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Prime Minister

Volume 614: debated on Wednesday 14 September 2016

Let me start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the former Member of Parliament for Witney, David Cameron. He has been a tremendous public servant both for his Witney constituency and the country as a whole, and under his leadership we saw the economy being stabilised, more people in work than ever before, and people on low incomes being taken out of paying tax altogether, and this Government will build on that legacy by extending opportunity to all parts of the country.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.

Last week, the Prime Minister could not tell us whether she was in favour of staying in the single market. As an Edinburgh MP, may I tell her how important the financial sector is to Scotland’s economy? Will she tell us whether she agrees with her Foreign Secretary that passporting for financial services is guaranteed to continue after the UK leaves the European Union?

I am not going to give the hon. Lady a different answer from the one I gave the House on many occasions last week, which is that this Government will be working to ensure the right deal for the United Kingdom in trade in goods and services. That includes listening to the concerns that the Scottish Government and the Governments in Northern Ireland and Wales might wish to raise with us. We will be fully engaged with the devolved Administrations. As I said last week, the best thing for the financial sector in Edinburgh and for the economy of Scotland is to be part of the United Kingdom.

Q2. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the figures that show that unemployment in my constituency has halved since 2010 and, crucially, that youth unemployment has fallen by 12% in the last year alone? Will she promote the value of technical skills and of science and engineering in her push for all children to have a good education that enables them to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them? (906340)

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the very good employment figures that we have seen today. As he has said, unemployment in his constituency has halved since 2010. That is because we have had an economic plan and built a strong economy. He is absolutely right to say that as we look to provide opportunities for young people, we must ensure that we consider those for whom technical skills and a vocational education are the right route, because what we want is an education that is right for every child so that they can get as far as their talents will take them.

I am sure that the whole House will join me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) and Jane Kennedy, the police and crime commissioner for Merseyside, in paying tribute to the police constable who was stabbed several times yesterday in the line of duty while trying to arrest a rape suspect in Huyton. We all wish him well and a speedy recovery. I also wish the former Prime Minister well on his departure from this House and in his future life. I hope that the by-election in Witney will concentrate on the issues of education and on his views on selection in education.

I want to congratulate the Prime Minister. She has brought about unity between Ofsted and the teaching unions. She has united former Education Secretaries on both sides of the House. She has truly brought about a new era of unity in education thinking. I wonder if it is possible for her this morning, within the quiet confines of this House, to name any education experts who back her proposals on new grammar schools and more selection.

First, may I join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the police constable who was stabbed in Knowsley? One of the events that I used to look forward to going to every year as Home Secretary was the Police Bravery Awards, because at that event we saw police officers who never knew, when they started their shift, what was going to happen to them. They run towards danger when other people would run away from it, and we owe them a great tribute and our gratitude.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of education, because it enables me to point out that over the past six years we have seen 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools. That is because of the changes that this Government introduced: free schools and academies, head teachers being put in charge of schools, and more choice for parents. I note that the right hon. Gentleman has opposed all those changes. What I want to see is more good school places and a diversity of provision of education in this country so that we really see opportunity for all and young people going as far as their talents will take them.

I asked the Prime Minister whether she could name any experts who could help her with this policy. Sadly, she was not able to, so may I quote one expert at her? His name is John and he is a teacher. He wrote to me:

“The education system and teachers have made great strides forward to improve the quality and delivery of the curriculum. Why not fund all schools properly and let us do our job.”

The evidence of the effects of selection is this: in Kent, which has a grammar school system, 27% of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs compared with 45% in London. We are all for spreading good practice, but why does the Prime Minister want to expand a system that can only let children down?

The right hon. Gentleman needs to stop casting his mind back to the 1950s. We will ensure that we are able to provide good school places for the 1.25 million children in schools that are failing or inadequate or that need improvement. Those children and their parents know that they are not getting the education that is right for them and the opportunities that they need.

