House of Commons
Monday 20 January 2020
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Childminders: Recruitment and Retention
Childminders provide a quarter of a million childcare places, and 95% are rated either good or outstanding by Ofsted. As such, they make a huge contribution to our society and play a valuable role for many parents. We have worked to make it easier for childminders to set up their businesses and offer Government-funded early education entitlement places.
The Early Years Alliance has stated that the Government’s £66 million of extra funding for early years offers will have a “negligible” effect for providers, who are facing substantial increases in operational costs every year. Will the Secretary of State therefore commit to a large and sufficient increase in core funding for early years providers, including childminders, in the upcoming Budget?
The Chancellor outlined our commitment to put more money into early years, and the hon. Member highlights the extra £66 million that has been put into it. We have seen an expansion of the Government’s support for early years, raising the number of free hours from 12.5 to 15 to 30 and supporting children from the most disadvantaged communities. We will continue to look at this and have discussions with the Treasury.
In addition to childminders, nurseries such as the Madresfield Early Years Centre in my constituency provide a wonderful setting for young children. Can the Secretary of State provide reassurance that, where we are increasing pay for some of the lowest-paid workers in our society, those nurseries will be compensated for that when we reimburse them for free childcare provision?
My hon. Friend highlights the important role that the private sector and many organisations play in providing great settings for early years care. That is why we put an extra £66 million into the sector. It is too early to comment on negotiations with the Treasury, but I note her comments.
Looked-after Children: Out-of-area Placements
We know the challenges that local authorities face when making placements. The child’s best interests should always come first, so safety and suitability of a child’s care placement is our priority. Moving a child out of placement is a last resort, unless it is in the child’s best interests.
The Minister clearly does not understand the reasons for the increasing use of out-of-area placements. It is because of a lack of resources to meet the needs, and these children are going into out-of-area placements in unregulated care that is not registered with Ofsted, without the support they need. It is also because of a lack of available places in their area. It is a massive problem. The Minister clearly does not understand that the increasing use of out-of-area placements, and particularly unregulated supported living, has left more children at risk of not receiving the appropriate health and social care and support from Government and the police, and at risk of exploitation by criminals. This is happening—not just in my constituency, but in Conservative Members’ constituencies.
I will do my best to answer that comprehensive question. I can assure the hon. Member that both I and the Government take this matter seriously. However, out-of-area placements can be in the child’s best interests if they are at risk of exploitation or if they need specialist provision. We have been addressing the supply of the care sector. In fact, we have invested over £200 million in innovation funding and over £500,000 to try to bolster the number of foster carers. I draw her attention to the care review that we pledged to do in our manifesto, which will look at the entire care system.
Three years ago, instead of increasing children’s care home capacity in England, the Government introduced legislation that forced vulnerable children from England to be placed in Scotland. In 2018, over 70 children were moved, some over 300 miles away from their home, their family and their support networks. Can the Minister tell us exactly how the local authorities with caring responsibility for those children living miles away are discharging even their most basic statutory obligations, and is she entirely content to preside over this deliberately cruel and harmful legislation?
I believe the hon. Member is referring to a case where a number of out-of-area placements were made in Scotland. We have recently put £40 million extra into capital funding for secure homes, but the whole point is that this is a very complex issue that needs a comprehensive care review—that was part of our manifesto—and I have already begun to work on that.
My hon. Friend is quite right. The number of children in the care sector is a worry both to me and the Government. That is why we have a number of initiatives to support families to stay together. We have spent £70 million on supporting families and £84 million on strengthening families for this very reason[Official Report, 3 February 2020, Vol. 671, c. 2MC.].
May I welcome my neighbour to I think her second outing at the Dispatch Box? She graces it. I agree with the two hon. Ladies who asked the question that of course it is important that looked-after children should be kept within the local authority—as close to home as possible. But does my hon. Friend not agree that, on some occasions, actually it might be beneficial for the children to be moved to a neighbouring local authority that is close by still, but none the less rather better than the one they are being brought up in?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is quite right: sometimes, it is in the best interests of the child to be placed out of the area. The important thing is that we have a child-centred policy that is always placing their best interests first. They could be at risk of sexual exploitation and gangs, or need specialist provision.
One of the most important responsibilities of Government is to protect and support children in care. However, we now know that, over a decade ago, there was a terrible failure to do so in Manchester: at least 57 children, almost all girls, were victims of child sexual exploitation. I welcome the report from the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, on Operation Augusta and the work of Jennifer Williams from the Manchester Evening News. We must learn the lessons from these terrible events and ensure they never happen again. So can the Minister tell me what the Government are doing in the wake of these revelations and, most importantly, what support is being offered to the victims and survivors?
The great tragedy and announcements that have come out of Greater Manchester are awful, and my heartfelt thoughts go to anybody affected and their friends and family. Things have moved on since then. As the hon. Member pointed out, this is over 10 years ago. Since then, the most important reform that we have made is to link up agencies, including health, police and local authorities, so that we can have a combined approach to deal with these issues.
I thank the Minister for her response and I am sure she agrees that we should ensure that such a scandal cannot happen again. At the last election, as she mentioned, both parties agreed to a review of the care system, so can she tell the House when that review will begin and what will be included in its terms of reference?
The wholesale care review was a central part of the Conservative party manifesto and we are committed to ensuring that we get this right. It will be comprehensive, but at the moment I am working on the scope and setting it up. I think that the important thing is ensuring that it delivers for all children within the system, and preventing more from becoming part of the system.
Teacher Recruitment and Retention
There are over 453,000 teachers in our schools, 12,000 more than in 2010. Postgraduate recruitment to teacher training is at its highest level since 2010-11, and just under two thirds of teachers who started teaching six years ago are still teaching today.
That means that one third are leaving, which is a high attrition rate. We know that pay freezes are one reason for that, but also the crushing workload. Just in Chester this morning, teachers have told me about the crushing workload that is driving teachers out. What is the Minister doing to reduce that workload, take pressure off teachers and let teachers teach?
Since we conducted the workload challenge survey in 2014, we have worked hard to reduce the unnecessary demands on teachers’ time, whether that is cumbersome marking practices or excessive data collection. Since 2016, teachers’ working hours have fallen by five hours per week, according to the second teacher workload survey, which measures teachers’ own reporting of their working hours. There is still more to do—the hon. Gentleman is right—but this success so far demonstrates the seriousness with which we take excessive workload and the effectiveness of our early initiatives.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the Government’s important commitment on starting salaries, the new early career framework and finally some good news, as he mentioned, in the autumn on teachers’ workload, now there is a positive proposition to be made for people to join this the most noble of professions?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to him for his work in his years as Secretary of State for Education. It was a pleasure to work with him during that period. He is right—the School Teachers’ Review Body has recommended a 2.75% pay rise for teachers across the board, and we are also proposing a £30,000 starting salary for teachers from 2022. In addition to the £26,000 tax-free bursary, teachers of maths, physics, chemistry and languages who start their training this September will receive early career payments of £2,000 in each of their second, third and fourth years of teaching. So this is a good time to start training as a teacher. It is a worthwhile profession and I encourage all graduates to consider teaching as a career.
The Minister surely knows that the pay rise he mentioned will only return starting salaries to where they were in 2010. Furthermore, the prospect of a pay rise in three years’ time will do nothing to help schools that are struggling now to recruit new teachers. Does not he accept that the so-called “pay rise” is nothing more than papering over the cracks in this recruitment and retention crisis?
I do not agree. We are living in a very strong economy, with the lowest level of unemployment for more than 40 years and demand for graduates is strong. We are responding to those pressures. As I said earlier, we have recruited the largest number of graduates into teacher training. I have announced the salaries for teachers when they finish their training and start teaching; 2022 is the right date for that salary increase. The average pay of a headteacher is £70,100 a year, and it is £36,200 a year for a classroom teacher. This is a good time to join the teaching profession and I urge Opposition Members to talk up the attractiveness of that profession and not continually to talk it down.
My hon. Friend raises a good point. Veterans make attractive members of staff in our schools, they inspire young people and help to improve behaviour. Our Troops to Teachers scheme was slow to begin with, but it is now proving successful in recruiting Army leavers.[Official Report, 4 February 2020, Vol. 671, c. 3MC.]
Children from Disadvantaged Backgrounds
Against a background of rising standards, the attainment gap has closed by 13% at primary schools and by 9% at secondary schools since 2011. Most disadvantaged pupils attend good or outstanding schools, and 86% of schools are now rated as good or outstanding, which is up from 68% in 2010.
Nottingham schools have made the significant strides in attainment to which the Secretary of State refers, but massed within that, in less well off and less diverse communities, is poor attainment for boys. What specific interventions will the Department make to support schools to improve outcomes for white working-class boys?
The hon. Gentleman highlights an important issue. One group that universities are most unsuccessful at recruiting from is white working-class boys and that is something we need to address. The way to do that is by continuing the reforms that the Government have introduced and continuing to drive standards, and by ensuring that academic rigour is there for every pupil. We must support those children by ensuring the very best teaching and support for every child.
Across the Windsor constituency, which stretches from Eton as far as Warfield, we have some fantastic schools and colleges, from primary to secondary and beyond. One of the Government’s greatest ambitions seems to be to close the attainment gap, so that any child from any background can get a decent education. Does the Secretary of State agree that to continue closing that gap we must ensure that there is a range of schools, colleges, apprenticeships and university places, so that students and parents can make choices for themselves about what suits them?
My hon. Friend raises the vital point that we have to have a range of different tools to be able to ensure that children succeed. At the core of that is making sure that as many children as possible achieve and deliver on what they need to do in terms of English and maths, while ensuring there is a range of different opportunities as they progress through their schooling career. The Government have introduced a number of initiatives, including T-levels, and a changing approach in terms of apprenticeships, which will give so many young people the chance they deserve and need.
Through initiatives such as the pupil premium and the extra money we are putting into special educational needs, and the fact that we are levelling up education funding across the country, we on the Conservative Benches recognise the important role education plays in delivering opportunities for young people. That is what we are delivering for all children in this country.
