House of Commons
Tuesday 15 June 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Business before Questions
Daniel Morgan Independent Panel Report
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report, entitled The Report of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, dated 15 June 2021.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
Human Rights Violations against Uyghurs: Sanctions
On 22 March, the Foreign Secretary announced global human rights sanctions against four Chinese officials and one entity responsible for serious human rights violations in Xinjiang. We did so alongside the United States, Canada and the European Union, sending a powerful message to China about the strength of international concern. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will continue to keep all potential evidence and listings under close review.
While we wait for the Government to take further action on sanctions against individuals, I would like to press the Minister on whether the UK Government will follow this House and the US and Canadian Governments in declaring the Chinese Government’s persecution of the Uyghur people to be a genocide.
As the hon. Member probably knows, we do not shy from taking action. We have led international efforts to hold China to account. It is the long-standing policy of several Governments of the United Kingdom that the determination of genocide should be by a competent court.
Aid Budget Reduction: Humanitarian Impact
The UK will spend £10 billion in official development assistance in 2021, making us the third highest bilateral humanitarian donor country based on the OECD data.
Let me start by saying that I understand full well that this is a policy imposed by an unintelligent Treasury edict. Nevertheless, it has, potentially, the fatal consequences of a medium-sized war. The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa could not tell us whether the 60% cut to Yemen meant more or less than 260,000 deaths of women and children as a result. On Ethiopia, where the UN told us that 350,000 faced imminent starvation, the Minister for Africa—the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge)—yesterday could not tell the House the size of the cut in our aid. I understand from impeccable sources that we propose to cut that aid by £58 million—more than half. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm the size of that cut and tell the House what we intend to do to reduce the hundreds of thousands of deaths arising from our policy?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I do not accept the proposition that he has put forward. As a global leader in ODA—and we continue to be a global leader in ODA—we stretch to put as much in as we possibly can. Of course, we have temporary financial exceptional circumstances, but we will get back to 0.7% as soon as we can. He raised, in particular, the issue of Yemen. We have committed at least £87 million in 2021—that is more than £1 billion since the conflict began. He asked about the firm statistics. They are sent out in the normal way through Development Tracker and the final returns that are made annually.
Last week, the Prime Minister casually dismissed protests against billions of pounds-worth of aid cuts as “lefty propaganda”. Analysis by Save the Children estimates that at least 3 million people in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance right now will not receive it because of this Government’s decision. Can the Foreign Secretary not see that this is not about left or right? It is about right and wrong. Does he recognise that this is not propaganda? This is about life and death for the most vulnerable people, so will he now U-turn on this decision before it is too late for them?
What I recognise is that we remain the third largest donor in the G7, based on GNI. What I recognise is that we have made the biggest ever donation to the Global Partnership for Education, pursuing our goal of 40 million girls receiving 12 years of education. As a result of that, we raised at the G7 billions of pounds from other partners towards that goal. What I recognise is that we have doubled bilateral spending on international climate finance and we secured, through our donation of 100 million surplus vaccines, a contribution of a billion more by the middle of next year, which means that we will be able to vaccinate the world not at the end of 2024, which is the current trajectory, but by the mid-point of next year. That is what global Britain is about. That is what we achieved at the G7.
Two aspects of the recent integrated review that jumped out at me were the explicit wish to integrate diplomacy and development and the so-called Indo-Pacific tilt, which stated the desire to see the UK’s ODA more effective in the region. As a member of the Defence Committee, I am always interested to know how one can make the so-called region that is home to three of the five largest states in the world, and which is named after the first and third largest oceans on the planet, any sort of effective domain for UK foreign policy, so can the Foreign Secretary, while his Government cut aid to many of the poorest in the world, advise the House which areas or countries of the Indo-Pacific they will be prioritising to maintain their investment with this new-style of integrated development and diplomacy?
As I mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), the final figures, as has historically always been the case, come out not just through DevTracker, but in the international development statistics.
Let me give the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) the example that I think he is searching for. At the weekend, we made a £430 million contribution to the Global Partnership for Education—a 15% increase on last year that will affect many of the countries and regions that he describes. Above all, we used not just our aid spend, but our diplomatic convening power, to get others to make billions of pounds’ worth of contributions. Not only will that encourage 40 million more girls back into education, but it will help to deliver our second goal of getting 20 million more girls literate by the age of 10.
The real question is: do this Tory Government even care? At a time when the poorest nations of the world need support, humanity and compassion, this UK Tory Government are turning their back. Even one of their own Back Benchers has admitted that these cuts will kill. The other G7 countries have stepped up their aid budget; the UK is the only one to cut it. It is utterly shameful. Do you know what I really want to know, Mr Speaker? I want to know how the Foreign Secretary and his Tory Government sleep at night, knowing that they have the blood on their hands of some of the poorest people in the world.
I think that that was pretty unsavoury from the hon. Lady, but I will tell her how we sleep at night. We sleep at night because we are the third biggest ODA budget contributor in the G7. We sleep at night because we have just made the biggest global commitment on girls’ education ever, of any Government ever in the UK. We sleep at night because we are doubling the average annual spend on international climate finance. We sleep at night because we led the way with the 100 million doses that we are providing from excess surplus because of the money that we spent on the AstraZeneca vaccine: of the doses that the poorest countries have so far received via COVAX, 95% have come from AZ. In relation to humanitarian spend, bilaterally, we are the third biggest as well. We continue to be a global leader, but I think that our constituents would be asking some pretty serious questions if, at a time when we face the biggest contraction in our economy for 300 years, we were not also making or finding savings from the international as well as the domestic budget.
COVAX aimed to deliver 2 billion doses of vaccine to countries around the world in 2021. Six months in, less than 5% of that total has been shipped. To rapidly vaccinate health workers and older people in low-income countries, we must address global shortages with a global plan to increase production of vaccines and equitable access. Instead, what we got this weekend from a Prime Minister who has been in perennial retreat from the world stage was a commitment to 5 million doses by the end of September, and a vague commitment to more at some point over the next 12 months. Does the Secretary of State agree that cutting the aid budget while most of his counterparts were increasing theirs made it harder for the Prime Minister to play a leadership role at the G7, and that the cuts are a key reason for the Prime Minister’s abject failure to deliver a comprehensive strategy that accelerates global vaccine access so that we can achieve at least 70% coverage in all countries and end the pandemic as quickly as possible?
I am afraid that the hon. Lady is just mistaken and clearly did not pay attention to what the G7 agreed. We agreed 100 million doses on the UK’s part by the middle of next year. That was not some kind of loose commitment; it was a very clear one, and comes on top of the 1 billion doses that we secured through our financial commitment to COVAX. As a result of our commitment, we have now raised the ability, through the G7 and the other contributions, to secure 1 billion extra doses, so there are new doses. What that will mean in practice is that rather than the world being vaccinated by 2024, as in the current trajectory, it will happen by the middle of next year. I would have thought that if the hon. Lady really cared about the issue, she would recognise that that is a massive step forward.
It is apparent that no matter how many examples we give of why the aid cuts should be reversed, the Foreign Secretary is either unwilling or unable to answer, so let us try this another way.
It is estimated that these cuts will result in the deaths of more than 1 million children throughout the world—1 million more than already die as a result of being the poorest and most vulnerable. Many of us have children of our own and would never neglect their fundamental needs, yet with no consent and with widespread opposition both inside and outside this Parliament, this Government are determined to inflict death and suffering on those with no voice. Thinking of those children, will the Foreign Secretary finally commit to reversing the decision, or is he willing to let the ink dry on the death sentences on these innocent lives?
I have to say that using language like that reflects more on the hon. Gentleman than on the approach of the Government or any Ministers. Of course we take seriously the financial predicament we are in and the difficult choices we have made, but we remain the third biggest G7 donor, and I have given the House the positive effects that we will achieve with our £10 billion. Of course, if we were right at the bottom and donating only £1 billion a year, and we increased it by 20%, according to his moral paradigm we would be doing better than if we were giving £10 billion this year. That is a totally clueless approach to take.
I welcome the G7’s call for unimpeded access for aid workers to the Tigray region of Ethiopia, as a potentially catastrophic man-made famine is unfolding. The UN estimates that more than 350,000 people are currently living in famine conditions and that 2 million are just one step away. There are reports of crops being destroyed, farmers being prevented from cultivating land and food aid being stolen. Endemic sexual violence means that women and girls are staying in hiding, unable to seek the little food that is available. How much humanitarian aid is the FCDO providing to support this response, and how much of it has already been distributed? What action is the FCDO taking to secure and safeguard the distribution of emergency food aid to communities in Tigray, and what steps is it taking to work with partners to prevent a catastrophic famine?
The hon. Lady, like me, cares passionately about that appalling situation. I can tell her that we have provided £22 million of badly needed support to the people in Tigray. At the G7, under the UK presidency, we issued a statement on 2 April and on 5 May expressing deep concern. Following my visit in January and my conversation with Prime Minister Abiy, humanitarian access went from consent to notification, but we know that humanitarian workers still cannot reach the places they need to reach. We need to work on that, and we need to get Eritrean forces to withdraw. In relation to accountability for some of the appalling human rights abuses we have seen, we certainly support the High Commissioner for Human Rights in her planned investigations in conjunction with the Ethiopian human rights commission.
Iran is systematically in non-compliance with the joint comprehensive plan of action—the JCPOA—and, working with our European partners and with the United States, China and Russia, we expect and require a return to full compliance.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog has warned that Iran is now producing uranium at levels that “only countries making bombs” are reaching, after successfully enriching to 60% purity. Given that this knowledge cannot be unlearned, does my right hon. Friend share my concern that Iran’s nuclear activities already extend far beyond the outdated JCPOA? What steps will he be taking to address not only Iran’s nuclear belligerence but its support for terrorism and the ballistic missile programme?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just the stockpile of enriched uranium, which is 16 times the permitted limit, but the operation of the centrifuges and the production of uranium metal that are of deep concern. All sides agree that Iran must return to full compliance, and there has been some progress in the talks in Vienna, but a successful outcome is far from guaranteed. Those talks cannot continue to be open-ended; we need to see a return to full compliance. My hon. Friend is also right to refer to the need for “longer and stronger”, as it is dubbed, to ensure not just that we have permanent guarantees in relation to the nuclear issue but that we address the destabilising activity that Iran sponsors. I have just got back from Iraq, where we can see at first hand the support for the Shi’a militias and what that means in practice.
May I first pay tribute to the work of the HALO Trust, a British charity and the largest de-mining organisation working in Afghanistan? Tragically, 10 of its team were killed in an ISIS attack a week ago. James Cowan, the CEO, has vowed to continue their important work, and I hope that the Government will encourage the Afghan Government to improve local security so that the HALO Trust can continue that important work.
In the 1970s, we attempted to sell 100 Chieftain tanks to Iran. We took the money—£400 million—but following Iranian revolution, the tanks were of course never delivered. We need to repay that debt, because it is starting to interfere with other bilateral issues. I invite my right hon. Friend to speak to Tony Blinken, because this is to do with legacy sanctions and we need to resolve the issue.
I pay tribute not just to the work of the HALO Trust—I extend my condolences for the loss of life—but to all the non-governmental organisation workers on the frontline who take extraordinary risks to do incredible work.
On the International Military Services debt to which my right hon. Friend referred, we have always said that we are committed to resolving that issue. I shall not say more at this point because legal discussions are ongoing and I do not want to prejudice them.
I join the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) in sending our thoughts and best wishes to the victims of the terrible attack on the HALO Trust staff in Afghanistan. Ten people were murdered and many more injured, and I am sure the whole House would want to send best wishes and sympathies.
The proposed plan to increase the UK’s stockpile of nuclear warheads has made it abundantly clear that the Government have ditched multilateralism and embraced unilateralism. Such a reckless move is out of step with all our allies and will have a big impact on our ability to participate in nuclear non-proliferation agreements such as the JCPOA with Iran. What impact does the Foreign Secretary think the proposed increase in warheads will have on our international standing, given that we appear to have abandoned our obligations under article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Will he recommit to those obligations today?
Foreign Policy and Overseas Aid: Co-ordination
The creation of the FCDO combines our diplomatic network with our development expertise and resource to maximise our interests, influence and impact as a global force for good. The Foreign Secretary’s strategic oversight of ODA is bringing greater coherence and impact to UK aid, sharpening our focus where we can make the most difference and ensuring that every penny delivers results. The integrated review sets out the ambition for the UK to be a model for an integrated approach to tackling global challenges.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the ministerial team on their part in securing the vaccination commitment to the developing nations at the G7 over the weekend. There are to be 100 million vaccines from the UK, 500 million doses from the US and 100 million from the EU bloc; although not necessarily proportionate, those commitments will have a major impact on the world’s most vulnerable people. Does my hon. Friend agree that the impact of overseas aid is greater when it is integrated with our diplomatic aims?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend and I am grateful to him for asking that question. As we saw just last weekend at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, the UK really can achieve much more when diplomatic and political levers combine with our development objectives, be that on vaccines, as he illustrated, or on girls’ education or climate change. We can also use aid commitments to leverage greater financial commitments from other G7 countries and multilaterals. The G7 development-finance institutions and multilateral partners have committed to investing more than $80 billion in the private sector in Africa over the next five years. This is the first time that those institutions have made a collective commitment on funding for Africa. That absolutely demonstrates how the UK’s diplomatic network and development expertise can have a much greater impact when they work together.
Crimes against the Rohingya: Accountability
Accountability is vital. The military has committed atrocities against the Rohingya and other minorities and must be held to account. We have sanctioned 16 individuals, including the commander-in-chief, for human rights violations against the Rohingya. We have sanctioned the two largest military-economic entities, which are both a key source of revenue for the military. We have boosted our funding to the independent investigative mechanism, which preserves evidence for future prosecution, and we have been clear in our support for the International Court of Justice process and that we urge the military to comply with the provisional measures ruling.
May I first extend my solidarity with, and deepest condolences to, the HALO Trust staff who were killed in Afghanistan and to all those who were injured?
Myanmar’s military has been allowed to act with impunity against the Rohingya, and its assault has now widened to the whole population following the military coup earlier this year. At the same time, our Government have unfortunately slashed the budget by nearly half for the refugee camps in Bangladesh, and humanitarian cuts are likely in Myanmar. While the Foreign Secretary is listening, may I ask the Minister once again to reverse those cuts, because they are literally costing lives? Will the Foreign Secretary and the Minister also please consider formally joining Gambia on the genocide prevention case at the ICJ? If they do not agree to do so now after all that has happened and after all that the Myanmar military has done, then when will we formally join, given that we are a leading country in relation to Myanmar?
I know how passionate the hon. Lady is about the situation in Myanmar, particularly on behalf of the Rohingya community. On the ICJ case, we have been absolutely clear in our support for the process. We have urged the military to comply with the provisional measures rulings, and we have provided funding to enable Rohingya refugees to attend those hearings in December 2019.
With regard to aid support, we remain a leading donor to the Rohingya response, providing more than £320 million to the Rohingya response in Bangladesh since 2017. That includes £27.6 million of new funding announced in May in Rakhine State. We have provided more than £44 million to all communities since 2017, including over £25 million for the Rohingya. The Government are providing education, nutrition, water, sanitation, health and livelihoods.
Education of Girls: Covid-19
Covid-19 has raised the stakes for girls’ education, deepening the crisis that they already face in basic skills, and too many children have missed crucial schooling since last year, which we know does long-term damage to their future and disproportionately affects girls. The UK is committed to standing up for the right of every girl around the world to 12 years of quality education. That is why the UK has put girls’ education at the heart of our G7 presidency, and we are co-hosting the global education summit with Kenya in July.
Absolutely. We have put girls’ education at the heart of our G7 presidency and made huge strides in achieving our ambition of standing up for the right of every girl to 12 years of quality education. At the G7 summit in Cornwall, the Prime Minister secured a landmark commitment from our G7 partners to pledge at least $2.7 billion to the Global Partnership for Education ahead of the global education summit. That includes £430 million from the UK, which is an uplift of 15% on our current position as top bilateral donor, and our largest ever pledge to the GPE. That, along with our commitments to getting 40 million more girls into schools and 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10 in the next five years, demonstrates the commitment that this Government are putting into girls’ education.
