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Commons Chamber

Volume 672: debated on Monday 2 March 2020

House of Commons

Monday 2 March 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—

School Funding

19. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that schools receive equitable levels of funding under the national funding formula. (901024)

22. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that schools receive equitable levels of funding under the national funding formula. (901027)

23. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that schools receive equitable levels of funding under the national funding formula. (901028)

We are investing more in schools and high needs over the next three years, starting with an additional £2.6 billion, including £780 million for high needs in 2020-21 and £1.5 billion for the cost of the teacher pension scheme.

While the north-east is home to some of the best performing primary schools in the country, sadly, at secondary level, there are issues with poor outcomes for young people. Rather than reannouncing an initiative from two years ago using existing departmental funding, when will the Secretary of State properly tackle the fact that far too many children in our region are not receiving the education they deserve?

I recently had the great pleasure of visiting schools across the north-east, as well as Opportunity North East, a new programme aimed at raising attainment in the key area of secondary schools. This already seems to be having an impact on schools—that was certainly my impression from conversations I had with school leaders—and we want to continue to build on that across the north-east.

Since 2013, the total schools block grant in my constituency has gone down, whereas funding across London regionally has increased by 4.5%. I know that my right hon. Friend recognises the historical imbalances in favour of metropolitan areas, so what reassurances can he give me and the excellent schools in Orpington that the NFF will rebalance funding?

The Department and the Government are working towards a hard national funding formula to ensure fair funding across the country in every single constituency. I know that my hon. Friend has been campaigning hard to raise the issue facing his schools, and we will listen closely.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his earlier answer. The national funding formula is letting down some of Clacton’s schools financially because of the way Essex County Council is rolling it out. Can the Department not have oversight and work with the council to rebalance the books in favour of our hard-pressed schools in Clacton?

I hope that Essex County Council will move towards the national funding formula as rapidly as possible and will see it as clear guidance on what per pupil funding it should be giving at every school. Part of the reason we have introduced a basic minimum at primary and secondary school level is to ensure that those minimums are delivered to every school across the country, but I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this in greater detail.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way he is levelling up spending in schools across England, but teaching unions have identified a significant difference between the funding for schools in England and Wales. My constituency is near the bottom of the league table for schools funding in Wales. Will he use all his influence to encourage the Welsh Government to make more money available to schools for them to spend on pupils as he is doing in England?

It is disappointing to see what the Labour and Liberal Democrat Government in Wales have been doing on education. I hope that every penny of the almost £200 million extra the Welsh Government will receive, which has been as a result of the funding increase for schools in England, will be passported to every school in Wales to start raising standards in Wales for every pupil.

The Times Educational Supplement reported this week that academies in England were putting pressure on older, more experienced and therefore more expensive teachers to leave their jobs in order to save the academies’ money. Teachers in England already earn more than £6,000 less than their counterparts in Scotland. What use is any promise from this Government of pay increases when it comes in tandem with such bullying levelled against some of England’s most experienced teachers?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the teaching unions and the headteacher unions for the work they have done with the Department on our recruitment and retention policies, which is making sure we work together across the board to make teachers of all ages and experience understand that they can have a fulfilling, rewarding and incredibly important career within education for a generation and more. We will continue that work, recognising the importance to the education of every child of having experienced teachers in our classrooms.

Young People: Equitable Opportunity

10. What steps he is taking to ensure equitable access to opportunity for young people in (a) Staffordshire and (b) the West Midlands; and if he will make a statement. (901015)

Levelling up opportunity across the country is my Department’s top priority, and we have made progress. We are reforming technical education, backed by up to £500 million of investment in T-levels once fully rolled out. Since 2011, the disadvantage gap has narrowed, and over the next three years we will be investing £14 billion more in primary and secondary education, which will allow for a cash increase of £7.1 billion by 2022-23.

Schools in my constituency face the dual challenge of rural and coastal deprivation, and, despite the welcome increase in funding, Devon will remain in the bottom 10% of local authorities in terms of dedicated schools grant per pupil. Will the Secretary of State work with me to ensure that North Devon schools have the funds that they need to support and encourage the aspirations of every child?

I know that my hon. Friend is very passionate about this issue, having been a teacher herself. I am sure that she will welcome the 6.5% per pupil increase in North Devon, which is making, and will make, a real difference to children’s attainment. This is a Government who are delivering extra money for schools throughout the country, but what is also important is that this is a Government who recognise that it is not just about cash—although we are delivering extra cash—but about standards, and about raising standards in every single school for every pupil.

My right hon. Friend and neighbour will know that Staffordshire has been right at the bottom of the pool by comparison with other counties when it comes to money. What good news can he give his schools in South Staffordshire, as well as mine in Lichfield?

As my hon. Friend will know, schools are enjoying an 8.2% cash increase, and schools in Lichfield are receiving an increase of more than 5%. That is to be welcomed, and it is making a real difference. We are also investing in teacher quality and teacher training, and ensuring that the basic starting salary will increase to £30,000. That will be one of the most competitive graduate packages in the marketplace, and will attract the very best into the profession.

Levelling up opportunities for young people is a vital part of delivering for constituents such as those in Stockton South. How will my right hon. Friend improve school standards across the north-east so that every child has the best possible chance of succeeding?

My hon. Friend and I saw the reality of the impact in his constituency when we had the privilege of visiting Thornaby Academy. The academy was recently taken over by Falcon Education Academies Trust, which specialises in supporting schools that are experiencing some of the most challenging circumstances. That was a great example of how injecting leadership and extra support can ensure that schools which have had troubles in the past can reach for a new and more positive future.

In a review published last week, my constituent Sir Michael Marmot argued that a highly educated and well-paid childcare workforce was essential to the improvement of early years provision and the tackling of healthcare inequality. Both are essential if we are to provide equal opportunities for the next generation. However, under this Government early years staff suffered a real-terms pay cut of 5% between 2013 and 2018, and thousands of staff are leaving the profession because of low pay. Will the Secretary of State join me in asking the new Chancellor to pledge more funds for early years provision in the upcoming Budget, so that we can pay our staff properly and the next generation can have equal opportunities?

I am always happy to make representations to Chancellors. I have in the past, and I am certain that I will in the future. I almost thought that the hon. Lady was going to welcome the extra £66 million that we secured last year, and perhaps if she had had the opportunity to go on for a little longer she would have reached that moment.

Has the Secretary of State seen the report by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, in which she points out that between 19% and 20% of kids leaving our schools have no qualifications at all? That is an absolute stain on the conscience of this country. What is he going to do about it?

The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. I would like to pay tribute to the Children’s Commissioner for her incredibly important work in highlighting some of these issues. It is incumbent on all of us in this House to look at what we can do to make a difference to every child. If we look back to 2010 and even before that, we have seen many young people leaving school without the kind of qualifications that we would want for our children. It is incredibly important to note that, although so many more children are now leaving school with the basic English and maths that we would want to see as an absolute minimum, the figure is not high enough. The key element to making that difference is ensuring that we continue to drive standards in schools. That is what we are looking at doing in terms of school improvement and working with organisations such as Ofsted to make a difference.