The pupil premium ensures schools receive extra money to benefit disadvantaged pupils who need it most. Schools are helped to make effective decisions and good use of the grant by the Education Endowment Foundation’s research and guidance. The Government remain convinced of the effectiveness of the pupil premium in helping to narrow the attainment gap and are committed to this policy.
The House of Commons Library has confirmed to me that there has been a £220 million real-terms decrease in the total amount of spending on the pupil premium since 2015. Schools in my constituency have together lost about £1 million, with the worst-affected losing almost £40,000 a year. In its recent manifesto, the Conservative party did not repeat its previous commitment to protect the pupil premium. So can the Minister tell the House today what the Government’s policy actually is? Will they retain the pupil premium and restore it, or will it simply be left to waste away?
The pupil premium is for any pupil who has qualified or has been eligible for free school meals in the last six years. It is £935 for pupils in secondary schools and £1,320 for pupils in primary schools—some £2.4 billion a year. Since 2011, we have allocated more than £15 billion to schools to help to narrow that attainment gap. We have the lowest level of unemployment for over 40 years, so there will be different eligibility for free school meals, which depends on the benefits system. When there is a higher level of employment, fewer people are eligible for the benefits system.
A recent survey by the Sutton Trust suggested that 30% of headteachers were using the pupil premium for general funding in their budgets. What studies are the Government doing to ensure that the end result of the pupil premium is good outcomes for students?
The Education Endowment Foundation has produced a very good guide for schools on how to use the pupil premium in the most effective way to narrow the attainment gap. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spelled out the fact that we have closed the attainment gap by 13% in primary schools and 9% in secondary schools. Between 2011 and 2018, there was an 18 percentage point increase in the proportion of disadvantaged young people taking the EBacc combination of core academic GCSE subjects–the subjects that provide the widest opportunities in later education, training and career choices.
Free School Meals
Free school meals play an important role in ensuring that disadvantaged children receive a healthy nutritious meal every school day. I assure the hon. Member and the House that the Government are committed to the provision of free school meals for children from homes that are disadvantaged on low incomes—it is of the utmost importance.
I thank the Minister for stating the Government’s policy on free school meals and getting that on the record. Given how beneficial free school meals are for reducing inequalities and improving children’s health and attainment, will she mirror Labour policy and extend free school meals to all primary school children?
We already provide free school meals to 1.3 million children and 1.4 million infants. This policy is targeted at the most disadvantaged, which we personally believe is right, as it ensures that they have the very best start in life and a nutritious meal every school day.
Children Entering the Care System
Both I and the Department are concerned about the number of children in care, which has increased by 21% since 2010. That is why we have a multi-tiered approach based on trying to keep families together, improving the supply of each type of care so that it can be child-focused, including work to bolster the number of foster carers, and placing an emphasis on permanence. We recognise the scale of the challenge and the importance of getting this right, which is exactly why we are conducting a care review.
I am delighted that the Government are going to conduct a comprehensive review of the care system; that is very welcome. The Minister has urged local authorities to prioritise adoption. Does she agree that stability and permanence can be achieved by a range of different care provision, such as kinship care and long-term foster care, and that the circumstance and the needs of the individual child should determine the best option for them?
Absolutely. I believe that the system needs to be child-focused. My hon. Friend will have noted that in my letter to local authorities last week, I highlighted other forms of permanence, including kinship care and special guardianships in particular. However, let us not forget that 41% of children with a placement order have not been placed in an adoption setting within 18 months. This is not acceptable and I am determined to bust the myths around adoption, including regarding race and religion, so that we can help those children into permanent, stable homes as quickly as possible.
Too many children in the care system are being placed in unregulated hostels, as we have heard, without the support that they need to keep safe. Lance Scott Walker was killed aged 18 when he was placed with a young person with schizophrenia who chased him out of a window and stabbed him to death. In another hostel, a young person on bail for murder was placed with a victim of child trafficking, who he got involved in drug dealing. We know that children are at risk right now. We do not need to wait for a review to find that out, so when will the Government properly regulate all housing where vulnerable children and young people are placed?
This is something that we are committed to getting right, and I am working with Ofsted, local authorities and the Children’s Commissioner to tackle it. While there is and always will be a place for semi-independent living within our system, I cannot imagine a circumstance where that is acceptable for under-16s. Currently, all local authorities must ensure that their placements are suitable, and my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary recently wrote to all local authorities about that. To be clear, unregistered settings where care is provided are illegal and Ofsted conducted over 150 investigations of those last year.
Free Schools and Academies: Planning Policy
Officials have worked with their counterparts in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on all aspects of planning policy for new schools and existing academies. New national policy and guidance sets out the positive approach that local planning authorities should take in the assessment and determination of planning applications for schools.
Since its launch in 2014, the Gatwick School has been very successful and is looking to expand its capacity, but it is coming into difficulties—there are suspected ideological differences—with Crawley Borough Council planners. What advice can my right hon. Friend give to the school so that it can overcome that obstacle?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s commitment to the schools in his constituency and his support for the Gatwick School in particular. As he said, the Gatwick School opened in 2014 and is providing good school places in Crawley, with its EBacc entry level significantly above the national average, for example. Officials are engaged in the planning process to achieve permission from Crawley Borough Council, which will enable us to deliver the permanent school accommodation and facilities for pupils.
In those conversations with local authorities, will the Minister also talk to them about current children’s social services practice to make sure that the deep lessons of the Greater Manchester review are learned and that practice is changed so that vulnerable children never again have wrong assumptions made about them?
The hon. Member will be aware of the review of children in need. It highlights the importance of schools being aware of those children who are known to social workers and who have particular problems so that we can make sure that they get pastoral support in school and that expectations remain as high for them as for other pupils in the school.
Free schools have been a huge success—I mention Michaela Community School, which I co-founded and chaired, and which I know the Ministers are familiar with—but too many parts of the country are without access to one. What plans do the Government have for increasing the number of free schools and has the Minister read my recent report “Fight for Free Schools”, published with the Centre for Policy Studies, which has some useful ideas for how to achieve to that?
I will certainly read my hon. Friend’s report, and again I pay tribute to her for what she has achieved with Michaela Community School. The free schools programme as a whole is hugely successful and she can be assured we are committed to continuing it. In 2019, seven out of the top 15 secondary schools in terms of progress 8 scores were free schools, including three in the top five: Eden Boys’ School in Birmingham, Eden Girls’ School in Coventry and of course Michaela Community School in Brent.
Further education is a crucial sector that needs more investment to deliver its full potential. That is why the Government have committed to putting an extra £400 million into 16-to-19 education in 2020-21.
It has been estimated that there is a pay gap of more £7,000 between teachers in schools and teachers in FE colleges. Does the Secretary of State agree that the current Office for National Statistics classification of FE colleges as non-profit institutions serving households—NPISH status—is hindering the ability to address this growing pay gap?
I am sure the hon. Lady is aware that colleges in England are independent and able to set their own staff terms and conditions. We have committed to extra funding for those colleges into the next financial year and continue to back them with more funding through investment and capital.
My right hon. Friend knows from his own experience the importance of further education, but he has also seen the excellent education and training provided at Dudley College. What assurances can he give that such colleges will have the funding resources they need for the roll-out of T-levels to make this scheme a big success?
My hon. Friend raises a valuable point about how vital T-levels are for the success of our colleges and the whole education system. We have committed £500,000 a year to support the roll-out of T-levels plus capital investment. Dudley College is a magnificent institution that we are turning into an institute of technology. We are rolling out 20 of those across the country. We want people to understand how vital our colleges are to delivering the world-class education, technical and vocational, that this country needs.
More than three quarters of sixth-form colleges do not believe they have the funding they need to support disadvantaged students. The FE sector, the Education Committee and the Labour party speak with one voice in supporting the Raise the Rate campaign to increase per-pupil funding to £4,760. Despite warm words from the Secretary of State, the funding needed has not appeared. He talks about it being a crucial sector, so when will he make good on his promise to work hand in glove with the FE sector by both restoring the position of FE and Skills Minister and raising the rate to £4,760?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her position and wish her the very best in her new role, although I thought she was a little ungenerous in her comments. Just in the past six months, we have delivered an extra £400 million for 16-to-19 education; committed an extra £1.8 billion to FE colleges’ funding; and created a national skills fund to be delivered over three years, worth more than £3 billion. In my judgment, that is a lot of money and a real investment in our college sector. We are giving them the opportunity to achieve so very much. We see the opportunity and have every confidence they will deliver.[Official Report, 4 February 2020, Vol. 671, c. 4MC.]
EU Educational and Research Programmes
The Government greatly value international co-operation in education, science and research. The withdrawal agreement protects the continuation of both Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020, and we will seek to participate in the relevant future EU programmes as part of future negotiations. Many of these programmes, or the regulations, simply are not ready yet. The political declaration makes the position absolutely clear. As for participation, it is a matter for the upcoming negotiations.
Institutions across Scotland, including the University of Glasgow, receive some of the highest per capita shares of Horizon 2020. They will understandably be worried by the comments of the Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, who has said that the UK will be treated as a third party, and that there will be no cherry-picking in any new deals for programme participation. Will the Minister tell us what that means in terms of potential new barriers for institutions such as those in my constituency?
I have enormous respect for the University of Glasgow and its excellent vice-chancellor, Anton Muscatelli, who is the author of a report on how to spread innovatory practices across Scotland. I am learning a lot from that work.
I am determined that we should work towards association with Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020, but we need to know what the final regulations are. I am in regular contact with ministerial equivalents across Europe. Earlier this morning I had an opportunity to speak to the higher education and research Minister of Croatia, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, at the Education World Forum. I am determined that, as we proceed with the wider negotiations, Horizon Europe should be part of that.
The sector has repeatedly expressed concerns about our future participation, or potential non-participation, in Horizon Europe. We have been told by the Prime Minister and his Ministers that they intend to remain, or that “we hope to remain, but not at any cost”. When can we have absolute clarity? The sector needs it now, as do the EU researchers and academics who work in our higher education institutions.
