Thursday 29 March 2018
[Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]
Leaving the EU: Justice System
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Ninth Report of the Justice Committee, Session 2016-17, implications of Brexit for the justice system, HC 750, and the Government response, HC 651.
It is a pleasure, Ms Buck, to serve under your chairmanship.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this very important issue here in Westminster Hall, and I thank all members of the Select Committee on Justice—both past and present, and many of them are here today—for the input that they made to our report, which of course was initially produced in the 2016-17 Session.
We received the Government response to our report on 1 December last year. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), in her place today. She has joined the Department since that date, so if I press a little harder on some things than on others, I am sure she will understand that they are not meant in any personal spirit. I think she also understands, from her own experience at the Bar, why there is a great need for more precision and more detail about what is going to happen.
I can perhaps encapsulate the Committee’s concerns following the Government’s response to our report by saying that the response is long on good intentions and on setting out an ambitious vision, but short on specifics and the details of how that ambitious vision will be achieved, and there is a concern that it may not be realistically achievable. The European Parliament’s response earlier this month indicates that it is by no means persuaded that all of the Government’s ambitious ideas for taking this matter forward will be achievable. We need what the Government have set out to be written—or rather painted—in the boldest red ink.
I suspect, given the tenor of the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech and subsequent events, that we will be pragmatic about some of these issues—indeed, both sides will need to be pragmatic. Because the law depends above all upon certainty, we will have to come to decisions and pragmatic compromises sooner rather than later. My objective in today’s debate is to press the Government further on the need to be more precise and specific about exactly how we will deal with these matters, and also, perhaps, to inject a sense of urgency.
Of course, I ought to refer to my entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, although I do not practice law now. There is concern about the economic position of the English legal services sector post-Brexit. We had a debate about that yesterday in Westminster Hall, and I am grateful to the Minister for her response then. I am sure that we will want to discuss that matter further. I will not dwell on it in detail now, but it indicates how we need to be alert and on our guard if we wish to continue to protect the pre-eminence of our English legal system. It certainly enjoys international pre-eminence at the moment—it is the jurisdiction of choice for international commercial litigation and, of course, is regarded as a gold standard in independence, fairness and integrity. As I say, we have to be on our guard in case, post Brexit, other jurisdictions seek to compete with us—legitimately enough, from their point of view—because international commercial litigation, and particularly the variety of international contracts, is a competitive matter.
I notice that there is now an English language and English commercial law court being opened up in Paris. I must say that those of us who have practised in some of the Crown courts on the south-eastern circuit might have found the idea of a brief to go to Paris quite an attractive proposition by comparison to going, say, to Havering magistrates court. However, this is not an entirely jokey matter, because, as was indicated in the debate yesterday—I will not repeat all of my remarks from then—the English legal services sector is a very significant revenue earner for this country. I should say the British legal services sector, of course, as we should not forget Scotland in this regard. But there is a much broader issue here as well, which is encompassed in our report. A number of my hon. Friends want to talk about some of the specific matters in our report, so I will perhaps sketch over some of the broad outlines.
I have indicated our firm view that we need more detail, more precision and a greater sense of urgency. We must have assurance from the Government that legal issues are being entirely mainstreamed into the work of the Brexit negotiations. The Ministry of Justice has helpfully set up a legal services working group, but this is not just about legal services; it is also about the impact upon the judiciary and the operation of the courts, which, ultimately, are perhaps even more significant.
I know that the senior judiciary are extremely alive to this issue and are doing a lot of work on it themselves. However, I submit that, consistent with maintaining the judiciary’s independence, we need to find a means whereby the judiciary’s practical views and experience are genuinely fed in to those who are negotiating, for example, on our future relationship with the European Court of Justice and on how we deal with retained law, which I will come back to in a moment. I have to say that I am not yet convinced, whatever the good intentions and hard work of the Ministry of Justice, that that is fully feeding in to those who are negotiating for us through the Department for Exiting the European Union and in Brussels. The Government need to address that urgently. It seems to the Committee that we need clarity on those key issues of the position vis-à-vis the ECJ and retained law. There is still real concern about the effectiveness and adequacy of the provisions in clause 6 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.
It is instructive, perhaps, to look at the evidence of the President of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale of Richmond, given on 21 March, which is only about a week or so ago, to the Constitution Committee of the other place. In essence, the position is that at the moment, clause 6 gives what on the face of it would appear to be wide discretion in how the British courts will apply and have regard to European Community law once we have left. There is a perfectly understandable precedent, of course—it is perfectly well established that British courts will take into account relevant law from other jurisdictions when it is applicable to the facts and law of the case that they are considering.
However, there is a difficulty. There are phrases in the Bill stating, for example, that a tribunal “may have regard” to European Community law—there are those terms, “may” and “have regard”—but then there is a get-out clause stating that it
“need not have regard to anything done on or after exit day by the European Court, another EU entity or the EU but may do so if it considers it appropriate to do so.”
The President of the Supreme Court said that she found that drafting “very unhelpful”. If the President of the Supreme Court says that, the Government ought to sit up, take notice and do something about it.
My hon. Friend is making a really powerful point. Is not the issue here that judges do not want to be dragged into the political arena? Although courts have shown themselves well able to look at other jurisdictions for a potential steer on how to interpret things, when it comes to the EU the process is so overlaid with politics that judges could find themselves accused of becoming, in the phrase that we have heard, “enemies of the people”. We should not be in that field, and judges deserve the protection of knowing exactly what they are required to interpret.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the importance of that point cannot be overstated. I am absolutely confident that the Minister gets that point entirely, because we saw utterly disgraceful attacks by some of the press upon the judiciary for carrying out their constitutional task. Those words should never have been said, and I am glad to say that the current Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor has made very clear his support for the independence of the judiciary and the respect with which that independence should be treated. I know that the Minister entirely shares that view.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) is quite right. Broad wording on such a political topic lays the judges open to such things, because if they are obliged to act according to the clause that I mentioned—as they will be if it is passed in its current form—they will inevitably run the real risk of being accused of having taken, in effect, political decisions. That is why the President of the Supreme Court spoke in the way she did. She said:
“We don’t think ‘appropriate’ is the right sort of word to address to judges. We don’t do things because they are appropriate, we look at things because they are relevant and helpful. We do not want to be put in the position of appearing to make a political decision about what is and is not appropriate.”
That is exactly the point that my hon. Friend made so powerfully.
I know the clause is being debated in the other place, but as it stands it just does not give judges the protection to which they are legitimately entitled. I hope the Government will address that as a matter of urgency. That is not only the view of the current President of the Supreme Court; it has been echoed by her predecessor, Lord Neuberger, and by the previous Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. That is overwhelming and compelling evidence that there has to be movement on this point. It is time for the Government to do that. I suspect they would find good will across the House if they could find a means of properly addressing those concerns of the judiciary—one has to stress that those are their concerns.
The Attorney General said it was not the Government’s desire to put judges in that position. I entirely accept his good faith in that. He said:
“We will continue to work with them to provide the necessary clarity.”—[Official Report, 22 March 2018; Vol. 638, c. 389.]
That is good, but it has to be translated into legislation that is fit for purpose. We are not at that stage yet, and we need much more clarity. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with that point and take it back to the Attorney General and those dealing with the Bill.
The issue of how we deal with the ECJ is important, but we also need to be realistic. If we want to continue some of the partnership arrangements we have, there will have to be dispute resolution processes. All the agreements will need an arbitral mechanism. I hope the Government will take on board the strong views of legal practitioners across the country that a desire to displace any role for the ECJ—as opposed to removing “direct jurisdiction”, to use the Prime Minister’s phrase, which is a different concept—may create more difficulties than is worthwhile. There are perhaps some limited areas, such as the interpretation of specific matters of financial services regulation and some matters of data regulation, where there might be sense in making a pragmatic compromise rather than having to set up a number of ad hoc arbitral mechanisms such as tribunals or whatever we might call them. That is a key and pressing issue.
There are other issues that concern the Committee on how we will deal with criminal justice and judicial co-operation. They have already been addressed at some length, and I know other colleagues will deal with them today. The point I stress is that the Prime Minister has already indicated her firm and resolute intention to have an ongoing agreement so that we can share in police and judicial co-operation and security co-operation. She is absolutely right to do that, and I support her in doing so, but we have to be realistic. If we are to benefit from such things as the European criminal records information exchange system, the work of Europol and the information exchange that is so critical to the pursuit of modern crime—whether that is terrorism or organised crime of other kinds—we have to have our data arrangements aligned. That must inevitably mean following the EU27’s data regulation and any jurisprudence that subsequently develops that touches on that. Otherwise, with the best will in the world, the police and security agencies in those EU27 countries, which include some of our most vital partners, will not be able to share information with us lawfully. We do not yet have clarity over how that will be dealt with, and we must have that swiftly.
There is also the issue of civil and family justice co-operation. I mentioned the importance of the civil sector, but we have to ensure that we have a firm arrangement for the mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments. That is certainly important for the commercial litigation sector, but it applies to all contractual arrangements. If someone has a contract, they want to be able to sue if it is breached. There needs to be a remedy that can realistically be enforced. We must have more clarity on that. As I have observed on more than one occasion, there are literally thousands of UK citizens—as it happens, most of them are mothers—who benefit from the ability to have maintenance payments enforced against former partners now living in other EU jurisdiction countries. It is unconscionable that those people, working hard under difficult circumstances, would lose the ability to have those payments enforced by a simple blanket mechanism. Warm words are not enough. That needs to be sorted out before we finally leave, whether that is in transition or the end state.
I hope that is a sufficient overview of some of our areas of concern and why we are pressing the Government on them. I look forward to the Minister’s response and the other contributions from colleagues on some of the other specific areas of this important debate, which I have no doubt the Justice Committee will return to in the coming weeks and months.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I welcome the Minister to her role in the Ministry of Justice. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill)—as a member of the Justice Committee, he is my hon. Friend—and his introduction to the work we have undertaken. I want to focus on a couple of the issues we have raised in the Justice Committee report and some of the issues with the Government’s response.
We set out four principal aims in the report that should be central to the Government’s approach to justice post-Brexit: continuing to co-operate as closely as possible on criminal justice; maintaining access to the EU’s valuable regulations on inter-state commercial law; enabling cross-border legal practice rights and opportunities; and retaining efficient mechanisms to resolve family law cases, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
If I may, I will focus on criminal legislation and criminal law. In our summary to the report, we said:
“Crime is ever more international.”
Self-evidently, crime does not respect borders. The EU mechanisms to combat illegal activities across borders include many EU institutions. For example, through the European arrest warrant, we have facilities to extradite and bring back to this country people who have committed or are suspected of having committed serious offences. We have investigative resources through the European agencies—Europol and Eurojust—that support police, prosecutors and judges. We also have information-sharing tools that give rapid access to suspects’ criminal records and biometric information. All those things are extremely important in ensuring that our constituents have justice and that we have the opportunity to deport people who have committed serious offences in this country to face justice back in their home jurisdictions in Europe.
We put those agenda items on the table, and the Government responded in December, before the Minister came to her post. I want to quote a couple of the Government’s comments and test them with the Minister a little bit more. In the first appendix to the report, they said:
“For criminal matters, we want to continue to cooperate across a range of tools, measures and agencies and continue the facilitation of operational business across borders. We believe that the UK and the EU should work together to design new, dynamic arrangements as part of our future partnership that would allow us to continue and strengthen our close collaboration on criminal justice.”
That is all well and good—it is a great aspiration—but my questions to the Minister are: how, when and what progress? We are 365 days from when we potentially leave.
The Government response went further:
“The UK will therefore be approaching negotiations on the future partnership with the EU as an opportunity to build on what we have already achieved through decades of collaboration, integrated working, and joint systems and procedures…the UK is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security.”
That is all well and good—nobody would disagree with that—but my questions to the Minister are: how, when and what progress?
The Government response gets more worrying. They said they acknowledge that
“when we leave the EU, the legal framework that currently underpins cooperation between the UK and the EU on security, law enforcement and criminal justice will no longer apply to the UK. As part of a deep and special partnership, it will be in our mutual interest to agree new arrangements that enable us to sustain cooperation across a wide range of these structures and measures, reflecting the importance of preserving the extensive collaboration that currently exists between the UK and the EU.”
I ask the Minister: where are we on agreeing those new arrangements? What discussions have there been? When will they publish their view? Does the EU have a timescale to agree the new arrangements? Will they be agreed before the deal in September or October or November is put to the House? Will they be agreed 367 days from today, after we have left the European Union? Those things matter.