Sri Lanka: Human Rights
At the UN Human Rights Council in March, we successfully led a new resolution which expresses deep concern about the situation in Sri Lanka and enhances the UN’s monitoring role. For the first time, it requests that the UN collect evidence of human rights violations, for use in future accountability processes. We continue to engage with the Government of Sri Lanka on that process.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Tamils and on behalf of Tamils in Carshalton and Wallington, I thank the FCDO for its work in securing this new resolution at the UNHRC sessions. However, more can and should be done to provide accountability for the brutal war crimes committed during the Sri Lankan civil war. What actions can my hon. Friend take to ensure that evidence collected satisfies conditions for sanctions against current Sri Lankan officials who are credibly accused of overseeing the enforced disappearance and sexual assault of thousands of Sri Lankan civilians during the conflict?
As my hon. Friend will know, this Government have led international efforts over many years to promote accountability, reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka, including at the UN Human Rights Council. The new UK-led resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in March included, for the first time, a request for the UN
“to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence”
of human rights abuses and violations so that this can be used to support future accountability processes.
Aid Budget Reduction: Covid-19
[Inaudible]—is having on the world’s poorest countries. The FCDO is committed to the global effort to tackle the pandemic. We have made new public commitments worth up to £1.3 billion of ODA to counter the health, humanitarian and socioeconomic impacts of covid-19 and to support the global effort to distribute vaccines equitably, as well as adopting our programmes in 2020 amounting to more than £700 million. As we have heard, the Prime Minister announced at the G7 that the UK will donate 100 million vaccine doses within the next five years, with 5 million of those by the end of September, to ensure global vaccination by the end of 2022.[Official Report, 28 June 2021, Vol. 698, c. 1MC.]
That is simply not good enough. With the failure of the Prime Minister to deliver a credible plan at the G7 for vaccinating the world compounding his savage cuts of 80% to clean water and sanitation programmes, which we all know are the best way of slowing the spread of covid-19, does the Minister agree that the scale and impact of these cuts on the lives and life chances of the poorest people in the world are devastating and that the pandemic will kill more people and actually last longer as a result?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was following entirely all the announcements at the G7 at the weekend, because we announced that we will donate 100 million vaccine doses within the next year, with 5 million by the end of September. Our Prime Minister led the G7 to help commit to ensure global vaccination by the end of 2022 and also announced his plan to share 1 billion vaccine doses, and to expand vaccine manufacturing as well. When it comes to our ODA commitments, the UK is one of the largest donors to the international response, committing up to £1.3 billion of ODA since the beginning of the crisis, and our overall ODA budget remains at £10 billion, helping the world’s poorest.
The threat posed by North Korea continues to grow. Its nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes threaten to destabilise the region and pose a grave threat to international peace and security. The United Kingdom is deeply concerned that humanitarian needs in North Korea may be growing following the closure of its borders in January 2020. We urge North Korea to facilitate access for international humanitarian organisations to carry out an independent assessment of needs and to allow aid to flow freely into that country.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the international community’s complete failure to stop the ongoing brutal treatment and subjugation of the North Korean people is testament to the fact that we need new international structures to tackle the worst human rights abuses outside of the UN Security Council, which is not able to deliver on this and many other issues?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, but he can be reassured that the UK is clear that there must be no impunity for the most serious international crimes. The international community has a responsibility to respond to human rights violations in North Korea. The United Kingdom remains committed to continuing to push for action at all levels to bring pressure to bear on the Government of North Korea.
I listened with great interest to the Minister’s answer, and North Korea really should be higher up our agenda, because there is a looming humanitarian disaster coming in that country. The corn harvest is failing and food prices are now up 30-odd per cent., the border remains closed with China, so imports are not able to alleviate that, and we are also seeing electricity being diverted away from the provinces to Pyongyang—all the actions of a deeply unstable regime, but jeopardising the interests of 25 million people. We have heard great tell about the Indo-Pacific tilt and integrated foreign policy and development, but it really would be a lot more credible if we heard less about aircraft carriers and more about preparations for a pending humanitarian disaster.
The hon. Member is again right to raise this issue. We are extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation in North Korea. He will be aware that our ambassador to North Korea maintains diplomatic relations from London. He routinely discusses issues of concern. We will seek to re-establish our presence in Pyongyang as soon as the border reopens. The Foreign Secretary and other G7 Foreign and Development Ministers made clear on 5 May our deep concern for the welfare of vulnerable communities, particularly in terms of access to adequate water, nutrition and medical facilities. This humanitarian assistance should be delivered consistent with UN Security Council resolutions and humanitarian principles.
Global Poverty and Inequality
The UK’s overseas development assistance continues to serve the primary purpose of reducing poverty in developing countries. We are proud that we remain firmly committed to helping the world’s poorest, and we will spend £10 billion on overseas development assistance this year—spending more on international aid in 2021 as a proportion of our gross national income than the majority of the G7.
With Brexit, the UK has the freedom to be a truly global nation, not just in trade and diplomacy, but also in leading the world in tackling climate change, poverty and inequality. Does my hon. Friend agree that we have an opportunity to expand our presence abroad, particularly in developing nations, so that we have personnel on the ground who really understand the issues faced in these countries and who can advise on how aid can be specifically targeted to ensure real measurable help is given where it is needed most?
I agree that we have an opportunity to expand our presence abroad, particularly in developing countries. As part of the UK’s diplomatic and development expansion, we now have heads of mission in Lesotho, Vanuatu and Eswatini. We are also opening a new British embassy in Djibouti and upgrading our two existing offices in Chad and Niger to full embassy status.
As a Labour and Co-operative party MP, I am so proud that tackling poverty is at the heart of the co-operative movement. What assurances can the Minister give that the co-operative sectors, which do so much to alleviate poverty in developing countries, will not be impacted by cuts to the aid budget? Will he commit to reinstate the 0.7% aid budget target?
I can certainly commit to going back to 0.7%—that is the Government’s intention when the fiscal situation is right. I can agree to co-operate with co-operatives across the developing world—with a small C and a large C—including the Fairtrade movement.
Overseas Commercial Interests
My hon. Friend asks a very timely question, as the Prime Minister has today announced a free trade agreement with Australia, which will bring fantastic opportunities for British businesses from all over the United Kingdom. The UK-Australia trade relationship was worth more than £13.9 billion last year, and we look forward to it growing even further under this deal. The FCDO has co-ordinated the transition of 150 key international agreements in which the UK previously participated as a member of the EU, including supporting the Department for International Trade to agree bilateral trade agreements with 67 non-EU countries, plus the European Union.
Ahead of English Wine Week next week, would the Minister give me his personal assurance that he will do everything in his power to ensure that our embassies and our high commissions around the world do all they can to promote and showcase this growing and successful English product?
I could not agree more, and I know my hon. Friend and I do our best to support this fantastic industry. There is no better champion for the British wine industry, and he has some superb vineyards in Arundel and South Downs. The quality of our sparkling wines in particular are superb, not least those from north Yorkshire vineyards, including the Yorkshire Heart vineyard in Nun Monkton and the Dunesforde vineyard in Upper Dunsforth. I recommend a visit. He is totally right: there should be no excuse for our embassies, our high commissions and our consulates not stocking British projects, including our wines. I am sure all our ambassadors and high commissioners are watching, so I would ask them to make sure that their cellars are stocked up with British produce, including our fantastic British wines.
Source of Covid-19 Outbreak: Discussions with China
In their call last month, the Foreign Secretary raised the response to the pandemic and global health reform with Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi. The Health Secretary also discussed covid-19 with his Chinese counterpart at the UK-China health dialogue in December 2020. He underlined that a shared understanding of the virus’s origins, grounded in robust science, is vital to global pandemic preparedness.
The covid-19 pandemic has had huge implications for the global economy, for our constituents across this House and for billions of people around the world, so it is vital that we learn the lessons and do not brush anything under the carpet for fear of reprisal. With President Biden having asked US intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the pandemic, could the Minister reassure me and the House that we will be playing our full part in those efforts, and that we will be putting pressure on the Chinese Government to make sure that they behave in a much more transparent way than they have done to date?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. As he will know, phase 1 of the WHO-convened covid-19 origins study was always meant to be the beginning of the process, not the end. We are working with our international partners to support the timely, transparent, evidence-based and expert-led phase 2 study, including, as recommended by the experts report, in China. World Health Organisation director general Tedros has said that “all hypotheses remain open”, and further data and studies are required. As such, we expect all WHO member states to live up to their responsibilities and co-operate with phase 2.
Middle East: Two-state Solution
The UK remains fully committed to a two-state solution as the best way to permanently end the occupation, deliver Palestinian self-determination and ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories on 25 and 26 May for talks with senior leaders to reaffirm this commitment. We welcome the ceasefire in Israel and Gaza, and we are working with partners in the region to find a durable solution to the conflict. We also look forward to hearing more from the Alliance for Middle East Peace and the US Government about the international fund’s objectives and the projects it will support. Once more information is available, we will consider options for UK involvement.
As the Minister has said, for many years there has been widespread international support for a two-state solution, but he will know that a growing number of voices now say that the window on this is closing rapidly, and that if it does, Israel will have to accept full and equal civil rights for all Palestinians. In the light of this, what policy would he encourage the new Government formed this week to pursue?
We congratulate the new Government on their formation and look forward to working with them in pursuit of the almost universally held goal in this House and across the international community of having a secure, sovereign, prosperous Palestinian state alongside a secure and stable and safe Israeli state. Ultimately it is for the Government of Israel to make decisions about these policies, but, as has been the long-standing position of the UK Government, we will work to support any and all actions which are complementary to or part of the process towards making that sustainable two-state solution through political negotiations a reality.
Despite hosting the G7 in Cornwall this weekend, the Government have yet again missed the opportunity to make global Britain a reality in the middle east by not seizing the initiative for UK leadership of the international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Why did the Government pass over that opportunity, and is there any prospect of the UK stepping up and leading that exciting new project with the United States?
I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for her passion for finding a peaceful resolution to this situation; it is our shared goal. As I said in my answer, we will look at the detail of what this programme seeks to deliver, and as yet all the details are not available to us. We have always looked favourably on programmes that bring about peace but we want to make sure that they are effective and, as I have said, once we have more details we will assess our contribution or collaboration.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary travelled to both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories shortly after the most recent scenes of violence. We enjoy good relations with both the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel, and we will of course be working with the new members of the Israeli Government to pursue the long-standing UK policy of finding a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. I have no doubt that I speak on behalf of my right hon. Friend when I say that our efforts in this area are undiminished.
May I begin by expressing my sympathies to the families of the HALO Trust staff who lost their lives in Afghanistan? They were killed by an armed group while on a mission clearing land mines; they were extremely brave people and we pay tribute to them.
The British consul in Jerusalem recently visited his neighbours in Sheikh Jarrah. In support of the Palestinians he said that the threat to the community
“grows more acute by the day”.
He correctly stated that,
“Settlement activity & associated evictions & demolitions”
in East Jerusalem
“are illegal and undermine prospects for peace.”
Those are powerful words but what is needed is action, so what do the Government propose to do to ensure that Palestinians in East Jerusalem can live in peace and security, and that the rule of law prevails in East Jerusalem?
The UK Government’s position on demolitions, settlement expansion and annexation is clear and long-standing. As I have said, we enjoy good bilateral relations with the Government of Israel and are able to speak with them frankly and firmly when we believe that their actions are counterproductive to a peaceful two-state solution. We will continue to do so, but ultimately the resolution to this long-standing challenge will be through negotiations between the Government of Israel and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, supported—perhaps even facilitated—by their friends in the international community, such as the United Kingdom.
Since the last oral questions I have visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to discuss how to reinforce the ceasefire. I also visited Saudi Arabia and saw at first hand the changes under Saudi Vision 2030, including greater rights for women, which we have been very much supporting; visited Iraq to support free and fair elections in October; and, of course, joined the Prime Minister in Carbis Bay for the G7 summit, which under his presidency delivered groundbreaking pledges on international vaccines, decisive action on climate change and G7 commitments to get 40 million more girls into 12 years of quality education.
Nepal is in a deep covid crisis, with thousands of people dying each week because of the lack of oxygen supply and ventilators, and the severe lack of vaccines. Without urgent help from the UK Government, more lives will be lost. Can the Secretary of State outline what additional support the UK Government are providing following the visit last month by medical advisers to Nepal?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about the workers serving so bravely in the HALO Trust in Afghanistan. He knows as well as I do that many other people are serving the Afghan community, and indeed the international community, by seeking to assist women and girls in education, to help farmers, and to fight the corruption in various institutions—and, indeed, the drugs business that has blighted so many lives.
Can the Secretary of State, today at the Dispatch Box, redouble his commitment to the Afghan National Defence and Security Force and to supporting all those institutions that made such a difference in protecting the Afghan population, and that really are the legacy of the British Army and many other armies’ continuous operations in Afghanistan over much of the last 20 years? Will he ensure that the sacrifice of all those who fought in Afghanistan, and all those who have given so much to rebuilding it, will not go to waste in aid cuts that are so unnecessary?
My hon. Friend is right to point to the precarious situation in Afghanistan. We had long, detailed talks not just with the United States at Carbis Bay but with other allies. We had the NATO summit as well, which has been an opportunity to reinforce the need to stand by those who have stood by us in the way that my hon. Friend the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee described, and to ensure that we encourage a political dialogue to avoid the spectre, or the risk, of civil war and that we bank not just the security gains from all the blood, sweat and tears that have been spent in Afghanistan, but a more inclusive Government.
I associate myself with the tributes paid to the brave workers of the HALO Trust and put on record our unequivocal condemnation of the targeting of a BBC journalist outside Parliament yesterday. Press freedom is under attack around the world; we must defend it here.
Yesterday, NATO recognised China as a systemic challenge to our security and the values that underpin it for the first time. While we welcome the reference to forced labour in the G7 communiqué, the failure to agree concrete measures in relation to Xinjiang was a missed opportunity to send a clear message that the world stands against genocide and anyone who seeks to profit from it. Can the Secretary of State assure us that he and the Prime Minister supported the stronger language and tougher measures that President Biden made it clear were needed, and that, despite the failure of the G7 to agree them, he will continue to do so?
I agree with much of what the hon. Lady said. Of course, she will know that there are varied views at the G7, including among our European partners, about quite how robust to be with China on some of these issues. She will know, because of the stance that the United Kingdom has taken in the Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly, the United Nations and other forums, and indeed from the statements that we have put out and the sanctions that we have imposed in relation to Xinjiang, how importantly we take the issue, but the reality is that in relation to China, on this and many other issues, we need to be able to carry a broader group of like-minded countries with us. That is why the Prime Minister invited India, South Korea and Australia to join the G7 as guests, and why it is important to engage with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the way that we have been doing.
While I welcome that, if we want to carry a broader group of like-minded countries with us we need to lead by example. Does the Secretary of State regret whipping his MPs to support preferential trade deals with countries that commit genocide? Can he tell us why, last week, his Government turned down almost every single recommendation made by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee to get tough with China over forced labour in Xinjiang, and why the Minister for Exports, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), told parliamentarians last week:
“China offers more opportunity for the UK economy than perhaps any other market”?
The sheer incoherence of that approach is what, time and again, causes the Government to come up short. It gives us the absurd spectacle of Ministers standing up for human rights in the morning and then defending trade deals with countries that commit genocide in the afternoon. Will he please get a grip on that across Government, because who in the world could rely on a Government who cannot even rely on themselves?
