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House of Commons

Tuesday 19 July 2011

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): When he next expects to discuss the situation in Syria with his US counterpart. [66855]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I am in regular contact with Secretary Clinton and I last discussed Syria with her on Friday.

Mr Hanson: I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. Given the recent violence, including the reported shooting of unarmed protesters, does he agree with Secretary of State Clinton that the Syrian Government have lost legitimacy? Given the level of violence, particularly the attacks on the US embassy and the French embassy, what steps is he taking to ensure the security of British citizens who work for the United Kingdom and are operating in Syria now?

Mr Hague: The right hon. Gentleman raises some important issues in relation to recent events in Syria. We absolutely deplore the continuing violence against protesters. Reports overnight from the city of Homs suggest that between 10 and 14 people were killed, including a 12-year-old child. We have condemned the attacks on the American and French embassies and we called in the Syrian ambassador last Wednesday to deliver our protests and to demand that Syria observes the requirements of the Vienna convention. The US and British Governments are united in saying that President Assad is losing legitimacy and should reform or step aside, and that continues to be our message.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Iran has been involved in training Syrian troops and providing materiél assistance, including crowd-dispersal equipment. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the dark hand of Iran in fomenting trouble in the middle east and in supporting illegitimate regimes?

Mr Hague: Iran has certainly been involved in the way that my hon. Friend describes, and I set out a few weeks ago that I believed it to be involved in that way. It shows the extraordinary hypocrisy of the Iranian leadership

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on this that it has been prepared to encourage protests in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries while it has brutally repressed protest in its own country and is prepared to connive in doing so in Syria.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the world has been far too slow in its response to the appalling abuses of human rights in Syria? Surely, after the events of the weekend and the past few days in particular, there is now an urgent need for a clear and strong United Nations Security Council resolution.

Mr Hague: I think the world has been not so much slow as not sufficiently united on this. It has not been possible for the Arab League to arrive at a clear, strong position, which makes the situation entirely different to that in Libya, where the Arab League called on the international community to assist and intervene. There has not been the necessary unity at the United Nations Security Council and at times Russia has threatened to veto any resolution. Our resolution, which was put forward with our EU partners, remains very much on the table and certainly has the support of nine countries. We would like the support of more than nine countries to be able to put it to a vote in the Security Council, but it is very much on the table and we reserve the right at any time to press it to a vote in the United Nations. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that recent events add further to the case for doing so.

Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament

3. Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): What recent progress his Department has made on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. [66858]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): We continue to work across all three pillars of the non-proliferation treaty to build on the success of last year’s review conference in New York. I am particularly proud of the work we have done towards ensuring the first conference of nuclear weapon states, which was held recently in Paris—the P5 conference—in which further progress was made, particularly towards disarmament. Paul Flynn: Does not the tumult of the Arab spring mean it would be a good idea to advance the date of the planned conference next year? That would give us a real chance positively to involve both Iran and Israel.

Alistair Burt: The conference to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention was designed to provide for a middle east free of weapons of mass destruction, and was part of the outcome of the review conference in New York last year. The steps taken to build up confidence to get to that conference are obviously complex and although it would be good if it could be advanced, the practical difficulties will probably outweigh that. The fact that it is there on the table as something for people to work to for 2012 is a good thing and we should concentrate on that, but any hopes that it might be brought forward may be dashed.

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4. Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with his US counterpart on Afghanistan. [66859]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I meet Secretary Clinton regularly and last discussed Afghan security, political and economic issues with her on the eve of President Obama’s state visit here.

Thomas Docherty: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his answer. I hope that he will take the opportunity to convey both our thanks to the Secretary of State for the work of General Petraeus and our full confidence that General Allen will take that forward in the coming period. Will he discuss with the Secretary of State the way in which we can involve women more in the future of Afghanistan?

