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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
02 March 2020
Volume 672

House of Commons

Monday 2 March 2020

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Education

The Secretary of State was asked—

School Funding

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1. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of school funding. [901006]

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

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

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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 towards metropolitan areas, so what reassurances can he give me and the excellent schools in Orpington that the NFF will rebalance funding?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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

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2. What steps he is taking to ensure equitable opportunity for young people throughout the UK. [901007]

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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]

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18. What steps he is taking to ensure equitable opportunity for young people throughout the UK. [901023]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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My right hon. Friend and neighbour will know that Staffordshire has been right at the bottom of the pool in 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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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 to see 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.

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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]

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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.

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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

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

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

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

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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% 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.]

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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?

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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

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4. What steps he is taking to tackle the increase in school exclusions. [901009]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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

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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]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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I think you can answer about Bradford.

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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.

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Especially in Bradford, don’t worry.

Free School Holiday Activities and Meals

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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

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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]

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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 has the Department taken 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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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

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8. What steps the Government are taking to improve children’s social care. [901013]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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 myself, to request an independent, whole-system review has been completely ignored?

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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 within 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.

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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?

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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

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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 some 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.

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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?

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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.

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

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [901031]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Adam Afriyie, come on in!

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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?

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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

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(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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Order. I am expecting to run this urgent question for about 45 minutes.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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What plans does my right hon. Friend have to reform the civil service to promote greater accountability?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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It is probably fair to say that different people enjoy different types of honeymoon.

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Tell us about it.

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No, please don’t.

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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.

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indicated dissent.

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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.

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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?

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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 Government of day’s 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.

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The Home Secretary herself has admitted that her

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

and

“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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Is it Government policy to comply with the rulings of the courts?

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You betcha.

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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?

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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.

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May I ask the Minister what financial settlement was offered to Sir Philip Rutnam? What was the figure?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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

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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?

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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.

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It is predictable, sadly, that the Leader of the Opposition should accuse those on this side of the House of bullying when he himself is in charge of a party that is rife with it, and I find it shaming that he has made that allegation. I am a friend and colleague of the Home Secretary, and I find this leaking, innuendo and smear unacceptable, as I am sure we all do in this House. Surely there must be an internal procedure to ensure that this is done behind closed doors. If there is evidence of bullying, fine. If there is not, the matter will have been dealt with. Can we please ensure that this is done quickly?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is vital that this investigation is concluded as quickly as possible in the interests of everyone involved, so that we can concentrate on ensuring that no justice is delayed, and no justice is denied.

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Has the Home Secretary ever asked officials in her Department to act in breach of court rulings?

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I have absolutely no reason to believe that that is the case.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that there seems to be a pattern involving the appointment of female Home Secretaries and vicious briefings against them in the media? Is it possible that some of these unelected men have a problem with taking instructions from powerful women?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are fortunate in this country to have had a succession of strong female Home Secretaries. Jacqui Smith, the former Member for Redditch; my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May); Amber Rudd, the former Member for Hastings and Rye; and now my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) have all been distinguished public servants. They all demonstrate the evidence that the job of Home Secretary is exacting, and we are lucky to have had four powerful and effective women performing that role.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that everyone has a duty to treat colleagues with respect, but that we ought not to take lectures from the Labour leadership on how to deal with bullying and harassment?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The experiences of Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman remind us all that the Labour party has a job to do to ensure that bullying is removed from its own ranks in order to improve the health of our democratic life.

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My right hon. Friend has acquitted himself well on the Front Bench in explaining the circumstances of this investigation. The Home Secretary has our full support in implementing our policies, but will my right hon. Friend remind the House whether there is an ongoing investigation into the leaks from the civil service about the Home Secretary?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important that everyone in public life behaves with the maximum degree of civility, courtesy and consideration to others. It is also important, however, that confidentiality is respected during the robust discussions that take place between Ministers, special advisers and officials, and leaks are therefore to be deprecated.

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We on this side of the House are certainly not frit of strong women. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the demanding work between Ministers and officials is vital and that we could not begin to accomplish things and deliver people’s priorities without the fantastic minds of those in the civil service?

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My hon. Friend gets the balance absolutely right. Effective government, whether by Conservative or Labour Prime Ministers, has been driven by having strong Ministers who are exacting and demanding, and by having robust and professional civil servants who provide impartial advice with full integrity.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that allegations, when made, are just allegations—allegations that must be carefully investigated—and that, at all costs, we must avoid any sense of a trial by media?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When there are briefings and counter-briefings, the most important thing is to ensure that the facts are established and that we, as a Government, uphold the highest standards in public life and ensure that the public whom we serve have the manifesto pledges they want to see implemented, implemented energetically and in full.