I think the hon. Lady is a bit confused. Can she name a single country with which the United Kingdom under this Government is engaged on FTA negotiations that has committed anything close to genocide? Of course it is unthinkable; of course we would not do it. [Interruption.] Incorrect. What we have done—[Interruption.] She is chuntering from a sedentary position because she knows what she is saying is bereft of substance. We have imposed—we led the way in imposing—sanctions on Xinjiang. We have raised it at the G7 level. It is absolutely inconceivable that the UK would do a trade deal with any country that has engaged in genocide. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is chuntering again. It is absolute nonsense.
It is right, though, to say that we want a constructive and positive relationship, where that is possible, with China across the piece. In areas such as climate change, the hon. Lady talks a good game but does not seem to understand the elbow grease that needs to go into it. We need to have a conversation with China, because it is the biggest emitter and the biggest investor in renewable technologies, but we have demonstrated time and again that we never shrink from standing up for our values. She talks a good game; we do the business.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. On the positive side, we welcome President Bolsonaro’s commitment to reach zero illegal deforestation by 2030, and we are working with the Brazilian Government to address some of the underlying factors that fuel deforestation, including trying to get sustainable production of agricultural commodities—an issue not just in Brazil but around the world. Through international finance programmes, we have committed £259 million to help protect the Amazon, which has already enabled clearance of 430,000 acres to be avoided.
I have had long conversations with the families of Anoosheh Ashoori and all the other dual nationals who have been detained. Nothing is more moving or heartbreaking in this job than seeing the situation of dual nationals in Iran and, indeed, of nationals and dual nationals around the world, and I have been intensively engaged in trying to resolve this. With other issues, it was something I discussed with our US friends at Carbis Bay. I am doing absolutely everything I can to secure the release and return home of all our detained dual nationals in Iran and, indeed, around the world.
I thank my hon. Friend for making those points. I can assure her that in all the conversations we have about our commitment to Africa and to the broader world, ensuring 12 years of quality education for girls remains the top priority. We recognise that, as the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, it is the Swiss Army knife for global problems, and it will remain a high priority for us, both in this part of the world and more broadly.
I started life as a maritime lawyer, so I can geek on UNCLOS with the best of them. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s expertise in this area. We welcome the negotiations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a code of conduct relating to UNCLOS. What is really important is that that reflects and is faithful to the international obligations in one of the world’s most widely ratified international treaties that is widely regarded as reflective of custom in international law. A code of conduct should not be used by China to unpick the obligations under UNCLOS.
Can I just say that I am very disappointed that lots of Members have not got in? Those who asked questions and those who responded to them should consider others because, unfortunately, I am now ending questions and suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next business to be made.
Business of the House
I should like to make a short business statement. Hon. and right hon. Members will be aware of yesterday’s announcement to extend covid restrictions until 19 July. As a consequence of that announcement, further regulations are needed. Therefore, tomorrow’s business will now be:
Wednesday 16 June—Consideration of a business of the House motion, followed by a motion to approve the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps and Other Provisions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 (S.I., 2021, No. 705), and a further motion that will provide for the current arrangements for parliamentary proceedings during the pandemic to continue until the summer recess.
I shall make a further business statement as usual on Thursday. Mr Speaker, you have asked me to advise hon. and right hon. Members that they will have until 3 o’clock today to apply to speak in tomorrow’s debate.
I thank the Leader of the House for an advance copy of his statement and for co-operation over the process.
In section 9 of the ministerial code, “Ministers and Parliament” general principle 9.1 states:
“When Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, in Parliament.”
As you noted, Mr Speaker, and as I too noted yesterday in my point of order, that was not followed yesterday in relation to a major announcement by the Prime Minister.
The Leader of the House regularly and correctly says that Members of Parliament have been sent here to represent constituents and should be able to scrutinise Ministers of the Crown in order to stand up for said constituents, and he has always been known as a man of the House and our representative to Cabinet. Does he agree with that statement in the ministerial code?
Given the motion that is being brought forward tomorrow, linking back to yesterday’s announcement, does the Leader of the House believe that the Prime Minister has abided by the letter and spirit of that statement, which is in bold at the top of section 9? If he does not, what will he do to make representations on our behalf to the Prime Minister? Does he understand that the Prime Minister’s absence from this House to take questions about that important announcement affects our ability to represent our constituents? Will there, therefore, be some mention of this over the course of the next 24 hours from the Prime Minister?
In addition to the package of motions that the Leader of the House has announced for tomorrow, will there be a statement from the Chancellor on an economic package of support, and a statement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy or the Department for Work and Pensions about extending support for businesses and individuals who will be affected by the extension? In particular, will the Government now acknowledge that it is essential to provide payment for people asked to isolate who cannot work from home but are on low wages or in insecure work?
Will the Leader of the House ask his colleagues, in addition to the motions tomorrow, to come forward urgently with packages of support? Businesses such as hospitality businesses, which have stocked up and taken on staff who cannot be furloughed, and others, now face a series of cliff edges. That is relevant to the motions tomorrow, because they will affect what happens to those businesses, and many are on the edge.
The motions will also cover extending the rules for this place until recess, which I welcome. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need to discuss fully those rules and what we can learn from the hybrid Parliament?
As we have this business statement, can I ask the Leader of the House this? He has not included in this statement parliamentary time to close the anomaly between the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme and the parliamentary Standards Committee in relation to recall, when an MP is subject to suspension on the recommendation of the ICGS. Will he cover that in his business statement on Thursday, given that it is an urgent piece of business? We have no idea when another case of sexual harassment or bullying may come forward.
Finally, on a related issue, you, Mr Speaker, may have seen the footage of a journalist with parliamentary credentials being harassed outside No. 10. Has the Leader of the House been in touch with the necessary authorities to ensure that that does not happen again?
It is always important that statements are made to this House and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care was here yesterday to answer questions, but I understand, Mr Speaker, that you are seeing the Prime Minister later today to discuss that and to ensure that everything is done as it ought to be done. I am confident that the Prime Minister follows the ministerial code in all his doings and that has been shown over recent times to be the case.
The hon. Lady asked for further statements to be made. That is a perfectly reasonable request for her to make. I remind her that £407 billion of taxpayers’ money has been spent so far, that the furlough scheme continues until September—so comfortably beyond the date that has been set, or will be set if the regulations are approved tomorrow—and that other packages, such as rate relief, also continue.
The question of statements is always a difficult one. There will be a debate tomorrow and Members will want to contribute to it—it will go until 7 o’clock. Any statements eat into time for that and these are all matters that could be raised in the course of the debate as well. So the House, essentially, has to work out for itself how it best wants to manage its time to ensure that these important issues are discussed fully in the time available tomorrow.
As regards the hybrid Parliament, Mr Speaker, you wisely advised yesterday that we should extend it until the recess, rather than doing it to just a couple of days before. I am like the centurion’s servant—say go and I goeth, say come and I cometh—and, therefore, those are the motions that we have brought forward. That is sensible and proportionate. It may be useful to the House to say that that will also apply to Select Committees, which will continue to be able to use hybrid proceedings until the parliamentary recess.
On the issue relating to recall, discussions are taking place. I had a meeting with one of the union representatives earlier this week. I know that the hon. Lady is having discussions. There may be an opportunity to discuss it at the Commission on Monday. So it is something under very active consideration, and I hope that we can come to a conclusion that is satisfactory to everybody.
As regards policing in the metropolis and security outside Downing Street, the hon. Lady’s question is perfectly timed because the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing are on the Front Bench at this very moment. I am sure that they will encourage the constabulary to attend to their duties.
I also thank the Leader of the House for advance sight of the statement.
I agree with the shadow Leader of the House that it is critical for us to get clarity on the extension of support schemes and mechanisms. Perhaps the Government could take this opportunity to close the gap for the excluded who have not had any support to date. As we continue to extend, perhaps something could be drawn forward in due course.
Although all of us want the restrictions to end at the earliest possible opportunity, yesterday’s statement was welcome in recognising the reality that we face. Looking at that reality and the fluid situation, however, I ask the Leader of the House this. We are extending the virtual proceedings in this place only to the recess. Should something happen over the summer recess before we return in September, will we have no opportunity to consider what may be necessary at that stage because we had effectively ended the availability of the procedures in July, rather than even on the first day back? We could return on the first day back, in full attendance, simply to have to move measures on such proceedings. I am not trying to be a killjoy; I am just looking at the practicalities: what if these situations present themselves?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. He raises a fair point. I think the answer must be—as the Prime Minister and, I think, Professor Whitty, have said—that ultimately we are going to have to live with covid, and we cannot have this semi-functioning Parliament indefinitely. We ultimately have to get back to normal. We have to have the bustle and energy that Parliament requires to hold the Government to account. Dare I confess that it is much easier for the Minister at the Dispatch Box when there are about 20 people in the Chamber than when there are about 400? As somebody who believes in the benefits of parliamentary scrutiny, I actually think it is quite a good thing when Ministers face some fast bowling at the Dispatch Box, rather than my lumbering, slow balls which are the best that I can achieve on the cricket field.
On the extension of support, as I mentioned, a lot of support does continue. That gives me the opportunity to mention the wonderful support that the United Kingdom has been able to give: £14.5 billion of extra money has been spent in Scotland thanks to UK taxpayers across our whole country, supporting over 900,000 jobs in the furlough scheme and over 535,000 claims for the self-employment scheme. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is beginning to see the virtues of a United Kingdom.
Daniel Morgan Independent Panel Report
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the report of the Daniel Morgan independent panel.
Daniel Morgan was murdered in London in 1987. It is incredibly painful for his family and friends that five criminal investigations into his brutal death have brought no successful prosecutions. In 2013, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who was then Home Secretary, announced the creation of the Daniel Morgan independent panel to review police handling of the murder investigations. The panel was asked to explore: police involvement in Daniel Morgan’s murder; whether anyone involved in the murder was protected by corrupt police officers; whether there was a subsequent failure to investigate corruption; and the incidence of connections between private investigators, police officers, the News of the World or other parts of the media. The independent panel has now completed its report. I am grateful to the panel and to Baroness Nuala O’Loan.
As Home Secretary, it was my responsibility to ensure that publishing the report was compatible with my statutory obligations in relation to human rights and national security. This was not about delay. I am pleased that no redactions were required. Daniel Morgan’s family have waited eight years for this report. It is devastating that, 34 years after he was murdered, nobody has been brought to justice.
The report sets out findings from its review of the past three decades. It is more than 1,200 pages long and in three volumes. It is right that we carefully review its findings. The report is deeply alarming: it finds that examples of corrupt behaviour were not limited to the first investigation, that the Metropolitan police made a litany of mistakes, and that that irreparably damaged the chances of a successful prosecution for Daniel Morgan’s murder. The report accuses the Metropolitan police of
“a form of institutional corruption.”
Police corruption is a betrayal of everything that policing stands for in this country. It erodes public confidence in our entire criminal justice system. It undermines democracy and civilised society. We look to the police to protect us, and so they are invested with great power. The overwhelming majority of officers use it honourably, but those who use their power for immoral ends do terrible harm, as do those who indulge, cover up or ignore police corruption. This is one of the most devastating episodes in the history of the Metropolitan police.
In recent years, several steps have been taken to combat police corruption. A new offence of police corruption, applicable solely to police officers, was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead in 2015, to sit alongside the existing offence of misconduct in public office. The offence carries a maximum prison sentence of fourteen years. To prevent corrupt police officers evading accountability by resigning or retiring, the Policing and Crime Act 2017 enabled the extension of disciplinary procedures to former officers. It also ensures that if an officer under investigation for gross misconduct resigns or retires, misconduct proceedings can still take place and the officer can be barred from rejoining the police.
Last year, I overhauled the police complaints and discipline process. There is now a more efficient system for dealing with police misconduct. The investigation process is simpler and quicker, and an explanation is required if an investigation takes longer than 12 months. It is in the interests both of the police and of the public that corrupt police officers are exposed and innocent officers exonerated as swiftly as possible.
The Group of States against Corruption monitors countries’ compliance with the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption standards. This month, it published a report demonstrating good progress in the UK’s law enforcement to prevent corruption. But we cannot ignore the findings of this report. Its recommendations are wide-ranging and far-reaching across aspects of policing, conduct, culture and transparency in public institutions. Today, I have written to Dame Cressida Dick to ask her to provide me with a detailed response to the panel’s recommendations for the Metropolitan police and the wider issues outlined in the report. This afternoon, I will also ask Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services to consider how best it can look into the issues raised.
The police are operationally independent, and the Metropolitan police are held to account by the Mayor of London and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, but the police are accountable to Parliament through me. I intend to return to the House to update on progress made on this and other recommendations in the report once I have received responses from the Metropolitan police and others.
There can be no confidence in the integrity of policing without confidence in the police watchdog. The Independent Office for Police Conduct has made good progress since it was formed in 2018, but questions remain about its ability to hold the police to account. In particular, profound concerns exist about the handling of the IOPC’s investigation into Operation Midland. The issues raised by the Daniel Morgan independent panel further reinforce the need for a strong police watchdog. I am therefore announcing today that I am bringing forward the next periodic review of the IOPC to start this summer. This will include an assessment of the IOPC’s effectiveness and efficiency.
Daniel Morgan deserved far, far better than this, as did his family. To them, on what will be a very, very difficult day, I say that the whole House will have them and Daniel in our thoughts. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it. I should say that a member of Daniel Morgan’s family is a constituent of mine, and my thoughts are with them today.
The publication of the report should never have taken this long. It is 34 years since Daniel Morgan’s horrific murder, with four major police investigations, a collapsed trial, an inquest. The independent panel was set up by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) in 2013, yet the family has had to wait a further eight years since then.
The findings in the report are damning and they go to the very heart of our policing, criminal justice system and media. The challenge to the Government today is what will now be done to ensure that something like this can never happen again. Paragraph 60 of the report is incredibly serious. It states:
“The family of Daniel Morgan suffered grievously as a consequence of the failure to bring his murderer(s) to justice, the unwarranted assurances which they were given, the misinformation which was put into the public domain, and the denial of the failings in investigation, including failing to acknowledge professional incompetence, individuals’ venal behaviour, and managerial and organisational failures. The Metropolitan Police also repeatedly failed to take a fresh, thorough and critical look at past failings. Concealing or denying failings, for the sake of the organisation’s public image, is dishonesty on the part of the organisation for reputational benefit and constitutes a form of institutional corruption.”
The report also states that:
“the Panel has proposed the creation of a statutory duty of candour, to be owed by all law enforcement agencies to those whom they serve”.
That is a vital reform and it is particularly urgent, as there will be another inquiry soon into the covid pandemic, so can the Home Secretary confirm that that recommendation will be implemented?
I stand here today as a Member of Parliament for a mining constituency and a supporter of Liverpool football club, looking, in addition to Orgreave and Hillsborough, at yet another terrible episode from the 1980s that raises profound questions about policing in that period. On the link between police and journalists, does the Home Secretary not accept that the Government, over the past 11 years, have had the opportunity not only to investigate that link, but to make reforms and they have failed to do so?
The Home Secretary will also be aware of the serious criticisms made by the panel about its ability to do its work over the past eight years and its difficulty in securing timely access to evidence. She will further be aware of the criticism of the Home Office, on page 1,138 of the report, that the point of contact for the panel was helpful, but that dealing with
“the Home Office as a department”
was “more challenging”. Can the Home Secretary set out how she proposes to address that within the Home Office?
The Home Secretary also mentioned bringing forward the next periodic review of the IOPC. It is right that strong powers for our police are matched by strong safeguards, so can she confirm when she expects that review to be completed? The Home Secretary also mentioned returning to the House once she has a response from the Metropolitan police. Does she expect this to be before the summer recess?
Finally, does the Home Secretary agree that we will be failing the family and, indeed, all victims if we do not do all that is required to prevent other families going through the three-decade nightmare that has been the experience of the Morgan family?
Let me begin my remarks in response to the right hon. Gentleman by extending my continued sympathy to Daniel Morgan’s family at what is a difficult time and by really paying tribute to their own tenacity in seeking answers to their questions about Daniel’s tragic murder.
