House of Commons
Monday 22 June 2020
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
BUSINESS BEFORE QUESTIONS
That Iain Stewart be discharged from the Committee of Selection and James Morris be added.—(Stuart Andrew.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Educational Disadvantage: Covid-19
Before I begin, may I take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences to the family of James Furlong and the other victims of the terrorist attack in Reading? We have heard so many young people talk about the amazing impact James had on their lives, the real appreciation they felt and the loss that they now feel. Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this most terrible of tragedies. It was an appalling attack, and the Home Secretary will update the House later today.
We are focused on doing whatever we can to ensure that no child falls behind as a result of coronavirus. That is why this Government have announced a package of support worth £1 billion to tackle the impact of lost teaching time due to covid-19.
May I associate myself with the condolences expressed by the Secretary of State to the family, friends and pupils of James Furlong? No one who heard the “Today” programme interview this morning with one of his former pupils could fail to be moved. I also express my condolences to the family of Fred Jarvis, the celebrated educationalist and trade unionist, who is sorely missed.
The Secretary of State says that the Government will do whatever they can, which seems some way short of whatever it takes. The Government’s latest Social Mobility Commission report reads like a litany of failures, with references to a lack of “coherent” strategy; “mounting evidence” that welfare changes over the past 10 years have put many more children into poverty; children in disadvantaged areas already facing “limited life prospects” by the age of five; the attainment gap at 16 widening; and further education “underfunded and undervalued”. I do not know whether it was incompetence or a row between the Department for Education and the Treasury, but last Thursday we saw a DFE press release at half-past 6 announcing support, including for early years and post-16 education, and by half-past 8 we saw a support package only for schools. Is it not time for the Secretary of State to get a grip and take the action that we really need?
I would very much like to associate myself with the hon. Member’s comments about the sad passing of Fred Jarvis, and I am sure all Government Members would wish to do the same.
This is the party and the Government that are absolutely committed to closing the gap between those who are most advantaged and those who are most disadvantaged. That is why we are not just talking about it, like the Labour party did—we are driving up standards in education and schools. That is why we are spending an extra £1 billion to raise standards and help those youngsters who have been impacted by this.
I fully associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s comments about the tragic events in Reading. He might have heard the suggestion I made about moving the 2021 exam season from May to July, to allow students and teachers more time in the classroom to complete the curriculum. Has he given consideration to that or to other ways of getting extra teaching time in before the exam season?
One key element of the £1 billion package is ensuring that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have extra support through one-on-one tutoring and tutoring in small groups. My right hon. Friend raises an important point about providing more teaching time. That is why we will consult Ofqual on how we can move exams back, giving children extra time to learn, flourish and do incredibly well.
I welcome the additional £350 million announced last week for catch-up tutoring, but the Secretary of State is aware that schools with already badly overstretched budgets will have to find a quarter of that cost. Will he give an unequivocal commitment that schools, which are best placed to know their pupils’ needs, will be able to target those funds in the most appropriate way for them?
I am pleased to report that Knowsley Council has seen good sense and is working with the Department to ensure that all schools in Knowsley are opening up, which is a welcome development. The whole purpose of our very targeted approach is that it is evidence-based—we know that direct tutoring of children from disadvantaged backgrounds has the single biggest impact on driving their attainment. As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, the other element of the package—£650 million—gives schools flexibility to look at how they can drive improvement, and I urge him to look at the work done by the Education Endowment Foundation to guide how they spend that money.
I welcome the Government’s £1 billion support package, which will be essential in helping children catch up on their academic education. However, our children are not just missing out academically; they are suffering emotionally.
Increasingly, I am hearing from parents of children with autism in my constituency, who report that being away from the structure and routine of the school day is having a devastating impact on their children’s behaviour and mental health. Some of those children are not being allowed back into school because of concerns about social distancing. What can my right hon. Friend do to get autistic children back to school as quickly as possible to ensure that this crisis does not have a permanent effect on their wellbeing?
The best thing we can do for every child is to welcome them back to school at the earliest possible opportunity, when it is safe. I herald the wonderful work done by the Autism Education Trust, which the Department has decided to give extra funding and resource to this year, so that it can work with more teachers, helping them and training them to create the best environment to welcome all children back into school, where they can develop.
I have spoken to many headteachers across Ashfield who want to get back to full service as soon as possible. One way to begin to do that is to encourage all kids who can go back to school to do so, because it is safe. I deeply regret that last week, the Leader of the Opposition refused to say publicly that schools are safe to go back to. Will my right hon. Friend remind colleagues across the House that the education and welfare of our children come before any political point scoring?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. He will know from his constituency the real benefits that schools are bringing to the children who are going back, and we need to expand that. Schools are a safe environment not just for children, but for those who work in them. It is a shame the Leader of the Opposition does not acknowledge that, but I hope the shadow Secretary of State will acknowledge how important it is to get all children back and what a safe environment schools are.
I share the Secretary of State’s comments about James Furlong and send my condolences to his family and to all those who were affected by the horrific events in Reading on Saturday. I also echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) about Fred Jarvis, the former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who recently passed away at the ripe old age of 95.
Last Thursday evening, the Government issued a press release clearly stating that £700 million would be
“shared across early years, schools and 16 to 19 providers”.
Of course, it was not the strategic national education plan that I and many across the sector were hoping for, but it was a start none the less and I welcomed it. Less than an hour later, the Government amended the press release: the funding was not for early years and 16 to 19; it was £650 million, not £700 million; and it would not be available until September. Now I hear that schools will need to find 25% of the tuition funding themselves. I ask the Secretary of State: what on earth happened?
I was getting rather optimistic that the hon. Lady would say that she believed it was safe for children for go back to school, but she missed out on the opportunity. The difference between our scheme and the hon. Lady’s is that ours will deliver results and make a difference. Our scheme is for £1 billion extra to go to schools and for £350 million to be targeted at children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. It will close the gap in terms of attainment much more effectively than any of the Labour party’s proposals. It would be nice if the hon. Lady welcomed such proposals.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State did not listen to my question—indeed, he does not listen very often at all.
Geoff Barton from the Association of School and College Leaders said:
“It remains frustrating that we haven’t had the opportunity to discuss any of this with the government ahead of this announcement and that we once again find ourselves having to guess the detail.”
There were no details on resource for early years, 16 to 19, summer provision or emotional and mental health support; there were no plans to source additional school space, to streamline GCSEs and A-levels or to roll out blended learning; and there was no promise to extend free laptops to all children who do not have them, rather than just the groups who have been identified by the Government.
All of this uncertainty could have been avoided if the Secretary of State had chosen to listen to the sector. Will he confirm that he will now formally convene a taskforce of trade unions, education and childcare leaders and staff, local authorities, parents’ organisations and health experts to address these issues urgently?
May I confirm, Mr Speaker, that I would never blame you?
The hon. Lady asked a number of questions. The reality is that Government Members are committed to getting every child back into school. We understand that that is where they are going to benefit. If it was up to the Labour party, we would not see any children going back into the classroom, but what have we already got? We have got nursery back, reception back, year 1 back, year 6 back, and years 10 and 12 as well. We have given schools extra flexibility to get more children in and we have made it clear that next week we will outline plans for the full return of every single child in every year group. We will always listen to the whole sector, whether it is trade unions, those running the schools, or parents and children themselves—
I strongly welcome the Government’s catch-up announcement, which will make a huge difference to the left-behind children. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that out of that £1 billion, money can be used to set up summer schools or camps? Will the Department for Education work with Essex County Council, which is considering setting up summer camps across the county?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his input, advice and thoughts about how we can make sure that any intervention delivers the very best results. I can confirm that we would be happy to work with Essex County Council. In the Education Endowment Foundation’s guidance on how the money can be targeted to deliver the best educational advantage, summer camps are one of the schemes suggested.
Mental Health Support: Covid-19
We have published guidance and resources for parents and schools on how to support children’s mental wellbeing while they are not at school. We have given schools the flexibility to have a face-to-face check-up with all pupils during the summer term. Returning to school is the most vital factor in the wellbeing of pupils and educational progress. We have recently produced new training for teachers on how to teach about mental health issues as pupils go back to school.