Other members of the Committee will comment on the European arrest warrant in due course, but in 2016, 13,797 requests came to the UK from European partners for arrest warrants. UK police forces made 1,843 arrests in respect to those warrants. Many of those arrest warrants were put out across all countries because the host nation did not know where the criminal suspect was, but UK forces made 1,843 arrests, and we surrendered 1,431 suspects. We requested of our European partners 349 arrest warrants in 2016, of which 185 resulted in arrests, and 156 suspects were surrendered to the United Kingdom.
From 2010 to 2016, which I have figures for, 1,773 warrants were requested and 1,101 arrests were made. I expect that co-operation in the future, and I know that the Minister would seek it, but as of today, I do not know the road map to achieve it, and the Minister has a duty to tell us what it is. In my area in Wales, we surrendered 151 suspects, and 25 people were arrested and sent in the other direction. Such people are warranted because they will potentially be charged with serious crimes such as child sexual abuse, terrorism, or serious organised crime.
I am old enough to remember the Costa del Crime in Spain. People scarpered to Spain when they committed offences in this country and lived a life of luxury, because we did not have those arrangements. That does not happen now. I have seen police in Spain knock on doors in villas in Marbella and bring people back to this country. I ask the Minister: what will happen on that, when, how, where, and when will this House know? The London bombers, for example—I know you will be interested in this, Ms Buck—were brought back under an arrest warrant to this country, and are now in prison in the United Kingdom serving a very long sentence because of that European co-operation. Let us have some information about how we are going to progress that.
I take a great interest in Europol. We cannot get away from the fact that, as it says on Europol’s website today, Europol
“is democratically managed on the basis of a system of controls, checks and supervision of governance”
but is governed by
“EU justice and interior ministers, MEPs”
and “other EU bodies”. I ask the Minister: when we wake up, 366 days from today, on 1 or 2 April 2019, what will our relationship be with Eurojust under the new regime in the transition period? How will Ministers influence Eurojust and Europol?
Those are key issues, because we are part of 44 crime workstreams in Europol: economic crime, excise fraud, money laundering, trafficking in human beings, facilitation of illegal immigration, drug trafficking, synthetic drugs, cannabis, cocaine and heroin, other drugs, terrorism, organised property crime, illicit firearms trafficking, intellectual property crime, counterfeiting and product privacy, cybercrime, high-tech crimes, social engineering, child sexual exploitation, online sexual coercion, forgery of money, payment fraud, euro counterfeiting, money mulling, corruption, sports corruption, environmental crime, illicit trafficking in endangered animal species, illicit trafficking in endangered plant species, maritime piracy, stolen vehicles, illicit tobacco trade, outlaw motorcycle gangs, mobile organised crime groups, mafia-structured crime, forgery, illicit trafficking in cultural goods including antiquities, illicit trafficking in hormonal substances, and crime connected with nuclear and radioactive substances. Those are just some of the 44 workstreams we are part of, and over which we have governance. We have access, we share information, and operate with European partners.
This time next year, we will not be part of the European Union—we will be in transition, but we will not be part of the European community. I therefore ask the Minister again: what progress will be made, and how, where and when? I expect co-operation and a willingness to co-operate, because that is in everybody’s interests, but I am not yet clear on the road map or the final decisions.
I am not clear on that because the head of Europol is not clear on it. Rob Wainwright, who is British, is currently the head of Europol—he will no longer be, very shortly, for self-evident reasons. He spoke to the House of Lords Committee the other week, and I will put a couple of his quotes on the record in this place. He said that:
“The UK will face ‘impediments’ to receiving high-quality information from the EU’s law enforcement agency after Brexit”.
That is what Rob Wainwright said only the other week. He said
“it was not realistic for there to be no change to the UK’s relationship with the organisation after Brexit, given that only full members of the EU currently have unrestricted access to its databases…One can assume that the [European Commission] will somehow insist on some change”.
I ask the Minister again: what change will the European Union insist on? What will happen with regard to the high-quality information we currently receive? Again, I quote for your benefit, Ms Buck, and for the benefit of Hansard:
“Mr Wainwright said the UK was not likely to have direct access to Europol databases.”
That is what the head of Europol said: the UK is not likely to have direct access to Europol databases on the 44 areas I skipped through, each of which has a serious crime cohort underneath. I ask the Minister: what will happen? What is happening now? What will happen before next year? Will we have access? If not, what access relationship will we have? What will our access cost us? Will that access slow down criminal activity contact between various organisations fighting crime in this country?
Finally, Mr Wainwright
“added that Britain’s waning influence”—
just let it sink in for a moment that the head of Europol used the phrase “Britain’s waning influence”—
“over European policing could affect the country’s efforts in other areas, including modern slavery”,
which was a personal priority of the Prime Minister when she was the Home Secretary.
I believe that these matters will be solved, but it is incumbent on the Minister to give some road map on the solving of these problems. This is not a game. It is about protecting children, protecting people from modern slavery, catching criminals, stopping terrorism, ensuring that drugs do not enter this country, and helping our European partners to fight crime in their countries as well. That is in all of our interests. I know that the police and intelligence services will want to do it, but ultimately the Minister needs to tell us how.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind everyone that the Front-Bench speeches will start at 2.30 pm on the dot. We can comfortably accommodate all speakers if Members restrict themselves to no more than seven or eight minutes. I call Victoria Prentis.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck, and to join with former and current colleagues from the Justice Committee in discussing these important matters. I will not detain hon. Members long, because I, like others, have more questions than answers.
I will focus my remarks on dispute resolution. We know that when we leave the European Union, the EU treaties will cease to apply in the UK. We also know that the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will be strictly time-limited to end in December 2020. What is less clear is how dispute resolution will be dealt with throughout the withdrawal, implementation and post-implementation period. I know the Minister had to face questions on this once already this week, from the EU Justice Sub-Committee, so I apologise for raising it with her again, but many of the questions will be similar to those she has already answered, and we will continue to ask those questions over the next few years until we have greater clarity on the position going forward.
When the Justice Committee undertook the inquiry, we did not have the benefit of either the future partnership paper or the draft withdrawal agreement, which have since been published. We heard from expert witnesses who indicated that the area of dispute resolution was complex and had not yet received much attention. As a consequence, what the Committee had to say on dispute resolution was very limited, because we did not have the information on which to make specific recommendations on what we would like to see in a dispute resolution mechanism. I am sure that, like me, my Committee colleagues welcome the various papers that have since been published and are grateful for the work that continues to be done on what the UK hopes to achieve in this area.
Article 160 of the draft withdrawal agreement makes it clear:
“The Union and the United Kingdom shall...make every attempt through cooperation and consultations to arrive at a mutually satisfactory resolution of any matter that might affect its operation.”
It is very hard to argue with that. Article 162 suggests the formation of a joint committee made up of representatives from the EU and the UK. My understanding is that the committee will supervise the implementation of the agreement and seek appropriate means to resolve disputes, which will not be by judicial process, but by arbitration.
We know that a joint committee is a common approach to international agreements. The future partnership paper says:
“Committees comprised of representatives from both parties are frequently established as part of free trade agreements, such as in the EEA agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement”.
That is reassuring, in so far as there must therefore be working examples to look to and learn from. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether any work has yet been carried out to examine the success of those other joint committees.
It is also not clear to me what will happen after the implementation period finishes. I accept that we are taking this one step at a time, but I think the Committee would welcome at least some understanding of what the Government hope for beyond 2020.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. As a former solicitor, I know only too well the vital services provided by the legal profession, not only to clients in the UK but across Europe and globally. Legal services are the largest market in the EU, thanks to the strength and stability of English and Welsh law, our independent courts and judiciary and the excellence of our legal service providers.
The contribution of the legal services sector to the UK economy was worth more than £26 billion, or 1.5% of the UK’s GDP, in 2017, so any impact of Brexit on legal services would have a knock-on effect on the UK economy. The sector employs more than 380,000 people and the latest statistics suggest that the legal services sector was responsible for a net export of more than £4 billion.
At the moment, European directives mean that lawyers and law firms are able to benefit from a simple, predictable and uniform system that allows them a temporary or permanent presence in other EU member states. UK lawyers are able to service the cross-border needs of businesses and individuals from both satellite offices in the EU and London offices, and 36 out of the 50 top UK law firms have at least one office in another EU or EEA state or in Switzerland. They have a presence in 26 of those 31 countries.
As lawyers from an EU member state, UK lawyers can appear before EU courts. If we were to lose those rights, UK lawyers would not be able to advise on areas such as competition, intellectual property or trade, due to restrictions on rights of audience at certain EU institutions, such as the Court of Justice of the European Union. Those are all currently lucrative practices for UK-qualified lawyers and bring business to UK law firms. Losing such business could be economically catastrophic for firms and for the UK economy.
Without a deal, the attractiveness of UK law and lawyers for multinational business will decrease, which will lead to an increase in costs for transactions involving UK lawyers and law firms. Even though the UK will remain an open market for global lawyers, having no partnership agreement could lead to restrictive regulations against leading law firms in the UK that want to provide services in the EU27. It is possible that 30 different regimes could impose restrictions and limitations on practice rights on UK lawyers and law firms. For example, subject to any potential visa requirements, French lawyers could be providing on-site legal advice to UK businesses, but the reverse would not be true.
Unless alternative arrangements are agreed, UK lawyers would lose the right to represent their clients before EU courts prior to the UK’s exit. They would no longer be authorised to carry out that work. Clients of UK lawyers would no longer automatically benefit from client-lawyer confidentiality, until an alternative is agreed, as the CJEU does not recognise the privileged nature of communications between a lawyer who is not qualified in the EU and a client. It is essential that the Government negotiate mutual access for lawyers to practise law and base themselves in the UK and the EU, and that should include rights of audience in EU courts and legal professional privilege at the EU Commission.
We know that the Government are seeking an agreement like the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, but CETA provides voluntary, not binding, guidelines for concluding mutual recognition agreements between professional bodies. As the Law Society has stated, a CETA-style agreement
“is essentially a ‘no deal’ outcome for the legal services sector...The CETA style agreement would lead to a lack of legal certainty which would affect business confidence and have a negative wider impact on the UK economy”.
We need to make sure that the UK is a global centre for legal services and that we promote it across Europe and internationally. I hope the Minister will address my points and the questions in the Committee’s report, in her reply.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck, and to follow the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous). When it comes to the implications of Brexit, it is fair to say that the impact on the justice system is not always at the top of everyone’s list of priorities. It might even be thought of as a niche issue, but it is absolutely crucial. If I could do one thing today, it would be to emphasise that the justice system—the legal structures and arrangements that we have—underpin vital aspects of our democracy, the strength of our economy and the credibility of our institutions, including our own Parliament. It safeguards the rights of citizens and the balance of our constitution. When we discuss this issue, it is important to acknowledge that it resonates far more widely than might initially be perceived.
I will take a few moments to build on the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), but will preface that with one point. One of the striking things in my experience on the Justice Committee is the extent to which it has been possible to act in a truly cross-party way, which is of itself an acknowledgment that these issues are not party political and have the wider impact that I referred to.
Before moving on to the issue of crime and security, I want to echo the remarks made by the Committee Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), about interpretation of retained law. It is important to make the point that judges are rightly nervous about being dragged into the political arena. We take it for granted that judges interpret the law without fear or favour. Typically in this country, they do not get into the papers as they do in other countries, and that is exactly the way we want to keep it, but we must recognise the reality of the situation. If there is a case in which a judge of the Supreme Court decides to pray in aid European case law, that will be perceived to be a far more political decision than it would have been perceived previously. People will say, “That’s it. Here we go. These judges are intending to thwart the will of the people and keep us in the European Union via the back door.” I completely understand that judges are rightly wary of being perceived in that light. It is incumbent on the Government to give them all possible clarity and guidance so they can say, “This is a matter for Parliament. Parliament has given us this guidance. If you want it changed, speak to your MP.” That is appropriate and fair.
Many, including our Committee and the Bar Council, have called for crime and policing and the wider issue of the justice system to be given a separate negotiating track. Those issues are of such importance that, in the words of the Bar Council, they cannot be bargained away like a lamb quota. They are of such significance to our democracy and our economy that they ought to be given priority. The rule of law, access to justice and crime and policing measures are not trifling matters.
It is important to recognise that our Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, recognised the importance of the European arrest warrant. After all, in 2014, when she was Home Secretary, she exercised the UK’s right, which was secured at Lisbon in 2007, to leave and then rejoin selected justice and home affairs measures. She said that losing access
“would risk harmful individuals walking free and escaping justice, and would seriously harm the capability of our law enforcement agencies to keep the public safe”.
In our country, the National Crime Agency said that leaving the EAW would pose a huge public protection risk to the UK. It has been broadly effective.