25. The latest Scottish Government figures show 95% of young people going on to a positive destination. I am proud to say that that is a record figure, and the best in the UK. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming these figures, and will he tell me what plans are in place to ensure that England learns from Scotland’s success? (901030)

I would certainly like to join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming any good figures from any part of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. I always very much welcome the opportunity to see closer co-operation between schools in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and to ensure that we learn from the very best practice across all four nations.

Order. I hope that we can now get through the Order Paper a little more quickly. This applies to Members on both sides.

Further Education Colleges: Future Skills

3. What steps he is taking to ensure further education colleges are able to deliver skills required for the future. (901008)

11. What steps he is taking to ensure further education colleges are able to deliver skills required for the future. (901016)

16. What steps he is taking to ensure further education colleges are able to deliver skills required for the future. (901021)

My hon. Friend will, I am sure, be glad to hear that further education is at the heart of this Government’s plans to level up the skills of the nation by providing high-quality provision and delivering on key policies such as T-levels and apprenticeships. We have been supporting colleges to do this through investment in the further education workforce, and we will increase 16-to-19 funding in 2020-21 as well as investing in the college estate to ensure that colleges are well placed to deliver the skills our economy needs for the future.

The Bolsover constituency currently has no sixth form or further education college. Does the Minister agree that if we are to unleash the potential of young people in my constituency, we need a proper post-16 pathway that is both local and linked to industry?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I know that he will do everything possible to increase opportunities for young people in Bolsover. Of course, every area needs good provision that meets the needs of local employers and learners. He will be aware that, in addition to the RNN group, there are two general colleges that recruit students from the Bolsover area: Chesterfield College and West Nottinghamshire College, both of which supply a bus for students travelling from Bolsover. There are also a number of independent training providers in the surrounding areas that offer a wide range of high quality apprenticeships.

As the Government envoy for engineering, may I welcome last week’s announcement of over £14 million to improve college leadership? Does my hon. Friend agree that quality leadership is a vital part of ensuring that colleges are able to deliver the engineering skills our economy will need in the future?

I should like to start by paying tribute to the leadership that my hon. Friend has shown in championing the cause of apprenticeships in his role as a national apprenticeship ambassador, a role that I held myself. On the issue that he has raised, strong leadership and governance are critical to the success of colleges, and this funding will help colleges to invest in current and future leaders. South Essex College, which has campuses around the south Essex area, is just one example of how good leadership can deliver for local businesses and for young people, including many of my hon. Friend’s own constituents.

As the Minister is aware, the Dinnington campus, run by the RNN group in Rother Valley, is set to close after over-expanding. What support can she provide to those who are currently studying at the Dinnington campus to ensure that their studies are unaffected and that Rother Valley continues to have a leading FE establishment?

The Further Education Commissioner and the Skills Funding Agency provide a wide range of support to colleges, and both are working closely with the group to discuss the implications of the college’s decision to close its campus. It is essential that learning is not disrupted and that good access is maintained, with support for all students. I know that my hon. Friend has already met the FE Commissioner to discuss his concerns, and I will ensure that he is kept closely briefed as we work with the college to ensure that there is good access to further education in the Rother Valley.

I am interested to know how much more money the Minister has to throw at T-levels before she accepts that they have created a qualification that is undeliverable in rural areas and in areas dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises, that has been rejected by colleges—including Scarborough Sixth Form College, which the Secretary of State attended—and, worst of all, that fails to offer equality of opportunity for our young people and fails to deliver the skills upgrade that our country needs.

T-levels represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put our technical education system on a par with the best in the world through a scheme that is equal to traditional academic routes. We are just at the start of the T-level journey, and I urge the hon. Lady to support this important change in our technical education provision.

The Minister spoke earlier about the importance of investment in the FE workforce, but many lecturers in FE are working part time on insecure contracts. When will the Government make sure the funding stream is secure enough for FE colleges to recruit people who will actually be able to spend time investing in their career and in their pupils?

Of course, the workforce in FE colleges are a vital part of delivering the high-quality turnaround we want in our technical education. We are increasing the funding in FE colleges, and we have also increased funding specifically for workforce development. These are independent organisations, of course, so we do not set the pay and salary scales.

Apprenticeships are down 46% since the introduction of the levy. What will the Minister do in National Careers Week to turn that around?

Apprenticeships are at the heart of our vision for a world-class technical education system, and we have specifically focused on quality in the past year or so. High-quality starts have increased to 63% from 44% in the previous year. Quality is the most important thing, and we are pleased to say that the number of starts is increasing this year.[Official Report, 16 March 2020, Vol. 673, c. 5MC.]

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to her place, and I know she is passionate about this issue. Will she join me in welcoming the collaboration in my Mansfield constituency between West Notts College and Nottingham Trent University, which is bringing degree-level nursing qualifications to an area where the NHS is the biggest employer? Does she agree that collaboration between local education providers and business is exactly what we need if we are to fill the skills gap in communities like Mansfield?

One of the key pillars of delivering the new reforms in technical education and further education is the fact that employers are working closely with existing colleges and FE institutions. It is vital that we bridge the gap between what education provides and what businesses need. In our NHS, providing new routes through nursing apprenticeships and nursing degrees that are local to providers is vital.

School Exclusions

The Government back headteachers to create calm and safe schools by giving teachers the powers they need to enforce discipline and good behaviour. We are taking forward an ambitious programme of action on behaviour, exclusion and alternative provision, which will back headteachers to use exclusion, enable schools to support children at risk of exclusion and ensure that excluded children continue to receive a good education.

The Minister knows that school exclusions have increased by 70% since 2012, and he knows that children have not become 70% naughtier in that time. Something is going wrong with the system, and the consequence for society and individuals is extreme. We had a debate in Westminster Hall last week that he was kind enough to attend, but we did not have enough time to discuss all the issues. Will he be kind enough to meet me and members of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which has done a report on the link between crime and school exclusions? Perhaps the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson), who has done an excellent review of why some of these issues have occurred and what we can do about it, will also want to come.

I am very happy to host a meeting, and I would enjoy discussing these issues in greater detail. The hon. Lady will know, of course, that permanent exclusion, at 0.1%, is extremely low, and is actually lower than it was in 2006-07. The research on the link between exclusion and knife crime shows it is more complicated than simply a correlation because, for example, 83% of 16-year-old knife-possession offenders in 2013 had been persistently absent from education at some point during their school career. It is absence from school that is the key factor, which is why this Government so emphasise the importance of children attending school.

The Minister mentions 0.1%, but the Education Policy Institute found that there were 69,000 unexplained exits from school in 2017 alone. Does the Minister really believe that our schools are getting better when there is a crisis of more and more pupils leaving the system? The Minister has yet to commit to implementing the report from the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson). Will he now commit to implementing all the recommendations of the Timpson review?

As I said in answer to the question from the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), the rate of exclusions today is lower than under the last Labour Government in 2006-07. We take the issues referred to in the Timpson report, such as off-rolling, very seriously. Off-rolling is unacceptable in any form, which is why we continue to work with Ofsted to define and tackle it. Ofsted already looks at the records of children taken off roll. Its new inspection framework, which came into force this September, has a strength and focus on off-rolling that we support.