My hon. Friend champions the mental wellbeing of young people and all his constituents often and regularly. I would be happy to meet him to discuss how we can do more to help. We are working closely with both Public Health England and NHS England on how we can help and support them to reduce CAMHS waiting times. In addition, I will raise the issue with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
Calls to Childline are rising, and YoungMinds has found that around four in five children with pre-existing mental health problems have had those problems worsened in this crisis, yet referrals to CAMHS have been down by as much as 50% in some areas. How do the Government plan to deal with the inevitable rise in demand for mental health services, as identified by teachers in Portsmouth?
There is a great deal of cross-party consensus on this issue and how important it is. Often, people approach schools as almost the first port of call—the easiest way to access services. It is about how we integrate health services with educational services ever more closely. We have put in an additional £5 million-worth of mental health support, but we do recognise that in lot of areas we can make sure that interventions come earlier so it does not get to crisis point.
The first weeks in school are really important for helping four-year-old children settle in and form positive relationships. University College London’s study of the Government’s pilot of the reception baseline assessment last year found that the test caused anxiety, stress and a sense of failure in many children—and we are talking about four-year-olds here. Will the Government do the right thing and abandon their plans to bring in reception baseline assessments?
Reopening of Schools
Since 1 June, we have taken positive steps in welcoming children back to school. Teachers and heads have done an excellent job in opening schools to more pupils, and our latest attendance figures show that approximately 92% of education institutions are open with thousands more children back in classrooms, where they can learn best, reunited with their teachers and friends. SAGE papers are being published in tranches, including those of the Children’s Task and Finish Working Group.
Let me take this opportunity to associate myself with the comments made earlier about the terror attack in Reading, a near neighbour to my Basingstoke constituency. Our thoughts are with the residents of that town.
There is no substitute for face-to-face learning and thanks must go to the school staff across my own constituency in Basingstoke and, indeed, across Hampshire, who are all working so hard to help ensure that as many eligible children as possible can safely return to school. Parents want to know when all children can be back in school. What advice can my right hon. Friend give to my constituents, who are approaching me on that and who are also asking what organisations are being told to provide summer childcare support for working parents so that we can also support parents to get back to work?
We are working towards bringing all children and young people back to school in September. The Government’s ambition is that all organisations running holiday clubs and activities for children over the summer holiday will be able to open if, of course, the science allows. The time anticipated for holiday clubs to open is no earlier than 4 July as part of step three of the Government’s recovery strategy.
As the Minister has pointed out, as of 12 days ago, 92% of school settings were open, but only about 9% of children were actually attending. Many parents remain understandably reticent. We all want children to return to full-time education. May I ask the Secretary of State what considerations have influenced the Government’s thinking regarding the full reopening of schools, specifically in relation to the potential for child-to-child and child-to-adult transmission of the virus? Most school staff are not as concerned for themselves as they are for the potential implications that could be of particular seriousness for families of black, Asian and minority ethnic children, children living in extended families, or children living in overcrowded conditions or even in poverty. What considerations have been given to that in order to put parents’ minds at rest?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about disadvantaged children. Schools have been open to vulnerable children and the children of critical workers since schools closed, and we have encouraged more and more of those children to be in school where it is best for them. The scientific advice indicates that a phased return that limits the number of children in education settings and how much they mix with each other will help to reduce the risk of transmission. We are led by the science but our ambition is that all schools will return in September, but that will, of course, be subject to the science.
Online Protection: Covid-19
At this deeply challenging time, it has been so important that people, especially children, have been able to stay in touch online, but, of course, they should be able to do so safely. We have worked with the National Crime Agency, the UK Safer Internet, Internet Matters, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and many other experts to provide detailed guidance and support to schools and colleges on keeping children safe online, as well as advice and high-quality resources for parents and carers.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, although we must be cognisant of the risks on the internet to children and young people, it is very important for their mental health and social wellbeing that they are encouraged to connect via various internet channels with family, friends and others who are part of their support network?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Being online has had great benefits for children, giving them access to educational resources and entertainment but also enabling them to stay in touch with family and friends, which is vital to their wellbeing. Social media companies have a role in keeping children safe. This Government are committed to creating a statutory duty of care on companies to protect their users, especially children. But they should not wait for us to legislate—they should act.
Charities such as the NSPCC and Barnardo’s have highlighted how children are at increased risk of online harm during this pandemic. It has been over a year since the Government’s White Paper on online harms, which set out the need for a duty of care regulator. Every day that this is delayed, more and more children are put at risk. So I ask the Government now: at what point will they stand up to the tech companies, put vulnerable children first, and bring forward a Bill on this?
I thank the NSPCC and Barnardo’s for the work that they are doing with the Government to help to keep children safe online, but also in the home and outside the home. We are committed to introducing a duty of care on social media companies. We published the initial response to the consultation in February and a full response will be published later this year. We are working with the sector on a detailed code of conduct. But the first thing we must do to keep children safe is to get them back in school, and I would like the hon. Lady to support us in doing that.
This month I appointed the UK’s first international education champion. Together we are working to provide reassurance that our internationally renowned, world-leading universities will be open, flexible and welcoming. We are also communicating the fact that we recently strengthened the UK’s offer by announcing the new graduate route.
International students are extremely important to the University of Buckingham, making up over 40% of all students there. Will my hon. Friend work closely with the University of Buckingham and look at all possible measures to ensure that international students can fully participate as soon as possible in the first-class education the university has to offer?
I certainly will. I am leading a two-tier covid response to attract international students: first, by working across government to remove and reduce the logistical barriers faced by students, including visa issues; and secondly, by communicating that the UK is open for business via advertising and open letters to international students, our embassies, and international media.
If I may, I would just like to offer a couple of words on Fred Jarvis, who, at 95 years old, was also a friend of mine—a formidable education campaigner. He taught me many, many things, one of them being, “Don’t ever patronise the elderly—they know more than any of the rest of us put together.” Bless you, Fred.
International students bring £20 billion to our economy, and global soft power and influence, the loss of which will not just damage our universities. I do recognise the uphill battle the Minister faces, hindered by a slow and ineffective Home Office and the heartbreaking reality that the UK’s covid-19 death toll is now the third highest in the world. So how will she ensure that our universities maintain capacity and sustain courses if international student numbers decline?
As I have already outlined, we are working to help to mitigate the challenges that universities face, which are faced globally in the higher education sector. In addition, on 4 May we announced a sustainability package on top of the additional support that the Treasury had already announced—£700 million to the sector, including the job retention scheme and access to coronavirus loans. The package that we announced on 4 May also included bringing forward £100 million of quality-related funding for research because, as the hon. Lady will know, international students cross-subsidise research.
Further and Higher Education
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) will join me in thanking all staff in further and higher education for their work in responding to this unprecedented challenge—they have done a fantastic job. In further education we have introduced flexibilities and encouraged online teaching so that learners can complete their courses as planned. Colleges are open and we want to get all learners back into college as soon as possible.
The coronavirus pandemic throws into sharp relief the importance of food production and security, and the critical areas of health and social care. Newton Rigg College in Penrith in my constituency has over 1,000 learners and 130 staff, and trains people in vital areas such as agriculture, land-based studies and health and social care. The college has now been listed for possible closure in July 2021 by its host institution, Askham Bryan College, creating much uncertainty over its future. Does my hon. Friend agree that colleges such as Newton Rigg are vital for our rural communities, and will the Department for Education and other Departments work with me and local stakeholders to try to secure a viable and sustainable future for that prized asset of both Cumbria and, indeed, the wider UK?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our further education colleges are vital for supporting young people in rural communities to get the skills they need. I am aware that the governors at Askham Bryan College have made an in-principle decision to close the Newton Rigg campus from July 2021. Indeed, my hon. Friend and I have now met twice with the Further Education Commissioner to discuss this, at my hon. Friend’s request, so I know he will continue to campaign on this issue. My officials are working with the college and stakeholders to ensure that learners and communities in and around Eden Valley continue to have access to high-quality further education.
