House of Commons
Monday 20 March 2017
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I know that the whole House will want to join me in offering many happy returns to Dame Vera Lynn on her 100th birthday. Dame Vera is a national treasure, but I ask colleagues not to burst into song.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
School Funding: Chelmsford
For Chelmsford, a shift to fairer funding would mean an overall increase in schools funding of 1.9%. We want schools and local areas to receive a consistent and fair share of the schools budget so that they can give every child the opportunity to reach their full potential. These are important reforms, and we must make sure we get them right. We want to hear a wide range of views through our consultation, which closes later this week.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is to be warmly welcomed that 31 out of 35 schools in Chelmsford will get increased funding as a result of the fairer funding programme? Of the four schools that will have modest decreases in funding, two are grammar schools, the funding of which will decrease owing to their relatively low number of pupils. Can anything be done to rectify that problem for two centres of academic excellence?
My right hon. Friend is right that Chelmsford schools overwhelmingly gain from the shift to fairer funding. Our approach essentially sees money follow the child, with extra money for those pupils with extra needs. In our “Schools that work for everyone” consultation we set out our desire to see grammars take more young people from disadvantaged and lower family income backgrounds. If they do so, selective schools will also be able to benefit financially from that approach.
The terms of the Secretary of State’s initial reply to the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns), perfectly properly, went somewhat beyond Chelmsford. I make no criticism of that at all, but it simply widens the field to colleagues who do not represent Chelmsford.
Thanks to increased investment and the work of teachers, other teaching staff, supportive parents and the local community, standards in our schools in Southwark have massively increased, but our schools are not overfunded. Surely it cannot be right that, per pupil, we will see a cut of £1,000 per year as a result of this so-called fair funding formula. It is not fair. Whatever levelling up the Secretary of State needs to do in other parts of the country, she should please go ahead and do so, but do not cut schools funding for the poorest children.
Our approach will operate consistently for young people and children, wherever they are growing up. We cannot have an accountability system with similar expectations for all schools that ends up funding children differently. I simply reflect to the right hon. and learned Lady that, even after the changes we are making to introduce a fair and consistent funding formula for the first time, London’s schools, because of the many challenges and factors they face, will still receive 30% more than other schools on average.
I understand that the Secretary of State has an incredibly hard job to do and that money does not grow on trees. When she reviews the consultation findings, however, I urge her to look at the core funding a school needs even to be able to open its doors, because I fear that deprivation has been overweighted in the formula.
One thing we have seen as a result of launching the second phase consultation is the first properly informed debate on how we should be funding schools and what the relative balance of investment should be for different children with different challenges. The consultation finishes later this week, and I thank the House and colleagues for their engagement with it. We will respond to the points that people have made in due course.
Vera Lynn was a pupil at Brampton Primary School in my constituency and, along with every other school in my constituency, its budget is going to be cut under the Secretary of State’s proposals. Ministers often tell us that the schools budget as a whole is not being cut. Should not that guarantee apply to individual schools such as Brampton Primary School as well as to the system as a whole?
I pay tribute to Dame Vera Lynn, who has been an iconic and amazing figure. She is a fantastic female role model for many young girls and women growing up in our country.
We need to make sure that, for the first time, our country sees consistent funding for all children, wherever they are growing up. We have seen significant rises in the overall schools budget over the years. Indeed, this Government have not only protected the overall schools budget in line with inflation but have made sure that the cash amount per pupil is protected, too. That is important, but we now have to make sure that we fund children in our schools fairly, wherever they are.
Torbay’s schools have done a great job in teaching pupils despite being among some of the most historically underfunded. Although the figure for Torbay goes up by 2.3% overall, the proposed formula hits the grammar schools quite badly, so will the Secretary of State assure me that we are still seeking a solution for those schools?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. As I have said, it is important that we reflect the fact that our funding needs to follow children who have additional needs. In particular, we know there is an attainment gap for children from lower-income and more disadvantaged areas and families. We also know that many children will start both primary and secondary school already behind, so we need to give an uplift for those pupils to enable their teachers to help them to catch up. These are important parts of the formula but, as he set out, we need to look carefully at other aspects of it, and we will do so.
I have to say to the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) that he is not seeing the wood for the trees. The Minister for School Standards recently wrote to the Chelmsford Weekly News about the uplift of 1.9%, which the Secretary of State mentioned, but there is a denial of the wider picture that £66 million is being withdrawn from funding in Essex overall. Will she explain how Chelmsford County High School for Girls, which is estimated to lose £300,000, will make its cuts?
I think I have answered the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns), but the bottom line is that the only budget that would go up under Labour is debt interest, which would lead to fewer teachers and less investment in education, not more.
It is essential that we support learners while they study if we are to grow the number of skilled workers that the economy needs. The Government will introduce maintenance loans for learners studying higher-level technical qualifications at level 4 at national colleges and the new institutes of technology from the 2019-20 academic year. Maintenance loans will be available for the first time for both full-time and part-time higher education distance learners in the same year, subject to satisfactory controls being in place.
Does the Minister agree with the Open University that the decision to delay maintenance loans for distance learners will adversely affect disabled students, for whom distance learning is the best option, and those from poorer backgrounds, who need maintenance loans to support them while they study?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am very supportive of distance learners and the incredible work of the Open University. We want to offer these maintenance loans, but we want to get this right; we have a duty to ensure that we are providing the right value for money for the public and that the right controls are in place.
The Chancellor, in his Budget statement, declared a commitment to lifelong learning, yet maintenance loans have been capped as being for those of less than 60 years of age. Given this Government’s apparent determination to raise the retirement age and their appalling treatment of the WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—women, does the Minister agree with me, and probably with Dame Vera Lynn, that life most definitely does not end at 60?
It is this Government who have introduced advanced learner loans; we are going to have maintenance loans for students going to institutes of technology or national colleges, and for future distance learners; and we have just announced an extra £500 million to support further education. This Government are actually backing skills and giving people the funding they need.
Britain’s record in engineering and technical training at the moment is deplorable, with our being 16th among OECD countries, so I very much welcome the Minister’s announcement earlier about maintenance grants. Does he agree that the private sector has a role to play? In particular, will he welcome Sir James Dyson’s recent announcement that he intends to open a new technical and engineering college at Hullavington in my constituency, with it being at least partly paid for by giving the students salaries?
I could not have put it better myself; my hon. Friend is exactly right, and I congratulate Dyson. What is happening with that company and elsewhere in the country, with the investment the Government are putting into skills—the £500 million extra announced last week, and the £40 million for pilots in lifelong learning and studying—show that we are investing. We are putting our money where our mouth is and building a skills and apprenticeship nation.
The Budget timetable, which saves the Treasury £400 million—we did not hear that from the Minister—is now a double whammy for learners. It delays until 2019 and jeopardises Lord Sainsbury’s technical skills agenda, and it hits disabled and disadvantaged and distance learners, as the Open University warned the Department for Education it would. With a 30% drop in part-time learning since 2011, why is the Department planning to cut support for distance learners even further, as the Office for Budget Responsibility revealed in section A.22 of its Budget document?
I am amazed by the hon. Gentleman’s question. I thought he would rise to celebrate the £500 million extra we are spending on further education, the £2.5 billion we will be spending on apprenticeships by 2020, or the £40 million on pilots for lifelong learning. By 2020, there will be more funding for adult education than at any time in England’s history. We have a record of which we can be proud; it is time the hon. Gentleman supported us.
Good mental health and wellbeing are a priority for the Department, which is why we have funded guidance and lesson plans to support schools in teaching pupils about emotional wellbeing. Our recent plans to make relationships education and relationships and sex education statutory supports that agenda. Pupils can also develop soft skills, including resilience, through activities such as the National Citizen Service and the cadet expansion programme.
Young people’s mental health is a growing concern. As with physical health, we must look at prevention as well as treatment. Will my hon. Friend the Minister meet me to discuss what more the Department for Education can do to encourage our schools to build resilience in children?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that prevention is vital. We are currently inviting bids to run a trial to provide sound evidence about what works to promote good mental health in schools. Prevention will also be an important focus of the mental health Green Paper that we intend to publish later in the year. I will of course meet my hon. Friend to discuss her question, and I am sure that, once the Green Paper has been published, we’ll meet again.
Is the Minister aware of the crisis in child mental healthcare in Cumbria? Does he agree that greater investment to equip teachers to help with preventive measures in the classroom is essential if we are to make children’s lives better in the longer term and not store up huge problems for the future?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to link schools with mental health services better. One piece of work that is currently under way is on creating single points of contact in schools. We are working with child and adolescent mental health services so that not only can children be referred more quickly to the services they need, but teachers can be trained to spot the signs and deal with them effectively within the school environment. Nevertheless, there is, of course, a lot more work to do.
Parents who have children with autism have told me that they have great difficulty accessing curricular and extracurricular activities. What more can be done to link up CAMHS and schools to ensure that there is a crossover of information so that these conditions can be managed better?
As I said in the answer I just gave to the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), we are working with NHS England and CAMHS to make sure that they can better support and work alongside schools through a single point of contact, so that they can not only spread knowledge and good practice but make quicker referrals to the more specialist services when necessary. There is a strong commitment from the Government in this area, supported by the Prime Minister, and we intend to make good progress.
The Minister may be aware of a recent report in The Lancet stating that as many as 35,000 children are born every year with pre-natal exposure to alcohol, which has a significant impact on schools. What are his plans to ensure that school staff have the necessary training to understand the behavioural and educational needs of those children?
I am well aware of the effects of foetal alcohol syndrome. I saw them for myself as I was growing up in some of the foster children whom we looked after. I know it is a cause that the hon. Gentleman has been strongly advocating. Changes to teacher training and to teachers’ standards has meant that much greater emphasis is placed on ensuring that teachers are skilled in special educational needs, of which foetal alcohol syndrome is part, but of course it is what happens on the ground that is important, and we will continue to do what we can to ensure that that practice improves.
Priority School Building Programme 2
The £4.4 billion priority school building programme is rebuilding and refurbishing those schools in the very worst condition. There are two phases covering 537 schools. Phase 2, which runs to 2021, sought bids from schools by the deadline of 21 July 2014, and is designed to improve the fabric of specific buildings in 277 schools.
The Marjorie McClure school in Chislehurst is a special school that deals with young people with some of the most profound and complex disabilities. It is a magnificent school, but every year it has to turn applicants away because it simply does not have the size to cope with the numbers, and neither do the other two special schools in the borough. The school was delighted to be successful in its application, which was announced in 2015, but the first visit from anyone from the Education Funding Agency to the school was only in February of this year. Will the Minister see what can be done to expedite this particularly special and unique set of circumstances?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the way in which he has fought for improvements to the Marjorie McClure school, which was visited by my hon. Friend the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families. It was successful in its bid, and it is already in the feasibility phase. The Education Funding Agency has started to identify the options available to address the condition of the building, so that we can say that we do know where and we do know when.
Headteacher Steve Campbell, who runs The Hollins, a fantastic state school with great results in my constituency, has had problems trying to provide better sports facilities. He was supposed to have Better Schools for the Future funding in 2010, but that was pulled. It now seems that there is no hope of the children in this outstanding school getting decent sports facilities. Why is that?
There is £420 million available under the healthy schools capital programme. That is all part of £23 billion that we are spending between now and 2020-21 to maintain, rebuild and replace buildings in the worst condition. None of that would be possible if we did not have the strong economy that we have today and that we did not have when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in power.
I thank the Government for the new fund that has been made available for capital projects on special schools, £2.5 million of which is coming to Nottinghamshire to help rebuild the Newark Orchard school in my constituency. Will the Government go to greater efforts to publicise that fund so that colleagues and constituents across the country who are worried about special schools in poor condition know that it is there for them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. This is a £250 million package that was recently announced, and it is part of a capital spending commitment by this Government to ensure that we have the right fabric of schools in our system. Again, that was possible only by our having a strong economy.
Has the removal and treatment of asbestos been prioritised within that programme? Many buildings of the ‘60s and ‘70s are riddled with asbestos, and we do not know the exact extent yet.