Mr Hague: I have conveyed those thanks. In fact, I will meet General Petraeus later this week, and will once again convey them to him. Women have a very important role, in our view, in the future of Afghanistan. I have met women students at Herat university, and a conference for women who could play a leading role in bringing peace to Afghanistan was held at the same time as the Kabul conference last year. That is an agenda that the United States and the United Kingdom want to push. Secretary Clinton is foremost in doing so, and we will support her.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): As the draw-down of troops begins in Afghanistan, will my right hon. Friend confirm that it remains the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to withdraw combat forces from 2014? Is that still the collective policy of NATO and most particularly, from the United Kingdom’s point of view, is it the policy of the United States?

Mr Hague: It is our United Kingdom policy that by 2015, after the transition of security control to Afghan forces across Afghanistan, United Kingdom forces will not be engaged in combat operations or be present in anything like the numbers in which they are today. That, we believe, is consistent with the approach taken by NATO and by the United States which will lead, following the agreement at Lisbon last autumn, to a full transition in 2014. I can assure my right hon. and learned Friend that that remains our policy, and it is consistent with that of our allies.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): The Secretary of State will know that a recurring theme for me is the protection of women in any talks with perhaps the more extreme part of the Taliban. Can we ensure that the progress achieved for women in Afghanistan will be protected and that they do not return to the home but can go to school, take up a profession and participate in the country’s political life?

Mr Hague: I very much hope so. We cannot foresee the whole future of Afghanistan but, as the right hon. Lady knows, enormous progress has been made regarding the involvement of women and the education of girls in Afghanistan. That should bring about profound changes in Afghan society in future. Concepts of human rights, including women’s rights, are written into the Afghan

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constitution. One of the requirements that President Karzai has set out for future reconciliation is acceptance of the constitution and of a democratic way of life. We will always insist that that is an important part of Afghanistan’s future.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): May I join in the tributes to General Petraeus, who has done a difficult job in Afghanistan? We have been there for 10 years, and some say that we are trying to tiptoe out of the country, suffering from Afghan fatigue. Is the Secretary of State reconsidering the Bonn accord and the constitution in line with what the Afghan people want, which is a less centralised and more regionalised approach to governance in Afghanistan?

Mr Hague: There is certainly no tiptoeing here. Our involvement in Afghanistan will remain very, very strong over the coming years—both the military effort over the next few years and our long-term commitment to Afghanistan through economic co-operation, development aid, governmental expertise and so on. My hon. Friend refers to local governance and devolved decision making, which are important issues in Afghanistan and must be considered as part of the whole debate on reconciliation by the High Peace Council and in meetings between the Afghan and Pakistani Governments as they discuss the matter. Ultimately, that is for them to determine.


5. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): What steps he is taking to maintain a close bilateral relationship with China. [66861]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Jeremy Browne): Across government we have regular visits and exchanges with the Chinese authorities at ministerial and official level. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hosted Premier Wen of China for the annual UK-China summit on 27 June. In line with our commitment to boost exports and inward investment, the summit announced £1.4 billion-worth of trade deals.

Mark Hendrick: As the Minister has just mentioned, £1.4 billion-worth of trade deals were signed between China and the UK. After his visit to the UK, Premier Wen went to Germany and signed deals worth £9 billion, which is six and a half times the value of the deals signed with the UK. There were 13 Chinese Ministers in Berlin signing deals with 10 German Ministers. The Economist described the UK visit as a “sideshow” compared with the German visit. What are the Government doing to make sure that the UK does not play second fiddle to the Germans when it comes to economic partnership with China?

Mr Browne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the attention and effort he affords to China, because I share his objective that British society and British politics as a whole should engage with China at a much higher level. I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary announced only a few weeks ago that as part of our network shift we will put an additional 50 staff into China to ensure that Britain plays an increasingly large role in what is now the world’s second largest economy.

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Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): This month the Chinese Communist party celebrated its 90th anniversary, with the Chinese Premier stating that there would be no progress without stability. Does my hon. Friend agree that there can be no progress in China until there is respect for human rights and that any progress without it would be tainted? Will he also join me in calling for the immediate release of the Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo?