I can absolutely confirm the Government’s commitment to research and development, and our wider commitment to doubling the R&D budget. We will spend a record amount on R&D for the future as we seek to become a global science superpower. When it comes the Horizon budget, we obviously want to work at pace to ensure that we can look at association. The association articles have yet to be fully developed, and we need to work with the EU on that. We are not alone in this—Switzerland, Norway, Israel, South Africa, Canada and many other countries are keen to associate themselves with Horizon Europe—but we must wait for the development of those articles. We will respond shortly to the Smith report, prepared by Sir Adrian Smith and Graeme Reid, which sets out alternatives to Horizon Europe.
As I have already said to the hon. Lady, I view this very much as a hub-and-spoke approach. I want association with Horizon Europe to be the centrepiece of our innovation strategy, but I want us then to build on that through future international co-operation.
Many of the countries that the Minister has just mentioned also participate fully in Erasmus. The future relationship with the EU has yet to be decided, as was confirmed by the Secretary of State when he said that Erasmus
“will be a question for further negotiations”.—[Official Report, 14 January 2020; Vol. 669, c. 912.]
However, at Prime Minister’s questions last week, the Prime Minister said:
“There is no threat to the Erasmus scheme, and we will continue to participate in it. UK students will continue to be able to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners, just as they will be able to continue to come to this country.”—[Official Report, 15 January 2020; Vol. 669, c. 1021.]
Who was correct, the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State?
When it comes to Erasmus+, as the hon. Lady well knows, we have a current programme that will run until 2021. The whole House had an opportunity to vote for the withdrawal agreement, not once, not twice, not three times; it had a fourth opportunity on Second Reading of the Bill, and a fifth on Third Reading. That withdrawal agreement protects our participation in the Erasmus+ scheme.
It absolutely does. It is not just the Government’s withdrawal agreement; it is the EU’s withdrawal agreement. Our determination to protect and stabilise our participation is crucial. It has been destabilised by other Opposition parties which have tried to vote down the withdrawal agreement over the past year or so. As for future negotiations, the Erasmus successor scheme, its protocols and its regulations have not yet been prepared. We do not know the overall cost of the programme, and we do not even know what it will look like. However, we will go into the negotiations in good faith, seeking to participate in that future Erasmus programme.
We have made excellent progress, and we remain on track for the introduction of T-levels this September. We have selected awarding organisations to deliver the first 10 T-levels, and we continue to work closely with providers to ensure that they are ready for first teaching, including through additional funding and training.
The T-level is a wonderful example of how this Conservative Government are planning to bring back advanced vocational and technical training, providing stability and life-long skills for a new generation of workers in jobs that probably do not exist yet. As the courses are rolled out in England, will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging the Welsh Government to observe progress and look into whether T-levels could be introduced in Wales, so that students in my constituency can also benefit from them?
I know that my hon. Friend is already distinguishing himself as a strong voice for his constituents and that he wants the very best for them. He recognises that what we are investing in T-levels across the border could bring real benefits to many of his constituents. We know that some of the major employers in his area, including Airbus, will be looking for the very best type of qualifications. It is incredibly important that Governments—not just the UK Government but the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Governments—work closely together to ensure that we get the right skillset across the whole United Kingdom. Co-operation and collaboration are the absolute essence of achieving that, and I hope to do that with the Welsh Government as well.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, in the dark old days when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, we believed in evidence-based policy, from early years right through to FE and HE? What research has he done into the efficacy of T-levels? Are they working? Does he still have a research facility in his Department?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I would also like to thank those on the Opposition Front Bench who worked closely with us on the development of T-levels. This is one of the only reforms this Government have embarked upon that they supported. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have not started T-levels yet, but we will understandably be looking at them closely to ensure that they are delivering what we expect them to deliver. He will no doubt also welcome the fact that we set up the Education Endowment Foundation because we were conscious that the previous Labour Government often engaged in policy without any evidence whatsoever, and we did not want to make the same mistakes.
Good School Places
Delivering good–quality school places is a top priority for this Government. We are on track to create 1 million places between 2010 and 2020, with 920,000 already created. That is the largest increase in school capacity for at least two generations. As at August 2019, 86% of schools inspected by Ofsted were rated good or outstanding, compared with 68% in 2010.
We are providing funding to local authorities for every place that is needed, based on local authorities’ own data. In addition, when future housing developments are driving pupil numbers, we expect the local planning authority to negotiate significant developer contributions to help to meet the demand for new schools. In our manifesto, we committed to amending planning rules so that the infrastructure, including schools, comes before people move into new homes. I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about this issue, and I would be happy to meet him and his local authority to ensure that the right action is being taken in his area.
Student Finance: Students from Low-income Backgrounds
The current student finance system removes financial barriers to those hoping to study. The Government review support for students annually, and we have recently announced a 2.9% increase to maximum grants and maintenance loans for the 2020-21 academic year. This takes support for the lowest-income students to record levels.
In 2010, like thousands of other young people, I argued against the tripling of tuition fees, but the Government ignored us, and I currently have around £50,000 of student debt. I have here my latest student loan statement, which says that the interest added in the past year alone was £2,022.65. Can the Secretary of State look me in the eye and tell me that it is fair that working-class kids who want an education are being forced to take on colossal debt while his Government is led by a man who went from the playing fields of Eton to a free education at Oxford—
Students pay nothing back until they start earning £25,725 a year, and that will rise to £26,575 from April 2020. It is important to understand that the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university has risen by 62% since 2009, and the Government are committed to looking at interest rates in future as part of the Conservative manifesto’s proposals.
As a working-class lad who went to university and who voted against the tripling of tuition fees, I urge my hon. Friend to ignore the class warfare of the hon. Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana). Was not the one thing I was wrong about in that 2010 vote that it would put working-class kids off, because the evidence is that it has had the exact opposite effect?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that essential point. Participation has risen year on year. Individuals are going through the school system, increasing the standard of their skills, and deciding that they want to take up HE as a route to future opportunities. However, we recognise that there must also be future opportunities within the FE system, which is why we want to ensure that every pupil in the post-18 education system is able to benefit for the future.
We are investing more in schools over the next three years, with an additional £2.6 billion in 2020-21, £4.8 billion in 2021-22 and £7.1 billion in 2022-23, when compared with 2019-20. That money will allow schools to invest more in teachers and resources to ensure that all children get the top-quality education they deserve.
Every secondary school in my constituency has been judged by Ofsted to require improvement. We have seen various Government initiatives come and go, but when will the Secretary of State get to grips with the scale of the challenge at secondary level right across the north and bring forward a far more ambitious and properly funded plan to tackle it?
It is troubling that the hon. Lady’s constituency has such a large number of schools that are not achieving at a good or outstanding level. We recently launched an educational multi-academy trust in the north-east known as the Falcon Trust to take over some of the most difficult and challenging schools and to instil in them the type of leadership and ability that can turn them around. The Government will look to expand and grow that much more rapidly, because no community should suffer from not having good or outstanding schools. We will not rest until we ensure that we do everything we can to deliver for children in schools in her constituency and many others.
I would like to address the claim in news reports that data from the Department’s learner record service has been shared with a commercial data broker. I reassure the House that my Department does not share any data with the commercial data broker in question and, indeed, the data broker has removed its claim that we do so. Instead, an education training organisation, in breach of its agreement with us, wrongly provided information on learners from our learner record service, which we created to support individual learners and increase their future opportunities. It was a completely unacceptable abuse of information, and we have immediately stopped the firm’s access and ended our agreements with it. The Department has begun a full investigation, and any provider found to be in breach of its contracts will have its agreements and access immediately removed.
The Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), responded half-heartedly to the question on free school meals, so I give the Secretary of State another opportunity to clear up the point. About 400,000 schoolchildren in London alone are at risk of food insecurity. When will the Government adopt universal free school meals to end this injustice and ensure that every child can reach their potential?
I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s assessment of the answer given by the Under-Secretary to Question 7. I thought she answered it with gusto and passion.
This Government are absolutely committed to helping children from the most vulnerable backgrounds. Schemes such as breakfast clubs and holiday activity clubs, which have been trialled in the past year, are making an enormous difference to so many young people. The hon. Gentleman should fully represent that next time he asks a question.
On both sides of the House, we all recognise the important role that religious and faith organisations play in our education system. It is saddening to see the political ideology of Harrow Council getting in the way of opportunities for young people. It is shocking to think that the council wants to deprive young people in Harrow of the opportunity to get the very best, and I will certainly write to the chief executive to get assurances that the council is not letting political ideology get in the way of opportunities for the young people of Harrow.
The National Day Nurseries Association published research last week showing that three quarters of local education authorities underspent their early years budget in 2018-19, with Surrey County Council having an underspend of £5 million. I am curious to know where this money is going and whether councils are using the money to plug the gap in overstretched SEN budgets. Does the Minister agree that this demonstrates there is a problem in how the dedicated schools grant is being implemented? Does he also agree that, if money has been set aside to give children the best start in life, it should not be used to plug the gap in other parts of the budget?
It is for local authorities to decide how they allocate funding to providers in their local area. I am very happy to look at the issue the hon. Lady raises. We have announced a £66 million increase in funding for early years, which is a good settlement, for the year before we come into the spending review period.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on independent education. He is absolutely right to allude to the many unpopular and damaging proposals in Labour’s election manifesto, particularly when it comes to education. We should be working with the independent sector, not seeking to outlaw the freedom of parents to spend their money as they wish. I would be delighted to join him on 11 February to celebrate the many successful partnerships between the state and independent sectors.
I thank the hon. Lady for rightly raising an important question. I have seen the UCU’s report, which demonstrates that approximately 70% of early-career researchers are on fixed-term contracts. There are also zero-hours contracts, and I am extremely concerned by the findings. I want to ensure that, as part of our strategy towards hitting 2.4% of GDP being spent on research and development by 2027, we respect our early-career researchers, which is why I have supported the concordat on early-career research. I call on all universities to reconsider very carefully the sustainability and the opportunities of our early-career research system, because these individuals who are doing their doctorates and doing research at an early stage of their career will be the future researchers and scientists we need in this country.
I am delighted to announce that schools and colleges in England can order free period products from today, and orders have already been placed. No young girl should have her education disrupted or should miss parts of her education due to something as normal and regular as a period, and I am delighted that we are now giving access to those products for free.