The hon. Gentleman is right. In March 2015, we published a comprehensive review into how asbestos is managed in schools. In February, the Department for Education published revised guidance on how to manage asbestos in schools, and it is our aim, over time, to eliminate asbestos in schools as schools are replaced or refurbished. In the meantime, schools need to ensure that asbestos-containing materials are undamaged and not in locations where they are vulnerable to damage.
We have a wealth of advice and guidance for employers and small businesses through the “Employing an apprentice” and “Recruit an apprentice” pages of gov.uk. There is information for employers on all aspects of apprenticeship recruitment. This requires training organisations to post vacancies to be viewed by and applied for by candidates using the find an apprenticeship service.
Although they are keen to take on apprentices, I have small businesses in Cannock Chase that are finding it difficult to identify candidates. What are the Government doing to make it easier for small businesses to connect with local colleges and potential apprentices?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for her championship of apprenticeships in her constituency. We are doing a lot: we are spending millions to incentivise small businesses and providers to take on apprentices; we have a huge communication programme —43,000 small businesses have recently been contacted by the Skills Funding Agency’s “Get In. Go Far” programme—and we have a network of 500 apprenticeship ambassadors. We are doing all we can. It is worth noting that roughly 200,000 small businesses have apprentices.
The new register of apprenticeship training providers published last week excludes a significant number of successful training providers, including four in Birmingham, two in Coventry and one in Solihull. Is the Minister not aware that if he goes ahead with that decision, he will essentially be destroying technical education for 16-year-olds in the west midlands?
It is worth noting that 75.7% of those that applied to get on the register have been successful. One hundred and seventy further education colleges got on to the register, as did 178 providers of apprenticeship training in Birmingham. No existing apprentices in the colleges will be affected.
What message can I give small businesses in Kettering about the incentives given to apprenticeship training providers to link up with small businesses rather than larger ones?
The good news is that the taxpayer is spending millions of pounds to incentivise small businesses and providers to have apprenticeships. In addition, we have the huge communications programme that I highlighted earlier.
Employers have “high expectations”, the college has “good standards”, and young people are “ambassadors” for apprenticeships. That is the verdict of Ofsted on Birmingham Metropolitan College, yet it is one of four colleges in Birmingham— 13 in the west midlands—that have been denied access to the apprenticeship levy and will have to cease providing apprenticeships. Does the Minister begin to understand the outrage over this inexplicable decision? Will he meet Birmingham’s MPs, so that we can make further representations to him?
I am happy to meet MPs from Birmingham and any other area. The crucial aim behind the decision is to improve quality. Getting on the register is a competitive procurement process—everyone had to fulfil the same criteria. It is important to note that, from tomorrow, those that did not get on the register can reapply, so they may yet succeed.
Selective Secondary Education
Under our national funding proposals, more money will follow students, particularly to schools that are educating pupils who are disadvantaged and from lower-income families. On the roll of one of the schools my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) has highlighted, 25% of the young people are on free school meals, whereas the proportion in the other school is less than 1%. That accounts for the majority of the difference.
May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the grammar schools in my constituency, which face a cut of 3% in their funding under the proposed formula, despite a school up the road getting an increase of 11%? Will she examine how, within the absolutely necessary Treasury constraints, such inexplicable outcomes can be avoided? We must be sure that selective schools understand that the Government are fully on their side.
As my hon. Friend points out, I do not get to write my own cheques and I have to live within my departmental budget. We are looking carefully at how to get the fair funding approach right. I agree that we have to make sure that similar children facing similar challenges and with similar needs are consistently funded, wherever in the UK they live, and of course we want to support successful schools.
Colyton Grammar School in my constituency has a great headteacher, wonderful staff and pupils with huge levels of attainment. The school would very much like to expand. How can the Secretary of State help it to expand more than it can at the moment?
To build on my previous point, the consultation, “Schools that work for everyone”, also covered our proposals to allow expanding existing selective schools to be able to offer more choice to parents and our proposals to increase the number of school places at good and outstanding schools. We will make available dedicated funding of up to £50 million a year to support those schools to expand.
When will the Secretary of State publish her much briefed White Paper, given that purdah begins on Thursday? Will that White Paper contain requirements on existing grammar schools to increase the number of free school meal children? Will she clarify to the House why the words “selection” or “grammar” did not pass her lips in her 30-minute opening speech on education in the Budget debate?
The hon. Lady tries to get me to pre-empt my White Paper, which will come out in the coming weeks. I am pleased that Labour Front Benchers are finally engaging in the fact that there is a real chance to ensure that we have an approach to selection that works in the 21st century and for our education system as it is today.
Is the Secretary of State aware that today is International Happiness Day? If she wants to make a lot of people in this country happy, she will renounce this dedication to grammar schools and free schools, and invest in the education of all children up and down the country.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has alerted me to the fact that it is International Happiness Day, but he is completely at odds with his Front Bench. We have no idea what Labour’s approach to selection is. We will be publishing our White Paper in response to our consultation, but I suspect that the Labour party will remain a policy-free zone.
In the Budget, £320 million was announced for new schools, some of which may be grammar schools. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that new schools are desperately needed and that, although some may be grammar schools, that does not affect the revenue funding that this House has discussed in many questions today?
Indeed, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have to plan ahead. We know that we need to create more good school places for the children coming through our education system. Some school places will be in response to choices at a local level for selective schools, but others will be non-selective school places and places for meeting the needs of local communities.
Under the academies scheme, the teaching profession in England has experienced a sustained attack on its terms and conditions, including salary awards below nationally agreed pay scales. Can the Secretary of State guarantee unequivocally that no teachers in proposed new selective schools will be paid below nationally agreed rates?
We need to ensure that schools have more freedoms to be able to run themselves in a way that means they can deliver strong educational outcomes. I notice that the hon. Lady clearly does not want to talk about the fact that standards in Scotland are going backwards in science, maths and reading.
It is a pleasure to debate with the Secretary of State again, a few weeks after we both appeared on “Question Time”; but now it is answer time. The Prime Minister promised last week to expand selective education with 70,000 new free school places funded by £320 million in the Budget. Given that free school places cost more than £21,000 each to create, £320 million is not enough for 17,000 places, let alone 70,000. I set the Education Secretary a simple maths question last week, but she did not answer, so it is time for a resit. Just how many places will be created, and at what cost?
I would have hoped that the hon. Lady welcomed the fact that we announced £500 million extra for school capital, and that is not just for ensuring that we have more places for children who need them. Part of that is £200 million to improve the existing school estate. She asks about the numbers. She seems to have misunderstood that the numbers relate to the amount that is being spent during this Parliament. Of course, there will be further investment in the next Parliament, which I would hope that she welcomed.
Pupils from Disadvantaged Backgrounds
As I told the House last month, increasing educational opportunity for disadvantaged pupils underpins our commitment to make sure we have a country that works for everyone. Through the pupil premium, worth £2.5 billion this year, we are narrowing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. In 2016-17, £4.2 million of this funding was allocated to schools in Boston and Skegness.
I recently hosted Boston and Skegness’s first constituency schools conference, bringing together governors and teachers, and I thank the Secretary of State for her personal involvement in helping with that. However, what I heard at that conference was that, while teachers and governors welcome the extra £4.6 million that is proposed to come to Lincolnshire, they believe we could hear after the consultation closes that the money will be better distributed, so that secondary schools, in particular, will see Lincolnshire’s unique needs addressed. Can the Minister confirm that the consultation will address that?
I am sure that the Secretary of State has heard my hon. Friend’s plea, and I am sure that he heard what she said in relation to that matter. However, another change the Government have brought in that will help disadvantaged children, and which should not be forgotten, is around progression measures and making sure the progress of every child counts towards a school’s measured performance. I am sure that will help all pupils in my hon. Friend’s area, as well as across the country.
I fought the hon. Lady’s constituency, but, unfortunately for me, and probably beneficially for her, the constituency fought back.
We of course welcome initiatives, such as the one the hon. Lady has described, to widen participation in higher education. In 2017-18, universities intend to spend more than £833 million on measures to improve access and student success through their access agreements for students from disadvantaged backgrounds—up significantly from £404 million in 2009.
My hon. Friend will know that part of the consultation is looking at that aspect of our school geography, and the sparsity factor seeks to address it. However, we also have the new opportunity areas, which are looking at parts of the country, including coastal towns, where schools face particular challenges, and we can try to home in on those and spread good practice.
How on earth does cutting the funding to 35 schools in my constituency, followed by the news that the business rate revaluation will cost them thousands of pounds more, do anything to help educational opportunity? How does the Minister sleep at night knowing the detrimental effect the Government’s policies will have on the education of children across Birmingham?
With an eight-week-old baby, I am not sleeping particularly well at the moment. However, business rates are funded, and a consultation is taking place to try to ensure that the funding we have available for schools, which is at record levels, is distributed as fairly as possible.
As part of the consultation, we propose a number of conditions that would make new selective schools more accessible to children from low-income backgrounds. We are analysing all the responses we have had to the consultation, which I am sure include responses from my hon. Friend’s constituency, and we plan to publish a formal response in the spring.
May I, through the Minister, thank the Secretary of State for her reply to me regarding the application for a university technical college in Doncaster, which will increase educational opportunities for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds? However, will he make sure that other Ministers keep me and other MPs informed about the progress of further discussions? I know we have to get on with this quickly, but will he undertake to do that and perhaps to meet us to discuss the best way forward?
I am happy to give that undertaking. We have a new UTC in Crewe that is performing extremely well for pupils wanting to get into engineering. I am sure that pupils in the right hon. Lady’s constituency want to have similar opportunities available to them. Of course we remain open to any further conversations as this progresses.
School Funding Formula
My national funding formula proposals will mean that we will have a clear, relatively simple and transparent funding system that matches funding to children’s needs and to the schools they attend to ensure that all pupils reach their full potential regardless of where they live. We recognise that schools are facing cost pressures, which is why we will continue to provide support to help them use their funding in cost-effective ways without affecting educational outcomes.
The National Audit Office and the Education Policy Institute have both highlighted the risk of standards falling because of an 8% real-terms cut. In London, 70% of schools face cuts, yet we have the highest child poverty in the country. This is dangerous and divisive, and a cap on aspiration. Is it not time we had another U-turn this week?
The EPI has said that the national funding formula is broadly welcome. David Laws, its executive chairman, said that
“the department is right to pursue a formula which targets a significant proportion of funding to disadvantaged pupils”.
The hon. Lady will know that inner London remains the highest-funded part of the country; it is 30% better funded on a per-pupil basis than the national average.
It might be International Happiness Day, but I can tell my right hon. Friend that parents in Staffordshire are pretty unhappy, actually, because they are in a county that is in the bottom 15 of funding throughout the UK. Fairer funding must not just be open; it needs to be fair, too, and Staffordshire schools are losing out. That is unacceptable.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be making representations through the consultation process. The consultation closes on Wednesday, and we will listen to and read very carefully all the contributions. Funding in his constituency rises by about 1.2%, equal to about £600,000, and 65% of his schools will see an increase.
Order. I am keen to get through some more questions, but we do need shorter questions and shorter answers.
No; 54% of schools in this country will gain funding under the national funding formula. The hon. Lady will be aware that her local authority, Hounslow, will see overall funding for schools rise from £170.7 million to £171.2 million as a result of the national funding formula.
My right hon. Friend will know that I am the only Member of Parliament in England and Wales who can say that every school in their constituency will either hold steady or see a rise. May I thank him for looking at a funding formula that has for too many years disadvantaged some schools? This goes to show how extraordinarily hard it has been for some of our schools to deliver quality education.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her support for the national funding formula. It is a fair funding formula that gives priority to disadvantage and to low prior attainment. For too long, too many parts of the country have been underfunded, and this will remedy that.
Yes, I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. Ninety-six per cent. of schools in temporary accommodation have a permanent site, and in the vast majority of cases they are on temporary sites for just one year. These are exceptional circumstances where it is more than four years.
