOA:
“let’s replace it with the Trump deal. That’s what we need to see…President Trump is a great dealmaker by his own account, and by many others…Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and get the Trump deal instead.”
I am very happy to support the Foreign Secretary from the SNP Benches, but it seems that he is getting more support from the SNP than his own Prime Minister. How seriously does he think Tehran takes us all right now?
We engage with the regime on the basis that I have set out, which is that it has a choice. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. This is not about the UK position or any nuance regarding the Prime Minister. This is the position of the E3 at leader level. The E3 made clear in the joint statement recently that we would like to preserve the JCPOA, but that we are also ambitious for a broader rapprochement with Iran, which of course would have to take into account all the other areas of international concern. It is not just the nuclear issue that is a concern to us; it is also the destabilising activity, the downing of the Ukrainian airline flight and the treatment of our dual nationals. Even if we got Iran back to the JCPOA in full compliance, those issues would remain, and of course we should—with our American partners, as we are doing with our European partners—look to deal with all those issues for the long term.
I wonder whether I am the only one who believes that the current regime is ever going to adhere to the JCPOA. What is the biggest threat now? Could it be that Israel, which has been threatened by Iran, is likely to strike if this goes on unless some sort of agreement is reached, which could of course inflame an already very difficult situation?
It is not clear to me that there is any credible alternative to a diplomatic route to solving this issue long term, even with airstrikes. I will not get into all the operational matters. The only way of dealing with the concerns that we have is a mixture—a combination—of holding Iran to account when it behaves badly, as it has done systematically in relation to its nuclear ambitions, and leaving open the door to diplomatic opportunity and diplomacy. That is the position of the UK—and, I believe, it is also the position of not just our European partners but our American partners too.
I certainly do not want to defend the actions of the Iranian regime on any count. The Foreign Secretary was instrumental, when he was on the Back Benches, in making sure that the Government introduced legislation known as the Magnitsky amendments, which were to enable the Government to have another tool in the box in relation to sanctions. They were primarily considered as relating to Russia, but would it not be a good idea to have them on the statute book in the UK now, as fast as possible, and would we not be considering using those sanctions in relation to Iranians as well?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right, first, about the importance of having that sanctions capacity. As we leave the EU we will have more autonomy to do that. We are looking forward to bringing that forward. It was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. He also made the point—I think we have always agreed about this since the campaign for a Magnitsky regime in this country—that such capacity certainly should not just apply to Russia, or to one country, but should be universal in geographic scope, and the approach that we are taking will be.
Last year an archive of documents relating to Iran’s nuclear programme was unearthed in a Tehran warehouse by Israel’s intelligence agencies. The documents revealed the extent of Iran’s deception to the IAEA and the world powers about its historical work to develop nuclear weapons and its ongoing efforts to circumvent the JCPOA. Is my right hon. Friend able to confirm whether the UK has seen these documents and whether he shares Israel’s concerns about their contents?
My hon. Friend makes some interesting points. I am not going to comment on intelligence matters or operational matters, but I can say that of course we share Israel’s concern not just about Iran’s nuclear ambitions but about the wider activities in the region. The point that I think we and all our partners agree on is that ultimately Tehran should give up those ambitions and negotiate a way out of economic and political isolation, which will only deepen, and live up to the responsibilities that it has to its own people. There is a better path for the people of Iran, but it has to be a choice that is taken by the regime in Iran.
This is a very troubling time not only for Mr Ashuri and his family but for other relations of British nationals being held in Iranian prisons. Will the Foreign Secretary clearly outline what steps he intends to take to support these individuals and their families and prevent them from being exploited even further in this dreadful situation?
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. The plight of the nationals and dual nationals in detention from our country and other countries around the world is at the forefront of our minds. Of course, we have seen the systematic and callous behaviour by Iran in relation to them increase over time, not decrease, so it is all part of a wider pattern of behaviour. We will do everything we can to secure their release and, while they are in detention, the best conceivable treatment that we can imagine. Again, as with the other issues, Iran has to realise that it cannot pursue its appalling behaviour, whether on the nuclear front, by destabilising countries in the region or in the treatment of dual nationals without being held to account, and that is the policy of the UK.
I welcome the decision to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism. However, given that over the past few weeks we have seen Iran use ballistic missiles to attack coalition forces and that, in the wake of the killing of General Soleimani, we have had another reminder of all the activities he used to carry out, it is sensible for the Prime Minister to have an ambition to bring the US back on board as part of this deal but to widen it to encompass all the other activities of Iran. Will the Foreign Secretary set out what Britain might do to try to kick-start that process as well as bringing the JCPOA back into full action?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to preserve the JCPOA—it is the only current deal in town—but of course we are ambitious to see a broader rapprochement. That is not just the Prime Minister’s view. He has been actively supporting President Trump and President Macron, and there is a huge amount of diplomatic work being undertaken by me, by the Prime Minister and others and by our international partners to achieve that. But we come back to the basic equation and the basic choice: this is ultimately a decision that must be made in Tehran, because leaving the diplomatic door ajar is one thing but Iran has to be willing to walk through it. We will make sure that that diplomatic route—that diplomatic path—to a better alternative Iran is there, but it must be something that the regime in Tehran, bearing in mind all the recent events, the growing economic isolation and the disaffection of many, many people in Iran with the state of affairs, chooses and pursues of its own volition.
It is precisely because we support this deal that the E3 was left with no option but to take the action that it has, and I support the Government in doing so. But can I bring the Foreign Secretary back to the Prime Minister’s remarks this morning? Either the Prime Minister wants to maintain this deal or he is now advocating for its replacement: he cannot credibly hold both positions. Which one is the policy of the Government?
The right hon. Gentleman is just wrong. Of course one can want to preserve this deal but be ambitious and, if it is possible, bring the United States and Tehran into a broader rapprochement, dealing not just with the nuclear issue but with the wider destabilising activities. That is the policy that we are pursuing and we are doing so with the US and also, crucially, with our EU partners. There seems to be a bit of amnesia on the Opposition Benches. It was President Macron who last year proposed a very similar approach. Just as we are willing to support that in relation to proposals initiated in Washington, we supported it in relation to Macron. We want to keep the transatlantic alliance together and we want to bring a broader rapprochement between the US and Iran that can lead to a better path for the Iranian people.
It seems that the JCPOA in its current form is dying, although it is not dead yet, and I compliment the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers for the work that they are doing. Is there any common ground between the United States and Iran on a potential JCPOA 2?
It is not clear that there is, as of now. However, there is scope, if Iran is willing—the E3 statement backed this up, but we come back to that basic dynamic and that basic choice—to see some sort of broader deal that would address not just the nuclear front but the wider destabilising activities. If we want a longer-term resolution to the challenge that Iran faces which brings in the United States and all the relevant partners in the region, it is absolutely right that we hold to that ambition and pursue it where we can.
I thank the Secretary of State for prior sight of his statement. Given his earlier remarks about dual nationals in Iran and the increasingly desperate situation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, will he clarify when the Prime Minister is going to meet Richard Ratcliffe? At the moment, all we have is “soon”. Will this be taken up as a matter of urgency and a meeting arranged this week if possible?
The meetings that the Prime Minister has will be publicised in the usual way through the usual channels, but I have met Richard Ratcliffe. We of course understand the concern of Nazanin’s family and also all the other dual nationals who are detained. We have seen Iran’s behaviour deteriorate not just on the nuclear front and not just in the revolutionary guards’ activities in the region, but in relation to dual nationals. It is at the forefront of our mind to get a deal, long term, with the Iranians that can bring in all those aspects, which is why the nuclear deal is critically important. We also want to address the wider issues; that is why the Prime Minister has taken the approach that he has.
Will the Foreign Secretary outline the steps that are being taken to safeguard British citizens, personnel and interests in the region?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We obviously keep the security of our armed forces under constant review. We do the same in terms of shipping in the Gulf, and particularly the strait of Hormuz. We have amended our travel advice recently, and we ensure that we have the appropriate level of security arrangements around our embassy and our diplomatic personnel.
The Foreign Secretary is right to highlight the importance of diplomacy in resolving this crisis. Can he update us on the situation of the British ambassador to Iran, particularly given the fact that in the last couple of hours it has been reported, including in the Financial Times, that Gholam-Hossein Esmaeili, who is a representative of the Iranian judiciary, has called for him to be persona non grata and expelled from the country? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that that is completely unacceptable?
