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Commons Chamber

Volume 613: debated on Thursday 21 July 2016

House of Commons

Thursday 21 July 2016

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions

Queen's Speech (Answer to Address)

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That Her Majesty, having been attended with its Address of 26th May, was pleased to receive the same very graciously and give the following Answer:

I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament

Electoral Commission (Answer to Address)

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 14th June, praying that Her Majesty will reappoint Alasdair Morgan as an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 1st October 2016 for the period ending on 30th September 2020, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.

Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Answer to Address)

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the Address of 13th July, praying that Her Majesty will reappoint Jenny Willott to the office of ordinary member of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority with effect from 7th August 2016 for the period ending 31st December 2020, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.

Oral Answers to Questions

Attorney General

The Attorney General was asked—

Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union

1. What discussions his Department has had with the devolved Administrations on the timescale for invoking article 50 of the treaty on European Union. (905999)

4. What discussions his Department has had with the devolved Administrations on the timescale for invoking article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. (906003)

13. What discussions his Department has had with the devolved Administrations on the timescale for invoking article 50 of the treaty on European Union. (906013)

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Prime Minister has visited Scotland and Wales already and has made it clear that she wants to achieve the best possible deal for the whole of the United Kingdom on leaving the European Union. She has also made it clear that article 50 of the treaty on European Union will not be triggered before the end of the year.

The Prime Minister has stated that Brexit means Brexit, and the First Minister of Scotland has stated that, for us, remain means remain. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the Scottish people have spoken and that therefore their sovereignty should be respected?

The people of the United Kingdom have spoken and their sovereignty must be respected. The people of the United Kingdom have made their decision on whether to leave the European Union, and we will respect it.

The Prime Minister has indicated that she will not trigger article 50 in the UK until there is a UK approach to Brexit. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that a legislative consent motion is required before the Government have the legal authority to trigger article 50?

It is perfectly right, as the Prime Minister has made clear, that all parts of the United Kingdom, including the Governments of the devolved Administrations, should be able to participate in the process of developing the United Kingdom’s approach to these negotiations. That does not mean that any of the parts of the United Kingdom has a veto over this process: so, consultation most certainly, but veto I am afraid not.

At a time when Brexit is already causing more than enough confusion, the Prime Minister is saying that article 50 will definitely not be triggered before the end of the year, but the Brexit Minister has said that it definitely will be. Will the Attorney General clarify for us who is correct in articulating present Government policy?

No, I do not think there is any confusion. We must ensure that there is clarity about the United Kingdom’s position going into the negotiations, and that we have done that work before we begin them. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is for the United Kingdom Government to determine the point at which article 50 is triggered. We should do so when we are ready.

Will the Attorney General tell my constituents in Kettering what invoking article 50 means? What is article 50? Where is it kept? Is it in a secret drawer in the Prime Minister’s office to which only the Attorney General has the key? Is it a letter that the Prime Minister signs, or is it the Queen who signs it? How will article 50 be invoked?

I can assist my hon. Friend and his constituents to this extent. Article 50 is article 50 of the treaty on European Union and therefore copies of it are kept in all sorts of places. I am not sure whether there is one in my desk, but what it says is:

“A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention.”

As I have said, it will be for the UK Government to do that at a time of their choosing.

I am quite happy with the Government consulting the devolved Administrations, but what concerns me is that we do not finish up being held to ransom by the Scottish nationalists. Whatever the Government try to do, they will never be able to satisfy the Scottish nationalists. Can the Attorney General please reassure me and my constituents, who voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union, that their wishes will not be frustrated by the Scottish National party?

The Prime Minister has been very clear that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, and that means all of the United Kingdom, but, as I said earlier, it is very important that in the process of exiting the European Union all parts of the United Kingdom have an opportunity to contribute to the negotiations in which we will engage. That is the spirit in which the UK Government will approach this process.

We have to be mindful that the EU referendum was UK-wide, so all parts of the United Kingdom were involved. I hope the Prime Minister will come to Northern Ireland; perhaps the Minister can confirm that. It is important to keep the grants and assistance that Northern Ireland receives.

Indeed. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. I am sure the Prime Minister will wish to visit Northern Ireland very shortly, and she and we have clearly in mind the particular difficulties that will apply to the process in Northern Ireland because of the land border with the Republic of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman will have been present yesterday when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland dealt with this question. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is at the forefront of our minds and we will wish to make sure that we reach a satisfactory settlement.

The new Brexit Minister has said that the UK may be able to stop EU migrants coming to the UK before we leave the European Union, while remaining in the single market. What is the legal basis for this pick-and-mix approach to European law? Does he think that this hubristic attitude will get the UK the best deal in the negotiations?

The legal position is clear. For as long as we remain members of the European Union, the rights and responsibilities that attract as a result of that membership will persist, but it is open to the member states to negotiate different arrangements if they think it is appropriate to do so, and we will see, once article 50 is triggered, exactly how those negotiations play out. The legal position, as I say, is that the rights and responsibilities of member states, and of course of citizens of those member states, will persist for as long as we are members of the European Union.

Female Genital Mutilation

2. What steps the Government is taking to increase the number of prosecutions for female genital mutilation. (906000)

5. What steps the Government is taking to increase the number of prosecutions for female genital mutilation. (906004)

7. What steps the Government is taking to increase the number of prosecutions for female genital mutilation. (906006)

The Government significantly strengthened the law via amendments to the Serious Crime Act 2015 to improve protection of victims through lifelong anonymity and to break down barriers to prosecution. The introduction of a mandatory reporting duty for front-line professionals to identify FGM cases of girls under 18 further improves opportunities for safeguarding and prosecution.

At the age of 11, Valentine Nkoyo was forced to go through female genital mutilation. Nineteen years later she set up the Mojatu Foundation, a social enterprise in my constituency, to use her own experience to raise awareness of FGM, help protect children at risk in the UK and support survivors. Mojatu’s current project aims to create a network of media-trained community champions to help tackle the issues affecting women and girls who are at risk or living with the consequences of FGM, to increase self-reporting. What engagement has the Solicitor General had with community organisations such as Mojatu to address the low level of prosecutions for FGM?

I pay tribute to the work of that community organisation and many others in the network who are fighting the scourge of FGM. The hon. Lady will be pleased to note that I and other members of the Government have regular engagement with community groups. The Department of Health has provided £4 million worth of funding over the past three years in order, among other things, to enhance community engagement so that awareness can be spread and victims need not suffer in silence.

The lack of services to support victims of female genital mutilation is often seen as a reason why so many cases are left unreported. What effect will cuts of 24% to the Crown Prosecution Service have on the reporting of FGM cases?

May I reassure the hon. Lady that the Crown Prosecution Service places great importance upon the need to properly investigate and prosecute, where appropriate, crimes of FGM? It was regrettable that in the years prior to 2010 not one single prosecution occurred. Cultural and other obstacles have prevented the effective investigation and prosecution of this scourge. The work of community groups and the resolution of the Government mean that that is gradually changing for the better.

The Solicitor General will no doubt be aware of the European Commission guidelines on action against female genital mutilation. Notwithstanding the vote on 23 June for the UK to leave the European Union, can the Minister say whether it is still the intention of the Government to accept into British law the recommendations of the European Commission’s report?

With regard to the specifics, that matter needs to be considered carefully, and I will take that away with me. However, on the general principles laid out in that report, there is no doubt whatever that this Government remain fully committed to making sure that FGM is properly explained, properly challenged and properly dealt with, whether that is by prosecution, awareness in the community or other preventive measures.

What steps are the Government taking to ensure that, in communities where, on occasions, a blind eye is turned to this obscenity, people understand that the law will be upheld and that the 130,000-odd young females who are affected will be protected in future, as this will affect others?

The hon. Gentleman is right to reiterate that community engagement and community involvement will be key in making more progress on this area. I am glad to see that, certainly in England, the Department for Education has £2.25 million of funding to invest in awareness of and education about this issue, and I think that will also have a beneficial effect.

EU and Domestic Law: Separation

3. What his role is in assessing the steps that will be required to separate EU law from domestic law. (906001)

My role in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is the same as my role in relation to other areas of Government business: I act as the Government’s principal legal adviser. In terms of seeking Law Officer advice in relation to the UK’s exit, the standard rules in the Cabinet manual apply. The Law Officers must be consulted by Ministers or officials before the Government are committed to critical decisions involving legal considerations.

Have the Government made an estimate of the cost of the vast number of lawyers and trade negotiators that are going to have to be hired to deliver our disentanglement from the European Union? If such an estimate has not yet been made, will the Attorney General please confirm by when he will be able to furnish the House with that information?