When they are used effectively, fixed-period exclusions can help to address the underlying causes of poor behaviour, but when they are not, they are not able to. For some children, that means up to 45 days in an academic year when they are on a succession of repeated exclusions, which is far too long to be out of school. Will my right hon. Friend agree to look at the recommendation in my review—along with the other 29—on how we can reduce that limit of 45 days at the same time as improving practice in this important area?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his review of school exclusions. Both he and I support our headteachers in the use of exclusion, where appropriate, to ensure that they have good discipline in their schools. My hon. Friend is correct that it is possible for children to be excluded from school for 45 days in an academic year, though it is actually rare for children to reach that limit. In 2017-18, just 94 pupils were excluded from schools in England for 45 days in a single year. The Government are considering these arrangements and we will make a further announcement about our plans in due course.

Whether or not the numbers have decreased since the last Government were in office, we still have around 40 children excluded from our schools every day, at a cost of some £370,000 per child. We know that 58% of young prisoners were permanently excluded from school. These excluded children are being left behind—only around 1% get five or more GCSEs, if they get any at all. What is my right hon. Friend doing? Has he seen the report from the Education Committee in the last Parliament on transparency regarding numbers of exclusions and on schools being partially accountable for the pupils whom they exclude?

My right hon. Friend is right. We know that we have to give headteachers the tools to ensure that we have safe, calm environments in our schools. No headteacher excludes without giving the matter very careful consideration, with permanent exclusions used only as a very last resort. What is key is that exclusion from school must not mean exclusion from education, so timely access to high-quality alternative provision plays a critical role in improving excluded children’s outcomes. Our objective is to improve the quality and capacity of alternative provision.

Bradford University: Medical School

5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the potential merits of Bradford University establishing a medical school. (901010)

The Secretary of State for Education, who is in fact an esteemed alumnus of Bradford University, has not discussed the potential merits of the university establishing a medical school with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. The Government provide grant funding for eligible higher education providers to contribute towards the cost of delivering medical degrees.

The truth is that the last Conservative Government did not engage with any university in the whole of Yorkshire when they were planning their medical schools. Perhaps now, given that the Tory buzzword is “levelling up”, the Minister might level up Bradford University and Yorkshire, and work with and agree to meet the university, which is very ready to train up medics, given that post-Brexit Britain will have a skills shortage.

The University of Bradford did contribute a bid in 2017. That process subsequently produced five brand new medical schools, which have increased our capacity by 1,500 medical places. Unfortunately, the University of Bradford’s application was unsuccessful, but it is not true to say that the Department did not engage with the university, and I am more than happy to visit it.

It is wonderful to hear about the plans at the University of Bradford. In addition, the University of Worcester is developing plans for a three counties medical school, which would cover Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. May I urge my hon. Friend also to look into working with the Department of Health and Social Care to support that bid?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. We are excited about all the opportunities that are developing around the country. The NHS people plan, which has considered options for growing the medical workforce, will be published later this year.

Free School Holiday Activities and Meals

6. What steps he is taking to increase the provision of free school holiday (a) activities and (b) meals for children living in poverty. (901011)

This lunchtime, 1.3 million children sat down for a healthy, nutritious free school meal. Last summer, about 50,000 children took part in our holiday activities and food programme. Furthermore, our manifesto commits £1 billion for more wraparound and holiday childcare places from 2021, and we have already started working on the details.

The funding for the Government’s holiday activities and food programme is a drop in the ocean, given that in Nottingham alone nearly 11,000 children used food banks for emergency supplies in the past year. Does the Minister acknowledge the sheer scale of child poverty and hunger, which has boomed on this Government’s watch? Will she outline how this Government scheme is at least targeting the areas of the country that are most in need?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. All the evidence shows that work offers families the best opportunity to move out of poverty and towards self-reliance, which is why it is such good news that there are 730,000 fewer children in workless households now than a decade ago—that is a record low. Our programme of holiday food and activities is already helping about 50,000 children, and the successful bidders for next summer will be announced shortly.

May I welcome the new Ministers to their places?

It is a damning indictment of this Government that the United Nations found children in our country regularly turning up to school with empty stomachs, with more than 2 million suffering from food poverty. Hungry children struggle to learn, so it is shocking to see reports that the Chancellor is considering scrapping free school meals in the upcoming Budget. I know that the Secretary of State stated earlier that he would make representations to the Chancellor, but will he state categorically today that he would resign rather than implement such cuts? While he is at it, should he not also adopt our proposals for free school breakfasts, which I know he once supported?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of a healthy breakfast, because we know that a healthy breakfast helps children to concentrate, learn and reach their potential in life. That is why we are already investing up to £35 million in our breakfast clubs programme; 1,800 schools in more disadvantaged areas have already signed up. The programme can be extended to nearly 2,500 schools, and Family Action has estimated that about 280,000 children are already receiving a free breakfast through the programme every day.

For more than a decade, I have worked with the charity Magic Breakfast to open school breakfast clubs across the country in order to improve the life chances of our young people. What support can my hon. Friend give to expand that breakfast club programme so that it reaches even more young people?

Many schools have already opened successful breakfast clubs, and we are investing up to £35 million to improve that provision in disadvantaged areas. Schools are free to use their budgets to fund breakfast clubs. May I also remind my hon. Friend of our manifesto commitment of £1 billion for more wraparound and holiday childcare places from next year?

Does my hon. Friend agree that the measure of the Government’s commitment is in their record? We have already extended eligibility for free school meals on no fewer than three occasions. Hundreds more schools are set to benefit from the national breakfast programme and thousands more children are set to benefit from holiday activities this coming summer.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our programme is already operating in a number of areas and he is right that it has been extended. We can use the programme to help to find out how we can best support children and families during the holidays. A full evaluation of the 2019 programme will be published shortly.

EU Educational and Research Programmes

7. What plans he has to ensure UK access to EU educational and research programmes after the transition period; and if he will make a statement. (901012)

12. What plans he has to ensure UK access to EU educational and research programmes after the transition period; and if he will make a statement. (901017)

I stress that the UK remains open to participation in elements of Erasmus+ on a time-limited basis, provided that the terms are in the UK’s interests. The UK will consider a relationship in line with non-EU member state participation in certain EU programmes, including Horizon Europe.

As the Minister says herself, the proposal for the future EU relationship suggests that the Government will take part in only certain elements of Erasmus+ and only for a time-limited period. Will she explain what it is about the Erasmus+ scheme that the Secretary of State thinks is not beneficial? Why on earth would participation be on just a temporary basis?

I am sure that we can all agree that the Erasmus scheme offers a wonderful opportunity for international mobility for students. However, it is vital that we utilise our exit from the European Union to ensure that such programmes deliver for everybody in our country, which is why we will make sure that we proceed in our best interests and why we will sign up only if it is on the terms of the UK’s interests.

The Scottish Government and partners have invested around £85 million in a state-of-the-art college campus in my constituency of Falkirk. Students from all over Europe attend the Forth Valley College. EU students bring a huge economic benefit to the college, Falkirk, Scotland and the UK, and they enrich our institutions, both culturally and academically. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that the UK remains open, attractive and competitive for EU students in the years ahead? I would like the Minister to develop her answer a wee bit more about what steps are being put in place.