The reintroduced graduate work visa could indeed help universities and colleges to attract international students and to recover from covid-19: it is just an appalling reflection on Tory Governments that we have been without such a visa for such a long time. Can the Minister say what discussions she has had about extending the graduate visa offered to students who are already here on tier 4 visas, so that both the education sector and the wider economy can use their skills in our recovery?
There is a lot of work going on to ensure that we support the university sector through this crisis. On 20 April, the Home Office updated its visa guidance to provide greater certainty for international higher education students in the UK impacted by coronavirus. On 22 May, the Home Office announced that visas due to expire before 31 May would be extended to 31 July 2020 for those unable to return home. More work will be done in this area.
Post covid, the stiff competition for international students will intensify. EU students make up a third of the international student body, but any deregulation of fees for EU students will sharply reduce their numbers. Can the Minister confirm that there is no intention to cause such damage, and that EU students in England will retain their home student fees status?
Of course, international students are a key concern for the sector at the moment and, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Universities outlined before, work is going on in this area and there is a two-tier system. The Department for International Trade is also working with the Department for Education to encourage students, particularly those in Europe, to come over and continue their international student placements.
I am sure the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to Fiona, Alexander and Philip, the three young children who died in a tragic house fire in my constituency on Friday. Our thoughts and prayers are with their family and friends.
Many students who normally work over the summer will now, through no fault of their own, be pushed into poverty. The Scottish Government have brought forward earlier access to £11 million to support students, but given the unique circumstances, does the Minister agree that flexibility in universal credit over the summer would help many young people who will otherwise be in an impossible position?
May I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the tragedy in his constituency?
Of course, this is a very difficult time. There is massive uncertainty in many of our sectors, and lots of those would have potentially provided short-term work opportunities to students. Obviously, the most important thing we need to do now is reopen our economy, get our economy working and provide those opportunities for young people. In the meantime, there are a number of supports and discretionary grants that are available through the FE sector or the HE sector to support students during this difficult time.
May I express my condolences, and those of my SNP colleagues, to all those affected by the terrible attacks in Reading, and to the loved ones of the three children who died in the terrible house fire at the weekend?
Scottish schools will officially break up for the summer holidays this week, and I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, will join me in thanking the school staff who have worked so hard to ensure that our children have continued to have educational input over the past few months.
In response to the pandemic, on 4 May, the Government announced a temporary cap on student numbers at English universities, to prevent institutions competing for students. Given that there was no such competition in Scotland, can the Minister explain why the same policy was then applied to Scotland, a month later than England, with no consultation with the Scottish Government and after Scottish universities had sent out entrance offers?
The Government are taking steps to ensure that universities in all four corners of the United Kingdom can continue to deliver the world-class education for which they are renowned. In May, we announced a package of measures to support our universities and safeguard the interests of students. This means that every student who wants to go to university and gets the grades can achieve their ambition. The package includes new measures to temporarily control student numbers, combined with an enhanced clearing system. That is the right thing to do to ensure a fair and orderly admissions system.
It is notable that Scottish universities found out a month later than their English counterparts—so much for consultation. As we move towards kick-starting the economy post covid, higher education is a potential growth industry. However, a former Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, has said that there must first be a recognition of the lasting reputational damage that has been done to the sector, calling on the Government to end the hostile bureaucracy facing overseas students. Therefore, in order to send a clear signal that the UK is open, what discussions has the Minister had with the Home Office on increasing the graduate work visa from two years to four years, to ensure that the UK has a globally attractive offer?
Clearly, the UK does have a globally attractive offer, given the sheer number of people who want to study here, and the many benefits of doing so. Of course, we are very proud of the sector and will continue to work with it during this difficult time. We will continue to work with the Department for International Trade and the Home Office to ensure that the path for international students wishing to study here is as clear as possible.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the important role of destinations data. It is great to see that King Alfred’s Academy in his constituency has seen 91% of 2017 leavers go on to further education, employment or an apprenticeship, which is above the average for England.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that destinations data is particularly important in the light of covid, and that we need our schools focused on helping young people to the destinations to which they were on track before lockdown, and our colleges, universities and employers taking due account of the loss of learning when making their decisions?
We must never lose sight of how important it is to know what youngsters end up going on to do. Yes, we want them to leave school, college or university as well-rounded individuals with all the tools they need to succeed in life, but they have to be tools that lead them into employment so that they can continue to succeed. That is why destinations data is so important, and why it is quite right that Ofsted attaches such high importance to it.
Higher Education Institutions: Covid-19
I recognise that university students and graduates are facing a number of challenges. In May, we announced a package of stabilisation measures, which ensures that we continue to look after the best interests of students as well as support our world-class higher education system. We are also working closely with the sector to support graduates.
In addition to maintaining current commitments to widen participation and extend bursaries for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, will the Minister make sure that the necessary extra funding is provided so that universities such as the University of Bedfordshire can play a key role in retraining and reskilling young and mature students to meet the serious employment challenges ahead?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that access and participation are key priorities for this Government, and the Office for Students has launched access and participation measures for every institution. Higher education plays a key role in filling the skills needs of the economy, but so does further education, and our priority is to ensure quality provision and that students can make informed choices that are in the best interests of their career destinations.
Childcare: Social Distancing
Social distancing is challenging with young children, so we have worked with stakeholders on a detailed planning guide to keep early years settings safe. This includes advice on keeping people, including children, in small, consistent groups and implementing hygiene measures. Thanks to the sector’s work in reassuring families, 234,000 children were in childcare on 11 June.
Nursery providers in my constituency are worried that social distancing will result in a reduction in capacity, which for them means a reduction in income. The sector is already at crisis point, so I would like my hon. Friend to reassure me that she is working closely with the sector to ensure that places will be available so that parents—particularly mothers—will be able to go back to work?
We all recognise how important early years settings are, both for children and for their parents and carers. Early years settings have been able to open their doors to all children from 1 June. I spoke to sector representative organisations and childcare providers in the first week of wider opening to understand the detailed challenges they face. We know that it is a difficult time for many businesses, and we will continue to ensure that early years providers get the best possible help from all the Government’s support schemes.
Teaching Profession: Recruitment
Our recruitment and retention strategy sets out our plans to attract high-quality recruits to the profession. The “Get into teaching” marketing campaign provides information to trainees, including on the availability of tax-free bursaries and scholarships worth up to £28,000 in certain subjects. We have also set out plans to increase the minimum starting salary for teachers to £30,000 by September 2022.
Sadly, many people are losing their jobs or are threatened with redundancy, and we know there is a mass shortage of teachers of physics and maths in particular. Will my right hon. Friend enable schools to second people from industry to fill the vacancies, so that people with talent can fill the vacuum?
The organisation Now Teach, which was set up by Lucy Kellaway and which we support, has seen a huge surge of interest from people like the ones my hon. Friend suggests. It helps career changers to come into teaching. We have also seen a 12% increase in applications to teacher training in the last quarter, to the end of May.
Undergraduate Degrees: Lifetime Earnings
We are committed to enabling students to make the most informed decisions possible, tackling low-quality courses and ensuring that students and the taxpayer see a return on their investment. We want a high-quality, sustainable model that meets our skills needs and maintains our world-leading reputation.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that for 30% of students, the economic return on their degree was negative both for them and for taxpayers. Surely with such clear economic evidence that so many young people would be better off if they took a different route, it is time to rebalance from just higher education to a stronger technical education system?
It is important that students make as informed choices as possible from a range of high-quality courses, and university is not the only or the best route for certain careers. Some students may be better placed if they do higher technical qualifications or apprenticeships. That is why the Secretary of State is spearheading a revolution in further education in this country, including the introduction of T-levels.
Remote Education: Covid-19
The Government have provided a £100 million package of advice and support to enable remote teaching. That has included delivering laptops and tablets to vulnerable and disadvantaged children and working with the new Oak National Academy, the BBC and others to ensure strong national availability of remote educational resources.
Does the Minister agree that schools have not only provided imaginative remote online learning during the crisis, as he has just stated, but played a vital role in supporting the frontline though education hubs and related projects, such as the production of personal protective equipment by students at Ysgol Dinas Brân in my constituency?