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My right hon. Friend rightly says that civil servants have the right to give good advice without fear or favour but, similarly, Ministers have the right to expect at least a modicum of competence from their civil servants in delivering on their policies. Too often, the reward for serial incompetence is an interdepartmental cha-cha to another role in another Department. If not in the ministerial code, will he assure me there are robust measures in place to hold civil servants to account more accountably?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. Ministers are rightly accountable here at the Dispatch Box and, at general elections, at the ballot box. Our civil servants ensure that the policies on which we stand, and for which we stand, are delivered effectively but, as Ministers, we also need to do everything to ensure that civil servants are supported to provide the most efficient service possible. That work is ongoing, and the Cabinet Secretary and others are ensuring we do everything we can to make sure that civil servants have the support and the capacity required to be as efficient as possible.

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It may be a bit of my northern bias, but I know that what the media report on here in London does not necessarily reflect what people are talking about in my constituency of Bishop Auckland and, I am sure, in many constituencies represented by my hon. and right hon. Friends.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this issue should not become a distraction from delivering on our manifesto, which was overwhelmingly supported by our communities, and delivering a points-based immigration system and more police?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course it is important that, in Whitehall and Westminster, high standards are upheld by everyone involved in delivering for the public, but our most important duty is to make sure that the people of Bishop Auckland have the policies for which they voted implemented effectively.

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Does my right hon. Friend recall the stories of alleged phone throwing and shouting at officials by a former Prime Minister? Does he remember which party that former Prime Minister represented?

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My hon. Friend invites me to go down memory lane, and the point he makes is a fair one. People who are dedicated to doing their best for the public have, in the past, occasionally shown a degree of exasperation. As we look back, we can learn from them and say that their commitment to public service was admirable but that we all need to make sure that we treat those with whom we work with appropriate respect.

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I commend my right hon. Friend for the steps he is taking in tackling this head-on, but what does he intend to do, as part of his reforms to the civil service, to make sure that civil servants are accountable and are seen to be accountable?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. Obviously, Ministers are directly accountable for the actions of their Department—that is the appropriate constitutional principle—but it is also right that we should work with the civil service to ensure that individuals of talent have an opportunity to contribute in every way. I am confident that the approach being taken by the Cabinet Secretary and others in the Cabinet Office to ensure we provide civil servants with all the support they need will ensure that the civil service is even better equipped in future to help us and, indeed, all future Governments to deliver.

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Does my right hon Friend, like me, find it extraordinary that, at a time when uppermost in our constituents’ minds are an international virus that will cause chaos, our many homes that are under water and the important trade negotiations that are about to start, the priority of the Opposition is to raise the resignation of a public servant of whom most of our constituents have never heard? Having sat here for several years watching industrial-scale bullying from the Chair, through which they remained silent, they go into overdrive the minute the allegations involve a strong woman who does not curry favour with their stereotype.

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My hon. Friend is clear sighted and robust in expressing his point of view, and I know that there will be many people who will thank him for being so candid.

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With the general election being so recent, the clear demand from the general public is to deliver on immigration and law and order. We on the Government Benches have got it. Is my right hon. Friend certain that the civil service—they are an excellent civil service—have also listened to the general public and will deliver on their priorities?

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One thing that I should say is that part of my role before the general election was to make sure that this country was prepared if we had to leave the European Union without a deal. Of course, we have secured a good deal and we have got Brexit done, but during that process I was consistently impressed by the energy and determination of civil servants in making sure that we were ready for any eventuality. Many of those same civil servants who worked tirelessly in the civil contingency secretariat at that time are also now engaged, having dealt with flooding, in work to make sure that we deal effectively with the threat of the coronavirus. We simply could not keep this country safe and its people healthy and secure without their work, and it is really important that we all remember how dedicated those individuals and their colleagues are.

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We are enormously blessed to have an independent and diligent civil service, but would my right hon. Friend join me in speculating that if the Home Secretary had asked her Department to release more criminals from prison early or check fewer entrants at our border, we might not be having this conversation today?

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My hon. Friend reminds us that the Home Secretary and, indeed, this whole Government were elected on the basis that we would take a tough line on law and order with a firm but fair migration policy, and making sure that that we implement those policies is absolutely critical.

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Whatever the Government do in relation to this matter, may I please have some reassurances that we will not take any lessons from the Labour party? When they were faced with allegations from their staff in relation to misconduct and antisemitism, they did nothing but fill the airwaves, undermining them, questioning their credibility and doing what some might call bullying them.

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My hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is absolutely vital that we all do everything we can to ensure that we treat other people with civility. I know that in the debate over the future of the Labour party, the regrets that have been expressed about how antisemitism had been dealt with will, I am sure, be addressed by the future leadership of the Labour party to ensure that that stain is wiped away.

Airport Expansion

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on airport expansion.

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The Secretary of State is very sorry that he is unable to be in the Chamber today, but he is visiting the north, as part of a long-standing commitment, for discussions with northern leaders following the Government’s takeover of the Northern franchise. It is a pleasure to respond on his behalf as Minister for aviation.