We are committed to remaining open to participating in elements of the Erasmus scheme, as I have pointed out. The Government are very positive about the benefits of students coming to this country, which was exactly why the Prime Minister announced that there will be a graduate option from 2021 so that graduates will be able to work in this country for the two years following their degree.

I welcome the Minister to her place—and, indeed, all the new Ministers to their places.

Any participation in EU funding programmes will no doubt depend on the UK’s position regarding EU students. As universities are currently recruiting for the academic year starting in 2021, they need clear answers, so will the Minister confirm whether EU students will be treated as international students from 2021 in respect of their fee and immigration status?

I am sure that the hon. Member can appreciate that the details are currently being negotiated. We will update the House as soon as possible.

It should be clear to the House that our universities have an enviable reputation around the world. Indeed, research and education are two of our greatest exports. In the light of that, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that that success not only continues but increases?

This is essential. We have a target for 2030 of 600,000 international students coming to this country. We do value their importance as an international facilitator in our education system.

A total of 32% of 15 to 30-year-olds from the UK can read and write in a foreign language, compared with 79% in France, 91% in Germany and an incredible 99% in Denmark. Does the Minister believe that cutting off access to programmes such as Erasmus will boost or further worsen those dismal figures?

I am sorry that the hon. Member does not seem to have listened because we are going to try to participate in Erasmus, and nobody has talked today about cutting off our ability to do so.

Children’s Social Care

We are working to make sure that more local authorities are rated as outstanding, with fewer failing, and we are also strengthening the social work profession. As was set out in our manifesto, we will undertake a bold, independent review of our children’s social care system so that we can go even further to provide children with the support that they need.

In Buckinghamshire, our hard-working social workers travel around 1 million miles a year to undertake statutory visits and court attendances. That is considerably more than occurs in urban environments, especially as the family court is now out of area. What further steps can my right hon. Friend take to ensure that children’s social services are fully supported in rural communities?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. That is why we have committed to putting an extra £1 billion into children and adults’ social care. I would be happy to speak to him about what more we can do to support rural counties and the delivery of these vital services.

If the Secretary of State really is serious about improving children’s social care, can he explain why a letter sent to him in January, which was signed by 631 experts and me, to request an independent, whole-system review has been completely ignored?

I will certainly take up the issue of why that correspondence was not responded to immediately. I am sure that the hon. Lady recognises that it was in our manifesto—we have already announced it—that there will be an independent review looking at the care system for our children, and that is something that she will perhaps welcome.

Children’s social care in Northamptonshire had been failing for some time such that the Government set up a children’s commissioner to guide the service into an independent children’s trust. This is an extremely serious issue for Northamptonshire. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the children’s trust has the resources it needs to sort the system out?

We will certainly undertake to make that commitment. The challenges in Northamptonshire were grave, and it was right that the Government decided to take the action that they did to ensure that we have the very highest quality of services for all children in the county.

Special Educational Needs and Disability

9. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the support provided to children and young people with special educational needs and disability. (901014)

Every child should receive a world-class education, no matter what their needs. That is why we are investing £7.2 billion this coming year to support those with the most complex needs—an increase of £780 million. Local performance varies across the country, so we are reviewing the entire SEND system and working closely with stakeholders and parents.

I am glad to hear that the system is being reviewed. Cuts to council funding for special educational needs and disability services mean that children in Wandsworth are waiting too long for a diagnosis and for an education, health and care plan. Then, too many do not receive the support they need that is outlined in that plan. This common experience of parents and children was backed up by a recent Ofsted report that said that Wandsworth’s EHC plans were of poor quality and that there were significant concerns. There is a cost to cuts. Will the Secretary of State ensure that there is significant additional funding for councils in the Budget for special educational needs and disability services?

The London Borough of Wandsworth will receive £47.8 million in high-needs funding in the next year, which is an increase of 8.6%. The performance of local areas in producing education, health and care plans is variable, but over 30 areas do get more than 90% of plans done within the 20-week period which, I note, is a reduction from the 26-week period under the previous Labour Government. Performance does vary across the country. Where it is not good enough, we support and challenge local areas to improve.

Will the Minister apologise for her Government’s imposition of such irresponsibly severe cuts that the Care Quality Commission has now found that one third of all services for special needs children have significant failings? After 10 years of this kind of failure, what is her plan to sort this national crisis out?

As I have just said, there has been an increase of £780 million in additional high-needs funding next year, which is a 12% increase. Performance does vary, but we know that only because of the joint Oftsted-CQC inspections that this Government introduced. The reports do not give a pass-fail judgment, and many of them show strength. Furthermore, when they have been re-inspected following the work of the Government, six of the 17 councils have made sufficient progress in every area.

Order. The Opposition are getting upset because Government Front Benchers are taking too long. They should speed up in future.

Topical Questions

This week, I announced a new set of behaviour hubs that are being introduced right across the country to make sure that there are the very highest standards of behaviour in every single one of our schools.

As with all Government Departments right across the country, we are making sure that there are regular communications about the coronavirus. We are communicating to all educational settings to make sure that they have a clear understanding of some of the challenges in dealing with the virus. We are advising that schools should stay open unless advised otherwise by Public Health England, and we are planning for a reasonable worst-case scenario, working closely with other Departments and, of course, Public Health England.

In my constituency of Jarrow, headteachers have told me that they are struggling to make ends meet. Cuts to funding for their schools have resulted in overcrowded classrooms, and teaching and non-teaching staff being cut. Buildings are crumbling. Does the Minister believe, like me, that our teachers and children deserve better?

What we are seeing in the hon. Lady’s constituency is a 6.1% cash increase in what is going to be going to schools and a 4.8% per pupil increase. That is a positive step forward in making sure that every school benefits from the increases in funding that we announced last year.

T2. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the apprenticeship levy has been a fantastic success for many young people across the country—not least for constituents of mine in North Norfolk? What can he do to help more small and medium-sized businesses take up the levy, to ensure that more young people can unlock their potential? (901032)

My hon. Friend raises an important point about how we make sure that we get the highest level of training to every business—not just to large businesses but to the small and medium-sized enterprise sector as well. The apprenticeship levy has revolutionised how people think about apprenticeships, and we need to continue to build on that. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend to make sure that SMEs get the benefit.

Across the country, hard-working staff in universities and colleges have been forced to strike against effective cuts to their pay and attacks on education that hurt students and staff alike. So far, the Education Secretary’s response to the crisis is much like the Health Secretary’s response to the coronavirus: wash your hands of it and hope it goes away. Will Ministers finally step in, respond to the urgent letter they received from the University and College Union, urge universities to make a fair offer, and ensure that next week’s Budget gives teachers in colleges the pay that they deserve?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. I want to see a resolution to this matter as swiftly as possible, and I urge both parties to come to a resolution. The people suffering most of all are the students whose studies are being impacted. We need a resolution as swiftly as possible, and I urge both the unions and the universities to get an agreement within the next few weeks.

T4. In answer to written question 8315, my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) confirmed that the rate of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds of £4,000 per student in 2013 would be worth £4,435 last year and £4,760 this year. However, the funding is at £4,188. Do Ministers agree that we should increase the rate, as recommended by the Select Committee on Education? (901034)

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government have announced increased funding for 16 to 19-year-olds of £400 million in 2020-21. That is the biggest injection of new money in a single year for a decade. As our manifesto made clear, there will be further investment in T-levels and further education college estates, and we will of course be looking again at further education funding as part of future spending reviews.