Although I entirely accept that the British Government’s intention is to replicate the EAW—I suspect the EU will want to do the same—complexities will arise. One very obvious example that people discuss is that many countries in the European Union have constitutional bars on extraditing their own citizens to non-EU countries. How will we deal with that? I am sure there is a way through it, but it must be discussed. The right hon. Member for Delyn ably made the point that we cannot leave that sort of thing to the last moment, because that will lead to criminals going free and justice being evaded.
Through the European Criminal Records Information Exchange System—ECRIS—the UK exchanges tens of thousands of pieces of information about criminal convictions each year. The second-generation Schengen Information System—SIS II—gives the UK real-time access to all European arrest warrants and other alerts on matters including missing persons. The point is that that has real-life implications. To give an example from September 2017—in fact, the Government’s own example—a prolific sex offender fled the UK on bail, was arrested in France after a road traffic collision, gave a fake name, but was arrested on a SIS II alert that had been entered by UK law enforcement. No wonder the National Crime Agency says that
“loss of access to SIS II would seriously inhibit the UK’s ability to identify and arrest people who pose a threat to public safety”.
It described it as a game-changer for UK law enforcement.
I am sure we will be able to negotiate an arrangement with SIS II but, lest we forget, it applies to only 26 EU member states and four non-EU Schengen countries—Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland—all of which have different, separate and nuanced arrangements. It is not straightforward. Of course, the EU will need to be flexible here. If ever there were a requirement to think flexibly to make something work, this is it. The EU will need to take account of the UK’s historic role in setting up some of these arrangements, developing the databases, supporting them, and contributing enormously to that crucial information.
The big stumbling block that we will have to deal with is the issue of access to data—the so-called adequacy decision. Unless we can solve that and satisfy the European Union that we can have an arrangement that allows that data to be shared, that will be the pillar of the future arrangement. If that pillar is in place, we will have difficulties. Lest we forget, any arrangement we agree with the European Union could get referred to the European Court of Justice, which could strike it down. It is critical that we give this matter early attention. If we do not, there is a danger to justice and of criminals going free. That is why it must be given the most urgent priority.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I was a member of the Justice Committee when the report was produced in the previous Parliament. It is good to join my former colleagues and other hon. Members in this debate.
I want to concentrate on the implications for children mentioned in the Committee’s report. I have been speaking as often as I can about what Brexit will mean for our children. I tabled several amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and I would like to speak about some of the issues I raised then. They have also been raised extensively in the House of Lords, including by the noble Baroness Butler-Sloss and Baroness Tyler, and my noble Friends Baroness Sherlock and Baroness Massey, as recently as their debate on the Bill on 5 March. Every single one of us has pleaded with the Government to give the utmost priority to the protection of children when we leave the European Union. Here we are, as other hon. Members have said, with exactly a year to go, and the Government are still expressing no more than a wish for close co-operation, without any indication of substantive progress. We need to hear exactly what the Government are doing.
The concerns I want to speak about arise from two issues raised in the Select Committee’s report. The first, which has been discussed extensively this afternoon, relates to criminal law and the ability we enjoy now, under a range of European Union instruments, agencies and mechanisms—including Eurodac, the European arrest warrant, Eurojust, Schengen Information System II and so on—to pursue offenders and bring them to justice across the European Union. Those instruments have all been especially important in the protection of children, who face a rising risk of complex cross-border crime, such as trafficking, child sexual exploitation, grooming and online abuse.
We all agree that close co-operation on matters of criminal justice is the goal of not only the Government but the European Union, but we are no further forward in knowing how the Government intend to achieve that, and how they will maintain, adapt or replace our engagement with those institutions post Brexit. A further anxiety has arisen recently: Ministers have refused to incorporate the charter of fundamental rights into UK law in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill or to recognise the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the EU after Brexit. The problem that that raises was highlighted recently by the case of O’Connor, referred by the Irish Supreme Court to the Court of Justice of the European Union on 1 February. That case relates to whether the Irish Government should execute a European arrest warrant request from the UK for an Irish citizen, which would entail his potentially being imprisoned in the UK after Brexit, when we no longer adhere to the European Union charter. We can all see the dangers for the protection of children that might arise from the circumstances highlighted by that case.
The anxieties do not just relate to the criminal justice system. The Select Committee’s report deals in detail with family law, on which the position is equally uncertain and fraught with risk. Important provisions in the Brussels IIa regulation, which deals with divorce and with child residence and contact arrangements, including, very importantly, the issue of child abduction—the unlawful removal of a child from the care of the parent—and in the EU maintenance regulation of 2009 cover matters of jurisdiction of enforcement. They put in place a reciprocal system for mutual recognition of the decisions of each member state’s courts across the European Union.
Again, the Government say that they want a coherent set of common rules that will be clear about which country’s courts can hear a dispute, which country’s laws will apply to resolve it and how judgments should be recognised and enforced across borders after Brexit. However, in relation to family law the process of achieving that remains opaque. For a start, although I assume we will incorporate the provisions of Brussels IIa into UK law under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, thus obliging our courts to continue to apply the decisions of the courts of other EU countries, the reciprocal nature of Brussels II means that there will be nothing we can do once we leave the EU to force the courts of those countries to apply the decisions of our courts unless we can make alternative arrangements.
What is more, Brussels IIa is now being renegotiated—upgraded, as it were, and indeed the UK Government have played an active role in those renegotiations—but the changes are unlikely to take effect before Brexit. If we incorporate the Brussels II rules into UK law under the withdrawal Bill, they will quickly, if not almost immediately, be superseded by that later legislation.
In their response to the Select Committee report, the Government acknowledge that we might have to fall back on the arrangements in the Hague and Lugano conventions. Everyone recognises, however, that those conventions are inferior in important respects to the more robust and speedier processes available under Brussels IIa—especially and troublingly in relation to child abduction—which the renegotiation seeks to strengthen further. As the Committee heard in our evidence sessions, the existence of Brussels IIa has meant that there has been less incentive to keep the Hague convention up to date, and because most lawyers have become accustomed to relying on Brussels IIa, there is a lack of experience in applying and using the provisions of the Hague convention.
Furthermore, if Ministers seek to rely on the Hague convention, it is still not clear to me whether the UK will have to ratify it in our own right after Brexit—we participate now by virtue of our European Union membership. Yet the requisite three months’ notice to do so means that time is pressing if we are not to be left with a gap in the more limited protections that the Hague convention can offer in relation to family law.
I know, as do all my colleagues, that the Minister is well aware of and concerned about both the complexity and the urgency of all these issues. I have to say, however, that the Government response to the Committee’s report is worryingly thin. I join colleagues throughout the House in pressing the Minister to update us on where the Government are with negotiations on Brussels IIa, the maintenance regulation, the Lugano convention and the Hague convention, including the possible Hague re-ratification. Also, what guarantees will she give the House that a seamless system of international judicial co-operation, mutual recognition, and criminal and civil justice measures will be in place, without gaps, to ensure the continuing and vital protection of children at the moment of our exit and in future? I look forward to her detailed response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck.
I pay tribute to the Select Committee and its Chair, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), for their concise, clear and balanced report on how Brexit could impact on criminal and civil justice and the legal industry. I feel like an interloper at a Justice Committee club meeting today, so I shall start by trying to make friends, by congratulating everyone on their excellent speeches and saying that I agree with almost everything that has been said—indeed, I agree with almost everything in the report as well, including the four recommendations that the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) highlighted, so I will not repeat them.
Broadly speaking the Government, too, seem to agree with what we are all saying, so in one sense we are singing from the same hymn sheet, but the debate has provided an excellent opportunity to press them on what if any progress has been made in pursuing their goals and in overcoming the many obstacles highlighted in the report. As the Chair of the Committee said in opening the debate, good intentions are no longer enough. He called for urgency, which is exactly what the Select Committee on Home Affairs—where I feel slightly more at home—also called for in a recent report.
The right hon. Member for Delyn and the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) rightly said that the issue is now not so much about the Government’s broad objectives as about the how, the when and the details, which need to concern us now. Before I go into that, however, Members have rightly flagged up a number of the benefits of EU systems and laws for justice in the United Kingdom, reflecting the point that we are debating, so I shall turn briefly to their contributions.
In the area of criminal justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston all highlighted a number of important EU schemes and agencies. First and foremost, the European arrest warrant, while not perfect, is definitely and significantly better than the alternatives. The hon. Member for Cheltenham explained one reason why that is the case, but there are others, and we have seen certain countries take a long time to negotiate and have access to alternatives.
We have also heard about Europol, the co-operation and data sharing that come with that institution, and how it has become critical to policing in the United Kingdom. Only last year membership of Europol proved pivotal in helping Police Scotland and the Romanian police to dismantle an organised crime network that was involved in the trafficking of victims for sexual exploitation. Day in, day out we hear a lot of other examples of that type of work being carried out with the help of Europol.
Eurojust brings clear benefits when it co-ordinates prosecutions where more than two countries are affected. We heard about the range of data sharing agreements such as ECRIS, SIS II and the Prüm treaty, which have brought huge benefits to our police forces. In the realm of civil justice, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston spoke expertly about the benefits of Brussels IIa, in particular in cases of child abduction. The Committee report, however, is balanced and not starry-eyed about such EU institutions, acknowledging that they are not perfect—for example, in divorce cases Brussels II seems to encourage a race to issue proceedings, therefore discouraging mediation.
The Committee Chair highlighted the benefit, albeit again not without flaws, of the maintenance regulation, to which there seems to be no obvious alternative after Brexit. Finally, on legal services, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) highlighted, among other things, the huge importance of rules that allow for the free movement of lawyers and legal services, including mutual recognition of qualifications and practising rights. Members therefore rightly asked a huge number of questions to which it would be good to have answers from the Government.
In relation to criminal justice, everyone might agree on the importance of maintaining the “closest possible co-operation”, as the report says, but achieving that will be complicated. For example, on Europol, other third countries’ arrangements clearly do not bring them the same benefits as membership does for the UK. There have already been a number of Rob Wainwright quotes, and I will fling in a final one from before the Brexit referendum. He warned that leaving the EU meant that in essence the UK could become “a second-tier member” of the Europol club. We need to ask: what exactly are the Government seeking to achieve in negotiations? Norway and Iceland show that access—or even establishing similar arrangements—to the European arrest warrant and Prüm is not straightforward. What is Government’s thinking about how to replicate the mutual benefits of those schemes?
As the hon. Member for Cheltenham highlighted, it is increasingly apparent that the adequacy of our data protection regime will be pivotal. Standards will be applied more strictly and more broadly once we are outside the EU. There are concerns that the provisions of the Data Protection Bill could fall short—one area of concern is the sweeping immigration exemption. Similarly, the UK’s surveillance and interception regime will be exposed to a new level of scrutiny by EU institutions after exit. What work is ongoing to ensure that UK legislation and arrangements will survive such detailed scrutiny?
As other Members have said, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice is an issue that cuts across many of those subjects. My party has no problem with the European Court of Justice and its possible jurisdiction, but what I want from the Government is at least an assurance that ensuring that our citizens continue to benefit from EU justice measures far outweighs the strange obsession that some have about ending the Court’s jurisdiction. That is a red line that should be deleted, at least in so far as it comes to justice and home affairs issues.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention in more detail to the issue of the European Court of Justice. Particularly in relation to family matters, its oversight is inevitably confined, given the nature of the reciprocal arrangements, to matters of process rather than the substance of law. Does he not agree that the Government could perhaps be more relaxed about the Court’s continuing engagement in our law?
As I said, I am very relaxed about European Court of Justice jurisdiction generally, but the hon. Lady and the Committee report make a case, specifically with regard to matters of procedure or even jurisdiction, for there being no reason for the Government to be overly concerned with the role of the Court at all.
The Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, also rightly flagged up the issue of clause 6 of the exit Bill. I agree that it is unhelpful and needs to be strengthened; instead of guiding or directing judges, it seems to be buck passing. We need to protect judges from accusations of making political decisions, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham rightly explained.
The right hon. Member for Delyn flagged up the question of whether all this can be managed in less than two years. I stand to be corrected, but with justice and home affairs being areas of shared competence, I understand that agreements on participation in some of these schemes may well need approval both from the EU institutions and from individual member states. Conceivably, in some of those member states, that could mean parliamentary ratification or even a referendum. Will the Government give some clarity on whether that is their understanding, and on what contingency plans exist for that possibility?
That is a very fair point, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in that regard. What are the contingency plans if it becomes apparent very soon that we will not be able to secure all these arrangements within the current proposed timeframe?