Airport expansion is a core part of boosting our global connectivity and levelling up the UK. It is crucial that vital infrastructure projects, including airport expansion, drive the whole UK economy. This is a Government who support airport expansion, but we will only permit it within our environmental obligations. This Government have been clear that Heathrow expansion is a private sector project that must meet strict criteria on air quality, noise and climate change, as well as being privately financed, affordable, and delivered in the best interest of consumers.

Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled that the designation of the airports national policy statement did not take account of the Paris agreement, of non-CO2 emissions or of emissions post 2050, and therefore has no legal effect unless and until this Government carry out a review. This Government have taken the decision not to appeal the Court’s judgment. We take seriously our commitments on the environment and reducing carbon emissions. It is a complex and important judgment that the Government need time to consider carefully. At this stage the Government will not be able to make any further comment beyond what was set out in the written statement on 27 February from the Secretary of State for Transport. Following the judgment, scheme promoters have applied for permission to the Supreme Court to appeal this decision. The Government will not comment on an ongoing legal case.

Aviation will play a key role in leading our economic growth and driving forward the UK’s status as an outward-facing trading nation, attracting investment and growing our trade links with new overseas markets. Today, our airports support connections to more than 370 destinations, in more than 100 countries. Aviation drives trade, investment and tourism, contributing £14 billion to our economy and half a million jobs. The next decade will mark an unprecedented moment of opportunity for the UK. That is why we are investing in transport and infrastructure across the country: investing in our strategic road network; proceeding with HS2; and committing £5 billion of funding to improve bus and cycle services outside London.

Airport expansion is a core part of our commitment to global connectivity, but we are also a Government who are committed to a greener future, as the first major economy in the world to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050. This Government are therefore committed to working with the aviation sector to make sure we deliver on the opportunities available to us, while meeting our environmental commitments, be it on modernisation of our airspace, innovation in sustainable fuels, or research and technology. This will ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for the whole country, and the House will be updated on next steps as soon as possible.

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I welcome the Minister to her place. Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government’s Heathrow expansion plan was unlawful as it failed to consider their Paris climate agreement commitments. I would like to thank those who fought the case, not the least of whom was the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. That we must rely on environmental campaigners and the courts to protect us from illegal and environmentally destructive policies is clear evidence of the Government’s lack of real concern about the climate crisis.

The Court’s ruling was the right one. At the time of the Airports National Policy Statement, Labour warned that the plans would cause the UK to miss its climate targets. We said that the Government were failing to take account of their commitments and that this would result in legal challenges—we were dismissed, but we were right. Why did the then Transport Secretary fail to consider the Paris climate agreement in his plans for airport expansion? What legal advice did he receive? Was the advice flawed or simply ignored? The Government said that they will not appeal the decision but will focus on “overall airport expansion”. What does that mean?

If the Government accept the ruling, they should rule out airport expansion. It would be unacceptable to amend the national policy statement to include a reference to climate commitments while simultaneously paving the way for policies that will cause them to be missed. The Government should not hide behind the courts or industry; they must say what their policy now is. It is their NPS, not Heathrow airport’s. Will the Government indemnify Heathrow Airport Limited and its backers for their wasted investment if runway three does not go ahead? What are the implications for the Government’s planned almost £30 billion road building programme, which also fails to consider the UK’s climate commitments? Those plans will significantly worsen emissions, at a time when there is a legal requirement for them to fall. What legal advice has the Minister had as to whether those astronomically expensive and environmentally destructive plans are not similarly unlawful?

It is already clear that the Government’s transport policy of road building, cutting aviation tax and airport expansions, will put the UK even further off track to meet its climate targets. This is morally indefensible, and last week’s ruling means it is likely to be legally indefensible too. Will the Minister take this as a wake-up call, by ruling out climate-busting airport expansion; introducing a frequent flyer levy; and investing in public transport, electric vehicles and active travel? The future of the planet is at stake.

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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments about last week’s judgment, but I should point out that the Government were clear in our manifesto that the Heathrow expansion project was a private sector project and needed to meet the strict criteria on air quality, noise and climate change and to be privately financed in the best interests of consumers. Airport expansion is a core part of the Government’s commitment to global connectivity and investing in our infrastructure. We welcome the efforts of airports throughout the UK to come forward with ambitious proposals to invest in their infrastructure, under our wider policy of encouraging them to make the best use of their assets.

We want the UK to be the best place in the world and we are forming new trading relationships with the European Union and negotiating free trade deals around the world. Last week’s judgment is an important step in the process. Heathrow Ltd is obviously able to apply to the courts to appeal, but we take our environmental commitments seriously and they are important to how we reach our objective of net zero by 2050.