T3. Will Ministers review the operation of the free school meals cash card, because I believe that £2.30 a day is often not enough for the cost of the school meal? I also understand that the money is not roll-overable and Feeding Britain estimates that this means that £88 million went unspent in one year, when it should have been spent feeding children from low-income families. (901033)

The free school meals factor in the national funding formula will be increased in line with inflation, which is forecast at 1.84%. I will look into the issue further.

T5. Barnet has not benefited from the transitional funding for maintained nursery schools. As a result, our maintained nursery schools are under severe financial stress. May I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that Barnet is included in the long-term funding solution that he has promised for the maintained nursery school sector? (901035)

My right hon. Friend has been campaigning on this issue on behalf of her constituents for a long time. An extra £60 million has been provided for the coming financial year. I know that we are going to be meeting shortly to discuss the particular circumstances that arise in Barnet, and look forward to working with her to find a solution for the maintained nursery schools in her constituency.

T9. According to the Department’s own statistics, Sheffield Music Hub is one of the best in the country, and— alongside Sheffield Music Academy—the only one of its kind not to have a permanent home. There are ambitious plans to create a centre for inclusion and excellence in music education in Sheffield. Will the Minister agree to meet, or ideally visit, the team to see for himself how the project could transform thousands of lives and benefit our city? (901039)

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady and her team. The Government regard music education as hugely important. We are allocating £75 million a year to music hubs up and down the country, and hundreds of thousands of children are being introduced to musical instruments through that programme. I would be delighted to have further discussions on this subject.

T6. Derwentside College in Consett in my constituency is rated No. 1 in the north-east for satisfaction by both students and local employers. What are the Government doing to support great technical and vocational colleges such as Derwentside to deliver more for students in the future? (901036)

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that he did when he was at the Department for Education. I know that this topic is something that he feels very passionately about. The roll-out of T-levels, the expansion of technical and vocational qualifications, and the extra money that we are putting into colleges all make a vital difference. What makes Derwentside College successful is collaboration with local employers—ensuring that it is training people with the right skills really to contribute to the local labour market.

Last week, one of my local schools in Ilford South had to strike against forced academisation. Will the Minister consider writing to the Catholic diocese of Brentwood and asking it to consider this unwarranted intervention, which does not have the support of the parents or the teachers at that school? Already this year there has been a mass exodus of staff from the teaching profession because of the threat of forced academisation—not just in Ilford, but across the country.

Academisation takes place when a school is put into special measures by Ofsted. We want high standards throughout our school system. The academies programme has resulted in standards improving in schools. When we came into office in 2010, 68% of schools were graded good or outstanding. Today that figure is 86%—in part due to the very successful academisation programme.

T7. The Minister will be aware that 9 March is Commonwealth day. Will he undertake to ensure that all schools across the United Kingdom celebrate the Commonwealth’s history, that assemblies and special lessons take place, and that schools are encouraged to fly the Commonwealth flag for Commonwealth week? (901037)

I know that my hon. Friend feels very strongly about this issue. The curriculum gives teachers and schools the freedom to use specific examples from history to teach pupils about the history of Britain and the wider world, and this does mean that there are opportunities to teach pupils about the Commonwealth and Britain’s overseas territories.

When will the Department start mapping the provision of essential services for children with special needs? How else will the Minister recognise that the average spend per child for speech and language therapy is 90p in the west midlands as opposed to £7.29 in London?

We are very happy to look at any suggestions that the hon. Gentleman can put forward, because as part of our special educational needs review we are trying to see how we can best deliver these services for the benefit of every child. If he has some suggestions, I ask him to send them to me.

T10. In my constituency of Bury North, we need to strengthen specialist mainstream provision for primary-age children with autistic spectrum conditions and children with social, emotional and mental health needs. Will the Secretary of State or the relevant Minister agree to meet me and representatives of Bury Metropolitan Borough Council to discuss how we can fund two new bases to provide much-needed support for some of the most vulnerable pupils in my town? (901040)

I thank my hon. Friend for his concern for children with autism and social, emotional and mental health needs. We do understand that there can be challenges for these children in achieving their potential in education, although the vast majority of them go to mainstream schools. Specialist bases within the schools can be a help. We have invested £365 million through the special provision capital fund. I am very happy to meet him to discuss the situation in Bury.

What are the Government doing to ensure that there are enough educational psychologists to assess the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities?

I remind the hon. Lady that we are investing a further £780 million in the special educational needs area, and we do work in this area to improve the quality of these skills.

Achieving net zero emissions and the green jobs of the future means having enough skilled workers in electric vehicle maintenance and zero-energy-bill homes construction, so what are the Government doing to make sure that the supply of these vital workers meets the growing demand?

My hon. Friend is a powerful voice for the environment, and it is no surprise to find that in this area he is right. The UK is leading a new green industrial revolution, and we need a workforce with the technical skills for the future. That is why we have introduced T-levels. We are also investing £290 million in 20 institutes of technology, which will be the pinnacle of technical training.

The Scottish Government have undertaken a review to consider the experiences and outcomes for young people in care in Scotland. Will the UK Government carry out a similar exercise in England?

The hon. Lady will be delighted to hear that we are carrying out an independent care review. Picking up on the comment made by her colleague, the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), it is really important that all four nations of the United Kingdom work together and share best practice, and that we look at how we can provide better outcomes for all those children in care.

I thank the Secretary of State for coming to my constituency last week, where he saw MIRA Technology Institute and North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College working together. I raised with him and his team another educational establishment in my constituency, Hinckley Academy and John Cleveland Sixth Form Centre, where the roof leaks significantly when it rains, causing half of its lessons to be cancelled. Will he meet me to discuss how we could do something about this?

Of course I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. It was great to be able to join him at North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College and see the amazing work that is being done. I know that he is an incredible champion for all the schools in his constituency, and I look forward to working to find a solution to the problems that he has outlined.

Like many parents up and down the country, I am looking at my phone every five minutes to see whether my daughter has got the place at her first-choice secondary school that we are hoping for. Will the Secretary of State send his best wishes to all the children in Croydon who are waiting to hear and let us know what he is doing in areas of high demand to ensure that people get their first choices?

The hon. Lady highlights a concern at a worrying time for many parents, as they wait in eager anticipation. While I cannot guarantee her child the place that she wishes for, as that would be improper, I very much hope that she gets it. It is vital that we expand the range of educational establishments. That is why the free school programme has been so important not only in areas of London but right across the country, ensuring that we level up in terms of the quality of educational provision.

In the UK, we have an ample supply of creative and talented people working for our video and online gaming companies. Those companies have mastered the art of creating addictive games such as “Grand Theft Auto”, where young people are driven to the next level. Would it not be great if, in education, our children were refusing to leave their games consoles because they were driven to the next grade for their GCSEs? What is the Department doing to incentivise the industry to create addictive educational games that will help our children improve their scores?