The right hon. Gentleman raises a number of valid points regarding police conduct and the report, in terms of the time that it has taken and the whole issue of duty of candour. He speaks about this point, around public servants, in particular, giving evidence in hearings, investigations and public inquiries, very much in terms of the honesty and the approach that they take to bring justice to families, in particular. On that point, it is important to recognise—the right hon. Gentleman has spoken about this in relation to the potential covid inquiry that has been announced—that work is taking place across Government on how those wider issues will be addressed, but, at the same time, there is absolutely no justification for delay. Eight years it has taken for this report—far too long—and there will be many reasons, but importantly, lessons have to be learned from that.
In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s specific points about policing, the Metropolitan police and the report, I have today written to the commissioner to seek her response to the findings of the actual report. Alongside that, I will maintain that I will return to the House. At this stage, I cannot tell him when that will be, but I will endeavour, post the discussions this afternoon—I have also mentioned the inspectorate and having a review, effectively—to bring the updates to this House so that he and all Members of this House are kept fully informed of the next stages and our collective response to the recommendations that the panel have made.
Like, I am sure, all Members of the House, my thoughts are with Daniel Morgan’s family today.
At the heart of this damning, thorough report is yet another example of an organ of the state, the job of which was to protect the public, having prioritised the reputation of the institution over the delivery of justice. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the vast majority of police officers act with integrity and an overriding sense of public duty, but that where corruption does occur it must be rooted out with vigour, unlike what happened throughout this episode and the investigation to find the killer of Daniel Morgan? As the independent panel has said, every corrupt activity must be identified and dealt with on every occasion.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments and her tribute to Daniel Morgan. I also pay tribute to her for her work with regard to policing and corruption in policing. I agree wholeheartedly that the majority of our frontline police officers are incredible public servants—they honour and respect their roles and absolutely serve the frontline with care and professionalism—but she is right to highlight and make the case strongly that where there is corruption there can be no hiding, institutionally or in respect of inquiries, panels or anything of that nature. It has to be right that as I have outlined this afternoon, our role, collectively as a Government and as the Home Office, is not just to follow up but to get the answers that are required and ensure that police conduct is held to account so that we can bring an end to the corruption of policing in the way we have seen.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. No family should have had to endure what Daniel Morgan’s family have had to endure—the loss and distress compounded by institutional corruption, delay and injustice. As the Home Secretary says, we all have them in our thoughts. But we must also do more. We all hope that the devastating report from the independent panel—we are grateful for its work—helps to provide some answers and signposts as to what should happen next. Will the Home Secretary meet the family to discuss the findings of the report and the recommendations of the panel?
The Home Secretary has highlighted the fact that the findings and recommendations are wide-ranging, far-reaching and stretch over three volumes; my simple request, which I think is one of the most important, is that the Government make time to allow Parliament to debate the report and its implications in full. The offer of updates is good and welcome, but a report of this significance must surely have a full parliamentary debate.
I note that there is a whole chapter in the report on the challenges of securing co-operation. Does that provide the explanation for why it took eight years for the panel to complete its work? Was some of the delay caused by difficulties in persuading the Metropolitan police and others to provide the documents and files requested by the inquiry? If that is the case, is that not all the more reason for a judge-led inquiry along the lines of Leveson 2? To what extent was the panel able to seek evidence from media organisations? Given the panel’s lack of powers in that respect, is that not also all the more reason for such a judge-led inquiry?
Nothing has yet been said this morning about the standards and conduct of media organisations and the implications of the report for that industry, so will the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also make a statement about the implications for that industry of what the report says about this dreadful episode?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and the way in which he has articulated them today. He has highlighted a number of important points, including the delay of eight years—eight years of painful work by the panel, but essential work, no question, on pulling together the component parts of the report. It is detailed, and I urge all hon. and right hon. Members with an interest to spend some time reading it.
On a future debate, the hon. Gentleman can make the usual approach through the House for a debate. As I have highlighted, there are a number of recommendations, and I am taking some immediate actions this afternoon not just to follow up but to pursue further lines of investigation and accountability to hold the Metropolitan police to account.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Leveson. He will know well that significant reforms following part 1 of the Leveson inquiry put forward a number of recommendations concerning the police and the media. This included introducing strong rules to ensure accountability and transparency, and those changes led to the introduction of the code of ethics. The Government formally consulted Sir Brian on whether to proceed with part 2 and decided that it was no longer appropriate, proportionate or in the public interest to proceed, given the potential costs and the amount of time that had been spent on part 1. My final comment to the hon. Gentleman is to say that I would be happy to meet the family in the way that he outlined, should that be of some support to them.
The overwhelming majority of serving police officers will be devastated by the publication of this report and by the besmirching of their conduct in carrying out the duties they fulfil. Obviously, our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victim, who have suffered over the years, and I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to ensuring that the report and the recommendations are delivered in full. Will she undertake to come back to the House and give MPs the opportunity to question how closely the recommendations have been implemented by all the various institutions that will need to implement them, so that public trust can be restored?
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. The majority of our police officers will be devastated by the report and the implications for policing. The report is devastating in many ways. Our frontline police officers whom we meet every single day are incredible public servants who put the safety of our citizens and our country front and centre of their conduct every day. It is worth reminding the House that these are men and women who often run into danger to keep us safe and to protect us. My hon. Friend is right to say that I will return to the House with an update after looking at the recommendations, but equally importantly, this is about how we hold institutions of the state to account in order to stamp out some of the corrosive practices that have been outlined in the three volumes of this independent panel’s report. That is something that we are determined to do.
This is a deeply damning and disturbing report, and all of us will need to consider its findings and recommendations. I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to come back with a further response and proposals. The corruption has led in this case to a lack of justice for Daniel Morgan and his family, and it undermines the valued work of so many police officers with integrity across the country. However, this has come to light only because of the determination of the family and the persistence of the independent panel. Most troubling of all is the failure of senior police leadership and of policing institutions to uncover what happened and the scale of the problem over so many years. Can the Home Secretary tell the House why she thinks there has been this failure to uncover that over so many years, and whether she will come forward with specific proposals on the duty of candour that has been recommended by the independent panel?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. It is important that we spend some time considering the full report and its recommendations. Given that it has taken eight years to be published, we need to spend a great deal of time understanding the processes and why there was such slowness in sharing information, papers and evidence bases. That is why it is important that I hold the commissioner to account and ask the right questions, as I will do this afternoon. As I have said, it is important that, first of all, we seek answers to many outstanding questions, and that we question and find out what has happened in policing conduct over three decades.
On the right hon. Lady’s point about duty of candour, there is absolutely more to do here. When we look at accountability, institutions of the state and public conduct, we cannot shy away from asking some difficult questions, and reforming how we work and how our institutions are publicly held to account.
Like other hon. Members, my thoughts are with the Morgan family on this most difficult of days. As a former police officer, I am saddened, but sadly not surprised, by the findings of the report in relation to police corruption; the minority behaviours tarnish the work of so many brave serving police officers. I note the Home Secretary’s intended actions in relation to the Metropolitan police and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, but I reiterate the shadow Home Secretary’s call for clarity on the expected timescales for this work, and also on the expectations on the Metropolitan police in relation to active ongoing complaints linked to the Morgan case. The Morgan family have waited 34 years. How long must they wait to see real meaningful change?
I respect and acknowledge the hon. Lady’s points. She is right to highlight timeframes, bearing in mind the painful period of time that the Morgan family have had to wait for the publication of this report. I can, at this stage, reiterate the comment that I made earlier, which is that I will come back to the House at the earliest opportunity with the information. That is absolutely right, and it is also important for the family that that information is shared with them, and that we learn the lessons associated with this independent report.
Daniel Morgan junior, Daniel Morgan’s son, lives in my constituency. The Morgan family have been waiting 34 years since Daniel Morgan’s death to see any kind of justice. Will the Home Secretary acknowledge the criticism of the Home Office in this report? I have been in touch with the family since they have had a chance to look at the report following its publication, and they are looking to the Home Secretary to implement its the key findings, particularly on the statutory duty of candour. If the Home Secretary is unable to support that today, is she at least able to guarantee that she will come back before the summer recess with a response?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and her comments. I recognise that Daniel Morgan junior lives in her constituency and understand what a difficult time this is for the Morgan family.
First of all, there is criticism of the Home Office in this report, and it is important to acknowledge that, as the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) highlighted earlier. For the record, I was not privy to discussions that took place prior to publication between officials in the Home Office and the panel itself. My responsibility was very much to ensure the publication of this report and that, in doing so, my statutory duties were met.
Like many right hon. and hon. Members in the House, the hon. Lady asked me about the duty of candour. I state again that we will look at this across Government, because this is relevant not just to this particular inquiry but to future inquiries, for example on covid, and to how the state and the institutions of the state are held to account.
I was six years old, and remember it well, when Daniel Morgan was murdered round the corner from where I lived in Sydenham—the area that I now represent in Parliament. His brutal murder shocked the local community, and the fact that no one has ever been brought to justice has only intensified that. Today, all our thoughts are with Daniel’s family, but they have suffered unimaginable and unnecessary delay. Will the Secretary of State commit today to implementing the panel’s recommendation that, in future, any panel has timely access to the material required to do its work so that this delay never happens again?
The hon. Lady makes one of the most important points about delay and access to information in terms of bringing the report together. It is absolutely right that we spend time looking at the recommendations. As I have already said to all colleagues, I will come back to the House and provide updates on the work that has been commissioned and on the recommendations as well.
The Home Secretary might not know, but my long-term interest in this case comes from a campaigning Welsh lawyer, Glyn Maddocks, who brought it to my attention and I have followed it actively for many years. Indeed, the case eventually led to the formation of the all-party parliamentary group on miscarriages of justice. But the Home Secretary will know that this is not just a one-off. There was systemic corruption in part of the Metropolitan police at the time. Had it not been for Alastair, the brother of the deceased, and their mum, who sadly passed away before this report could be delivered, continuing to campaign over these many years, we would not have got the report at all. Does the Home Secretary agree that this was systemic and the answer has to be system change? I am encouraged by some of her remarks when she addressed this issue. In particular—let us be fair—there were deficiencies in Home Office ministerial teams of both parties.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work with the all-party parliamentary group. He is absolutely right to recognise and acknowledge that this is a tragedy in every sense. We all pay tribute to the tenacity of the Morgan family. In terms of institutional issues—the systemic issues that he referred to—we have to prevent these from occurring again. That is why some of the long-term changes that I have touched on still require further investigation in terms of the accountability of institutions of the state. Because that of work, which is absolutely essential and required, including a full review of the recommendations in these three volumes, I am committed to coming back to the House to update it on all actions taken.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would appreciate your guidance. A report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact has found that there were value-for-money risks with the way that the Government cut the aid budget last year. As you are aware, Mr Speaker, the Government have cut the aid budget but have steadfastly refused to allow this House to properly scrutinise the cuts. They have also refused to answer questions about bilateral official development assistance to different countries, claiming that the aid budget has been allocated in accordance with the UK’s strategic priorities. We have seen today that they continue to refuse to give detail about where these cuts will fall. Many of them are already falling on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, with cuts to the Rohingya of 40%, and to Yemen. But the Government have admitted that no impact assessments have been undertaken.
To improve policy making and ensure that the Government deliver for the British public, Parliament performs a vital role in our democracy by examining and challenging the work of the Government. Can you assist, Mr Speaker, in ensuring that Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Ministers detail which cuts to country budgets and programmes have already happened, where they think future cuts for this year are planned, and what is the projected impact on the world’s poorest people?
I thank the hon. Member for giving me notice of the point of order. The issue was raised at FCDO questions earlier. I do not want to prolong those questions now, and the hon. Member has quite rightly put the point on the record. I am sure that the Table Office will be able to advise if she wishes to pursue these issues; I am sure that she will do so and not let the matter end here.
I now suspend the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.
[2nd Allotted Day]
I beg to move,
That the following papers be provided by HM Treasury to the Public Accounts Committee: all papers, correspondence and advice including emails and text messages, from 3 February 2021 up to and including 2 June 2021, to and between Treasury Ministers, senior officials and Special Advisers relating to consideration of the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the proposals made by the then Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, in particular such correspondence relating to the evaluation of the draft report which he produced and submitted to Government on the investment and services needed to ensure children’s education recovers from the impact of the covid-19 outbreak on their learning and development, a copy of that report, and all copies of minutes and papers relating to decisions taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Treasury Ministers, in respect of that report.
The last 15 months has been a period unlike any other in our recent history, but for our children it has been more than that. Before I go any further, however, I want to place on record the thanks of all Labour Members to all school staff, who have themselves had a harrowing, difficult and stressful year. As well as their resilience, I have admired again and again their continuing focus on the children with whom they work.
Those children have seen not merely a disruption and interruption to their lives, but a disruption of their education and development that risks setting back a generation, damaging their lives and life chances and our economy as a whole. No child should be left behind as a result of the pandemic; I hope every Member of the House agrees on that—in fact, the Prime Minister himself has said as much.
The creation of the post of education recovery commissioner in February was therefore welcome, as was the appointment of Sir Kevan Collins. Sir Kevan is a prominent figure in education and widely respected across this House. He is someone whose expertise and recommendations deserve to be taken immensely seriously, yet less than a fortnight ago Sir Kevan resigned. Why? Because the Government cut the scale of his proposed plan by 90%. In Sir Kevan’s own words:
“A half-hearted approach risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils. The support announced so far does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge and is why I have no option but to resign.”
By any standards, that is an extraordinary turn of events. How did it happen? How did we get here? How could the Government handle this so extraordinarily badly? The answer, as so often, is that it would appear to lie with the real decision maker in the Government. It is a pleasure to see the Minister in his place today, but it is the Cabinet’s answer to Macavity—the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who has questions to answer in the Chamber. It is the Treasury that took the shameful decision to block a proper plan for our children’s future. The Minister knows it; we all know it. Comprehensive plans for the recovery of our children’s education were developed and circulated in government, but they were stopped in their tracks by the Treasury.
Perhaps that is not right; perhaps the Government will feel able to disclose the correspondence that we are seeking today to have published, but the sheer gravity of the issue—the lives of a generation and the strength of our future economy—means that it is crucial that we understand the Treasury’s position. That is what today’s motion seeks to enable all Members of the House to do.
Labour fully recognises that it is the responsibility of the Treasury to cast an eye— sometimes a sceptical eye—over all spending plans, securing value for money for public spending, ensuring that money is spent both effectively and efficiently. It will be at the heart of spending decisions under a Labour Government. Reasoned decisions about how to spend money must, however, mean, as schoolchildren are often told, that the Chancellor shows us his working-out. An unthinking aversion to using public money to achieve public good is not a virtue—it is a misguided dogma from which this country has spent a decade suffering the consequences and which today puts at risk the education of a generation.
Sometimes only Government can achieve the change that we need and fix the problems that we face. Failure to invest in those circumstances is a false economy on a national scale. The House does not need take my word for it. Earlier this year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested that pupils who have lost six months of normal schooling could lose approximately £40,000 in income over their lifetime. That adds up to £350 billion in lost lifetime earnings across the 8.7 million schoolchildren in the UK. Lost earnings of £350 billion means about £100 billion less tax revenue to invest in building a strong and resilient economy and society of the future; £100 billion simply dwarves the costings that Sir Kevan prepared for his full programme.
The recovery of learning after the pandemic is a vast challenge, but it is undoubtedly in the interests of both our children and our country. We all know that the value and importance of education are not simply about lessons. School is not merely where we learn about Henry VIII and the solutions to quadratic equations; it is where, in every year, we learn the skills that set us up for life: questioning, leading, communicating; the value of friendship and discussion, and of criticism and disagreement without rancour. When children first go to school they are learning how to play, how to make friends, how to make their way in the world, and how to develop as independent individuals. Missing that opportunity has repercussions throughout their rest of their lives.