A group of parents I met on Friday asked whether the funds that were saved as a result of the Government’s change of heart on forced academisation could be used to support schools currently facing funding pressures.
My right hon. Friend knows how dealings with the Treasury work; one has to justify every penny. We managed to secure a very good deal with the Treasury, and we have the highest level of school funding— £40 billion, rising to £42 billion by 2019-20, as pupil numbers rise—at a time when we seek to continue to tackle the public sector deficit that we inherited from the Labour party.
We will have two questions from the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner). They need to be extremely brief, otherwise we will just have to move on.
Earlier, I set the Secretary of State a simple maths question on free schools, but I do not think we had a clear answer. So let me set her one on verbal reasoning. If David promised to protect school spending per pupil and Justine’s new funding formula cuts spending per pupil in more than 9,000 schools, what does that make Theresa?
In our manifesto, we said that we would protect school funding in real terms. We have protected school funding in real terms. It is at £40 billion—the highest level on record—and it will rise to £42 billion by 2019-20, as school pupil numbers rise. Given the way in which the Labour party managed our economy in the past and the way in which it intends to do so in future, I do not believe that if the party ever got into power, it would be able to match that level of funding.
I do not think I heard an answer about the promise that the Conservative party made. At this rate, the Conservative manifesto will turn out to be the greatest work of fiction since Paul Nuttall last did his CV. We are in favour of fairer funding, but this is not fair and it is not funded, either. Will the Secretary of State finally tell us whether the Conservatives are going to keep the promise made by the last Prime Minister that not one pupil would lose one penny in school funding throughout this Parliament?
We made it clear that we would maintain the funding of schools, in real terms, and that is precisely what we are doing. At a time of fiscal constraint, when we have to tackle a £150 billion public sector budget deficit inherited from the Labour party, we have still protected school funding in real terms. At the same time, we are introducing a fairer funding system—something that the Labour party failed to do in all the years that it was in office.
Social Mobility: School/University Students
I put social mobility at the heart of everything my Department does. Through our plans to create more good school places and transform teaching, combined with new legislation to support greater access to university and investment in technical education, we aim to ensure that where a student comes from does not determine where they get to in life.
At the all-party group on universities the other day, we had an excellent presentation from Sunderland University on all aspects of helping to improve social mobility. Can we ensure that that stretches down to all types of schools—academies, grammars and secondary—and that we learn from each other, particularly in the devolved institutions?
Indeed; I fully agree. The Higher Education and Research Bill will enable us to do more to widen access and increase the participation of these sorts of students. Of course, the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation document is all about making sure that universities, alongside grammars, faith schools and independent schools, can play a stronger role in lifting attainment for all.
Freedom of Speech: Student Campuses
A broad range of higher education institutions are covered by an existing legal duty under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 to take “reasonably practicable” steps to secure freedom of speech; and the Higher Education and Research Bill, which is currently in the other place, proposes to extend that to all registered providers. The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that I have today written to the sector highlighting the importance of this duty, reminding institutions of their responsibilities in this respect and emphasising the importance of action when freedom of speech issues arise.
Notwithstanding the obligations under section 43 of the 1986 Act, does the Minister believe that action is needed to safeguard universities as places of free speech and challenging ideas?
Indeed. Policies and codes of practice should not simply be allowed to gather dust; they are crucial to demonstrating to students that free speech should be at the heart of our university system. They need to be meaningful documents that students and staff understand and, crucially, respect.
There are, of course, duties to ensure that children who are excluded from school have education in place. Although there are some excellent examples of alternative provision across the country, overall outcomes for children who remain in AP are not good enough. That is why our ambition to make schools responsible for commissioning AP and to ensure that they remain accountable for the outcomes of those pupils, including in circumstances in which a pupil has been permanently excluded, is so important.
Does the Minister share my horror at the dramatic increase in the number of permanent exclusions in Norfolk—296 in the last academic year, with 100 students, at the last count, waiting for a place at the short stay school? Given the awful results outcomes for children who are permanently excluded, what message will he send to Norfolk about sorting out this unacceptable situation?
Exclusions should always be a last resort, and we need to make sure there are no inappropriate exclusions in Norfolk or anywhere in the country. I am meeting the right hon. Gentleman on another matter, so perhaps we can discuss this at that meeting.
We are building an apprenticeship and skills nation, and crafting a ladder of opportunity to create widespread provision to meet our skills needs and to help those with social disadvantage. We are spending £80 million on national colleges and £170 million on institute of technology colleges, with extra money for further education.
I welcome the progress that Ministers are making in helping to raise the profile of and standards in technical education. What steps are being taken to help to improve the job prospects of the young people who will benefit from the £500 million investment announced in the Budget?
From 2019, students will have a choice of two routes: an academic route, or a state-of-the-art technical route with 15 different routes within it. We are investing in that, as I have said, and we are investing an extra £500 million on top of the existing funds. We are building the skills and apprenticeship nation that our country needs, and we are creating the skills that people and employers need.
My hon. Friend is exactly right, and I congratulate him on the work that he does in this area. T-levels, our technical education reforms, our apprenticeship reforms and our strong backing of further education are exactly what we need to do to create the skills to make sure that people have the jobs and the skills that they need for their futures.
Apprenticeships are jobs, and availability is determined by employers offering such opportunities. Our ambition is to reach 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020, and to support the growth of apprenticeships across different sectors and regions.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Central Training Group’s Central Hairdressing Academy in Southend on its support of apprenticeships and its excellent results, and will he reflect on the view that trainers feel that a lot of pressure is put on children to stay on in the sixth form who might benefit from taking an apprenticeship?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I congratulate the hairdressing academy on its support of apprenticeships. We now have 900,000 apprentices—the record highest number ever—and we have 784,000 starts. We are building the apprenticeship nation, and giving those young people a ladder of opportunity.
The Budget announced a £500 million investment in technical education—it was hailed by the CBI as a “breakthrough Budget for skills”—and on top of that it also provided an additional £500 million for new school places and school refurbishment. That is in addition to our announcements over the past month of £450 million for school sports facilities and of a £250 million fund to help schools to support students with disabilities properly.
I am delighted to say that we are taking forward amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill, enabling us to put age-appropriate relationship and sex education in secondary schools and relationship education in primary schools on a statutory footing. I want to thank the House for its support in enabling us to do that.
A simple yes or no will suffice: does the Education Secretary agree with the International Trade Secretary who said when he was in front of the Lords International Relations Committee, and with the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary, that students should not be included in official immigration statistics?
I think the important thing is actually that we remain an open country for international students, because that is one of the best ways in which we can ensure that our university sector stays world class.
I have been advised—as I could have seen with my own eyes, but I must admit that I had not—that the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) is not in the Chamber. Fortunately, the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) is here, so we will hear him.
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in commending schools that teach subjects well, such as Rainham School for Girls. Good-quality teaching is vital to encouraging more students to study STEM subjects. We are spending up to £67 million over this Parliament to recruit and train more maths and physics teachers, and we are funding programmes, such as the Stimulating Physics Network, which seek to improve the engagement of girls.
I have no doubt that the Secretary of State is well aware of the importance of EU nationals to the higher education community, but we now have an urgent situation whereby some world-class researchers are leaving the UK and others are failing to take up positions in the first place. Will she act now by giving clear unilateral guarantees to those EU nationals that they can remain here post-Brexit, and in doing so reduce the damage currently being caused by Brexit?
The Government have been clear on many occasions that they value greatly the contribution that EU nationals make to our higher education institutions and our research establishments. We want to be able to settle their position as soon as we practically can, subject to similar reciprocal steps being put in place for UK nationals overseas.
The 0 to 25 years special educational needs and disability code of practice sets out that SEN support should follow a cycle referred to as “assess plan do review” to enable schools systematically to assess individual needs, plan support, put support in place and review progress. The code of practice is on a statutory footing and all schools have to take account of it.
Can the Secretary of State explain her U-turn in signing Labour’s amendments to scrap her own innovation clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill? Since her Minister and chief social worker were the key protagonists of those strongly opposed and dangerous clauses, will she explain how she can possibly remain confident in their ability to protect our most vulnerable children?
I am very pleased to see the hon. Lady back in her place. I know she has not been able to be here for some time. It is very simple: we were unable to build the consensus required to take forward the power to innovate. I remain absolutely committed to innovation and would welcome local authorities’ plans for how they can improve outcomes for children by redesigning their services and improving their outcomes in the process.
I can confirm that the Trauma Recovery Centre has so far received adoption support funding to support 16 children in 11 families. I pay tribute to their important work. They are among 17,000 families who have benefited from the new adoption support fund created by the Government. I will look at the other issue raised by my hon. Friend and perhaps talk to him about it outside the House.
By 2020, we will be spending £2.5 billion on apprenticeships, much of that raised through the levy. It will be spent wherever our apprentices are needed.
It is good news that those schools have recognised the potential of forming a multi-academy trust to drive school improvement. Schools are really seeing the power of collaboration in driving up standards. The regional schools commissioner is now supporting the Pennine Trust to harness the potential of those schools. I wish the project well.
The Prime Minister was clear in her Lancaster House speech that European research collaboration remains an extremely important objective for our Brexit negotiations. We have said on a number of occasions that we value the contribution that EU nationals make to our scientific and research endeavour.
On Friday, I visited Oundle school in my constituency, which makes a huge contribution to the wider community. What role does my right hon. Friend see leading independent schools playing in helping to enhance educational opportunities in their localities?
We believe that they can play a significant role. As part of the “Schools that work for everyone” consultation, we have had excellent discussions with the independent schools sector, and we look forward to bringing those to a conclusion.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this issue. In fact, it was the additional factor that we put into the working formula on which we are now consulting that was not in the original phase 1 consultation. There is £23 million against that, but I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will have put in his own consultation response, for which we would be grateful.
As the Minister for School Standards, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), will know, because he has visited the area a number of times, Peterborough is not only one of the fastest growing local educational authorities for student numbers, but seven in 10 of my constituents’ children in the primary sector have English as an additional language. On that basis, will the Secretary of State bear in mind in looking at future funding formulae that EAL is an incredibly important issue?
I agree. That is part of our fair funding formula on which we are finishing consultation this week; it sits alongside additional funding for children with low prior attainment. We have to make sure that we enable all our children to catch up if that is what they need to do.
I eventually get to say something! The home learning environment is fundamental to early years development. This Government are investing over £6 billion a year in early years by 2020—more than any Government have ever spent before—and we will look very closely at how to improve the home learning environment.
I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to recent research by the business-led Cambridge Ahead into teacher shortages in Cambridge. Given the structural problems identified, will the Secretary of State meet Cambridge Ahead and Cambridgeshire MPs to discuss this?
I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and the headteachers he has in mind.
It is deeply shocking that in the 21st century, some girls, including in Leeds, are not going to school because they cannot afford sanitary products. Will the Secretary of State eliminate the problem by introducing free sanitary products for all girls receiving free school meals?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. I shall look at it carefully and write to him about it.
In Dewsbury, 50 out of 50 schools will lose funding and not one will gain—the second highest number of schools facing cuts in any constituency. Thornhill academy, which many will remember from “Educating Yorkshire”, is set to lose more than half a million pounds, which equates to nearly £700 per pupil. What can the Minister say to local parents who believed her promise that funding would be protected?
We have protected the core schools budget, which will have risen by 2019-20 from £40 billion a year to £42 billion a year. All schools will benefit from that. The point of the fair funding is that we can no longer accept a country in which different children have different amounts of funding going into their education just because of where they are growing up.
The problem with the way in which the Secretary of State and the Minister of State describe the so-called fair funding formula is that they imply that they it provides an amount of money per pupil. In places such as Peterborough and Slough, however, where pupil numbers are increasing fast, we have to educate children for free, because no money arrives for those pupils until a year and a half later. What is the right hon. Lady doing to make sure that in places where the population is growing, schools actually get funding per pupil?
Two elements of the proposed fair funding formula can help in this regard. One relates to mobility, about which a question was asked earlier, and will involve children moving in-year. The second relates to demographic growth, to which the right hon. Lady referred, and will ensure that we can respond faster to enable local authorities and schools to cope.