Our tech strategy seeks to support teachers to make the right choices about technology that meet the needs of their school and the challenges they face. It was this Government who replaced the ICT curriculum with a computer science curriculum, so that we can lead the world in creating the next generation of computer programmers.

Ministerial Code

(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the recent apparent breaches of the ministerial code and whether he intends to refer the matter to the Cabinet Office for further investigation.

On Saturday 29 February, the Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service received and accepted the resignation of Sir Philip Rutnam as permanent secretary at the Home Office. On the same day, the Cabinet Secretary announced that Shona Dunn—then the second permanent secretary at the Home Office, responsible for borders, immigration and citizenship—would become acting permanent secretary with immediate effect.

Allegations have been made that the Home Secretary has breached the ministerial code. The Home Secretary absolutely rejects those allegations. The Prime Minister has expressed his full confidence in her, and having worked closely with the Home Secretary over a number of years, I have the highest regard for her. She is a superb Minister doing a great job.

This Government always take any complaints relating to the ministerial code seriously, and in line with the process set out in the ministerial code, the Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Office to establish the facts. As is usual, the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, Sir Alex Allan, is available to provide advice to the Prime Minister.

It is long-standing Government policy not to comment on individual personnel matters, in order to protect the rights of all involved. What I can and will say is that I know that the dedicated ministerial team at the Home Office and their superb civil servants will continue their critical work on the public’s behalf, keeping our country protected from the terror threat, bearing down on criminals who seek to do our communities and our country harm, and delivering a fair, firm immigration system that works in the interests of the British people. The Home Office works tirelessly to keep our citizens safe and our country secure, and we all stand behind the team leading that vital work.

Mr Speaker, I am grateful to you for granting this urgent question. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reply, but my question was to the Prime Minister. Could we have an answer as to where the Prime Minister is this afternoon? When an urgent question to the Prime Minister is granted, one would expect the Prime Minister to come to this House to answer the question that has been put to him.

It is the Prime Minister’s job to oversee the ministerial code. If the serious allegations raised by the permanent secretary at the Home Office, Sir Philip Rutnam, about the Home Secretary’s conduct are true—including

“shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands”—

that would clearly constitute a breach of the ministerial code.

The Prime Minister himself, in his foreword to the code, said there must be

“no bullying and no harassment”.

Those are his words in his foreword to the ministerial code, so why, without a proper investigation, has the Prime Minister defended the Home Secretary, calling her “fantastic” and saying he “absolutely” has confidence in her?

It is not enough just to refer this to the Cabinet Office. The Government must now call in an external lawyer, as has quite rightly been suggested by the union of senior civil servants, the First Division Association. A Minister in breach of the ministerial code cannot remain in office and should be dismissed.

These are just the latest in a series of allegations that suggest an unacceptable pattern of behaviour. According to reports in our media, a number of the Home Office clashes have involved demands from the Home Secretary some of which were considered illegal by officials—illegal by officials. Most disturbingly, the Home Secretary reportedly asked officials to reverse a court ruling halting the deportation of 25 individuals to Jamaica last month. If that is the case, was the Home Secretary not trying to push officials into breaching a ruling by the Court of Appeal?

Is it now this Government’s policy to bully officials into flouting court rulings? Is it not the truth that this is a Government led by bullies, presided over by a part-time Prime Minister, who not only cannot be bothered to turn up, but simply will not take the vital action required when the very integrity and credibility of the Government are on the line?

I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for his questions. The Prime Minister is of course in Downing Street, leading our response to the coronavirus, implementing the people’s priorities and making sure that the manifesto promises at the general election are delivered. He is governing in the national interest, delivering for the British people. As the Minister responsible for the civil service, I am pleased to be here in order to be able to uphold the ministerial code and to underline our thanks to our superb civil service for the work it does every day, implementing the manifesto commitments on which we were elected.

The Leader of the Opposition asks if this investigation is robust and fit for purpose. Of course it is. The ministerial code is absolutely clear, and the Cabinet Secretary, who polices it alongside the Prime Minister, also has access to Sir Alex Allan to ensure that every part of the ministerial code is adhered to. One of the things that is clear about this Government is that we believe that Ministers, special advisers and civil servants need to work together with confidence, with clarity and in a co-ordinated fashion to ensure that our priorities are delivered.

The Leader of the Opposition referred to media reports. I would have thought that he of all people would be wary of believing what he reads in the newspaper. We make no apology for having strong Ministers in place to ensure the effective delivery of public priorities. There is a stark contrast between the actions that the Home Secretary and her colleagues are taking to keep this country safe, and the danger in which our country would have been placed if he had won the general election and his approach towards national security had been followed.

The final thing that many will reflect on is that it is vitally important that all of us in this House uphold the highest standards of civility and respect for others. However, many people will look at the Opposition Front Bench and reflect on the fact that Labour MPs required armed police protection at their own party conference, and that the shadow Chancellor spoke of lynching Members of this House, and they will draw the conclusion that all of us need to reflect on the importance of restoring civility to public life before we throw around allegations like that.

I am someone who strongly supports the work that the Home Secretary is doing to make sure we are secure and to have a new borders policy. Can the Government guarantee that this will be a quick process, so that we can get to an early answer and she can get on with the job?

My right hon. Friend speaks for many in the country. The Home Secretary is doing a superb job. The new points-based immigration system is in line with what this country wants, and we want to make sure that this process is expedited in a fair way.

The circumstances surrounding the resignation at the weekend were unprecedented, although the Government seem to thrive on unprecedented circumstances. It seems that the Home Secretary may be trying to create a hostile environment inside the Home Office, as well as outside it. We in the House are all managers of staff, and every Member understands the rewards and challenges that brings. There is a world of difference between robust management and bullying, however, and only an independent investigation can establish which of the two has gone on. That is what the FDA union has called for, so why will the Government not agree to an independent investigation? What are they afraid of?

On the whereabouts of the Prime Minister, we know that in the past he was so afraid of the scrutiny of the House that he tried—unlawfully—to shut it down. Is he still afraid of the scrutiny of the House of Commons, or is he in hiding because we are about to lose another Cabinet Minister from one of the great offices of state?

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for her question, and she knows that I have enormous respect and affection for the work she does. She is right to say that, as we are all managers of staff and public servants, we must be properly robust and exacting in ensuring that we do everything we can to deliver for those who put us here. All my ministerial colleagues know that their first responsibility is to the British people, and to delivering the manifesto on which we were elected.

The hon and learned Lady rightly said that it is important that any investigation is thorough, rapid, independent, and authoritative. The Cabinet Secretary will be leading the work in accordance with the ministerial code, and with access to the independent adviser, Sir Alex Allan, and that will ensure a proper and fair inquiry. On the presence of the Prime Minister, as I said earlier, the Prime Minister is determined to ensure that across Government we fulfil our manifesto pledges, and it is right for him to lead that work. As the Minister responsible for the civil service, it is appropriate that I am here answering these questions.

How does my right hon. Friend think that Margaret Thatcher would have got on if she had been subjected to the same smears and sexism as have been used against the current iron lady in the Home Office?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. We are all aware that progress in the past has depended on strong Ministers, and indeed strong Prime Ministers, setting exacting terms, but it has also depended on having a brilliant and able civil service that can act with confidence and provide candid advice. Those two important pillars of our constitution are at the heart of this Government’s operation.