Nursery closures mean that children are falling behind. Their transition to primary school will be harder and their long-term success lesser. During the pandemic, children of primary age should have been learning the building blocks of maths, reading and writing that will set them up for life, yet by the end of the pandemic tens of thousands of primary-school children were estimated by the Government to be behind on basic literacy and unable to read or write when starting secondary school. By the end of the second national lockdown, pupils were estimated to have lost two to five months of learning, with particularly severe effects on maths skills. Secondary-school children are young people choosing the course of their lives: the college they will attend; the apprenticeship they will begin; the skills they will develop; the university they might go to.
I want to mention briefly the impact that the necessary restrictions of the pandemic and school closures have had on children in my city of Sunderland. Children have paid a price: a price on their health, with exercise and activity less common and obesity a greater threat; a price on their development of speech and language, as they have been less able to learn from each other and are slipping behind; a price on their reading, with the ability to learn through phonics understandably impaired by the constraints of distance learning; a price on their family relationships, with the confinement of families exacerbating tensions and leading to rising referrals to children’s social care; and a price on the hope and optimism about their future that should fill young people, with exams cancelled and uncertainty about their qualifications and job prospects.
The price that children have paid is not unique to my city. Each one of us has seen the damage—social, emotional and academic—to children in every one of our constituencies. But we know that the disruption has hit some children much harder, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and those living in areas with the longest lockdowns. Unless we address that issue, those effects will ripple through the lives of individuals and through wider society. They will exacerbate inequalities among families and generations, weakening us as individuals and as a society.
A generation who missed out on their education and who were not given the support they needed to catch up would be a generation betrayed. That would have consequences—not just for them, but for us all. It would mean fewer people with skills entering our workforce over that next generation. It would mean the workforce as a whole deskilling over time, and that would mean a drop in the output and productivity of our economy.
Skills and education are at the heart of Labour’s vision for the economy and society of the future. The society that we want to see is one where people never stop learning and developing their skills, talents and abilities, and where reskilling for working-age people is as natural as sending our children to school. For us, ensuring the recovery of children’s learning from the pandemic today is crucial to assuring Britain’s success tomorrow—success for individuals, but also success for every community and every corner of our country.
The argument that we make to the Treasury and to the Minister is that Government action at scale can—and must—be effective. If we get it right, we will pay a smaller price now than a much greater price over the many decades ahead, and that price could be huge. Estimates of the total cost of the disruption to education based on individual impacts have ranged from £80 billion to £160 billion. Estimates based on the systemic effect on our economy, looking at the relationship between schooling and growth, suggest figures of more than £1 trillion.
What we do know from the limited past examples of disastrous interruptions to children’s education is that the damage can be real, but it can be fixed. We know it is real, because chronic industrial unrest in Argentina’s education system over many years caused repeated school closures. Women affected by those closures who were at school at the time have seen their lifetime earnings fall by 1.7% as a result. For men, the amount is nearly double that.
We also know that the damage can be fixed—that the price our children have paid is not one they need to pay all their lives long. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. Most children were out of school for one to three months, yet subsequent intervention was not merely swift and sustained; it was effective. Four years after that disaster, affected children had caught up on lost learning by about two months. Not only that, but the gains were concentrated in the children whose initial performance after the disaster was worst. The lesson we draw from that example is that intervention is not only an option, it is the right option.
The motion before us seeks to understand why the Treasury has been so opposed to the sort of intervention we need and the sort of future our children deserve. What we need, and what Sir Kevan’s work rightly lays out, is a long-term, funded plan that is evidence-based, scalable and practical, making best use of the tremendous human and physical resources that we have in this country. It must have at its heart increasing opportunities in school, increasing the value of that time, and targeted tutoring for those who need it most. Tutoring means better engagement. Improving teaching helps us to get more out of every extra hour. More time together helps children to catch up on the social and emotional aspects of their development.
I want to pick up two aspects of the plan that Sir Kevan developed for our nation’s children, which the Treasury blocked. They are about the urgency and the duration of the plan we need. The Government, and the Treasury in particular, seem to be caught on the hop again and again. To Treasury Ministers, urgency in dealing with the challenges of public policy is too often for other people—for self-employed workers and small businesses who need to submit claims on time or get nothing, or for businesses which need to remodel their operations overnight as restrictions change with just hours to go.
The Chancellor must never be allowed to forget that his refusal last autumn to set out clear and workable plans until businesses had only hours before deadlines meant thousands of workers either losing their jobs or living in fear of doing so. He has shown again and again that he will not get ahead of the problem—that he prefers to wait and hope it goes away. Our children’s future is not an issue that is going away, and it is high time that the Government faced up to that.
It has been apparent since the day that schools were first closed to most children that they would not reopen for many weeks at least and that one day action would be needed to address the consequences. Each week without action is another step towards lasting damage to the opportunities of hundreds of thousands of children. Waiting until the spending review means that more than 300,000 more children and young adults will have left the school system altogether before a proper plan and proper steps are in place.
The second major point is that schools need to start making decisions now about resources and staffing to deliver over not just a few months, but many years. Long-term outcomes are better delivered when they can be planned on a longer-term basis—more than one financial year at a time. That is, after all, the reason the Government have multi-year spending reviews in the first place. Sharply increased spend should come with proper accountability, which is why Labour has set out clear proposals for increased and improved mechanisms to get the best value out of every pound of public money spent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), the shadow Secretary of State for Education, has set out Labour’s comprehensive alternative to what the Government have proposed, because, like Sir Kevan, Labour grasps the scale of the problem and the need for the Government to rise to the challenge. Our plan would see breakfast clubs, new activities for every child and a fully funded expanded range of extracurricular clubs and activities. Our plan would see quality mental health support in every school, giving every child the support they need. Our plan would see small group tutoring for all who need it, not just 1%, by reforming the Government’s failing tutoring programme to ensure that no child falls behind because of pandemic disruption.
Our plan would see continued development for teachers, who have had one of the toughest years of their careers. Our plan would see an education recovery premium supporting every child by investing in children who have faced the greatest disruption during the pandemic, from early years to further education, delivering vital additional support for children who need it the most. Our plan would ensure that no child goes hungry by extending free school meals over the holidays.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Given that she has been talking about the plans of Kevan Collins, and given that a core part of his proposal was to have a formal longer school day, which the shadow Education Secretary said in the media last week was not something she agreed with, does the hon. Lady agree that there should be a longer school day as part of Sir Kevan Collins’ plans?
I am always keen to hear from the Chair of the Select Committee, who I know cares very deeply and passionately about these issues. What I would say in response is that, rather than disagreeing over the nature of that additional time, why do we not focus on trying to get the right outcome for all our children in this country? The block to that rests with the Treasury. It feels at times that we are arguing at cross-purposes. That was not the position that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) set out. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s assessment of the situation.
We all want to make sure that children have the time they need in school to catch up on that lost time, but in addition to that, we want to make sure there are fully funded extracurricular activities as part of an extended day within the school premises, so that all children—not just those who can afford extra clubs, music, activities or book clubs; whatever it would happen to be—have access to that kind of provision. The block right now and the reason we have not got to that point, I am afraid, lies on the right hon. Gentleman’s Benches.
Last week, the Government could bring themselves neither to support nor to oppose our alternative. Perhaps today they will tell the House why the Treasury blocked the plans that the Prime Minister’s chosen adviser sought to develop, comparable in scope and scale to those of the Opposition.
Children do not vote, and their voices are rarely heard in this place, but we have a moral duty to them none the less: a duty to their future, both theirs and ours. Labour has set out, at length and in detail, the sort of plan that we believe our country needs. The Government’s own education recovery commissioner set out, at length and in detail, the sort of plan that he believes our country needs. Today, our request is simple: that the Treasury explain to parents and families why it believes that our country does not need its own commissioner’s plan.
It is not too late for the Government to change course. What we want, what Sir Kevan wanted, what the people of this country want and what the children of our country need is a properly funded long-term plan for educational recovery. We have set one out. There is still time for the Government, even now, to rise to the challenge and deliver that brighter future that we all want to see.
Well, here we are again. As I said last week, once again we have heard nothing from Opposition Front Benchers but
“warm words and hot indignation”,
with no serious plan, while
“the Government are getting on with the challenging job of tackling the pandemic, keeping our economy alive, supporting people’s incomes, supporting the NHS and our doctors and nurses, vaccinating the nation, and providing education and support to 8 million children and young people.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 967.]
However, once again I welcome the debate and the opportunity that it provides to set out clearly our commitment and action to ensure that no child will suffer damage to their long-term prospects because of the pandemic.
The motion’s title on the Order Paper is “Allocation of funding for the catch-up premium”. The catch-up premium—£650 million of additional funding for schools—was announced by the Prime Minister in June 2020. It provided £80 per pupil in mainstream schools, both primary and secondary, and three times that rate—£240—for each place in special schools, special units and alternative provision. Even in the early days of the pandemic, the Government knew that closing schools to most pupils would have an impact on children’s education, so alongside the action that we took to secure jobs, support the economy and back the NHS, the catch-up premium ensured that schools could respond to the challenges that children and young people faced.
At the same time, in June last year, we also announced the £350 million national tutoring programme and, with the support of the Education Endowment Foundation, evaluated and procured 33 tutoring organisations to provide one-to-one and small group tuition to disadvantaged and other children who were in need of the kind of support that we know from the evidence is highly effective in helping children to catch up. Establishing the national tutoring programme was a major undertaking and is on track to have helped 250,000 pupils by the end of this academic year. The plans that we announced two weeks ago will extend that to up to 6 million courses of 15 hours of tutoring over the next three years.
I turn to the motion itself, which calls for
“all papers, correspondence and advice”
given to Ministers to be disclosed to the Public Accounts Committee. The Government recognise and respect the fact that this House has rights regarding the publication of any papers, but effective government also relies on some key principles, such as the need for confidential and frank discussions among Ministers, Cabinet Committees and any advisers that the Government appoint to help to improve the quality of policy making.
This is not a partisan issue. It has been the long-standing position of previous Governments, including Labour Governments, that any papers or analyses created for the Cabinet or for Ministers are, rightly, confidential. The motion fundamentally undermines that principle. Tony Blair, in his autobiography “A Journey”, in the section on the Freedom of Information Act, sets out in clear terms that
“governments, like any other organisations, need to be able to debate, discuss and decide issues with a reasonable level of confidentiality. This is not mildly important. It is of the essence. Without the confidentiality, people are inhibited and the consideration of options is limited in a way that isn’t conducive to good decision-making.”
“This is not mildly important. It is of the essence.”
That is why we oppose the motion tabled by the Opposition today. We believe in good government and good decision making.
I am grateful for the plug for the former Prime Minister, who made “education, education, education” a mantra. I was and remain very proud of the difference it made to kids in Bristol South. I accept the Minister’s point about confidentiality, but will address the key questions in the motion? What do the Government think is not good about Sir Kevan’s recommendations, why do the Government not think they need to be funded, and what would be the impact of that decision? If the Government do not want to disclose the documents, we would be happy if we understood what they think about not taking that action.
We did take the advice of Sir Kevan Collins, who supported our introduction of more funding for the national tutoring programme and the £400 million to improve the continuing professional development and training of teachers. We set up a review into the time element of the advice that Sir Kevan gave Ministers, which will report later this year in time to inform the spending review.
The House has a number of opportunities to scrutinise the work of the Treasury in oral questions, and the annual supply and appropriation legislation will be debated before the summer recess. There are also regular appearances by Treasury Ministers and officials before the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Committee.
Since the Government came into office in 2010, we have been focused on our mission of raising school standards for all pupils. Successive Prime Ministers and Education Secretaries have put in place ambitious plans to make sure that, no matter where you are born or where in the country you live, you will receive a world-class education. That is not a programme for a single term of Government; nor is it an initiative to get headlines. It is generational reform—long, steady, painstaking and difficult. We have much still to achieve, but we are making progress.
Before we came into Government in 2010, the correlation between parental wealth and pupil achievement was stubbornly entrenched. Children from poorer homes, who were already behind in their development when they started school, were falling further behind their peers. Rather than being an engine of social mobility, our school system was calcifying inequality. For Conservatives, for whom education is the gateway to opportunity, this was unacceptable.
We took bold, decisive action that was opposed all the way by the Opposition, but which has led to better schools and better life chances for young people. We overhauled Labour’s national curriculum, which was unnecessarily bureaucratic and too focused on a range of generic skills rather than rich, subject-based content, and replaced it with a new national curriculum, which provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge they need to be educated citizens, immersing them in the best that has been thought and said. We took action to make sure that teachers got better training, and we introduced the pupil premium to give schools the funding they need to support disadvantaged pupils.
Our reforms are turning the tide, rebuffing the fatalistic assumptions of too many who seemed to accept that the gap between rich and poor is inevitable—the soft bigotry of low expectations, which for years was writing off pupil’s lives rather than striving to give them the education needed to influence their own destiny. Academic standards have been rising and the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils has been closing. Thanks to our reforms, more pupils are taking core academic GCSEs, more children are reading fluently and more children are attending good and outstanding schools.
We have taken action throughout this pandemic to ensure that children are supported, but our commitment to provide a good education for every child pre-dates covid-19 reaching our shores. We produced the best schools budget settlement for many years at the 2019 spending review. Totalling £14.4 billion, that is the largest cash boost for schools in a decade.
Core school funding increased by £2.6 billion in 2020-21, and is increasing by £4.8 billion and £7.1 billion in 2021-22 and 2022-23 respectively compared with 2019-20, including significant additional funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities. That unrelenting drive to give children and young people the best start in life meant that we were in a better place to handle the unprecedented challenges that the pandemic posed.
We know that the pandemic, as the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) said, has disproportionately affected children, with most missing at least 115 days of school. That is precisely why we took immediate action to provide education remotely, delivering more than 1.3 million laptops or tablets alongside wireless routers and access to free mobile data for disadvantaged families.
Does the Minister agree that the best place for a child has always been in school, and when Opposition Members, and indeed their councils and councillors, were calling for schools not to reopen last year that did a disservice to not only the country but our children, who matter the most, and does he agree that they should apologise for that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no substitute for pupils being in the classroom with their teachers and friends.
This month, we published a report from Renaissance Learning and the Education Policy Institute, which presented a sobering reminder of the ongoing scale of the recovery challenge. Clearly, there is much work to do and we do not shy away from it, because the Government will always do whatever it takes to support children. That is why schools were the last to close and the first to open in tackling the spread of covid, because we know that getting children back in the classroom is vital to supporting catch up.
That it is why schools have access to both a catch-up and a recovery premium to enable them to assess what will help their pupils to catch up their missed education and to make provision available to ensure that they do so. It comes on top of our £200 million investment in summer schools, which is creating the opportunity for up to 600,000 pupils to take part in educational and enrichment activities. Over 80% of eligible mainstream schools have already signed up and a £220 million investment in the expansion of the holiday activities and food programme, which will operate across England over the summer and Christmas holidays, will provide eligible children with enriching activities and nutritious food.
Owing to the swift action that we took last June, children are already benefiting from the newly established national tutoring programme, with the £1 billion announcement in June last year, a further £700 million announced in February and, two weeks ago, a further recovery package of £1.4 billion. That brings our total recovery package to more than £3 billion. The next stage of our recovery plan will include a review of time spent in school and 16-to-19 education, and the impact that that could have on helping children and young people to catch up. Schools already have the power to set the length of the school day, but there is a certain amount of disparity in approach across the sector. The findings of the review will be set out later in the year to inform the spending review.
We all know what a superb job our teachers and support staff are doing and have done throughout the crisis, supporting and continuing to educate children and young people despite all the challenges that the pandemic has caused. We owe them our gratitude. Our teachers are the single most significant in-school driver of pupil attainment, which is why we have taken steps to give them more support and access to the very best training and professional development. We are investing £400 million to help to provide 500,000 teacher training and development opportunities across the country, alongside the support for those working in early years.