Finally, although justice is a devolved matter and Scotland has its own distinct legal system, it will be UK Ministers doing the negotiating. As ever, I take the opportunity to exhort the Minister and her colleagues to work as closely as possible with counterparts in Edinburgh, to make sure that the implications for the Scottish justice system are properly taken into account and reflected.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I thank the Chair of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), and the other members of the Committee for their excellent report. I was a member of the Justice Committee from 2010 to 2015 and remember many such excellent reports.
The UK’s status as an international hub for legal and financial services and its attractiveness to businesses depend not only on access to the EU legal services market, but on its close and comprehensive cross-border and civil judicial co-operation. I will start by concentrating on three areas that most hon. Members have spoken about. First, in relation to civil justice, we are in a unique position where the judgments of our court are enforceable both in European Union member states and in many Commonwealth states. That is very important for the UK’s role as a hub for international litigation. Therefore, it is critical for British citizens, businesses and institutions that the Government maintain our position.
In civil and family law, European Union regulations provide certainty on what jurisdiction should hear disputes while allowing for the automatic recognition and enforcement of judgments throughout the EU. Does the Minister share our concern that cross-border divorce and child custody disputes could become much more difficult unless Britain can secure effective judicial co-operation arrangements with the European Union after Brexit?
Many hon. Members spoke about the criminal justice system. We must remember that crime, and especially more serious and organised crime, increasingly does not recognise national borders. Even the less serious crimes are increasingly likely to have a cross-border element. Foreign nationals who commit crime in the UK often flee abroad, and some crimes can be committed easily across national boundaries, such as child exploitation, fraud and identity theft. In the UK, there has been a massive increase in people trafficking offences. Police and the judicial authorities need to be able to co-operate internationally to combat crime and bring perpetrators to justice.
I hope the Minister agrees that co-operation through case-by-case contacts or even bilateral agreements is likely to be more cumbersome when we are out of the system, especially where several states are involved. Under our European Union framework, we have co-operated through mutual recognition of key elements of one another’s systems, with minimum standards applicable in all states for certain factors, together with mutual legal assistance measures that are understood and applied in all the member states.
As we withdraw from the European Union, can the Minister assure the House that her Government will secure the speedy arrests of suspects wanted by the British police with minimum bureaucracy via the use of the European arrest warrant? Does the Minister agree with the assessment of the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, which states:
“Any operational gap between the European Arrest Warrant ceasing to apply after Brexit and a suitable replacement coming into force would pose an unacceptable risk to the people of the UK”?
Given that it took Iceland and Norway 13 years to negotiate extradition agreements with the European Union, does the Minister believe that there will be a gap between the UK leaving the European arrest warrant and agreeing a replacement system?
What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on victims if there is no European arrest warrant agreement after the UK leaves the European Union? What are the Government’s proposals to deal with cross-border investigations into drug cartels, people trafficking networks and fraud? Will we be in a position to secure evidence from overseas using the mechanisms currently in use in the European Union? What mechanisms will be put in place so that we can rapidly access fingerprinting and other identification databases for overseas convictions, sentencing and other purposes, to which we currently have access? I am sure the Minister is aware of the growth in co-operation through Europol, Eurojust and the European Public Prosecutor, which has made it easier to deal with crime, especially when it crosses borders. What is the Government’s plan to replace those institutions or fill the gaps left by them?
The UK legal services market is worth £25.7 billion in total, employing 370,000 people and generating an estimated £3.3 billion of net export revenue in 2015. Central to that market is the ability of barristers, solicitors and other legal professionals to provide legal services in the EU. Equally important is the fact that, our exporters’ confidence in doing business abroad depends greatly on the ability of their lawyers to establish and provide services in the countries in which they seek to trade and invest. Numerous aspects of barristers’ and solicitors’ work will no longer be possible if we leave the European economic area, unless current cross-border rights are preserved.
Does the Minister agree that, in formulating their negotiating strategy, the Government should have regard to the nature of the legal work that comes to the UK as a consequence of the UK legal profession’s expertise, not least in European Union law? What measures are the Government taking to maintain cross-border legal practice rights and opportunities for the UK legal sector, given efforts by European Union law firms to use Brexit to win clients from UK competitors?
The European Union charter of fundamental rights sets out a range of civil, political and social rights enjoyed by European Union citizens. Why does this Government’s policy of incorporating EU law into UK law exclude the European Union charter of fundamental rights? Does the Minister agree that, in the light of everything said in the debate, there must be a continuing role for the European Court of Justice during this time?
Labour’s view is that, beyond a transitional phase, we would seek a shared court-like body to oversee disputes and enforce rights and protection. Obviously, the precise nature of this shared court is subject to negotiation. We are flexible about how that would be achieved. It is important that there is an independent court to oversee the close new agreement we reach with the EU. It is vital that that is done to ensure that individuals, institutions and countries can enforce and protect workplace rights, consumer rights, environmental rights and more.
I have been listening with great care to the hon. Lady’s speech and I very much welcome the approach that she has adopted. She talks about a future court to enforce these matters, for which I have much sympathy, but does her party rule out participation in the EFTA court as being a potential solution to the problem she rightly highlights?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s question. Our position is that there should be a system. What that system entails and how it works is subject to negotiation, but we should have something that makes it easier to resolve issues.
In concluding, I want to summarise some of the things that hon. Members mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) spoke about very important crime issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) talked about the legal services sector and how we are ahead in it. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) rightly spoke about the impact of our leaving the European Union on children and their rights. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) made the interesting point that crime, civil justice, children’s rights and legal services should not be bargaining chips, but should be placed on a separate track and taken out of the contentious political debate. That would be a helpful way forward. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) rightly raised the impact on Scotland.
Everyone is aware that numerous treaties will have to be made to cover each and every area of law we have talked about. We will need not one set of treaties but treaties with 27 or 28 countries, with some opting in and some opting out. It will be a lengthy and complex process. I reiterate the questions asked earlier. How far have the Ministry of Justice and the Government got with drafting the relevant legislation and treaties? Which have been written and which have not? How are they progressing? When will they come to Parliament for debate? When will we be able to feel that these things will happen? Real issues have been raised, and many Members feel that, when we leave, we may be without the systems we currently have that make the criminal and civil justice systems much easier to deal with.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) on securing this debate—his second in two days—on a very important subject. I also thank him and his fellow Committee members, past and present, for their important report of March last year.
As a former barrister, I fully understand the importance of obtaining the right deal for the justice system as we leave the EU. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) made a powerful speech about the many reasons why our justice system is important, and I agree with him. The Government recognise the importance of the legal sector. I know that because the Prime Minister highlighted it earlier this month in her Mansion House speech. She not only referred specifically to the importance of civil judicial enforcement and the mutual recognition of qualifications, but identified a few areas where the UK and EU economies were linked, one of which was law.
Before I deal with the issues Members raised, let me show how the Government have listened to the important points made by the Justice Committee and others. In its report, the Committee stated that we need certainty during any implementation period and that we must recognise the importance of criminal justice, and of mutual recognition and enforcement. It also highlighted the role of legal services. All those points have been and continue to be listened to. On implementation, the Committee stated that it was concerned that we would move to an inferior type of arrangement for a transitional period, and that it wanted to remove the risk of uncertainty. I hope the Committee is pleased that, in the implementation period, we will ensure that we have the same common rules so that our laws remain in place. There will be no inferior relationship in that period.
The Committee stated that we should prioritise EU-UK co-operation on criminal justice and that that serious matter should be negotiated separately. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst rightly identified that the Prime Minister has recognised the importance of this area, as she did when she was Home Secretary. She said in her Munich speech that we are “unconditionally committed to maintaining” Europe’s security now and after our withdrawal from the EU because “our first duty” as a nation is “to protect our citizens”.
On commercial law, the Committee outlined that the Rome I and Rome II regulations on applicable law rules do not require reciprocity and could be incorporated into domestic law. That is precisely what the Government are doing under the repeal Bill. The Committee asked us to ensure that maintaining the UK as a first-class commercial law centre is a top priority. It asked us to protect choice of law, and mutual recognition and enforcement. It stated that we should replicate the recast Brussels regulation and remain a party to the Lugano convention and The Hague convention. The Committee knows those are our ambitions, which we highlighted in our future partnership paper, along with the close relationship we want. We very much hope that we will ensure mutual recognition and enforcement in our separation agreement for cases started before Brexit.
Members will have noted in the Prime Minister’s recent Mansion House speech her desire to reach agreement on civil judicial co-operation. She referenced Lugano, company law and intellectual property law, and stressed the need for legal certainty and coherence. We seek to continue our participation in The Hague convention and the Lugano convention.
I welcome the Minister’s assurance that that is the Government’s intention. I think everyone regards that as essential. On the urgency of getting agreement and specificity, is she aware of the recent survey by the international law firm Simmons and Simmons of its clients in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands about the approach that will be taken to important English jurisdiction clauses in commercial contracts post Brexit? So much litigation takes place in the UK because contracts have clauses specifying English jurisdiction. Some 50% of those clients will move away from English law unless there is certainty soon. Good intentions are not enough. We need answers very soon.
I very much understand the need for certainty and the importance of those clauses in contracts. There should be a level of legal certainty, because those contracts will be respected in the implementation period. Furthermore, as was stated—I cannot remember by whom—we can sign up to The Hague convention unilaterally. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham said in yesterday’s debate, that convention is not the gold standard, because certain types of jurisdiction clauses are not included. However, many are, and it should give business a level of certainty.
The Committee also referred to legal services. It is important that we recognise the value of that sector to jobs and our economy, and the fact that it underpins our financial services sector. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) identified many important points about the mutual recognition of qualifications. The Prime Minister has recognised that, too. She said
“it would make sense to continue to recognise each other’s qualifications in the future.”
That has been specifically recognised in relation to our agreement on citizens’ rights. Those citizens who remain have every right to continue to practise as they do at the moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst rightly identified that the European Parliament might say that what we are putting forward is unachievable. In any negotiation, I would not expect the other party and those who will be confirming the agreement to lie down and say they accept everything the UK puts forward. We must remember that it is a negotiation.
My hon. Friend mentioned competition from other jurisdictions and the Paris court. That is an important point, but we must remember that the UK is expanding its judicial offering. We have interests in Europe and in Britain as part of the EU, but recently we have also seen judicial co-operation and members of the Bar helping to establish courts in Dubai, Qatar and Kazakhstan. We can continue to thrive in those centres outside the EU.
My hon. Friend made an important point about feeding into DExEU. He can be assured that our negotiators at the Ministry of Justice are party to the teams, negotiating alongside DExEU in matters that affect justice. He should also be assured that we are discussing these important issues at ministerial level—I have had discussions with my counterpart in DExEU.
In relation to clause 6 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, Lord Keen, who took the debate in the House of Lords, said clearly that the Government have heard the views expressed by Members of the House of Lords, and that we will return to that point.
The right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made important points on cross-border security, including that, as a matter of principle, crime does not respect borders, and that many measures, including the European arrest warrant, are critical to our security. I was asked for a timetable. First, we were agreeing separation—budget and citizens’ rights—and have done so. Secondly, we were to agree an implementation period, and we have done that. We are now turning to the matters of the future partnership deal and security.
We want an ambitious deal. There are many examples of international agreements between Europol and other third countries, such as the US, but like both the right hon. Member for Delyn and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, I believe these matters will be solved because it is in the interests not just of us and our citizens but of other citizens.
I expect that the deal, of which that will form part, will be put to Parliament.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) rightly identified the importance of mutual enforcement and the mechanism to secure our future relationship. She asked for specifics in relation to the future relationship. The Government are looking at a number of options and are confident that an option will work. There are examples out there that other countries have used, and we would like a bespoke arrangement that works for our country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made an important point about the independence and integrity of our judges. I agree that it is not for them to make political decisions in exercising their independent function as the judiciary. As a barrister, I regularly referred to foreign law—I am sure he has, too—in support of points I made in courts for a number of years to support or distinguish cases. That is not an unusual feature of what goes on in our tribunals.
My hon. and learned Friend is being generous with her time. The reality, however, is that looking to the High Court of Australia for interpretive guidance is entirely different from looking to the European Court of Justice in the post-Brexit context. One is not political and the other potentially is. The court of public opinion is a concern. That distinction must be taken into account.
I understand the point, which my hon. Friend makes articulately. He is right that judges need guidance, and as I said the Government are looking at clause 6 as the Bill goes through the House.
My hon. Friend asked whether justice should be considered separately. The chairman of the Bar Council raised that point with me and with the Secretary of State. I understand and agree on the importance of the justice deal, which he reiterated throughout his speech.
The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) made an important point about children. I hope she will be pleased that, in the European Council guidelines on 23 March, the EU specifically stated that it is interested in considering judicial co-operation in matrimonial parental responsibility. Hon. Members have made important contributions on an important matter, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to answer them.