We will undoubtedly need the best advice we can have and the best trade negotiators we can have. Of course, the Government already have some of that capacity, but the Department responsible is looking carefully at exactly what additional capacity we will need to gain, and as soon as it is in a position to give that information to the House, I am sure it will do so.

Our membership of the European Union has brought about substantial enhancements in our health and safety laws. Will the Attorney General guarantee that, with leaving the European Union, none of those health and safety laws will be weakened in any way?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are many of those regulations that we will wish to retain, but of course the exercise of looking at exactly which parts of the canon of European law we wish to transfer into UK law, which we wish to adapt and which we may not wish to continue with at all, is a very lengthy one that we will need to continue with. But I agree with him that it will not, in all likelihood, be the case that all of those rules and regulations will be dispensed with altogether, and both businesses and those who are employed by them benefit from some of those measures.

Leaving the European Union will involve repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, which means all secondary legislation made under the Act will automatically fail unless it is re-enacted. Can the Attorney General tell us what steps are being taken, or will be taken, to ensure we have the necessary legislation to guarantee protection on important employment rights, such as transfers of undertakings and paid holidays for employees?

May I first of all say that it is always nice to see anyone on the Labour Front Bench these days, but it is a particular pleasure to see that the hon. Lady retains her position?

I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds): it is clearly the case that the British Government will wish to retain in some form some of the regulations and pieces of legislation she refers to. Of course, the exercise of determining which pieces of legislation is going to be time-consuming and complex, but I have no doubt that what this Government will wish to do is persist with high-quality protection for those in employment in this country, whether that is European legislation or, in future, domestic legislation.

I listened to the answer that the Attorney General gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds). Prior to being elected to this House, I represented families of people killed or injured at work. Most health and safety legislation providing protection for UK workers derives from EU law, and in his answer the Attorney General did not satisfy me that he will provide equivalent or better protection. Does he agree that workers need to be protected against injury, illness and death at work, and that workplace health and safety legislation is essential and not red tape? Will he give this House and, in particular, the families of those killed at work a guarantee that, at the very least, equivalent legislation and workplace protections will be urgently re-enacted?

I agree that injury, illness and death at work must be prevented and dealt with through appropriate legislation and regulation. Of course, we had already sought to protect workers from those things prior to our membership of the European Union, and we will certainly seek to do so post-membership. I do not believe that it is beyond the capacity of this House to design legislation and regulation that will enable us to provide effective protection, and this Government are entirely committed to doing so.

Economic Crime

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of introducing a criminal offence of failure to prevent economic crime on the incidence of such crime. (906005)

Under existing law, a company faces criminal liability only if prosecutors can prove that a sufficiently senior person knew about the criminal conduct. That can be extremely hard to prove, especially in large companies with complex management structures. That is why the Government will consult on whether the “failure to prevent” model should be extended to other types of economic offending.

In an increasingly globalised world, international co-operation and co-ordination is key to tackling often very sophisticated economic crime. What is the Serious Fraud Office doing to tackle those crimes, both domestically and overseas?

The Serious Fraud Office does indeed attempt to engage with its counterparts abroad and a variety of agencies in other countries to do its work. Of course, as my hon. Friend may be aware, a “failure to prevent” offence is available in many other jurisdictions, and that is one of the reasons that we believe it is worth considering here.

The Attorney General knows that I have campaigned for much more vigorous action in this sector. I have called for proper resources to be given to the Serious Fraud Office, because it has become far too dependent on this country’s big accountancy firms, and that is the road to ruin and ineffective action.

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s campaigning record. As he knows, the amount of money that the Serious Fraud Office receives as part of its core budget has increased over the past few years and it will continue to increase. As he also knows, it has access to “blockbuster” funding for particularly large and unexpected cases. Of course, this is not just about money; it is also about the tools that the Serious Fraud Office and other investigators and prosecutors have at their disposal. That is one of the reasons why it is always worth keeping this area under review, which is what we are doing.

May I caution the Attorney General? Setting up an offence of failing to prevent a crime committed by another is a very serious step in our legal system. It could affect many hon. Members in everyday life. For example, if they failed to prevent someone from shoplifting, would they be committing a criminal offence? These kinds of things are very difficult and I urge caution on the Attorney General.

The hon. Gentleman is right to urge caution, but what we are proposing does not go anywhere near as far as he is suggesting. The types of offences under discussion are failures by corporate entities to prevent fraud, money laundering and the like. As he will know, there are already similar types of offences on the statute book in relation to bribery, and there will shortly be some in relation to tax evasion. This is an extension of a logical principle and it is designed to ensure that we are able to catch not just those in smaller businesses who are engaged in this kind of behaviour, but those in larger business too.

EU Referendum: Protection of Human Rights

8. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the decision to leave the EU on the protection of human rights. (906007)

I consider the best protection of fundamental rights in the United Kingdom to be UK law. I am, therefore, confident that the decision to leave the European Union will not result in any reduction in the protection of such rights in the United Kingdom.

We now have a Prime Minister who has advocated withdrawing from the European convention on human rights. Can the Attorney General confirm whether that will be Government policy?

As the hon. Gentleman quite correctly observes, we have a new Prime Minister and we also have a new Secretary of State for Justice. Both have been in office for only a little over a week, so the hon. Gentleman will have to be a little more patient.

Hate Crime

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of hate crime. (906009)

10. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of hate crime. (906010)

I discuss this matter regularly with the DPP, and the Government will publish their hate crime strategy very shortly.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his answer. Given the terrible terrorist atrocities in Nice, Paris and, recently, Germany, many people in this country are fearful that because of their religion or the colour of their skin, they will be the subject of hate crime. What assurances can my hon. and learned Friend give to those people that we will prosecute, to the full extent of the law, anyone involved in hate crime?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the community work he does in his constituency. Hate crime of any kind, whether it is on the grounds of disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity, has absolutely no place in our society. We are utterly committed to tackling hate crime.

A Member of the other place recently received a vile racist letter containing white powder, as did a number of mosques and Islamic centres representing a large Pakistani heritage community in Pendle. The long-term rise in Islamophobia is a serious concern. Will my hon. and learned Friend join me in condemning these racist incidents and advise me whether he believes that the separate recording of Islamophobia as a hate crime is likely to help to bring about successful prosecutions?

The incident that my hon. Friend describes is despicable and shameful, and we must stand together against such hate crime and ensure that it is stamped out. Religious hate crime has been recorded separately since April of this year, at the request of the Prime Minister in her former role as Home Secretary. That will give us a greater understanding of the nature of hate crime.

Reports of hate crimes rose exponentially—by 57%—following Brexit. Is the Solicitor General confident that the Crown Prosecution Service is adequately resourced to deal effectively with these reports and support victims?

The hon. Lady is right to note the alarming spike in incidents of hate crime that surrounded the recent referendum and the weeks subsequent to it. I reassure her that the CPS remains absolutely committed to prosecuting all types of such crime, which, frankly, have no place in our society.

Three weeks ago, I asked the former Prime Minister, and he agreed, to look into setting up a cross-party commission on hate crime following a sharp increase, as yesterday’s statistics revealed. Can the Solicitor General assure the House that that will be achieved as a priority? Will he offer his full support to my West Yorkshire cross-party initiative to tackle these terrible acts?

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who speaks with eloquence and passion on these issues. Of course, I give her my full support with regard to the cross-party initiative in West Yorkshire. The former Prime Minister was right to emphasise that it is up to all of us, whichever side of politics we come from, to come together to tackle this scourge. We know what it can lead to, and therefore we have to stamp it out before it becomes something even more vile.

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

EU Referendum: Hate Crime

1. What steps the Government have taken to tackle hate crime against black, Asian and minority ethnic communities since the EU referendum. (905983)

As the House has just discussed, hate crime of any kind, including that which is targeted at BAME communities, has absolutely no place in our society. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say how appalled I am at the recent reported increase in hate crime. The Government are monitoring the situation and working across Departments and with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and community partners to provide reassurance and send out a clear message that hate crime will not be tolerated, and that we will take action against those who promote hatred.

I am proud of the Safer Neath Port Talbot partnership, which has been working to counteract the rise in hate crime since the EU referendum by holding hate crime awareness sessions in Neath communities. We should all say no to hate crime. What steps is the Minister taking to adopt such best practice and roll it out across the country to raise awareness and heal divisions in communities?

I would be very interested to talk to the hon. Lady further about her experience of the work under way in her own community. As she highlights, one of the most effective things we can do to tackle hate crime is to work at community level to spread a message of inclusion, acceptance and tolerance across our society. The broader work happening in Government is being done not just through policing and the Home Office, but through the Department for Communities and Local Government and in my own Department—the Department for Education—through schools.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her position. Does she feel, as I do, that we should also be looking at online hate crime, from which people often suffer the most? Does she believe, as I do, that platforms and social media outlets should do more to standardise reporting in this area and, frankly, to take more action against the perpetrators?