Mr Browne: I think that it is right that we acknowledge the extraordinary economic advances that have been made in China in recent decades, with literally hundreds of millions of people being lifted out of extreme poverty, but my view, and the view of the British Government, is that the rule of law and respect for human rights goes hand in hand with further economic progress in China. We believe that it is very much in the interests of the Chinese to embrace the agenda that my hon. Friend has so accurately described.

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): I am sure the Minister shares our concern about the rising tensions in the south China sea, where there are many competing maritime claims. What discussions has he had with his Chinese counterpart on the situation, and does he believe that China’s planned deployment of its aircraft carrier would substantially alter the power balance in the wider region?

Mr Browne: That is one of the subjects that we have regular dialogue with the Chinese about, and the hon. Lady is right to point out the tensions and concerns that exist in some of the countries bordering China. We continue to be vigilant in trying to ensure that that is not an area of the world where conflict is brought about or tensions rise.


6. Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the level of political stability in the Balkans. [66863]

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): Progress on political and economic reform in the western Balkans is uneven. We welcome the successful conclusion of EU accession negotiations with Croatia but remain particularly concerned by the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where sustained international focus is needed.

Henry Smith: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s assessment of the readiness of Croatia and Serbia to join the EU, given the fact that, with hindsight, Romania and Bulgaria probably acceded to the Union too soon?

Mr Lidington: The Croatian Government have met the conditions laid down by the Commission and supported by member states, but the European Council also agreed when it concluded accession negotiations that there should be a further stage of pre-accession monitoring to ensure that the Croatian authorities’ commitments to reform are still delivered in practice.

We look forward to the Commission’s report on Serbia’s progress on economic and political reform, which is due in December. Although the arrest of

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Mr Mladic was an important step forward, it does not remove the need for Serbia to do everything else with regard to internal reform and addressing regional co-operation to meet the terms of EU accession.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): On that very point, while welcoming the EU-brokered talks between Serbia and Kosovo, does the Minister share my disappointment that immediately afterwards President Tadic called for the partition of Kosovo? Serbia is also meddling in Bosnia and Montenegro as if it still controlled Serb regions in those countries. Does he agree that Serbia has to be told that it must accept Kosovo’s right to nation statehood and recognise Kosovo, and that that is a sine qua non for British acceptance of Serbia going down the road to EU membership?

Mr Lidington: As far as the British Government are concerned, it is quite clear that the frontiers in the Balkans have been drawn and there is no going back on Kosovo’s independence. Regional co-operation must be addressed in the context of an accession process for Serbia and a full European perspective for Kosovo. We welcome the initial agreement reached through the dialogue and want that to progress further.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): While the political process in Bosnia is in such flux, the malign influence of organised crime is growing. I am very worried by this. What assessment does the Minister make this horrible influence on the day-to-day lives of people in Bosnia?

Mr Lidington: When I was in Sarajevo last month, the issue of corruption and, in particular, the failure of judicial and police institutions came up again and again in conversations with representatives of civil society. If Bosnia and Herzegovina is to make progress towards EU membership, it is vital that these matters are fully addressed. A detailed menu of reforms is laid out in the Commission’s report published at the end of last year. We continue to urge the Governments in Sarajevo and in Banja Luka—the two entities—to make progress. In the first place, they have to form a state-level Government. Until that is in place, it is difficult to see the required progress being made.

Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): It has been 16 years since the massacre at Srebrenica. Will the Government indicate what is being done at home and abroad to make sure that young people learn about this atrocity?

Mr Lidington: My right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Warsi attended the anniversary commemorations in Srebrenica this year, and she made clear, in her public speech on behalf of the British Government and in her private conversations with civic and political leaders of the different communities, the importance of community reconciliation and of making sure that atrocities such as that of Srebrenica are not forgotten but serve as a reminder to everybody from all traditions, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the wider Balkans, that the horrors of the past must be put behind us and that we need to work for reconciliation for the future.

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Horn of Africa

7. Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of the political and security situation in the horn of Africa. [66865]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I visited the horn of Africa earlier this month. The security situation in Somalia remains a major concern. Piracy continues to present a significant threat. South Sudan’s independence is welcome, but agreement still needs to be reached on a comprehensive peace. The current drought in the horn of Africa is a serious humanitarian crisis affecting some 10 million people. We are working to prevent a crisis becoming a catastrophe, including helping to feed 1.3 million people facing starvation in Ethiopia.