I highlight for the hon. Gentleman the fact that we are committed to the decarbonisation of aviation, as that is an important part of our efforts on climate change. That is why we are maintaining momentum by investing in aviation research and technology. We are investing £1.95 billion in aviation research and development between 2013 and 2026. In August last year we announced a joint £300 million fund, with industry involvement, for the Future Flight Challenge. We will introduce a Bill that will modernise the country’s airspace, reduce noise around airports and combat CO2 omissions.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the advice given to the Secretary of State. I understand that that advice may form part of one of the grounds of appeal of another party in the Supreme Court, so I am unable to comment while the proceedings are ongoing, but I will not take lectures from the Labour party when even Labour-supporting unions such as the GMB have called Labour’s plans “utterly unachievable”. As I have already outlined, airport expansion is a core part of the Government’s commitment to global connectivity and levelling up.

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There are many who take the view that big-ticket infrastructure projects such as Heathrow expansion will provide both the funding and the challenge to allow our scientists, engineers and innovators to deliver not only that project but similar infrastructure projects and market them around the world in places where they really do leave a big carbon footprint. The Minister has rightly said that this issue is a legal matter for the determination of the courts and a commercial matter for Heathrow; will she confirm that, if Heathrow is successful at the Supreme Court, the Government will not intervene to stop expansion occurring?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we do lead the way in technology and innovation in this country, which is why we are investing in aviation research and development. I assure him that the outcome of any Supreme Court ruling will be respected.

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In his letter to all MPs on Friday, the Secretary of State for Transport said that the Government lost in the Court “on only one aspect” and that that was climate change. That “only” suggests that he is kind of missing the point. The Government cannot argue that the development is private and that whether to appeal is therefore up to Heathrow, while at the same time saying that airport expansion is important to the Government. A key aspect of the ruling was that expansion did not comply with the Paris agreement, which is a Government responsibility. We know that there are splits in the Government over Heathrow; is it the Government’s plan to sit back, do nothing and let events take control of themselves, rather than actually having to make a decision?

Heathrow has its own net zero plans; have the Government reviewed those plans to see how realistic they are and how they comply with the Government’s net zero plans? The Government talk about decarbonising transport, but carbon-based aviation fuels are still duty free; how will that incentivise the use of biofuels and other carbon-reduction measures? If expansion goes ahead, what plans do the Government have to protect the extra slots for Scottish airports? Finally, when are we going to get a net zero plan that encompasses all of transport, including international aviation and international shipping?

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The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that we lost the judgment on the one aspect of climate change, which was brought forward by Friends of the Earth and Plan B. It is true that the joint action by the Mayor of London, the five London boroughs that surround Heathrow and Greenpeace on the strategic environmental assessment and the impact on habitats was dismissed, as was the rival scheme from Heathrow Hub Limited. I have outlined to the House the Government’s commitment to decarbonise transport. We will issue our plans for decarbonisation across all modes of transport. As I have outlined, the global aviation emissions offsetting scheme, sustainable aviation fuels, greenhouse gas removal and, eventually, electric flights—the first such flight is expected later in the year—all show that this Government are committed to growing the UK economy and also to meeting our commitments as the first major economy to introduce the target of net zero by 2050.

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Order. We have another half an hour to go on this urgent question, so I plead for short questions and brief answers.

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I welcome my hon. Friend to her new position. It is a difficult job, and she is doing it very well at the Dispatch Box. A total of 40% of all exports outside the EU are dealt with at Heathrow airport. Any future trade deals depend on Heathrow expanding. Given that the UK Civil Aviation Authority already has a net-zero policy, does my hon. Friend agree that it is compatible for Heathrow airport to expand and for us to meet our net-zero targets?

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I thank my hon. Friend for the support she has given me in this role in the Department for Transport. I also want to thank her for the work that she did during her two years as maritime Minister. She is absolutely right: airports are important not only for our economy, but for how we trade with the rest of the world. It is right to say that, obviously, the judgment took into account our concern over the Paris agreement, but it did not judge that airport expansion was incompatible with climate change.

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Paragraph 285 of the judgment rightly stated:

“We have not decided…that there will be no third runway at Heathrow.”

As a Member whose constituency is dependent on jobs from Heathrow, I voted, on balance, to support expansion at Heathrow. Paragraph 285 goes on to state that

“the consequence of a decision is that the Government will now have the opportunity to reconsider the ANPS in accordance with the clear statutory requirements that Parliament has imposed.”

It seems to me that that should be the responsibility of Government. Therefore, aside from the appeal being progressed by the scheme’s promoters, what precisely is the reason that the Government are choosing not to do so?

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The hon. Lady is quite right that the court’s judgment was not to determine whether a third runway should take place, so she is right on that point. The court’s judgment was based on the consideration of climate change in the Paris agreement. As she knows, and as I have already outlined at the Dispatch Box, the judgment ran to more than 100 pages. It is a complex judgment, which we are looking at and considering, and we will come forward with our next steps as soon as possible.

