House of Commons
Monday 1 November 2021
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
That Mr Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in the present Parliament for the Borough Constituency of Old Bexley and Sidcup, in the room of James Peter Brokenshire, deceased.—(Mark Spencer.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Arts Courses: Funding Reductions
We value excellent provision in all subjects, including the arts. We recently rationalised the strategic priorities grant to better meet the funding needs of high-cost, strategically important subjects, including in science, technology, engineering and maths.
I know that the Secretary of State studied engineering, and as a chartered engineer myself, I believe it is essential to invest in STEM skills. However, doing so at the expense of arts subjects shows that the Government really are not serious about our future economy. How will he ensure that our £111 billion creative industries have the skills and people they need when he is cutting in half the subsidy for arts subjects? Is he aware that only a fifth of our artists, performers and so on are from working-class backgrounds as it is?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for mentioning my engineering background. As part of the same reform programme, we have asked the Office for Students to invest an additional £10 million in our world-leading specialist providers, many of which specialise in arts provision. On providers losing funding in the reallocation as we send a clear message on STEM, I remind her that that income loss amounts to about 0.05% of those providers’ estimated total income.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that arts subjects do not necessarily lead to arts careers? Does he know, for example, an honourable gentleman who, after doing a philosophy, politics and economics degree at Oxford, became a shopkeeper and now happens to be the Mayor of the West Midlands?
Indeed I do, and he is a great Mayor who is transforming the city of Birmingham and the rest of the west midlands. My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that subjects such as PPE are incredibly important and that many leaders in industry do not necessarily have STEM degrees.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place. As a neighbour, and possibly a friend, it is good to see him here.
This nation has long produced some of the best creatives in the world—in fact, the arts are a powerhouse for the country’s economy—yet the Government have a myopic view on the value of everything. Their present focus is that ballerinas should be coders, but for decades people from low-income households in particular have not just benefited from their discovery and study of the arts but gone on to enrich this country of ours and, at the same time, generated soft power. I think of people such as Danny Boyle, Tracey Emin, Annie Lennox, David Bowie and Alison Lapper—the list is endless. People’s lives are infused with the arts as they listen to music on their iPods, read fiction, attend museums and watch TV dramas, dance and so on. Given that the UK creative industries are truly global-leading and make such a significant contribution to our economy, why are the Government so determined to limit people’s social mobility and our wider economic success?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend—I think he is—for his question, although I completely disagree with him. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the arts play an incredible role in enriching minds, especially young minds, and in inward investment to the United Kingdom and exports from the UK. We continue to value high-quality provision in a range of subjects critical to our workforce, including the arts. That is why I mentioned the work of the Office for Students in reinvesting an additional £10 million in our world-leading specialist providers, many of which specialise in arts provision.
Covid-19 Management in Schools
Teachers and school leaders have made a huge contribution to the nation’s efforts, and we are grateful for their hard work. Schools continue to receive core funding throughout the pandemic, regardless of any periods of reduced attendance. The 2021 spending review has confirmed significant funding increases, with a cash increase for schools averaging £1,500 per pupil by 2024-25.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s answer. I have met heads at Bosworth Academy in Desford and Hastings High School in Burbage, who welcome the funding they have had throughout covid but are concerned about what could happen to staffing budgets in particular because of absenteeism through covid. Does the Secretary of State have a plan to deal with that, and will he meet me to hear their concerns so that we can work out a solution?
Of course I will meet my hon. Friend. We recognise that some schools are concerned about pressures and have made available a range of school resources and management tools to help them get best value from their resources. I just remind the House that the increase of £1,500 per pupil by 2024-25 is compared with 2019-20.
England’s near 400 maintained nursery schools were not eligible for exceptional costs funding, and they therefore had to bear the burden of covid themselves. The Government’s announcement last week of the continuation of supplementary funding for three years is a welcome step in the right direction, but will the Secretary of State confirm that it will cover inflationary pressures and the national living wage increase? Will he meet the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly), me and the other officers of the all-party parliamentary group on nursery schools, nursery and reception classes to ensure that those outstanding centres of excellence in some of the most deprived communities in the country get the funding that they deserve?
The hon. Member will recall that when I was Minister for Children and Families, I met the all-party parliamentary group, an incredibly important group, which I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), the current Children and Families Minister, will continue to engage with. We have confirmed that continuation of supplementary funding for maintained nurseries through the spending review period, which provides the sector with long-term clarity. I am happy to meet the hon. Member and the APPG to go through the details.
I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend to his place and thank him for the big Budget increases in education, particularly the 42% increase in cash terms for skills.
Will my right hon. Friend continue to make the case for a longer school day? We know from the Education Policy Institute that it increases educational attainment by two to three months, especially among disadvantaged pupils. According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, a longer school day increases numeracy by 29%. Will my right hon. Friend at least consider some pilot schemes in disadvantaged areas around the country whereby we can have a longer school day?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Education Committee for his question. The priority has to be those children and students who have the least time available to recover. That is why the £800 million for 16 to 19-year-olds for an additional 40 hours of education is so important, plus the £1 billion going into secondary and primary, making a total of £5 billion of recovery money. There are excellent examples in some multi-academy trusts of a longer school day, which I will look at. The average school day is now six and a half hours, and I would like to see everybody moving towards that.
The NHS covid recovery fund is an important measure to help address the backlog of operations and patient care. Will the Secretary of State set out, following any conversations between the Department, the Treasury and the Department of Health of Social Care, how much of that budget has been earmarked for additional capacity for children with disability and care needs, children and adolescent mental health services, and special educational needs and disability provision, which is quickly becoming a crisis in our schools?
The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, has been championing the additional £2.6 billion investment in SEND that we have received from the Treasury. That includes money going into mainstream schools to increase that provision. It is important, as we await the review of SEND, that we make the investment now to create places so that parents do not feel that they need to go to court with their local authority to get an education, health and care plan.
May I press my right hon. Friend on the issue of maintained nursery schools? Of course, I welcome the three years of supplementary funding that has been confirmed, but those schools are in severe financial distress, they have found it harder than any other schools to cope with the cost of covid, and the schools in my constituency do not quality for supplementary funding. When are they going to get the help they need to survive?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who was a doughty champion of her maintained nurseries even in my time as Children and Families Minister. I am happy to meet her to go through the details that are specific to her schools, but the additional funding has been welcomed by the maintained nursery sector.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his post, and I welcome the other Ministers who are new in post. Despite our political differences, I hold them all in very high personal regard.
On 19 July, I put it to the Secretary of State, who was then Vaccines Minister, that the only way to have stability in schools come the autumn term and to protect the wellbeing of students would be to offer the vaccine over the summer months. He chose not to. As a result, just in recent days, I spoke to a principal who said that schools are no longer primarily places of learning; they are logistical centres, performing twice-weekly testing, facilitating the vaccine roll-out and dealing with local covid outbreaks. Instead of having a wall of protected adults, which the Secretary of State told me would be the case, students are faced with a wall of pinched and angry anti-vaxxers, who are preventing them from getting into school by bullying and harassing, and interrupting their school flow. Will he accept Labour’s proposal for exclusion zones around schools for the duration of any vaccine roll-out programme, and will he apologise to the 200,000 students and their families who are currently off school because he chose not to implement the measures that would have kept them there?
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for his question and his remarks about the team. I remind him that it was the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that initially did not make the decision and then went further and asked the four chief medical officers to make that decision. Throughout the vaccination programme, we have operated by taking the advice of the JCVI and of the chief medical officers. We moved swiftly the moment the advice was made available to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds. Of course, through the holiday period, that was expanded to out-of-school vaccination, and now that they are returning to school, that continues at pace.
However, the shadow Minister is right to highlight the dangerous behaviour of some anti-vaxxers. There is no place for anti-vaxxers harassing or coming anywhere near school leaders, and I have the reassurance of the Home Secretary that she will make available any resources that the sector needs to ensure that those people in our schools are protected and able to get on with the job of teaching and protecting children.
Travel to School: Rural Communities
Local authorities must provide transport for children of compulsory school age to attend their nearest school if they cannot walk there because of distance, route safety or special needs. During the next spending review period, authorities will receive an extra £1.6 billion a year to maintain vital services such as that.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s reply. As a former teacher, I very much understand the value of education, but in the past few months I have been concerned to hear of constituents having difficulties getting children to school because of limited public transport and school bus places. I know that my hon. Friend will agree that it is vital to ensure that children do not miss out on learning, so I would be grateful to hear what steps are being taken to ensure that children in rural areas, particularly with limited bus transport, are able to attend school, and whether he has discussed this matter with colleagues in the Department for Transport.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he says, as a former teacher, he recognises the benefit of children being in schools. I can assure him that the Department regularly talks to the Department for Transport about school transport. Last year, we gave Somerset over £1.1 million of additional funding for school and college transport in response to the need for social distancing on public transport. I shall continue those conversations.
Of course, far too many children in rural areas end up getting driven to school, but does the Minister agree that when they finally arrive at their destination, they will be slightly surprised to find that this Government’s ambition for funding is just back at the level that they inherited from the last Labour Government in 2010?
Independent and State School Partnerships
The Government are committed to cross-sector partnerships across England. We are aware of the partnership in Bassetlaw between Worksop College, an independent school, and 11 local state schools. We continue to work constructively with them to encourage more schools to engage with such partnership working.
I thank the Minister for his answer. He mentioned Worksop College, an independent school in my constituency, which offers chemistry roadshows for local state primary schools, hosts a weekly parkrun for local junior school pupils and does a lot of other community work. Does he agree that such independent/state school partnerships can be a key part of educational recovery? Does he welcome the forthcoming “Celebrating Partnerships” report from the Independent Schools Council, and will he therefore encourage all schools to get involved in cross-sector partnerships?
The short answer is that I will, and I welcome another question from another former teacher on the Conservative Benches. Such partnerships can form a key part of economic recovery, and I welcome the forthcoming “Celebrating Partnerships” report. I am very pleased to note that my noble Friend Baroness Barran has written the foreword for that important publication.