This was a pilot scheme rolled out in a number of areas right across the country. With changed representation in County Durham, I imagine that there will be a much stronger voice for County Durham in making sure that it gets things to happen. I look forward to meeting Members of Parliament from County Durham to talk about what opportunities they can deliver for their county.
Last year, Bramhall High School head Lynne Fox received a Pearson award for her success in turning around the school, which had previously required improvement. With some of the top results in the borough under their belt, staff and parents expected a good verdict at the subsequent inspection, just weeks later, and so they were stunned when Ofsted found that the school was still requiring improvement. Apparently, this was partly based on a revised view of schools where the duration of level 4 is extended. Hundreds of parents have complained to Ofsted and the head is set to resign. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the implications of the Ofsted inspection changes, and perhaps visit the school to meet the hard-working staff and pupils?
Philip Augar and his independent panel have made thoughtful recommendations on tuition fee levels, loan repayment, and the balance of funding between universities and further education. We are considering the report carefully but have not yet taken decisions on the recommendations. I can now announce that the Government will conclude the review alongside the next spending review, which will allow government time to consider the recommendations thoroughly and to respond in a way that provides the sector with clarity about the future of post-18 education and training.
We totally understand the importance of inter-agency working, which is why we established the education, health and care plan system in the first place and why we are undertaking a SEND—special educational needs and disability—review. Ofsted and Care Quality Commission inspections look at the effectiveness of joint working in local areas, and we are strengthening our support and the challenge for areas where SEND services do need to improve.
As I said, we have just announced £66 million of extra funding for the coming financial year, which means 8p an hour for early years providers in most local authorities. In addition, we have also announced a £60 million top-up for maintained nursery schools. We continue to monitor the marketplace to ensure that there is sufficient provision, and we keep that under review, but, as I said, a £66 million increase was agreed for the coming financial year.
It has been proposed that pupils at Broadfield Specialist School in my constituency relocate to Hameldon Community College in Burnley. Is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State willing to work with me and others on the proposed move, to ensure that our children receive the best education and the support they need?
We understand that Lancashire County Council is consulting on the proposed change as part of a strategy to create an additional 60 special-school places in the local area. When such changes are proposed, the council must go through a formal consultation process. In doing so, it must take into account the views of all those affected by the proposal.
Children from poorer backgrounds are four times more likely to suffer from a significant brain injury, either in their very early years or in their teenage years. If they do not get the right neurorehabilitation, there is a real danger that the effects will not be known until a year later, when the school completely misunderstands what is happening because of neurocognitive stall. Will the Government meet me and others who are interested in the subject to try to make sure that we put a proper package around every single child who has a brain injury, so that they really stand a chance in life?
I am more than happy to meet the hon. Member, who has done a great deal of work to raise the issue, and take learnings from him. When it comes to SEND, our focus is not on the condition but on the child’s individual needs. I want to understand what the hon. Member thinks we could do better to help children.
The Secretary of State started topical questions by describing the improper release of 28 million records of students and schoolchildren. That serious breach of privacy and data protection was made even more serious by the fact that the data appears to have been used to get even more young children hooked on gambling. One problem in this policy area is that the companies involved view the fines as just the cost of doing business. Through the Secretary of State, may I say to the Information Commissioner that I hope the fine in this case is many multiples of the profit made? I hope the Secretary of State will have his Department sue the company concerned for breach of practice.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the major package of reforms to the building safety system that I am announcing today.
The Government are committed to bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation. We took action to address the fire safety risks identified following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and in the autumn we committed to adopting in full the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report. We will shortly publish our response to the phase 1 report, and a full debate is scheduled tomorrow for the House to discuss this important issue at length. The focus of this statement will be on the wider programme of building safety reforms and the work that I am leading to ensure that everyone is safe, and feels safe, in their own home.
The Government have already taken steps, including on aluminium composite material remediation, to tackle fire safety, but as that work continues, it becomes ever more evident that problems have developed over many decades, leading to serious incidents and the risk of further loss of life. This is completely unacceptable. It is clear that the problems will take many years to put right, but all of us—building owners, the construction industry, local authorities, the fire service and the Government—have an absolute duty to ensure that action continues to be taken as quickly as possible so that a tragedy such as the one at Grenfell Tower can never happen again.
There has been progress, but it has been unacceptably slow, so today I am setting out reforms that go further, and I intend to ensure that they do so faster. First, we will begin immediately to establish the new building safety regulator. This new regulator will be established within the Health and Safety Executive, which is an experienced regulator and is committed to introducing the new regulatory regime at pace. Ahead of legislation, the regulator will initially be in shadow form, and I am pleased to announce that Dame Judith Hackitt will chair a board to oversee the transition to this new regime. I expect the shadow regulator to be established within weeks, and we will be recruiting the first national chief inspector of buildings.
Secondly, our consultation on sprinklers and other measures for new build flats has now closed. I am carefully considering the responses and evidence received, but I can inform the House today that I am minded to lower the height threshold for sprinkler requirements in new buildings from 18 metres to 11 metres. Subject to further consideration, I will set out my detailed proposals in that respect in February.
Thirdly, we banned the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise buildings in December 2018. My Department concluded a review into the ban’s effectiveness, and today I am announcing a consultation on the ban, again going significantly further, including by lowering the 18 metre height threshold to at most 11 metres.
Fourthly, my Department, with support from the independent expert advisory panel, has provided advice for building owners on the steps they should be taking to address a range of safety risks. We have listened to feedback, and I am today publishing updated advice that will provide the further clarity they have sought. This advice brings together 22 separate advice notes into one consolidated document.
There is evidence that there has not been enough focus among building owners on buildings below 18 metres. The expert panel has decided to clarify that more action is needed to review the risks in buildings below 18 metres, and owners of those buildings should review the advice and take action where needed. I want to be clear with the House that it has never been the case that, simply because a building is below 18 metres, owners are exempt from ensuring the safety of their residents. The requirement on building owners is to make sure buildings of any height are safe, and I expect all owners to be acting responsibly.
The panel’s new advice makes clear that ACM cladding with an unmodified polyethylene core should not be used on buildings of any height. This reflects the evidence from the materials research programme, which to date has confirmed that ACM presents a much higher risk than any other materials tested when used on the external walls of buildings.
The consolidated advice note also clarifies the actions building owners should now take in relation to fire doors. I welcome the commitment from members of the Association of Composite Door Manufacturers to work with building owners to remediate their doors that have failed tests, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Fifthly, I am today publishing a call for evidence seeking views on the assessment and prioritisation of risks associated with external wall systems, such as cladding, within existing buildings. For many years, we have relied on crude height limits with binary consequences, and it is clear to me that this approach to assessing risk does not reflect the complexity of the challenge at hand. I have concluded that we need a better, more sophisticated system to underpin our approach. Height will remain a significant and material factor, but it will sit alongside a broader range of risk factors. I am therefore today commissioning leading experts in the field to develop, as quickly as possible, a sophisticated matrix of risk that will replace the historic system and underpin our approach to future regulatory regimes.
Sixthly, while I welcome recent progress, remediation of unsafe ACM cladding, especially in the private sector, is still far too slow. This absolutely cannot continue, particularly when funding is now being provided by the taxpayer. Although all unsafe ACM cladding now has mitigation safety measures in place where required, I do not underestimate the concern of residents living in buildings where remediation has not even started.
The latest data show that, out of 92 buildings in scope, 82 applications have been made to the private sector ACM cladding remediation fund, and that the 10 for which applications have not been made have exceptional circumstances, which I have reviewed. However, an application to the fund is not an end in itself; that can never be sufficient. Construction work to remediate these buildings should be proceeding as quickly as possible. We will therefore be appointing an independent construction expert to review remediation timescales and identify what can be done to increase the pace in the private sector.
Inaction must have consequences. From next month, I will name those responsible for buildings where remediation has not started and remove them from the public list only when it has. My Department will be working with the relevant local authorities to drive enforcement where necessary. The Home Secretary will deliver the fire safety Bill and associated regulatory changes in order to enable delivery of the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry phase 1 report. The proposed Bill will place beyond doubt that external wall systems, including cladding and the fire doors to individual flats in multi-occupied residential blocks, fall within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. These changes will affirm the ability to enforce locally against building owners who have not remediated unsafe ACM buildings. Building owners and developers who have not already taken action must do so now. Further delay is not acceptable.
Finally, I am aware of the concerns of leaseholders about meeting the cost of remediation. As I do not want cost to be a barrier to remediation, I am considering, with Her Majesty’s Treasury, options to support leaseholders. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I will set out further details in due course.
The safety of people in their homes is paramount. Through the reforms that I have outlined today, I want to make it clear that this Government will not falter in doing whatever it takes to ensure that all buildings and all residents are made safe. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement this afternoon.
The Secretary of State will remember, as we all do, the shocking disbelief and grief in the immediate aftermath of the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, and he will remember, as I do, the solemn undertakings from all parts of this House to make sure that such a fire could never happen again. I never thought that, two and a half years later, I would be standing here facing a Secretary of State—the third Secretary of State—who still cannot say that all the necessary action has been taken and that a fire like Grenfell cannot happen again in Britain.
Directly after the fire, the then Prime Minister made this promise on behalf of the Conservative Government:
“Landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe buildings…We cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2017; Vol. 626, c. 169.]
Yet thousands of people continue to live in unsafe homes, condemned to do so by this Government’s failure on all fronts after Grenfell. Why, two and a half years later, are 315 high-rise blocks still cloaked in the same Grenfell-style cladding? Why do 76 of these blocks’ owners not even have a plan in place to replace the deadly cladding? Why have 91 social tower block landlords still not replaced their ACM cladding, when this Secretary of State promised that it would be done by the end of last year? And why have the Government not completed and published full fire safety tests on other unsafe, but not ACM, types of cladding? Why has the Secretary of State had nothing to say this afternoon in his statement on these points?
The Secretary of State has made pledges of his own on Grenfell action. He promised
“to take action of a scale and a pace that is commensurate with the tragedy that prompted it.”—[Official Report, 30 October 2019; Vol. 667, c. 419.]