Sir Philip Rutnam’s statement said that he received allegations about the Home Secretary’s behaviour from other civil servants. Will the Minister say how many allegations there have been, from both within and without the Home Office, and will every one be investigated as part of this inquiry?

As the right hon. Lady will appreciate, it would be improper for me to go into individual personnel cases, but every legitimately raised complaint will, of course, be investigated.

Anyone who has watched “Yes Minister” will know that profoundly felt differences of opinion can exist between civil servants on the one hand and Ministers on the other. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when a Minister or Secretary of State is implementing Government policy, that must prevail? Civil servants are Crown servants and, as I am sure they would agree, they really do have to carry out the will of the people.

My hon. Friend is right, and as I and my ministerial colleagues know, when implementing our manifesto commitments it is important that we are robust and clear about what is required, to ensure that we deliver for the British people. It is also true that the effective delivery of Government policy depends on candid advice from civil servants, and that relationship must therefore be one in which both sides respect each other’s particular responsibilities, as I know is the case across Government.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that it has now been almost two years since the Windrush scandal. Do the allegations made in relation to the Home Secretary relate to the publication of that long-overdue report? Will this debacle, and the loss of the permanent secretary, mean that that report will now be delayed even longer?

I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman has been a formidable and effective advocate on behalf of the Windrush generation, but it is important for me to state that I have no evidence that any of the allegations that may or may not have been made relate to the report. The report is being conducted entirely independently. I understand his anxiety, and the anxiety of many across the House, to see that report published as soon as possible. I know that that is the Government’s wish as well.

Will my right hon. Friend take a small piece of advice from me and my family, who have given over 150 years’ work to the civil service of our great country? Civil servants give advice, and Ministers and Secretaries of State enact Government policy. The two should not get mixed up, so will he please give our support to our present Home Secretary?

I am very, very grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been a superb Minister. Of course, she is absolutely right. The ethos of public service that she characterises is at the heart of our effective constitution.

In all my many years in this House, eight of them as a Minister in the Government, I do not think I have ever seen such a resignation announcement from a permanent secretary: actively calling his Secretary of State a liar, accusing her of bullying in the most gross terms, and feeling he had no option but to do so publicly. Clearly, something here has gone extremely wrong and it surely threatens the independence of the civil service if this rot is allowed to continue. What is the Minister, who has responsibility for the civil service, going to do to protect the integrity of the civil service from these kinds of ad hominem political attacks?

The hon. Lady was herself a distinguished Minister and I know how high was the regard in which she was held by her civil servants. I completely agree with her that it is vital that all of us seek to uphold the independence of the civil service. It is absolutely vital that the civil service is able to offer candid advice to Ministers. I know myself, having worked with the Home Secretary and others, that we have benefited from that candid advice in seeking to implement Government policy. However, I think it is also important to acknowledge that Sir Philip, a distinguished public servant, has indicated that he may initiate legal proceedings against the Government, so it would be inappropriate for me to say more about the particular statements he made on Saturday.

I believe we have an excellent and dynamic Home Secretary who deserves our unwavering support. Does the Chancellor recall, just a few months ago, Labour MP after Labour MP going on the record publicly telling us about vicious bullying and antisemitism in the Labour party? Should not the Leader of the Opposition therefore remove the plank from his own eye?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. First, the Home Secretary is doing an outstanding job. Secondly, while the Labour party remains under investigation from the Equality and Human Rights Commission for some of the practices that have occurred under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), it is important that there is an appropriate sense of proportion and humility in his comments.

If what the Minister has told us today is correct, then Philip Rutnam is being either severely misleading or widely mistaken. Which of those two is it?

The first point I would make is that because Sir Philip has made a particular statement as a prequel to potential legal proceedings, it would be wrong for me to provide a commentary on his words. What I will say is that he is a distinguished public servant and I thank him for his service. It is also important for me to place on record my knowledge that the Home Secretary is an outstanding Home Secretary who deserves our support.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It is vital that we first acknowledge that the civil service does an outstanding job. If one looks over recent months at, for example, how the Department for Transport dealt with the collapse of Thomas Cook or the response of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency to recent flooding, we see people going above and beyond to serve the public. But all of us can do better in every area. I look forward to working with the Cabinet Secretary and other leaders of the civil service to ensure that we can support the civil service to do even better in the future.

The allegations of bullying on the part of a Cabinet Minister are incredibly serious. We all saw the breakdown of that relationship at the weekend and that requires an immediate investigation. However, the ministerial code also states that Ministers have

“a duty to give fair consideration and due weight to informed and impartial advice from civil servants”.

There are now reports of an alleged hitlist of senior civil servants whom No. 10 is seeking to replace for political reasons—a list that reportedly included Sir Philip Rutnam. That is clearly incompatible with that duty. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether such a list exists?

No such list exists. It is the case that having worked with a variety of permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants across Departments, I have personally benefited from their robust—sometimes very robust—advice, and I have always been happy to come to this House to acknowledge when I have been wrong and others have been right.

Is it not the case that this all started with briefings from unknown sources against the Home Secretary, not the other way around? My constituents want fair immigration and fairness for the taxpayer. They want 20,000 more police on our streets. Does this not have the nasty whiff of an establishment who are trying to stop these policies?

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. I suspect that many people watching our debates and knowing that we are discussing home affairs and the Home Office will be asking, “Why are MPs not concentrating on improving our migration system? Why are MPs not doing more to ensure that our police are supported in the fight against organised crime? Why are MPs not making sure that we take an even stronger stance against terrorism?” It is vitally important, of course, that the ministerial code is upheld and defended, but it is also vitally important, as he points out, that the Government deliver for the people on their manifesto promises.

I gently caution the Minister against his two central arguments: first, that a strong and exacting Minister can pretty much get away with anything, and secondly, that the Home Secretary is charming, so that is all fine. The truth of the matter and the experience in this House—and my personal experience when I was a Minister—is that the way bullying normally happens is that somebody one minute is extremely charming, praises you to high heaven, and then the next day humiliates you in front of staff and colleagues or behind your back. That is the nature of bullying and I urge the Minister not to dismiss all this talk of bullying, because too many people out in the country still get bullied.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We do not dismiss any allegations or concerns about bullying. It is vitally important that Ministers, special advisers and civil servants all work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. He is right that bullying can occur in any workplace and we must be vigilant about bullying behaviour, but I also say that simply because allegations have been raised or complaints have been made, it should not automatically be the case that people then, whether through trial by media or other means, attempt to besmirch the reputation of someone who is an outstanding public servant.

The Home Secretary has been doing a fantastic job on child sexual exploitation and grooming gangs. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that Ministers will not find directions given to civil servants blocked or diverted?

My hon. Friend has done outstanding work in drawing attention to those issues, and it is the case that the work of the Home Office, its ministerial team and its superb civil servants goes on uninterrupted. One of the most important things that the Home Office can do is safeguard the most vulnerable in our society from the type of exploitation that she has so vigorously campaigned against.

Of course there is a world of difference between having a difference of opinion with somebody and being shouted down or humiliated by that person. We have a situation where impartial civil servants may feel that they cannot operate in an impartial way. How will the Minister guarantee that they can continue to do the job that they are supposed to do when they are concerned that their advice may result in bullying or abuse?