Lifelong Learning and Skills Development
As set out in the spending review, we are investing £3.8 billion more in further education and skills over the Parliament as a whole. We are supporting adults to get the skills that they need through the adult education budget and delivering on the Prime Minister’s lifetime skills guarantee.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and welcome him to his place. Following last week’s phenomenal investment in education catch-up, does he agree that the catch-up funds, along with the new T-levels being offered at Darlington College, part-funded through the towns fund, will be vital as we create new high-skilled, high-wage technical jobs up and down the country?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am delighted that Darlington College will offer T-levels in education and childcare and in engineering and manufacturing from next year. If we can make T-levels as famous as A-levels, Mr Speaker, you and I will have done something really great by the end of this Parliament. I am grateful for the efforts of Darlington College to help learners to catch up with their education following the pandemic by making good use of the 16 to 19 tuition fund, introduced in 2020.
About a third of my constituents in East Surrey do not have a level 3 qualification, so I am hugely supportive of the Prime Minister’s lifetime skills guarantee. I am also tremendously lucky to have a brilliant further education college, East Surrey College, to deliver it. Does the Secretary of State agree that the success of that programme will rely on our ability to let people know that it is available, and will he set out some steps on how he is ensuring that the right people know so that we can get the maximum uptake?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. We know that now more than ever we need to invest in adult skills and training. The lifetime skills guarantee gives adults in colleges just like East Surrey College the opportunity to develop the skills to succeed in work throughout life. I was the apprenticeships tsar under the coalition Government, and if you had told me that a Prime Minister would introduce this, I would have bitten your arm off. We have to make this famous, and we can do that through the work of everybody in this House taking the message out to their constituents.
But since 2010, funding for adult education has been slashed in two and funding for further education has been cut by a third. Of course, it was this Government who scrapped the union learning fund, which was transformative in moving people into skills for the future economy. Could the Secretary of State set out exactly how he will invest in skills and what the skills strategy priorities are, in the light of the fact that the Government seem to be making demands for skills that they simply do not have in the economy?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I can set out precisely how we are taking this forward: we are investing £2.5 billion—if we take the Barnett funding, it is £3 billion—in the national skills fund. The Budget confirmed that further investment through the national skills fund will reach just over half a billion pounds—£554 million—by 2024-25. That will include extending the eligibility for about 400 free level 3 courses to more adults and further expanding skills boot camps. We will announce more details in due course. On qualifications, the free courses for jobs offer is another intervention in the economy, and the boot camps are an incredibly successful intervention in the economy, producing skills through heavy goods vehicles boot camps and others. Strategically, it is about making T-levels, apprenticeships and apprenticeship degrees absolutely equal to A-levels and degrees from university.
Given that so many of the current labour shortages are in so-called unskilled jobs such as HGV driving, in which the Road Haulage Association tells me that there are more than 100,000 vacancies, why is so much funding for career retraining focused on levels 3 and above? For example, the advanced learner loan is available only for levels 3 and above, which means that a HGV driver who wants to retrain has to self-fund.
As always, the hon. Lady makes an important contribution to the debate. It is important to remember that we are focusing on tactical interventions such as bootcamps and our current work on kickstart, which has £2 billion, and restart, which has £2.9 billion. The strategic aim is that by the end of this Parliament we ensure not only that T-levels are embedded and at scale, but that apprenticeships continue the journey of quality that we began when we introduced the new standards.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place; he has made a brilliant start as Secretary of State. The emphasis that he is placing on further education and skills is the very opposite of myopia, if I may offer that observation to the House.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the extraordinary institution that is the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering in my constituency—a transformative model of higher education and further education together, focused on skills, and an extraordinary lift and shift model for levelling up. Does he share my view that this is something that the Government should be really leaning into and supporting for the longer term?
I, too, welcome the new Secretary of State to his role. The Protect Student Choice campaign warns that many students might struggle to enrol on so large an occupation-specific qualification as T-levels at the age of 16. By withdrawing funding from BTECs, how will the Secretary of State guarantee student choice?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I want to just squash that misrepresentation: we are not withdrawing funding from BTECs. BTECs that are of high quality and are valued will continue, but it is only right that we look at the landscape and see where quality lies and how we can increase the ladders of opportunity, not take them away from people.
Food Standards in Schools
We already have robust regulation in place around food standards in schools, established by the Requirements for School Food Regulations 2014. The regulations apply to all food provided in schools, making compliance mandatory for all maintained schools, including academies and free schools.
Children’s health is so important to their life chances, so the research of the young people at Jamie Oliver’s Bite Back 2030 foundation is very concerning: it shows that school food standards are routinely not maintained. What can we do to ensure that they are upheld?
School governors have a responsibility to ensure compliance and should appropriately challenge the headteacher and the senior leadership team to ensure that the school is meeting its obligations. Should parents feel that standards are not being met at their child’s school, they can make a complaint using the school’s own complaints procedure. My hon. Friend is a strong advocate for healthy and nutritious school meals; I would be happy to meet him to discuss the issue further.
Condition of School Buildings
We have allocated £11.3 billion since 2015 to improve the condition of schools, including £1.8 billion in this financial year. Our new school rebuilding programme will transform 500 schools over the next decade. We expect to start the selection process for the next round by early 2022.
Ilkley Grammar School in my constituency has a roof prone to leaking, has internal damage and is in desperate need of repair. Last year, the situation got worse, with the roof collapsing in a small part of the school. Unfortunately, Ilkley Grammar School has already had two bids to the condition improvement fund for a roof replacement rejected. Following last week’s news of more funding for schools, may I make an urgent plea to the Minister that he consider granting funding for any future proposal that we submit?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the case of Ilkley Grammar School to my attention, which he has certainly done effectively. The condition improvement fund prioritises significant condition need, keeping buildings safe and in good working order. It has supported more than 1,400 projects at more than 1,200 schools and sixth forms during the current financial year. Applications for the 2022-23 round will be assessed according to the criteria that will be published shortly.
The lovely market town of Sleaford is growing—
I’ve only got three kids. [Laughter.]
Anyway, the lovely market town of Sleaford is growing, which is causing capacity issues for both the boys’ and the girls’ grammar school sites, which are fairly constrained in the town centre. Thanks to the bequest of a very generous lady, the school has identified a site for a joint grammar school building. May I ask my hon. Friend for his support and that of the Government as part of the school rebuilding programme?
I know that my hon. Friend has championed this issue, and indeed has been visited by Ministers from the Department, including the former Minister for the School System, Baroness Berridge. The school rebuilding programme will be targeted at schools in the worst condition. While I understand that there are merits in the proposed relocation and merger, we must make hard decisions about how we prioritise use of the Department’s budget, but of course I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend and discuss this further.
The grounds of Tipton St John Primary School in East Devon have been flooded for the second time in a week. Previous flooding of the school led the Environment Agency and the Department for Education to warn of a risk to life. Earlier this year, plans to move the school to Ottery St Mary were rejected by local councillors. Will my hon. Friend please include flood risk in the criteria for the next phase of the school rebuilding programme?
As one who represents a constituency where schools have been flooded, I am sympathetic to the issues my hon. Friend has raised. The Department is aware of the flood risk to the school, and is working with the relevant parties to find a solution. We have consulted on how to select schools for the next round of the school rebuilding programme, and we are currently considering the extent to which flood risk will be part of the selection criteria, alongside other condition and safety concerns.
May I again call attention to a physical safety issue in schools in England? Sprinklers are already mandatory in Scotland and Wales. What recent assessment has the Secretary of State made of the benefit of mandatory sprinkler systems in English school buildings?
Higher Education: Learning Lost to Covid-19
The teaching staff at our universities have done a fantastic job in delivering high-quality teaching throughout the pandemic, but I am sure everyone will agree that there is no substitute for face-to-face teaching. Last week I wrote to all providers emphasising the importance of face-to-face provision, not just in teaching but in the rich extracurricular activities that should be provided for students to ensure that they are given a fair deal.
I welcome the Minister back to her role, and I agree with her about the fantastic job that universities have done. However, the Office for National Statistics reported recently that nearly 40% of first-year students had shown symptoms of depression and anxiety this autumn, and similar numbers felt unprepared for university because of the loss of in-person learning during the pandemic. What support is the Government giving stretched universities to ensure that both new and continuing students succeed despite the difficulties that they have faced, and will the Minister take this opportunity to deny rumours that the Government are planning to add to their worries by making graduates on lower incomes pay more of their student debt, by reducing the repayment threshold?
Throughout the pandemic we have prioritised the welfare and wellbeing of students, and we will continue to do so. We will respond to the Augar report shortly. As for the transition of students to university, we have worked with universities on that. We have held a session with more than 200 schools and higher education providers, and published a guide to assist with the transition. We have invested £15 million in mental health and welfare support, and with our help £3 million has been provided for Student Space by the Office for Students. It is this Government who continue to support students.
The Minister is doing a first-rate job for students in promoting freedom of speech on campus. Does she agree, however, that it would not help students to recover from everything they have been going through and everything they have lost during the pandemic if they faced the prospect of having to pay back already excessive student loans at a lower threshold? Does she also agree that too many universities have become academically indiscriminate cash cows for overpaid university administrators?
In response to Augar, we will be reporting shortly. We want to ensure that a more sustainable student finance system exists. We want to drive up the quality of higher education provision, ensure that courses meet the skills needs of this country, maintain our world-class reputation and promote social mobility.
I welcome the new Secretary of State and his team, who are also new, with the exception of the Minister for Further and Higher Education, the right hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan), although I of course welcome her as well as she returns to the Front Bench. I welcome the entire team. She has quite rightly commended university staff for the job that they have done over the past 20 months in supporting students as they shifted their entire courses online, but those same individuals are now facing severe cuts to their retirement benefits—essentially a 35% cut to their pensions and lump sums. Given the work that these staff have done over the pandemic, what action is the Minister taking to ensure that this brutal pension reduction will not go ahead?