Duncan Hames: I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. I sincerely hope that the massive movements of people do not aggravate a humanitarian disaster through increased international political tension. The UN World Food Programme says that changing weather patterns have led to

“an almost constant state of food insecurity”

in the region. What forward planning is his Department preparing to respond to the increased likelihood of future flashpoints such as this, caused in part by climate change?

Mr Hague: The agencies state that the food insecurity situation in the region is the most serious in the world today. We are doing a great deal. My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary was there at the weekend and announced a further £52 million of aid. We are the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to this region in the world, after the United States. On the longer-term issues, we are one of the foremost countries in the world in putting climate change at the heart of foreign policy considerations, and this is one of the reasons for that. The Department for International Development will give consideration to other longer-term measures that now need to be taken.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): The Foreign Secretary referred to the situation in Somalia. What is his assessment of the role of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militia, with which it seems that the aid agencies and the Governments are having to co-operate at some level to get assistance through to starving people? What does this mean for the long term?

Mr Hague: Of course, al-Shabaab’s role is entirely negative in Somalia, as the hon. Gentleman appreciates. It is good that AMISOM—the African Union Mission in Somalia—has made some good progress in recent months to secure Mogadishu. There is now a new Prime Minister of the transitional federal Government. I met him on my recent visit to Kenya and have encouraged him in his work. Al-Shabaab has a very negative role. It has previously refused assistance into the area, and that has probably made the situation even worse and driven more people out of Somalia into camps on the Kenyan border that now cannot take more people. It has indicated more recently that it will accept help from the agencies, which are now considering how to approach that.

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Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): The whole House will be extremely concerned about the food crisis currently affecting the horn of Africa. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that the UK should take a leading role, but that we must also encourage our international partners to take a more active role?

Mr Hague: Yes, absolutely. That is really a matter for my colleagues at the Department for International Development. Our strong commitment to put 0.7% of gross national income towards development aid helps us to find the necessary funds to help in this situation. I hope that other nations around the world will be encouraged, emboldened and inspired by the British example, and that some may even be shamed by it.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): Let me stress our support for the Government’s response to the famine in Somalia and the creation of South Sudan. However, I urge the Foreign Secretary not to take his eye off the ball over piracy off the horn of Africa. Last year, some 60 cruise liners visited Mombasa; this year, just one. That has had devastating effects on its tourism industry. Seafarers around the world are considering boycotting the area. Over the summer, will the Government show more urgency in tackling this menace and in getting the international community to step up its action?

Mr Hague: We will continue to show a great deal of urgency. We are, of course, at the forefront of the EU’s counter-piracy operation. We provide its operational commander and headquarters. We have contributed £5 million to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which will allow pirates to serve custodial sentences in Somalia. Royal Navy ships have robust rules of engagement. We are examining what can be done to change the balance of risk to make it more risky to be a pirate off Somalia. I am anxious to do that and we are talking to our international partners about it. We are also giving a lot of attention to the political situation in Somalia and supporting the work of the transitional federal institutions.

US-Pakistan Relations

8. Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his Department’s policies of the state of US-Pakistan relations; and if he will make a statement. [66867]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): It is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom that there is a good and close relationship between the United States and Pakistan, particularly at the present time. I am in regular contact with senior representatives of the Governments of both countries about our mutual interests, including counter-terrorism, regional security and economic development.

Richard Ottaway: Bearing in mind that the Pakistan Parliament has called for the withdrawal of US drones, the anger in Pakistan Government circles over the killing of bin Laden, and the US announcement over the withdrawal of $800 million of military aid, I am sure that the Minister will agree that the relationship between the US and Pakistan is not good. Does he agree that those two countries will be the two key players in any

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Afghanistan settlement and that no country is better placed than the United Kingdom to broker or mediate a settlement between them?