Seventy-two lives were lost in that Grenfell Tower fire, yet there have been no prosecutions, no fire safety fund to retrofit sprinklers, no legislation to make private block owners, not leaseholders, pay the safety work costs, and still no legislation in place to overhaul building safety legislation more than 20 months after the Government’s own Hackitt review was published and accepted in full by Ministers.
I know that the Secretary of State has approached this task with a very serious intent since he was appointed in the summer, and we welcome the setting up of a national regulator to do the job that Ministers and the Department have been unable to do so far. I also welcome the decision to name and shame block owners who will not do the work, and the recognition that the system of building safety checks and controls does not just affect buildings of over six storeys.
There have been 21 announcements on building safety in this House since Grenfell, but there are still not enough answers and there is still not enough action, so let me ask the Secretary of State: given that the new building safety regulator will need legislation to underpin it, when will the new draft building safety Bill be published, and when on earth is it actually going to reach the statute book?
The Secretary of State has said this afternoon that ACM cladding with an unmodified polyethylene core should not be used on buildings of any height. How many additional buildings does he estimate fall into this category? Also, why wait a month to name and shame block owners who will not do the work? Why not do it now? In fact, why did he not do it in June, when I previously called for him to do so? And why has he not restated to the House that June 2020—fully three years on from Grenfell—is the Government’s hard deadline for the full removal and replacement of ACM cladding from all tower blocks in this country? I am afraid that this is too little, at least two years too late.
At every stage since Grenfell, Ministers have failed to grasp the scale of the problems or the scale of the Government action required, and I fear that we will reach the third anniversary—and, Lord forbid, the fourth anniversary—and still not be able to say to people with confidence that a fire like Grenfell can never happen again in Britain.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his questions and the tone with which he approaches this task. I think we can find a lot of common cause on this issue.
The right hon. Gentleman says that we have not done enough. This is an extremely challenging task, but the Government have already taken a wide range of steps of which he is aware. We announced the independent inquiry, the first phase of which has now reported, and the second phase of which will begin on 27 January. We commissioned Dame Judith’s independent review into our building safety regime, which was widely praised. It has reported back, and has led to the measures that we are taking today. Dame Judith remains closely involved in the process and will now be leading the establishment of the new regulator. I have taken the decision that that work needs to begin immediately, and have chosen the Health and Safety Executive to be the home of the regulator because it has the capacity to do so at pace.
We launched the social sector ACM cladding remediation fund in 2018, and that has led to a very large number of properties having remediation work on ACM cladding. We later extended that to the private sector. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is frustrating that the pace of work has not been faster. I am frustrated by it. I said to the House in September that I would name and shame building owners who had not already commenced work or who were not taking the issue sufficiently seriously. I think that threat contributed to an increase in action from building owners, and now every private sector building with ACM cladding—bar 10—has a plan and is working with my Department to commence or complete remediation works. The 10 buildings that have not done so already are in exceptional circumstances; they are mostly buildings that have only recently been discovered to be clad in ACM, so they are late to join the process. We are none the less working to expedite those cases to ensure that they get moving at pace. I have said that we will publish that list next month, so it will happen within a matter of weeks. I hope that that will be a further spur on those building owners to do the right thing and get moving.
We have set out today a very significant set of measures that will have a profound effect on the industry, particularly on new buildings built in the years ahead. I have said that I am minded, subject to the final review of the consultation, to lower the height threshold for sprinklers. We have to be guided by evidence. Dame Judith and our expert panel suggest that it is too crude to say that all high-rise buildings should be remediated and have retro-fitted sprinklers—that we need to take an individual-building approach, because it might be the right thing for some buildings but not for all. I will certainly, as long as I am in this job, be guided by the evidence.
We have set up the protection board that I announced last year, which is working with the Home Office, with my Department and with fire and rescue services on a priority basis to assess those buildings where assessments have not yet been made and ensure that the building owners take action.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about legislation. We announced in the Queen’s Speech last year that the building safety Bill would come forward. Following the outcome of the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry, I took the view that that was too long to wait, and so we have now divided the work into two Bills, one of which will come forward very swiftly—a fire safety Bill. That will place into legislation the recommendations of the judge that require legislation; some require regulatory change rather than primary legislation. Later this year, we will follow that with the larger, more complex building safety Bill, which we intend to publish before the summer recess. That will be the biggest change to our building safety regime for 40 years. I do not underestimate the complexity of that, and it is obviously right that we get the details correct so that we can move forwards.
There will be a welcome for the announcement about the role of Dame Judith Hackitt.
Many points will be made in the next half hour or so, but I want to concentrate on two. First, the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform were the first to point out the difficulties of private leaseholders in these tower blocks. When the Secretary of State and his Department work closely with the LKP and with the all-party group, we will not have all the answers, but I commend to him the fact that we can certainly point to many of the questions and some of the problems as well.
Additionally, may I commend what Nick Ross, the independent commentator and expert on risk, has said—that people do not die in buildings where there is a fire if there are sprinklers? We ought to pay more attention to that. Even if they are not required everywhere, we ought to consider whether they would be useful and valuable.
Finally, at the all-party group meeting, leaseholders talked about the sixfold or greater increase in their insurance premiums. The Government should get together with the Association of British Insurers and say, “Are people being scalped or is there scope for a scheme like Flood Re, which made premiums affordable to ordinary people trying to go on living in their homes?”
I thank the Father of the House, who has been heavily involved in this issue and has a long-standing interest in leasehold reform. We are working with the insurance industry and the mortgage industry to try to unblock the issues that are flowing there. We have had some success with that. There is now a deal between the major lenders and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors to find a simpler way to assess the condition of high-rise buildings and ensure that lenders can make a proper assessment of the value of people’s homes. We will continue to engage with that very closely.
I am happy to work with my hon. Friend and any others who represent or are interested in leasehold reform. He knows my personal interest in that and commitment to bring forward legislation later in the year. I have been contacted by many leaseholders who feel trapped in their homes and are very concerned about their ability to meet the costs that flow through. It is obviously right that building owners should meet the cost of remediation work, but we need to work with leaseholders to ensure that meeting those costs is not a barrier to getting the work done and keeping them safe. I have made that commitment today.
I am glad to see the Minister bringing forward some recommendations. He says that he will be guided by evidence, but in Scotland we already have gone from 18 metres to 11 metres. I have raised this in the House three times now, so I do not understand why he is still at some kind of consultation phase on it. There is evidence already and he could act on it to make those changes. I am pleased that he is bringing forward a building safety regulator, but what additional funding will the Health and Safety Executive get for that? It is already under significant pressure and should not be asked to take on more without the funds to back it.
What is the Minister learning from the Scottish Housing Regulator, which I have mentioned to him before? Has he met it to discuss the work that already goes on in Scotland? Will people be able to make complaints to the shadow regulator in the interim, or will they have to wait until it is fully set up? Will the reporting of significant performance failures be part of that, as it is in the Scottish system?
On the Secretary of State’s point about consolidation of advice notes, I have had constituents contact me about the consequences of advice note 14, which was drawn up by his Government but is having an impact on people in Scotland who cannot sell their properties and are struggling with insurance issues. What communication has he had with the Scottish Government on that? I know that the Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, has been in touch with him about that issue. We cannot resolve it, because it is an issue for this Government and about mortgage lending, which is not in the Scottish Government’s purview. It would be useful to know what discussions the Secretary of State has had and how he intends to resolve this issue in the consolidated advice note.
Lastly, on remediation, we do not have quite the same problem with leasehold in Scotland that exists in England, but we do have issues. I want to ask the Secretary of State, as I have asked him before, about incentivisation to resolve some of these issues. For example, is he looking at reducing the VAT on sprinklers and cladding to encourage people to act at a speedier rate, and will he ensure that the fund is accessible to those who need it in Scotland?
I am happy to work with the hon. Lady and her colleagues in Scotland and to ensure that my Department is properly engaged with the Scottish Government, to learn all we can from their experience and vice versa. With respect to the mortgage market, I have said that we have been working closely with lenders and RICS to find a way forward. We have made significant progress, and they announced their deal during the general election campaign in the autumn.
We listened to the commentary that it was too confusing having multiple sources of advice for building owners, so we have worked to consolidate those 22 pieces of advice into one document: advice note 14. That has been published on the gov.uk website, and we remain open to comments on it and refinement of it, if necessary. The research and testing process that lies behind advice note 14, which the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) raised, will be published next month. That process is coming to its final conclusions, and that information will also be in the public domain, so those who take a particular interest and require to see the evidence behind advice note 14 will be able to do so.
We will, of course, give the Health and Safety Executive the funding required to set up the regulator. We chose the Health and Safety Executive, as opposed to creating a stand-alone building safety regulator, precisely because it has the expertise and the capacity and is ready to get going at pace, which I think we can all agree is essential.
I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend will consult on whether height alone should be the determining factor or whether there should be a more sophisticated matrix of risks. I am very concerned about vulnerable residents in the likes of care homes and hospitals. Will they be taken into consideration in the matrix of risks?
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House and will no doubt work closely with her on these issues in the years ahead. I think it was right to take the decision that height alone was too crude a measure and that we needed to consider this carefully and involve a whole range of factors, including the likely use of the building and the likely nature of the residents of that building, whether it be a hotel, student accommodation or something else. That is exactly what we are doing, and we will use the best possible expert advice to draw up a new regime.
We saw in the Bolton fire, where the building was 17.6 or 17.8 metres high—just a matter of centimetres away from the 18-metre threshold—that height alone was simply too crude a measure and that building safety needs to be proportionate to the building. Height is likely to continue to be a very material factor—perhaps the most material one—but a range of other factors now need to be considered.
The issue of retrofitting sprinklers in social housing blocks seems to be less determined by risk assessment than by cost and the legal right to access those properties. We have seen Wandsworth Council lose its case in the first-tier tribunal. My council has suspended work on retrofitting because of a lack of clarity about rights of access. Can the Secretary of State tell us exactly what the policy is and whether he accepts that, in almost all social blocks, there are multi-tenures—there are private leaseholders—and there needs to be clarity about how retrofitting will be funded and what rights of access councils will have to private leasehold properties?