I am deeply concerned about this issue, and that is because of the threat of strikes. Our students are now in a position to have face-to-face teaching, and I would urge every lecturer to reconsider taking strike action. Strikes have not helped the situation before, but they have impacted students who deserve a fairer deal.
National Tutoring Programme
The national tutoring programme reached 308,000 pupils in 2020-21 and this year it is expanding further to offer high quality tuition for up to 2 million pupils across the country.
I know that the Secretary of State is as concerned as I am about children in my constituency reaching their full educational potential, but I am concerned that only 240,000 enrolled on the national tutoring programme in its first year, that it has only a third of the funding that his own Government adviser put forward for covid catch-up and that funding per pupil will not reach 2010 levels for another three years. Can we see some evidence that the Government’s proposals are working? For example, can we see granular information about how the national tutoring programme is reaching the most disadvantaged children in our communities?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her question. She is always assiduous and follows the evidence. I am also grateful to her for coming to the Department on another matter to do with further education. The academic years independent evaluation is taking place and will assess the programme’s impact on pupils’ educational attainment in all regions, including the north, and we will of course publish that. I want to share with the House some of the latest reported figures on the national tutoring programme. It is going well in all parts of England, and provisional figures from our delivery partners show that so far this year 3,822 schools have engaged with the programme through the tuition partners and academic mentors. The latest reports show that 475 academic mentors have been placed in schools in the most disadvantaged areas of England. On top of this, all schools are sharing the £579 million to recruit their own local tutors.
I would like to thank the School Standards Minister for his recent visit to Burnopfield Primary School in my constituency to look specifically at the national tutoring programme. However, at a recent headteacher cluster meeting, some of the smaller primary school leaders were concerned at the amount of paperwork involved in accessing the scheme. Will the Secretary of State look at the amount of bureaucracy involved, to ensure that the national tutoring programme can reach as many children as possible in every school?
I give a great shout-out to Katie Vickers, the academic mentor that my hon. Friend and the Minister for School Standards met at Burnopfield Primary School. My hon. Friend will recall that when I was vaccines Minister, I was able to cut through some of the bureaucracy and get more retired doctors and nurses to come back and vaccinate the nation. I will happily look again with the Minister for School Standards at any bureaucracy that gets in the way and we will get rid of it.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his post, and I congratulate him and his new team on their appointment. By the end of the national tutoring programme period, nearly 2 million young people will have left school without support, including, it is estimated, more than half a million in the north. Meanwhile, the new cut-price Randstad contract has left schools facing over-complicated bureaucracy and delayed tutoring—although Randstad did manage to award a contract to itself. Is the Secretary of State satisfied with the performance of Randstad’s management of the contract?
I am never satisfied until we have delivered. Ultimately, we can have an arms race about how much we can spend, but it is all about outcomes. When the hon. Lady sees some of the independent evaluation of the programme delivered by my predecessor, she will see that we focus on outcomes, and that is what she should also focus on.
Yes, but tutoring is reaching just one in 16 pupils this year, and the attainment gap is 18 months at GCSE and widening. The Government failed to use the opportunity of the Budget to deliver the investment in education recovery that their own expert called for. Why will the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister not match Labour’s ambition for children’s futures?
All I would remind the hon. Lady is that, if we look at the league tables, England is doing well under a Conservative Government and will continue to do well. If she will only shed the tribal politics and look at the evidence—as I will, and I will present it to this House—then we can get somewhere with delivering real outcomes for the most disadvantaged people in our country, which I hope she cares about as I do.
Young-People: Securing High-Quality Jobs
I am proud to say that our plan for jobs is working, with unemployment falling to 4.5% last month. Our £3.8 billion skills revolution will ensure that young people have the skills they need to access those jobs, with T-levels, with the largest-ever expansion of traineeships and with an incentive of £3,000 for employers hiring apprentices, creating new pathways for high-quality employment.
Blyth Valley is currently at the forefront of the green industrial revolution, with many fantastic businesses such as the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult in Blyth and Merit in Cramlington, which can provide a wealth of opportunities to our young people. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me so that we can discuss how to best meet the educational needs of our young people and employers, and bridge that skill gap to ensure we have the best facilities for all the pupils in Blyth Valley?
We have embarked on a skills revolution that brings together our business and education communities to ensure that all courses are of a high quality and fit for purpose. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, who is an excellent champion for his community.
I chair the women and enterprise all-party parliamentary group, and we are about to deliver our latest report, which focuses on skills and education. The Government skills bootcamps have been a fantastic innovation, but can my right hon. Friend provide more detail on how successful they have been in encouraging and inspiring young women and girls into new careers, particularly in more male-dominated industries?
Our programmes and reforms are designed to ensure that all students get the chance to undertake high-quality learning. Our digital bootcamps had 47.9% female attendance, and every student gets an interview, including in male-dominated industries, because we are the party and the Government of opportunity.
Covid-19 Closures: Educational Disadvantage
According to Renaissance Learning, pupils were one to three months behind in their learning in summer 2021, with improvements since the spring. Pupil premium pupils were half a month further behind in primary and two months further behind in secondary. We have announced a new £1 billion recovery premium to support disadvantaged pupils, with extra support in secondary, to reflect the evidence. That is part of our £4.9 billion investment in education recovery.
I thank the Minister for his comments. Research from education charities, such as Teach First, has found that during the pandemic children from disadvantaged backgrounds were twice as likely to have fallen behind as those from more affluent ones. I am particularly concerned about pupils with special educational needs in Hampshire, who are falling behind where they should be. Has he considered any further measures to help them?
My hon. Friend is right to raise these concerns. We have consistently prioritised children with special educational needs, for example, by providing additional SEN uplifts in the catch-up and recovery premiums for 2020 to 2022. We also set an expectation that those with education, health and care plans would be able to attend schools throughout the pandemic and ensured that special schools remained open. We announced an additional £1 billion of recovery funding directly to schools to support catch-up over the two years from the academic year 2022-23.
I can confirm, following what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, that we are not planning to remove funding from all BTECs. We will continue to fund high-quality qualifications, including BTECs, that can be taken alongside, or as alternatives to, T-levels and A-levels where there is a clear need for skills and knowledge. We will be led by the evidence and the final decision on qualifications reform will be taken in due course.
I welcome the Minister’s response to the question, but the Department’s own equalities impact assessment concluded that those from SEND black and disadvantaged backgrounds, and males were
“disproportionately likely to be affected”
by the plan to scrap the majority of BTECs. The City of Liverpool College offers 21 BTEC and 51 level 3 qualifications, and 1,400 learners would be impacted by the proposed changes. Is it not time that he listened to the calls from the Protect Student Choice campaign to rethink this damaging proposal?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She is a powerful advocate for the people of Liverpool. I would, respectfully, draw her attention to page 13 of the “Government consultation response: impact assessment”, which states:
“Following the additional flexibility on the future academic landscape, and the accompanying updated mapping and data, students from Black ethnic groups are no longer anticipated to be disproportionately highly affected. “
She raises an important point, which we are mindful of; we want all students, at all levels, to have the best opportunities. That is why we are reviewing level 3 qualifications and level 2 qualifications, so that we can have a qualifications system that gives students the skills they need, to get the jobs they need, for the economy we want.
Given that 4,500 young people in Liverpool alone studied BTECs in 2020—the figure is an underestimate, as it does not include older BTECs—the Government’s plan to scrap the majority of these qualifications will leave thousands of students in cities such as Liverpool without a viable pathway at the age of 16. Will the Secretary of State and his Ministers listen to the 24 education bodies in the Protect Student Choice campaign and the 118 parliamentarians who wrote to him about this issue, or perhaps to former Conservative Secretary of State Lord Baker, who has described the plan as an “act of educational vandalism”? Despite what the Secretary of State and the Minister have said, will they rethink the proposal to defund most BTECs?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question; it is nice to have two questions from Liverpool back to back. I must tell the House that we are undertaking an historic reform of technical education in this country. We want technical qualifications, at all levels, that are designed with employers, to give students the opportunities they need. At 16, that will mean that some students will get gold-standard level 3 qualifications that will lead to work, degree-level apprenticeships or higher education. For some, it will mean excellent level 2 qualifications, which will lead to apprenticeships or to work, or to our lifetime skills guarantee, announced by the Prime Minister in September 2020, allowing everybody to get a level 3 qualification.
Clearly, it would have been sensible for the Government to have finished their evidence and understood the outcome of the policy before starting to undermine BTECs by announcing that they would defund many of them. There is a widespread body of opinion that many of the 230,000 students studying level 3 BTEC qualifications might not be able to get on to that qualification in future. Will the new Minister—I should have welcomed him to his place; I do so late in my question—tell us in which year the Government are likely to meet their target of having 100,000 students studying T-levels? Will he guarantee that those changes will not lead to a reduction in the number of students studying level 3 qualifications in the future?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his belated welcome.
We just had a historic spending review for skills in this country, with £2.8 billion of capital for skills, including money to deliver new T-levels across the spending-review period. Those T-levels will give more students the opportunity to progress into work at a higher level. Our level 2 review will enable more students to progress into work at the right level for them.
The Chancellor’s announcement last week in respect of my Department’s spending plans was about skills, schools and families. For schools, that means a cash increase of £1,500 per pupil by 2024-25, compared with 2019, as well as almost £2 billion further to catch up on lost learning. For skills, it means £3.8 billion of investment over this Parliament to ensure that people can access high-quality training and education, thereby opening the door to good jobs and driving forward our plan for growth. For families, it means support for the most disadvantaged, boosting childcare and ensuring that no one is left behind.
I warmly welcome the £1 billion-worth of recovery funding that was announced in the spending review to help children catch up after the disruption caused by covid. Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about how that funding will be deployed to help disabled children access services that have been impacted by the pandemic?