I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is important to address the online element of this crime effectively. She will be aware that one of the things the Government have recently done is to strengthen online reporting. Part of the increase in hate crime is due to the tool we set up called True Vision, a website where people can report it online more effectively. She is absolutely right to say that there are different channels through which hate crimes are perpetrated and all of them need a strong response.

The Minister’s answer on online hate crime and online reporting is very welcome, but does she agree that, given the level of vile hatred that exists in certain parts of social media, it is absolutely essential for law enforcement agencies to chase it down and bring specific cases to court to ensure that there is no hiding place for the violent hatred that people pour on to social media?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As crime moves on to different forums, including online, it is important that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service collectively take strong action to show that this sort of behaviour across our country will not be tolerated and that we will take action against it wherever it raises its head.

This may be a special occasion because all 12 Members on both the Government and Opposition Front Benches are female.

Last night, Kettering Borough Council passed a motion condemning racism, xenophobia and hate crimes. I am proud to be a member of Kettering Borough Council and to have supported the motion. Will my right hon. Friend encourage other local authorities to do the same?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very perceptive observation about the make-up of the Front Benches. The merit of his making it is that it is now on the record in Hansard forever.

That is perhaps appropriate given that this is Women and Equalities questions. I should say that when the Government decided to draw Ministers from across Departments to answer these questions, there was no particular attempt to make sure we had an all-women list of Ministers, but it shows how things are changing with female representation in Parliament, alongside the fact that, as of last week, we have our second female Prime Minister.

To come to my hon. Friend’s very important question, I applaud Kettering Borough Council for its strong stance against racism. Part of ensuring that we stamp out hate crime and racism generally is not only for us to work strongly on the ground, but for people in positions of authority—community leaders included—to advocate the kind of inclusive society that we all want. The steps taken by Kettering Borough Council are particularly welcome, and I hope other councils follow suit.

Last Saturday, I attended an event in my constituency organised by a fantastic community group called Kumon Y’all. It was amazing to see people of many faiths and no faith engaging with each other through sport and other activities. Does the Minister agree that such events should be encouraged wherever possible, especially in these troubled times when we are seeing an alarming rise in hate crime?

Yes, I do. We all have our own experiences of that at constituency level. My local Ahmadiyya Muslim community holds a peace conference every year, which brings together all faiths and all parts of our community, and it does a huge amount of fundraising, which also benefits our broader community. These are the kinds of examples of community leadership to which I was just referring. As MPs, we can play a real role in encouraging and supporting that when we see it happening in our own localities.

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the Minister to her place. I am really proud to be one of the women on the all-women Front Benches. It seems that we might be taking over the world slowly but surely, which is fantastic.

We have heard from many Members on both sides of the House that there has been a dramatic wave of hate crime, hostility and intolerance towards EU nationals and members of the BAME community living in the UK. I have been encouraged by the many members of the public and people in high-profile positions who have challenged that behaviour and shown what a great multicultural Britain we are. However, like many across the House and the country I was dismayed and upset by The Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie’s disgraceful Islamophobic attack on the “Channel 4 News” presenter Fatima Manji. Will the Minister join me in making it clear that all parties in this House regard those comments as totally unacceptable? That being the case, will she also join me in urging Mr MacKenzie to make a full public apology, and The Sun and other media to be more responsible as to who and what they allow on their media outlets?

Order. As a result of the extreme seriousness of the matter I let the hon. Lady complete her question, but never again must she ask such a long question. I am afraid it was not just too long, but far too long, albeit very important.

The hon. Lady has raised an important issue. This is not the first time that Kelvin MacKenzie has written and said things that are deeply controversial and to many people in our country deeply offensive, frankly. It is for him to decide how he wants to respond to the wave of criticism he has received since writing that article. From my perspective, I am proud that we live in a country where men and women are equal. That includes women having the right to wear what they want and to be able to get on in their job wearing what they want. In my view, that includes newscasters and journalists. We need to make sure we have some kind of consensus on not rising to the bait of people such as Kelvin MacKenzie. Frankly, I hope that we can treat his comments with the derision that they deserve.

Single-tier State Pension

10. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of the single-tier state pension on gender equality. (905993)

We have reformed the complicated pension system to introduce a simpler state pension. Together with automatic enrolment, the triple lock, the protection of pensioner benefits and new pension freedoms, that will ensure that pensioners, both women and men, have greater protection, security and choice in retirement.

I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome her to her place.

The new state pension will mean 350,000 women born between 1951 and 1953 retire on the old system, just before the new proposals come into force, whereas a man born on the same day will retire slightly later but receive a pension under the new arrangements. Does she agree that a pensions commission must urgently be established to end such inequalities?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome.

Some £1.1 billion was committed at the time of the Pensions Act 2011 to reduce the maximum delay that anyone would experience in claiming their state pension. As a result of the Government’s triple lock, since April 2011 the basic state pension has risen by £570 a year. The Government’s position on this policy is very clear.

The current review of the state pension age by John Cridland is critical to ensuring that the existing inequalities in the current pension system do not plague future retirees. Does the Minister agree that discrepancies in life expectancy, including among some of the poorest women in society and across the UK regions, must be closely examined to prevent gender inequalities?

I absolutely agree that it is important to prevent gender inequalities, but equally we have to be realistic and acknowledge that, across the country, people are living longer. If we want to carry on with a sustainable and affordable pension system we must equalise the state pension age for both men and women.

Forget the triple lock and the other measures to protect pensions that the Minister has just promoted; the simple fact is that according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies in future 14% of women will receive a lower income at state pension age than they would have under the current system. What discussions is the Minister having with colleagues from the Department for Work and Pensions to try to prevent that?

The new state pension is much more generous for many women. More than 3 million women stand to gain £550 a year by 2030 as a result of the changes.

May I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister to her place? As a fellow feminist, I am sure she will agree that we are talking about our mothers’ generation, who broke down the barriers on equal pay. What message does it send to their daughters, a generation burdened with huge amounts of student debt, when their mothers have been short-changed by the lack of transitional arrangements for their state pension? What incentive is there for younger women to trust the Government when it comes to saving for their future?

I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome.

What we have seen from the reforms that the Government have made is that women of her age and my age are doing more now to save for their future than ever before. It is really important to reflect that some of the previous arrangements dated back to the 1940s. The world has moved on an incredible amount since that time and, I would argue, absolutely for the better.

Senior Executive Roles

7. What steps the Government have taken to increase numbers of women in senior executive roles. (905990)

This area is a real success story—we have more women on boards than ever before—but we know that we have got more to do. I fully endorse the business-led target of 33% of women on FTSE 350 boards by 2020. To achieve that, we have established the new independent Hampton Alexander review, which will have a particular focus on improving gender representation in the all-important executive layer of FTSE companies.

We now have the statutory male on the Government Front Bench. If the Minister for Schools had not turned up, I might have been tempted to invite the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) to make an appearance on the Front Bench, but I suspect that would have been a divisible proposition.

Yes, I do. We will need to take some steps, but so far the proposal of working voluntarily with business has seen some real progress, including a doubling of women on boards in the FTSE 350, from 9.5% in 2010, when the coalition Government came to office, to 22% now. The number of all male boards has also dropped from 152 in 2011 to 15 today. We have more to do, but I fully expect and hope that we can meet that ambitious, achievable target by 2020.

May I congratulate those on the Front Bench on the fantastic representation of women there? As my right hon. Friend the Minister knows, Plymouth University is taking the lead, in that half its board of governors are women. What is her Department doing to ensure more women are in senior leadership roles in universities?

I should start by congratulating Plymouth University on making fantastic progress. I have been delighted to see that the latest “WomenCount” report on higher education—which the Government supported—showed that a third of governing bodies are now gender balanced. It is good that we now have a new code of governance in force, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England has also set an aspirational target for 40% of women on governing bodies. An Athena SWAN charter mark has also been embraced as a sector standard, which I strongly support.

I, too, wish to add my congratulations to the Secretary of State, who has long been a role model for many women following behind her. I know that when she came into Parliament in 2005 it looked a very different place. What is her Department doing to ensure that women across the UK—not just in London—have opportunities to access senior executive roles, and can she assure me that those women will be encouraged into sectors other than those traditionally occupied by women?

My hon. Friend’s question has two parts that I should answer. First, we have just expanded the Women’s Business Council to 20 members. That includes organisations based in Scotland and Wales, so we are expanding and making sure that its geographical focus is UK-wide. Secondly, we are also changing the council so that it has greater representation of industries such as engineering, defence systems and construction. A good example would be Halfords Group, which is based in the west midlands near her constituency, whose board is 50% women and whose chief executive is female. We must champion best practice.