We have had no formal indication of that description. It would be deeply regrettable if that were the case. We need to keep the diplomatic channels open, and futile gestures like that are not going to resolve the problems that the regime in Tehran face.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s focus on not only the tactical issues but the wider strategic context that we face. I repeat the point that I made yesterday during the urgent question: there is little incentive for Iran to support the JCPOA when economic reform cannot take place. It could not take place before because legacy sanctions connected with ballistic missiles prevented any bank with international ties to the United States from supporting any new trade. Will he ensure that a future deal deals with those legacy sanctions and prevents the country from spending any new funds, such as oil revenues or released frozen assets, on its proxy wars across the region?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point, but he also highlights a conundrum. On the one hand, we do not want to relieve the pressure on Iran in relation to its nefarious activities. On the other hand, we have to incentivise, to the extent that we can, the right path and the right kind of conduct to build up the confidence of its international partners. At the moment, it is very clear, in relation to the JCPOA and more broadly, that that door is left open for Iran. What is missing is the political will and the good faith on behalf of the regime in Tehran.
Welcome to your place, Mr Deputy Speaker. The JCPOA, successful or not, will impact upon countries across the world. Iran is not a safe place for its own people, never mind any other citizens—the shooting down of the jet is an example of that. Can the Secretary of State outline his intention to prepare and secure expats and workers in Iran? What advice will be given to people working there who have British citizenship or are from other countries across the world to get ready to leave Iran?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is right; we are always concerned to ensure that we do the right thing and give honest, accurate and clear advice to British citizens wherever they are in the world. In relation to Iran, we have amended our travel advice again. That is the normal way, and we would point individuals and businesses to that for the appropriate guidance.
It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. Can the Foreign Secretary tell me what conversations he has had with not only our European partners in the E3 but our partners in the region—perhaps even our new partner, the new Sultan of Oman—on how we will deal with Iran?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right. The Prime Minister was there for the funeral of the Sultan, which was a valuable opportunity to engage in conversation with the new Sultan. We have had conversations with our partners right around the region. There is a clear commonality of view that we need to de-escalate the tensions but also hold Iran to account for its behaviour. Bearing in mind that we have to engage very carefully with Russia and China on this, the approach that we are taking in the context of the JCPOA is that, on the terms of the deal, clearly, plainly and squarely Iran has, in its own words, effectively left the agreement as a shell. The right thing to do, as envisaged by the agreement, is to take matters to the dispute resolution mechanism and use that to leverage, to bring some sense and clarity to the regime in Tehran and to encourage them to come back to full compliance.
It is great to see you back in your rightful place, Mr Deputy Speaker. The British Government are right to work with our European partners and within the formal mechanisms of the nuclear deal. Can the Secretary of State inform the House what responses he has received from China and Russia following the actions he has taken?
We are engaging with them, and we will engage with them more during the process of the DRM, but we need to be clear that this is not a transatlantic issue, and it is not just an Iranian issue—it is a regional and global issue, because the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran would be damaging, devastating and destabilising for the region and the world. All permanent members of the Security Council need to be engaged in this and live up to their responsibilities to ensure, through the diplomatic track and the pressure that we exert on all sides, that Iran cannot pursue those ambitions.
Triggering the dispute resolution mechanism is a good thing, but to be frank, only doing so after six months of—to use the Foreign Secretary’s own words—“serious” and “systematic non-compliance” is weak. The JCPOA is time-limited. It would never prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon; it would only delay the chances of that happening, but it cannot do that if, to use the Foreign Secretary’s own words, it is just a “shell” of an agreement. What are the dangers of Iran reducing its breakout time while the dispute resolution mechanism is under way? Is it not time for a truly comprehensive agreement covering nuclear weapon technology, missile technology and Iran’s export of terror?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I share his concerns that there are weaknesses to the JCPOA. It is time-limited. There are other weaknesses to it. We have never been doe-eyed about it being the perfect deal, but it is also the only deal in town which is restraining the behaviour of Iran. As we have now got to a situation where Iran is not complying with those restraints, we have to trigger the DRM as a matter of the credibility of the deal and the credibility of the E3. I take his point—it is the point that the Prime Minister made—that we should also be ambitious for a broader deal that deals with not only the nuclear issue in a more sustainable and long-term way but all the other wider concerns that those in the region, the Europeans and the Americans have about Iran’s conduct in the region.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and welcome the action taken today. Are any discussions being had with the multiple oil and gas companies that operate in the region, which employ a large number of British citizens, many of whom are my constituents or family members of my constituents? There is obviously a concern in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine for the safety of those who are out there working for oil and gas companies in what remains a very unpredictable situation.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The Defence Secretary has set out the contingency planning in relation to military support for shipping in the strait of Hormuz, which will affect the sector that my hon. Friend is talking about. We have adjusted and will keep under constant review our travel advice in relation to not only Iran but countries in the region, so that businesses and individuals travelling have the clearest guidance about risk.
Debate on the Address
Debate resumed (Order, 13 January).
Question again proposed,
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Education and Local Government
May I say how delighted I am to see so many new faces among us? They could not have arrived at a more exciting time. This Government have a historic mandate to push through an ambitious and challenging agenda, to make changes that will transform the lives and prospects of a generation. We are poised to shape a new Britain. We are primed for a new era. This Government are ready to ensure that Britain can seize the opportunities that lie ahead of us after we leave the European Union—a Britain where the young people of today are prepared for the world of tomorrow.
Education is a mirror to the kind of society that we want to see—an open, flexible tolerant and supportive society where everyone, wherever they are from and whatever their talents, has the chance to achieve their dreams and ambitions. Since becoming Education Secretary, I have been committed to making those ambitions a reality. As Her Majesty the Queen set out in her Gracious Speech on 19 December, we are about to embark on a full programme to ensure that everyone feels the benefit of these changes.
The Secretary of State has sent me a most welcome spreadsheet telling me what schools in my constituency can expect from the settlement he has reached. I am glad to say that all my secondary schools are set to receive more than £5,000 per pupil, but how will he ensure that they get it and that local authorities will not increase their slice or use their own formula to redistribute it?
I thank my right hon. Friend for making such an important intervention, and for his compliment on the spreadsheet, which is a compliment I have not received before. He makes an important point about making sure that money that has been allocated to schools is going to be properly passported through. It will be the Government’s intention to move a statutory instrument to ensure that the minimum funding of £5,000 for every secondary school and £3,750 for every primary school is passported through to schools in the next financial year. For primary schools, that will obviously be increased to £4,000.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
If I may, I will take the opportunity to make some more progress. The hon. Gentleman always has lots of interventions that can be placed at any point in a speech, as they usually have very little relevance to the speech taking place.
Money spent on schools is an investment in our futures. I am pleased to say that we are going to deliver the biggest funding injection into schools in a decade. Over the next three years, we are going to put an additional £14.4 billion into schools in England, with areas in most need seeing the greatest gains. My Department is acutely aware of the huge responsibility we have for all our children, but none more so than the most vulnerable, especially those with special educational needs. That is why we announced £780 million additional high needs funding for the following financial year, an increase of 12% compared with this year. That will be the largest year-on-year increase since the high needs funding block was created in 2013, and I am sure it is something everyone will welcome.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman is about to welcome it.
I always welcome additional finance for special needs, but schools in Stockton also know what they are going to get. They are going to get a £6.2 million reduction or shortfall by 2020, a loss of £210 a pupil. How is that fair?
The hon. Gentleman has never been known for his skill at maths. If he were to look at the Confederation of School Trusts figures, an independent organisation that has done the calculations of what every school will receive, he will see that every school is getting a per pupil increase in funding. It is a shame that he did not take the opportunity to welcome that.
One of our most pressing priorities is to make sure that all children in care or in need of adoption are given a loving and stable home. We are providing councils with an additional £1 billion for adult and children social care in every year of this Parliament. That is alongside the £84 million to be spent over five years to keep more children at home safely. We are also going to review the care system to make sure that all care placements and settings provide children and young adults with the support that they need.
West Berkshire and Wokingham are very appreciative that at last we are going to get a bit more money, which we really need for our schools, and I am grateful for the work the Secretary of State has put in. Does he agree that, to get many more people to fulfil their potential, schools in their careers education should identify self-employment, as well as jobs, as a very good way of fulfilling people’s expectations in many cases? That often gets ignored.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to encourage entrepreneurialism within our education system. We see this in many schools, and of course we also see it in many further education colleges and universities. I was very fortunate to visit King’s College London recently to see the brilliant student business incubator model it has there, which is making such an impact. How do we expand that to more universities, while making sure that schools are teaching the value of entrepreneurialism in what they are doing?