We are very grateful for the hard work and dedication of our teachers during this time and have highlighted the innovative work of schools in a series of recently published case studies. I congratulate those children at Ysgol Dinas Brân on producing more than 800 visors. It is a prime example of that very innovation.
I pay tribute to the huge efforts that schools and their staff across Hertford and Stortford have made in supporting the children of key workers and are now making to get more pupils back to school. Does my right hon. Friend agree that schools have an opportunity to continue some of the innovations they have made, such as remote learning?
Remote teaching has been a significant challenge for teachers across the sector, and I am grateful to all those who have worked so hard to ensure their pupils’ education has continued despite the difficulties of lockdown. Some innovations will no doubt continue to be beneficial, and we are working with organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation to take an evidence-based approach to establishing how schools can best use remote practices in future.
About 18% of children with an education, health and care plan or a social worker attended an education setting on 11 June. The Department does not collect separate attendance data for those eligible for free school meals.
Is the Minister not ashamed that after 10 years of a Tory Government, in West Yorkshire alone there are almost exactly 100,000 children at risk living in families of multiple vulnerabilities? Many of them are still not at school and therefore at risk. What will she do about it?
I am enormously proud that after 10 years of a Conservative-led Government the attainment gap between those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from more advantaged backgrounds has narrowed at every stage of children’s education. We have kept schools open for vulnerable children, and those children most at risk have been seen or contacted by their social workers. I thank social workers and schools across the country for doing that. We need to get children back to school, and the Opposition should support us.
I know that every child and young person in this country has experienced unprecedented disruption to their education as a result of coronavirus. The Government are committed to doing everything possible to ensure they have the support they need to make up for that lost time in education. That is why on Friday I announced a £1 billion catch-up plan to lift outcomes for all pupils but with targeted support for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds who are most at risk.
I thank the Government for their recent U-turn on free school meals over the summer months, but what cross-departmental communications has the Secretary of State undertaken with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to clarify if that will be extended to those children whose parents are newly subjected to the “no recourse to public funds” restriction?
It is our ambition that East Coast College students and all college students will have the opportunity to make up for lost education. Remote learning has been working really well, but we will provide more details soon on how 16-to-19 providers can further support students. Funding allocations for 2020-21 have been guaranteed, and payments will be made in line with the national profile.
I do not know why that answer could not have been given to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who asked a very similar question but got no sort of answer. The Government must realise that leaving students who have missed level 4 in maths and English out of the catch-up funding is abandoning them at the very time they need such help the most. How can the Government justify leaving them out of that announcement given that a plan for schools was in place last week?
It is clear that the initial focus has been on the school catch-up. There has been a great response from the further education sector, which was quick to move online and to provide a wide range of engaging and innovative classes. We recognise the need for catch-up, particularly for those starting college from school, and we are working to see what more support we can give to make up for the disruption due to covid-19.
In Wolverhampton, we have several outstanding special educational needs and disability—SEND—schools, including Penn Hall and Tettenhall Wood. What is my right hon. Friend doing to help vulnerable children to return to education safely in those schools?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of those schools. I would like to mention Wightwick Hall, a school on the border between his constituency and mine. We recognise that it is really important to ensure that we get the guidance right, and we have been working closely with the sector to ensure that the specialist needs of many of those children, who sometimes have particularly complex health conditions, are met and that they have the ability to return to school at the very earliest opportunity if that is in line with their health needs as well. I hope to have the opportunity to join my hon. Friend on a visit to one of those schools in the not-too-distant future.
Due to covid-19, we have made some temporary flexibilities for local authorities. They are temporary, not permanent, and they are to be used only where normal procedures cannot be followed. I am told that the number of missing children at this time has decreased.
The Government want all schools to be fully reopened in September. We have produced guidance on protective measures that schools will take, and all staff, children and families will have access to testing if they display symptoms. We are working with local authorities and regional schools commissioners to address any particular local issues, but it is in the interests of all children to be in school with their friends and their teachers.
I can assure the hon. Member that I am anything but absent. As we have already announced, we launched a package on 4 May that included re-profiling £2.6 billion of tuition fee funding. We also brought forward £100 million of quality-related research funding, we stabilised the admissions system with student number controls, and we offered more support for students. That was all on top of access to the coronavirus job retention scheme and the business loan support scheme to the value of £700 million. I am more than happy to speak to the university in question directly.
I would be absolutely delighted to join my hon. Friend to visit schools in his constituency in the very near future. It is really important that we understand the vital role that Ofsted plays in making sure that we have strong accountability in schools. One of the aspects that I will ask Ofsted to look at as we are making this significant investment of £1 billion to support youngsters to catch up and support schools is how it has been implemented and how children have been supported in their catch-up plans.
The Government want to ensure that all children get an active start in life and engage in daily physical activity, which is why we launched the school sport and activity action plan last year. We will confirm arrangements for the primary PE and sport premium in the 2020-21 academic year as soon as possible.
The key is to get more children walking and cycling to school, and using other forms of transport other than public transport, but we are working across Government, with the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to address the necessary transport issues in order to get children back to school in September.
The Government will do whatever they can to ensure that no child falls behind as a result of the covid-19 crisis. That is why we have announced a £1 billion package of support, which includes a catch-up premium for schools and a tutoring programme for those in need, including, of course, children in Blackpool.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important and very thoughtful point. It is really important that we look at different ways in which we can expand the capacity to train doctors, nurses and all those working in the caring professions. I look forward to working very closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to be able to deliver on that.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are some natural restrictions on how far schools can go in welcoming children back. Last week, we gave schools added flexibilities to be able to welcome more children back into the classroom. As guidance changes, we will look within Government at how we do everything that needs to be put in place so that every child is back in the classroom in September.
I have seen the hon. Member’s letter. On this anniversary of Windrush, as much on as any day, we need to understand the strong feelings on this issue. People do suffer racial prejudice, and we need to eliminate discrimination and bigotry wherever it occurs in our society. So far as the curriculum is concerned, we give schools the autonomy to decide what and how history is taught, provided it covers a wide range of periods of British and world history, but that very autonomy means that schools can and do teach about black and Asian cultures and history. The citizenship curriculum and the new relationships curriculum teach the importance of respect for other cultures and respect for difference.
By the nature of the crisis, sadly, guidance, which we always want to get out at the greatest of speed, has always faced quite considerable time pressures, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we very much take his words to heart. As we issue guidance for schools about the full return of all pupils in September, we will ensure that this goes out in plenty of time before schools rise for the summer.
Reading Terrorist Attack
Before I call the Home Secretary to make a statement on the very sad events in Reading in Saturday, I have a short statement to make. As matters stand, no criminal charges have been made, and the case is not yet subject to sub judice resolution. However, it is reasonable to expect charges soon, and I urge all hon. Members to exercise care not to prejudice any future trial by what they say. Hon. Members will also wish to know we will observe a minute’s silence tomorrow at 11 am, to remember the victims of this event. I now call the Secretary of State to make a statement.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the senseless terror attack that took place in Reading on Saturday evening. That appalling attack is now subject to an ongoing police investigation, and as such there are limits to what I can say. However, I want to share as much detail as I can with the House this afternoon, on behalf of the police, following my conversations with them over the weekend and my visit to Reading this morning.
Around 7 pm on Saturday evening, a 25-year-old male entered Forbury Gardens in the centre of Reading, and began to viciously attack several groups of people. The outstanding police officers from Thames Valley police responded with great courage and great speed. The armed suspect was tackled to the ground by an unarmed officer and was immediately arrested at the scene. The suspect remains in custody.
After initial investigations, Counter Terrorism Policing declared the attack a terrorist incident and is now leading the investigation. The police have confirmed that the threat is contained, but that, sadly, three innocent members of the public were killed, murdered by a sudden and savage knife attacker as they enjoyed a summer evening with friends. Another three victims were injured and received hospital treatment.
My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of everyone who was hurt or killed as a result of this sickening attack. The victims of terrorism unit at the Home Office and family liaison officers are supporting them, and I know Members from across the House will join me in sending our heartfelt condolences.