Will the Government lead by example by increasing the number of women in senior management roles in their Departments, agencies and other organisations in which they have influence, including the NHS?

We are certainly going to try to make sure we do lead by example. The fact that we have our second female Prime Minister is a very good, strong and historic start. She recognises that the public sector needs to make progress, as does the private sector.

The Minister rightly mentions some of the progress made on getting female representation in boardrooms, but it is still a fact, which I think was researched by The Guardian, that there are more men called John—and a fine name it is, Mr Speaker—who are bosses in FTSE 100 companies than there are women running those companies. What more can the Government do to ensure that women see it as their role to run FTSE 100 companies?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the problem. Despite progress, the reality is that only 18 of the FTSE 350 companies have female CEOs. We need to ensure not only that women aim high, but that, for example when women have children and come back into the workplace, their careers are not hindered and they can go on and get to the very top.

Of 318 female executive committee members in business, from a total of 2,038 across both genders, just 122 held roles with financial responsibility. Has the Minister had any discussions with companies about the possibility of mentoring women in business to enable them to achieve very senior roles?

I really welcome that question, as somebody whose background is as a chartered accountant. Some accounting firms have done great work to pull through their best and brightest women. The point the hon. Gentleman makes is not just about the numbers, but seeing women in pivotal roles on boards. That is precisely the kind of next step we want companies to take.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her post. She is there on merit and the Conservative party has shown that women can get to the very top on merit. Can she give me an assurance that merit will always be the deciding factor on whether people are promoted to a role, irrespective of people’s gender, race or sexual inclination? When recruiting people, we should be blind to those things.

I have great news for my hon. Friend: there are plenty of fantastic women out there who are ready, willing and able to get into the top jobs, so I assure him there will be no compromise on merit—indeed, dare I say, Mr Speaker, that we might see a raising of the performance levels?

Welfare Policy: Gender Equality

6. What assessment the Government have made of the effect on gender equality of their welfare policies. (905989)

The Government set out our assessment of the impact of the welfare policies in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, with similar assessments for previous changes. Every Government policy change is carefully considered in line with legal obligations.

Engender has said that, since 2010, £26 billion of cuts to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions have been made, and that 85% of that figure has come from women’s income. The statement made yesterday by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions confirms that the two-child policy and, presumably, the rape clause are carrying on. They will also have an effect on women’s incomes. What is the Minister doing to redress the balance?

It is really important to reflect on the economic statistics. There are more women in work than ever before and the roll-out of universal credit will ensure that being in work pays. The reforms we have made are assisting people into work and ensuring that women are at the forefront of that.

The Minister will be aware of the continuing concern across the United Kingdom about the welfare reform proposals as they impinge particularly on women with young families. Will she keep under review that continuing concern, right across the entire country, to ensure that there is no continuing disadvantage to females, particularly those with young families?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about women with families. The Government’s investment in childcare support—the doubling of free childcare from 15 to 30 hours for nearly 400,000 working parents of three and four-year-olds from September 2017—is an example of how we are making sure that women get back into work.

I welcome the Secretary of State and Ministers, new and existing, to their places. Prior to Brexit, the Secretary of State said that leaving the EU would cost the economy

“a £36bn hit to tax receipts every year - it won’t just be public services squeezed, it will be our jobs, especially the livelihoods of people on lower incomes.”

We already know that 80% of welfare cuts fall on women. Can the Minister assure me that these cuts will not fall on women’s shoulders?

As the hon. Lady will have heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say yesterday, we are conscious that we have to make sure that the changes resulting from the EU referendum result work for everybody across society, and of course that includes women.

Equality and Human Rights Commission

8. What assessment she has made of the effect of proposed changes to the funding of the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the work of that commission. (905991)

The Equality and Human Rights Commission performs a very important and valuable role, and its appointed chair, David Isaac, and the board are well equipped for this task. The commission receives, and will continue to receive, sufficient funds to enable it to fulfil its full range of statutory duties.

Will the Minister scotch the rumours that swingeing cuts to the EHRC budget are on their way—69% down on 2010, apparently? In this climate of post-Brexit racism and employment tribunal fee charges, it is needed more than ever, yet it is operating on less than the old Disability Rights Commission, which area comprises only one part of its multiple good works.

I am happy to scotch some of these rumours. When the EHRC was established in 2007, it was done without a full understanding of what it would need from a budgetary point of view and what it would cost. Nearly 10 years later, we have a much better understanding of its running and efficiency costs, and of course it saw a reduction in function in 2013. It has had to make significant savings, but at each stage, it has done so only after huge discussion with our Ministry, and it does not dispute that it will continue to be able to fulfil its statutory functions to the highest possible standard.

Welfare Policies: Effect on Disabled People

9. What assessment the Government have made of the effect on equality for disabled people of its policies on welfare. (905992)

11. What assessment the Government have made of the effect on equality for disabled people of its policies on welfare. (905995)

Spending to support people with disabilities and health conditions will be higher in real terms in every year to 2020 than it was in 2010. The Government have set out their assessment of the impact of the welfare policies in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, and made similar assessments for previous changes.

The UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights recently called for the Government’s regressive cuts to social security to be reversed and for a comprehensive assessment of their impact on vulnerable women, children and disabled people. How would the Minister respond to these calls from the international community? Will she commit to raising these concerns with her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions so that these shameful cuts can be abandoned?

Spending on the main disability benefits rose by more than £3 billion in real terms during the course of the last Parliament, and overall spending on personal independence payments and disability living allowance will be higher this year in real terms than spending on DLA was in 2010. Our welfare reforms will ensure that the billions we spend better reflect today’s understanding of disability and offer targeted support to enable disabled people to live independent lives.

I welcome the Minister, a former colleague on the Education Select Committee, to her position. She will be aware of the Government’s long-promised Work and Health programme and of how disabled people are still awaiting publication of the Green Paper to map out what employment support will be made available for those with disabilities. Does she agree that her Government must now map out the timeline for publication and ensure that sufficient funding is made available for disabled people, who have borne the brunt of Tory austerity cuts?

I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome. I very much enjoyed our time together on the Select Committee. She is absolutely right that we will publish a Green Paper to engage with disability groups and disabled individuals in order to build a strategy that works for them. It is critical that we get more disabled people into work. I spent some time before the general election as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Minister for Disabled People, and I know how hard he worked to promote the Disability Confident campaign and to ensure good examples of companies we could champion for showing that employing disabled people was good not only for disabled people but for the economy and individual companies.

Topical Questions

I am delighted to stand at the Dispatch Box today as the Minister for Women and Equalities. I want the House to know that this Government are committed to tackling inequality wherever it exists, so that we can have a country that works for everyone. We want to see opportunity levelled up, and we should never accept the status quo in a society in which, for example, some of our girls are undergoing female genital mutilation, others suffer from forced marriage and homophobic bullying still takes place in our schools. Tackling inequality was a central part of my work at the Department for International Development. I shall bring all that passion and practicality to my role as Minister for Women and Equalities.

I welcome the new Secretary of State to her place. She will no doubt have heard the Prime Minister saying yesterday in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Blair Donaldson) that there is “always more to do” on the issue of violence against women. It is our view that the best way to achieve this is to ratify the Istanbul convention. Will the new Minister for Women and Equalities support the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), which commits the UK Government to doing more to protect women by ratifying that convention?

I shall certainly take on board the hon. Gentleman’s points. I have spent much of the last three and a half years pressing internationally for stronger action to combat violence against women and girls, including, in March this year, attending the UN Commission on the Status of Women with the then Minister for Women and Equalities. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight this issue; I shall get back to him with an updated Government position.

T3. I welcome the Ministry of Defence’s decision to allow women to fight on the frontline. Will the Minister explain what steps the Government will take to encourage women to take up these new posts? (906017)

As my hon. Friend points out, the recent decision enables women to serve in the Royal Marines, the Royal Armoured Corps and Infantry and the Royal Air Force Regiment, so they will be able to fill ground close combat roles. We are putting in place a range of activities, working through the Ministry of Defence, including improved community engagement and recruitment processes. There is a target for 15% of all recruitments to be female by 2020.

The Government took six long months to release their response to the Women and Equalities Committee report into transgender equality. LGBT campaigners have called the Government’s response

“lots of polite words signifying precisely nothing”.

Will the Minister explain why the Government rejected the Committee’s main recommendation that the protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010 regarding trans people should be changed to “gender identity”?