I will take up the issue the hon. Lady raises with respect to rights of access so that I can give her the best possible advice there. With respect to cost, the position today, as it has been throughout, is that this remediation work is the responsibility of building owners. As I have already said now on a number of occasions, I am aware of the fact that clearly there are some leaseholders who will struggle to raise the necessary funds. We have precedents for this: we see, for example, homeowners who purchased their property through right to buy and who may then be presented with significant costs, perhaps by a council or a housing association. Measures have been put in place to help them through that process so that that is not a bar to doing the essential works that now need to be done. That is exactly the conversation I will now be having with the Treasury to see whether we can put in place some sensible proposals to help people in that situation.
As someone who, in a past life, chaired a local authority housing committee responsible for these matters, may I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement of the new regulator? I ask my right hon. Friend to update us on the discussions that he has been having with local authority leaders on both how to use the information in their possession to identify buildings and structures at risk in their area, and how the learning from that might help the new regulator to bring some clarity to the often confusing area of building control.
We have been working closely with local authorities ever since the Grenfell tragedy. We have supported them with advice and funding so that they can draw up lists and provide data on buildings over 18 metres—we have provided them with £4 million for that—and we should be in a position to publish that data in March, which is the deadline that we set local authorities. We have also created the protection board, which is designed to take that work to another level—bringing together the fire and rescue services, the Home Office and my Department with local authorities to assess, on a priority basis, the fire safety of those buildings that have not yet been assessed.
Would the Secretary of State like to take this opportunity to apologise to all residents and those in privately owned blocks who still are living with this unsafe Grenfell- style cladding wrapped around their homes, when the Government set their own target of December 2019 to have this cladding removed? Will he apologise in particular to those in a social housing block in my constituency, Castlemaine, where this work has been delayed—it has been held up by chaos—and Wandsworth Council is not taking responsibility for ensuring that the work is done and done to a high standard?
I am sorry to hear about the example that the hon. Lady raises, and I will look into that if she could give me the details after this statement. Since becoming Secretary of State, I have taken action to ensure that the remediation fund moves forward at pace. We now have a named contact working with every one of these buildings. I review the lists regularly, and we have made a great deal of progress. We have now reached the point, as I have said, where every building is within the system and is working with my Department. The only ones that are not are those that emerged only recently as having ACM cladding. I hope that we will now, finally, make rapid progress.
May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his proactivity on this issue? Advice note 14 states that only limited combustibility materials should be used on external surfaces, but our work on the Select Committee has shown that the actual guidance was much more ambiguous, which leaves many leaseholders in limbo. Will he consider extending the remediation fund to cover other types of combustible cladding?
The expert advice that we received said that ACM should be the priority of Government. That is why my predecessors announced the £600 million remediation fund for ACM on high-rise buildings. The testing results, which I will publish next month, confirm that decision and make it clear that ACM is significantly more dangerous than any other substance. That has rightly been the focus of taxpayers’ money in terms of grant, but there may be other ways forward to assist those leaseholders trapped in other types of buildings.
Before Christmas, two tenants from a Stockland Green tower block in my constituency asked me why it has taken the best part of three years for the Government not to come up with one single penny towards making safe the 213 tower blocks in Birmingham, which include 10,000 households. They were right, because despite the warm words and promises made at the time, not one penny has been forthcoming. Will the Secretary of State personally look again at the request by Birmingham City Council for the necessary financial support to complete the task of making safe those tower blocks?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the urgency with which he has approached this issue. Employers who employ people in unsafe conditions could be liable to prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and there is a parallel with this issue. Does the Secretary of State agree that if this final opportunity to make safe these dwellings is not taken, enforcement action should not be ruled out?
Absolutely, and we have not ruled it out. Local authorities have the power to take enforcement action, and we are working closely with them to ensure that they do so if progress is too slow. When we have legislated for our new building safety regime and put the regulator on a statutory footing, there will be new criminal offences in this area. Every building will have a named individual who is responsible for its safety, not just at the point that it is built, but for the whole of its life, and that individual will be criminally liable for the safety of that building.
I should declare that I am a leaseholder and all my cladding is being removed—happily, I am one of the fortunate few whose developer is paying for it. However, many of my constituents are mortgage prisoners, shared owners, or people on low incomes, and they are trapped in that position and unable to move their lives on. The Secretary of State has said warm words about talking to the Treasury, but we all know how difficult it can be to get money out of it. Is he looking at other options, such as interest-free loans on a long-term basis? How quickly can he move? These leaseholders are trapped and need to know whether they will be waiting for months or years.
The hon. Lady is right—I am concerned about the position of those leaseholders, and we will work closely with the Treasury to see whether there is a way forward. There are already examples of building owners or private finance providers bringing forward low or zero-interest loans, on a hardship basis, to help individuals who are on low incomes or without savings to make the payments required to remediate their buildings. There may be a role for the Government in ensuring that that works, that the loans are affordable, and that it is done as quickly as possible.
I remain a proud member of the Chartered Institute of Building. Will the Secretary of State endorse the work of the CIOB in driving up standards in construction to ensure that we build safer buildings in the future, not least with its code of quality management, which was published in September last year?
I am happy to endorse that work. Our building safety regime in this country is flawed in many respects, and decades of neglect now need to be addressed. That will have to work through all parts of the system, whether Government or the construction sector, and we must ensure that builders and developers pay far more attention to quality and safety than they have done in the past. We have recently seen disturbing reports, such as the independent report on Persimmon that was published at the end of last year, and action is now required from the whole construction industry.
The Minister referred in his statement to long-standing problems and, quite rightly, to a loss of public confidence. Does he think it will help to improve public confidence if, as newspaper reports state, the investigation panel into what went wrong with the Grenfell cladding is set to include an engineer, Benita Mehra, whose previous organisation was in receipt of thousands of pounds from Arconic, the company that manufactured the Grenfell cladding?
I am aware of the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. As Secretary of State I am a core participant in the inquiry, and I cannot comment on the judge or his panel. Appointments to the panel are made by the Prime Minister, advised by the Cabinet Office. I know the Prime Minister is aware of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, and he will be considering them carefully.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. There are two issues I want to raise briefly. The first is the extent of the buildings that will now be brought into scope. Clearly, a large number of buildings will now be in scope. Has my right hon. Friend examined how many there will be? Secondly, there is a lot of criticism of the tests themselves and whether they are fit for purpose. Will he review the safety tests to ensure they are brought up to modern standards?
I do not have precise figures for my hon. Friend today, but he is right that the changes we have announced will bring a large number of additional buildings within the safety regime that we have been working through since the Grenfell tragedy. That is a difficult decision to take, but I think it is right. We have to be guided by the evidence. We have to make the necessary changes and then take whatever steps emerge afterwards, but I am very mindful, for example, of the impact on leaseholders and on the mortgage market. That is why my Department is working very closely with lenders to ensure that the steps we have announced today do not have an adverse impact on the market.
The Secretary of State justifies the particular help because of the risk from ACM cladding, but many leaseholders, including in places like St George’s Building, Leeds Dock and Timble Beck in my constituency in Leeds, have been told by the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service that if they do not have a waking watch they will have to move out. The cost of a waking watch risks bankrupting leaseholders even before we get to the point of determining who will pay for the replacement of the cladding. I very much welcome the hint in the statement today about working with the Treasury, but since leaseholders are so stressed by all of this can the Secretary of State give some indication of when that announcement might come? Will they have to wait for the Budget or could it be earlier?
I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman precise details of the negotiations, but they are continuing and we will work closely to see what arrangements we can put in place. I encourage any building owner to take action immediately. Building owners need to conduct a fire safety assessment of their building, if that is required, and then take any steps required. No delay should be encouraged by any of us.
I welcome the statement. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the issue of permitted development rights and the problems it has caused my constituency. How will the building safety regulations apply to that? What is he doing to ensure quality housing and proper building safety for permitted development rights buildings?
My right hon. Friend and I have discussed permitted development rights in the past, and he has taken me to Harlow to see some of the issues there. That is why we have reviewed the permitted development office-to-residential regulations and will be taking forward any reforms necessary as a result. All properties built in this country need to be safe. That will have to feed through to all of the Government’s policies and our whole building safety regime.
Generally, leaseholders do not enjoy third-party rights to claim under the latent structural defect insurance taken out by a developer or his design team. Will the Secretary of State consider legislating to provide for minimum levels of cover, minimum terms for such insurance and the third-party rights of leaseholders and managing agents to make claims under those policies?
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome the steps outlined to progress the building safety regulator and the progress that has been made to remediate the majority of the social housing properties. With continuing progress in the private sector, I share the desire expressed that all such properties are made safe and secure as quickly as possible. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that all those involved in building and maintenance of housing will be required to meet the important reforms of new building safety systems that he has outlined today?
Yes, I certainly can. I also draw attention to the fact that my hon. Friend has taken forward our new homes ombudsman. I will bring forward legislation in due course to put that on a statutory footing, so that developers are held to account and there is a proper redress system for those purchasing properties.
I welcome the appointment of Dame Judith Hackitt as chair to oversee the establishment of the new regulator within the Health and Safety Executive. However, I worry that such regulators have become severely underfunded. The Secretary of State said that there would be new funding, but I worry that it will just disappear within the HSE. Can he reassure me that the budget for the new regulator will be ring-fenced?
I reassure the hon. Lady that whatever funds are required to ensure that the regulator succeeds will be made available. A very large number of individuals are already working on building safety in my Department —well over 100 people are engaged in this activity, many of whom will, in due course, transition to the new regulator—but, as I said before, the reason we chose the Health and Safety Executive is that it has the experience and the capacity, and it can move quickly.
I wrote to the Secretary of State over two months ago highlighting the case of a student housing block that had been evacuated, with all tenants relocated, as a result of multiple fire regulation failures. This was a building that had been signed off by a Government-approved private building inspection company without a site inspection. Does he agree—he has not replied to me yet—that he needs to review the entire process of building control in the context of that case?