It is my experience, and the experience of my ministerial colleagues, that the civil service is clear that it can offer robust, impartial advice and provide counters from time to time to propositions that are put forward by Ministers, confident in the knowledge that we as Ministers respect the civil service for its independence and integrity. It is vitally important that anyone within public service who feels that the atmosphere in which they work is not conducive to that has the opportunity, which this Government provide, to make sure that their concerns are properly expressed and, if necessary, properly investigated.

The Leader of the Opposition mentioned some press reports, but he never touched on the fact that the policies pursued by the Home Secretary were voted for overwhelmingly in December and are extremely popular. People voted for 20,000 extra police and a managed immigration system. Her real offence is that she has upset the Opposition and the establishment. Can my right hon. Friend guarantee, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) touched on, that this inquiry will have the necessary resources to be finished quickly so that our greatly respected Home Secretary can crack on and deliver the job we were voted in to do?

My right hon. Friend, who was an outstanding Cabinet Minister, makes an important point. The comments from some—some—on the Opposition Benches suggest they are very happy when attention is shifted away from our focus on delivering our manifesto commitments, but we will not be diverted from delivering on those manifesto commitments, and the Home Secretary is committed to ensuring we do just that.

Is this not the honeymoon period for a new Government? In less than three months, the Government have lost a Chancellor and now the head of the Home Office. How does the Minister think things are going for the Government?

A candidate for the deputy leadership of the Labour party, the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), invites me to go further than I would want to at this moment, but I shall not.

On a more serious note, the vital thing that we all recognise is that all Governments face entirely understandable and legitimate media scrutiny, but the real test of any Government is not what may preoccupy commentary at any given moment, but the delivery of the people’s priorities, the keeping of manifesto pledges and making life better for the people of this country, and that is our relentless focus.

I was a civil servant at three Departments. On the day of the Brexit referendum result, I was told at the Foreign Office by multiple senior civil servants that it was the wrong decision and that the people had got it wrong. Is it not right that sometimes, sadly, Ministers do need to be robust with civil servants to make sure the people’s priorities are always delivered?

My hon. Friend is right. Of course, we will all have different opinions about the wisdom of particular policies as individual citizens, but as a Government we are united in delivering the manifesto on which we were elected. One of the strengths of our system of government is that the civil service works energetically and determinedly to ensure that the agenda of the Government of day agenda is fulfilled. I am grateful to the civil servants with whom I and other Ministers work for being so dedicated to ensuring that the public’s wishes are followed.

The Home Secretary herself has admitted that her

“actions fell below the high standards that are expected of a secretary of state”


“below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated.”

Of course, that was the last time she had to resign from the Cabinet—as International Development Secretary. What has changed since then? Given the Minister’s interest in the work of the Home Office, can he say who has replaced Shona Dunn as the second permanent secretary, given that person’s important role in dealing with the immigration system?

The hon. Gentleman refers to events in the past, but it is also fair to say that since then we have had a general election at which the public endorsed our clear manifesto commitments to an additional 20,000 police officers, a points-based immigration system and a tougher line on organised crime. We need tough and determined Ministers pushing that agenda, but we also need great civil servants, which is why I am so glad that Shona Dunn, with whom I have had the pleasure of working in the past, is now leading in the Home Office.

As a general point, recruitment for several permanent secretary posts is either ongoing or imminent. What role do the Government envisage Secretaries of State playing in that recruitment process, and would that role necessitate any changes to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010?

There are well-laid-out procedures for the role of Secretaries of State in the appointment of permanent secretaries. We have a superb cadre of permanent secretaries and senior civil servants, who I know will maintain the very high standards that characterise the work of our civil service.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what has traditionally been referred to as robust and forceful exchanges is too often routinely referred to as bullying nowadays, and that while there is no place for bullying within Government, effective government does need robust exchanges?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Let us consider Ministers who were successful in the past. No one would accuse Denis Healey, for example, of having been a shrinking violet when it came to ensuring that effect was given to the policies of the Labour Government of the day. However, it is also vital to acknowledge that in every workplace we must show respect to every individual and ensure that the people who work in the civil service are confident that their views are respected and their wellbeing safeguarded, and that is at the heart of everything that we do.

It would be wrong for me to go into those details, given that Sir Philip—who was, as I mentioned earlier, a distinguished public servant—has indicated that he may initiate legal proceedings. I would not want to say, and I am sure that the hon. Lady would not want me to say, anything that would prejudice the appropriate conduct of those proceedings.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not the place of civil servants to choose their Secretaries of State, and that any attempt to do so is wrong?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The key—[Interruption.] I see no reason why, in a debate in which we are considering the importance of civility, people should attempt to criticise my hon. Friend for asking a fair and robust question. She has made a critically important point. It is Ministers who are publicly and electorally accountable. Ministers hold office as a result of a general election, and it is important that we respect the popular will and the popular mandate of any Government in making sure that the people’s priorities are delivered.

Were any complaints received by Downing Street in respect of the conduct of the current Home Secretary when she was Secretary of State for International Development or when she was a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, and if so, were they investigated?

The inquiry that is proceeding will look at all complaints that may have been made. I cannot say more than that.

A huge number of people in North Cornwall and around the country want the Government to deliver on the people’s priorities. Is it not therefore right for Ministers to be tough and robust with their talented civil servants and officers to ensure that they can deliver on those priorities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is vital for Ministers to be energetic and determined in pursuit of the manifesto commitments on which the Government were elected.

As a former senior civil servant who served under various Ministers in both Labour and Conservative regimes, I find it hard to express how unprecedented the actions of Sir Philip Rutnam are. This is completely unheard of. Although the Minister will not comment on the specifics, will he at least accept that this is completely unprecedented? Does he also agree that there is a pattern of behaviour here, and that whether we are talking about the civil service, the BBC or the judiciary, this Government are more interested in picking fights than in doing the right thing for the country?

With respect to the hon. Lady, who was a very distinguished civil servant, I disagree. The first thing to say is that because Sir Philip Rutnam has made it clear that he wishes to pursue a particular legal route, it would be wholly inappropriate for me to provide a commentary on his remarks. As for the hon. Lady’s broader point, absolutely not: far from being pugilistic, the Government are concentrating on delivering on their manifesto commitments.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not be distracted by fielding stones thrown from the glass house of the Opposition Front Bench, but should concentrate on delivering the points-based immigration system? Will he assure me that that will still happen, notwithstanding the issue that is before us today?

It absolutely will. The Minister for Security has been working with other ministerial colleagues in the Home Office to ensure that that vital reform of our immigration system proceeds apace.

Despite all the bluster from his Back Benchers, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that all the talk of manifesto pledges and implementation of policies is no excuse for a Secretary of State or Minister to behave how they want or to bully and intimidate people? Also, can he confirm that the Government are not beholden to Dominic Cummings’ plans to disrupt and dismantle the entire civil service?

I am not aware of any such plans. It is not bluster; it is an absolutely key democratic commitment to fulfil our manifesto pledges, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that everyone deserves to be treated with courtesy and civility in public life, and Ministers across Government are committed to just that.