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I, too, welcome my hon. Friend to her place. I support the expansion of Heathrow with the extra runway for the economic benefits that it brings, particularly to the north of England. I also strongly support the actions being taken in respect of our pledge on net zero by 2050, and I do not see the two as incompatible. Does my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the aviation industry’s plan for net zero by 2050 and does she commend Heathrow’s plan to play its part in that progress?

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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that point and raising the profile of what the industry and sector wish to do. As I have said this afternoon, we are committed to achieving the net zero target, and aviation—indeed, all modes of transport—has an important part to play. As I have outlined, we will bring forward the transport decarbonisation plans and work with industry to make sure that we are able to achieve that.

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One of the reasons why I supported Heathrow expansion was the increased connectivity it would bring to regional airports such as Liverpool John Lennon and Manchester, and the associated jobs and business opportunities it would provide in places such as St Helens. Does the Minister understand the uncertainty and concern that these developments have caused in the north-west? Will she undertake to update political and business leaders there as well as in the rest of the country?

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I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are absolutely committed to increasing connectivity throughout the UK and levelling up and investing in infrastructure; that has been seen through our proposal for investment in roads and our rail network. As I mentioned, we are doing important work with our network of regional airports around the country. They are really rising to the challenge of their ambition: making the best use of the assets that they already have. I very much support that as the aviation Minister.

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Businesses in the north of England—in places such as Scarborough and, indeed, Middlesbrough—are keen to play their part in delivering a global trading Britain. However, they are frustrated by the absence of slots into our main hub airport and have to use Schiphol, Paris or other airports. How does it help achieve our greenhouse gas emissions targets or get the best result for UK plc if they have to use foreign flights to Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle or Frankfurt?

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want to make sure that the whole UK benefits from economic prosperity, particularly in the north; that, hopefully, is what I will be working on in the coming months in this role. It is absolutely true: as I have said, will repeat and will keep repeating, airport expansion is a core part of our increasing UK connectivity —not just in the UK, but abroad.

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As a result of the judgment by the Court of Appeal, we now know that a third runway at Heathrow flies in the face of the Government’s climate change commitments. We know that a third runway at Heathrow and the associated emissions and noise will have a significant detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of my long-suffering constituents in Twickenham, and many well beyond. We know from a New Economics Foundation report last week that expansion at Heathrow will actually take money and jobs out of the regions, which flies in the face of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Is it not now high time that the Government revisited their national policy statement and ruled out not only a third runway at Heathrow once and for all but all other runways at other airports in the UK, given the impact on climate change?

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I am sorry that the hon. Lady is against our desire and ambition to make sure that prosperity and connectivity reach all parts of the UK, particularly given the importance of the south-east to the economy and being able to introduce the investments that we need in the north. As she outlined, we—this Government—are committed, under this Prime Minister, to make sure that we adhere to our environmental obligations. We have been clear that any expansion of Heathrow airport would need to meet the strict criteria around noise, climate change and pollution.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that regional connectivity, such as the connectivity from Teesside International, which was duly saved by Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, is important? It is critical to levelling up and providing one nation government—a pledge that this Government were elected on. What steps is the Minister taking to achieve that?

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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the great work of our Teesside Mayor. The work that is being done to improve the economy up there is quite exciting; I look forward to visiting soon. In my new role as aviation Minister, I feel particularly passionate about connectivity around the country and levelling up. I am completely in line with the Prime Minister, and will be spending my time over the next months ensuring that we are able to push the boundaries and deliver on the ambitious target that we have set ourselves.

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This is embarrassing. The Government have to come off the fence on this issue. We know which side the Prime Minister would like to fall on; perhaps the Minister should follow his example. She just said that the ANPS is of no legal effect until the Government conduct their review. She must at least give us a timetable for that review, and tell us when we will get the decision so that we can put Heathrow out of its misery.

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As I have said, the judgment is over 100 pages long and is extremely complex. It is right that the Government take time to consider that and come back to the House with the next steps. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would not want a Government to make a quick decision on such an important topic.

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Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that this decision does not reopen the prospect of a Thames estuary airport which, as she well knows, was very much opposed by colleagues and constituents in north Kent and south Essex?

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I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for raising this matter. She knows very well my position on the Thames estuary airport proposal—prior to being appointed Minister for aviation.

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I am disappointed at the new hands-off approach to Heathrow expansion that the Minister has outlined today. It is vital for regional connectivity from airports such as Newcastle. As the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) said , stopping the expansion of Heathrow will not stop the expansion of Düsseldorf, Brussels or Amsterdam—exporting jobs and prosperity abroad, rather than actually affecting our own economy. When will the Minister publish the new airport strategy because, without Heathrow, the Government will be driving a cart and horses through the present strategy?