Is the Secretary of State aware of the excellent families of schools initiative, which works with primary schoolchildren —again, exactly the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)—in extolling the benefits of self-employment to very young children to instil such values at that age?
My hon. Friend highlights an important scheme that is going out there and selling the virtues of entrepreneurialism at the start of a child’s educational learning. That is certainly something we very much want to encourage across the education spectrum.
We all know how important a loving home is to a child’s development and we want to give parents all the support we can. We have announced a new £1 billion investment to create more high-quality, affordable childcare provision for families with school-age children, including a £250 million capital fund to help schools to overcome barriers to offering on-site childcare provision. The aim of this Government is always to be there supporting parents and families as they bring up their children.
Thanks to our reforms, standards in schools have been rising, but that does not mean that this is the moment to ease up or stop that progress. Schools should be safe and disciplined spaces, where pupils can learn in a happy and secure way. That is why we are investing £10 million to establish behaviour hubs to help teachers who are having to deal with disruption in the classroom and within a school. We are also expanding alternative provision schools for troubled or disruptive youngsters. We have launched a £4 million alternative provision innovation fund. Projects being run as part of that will guide our plans for this important sector, which needs reform and change.
I am a former teacher, and believe me, behaviour was probably the most important thing in ensuring that I had the space to be able to deliver such content. Does the Secretary of State not appreciate that a lot of these children are behaving in that way because they do not have support, and much of the way in which they used to get that support was through things such as youth services? Has he planned any extra money for youth services and support for young people who are often facing adverse issues at home and desperately need help themselves?
I thought the hon. Lady was going talk about our youth investment fund, and the half-a-billion pound investment that has been pledged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a real difference. [Interruption.] The Liberal Democrat Member sneers at the mention of half-a-billion pounds as if this is a small amount of money, but I think most Conservative Members recognise that half-a-billion pounds is an awful lot of money.
Speaking about behaviour and discipline, the Secretary of State and indeed his Minister for School Standards will be very much aware of Michaela Community School, which they have both visited and have supported over many years. It is an outstanding free school, which I co-founded and chaired. Does he agree with me that such schools—free schools where innovation in education has been pioneered and disciplinary methods have succeeded—are working to revolutionise education in this country, and that had the Labour party got into power, they would be no more?
The Labour party’s ideological hatred of free schools is, frankly, quite shocking, as we see those like the Michaela Community School making such an enormous difference to the local community. I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work she did along with Katharine Birbalsingh, who has worked so hard to create this shining example of what can be done—changing the lives of so many children from some of the most disadvantaged communities in London. That is what we want to be seeing more of, not less, and that is what this Government are going to deliver.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I am going to make some more progress, as I have been very generous in allowing interventions.
We have made great strides with the more rigorous academic programmes of study, but we know that the arts are vital in helping young people learn creative skills and widen their horizons. We also know that the creative industries play an important role in the United Kingdom economy. For those reasons, we will offer an arts premium to secondary schools to fund activities from 2021. We will also continue to fund music education hubs next year, with an extra £80 million.
I would now like to come on to standards. Thanks to Ofsted inspections, we have seen standards in our schools rise continuously since 2010. Plans are in place to take forward our pledge to lift the inspection exemption that currently applies to outstanding schools. That will mean parents have up-to-date information and reassurance about the education being provided by their child’s school.
I was a schoolteacher up to the last general election and have worked as a head of year in the pastoral system and have worked both in London and inner-city Birmingham. Does my right hon. Friend share my opinion that it is terrifying to think that had Labour got into power it would have scrapped Ofsted, leaving our children in a much more dangerous position going forward?
My hon. Friend and fellow Staffordshire Member makes a powerful point, because what the Labour party was doing was throwing away the ability to ensure that we enforce ever-increasing standards and better attainment for our children. What is even more disturbing were the proposals to scrap Ofsted. Labour was saying that for those children who are most vulnerable—those who are in social care—there would be no independent inspectorate to make sure that their interests were being protected, and it was letting local authorities mark their own homework. That is not what any of us wish to see. I hope that the Labour leadership race will give Labour the opportunity to rethink some of its more imaginative policies and come back with something that works for both pupils and parents.
Since 2010 the Government have been transforming the education system to place more autonomy and freedom in the hands of teachers, giving parents more choice. The free schools programme has been a key part of this and is a stand-out success. Our manifesto pledges to build more free schools, to continue to promote innovation and to continue to drive higher standards in schools, especially in some of the communities that are most deprived and that need to see something better in the education provided.
Does my right hon Friend agree that Stoke-on-Trent is exactly the sort of place where we should be building a new free school?
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful case, and I look forward to working with him and other Conservative Members who represent the great city of Stoke-on-Trent to look at how we can ensure that we have the right type of education provision there and that we continue to raise educational standards, which, sadly, under Labour representation on the council and often at parliamentary level, were not as high as our aspirations for that great city.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, although it is not always the best rule, good guidance is evidence-based policy, and is not the evidence still that early-years intervention and pre-school stimulation for children from poorer backgrounds is the best value investment our country can make?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the importance of evidence-based investment in education. I know that he has had an interest in education over many years, so I am sure he will be keen to look at some of the opportunity areas we have been investing in, one of which is in Bradford, which is very close to his own constituency, and there is also one on the north Yorkshire coast. They are delivering real results in terms of children’s attainment, especially in the early-years environment. I would be more than happy to share information with the hon. Gentleman on the work being done in those opportunity areas.
Let me go back to the subject of free schools. A disproportionate number of the free schools we have created have been built in London and the south-east. I want to see this revolution in education delivery rolled out, spread much more widely through the midlands, the north and the south-west of England, driving up standards and attainment in all our schools and all our communities.
It is obvious that to deliver these world-class standards we need more of the very best teachers to join those we already have. That is why we have pledged to raise starting salaries to £30,000 by 2022, which will put teaching on a par with other top graduate professions. We are also offering early career payments worth up to £9,000 to new physics, mathematics, languages and chemistry teachers, in addition to generous bursaries of up to £26,000. Simply, we always want to attract the very best into the profession, and that is what we are determined to do.
The teacher salaries the Secretary of State is talking about will, of course, be welcomed by the profession; they do not match the salaries in Scotland yet, but he is moving in the right direction. Can he confirm that those teaching in free schools and academies will be paid the nationally agreed pay rates, because at the moment they are not?
I thought the hon. Lady was going to raise some exciting prospects. One of the key areas where we can get so much benefit is schools working together right across the country, whether through multi-academy trusts or local education authorities, and I thought the hon. Lady was going to suggest that we have more collaboration between England and Scotland, which we would very much want. The hon. Lady has already heard of our commitment to raise the starting salaries for teachers and to negotiate in terms of teachers’ salaries, and to make sure we listen to what the pay review board comes forward with. But I would like English schools and Scottish schools and those in Wales and Northern Ireland to have much more collaboration—whether in the university sector, the FE sector or the school sector, we can all benefit from that. We have seen great attainments, as were celebrated in the PISA results, where we saw English schools making very good progress. It would be good to have the opportunity to work closely with our Scottish colleagues on how we can share best practice from both Scotland and England.
Our future economic prosperity will depend on having a workforce that has the skills that businesses need now and into the future. We will invest an additional £3 billion over the course of this Parliament to support the creation of a national skills fund, which will build on existing reforms, including ongoing work to develop a national retraining scheme. This is on top of additional capital investment of £1.8 billion into the further education estate, investing in the skills and education required for our nation’s future.
Talented international students and researchers are queuing up to study in the United Kingdom, and they enrich our universities culturally and economically, bringing fresh ideas and new perspectives. That is why the Government aim to host 600,000 international students by 2030. Our new student visa will help us attract the brightest and best and allow those students to stay on to apply for work here after they graduate.
As we prepare to forge a new place on the international stage we want our young people to have the opportunity to study abroad through exchange programmes. The United Kingdom is open to participation in the next Erasmus+ programme, and this will be a question for future negotiations with the European Union. We do truly understand the value that such exchange programmes bring all students right across the United Kingdom, but to ensure that we are able to continue to offer that we will also develop our own alternative arrangements should they be needed.
I have been focusing until now on the ways that we are going to enrich the educational experience for all our pupils and students, but in just the same way as our postcode should not be a lottery that decides the kind of schooling our children receive, it should not determine whether we feel safe when we close our front door. For that reason, we are bringing forward legislation to further the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review on building safety, and we will give residents a stronger voice, ensuring that their concerns are never ignored.