Some £153 million will provide professional development for early years staff, including through new programmes that focus on key areas such as speech and language development for very young children, and £253 million will expand our new teacher development reforms to give school teachers the opportunity to access world-leading training tailored to whatever point they are at in their careers, from new teachers to leaders of school trusts. That is a significant overhaul of teacher development in this country, giving teachers and school leaders the knowledge and skills that they need to help every child to fulfil their potential.
We are determined to ensure that children and young people catch up on the education they missed as a result of the pandemic. We have announced more than £3 billion to date, and the Prime Minister has been clear that there is going to be more coming down the track. We will do what it takes. While the Opposition are chasing papers, we are getting on with the job of reforming England’s education system, empowering teachers to transform lives through a knowledge-rich and rigorous curriculum in calm, disciplined and supportive schools. We want every child to attend a great school. It is a bold, audacious ambition. We have begun the journey. We have made great progress. We have further to go. We will not give up.
The limit is four minutes for Alison McGovern and Robert Halfon, and three minutes from then on. May I ask those who are participating remotely please to have a timing device if you cannot see the one on your screens? We cannot extend it beyond the three minutes because a lot of people want to participate in this debate. Everybody else physically here of course has the timers in the Chamber.
I am very pleased to participate in this debate, which is extraordinarily important. I listened carefully to what the Minister said, and I did not recognise his characterisation of schools at all. In fact, I rise to disagree with almost entirely everything he said, except for the point he made at the end in paying tribute to our teachers, the children in our schools and all those who have worked hard for the future of our kids, because they have done an absolutely brilliant job over the pandemic. If I agree with him about nothing else, I agree with him about that.
I want to raise three crucial points in response to what the Minister has said, all of which are very important to those I represent in the Wirral. I am afraid that the Minister’s contribution avoided the central point and question of this debate: if everything is fine and the Government have set out a plan for our kids and their future, why did the Government’s own adviser resign? Why? Would anyone like to intervene on me, because I am at a loss to understand? Why did the Government’s own adviser resign in protest? Answer comes there none, and I think that says it all really.
The first point I want to raise is about sport. I make no apologies for doing so, because whatever the Minister says about the way the curriculum has changed, the levels of dissatisfaction about school sport in my community in Wirral and right across the country wherever I go is very high. We do not know whether the primary PE and sport premium grant will be renewed for next year. It is only £400 million, which is about £18,000 per primary, and my understanding is that it is still being considered. Yet again, we have this dance around whether the money is going to be there for school sport, and people are hanging on to know whether or not they should set up schemes to help support young people’s physical activity. I just wish the Minister would say whether or not it is going to be renewed, so that people can get on and do that work to make sure that young people can have access to sport. In any case, there is significant scepticism about whether all of that money does get spent on sport. I would say to the Minister that he has to understand that people in this country want our kids to have a rounded experience at school, and they want them playing. I never thought I would have to tell the Tory party about the importance of competitive sport in schools. It is absolutely vital. On that, as well as on creative activities, arts and culture, there is such frustration that this is going to be run out of our schools, and it has got to change.
The second point is about employment. When our kids do not get the kind of education they need and the kind of skills they need, they then face a really tough labour market. We know that the labour force survey shows that the unemployment rate for young people is three times that of adults. Meanwhile, the Government have said that they will create 200,000 kickstart jobs by December, and if they are to do that, they need to be creating about 20,000 a month, and they are only on 7,000.
Finally, on mental health—this is the most important point—Labour’s plan includes support for mental health, and I beg the Minister to look at it. The Office for National Statistics is already telling us that depression is up, anxiety is up and young people’s feeling of belonging and comfort in society is falling rapidly. We need that mental health support in schools to make sure that this generation do not suffer forever from what they have been through, because you do not forget what happens to you when you are young. Let us stand up for our kids.
I welcome the debate, although I find it a bit mystifying that we are debating the same subject two weeks in a row. I wonder whether the decision is more about politics than policy.
As I said in the Opposition day debate last week, I firmly believe that the Government investment is a hefty starter in terms of catch-up funding. To recap, there is the £3 billion in total for extra tuition, the £220 million for the holiday activities and food programme, the £63 million for local councils to help with meals—everyone knows my views on free school meals—and supplies for struggling families, and the £79 million for young people’s mental health, and the pupil premium has increased to £2.5 billion.
We should be fair and recognise that we are investing a sizeable sum of taxpayers’ money in education, even though I will continue, obviously, to campaign for more in terms of a long-term schools plan. The Schools Minister made it very clear that recovery funding was just the beginning and not the end of the road for catch-up, and that more would be coming down the track. Anyone looking at my record will have no doubt that I look forward to further funding, greater resources for catch-up and a longer school day, on which, as I have said, the Labour party’s position is very confusing.
I want to mention a couple of things before I conclude. First, at present, disadvantaged pupils are 18 months behind their better-off peers by the time they sit their GCSEs. We know that poorer children are less likely to attend schools with an “outstanding” Ofsted rating, and that even in schools where there are good results, the gap between free school meals students and their peers is as wide as elsewhere.
I have been working closely with Professor Lee Elliot Major, who is an adviser to the Government. In a joint article in the Telegraph, we wrote that in order to reduce that attainment gap, measures should be taken to ensure that Ofsted awards “outstanding” ratings to schools only if they can show that they are
“making efforts to attract the poorest children in their neighbourhoods”
and working to narrow the attainment gap between those disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers. We wrote that schools should work with neighbouring schools to raise standards, and that teams of inspectors
“should include at least one headteacher who has led a school with high numbers of poorer pupils.”
Secondly, I believe that the Government must look to reform the pupil premium. It is not ring-fenced, and the Sutton Trust has reported that a third of schools use it for other things, such as fixing a leaky roof. It is not just about ring-fencing; there should be much more micro-targeting of disadvantaged groups, particularly those who suffer from long-term disadvantage.
I mentioned last week that although I am fully supportive of the catch-up fund, I am worried that it is not reaching the most disadvantaged. Figures suggest that 44% of students receiving pupil premium funding were missed. The Government must ensure that the money is targeted at the most disadvantaged, because they are the ones who have learned the least during the pandemic.
Nevertheless, I give credit where it is due: the Government have given well over £3 billion, and they have said that more is yet to come. I would rather that, instead of just having these political debates, Members on both sides of the House worked with the Government to ensure that the long-term plan for education is deep-rooted and repairs the damage from covid-19 while also addressing social injustices in education, particularly the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and the better-off.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker. At least I have a claim to fame that not only did I teach for a living for some part of my dim and distant past, but I taught you at university.
I am participating in this debate because I was absolutely furious when I saw that Sir Kevan’s recommendations had been so watered down. He had every reason to resign. I was also very angry because Yorkshire did so badly out of even the measly amount of money that the Government are putting in. We face a national education emergency following a national health emergency, but the Government are not bringing resources forward for this emergency; they are not doing the job properly. Those resources, and the sense of this being an emergency and fixing it for kids who will never get another chance at education, seem to be utterly lacking from the Government’s determinations.
Secondly, there is a lack of leadership. Where is the Secretary of State when we want him? Why isn’t he, in the Cabinet, really doing the job for education? Dare I say it, we need a big beast in education. I would have been happier with Ed Balls; I would even have been happier with his successor on the Conservative side, because they were both big beasts. We have not got a big beast in education. We have a run down, truncated, demoralised Department for Education, and we have education departments in local authorities that have also been run down and sidelined. The fact of the matter is that we have not got the leadership; we have not got the imagination. I am sorry, but even though the Minister was a member of the Education Committee when I chaired it, he is part of the problem: he has been there too long. He is a time-server and has lost the imagination to understand what it was like.
There is real opportunity here with the right leadership. We could co-operate across the Benches. What about having a national volunteer scheme that volunteers retired teachers and retired sportspeople? The people who care about our education would come out of the woodwork like never before and do something for kids who need that help, support and backing at this very moment.
We are lacking the essentials because this Prime Minister and this Government do not care about the education of our children in the state sector.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I do not really know how to follow your former teacher, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), other than by saying that I disagree fundamentally with everything he just said.
May I put on the record my thanks to the hard-working teachers, headteachers and, more importantly, support staff in Bury South for their tireless efforts in keeping going during what has been the most difficult year they will ever have faced? One of the greatest tragedies of this pandemic is its impact on our children. Millions of young people lost months of face-to-face schooling, missing out on their education and the social interaction that is so crucial to their development. Unlike the Labour party, throughout the pandemic this Conservative Government made it our ambition to see the safe return of students to the classroom, where they belong.
I have said time and again that for me, levelling up is about education and improving the social mobility of our young people, ensuring that every child has access to good-quality education as we recover from this pandemic. That will be essential if we are to deliver on our commitment to level up Britain. That is why, as part of our long-term education recovery plan, we have so far invested over £3 billion, focusing on high-quality tutoring and great teaching.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; it is almost as if he has read my speech already.
I also want to pay tribute to the fantastic work that the Tutor Trust has been doing—especially considering that it is based in my constituency—in getting graduates out there and teaching the subjects they specialise in. That is what we need to focus on, and may I make a subtle plug to the Minister and ask him to meet me and the Tutor Trust to see what more we can do in future years? On the topic of tutoring, education is at the heart of our ambition to level up and make sure that all children, whatever their background, have a world- class education that sets them up for a happy and successful life.
I know from speaking to headteachers at St Monica’s and Parrenthorn in Prestwich and my work on the Select Committee on Education that more needs to be done to help disadvantaged students, who have been hit hardest by this pandemic, so I welcome the fact that the Government have listened and are taking action to make up for lost time in the classroom by committing £1 billion to the national tutoring programme. That will deliver 6 million 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged students, targeting key subjects, including maths and English.
When Labour was last trusted with education, we fell down the international league table for school performance, which meant that pupils were not receiving the education they deserved. Between 2000 and 2009, England fell from seventh to 25th in reading and from eighth to 28th in maths. We will take no lectures from Labour Members who have spent the past year equivocating on whether students should even be back in the classroom—not forgetting the decline in school performance when they were most recently trusted with children’s education.
Furthermore, Labour has been proven to care about education when it is politically expedient, with the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), having had to apologise for describing the pandemic as a “good crisis” out of which Labour could create a political opportunity. Such behaviour by Labour is opportunism of the worst kind. When we had a real chance to debate education spending in last year’s estimates day debate, not a single Labour Member other than the shadow Secretary of State spoke.
Lastly, as we deliver on our promise to level up education, we are investing record amounts in schools, including by giving every pupil a funding boost through our £14.4 billion investment. Will the Minister assure me that the money we are investing will provide schools in my constituency with the funding they need to support the students who are most in need?
I pay tribute to our teachers and children for the sacrifices that they have made during the pandemic.
I am proud that Labour has set out proposals for a children’s recovery plan to invest in opportunities for every child to play, learn and develop. Young people have lost out on education, sport, friendship and simply being young. They have missed more than half a year of in-person schooling. I struggle to see how the Government can even begin to imagine how less than half an hour of tutoring a fortnight can make up for such a loss of education.
The Collins report calls for an investment of £15 billion—or £700 per pupil—over three years to support children’s recovery, so why have the Government announced only a 10th of what the widely respected Sirusb Kevan said is needed? Breakfast clubs, new activities for every child, quality mental health support, small-group tutoring for all who need it and continued development for teachers, along with making sure that no child goes hungry—all elements of Labour’s plan—are needed throughout the country.
The impact on children is being much more widely felt, with grassroots football clubs such as Bedfont Eagles telling me how their coaches are picking up the pieces, supporting children who come back to play football and other activities for the first time, having lost confidence. Last week, I heard of a 15-year-old girl who has not been downstairs and hardly left her bedroom for almost a year because of fear and anxiety resulting from mental health conditions exacerbated during the pandemic. She, her friends and others need a plan for their personal and educational recovery, so that they are not affected for the long term.
Sport is vital to our young people’s wellbeing and health. The Schools Active Movement has conducted research, with the participation of more than 10% of schools throughout the country. The movement is concerned that there is still no plan from the DFE for a primary sports premium next year, as raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern). I understand that the Government have not confirmed funding for school games organisers beyond October. The data from the research is horrific: 84% of PE teachers say that physical fitness is worse—indeed, in Feltham and Heston the proportion is 97%.
We must continue to tackle the digital divide. In Hounslow, months before a single laptop from the Government appeared, we came together as a community to help to donate laptops for the children who needed them but did not have a device at home on which to study. There is still no proper long-term, affordable schools connectivity plan to give pupils and teachers the ability to address the issue. Children need a Government who are on their side now and for their future. We need to go beyond mere words. With just a few short weeks till the end of school term, decisions need to be taken now and plans put into action. Schools need clarity on funding, and they need it now.
I pay tribute to the headteachers, teachers, support staff and, indeed, all the students in Hertford and Stortford who have worked so hard to ensure that they miss out on as little education as they possibly can. They have all done a sterling job.
In many ways, my whole life has been defined by an awareness of the impacts of lost education. My parents are both clever people. They were working-class people brought up in the east end of London. They lost out on their education due to an even bigger catastrophe than covid—war, evacuation and the blitz. Their experience and knowledge of what they had lost out on, and the impact of that on their lives, made them absolutely believe in the power of education and absolutely determined that my brother and I would engage in our education to the very best of our abilities.
So am I concerned about how we react to the impact of the pandemic on children? Yes. Do I welcome the actions of the Government? Yes. I welcome the investment of £3 billion so far, on top of a record boost in education funding of £14.4 billion. I also welcome the focus on quality teaching and tutoring, which the Minister set out. I also absolutely welcome the fact that it is evidence-led.
The Labour party might not be concerned about the economy and taxpayers’ money, but I know our Government, our Treasury and our Chancellor are. The evidence that the Government have marshalled, that just one course of high-quality tutoring can boost attainment by three to five months, is enormous and fact-based. Targeting that hugely valuable resource at disadvantaged students is also highly pragmatic and fact-based.
Extending the school day could have a huge impact on heads, teachers and teaching assistants, and on children and their families. The options around those things should definitely be looked at, with proper evaluation of the implications and costs, so it is right for the Government to approach that with a thorough review. That is the intelligent, pragmatic and sensible approach.
A long time ago, my parents turned away from a party, the Labour party, which did not understand the aspirations of working people, their desires and the importance of education, and they are not likely to go back any time soon.
The pandemic has only exacerbated the inequalities in the education system. Huge praise goes to the teaching profession and everyone else who has worked their socks off during these very dark times—absolutely outstanding.
The catch-up funding plans proposed by Sir Kevan Collins suggest that a £15 billion package was required. The Government offer is 10% of that—that is an insult, man. Make no mistake about it, the students, especially the most disadvantaged, are set to suffer again. Crumbs from the table does not adequately describe the situation that we face.
The revealing, alarming regional education disparities highlight the effect of the pandemic. Reportedly, learning losses are huge. Again, they are much higher for disadvantaged pupils from poorer backgrounds. That is why adequate funding is essential. The Government have already robbed millions from schools in the north-east, with their changes to the pupil premium funding. It is estimated that schools could lose up to £7.26 million as a result of the Department’s fiddling of the dates.
In my constituency, 19% of pupils received at least two As and a B at A-level. That is compared with 14% as an average across England. Despite that, only 28% of the pupils attended secondary schools rated good or outstanding, compared with a huge 80% across England as a whole; and 26% attended secondary schools deemed inadequate, compared with only 6% across the country.
I am really proud of the pupils here. They are incredibly smart and talented, yet the schools lack the required funding. I wonder: does the Prime Minister think that the parents in my constituency should work harder to pay for private tuition to fill the gaps, as he suggested only the other day?
We need breakfast clubs and extracurricular activities. The students need quality mental health support to transition back into school life. We need manageable class sizes. We need to ensure that no child is going hungry throughout the school day. Those are all things that only the Labour party has to offer.
We have to ask: what have the Government got against our children? Why did the education recovery commissioner feel the need to abandon the educational ship? Maybe he saw the system heading for the rocks.
Let’s get on with it.