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The right hon. Gentleman knows that the decision was taken by the courts last week. We are analysing the complex judgment and will bring forward the next steps. I have been quite clear that airport expansion is a key part of levelling up and increasing the national economy. We are determined to deliver on investing in our infrastructure and aviation, and airport expansion is a part of that.

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May I welcome the aviation Minister to her new role and wish her more luck in the job than I clearly had in it? Can she name a global metropolis city that has successfully operated a twin hub airport?

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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, with whom I have worked closely in other roles. I thank him for the work that he has done on this portfolio, and will look to him for advice and support. He is quite right that airport connectivity and hub capacity are important in the UK and beyond, and I will be taking a close look at that. I will also be looking to report back to the House on the next steps in relation to last week’s judgment.

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Many people will be bewildered and disappointed by the Government’s attitude towards the judges’ decision on this nationally important project, which is also important to places like Northern Ireland in terms of a hub for international connectivity. Given its importance, why are the Government not challenging this judicial interference in investment policy? Does the Minister not realise that by not doing so she is giving a green light to the environmental Luddites who will use the insidious Climate Change Act 2008 as a means to smash every major investment project in this country?

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The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have been very clear: the Heathrow expansion project was a private sector project financed privately and not at a cost to the taxpayer, but it had to be done in the best interests of consumers. We were clear within the ANPS that any proposal that was brought forward would need to meet the strict criteria with regard to noise, pollution and climate change. We understand that Heathrow Ltd will potentially appeal this decision. That is something for it to do, bearing in mind that this is a private sector project.

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May I congratulate the Minister on the way in which she is responding to the questions that have been asked? Does she recognise that it is innovation and technological advances that will help us to meet our climate change challenge? Does she further recognise that the expansion of Heathrow is a key plank of economic development opportunities on the western side of the UK?

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct that the way in which we are able to reach our target of net zero is with technology and research, investing in that technology and research, and really backing industry leaders and the talented people we have within the aviation sector to develop these technologies that will help not only the UK but other countries to reach their emission reductions. Absolutely one of the things that I am most excited about is the potential of the first electric flight this year.

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Last week, the New Economics Foundation released its report, “Baggage claim”, in which it found, using DFT aviation forecasts, that if runway 3 at Heathrow goes ahead, there will be 17 million fewer passengers departing from non-London airports and 27,000 jobs locating to London as a result of that expansion? Does the Minister agree that not expanding Heathrow is an opportunity to rebalance the north-south divide and to continue economic and transport support for non-London regions?

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The hon. Lady will know that we are committed to delivering economic development and levelling up the whole of the UK. That is why we are already investing in our rail and our roads, particularly in the north, which is why the Secretary of State is unable to be here today to answer this urgent question. We are committed to airport expansion, as we believe that it is a core part of our plan. I will make sure that we are hopefully able to continue to deliver on that.

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The Minister will recognise that because of the court judgment there are huge amounts of uncertainty in places across the whole country in relation to their own airports and potential options for expansion. As somebody campaigning against the expansion of Luton airport, can I ask her to be very clear that any expansion of any regional airport in Luton or anywhere else must meet stringent environmental criteria on climate change, pollution and the rest? Will she make that point firmly at the Dispatch Box?

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My hon. Friend is correct, yes.

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The Minister has talked about the Government’s ambitions, shall we say, to reach net zero, but they are way off meeting their targets, and we do not need communities that live near airports such as Heathrow to tell us about the environmental impact that it can have on their lives. Will she join me in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who has campaigned on this issue on behalf of his constituents for a long time? Will she make an assessment of what implications the Court judgment on Heathrow might have for major road building projects?

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As I have outlined, we will look carefully at the complex judgment and bring forward next steps. I would like to highlight the fact that we will shortly introduce a Bill on the modernisation of the country’s airspace, with the objective of not only reducing noise around airports but combating CO2 emissions.

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This judgment will potentially simply export carbon emissions to our competitors, together with UK jobs and prosperity, and it is particularly bad news for the south-west. What analysis has the Minister done to determine whether regional airports—particularly Bristol airport—can now take up some of the potential that airport expansion offers?

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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He is right: regional airports and connectivity around the country are key to many parts of the UK, not just the north. I am from Kent, and we are blessed with many airports locally. I have a small airport in my constituency—Rochester airport—and I see how much such airports contribute to the local economy, enabling business growth and enabling people to get around the country and go abroad. In this role, I would like to assess regional capacity, to ensure that all parts of the UK benefit.

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However much Government Members might wish it were otherwise, there is no quick technological fix that will solve this problem. The Committee on Climate Change is really clear that zero-carbon aviation is “highly unlikely” to be feasible by 2050, which means that demand management and, indeed, demand reduction will be essential. Can the Minister set out what steps the Government will take to reduce aviation emissions by reducing the demand for flying—for example, by introducing a frequent flyer levy, which is a fair way of distributing the ability to fly?