I am grateful to all Members who participated in the debate. These are important issues, which I hope we have been able to raise and stress their urgency to Government. I am grateful to the Minister for her response, which was as comprehensive and elegantly put as ever. I appreciate that she is well seized of these issues. It is important that we continue to have such debates to keep them to the fore.
[Sir Graham Brady in the Chair]
I am sure we all want the Prime Minister to succeed in her objectives, and for my hon. and learned Friend the Minister and her colleagues to be able to assist the Prime Minister in achieving them. That will happen only if we continually make the case. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) rightly said, it may sometimes be seen as a niche topic, but it is fundamental. Without legal certainty, no international commercial arrangements can work. Without legal certainty, no form of justice or security co-operation can ultimately be underpinned. It is not a peripheral matter, which is why a separate track has been suggested to give it the prominence it needs.
I appreciate the point made about the same-state transition secured by the Prime Minister. That period is important. I accept that that gives certainty, but it takes us only up to the end of 2020 and, to give just one example, large-scale commercial litigation often takes more than two years, as the Minister will well know. It is therefore not a long period in those terms. We must bear that in mind—that is why it is so urgent.
I am delighted to see you in the Chair for the end of the debate, Sir Graham. I am sorry that you missed the advocacy fest that went before. I am grateful to all Members for their participation and I am sure we will seek to return to this matter.
I will look forward to reading the proceedings in Hansard.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Ninth Report of the Justice Committee, Session 2016-17, Implications of Brexit for the justice system, HC 750, and the Government response, HC 651.
International Development: Education
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the First Report of the International Development Committee, DfID’s work on education: Leaving no-one behind?, HC 367, and the Government response, HC 914.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Graham. I first draw the House’s attention to two relevant entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: last August I visited Liberia with RESULTS UK to look at health and education work there, and in 2015 I visited Jordan with Oxfam. I am also chair of the all-party parliamentary group on global education for all.
In November last year, the International Development Committee released our first report of this Parliament, on global education. Since then, the Department for International Development has published its education policy refresh and responded to our report. The bulk of the evidence gathering for the inquiry was undertaken by our predecessor Committee in the 2015 to 2017 Parliament, but the new Committee agreed to resume and conclude that inquiry. I thank members of both the current and predecessor Committees, and I particularly thank those who gave evidence to our inquiry. I especially express appreciation to the Send My Friend to School campaign for its excellent work. Send My Friend has had a real impact, engaging young people in this country in solidarity with children and young people around the world.
Education is, of course, one of the key pillars of development. The right to education is at the heart of the United Nations universal declaration of human rights and at the core of the sustainable development goals. It can indeed be the silver bullet, with the potential, alongside other measures, to reduce poverty, increase economic growth, significantly improve public health and even contribute to peace and security. That is why it is right that DFID should spend a significant proportion of its budget on education.
Since 2000 we have seen great global progress on education. The millennium development goals set an ambitious aim of achieving universal primary education by 2015. That target was not fully met; nevertheless, significant progress has been made. We saw, for example, a 50% reduction in the number of primary-age children out of school, a significant increase in global literacy rates and more girls in the poorest countries entering education than ever before.
Even with that progress, the statistics on those not in school remain staggering: 263 million children around the world are not in school and another 330 million are in school but judged not to be learning the basics. If we are to eliminate poverty, let alone tackle the challenge of inequality around the world, that needs to change. Of course, a child attending school does not on its own equate to learning, and as such the quality of education is just as important as access to places in schools.
We know that often, children arrive unprepared for school, teachers lack the skills, motivation or proper levels of remuneration required for teaching, and there is poor management and governance, all of which can undermine the quality of education available to children and young people. The driver behind the millennium development goals was to get students into school, but they did not specifically address the quality of education that those children would receive once they were there. Equity between groups needs to be addressed and, once in school, children surely need to be taught both the basics and the transferable skills needed for the modern world, including the jobs and economy of the future.
To help combat those problems, the Committee reached the conclusion that the UK needs to invest more of its education funding in early years and technical education. The benefits of pre-primary education for later learning are well proven, and there is a real appetite amongst those who work in this area to do more. In its response, the Department committed to reviewing the effectiveness of its current spending on early years education this year. When she responds, I ask the Minister to update the House on the timescale for that review.
In 2015, the UN agreed the sustainable development goals. SDG 4 has a broad remit and commits the nations of the world to improving access to and quality and equity in education. We know that to do so will require a huge leap of progress, which is achievable only with a combination of political will, strong and inclusive systems of education and long-term, sustainable funding. The global context is hugely challenging. Population displacement as a consequence of conflict or of climate change and other natural events is widespread. It is in that context that the Committee decided to look at DFID’s work on education.
I start with the crucial issue of funding. Globally, education funding remains substantially below the target level required to come close to meeting the ambitions of SDG 4. It has been estimated that the annual financing gap over the period of the global goals is about $39 billion. That is the additional amount we need to spend to reach universality in pre-primary, primary and secondary education with good quality. We have seen DFID’s funding for education fall since 2011. In 2011, the percentage of the UK’s total official development assistance spent on education was above 10%. By 2015, that had fallen to just above 7%. I understand that that was an exceptionally low figure, and I will be grateful if the Minister can give us a figure for the percentage of the UK’s total ODA spend on education in 2016, even if that is an estimate. My assumption, from the research I have done, is that the figure is probably now around 9% to 10%.
The Committee took evidence from the Malala Fund and the Global Campaign for Education, which said that the UK should be doing much more and should commit to allocating at least 15% of UK aid to education. The Committee concluded that we would like to see the amount of UK overseas development assistance going to education increase over the course of the next spending review. We commend DFID for striving to improve the value for money of what it spends on education, but we reached the conclusion that alongside that proper focus on value for money, we need additional total spending as well.
In the Government’s response, DFID said:
“The precise level of spending on education through country programmes will be determined by country offices as they consider development needs and opportunities locally.”
I invite the Minister to ensure that country offices give education the high priority it surely deserves. In response to the Committee’s recommendation that DFID should support the international finance facility for education, the Department stated that it is “considering its feasibility”, but is
“not yet in a position to support the proposal.”
Can the Minister outline when the Department might be able to reach a decision and, we hope, give support to that new financing facility on education?
Of course, DFID provides a lot of its education funding via multilaterals, most notably the Global Partnership for Education, which was established in 2002 with the aim of strengthening education systems in the poorest and middle-income countries. GPE works directly with Education Ministries in those countries to implement, monitor and evaluate their education work. Uniquely, GPE asks countries for a commitment from their Governments to increase the amount that they spend on education in return for the funding that it gives. The recent replenishment conference in Senegal in February saw 50 countries commit, as part of this, to increasing their domestic public expenditure on education. That is very positive and is to be welcomed.
The Committee recommended that the UK should agree to the full amount that GPE requested from the United Kingdom for that replenishment, which was £300 million over three years. We also said that, if the UK was to have a cap on its contribution, it should be announced early as a tool to encourage other donors to commit generously to the fund. In the event, DFID pledged significantly less than we requested—£225 million over three years. It is welcome that the United Kingdom remains a major funder of GPE, but I am disappointed that a more generous pledge was not made, and certainly that it was not made at an earlier stage.
The aim of SDG 4.5 is to
“eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training”.
We know that girls are far more likely than boys to be excluded from education in the poorest countries. It is often said in the development world, “If you educate a woman, you educate a nation”. That is supported by evidence. According to UNICEF, educating girls has a multiplier effect and brings a litany of other benefits in areas such as health. DFID has a positive story to tell when it comes to girls’ education. The Girls’ Education Challenge, launched in 2012, is a positive, innovative programme with the aim of getting the most marginalised girls into school. It has so far given around £300 million to projects in 18 different countries.
The evidence we received about the programme was overwhelmingly positive, and the Committee’s message is that DFID should continue to be at the forefront of such programmes to ensure girls’ and young women’s access to education. I know that the Department is currently reviewing the GEC. In the light of an Independent Commission on Aid Impact report, we recommended that the Department should certainly seek to fund programmes in the second stage of the GEC, particularly focusing on reducing the drop-out rate at key transition points in girls’ education.
We also know that disabled children face huge barriers to education, in our own country as well as globally. According to the World Bank, around 15% of the global population experience some form of disability. Analysis by the Education Commission estimated that around half of all disabled children in low and middle-income countries are not in school at all. As Julia McGeown from Humanity and Inclusion told us:
“Disability is the biggest reason why children are out of school.”
As I have said, DFID has already shown leadership on education for girls and young women. It is now surely time for DFID to show the same leadership on the needs of disabled children.
According to much of the evidence we received, we have seen real progress as a result of the Department’s disability framework, which was recommended by our predecessor Committee in the 2010-15 Parliament. However, more now needs to be done to ensure that it is implemented right across the Department’s programmes and is integral to all aid, including that administered by other Government Departments.
When our predecessor Committee visited Kenya as part of this inquiry, we were impressed by the GEC project run by Leonard Cheshire Disability in Kisumu. The programme worked with disabled girls and, indeed, some boys, and there is a strong argument for the Department to look at that programme and to look at how it could be extended in Kenya and in other parts of the world. In particular, while we entirely understood the focus on disabled girls, one message we got from parents that we met, and also from some of the headteachers, was that they would like the Department to look at a similar programme for disabled boys.
In responding to the Committee’s recommendations on improving access to education, DFID states that it is looking to deepen international engagement in this area. Will the Minister set out in her response how we can use the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting here in London in April, and also the very welcome disability summit in July, to encourage this crucial international engagement? I ask her to particularly address the potential for the disability summit to be an opportunity for the UK to set out much more fully how we will support education for disabled children and young people in the longer term.
By 2030, the share of the extreme poor living in conflict-affected countries is expected to rise to more than 60%. We know that the number of displaced people has grown extraordinarily in the last two decades. In 1997, 34 million people—a very large figure—lived as displaced people, either as refugees or internally. That figure has almost doubled since, with 66 million people living as displaced people in 2016, about a third of which are refugees and two thirds of which are internally displaced. That is more than the population of the United Kingdom living as displaced people around the world.
Our predecessor Committee saw evidence of that when we visited Jordan and Lebanon as part of the inquiry. We witnessed at first hand the extraordinary support DFID has given to the Governments there, but we also saw and welcomed the remarkable hospitality of the Governments and peoples of those two countries in response to those who had fled conflict in neighbouring Syria. That work on education for Syrian refugees has made a real, life-saving difference to a whole generation of Syrian children who had to flee not only their homes but their country.
While we were in Jordan, we also visited a very impressive school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian children. At a time when the US Administration is threatening to cut its financial support for UNRWA, does the Minister agree that it is vital that we and other donors step in to ensure that UNRWA’s remarkable and important work with Palestinian children is able to continue? We also visited Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Migration flows in that part of Africa are very high because of conflicts in South Sudan, the Congo and elsewhere.
We know that more than half of the world’s registered refugees of school age are not in school. The funding for education during humanitarian emergencies is not always readily available; less than 2% of all humanitarian funding goes towards education in emergencies. As conflicts become longer and more protracted, surely it is vital that the international community provides the funds and infrastructure for students to continue to get an education while they are displaced. Children caught up in crises should surely not be denied that basic right to an education. During the Committee’s recent visit to Bangladesh, we had the opportunity to visit a child-friendly space in the sprawling Cox’s Bazar refugee camp. Much more needs to be done there to ensure that Rohingya children get access to even the most basic of education during this crisis.
DFID played a leading role in establishing the Education Cannot Wait fund. The fund has attracted considerable financial support, about a third of which has come from this country, which is surely very welcome. It is all about seeking to help children living in emergencies, clearly through no fault of their own.
One aspect that I want to focus on before I finish is the importance of the school as a safe haven for children to learn even during conflict. A quarter of a billion children—some 246 million—are affected by violence each year, with an average of 15 life-threatening attacks on education establishments every single day. Too many children face the threat of their school being bombed or attacked by military or armed groups, and children in conflict-affected states have much higher drop-out and absence rates than elsewhere.
We know, for example, that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school primary age children in sub-Saharan Africa, despite being one of the better-off countries in that region. One of the reasons for that is the continued attacks on education by Boko Haram. DFID has already taken steps to try to address that by, for example, seeking to ensure that schools are protected during conflicts and rebuilt afterwards. However, the UK can further take the lead on that if we sign up to the safe schools declaration, which outlines the positive and protective role that education can play and aims to prevent attacks on schools and education facilities during conflict.
The declaration has attracted international support from Canada to Côte d’Ivoire and from Afghanistan to France. I hope the Government will soon commit to becoming the 73rd signatory to the agreement. Perhaps the Minister can update the House today on progress towards achieving that.