It was truly humbling to visit Thames Valley police this morning. I had the privilege of meeting the officers who first responded to the incident and who were responsible for apprehending the suspect, as well as trying to prevent the loss of further life. Those officers—a few of whom were student officers—ran towards danger to help those in need without a second thought. A young unarmed police officer took down the suspect without hesitation while another performed emergency first aid on those who were injured. These officers are heroes. They showed courage, bravery and selflessness way beyond their years. They are the very best of us. I would also like to pay tribute to the response of every emergency service that attended the scene, as well as members of the public who stepped in to prevent further loss of life.
The United Kingdom has the best security services and police in the world. Since 2017, they have foiled 25 terrorist plots, including eight driven by right-wing ideologies. They serve the country with professionalism and courage, embodying what the British public rightly expect from those on the frontline of the battle against violent extremists and terrorists.
The UK’s counter-terrorism strategy remains one of the most comprehensive approaches to countering terrorism in the world, but over recent decades we have all too often seen the results of poisonous extremist ideology. The terrorist threat that we face is complex, diverse and rapidly changing. It is clear that the threat posed by lone actors is growing. These terrorists are united by the same vile hate that rejects the values our country holds dear: decency, tolerance and respect.
We are united in our mission to tackle terrorism in all its forms. Since day one, the Government have backed our police and security services, who work around the clock to take down terrorists and violent extremists. On any given day, they make a series of calculated judgments and decisions on how best to protect our citizens and country based upon the intelligence that they gather.
In light of the many complexities across the security, intelligence and policing communities, in January this year I announced increased resources for counter-terrorism policing, resulting in a £90 million increase this year alone. That has taken counter-terrorism policing funding to more than £900 million—the highest ever. That is because we live in a complex world and is against a backdrop of evolving threats and dynamic threats—threats that when they do materialise are worse than shocking when they result, as we have seen again this weekend, in the tragic loss of life.
Bolstering our security and policing network and frontline capability is part of our ambitious programme to strengthen the joint working between the police and security services to leave terrorists with no place to hide. It is also why we are committed to developing a new “protect duty”, so that businesses and owners of public places must take into account the threat of terrorism. It is also why, following the shocking attacks at Fishmongers’ Hall and in Streatham, we took strong and decisive action. That action included the introduction of the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020, the emergency legislation that retrospectively ended the automatic early release of terrorist offenders serving standard determinate sentences, forcing them to spend a minimum of two thirds of their time behind bars before being considered for release by the Parole Board. Through our Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, which goes into Committee in this House this week, we are introducing much tougher penalties for terrorists to keep the public safe. This is the biggest overhaul of terrorist sentencing and monitoring in decades, strengthening every stage of the process, from introducing a 14-year minimum jail term for the most dangerous offenders to stricter monitoring measures. Jonathan Hall QC is also looking at how different agencies—including the police, probation services and security services—investigate, monitor and manage terrorist offenders.
I totally understand the desire for details and information to enter the public domain, particularly at this time, as people ask what happened and why. However, as you pointed out, Mr Speaker, I would ask everyone, including the media, to be cautious at this stage about reporting on individuals who have not been charged. We must not do anything that could put at risk the victims or their loved ones achieving justice.
The first duty of any Government is to protect the people they serve, so we continue to pursue every option available to tackle the terrorist threat and take dangerous people off our streets. As the Prime Minister reiterated yesterday, the police and security services will continue in their investigations to better understand the circumstances of this tragic incident, and if further action is needed, we will not hesitate. Our world-class CT police and security services have my unequivocal backing as they hunt down hate-filled terrorists and extremists. My message today is clear, simple and strong: swift justice will be done; victims will be supported; and if further action is needed to stop terrorists in their tracks, this Government will not hesitate to act. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement and for her briefing call over the weekend.
Like the whole House, I was shocked and appalled by the scenes we saw in Reading on Saturday evening. While doing no more than visiting a beautiful park, three innocent people were stabbed to death and another three were seriously injured. Today we remember those who have died, and our thoughts and condolences are with their families and friends at this moment of terrible loss. We send best wishes to those who were injured and wish them a swift recovery, and thank our magnificent NHS staff for the care that they are providing.
The incident was one of senseless violence, and, as always, we are indebted to our outstanding police officers and other emergency services personnel for their swift response and work at the scene, helping others by putting themselves in danger. They represent the very best of us. We thank them and the public at the scene who assisted, and recognise their courage and bravery in this most awful of situations.
We now know that this has been declared a terrorist incident, and I know that the whole House will support the police as they carry out the highly detailed and careful investigation that is necessary with an incident such as this. I hope that the Home Secretary can confirm that all necessary resources will be made available to Thames Valley police and to counter-terrorism policing. I am sure she will also agree that although there are, quite understandably, many questions about this specific case, the best thing to do is to give the police the space they need to conduct the investigation and to establish the facts, not to indulge in unhelpful speculation. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) for his calm and measured leadership in such a difficult moment.
It is heartbreaking that we are having this conversation again so soon after the terrible attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in November, which tragically took the lives of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, and the attack in Streatham in February. As you have said, Mr Speaker, this is a live investigation so we have to ensure that there is due process and that the police can do their job, but the country will want answers about these incidents, which have occurred in such quick succession. Although the priority today must be to ensure that there are no further related threats, and that the victims and families are cared for, it is vital that questions are addressed. I hope that the Home Secretary will confirm that she will further update the House on this awful incident and the lessons that need to be learned, but there are some matters that I would like her to deal with today.
The Home Secretary mentioned the piece of emergency legislation in February, and there is another Bill on counter-terrorism going through the House at present with cross-party co-operation. I hope that any further legislation will also be on a cross-party basis. But does she agree that legislation alone is not enough? We need a comprehensive look at deradicalisation in our prisons, at how people who pose a threat are risk assessed and how different agencies can work together to safeguard against tragedies.
Community police are the eyes and ears of our society. The intelligence gathering that they do is vital. Can the Home Secretary assure me that the Government will never again cut the numbers of community police and will instead build the capacity that is required for law enforcement? Can she also assure me that the serious violence taskforce, which has not met since 26 June last year, will meet soon and on a regular basis?
The Home Secretary rightly praised the intelligence and security services, but the Intelligence and Security Committee has not met for over six months. Will she confirm when the Committee will have all its members in place and exactly when it will meet next?
Finally, I know there will be many issues in the weeks ahead, but let the message go out from this House today that we stand alongside the wider community in Reading at this dark moment and say that those who have lost their lives will never be forgotten.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for his thoughtful remarks about Reading as a community. I met the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) and made exactly the same point. We must be united and work at a community and multi-faith level with all organisations. That is really important, both now and going forward, to ensure that people are remembered in the right and appropriate way, and that we support the community at this difficult time, which we all do.
The hon. Gentleman asked some important questions. He is absolutely right that legislation is never the only solution, not just on issues of this nature but on wider safeguarding, community measures and the responses that are put in place. That brings me on to community responders, police officers, backing our police and resourcing those who keep our communities and the people in our country safe. I met the chief constable of Thames Valley police, John Campbell, this morning. Again, that is a conversation I had. I was in touch with him over the weekend and had the assurance that they are well supported in terms of the resources they need. They are dealing with a live investigation. Obviously, the investigation is now a counter-terrorism investigation, but even so they have given me that assurance.
There are a number of other points to make when it comes to violence of every nature, including serious violence. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the serious violence taskforce. We now have the National Policing Board, which has effectively taken over that remit. The National Policing Board has already met several times, including in recent weeks, to discuss not just policing but crime and the Government’s overall crime strategy from a holistic perspective. That also covers the Ministry of Justice side, the end-to-end aspect of the criminal justice system and how offenders are treated.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the work that is required on deradicalisation in prisons. The work that needs to take place builds on Prevent and on safeguards that exist already, but these are evolving issues in terms of the type of skills and resources that are needed, as well as the types of deradicalisation techniques and Prevent work that have to be invested in. That is continuous. There is never one solution for how to deradicalise individuals. A range of tools, techniques and programmes are in place. It is right that we continue to review and work with that. As the hon. Gentleman will know, a great deal of work has taken place around the review of Prevent.
The hon. Gentleman’s final point related to the Intelligence and Security Committee. Appointments to the Committee are taking place and an announcement will be made in due course on when that will be coming forward.