I do reject that. The response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee took representations from more than 12 different Government Departments and public bodies. It was an entirely comprehensive piece of work, and a very large number of the recommendations were accepted and are being followed up, not least the commitment to look again at the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which trans people tell me is disturbing, long winded and in much need of reform. This Department takes its commitment to trans people very seriously.

T5. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the organisers of the Essex women’s business experience 2016, a networking event in Southend? Will her Department do all it can to help and encourage women to set up their own businesses? (906019)

I am delighted to hear about the success of the Essex women’s business experience 2016, which I am told offered a range of workshops and networking opportunities to help inspire female entrepreneurs. The UK has been ranked as the best place in Europe for female entrepreneurs, and the Government are working hard to support them, not least through the £2.2 million women in broadband package to help support women to gain the skills and confidence they need to start their own businesses.

T2. I, too, welcome the Minister for Women and Equalities to her place. A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies published just this week detailed that by 2014-15, two thirds of children classified as living below the poverty line were from families in which at least one parent was in work. Does the Minister agree that the Government should commit to abandoning the cuts to work allowances that will see low to middle-income families that are already struggling to keep their heads above water struggle even further, and focus on lifting the income of these working households to alleviate child poverty? (906016)

One of the most important things to have happened under this and, indeed, the last Government is a dramatic fall in unemployment. Ultimately, as I know from my own childhood experience—my dad was unemployed for a year—the main thing that we can do to combat poverty is create jobs, but the hon. Lady is right to say that we now want to go beyond that, and enable people to do better in work. That is not only the right thing to do for them to improve their own household circumstances, but the smart thing to do to drive productivity in our economy.

T6. Careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the engineering sector in particular, fail to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and also women. We must challenge those perceptions and stereotypes to deal with that problem, and with our productivity crisis. In September, I will host Wiltshire’s first engineering festival. Will the Secretary of State join me there? (906021)

The festival sounds like a great initiative. I should be delighted if my hon. Friend would send me some details, and I will see if I can possibly come along to it.

The good news is that there were 13,000 more entries by girls to maths and science A-levels in 2015 than there were in 2010. However, we need to do more to challenge the perceptions about engineers, and about STEM careers, that too often put girls off studying those subjects.

T4. A number of organisations have conveyed disappointment at the Government’s response to the findings of the transgender inquiry conducted by the Women and Equalities Committee. Stonewall has questioned the Government’s insistence on further evidence, believing that they have sufficient evidence to take proper action. Does the Minister accept the assessment that this has been a lost opportunity to ensure that all trans and non-binary people are clearly protected in law, and will she commit herself to working with them and others to achieve true equality for all trans people? (906018)

Again, I rebut the allegations that this has been a missed opportunity, given that we have taken on board so many of the Committee’s recommendations. The inquiry was a ground-breaking piece of work which has encouraged at least 12 Government organisations to look again at what they do, and to make some very strong and firm commitments to the transgender population to demonstrate that we support them and are paying attention to their needs.

The Minister for Women and Equalities said a moment ago that she and the Government were committed to stamping out inequality wherever it happened. One of the starkest areas of inequality is sentencing: in every single category of offence, a man is more likely to be sent to prison than a woman. For example, 33% of men but only 15% of women convicted of child cruelty and neglect were sent to prison. Will the Minister write to the chairman of the Sentencing Council instructing him to treat women and men in the same way when they come before the courts?

As my hon. Friend knows, the judiciary are entirely independent of the Government, and rightly so. There are no gender preferences in sentencing guidelines; every sentence is handed down on the basis of the offence committed and any mitigating factors. As my hon. Friend also knows, although women who are convicted of the offence that he identified are less likely to go to prison, the sentences that they receive when they are sent to prison are longer than those given to their male counterparts.

T7. We learnt this week that the Government had downgraded the pensions portfolio from Minister of State to Under-Secretary of State. Vast inequalities are facing women such as the members of the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, and will face future pensioners following the change in the state pension. Is it not simply shameful that a Minister of State has not been appointed to deal with not just those inequalities, but the uncertainty that retirees will face following the vote to leave the European Union? (906023)

The Department for Work and Pensions takes its responsibilities for these issues extremely seriously, and it has, in fact, been strengthened by having an additional “half a Minister”. I think it trivial to focus on a job title when what we are seeking to do is give qualified, competent and determined people the right roles.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on her appointment. One of the key decisions that she will have to make very quickly relates to the close of the two-year period of discussion of caste discrimination. I have already written to her, but will she undertake to meet me and a delegation from the Hindu community who are determined to see that illogical discrimination removed from the statute book?

I should be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I will locate his letter at the Department, and read it very carefully.

School Funding

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education if she will make a statement on school funding.

I am firmly committed to introducing fairer funding for schools, high needs and early years. This is an important reform, to fairly and transparently allocate funding on the basis of schools’ and children’s actual needs.

As the written statement I have laid today sets out, this Government are investing record levels of funding for schools. With that investment, fairer funding will set a common foundation that will enable schools to maximise the potential of every child. They will no longer be held back by a funding system that is now arbitrary, out of date and unfair. Fairer funding will provide a crucial underpinning for the education system to act as a motor for social mobility and social justice.

The first stage consultations on national funding formulae for schools and high needs have been met with an overwhelmingly positive response from headteachers, teachers, governors and parents. I am also clear that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a historic change and therefore we must make sure we take the time to get the final approach right. I will therefore publish the Government’s full response to the first stage of the schools and high needs consultations, and set out my proposals for the second stage, once Parliament returns in the autumn. We will run a full consultation, and make final decisions early in the new year. Given the importance of consulting widely and fully with the sector and getting implementation right, the new system will apply from 2018-19. I will set out our full plans for a national funding formula for early years shortly.

I do understand that local authorities need sufficient information to begin planning their funding arrangements for 2017 to 2018. Local authorities need time to consult with local schools—both academies and maintained—to ensure that the funding they provide is being directed appropriately. As well as a fair system, schools and local authorities need stability and early notice of any changes in order to fulfil this important duty properly.

I have therefore confirmed today in my written statement that no local authority will see a reduction from their 2016-17 funding for schools or for high needs next year. Final allocations for that will follow in December on the basis of the latest pupil numbers, as usual. My written statement also confirms that for 2017-18 we will retain the minimum funding guarantee for schools, so that no school can face a funding reduction of more than 1.5% per pupil next year. As my written statement today confirms, I am determined to ensure both that we move to a fair funding system and that we do so in a measured and properly consultative fashion.

This will be a crucial part of delivering an education system that works for every child, no matter their background.

The key point, as the Secretary of State has spotted, is that local authorities need to have time to prepare, and so too do schools. So the essential question is: can the Government really meet this timetable as set out, because that is the desire of all schools, particularly in England obviously, and it is of interest to every single Member of Parliament in England? I ask the Secretary of State to confirm when she really does expect this programme to be fulfilled, and how she is going to be sure that the next consultation period does not take quite as long as the previous one, because that took some three months to complete, and we still do not know where we are. Those are the key questions.

My hon. Friend is right that we want to strike a balance between moving rapidly towards a fairer funding formula while at the same time making sure we do so in a way that allows time not only for the details of that formula to be debated, because they will have a big impact on how it works effectively, but for local authorities, and indeed schools, to understand the changes and then prepare. That is the balance that I have tried to strike today.

I also want to act responsibly by ensuring that we do not rush into making changes without being fully sighted of their ramifications. I know that the debates in Parliament on the fair funding formula have resulted in long-standing frustration, and I am committed to resolving that, but I want to be sure that we do this effectively so that we do not have to revisit it because we have not got it right the first time.

This Government’s attitude to school funding is woeful. Talk about last minute! Schools are struggling to cope with a 5% funding shortfall as a result of the Chancellor’s decision to increase national insurance and teachers’ pension contributions. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that pupil numbers are rising and that the shortage of teachers is growing? Will she put money into helping schools in the new formula? Only this Government could have the audacity to deliver real-terms cuts to school budgets across the country and claim that it represented fair funding. Will the Secretary of State publish in the Library of the House the amount that each local authority has received under the existing funding formula and the amount that it will receive following today’s announcement?

The hon. Lady has asked a range of questions. In summary, I have made it clear in my written statement today that no authority will lose funding either for schools or for high needs. This will enable us to give authorities a firm foundation on which to start planning for next year. The reality is that we have seen funding for schools and across education rising. This has been one of the areas that this Government and the coalition Government have sought to protect, and that has been evidenced in the results. We now have 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools, and we want that progress to continue.

Schools in Staffordshire are among the lowest funded in the country, and that is a matter of great concern for the headteachers I met last week. We understood that we were moving to a fairer funding formula from 2017-18, but it now seems that it will happen a year later. Will the Secretary of State make it absolutely clear that there could be transitional funding for 2017-18 for those authorities that are in a desperate position, as Staffordshire is?