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The hon. Lady will probably not be a stranger to the fact that this Government are investing in roads and rail, to increase connectivity. This Government have now pledged their commitment to HS2, which is why the Secretary of State is in the north. We have, of course, been carefully considering the advice of the Committee on Climate Change, but transport and the use of airlines by our consumers—our constituents—who want to travel around the country and globally is something that I am not prepared to put a curb on today.

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What is the Government’s policy on Gatwick airport?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I refer him to our policy statement. We will continue to look at airport expansion and connectivity throughout the UK.

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The Minister mentioned air quality and noise, which is a serious issue and health concern for residents in my constituency who happen to live under the flightpath of both London City airport and Heathrow. When will the Government introduce regulations to prohibit soundwaves from exceeding acceptable World Health Organisation limits?

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As the hon. Lady will have heard me say, we are committed to publishing a Bill on modernising our airspace, which we hope will tackle some of residents’ concerns about noise.

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This further delay will be a great disappointment to businesses in Cornwall, particularly as we are about to lose our current Heathrow slot. Does the Minister share my view that the expansion of Heathrow is essential to us achieving our global Britain ambitions, but that this is not the end for Heathrow, and it is right to appeal against this decision? Will she join me in wishing it well in that appeal and confirm that Government policy on Heathrow has not changed?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his absolute defence and representation of the south-west. He always talks about connectivity and about people in the south-west being able to move around the country. I have said a number of times at the Dispatch Box today that this Government are committed to airport expansion and levelling up. It is a core part of the Government’s commitment to delivering on our global connectivity and investing in our infrastructure, and also—and this is key—making sure that it can be delivered within our environmental obligations.

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May I wish the Minister well in her new position? I support a third runway at Heathrow, which can benefit the whole of the United Kingdom, and particularly Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister promised connectivity for all parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The tried and proven flight connections between Heathrow and Belfast City airport could do even better, boosting the economy and creating more jobs, and it is vital that they are built on. Can the Minister confirm that airports in Northern Ireland will not be disadvantaged because of this decision?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman, and he will know that my predecessor was able to make a number of visits to the airports in Northern Ireland. He will also know that, in my role in Government, I will always take into consideration Northern Ireland, and the concerns and wants of businesses and consumers in Northern Ireland, in how we develop the strategy.

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I know that hand washing is now de rigueur, but that should hardly extend to the Government’s approach to their own NPS, approved by a large majority in this House, when the judgment addressed the narrow point that the NPS had not been assessed against commitments made by the Government in Paris. The Government’s desertion of Heathrow at this point is very bad news for early delivery of global Britain in reality, and it is very bad news for confidence in the whole of the Government’s commitment to their own national infrastructure plan.

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I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I just want to reiterate that we are committed to airport expansion. We took the decision not to appeal, because it was a private sector delivery scheme, being privately financed. Of course, the instigators will be issuing an appeal. I understand his frustration, but it is right that any airport expansion or infrastructure project of this nature meets the key criteria for environmental protections. As I have already said, we are analysing the judgment and we will come forward with the next steps as soon as possible.

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I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to levelling up our transport infrastructure across the country. Having given HS2 the green light, does the Minister agree with me that we now need to crack on with Northern Powerhouse Rail and the TransPennine rail upgrade going through my local town of Huddersfield? Does she agree that regional airports such as Manchester and Leeds Bradford airports also have important roles to play in global connectivity?

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I thank my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right. He will note that the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who is the Minister responsible for Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2, is sitting on the Front Bench and has heard his comments. Our recent announcements have been on our ambition for Northern Powerhouse Rail, High Speed 2, the A66 northern trans-Pennine link and the £5 billion of funding to improve bus and cycle services outside London. We are really proud and motivated to make sure that all of the UK benefits from the investment of this Government and that we do achieve such levelling up.

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The Minister has confirmed that the Government will give support to regional development and the expansion of regional airports, which I assume will include Carlisle Lake District airport. If the airport is to succeed—it has only been open for a year—it is going to need Government support and a degree of subsidy until it is fully established. Will the Minister give that support?

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I thank my hon. Friend, and I am very happy to meet him to discuss his newly formed airport. I very much look forward to watching that and working together to make sure that that regional airport is a success.

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I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. India and China have 320 new airports planned for the next 10 years, yet here we are once again with a continuing national debate about the expansion of just one. Is my hon. Friend aware of the potential of Manston airport on the border between the constituencies of North Thanet and South Thanet? It is spade-ready to deliver important aviation infrastructure for a new global Britain in the shortest possible time.

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As my hon. Friend is aware, I know Manston airport, and I know his passion for it, and that of his neighbours, regarding the ability of that small regional airport to come back on stream. He is right: regional airports, connectivity—everything that I have mentioned and spoken about today—are key to levelling up and to economic growth throughout the UK. This Government are determined to deliver and invest, and I am extremely excited to be part of how we deliver that in the future.