The sustainable development goals’ focus is on “leaving no one behind”. If we are to translate that aspiration into reality, we need to give much higher priority to investing in global education. I welcome today’s debate as an opportunity both to discuss our report and the Government’s response and also for us to demonstrate once again the very strong cross-party support for achieving the highest possible quality of education for children and young people around the world.
It is a pleasure to see you presiding today, Sir Graham. I am grateful for the opportunity to comment briefly on the International Development Committee’s excellent report, “DFID’s work on education: Leaving no one behind?” It is not possible to criticise the many conclusions and recommendations, focusing as they do on targeting, low-income countries, access, girls, refugees and the rest. Clearly, the overwhelming response from the Department is that it agrees, too. I want to refer to one aspect of education, which I do not see mentioned—the journey to school. I am grateful to Emily Carr from EASST—the Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport—for her briefing. I should mention that EASST is a founding partner of the UK charity Fire Aid, which I chair and which delivers post-crash response aid, among other things, to 30 countries.
Among the UN and World Health Organisation’s sustainable development goals for the next 15 years is a significant reduction in those killed and seriously injured on the world’s roads. At present more than 1 million people die each year and around 20 million are seriously injured. Referring to data from UNICEF, the World Bank, the FIA Foundation, the World Health Organisation and the UN youth declaration for road safety, Emily’s briefing on child casualties demonstrates the carnage that is happening on the world’s roads, especially—but not exclusively—in low-income countries.
The figures are genuinely awful. Every day, 3,000 children and adolescents suffer a road traffic death or serious injury, and 500 children leave for school every day and do not return. Up to 700,000 children under the age of 18 are permanently disabled in road traffic crashes, while millions more experience long-term temporary disability. Children in low and middle-income countries are three times more likely to die in a crash than those in high-income countries, and 95% of such fatalities occur in low and middle-income countries. In the words of UNICEF and the FIA Foundation,
“We have to make our roads safe to learn.”
As part of the safe system, road safety education in schools plays a vital part in tackling the issue. Sadly, there is limited research on the scale, scope or impact of road safety education. Will the Minister consider whether we can look at that gap in our knowledge? The Global Road Safety Partnership strongly recommends road safety education of children worldwide, backed up by the World Bank. I note that page 12 of the Government’s response to recommendation 29 states:
“DFID will continue to develop and grow our education research portfolio...We will be developing large new programmes on critical research gaps.”
The Minister might count road safety education as one of those critical research gaps.
The Select Committee report refers to disability as a barrier to accessing education. It comments that half of all disabled children are out of school and cites UNICEF’s estimate that 90% of disabled children are out of school in some areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), the Chair of the Select Committee, strongly referred to the disability question in his excellent opening contribution.
All the experts agree that road safety education is essential to help cut the horrendous numbers. Such education is neglected, because either it is not on the curriculum or, if it is included, it is not taught. Even where it is taught, lack of teacher training, no high quality resources and age inappropriateness impact on quality and outcomes. Small charities such as EASST help to deliver such training, saving lives as a result.
In its 2015 report, “Ten Strategies for Keeping Children Safe on the Road”, the World Health Organisation states:
“Road traffic death and injury are eminently preventable.”
The countries that have garnered the political will that is needed to address the issue have demonstrated this and in doing so have spared the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and saved their nations countless resources.
Road safety education can play a vital role, giving children the skills and knowledge to minimise risk where possible. I hope the Select Committee in its future endeavours and the Department might be able to keep that forgotten aspect of education in mind. We in the UK have among the safest roads in the world. The Department for Transport road safety brand, THINK!, is well known and respected internationally and can help directly or via charities such as EASST, which deliver the THINK! product.
In conclusion, the essence of the report and the Government’s response are very positive and welcome. Road crashes are the biggest killer of young people in the UK and worldwide. Not only does that not attract the attention I think it deserves, but it does not even get recognised as a mainstream issue. The report and the response rightly recognise the significant role that we play in the world of international development, and all of our political parties should be proud of our collective commitment to 0 .7% of GDP for the world’s poor. Educating the world’s children is a fundamental aim and ambition. Getting them to and from school safely should be regarded as part of that project.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham, for the first time since you became Sir Graham rather than Mr Brady. Congratulations.
I am delighted that one of the focuses of the Department for International Development and in turn our Select Committee is global education—it has carried on over two Parliaments because we feel it is so important. There is one problem with the debate today. Members can speak for almost as long as they like, which means the Chairman of the Committee has said most of what I and everybody else wanted to say, because the Committee agrees pretty much on everything. It is not a party political Committee. We are at one. We sometimes disagree about how to get there, but we agree on what needs to be done.
The previous contribution on road safety was certainly interesting. It is crucial for girls—children—to be able to get to school safely. Not only might they be killed on the road, but that is a vulnerable place for girls going to school because they are often taken aside and raped and abused. That is one reason why many girls do not go to school, so we need to look at how we can continue to help them get to school and overcome such terrible barriers.
Today’s debate is the last before the Easter recess and there are not many Members here. It is not because they do not feel it is important—they do—but not many stay behind for the final Westminster Hall debate before the Easter recess, which is disappointing because the subject is so important.
I passionately believe that education is a fundamental human right, and that it underpins the improvement of lives and eradication of poverty, particularly for girls. We heard earlier that educating a girl improves the whole nation, which has been proved right in many studies. I also concur with the mantra of both DFID and those who drew up the sustainable development goals about leaving no one behind. It has been difficult to achieve that in developing countries, but I believe the whole world has now got it, and we need to make sure that every DFID policy aims to ensure that no one—it does not matter whether it is girls, women, disabled people or able-bodied people—should be left behind. This country could do better in some cases.
As the Committee’s report set out, there is still much work to do on global education, particularly in relation to the aspirations set out in the fourth sustainable development goal of the UN, on educational opportunities. It is of great concern that still, in 2018, 263 million children and young people around the world remain out of school. What is probably even more worrying is the fact that a further 330 million go to school but do not even learn the basics. We need better teacher training, and committed teachers, in many schools in developing countries, particularly in rural areas—it is much more difficult to get women teachers to go to those areas because they feel vulnerable. Perhaps we should look at how to help with teacher training to improve their skills. That would enable teachers to be paid better, because they would be doing a better, more comprehensive job. In some countries, teachers become teachers as soon as they leave school, with little training. That would not be something they chose, but something they had to do because no other jobs were available. That is not the best way to train teachers and improve education.
The report sets out goals and priorities for the coming year. It is clear from that DFID should be congratulated on some areas of its work. The UK is a world leader in international development. Its emphasis on education in developing countries is a key to its success. We know it is a leader around the world because, no matter where the Committee goes, we hear it from NGOs, schools, teachers and hospitals. Wherever it may be, people appreciate the effort and money that DFID puts in, and the degree to which this country cares about improving the lives of people in other countries.
There are, however, still areas in which we can push further, and there is much more work to do on global education. I want to highlight two areas of significance in the report: the education of women and girls, and education in conflict areas, which the Committee Chairman mentioned—I hope I do not repeat too much of what he said.
DFID’s focus on the education of women and girls in developing countries, which is reflected in the report, is a particular interest of mine. I am pleased that DFID continues to lead the way, and to highlight its importance on the national and international stage. Women and girls in developing countries should be to exposed high-quality education for a continued period, and not just primary education. Many countries now claim that they have universal primary education, but one does wonder, as I said, about the quality. We need to remove the barriers against girls continuing into secondary education, university and work training. One challenge is reducing the incidence of drop-out at the transition points in girls’ education. It is heartening that the Government have made it a clear ambition to work with and assist hard-to-reach girls.
A problem for girls in many countries, and particularly in rural areas, is that they do not have sanitary protection, so one week in four they cannot go to school. That is a huge barrier and we should look at how to encourage developing countries to provide girls with sanitary protection so that they can have continued access to education. Some countries provide it. Strangely enough—it sounds dreadful—if girls have sanitary protection, they are less likely to be raped. We can help by encouraging countries to provide girls with sanitary protection.
I am pleased to learn from the response to the Committee’s report that DFID has agreed to continue funding the Girls’ Education Challenge into its second phase. We thought it was an impressive project that showcased the spirit of the Department’s work on women’s and girls’ education in developing countries. The scheme works to ensure that the most marginalised girls have access to quality education. To date, the scheme has been successful and has had a positive impact on the lives of many. Remarkably, it has reached more than 2 million girls in total, including 34,539 girls with disabilities.
The Committee Chairman talked about the Leonard Cheshire school that we visited in Kenya, which was inspirational. It could teach lessons to some schools in this country that deal with disability. The reason it was so impressive was the leadership of the headteacher, without which it could never have been as good. She sends her son to a private school and her attitude was: “I don’t mind paying for my child to go to private school, but why should the children in this school not have exactly the same quality of education that my son receives?” That is commendable and I have never seen a headteacher, in the many schools I have been to, with such a positive attitude to the education that they provide, which in this case is for the most disabled people. We met a girl with severe cerebral palsy who was determined that she would be a human rights lawyer and a champion of disabled people. It can be done.
As part of the Girls’ Education Challenge, 69,782 teachers have been trained, and 4,687 classrooms have been constructed and renovated. In many cases in developing countries, the classrooms are there, but they desperately need renovation because they are in a dire condition. In addition, under the scheme, girls have been provided with resources such as textbooks and have been given bursaries to enable them to study. I am sure Members would agree that that is impressive.
A second area of significance in the report was education in fragile and conflict-affected states. Young people caught up in conflict zones should not be deprived of their education. After all, they are the generation who in future will help to move their countries forward when conflict ends. As we know, children get only one opportunity for education. If they lose even one year because of being in those conflict-affected states, they will never catch up. Many will lose more than one year. Many children coming out of conflict areas such as Syria, and even the internally displaced children, are very stressed. It takes a long time to get them ready to absorb education. They need child-friendly spaces and they need to get through their systems their stress at seeing things none of us should see. They need help, and if we do not concentrate on those children who, because of their situation, have no chance of an education, the countries they come from—and to which they can hopefully return—or go to will be the poorer for it. I appreciate that DFID continues to support the Global Partnership for Education and they are well aligned on the view that there should be a focus on fragile and conflict-affected states, but I appeal to the Government to continue asserting influence in this sphere, as well as providing appropriate funding.
To sum up, I am very proud of the report produced by the Select Committee and reassured that, on the vast majority of global education issues, the Committee is aligned with the Department. Education should be at the heart of all we do. I strongly believe that it should be a continuing focus of DFID’s project work in developing countries. Through education comes innovation, which will eventually help to promote social and economic improvement and assist with the achievement of self-sufficiency. I therefore urge my hon. Friend the Minister to continue with what the Department is doing, and to make it better and even more effective than it is. I thank the Minister for the money that the Department has put into global education, because without it, all those children would be much worse off.
I echo the comments we have heard. As a member of the Select Committee, I was very pleased to be able to support this report. I have to refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—I, too, attended the RESULTS UK trip to Liberia last year. Liberia is an interesting case study, because of the recent pilot that the Liberian Government have undertaken. They have trialled a number of alternative models of education: one whereby they have used Bridge International Academies, which we touch on in the report; one whereby they use local NGOs as providers; and one whereby they use completely non-profit international NGOs. When we spoke to some of the international NGOs on that trip, I was reassured about their motivation for engaging in those projects, which seemed very clear to me: they were there to help to reform the education system and then hand it back to the Government, with the idea that it should be the Government, in the long run, providing all or the vast majority of education services in-country.
Street Child, which works internationally, added only $50 extra to the $50 provided by the Government, meaning that there was $100 to educate each child. However, Bridge Academies added hundreds of dollars extra to educate each child from external money, meaning that no Government in the developing world would be able to sustain that level of investment if the schools returned to the Government. The report that follows and the outcomes base are interesting because they show that the Street Child education was more inclusive, reached out to more young people and had the same or equivalent outcomes as Bridge Academies. That study means that the Department needs to relook at its involvement with Bridge Academies and other providers and consider value for money. It is one of the first case studies in which we have seen schools running side by side in one country and sometimes in the same city. The Government in Liberia want to move towards a project with the Global Partnership for Education whereby they would directly run the schools. Although we are not a major funder directly to Liberia, we are a funder through the GPE, and we need to look closely at that model and reflect that in our work. I hope the Minister will take it into consideration.
The GPE, whose Senegal replenishment conference I attended with the Secretary of State, requires countries to spend 20% of their tax revenue on education. We do not achieve that domestically, so we are asking developing countries to achieve a very high bar. DFID achieves only about 10%—we hope that that is growing—which poses the question: are we asking others to do something that we do not achieve ourselves, either in the international development budget or in our domestic budget? We need to reflect on that, because power is not just about being a funder and setting the rules, but about leading by example and showing others the way.