In Knowsley metropolitan borough, part of which is in my constituency, there will be no academic A-level provision later this year. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that many of the young people who live in Halewood can aspire, and afford, to take A-levels? At present they have to travel so far, and they have no money to do so.
As the hon. Lady will know, because we have had meetings to discuss this very issue fairly recently, we are working with the regional schools commissioner to ensure that there will be provision in Knowsley for those who want to study for A-levels without having to leave the borough.
Advisory Committee on Business Appointments/Ministerial Code
Before I call the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) to ask his urgent question, let me emphasise to the House that the question relates to issues highlighted by the appointment of the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) to the editorship of the Evening Standard for the operation of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments and the ministerial code. It is not, repeat not, about the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman, and I will not countenance supplementary questions which are critical of his conduct. As the House will be aware, criticisms of the conduct of right hon. and hon. Members may be made only on substantive motions.
To ask the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on the operation of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments and the ministerial code in the light of the appointment of the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) to the editorship of the Evening Standard.
I am very grateful indeed to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. Let me take the opportunity to set out the Government’s position.
The ministerial code requires that former Ministers must seek advice from the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments about any appointments or employment that they wish to take up within two years of leaving office. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) left his role in the Government in July last year. Information on advice given to him regarding previous appointments has been published on the committee’s website.
I understand that the application for the particular role mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, at the Evening Standard, was received by the committee on 13 March and is currently being considered. When the committee has fully considered the application, it will convey its advice directly to my right hon. Friend, and that advice will be made public on its website. Until the advice is made public, this is a confidential process between the committee and my right hon. Friend, although it is no doubt a matter of significant interest to the House.
Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker. I will seek to adhere to your wish for me not to refer to a particular right hon. or hon. Member, but to deal with the underlying issue.
As we saw in the media over the weekend, this is a matter of great concern. My question was addressed to the Prime Minister, and not—with respect—to the Minister. I appreciate his commitment to ensuring that more is done in future to prevent a repeat of the most recent incident, but many Members on both sides of the House are likely to treat such comments with scepticism.
The current rules relating to business appointments were established to counter suspicion that the decisions and statements of serving Ministers might be influenced by a hope for future rewards in the form of a job offer or other monetary gains. Disregarding those rules deeply undermines public trust in the democratic process, in the work of a Member of Parliament, and in the House itself. It does a disservice to those Members who respect the trust placed in them by their constituents, who spend every hour of their day fighting for their constituents’ interests, and who ensure that proper attention to the representative role of an MP is given, as a vocation to public service should require.
In 2012, an inquiry into the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments suggested that it should be replaced by a new conflicts of interest and ethics commissioner, but the Government provided assurances that the current system and the ministerial code was robust enough to prevent behaviour or actions that might at worst bring this House into disrepute, or further the tragic low standing this profession is sadly held in. Yet I am forced here today to ask the Government again how they will address another case and to ask them to give assurances that the current system has not provided yet another opportunity for a conflict of interest to be exploited. To hold one outside interest is perhaps defensible, but to hold several time-consuming outside commitments that have a deep overlap with the political role of what is supposed to be a full-time commitment as a Member of this House is impossible to defend.
Will the Minister confirm what action the Government intend to take against ex-Ministers who appear to be in breach of the ministerial code on their failure to seek advice from ACOBA before accepting an appointment? Will he reconsider his Government’s response to the 2012 review into ACOBA and provide a stronger system that is able to command the confidence of this House and the public, because it is what we deserve?
I have to say that I can see why the hon. Gentleman took this excuse to drag himself away from the shadow Cabinet awayday. I know he will be missing it with every cell in his body, and that is why I will give him a short answer so that he can return as quickly as possible.
As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, much has already been done in this important area. The Prime Minister revised the ministerial code when she took office. It is a matter of high concern to her, and that is why, appended to the ministerial code for the first time, is advice to Ministers on leaving office to seek the advice and assurances, or approbation—or indeed censure—of the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, or ACOBA.
The important thing to say about that process is that it is independent. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not mind, therefore, if I do not make any comment about this particular case, because ACOBA is considering it and it would be wrong for me to prejudice its decision by saying, one way or another, what my view or the Government’s view was—not that we have a view until we have received the independent advice from the independent committee.
The hon. Gentleman makes a broader point about employment outside this House and about outside interests. He will know that his colleagues and Conservative Members who sit on the Committee on Standards in Public Life will be looking at this matter again. It is of ongoing concern to the public, and has been for many years, and it is something that the House will have to grapple with in the years ahead. That is why I welcome the Committee looking at it again, and no doubt this will return to the House later.
The hon. Gentleman also makes a wider point about vocation, and I would like to address that directly, as it is very important. In my experience—I am sure in his as well—almost all Members on both sides of this House, no matter whether they are in opposition or on the Government Benches, come to this place because they believe in public service. That should inform their decisions not just about their own interests, but about the wider interests of democracy and the representative system. I am sure that all Members will, in the way they deport themselves in this discussion today, bear that in mind.
When I heard that this urgent question had been granted, I thought it was important to be here—although unfortunately we have missed the deadline for the Evening Standard. In my view, this Parliament is enhanced when we have people of different experience taking part in our robust debates and when people who have held senior ministerial office continue to contribute to the decisions we have to make. I will listen to what my colleagues have to say; I am interested to hear it.
I am not sure that there is much more that I could, or should, add to my right hon. Friend’s comments.
On International Happiness Day, we can see some people who are pretty happy, but it strikes me that we have heard it all when we get a Minister standing up to give a response to a perfectly reasonable, sensible question and making a joke about it, and when the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) thinks that this is merely a matter of amusement. Well, they cannot get away with treating this House and the people as a load of gowks, as we would say in Scotland. This is a disgraceful shambles, and we need to know what the Government are going to do about it.
This morning, as on all mornings, I had the pleasure of reading the First Minister’s column in the Daily Record, and all I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that there is a tradition in this House of contributing to newspapers—[Interruption.] And elsewhere, even in the Assembly in Holyrood. It is important to remember that, as the Speaker has said, this is not about the particulars but about the generality of whether Members should have interests or employment outside this House. That is why I am glad that the Committee is looking at this in detail, and Members across the House will no doubt wish to consider its recommendations in due course.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The Minister will be aware that the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which is an advisory non-departmental public body sponsored by the Cabinet Office, is within the remit of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, of which I am a member. The Chairman and other members of the Committee are currently abroad. PACAC is conducting an inquiry into the role of ACOBA which remains open; we have not yet reported. Our inquiry will therefore take into account these new developments and we are considering what further evidence to take. Does the Minister agree that it is important for the relevant Committees of this House to be able to carry out their remit in a properly constituted fashion and make recommendations based on evidence?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. She is right to remind the House that PACAC is undertaking such an inquiry, and we will look on it with interest. The Minister for the constitution, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office has already contributed to it, and he will make further contributions, should the inquiry so wish.
May I return the Minister to the question of the ministerial code? Does he think that there is any need for reform of the code or for its enforcement? If so, what should be the mechanism for achieving that?
The ministerial code determines how Ministers should behave—that is, serving Ministers. It does not have a direct impact on ex-Ministers, for reasons that the right hon. Lady will understand. It does, however, advise ex-Ministers about their responsibilities, should they leave their position, and it has been toughened up in that respect in the past few months, before this current discussion happened. It is important that ACOBA should give its recommendations before we move on to consider broader matters of reform, because the questions that are being put at the moment are predicated on an answer that I would not like to predetermine.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. In considering such matters, is it not extremely important that the House always seeks to attract the widest possible cross-section of people, including retaining the services of those who have held high office? Is it not also a matter of regret that, for the first time in my 30 years on and off in this House, there is no former Prime Minister in either of the two Houses of Parliament?
That is the view that this House has traditionally taken. It is not a matter for the Government; it is for this House to make a decision in the long term about the balance that it wants to have. Traditionally, this House has determined that it is right for Members of Parliament to have the opportunity of a wider hinterland. That may change—it is not for me to say—but it is important that, whatever the particularities at this juncture, the situation is judged within that context.
In 1523, Cardinal Wolsey become the Bishop of Durham. He never visited his diocese. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that hon. Members do not start behaving like medieval clerics instead of modern politicians?
Thomas Wolsey was a proud boy of Ipswich and was proud to go back as often as he could, so I have no complaints about him. I cannot speak for his parishioners, but I can say that it will be for all our constituents to judge in 2020 the means and the manner of how we have discharged our responsibilities. It is for us to go individually to the electorate at that point and to put ourselves up for re-election on that basis.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of whether the Cabinet Office received any representations from Her Majesty’s Opposition during the six years to July 2016 about the incompatibility of the role of Chancellor of the Exchequer with being a Member of this House, on the grounds that it was too onerous a post to combine with that of being an MP?
I endeavour in everything I do to be as assiduous as my predecessor in my ministerial responsibilities, but I have as yet not been able to uncover anything of the kind that my right hon. Friend suggests.
In the context of potential overspending in key marginal seats and concerns about the appointments of MPs with safe seats, does this situation not show the stark difference between parties’ and candidates’ approaches to marginal and safe seats? There is a real problem of representation and an issue with the first-past-the-post system.
That is a niche interest for the Liberal Democrats, all of whom have marginal seats. What I find extraordinary about that question is that there are Members on both sides of the House with safe seats who are incredibly assiduous in how they attend to their constituents—Opposition Members whom I am looking at now and Government Members behind me—and it is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to cast aspersions on them.
I commend the Minister for his judicious handling of this question. I underline the importance to us all of respecting constitutional principles. Is it not the case that ACOBA is an independent body? Its independence needs to be respected. Is it not the case that we believe in a free press and that proprietors should therefore have the right to appoint whom they believe is right to be editor, without the Executive or anyone else interfering in that decision? Is it not also the case that whoever represents a constituency should be up to its voters, not for the Opposition or anyone else to decree?
My right hon. Friend, as ever, is good at making clear the liberties that underpin our democracy and that we too often forget.
Those of us who were here at the time remember how difficult it was to restore the reputation of this House after the expenses scandal. Is there not a wider issue here about how the public look upon what they describe as the political class and about the feeling, justified or otherwise, that we are all greedy, on the make, and so on? We have to be careful that we are not tarred with the same brush.
I imagine that the hon. Gentleman was in this House when Dick Crossman went to edit the New Statesman, and that was when people read the New Statesman. The hon. Gentleman will know of previous examples of when such things have happened. It is important that we judge this situation in the context of whether we think that Members of Parliament should have employment outside. There are arguments on both sides, and it is important that we do not reduce this to an ad hominem attack, which would create very bad policy.
I gently say to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) that it has never been suggested that, during the five or six weeks when he was in Copeland as the Labour party’s campaign organiser, he abandoned or did anything wrong by his constituents.
Members of all parties on both sides of the House work extremely hard, especially when they have the ultimate second job as a Minister, Secretary of State, Chancellor of the Exchequer or, of course, Prime Minister. Does my right hon. Friend agree that anybody who does any other work in addition to their duties as a Member of Parliament actually brings a huge amount of experience into this Chamber, and that that makes all of us represent everyone in this country even better? Does he also agree that the ultimate judges are our constituents, who can boot us out through the ballot box if they do not like what we do?
My right hon. Friend is right that our constituents are the ultimate judges of our behaviour and performance. There are very strong arguments for allowing people to have outside interests, and there are also strong arguments against. Those arguments need to be reconciled with more time and thought than is possible during consideration of an urgent question. I repeat my earlier point that when we make such decisions we all have a duty not just to our own interests but to the wider reputation of our democracy. We have that duty in everything that we do, whatever post we hold in government or in Parliament.
At the risk of upsetting the new editor of my city’s newspaper, may I point out that there is an air of complete unreality around some of this afternoon’s exchanges. The public’s trust in both politicians and the media has never been so low, so what does it do to that trust if there is the idea that politicians can have a number of roles, including editing a newspaper? In an era of fake news, what does it do for the reputation of the media to have someone editing a newspaper who has no qualifications to do so? My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) asked about apprenticeship funding during Question Time. As a London MP, I want apprenticeship funding in London, as would the editor of my local newspaper, but what would the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) think?