I invite the House to join me in sending our deepest sympathy to the friends and family of James Furlong, and to the staff and pupils at The Holt School, Wokingham, where he taught. He was by all accounts an inspirational teacher who always went the extra distance for his pupils. He was a very kind man and he will be sorely missed. The community is very shaken today by the news. Will the Home Secretary intensify the efforts of the intelligence services, the police, the border forces and the others? We have had too many mass murders in recent years. We want some reassurance that we can get on top of this and save the lives of others for the future.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I, too, pay tribute to Mr Furlong. What happened was absolutely appalling. All our sympathies and thoughts are with his family and friends.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the intensification of the work that is taking place, cross-party and across Government, covering a range of measures, police, intelligence and security. He also mentioned our borders, and the work we are doing to review those and deal with criminality checks. That is all ongoing work and it will, of course, be intensified.
On behalf of my party, I wish to start by expressing our sorrow at the lives that have tragically been lost and extending our deepest sympathies to the families and friends, and to those who are currently ill and recovering in hospital. It is never easy to lose a loved one, but especially not in these circumstances or in these times. I echo the Secretary of State’s comments regarding our gratitude to those who served and showed great courage, and we will continue to prosecute and investigate.
First, let me call for a calm response—to be fair, the Secretary of State has been clear on this. Sadly, we have had previous terrorist atrocities; it is a product of our time. We do not expect and should not have to live with it, but we have to recognise that they do occur and that we have to show calm judgment, not rush to an analysis or make a decision without knowing the full facts. Obviously, that has been commented on by you, Mr Speaker, as regards this being sub judice. There may very well be mental health or other aspects that we do not know about, and we await the outcome of an investigation. However, what we can be clear about—I seek the Secretary of State’s reassurance that we will make this clear—is that terrorist acts are not perpetrated by communities, but are carried out by individuals. They do not represent any faith, constituency or cause other than their own misguided, malevolent and wicked views, and we need to take that into account. We also need to remember that although we have suffered not just this recent tragedy but all too recent ones, including those involving Members very close to this House, what some people view as the epicentre of the areas that perpetrate terrorism suffer far more from it than we have done in our entire history—we need to take that account.
On that issue, I seek reassurance from the Secretary of State that steps will be taken to ensure that reassurance and protection are given to minority communities, because I know from my experience in Scotland that there can be those who rush to judgment and seek to apportion blame, and will, through misguided views, or indeed their prejudice and dogma, seek to carry out attacks against minority groups. Therefore, I ask that steps on that, which are no doubt probably ongoing, are carried out. Equally, I seek reassurance that as well as contest, we will seek to prevent: we need not only to protect our minority communities, but to deal with issues that are bubbling under the surface there, so as well as contesting terrorism and rightly confronting it, we need to protect communities and address injustice, wherever it is.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about ensuring that communities and, in particular, minority groups within them, are not vilified at this time. This is a moment when we should all be coming together to be supportive across all communities and, in particular, as I discussed with the hon. Member for Reading East this morning, across communities locally and multi-faith groups. Obviously, so much more work needs to take place, but great work is taking place and we should not lose sight of that right now.
May I take a moment, Mr Speaker, because it has been a very difficult few days? I wish to thank the Home Secretary for meeting me today. I very much thought that the tone of our discussion was helpful and positive. I look forward to working with her and I appreciate her offer of support for Reading.
Like many other people, I was shocked and deeply upset by the dreadful attack in Forbury Gardens. I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the three people who died—my thoughts are with them. It is impossible to imagine what they are going through at this time, and I am sure all our hearts go out to them. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am also thinking about the injured and their loved ones, and all those who have been affected by this dreadful attack, which, I should emphasise to people, took place in a park when people were trying to enjoy a peaceful weekend. Most of all, I would like to thank the emergency services and the police for their swift and immediate response, and indeed for the incredible bravery shown by the officers who, as was said earlier, rugby-tackled an armed offender and took that person to the ground.
Reading is a friendly and peaceful town with a diverse and tolerant community. This kind of incident is completely unknown to us. It is something that has never occurred before in our community and as such is deeply upsetting. That community solidarity was demonstrated again today, when a wide range of different faith and community groups came together to lay flowers at the scene of the dreadful incident. Local people also observed a minute’s silence. I am very proud of the way in which our community is pulling together at this difficult time and the way in which local people have been supporting one another. We can and we will come through this difficult time.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. As we discussed this morning, the way in which the community has come together—the multi-faith groups, as we discussed earlier, the emergency services and the police officers, who both of us have met—is absolutely outstanding. Like him, I pay tribute to the friends and family members of those hurt or killed and, as ever, the police officers and emergency services, who responded with such swiftness and bravery. We will continue our discussions about the support that he needs for his constituents at this very difficult time.
My constituency borders Reading, and I speak on behalf of everyone in Newbury in sending my deepest sympathies to the families of the victims. I also thank Thames Valley police for an exceptional response on Saturday night. No charging decision has been made, but in the last three years there have been five lone wolf attacks, in Streatham, in Fishmongers’ Hall, on the tube at Parsons Green, on Westminster Bridge and at the Manchester Arena. What reassurances can my right hon. Friend give that the counter-terrorism services have sufficiently robust surveillance powers to monitor this most unpredictable of threats?
My hon. Friend raises important questions. Surveillance and monitoring of individual subjects of interest is crucial to how they are managed and watched within our community. She asked specifically about resources. I speak to those services every week, and we have these discussions. However, while resourcing is one thing, this is about access to information and intelligence and how it blends together and is combined. To be specific in answer to her question, the services have the resources that they need. There is always more work to do, and I am sure there is more that can be done in the future. I have already said in my statement that we need to listen and to learn from what has happened—that will evolve over time, as the investigation proceeds—and if we need to do more, that is exactly what we will do.
I join those from all parts of the House who have paid tribute to those who lost their lives in this awful attack and also to the emergency services, which responded so fast. Our thoughts will be with those who have lost loved ones, but also with everyone in the community in Reading, who will be dealing with the shock and trauma of this attack, as my hon. Friend for Reading East (Matt Rodda) so powerfully expressed.
The Home Secretary will know that this is the most recent in a series of attacks by lone individuals, which are harder for the police and security services to anticipate. That emphasises the importance of tackling some of the vile extremism and radicalisation that can lead to attacks, including online, in the community and in prison. Can she confirm that each of those will be included in the Government’s new counter-extremism strategy and tell us when she expects to publish that?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. In fact, she raised a similar point last week, and I am writing to her outlining the details of what we will be doing with the counter-extremism strategy. She is right, however, to point to online activities and the vile hatred that is spread online, but also on other forms of the web, the dark web in particular. There is a great deal of work being done, and I pay tribute to the many organisations and individuals, some of whom we have not even referenced today, who work to close down sites and track these individuals and some of the organisations they are networked with. That work will always continue, but I will share the details with the right hon. Lady shortly.
In the face of great adversity, we often witness the very best of public spirit, selflessness and bravery from our fellow citizens—those who sacrifice concern of their own safety in the interest of others—and none more so than the first responders during the terrorist attack in Reading, to whom I pay tribute. A member of our parliamentary family was, by chance, at Forbury Gardens on Saturday and, in the same way that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) did in March 2017, ran courageously towards danger; his only focus was to help the injured. I would like to pay particular tribute to James Antell, a member of my own staff who not only used his own shirt to stem the bleeding of one victim but continued resuscitation on a second victim until the paramedics arrived. This was indeed a remarkable and extraordinary effort from a young man who has been with us in Parliament for a little over four months and whom I am extremely proud—I hope the whole House is—to have as part of the West Dorset parliamentary team.
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to his assistant and to all other first responders, who showed great humility and that sense of duty in coming together on Saturday in Forbury Gardens to respond and prevent further loss of life. As I said, they are the very best of all of us, and I pay tribute to everyone who was part of the emergency response, because, frankly, the resilience, courage and bravery they have shown is to be commended.
Coming from the Province, as I do, we have been subject to many terrorist attacks over the years, as the Home Secretary and others in the House will be aware. On behalf of the Democratic Unionist Party, may I offer my sincere condolences to the families of the victims? We understand your loss and will be praying for you in the days ahead.