Let us consider the impact of grammar schools. If we look at the attainment of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children, we see that the attainment gap in grammar schools is virtually zero, which it is not in other schools. It is an opportunity for young people to go where their talents will take them. The right hon. Gentleman believes in equality of outcome; I believe in equality of opportunity. He believes in levelling down; we believe in levelling up.

Equality of opportunity is not segregating children at the age of 11. Let me quote the Institute for Fiscal Studies:

“those in selective areas who don’t get into grammar schools do worse than they would in a comprehensive system.”

The Secretary of State for Education suggested on Monday that new grammar schools may be required to set up feeder primary schools in poorer areas. Will the children in those feeder primaries get automatic places at grammar school or will they be subject to selection?

We are setting up a more diverse education system that provides more opportunities. The right hon. Gentleman appears to be defending the situation we have at the moment, where there is selection in our school system, but it is selection by house price. We want to ensure that children have the ability to go where their talents take them. I gently remind the right hon. Gentleman that he went to a grammar school and I went to a grammar school, and it is what got us to where we are today—but my side might be rather happier about that than his.

The two things that the Prime Minister and I have in common are that we can both remember the 1950s and can both remember going to a grammar school. My point is this: every child should have the best possible education. We do not need to and never should divide children at the age of 11—a life-changing division where the majority end up losing out.

I notice that the Prime Minister did not answer my question about feeder primary schools. The Secretary of State for Education said on Monday that the Government

“have not engaged much in the reform of grammars”—[Official Report, 12 September 2016; Vol. 614, c. 614.]

but that they would now start the process. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether existing grammars, such as those in Kent and Buckinghamshire, will now be instructed to widen their admissions policies?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that what we are looking at and consulting on is a diversity of provision in education. We want to make sure that all grammar schools actually do the job that we believe is important—providing opportunities for a wide range of pupils—and there are many examples across the country of different ways in which that is done through selective education. He talks about a good education for every child, and that is exactly what our policy is about. There are 1.25 million children today who are in schools that are not good or outstanding. There are parents today who fear that their children are not getting the good education that enables them to get on in life. I believe in the education that is right for every child. It is the Labour party that has stifled opportunity and stifled ambition in this country. Members of the Labour party will take the advantages of a good education for themselves and pull up the ladder behind them for other people.

I am sorry that the Prime Minister was unable to help anyone in Kent or Buckinghamshire in the answer to my question—presumably, she will have to return to it. This is not about pulling up ladders; it is about providing a ladder for every child. Let me quote to her what a critic of grammar schools said:

“There is a kind of hopelessness about the demand to ‘bring back’ grammars, an assumption that this country will only ever be able to offer a decent education to a select few.”

He goes on to say:

“I want the Conservative Party to rise above that attitude”.

Those are not my words, but those of the former right hon. Member for Witney. Is he not correct that what we need is investment in all of our schools and a good school for every child, not this selection at the age of 11?

What we need is a good school for every child, and that is precisely what we will be delivering with the policy that we have announced. With that policy, we will see: universities expanding their support for schools; more faith schools being set up; and independent schools increasing their support for schools in the state sector. A diversity of provision of education is what we need to ensure good school places for every child. That good school place is important so that young people can take opportunities and get into the workplace.

I notice that this is the right hon. Gentleman’s fifth question and he has not yet welcomed the employment figures today, which show more people in work than ever before; and wages rising above inflation. That is more people with a pay packet and more money in those pay packets. What would Labour offer? It would offer more taxation and misery for working families. It is only the Conservative party that knows you can build an economy that works for everyone only when everyone has an opportunity for work.

Of course I welcome anyone who has managed to get a job; I welcome those people who have managed to get jobs, and keep themselves and their families together. The problem is that there are now almost a million of them on zero-hours contracts who do not know what they are going to be paid from one week to the other.

In order to help the Prime Minister with the expertise on the reform of secondary schools, may I quote to her what Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, has said? He said quite simply this:

“The notion that the poor stand to benefit from the return of grammar schools strikes me as quite palpable tosh and nonsense”.