There are a few curious things about this motion. One is that we debated the same subject just last week; we have had the G7 and the delay to step 4 of lockdown, but we are talking about the same thing. However, it is important, so I do not mind. The other curious thing about it is that we have been told for quite a long time now that Labour Members support Sir Kevan Collins’s plan, except in the motion they ask for a copy of the plan, which shows that they do not know the detail of the plan but are telling us that they support it anyway.
It is tempting, because it is the same subject area, to give the same speech that I gave last week, but I will not do that. Instead, I will just summarise it. I paid tribute to teachers nationwide for the role they have played during covid. I said that I supported the Government’s £3 billion investment so far in catch up. I said that I am a supporter of the extended school day—actually, probably for longer than half an hour a day—but I would like to see the evidence on that and it will cost money. I also reminded the House that, although Labour Members are very noisy when it comes to calling for more money, they are silent when their allies at the National Education Union put obstacle after obstacle in the way of children returning during the pandemic.
I have read Labour’s so-called plan and what is striking is how much of it the Government are already doing: more money into mental health—the Government are doing that; more money into tutoring—the Government are doing that; more money into teacher training—the Government are doing that. There are differences, but there are also omissions, such as where the money would come from and how Labour would evaluate its success.
Today’s motion says that the Opposition would like to see “emails and text messages”, and correspondence between Ministers, their officials and their advisers. It is hard to know how many children would catch up as a result of that release. I happen to believe that people should be able to give candid advice privately and that it should stay private.
If I did not believe that, though, I would like to see some correspondence between shadow Ministers and their advisers, because I would like to understand: why it took them so long to say that schools were safe; why they can never criticise their friends at the NEU; why they said we should go against the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and not vaccinate by age, but pick just teachers—no other professions, such as retail workers or anybody else—to vaccinate because the unions said that we should do so; and why they still cannot say whether they support a permanent extension to the school day. I would like to understand whether the party that 18 months ago told the country that we should abolish Ofsted, abolish SATs and abolish academies, when we know how much they have helped disadvantaged children, will stand with us in defending exams, league tables and inspections for the role that they play. But because I believe that private advice should stay private on both sides, Labour will be spared that embarrassment.
It is impossible not to be angry in this debate. The resignation of Sir Kevan Collins is a damning indictment of the Government’s so-called catch-up plan. Let us be absolutely clear: the measly crumbs of support on offer will let down an entire generation of young people and, on this Government’s watch, the pandemic’s impact on their education will be lifelong.
While the Government kick the catch-up can down the road, the impact is being felt right now. More than 200,000 pupils will move from primary to secondary school this autumn without being able to read properly—a monumental increase on previous years and a problem that a sticking plaster would not even begin to solve. We already know that, if pupils start secondary behind, they stay behind. Does the Minister understand why parents and teachers across the country are so furious that their children are getting less than 10% of the investment that the Government’s own education recovery commissioner called for? The temerity of the Treasury to challenge Sir Kevan’s ideas undermines a lifetime spent improving outcomes for children.
Meanwhile, one conservative estimate puts the long-term economic cost of lost learning in England at £100 billion. Last week, the Prime Minister labelled one-to-one tutoring as a catch-up tool for hard-working parents. I wonder whether the Minister can tell him about 10-year-old Abi in my constituency. In lockdown, she secured entry to Tiffin Girls’ School, one of the most prestigious grammar schools in the country, working in a cramped homeless hostel, with only a refurbished phone donated by Tesco Mobile to get connected. Social mobility, levelling up, call it whatever you want: the impact will be lifelong.
There are legions of hard-working parents who cannot afford tuition, but who can see their child slipping behind. A lady came to see me because the bailiffs were coming. Instead of paying her council tax, she paid for a tutor so that her son would catch up and achieve the 11-plus. Of course, I do not support her council tax decision, but I absolutely recognise that she is desperately trying to plug the support gap that the Government are failing to fill.
We need a catch-up plan for every child who has fallen behind—extending the school day for education curricular activities; breakfast clubs; small group and one-to-one tutoring—and to close the digital divide. It is absolutely no time to delay.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in today’s groundhog debate and to draw the House’s attention to the phenomenal work being done across Darlington to help students to catch up after a year of significant disruption. I thank all the schools in Darlington, the teachers, the headteachers and other school staff for their amazing work throughout the past year, supporting their pupils’ education both in the classroom and online.
Despite the constraints of the pandemic, good things have been achieved. I commend Skerne Park Academy, under the excellent leadership of Kate Chisholm, whose school was recently recognised in the levelling-up awards. This is also my first opportunity to congratulate Dame Maura Regan of the Bishop Hogarth Education Trust, who was recognised by Her Majesty in the Birthday Honours.
Last Friday, I spent the afternoon at Corporation Road Community Primary School, which is ably led by Ann Pringleton. I look forward to joining them for their build of their new adventure play park next month. Kate, Ann and Dame Maura are incredible leaders who have done much in their organisations to meet the challenges of the pandemic.
Sadly, evidence suggests that disadvantaged children in the north-east have been among the hardest hit. Although Government, business, community and charity-funded laptops and devices have done much to bridge the digital divide, it is not enough, but the Government recognise that and are prioritising our children’s education.
We all know the long-term consequences for children’s learning, development, attainment and mental health. We cannot undo the last 15 months, but we can back the steps being taken to reduce their impact, which is why I welcome the package of support and investment from the Government. The £3 billion education catch-up programme will fund high-quality tutoring specifically targeted at the most disadvantaged students. That is exactly the sort of support that will reach those in most need in Darlington.
In addition to the education recovery plan, the Government have announced the biggest funding increase for schools in a decade, raising core funding to £52.2 billion by 2022-23. In my constituency, per pupil funding in secondary schools will rise, on average, to £5,726 and in primary schools to £4,454. The Government’s 10-year plan will transform our schools.
While the Labour party continues to play political games with education, this Government are showing that they are prioritising our educational recovery, delivering billions of pounds to schools across the country. I know that this investment will have a lasting impact in Darlington.
I share my colleagues’ frustration at this Government’s haphazard approach to helping children to catch up on their education. In recent days, many of my constituents in Coventry North West have come forward to suggest how best we can help those left behind by lockdown, remote learning and self-isolation.
From extracurricular activities to small groups for tutoring, one clear theme emerges: a belief that we must do everything we can to help children to catch up and get their education back on track. Contrast this with the feeble response proposed by this Government. The measly sums they have put forward are barely a 10th of what we know is needed. We are facing a social and economic emergency. Education is the greatest leveller of all. The gap left by this inadequate plan will only further harm social mobility and allow the attainment gap in our schools to widen further.
Why should our children put up with less than the best mental health support after 18 months of plummeting wellbeing and record levels of stress and anxiety? Why should our children put up with anything less than focused tutoring for all who need extra help, while the Government proposed a scheme that would reach only 1% of pupils? Why should our children put up with anything less than healthy and nutritious meals every day, with the Government once again refusing to fund free school meals throughout the holidays?
Ministers are now left with one big question to answer. Why are they so happy to put forward a third-rate catch-up plan? Was the Secretary of State for Education simply too weak to stand up for the nation’s children at Cabinet and too weak to secure funding from Treasury, even when his own experts said how much was needed? If he was unable to do the job properly, I would politely suggest that he finds another job. Or was it the Chancellor of the Exchequer who chose to ignore the needs of the economy by skimping on catch-up funding? Stunted growth and shrunken wages will be the result of his inability to grasp the importance of investing in the next generation. His shaky grasp on the numbers indicates that he, too, could do with some extra tuition.
It is not too late for Ministers to do the right thing. They could call time on their half-baked plan and bring forward an improved set of proposals. They could introduce a bold, brave children’s recovery plan that means breakfast clubs, sports and after-school activities for pupils, fully funded free school meals for those in need, mental health support to fix dangerously low levels of wellbeing, extra training for staff, and small group tutoring for all those who are falling further behind.
This Government will not be the one who pay the price for their craven failures to listen to the experts and stump up cash. It will be those who cannot speak for themselves. It will be the youngest and most disadvantaged pupils in my city of Coventry who will now struggle to catch up.
I would like to start by thanking and congratulating all the fantastic teachers, support staff, parents and pupils across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke and by giving a special shout-out to Lisa Ackley, who was a The Times Educational Supplement awards finalist for classroom support assistant of the year for her work at Ormiston Horizon Academy. I would also like to thank the fantastic year 10 students I met last Friday at the Excel Academy in Sneyd Green, who are fully supportive of an extended school day. I look forward to going around and rallying that cry from all the students across my constituency to pass that on to the Minister.
But we are back here again. On Twitter, the Labour party clearly did not get the likes and retweets it wanted, so decided to try to repeat this debate all over again. The Not Education Union seems to own the Labour party when it comes to education policy. Let us not forget that Labour was silent when the NEU said in March last year that teachers should not be teaching a full timetable or routinely marking. Labour was silent on the 180-point checklist of things that the Not Education Union wanted to see before schools could open, and it was silent about the scaremongering that was being done by the Not Education Union over school safety, ignoring the JCVI’s advice, wanting to vaccinate teachers instead of those who are most vulnerable to coronavirus, which means our top nine categories.
Also, let us not forget that the Not Education Union spent over £500,000 from its general funds to basically play party politics. It was accused of breaking the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. So let us be quite clear: Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted are a shambles. They should do the honourable thing and resign with immediate effect. I will happily go and pack up their stuff and send it to their home addresses, because I am sick and tired of boring socialist trade unionists who are focused on their own political agenda rather than on educating children and looking after their teachers properly—that is why so few people pay into the party political fund—yet they shower their money on the Labour party to try to get it in their grasp.
Let us have a look at what this Government have done over the last 12 months: an increase to core school funding of £2.6 billion for 2020-21 and a further increase of £2.2 billion for 2021-22; raising the pupil premium to over £2.5 billion; £1 billion of investment to improve the school estate; increased high needs funding, with £780 million more for 2020-21 and £730 million extra next year; £520 million for free school meals national voucher scheme; £410 million to provide more than 1.3 million digital devices; £220 million for the expansion of the holiday activities and food programme; £63 million to local authorities to help with food; exceptional funding to cover specific, unavoidable costs incurred by schools due to coronavirus worth £102 million in total—over £14 billion, with a £3 billion catch-up. This is a Government who care about our families and young people.
The north-east has a higher proportion of long-term disadvantaged children than other parts of the country, and that simply has to be tackled if levelling up is ever to become more than a slogan. We know, and the Government acknowledge, that the least well-off children have been at the highest risk of falling behind their classmates over the past 15 months, both in the school classroom and elsewhere, yet the Government’s education recovery proposals do not seem serious about meeting the challenge. The £1.4 billion package amounts to less than 10% of the £15 billion that Sir Kevan Collins, the Government’s own education recovery chief, who recently resigned, called for. The Government’s caveat that more money may come, with no suggestion of when or what it might look like, provides little comfort. It increasingly looks as if the Government plan to bundle together various pots of funding on an ad hoc basis and call it an education recovery package, but that is not good enough. We need a bold vision for truly transforming the lives of our children and young people. Warm words need to backed up with action and funding.
It is vital that Government trust headteachers to tailor what little support is available to the needs of their schools and pupils so that it can be used most effectively. The Government’s proposals focus heavily on tutoring, but academic research shows that small groups and individual work can be effective for pupils who are struggling—it does not have to be external tutoring. If schools want their staff, who know the pupils, to provide support, as many schools in the north-east have chosen to do, they should have the flexibility to access the funding that works best for them.
While we all want to see academic progress, the past 15 months have been a frightening time for our children, with disrupted routines, reduced contact with friends and relatives, and fear of the virus, so it is disappointing that there is not any funding to support the crucial social enrichment on which many children have missed out, including sports clubs and music lessons. Funding plans must recognise the need for mental health support. Given that the long-term impact of the past 15 months has still to unfold, we will not be able to sustain the academic progress that we all want to see without additional support for the wellbeing of our children and young people. The two go hand in hand.
The Government have failed to show the ambition needed to meet the scale of the education challenge. They must change course and invest in our children now. Failure to do so is not only wrong but a false economy, as future generations will pay the price in lost earnings and lost opportunities, and our country will be the poorer for it.
Well, here we are again, with another Opposition day debate and another attempt to grab negative headlines. It did not work last time, and did not gain the publicity or the traction on social media that the Opposition wanted, so they are back for a second bite of the cherry on the same issue. Perhaps they stayed up late watching “Groundhog Day”, rather than doing their homework, or simply resorted to copying instead.
Efforts to facilitate online learning must be applauded, but we know that there are many children who have missed face-to-face teaching, with the added advantages that that brings. As a former teacher, I know the value of delivering lessons in person. The academic part of the job is important, but teachers play a vital pastoral role in maintaining the social and emotional wellbeing of their pupils. Most adults realise the isolation felt by many when they are unable to see their colleagues, friends and family members, and that is why I am pleased that we are finally returning to something resembling normality.
So far, we have committed over £3 billion to deliver targeted interventions. That is only one part of our long-term education recovery plan. The next stage of that plan includes investing £1.4 billion, with about £1 billion for tutoring courses to recover lost teaching hours, and £400 million in training and development for teachers and staff. We have made an unprecedented investment in education, and have seen the biggest increase in funding for schools in a decade. That includes additional special educational needs funding, with £730 million for high needs this year, building on the £780 million that we have made available for 2020-21.
Let us not pay too much attention to the Opposition’s criticisms of investment either, when they are not even using like-for-like comparisons with other countries and have failed to take into account the entire package being offered.
So what exactly are we looking at from the Opposition: changes to the structure of school holidays, or extended school days? No—they provide no serious plans whatsoever other than simply saying that whatever figure is presented, it is not enough. When I grew up, I remember the old commercials with the Man from Del Monte. At least he occasionally said yes to things, whereas the response from Labour and the unions is simply to say no. It more closely resembles a broken record from the ’90s band 2 Unlimited. Labour has shown time and again that it cannot be trusted with our children’s education. Our academy and free school programmes have given children in some of the most deprived areas of the country the chance to attend outstanding schools. Labour did not even want our children back in the classrooms, and, along with teaching unions, wanted closures almost right away. We wanted our children back at school and we are now taking action to help them to catch up.
I commend the work of this Government and once again thank our teachers, support staff, parents and pupils for their hard work and dedication throughout this pandemic and beyond.
This Government’s litany of let-downs for our children started last March by locking schools down late. That delay by Ministers has cost lives, as we have the highest death toll in Europe, and cost jobs, as we have the worst damage to any major economy. The litany of damage continued with June with the first U-turn on free school meals and the Prime Minister only giving in after Marcus Rashford’s brilliant campaign and support from the Labour party.
Then we had the exam grades controversy, with Ministers carping about the SNP in Scotland before being forced to abandon their own algorithm after it caused damage for young people in our country. In September, we saw the launch of the kickstart scheme with much fanfare and the claim that it would create 200,000 jobs for young people. Well, nine months later the figure is about 8% of that. Of the 1,240 unemployed young people in my constituency, kickstart has helped 11, or 1%, using the Department for Work and Pensions’ figure, which is inflated to include schoolchildren on work placements.
In October, the Prime Minister humiliated his own MPs when he forced them to vote against free school meal provision and then changed his mind and gave in, again, just a few days later. In January, we saw the utter farce of schools returning for one day after Ministers again ignored advice, causing chaos for schools that have done so much to try to ensure that our children had a quality education throughout this crisis. It goes on. In January, we had Chartwells, the Government’s contractors, going viral with pictures showing how poor the quality and quantity of the food parcels being provided was, causing ridicule for the Government. Then, in February, we had the devious cut to the pupil premium, leaving 1,000 children in Southwark actually facing a loss this year. The total loss to Southwark schools is over £1.2 million—a cut.