I will look up the hon. Gentleman’s letter and make sure that a proper response is given to him as soon as possible. However, the premise of Dame Judith’s work, which will be legislated for in our building safety Bill, is to ensure that there is a proper, robust system for the inspection of buildings at the point that they are constructed, meaning that we do not have building inspectors appointed by the developers, but that these are independent individuals working to robust procedures, and then that an individual is criminally liable for the outcomes.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Will people be able to make complaints to the shadow regulator? When will he meet Kevin Stewart to discuss the implications of his advice notes for owners in Scotland? Finally, how much money will he allocate to the Health and Safety Executive?
I have already said that we are very happy to engage with colleagues in the Scottish Government, and I will make sure that that happens. The funding that the Health and Safety Executive requires will be available. We are still having those conversations with it, so I do not want to wrongly advise the hon. Lady, but I say again that we will ensure that it has the resources it requires to take forward this incredibly important work.
The Secretary of State says that he is minded to review the minimum height of new buildings for the fitting of sprinkler systems. In November 2007, Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service lost four firefighters in a terrible blaze. Why will the Government simply not legislate for the fitting of sprinklers in all new builds and retrospectively?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, we have to follow procedures so we have consulted, which is the way we proceed on such matters. The consultation is now complete, we have reviewed the evidence and we will be publishing it shortly. However, I have said today that, subject to our exact response in the coming weeks, I am minded to make that move, and that will be done through regulation so it can happen swiftly.
As the Minister knows, 79 unsafe blocks still remain in Manchester. Some have non-ACM cladding. In most cases, the cost of remediation is being passed on to leaseholders—upwards of £80,000 each. I am not sure after two and a half years, with this statement and the big package announced today, what a “name and shame” and conversations with the Treasury will do to reassure my residents in Manchester that their unsafe buildings will be dealt with immediately.
I have laid out today a very significant series of reforms—not least creating immediately the first regulator for building safety—and I have said that we will continue to work with leaseholders, such as the ones she represents, to ensure that cost is not a barrier to remediation. However, this is a complex challenge that will clearly take this country a very long time to work through.
The Secretary of State referenced the new industry-wide valuation process that was announced in December. Will he tell the House whether the Government have formally endorsed the new EWS1—external wall system—process? Have he or his officials had any evidence that it is working to resolve the problems that leaseholders in high-rise buildings face in selling or re-mortgaging their properties? If not, and if he has found any evidence that it is lacking, will he tell us what further clarification the consolidated advice note will provide in that area?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He raised these issues with me in the summer and has contributed to our work since then. My officials and I have worked closely with lenders, UK Finance and RICS to reach this agreement. It is too early to say whether it has been successful yet—it has only been in place for a matter of weeks—but I am hopeful that it will provide a much simpler system for valuing buildings and getting people’s mortgages flowing in the way we all hope.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Friday, I met a significant number of dustmen and women in my constituency who sadly have had to take industrial action, their having been bullied and harassed by the senior management of Veolia in ways that are pretty disgusting. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, on how I can raise this matter in Parliament and lobby Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government?
I think the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is not for me to decide, but pursuance of an Adjournment debate might be a good way, and I am sure those on the Front Bench are making notes. No doubt, too, the Employment Minister will wish to have a discussion with him.
Debate on the Address
Debate resumed (Order, 14 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.
Economy and Jobs
I beg to move an amendment, at the end of the Question to add:
‘but respectfully regrets that the Gracious Speech fails to put an end to a decade of austerity, to invest in the UK’s underfunded public services, or to scrap universal credit; notes the damaging impact that the four-year freeze in working-age benefits has had on families on low income; and calls on the Government to bring forward a plan to reverse the damaging impact austerity has had on communities in the UK, tackle the climate and environmental emergency, and reshape the economy to work for everyone by clamping down on tax avoidance, tackling insecurity in work by extending full employment rights to all workers, ending in-work poverty, and introducing a real living wage.’.
I appreciate that many new Members will want to speak today, so I will seek to be as brief as possible. [Interruption.] I thought that would be appreciated on both sides. We aim to please.
You, Mr Speaker, have been in the House as long as I have, so you will know that the classic approach to a good Queen’s Speech and its subsequent debate combines an assessment of the position of the country—a state of the nation address—with at least some attempt to address the issues facing our people. On both counts, the latest Queen’s Speech and this process is by any stretch of the imagination crushingly disappointing—I believe that the overriding view that will come to be associated with this Government may well be one of disappointment. They appear to have no appreciation of the lives so many of our fellow citizens live or of the often heartrending problems they face.
The Government’s programme in the Queen’s Speech fails to reverse the decade of austerity. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said, austerity is baked into the Government’s economic policies, which fail to tackle insecure work, to end in-work poverty and to introduce a real living wage. Worst of all, the Queen’s Speech fails to address the brutal hardship caused by universal credit, introduced by this Government. We face twin emergencies: first, a climate emergency, an existential threat to our planet that, as we have seen only too well in Australia and Indonesia, is rapidly spiralling beyond control; and, secondly, in this country, a social emergency resulting from a decade of harsh austerity and decline. Last year, the House resolved that we faced a climate emergency. We should also resolve that we face a social emergency.
I suppose we will have a longer debate at some stage about the outcome of the last general election. I will be straight with the hon. Gentleman: I think the overriding issue was Brexit and that the overriding message was the one the Conservative party put out of “Get Brexit Done”. I ascribe the victory of the Conservative party to that. I cannot be straighter with him than that.
In the last three months in this Chamber, we have had debates on the spending review and the last Queen’s Speech in which hon. Members have highlighted report after report from independent agencies exposing the impact of a decade of austerity. I want to seize on one group as an example—a group dear to all our hearts. If we are to lay any claim to being a compassionate or even a civilised society, surely the most effective test is how we care for our children, and on that count the Government fail appallingly. Surely no Government could ignore organisations such as the Children’s Society and the Child Poverty Action Group, which have reported that more than 4 million of our children are still living in poverty. That means that one child in three is living in poverty in our country in the 21st century. Some 125,000 of those children are homeless and living in temporary accommodation.
The effects on our children of living in poverty are well documented by the Children’s Society. Those children are more likely to be in poor health, to experience mental health problems, and to have a low sense of wellbeing. They underachieve at school, and experience stigma and bullying. The shocking statistic, though, is that 70% of children living in poverty are in households in which someone is in work. The Children’s Society describes that experience as being hit by a perfect storm of low wages, insecure jobs and benefit cuts. The result is remarkable: this Government have achieved the historic distinction of being the first modern Government to break the link between securing work and being lifted out of poverty.
The Chancellor boasted recently that wage rises were at record levels compared with those of the last 10 years. That is a bizarre boast. Wage rises are at a 10-year record high because his Government have kept wage growth so low for the last decade. Average real wages are still lower than they were before the financial crisis. [Interruption.] The Chancellor, from a sedentary position, has again used the slogan “Labour’s crisis”. Let me try to find a quotation for him. George Osborne said:
“did Gordon Brown cause the sub-prime crisis in America? No.”
He went on to say that “broadly speaking”, the Labour Government
“did what was necessary in a very difficult situation.”
The Chancellor, again from a sedentary position, refers to the deficit. Let me quote again. In 2007, George Osborne said:
“Today, I can confirm for the first time that a Conservative Government will adopt these spending totals.”
He was referring to the spending totals of a Labour Government, by implication. Let me caution the Chancellor, because we might want to examine his role at Deutsche Bank, where he was selling collateralised debt obligations, described by others as the weapon of mass destruction that caused the crisis.
As I was saying, average real wages are still lower than they were before the financial crisis. The Resolution Foundation has described the last decade as the worst for wage growth since Napoleonic times. The recent increase in the minimum wage, announced with such a fanfare by the Government, reneges on their minimal commitment that it would be £9 an hour by this year. It certainly is not. The UK is the only major developed country in which wages fell at the same time as the economy grew after the financial crisis.
The Government seem to believe that the answer to low pay is raising national insurance and tax thresholds. When tax thresholds are raised, the highest gainers are largely the highest earners, and raising them and national insurance contributions is the least effective way of tackling poverty. According to the IFS, only 3% of the gains from raising the national insurance threshold would go to the poorest 20% in our society. A £3 billion cut in the national insurance contributions of employees and self-employed people—which, at one stage, was promised by the Prime Minister—would raise the incomes of that group by 0.1%, which pales into insignificance in comparison with the losses endured from benefit and tax credit cuts since 2010. It is also worth bearing it in mind that, while the heaviest burden of austerity has been forced on the poorest in our society, this Government have given away £70 billion of tax cuts to the corporations and the rich.
We have also heard Ministers refer to the so-called jobs miracle. Of course we all welcome increased employment, but when we look behind the global figures we find nearly 4 million people in insecure work with no guaranteed hours and 900,000 people on zero-hours contracts. Britain has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world. A FTSE 100 chief executive will be paid more in three days than the average worker’s annual wage. Surely no Member of this House can think that that is right, can they? The gender pay gap is 17.3% and there is now an intergenerational pay gap of over 20%. There is an 8% pay gap for black workers, and if you are disabled the pay gap is 15%. There is nothing in the Queen’s Speech that will address any of this. There is nothing that will address the grotesque levels of inequality in our society and at work, certainly on the scale that is needed.
That is just income tax. It is interesting that the lowest earners pay 40% of their income in tax while the highest earners pay 34%. We know who is paying more in comparison with what they earn.
There is nothing in this Queen’s Speech that will address the grotesque levels of inequality. Actually, the reverse is true because the Government are now launching another assault on trade union rights and, in particular, the human right to withdraw one’s labour. The Chancellor has also rejected future dynamic alignment with EU employment rights and standards, and there is a real fear—let us express it now—that this prefaces the fulfilment of ambitions of Conservative Members to undermine workers’ rights and conditions. Maybe that is what some of their campaigning for Brexit was all about. Wage levels are low, in part because this Government have produced a productivity crisis. Over the past decade, productivity grew at its slowest level in 60 years. A German or French worker produces in four days what a British worker produces in five, not because the UK worker is any less industrious; far from it. It is because investment in the UK has been broadly weaker than in the rest of the G7 countries, especially since 2016, and investment is currently stagnating.