We also committed to taking forward the recommendations of the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry report to ensure that the tragedy of Grenfell Tower never happens again. We are working to deliver a rental system that protects tenants and supports landlords to provide the homes the nation needs. We will abolish no-fault evictions, helping tenants to stay in their homes while ensuring landlords are given the protections they also need. We are determined to improve standards in rented accommodation and to professionalise the sector. There is no place in this country for squalid or unsafe rented properties. We will make sure that all tenants have a right of redress if theirs is not of an acceptable standard.
This may be a question more appropriately directed at the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), who is sat next to the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench, but he mentions Grenfell and dealing with fire safety issues. The problem is that, at present, there is a difference according to where you live. I know the Government are doing a review, but if leaseholders have a form of cladding that is not of limited combustibility but is not ACM cladding, basically there is no help for them. Many are living in flats that are now unsaleable. The Government really have to address that issue. I look forward to a commitment that that will be done, if not from him then from his colleague next to him.
As the hon. Gentleman said, that is currently being reviewed by an expert panel. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will go into more detail when he responds to the debate at close of business today.
We, as a Conservative party, understand the importance of owning your own home. As a Government committed to a fairer society, it is crucial that we address the divide between those who can afford their own home and those who cannot. Our first-home scheme will provide local people with a discount on the costs of a new home, which will save them tens of thousands of pounds. Our shared ownership reforms will provide a further route to home ownership. We will deliver at least 1 million more homes over the next five years to help more people on to the housing ladder. We will also put an end to the abuse of leaseholds by banning new leasehold houses and restricting future ground rents to a peppercorn.
No less important than people’s homes are the communities they live in. We are committed to keeping our town centres vibrant. We are changing the business rate system to give small retailers a bigger discount on their rates, as well as extending the discount to cinemas and music venues, and, importantly, introducing additional discounts to pubs. We will conduct a fundamental review of business rates and we will increase the frequency of business rates revaluations.
It is the Government’s intention to unleash the potential of every corner of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland by bridging the productivity gap, levelling up opportunity and prosperity across the nation, and starting a skills and infrastructure revolution. We will create more mayors across England to devolve power away from Westminster, and we will bring forward a framework for devolution and a White Paper.
I do not want to delay any further in getting straight on with the work of this challenging and ambitious agenda; an agenda that is driven by fairness and that will make a difference to more people, enabling them to look forward to a future with optimism and confidence. In Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech, we see the beginnings of a better Britain for everyone. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
Let me welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. I also welcome the new Members to the Chamber for today’s debate. We look forward to hearing some fantastic maiden speeches, so I will keep my speech relatively brief. That will be easy because, quite frankly, there is so little actual substance in this Queen’s Speech for us to respond to.
Today, the Secretary of State made his first speech since November. Education was the issue that the Conservatives did not want to talk about in the election. When they did, they had a lot more to say about our policies than their own. I am glad they paid particular attention to an area that gets little attention in these debates: the care of the most vulnerable children. Our manifesto committed to a wholesale review of the care system and a replacement for the troubled families programme. A week later, their manifesto promised a review of the care system and an improvement to the troubled families programme—to think that Ministers once promised to crack down on plagiarism!
I hope that that was not simply a cheap imitation. Will the Secretary of State confirm that their review will include kinship care, and consider the need for national standards for fostering and proper regulation of semi-supported housing? When will the review begin? What will its terms be? Who will undertake it, and precisely what does he want it to achieve? Can he tell us what improving the troubled families programme means, and whether any successor programme will not just fall victim to yet more local government cuts?
Let me offer this in a genuinely constructive spirit. I proposed a simple policy that could transform the lives of children who have experienced care. Many do not have a permanent home address and going to university with only term-time accommodation available is a challenge. Barely more than a tenth of children leaving care go to university and 40% drop out—the highest among all groups of students. Yet those who stay on are as likely to attain the best grades as any other. Providing free all-year-round accommodation for those students would transform their lives. The cost is tiny and would be repaid many times over, not just economically but with something more than money: human potential realised.
The Conservatives made another election promise to the most vulnerable children. Their manifesto pledged to:
“grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution”,
yet last week, just two weeks into the parliamentary Session, they rejected an amendment protecting the right of unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their family after Brexit. Surely, it is our most basic moral duty to ensure that children can be reunited with their families? If we judge the Government on how they treat the powerless and penniless, then the judgment on this must be damning. It is a betrayal not just of those children, but of the best traditions of this country. Frankly, I hope that Members—even Conservative Members—will urge the other place to overturn it.
The Prime Minister described the Queen’s Speech as a blueprint for the future of Britain, so it is telling that education is missing from the blueprint. I have now responded to three Queen’s Speeches by three Education Secretaries in three years. Between them, there has not been one single piece of primary legislation. The only education bills produced by the Government are the ones being handed to parents by headteachers desperate for donations for their school gates to stay open. Despite the Education Secretary’s boast, the Government will not even reverse the school cuts they have imposed since 2010. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies found, even in the financial year 2022-23, when the new money that was promised is due finally to appear, schools will still be hundreds of millions of pounds worse off than they were in 2010. Capital funding for education, which has already been cut by 40% since they came to power over nine years ago, will continue to fall even further. The money that they are slowly putting in has been deliberately taken away from the schools and the pupils who need it most. They call it “levelling up”, Mr Deputy Speaker. What I call it is an absolute joke.
The Government are not targeting help at the most disadvantaged; they are keeping them in their place. As the Education Policy Institute found, under these plans a child on free school meals will get less than half the funding of a child who does not. What of the previous Conservative Government’s totemic policy, the pupil premium? The past two Tory manifestos promised to protect it. The past two Tory Governments went on to cut it. This Prime Minister has solved that problem: he has given up even making the promise in the first place. The Conservatives’ manifesto contained not a word or a penny for it, so the Minister has the chance to make his intentions plain today. Will they keep the pupil premium, and will they finally increase it in real terms, rather than continue to see it fall year on year?
Another set of pupils deserve more support but are not getting it. By the financial year 2020-21, local councils face a spending shortfall of over £1 billion for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Despite what the Education Secretary said, his Department is not offering to make up that shortfall—and, even then, there is only a one-year deal. Councils and schools have no idea how much more funding, if any, they will get to support pupils with high needs in the years ahead. They cannot plan their provision and ensure that every child gets the support that they need. When will the review of high-needs funding be completed, and will the Government guarantee that local government will not simply be handed yet more responsibilities without resources?
What of the parents struggling with the basic costs of school thanks to the stagnating wages, axed tax credits and years of cuts that the Government have overseen? How many times have we heard Ministers pledge action on the cost of school uniforms and equipment? They first did so in November 2015. We are four years and four Education Secretaries on. Just before Dissolution, the Minister for School Standards told the House that the Government were waiting for a “suitable legislative opportunity”. Perhaps the Education Secretary can answer this: if the Queen’s Speech is not a suitable opportunity for legislation, what on earth is? In the previous Session, the then hon. Member for Peterborough tabled a private Member’s Bill that would have addressed the issue—frankly, she managed more legislation in six months as an Opposition Back Bencher than the Government managed in four years in office. Labour’s Welsh Assembly Government have done the same, using existing powers to regulate. I have yet to hear why this Government cannot also do the same, so perhaps the Minister will tell us whether, if they will not act, they will at least support a private Member’s Bill from an Opposition Member who will.
While we are on the subject of Bills that are missing in action, perhaps the Government can tell us what has happened to their legislation to regulate home education. The right approach would have cross-party support, but we cannot scrutinise what does not exist, so where is it? The same goes for their school-level funding formula, which they said needs primary legislation. There was also no detail on the expansion of childcare, maintained nurseries, or Sure Start funding. The Secretary of State must be aware that the funding for early years that was announced in the spending review does not even begin to meet the cost of inflation.
The story is the same in further and higher education. The Augar review went from being a flagship to a ghost ship. The last Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), promised when it was published that the Government
“will come forward with the conclusion of the review at the end of the year, at the spending review.” —[Official Report, 4 June 2019; Vol. 661, c. 58.]
Both have gone by and we have had just vague words. Further education is meant to be the Education Secretary’s passion, but since 2010 the Government have cut funding for this vital area each and every year. In real terms, funding has been cut by over £3 billion. In adult education, with over £1 billion cut from annual funding, the national skills fund will embed hundreds of millions of pounds in annual cuts.
My hon. Friend is talking about areas that the Government failed to address and Bills that they should perhaps support. In the last Parliament, I introduced a Bill on youth work, which the Government have cut by £1 billion annually. They have proposed a fund of £500 million for estate rebuilding but there is none for youth workers, the people who interact with young people. Is that not another area in which the Government have let down education and young people?