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I welcome my hon. Friend to her place and wish her well in her new role. The last time that judges interfered with decisions made in this place, there was outrage. There is a strange muteness from the Government about this latest decision, despite a decision being made in this place, after many years, with four to one in favour of the extension going ahead. Can I persuade the Government to get on with this? We are leaving the EU, and we need this expansion for the economy and future prosperity of this country.

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My hon. Friend is correct. For us to be outfacing and truly global, we must ensure that our connectivity, transport and infrastructure is able to deliver not only on levelling up, but on playing a big part in our economic growth and trade with the rest of the world. This is an exciting time for the UK, with lots of ideas and ambitions. I assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to deliver on that, and ensure that airports are part of that solution.

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Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) to ask her urgent question, it may be helpful to say that Mr Speaker has been advised that there will be a statement in the House tomorrow on coronavirus. This urgent question is very narrow, and relates only to the matter of prisoners held abroad.

British Citizens Imprisoned Overseas and Coronavirus

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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on British citizens who are imprisoned abroad in countries where coronavirus is spreading rapidly.

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With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will respond to this urgent question on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, who is travelling in the middle east.

Protecting British citizens at home and abroad is a top priority for the Government, and amid the outbreak of coronavirus, known as covid-19, the UK is leading the response. First, we are providing support to British citizens abroad, which includes travellers and their families in countries around the world. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is closely monitoring coronavirus throughout the world, through its diplomatic network. We are providing travel advice to British nationals, so that they can be sure of the facts before deciding whether to travel, and sure about what to do if they are affected by an outbreak of covid-19 while travelling.

The UK has introduced measures to ensure that travellers returning from abroad do not spread the virus further. We have put in place enhanced monitoring measures at UK airports, and health information is available at all international airports, ports, and train stations. We have established a supported isolation facility at Heathrow to cater for international passengers who are tested, and to maximise infection control and free-up NHS resources.

For British nationals caught up in the initial outbreaks of the virus, we have co-ordinated repatriation for those impacted in Wuhan, and passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship. We are working with the Spanish authorities and tour operators to support the return of British nationals affected by the situation in Tenerife.

We also continue to assist our British nationals who are detained in countries such as Iran, which has seen reports of a high number of cases of coronavirus. France, Germany and the United Kingdom have expressed their full solidarity with those impacted by covid-19 in Iran. We are offering Iran a comprehensive package of both material and financial support to stem the rapid spread of the disease. Today, a plane departed the UK with vital materials, such as equipment for laboratory tests, as well as other equipment including protective body suits and gloves.[Official Report, 4 March 2020, Vol. 672, c. 8MC.] The E3, namely the UK, France and Germany, has also committed to providing urgent additional financial support close to €5 million to fight the covid-19 epidemic affecting Iran. This will be through the World Health Organisation or other UN agencies.

We will continue to support global efforts to combat the outbreak of covid-19. Our support is directed to help the most vulnerable across the globe and to strengthen the global health system to protect our own nationals. We have provided £40 million investment into vaccine and virus research, and £5 million to the World Health Organisation. We will continue to do all we can to help to keep British nationals safe and healthy around the world.

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I have raised the concerns about the health of my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe several times in the Chamber, but today the situation is potentially fatal. The prison in which Nazanin is being held hostage has reported cases of coronavirus. She is seriously ill and is displaying symptoms associated with the virus. Her family are desperately worried about her and, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not blame them.

Coronavirus is spreading through Iran at an alarming rate, as the Minister has just said, and Iran has actually pulled some of its own prisoners out of jails. Britain is pulling its non-essential staff out of the Tehran embassy in Iran. Yet the Iranian authorities are point-blank refusing to test Nazanin for coronavirus or any other British citizens in their jails. The United Nations Human Rights Council has made it clear that, under both Iranian and international law, Iran must provide medical treatment to Nazanin and British citizens like Nazanin.

What representations has the Minister made to Iran to test Nazanin specifically for coronavirus and to provide the full results? What assurances can he give that any results given by the Iranians will be reliable? The key point is that if we leave British citizens in harm’s way for long enough, they will come to harm. The Government face important choices over Nazanin’s case in the coming months. They must do everything possible to secure her permanent release and bring her back home.

Bearing that in mind, what instructions has the Prime Minister given to departmental and Government lawyers to resolve the debt that Britain owes to Iran? I read with interest the Iranian ambassador’s comments this afternoon about co-ordinating with British authorities to purchase urgent medical items—the Minister referred to that in his answer. Will he set out what humanitarian supplies the UK is providing to Iran to help it to tackle its growing public health crisis? Was my constituent’s potentially fatal medical condition mentioned in negotiations?

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s life hangs in the balance. I urge the Government to act and to act now.