The new recovery funding will help schools deliver evidence-based approaches to support the most disadvantaged pupils, including eligible pupils with special educational needs and disabilities or education, health and care plans. That funding is on top of this year’s £8.9 billion of high-needs funding for children with more complex needs, and there is £42 million for projects that support children and young people with SEND.
The Government’s own early years health adviser, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), has said that every family in England should have access to a local hub, with parent and child support services. That is exactly what Labour ensured while in government, by building 3,600 Sure Start centres; this Government have closed 1,000 of them and then provided piecemeal funding for what they call “family hubs” in only half of local authorities. If the Secretary of State will not match Labour’s ambition for families, will he at least match the ambition of his early years health adviser, who, I notice, is in the Chamber?
Where we disagree, respectfully, is that there are now 3,000 family centres. All the evidence suggested that the Sure Start scheme invested in buildings rather than in the families we needed to reach. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) was absolutely on the right track in championing the first 1,001 critical days. I saw that at first hand at the family hub in Harlow—I was with the Chairman of the Education Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon)—which combined multi-agency services to bring in the families we really want to reach, not just the families who are capable of accessing Government services. That is the big difference. My hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families will lead on the launch of 75 such hubs, which will make a real difference to the families that we need to reach.
I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend to meet Amy and Ella to discuss their idea and the resources they have created through their Plastic Clever Schools campaign. Only last week, in a debate in the House, I discussed the importance of teaching about climate change and sustainability in schools. I am looking forward to visiting, this Friday, the Rivers multi-academy trust, to learn about how it incorporates sustainability into its curriculum.
I point the hon. Gentleman to the Government’s £1.8 billion investment in the condition of schools this year. We continue to invest in schools. I was delighted to see in the spending review that £2.6 billion additional funding to drive up provision in high needs and special needs.
The presence of anti-vaxxers outside schools throughout the United Kingdom is something that should concern us all, particularly as we enter the winter months. What work is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that young people are safeguarded against dangerous misinformation, and what work is being done to counter the misinformation that they are being given?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her important question. A unit at the Cabinet Office has been working with social media platforms to highlight anti-vax misinformation and to take it down as quickly as possible. I continue my work with the Home Secretary to make sure that no one feels under threat in any of our educational establishments from anti-vaxxers.
I am so grateful to my right hon. Friend and to our brilliant new children’s Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), for their commitment to giving every baby the best start in life. Does my right hon. Friend agree that absolutely key to the success of family hubs is that, unlike under the old Sure Start scheme, every family can have midwifery visits, health visits, advice for mental health and breast-feeding support and that that is what makes a real difference to every new family?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. The Budget announcement rightly demonstrates our commitment to family hubs and start for life. Family hubs bring together services for children of all ages with a great start for life offer at their very core. I very much look forward to working with her to ensure that they deliver for parents, carers and, importantly, babies.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I visited Coventry West Academy—I know that it is not in her constituency, but it is certainly a fantastic school that is being rebuilt with more than £30 million of investment. It will be operationally net zero and built in Coventry, not far from where the school is. Teachers have gone above and beyond in everything that they have done. I thank them as well as school leaders from the bottom of my heart for what they have done. Of course the increase of £1,500 per pupil in the core schools budget from 2019-20 is a big step forward as is the recovery funding of £5 billion.
May I welcome the Secretary of State’s early focus on illiteracy and tackling illiteracy? As a proud dyslexic, I ask him whether he agrees with me that we cannot tackle illiteracy unless we ensure that all those with neuro-diversity, including dyslexics, get identified and the support that they need to learn properly.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. He has been a champion for some of the new technologies and new evidence emerging around the world about identifying and screening for dyslexia. I will happily meet him and have a look at what we can do to scale that up in the United Kingdom.
When a child has a parent who goes to prison, too often the support services are all focused on the needs of the prisoner and are run by the Ministry of Justice. Is the Children’s Minister prepared to meet the charity Children Heard and Seen and me, so that they can hear the views and support needs of the children who are left behind, particularly where parental contact might not be appropriate?
We recognise the impact that having a parent in prison can have on a child’s wellbeing, behaviour, mental health and learning. That is why we have clear statutory guidance that support should be based on the needs of the child, not solely the characteristic of having a parent in prison. Of course I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this important issue further.
I was very sad to see that Professor Kathleen Stock decided to step down from Sussex University following a sustained campaign of bullying and harassment. Will my right hon. Friend outline how the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will uphold freedom of speech in our higher education institutions?
I, too, was horrified by what has happened in regard to Professor Stock, who has had to resign due to sustained harassment and bullying. This cannot be tolerated on our campuses, which is why the Government are delivering a freedom of speech and academic freedom Bill that will ensure that universities not only protect, but promote free speech. I welcome at this opportunity—
I was shocked to learn on a recent visit to St James’s Catholic Primary School in Twickenham that parents were being asked to donate to fund pupils’ recovery from the pandemic. Although last week’s announcement was welcome, it is still only a third of the amount that the Government’s own adviser recommends for education recovery. Will the Minister commit to the additional £10 billion?
As the hon. Lady says, the additional £1 billion of investment in recovery is welcome. More importantly, it is also evidence led. We need to ensure that we follow the evidence to the interventions that make the most difference, and that is exactly what we are going to do.
Will my hon. Friend tell the House what work is under way to ensure that the key stage 3 and 4 curriculum is aligned with the jobs of the future, not just the jobs of today?
Four hundred and thirty-nine pupils were absent from school with covid-19. Of course, that is impacting on their education, but the real crime is the fact that they want their vaccines and are not getting them. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that pupils do get their vaccine and we stop this delay?
The school-age vaccination system is working. This week, the Health Secretary again announced a big drive in schools to ensure that we continue to protect and vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds as we did through the holiday period and, of course, before that when we began the programme. It is big push to ensure that we vaccinate and protect those 12 to 15-year-olds.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend shares my admiration for our wonderful, world-leading universities sector, and that he is aware of my campaign for a new university in Milton Keynes. Does he agree that the best way to underline the reputation for the quality and integrity of our world-leading institutions is to ban so-called essay mills?
The condition of the buildings at Witton-le-Wear Primary School is really good, but the conditions for learning are not, given that there are partition walls between the classrooms because the school was built for 50 children, rather than the 80 who are currently there. Will the Minister meet me to discuss Witton-le-Wear Primary School and what can be done for the future?
Smoking Cessation: Prescription of E-cigarettes
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. Covid has been a stark reminder that our underlying health and lifestyle determine how resilient we are to new risks and diseases. Covid did not strike evenly. People who smoked, were overweight, or struggled with chronic conditions fared worse. We are determined to level up health for a society that is not just healthier but fairer.
Smoking rates are down to 13.9%—the lowest on record—but tobacco continues to account for the biggest share of avoidable premature death in this country. It contributes half the difference in life expectancy between richest and poorest. Action against smoking is therefore at the heart of our mission to level up. Our goal is for England to be smoke free by 2030. To support this goal, we have an ambitious tobacco control plan, and will soon publish a new plan with an even sharper focus on tackling health disparities. Our new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will support this vital mission nationally and locally.
Ministers from my Department have long been clear, including in this place, that we support e-cigarettes as part of a gateway process for stopping smoking. Last week, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency updated its guidance on licensing as medicines e-cigarettes and other inhaled nicotine-containing products. The updated guidance sets out the steps needed to license an e-cigarette as a medicinal product, as well as quality, safety and efficacy standards.
Having e-cigarettes as a licensed product will enable them to be available on prescription, which I know will give health professionals greater confidence in their use. I am happy to update the House further when we are closer to having a licensed product. We will continue to consider e-cigarettes, and indeed any other innovative ways of improving the health of our nation, so that we can end disparities and level up to a healthier and fairer country.
We welcome the announcement that e-cigarettes will be available on prescription. It should be a really significant step in helping 7 million smokers to quit. As the Minister says, smoking kills; it leads to 90,000 deaths and 500,000 hospital admissions every year across the UK. I think she will find broad support for what she has announced, but the House would have preferred to have heard this first, rather than via a press release issued by the Secretary of State on Thursday evening.
The Minister says that she will return to the House when she has more detail. What is the timeframe for that, and when does she expect the first prescriptions for e-cigarettes to be issued? She will know that to those who find it hardest to quit, the offer of e-cigarettes will be important, but it would be much better if it were backed up with access to specialist support services. However, smoking cessation services have been cut by over £22 million in the last five years. Indeed, areas with high levels of heart disease, cancer and stroke are among those hit hardest by the cuts. For example, Dudley has had a 17% cut. Derbyshire, which is where her constituency is, has had a 20% cut. Hartlepool and Wolverhampton have had cuts of 81% to their smoking cessation services.
To be frank, there will be no levelling up unless health inequalities are tackled, and unless we prevent cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes where we can, but that demands fully funded local public health services, whereas in recent years, the public health grant has been cut by £1 billion in real terms, and in the Budget last week, it was just maintained at present levels. As the Association of Directors of Public Health has warned, this will mean further
“significant… reductions in public health services and capacity across the country.”
Will the Minister guarantee no further cuts to smoking cessation services? She mentioned the tobacco control plan, which is supposed to be published this year. Can she tell us at what point in the next two months that will happen?
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s support on the issue we are talking about and on our ambitions to make this country smoke free by 2030.
On the MHRA, the updated guidance provided further details on the steps required to license an e-cigarette as a medicinal product. To achieve a licence, a product would need to meet the standards of quality, safety and efficacy expected of a medicinal product. If successful, that would potentially allow safe and effective products to be made available for prescription for tobacco smokers who wish to quit. The update provides clarification and gives more guidance to potential providers on that issue.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about timescales. We anticipate that if a product was put to the MHRA today, for example, there could be an 18 to 24-month process for that product to be licensed. At this stage, we could not say anything further than that, so we are quite a long way from any e-cigarette being licensed and provided as a prescription medicine.