Order. We cannot ask Ministers to speculate about what individual hon. or right hon. Members might think.
That is the conflict right there.
Order. Whatever the conflict may be, I am the determinant of what is an orderly question. I ask the hon. Gentleman graciously to accept that I am trying to do the right thing in balancing different considerations, but we must adhere to order. The Minister is a dextrous fellow, and he will answer in a way that is orderly—I know he will not answer in a way that is not.
The hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) is incisive in how he asks his question. I agree that we all obviously have a challenge in raising the reputation of our democratic institutions and the people who serve in them. That would not be served by a Minister of the Crown coming to the Dispatch Box on a Monday, following an announcement the previous Friday, to set out a new policy just to suit the particular agenda of the day. It is for the House to have a wide consideration of whether it thinks that it is right or wrong for people to have outside interests—I think that there are arguments on both sides. In the meantime, we all need to consider our individual duties to the wider body politic in the way in which we behave.
The Minister has a justified reputation for his devoted and assiduous work on his ministerial duties. Has that in any way diminished his ability to serve his constituents?
It has not in any way at all.
Will the Minister please refer to the advisory committee the dilemma that exists when a former Minister is given a particular appointment on the basis of his geographical location, but subsequently secures a further appointment that flatly contradicts the interest that he was meant to serve in that previous appointment? Can the editor of the London Evening Standard look after the northern powerhouse?
It is not for me to make that determination; it is for the independent advisory committee to do so, and it will make a recommendation to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton. I know that the hon. Gentleman wants me to say something controversial, but it would be wrong to undermine the process in the committee that is under way and to prejudice its decision by saying one thing or another.
Many people in this House have second jobs, including you, Mr Speaker. Your second job is obviously being Speaker of this House, and you do it assiduously, while being able to serve your constituents. Will the Minister help me to understand which jobs would be considered acceptable by the Government or another statutory body, as many people write books, or own land or property? Should they therefore sell everything into monastic simplicity and become a political class, or should they represent the economy and the people of this country by maintaining an intact body of effort with other people?
Order. We must give a fair hearing to Members on both sides of the House, and to the Minister. Earlier, Members were moaning that the Minister needed to speak up a bit. That is as may be, but the Minister is immensely courteous, and just as he is courteous to the House, so the House should be courteous to him.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend on moving himself up the speaking order for the next debate.
Many Members discharge their responsibilities to their constituents incredibly well even though they have interests outside Parliament, while some Members—albeit a very limited number—do not do much work on behalf of their constituents even though they have no outside work. This is not a binary debate but, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, it is a matter of public concern and one that this House is right to discuss. It should do so with time and with dignity, and I suggest that this is not the right place now—in an urgent question off the back of one story about one Member.
Is the Minister aware that roughly the same arguments are emanating from both sides of the House as we heard 40 years ago when we attempted to set up the register? This has not changed, except in that over the years there has been a desire by the majority of Members to ensure that the register and the duties of MPs are strengthened. The real question to be answered now is: how can a full-time politician be a full-time editor of a daily newspaper?
One of the many reasons why I admire the hon. Gentleman is that he walked out of the pit straight to this place, and gave an experience to the House of Commons and our representative democracy that few on either side of the House would able to provide. That is of enormous value to this House of Commons. I am not in a position to make the judgment that he invites me to make. I ask that the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments provides its independent report before we judge this particular incident, and that the hon. Gentleman contributes his thoughts to the wider considerations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I believe that there are strong arguments in his favour, but there are also strong arguments on the other side, and they should be discussed in the round.
As my right hon. Friend says, there is a fine balance between those who have outside interests and those who do not, but I believe that this House is enriched by those outside interests. I further believe that party apparatchiks do not enhance this House. May I utter a Labour party swear word to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who talks with his faux outrage? May I just remind him of Tony Blair?
Those two words are more likely to anger Opposition Members than Government Members.
It is difficult to frame this debate by looking at particular examples; we have to look at the generality. There are 650 Members of Parliament, many of whom have various outside interests: some are in the professions; some are in the charitable sector. If we start to go down this road, we will have to decide which things we judge to be more valuable than others. That is a very difficult path to travel down, and the House needs to make its consideration with time and dignity.
Tomorrow I have meetings in this place from 8.30 in the morning till 8.30 at night, including two involving Select Committees. Several ex-Ministers do an excellent job of chairing Select Committees. Should not the expertise that people gain in ministerial office be directed at scrutinising the work of the Executive and doing a job here in Parliament, not somewhere else?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton will continue to contribute to this House. He has shown every indication of wishing to do so in the past few weeks, and I have no doubt that he will continue to do so over the months ahead. It is right that we all contribute in our own way, and in the way that best discharges our talents. I hope that would be the case for all Members of Parliament, not just the one in question.
The hon. Friends of the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) have all jumped to his defence and argued that outside interests help a Member to stay in Parliament and bring experience to it. If the outside interests are so extensive, a Member quite clearly will not be contributing to the House, so that argument is ridiculous. The Minister says that Members stand for re-election by their constituents, but unfortunately under the UK political system there are safe seats in which voters do not have a choice, so will the Government look at this issue in the round?
The former leader of the hon. Gentleman’s party writes a column for a newspaper—[Interruption.] I am not saying whether that is right or wrong, but the reaction of Scottish National party Members suggests that they might feel a little guilty about putting that question.
The point is that this is not an easy or binary decision to come to. When is too much? Is it one newspaper column? Is it two or five? The House should come to a decision after long and careful thought. It would be good if Opposition Members expressed themselves in those terms, rather than expressing outrage, because Members on their side have outside interests.
Given some of the contributions from Conservative Members, it is a shame the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) is not still able to dish out ministerial jobs, because a few of them would have deserved one. On a more serious note, public concern about this issue is widespread, and the disaffection with the political process is even more acute in the north of England. What am I to say to my constituents who feel that time and again, despite all the talk of the northern powerhouse, we give up on the north and head down to London?
I share the hon. Lady’s concern; she raises something that we are going to have to rebuild together. Genuinely, if we conduct politics in a way that is disrespectful just so that we get headlines the next day, we will only continue to undermine the politics that we all seek to serve. That is why we need to understand this matter calmly and dispassionately and to make sure that we come to the right decision. On the concerns about the north, we are devolving power to Manchester precisely so that we can get the kind of representation the hon. Lady is calling for. That is why Conservatives are so keen to see that devolution happen. I hope she is happy with the result when it finally comes to pass in the next few months.
Will the Minister seize this moment to congratulate all those colleagues from both sides of the House who serve as reservists, or who practise as doctors or dentists, or in other important trades? Does not the fact that they do so illustrate how the Opposition are sometimes more concerned about the nature of the employment than the employment itself?
My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), is a practising doctor, and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) is a practising nurse. They bring particular expertise and skills to our Chamber that would not otherwise be here. There are good reasons and arguments in favour of that, but there are also reasons and arguments to the contrary—they are balanced. We need to have that discussion and then come to a conclusion, because whatever decision we reach will have profound implications for the way in which our democracy functions.
I do not own any broad rolling acres, sadly, but I do have some skin in the game as the author of a seldom-read column in Tribune entitled “Pound Notes”. Although I do not wish to attack anybody in this House, nor to be quite so clement as the former leader of my party, I do feel that the Minister should perhaps have a quiet word with one of his colleagues about, first, the ministerial code and, secondly, the actual job that Members of Parliament are doing, as some 20% of the work that comes into my office probably should not be done by an MP. Can we try to get some good out of this sorry business and have a look at first principles—or perhaps even go back to basics?
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman has said. As ever, he speaks a great deal of sense. In a former age, he would have been granted many thousands of rolling acres just for making that point. Perhaps that is one loss for all of us.
Let me declare an interest as a former NCTJ—National Council for the Training of Journalists—qualified journalist and a member of the National Union of Journalists, which I hope the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) will be joining in short course. Much has been made of possible political conflicts of interest, but will the Minister also address potential commercial conflicts of interest, especially given that the Treasury is one of the biggest spenders on newspaper advertising—the sum is about £2.5 million? Will he commit to publish details of that expenditure?
I remember the interest with which I viewed the hon. Gentleman’s contributions to “Look East”. He is right that the Government spend money on newspaper advertising, but that is arranged by civil servants through an independent process involving the Government Communication Service. One of his colleagues tabled a parliamentary question a couple of weeks ago about the nature of the spend over the past few years, and I provided the answer, which is now in the Library.
When the former Chancellor promised us a surplus in 2020, I do not think that any of us expected him to go about achieving it in quite this manner. However, I am concerned that the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) might be overstretching himself. Will ACOBA take account of European working time regulations and ensure that he is not damaging his health by working excessive hours?
I am not sure that any of us complies faithfully with the European working time directive. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton was an industrious man when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was industrious in rescuing this country’s economy, and no doubt he will continue to be industrious in whatever role he wishes to take.
The Minister said earlier that the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) had not actually received the advice from ACOBA. Will he confirm that right hon. and hon. Members are not in breach of the rules by announcing positions before they have received advice, and that ACOBA has absolutely no teeth to enforce rules when they have been breached?
It is for ACOBA to make recommendations and conditions. Indeed, it often enforces conditions. In the period leading up to 2010 and just after, only 12 of the 43 Ministers who made applications to take outside employment were allowed to do so without conditions, so ACOBA is able to provide conditions. It is for the committee to judge specifically in this case how it feels that the process has been undertaken. It will do so after taking into account all the evidence. It will publish its decision on the internet very soon, and the hon. Lady will be able to see it, as will everyone else.
Many people will think that parliamentarians should have sufficient life experience before they enter this place, but does the Minister believe that there should be an upper limit on the number of outside jobs that MPs are allowed to take?
The Committee on Standards in Public Life is considering that, and it is entirely right that the House should also do so. One reason why colleagues on both sides of the House have identified this issue of politicians being held in low esteem is to do with the culture that has grown up over the past 13, 14 or 15 years of Governments giving immediate answers to stories in the press just to show that they are ahead of some media game. That is not the way to get faith in politics or trust in politicians. We need to be considerate and deliberative, and to think carefully about the problems in front of us. Members of the House should discuss this matter dispassionately, calmly and with dignity in the weeks and months ahead, and come to a conclusion, to which the Government will listen.
I have only one job: representing the people of City of Chester. Will the Minister confirm or comment on the notion that perhaps jobs for former Ministers should not be accepted formally or announced before ACOBA has announced the conditions on which that job depends?
I think ACOBA will look at this case and make its judgment on it and the process that has taken place. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not mind if I do not comment at this stage, because that would prejudice what ACOBA says. Let us see what ACOBA says; then, no doubt, we will return to the matter, because the House will continue to be interested in it.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Through you, may I thank the Opposition for raising that point? They have done a tremendous job in uniting Conservative Members behind our right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne).
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is not a point of order, but he has made his own point in his own way and it is on the record. We will leave it there.
Non-consensual Sex Exemption (Tax Credits)
Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I rise to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration: the introduction of the non-consensual sex exemption in respect of tax credits, which I will henceforth refer to as the rape clause.
Since the two-child limitation of tax credits and universal credit was proposed in the summer 2015 Budget, I have pursued this matter relentlessly. I have used every means available to me through questions and debates, raising the matter in this House on no fewer than 25 occasions. The Government should by now have had adequate time to refine or, as I would prefer, to abandon that deeply flawed policy, but they have left deeply worrying gaps that will leave vulnerable women exposed, which is why I am calling for the debate.