I commend my hon. Friend for the work he has done since coming into the House to ensure that we have a great universal youth service. What the Government have done to our youth services is an absolute scandal, not only plunging our youth into lives where they do not reach their full potential, but failing to address many of our young people’s concerns.
The funding that the Secretary of State boasted about does not even come close to reversing the extent of the cuts that his Government have delivered. When it comes to Ofsted, instead of weaponising the inspectorate, they should adopt another of our promises: to produce an independent Her Majesty’s inspectorate that has the faith of teachers, school leaders and parents and that is resourced effectively so that it can do the job.
The Secretary of State said that education is a mirror on society, and sadly that is true. Our education system today reflects the society that 10 years of Tory Government have left. There is a simple lesson that we have learned: education and austerity simply do not mix.
Order. A substantial number of Members have put in to speak today and we will have nine maiden speeches. No time limit will be imposed at the moment, but I ask that Members show some self-restraint.
I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker; it is a great pleasure to see you back in your rightful place. It is also a great pleasure to talk about a Queen’s Speech that will bring stability to this Parliament. Those of us who were here before the election will remember the previous Queen’s Speech, when we had anything but stability. This time, we have a programme that is full of good ideas and the right strategies for this country, and this Queen’s Speech will be delivered on. Top of the list will be the ability to deliver all the measures in it on Brexit. After two years in which Parliament has been unable to make up its mind, we now have a Parliament that will be very capable of doing so. That is good for the country as we go through the Brexit process. The embodiment of that is the fact that we have so many maiden speeches waiting to be given. I wish all my new colleagues the very best for their careers here, and I wish the best to those making their maiden speeches this afternoon.
I will keep my remarks relatively brief, as you asked, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I have two requests to make of the Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who are here this afternoon. On education, I do not recognise what I just heard from the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), who spoke for the Opposition. Over the past 10 years, education standards in this country have risen. Step by step, we have turned around a difficult financial situation and we are now able to put back investment into our schools. It has been very welcome that the schools in my constituency are receiving an increase of almost 5% in the coming financial year. My headteachers are very grateful for that and see it as a significant step in the right direction, and they know that that improvement will come over the next two years. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for listening to those of us who said to him over the past year that this is so important for the schools, young people, families and teachers in our constituencies, but I have two requests for the Secretary of State.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about largesse on the part of Government. How does he therefore explain a situation in Birmingham, where we have twice the average number of children on free school meals? Nine out of 10 constituencies are losing out, 99% of schools are set to lose out in this financial year, and 89% of schools will in the next financial year, with ever more serious consequences for the teaching of our children in the city. It may be that the leafy shires that he represents have been disproportionately and beneficially treated, but that is certainly not true of the great city of Birmingham.
What we know is that standards have risen around the country, and this is an exercise in levelling up funding, with a commitment to provide an absolute minimum to every pupil in the secondary sector and every pupil in the primary sector. That surely is the right way to go about it. On top of that, there is directed funding to meet the individual needs of individual areas.
My first request is about one of those individual needs. Will the Secretary of State look carefully at the small number of schools in my area and others with a disproportionate number of special needs pupils? We have a real opportunity here. Headteachers in those schools are saying that they are finding it an increasing burden on their shoulders to deal not just with the special needs issues but with the issues that often surround those special needs pupils. The two Secretaries of State here today would do those schools a great favour if they could consider ways of strengthening the partnership between local authorities and those schools in dealing with the individual challenges presented by the more troubled students. Particularly in the primary sector, some schools are still facing financial challenges because of the sheer volume of special needs in their schools. I am thinking specifically about some, though not many, of the schools in my own constituency.
I refer my right hon. Friend to the example of schools in Solihull. At Solihull Academy, we saw 13 headteachers come together and pour an equal amount of money into the pot to set up alternative provision for children with special educational needs and attendance and behavioural issues. Is that a model the Government could consider?
Absolutely. I mentioned the two Secretaries of State, rather than just the one, precisely because I think partnership is one way to ease pressure on heads in schools and create a better package of support for those young people.
The other area brought to my attention is the funding situation for academy trusts that have found themselves under pressure in the last couple of years. The increased funding settlement will help, but will the Secretary of State for Education reconsider the way we support academy trusts so that we can do everything we can to ensure that they can deliver the full benefits of the partnerships they offer?
I want to move on to housing and local planning. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will know that the Queen’s Speech contained further welcome measures to support the growth of first-time buyers in the housing market and the provision of housing in this country. It is much needed. I cannot believe there are many of us who do not deal with the challenges in our constituencies of families who cannot get homes in the social housing sector and are struggling even to get into the rented sector, let alone to buy their own home. We need to build more houses. I think that unites most people on both sides of the House.
We have to do that in the smartest possible way, however, and help local authorities that have particular challenges to meet the needs of their areas. I represent three local authority areas. Conservative-controlled Reigate and Banstead has done a very good job of putting together a local plan and delivering a sensible strategy for the future. Liberal Democrat-controlled Mole Valley District Council has only just started bringing forward its plans and ideas. I await the detail in the coming weeks, but I fear that it will still try to build on substantial parts of the green built, which we must seek to resist wherever possible.
The particular challenge—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is aware of my concern—is in the borough of Epsom and Ewell, which is the majority of my constituency. It is the most densely populated borough in Surrey, and its open spaces, such as they exist, are almost entirely green belt, so there are relatively few opportunities to build new housing without encroaching on the restrictions around green-belt development and without building disproportionately high buildings that would destroy the character of the area.
There are ways of solving this problem. I have put some ideas to the local borough as to how it can do that. One is by integrating residential and commercial development in mid-height developments in parts of Epsom and Ewell where there is an opportunity to create not just housing but economic opportunities. In the University for the Creative Arts, we have one of the best creative universities in the country, if not in Europe. We can harness the skills of the young people coming out of that university to build new businesses in the area and provide homes adjoining them so that those young people can develop businesses and live close by.
We will need two things to deliver the right approach for the area. The first is wisdom from the Planning Inspectorate. It has to work with us. It is all too easy for it to come in, follow a broad-brush national guideline and not actually consider the local circumstances or work with the local authority and local politicians to deliver the right strategy for the area. My message for the Secretary of State is this: the more he can encourage the inspectorate to take a wise, thoughtful and strategic approach, the easier it will be for those of us who believe we have to provide additional homes to ensure that happens.
The second thing is that, particularly in densely populated areas with limited opportunities for development, there will be a limit to the number of years for which these extra houses can be provided. We cannot build 500 or 600 houses a year in perpetuity. While I believe we have to put our foot on the accelerator and deliver more housing right now, I hope that the inspectorate will not be encouraged simply to come back and say, “You have to make this provision in perpetuity. You have to provide sites going on and on into the future”. The national planning policy framework states specifically that we must provide housing and look after the local economy, but we must also make development sustainable, so there will be a limit to how far into the future we can carry on building in areas that are already intensely developed.
I give this commitment to the Secretary of State: I intend to play an active role in making sure that my constituency delivers the homes we need—that is essential —and that we use the tools in the Queen’s Speech to support first-time buyers, who should have the opportunity to live and work locally, but I also want an inspectorate that is wise enough to work alongside local politicians to deliver that and does not just shoehorn in developments that are inappropriate for the area.
That is all I wanted to say. I am grateful to the two Secretaries of State for the conversations I have had with them over the past few months about some of these issues—I intend to carry on having those conversations—but I am also very proud to be standing here as part of a majority Conservative Government delivering a Queen’s Speech that is full of the things this country needs and ideas that will transform people’s lives. We will hear lots of nonsense from the Opposition Benches, but people should not pay the slightest attention to it. The Government are delivering, will carry on delivering and will make a real difference to Britain.
I welcome you to your new position, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I am slightly concerned by the closing remarks of the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) about not paying the blindest bit of attention to those on the Opposition Benches. The purpose of the Opposition is to scrutinise Government, and a Government that has a free rein to do what it wishes is a very dangerous tool, so we should all be aware that while we might not agree politically on different issues, we should be listening and paying attention to points raised, regardless of where they come from.