The public health grant increased by £135 million in 2020-21 and by £55 million in 2021-22. With regard specifically to the public health grant for smoking services, it is up to the local authority to decide how it spends its allocation of funding, but in addition, in our long-term plan, we have committed to helping to drive smoking cessation for a number of different groups. We want to provide help with cessation plans for in-patients and pregnant women, and to provide support for those with mental health and learning disabilities to tackle their smoking addictions. All in all, a lot of money is being spent both at the public health level and at the NHS level. We will continue to make sure that we do whatever we can in our power to make England smoke free by 2030.
Many people who wish to stop smoking are motivated by the wish to be healthier, but there is also a financial impact on the family from somebody smoking, not least because the Chancellor put 88p on the most expensive cigarettes and even the cheapest are almost a tenner now. However, many people buy cigarettes under the counter or from a mate down the pub. Will the Minister engage with her opposite number in the Home Office to ensure that combating tobacco smuggling remains a priority for Border Force?
My mother smoked herself to death and died of lung cancer at the age of 62, so no one needs to tell me how important it is that we do all we can to support people to give up smoking. I also know people who have given up smoking through e-cigarettes but now find that they smoke quite a lot more than they did with traditional cigarettes. What analysis has been done of the impact on overall intake of switching from traditional tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes? Do the Government have longer-term concerns about moving people off e-cigarettes to not smoking altogether?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right that our goal is to help people to stop smoking completely. My heart goes out to him regarding the story about his mother. My father was a smoker and it damaged his health as well. We all have these personal stories. The evidence is clear that e-cigarettes are less harmful to health than smoking tobacco and are an effective way to help people to stop smoking, but, as the hon. Gentleman said, there is always more to be done.
History has shown us that an absence of evidence of long-term harm is not the same as evidence of absence of long-term harm. Indeed, in the 1940s, conventional cigarettes were considered healthy. With that in mind, how will the Minister ensure that children are protected from breathing in the vapes of e-cigarettes, prescribed or otherwise, and that their prescription by a doctor is not seen as a green light that they are healthy, encouraging uptake among teenagers?
COP9 is due to start next week and, as yet, the Government have not announced their delegation. Will the Minister therefore please tell us who the delegates might be and what their approach will be to COP9, given that the World Health Organisation is completely against vaping?
I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health. Clearly the best way of ceasing smoking is to stop altogether. I welcome the fact that this proposal was originally contained in the last tobacco control plan in 2017, so I congratulate my hon. Friend on her prompt action on assuming the job. We will get an opportunity to debate the tobacco control plan on 16 November in Westminster Hall, and I trust she will reply to that debate. Will this particular proposal be targeted at the extreme smokers—the people who are hardened smokers and smoke a lot—and pregnant women to encourage them to give up?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am looking forward to our debate in a couple of weeks’ time. As I mentioned earlier, the NHS already has measures in place through the long-term plan to help those who are pregnant to stop smoking. That is important. Should e-cigarettes be licensed as a medicinal product, it will be a gateway for those smokers to stop smoking through that method and hopefully stop smoking completely.
What investment will the Government put into research into the long-term use of e-cigarettes, so that we can understand the impact that will have? Will the Minister also commit to invest in health checks, so that we can screen people for public health issues, such as smoking and other forms of harm, and get the right interventions at the right time and address these issues?
This Government are determined to level up, and as part of that we are levelling up for health, as well as some of the issues that the hon. Lady mentioned. Our Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will play a big role in moving forward with this issue.
We know that smoking is a key cause of major health inequalities across the country between different demographics and different areas. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we want to level up health outcomes in the country, we will need to target products to support people by providing effective alternatives to smoking? As a smoker who wants to quit, I have seen many of my friends using multiple different products recently, from snus to heat-not-burn. Will she consider other options, in addition to e-cigarettes, that can cause less harm and enable people like me to quit?
I welcome not only the Minister’s emphatic support for the cessation of smoking by 2030 as a target, but the cross-party support. We have seen in this short discussion today unanimous support for the use of e-cigarettes as a route out of smoking. The UK is one of the most advanced countries in the world in the proper evidence-led approach to the use of e-cigarettes. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is perfectly placed to herald that evidence and make sure the approach is evidence-based. Can she assure me that we will speed up the processes as much as possible? We must follow the evidence, but we must follow it rapidly.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the work he has done on this important issue. He is right that the MHRA’s expertise is recognised worldwide, so it is only right that it looks at it, and it provided clarification last week. As health disparities are so important, it is fantastic that we have cross-party support on the issue.
Public Houses (Electrical Safety) Bill
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require public houses to have annual electrical safety tests; to make associated provision about licensing, insurance and enforcement; and for connected purposes.
The Bill is vital—it will save lives. Had it been on the statute book earlier, the life of Harvey Tyrrell, a young boy from Romford who died in tragic circumstances, would have been saved. The Bill is designed to ensure that the circumstances of Harvey’s death will never be repeated. Harvey must not have died in vain. I dedicate the Bill to his name.
Harvey was a wonderful young seven-year-old boy who brought joy to all those around him. He had a passion for singing, dancing and playing sport, and he had a particular love of football. While I never had the privilege of meeting him, I know from those who did that he was a kind and caring young boy who would always look out for others and be there to support his family and friends. Following Harvey’s death, I spent time speaking with his mother, Danielle, who recounted many stories of her and Harvey endlessly laughing at the many jokes he would tell. By all accounts he was a lovely young lad with a wonderful future ahead of him, but his life was cruelly and suddenly taken away.
On 11 September 2018, Harvey and his mother went out for a pub lunch, as is such a great and treasured tradition, particularly in our beloved county of Essex. Tragically, Harvey did not come home that day. I am ashamed to say that the King Harold—a pub in the Harold Hill area of Romford, just over the border in the Hornchurch and Upminster constituency—was a death trap. When Harvey innocently placed his hand on a metal railing, electricity surged through his body. The horrified patrons of the pub could only watch as Harvey collapsed, before running over to help him. Paramedics were called and Harvey was rushed to hospital, but, tragically, he was later pronounced dead.
It was a deeply sad day for the Harold Hill and Harold Wood community, for Romford and for the whole borough of Havering. I thank Councillor Brian Eagling, Councillor Darren Wise and Councillor Martin Goode—the local councillors for the area—for the enormous support and kindness they showed to Harvey’s family. They were instrumental in working with me to ensure that the Bill could be placed before the House. Harvey’s death was completely avoidable and we must act now to ensure that such a wicked loss of life in these circumstances never happens again.
In the months prior to that horrific event, it was reported that the landlord had been electrocuted while on the premises and that, instead of resolving the issue, he joked with the regulars in the pub about the faulty wiring. That was a completely unacceptable way to operate a business. The safety of customers should always be at the forefront of an owner’s mind. Had the owner of the King Harold been conscious of safety or followed existing legislation, young Harvey would still be with us today.
Inspections in the aftermath of Harvey’s death revealed the true extent of the danger that customers faced when entering the pub. It was found that there were 12 defects at the pub, which posed a risk of injury, including by electric shock, and 32 potentially dangerous defects. It was also found that the faulty lights that had caused the metal pole to become electrified were attached to an unmetered supply, from which the pub owner had been stealing electricity.
During the trial of the owner of the King Harold, an expert described the pub as
“the most dangerous thing he had seen in 40 years”
and said that he was
“horrified the owner was able to ignore health and safety regulations, dodge his duty to seek planning permission for building projects and didn’t care about the dangers in the pub.”
So I am glad that the owner of the King Harold and his brother-in-law, who was responsible for the electrics in the pub, were both jailed for their involvement in this awful incident.
However, those sentences could not bring Harvey back to his mother, his family and his friends and there is no safeguard in place to stop that kind of incident happening again. As it currently stands, regulation of electrical safety in pubs is not fit for purpose. It is covered by regulation 4 of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. This regulation requires businesses to ensure that electrical installations are constructed and maintained in a way that prevents danger. That includes having the installations regularly tested and keeping a record of this. However, at the moment, it is down to the duty holder within the business to provide the relevant checks. There are no organisations, whether Government or private, monitoring whether pubs have complied with that standard.
Customers must be able to enter a pub with the confidence that they are not at any risk of injury—surely a basic requirement that any business should adhere to. In the light of the catastrophic events surrounding Harvey’s death, I believe that we must urgently act to strengthen the enforcement of electrical safety standards throughout the United Kingdom. That is why, with Harvey Tyrrell’s law—the Public Houses (Electrical Safety) Bill—I am proposing comprehensive measures to ensure that customers can enter pubs with the confidence that they will be safe from injury.
My Bill would require pub owners to get the electrical systems in their pubs checked a minimum of every five years, to bring pubs in line with the regulations on electrical safety checks in rental properties. The Bill also requires safety tests to be conducted by a qualified person, such as a registered electrician, thus creating confidence for the pub owner and the customers that the checks have been followed correctly and that electrical systems are safe.
An electrical safety certification should also be linked to the pub’s alcohol licence and the local authority would have to do no more than check that the pub owner had submitted the documentation proving that their premises had been tested for electrical safety before approving an alcohol licence.
I know that many hard-working pub owners would welcome those proposals, which improve everyone’s safety, including their own. I am a huge supporter of the great English pub and want pubs to remain at the heart of our community, so I am not seeking to create unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy, but we must ensure that they are places where people can enjoy themselves in safety. I believe that the measures I have outlined in the Bill, Harvey Tyrrell’s law, will successfully achieve this and I call upon Her Majesty’s Government to act swiftly in this regard.
My Bill will create a firm framework to ensure that the shocking events that surrounded the death of young Harvey are never repeated. It will keep people safe and prevent needless loss of life. I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Andrew Rosindell, Henry Smith, Alexander Stafford, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Tom Hunt, Chris Grayling, Mrs Sheryll Murray, Jon Cruddas, Dame Margaret Hodge, Joy Morrissey, Ian Lavery and Robert Halfon present the Bill.
Andrew Rosindell accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 21 January 2022 and to be printed (Bill 181).