Is not all this proof that the Conservative party’s Green Paper addresses none of the actual crises facing our schools system: a real-terms cut in the schools budget; half a million pupils in supersize schools; a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention; a rising number of unqualified teachers in classrooms; and vital teaching assistants losing their jobs? Is this not a Government heading backwards, to a failed segregation for the few and second-class schooling for the many? Can we not do better than this?

The right hon. Gentleman has got some of his facts wrong—plain and simple. We have more teachers in our schools today than in 2010. We have more teachers joining the profession than leaving it. We have fewer pupils in supersize classes than there have been previously. I simply say this to him: he has opposed every measure that we have introduced to improve the quality of education in this country. He has opposed measures that increase parental choice, measures that increase the freedom of head teachers to run their schools, and the opportunity for people to set up free schools. Those are all changes that are leading to improvements in our education system, and we will build on them with our new policies.

I recognise that this may very well be the last time that the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity to face me across the Dispatch Box—certainly if his MPs have anything to do with it. I accept that he and I do not agree on everything—well, we probably do not agree on anything—but I must say that he has made his mark. Let us think of some of the things he has introduced. He wants coal mines without mining them, submarines without sailing them, and he wants to be Labour leader without leading them. One thing we know is that whoever is Labour leader after the leadership election, it will be the country that loses.

Order. May I just point out to the House that progress today at this Question Time session has been absurdly slow? I ask the House on behalf of our constituents to show some respect for those colleagues who want to question the Prime Minister, and I am determined to get down the list. I call Craig Williams.

Q3. Students from Cardiff schools and UK schools attended the recording of the British holocaust survivors giving their testimony for future generations. It was a deeply moving experience for them and a stark reminder to us to fight racism, anti-Semitism and hatred in all forms. As part of this vital education effort, of which I know my right hon. Friend is a great supporter, is the establishment of a national memorial to the holocaust. Will she update us now on the next stage? (906341)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right that we need to ensure that we never forget the horrors of the holocaust and the lessons that must be learned from that. It is right that we have agreed to this national memorial next to Parliament on Victoria Gardens, which is an important place for it to be. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will today launch an international competition for the design of that memorial. The design may include a learning centre, which will ensure that there will be opportunities for young people and others truly to learn the lessons from the holocaust and to learn about the appalling atrocities that took place.

Last week, the Prime Minister was unwilling or unable to give any assurances about remaining in the single European market. Today, she has been unwilling or unable to give any assurances to the financial sector about protecting the passporting of financial services. Meanwhile, millions of people from across the United Kingdom depend on freedom of movement across the EU for business and for pleasure. They face the prospect of having to apply and possibly pay for visas. Is the Prime Minister in favour of protecting visa-free travel—yes, or no?

There was a very clear message from the British people at the time of the referendum vote on 23 June that they wanted to see an end to free movement as it operated and control of the movement of people from the European Union into the UK, and that is what we will deliver.

The Prime Minister and the UK Government are totally unwilling to tell us the true cost of Brexit and what their negotiating position will be. In contrast, there is a different tune from the European Union. The new EU negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, has said:

“It’s wrong that Scotland might be taken out of the EU when it voted to stay.”

Does she agree with Mr Verhofstadt and the Scottish Government who want to protect Scotland’s place in Europe?

It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to ask that question, but only two years ago he did not want to protect Scotland’s place in the European Union, because he wanted Scotland to leave the UK. On all of those questions, whether it is on the referendum for leaving the European Union, the referendum on independence in Scotland, or those in this House, he seems to think that if he asks the question all the time, he will get a different answer. Well, it will not work for me and it will not work for the Scottish people.