On education, the Queen’s Speech had a lot of small promises that are not going to deliver the punch required. In our considerations, we have to ask whether education is about personal gain or societal good. If it is about personal gain, why should we be that bothered? If it is about societal good, education must be from early years to employment and must be provided by Government, regardless of the path a young person takes. Every year round about the time of national exam results there is a great campaign called NoWrongPath. There is no wrong path—different young people will take different routes to achieve what they want—but we must be there to support them, financially and in other ways, because this is not just about getting young people to university; it is about positive destinations and employment. Some 93% of young people in Scotland achieve positive destinations, which is the highest in the UK, and that means employment, training and tertiary education. I talk about tertiary education, rather than higher and further education, because in Scotland the lines are blurred, and should be blurred regardless of where someone lives in the UK. It should not be about HE being the gold standard and FE being something different. We need to work in collaboration, and all types of tertiary institutions have their place.
The investment in FE in the Queen’s Speech will not have clout if FE is considered second best to HE. The £1.8 billion to upgrade the infrastructure does not come close to what is required for FE in England. Frankly, it is too little too late. A lot of that money will be used up dealing with a backlog of maintenance problems and ongoing issues. Given the huge number of locations delivering FE in England, what has been proposed is merely a small sticking plaster to cover a huge, gaping wound.
City of Glasgow College, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), is one of the institutions that have benefited from the £810 million invested by the Scottish Government since 2007. That is approximately 45% of the amount that the UK Government are proposing to invest in FE in England, which is far closer to the figure that is required. Scaled up, it would be £8 billion, not £1.8 billion.
City of Glasgow College benefited hugely from the Scottish Government’s investment, receiving £228 million to create a “supercampus” for 40,000 youngsters in Glasgow. The college sits between two higher education institutions, Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian Universities. For a long time, youngsters attending colleges felt second best because their institutions looked second best, but City of Glasgow College is the absolute jewel of Cathedral street in the centre of Glasgow, and no young people studying at that college consider themselves to be second best.
Let me say something about schools. School funding is an ongoing issue. In England, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, school spending per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms since 2010. That entirely contradicts the Prime Minister, who has said that school spending is at record levels.
The two are not mutually exclusive. School funding is at record levels, although pupil numbers grew faster during that period, putting pressure on and reducing the amount per pupil. Will the hon. Lady accept that, even given that reduction, we still spend more per pupil than any other rich nation in the world—more than Japan or Germany—with the exception of the USA?
But you spend significantly less per pupil than we spend in Scotland. Even with the Government’s proposals—even with the increase in per-pupil funding—you are still not coming close to what we are spending per pupil.
And the results in Scotland are not as good as those in England. Not every problem is solved by throwing more money at it. Just look at the studies by the Programme for International Student Assessment which were released only recently.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the PISA studies, because that gives me an opportunity to talk about them. Let us talk about PISA. What exactly is it? It is an extremely crude metric that looks at very particular things. What it does not look at are communication skills. It does not look at problem-solving skills, and it does not look at employability skills. Those are the very skills that employers have been asking for, which is why we transformed our curriculum in Scotland. Countries that do well in PISA, such as China and South Korea, also have extremely high levels of student suicide. I do not want that for my young people in Scotland, and not one of us should. China also selects the pupils whom it puts forward for PISA. So there are many things that are wrong with it.
These are the questions on which we should be judging our young people. Are they in employment? Yes. Are they having a positive experience? Yes. Are they developing the skills that employers and businesses are asking for? Absolutely.
The hon. Lady has mentioned PISA. Does she not share the concern of Conservative and, I hope, Opposition Members about the decline among students in Scotland in maths and science—which provide the vital skills to which she referred—in comparison with their compatriots in England?
When I look at the tiny differences between students in England and students in Scotland—and there are tiny differences—and at the holistic education that has been developed in Scotland, no, I do not share that concern. Scottish students are developing a broad range of skills. Unlike youngsters in England whose curriculum is being squeezed and narrowed, they still have a broad range from which to choose. No: I absolutely defend our Scottish education system. In the last 10 years, our attainment gap has narrowed, while we are still battling with the effects of austerity. The hon. Gentleman is a teacher. I am a teacher too. I have been there, trying to teach children who have had no breakfast. How can we deal with an attainment gap when the kids who we are teaching are so hungry that they cannot concentrate? That is what we should be looking at.
I mentioned teachers’ pay earlier. It is a bold statement that, by September 2022, the Government will increase teachers’ starting salary to £30,000. Great; fantastic; but Scotland is already there. From this year, after their initial probation year, Scottish teachers will be earning £32,994. That is happening now, but unfortunately this Government are miles behind. If we are talking about teaching as a profession—if we are talking about valuing the very people who make the difference to our young people—we need to pay them properly.
The Secretary of State did not answer my question about the guaranteeing of teaching salaries in academies. For too long, academies have been able to set their own pay scales, and to work outside the scales that are negotiated with teachers’ unions and the profession. Academies pay what they want, and that means, once again, that they are able to pay salaries that are below the nationally agreed levels. Yes, in some cases they may pay above, but they often pay below, and that is certainly not the way to encourage others to join the profession. In Scotland we have more teachers per pupil, and that too must be looked at: while the Government are sorting out the salary, they might deal with that as well.
Let me now say something about tertiary education. We in Scotland are often attacked about the number of youngsters achieving entry to university. As I have said, I do not make the distinction, but for the benefit of those who do, I will say some things about universities. The largest-ever number of Scottish students are at universities, and record numbers of our poorest students are going to them: 15.6% of full-time first-degree entrants are from the most deprived areas of Scotland. That is tackling inequality in a real way.
In January last year, the Commissioner for Fair Access, Sir Peter Scott, said that “significant, and welcome progress” had been made on access, and that
“Scotland is now the pace-setter among UK nations in fair access to higher education”.
He went on to say that Scotland’s improving widening access figures vindicated our free tuition policy. He said:
“The latest figures vindicate Scotland’s policy of free higher education, which of course has other aims apart from making universities more socially inclusive—not least the commitment that higher education should be seen as a public good from which society as a whole benefits and not just as a private investment producing higher earnings for individuals.”
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way again. She is most generous.
How can it be a vindication for a Scottish university such as St Andrews—a Scottish university—to limit its intake of Scottish students to 20% of the university population?
Despite that, more Scottish students are achieving a university education than ever before. I am happy with that.
There has again been a nod to the Augar review, which was mentioned by the shadow Secretary of State. “Considering thoughtfully the recommendations made in the Augar review”: what does that mean? What does it mean for the higher education institutions that are thinking about their funding for August and September this year? Will it be £7,500, or will it be £9,250? What will the fees be?
Of course we would welcome any reduction in fees for students in England. That would be of benefit, but it will not be of benefit to have student loans with no time limit. At the moment, we write them off after a period of time, but to allow those student loans ad infinitum, as is being suggested, is extremely worrying. We would be burdening young people not with 30 years of debt but with a lifetime of debt.
Scotland’s universities are internationally successful but we know that Brexit threatens that, and we have not had the assurances we need at this stage to put our minds at ease.
Does the hon. Lady agree with my concern that institutions such as Aberystwyth University in Wales still have no clarity as to whether they will receive the same level of investment for research and innovation as they did under the European structural funds?
Yes, absolutely. We have had these generous promises of money to match European funds. I would like to see us continuing in Horizon 2020 or the next version of it. That would be the best way. I am concerned about the funding, because it is important for any research group or higher education institution. However, this is not just about the funding; it is about the collaboration. When we start removing European funding, we also remove the infrastructure around rich collaborations that have been going on for many decades. Also, EU staff account for about 11% of our staff in Scotland, but they are still not sure what their position is.
A recent report from the Royal Society has shown that the UK’s share of EU funding has fallen by €500 million since 2015. There has also been a drop of 40% in UK applications to Horizon 2020. We are still in it just now, but we have had that drop because people do not have any certainty. The UK is now seen as a less attractive place to come and do research, with 35% fewer scientists coming to the UK through key schemes. That is of concern, as is Erasmus and what Brexit will mean for that programme. We know about the benefits of young people coming here on Erasmus and of our young people managing to travel throughout Europe on Erasmus. They are young people for whom this opportunity would not historically have been available, and it will potentially not be available again. It would be useful if the Minister could confirm whether it is the Government’s intention for us to continue to associate with Erasmus and whether we are going to pay into it.
When the Secretary of State opened the debate, he spoke about the importance of Erasmus, but does my hon. Friend find the Government’s warm words about Erasmus bizarre, given that they voted against the amendment to the Brexit legislation last week that would have committed them to working with Erasmus?
Yes, and we are talking about very little money. It really is a small amount of money that would allow our continued participation and that valuable and rich experience for young people to continue, so this makes absolutely no sense to us.