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Today marks the beginning of Islamophobia Awareness Month, a call to tackle this insidious hatred. This time last year, to mark this month, I wrote to the Prime Minister raising concern over Islamophobia and urging him to better safeguard British Muslims and to fulfil his promise to carry out an independent investigation into his party. A year on, the Prime Minister still has not responded. That is wholly unacceptable and an insult to British Muslims. Mr Speaker, is it in order for the Prime Minister to ignore Members’ correspondence? If it is not, what action can I now take? Perhaps the Prime Minister could come to this Chamber to make a statement on Islamophobia Awareness Month.
I thank the hon. Member for giving me notice of his point of order. I can confirm that I have had notice on this subject and a statement about it. I would of course expect the Prime Minister, and any Minister, to respond to Members from all parts of the House. That is what Ministers are there for; as I have said before, they are answerable to this House and to MPs. We need to support Members of Parliament to carry out their duties, so I would expect that all correspondence is answered in a timely way. I am sure that that message will have got through, via those on the Government Benches, and back to the Prime Minister. If the hon. Member does not receive a response quickly following his point of order, he is welcome to discuss with the Table Office in what way he might pursue that question, but I genuinely believe that people do get a lot, and I would not expect any Member not to be answered, so I can only presume—and hope—that there has been a genuine mistake.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) is quite right to raise, in Islamophobia Awareness Month, the importance of countering anti-Muslim hatred. I know that he has secured a Westminster Hall debate later this week, which the Minister for Equalities and Minister for Levelling Up Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch), will be responding to. There is an anti-Muslim hatred working group in my Department and, indeed, an independent adviser on Islamophobia. There is direct governmental responsibility, which rests with my Department, to deal with the issues that the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton quite rightly raises. On the related question of matters within the Conservative party, I will make sure that his correspondence is replied to in a timely way.
Ways and Means
Income Tax (Charge)
Debate resumed (Order, 28 October).
Question again proposed,
That income tax is charged for the tax year 2022-23.
And it is declared that it is expedient in the public interest that this Resolution should have statutory effect under the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his Budget statement against the backdrop and in the shadow of the covid pandemic, but he also did so unveiling a new era of economic optimism, as we build back better after that pandemic and secure the investment required to make sure that every part of this United Kingdom flourishes economically and every citizen has the chance to achieve their fullest potential.
It was striking that the Office for Budget Responsibility, in its assessment of the Chancellor’s response to the covid pandemic, said that he was “remarkably successful” in the steps that he had put in place. It is important, against the backdrop of the Budget statement and the spending review that accompanies it, to reflect for a second on the Chancellor’s success. The plan for jobs, which he was responsible for, has ensured that, contrary to the grim expectations that we would face unemployment of perhaps 12%, it is now expected to be 5% at most. It is also striking that the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated that the scarring effect on the economy—the drop in GDP that we would inevitably suffer as a result of the covid pandemic—would no longer be 3%, but just 2%.
Those figures, which reflect the success of my right hon. Friend’s approach hitherto, should be in our mind as we consider the approach that he is taking, because it is only as a result of success in ensuring sound money, success in ensuring an approach towards a balanced budget that commands the confidence of the markets, and success in ensuring that more of our fellow citizens can remain in employment that we have the foundations today on which to build, unite and level up our country.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about success. In part of my constituency, child poverty is something of the order of 60%. That compares with a national average of just under 20%. Is that a success because, if not, what does levelling up mean for the children in my constituency?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. At the heart of levelling up is a recognition, as he rightly reminds the House, that while talent is spread equally across this country, opportunity is not. There is a series of measures in the Budget statement designed to specifically attack the problem of child poverty. The creation of new family hubs is specifically designed to address that, as is the additional investment in the supporting families programme, the successor to the troubled families programme.
I should add that the changes to the taper on universal credit will also ensure, allied to the changes in the national living wage, that someone who is on the minimum wage, who is therefore in work, and who is receiving universal credit will receive at least £250 extra a year as a direct result of the national living wage increase and an additional £1,000 a year as a result of the associated changes to the taper. I recognise that eradicating poverty is not the work of one Budget, but it is only fair that everyone across the House recognises that there are measures in this Budget statement—measures being taken by this Government—directly to address the problems that the hon. Gentleman raises, because they are a scar that needs to be healed.
Will the Secretary of State tell us whether the number of family hubs will match the number of Sure Starts that have been cut since 2010? Does he regret the loss of so many Sure Starts and recognise the serious damage that has been done to a generation?
The right hon. Lady is right to point out that the Sure Start programme was always intended to help those who were most in need, but it was also intended to provide a universal offer. Inevitably, during the difficult period that we had after the 2008 financial crash, we had to make sure that we targeted resources accordingly, but after a period of retrenchment, we are now entering a period of renewal and reform. The family hubs are targeted not just at those who have children in the first 1,000 days of their life, which reflects superbly on the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom); they are there to ensure that we have a comprehensive nought-to-19 offer. They go further than Sure Start children’s centres originally did—that is no criticism of Sure Start children’s centres—providing services that they did not.
I will make a bit of progress and then try to take more interventions, if that is okay.
It is also important to recognise that the Budget statement saw a significant increase in public spending overall. It is the case that no Government can be judged purely by how much they spend. How that money is spent is critical. Additional public spending without reform and without a focus on value for money is money wasted. But I do not think that anyone across the House can deny that, with reform and with a focus on value for money, additional public spending, appropriately targeted, can help to transform public services for the better. In this Budget statement, £150 billion more will be spent over the spending review period. That is a 3.8% growth, in real terms, and in the Department for which I am responsible there is a 4.7% increase. Alongside that, there are the biggest increases in capital investment from any Government for 50 years; the biggest block grants ever given, since the dawn of devolution, to the Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and an increase of 6.6% in the national living wage, which takes it to £9.50 an hour. All Governments can face criticism and all Chancellors can be attacked, but I do not think it credible for anyone in this House to say that the package that the Chancellor unveiled last week is any way not equal to the challenges that we face.
The question for Opposition Members, including those on the Front Bench, is what they would do differently. If they argue that we should spend even more, where would they spend it? Which budgets would they prioritise? If they were to spend more, which budgets would they deprioritise? What would they cut to fund the additional spending? If they would not cut, would they borrow more? If so, how much more? With what impact on our credibility in international markets, on interest rates and on our capacity to fund our debt and deficit? Let us bear in mind that debt is falling and the deficit is being reduced as a result of the Chancellor’s shrewd approach.
If the Opposition were to borrow more, would they tax more? If so, whom would they tax? What credibility can they have on tax when we introduced a specific one-off increase to fund the national health service and social care—and the Labour party voted against it?
Those are all questions that Opposition Front Benchers want to avoid. To what lengths have they gone to avoid it? Well, earlier today I spent a few seconds on Twitter, not tweeting, but studying that social platform. In particular, I studied the tweets of my opposite number, the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), who has been tweeting promiscuously and vociferously over the weekend—but what has he been tweeting promiscuously and vociferously about? Has he been tweeting about the spending review? Has he been putting forward alternative plans for local government, alternative propositions on levelling up, a new plan for housing or perhaps a new proposition on communities?
No. The hon. Member has only one tweet about the spending review. In contrast, he has tweeted five times as often about Crystal Palace football club. We are all, I think, in awe of Patrick Vieira’s success in ensuring that Crystal Palace could beat Manchester City 2-0 at the weekend, but however historic and unprecedented that victory is, I think we all have a right to ask whether, if Labour is silent on the spending review—if it has nothing to say by way of criticism or alternative—that is perhaps an indication of the success of the Chancellor in framing a Budget and a spending review right for this country.
To get back to some serious points for a moment, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told Glasgow’s COP26 today that the world’s
“addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink.”
Will the Secretary of State use his planning powers to protect the beautiful parts of his own county of Surrey and prevent it from being turned into a British Texas? Why are Conservative Ministers prepared to allow new oil drilling in the Surrey hills and the north of Scotland when we are in a climate crisis?
I have huge respect and affection for the right hon. Member, but I remember when we sat in Cabinet together and he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. I remember when he spoke to the Liberal Democrat conference, when such a thing occurred —when there were enough Liberal Democrats to get together to fill a conference hall. I remember him telling that Liberal Democrat conference hall that it was time—please forgive my language, ladies and gentlemen—to get fracking. Now that he is no longer in government and is in opposition, he seems, curiously enough, to have reversed his position, an unprecedented thing for a Liberal Democrat to do.[Laughter.] Saying one thing to one constituency and another thing to another? Remarkable!
I should say that my own views on fracking in Surrey—and indeed elsewhere—are on the record, and the right hon. Member can be reassured that my opposition to fracking in Surrey, particularly in a case that came up in my constituency, is on the record; but because my views are on the record of the past, I should say no more about the future.
May I return the Secretary of State to the 3% increase in spending power for local councils? Has he seen the analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies? It states that the 3% includes the £5.4 billion that the Government have used from the levy, but as the way in which councils must spend it is specified, it amounts to only a 1.8% increase in money that they can choose, and the 1.8% is there only if they put their council tax up by 3% a year.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Additional funding is, quite rightly, being devoted to improving adult social care, and it is also the case that the overall rise in core spending power for local government is at 3%. If we look back, we see that that is a significant increase, and it is also part of the broader increase of 4.7% overall in the spending that we are providing. Local government is not just being given more money for discretionary spending and for adult social care; we are also seeing additional spending from the Department for Education on special educational needs, we are seeing additional spending for transport, particularly in our city regions, and we are seeing the levelling-up fund as well. It is important to look in the round at the amount of money available to local government and spent in local areas.
Knowsley, which is one of the boroughs that my constituency covers, has gone from being the fifth most deprived local authority in 2010 to being the second most deprived now. One would have expected a Budget such as this, about levelling up, to focus particularly on giving necessary resources to Knowsley, but despite being a priority 1 area it has been overlooked for the levelling-up fund, having previously been overlooked for the future high streets fund and the towns fund. What does Knowsley have to do, now that it is the second most deprived area, to get some money from the Government so it can try to level up? [Interruption.]