Alistair Burt: I certainly agree with both the substantive points that my hon. Friend makes. It is clear that following the killing of Osama bin Laden there is an issue of confidence between the United States and Pakistan, particularly in defence and security matters. We are indeed encouraging both countries to get over the present difficulties, because their relationship is extremely important. In other respects, such as in the work being done to seek political reconciliation in Afghanistan and the work being done between the Governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States in the trilateral talks on Afghanistan, the relationship is much better. We hope that that will be a building block for restored confidence in security matters.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that last week three US drone attacks killed at least 30 Pakistani civilians. Will he outline the UK policy on the use of Predator drones, and say what discussions he has had with his US counterparts about their use?

Alistair Burt: The issue of drones is principally a matter for the United States and Pakistan. As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, we expect any conduct in a conflict to adhere to international law, including international humanitarian law. I had an opportunity to discuss matters concerning Pakistan and Afghanistan yesterday with Marc Grossman, the US special envoy, and will be meeting the Pakistani Prime Minister Mr Gillani later today. Drone strikes can be exceptionally important in targeting those who have deliberately targeted others, and the hon. Gentleman and the House will be well aware of the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan caused by terrorists over the past year and the importance of drone strikes in eliminating key targets who cause such damage to so many people.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Following the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), given the importance of Pakistan as a front-line state, particularly in relation to Afghanistan, what real help can Britain give, as a strong ally of both Pakistan and the United States, to improve the relationship?

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend is right that it is a very important relationship, and that it is difficult at the moment, but he is right also to highlight the fact that there is a much closer relationship between Pakistan and the United States on political reconciliation and the political track that needs to be followed in Afghanistan. We see ourselves as a key encourager of that relationship, as well as following the political track ourselves. We work very closely with both countries. As I indicated, there are elements of that relationship that are good and strong and can be built on.


9. Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): What consular support his Department is providing to British citizens in Libya. [66868]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): As the hon. Lady will be aware, we have temporarily closed the British embassy in Tripoli. We have a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, but it does not have a consular element. At present, consular issues are dealt with by the normal diplomatic convention of another country covering them, and in our case it is the Hungarian embassy in Tripoli. The pressure on that consulate in relation to UK nationals is currently very light.

Catherine McKinnell: I thank the Minister for that answer. He may be aware of a case that I have raised about one of my constituents, who is employed by an oil company in Libya. The company is refusing to pay my constituent unless he returns to work immediately against the express advice of the Foreign Office. He is also being threatened with legal action for breach of his contract. What further support can the British Government offer UK citizens who find themselves in that situation?

Alistair Burt: I have read the letters extremely carefully, and they were transferred to the Treasury to deal with the sanctions element. I sympathise fully with not only the hon. Lady’s constituent but others who have been in that situation. The reason why her constituent cannot return is not so much because of UK travel advice as because of the conflict in Libya. It is not possible for the UK Government to underwrite every broken contract that will have arisen because of the conflict, and there is nothing that can be done to provide financial assistance. What is most important is that the conflict comes to an end as soon as possible, so that the work of reconstruction can begin and contracts can be replaced. Unfortunately, the British Government simply cannot give the sort of guarantee that her constituent might be looking for.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): What assessment has the Minister made of the ability of the Libyan state apparatus to survive without Gaddafi, and what other conversations is he having with international colleagues about the possible need for a post-conflict stabilisation force?

Alistair Burt: Together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I was at the Libya contact group meeting in Istanbul just last Friday. Post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction is now a very significant element of the international community’s considerations of Libya and its contact with the national transitional council. We believe that the future for Libya without Gaddafi is clearly much better than its situation with him. Everything is working towards him leaving power so that the work of negotiation for a new Government in Libya, and the stabilisation work that is a very important part of what is being considered at the moment, can begin.

10. Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Libyan transitional national council. [66869]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I met Mahmoud Jabril, head of the national transitional council’s executive committee, at the Libya contact group meeting in Istanbul

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on Friday, and spoke with him by phone on Tuesday. We discussed a wide range of issues, but with a particular focus on the national transitional council’s plans for Libya’s stabilisation post-Gaddafi.