The Government have sought to reassure me many times that women making a claim under the rape clause will be treated sensitively, and that they will be able to go through third-party professionals such as nurses, doctors and social workers, rather than frontline staff of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or the Department for Work and Pensions, but answers to written parliamentary questions I tabled exposed that there has been no training—none—in domestic violence or in the application of the policy to the 660,000 third-party professionals, with the policy due to come into force very soon, on 6 April. That puts vulnerable women seeking to make a claim in the position of having to present themselves to a GP, nurse or social worker to reveal that their third child was conceived as the result of rape, for that professional to determine, without having had domestic violence training or knowledge of the policy, if the circumstances are consistent with their having been raped. What kind of response can such women expect?
The Government are still saying today that they will issue guidance. When? I remind the House that the policy goes live on 6 April, in the middle of the recess. How will we parliamentarians know if the Government have done what they say they will do? Information has been shared with me by a member of staff at HMRC, who wishes to remain anonymous, that the sensitive unit, which will deal with rape clause claims, will not go live until 6 April. Until then, HMRC staff are left crossing their fingers that they do not get inquiries from the public about a sensitive issue in which they have not been trained. That is utterly unacceptable.
The Government have been dodging scrutiny on this issue from the start, burying it at the back of the 2015 Budget, being forced to carry out a consultation they did not want to have, sneaking out the response to that consultation during Trump’s inauguration, and laying Statutory Instrument 2017 No. 387 last week under the negative procedure, to avoid debate in this House. I feel compelled to appeal to you, Mr Speaker, to grant this emergency debate. Women who have faced the worst trauma of their lives—being raped and becoming pregnant as a result of that most serious and dangerous of sexual assaults—are being forced to relive that trauma just to claim tax credits. That is a gross and despicable invasion of privacy. I believe that we owe it to these women and their children to hold this Government to account.
The hon. Lady asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely, “The introduction of the non-consensual sex exemption in respect of tax credits.” I have listened carefully to the application from the hon. Lady, but I am afraid that I am not persuaded that the matter is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. The Standing Order does not permit me to give my reasons to the House. I shall therefore simply observe that a prayer has been tabled against the regulations, and I hope and anticipate that the usual channels will find time for it to be debated.
Prisons and Courts Bill
[Relevant documents: Fourth Report of the Justice Committee, Session 2015-16, Criminal justice inspectorates, HC 724, and the Government response, HC 1000; Sixth Report of the Justice Committee, Session 2015-16, Prison safety, HC 625, and the Government response, HC 647; Oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 29 November 2016, 14 December 2016, 18 January 2017, 31 January 2017, 21 February 2017 and 28 February 2017 on prison reform, HC 548; and Oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 7 February 2017 on the Government consultation on soft tissue injury claims, HC 922.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill makes the most significant changes to the Prison Act 1952 since it was passed 65 years ago. For the first time, it will be clear that the Government are not just responsible for housing prisoners; it will also be clear that a key purpose of prisons is to reform prisoners and prepare them for their return to the community. That means getting prisoners off drugs, into work and improving their education while they are in prison. Together with greater powers for governors, performance tables and sharper inspections, more people will leave prison reformed, and this will cut the £15 billion cost to society of reoffending that we all face every year.
I understand that people quite often want to be angry at prisoners and say that it is all their own fault, but a large proportion of people in prison have suffered major brain traumas through fights or various other means. The support available in the wider community through the health service can fully rehabilitate them and bring them back into society, but the support in prison is still very weak. Will the Government be doing more to tackle that?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that many people in prison suffer from serious issues such as the ones he mentioned. Therefore, we are going to give prison governors co-commissioning powers over health services in their prisons so that they can design them around the needs of those offenders, helping them to get the treatment that they need to live a lawful life once they leave prison.
The Bill will usher in a new era for our courts, modernising a process that remains fundamentally unchanged from the Victoria era. Our reforms, in this Bill and wider, create a system that is fit for the 21st century, providing better protection for vulnerable victims and witnesses, improving access to justice for ordinary working people, who will be able to access the courts in a much simpler and more efficient way, and promoting our reputation for global legal excellence and as the best place to do business.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman before I talk through the detail of the Bill.
I welcome the access to justice proposals in the Bill. I urge the Secretary of State to discuss with the devolved Administrations, particularly Northern Ireland—when we hopefully get a Government up and running again there—rolling out the process there so that Northern Ireland can share in the expertise and expense of the system that she has put in place?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman has had a demonstration of our system, and I look forward to discussing with him further how we can share best practice.
Prisons rightly punish those who break the law, but they should be a place of safety and reform where prisoners can turn their lives around to then lead a lawful life outside prison. Sadly, that is not the case at the moment. The levels of violence in our prisons are too high, as last week’s shocking attack on the young officer at Oakhill shows. I am sure that the thoughts of all those in this House are with him and his family at this very difficult time.
We have worrying levels of self-harm and deaths in custody. The “Prison Safety and Reform” White Paper, which I launched in November, set out a clear plan, combining immediate action to increase staffing levels and track drugs, drones and phones with radical reforms to get offenders off drugs, into work and away from crime for good.
I will take some interventions in a minute, once I have made a bit of progress.
While there is much we can do and are doing operationally, part 1 of the Bill addresses areas that require primary legislation. First, the Bill enshrines in law the purpose of prison. It sets out that prisons must aim to do four things. First, they must protect the public. Holding prisoners securely is a core job of prisons —protecting the public from the risk that offenders pose. Prisons must do all they can to prevent security failures.
Secondly, prisons must reform and rehabilitate offenders. They must give them the opportunities to allow them to turn their back on crime. That means tackling drug and alcohol addiction; tackling mental health issues; and giving offenders opportunities to work and get training and apprenticeships while they are in prison, to improve their English and maths, and to maintain their family ties.
May I say how much I welcome this Bill, which seems to me to be going in exactly the right direction in terms of reforming prisons? However, my right hon. Friend will be aware that, ultimately, the ability to deliver these programmes will be intimately dependent on reducing prison overcrowding, because without that, as we have seen on many occasions, the programmes, however good, founder as the prisons come under strain. Will she keep that in mind, and is there anything she can tell the House in the course of Second Reading about the strategy she might have in mind to try to address that issue?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. We have held the prison population stable for the last six years, and there are some areas, such as sex offences, where we have seen sentences rise, and I think that that is right, because those are serious crimes and they were not receiving the level of punishment that we would expect. However, as I have said before—I made this point in a speech a few weeks ago—there is more we can do to prevent people from committing crimes that lead to custody, by tackling issues earlier on, whether that is drug addiction, alcohol misuse or not being in education or training. I look forward to saying more about that in due course.
Nobody will disagree with the statements the Lord Chancellor has made in relation to clause 1, because they are sensible and sound, but she must recognise that the indicators on self-harm, assaults and everything else are rising, and that there are 6,500 fewer officers than there were seven years ago. Can she tell us how many officers she has recruited to date, how many she expects to recruit and how she can keep a prison population that is at the level it was in 2010 with fewer officers?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have a programme to recruit 2,500 additional officers across the estate. I can confirm that we started in 10 of the most challenging prisons. We have now successfully secured the complement of officers in those first 10 prisons, which we said we would do by the end of March. We now have a record number of officers—over 700—in training. I do not deny it is a challenging task to recruit those officers, but as the right hon. Gentleman knows from his experience as prisons Minister, it is vital that we do that, because it is only by having qualified and skilled officers that we will help to turn people’s lives around.
I am not just interested in numbers; I am also interested in the career prospects and additional training that we give officers. That is why we are putting in an additional 2,000 senior officer posts across the country. Those will pay upward of £30,000, and they will reward officers who have additional training in areas such as mental health. As the right hon. Gentleman realises, it takes time to recruit and train those officers, but I am absolutely determined to do that, because, alongside these reforms, it is trained officers who will make the difference in our prisons.
I think I can help my right hon. Friend with an idea. About 15% of the prison population are foreign prisoners, and prisoners from places such as Albania, Jamaica, Somalia and Nigeria make up about 20% of them. Surely we can have arrangements whereby those prisoners are sent back to their own, friendly countries—including Commonwealth countries. The Department for International Development might help with the arrangements in those countries.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am pleased to say that a record number of foreign offenders were sent back last year, but we are doing even more on this and making progress. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), is working very hard on it.
I too welcome the Bill, particularly the emphasis that is placed on the purpose of prison. My right hon. Friend will be aware that one of the most successful young offender programmes is that run by National Grid. It has been going for many years, and National Grid now has 80 partner companies working with it. It has got the reoffending rate down from the average of way over 50% to 7%. In particular, some of its partner companies have been working really hard with Brixton prison in relation to release on temporary licence. Brixton has recently been removed from the ROTL regime, and that is causing some difficulty because there are no other prisons in London that satisfy the criteria. Will she look into that? Will she think about putting this into the Bill, because the ROTL scheme is really working for young offenders?
The right hon. Lady was keen to prove that her intervention was not only erudite but comprehensive, and in that mission I think she has been successful.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her point. She is absolutely right. Getting employers who want to employ people on the outside to train offenders on the inside will help to create the path into work that reduces reoffending. I have been to Brixton and seen the fantastic work that it is doing with offenders. The question she posed is already being addressed by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, because we want people to be able to get the experience in work that means that they can leave prison, get into a job, and lead a lawful life. We are also launching a strategy on employment to try to get more employers like National Grid, Timpson and Halfords, which already do fantastic work, to sign up to employing these ex-offenders, because that benefits all of us.
The Lord Chancellor has mentioned how important staffing is. The roll-out of a 1:6 ratio in public sector prisons is welcome, but I do not understand why it would not apply to private prisons, because they have to deal with the same sorts of challenges as those in our public sector.
I should clarify that it is a caseload of 1:6, which means that each officer will have responsibility for six offenders whereby they are in charge of making sure that those offenders are safe and encouraging them to reform while they are in prison. The head of the Prison Service, Michael Spurr, is in discussions with the private sector prisons to make sure that they have access to the same level of staffing. We want that to apply in both the private and the public sectors.
I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). The Lord Chancellor has set out this aspiration before, so could she now set out a timescale as to when the imbalance in ratios between the public and the private sectors will be corrected?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is on the same timescale as the public sector programme, so we will deliver it over the next year and a half.
I commend my right hon. Friend for much of what she is doing in this Bill. Given that she takes great pains to stress the importance of mental health and its link with reoffending and the need to reduce self-harm and other issues in prisons, I am curious as to why one of the fundamental duties in clause 1 is not to promote and protect the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners.
I know my hon. Friend takes a very strong interest in this area. I assure him that the commissioning arrangements for governors will give them the power to specify mental health treatment in their own prisons. Governors have complained to me that, at the moment, mental health services are available only five days a week. That is an issue if somebody arrives in a prison at a weekend with serious mental health issues.
Governors will be able to co-commission those services. Under the categories of reforming and rehabilitating offenders, we have announced specific performance metrics, some of which will cover health issues. I issued a written ministerial statement recently containing the detail of that, and we will say more about it in due course. That is among the reform measures that we are putting in place, and it will be covered in the performance agreements that individual prisons have with me, as Secretary of State.
Askham Grange women’s prison in York has the lowest reoffending rate in the country, at 6%, but for two years the Government have been saying that they are going to close it. Will the Lord Chancellor look at that again and confirm that she will not close such an excellent prison?
I am certainly very happy to look at that issue. We will shortly launch a new strategy for women offenders, which will be about dealing better with underlying issues—whether that is substance abuse, or issues of abuse and domestic violence—to find a better solution and prevent women from committing the crimes that lead them into custody. We will launch that shortly, and I am sure we will cover the prison that the hon. Lady mentions.
The third priority and purpose of prisons that we lay out in the Bill is preparing prisoners for life outside prison. As has been mentioned, making sure that the offender has sustainable employment and a home to go to is vital in reducing reoffending.
In my constituency, I have Kirkham prison, which has been a pioneer in leading a programme on jobs, friends and family; the former prisons Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) has met those involved. May I ask the Secretary of State, during proceedings on the Bill, to have a look at the programmes being run by Kirkham prison and see whether similar programmes can be incorporated elsewhere, because they really make a difference to people’s lives?