The hon. Lady has made an important point. There are specific and long-standing issues in Knowsley and other parts of Merseyside that we need to address as part of levelling up. However, I think she does herself down slightly, because I understand that thanks to her advocacy in her constituency two levelling-up bids succeeded, and although they do not affect Knowsley, they do affect Liverpool. Some £20 million has gone towards helping Liverpool City Council with regeneration, and £37 million has gone towards recovery. Those sums are not insignificant.
Nevertheless, I take the hon. Lady’s point about Knowsley. I think it important to remind her, and indeed the House, that the £1.7 billion in the levelling-up fund which was allocated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is just one third of the total sum allocated over the course of the spending review, and I look forward to working with her and with other colleagues to make sure that the remaining funds can be allocated effectively.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State heard this, or indeed whether the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) heard it, but when the hon. Lady asked what her constituents had to do to get their fair share of levelling-up funding, the clear message from the Tory Back Benches was that they had to return a Tory MP. Tory MPs clearly think that it is all about putting money into Tory-held constituencies. Does the Secretary of State agree with his own MPs that levelling-up funding will be targeted at Conservative constituencies, or does he need to have a private word with them afterwards to stop them giving away party secrets?
We do not need to look into the crystal ball; we can just read the book. There are a number of Scottish National party MPs whose advocacy has ensured that they receive levelling-up funds in their constituencies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) on securing £16 million for UK Government money for the Granton gasholder in her constituency. The hon. Members for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) and for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn)—and even the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford)—have managed to secure money from either the levelling-up fund or the community ownership fund in this Budget.
It is fantastic that we have Scottish National party MPs petitioning my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bypass the Scottish Government in order to spend UK Government money in their constituencies. [Hon. Members: “More! More!”] And indeed there will be more, because in the forthcoming community renewal fund allocations, more money will be going to constituencies represented by Scottish National party MPs. That is because, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out in his Budget speech, we are stronger, better and wealthier together. It is great that Scottish National party MPs are putting the UK Government’s money where the Scottish Government’s mouth isn’t.
Levelling up is about making opportunity more equal across our whole United Kingdom. It is a recognition, as the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have said, that while talent is spread equally across the United Kingdom, opportunity is not. If levelling up is to succeed, yes, we need funds such as the levelling up fund, but we also need a systemic approach to how the Government support local government, other institutions and the private sector in order to spread prosperity.
One of the challenges that we face when it comes to levelling up is that the difference between the more economically successful areas of the United Kingdom and those that are less successful involves a kind of “Anna Karenina” challenge. In the first line of that novel, Tolstoy points out that all happy families are happy in a similar way, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. We can apply that to communities that need more help. The challenges that Knowsley faces are different from the challenges that Grimsby faces. The challenges that Bury faces are different from those that Burnley faces. We need to recognise that while all the challenges faced in coastal towns, in satellite towns around our major cities and in rural areas have common features, they all deserve to be addressed in a unique way.
If we are going to improve economic productivity and wellbeing, we need to recognise—as the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), has pointed out—that for levelling up to succeed, we need to ensure that local leadership improves and that we build on the success of, for example, combined authority Mayors such as Andy Street and Ben Houchen. We also need to improve living standards where they are lower, and to improve public services, particularly where opportunity has fallen behind. We also need to play a part in helping to restore pride in place, so that communities feel in a genuine sense that they have taken back control.
The Budget succeeded in addressing many of these challenges by ensuring that the funding was there to focus on each of the ingredients that require to be in place if we are to have levelling up. One of the first and most important areas in which the Budget made provision for change was in education, particularly in further education and in skills. An additional £3.8 billion is being spent over the course of the spending review period. That is a real-terms increase for those 16 to 19-year-olds who are in full-time education, and there is additional money to ensure that our groundbreaking T-levels are more available. There will be additional hours for those in further and technical education to ensure that they get the very best tuition, and there will be skills boot camps to ensure that we can accelerate the move of people into the labour market.
There will also be eight new institutes of technology—prestige further education institutions concentrated in the areas that most need levelling up. On top of that, the multiplier programme will provide more than £500 million to improve adult numeracy across the United Kingdom. All of this comes together in a package to recognise that, as well as building on the success of our education reform programme in schools, we also ensure that adult, technical and vocational education at last receives the focus, attention and funds that it deserves.
As well as investing in skills, we are going to invest better in small and medium-sized enterprises, which are of course the engine room of our economy. That is why the Chancellor outlined plans for the British Business Bank to expand in order to ensure that SME finance is more readily available. Regional funds are being extended across the northern powerhouse. The existing success of the BBB’s Cornwall operation is being extended to cover the whole of the south-west, and there will be new branches of the bank opening in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in order to build relationships with small businesses and to ensure that they have access to the debt and equity finance that they need.
Alongside that, there will be increased investment in research and development. An additional £20 billion will be spent over the spending review period, going up to hit our £22 billion target, and this research and development money will move outside the greater south-east, where so much research and development expenditure has been concentrated in the past, in order to ensure that, whether it is in Manchester or Newcastle, areas of university excellence that require additional investment to ensure the smarter diffusion of innovation into the economy are supported in the way that they should be.
On top of that, we have the global Britain investment fund: £1.4 billion that will ensure those sectors that are strong and growing in our economy get the additional inward investment they need to drive up economic growth. We know inward investment is often the route to higher productivity, and that is why there will be £1.4 billion specifically targeted on the automotive sector, on renewables and on life sciences.
I will say two things. It is great to see the right hon. Gentleman in his place. When he left as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he famously left a note saying that “there is no money” left; now, as he can see, there is significant money available to be allocated in all these areas. I recognise that he was speaking in jest and that those words should not be taken out of context.
More broadly, we face, as indeed every country faces, a global race for talent and a global appetite for additional investment. It is because of the global Britain investment fund, because of what we are doing in research and development and because of the way we are reforming UK Research and Innovation that we will be in a position to ensure that our economy is equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that Brexit brings, and the opportunities that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has outlined. I am confident that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) will see our exporting ability and the inward investment routes into this country grow in years to come.
I should point out that at the beginning of my remarks, I said that the initially pessimistic view that was taken of our capacity to weather the covid storm has been gainsaid by the success of the Chancellor’s approach. Again, there is no need to look in the crystal ball; the right hon. Gentleman need only look at the book. The book and the record show the success of the Chancellor’s approach.
I will try to make a little bit more progress.
It is also significant that, if we are to level up, we must ensure that we have appropriate investment not only in business itself, through the funds I have mentioned and the initiatives I have outlined, but in transport. We must ensure that the private sector is firing on all cylinders, and that means ensuring in particular that our great city regions have the transport networks required. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has devoted £5.7 billion over the course of the spending review period to supporting the ambitious plans put forward by metro Mayors and others to improve transport.
More than £1 billion has been allocated to the Mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, and more than £1 billion also to the Mayor of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Andy Burnham. Mr Burnham said last week—a point he made on Twitter and on broadcast; he was happy to comment on the spending review, unlike the hon. Member for Croydon North—that this was a “very positive first step.” He said:
“This feels like a breakthrough today…this is a big down payment”
on the infrastructure we need.
Mr Burnham welcomed that investment, and of course alongside it we had £830 million for West Yorkshire, £570 million for South Yorkshire, £710 million to improve transport in the greater Liverpool region and £300 million for Teesside. All those investments will help the Mayor of Greater Manchester, as he rightly wants to, ensure a Transport for London-style approach to the delivery of transport in that great region.
On top of that, as the Chairman of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), pointed out, we have £4.8 billion going to local government over the spending review period. This is necessarily an injection of cash to help local government ensure it can play its part in levelling up, and to ensure that it is supported by thriving businesses. We have also reformed business rates and moved towards a three-year evaluation, relief on improvements, including improvements that will help to deal effectively with climate change, and a 50% reduction for small businesses in the most affected sectors.
All that comes alongside a commitment to additional spending from my Department to help those most in need. We also have £630 million a year allocated over the next three years—that is £1.9 billion in total revenue—to help to deal with homelessness and to eliminate rough sleeping. There is also additional capital investment specifically targeting those who have problems with drug use and those who have been in custody, to ensure that we can help them into the accommodation they need to deal with the challenges they face. Overall spending in this area is 75% higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Just before you do, may I just say to the Front Benchers that I am getting bothered, as we have a lot of Members I want to get in? I am enjoying this very much and it is great entertainment, but I am getting bothered, as this is about Back Benchers as well and so I hope we are going to save some time for them. I think we are nearly 30 minutes in.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: those pilots have been successful. One thing we want to do is make sure we can apply their success more broadly, and further announcements will be made in due course.
Mr Speaker, I am very conscious of the fact that there is so much to unpack in the Budget and so many more people wish to speak. However, it would only be appropriate for me also to point out, before I come to my conclusion, that when it comes to housing itself—to the provision of safe, decent and affordable housing—my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has risen to the occasion, with £11.5 billion for our affordable housing programme and £1.8 billion for urban regeneration, and with a determination to ensure that we take a brownfield-first approach to the provision of new housing, recognising that what we need to do, which is right for the climate, levelling up and growth across this country, is concentrate on regenerating those communities that have suffered economically in the past and whom it is our duty to help now.
I hope the House can see that across the piece, in every area that matters when it comes to levelling up—supporting the private sector to invest and to export; making sure that local government has the tools it needs to play its part as a leader in regeneration; making sure that the money is there to help the most vulnerable, who should be our first concern; ensuring that both the funding and the reform package is in place to provide the schools of the future and the skills that we need; and, above all, making sure that there are decent, affordable homes available to all our citizens—the Chancellor’s package meets the need of the hour. That is why I commend this Budget statement to the House.