Mr Watts: I thank the Secretary of State for that response. How sure is he that the regime that takes over from Gaddafi will be better than the one that exists now? What action would he take if Gaddafi was removed and a regime came in that was worse than the one that we have now?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman has left the House trying to imagine a regime worse than the Gaddafi regime over the last 42 years. I suppose that it is theoretically possible, but on the basis of my visit to Benghazi and meeting the people there, who have an inspiring commitment to freedom and a better future for their country, I can tell him that huge numbers of Libyans are going through what they are going through now in order to have a dramatically better situation. The commitment to democratic principles of the leaders of the national transitional council is genuine. Their commitment to forming an interim government after the departure of Gaddafi, including technocratic members of the current regime, is also genuine. So when Gaddafi departs, there is every prospect of a better future for Libya.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Given what the Foreign Secretary has said and the fact that the French are now dropping arms to the Liberal rebels—[ Laughter. ] I mean Libyan rebels. Is it not a fact that we are now taking sides in a civil war rather than trying to enforce UN resolution 1970?

Mr Hague: Thankfully our coalition is more robust than requiring arms drops to our right hon. and hon. Friends.

I would not characterise the situation in the way that my hon. Friend does. We are enforcing the UN Security Council resolution. If we were not undertaking the military action that we are, the Gaddafi regime would be able to harass and murder large numbers of the people of Libya. That is also why France is taking the action that it is taking. Our military action is devoted to enforcing the resolutions. A political settlement in Libya also requires the departure of Gaddafi, because the people who are fighting for their freedom and some democracy in Libya cannot reach such a settlement while he remains in place.

Occupied Territories

11. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in the occupied territories. [66870]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): We welcome the progress that the Palestinian Authority in the west bank has made in building the institutions of a functioning state. We continue to press for credible negotiations to deliver a two-state solution. The Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement signed on 4 May has not progressed due to disagreements over the formation of the Government. We welcomed reconciliation in principle, but a new

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Palestinian Government must be committed to non-violence, a negotiated peace and the previous agreements of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Richard Burden: For more than half a century, Israel has rightly been recognised as a full member of the United Nations, with internationally recognised borders delineated by the green line. That has not been seen as an impediment to a negotiated settlement—in some cases, it has been seen as a prerequisite to it. In that case, what is the problem with recognising Palestine as a full member of the United Nations as requested by the Palestinian people, with borders delineated by that same green line?

Mr Hague: This is of course the issue that may come to the UN in September. Whatever happens then, we must remember that to have a truly viable Palestinian state in control of its own territory, it is necessary to arrive at that by negotiation. It can be obtained only through successful negotiation with Israel, whatever resolutions are passed wherever in the world, including at the United Nations. We have reserved our position on the question of recognition. I discussed it again with my European Union colleagues in Brussels yesterday, and we have all agreed that we will reserve our position, partly because it gives us some leverage over both Israelis and the Palestinians as we urge them back into talks in the coming weeks and months. That is our focus at the moment.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be no recognition of a Palestinian state while Hamas is part of the leadership, especially because of its rejection of the Quartet principles, no recognition of Israel, no renunciation of violence and no acceptance of the existing treaties?

Mr Hague: Our position on recognition is as I just set out. We have reserved our position for the moment. Hamas remains a proscribed organisation and I call on it again to release Gilad Shalit. I have stressed that we look to any new Palestinian Authority to be committed to non-violence, a negotiated peace and the previous agreements of the PLO.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman join the very many Jewish supporters of Israel in Britain, the United States and Israel itself in expressing utter disgust at the legislation passed in the Knesset last week penalising those advocating boycotts, including a boycott of goods made in the illegal settlements in the occupied territories? Will he also agree that turning Israel into an authoritarian state—by limiting and damaging free speech—will not help the peace process?