On the GPE and replenishment, we recommended in the report that the full amount—$500 million, which is about £300 million—should be invested over the three-year term. I have written to the UK Statistics Authority about the use of Government statistics in this respect. The Government say in their response that there is a 50% increase on their previous contribution. I do not believe that fully reflects the picture. The pledge last time was £300 million over four years, which is £75 million a year. The pledge this time is £225 million over three years, not four, which is £75 million a year. The per-year figure is identical. The Department is right that we did not spend all our pledged money last time, which meant that we spent only about £50 million a year. We might spend the full amount this time, but we cannot compare what we spent to a pledge. One has to compare either a pledge with a pledge where we have maintained the same pledge, or a spend with a spend, in which case we cannot tell what we will spend until after the spending period. We have imposed almost exactly the same conditions in terms of the cap and performance indicators on these pledges as we did last time, which was one reason why we did not fulfil the full cap last time. This time, I hope the GPE manages to meet all our conditions and that it is able to draw down the whole amount.
We have given a very generous amount, and I do not want to take it away from the Department at all that we are the single biggest country donor and the second biggest donor after the EU, to which, of course, we have contributed, in the GPE. We should be very proud of that, but we should be so proud that we do not have to fudge the figures. I would appreciate the Department coming back and saying, “Yes, we understand that for public relations purposes we did this, but the reality is that we are looking for a like-for-like match.”
I also note that, on the same day as the pledge was announced, the Department released its new plan—its policy refresh—for education. Broadly, it was a very positive policy refresh, but I am concerned about page 16, which states:
“Securing teacher reform will be politically challenging for national decision-makers. It will often require long negotiation with influential teachers’ unions which have the capability to mobilise at national scale should they oppose reform. Politicians who rely on teachers’ political support face difficult trade-offs in negotiating improvements”.
I am worried about the tone that that sets. It does not talk about unions in a positive way. It does not say that politicians who work with unions are more likely to get added value in reform if they bring teachers along. It sets up a clear dichotomy between reform and unions, which is a real shame. I would hate to see again the negative and pernicious attitude that was in the Department for Education with the Secretary of State a Government ago. He described unions and teachers as “The Blob”. I am sure that that is not what the Department meant, but that phrase was very poor and did not positively engage with teachers’ unions, which have played a very positive role globally and sit alongside our Secretary of State on the governing board of the GPE. We should see them as partners, not adversaries.
Finally, I want to touch upon some of the issues around the international finance facility for education. We recommended that the Department commit to that. It only partly agreed to do so in its response, saying that it will look at the issue and when it has greater detail it will decide. I am worried that this is the same approach that happened with the GPE. We asked for an early announcement and a pledge to refinance. The Government said, “Oh yes, just wait.” Only the day before did they announce—on the GPE—the amount we would pledge. If we are trying to leverage more money and support, we must announce early—we must be a forerunner, not a follower. With the GPE, we have pledged an amount now that is unlikely to reach the cap and really has not leveraged a greater amount. I worry that if in the international finance facility for education we do not pledge early, strongly and unequivocally, other countries and donors will hold off. I hope the Minister will be able to make a slightly stronger commitment than the Department did in its report.
I have picked out some of the things I disagree with in the Department’s response, but it is important to note that, on the vast majority of things, we are clearly at one—the Government, the Committee and, I hope, Parliament. We support global education. We understand the value that it gives to people and children in the developing world, particularly to young girls and people with disabilities, where we have led the way. We also understand the value for our country of providing a world that is more educated and more equipped to engage in positive economic activity, and that fulfils the human rights we value.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I am grateful for your forbearance, given my lateness. Unfortunately I was unable to catch what I know must have been an excellent introduction by the Chairman of our Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) that the speakers previous to her had said it all—well, I do not know what was said in the introduction, so I maybe have a slight advantage and will just bowl on anyway.
I want to tackle the other two issues that we covered in the report, beyond financing global education: improving access to education, and improving the quality and equity of education—of course, financing is the key to that. The Chairman of the Committee is to be commended for the fact that report took a good long time to go through because of its depth. I know that he was keen to follow through on the sustainable development goals. The millennium development goals and the sustainable development goals had transferred the international community’s responsibility on education from just getting people into school, sitting down and looking at a blackboard for a few years to actually getting them learning and achieving something so that they can then play a positive role in their community.
For all the reasons that we have heard, education helps people develop their communities, economies and countries, not just through financial prosperity but by building democracy. That is the long-term view behind so many other areas of international development. When we speak in this place and speak to our constituents to quite rightly justify our 0.7% contribution, we can—we should—look really proudly at what we are achieving in getting people into school so that they can make a positive contribution that will help build their countries’ democracies. That will reduce the need for people to emigrate from those countries, so that they can stay in their countries and build them. That also improves security—all those factors stem from education in the first place.
In the last Parliament, the Committee went to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. We looked at barriers to girls’ education in particular, some of which we have talked about. One odd, but no less serious, case was in the Samburu wildlife camp, where one poor girl was eaten by a crocodile on her way to get water for her family. As extreme as that is, it shows that in the most hostile environment in the world, not everything can be catered for.
We went to a PEAS—Promoting Equality in African Schools—school and looked at the lighting, which gave the girls a sense of security in getting around the school camp where they were boarding. They could also have lunch on site, because some headteachers feared that when they were off site, they were subject to predatory behaviour. Some girls were dragged into a situation where they could not carry on with their education, because they felt encumbered by the person who took them on board as a wife in that hostile environment and got them pregnant. It is really difficult in that culture and in those circumstances for a young girl to have a sense of independence and carry on their education. There was no greater example of that than in the Samburu tribe’s practice of beading, whereby a Samburu warrior would put a necklace of beads around a girl’s neck and that girl would become his sexual partner, later to be married. She was effectively owned by that warrior. That restricted her for ever more from that point.
The sense of empowerment provided by lighting, safety and sanitary products can really help liberate girls. PEAS had a girls club that had some boys in it—those boys felt bold enough to join it. It gave them a sense of respect and of being able to discuss issues that are not normally discussed between the sexes in a Ugandan or Kenyan community. That can only help in the long term. Many Samburu and other nomadic people in the area had to move from area to area because of the lack of food and crops. We need to look at what more the Department for International Development and the international community can do to help them stabilise themselves, so that girls and boys can stay within one school and have a sense of continuity and, therefore, a sense of learning.
It is right that DFID stopped offering budget support many years ago, but we should still be influencing the domestic education system. We have talked about public and private schools, but in the Committee in the previous Parliament, the debate about the difference between public and private dampened down slightly when we actually saw what it meant in practice. There were a number of public schools that were still charging for things such as electricity, uniform and food, so there was still quite a considerable cost for many people, albeit within a public school setting. None the less, we need to compare the quality of private and public schools.
The Bridge schools in Liberia have been mentioned. When we saw the Bridge schools in Uganda, they were really a mixed bag. That comes partly from the teaching, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned. Teachers can only have so much training, and they rely on a tablet for their work. They read out the lesson plan from the tablet, rather than having a deeper understanding of what they are trying to teach the children sitting in front of them. That brings us back to the old millennium development goals, which, as we heard earlier, were just about having people sitting down and being lectured at, but not really learning. We need to find a way of connecting with domestic training in countries to ensure that the teachers are the right people for the job and have the skills they need to engage.
Finally, in the directly funded work that we saw about getting the most marginalised back into schools, we found that people were able to experiment outside the state system. We saw some examples of people with learning disabilities who were learning to count through dance. If the Daily Mail found out about that there would probably be a headline tomorrow, but they had a little space to experiment and trial these sorts of things, to see what works and what does not. We know in this country that people learn in different ways—some visualise, and some learn by rote—so differences in learning are really important to engage people and to ensure that no girl or boy is left behind.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham.
Before summing up for the Scottish National party, I want to commend the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for opening the debate eloquently. It was a fine speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), a member of the Committee, had hoped to be here today. He has had to return to Scotland, so I am afraid that hon. Members are lumped with me to provide the third party summing up for the SNP.
With your indulgence, Sir Graham, I would like to acknowledge some of the students from Eastbank Academy in Shettleston, in my constituency. It is fitting that as we discuss education we have children from Shettleston and Glasgow here. The education that our constituents get should always be at the forefront of our minds. We should strive every day to ensure that what they get in Shettleston is what they would get in Senegal.
It is difficult to sum up this debate, because Members have largely all said the same thing. As each one stood up, I found myself hacking bits of my speech out. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) was absolutely right to speak about safety on the way to school. The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) put strong emphasis on girls going to school. There will be a certain amount of that in my own speech. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) spoke about the cost per head to educate, and about his experience in Liberia. I expect that he will continue to question the Government on their use of statistics.
One thing that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) mentioned was how we justify the 0.7% target to our constituents. I remember having a few very difficult hustings in June with people asking why we were committed to the 0.7% target. It is important that those of us who believe in fairness and equality argue strongly for that. I know it is not always popular, but sometimes it is better to be right than popular.
As someone who is not a member of the International Development Committee, I must say that I feel like a bit of an intruder in this debate, but I want to bring some personal experience to this afternoon’s discussion. Last year I had the pleasure of visiting Tanzania with RESULTS UK—I also refer the House to my entry in the register—and I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Tanzania, has joined us for the debate. Tanzania has always had a special place in my heart, and finally getting the opportunity to visit was invaluable. During our visit we focused on education and nutrition. For the purposes of today’s debate, I will focus my remarks primarily on education.
To start on a positive note, I was quite impressed when I visited Benjamin Mkapa Secondary School in Dar es Salaam, which has a rapidly emerging middle class. During the tour of the secondary school we visited a chemistry class, and I was struck by the number of girls studying chemistry. It would have put a lot of our schools to shame and was really encouraging. I will return to girls’ education later.
As might be imagined, the challenges in an urban context were vastly different from those in a rural context. I remember being quite shocked on the first day to learn that there were only 17 computers to serve a school of 2,000 pupils. Unfortunately, later in the week, by the time we reached the Bahi district near Dodoma, the situation in the primary schools was considerably worse. Children were being taught in a packed mud hut where there was literally no room to move. I remember looking down at the faces of kids lined up next to each other with no room to move, and the impact that had on me as I reflected on the schools in Glasgow that I go around on a weekly basis. It really moved me. My wife is a primary school teacher, and we regularly have discussions about class sizes. Class sizes of 60 to 150 are not unusual in Tanzania. As a naive new MP, I came away thinking about how we can fix these things.
The first major challenge is supporting children with additional support needs and those with physical disabilities. Alongside the noble Lord Watts, I remember being quite struck when we learned that a girl with a hearing impairment had no hearing aid and was sitting at the back of the class trying to lipread. She was about 17 rows back, and that struck me as absolutely bizarre.
Owing to Tanzania’s famously conservative views towards family planning—the President actually said that family planning should take a holiday—teenage marriage and subsequent teenage pregnancy are major issues that mean young girls frequently do not finish their studies. That has been brought out in the debate, but the main issue I want to touch on is period poverty.
It is estimated that girls lose between one and two months of the year because of menstruating, all because they do not have access to sanitary products. According to the Netherlands development organisation’s survey on schoolgirls’ menstrual hygiene management, 84% of schools in Tanzania had no hand washing facilities, 86% had no access to clean water, 99% had no hand soap for washing in toilets, and an average of 56 girls used a single pit latrine in schools. Just 2% of schoolgirls, mainly in the urban environment, have access to disposable pads. In the villages, girls were using inappropriate materials to manage menstrual flow. We can have all these great strategies to try to engage young girls in the education system, but something as simple as a lack of tampons and decent sanitary facilities is clearly stopping them. Like the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire, I hope the Minister will address period poverty when she winds up the debate.
We all agree that schools should be safe and happy places where children can benefit from a good education. Unfortunately, millions of children around the world are not safe at school. That is why this year’s “Send My Friend to School” campaign aims to make schools safe, calling on the UK Government to sign the safe schools declaration, as outlined by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. The safe schools declaration is an intergovernmental political commitment by which countries express support for protecting students, teachers and schools from attack in times in war. Thousands of young campaigners are already raising this important issue in schools across the country through the Send My Friend to School campaign.
The International Development Committee report suggested that DFID needs to establish a long-term, integrated strategy for supporting education in emergencies, especially in long-term crises. DFID’s new policy report sets out the Department’s plans to promote equitable education systems that include the most marginalised children and address the challenges posed by conflict and instability. It recognises the scale of violence against schools and commits to deliver for children whose education is disrupted by conflict.