I would certainly be happy to see the details of that scheme. Family ties will be included in our performance measures and our empowerment of governors. Governors will be given control of their budget for helping prisoners with their family ties. We have had a report from Lord Farmer, and I am meeting him this week to discuss the matter further. In addition to having work and a home to go to, a supportive family can be a very important part of rehabilitation.
Governors need to look at all those things. I am setting out clear expectations of what prisons should be doing, but not how they should do it. I believe that it is up to the individual governor to look at what works for their area and what works for the people in their prisons, so it is important that they should be given the flexibility to deliver things in an innovative way. I will be very clear about the standards that we expect, but how governors deliver those standards will be increasingly down to them.
Does the Lord Chancellor agree that if we are able to tackle the problems surrounding links with families—one of the key recommendations of Lord Farmer—that will, in itself, greatly reduce reoffending? Lord Farmer will show that 63% of the children of offenders grow up to offend. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that we intervene early to ensure that that does not happen?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct on that point. Those children often feel as though they have done something wrong, and it is absolutely wrong for them to feel as though they are being punished for a crime that their parent has committed. I am determined that we will do what we can to protect innovative schemes such as Storybook Dads, which help to keep the link between children and their fathers and mothers while those individuals are in prison.
Finally, we need to maintain a safe and secure prison environment. Prisons need to feel safe for staff and prisoners. That means that as well as tackling violent incidents and creating the right kind of culture and atmosphere, we need to provide support to vulnerable prisoners. We also need to make sure that we have sufficient levels of staffing to provide that safety and security.
The Bill makes it clear how I, as the Secretary of State, will account to Parliament for progress in reforming offenders. This is the first time that legislation will make it clear that the Secretary of State is responsible for reforming offenders, and the Secretary of State—that is, me—will have to report to Parliament about what they do. That is a very important change in the culture of our prisons: for the first time, there will be accountability at Cabinet level not just for prisons being safe, which is of course important, and for providing enough prison places, but for turning around and reforming the lives of individuals under the care of the state, and ensuring that they leave prison with better prospects and more likely to lead a law-abiding life.
I have listened closely to this debate, which has largely been extremely consensual. The Lord Chancellor knows about HM Prison Berwyn in the Wrexham constituency—we have already discussed it—and that a great deal of common hope is invested in that institution. In Wrexham, we are hugely impressed by its staff, under the leadership of Russ Trent. To pick up on the point she is making, will she report back regularly on the progress at that prison? Many of the aspects of the philosophy we are talking about are being carried out there in practice, and it will be extremely important to measure that as time passes.
I am certainly very happy to report back on the progress at HMP Berwyn. We are looking at that progress, and we are learning the lessons across our prison estate.
The Lord Chancellor is very generous in giving way to me twice. She will be aware that people with autism are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Young Offender Institution Feltham was the first prison to have accreditation as autism-friendly, which it has found has reduced violence and helped people with mental health problems. I understand that 20 other prisons are currently going through the accreditation process. Will she give consideration to making sure that all establishments go through the accreditation process, because I believe it will deliver a safer environment in prisons for our officers and for those incarcerated?
I will certainly look at that. I know my right hon. Friend has a long record of standing up for people with autism and making sure they have proper support.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I want to finish this point, because I must move on to the courts section of the Bill, but I will give way.
My right hon. Friend is very kind. The Bill says:
“The report must set out the extent to which prisons are meeting the purpose mentioned in section A1.”
What happens if a prison, or prisons generally, do not meet such a purpose? What will the Secretary of State do about it, what can she do about it, and what will happen if she does not do anything about it because prisoners are let out?
My right hon. and learned Friend, who served as the shadow prisons Minister, makes a very important point.
As well as creating a framework for the Minister, the Bill will set up a new Executive agency, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, from 1 April, to focus on the operational management of prisons and probation. We will have new standards, and performance measures will appear in performance tables so that the public can see, transparently and accountably, what is going on in prisons. At the moment, we do not know the employment rate for those coming out of a prison, how good a prison is at improving the English and maths of the people inside it, or how effective it is at getting them off drugs. Those measures will all be published, which will lead to much greater scrutiny and accountability for the public.
In addition, I am strengthening the powers of the prisons inspectorate. The inspectorate—the chief inspector, in particular—will be able to trigger an urgent response from the Secretary of State in the most serious cases. That means that if a prison is failing to meet the standards, the Secretary of State will have to respond within a specific timetable with an action plan to improve the prison. At the moment, that is not the case.
I assume, therefore, that this is intended to be justiciable, and that if the Secretary of State were not to respond within the time suggested the Government would be reviewable in court.
It will be enforceable through the inspectorate, which will be given specific powers to ensure that that happens.
The Bill will place the prisons and probation ombudsman on a statutory footing, giving him greater authority and statutory powers to investigate deaths in custody. The Bill supports our efforts to stop drug use and crime enabled by illegal mobile phones. It enables phone network operators to disrupt unlawful use of mobile phones in custody.
I just want to ask the Lord Chancellor, if she could answer very simply, who is accountable in the event of a prisoner’s escape?
The governor is accountable for what happens in their prison, but there is a line management structure through to the head of the Prison Service and, ultimately, the Secretary of State.
The Bill supports swifter responses to the devastating effect of psychoactive substances. There have been very serious cases on our prison estate. They fuel debt and violence and can have a serious impact on prisoners’ health. We rolled out new tests for psychoactive substances in September last year—we were the first jurisdiction in the world to do so. The Bill strengthens our ability to keep up with the speed at which substances evolve. It allows quicker testing for all newly identified psychoactive substances based on the generic definition of those substances set out in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.
We face challenges in our prisons that will not be solved in weeks or months, but I am absolutely determined to turn the situation around. We now have the resources to do so: we are investing an additional £100 million a year and we have a clear plan. The measures in the Bill provide a structure under which accountability and scrutiny can take place, so we will be able to see how our prisons improve over time.
The Bill introduces major reforms to the court and justice system, which I announced in my joint memorandum with the Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals in September. It will introduce more virtual and online hearings, put in place greater protection for victims and witnesses, and provide greater support for our excellent judges and magistrates.
I want to take a moment to pay tribute to the Lord Chief Justice, John Thomas, a great reformer who has spearheaded these reforms and who will retire later this year. I also want to thank the Senior President of Tribunals. Their vision for a courts and tribunals system that is just, proportionate and accessible lies at the very heart of the reforms set out in the Bill. The reforms are a tribute to their tireless work, alongside other senior members of the judiciary.
On behalf of the Justice Committee, may I warmly associate myself with the Justice Secretary’s entirely appropriate comments on the Lord Chief Justice and the rest of the senior judiciary? Will she reflect on whether the Bill’s passage through the House may not provide an opportunity to revisit the retiring age of senior judiciary, which, at 70, runs against the behaviour of much of the rest of society and our economy?
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for introducing this hotly debated issue into our discussion on the Bill. The measure is not a part of the Bill. I have had discussions on this issue with the senior judiciary. We should certainly consider it in due course, but at the moment there is no consensus.
Yesterday, we announced that we are bringing forward the roll-out of reforms to allow rape victims to pre-record their cross examination, sparing them the trauma of giving evidence during trial. This follows successful pilots of measures for child victims of all crimes. This will not reduce the right to a fair trial. During the pilots for vulnerable victims there was no significant change in the conviction rate, but we did see more early guilty pleas and fewer cracked trials. That means less stress and trauma for all of those participating in the case.
I want to praise the determined leadership of the president of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir Brian Leveson, and the senior presiding judge, Lord Justice Fulford. They have been vital in developing the plans for rolling out these provisions for child victims and victims of sexual offences in all Crown courts. Given that in some of our Crown courts, almost 50% of cases are sexual cases, this is a very important reform that will help us to support people who have to go through this terrible experience and to improve the situation for them.
This is a very welcome announcement, but it will mean that more cases will have to be included in the roll-out of section 28, which is due to be completed by December 2017. The sexual assault referral centre in Manchester is currently a remote site, enabling cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses by video link to the court. Will the Secretary of State consider the use of existing remote sites such as St Mary’s for pre-recorded cross-examination of witnesses, which would help to prevent delays in the roll-out of section 28, which has been a fantastically successful pilot?
I am in principle in favour of using alternative venues, other than courts, which can be conducive to people giving the best possible evidence in a less intimidating environment. I would have to discuss that with the senior judiciary—we are working closely with them on this issue—but I am certainly in favour of using places such as sexual assault referral centres to make sure that we give the best possible support to victims and witnesses at a very difficult time for them.
The measures set out in the Bill will further enhance our ability to protect vulnerable witnesses and modernise the courts and tribunal system. Our changes to the system should be reflected in better legal support, but are focused on early help and representation. That is why we are bringing forward a legal support Green Paper in early 2018, setting out proposals to update the system of legal support in a modern court system. Put simply, what we want is less time spent navigating the system and more legal time spent on giving people legal advice and legal representation.
Parts 2 and 3 will take forward measures relating to procedures in civil, family and criminal matters, and the organisation and functions of courts and tribunals. I shall talk through each in turn.
One area that I am concerned about is representation in court in matrimonial proceedings, which can be some of the most difficult, emotional and contentious cases in our courts, yet very little legal representation is publicly funded. Is the Lord Chancellor content with the current situation, and which areas does she think need the most attention?
If the hon. Gentleman is asking me whether I am content with the current situation, no, I am not. We need to reform the family justice system. We need to help people to get an earlier resolution of their issues. We need to get better at helping families, and I am a big fan of the family, drugs and alcohol courts and the work that they do in supporting parents. That is why the Minister for Courts and Justice and I will bring forward a Green Paper on family justice that will look at the system in a holistic way to see how we can do things better within the family justice system. There are certainly areas where improvement needs to be made.
Banning the ability of alleged abusers to be able to cross-examine their victims in court is an important step. This was done in the Crown courts in the 1990s, and we are only now catching up with it in the family courts. It is very important to give family courts the priority in the system that they deserve, so that we can deal with these difficult issues in people’s lives as sensitively as possible.
This Bill will also make sure that victims and witnesses in the criminal courts receive the support they deserve. It will extend the use of video links from virtual hearings, which will have multiple benefits. First, it will allow victims to be eligible to take part in cases without having to meet their alleged attacker face to face. In future, about 180,000 victims and witnesses a year will be eligible to give evidence remotely from a convenient location or in advance of a hearing. The Bill will enable more bail hearings to take place through video link and away from the courtroom, saving time and money. It will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall process by allowing a number of decisions to be made outside the traditional courtroom, and it will save people time spent in travelling to court: it will save about 112,000 journeys from prisons to courts each year.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way again. I support the thrust and intention of the Bill. Normally a victim is the first witness for the prosecution, but is there not a risk that the question that someone may wish to ask the witness will be changed by the evidence that precedes the giving of that evidence by the witness? We shall have to have a system to deal with that if a fair trial process is to be maintained.
My right hon. and learned Friend has made the important point that a fair trial is at the heart of our justice system. We already have rules committees, and we are establishing a new online rules committee which will be managed by the judiciary. They will look at the issues in detail to ensure that a fair trial is always paramount.
The Bill will enable screens to be installed in courts across England and Wales to allow the public to observe virtual hearings from court buildings anywhere in the country. Lists of all open cases will be published online, and results will be made available digitally. That will ensure that justice is done and seen to be done.
The Bill will streamline the pre-trial process, and will make changes in the way in which cases are allocated in the Crown and magistrates courts. Defendants will be able to indicate a plea online in all cases, allowing the courts to make administrative decisions without the need for a hearing. We are also stripping out nearly 30,000 unnecessary first hearings for the most serious offences in the magistrates courts each year.
The Bill will abolish local justice areas, simplifying the structure of our magistrates courts and removing the bureaucracy and geographical constraints that cause inefficiencies and delays. It will allow those who are charged with some of the most straightforward, non-imprisonable offences to resolve their cases entirely online. For example, a commuter charged with failure to produce a ticket can log on to a website, have all the options clearly explained, and accept a conviction and pay a set penalty instantly online without waiting for a magistrate to process the case.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that a number of magistrates courts—including the court in Bedford—were closed in past years by the justices themselves, despite the best efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), whose hands were tied. Will these measures help to allay my constituents’ concern about the difficulties of additional travel in the case of some offences? Will the Bill give them some comfort by ensuring that the problems involved in having to go to Luton will be allayed?