Q4. Freedom of speech is a fundamental British value, which is undermined by so-called safe spaces in our universities, where a sense of righteous entitlement among a minority of students means that their wish not to be offended shuts down debate. As students around the country return to their places of learning at the start of this new academic year, does my right hon. Friend agree that university is precisely the place for lively debate, and that fear of being offended must not trump freedom of speech? (906342)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We want our universities not just to be places of learning, but to be places where there can be open debate which is challenged and people can get involved in that. I think everybody is finding this concept of safe spaces quite extraordinary. We want to see that innovation of thought taking place in our universities; that is how we develop as a country, as a society and as an economy, and I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.

Q5. Nine-year-old Mohammed is one of thousands of child refugees alone in Syria. His parents fled the country believing he was dead and have resettled in my constituency. In March, Mohammed was identified as being alive, but has since been kidnapped, badly beaten and left for dead, before being found again. He now lives in fear of daily attacks or sexual violence and assault. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me urgently to review the steps the Government could take to reunite Mohammed with his devastated family and provide him with the support required to overcome his ordeal? (906343)

Obviously, I am not as aware of the details of the individual case as the hon. Gentleman is. The Home Secretary has heard him, and if he would like to write to her with the details, I am sure this case will be looked at. Of course, there are rules that do enable family reunion to take place, and we as a country have committed to take a number of children who are particularly vulnerable—potentially vulnerable—to sexual violence from the region around Syria to ensure that we can resettle them in the UK and take them out of that fear that they are experiencing. But my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will look at the case if he cares to write to her.

Q8. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give that, whatever criteria come to guide our immigration system, it will be fairer than the present system—it will no longer discriminate against peoples from outside the EU, as the present system does? (906346)

As I mentioned earlier in response to a question, one aspect of the vote on 23 June was that people want us to control movement from the European Union into the UK, and, of course, we are already able to control movement from outside the European Union into the United Kingdom. The details of the system we will introduce for EU citizens are currently being worked on, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we will have the ability to control movement from the EU and movement from outside the EU, and therefore bring that greater degree of fairness that I think people were looking for.

Q6. How can the Prime Minister try to justify reducing the House of Commons to 600 Members, while the House of Lords now has 820 Members and, certainly by 2020, will have even more? Is this her idea of democracy in the 21st century? (906344)

Of course, the House of Commons voted for that reduction in the number of Members of Parliament—I think people wanted to see that. I would gently remind him that, when he refers to the House of Lords and changes in the House of Lords, it is actually this Government who have introduced the retirement procedures for the House of Lords that have seen a reduction in the number of Members of the House of Lords.

Q9. The NHS “Five Year Forward View” states that, in future, we will see more care delivered locally. Does the Prime Minister think that, in line with that, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough clinical commissioning group ought to consider the importance of local care when assessing the future of the Princess of Wales minor injuries unit in Ely? (906347)

My hon. Friend is right: the five-year plan does include that proposal for more local input in care at a local level. It is absolutely right that in looking at, for example, the future of minor injuries units, local people are considered and local concerns taken into account. I understand that there is due to be a meeting in Ely later this month to consider this. I hope that she and her constituents will be able to make their views known at that meeting.

Q7. Tomorrow I will be helping to launch a programme at the engineering company ADI Group in my constituency to boost the interest of 14 to 16-year-olds in engineering skills. No doubt the Prime Minister would like to join me in congratulating ADI Group, but will she take it from me that her words of congratulation would mean rather more if they were not accompanied by cuts of between 30% and 50% in apprenticeships funding—a programme that the Institute of the Motor Industry has described as a “car crash”? (906345)

I am of course happy to commend the company that the hon. Gentleman has referred to. Of course, the west midlands is an important driver in terms of engineering skills in this country. But I simply do not recognise the situation that he has set out in relation to apprenticeships. We have seen 2 million apprenticeships created over the last six years, and we are committed as a Government to seeing more apprenticeships being created. That is giving young people, like the young people I met when I went to Jaguar Land Rover, opportunities to learn a skill to get into a job, to get into the workplace, and to get on where their talents will take them.