Will the Home Secretary outline what steps the Government will take to ensure that the families will see justice for their loved ones and, more than that, see lessons learned within the MI5 system, with improvements made? While no one can accurately predict the future, we must ask whether we can do better with these persons of interest to prevent any future tragedies and violence.
I thank the hon. Member for his comments and understanding. He asked about support for the families. The Home Office, along with Thames Valley police, is providing all the necessary support, particularly through family liaison officers but also through the victims of terrorism unit at the Home Office. He referred to one particular agency, but of course many other agencies work across the intelligence and security spectrum. We work with all of them, because they are part of that integrated network along with policing, frontline policing and counter-terrorism policing. That work will continue and, as I have already said to the House, if there are any issues, lessons or lines of inquiry to be followed up which we can proactively address and deal with, either in this House or through my actions as Home Secretary, I will absolutely follow them up.
As a Berkshire MP, I place on record my personal sympathies to all those affected so gravely in neighbouring Reading. In the past 24 hours we have seen media speculation about the immigration status of the alleged perpetrator. Will the Home Secretary please reassure me that it remains her priority to return people who come to the UK and are proven to commit crime?
First, I will not get into any speculation or commentary, but I could not be any clearer about the Government’s position on foreign national offenders. Our policy is as stated: we will do everything in our power to remove those who abuse our hospitality and commit crimes in the UK. That has been the Government’s focus. I am also clear that tougher action is needed to speed up removals, to deter foreign criminals from entering the UK. It is not always easy, because there are barriers to overcome. That is something we will look at through other legislative means.
May I add my voice and that of my party to the expressions of sympathy for all those whose lives were touched by this dreadful incident and condolences to all those who mourn the loss of a loved one? Three months after I was first elected to this House in 2001, we saw the horrific events in New York and Washington on 9/11. That was followed by emergency anti-terror legislation. I struggle to think of a year since in which we have not had anti-terror legislation of some sort, but still the problem continues. I think we can be fairly certain that, if the answer to this problem were to be found in a formulation of the law, we would have found it by now. As the Home Secretary considers the formulation of a new counter-terror and counter-extremism strategy, we need the involvement of people who do not have any skin in the game—who, in the nicest way possible, have not been part of the failure that has taken us to this place. In particular, can that strategy be informed by an honest assessment of what it will do to end the radicalisation of those in prison?
The right hon. Gentleman is right about the need for objectivity and understanding in how we formulate these strategies, which are often evolving and dynamic, looking at individuals’ behaviours, many of which we simply do not understand. Deradicalisation is a complicated issue. In terms of not only what happened in Reading over the weekend but more broadly, it is right that we look at the whole approach, understand the failures of the past and what has worked in the past, and ensure that we have a comprehensive approach which builds on constructive insights and learnings. He is right in his assessment.
Yet another terrorist attack. I join the Home Secretary in praising the first responders and the individuals who had no concern for their own lives in closing this incident down. I am pleased to hear about the initiatives in our probation service, our communities and our prisons, but we need to understand the wider picture: terrorism is increasing. At the time of the Bali bombing, there were 26 organisations proscribed by the Home Office. That number has risen to 86. I concede that this is not just a problem for the UK, but we need to look more widely. These things are happening because there are fanatics working in ungoverned spaces, preying on vulnerable individuals and promoting a false interpretation of Islam. We pat ourselves on the back and say that we defeated Daesh, but that is only territorially—the ideology lives on and continues to grow. The threat is there, and until we address the wider picture, the threat of terrorism in the UK will continue.
My right hon. Friend is right about the real threat and the present danger of extremist ideologies. Of course, extremist ideologies manifest themselves in many forms—we all recognise that—and we see that internationally. As I said, we see that online and through individuals who are networked. We cannot tackle these issues on our own. That is why our work with the Five Eyes community and many other international partners is so valid. We have to continue to grow the work that we do, learn from each other, grow our own intelligence networks and, importantly, understand the tactics and techniques that can make a difference in this space.
With 30,000 people of interest to the security services at any one time, it is obvious that they cannot all be under constant surveillance, but this is the fourth terrorist attack in seven months where the potential suspect was known to the authorities. What lessons can be learned about surveillance and the management of these people known to the authorities?
The hon. Gentleman asks important questions about surveillance techniques. There are always lessons learned about surveillance techniques and how people are monitored. As I mentioned in my statement, the intelligence and security services have to make calculated judgments based on the threat and the information that they have. They will continue to do that, and they are constantly reviewing many of their own techniques.
May I extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of those who lost someone, and commend Thames Valley police and the other emergency services? My constituency is in the Thames valley and I know how good they are. Does my right hon. Friend think that when the police do have the person they think committed this crime, the media attention should focus on the victims and not on the beliefs and backstory of the people who perpetrate such attacks, thereby denying them the attention they crave?
There is merit in my hon. Friend’s point. The spotlight should not be on the individual, the organisation or those who promote terror, hate and fear. We must always be respectful to and mindful of the victims. Of course, at times like this, we have to give the police the time and space they need to get on with their investigations.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Work is taking place on the Prevent review and more details will be forthcoming shortly. The fact of the matter is that we need to work harder at a community level to avoid any stigmatisation and to encourage people to engage and participate. We must also understand the types of techniques and tactics that make a difference. That is something I will be very happy to discuss further with him.
The person who has been arrested on suspicion of committing these offences is reported to have been of interest to the security services as a potential terrorist sympathiser and was released from prison well before the end of his sentence, a mere 16 days before this murderous rampage took place. There have been newspaper reports about his engaging in alarming behaviour ahead of the incident. Given those serious concerns, will the Home Secretary confirm that he was being supervised when he left prison under multi-agency arrangements for public protection, as would seem appropriate? If so, at what level was that?
On behalf of the people of Meriden, I join the whole House in conveying my condolences to the loved ones of the victims of this heinous attack. I commend the police force and other emergency services, who once again acted heroically and put the safety of others before their own. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must never weaken in our resolve to win the battle against terrorism, and that those who seek to divide us will never be allowed to succeed?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our objective is to ensure that those people are never successful and that our values of tolerance and respect prevail. At a time like this, of course we support our police, we respect and support our emergency workers, we think about the families of the victims and those who have been hurt, but ultimately our collective role has to be to unite as a country and stand against the type of hate and terrorism that are being perpetrated.
Of course, we join all the tributes that have been paid to everybody affected by this terrible attack. It is the third terrorist attack since the UK terror threat level was reduced in November. Is the Home Secretary considering the use of the terror threat scale and whether the criteria and circumstances around the raising and lowering of the threat level should be reviewed?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the terror threat level is independent of the Home Secretary and the Home Office. It is set by a joint terrorism analysis centre assessment. The threat level is substantial. On that basis, we all continue to be vigilant, to monitor the situation and to engage with our intelligence and security services and take the relevant advice.
On behalf of the Derbyshire Dales constituency, I offer my deep condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives at the weekend. The terrorist attack over the weekend was a callous and senseless act of terrorism, apparently fuelled by hatred of and disdain for our society. Will my right hon. Friend commit to look further at not only the management of these types of individuals, but the laws that underpin their sentences, their possible early release and their possible removal from these shores?
My hon. Friend has raised a number of issues in relation to our laws—laws that are being discussed in the House of Commons this week in particular; I refer to the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill. She is right, of course, that we review and update our laws. At times such as this, first and foremost, we have to come together to look at any lessons, any issues and any challenges. It is too early to do that— there is a live investigation under way. As ever, it is important that we continue to review our legislation, but also the type of tactics and resources that are required at times like this.
Of course, we must always look at what more we can do to prevent such an absolutely horrendous crime, but will the Home Secretary agree with her predecessor as Home Secretary, Lord Howard, that what we need is a “measured” response and not a “knee-jerk reaction”? Will she make sure to engage with the Scottish Government and the other devolved Governments before bringing back any measures that she thinks may be necessary?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. This is not about knee-jerk reactions at all. Importantly, there is a live police investigation under way, and it is wrong for anybody to comment or speculate around the individual and what next steps need to be taken. As ever in this House, when it comes to legislation, reforms or changes, they are all discussed in the right way—not just on the Floor of the House, but across parties.