I have yet to see any evidence, in the few years that I have been a Member of this Parliament, of this Government really considering education to be a societal good. We saw the abandonment of the nursing bursary. Obviously, we then had a drop in applications. The Government then partially went back on that, but nurses will still have to pay them £9,000-odd a year, regardless of the nursing bursary, so I am not seeing that.
The Secretary of State also talked of collaboration and the sharing of best practice between Scotland and England. That is brilliant. I am really pleased to hear that, and I hope that he is going to match our per-pupil funding, our teacher-pupil ratio, our teachers’ pay, including for teachers in academies, and our commitment to further and higher education. I also hope that, rather than giving young people debt through fees of £9,000-odd or £7,000 a year, this Government will look at abandoning tuition fees altogether. Let us look to best practice: look to Scotland.
The first thing to say is that I will not focus solely on education today. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I always focus on my favourite line in the Queen’s Speech, which is the last one:
“Other measures will be laid before you.”
It gives us the option of talking about whatever we like. I should also, en passant, like to say a personal thank you to the Secretary of State for his announcement of the extra funding for special needs. He may know that I have a special interest in this, a personal interest, and this funding will go to a very important sector.
This Queen’s Speech was the longest ever Queen’s Speech I have known in terms of duration. At the beginning of the debate on the Queen’s Speech before Christmas, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) said that these had been “troubled times” for Parliament. But that is always the case when this country faces a point of inflection and a change of historic position. Our nation now faces a reset moment on a par with 1945, when the Attlee Government came in, and with 1979, when the Thatcher Government came in. Both of them had enormous national problems to solve, and we are in the same position. Thatcher’s revolution, controversial as it was, was above all a revolution of expectations, in which the United Kingdom once more realised it was able to stand on its own two feet. In truth, we are facing something similar today.
However, in the next decade, Brexit will not be the biggest challenge to the UK Government and our nation. Fast globalisation of trade and massive technological change will create bigger challenges and bigger opportunities even than Brexit. In the past 30 years, that globalisation has raised half the world out of poverty, but that trend is not secure. We as a nation need to be ready to act, both politically to ensure that free trade remains central to the world’s economic operating systems, and commercially to seize the advantages in that for ourselves. Brexit is the catalyst in that process; it is not the outcome. Brexit by itself is not enough. To exploit the opportunities given to us by Brexit, we need to overhaul British society and the British economy. That is the challenge in front of us.
High-quality public services, education, healthcare, social support and the rule of law are vital parts of a decent society, but the Government can provide them only if they have the resources to pay for them. That is our first challenge, and the fundamental weakness in all the Opposition arguments so far today. The reason that Labour lost hundreds of thousands of votes in the north of England is that nobody believed it was able to pay for its promises. The public were right, as always, and the Labour party was wrong.
So what will dictate whether we are able to meet our own aims for our society? The key issue that determines the affluence of citizens, the delivery of public services and even the level of opportunity in society is one boring technical term: productivity. From shortly after the war in 1948, when they started measuring it, until 2008, productivity in this country—whether it was total productivity or labour productivity—grew by 2.25% a year. It bounced around a bit, but never by very much. It grew by 2.25%, year on year, every year in the 60 years from 1948 to 2008. Since 2008, it has been at 0.5%.
On that point about productivity, people in my constituency and constituencies across the country cannot get trains or buses because the infrastructure has been decimated. That is because it has not been invested in for the past 10 years or so, and that has a real impact on productivity up and down the country. How are the Government going to address that?
I will come directly to the hon. Gentleman’s question later in my speech. He is exactly right in one respect: that is a contributory factor for productivity. But he should not look just at the past 10 years if he wants to comment about our infrastructure. The most used phrase by George Osborne when he was Chancellor was to say, while pointing at Gordon Brown, that he never mended the roof when the sun was shining. That is exactly what happened through those Labour years: profligate spending—poor spending, inadequate spending —that nevertheless did not provide the services that we needed.
Now, what has been the effect of that change in productivity? What is the size of the impact? Had productivity continued at the level it had been for the previous 60 years, had we not had the financial collapse, which happened largely under the watch of the Labour Government and the earlier Clinton Administration in the US, then wages, income and the economy would have been about 22% bigger than they are today. The tax take would have been higher, the deficit would have been easier to pay off, austerity would have been more manageable and shorter. All those things stemmed not just from the crash, but from the damage to our ability to recover from the crash as productivity was allowed to collapse. This dramatic and apparently permanent reduction in productivity has had spectacular consequences across the whole of society and the entire economy, and that is what we have to solve.
The productivity problem is a universal problem. No productivity means no progress. How do we deal with that? The answers include education, skills, training, research and investment, and of course, as the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) rightly said, infrastructure. If we are to reset our economy and our society, we must be unflinching in our analysis and in the critique of our own past as well as those of the other parties.
The right hon. Gentleman denigrates the efforts, policies and achievements of the previous Labour Government on productivity. Will he therefore explain why productivity went up by over 2% under that Labour Government on a consistent basis? Since 2010, however, productivity has hardly risen at all.
Productivity had been at that level for 60 years. It is not difficult to keep things the same as they were before; the really hard thing is to smash productivity down from 2.3% to 0.5%, which is what the hon. Gentleman’s Government did.
If we are to reset the economy, let us look at what we got wrong, as well as at what Labour got wrong. Take research. The past 30 years, under Governments of all persuasions, have seen the UK decline from one the most research-intensive economies to one of the least. In the past decade, China has overtaken us, and South Korea now spends three times as much as we do. The Queen’s Speech committed to establishing the UK as a world leader in science with greater investment—so far so good. In my view, we need to do even more than that in quantitative terms. In the short term, we need to double the amount of research spend not just by the Government, but by the private sector. In the longer run, we need to treble that joint expenditure, and I stress that it should be joint expenditure. We should also address the things that we have not been so good at. It is easy to put money into genetics, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars or IT—the things we are historically world leaders in—but we should also try to ensure that that money goes where it will make a big difference by improving the things that we have not been so good at.
Historically, we have not been so good at what is called translational research. That means taking a good idea from the laboratory and making a great product, which leads to a great company, which leads to more and more jobs, more wealth creation, more tax and the rest of it. We would do well to build on some of the great institutions that we currently have. The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, which is essentially an aviation-based operation, is doing fantastic, world-class, world-beating work. We should do similar things with the Warwick Manufacturing Group. There is a great deal of work to do to encourage those operations and build on them. Maybe we should even look to build a Massachusetts Institute of Technology of the north, because that is the sort of thing that we should be considering if we are to fix our economy.
I have some sympathy with one area of Opposition Members’ comments, which is the university underpinning of the research and the response to the Augar report. I know Philip Augar very well, and I spoke to him about his review before the report. If anything, it pulled its punches. The truth is that the university tuition fees and loans scheme invented and implemented by the Blair Government and carried on by us has failed. It has done a bad job. It has delivered poor-quality education, high levels of expectations and low levels of outcome. It has landed young people—some are now middle-aged—with liabilities for almost their entire lives, putting a cap on their aspirations. It has not delivered what it was intended to deliver, which was people paying for their component, not the public advantage component. It does not work that way. It has encouraged all sorts of perverse consequences and behaviours in our universities, so we must deal with it. I would argue to the Secretary of State for Education—I know that this is wider and much bigger than just the Department for Education—that he and his colleagues should be radical and brave.
When we do things on a cross-party basis, we sometimes get it right. When we had that agreement on higher education funding—the Dearing report—we said that there should be a balance between who pays: the student who benefits, the employer that benefits, and the country as a whole that benefits. What went wrong was not that there was a student contribution, but it was raised too far and too fast.
That was not the only thing that went wrong. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman reads the Augar report carefully, because a lot of things went wrong, including the lack of restrictions on what universities could do. However, if he wants to approach the Secretary of State or have his Front-Bench team approach the Secretary of State to offer a joint approach, I am sure that the Secretary State will be very polite and talk it over with them over a cup of tea.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Yes, but this must be the last time.
Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concerns about the suggestion in the Augar review that the time limit on paying back should be removed? That could saddle people with university debt for life.
My point here is that we are not about tinkering with one or two rules. We should be rethinking the whole system. The hon. Lady will forgive me if I do not go down the route that she has laid for me, because we should think about rethinking the whole system.