Q10. Does the Prime Minister agree that the life chances of many children, particularly those in our poorest areas, are limited through living in chaotic and unstable households? Will she kindly look at the report recently produced by the all-party parliamentary group on children’s centres, which recommends family hubs in local communities and other solutions to this issue, with a view to considering this further? (906348)

I commend my hon. Friend for the work that she is doing in the all-party parliamentary group. The stable family background that young people are brought up in is obviously important, and she has been a champion for families and for family life. I have set up a policy group led by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman). I will ask him to look very carefully at the report that has come out of the all-party parliamentary group to see what we can take from it.

Q11. On Monday, the parliamentary advisory group on carbon capture and storage published a report about the potential of CCS to create thousands of jobs, save the country billions of pounds, and play a major role in meeting the UK’s emission reduction targets. CCS is critical to Teesside, so will the Prime Minister tell the House when the Government will publish their long-awaited new strategy? (906349)

The issues of climate change, reducing emissions, and our energy policy are very important to this Government. We have a fine record in this area, and we will be continuing with that. The issue of carbon capture and storage has been looked at carefully in the past. One of the key issues is the cost. We will continue to invest in the development of CCS. We are investing over £130 million to develop the technology, through innovation support, with the aim of reducing its costs, and so we will continue to look at the role that it can play.

Q13. As a governor at Nevill Road Infant School in Bramhall, I know that schools have to make the best use of their resources. I was therefore shocked to learn that schools in the north-west are charged £27 million for their water. Does the Prime Minister agree that schools are important community hubs? Will the Government make representations to Ofwat to change the banding guidance so that schools are considered to be community assets rather than classified in the same way as big business? (906351)

I commend my hon. Friend and others in this House who play a role as school governors—a very important role. She is right that schools need to think carefully about how they are using their resources. The approach taken by water companies does vary. However, we are looking at the guidance to water companies in relation to how they can deal with schools and whether they could be looking at using more concessionary rates for schools.

Q12. The Prime Minister may be aware of last week’s BBC “Spotlight” programme on serious allegations of corruption and fraud around the National Asset Management Agency’s sale of properties in Northern Ireland. Will she confirm which agencies will be investigating them, whether the National Crime Agency will be involved, and whether a report will be published in due course? (906350)

On the specific issue raised by the hon. Gentleman, I will come back to him on the details. As he knows, the National Crime Agency operates in Northern Ireland on a slightly different basis from that on which it operates elsewhere across the United Kingdom. Where issues are being looked into, it will be necessary to ensure that the appropriate skills and capabilities are brought to bear. If I may, I will write to him with a detailed answer to his question.

Will the Prime Minister give her full and enthusiastic support to President Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci as they reach a crucial stage of their negotiations, which we hope will deliver a negotiated settlement for a free and united Cyprus?

I am happy to join my right hon. Friend in doing that. It is important. I think that everybody across this House will wish those talks well and hope that they will have a successful conclusion.

Q14. It has been two years since the Prime Minister set up the child abuse inquiry, which is now on to its fourth chair, and last week the outgoing chair said that it had become inherently unmanageable. Given that the Prime Minister appointed Dame Lowell Goddard to her position, will she insist that she come before this House to explain herself? Surely child abuse survivors deserve an explanation. (906352)

On the process point, it is not for the Prime Minister to insist who attends before a Committee of this House. I understand that Dame Lowell Goddard has been invited to attend the Committee. I think that the hon. Lady and I share, as do many hon. Members across this House, a desire to see the issues of these appalling crimes of child abuse being properly looked into. That is important. Dame Lowell Goddard has set up the inquiry and the truth project. Many aspects of it are already in place and operating, and I am very pleased that Alexis Jay has taken on the role of chairman of the inquiry. She chaired the Rotherham work, and I think that she will do this work extremely well and we will have answers to questions that so many have been asking for so long.