Mr Hague: This is certainly the wrong way for Israel to proceed. The Knesset passed a Bill a week ago that would fine anyone proposing or supporting a boycott of Israel or Israeli organisations. The Government in no way support boycotts but are concerned about this law, which infringes on the legitimate freedom of expression. I understand that it will be challenged in Israel’s courts, and certainly it is not a law that we can support.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): A report is suggesting that Hamas has stepped up once again its rocket attacks on the state of Israel. Does my right

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hon. Friend agree that it would be utterly premature for the Government to sanction UN recognition of a Palestinian state until such time as the Palestinians and Israelis sit around the table and negotiate on all terms?

Mr Hague: The position on recognition is as I set out a few moments ago. However, my hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of returning to negotiations. The Quartet meeting last week did not reach agreement on a statement paving the way for that, but I discussed the matter with Tony Blair at the weekend and with my EU colleagues yesterday, and we remain hopeful that the Quartet can arrive at a statement that will form the basis for Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations over the coming weeks and months. That has to be the way forward.

Mr Speaker: Lisa Nandy—not here.


14. Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): What his objectives are for the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. [66873]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): The Government are committed to reinvigorating the Commonwealth and strengthening it as a focus for democracy, development and prosperity. We see the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting as a defining moment for the future of the Commonwealth and we look forward to the eminent persons group’s recommendations.

Ian Lucas: There are 11,000 people on death row in Commonwealth countries, and four people were executed in Commonwealth countries last year. Will the Secretary of State raise this issue at the meeting to which he referred, place it on the agenda and do something about making the Commonwealth a more civilised place?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. The agenda for CHOGM is not yet decided, but I shall certainly give strong consideration to his point. Since the change of Government, this country has maintained its policy on the death penalty around the world, and we will continue to pursue it with our Commonwealth partners. One of the recommendations that we expect from the final report of the eminent persons group is about strengthening Commonwealth values—and this matter is part of that, so I shall seriously consider his proposal.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): May I join the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) in his bid? May I also commend the Foreign Secretary for placing so much emphasis on climate change? Will he use the next CHOGM to progress the matter so that we can carry the agenda forward in continents such as Africa that are battling with famine now but previously with drought?

Mr Hague: Yes. Climate change is an enormously important subject for the Commonwealth, which is a remarkable network now encompassing almost a third of the world’s population across many different continents and climatic zones, so I hope that climate change will

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continue to be discussed in many different Commonwealth forums and that we can use our membership to promote the legally binding global deal on combating climate change. That is what we need.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): We welcome the development of relations between Commonwealth countries and we share the Foreign Secretary’s hopes for CHOGM in Perth. However, we also need to recognise that this should be complemented by relations between the peoples of the Commonwealth countries. In that context, will he press for increasing involvement in CHOGM’s work and the wider work of the Commonwealth by the social partners, business and the trade unions?

Mr Hague: Yes, in general. It is important that this is not just about a relationship between Governments; the network of nations and peoples of the Commonwealth is felt in many different ways, through the Commonwealth people’s forum, the Commonwealth youth forum and the Commonwealth business forum, all of which will have events surrounding the CHOGM meeting that will take place in Perth at the end of October. We do not yet have the details of all those meetings, but the right hon. Gentleman can be sure that that broad agenda will be in action there.


15. Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the human rights situation in Belarus. [66874]

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I regularly discuss with my international counterparts the abuse of human rights by the regime in Belarus. I most recently did so with the Russian deputy Foreign Minister the week before last.

Tracey Crouch: I thank the Minister for his reply. He will be aware that there has been very little progress in Belarus, with the Lukashenko regime continuing to arrest people who peacefully protest against the Government there. Given the regime’s blatant disregard for calls by international partners such as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and others to improve civil liberties in Belarus, does my right hon. Friend not think it time for the UK Government to take an international lead and call for further sanctions against the regime?

Mr Lidington: I think that we should use every means possible to persuade the regime in Minsk to cease its persistent and systematic abuse of human rights. It is important to try to do that in a way that does not make even more wretched the lives of the ordinary people of Belarus. We are among those in the European Union who are pushing for a rigorous further examination of sanctions that might be levied to achieve the outcome that both my hon. Friend and I want.

Topical Questions

T1. [66880] Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): Yesterday I attended the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, which reached strong conclusions on Libya, Syria, climate change, Afghanistan and Pakistan. No conclusions were reached on a common security and defence policy. I made it clear that we could not agree to the creation of an EU permanent operational headquarters.