Around the world, 15 life-threatening attacks on education take place every single day. Signing the safe schools declaration at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next month would further showcase the UK’s leadership on global education and bolster DFID’s commitment to supporting education in emergencies. So far, 73—more than one third—of the world’s countries have endorsed the declaration, including the majority of NATO and EU members. The UK’s failure to sign, when it has some of the most respected armed forces in the world, sends the wrong message to countries that more readily operate outside the bounds of global humanitarian norms.
In conclusion, I hope the Government will take action to sign the safe schools declaration. We have had a good debate today. The time for talk is over; the time for action is now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham.
I congratulate my colleague and parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), on securing this important debate. His passion and expertise on this subject have shone through in his role as Chair of the International Development Committee, and I commend him for championing the importance of education and continuing to hold the Government’s feet to the fire.
I am sure that many other Members would have liked to have been here today, but we are on the last debate of the parliamentary term before Easter. However, we have heard some great contributions from both sides of the Chamber.
My hon. Friend talked about education as a pillar of society, and I completely and utterly agree. He has made a clear argument for more of the DFID budget to be spent on education. There is a need for more girls to access education. In a few speeches we heard about the 263 million children who are not in school. That is, frankly, an astonishing figure that I do not think many people know about. He also focused on early years and technical education, and the barriers facing disabled children in education. A key point was that as conflicts become more protracted and people are displaced for far longer, we must focus much more of our efforts on education.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) focused on road safety. The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) talked generally about global education, and in particular about girls’ education and the mantra, “Nobody left behind.” My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) talked about the importance of public education, which I will return to, and of Global Partnership for Education funding. He also mentioned the important message of unity; we may criticise the Government and offer alternative suggestions, but there is real unity behind the DFID agenda. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) talked about access to education, the quality of education and girls’ safety.
The Government have responded to 29 of the Committee’s recommendations. Rather than go through each of them, in the interest of time I will make just three points. First, I welcome the Government’s response to recommendation 10, which said:
“DFID should support the new International Financing Facility for Education…as an additional mechanism for leveraging funding into the provision of global education.”
It is welcome that the Government are working closely with the Education Commission on the details of that proposal. I understand that there are important details still to be worked through, but as other Government donors are now considering whether and how much to contribute to that facility, the Government should think seriously about the signal that their early support could send to them. That should be a real consideration.
Secondly, the Global Partnership for Education is another crucial leg on the stool of education financing, which is covered in the Government’s response to recommendations 7, 8 and 9. As with the international financing facility for education, other donors look to the UK to see what we will do. The International Development Committee made a loud and clear recommendation that DFID should make an early and significant pledge to the GPE before the February summit in Senegal. That would have set a different tone and signalled real global ambition. We will never know how much extra funding may have been pledged by other donors had the UK made an early commitment, but the Government missed a real opportunity. It is not fully clear why a decision was not taken earlier, and whether the delays were due to the change of Secretary of State at the end of 2017, but it may prove a costly mistake.
We are also deeply disappointed in the scale and ambition of the UK’s pledge to the GPE. The Government say that by committing £225 million they have increased their annual contribution by 50%, but that figure does not tell the whole story. That point was picked up widely by hon. Members today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown. If we make a like-for-like comparison with the initial replenishment pledges, or with the amounts transferred rather than pledged, the picture is very different. Despite the need for greatly increased funding, that figure may represent a decline in commitment. I hope the Minister will discuss that pledge in her response. Is there any scope for the Government to consider an additional pledge to get back to the level of ambition and global leadership that Britain has previously shown on education?
Thirdly, I draw attention to the Government’s response to recommendations 21, 22 and 23 of the Committee’s report on private sector provision, low-fee schools and Bridge International Academies. On Bridge, it is deeply disappointing that the Government have not addressed or responded directly to the Committee’s carefully balanced recommendation that DFID must take
“further steps to satisfy itself that the model of educational provision offered by Bridge International Academies offers an effective educational return on the ODA committed to it.”
Let us remember that Bridge International Academies has been widely criticised, and even shut down in Uganda and Liberia. There is damning evidence about the volume of resources and investment that go into it.
Aside from the wider question of private sector provision, the Government must respond more seriously to the specific point about Bridge International Academies. It is not acceptable simply to carry on investing in, and even to increase funding for, a failing model without sufficient evidence to support it. I hope the Minister will address that point in her response.
On the wider point of DFID’s implicit support for private sector provision and for low-fee schools and academies, there is simply a fundamental difference between the Conservatives and the Labour party. We are deeply concerned by the Government’s ideological dogma that leads them to open up public services in low-income countries to organisations such as Bridge International Academies. We have seen no compelling or credible evidence that the model works better than public sector provision.
On Monday, Labour launched its new policy paper, “A World For the Many, Not the Few”, of which I have a copy here, if the Minister would like to take one away with her. In it, we commit to ensuring that British taxpayer-funded aid does not weaken crucial public services in developing countries. Public services, especially health and education, are perhaps our best line of defence against soaring global inequality. The UK should drive a positive global movement for universal, free, high-quality public services, not spend British taxpayers’ money on weakening or undermining such services.
Labour has therefore said that, in government, we will end DFID funding and Government support for Bridge International Academies. We are clear about how we would respond to the Committee’s important recommendations, and we would like the Government and the CDC Group to take them much more seriously too.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to those and other points. I thank hon. Members again for their contributions to the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby for securing it.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing the debate along with his Committee. I thank the Committee for its engagement with and scrutiny of this important topic, and for the wide range of constructive recommendations in the report. I add my commendation for the work of Send My Friend to School in raising awareness across the country.
I assure hon. Members that the Government believe passionately in this agenda—in the importance of education and of the work we can do through our development budget to champion it around the world. Education is the single most effective thing in terms of unlocking potential and opening doors to economic development, so individuals can be active citizens and enjoy good health.
The economic benefits are quantified in different ways in different studies around the world, but there is no question but that for every year that someone spends in school, their lifetime earnings and the economic potential of their country substantially increases. There is also no question but that for every year of education, the pressures of population growth, of child marriage and of infant mortality move in the right direction. That happens when we invest in education.
It is not only those of us in the Department for International Development who passionately believe that, but people across Government. It is wonderful to have a Foreign Secretary who champions that agenda. He described the impact of that multi-pronged tool as being the “Swiss army knife” of economic development around the world.
We have summarised the whole campaign in five words—12 years of quality education. Those five words are designed to summarise the length of the investment needed and to put an important emphasis on quality.
We heard a range of different and interesting contributions in the debate, throughout which several questions were addressed to me. I will pick up on a few of those. In terms of our international agenda, the UK-France summit highlighted that this is a global year of education, and we are working with the World Bank on that too. That important topic is thoroughly embedded in all the DFID country offices, with their range of expertise, and we will engage on it across the diplomatic network, in every country where we have a Foreign and Commonwealth Office presence.
We have a wonderful opportunity to showcase that agenda next month at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. I reassure hon. Members that “12 years of quality education” will have an important and prominent place at the summit, to get the 53 countries that are coming to the UK to make pledges on education and on that agenda. It is a great opportunity to demonstrate UK leadership in the area. In July we will also invite the world to London, for the disability summit to be held at the Olympic park, which is something we are doing alongside Kenya and the International Disability Alliance. That is another really important forum in which to highlight the work we can do around the world to improve the access to education for people with disabilities, who are sometimes very hard to reach.
Hon. Members asked about the safe schools declaration and spoke about the importance they attach to it. No one could disagree that this is an incredibly important area for us to explore and of course take action on. We very much welcome the spirit of the safe schools declaration, and we have been considering the concerns that exist about some of the accompanying guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict. Those guidelines do not mirror the language of international humanitarian law, so we have been meeting the relevant civil society organisations to explore our concerns and to try to find a way forward. We are considering our next steps on that.
Hon. Members mentioned the importance in conflict areas of making sure that children do not miss out on education, which is why I am proud that DFID is one of the largest contributors to Education Cannot Wait. We are working with that organisation on education, particularly in relation to the Rohingya refugee crisis. We are working with experts to see what more could be done in Bangladesh and Burma to address that significant challenge.
I was also asked for an update on the effectiveness study regarding early years education. Obviously, it is an ongoing piece of work, but some initial findings will be published this summer, which will cover five countries or regions—Liberia, in which a number of colleagues expressed a particular interest, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Jamaica, and Punjab in Pakistan.
The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) highlighted the absolutely tragic issue of people just being able to get to school safely. He will be interested in the work that we do to fund road safety research and he may also be interested to know that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who also plays an important role in championing this agenda, has arranged a meeting with me about it. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse may want to come along and then I can go through in great detail with both of them what we are doing in that respect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) and the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) raised the important issue of sanitary protection and the challenges that it can present for girls and their access to school. That is very much the kind of initiative that has been funded through the Girls’ Education Challenge, and several projects have been able to access that funding. We also do work on water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools. That was a very important topic to raise.
Hon. Members mentioned Bridge International Academies. Regarding this agenda, I emphasise that we are really trying to focus on the “12 years of quality education” and perhaps we do not take such an ideological stance as that outlined by the spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden). However, I can confirm that DFID does not currently provide any financial support for Bridge Academies, so that is clearly more of a historic issue than a current one.
I was surprised by the somewhat grudging tone of the remarks about the announcement of the money that we have put into the Global Partnership for Education, because we were its most significant funder, and of course it is important that we work with other Governments to encourage them to spend more on education, as well as with other organisations and other funding bodies. That fund is not the only way in which we fund education; in fact, the money we give to it represents only a small percentage of our education funding. Clearly, there has been some dispute, but for me the announcement of £225 million to be spent over three years places us in the lead for such funding.
Of course, the approach that we are taking to the international finance facility for education is still being developed. I think that it was Julia Gillard who, in her campaign for funding, described the UK’s approach to the replenishment of this fund as being very rigorous in the way that we allocate funding to these types of organisations. We will not just hand out a cream cake, as she put it; we ensure that we are the tough friend who makes someone get up and run a 10 km race. That was her analogy and it shows the rigour with which we spend taxpayers’ money around the world.
The work that we have done on education was published in February, and updated in line with the International Development Committee’s recommendation. As I have said, it is about improving education quality and getting more children to learn the basics of literacy and numeracy.
In our approach, we focus on three areas of change. The first is to support countries to fundamentally rethink the way that teachers are recruited, trained and motivated. For example, with our support, the Government of Ghana has endorsed ambitious teacher training reforms, including new standards for teacher education and a new framework for the curriculum, and those changes are really making a difference in the classroom.
Secondly, we will stand behind system reform that delivers results in the classroom and we agree with the Committee that the education advisers and the research that DFID can provide are a vital part of that offer to Governments. We also share our wider UK expertise, such as our curriculum, our national exams and our Ofsted inspection system. In Punjab in Pakistan, for example, UK support and expertise have contributed to systems reform that has seen the average literacy and numeracy scores of grade 3 children increase by more than 20 percentage points in just the last three years.
Thirdly, we will continue to commit to reaching the hard-to-reach girls and boys affected by crises. I was asked about the total amount that we spent in 2016. We spent £964 million of official development assistance on education, which is 11.3% of UK bilateral aid, and I can reassure hon. Members that education will remain a high priority for DFID spending.
In fact, we recognise that greater investment in education is needed to drive sustainable development goal 4, but other donors must also play an important part. To increase its value for money, education spending has to be efficient and effective, and we will support Governments to cut waste and to use public resources effectively. If we determine that a country can contribute more towards its education, we will indeed expect it to do so.
In conclusion, with our priorities clearly mapped out, we will draw on the full range of our capabilities and UK expertise to ensure that our programmes improve the lives of children around the world. We will show leadership on the world stage through a global year of learning. I thank members of the Committee for their report, and will leave a moment for the Chair of the Committee to respond.
We have had an excellent debate and I thank everyone who has taken part in it, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who rightly reminded us about the central importance of road safety education; the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham), who is now the longest serving member of our Committee and an invaluable member, and she rightly reminded us about the central theme of the global goals of leaving no-one behind; my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), who is one of the new members of the Committee, having joined the House last year, and he has brought great new energy and enthusiasm and represented us at the replenishment conference in Senegal; the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), who spoke very powerfully, in particular about what we saw when we were in Uganda and Kenya; the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), who spoke for the Scottish National party and who also spoke very powerfully, based on what he saw when he visited Tanzania; and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), the shadow Minister, who is my constituency neighbour and who rightly reminded us of the central importance of leadership by our country if we are going to address these crucial issues.
Finally, I thank the Minister for her response to this debate, including responding to questions that I put during it. The theme that she set out—the five words—is one that can unite us all today: “12 years of quality education”.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No.10(14)).