The Secretary of State was eloquent about the achievements at school level, and he was right. While I am on my feet, I pay tribute to the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), who did a fabulous job of developing phonics-based education—[Interruption.] Oh, he is there on the Front Bench. He did a fabulous job on phonics—one of the great successes of all the Education Departments of the past 30 years. Of course, I take it as a given that we have done better than Labour would have and, of course, we have mostly kept up with our international competitors. However, to use a phrase that came up more times than any other in my school reports, my reaction is, “Can do better.” That was the theme or motto of my school reports, and I think we can do better here.
In the friendliest possible way, we are not doing what some of our competitors, including the Chinese, the Uruguayans, believe it or not, and the Belgians, are doing, which is seizing an opportunity. Technology is such that we ought to be re-engineering the classroom. We ought to be able to re-engineer it so that the best can do better and the least good can be pulled up to the best possible outcome. That would be great for them, great for social mobility, and great for the economy as a whole. We ought to think hard about looking closely at all the things China has done. Something like 1,300 schools are now using artificial intelligence, which is driving its teaching systems and ensuring that every child is diagnosed to find what they are good at and what they are not good at. There is much to be done there.
Productivity, however, will have to be fixed with a universal approach, and that includes, of course, investment. On an international scale, we do investment well. With all the furore and negativity about Brexit, people forget that we are still the third-highest recipient of foreign direct investment in the world—way above any European country—and we have been for years and we will continue to be. We must not damage that. When we come to the question of domestic investment, which has been up and down in recent years, we must ask ourselves what should guide our policies. We have the most productive industries in Europe by far, and the least productive. We have nine of the 25 fastest growing companies in Europe, but we have a long tail of poor performance.
One notable aspect of the productivity conundrum that stands out is that it is not uniform.
The key point in this debate is that it is the same regionally, because the golden triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge has by far the highest productivity in Europe—the average wage in that area is 90% higher than the European average—yet some regions of our economy are down with the lowest performers in the European Union, such as southern Italy and the old East Germany. I hope the Scots Nats forgive me for including Scotland as a region in that context.
We have to do something about that. Where productivity is low, jobs are scarce and, of course, wages are low, which is a fundamental problem that this Parliament needs to attack. It argues for targeted policies like free ports and, to come directly to the point made by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury), for a great focus on—forgive me for the phrase—unglamorous, smaller infrastructure projects designed to sort out problems that are on the deck now. We must de-bottleneck the whole economy, because that is much more likely to be effective than grand vanity projects, and everyone knows what I am talking about. We can do that because we will have very low interest rates for the foreseeable future. If that is not enough, perhaps we should cancel High Speed 2 to pay for it.
A strategy of modestly sized infrastructure projects—road, rail, air and broadband—will help but, again, it will not be enough by itself. We need to make it more attractive to stay in the regions. We need to turn more of our regional towns and cities into magnet towns and cities, places that attract talent, money and enterprise, and it can be done. If we look around the world, there are dozens of examples. From Bilbao to Pittsburgh, and from Denver to Tel Aviv, cities have transformed their futures. We must ensure that our towns and cities can do the same.
Finally, house building has simply not kept up with the huge increase in population over the past 20 years. Year after year, the combination of a slow planning process, nimbyism and speculative land hoarding has limited the availability of housing. This has simultaneously led to higher house prices, smaller homes—our homes are now half the size they were in the 1920s, and they are the smallest in Europe—massively lower rates of home ownership, and severe rent poverty.
It is hard to solve that in London and the crowded south-east, but it can be solved in the provinces, making them more attractive in the process. The Government are actively thinking about garden villages and garden towns, and we should step up that programme. If we allowed every planning authority in the country to nominate one garden village or garden town of between 1,500 and 5,000 houses, which is big enough to be viable for a school and shops, and so on, we would not solve, but we would seriously mitigate, our housing problem. We would make it attractive for people to live in places other than the south-east. Again, that would majorly improve productivity by attracting talent back out to the provinces.
The problem of productivity is a tough one to tackle but tackle it we must. Research, investment, education, infrastructure, magnet cities and garden villages all have a contribution to make in simultaneously improving the lives of our citizens and helping us to solve this fundamental problem. If we do not solve it, we will not be able to afford to solve any of the others.
If we do all of that, we will have a very good chance of making the Prime Minister’s promise of a golden future a reality for all our citizens.
Order. I remind everybody that there are now 35 people on the list, including nine maiden speeches. We want to be fair to those who are making their maiden speeches. I am not imposing a time limit, but please have in mind that you each have about six minutes. That will ensure people at least get in.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is good to see you in your rightful place again, in the Chair.
I make no apology for saying that I want to be a champion for local government in this Parliament. Over the past 10 years, local government has had bigger cuts than any other part of the public sector. When we come to the comprehensive spending review, it cannot simply be about rearranging the amount of money as part of some fair funding settlement; it must actually put more money into local councils so that they can deliver the services that our communities want and need.
With a time limit rule, I had thought that I would not be able to stand again as Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, but I understand the Government might be thinking about removing the time limit. If so, and if the House supports it, I will probably allow my name to be put forward again.
There are things in the Queen’s Speech with which I do not necessarily agree. If the Labour party were in government, I am sure we would have done things differently, but my approach to life as a Select Committee Chair was to try to find areas where we can reach agreement and encourage, prod and enthuse the Government into going further than they might want to. I will briefly mention three areas.
First, on devolution, I welcome the Government’s commitment to levelling up the powers of the Mayors of the combined authorities. I hope the Government might do more and give them all more powers, particularly on skills, training and transport. Those Departments probably have not been as enthusiastic about devolution as others have been.
I would also like the Government to address two other matters in the White Paper. Mayoral combined authorities probably should be rolled out in other areas, but devolution, if it is to work properly in this country, has to be devolution to all councils in all places, not just to those in combined authorities. I hope the Government will seriously consider that. They were going to do it with their 100% business rate retention policy, but it was dropped when we went to 75% retention.
The other key issue is: how can we allow local authorities to raise more of their own funds, rather than simply having more power to spend the money that is handed out to them? We have the most centralised system of local government funding anywhere in Europe, and that needs to change.
Secondly, the Government are offering an all-party approach to social care, which I welcome. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee produced a unanimous report in the last Parliament, with 22 MPs from both sides of the House recommending a social care premium and a percentage of inheritance tax as a way of funding social care. The report has been lying around for 18 months. We have a blueprint to get on with it. Germany did it 30 years ago in a cross-party, consensual way, and it has worked there, with the public generally supporting it. I hope there will be a genuine attempt by both Front Benches to reach cross-party agreement. It is on both sides to take this forward in a consensual way.
Finally, I generally welcome the promises on housing, but obviously there are big challenges. The first is the abolition of section 21 evictions. We know that evictions from private sector housing are a major cause of home- lessness in this country. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s inquiry into homelessness identified that as a problem.
Equally, if we are to abolish section 21 evictions, we need to think about how we deal with rent increases without having an overbearing rent control regime. That is a big challenge, and it might be something the Select Committee will want to consider. We recognise the good intention, but we want to know how it will be delivered in practice.
At the same time, we want to see legislation on housing courts so that there is an easier way for landlords to evict tenants who simply do not pay their rent. Landlords normally wait for the section 21 time to elapse before doing it, but if section 21 is not available, landlords need to have those powers. It is recognised in the Queen’s Speech, but we need a timetable for that to come into effect.
Another issue is how we deal with the problems of leases. Reference was made to a draft Bill at Question Time yesterday, and I think that is probably the right way forward. I know it will take a bit longer, but there are some real challenges, not about how we stop leases on new houses and deal with the unfairness of leases on new flats, but about how we tackle the problems of existing leases, including the unfairness in how some of them have been sold, the unfair service charges and the difficulties people have in buying their freehold. The Select Committee’s report recommended action on all those challenges. It is much more difficult to deal with existing leases, and a draft Bill is therefore probably the right way forward to try to make sure that we get all the nuances and the details correct. Hopefully we can also do that on a cross-party basis.
Finally, on the issue of cladding, there is a building safety Bill in the Queen’s Speech to implement the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry and the Hackitt report, on which the Select Committee has had various hearings. There is still a challenge. The Government have put money in to deal with ACM—aluminium composite material—cladding, but there are still too many properties where, because of disputes between freeholders and leaseholders, the cladding has not been removed. The Government need to put their weight behind getting that work carried out.
The second issue to address is what to do about other forms of cladding, such as zinc cladding and the high-pressure laminate cladding, which many experts believe are as dangerous as ACM cladding. Although they will not be allowed on new buildings, they are still on existing buildings. Where leaseholders have this on their homes, they often find that they cannot sell those homes and are stuck in them. That is a real problem and the Government need to undertake a more comprehensive review of that issue.