This has been exacerbated by the lack of investment not just in capital but in human capital—in training and skills. In his interview at the weekend in the Financial Times, the Chancellor highlighted the role of further education colleges, and I agree with him. He talked about the role they could play in raising productivity by promoting lifelong learning and skills training. As someone who benefited from further education while I was on the shop floor, I fully agree, but the reality is that this Government have brought FE to its knees, with the IFS suggesting that at least £1.16 billion is needed just to reverse the cuts that the Government have imposed on further education. We have seen a decade of a Government denying opportunities to the very people whose skills have been desperately needed, not just to fire up our economy but also to lift their families out of poverty.
Alongside skills, a vibrant economy needs to invest in the future if we are to compete in the fourth industrial revolution, but on investment in research and development, the UK is now 11th in the EU. We await the Government’s detailed proposals on investment in R & D, and if they are of a scale we will support them, but it will take a lot to make up for the lost decade in this field. A lack of investment in infrastructure and R&D has resulted in productivity going backwards in many regions of the UK. The 2017 Kerslake report identified a £40 billion productivity gap in the three northern regions compared with the south, which has produced some of the worst regional inequality in all of Europe.
Quite simply. It is a good question, because we wanted to scrap the tax credits and put direct investment into R&D. Some of the very advisers the Government have called upon, such as Mariana Mazzucato, have been ripping apart some of those tax credits for inefficiency and ineffectiveness. We shared the objective, but we found a different and more effective route.
We have referred in the past to the differentiation between types of investment, and the example that we have used in previous debates is stark. Planned transport investment in London is 2.6 times higher per capita than in the north, so it is no wonder that rail infrastructure in the north has been falling apart. After a decade of decline, the Government at last seem to have at least acknowledged their mistake in refusing to invest in the regions—something we have been crying out for—but we will see what scale of investment is produced after the fine words.
However, this is not just about capital investment in infrastructure. There is also a desperate need for revenue investment in the social infrastructure of our regions and nations. It is interesting that many cities and towns in the north have borne the brunt of austerity. Seven out of the 10 cities with the largest cuts in the country are in the north-east, the north-west and Yorkshire. That came about not by some miracle, but as the result of deliberate Government policy.
Imitation, they say, is the highest form of flattery, so I suppose Labour should be flattered that the Government are now looking to rewrite the Treasury Green Book to reorient investment decisions towards the regions outside London and the south-east—an exercise that Labour undertook two years ago. I suppose we should also be flattered by the Government now following Labour in adopting a fiscal rule that enables them to take advantage of low interest rates to borrow, which we advocated at least four years ago.
As we are in the habit of stealing clothes, as the right hon. Gentleman would present it, the Labour Party had its election manifesto and the costings—two documents that obviously have been consigned elsewhere—but the third document was about corporate tax breaks, so does he suggest that the Government should look at existing corporate tax breaks and reorient them to support investment in other regions?
Again, Labour undertook work to look at exactly that. We looked at the regional impacts and at how tax breaks are distributed unequally around the country. There is an important and exciting piece of work to be done, and some of those issues were considered by the Kerslake review in 2017. There will be some element of consensus on how we can direct future investment, and we can build upon that in the long term, because if anything comes out of the lessons of the past 10 years, it is that we need a longer schedule than just a five-year parliamentary process for capital investment of that scale.
Returning to fiscal rules, the Government have now advocated a fiscal rule that largely follows Labour’s advice, but it is this Government’s third or fourth fiscal rule—I have lost count. Some of them have been adhered to—no, actually, looking back at it, none of them have actually been adhered to, which largely defeats the object of having fiscal rules. It will be interesting to see how long this one lasts and how far it is achieved. The problem is that, even if they use all the headroom that their new fiscal rule allows, they are only paying lip service to the need to invest at scale and for the long term. If we are to tackle the issues of poverty, regional inequality and, yes, climate change, the amount of new investment mooted so far by the Chancellor is nowhere near the scale needed to address the dilapidation of our infrastructure outside London, and it is certainly not at the scale needed if we are to tackle climate change. From what we have heard so far, the maximum amount of increased investment talked about by the Chancellor is less than today’s estimate of the cost of High Speed 2.
The Chancellor’s idea in his Financial Times interview, of splitting the Treasury and sending some of its officials to work in satellite offices outside London, is a pale imitation of Labour’s plans not just for regional offices but to move whole sections of the Treasury to the north, to move the Bank of England to Birmingham and, similarly, to locate a national investment bank outside London. If the Government are going to plagiarise Labour’s policies, they at least have a duty to do so competently.
What all these things have in common is a failure to tackle the root causes of the problems to which the Government pay lip service: the grotesque levels of inequality in income and wealth in our society; the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few; the ownership of the economy by an elite, with the vast majority of people locked out of decision making and having no say on how the economy works or on who it works for; and an economy increasingly serving the few, not the many. There is no sign that the Government recognise the root causes of the crisis we face, whether social or environmental—at least, there is no sign of them doing anything about it.
Of course, all these investment proposals will count for very little if the Government fail to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with our EU partners that protects jobs. On that score, it is hardly surprising that businesses’ fears rose when the Chancellor, in his weekend interview, cavalierly threatened to throw our manufacturing sector under a bus, as he rejected the calls from business for alignment with the EU to ensure his own Government’s long-standing promise of frictionless trade. He casually said:
“There will be an impact on business one way or the other, some will benefit, some won’t.”
Let us be clear that if frictionless trade is not achieved in a future trade deal or, worse, if there is no deal, the bulk of our manufacturing sector, including cars, aerospace, pharmaceuticals and food and drink, will be in the “some won’t” category. One recent estimate identified that, in the past decade, we have already lost 600,000 manufacturing jobs.
Today, business leaders and unions have combined to warn the Chancellor that his promise to split from the EU will cost billions and damage UK manufacturing. Bizarrely, he blames the manufacturing companies for not having already prepared for any regulatory divergence coming out of any future trade deal, when no one knows what the deal or the rules will be. There is an element of Samuel Beckett or Kafka here, I am not sure which.
We hear that the Chancellor is the only Minister to be secure in his job ahead of the possible “night of the long knives” reshuffle in February.
Following the Chancellor’s interview in the Financial Times, the response from the likes of the CBI, the Engineering Employers Federation, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and the Food and Drink Federation is extremely alarming. They have said in unison just how concerned they are about the Government’s ambivalence, as my right hon. Friend says, about the real cost both to jobs and to industry.
The Chancellor’s statement was reckless. I wish him well, as always, but I caution him that the Prime Minister may well be preserving him in his job to take the hit for any trade deal outcomes that go pear-shaped if frictionless trade is not achieved.
I am aware that many new Members wish to make their maiden speeches. It is important that the Front Benchers do not take too long, so I will come to a conclusion. There is so much more to be said about the operation of our economy: about the failure of the Government to effectively address tax avoidance and evasion and money laundering, which infects our financial system; and about the failure, despite the scandals within the City, and within our accountancy and audit systems, to address our failing regulatory structures.
Is the shadow Chancellor aware that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ wealthy unit had 1,046 full-time equivalents 18 months ago but now has 961? What does that say about the Government’s approach to tax avoidance and evasion?
The whole process of cuts in HMRC over the years has been a self-defeating one, by which we remove the expertise we need to ensure a fair taxation system and to tackle tax evasion and avoidance.
There is a desperate need to harness our economy effectively, as we will discuss at a later date, and to end our dependence on fossil fuel and to do so much sooner than the inadequate target date of 2050. We will still have some opportunity to address these issues in the run-up to the Budget, but for now let me conclude by cautioning the Government that this Queen’s Speech fails dramatically to demonstrate the sense of urgency and scale of action needed to provide the decade of renewal they promise. Our people have endured a decade of decline. On the basis of what is laid out in this Queen’s Speech and the policy direction laid out so far by the Chancellor, they face not a decade of renewal but a decade of disappointment. We already have had a foretaste of the dangerous politics that disappointment and disillusion creates. We must avoid it, and I ask Members to support our amendment.
As the shadow Chancellor said, a great number of colleagues wish to speak this afternoon. Just to warn Members wanting to speak, let me say that I will impose an eight-minute time limit immediately after the Front-Bench contributions. I am sure that the Chancellor and the Scottish National party spokesperson will bear that in mind.
The Shadow Chancellor really is a shadow of his former self; that was a litany of complaints and unreconstructed misery. While he is reading from the same old script—one that has been decisively rejected by the British people—we are writing a new chapter for our great country. We have an unshakeable belief in the brilliant future of this great country. While Labour just keeps on refighting the same old internal battles, this Conservative Government are getting on with improving our schools and our NHS, tackling crime and getting Brexit done. We will repay the trust that millions of voters have put in the people’s Government.
Absolutely. May I take this opportunity to commend my right hon. Friend for all the work he has done on all three of those issues? He is absolutely right in what he says.
Our work has started with this Queen’s Speech, the most radical Queen’s Speech in a generation. It will enshrine in law the largest cash settlement in the NHS’s history and invest more in our schools; it will revolutionise our national infrastructure and make great strides towards net zero emissions by 2050; it will level up, spreading prosperity and opportunity across every region and country of the United Kingdom; and it will build that brighter future for our country on the foundation of economic security and sound public finances. This is a one nation Government delivering the people’s priorities as we embark on a decade of renewal.
As we begin this new chapter in our country’s history, we start with strong economic fundamentals. Our economy has grown in each of the past nine years, and just today, when the International Monetary Fund updated its world economic outlook, it forecast that this year the UK will grow faster than France, Germany, Italy and Japan. Our jobs miracle continues—it is a miracle; Members would think that a party that calls itself the Labour party would welcome a jobs miracle—with the highest employment rate ever and an unemployment rate that is the joint lowest for 45 years.
The UK is an open and competitive economy with some of the most innovative and exciting businesses in the world. Just last week, new figures showed that tech investment in the UK grew faster last year than in the US, China, France and Germany. Although we are optimistic about the future, we are not complacent. It is clear that the uncertainty and indecision of recent months has held back our economy. The global economy is slowing, and an open economy like ours is not immune to global trends. Our productivity growth has not yet recovered to pre-crisis levels, acting as a brake on the potential of our country. The Government have a real opportunity to tackle some of these long-term challenges. I will set out our new economic plan in the Budget on 11 March.