I recognise the pressures that my hon. Friend has just set out. This now gives us time to look at how we can deal effectively with those issues. We should also recognise that, while some schools are disadvantaged by the current formula, there will also be changes for schools under the new formula, and this gives us a chance to work effectively with them to ensure that there is a sensible and measured transition from the historical approach to the fairer, sensible approach that we are introducing.

Prior to the Secretary of State’s appointment, the noises coming out of the Department for Education suggested that London schools, in particular, would be seriously hit by the changes to the funding formula. Schools in Harrow have been advised that they will face a real-terms budget cut of between 3% and 8% as a result of the changes that her Department is considering. Can she offer any reassurance to the headteachers and parents in my constituency that that will not be the case?

I have set out the details in my statement today of how we are going to proceed. As the hon. Gentleman says, some schools will see a change in the funding they receive as a result of our evening up the system and making it fairer, and these are important changes. It is therefore right that we should give ourselves the time to ensure that we can be effective in helping schools to deal with the changes well through a steady transition.

Given the optimism that schools in Chippenham felt on hearing the announcement of a fairer funding formula to rectify the ludicrous situation in which Wiltshire pupils receive over £2,000 less than pupils in other areas, will the Secretary of State confirm her commitment to the people of Wiltshire, including the 8,000 who signed my fairer funding petition?

I can indeed; we are going to get on with this funding formula. To tie my hon. Friend’s point together with that of the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), we now have a school funding system and a funding formula, but we also introduced the pupil premium, so we have additional mechanisms to ensure that the funding follows disadvantaged pupils with additional needs. We are now trying to get a system in place that is sensible about the core funding that schools receive and not based on frankly very old data. At the same time, the system should take account of the fact that we are able to top up through the pupil premium and other funding mechanisms when we particularly want to tackle disadvantage.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, behind the warm words of fairer funding, school funding is still set to be cut by some 8% by 2020, as confirmed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and that is coming at the same time as we see the threat of falling teacher numbers? Over a third of the children in this country currently leave school without five good GCSEs. Will she also confirm whether my local authority in Hounslow will see a funding cut? When will it know?

I have been clear that no local authority will see a reduction in funding for 2017-18. My announcement today was clear that we will ensure that we have the time to bring in the fair funding formula effectively. The hon. Lady should not forget that, as I have set out, the introduction of the pupil premium means that we now have an additional £2.5 billion that will be specifically targeted to ensure that disadvantaged children get an additional top-up so that their schools can provide additional support.

I am delighted by the Secretary of State’s commitment to fair funding, which we clearly must get right, but I urge her to look urgently at transitional arrangements for counties such as West Sussex, which so desperately needs funding.

My hon. Friend makes his point clearly. I assure him that we will look at a sensible approach for the transition period of 2017-18.

As a former Select Committee colleague, I am delighted to see the Secretary of State in her new place and congratulate her. I urge her not to follow the example of her two predecessors; she should build a strong relationship with headteachers and teachers.

Will the Secretary of State make it absolutely clear that the pupil premium, which is hugely important for targeting funding at the most disadvantaged, will be protected in real terms when the changes are actually made?

I remember my time on the Work and Pensions Committee with the hon. Gentleman with real fondness; I very much enjoyed it and learned a lot over those years. He mentions headteachers and teachers, and one of the first things that I did upon coming into this role was to pick up the phone and call the teaching unions to introduce myself and to set up initial meetings. I saw them briefly yesterday and I hope that I can have a constructive, productive relationship. The most important people who helped me to get educated were my teachers, to whom I will be eternally grateful. It is important that that is recognised.

On the pupil premium, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the funding rates are protected for the entire spending review period at 2015-16 rates.

Like me, my right hon. Friend was educated in a comprehensive school in Rotherham, so I warmly welcome her to her new role. While we can adjust the school funding formula in the short term, does she agree that the only way to increase school resources in the long term is to have a strong and growing economy?

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. I am proud that both of us went through the state school system in Rotherham. I hope to be able to go back up there in the coming weeks and months to revisit some of the schools that enabled me to have the education that gave me a platform to try to reach some of the goals that I set myself. As he says, a strong economy is vital for ensuring not only that we have the funding to invest in our education system, but that the children coming through our state school system have the opportunities to stretch themselves and to get the dignity of work.

I have written to the Secretary of State today and she will be receiving a letter shortly, so I hope that she will keep an eye out for it over the coming days.

Under the formula proposed by f40—the campaign for so-called fairer funding in schools—schools in north-east Lincolnshire suffer a £2.1 million cut, equivalent to over £100 per pupil a year. Does the Secretary of State agree that any formula that takes resources away from my constituency, in which no secondary school is currently rated outstanding, cannot be described as fair?

I agree with the hon. Lady that, over time, the current formula had simply become out of date. It was based on statistics that needed to be updated but, in essence, could not be, so it was time to take a fresh look at how we could make it fair. Her second point about focusing our efforts on the remaining parts of the UK where our education system is simply not delivering for our children is vital, and I do plan to focus on this.

My constituency contains significant areas of deprivation where there is underperformance, particularly among white working-class boys. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that nothing in this formula will have an adverse impact on the urban and deprived areas in my constituency?

I have set out how local authorities, including my hon. Friend’s, will not be seeing a reduction in funding for 2017-18. Targeting the parts of our country where children are just not getting the start they deserve and need in order to do well in life will be central to my efforts, alongside making sure that we continue to lift outcomes for children overall across the rest of the country.

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State to her post and the other new Minister, the skills Minister, as well as some of the old team. I chair the advisory council of the Sutton Trust, and we look forward to working positively and creatively with the Secretary of State. May I remind her that England is a vast society that is changing all the time? Other Governments, including Labour Governments, have not cracked the problem of getting the funding to the right places at the right time, so will she consider having an independent group, even a commission, to look at this, year on year, month on month, so that we get it right? That is just a germ of an idea, but will she consider it, because we all get this wrong at some stage?

I make two points in response to the hon. Gentleman’s important point. First, we have to make sure that although we set policy at the Whitehall level, we understand how best to ensure it can have the impact we seek at the individual child level. That is not always easy. We can learn from examples such as city deals, where local areas have taken ownership of physical infrastructure to make sure that there is a common plan that the Government nationally are investing in alongside a local plan. His point is a really strong one.

Secondly, I want my Department to be a central engine for social mobility more broadly. We need to challenge ourselves across government, and the Department for Education has a key role to play in this in saying that not only do we want children to be coming out of our schools better educated, but we want to make sure that the jobs and careers are there for them to be able to make the most of their potential. In the end, a country’s most important asset is its people, which is why I am so delighted I am in the job I am in.

May I highlight to my right hon. Friend that Kettering has 8,879 primary places, rising to 9,677 by 2021, and 6,700 secondary places, rising to 7,637 by 2021? The county council says that all places will be full by the 2017-18 academic year. Will she ensure that when she looks at the issue of fairer funding, counties such as Northamptonshire and places such as Kettering, which have some of the fastest rates of house building in the whole country, get the funding they need to make sure we have enough school places for our children?

My hon. Friend raises the important issue that alongside many of the reforms we have introduced, a demographic shift is taking place which means we simply need to scale up our education system to keep pace with the number of children who need it. We have created 600,000 school places, but we need to do more. I assure him that the funding formula statement that I am setting out today means we are in a better position going forward as we introduce it to make sure fair funding follows the child, including in Kettering.

I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment, and she is absolutely right not to rush this, because getting the new formula wrong would be a disaster. The previous Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), offered at the Select Committee to meet me and my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who is in his place, to discuss the case for a rapid pupil turnover factor in the new formula. Will she confirm that that offer still stands and let us know which member of her team that meeting should now be with?

That offer does still stand. I will get back to the right hon. Gentleman when we have worked out which Minister will attend the meeting.

Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), more and more parents in many parts of my constituency are finding it difficult to get their child into the school of their choice. Just to give one example, there is a desperate need for more secondary school places in Wharfedale in my constituency. May I ask the Secretary of State, whom I very warmly welcome to her new role, to look at the need for school places in the Shipley constituency and ensure that my parents can get their children into the school of their choice, because at the moment, for many of them, that is a distant dream?

Again, this is an incredibly fundamental and important issue. I simply assure my hon. Friend that I am well aware of the need to ensure that, alongside all the other changes that are rippling through the education system, we have enough places for the children of our country, that we have enough teachers who can be in those classrooms teaching them, and that those teachers are outstanding and excellent and able to excite children in the classroom, help them learn and give them that best start in life.