My hon. Friend is right. I represent a rural constituency, and I understand people’s concerns about having to travel far. Virtual hearings will enable people to do more online so that they do not need to travel to court, and to use virtual videos. That is already reducing travel needs throughout the country. If people want to observe a case in another part of the country, they will be able to go into their court to do so, with special permission. Victims and witnesses will have more access to the justice process.
Transferred online communications are wonderful if people have access to quality broadband, but communities in parts of my constituency have broadband that is as slow as 25% of capability. How on earth will people be able to gain access to justice when they cannot possibly do anything online because of appalling broadband?
We are doing a lot to improve broadband across the country. The online system is not mandatory; the paper process will be available. I have been looking recently at virtual hearings that are taking place across the country. In some areas, such as the south-west of England, there is very high take-up of these hearings, because being able to use broadband helps people in rural areas, who have long distances to travel to get to court.
Particularly in the west country.
The west country is leading the way at the moment, and we are looking at how we can encourage courts across the country to do the same thing.
I am very pleased to say that civil justice is at the forefront of our reforms. I was proud to announce the new business and property courts last week with the Lord Chief Justice and the Chancellor of the High Court. These courts are the vanguard of our world-class civil justice system, making sure that global Britain leads the world in law. They will be based in London, Leeds, Bristol, Manchester and Cardiff, and they represent the fact that our courts and commercial courts serve not only the City of London, which is of course important, but significant regional centres across the country.
I promise that this intervention is uncontroversial. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as the integrity of the judiciary, one of the strengths of our commercial courts is the ability to enforce judgments worldwide, and that includes within the European Union? Does she therefore accept that it is most important that the ability to enforce the judgments of our courts in the EU remains a top priority in our Brexit negotiations?
My hon. Friend is correct. As well as making sure that these commercial courts cover all the regions of our country, we need to make sure that there is mutual enforcement of judgments elsewhere. We have a commitment to do that as a Government; it is something that I have agreed with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and it is a priority for the Government’s negotiations.
This Bill introduces a new online court which will enable people to resolve civil claims of up to £25,000 simply and easily online. These online services will increase access to justice. It will reform procedures so that people can make witness statements rather than statutory declarations in relation to certain traffic and air quality offences in the county court. It means that people will not have to go into court to go through this process. The Bill will also streamline the use of “attachment of earnings” orders, giving the High Court the same power as the county court to make attachment of earnings orders in relation to judgment debts, and on the basis of a fixed deduction scheme.
We also want our excellent judiciary and magistrates to be better supported in the work they do. This Bill will allow judges in all our courts and tribunals to make greater and more effective use of authorised court staff, to assist them with tasks such as dealing with routine applications or ensuring compliance with court directions. This will allow our judiciary to prioritise their time and expertise on the matters where they are needed most.
The Bill will bring the legislative framework for the employment tribunal system into closer alignment with that of the wider tribunals system. It will confer responsibility for making procedural rules to the Tribunal Procedure Committee. Employment judges will be able to delegate routine tasks to appropriately trained or qualified staff. Overall, these reforms will benefit tribunal users, whose cases will be resolved more quickly and proportionately.
We have the most highly regarded judiciary in the world; they are a beacon of independence, expertise and commitment to the rule of law. The Lord Chief Justice and I are working closely together to make sure that we have the strongest possible role for judges and magistrates in a transformed and modern justice system. We are putting in place reforms that recognise magistrates as an integral part of this judicial family. The judiciary is an important part of our constitution and its continued independence is vital for the rule of law. We must continue to uphold the very high standards and to select its members purely on merit. That means ensuring that people want to apply, feel valued and have good working conditions. I value the work that the judiciary does, from the magistrates and tribunals to the High Court and the Supreme Court. As Lord Chancellor, I am determined to support them in all they do.
Part 4 takes forward measures to ensure that our judiciary have the support and opportunities they need for a fulfilling and successful career. This Bill will strengthen leadership structures in the judiciary, supporting our wider work to provide clear career progression for judges, and ensuring that the widest possible range of talent comes into our judiciary. It will make it easier for the judiciary to deploy judges more flexibly, allowing judges to gain experience of different types of cases and helping with their career progression. The Bill will also enable the Judicial Appointments Commission to assist with selection exercises in other parts of the world, sharing the leading expertise within the commission.
Part 5 tackles the rampant compensation culture that has developed around whiplash claims—
Just before my right hon. Friend moves on, may I ask her a question about magistrates? She rightly values the work that they do, so when can we expect the Government to allow them to send people to prison for 12 months, rather than six? This Government have been promising to do that for quite some time.
I thank my hon. Friend for his dogged support for magistrates; he is absolutely right about the fantastic work that they do. I am looking into this issue, and I would be happy to discuss it with him further.
Part 5 tackles the rampant compensation culture that has developed around whiplash claims. The number of road traffic accident personal injury claims is over 50% higher than it was 10 years ago, despite there being fewer accidents and safer cars on our roads. The Bill will enable us to introduce a transparent tariff system of fixed proportionate compensation for whiplash claims with an injury duration of up to two years, and to ensure that all claims will be supported by good quality medical evidence provided by accredited experts.
Should not the Lord Chancellor use the Bill to put in place a fairer and more balanced framework for calculating personal injury compensation lump sum insurance payments, following her seismic decision on the discount rate a few weeks ago? That decision has the potential to raise our constituents’ insurance premiums, and the Treasury has said that it could add £2 billion next year and £1 billion thereafter to NHS litigation costs, which will affect the taxpayer. Surely the Bill could introduce a better balance.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he will not have to wait long for an answer to his question. I agree that the system is in need of reform, and I will bring forward a consultation before the Easter recess. I look forward to hearing his contribution to it.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House where the consultation’s tariff figures for whiplash came from? What evidence was there for the Government to put those figures in the consultation document?
The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that we have changed the figures in response to the consultation document. Those were judged to be fair and reasonable for the level of injury that we are talking about in this case.
I strongly welcome the provisions in the Bill to clamp down on whiplash fraud. Will the Lord Chancellor consider widening very slightly the definition of “whiplash injury” in clause 61 to include injuries to the lower back as well as the upper back?
That issue was covered in the consultation, and we have brought it back after listening to what people fed through in the consultation. The Bill will end the unfairness of higher premiums for motorists while ensuring that fair compensation remains available for genuinely injured claimants.
The Prisons and Courts Bill will usher in a new, modern era for our prisons, courts and justice system. It will do three key things. It will ensure that our prisons are places of reform so that offenders have the skills they need to return to society, to secure employment and to turn their back on crime. It will create a courts and tribunal system that protects the most vulnerable and is more straightforward and accessible for all. It will also enable the judiciary to meet the demands of a modern justice system and enhance our reputation for legal excellence around the world. I commend the Bill to the House.
I start by echoing the Justice Secretary’s comments about the young prison officer Ryan Goodenough, who was attacked in Oakhill secure training centre last week. I pay tribute to all our prison officers, who do such a good job in such difficult circumstances.
I thank the Secretary of State for telephoning me the evening before the Bill’s publication to discuss its contents, and the Minister for Courts and Justice for meeting me last week to discuss the Bill in further detail. Even though I have been in this place for only a limited time, I understand that that is a custom more often honoured in the breach than observance, so I was pleased that they contacted me in a courteous and informative way. I also thank the House of Commons Library for its thorough and clear briefing, which has assisted me and my staff, and doubtless many other Members and their staff, too.
We are discussing a Bill to amend the procedures in our prisons and courts. The Bill has been trailed since the Queen’s Speech last May—back in the days when the former right hon. Member for Witney was Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) was Justice Secretary, and the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) could not find the time to edit a daily newspaper. Much has changed since then—we have waited a long time for this Bill.
We are not opposed to the Bill. Indeed, we welcome and support much of its content. However, when we disagree with provisions or believe that the Government should go further, we will pursue amendments in Committee. The Bill comes at a time of dual crises: a dangerous and declining prison estate; and thousands of people being priced out of access to justice. I will set out the reasons for those crises and what the Bill must offer to make a real difference.
It has been the Secretary of State’s misfortune to inherit a brief that has been dominated from day one by the crisis in our prisons. That crisis is not of the Secretary of State’s making, but it was created by the Conservative Government’s cuts agenda. The relevant statistics are often cited in this place, but they are worth repeating. There is overcrowding in 68% of our prisons, with more than 84,000 people for approximately 77,000 places. In the 12 months to September 2016, there were more than 25,000 prisoner assault incidents, which represented a 31% increase on the figure for September 2015. Assaults on prison staff reached 6,430, which was an increase of 82% since 2006 and a 40% increase on the year before. There were more than 37,750 incidents of self-harm, which was an increase of 61% compared with September 2006 and a national increase of 23% on the previous year. In the 12 months to December 2016, there were 354 deaths of prisoners in custody, 34% of which were self-inflicted. This Government’s decision to cut 7,000 frontline prison officers no doubt contributed in large part to the crisis, but that was allied with the disastrous decision to part-privatise our probation service, meaning that the effective rehabilitation of offenders has become all but extinct under successive Conservative Governments.
I, too, want to support and help to protect our prison officers. I intend to table an amendment whereby a prisoner who assaults a prison officer should no longer be automatically released halfway through their sentence. That would have a big impact on the Prison Officers Association—it would welcome that support—and it might deter some of the violence in prisons. If I table such an amendment, will the hon. Gentleman show his backing for prison officers by supporting it?
In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and others will look at ways of ensuring that we put the safety of our prison officers first, and on a par with the safety of police officers. Overcrowding, violence and failure to reform are all challenges that the Bill must confront and surmount.
The Bill sets out proposals to modernise the way in which our courts and tribunals operate, which is welcome. I can testify from my decade as an employment tribunal lawyer that when Dickens complained in “Bleak House” about the turgid pace with which courts dealt with cases, he could have been speaking for our age, too. However, technology has begun to appear in courtrooms, from which it was previously glaringly absent.
It is vital that such innovations do not come at the expense of access to justice, because in recent years, when the Conservatives have released documents with the word “transforming” in the title, that has usually been shorthand for cutting, diminishing and failing—think of “Transforming Legal Aid” and “Transforming Rehabilitation.” “Transforming our Justice System,” which is one of the papers that has influenced this Bill, must not result in the same.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, was certainly correct when he said last year:
“Our system of justice has become unaffordable to most.”
I was glad that the Secretary of State praised Lord Thomas in her speech, but I would welcome it if she went beyond praising him and agreed with his analysis of the barriers to access to justice.
Lord Thomas certainly said that, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that Lord Thomas also supports all the Bill’s measures on reforming the courts, particularly on using technology to allow the access to courts that so many people were saying was going to be denied. Lord Thomas supports all the measures.
I made it clear at the outset of my speech that we will not oppose the Bill on Second Reading. We welcome a number of the Bill’s measures, but the Government should go further. I hope that the Secretary of State will agree that reform should not come at the expense of access to justice, and if Lord Thomas, whom we all hold in high esteem, is saying that our system of justice has become unaffordable to most, Members on both sides of the House must take that seriously.
Nothing more poignantly demonstrates what Lord Thomas said about the barriers to access to justice than the 70% reduction in employment tribunal cases following the coalition Government’s introduction of employment tribunal fees. The Bill must provide answers to such problems. Technology alone is not a panacea, nor must it be utilised to mask further cuts to public funding.
A key feature of the Bill that has received much coverage in recent weeks is the proposed reform of whiplash claims. When the Bill was published, many people were pleased that it did not raise the small claims limit for all personal injuries, so the Government can be congratulated on listening—or listening a little—but we should be clear that the reform of whiplash claims is based on a false premise. The Secretary of State said today that there is a “rampant compensation culture”, but there is no epidemic of fraudulent claims. The British people are not on the fiddle or on the make in the way the Government so disparagingly suggest.