My constituents in Ashfield stand together, united in grief over this cowardly attack on innocent individuals. We are a peaceful and tolerant nation with a proud record of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, the vast majority of whom have come to the UK and contributed positively to society, such as the men I used to work with down the pits in the ‘80s. These were displaced people. At the end of world war two, they had no country and no home to go to. We gave them a home and, in return, they grafted down the pits to raise good, decent families and made our country a better place. However, there is something wrong if an individual has entered this country illegally, been granted asylum and then goes on to be a security risk. Could my right hon. Friend please tell me what steps her Department will take to ensure that we do not have another instance of a potential terrorist slipping through the net of the security services?
My hon. Friend makes some important points about the contribution of those refugees who come to our country because they are being persecuted elsewhere. We rightly give them a home and they establish their lives in our country. We are a free, open and tolerant country and as I have said before on the Floor of the House, we are one of the greatest countries in the world when it comes to giving people the freedom to succeed and to get on and live their lives. We offer that opportunity. I will not comment on anything to do with the individual. There is a live investigation under way, but I do want to reiterate that, when it comes to offenders, and foreign national offenders in particular, this Government are absolutely clear about our approach, which is to speed up the removal of individuals within the law. Naturally, there are complexities in some cases—in fact in many cases—which is why we are pursuing measures that we outlined in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year, and we will continue with our policies and legislation going forward.
Words cannot express the horror of an attack such as this, and I certainly add my condolences to the families and friends of all the victims. It has been reported that the intelligence services believe that mental health was an issue in this incident, but can the Home Secretary comment further on what further support could be offered to individuals who may be known to mental health services, especially where there is an interest from intelligence services?
Again, I will not comment on the investigation, the individuals and the reports in the newspapers. The Solicitor General has also issued warnings to the media this afternoon on that, so that there is nobody prejudiced in the case, which is absolutely vital. But the hon. Gentleman makes an important point about individuals who are known. Of course, as has already been said this afternoon, if those individuals are in prison and if they are known to probation services, work takes place through the probation services, the multi-agency public protection arrangements and various risk assessments around the individuals. Of course, that will continue and the Ministry of Justice is constantly reviewing not just its own policies but practices. That is very much standard for all the individuals who need bespoke support not just now, but throughout their development, whether they are in prison or have been released from prison.
My thoughts, along with those of my constituents, are with the victims and their families. We pay tribute to the brave police who ran towards danger. On the Home Affairs Committee, we tackled radicalisation and the tipping point. Does my right hon. Friend agree that two rules apply, regardless of whether someone is a far-right extremist or an Islamic extremist: the conscious role of social media companies that spread propaganda and groom, and the importance of community projects such as Prevent?
My heart breaks, as I know is the case for my constituents across Airdrie and Shotts, for those who lost their lives and their families and loved ones. I echo the sentiments that have already been expressed. Following on from the previous question, it would be wrong to speculate on motive, but can the Home Secretary update the House in more detail on what she is doing to break up online grooming campaigns to prevent young individuals from being radicalised?
While the police and security services continue in their vital work to track down and prevent lone actors tempted to carry out an attack, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no community in the UK that even tacitly condones an outrage such this—that the perpetrators are typically loners and misfits who are mentally unstable and socially inadequate, and in no way representative of any community view?
In January this year, the Government said that they would follow through in conducting a review of their Prevent strategy. However, six months on, there is still no chair for the review committee. Although I understand that the deadline for applications was extended due to covid—the applications close today—the progress of this review must be a priority. Will the Secretary of State update the House on when the Government expect to appoint a reviewer and when they plan to conclude the review, given that the expectation was that the committee would report in August?
Given that most of these awful tragedies tend to be in cities and this one was in a town, has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of terrorist activities in towns across the United Kingdom? Will she do everything possible to support Essex police in the work they do to keep Harlow town safe from crime and from terrorism?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Assessments of this nature take place constantly through our security and intelligence services, and also with our police forces. He will naturally know that I will do everything that I can to ensure that our brilliant police officers in Essex, and our great chief constable BJ Harrington, are supported in terms of resources for Harlow town but also, obviously, across the whole county of Essex.
I join hon. Members across the House in sending my condolences to the families of those who were killed in this horrendous attack. The Home Secretary has recognised that terrorists are increasingly acting alone, and we need to do everything we can to protect communities from this growing threat. What assurances can she give that the Home Office is adapting its counter-terrorism response to the use of low-tech weapons by terrorists acting in isolation?
The hon. Lady is right to point out the low sophistication of many of these lone actors. There is constant work and it is not just in the Home Office—it is based on intelligence, working with our partners and working with agencies. That informs our collective approach to the strategies that we develop with our partner organisations.
I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend has introduced since she took office, but time and again my constituents contact me and say, “We read of these individuals who pose a threat to our values, our democracy and the safety of our citizens, yet we still allow them into the country and we do not remove them.” May I add my support and that of my constituents to the appeals made earlier to remove more of these people, and will she redouble her efforts to achieve that?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her statement today and wish to extend my condolences and sympathy to everyone affected by this appalling attack. The Prevent strategy is a key element of the counter-terrorism strategy, but the intended review has been impacted by the reviewer stepping down over concerns about impartiality. Can the Secretary of State inform us what lessons regarding the appointment have been learned, and when will the next reviewer be in place?
As I have already said to the House this afternoon, the recruitment process is under way. The deadline is today. More information will be forthcoming once the reviewer has been appointed. Of course, it is important that there is an objective process around the appointment, and that is something that I completely support.
The right to life is the greatest right of all, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is doing everything she can to protect British citizens under current legal frameworks. Can she confirm how Brexit will enable our Government to better protect our citizens from potential terrorists whom we might not be allowed to deport or detain under current transnational legal obligations?
My hon. Friend points to some important changes that will be forthcoming, including further and greater criminality checks at our borders through our future borders and immigration work, through our points-based system and many of the changes that we will be bringing forward. That also touches on the Foreign National Offenders Bill, as highlighted in the Humble Address earlier this year. These are important pieces of legislation which will signal major changes for Britain post Brexit—how we will keep our country and our citizens safe and also have greater control of our borders.
Today is clearly a day for us to think of the families affected and to thank those officers who ran there on Saturday night, but the Home Secretary has said repeatedly that lessons will have to be learned from the incident. An element of that is scrutiny, so can the Home Secretary put on record when the Intelligence and Security Committee will reconvene? I understand it has not been convened since the election last year.
That money was the increase for this year alone, which has taken funding for counter-terrorism policing to £900 million. We have other reforms and initiatives under way when it comes to counter-terrorism policing, but it is important to reflect that of course counter-terrorism police do not work on their own: they are part of the wider UK policing network. They are plugged into our intelligence services and our community, and that integrated approach is vital when it comes to keeping our people, the citizens of our country, our communities and our country safe.
This is a day when we come together to show our abhorrence of those terrible deeds. May I give my sympathies to all concerned who have been so badly affected?
In 2015, the then Justice Secretary, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), asked Ian Acheson, a former prison governor, to review how extremism was being handled. Mr Acheson concluded that the system was full of flaws. What steps has the Home Secretary taken to address the concerns outlined in that report?
The Acheson report made various recommendations, and that is something that the Lord Chancellor and I, and across Government, are constantly reviewing and working on. I have already mentioned the Prevent strategy and the work that is taking place on counter-extremism. We must look at all of this collectively and together, rather than creating strategies in isolation.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) about the £900 million, on behalf of the residents of South Derbyshire, can I tell my right hon. Friend that cracking down on terrorist atrocities must be a key priority of her Department?
My hon. Friend is right, and of course we do it collectively, not in isolation, working with our police, our counter-terrorism policing—the whole policing family across the country—and with our security and intelligence networks. We base everything on their work, on the threats and on the judgments they make. The £900 million for counter-terrorism policing is vital, on top of the funding and resources for our intelligence and security networks. It is what keeps our nation safe, as we have seen from the number of threats they have foiled.