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to her place. I am sure that she is looking forward to her appearances before the Education Committee, probably starting in the autumn.

Fairer funding inherently means a process of redistribution, and many schools, heads and governors whose budgets are already at the margins and who are possibly looking forward to a 1.5% per pupil cut will be looking at that with real trepidation, particularly if they are already in receipt of tight budgets. There is a great deal of social need in an awful lot of schools in constituencies such as mine. It is mainly a shire county appeal that has come from the f40, and an awful lot of schools in the inner cities are wondering whether they will be on the receiving end of a cut.

I recognise what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I underline the rationale behind why we introduced the pupil premium in the first place, which was to address many of the points that he has made. His comments underline why I am setting out this statement today. It is a substantial change in funding for all schools and therefore, ultimately, we need to get it right.

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to her role, and welcome the inclusion of skills in her brief, as it has been too far from the centre of education policy recently.

Following on from the question of my fellow Hounslow colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), will implementation of fairer funding in Hounslow mean even greater cuts from 2018? Will the Secretary of State reassure the heads that we met a couple of weeks ago, as they are already having to make cuts to things such as A-level options, support for children with special needs, mental health counselling and support and so on?

As I set out in my statement today, we will be launching a consultation on the detail of how we plan to introduce the funding formula. That will give both the hon. Lady and her local schools and teachers ample opportunity to be able to feed in their local perspective.

Representing as I do a cross-borough constituency, I know the unfairness of the current system. It cannot be fair that a child from Reddish in Stockport receives less funding than a child from Denton in Tameside—areas that share the same socio-economic characteristics, but are in different local authorities. Will the Secretary of State’s new fairer funding formula ensure that those children in Reddish are not disadvantaged just because they are in a more prosperous borough overall, and that their funding will be matched to those of the children in Denton?

I think that I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that the funding formula will start to iron out those sorts of inequities. Once we launch the second phase consultation, he will be interested to see the criteria and characteristics that we will incorporate to help ensure that we have a fairer approach on funding for schools in the future than we have had in the past. I will also set out for him the architecture of what we are trying to achieve. If we want to overlay significant additional resources in relation to deprivation, we want to do it in a smarter way and we want to use things such as the pupil premium to do it effectively. We recognise that we also need to have an element of understanding about the attainment, the eligibility for free school meals and other characteristics in the core funding formula too.

Business of the House

The business for the week commencing 5 September will include:

Monday 5 September—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 6 September—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 7 September—Opposition day (7th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 8 September—A debate on a motion on scamming and its effect on vulnerable individuals, followed by a debate on a motion on the fourth industrial revolution. Both subjects were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 9 September—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 12 September will include:

Monday 12 September—Remaining stages of the Wales Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 5, 8 and 12 September will be:

Monday 5 September—A debate on an e-petition relating to EU referendum rules.

Thursday 8 September—A debate on the missing Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria.

Monday 12 September—A debate on an e-petition relating to South Korea and the dog meat trade.

As this is the last business questions before the summer recess, may I not only wish colleagues in all parts of the House a restful recess and plenty of scope for constituency duties, but thank in particular the hard-working staff of this House, who serve Members of all political parties professionally and with dedication? I thank especially those who are retiring or otherwise leaving the service of the House at this recess. I hope I speak for Members on all sides when I say that Members in particular want to say a big thank you to Noeleen Delaney, one of the stalwarts of the Tea Room staff, who is retiring from the House of Commons after 30 years of service here. That is a record of service for which we are all very grateful.

It is a great pleasure to echo the words of the Leader of the House, particularly concerning Noeleen Delaney, who we all know as a valued friend, adviser and comforter over many, many years, and all the other members of staff who serve us so faithfully. After the recent days, we might consider accelerating progress on making this place a habitable accommodation for staff, many of whom have suffered severely in the recent heat, and perhaps we are thinking of following your example, Mr Speaker, of having less formal dress, which members of staff are forced to wear and which must be very uncomfortable at this time of the year.

It is right to note that we have lost the previous Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), now the Secretary of State for Transport. I regard it as a bit of a challenge—I have to pay tribute to his services, which were considerable over his period as Leader of the House. All these bouts of Question Time between Leader of the House and shadow Leader of the House have their own personality. We remember with fondness the number of questions that the previous Leader of the House answered; his answers were occasionally related to the questions asked. What we will miss is the rapier-like wit of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), striking against the steamroller solidity of the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell.

It is, however, an undiluted pleasure to welcome the present Leader of the House, but I fear, as a long admirer of his, that his political career might not be on an upward trajectory in this appointment, because his career has been blighted by his solid devotion to the three R’s—rationality, restraint and reasonableness—which are not attributes that go well in his party at the moment. He was a splendid spokesman on European affairs, and the voice of sanity on so many issues, and I am sure that we look forward to his continuing with his restrained and mature performances at Question Time.

The right hon. Gentleman is also, I am told by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), the supreme champion on the television programme “University Challenge”. Not only did he win splendidly in his own time, but when he came back for a challenge of challenges, he was the supreme winner. It is great to know that he is doing this job from the platform of his own scholarship and knowledge. I believe that it is going to be a vintage year and a vintage period for a leadership of the House.

We have the Welsh Bill returning. It is a great shame that we did not get it right the first time. Welsh Bills are not just for St David’s day; they are for eternity, and we keep having them, and oh that we had got it right the first time. I am afraid that when the first Welsh Bill was introduced in the ’90s, the attitude of this House to devolution reflected the fact that it was not then a popular cause; but although it is now universally accepted, devolution to Wales is still seen as a grudging gift—it is doled out in small parcels, a little bit at a time, and some is then pulled back. I hope that the generosity of the Government, in seemingly becoming completely converted to the idea of devolution, will be expressed in this Bill, with the support of all parties, and will help to serve the wellbeing of the people of Wales.

Baroness Altmann made a contribution this morning about her resignation, and I believe that all parties in the House should listen carefully to what she said. She gave as her reason for retiring that the parties—her party, which is the Conservative party, but this is also true of the Labour party—pay too much attention to their internal divisions, to the detriment of policy making. That is a very penetrating criticism of both the Conservative and the Labour party, which we would all do well to heed.

As we look forward to the new Session of Parliament, we should bear in mind the dreadful event that still casts a terrible shadow over this place. The family of Parliament was bereaved by the cowardly, brutal murder of one of our family members, Jo Cox, and the grief is still raw. We could do no better than ensure that our work here is illuminated and inspired by her thought: there are more things that unite us than divide us.

I thank the shadow Leader of the House. The Leader of the House is indeed perhaps our most illustrious egghead.

Mr Speaker, I am not sure how I respond to that compliment. I have felt, as a student of Elizabethan history, that the last three or four weeks have been the closest thing to living through one of the crises of the 16th-century Tudor court that any of us is likely to experience, and I suspect that events in British politics this year will have given Hilary Mantel ample material for her next trilogy.

I thank the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) for his warm welcome to me and for the deserved tribute that he paid to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who indeed did act as a champion of the House, not just in the Chamber, but in the many exchanges behind the scenes that fall to the Leader of the House. I, I hope on behalf of the House, wish him well in his new responsibilities.

Listening to the shadow Leader of the House, I felt that the three R’s he laid out before us—reasonableness, rationality and restraint—summed up our Prime Minister’s approach to Government and to politics. In fact he may have presented us with a motto for my right hon. Friend’s Administration and approach to Government.

The shadow Leader of the House is a man of undimmed ambition who has leapfrogged on to the Opposition Front Bench after so many years of parliamentary experience, and for whom two shadow Cabinet roles are just a bagatelle—something with which he can easily cope. I think his ambition should not be restrained, even now. I have been studying his remarks and I note that he said of the Leader of the Opposition that it is very difficult to see how he can unite the Labour party, and he said:

“We’re in the worst position we’ve been in the whole history of the…party”.

I think there is an embryonic leadership campaign there. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to disregard any taunts and to throw his hat into the ring while there is still time.

On the serious point that the hon. Gentleman made about the legacy of Jo Cox, the security risks that Members face need to be considered very carefully and action needs to be taken. Without going into details on the Floor of the House, I can say that there has been agreement among members of the House of Commons Commission that new measures should be taken. We will be able to go into further details very soon after the House returns in September.

Finally, I hope that Members of every political party would look to Jo Cox and see someone—whether we agreed or disagreed with her on a particular issue—who was motivated above all by a drive to improve the lot of the people whom she served in her constituency, nationally and globally. In that sense, I think there could be few finer examples for us to follow.