Now we have Ministers rejecting their own commissioner’s recovery plans and offering less than 10% of what he claimed was required to equip our children for the future. Instead they offered a derisory package of £50 per child, compared with £1,600 per child in the United States or £2,500 per child in the Netherlands. That pitiful offer says a lot about how poorly this Government value our children, our young people, and the future of this country.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate. The debate does seem somewhat familiar, but despite that, it gives me the opportunity to thank those who work in teaching across my constituency—we owe them all a debt of gratitude for their dedication, their passion, and all their hard work—and of course the pupils who just got on with it.
I also thank Labour Members for the opportunity to reiterate that children’s education is this Government’s priority. Providing over £3 billion in catch-up support is just one part of a long-term plan for education recovery. At the start of the pandemic, there was a £1 billion commitment to ensure that pupils were able to catch up and £650 million for the catch-up premium. Nor should we forget that there has been money for mental health, summer schools and summer activities. Over £450 million has been spent through the food voucher scheme. There has been £400 million to provide laptops, tablets and internet access, with over 1.3 million computers built to order, imported, configured and delivered to schools. There has also been £139 million provided to help schools to cope with the exceptional costs they faced during the first lockdown.
Compare and contrast that with Labour Members, who have spent the past year equivocating over whether schools should open, damaging public confidence and confusing the message. Their mooted £14.7 billion education plan, which proposes spending more than 10 times as much as the Government are suggesting, would be fantastic if it were realistic and if we knew specifically how it would be funded, but we do not. Nor should we forget that when Labour was trusted with education, we fell down the international league table for school performance. Even now, we are having an Opposition day debate about a paper trail instead of focusing on what really matters.
What really matters is this: children are resilient if we allow them to be. My concern is that confusing messages and debates from Opposition Members do nothing but undermine that and provide uncertainty when kids need certainty. Across my constituency, supported by the Government, everything has been done to keep children in the classroom and prioritise the safe reopening of schools. From the onset of the pandemic, safeguarding education has been the top priority of a Government focused on saving lives and accelerating the vaccination programme—a Government who have acted.
All of us in this great place had a childhood and an education that was not marred by a pandemic. Let us not let this pandemic mar our children’s or grandchildren’s futures with misleading messages or debates, but focus collectively on ensuring that no child is left behind and that every child has the same opportunity and future as all of us.
I pay tribute to all the school leaders in colleges and schools across south Bristol, and particularly to the parents and young people, for getting through this difficult year. They all had high hopes of the education recovery commissioner, whom the Government had asked to come up with a plan to ensure that schoolchildren could catch up on what they had missed out on. However, the Government ignored the evidence-based plan, awarding just a 10th of the necessary funding and then forcing him to resign because their behaviour, in his words,
“betrays an undervaluation of the importance of education”.
I recently met the Minister to discuss the pupil premium and educational outcomes in Bristol South. I am grateful for his time and attention; he is a Minister who usually does his homework, unlike many others. However, I also recently met school leaders in Bristol South, as I do every year. I meet primary and secondary headteachers as a group, because I want to understand their shared issues and ambitions and help to improve outcomes across south Bristol.
Such a meeting now happens rarely across south Bristol because of the evolution of the multi-academy trust system. There are six secondary schools in Bristol South, covered by six multi-academy trusts; in all, the nearly 40 state-funded schools in Bristol South are run by 12 different organisations. I do think that some MATs act well as a family of schools, but I do not think that they serve the families of south Bristol as well as they should or could.
Families live in the communities of south Bristol, not in the community of the MAT. In some cases, vertical support through the MAT seems to be working well, but while headteachers are accountable upwards within the MAT, south Bristol families live in local communities. Parents expect each child to be supported and educated well in their community through early years, primary, secondary, post-16 and higher education, but children are experiencing too many different organisations as part of that journey. Crucially, there is no accountability across south Bristol for the outcome of that journey, which is the destination of those young people—their chance in life.
In my six years as MP for Bristol South, my focus has been on further education and apprenticeships post 16 to help young people fulfil their potential, but I have realised that the lack of ownership and accountability for destination, success and outcomes is a major problem that no number of well-meaning piecemeal initiatives will solve. I now see that the pandemic and the loss of learning must be the catalyst for taking this seriously.
We will not solve the problem of poor education outcomes for these children without focus on the context of their lives. That focus has to be local and at the transition between all levels. For me, supporting further education is the only approach that can capture those children and, with the right professional support and stability of funding, help them to reach their true potential. Covid-19 has exacerbated the disproportionate impact of poor education on young people. We absolutely need to use this opportunity to make things better for the future.
The point I would like to make in this debate is that we should not fall into the trap of thinking this is all about money. There are factors behind success and achievement other than money, and it is debilitating to think that is the only thing that counts.
Before I go on to illustrate what I am talking about, I would just pick up on the comment the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) made that the UK has the worst death rate in Europe. There is no doubt that the UK has been hit pretty hard, but there are actually 16 countries with a worse rate than the UK in the world, including six across Europe—Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Belgium and Italy. It is important that we do look at the actual facts. He is a far more friendly chap outside the Chamber, particularly in Strangers Bar, than he is in here.
It is unfair of the hon. Member to reveal that I am nicer outside the Chamber.
The hon. Member is actually using a different figure. He is using a per capita model, not the raw death toll. We have the highest death toll in Europe by number of population overall.
That is what the hon. Member said, and I apologise, but I think it is important to look at the context, and I think the per capita figure is very relevant.
The other point I would like to make is about the motion, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) made this point very well. It does endanger candid advice if the Opposition are simply going to request all the information and all the debate behind the scenes. Actually, I do not agree with him on one aspect—we would still get candid advice; it just would not be written down, and I do not really think that is very useful. I know it has been some time—I do not mean this rudely—since the Opposition have been in government, but the reality is that there is bound to be frank and open discussion behind the scenes about different policies on different things. I do not think it is right that simply getting at all the debate behind the scenes will be useful on this particular issue.
The Government have put a package together. As has been said, they may well need more money to address this issue fully. Nevertheless, 6 million packages of 15 hours of tuition is quite a significant investment, and no doubt there will be other things coming along as well. A number of Members have asked why we did not simply follow Sir Kevan Collins’s recommendation to commit £15 billion. That is obviously a matter for the Government, but I have heard the Opposition say on a number of occasions that there would be a £100 billion payback from that £15 billion. I do not know whether the shadow Education Secretary, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), has used that figure, but I have heard the Leader of the Opposition use it. Having been in business quite a long time, I have had various department heads come through my door on lots of occasions and say, “I’ve got this great idea to spend x amount of money, and it will result in this kind of payback.” People can make anything look good on a spreadsheet. The Opposition cannot guarantee that the £15 billion would have a £100 billion effect.
The reality is that we have to choose. In government, we have to choose, and of course if we do not choose—I have heard this in so many debates over the last few years—we have the Opposition calling again and again for more spending. I think somebody should really add up all those numbers, because I am sure it would amount to trillions of pounds of spending. We simply cannot go on like that. We have at some point to try to balance the books. I do not think that is something either party has done that well in government, on the basis that very rarely—I think in only five years out of the last 40—have any Government balanced the books, and we have to make difficult choices to do that.
My final point, in the 30 seconds I have left, is to look at what happened in North Yorkshire. I said that it is not all about money, and it was disappointing that our county council took a number of weeks to facilitate online learning in many of the schools across North Yorkshire. It was simply wrong to take eight weeks to develop a policy on online learning using Zoom and the like. However, schools such as Malton School—a very good local authority maintained school—had already put in place a package of support using iPads. It had done that years before, so it was able to do this. Excellent teachers can find solutions without simply having lots of Government money thrown at a problem.
Just four months ago, we heard the Government make promises that every young person would be supported to catch up on their education and gain the skills and knowledge they need to be able to seize opportunities in future. After the catalogue of errors in dealing with the pandemic, with schools going back for just one day in January after the Prime Minister could not decide whether they were safe while hospitals were filling up with covid patients, it was encouraging to hear that the Prime Minister had hired the highly respected Sir Kevan Collins to step in and oversee the recovery from the biggest crisis our schools have ever faced.
Sir Kevan, knighted for his services to education, did exactly what was asked of him and led a comprehensive programme of catch-up aimed at young people who had lost out on learning during the pandemic. He estimated, with a strong evidence base, that £15 billion was needed to ensure that the nation’s children were not blighted by the huge hit to their education. Teachers agreed, parents agreed, but unfortunately the Prime Minister and the Chancellor did not. They gave away millions to friends and Tory donors for contracts that did not deliver, and they wasted billions on a test, trace and isolation programme that was a total failure when we needed it most, but when it comes to our children’s education, the purse strings are pulled tight, with just £50 per pupil per year to make up for the last 18 months.
Even today, because the Prime Minister failed to protect our borders, children are being sent home to isolate because of the delta variant. They are still being affected. The Government have offered just £1.4 billion, a pitiful offer to our children, who have had so much of their lives impacted. Their mental health and wellbeing have been severely challenged. Sir Kevan’s resignation letter to the Prime Minister says it all, really. He made it perfectly clear:
“I do not believe it will be possible to deliver a successful recovery without significantly greater support than the government has to date indicated it intends to provide.”
Certainly the teachers I have spoken to in Bedford and Kempston have told me that the funding announced by the Government will not scratch the surface in helping children to catch up. A primary school headteacher I spoke to yesterday told me that he is already trying to provide a quality, broad and balanced curriculum and to make up for the children’s time away from school on reduced funding. That was hard already, but the challenges posed in trying to provide what each child and family needs following the pandemic are monumental. That headteacher is ready, willing and able to offer interventions to give our children the best chance in life—
We see yet again, don’t we, that Labour will always push for a debate that focuses solely on money and not on real outcomes? That is quite ironic from the party that left a note saying
“I’m afraid there is no money”
when it was in charge. In their media appearances, Labour Members show a total inability to set out how they would finance their grand plans for education, let alone to relate any of the spending to outcomes.
I was a school governor for several years. I have seen the financial inner workings of schools, and I have seen what good investment and bad investment can do to the quality of education. My schools in Dudley North were left underfunded and unsupported by Labour, so I welcome this Government’s plans and their promise to deliver on levelling up our education system as we build back better. That will be achieved through targeted investment to improve school buildings in the worst conditions and to increase funding for children with special educational needs. A good education for every child will give them the best start in life.
The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) once described the pandemic as a “good crisis” for Labour to make a political opportunity out of. That says it all. Is there any substance behind her calling this debate, or is it yet another opportunity for her to provide selective soundbites for her social media channels to make it look like Labour cares about our children getting an adequate education? Labour could not seem to decide what its policies were over the past 15 months. Did it want schools to open or to remain closed? Does it want teachers to teach more, or does it want them to spend time being glorified babysitters over the summer, so that children can relax and enjoy life? Unlike the Opposition, throughout this pandemic this Conservative Government have consistently tried to get children back into the classroom where they belong and where they are at their happiest. The Opposition have more flip-flops than a Havaianas shop. They cannot seem to decide, even with the benefit of hindsight.
I am grateful to the shadow Treasury and Education teams for bringing this important debate to the House. Undoubtedly, one of the biggest challenges that our nation faces is supporting the millions of children and young adults studying across the country following the devastating impact of the past year, so I am hugely disappointed that once again the Government have ignored the experts and offered less than 10% of what the Government’s own education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, called for.
Frankly, it is insulting to the teachers, parents, school staff and early years providers, who have ensured that children in Slough and beyond could access education throughout one of the most disruptive periods that they have ever seen. Without their tenacity, determination and commitment in wanting the very best for future generations, our children would not have received the care, support and education that they needed over the past year. They achieved that all after a decade of Government neglect, which delivered the largest cuts to school funding in 40 years.
Just last year, Slough headteachers wrote to me to say that they had
“become increasingly disillusioned by a persistent lack of effective and credible leadership emanating from the Department for Education.”
Sadly, with the so-called catch-up plan the DFE has continued that trend, with funding that covers less than £1 per day that children were out of school and a tutoring programme that reaches just 1% of pupils. It seems that the Prime Minister and Chancellor have blocked the much needed funds that were initially asked for, letting down an entire generation. Do they think that it makes economic sense to not invest in our children?
Labour’s fully costed plan would deliver exactly what parents and teachers have been calling for: a well-rounded catch-up plan including mental health support, drama, sports, book clubs, continued development for teachers and an extension of free school meals over the holidays. That provision would be targeted with an education recovery premium to ensure that those who faced the greatest disruption are given additional support.
What is worse is that this Tory Government know the consequences of the inadequate support that they have offered. As Sir Kevan Collins noted in his resignation letter,
“the settlement provided will define the international standing of England’s education system for years to come.”
That is consolidated by reports from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, showing that if students had lost an average of six months of schooling they could see a reduction in their lifetime income of 4%, so why will Ministers not stop treating children as an afterthought in our recovery and prioritise their wellbeing, education and life chances? Inaction now will fail generations for decades to come.
I have not yet had an opportunity to pay full tribute to the teachers in schools in South Ribble, who did such a stunning job during the pandemic, including inspirational educational leaders such as the guys at the multi-academy Endeavour Learning Trust—my thanks to them.
In her opening remarks, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) questioned the decisions made about massive sums of money, national changes and big-ticket items. Was the idea that such big decisions would be made quickly, with no evidence on what works? Personally, I support the idea of a longer school day, which I think has huge advantages, but I would not like to see it implemented nationally without evidence of its effectiveness. Without such evidence, Government Members do not support commitments to spending billions.
In her opening remarks, the shadow Minister described wanting to ensure that vast sums of money are spent effectively as misguided dogma. No, not really. She asked to see the working-out. Let me step back a little in history to show what Labour’s version of working-out looks like in the education space. As a snotty young IT coder, I was in the Department for Education and Skills back in the early noughties, working on the independent learning accounts recovery programme. The first programme had been put out to achieve a headline—get Mr Tony Blair’s grid.
What happened? Millions of pounds went out the door in fraud. The National Audit Office report from the time is on the record. I assure Members that having seen the data, my little, snotty IT coders and I reckon that about 10 times that money went out the door. It went out the door because Labour was chasing a headline. It was throwing millions at an idea without having a plan, without having thought it through and without having evaluated it. That is not what we are doing here. We all care about children; it is hugely important. The Opposition are proud of “Education, education, education”, but that should not be at any cost, not at unlimited and uncontrolled cost and not producing ineffective outcomes that have not been evaluated.
There is no knee-jerk headline chasing on these Benches, because what we want is the effective use of Government money, in the best way to target and help children. I see a game-playing motion here today, and I will not support it.
For many children, especially in my constituency of Easington, home learning has been very difficult. I point out that 36.9% of children in my constituency were classed as living in poverty in 2019-20. The effects of the pandemic have not been felt evenly, with disadvantaged children in the poorest areas hit hardest.
Despite the existing inequalities and challenges, and our schools in many areas being at breaking point, Ministers seem to have found new ways to cut school funding, and that is something I take the opportunity to highlight. The north-east could lose up to £7 million due to administrative changes to how pupil premium funding is calculated and allocated, with the Government switching from using the January schools census to using the October census. What that means is that schools with children who became eligible for funding during the pandemic will not receive any additional funding for another year.
Using the October census date rather than the January date is significant, because many children were not at school then, so it was not such a priority for parents to register. In my constituency of Easington, 20 out of 28 primary schools will be affected. The average loss will be about £9,400. When we are talking about the additional sums—I heard the Minister’s opening statement—I believe it is about £6,000 for the average primary school. The average loss will be £9,400 in my constituency, but the worst-affected schools will lose nearly £30,000. The total loss to schools in my constituency is £180,000.
It is absolutely reprehensible to remove resources from schools at any time, but to do so after the biggest public health crisis for a generation, when more funding is urgently required, is unconscionable. Funding education is an investment in our children, and society will reap dividends today and in the future. The Government have had an opportunity to make a statement of intent by implementing the recommendations that Sir Kevan Collins, the Government-appointed education tsar, made. He gave them the evidence. That would have helped every child. I hope parents will reflect on the decision and think about the loss of funding for schools in areas such as mine when they hear Government Members talk about levelling up.