First, I thank the Secretary of State for highlighting Crystal Palace’s glorious victory over Man City—I do so with apologies to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who is sitting next to me. In their own way, Crystal Palace are attempting to level up the premiership.
Despite that happy news, I am afraid that the grim truth is that after a decade of Conservative rule, Britain is more divided and unequal than at any time in living memory. Many of the trends that led us here go back decades, but this Government have made the situation far worse. To address the problems that caused this, we need to repair the broken foundations of our politics and our society. We must re-establish the link between hard work and fair pay; support families as the essential bedrock of our society; rebuild the fabric of our communities; and remake Britain as a country that works for everyone.
This Government will not do that. Their Budget was supposed to be about levelling up, but it did not even convince their own MPs. The previous Secretary of State, who used to sit opposite me, laid into the Government over soaring taxes. The former Brexit Secretary, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), slammed the Government’s national insurance hikes. Conservative MPs past and present lined up to denounce the Budget in the media. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the Chancellor himself seemed strangely unconvinced by what he read out to the House last Wednesday. He left the country facing the highest level of personal taxation for 70 years and then pleaded with us, rather unconvincingly, that deep down he is a tax cutter really. The Chancellor sounded for all the world like a hostage forced by the Prime Minister to read out a script on video.
So what does this tell us about the Government’s plans for levelling up? First, the Government are deeply divided between a Chancellor who does not believe his own Budget, and a Prime Minister and, I presume, the Secretary of State, who made him read it out. They are split down the middle between blue wall, low-tax, traditional Tories, including the Chancellor, and the red wall reformers, led by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, who are attempting a top-down coup against their own party.
Secondly, the Government are now distancing themselves from their own record, thereby disorientating their party. The Chancellor told us repeatedly that spending was reaching its highest point since his own party started cutting in 2010—as if getting back to where we were more than a decade ago was in any way good enough. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are trying to present this as a brand-new Government unconnected to the previous two Conservative Administrations, of which they were senior members. This is not levelling up the country; it is covering up their record.
Thirdly, the Secretary of State does not recognise the contradictions between an economic policy based on crony capitalism and his claims about national renewal. The Conservatives cannot build a fairer country while they are siphoning off billions to their wealthy mates through crony contracts. It is that simple.
Fourthly, the Secretary of State still cannot tell us clearly what he means by levelling up. I was hoping for a clue in his speech this afternoon but, sad to say, we did not hear one. At the Conservative party conference Ministers used at least eight different definitions, and they still cannot tell us how they would measure it. Let me help the Secretary of State: levelling up should mean opening up opportunity to people and communities in every part of the country. But that is not what the Conservative party is about. The Conservatives have broken Britain and they cannot bring it back together.
The pandemic exposed just how badly the Conservatives have broken the link between work and reward. It is the workers on the frontline who care for others, empty the bins or sweep the streets who are the lowest-paid and the most neglected. They kept this country going—they are the heroes we all applauded—yet their standard of living has been falling for a decade.
When the Chancellor announced an end to the public sector pay freeze, he did not provide the funding to put wages up. Pay in the north-east is now £10,000 a year less than in London. Average wages are down 4% in the west midlands, down 5% in Yorkshire and down 6% in the east of England.
Our held-back regions desperately need a radical plan to reindustrialise around the green economy and digital technology, and to bring good new jobs to every part of the country. The shadow Chancellor, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), has announced bold plans for a green new deal to do precisely that, but the Chancellor did not mention the climate crisis even once in his speech, just days before COP26 was due to start in Glasgow.
This Tory decade has been the weakest for pay growth since the 1930s, yet now the Tories are cutting universal credit for the lowest earners, hiking up taxes on working people and eating up what is left of people’s incomes with rising levels of inflation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) said, workers are facing an assault on their living standards because of this Government’s economic mismanagement. The Conservatives are now the party of high taxes because for a decade they have been the party of low growth. In the words of the shadow Chancellor:
“Voters won’t be fooled by a smoke-and-mirrors budget that is presented as being on the side of working people but hands a tax cut to banks while hiking up council tax, national insurance and freezing personal allowances.”
Families are the fundamental building blocks of our society. Any Government who want to level up the country should support families to nurture the young and cherish the old, but under this Government half a million more children now live in poverty, with the most dramatic increase in the north-east of England. The Government have provided only a fraction of the funding that their own adviser told them kids need to catch up on the education they missed during the pandemic. We cannot level up the country by denying children the chance to learn. If kids do not have the foundation of a good education to build on, their life chances are stunted right from the start. No parent can accept that.
Older people are suffering, too. The Prime Minister ignored the social care crisis for two years, then introduced a punitive tax on jobs that will provide next to nothing for social care for at least three years. By relying on council tax rises to plug some of the gap, the Government create further divides, because council tax raises more money in richer areas than in poorer areas, creating a postcode lottery on care.
With all these new Tory taxes, the Resolution Foundation tells us that families will end up paying £3,000 more tax a year by the middle of this decade than when the Prime Minister took office. Families’ disposable incomes will be lower and the public services on which they rely will be cut harder, while a landlord with a portfolio of properties, a shareholder or a banker will pay nothing more. We cannot level up the country by clobbering hard-working families while letting the rich get away without paying their fair share.
Communities are a vital building block of our country. They give us a sense of belonging. They are a rich network of relationships, associations and shared values, but the Conservatives have spent 11 years undermining them. We have already lost 10,000 shops, 6,000 pubs, 1,200 libraries, 800 youth centres and a similar number of Sure Start centres under this Government, and they are now refusing to protect our high streets by levelling the playing field on tax between independent high street shops and the online giants, which pay far less. Because the costs of social care outstrip any increase in council funding, not least because of rising demand, communities now face yet more cuts to youth services, mental health services, street cleaning, bin collections, park maintenance, social housing and the voluntary sector. We cannot level up communities if we strip out the fabric that binds them together.
I hope the Conservative council will also be opening all the Sure Start centres that were closed because of the actions of the Government.
The truth is that if we look at what the Government are doing with the towns fund, for instance, which is something that Conservative Members like to talk about, we can see that it operates in the same way as a burglar, who first strips a house bare and then expects gratitude for returning the toaster. Blackpool, Darlington and Hartlepool are all getting back barely a quarter of the funding that the Conservatives took away in the first place, but Conservative MPs have nothing whatever to say about the way that their communities have been stripped bare by this Government.
The hon. Gentleman has now been speaking for 10 minutes and I am yet to hear anything about what the Labour party would do if it were in Government and we were not. What would the hon. Gentleman cut that we are not cutting and what would he invest in that we are not investing in?
The hon. Gentleman refers to the towns fund. He will obviously celebrate the fact that Kidsgrove got £17.6 million. That means that £2.75 million can go towards refurbishing the sports centre for when it reopens in spring 2022. That sports centre had been closed by the then Labour-run borough council because it did not want to spend a single pound on it.
I am delighted that areas are getting back some of the money that the Conservative Government took away from them in the first place, but perhaps if Conservative MPs had held the Government to account a little bit harder over the past 11 years, that money would not have been stripped away from these communities in the first place.
Let us look at other pots of money that the Government are so happy to keep announcing and re-announcing. Local groups have still not been told whether they will get funding through the community renewal fund. Mid-project reviews are supposed to start this month, but many of those projects have not even started yet. Government delays mean that the jobs and investment linked to those projects are now at risk of collapse. The Secretary of State had told us in his usual courteous manner that there would be an announcement last week, but, sadly, we are still waiting. If possible, we would like to know what on earth is going on.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the things that the Government have done over the last 11 years is dramatically increase levels of poverty across the country. They have not been levelling the country up at all, and now they are trying to cover up their track record since they came into Government back in 2010.
To make the situation worse, the Government’s plans to change the local government funding formula—what they call, in an Orwellian way, “the fair funding formula”—will divide communities even further. Analysis by the Local Government Association found that millions of pounds would be redirected away from poorer towns in the north of England to wealthier southern shires, and that 37 of the Conservative MPs newly elected in 2019 would see millions of pounds cut from their towns, including Workington, Sedgefield, Stoke-on-Trent, Redcar, West Bromwich, Bishop Auckland, Grimsby and Leigh. That is not levelling up Britain; it is pulling Britain apart.
Whether it is work, families or communities, this Conservative Government have made our country more unequal. They have ushered in an age of insecurity, where public services have been decimated, wages have fallen in real terms, jobs are more precarious than ever before, our high streets are struggling to survive, and British people are forced to pay the highest housing costs in Europe for some of the worst quality housing. These levels of inequality are not just morally wrong; they make our country weaker. We all pay the price of inequality, with higher levels of crime, family breakdown and mental ill health, and we pay the price a second time by denying people the opportunity to reach their full potential for themselves, their families and their communities. Levelling up must mean opening up opportunity, not closing it down in the way that this Government have done for the last 11 years.
The Secretary of State will find that he cannot fix regional inequalities because the biggest obstacle in his way is his own party’s marriage to an economic model that is based on crony contracts and waste, and that starves whole regions of capital investment. We need new institutions in our regions—such as regional banks to direct investment where it is needed most—if we want the economy to work in the interests of working people in every part of the country.
The hon. Gentleman makes some interesting debating points, but will he share with the House his view why, despite this bad news that he has shared with us, the Conservatives remain overwhelmingly the largest party in local government and made significant gains in the recent local elections, especially in areas that traditionally favoured the Labour party?
Given the Government’s announcement of their intentions to level up the country, the interesting thing will be whether those people feel that they have been levelled up at the next general election and the next set of local elections. That is the only test of what this Government are announcing that will really matter.
The Conservatives have broken the link between work and reward with a decade of stagnant wages and a tax raid on working people; they have undermined families by pushing half a million more children into poverty and refusing to invest properly in kids’ catch-up; they have ripped the fabric out of our communities instead of harnessing the innovation, creativity and compassion that they have to offer; and they have weakened our country with an economic model that has deepened the divides between regions and within communities. That is the polar opposite of levelling up.