Child sexual exploitation is an issue that affects many communities. Does the Prime Minister agree that shining a light on the events of the past is the best way to learn lessons for the future, and will she agree to an independent review of child sexual exploitation in Telford?

My hon. Friend has just shown the cross-party concern that there is on the issue of child abuse and child sexual exploitation. It is absolutely right, as she says, that we are able to look into the abuses and crimes of the past. We will need to learn important lessons from that as to why institutions that were supposed to protect children failed to do so. It is for the authorities in Telford to look specifically at how they wish to address those issues in Telford, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has heard my hon. Friend’s comments and that she will want to take that up with her.

Q15. Following the successful Hillsborough independent panel, will the Prime Minister consider setting up a similar review of the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS, namely the contaminated blood scandal? Victims are still waiting for answers and justice 35 years on. (906353)

The hon. Lady obviously raises a very important point in relation to contaminated blood. I will take it away and consider it. Obviously, she will know the reasons and background that led to the Hillsborough independent panel, but I recognise people’s concerns about contaminated blood and will consider the point that she has made.

The Prime Minister will be aware of coverage regarding a report to be published by Dame Louise Casey, the Government’s integration tsar. The report will speak of British laws, culture, values and traditions, such as Christmas, being threatened by political correctness from council officials. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to send a loud and clear message that the best way to secure a harmonious society is not only for mainstream Britain to respect minority traditions, such as Diwali, Vaisakhi and Eid, but for council officials to appreciate that minority communities should respect the views and traditions of mainstream Britain, which means that Christmas is not “Winterval” and that Christmas trees are not “festive” trees?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I will not comment on or pre-empt the findings of Louise Casey’s review, which is an important piece of work. I will simply join my hon. Friend by saying that what we want to see in our society is tolerance and understanding. We want minority communities to be able to recognise and stand up for their traditions, but we also want to be able to stand up for our traditions generally, and that includes Christmas.

Will the Prime Minister look carefully at the calls from the Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland for new questions to be added to the next census so that we can better meet the needs of our serving personnel in the armed forces, our veterans and their families? In relation to Northern Ireland, where such a massive contribution is made to the armed forces through recruitment and service, will she look carefully at the distribution of funding under the armed forces covenant so that there is equitable funding across all regions and countries of the United Kingdom?

Of course, I am pleased that it was this Government who introduced the military covenant, and who have recognised the importance of that bond and that link with those who are serving in our armed forces and with veterans of our armed forces. I have not seen the specific request from the Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland, but that will certainly be looked at by the Cabinet Office when considering the next census.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the co-operation between Russia and the United States in respect of Aleppo sets a very important precedent, and that it is in the British national interest to redevelop our links with Russia? We may then be able to solve many more problems in that region.

My hon. Friend is right that the agreement that has been reached between Russia and the United States about Syria is an important agreement, and I think everybody in this House will want to see that being put into practice and working on the ground. There have been a number of occasions when we have seen what appear to be steps forward, and sadly it has not been possible to implement them, but I hope that it will be different this time. It would mark an important step. We should have no doubt about the relationship that we should have with Russia. It is not a business as usual relationship. I made that very clear when I was responding to the report on the murder of Litvinenko, and we should continue with that position.

May I join my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and Jane Kennedy, the police and crime commissioner on Merseyside, in commending the tremendous bravery of the police officers involved in the stabbing incident in my constituency yesterday, who nevertheless apprehended the suspect? Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that, often in very dangerous circumstances, the police are being asked to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources?

I join the right hon. Gentleman in recognising once again the work of the individual police constable—[Interruption.] I apologise—the three police constables who apprehended the suspect while being under attack. As I said earlier, our police officers bravely go where others would not go in order to protect the public. They do so much in the line of duty and, for some, when they are off duty as well. They are prepared to go and face danger in order to protect us.

On the issue of resources, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we have protected police budgets over the period of the comprehensive spending review settlement, in the face of a proposal from his Front Benchers that we should cut them by 5% to 10%.