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his deserved promotion to the position of Leader of the House. May we have an early debate about the troubles of Southern rail, which are causing significant problems not only for commuters south of London, but for my constituents coming in from Leighton Buzzard? Does he agree that the way to relieve the problems of commuters south of London is not to wreck the rail service north of London, but to pay attention to what needs to be done south of the river?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and the new Rail Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), have already met the operators responsible for Southern train services and Network Rail. They have emphasised the need for the operators to work with the trade unions to try to find a rapid and full solution to the current dispute, which is causing misery to many thousands of passengers every day. The Secretary of State is making the issue his personal priority and I hope very much that there will be a satisfactory resolution soon.

I thank the new Leader of the House for announcing the business for the week that we return after recess. I warmly welcome him to his new role. He comes with a huge reputation of working consensually across the House, and he is also known as one of the House’s truly nice guys. Scottish National party Members are investing a lot of faith in him and we have great ambitions that he will be a reforming Leader of the House.

May I gently suggest a couple of places where the new Leader of the House might want to start? First, get rid of English votes for English laws. It is absolutely loathed in every part of this House other than in the confines of the Conservative party. It is totally associated with his predecessor. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to unite the House again around one class of Member of Parliament. Do not divide us by nationality or geography. That should be his first task.

Secondly, what about the procedures of this House? Did you know, Mr Speaker, that we waste one day a week by just voting in this House? That is an absurd waste of time. Bring this House into the 21st century.

Next, I turn to the circus down the corridor. What always gets me is that all these Tory Brexit dudes go on about imaginary unelected European bureaucrats, but down the corridor there are actual unelected Lords. Come on, new Leader of the House; let us make some progress towards abolishing them.

You will have noticed, Mr Speaker, all the small children with Scottish accents who have been kicking around the House recently. That is because the Scottish schools have been on holiday for almost three weeks. The Leader of the House saw an example of this recently, when he had to come to the Scottish Affairs Committee. He spent an hour in the charming company of Rebecca and Harris, the lovely children of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), because she had nowhere else to put them.

We are in recess for almost three months of the year. Surely, it is not beyond the wit of a member of staff in the office of the Leader of the House to design the summer recess to accommodate all the school holidays of the United Kingdom, not just the Scottish ones. My hon. Friends had to leave their children at 10 o’clock on Monday evening so that they could vote against the evil weapons of mass destruction, bringing to life our slogan, “Bairns not bombs”. Something has to be done about that.

Lastly, Mr Speaker, may I wish you and all the staff a fantastic recess? I pay tribute to Noeleen Delaney, who has served us all with such professionalism over, I believe, the past 30 years. I also say, “Have a happy civil war” to my friends in the Labour party over the summer. I do not know what we will be returning to—whether it will be just one Labour party, or whether a social democratic and Blairite party will emerge—but all I can say is that we will be back as the real and effective Opposition come September.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of welcome, and I look forward to working with him and with members of his party in my new capacity. On English votes for English laws, as I said when I gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee earlier this week, the Government review promised by my predecessor will start 12 months after the introduction of the EVEL procedures. The Select Committee on Procedure has also said that it is undertaking a review of these arrangements. I think the sensible thing is to see how the new EVEL arrangements go for the first year, take stock of what the Government and the Procedure Committee conclude, and come to a decision at that point.

On the hon. Gentleman’s question about voting procedures, although I can understand the point that he is making—for those of us who went through the Aye Lobby on Monday, it took a lot longer than it would have done to go through the No Lobby with him—there are advantages, as well as drawbacks, to our current arrangements. I would not lightly want to lose the opportunity for Back-Bench Members from all parts of the House to grab hold of Ministers, at a time when no civil servants are present, to make representations on behalf of their constituents. Having looked at voting procedures in the European Parliament and elsewhere, I do not think that they are perfect either. I was told earlier this morning that in the New Zealand Parliament, the Government Chief Whip can cast a vote recording the votes of his entire parliamentary party. I suspect that such simplification would not command widespread support, although it might appeal to those who are sitting to my right.

On recess dates, I undertake to have another look at the matter. I understand the problems that the current arrangements cause for colleagues from Scotland and Northern Ireland, but even now it is not the case that our current recess arrangements suit parents with children at schools in different local authorities in various parts of England. I think it will be very difficult ever to craft a system of recess dates that gives everybody everything that they would like to see, but I will take a fresh look at that in view of what the hon. Gentleman has urged.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend, but will he resist the attempt by SNP Members to urge less EVEL? Many Conservative Members would like much more EVEL.

I echo the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) about Southern. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate in Government time about the appalling situation that my constituents and those of many other Members face because of the disruption on Southern? Will he urge our right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary to do everything he can to sort this out, and ensure that he is fully apprised of the real causes of the disruption at the moment? Although the causes include network failures, the principal one is what is in effect a work to rule driven by the rail unions, which are resisting perfectly sensible changes in the rail industry.

It is true that if the trade unions returned fully to work, that would ease the situation enormously to the benefit both of passengers using Southern services and, as our hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire pointed out, of passengers elsewhere whose services are being interrupted to try to give extra support to Southern. I undertake to contact the Transport Secretary and to make him aware of the points raised by my right hon. Friend. I hope that by the time we return in September, this dispute will be over and services will have been restored to an acceptable level so that we will not need to have such a debate. I am sure the Secretary of State will want to consider carefully the points my right hon. Friend has made.

Fear, pressure and unrealistic expectations are the words that workers at Sports Direct use about their employment. May we have a debate on zero-hours contracts and the exploitation of workers in the retail industry, where something is going badly wrong?

The management of Sports Direct have given evidence to one of our Select Committees, and its report will no doubt inform debate in the House in the future. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that this Government legislated to outlaw exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts. For all the protestations from Opposition Members, no such action was taken during the 13 years of Labour Government.

A terrible school bus accident happened at the Cotterstock crossroads in my constituency last Thursday. Thankfully, everybody has now been discharged from hospital. Will the Leader of the House send his best wishes to the parents, pupils and teachers of Prince William School and Oundle Primary School? Will he join me in calling on Northamptonshire County Council to review the situation at the crossroads? At the same time, will he thank our remarkable emergency services for all they did? May we have a debate on our return to congratulate them on their efforts?

I am sure my hon. Friend’s constituents will appreciate the tribute he has paid to his local emergency services. I certainly send my best wishes to the two schools concerned and to all who were caught up in the accident. It is obviously for the county council to decide whether it wishes to review the highways issues involved, but in view of what has happened, it would be sensible for any local authority to take a fresh look at such things. With regard to a debate, I am sure my hon. Friend is already skilled enough in how to seek Adjournment debates to raise constituency issues of this type.

Harold Wilson said that a week is a long time in politics, but with recent events in this place, it feels as though 10 minutes is a long time in politics. However, time is of the essence for the Backbench Business Committee. I welcome the Leader of the House to his place and thank him for confirming the business on 8 September. To be able to decide about Back-Bench debates on 15 September, if we are to be allocated time on that day, we will have to do so on Tuesday 6 September. Will he confirm that day through the usual channels—as soon as possible, please—so that we can do that on 6 September?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of welcome. I will certainly make sure that the Backbench Business Committee gets proper notice so that it is able to plan.

I am somewhat worried about the Europe Minister—sorry, the Leader of the House. Since his appointment to that role, he has had a rather nasty gash on his forehead. A nasty rumour has been going around that when he was appointed the Prime Minister said to him, “I have some good news, David. You will no longer be the Minister for Europe,” to which he replied, “That’s great; I won’t have to answer questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone),” but when she told him that instead he was going to be Leader of the House, he started banging his head against the wall. Will he confirm that that is not true? I warmly welcome him to his post.

I confirm that it is not true, and nor is the gash the product of a farewell visit to the European Scrutiny Committee. I am always overcome with joy in the company of my hon. Friend and our other hon. Friends whom he mentioned. Even where, as was the case over the issue of Europe, there are genuine principled differences between us, it is important that in this place we acknowledge that those differences are held honestly, honourably and on a principled basis. We should respect one another even when our views differ profoundly.

I join in the hymns of welcome to the new Leader of the House. When might we have a debate about the Government’s new life chances strategy and how it might help children of alcoholics? Like many other hon. Members I am the child of an alcoholic and grew up knowing what that particular hell is like. But I was lucky. Overall, children of alcoholics are three times more likely to contemplate suicide and to become alcoholics themselves. This issue is no longer marginal. It affects 2.5 million children in our country, which means that one in five children are the innocent victims of drink. We could not change things for our parents, but we can change things for our children. This Government could help, and we should debate how.

The right hon. Gentleman raises a very serious issue. Like many other Members, I suspect, I have come across some of the very serious problems he has described in my constituency casework. I undertake to let my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education know about the priority the right hon. Gentleman places on the subject and I am sure he will get a response from the Department.