Harriett Baldwin: I was delighted to hear that the Foreign Secretary had vetoed the creation of a European command and control HQ. What’s next?

Mr Hague: What is important, as I stressed to my colleagues in Brussels, is to improve the capabilities in defence around Europe and the will to use them, and that there are no institutional barriers in Europe to European nations making a greater contribution to, for instance, what we are doing in Libya or stabilisation in the Balkans. It is capacity and the will to use it that are lacking, rather than the creation of new European institutions that would be costly and distracting.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): We welcome the independence of South Sudan, to which the Foreign Secretary referred earlier. However, there is concern in all parts of the House about recent developments in the Nuba region of Sudan, including the use of aerial bombardment by the regime in Khartoum, which is somewhat reminiscent of events in Darfur in previous years. What pressure are the Government and the European Union putting on the regime in Khartoum to cease those attacks?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise that issue. I attended the independence celebrations in South Sudan on 9 July, which was an inspiring occasion, but it took place in the shadow of continuing violence and the continuing lack of agreement on citizenship, oil and border issues. It is vital that the international community places the maximum possible pressure—and we will certainly continue to do so—stressing to the Republic of Sudan that what it wants to see on debt relief and working with western nations will depend on a peaceful and co-operative approach to the remaining issues in Sudan. We will continue to stress that very strongly.

T2. [66881] Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): One of the remaining issues in South Sudan is that of Abyei. Will my right hon. Friend give us an update on what action is being taken to ensure that the promised referendum in Abyei goes ahead successfully?

Mr Hague: The urgent thing has been to bring peace and order to Abyei, and that is something that I have discussed with those in the north and south in Sudan, as well as with the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on my visit to Ethiopia 10 days or so ago. Up to 4,200 Ethiopian troops will go to Abyei, and we have been active in quickly passing the necessary United Nations authority for them to do so. That is designed to pave the way for political progress in Abyei, but the most urgent thing has been to get that Ethiopian force there and to prevent continuing violence.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): The Palestinian Authority, working with Tony Blair and the Quartet, has made major progress on developing the economy and governance on the west bank. Does the

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Foreign Secretary agree that it is urgent that negotiations take place so that there can be Israel and Palestine next to it, rather than a unilateral declaration that will not bring security for either Israel or a Palestinian state?

Mr Hague: It is certainly urgent that those negotiations take place and, as I stressed a few minutes ago, the current discussions in the Quartet are aimed at bringing that about. While reserving our position on recognition, as I also explained earlier, it is certainly my view that a truly viable Palestinian state, able to conduct its own affairs and in control of its own territory, requires successful negotiation with Israel and will come about only by agreement.

T4. [66883] Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): Nearly 2,000 people remain missing in Cyprus as a result of the conflicts in 1963 and 1974. This affects Greek and Turkish Cypriots across the island. The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus has made progress, but does the Minister agree that an increased commitment and speedier resolution of this tragic issue would constitute a significant confidence-builder towards a final settlement for the island?

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I visited the headquarters of the Committee on Missing Persons and its laboratory while I was in Cyprus a few weeks ago, and I was impressed by the work that it is doing to discover the fate of those missing people, both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot. That is morally right, because it helps the affected families to come to terms with what has happened to their loved ones, but, as my hon. Friend has said, it is also a good measure for building confidence between two communities that, sadly, have become separated by the events of recent decades.

Mr Speaker: I call Lisa Nandy. Not here.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): On the morning of 13 August 1961, the people of Berlin woke up to find a wall being built across their city. That wall remained in place for some 30 years before it came down and allowed the unification not only of Germany but of the east and west. Will the Foreign Secretary, together with the Secretary of State for Defence, use that anniversary as an opportunity to remind Europe that that would not have been achieved without the help of the Americans, and to remind the Americans that Europe remains important to them?

Mr Hague: Yes, absolutely. I completely agree with the hon. Lady. Indeed, her question should prompt us never to forget these things. The transatlantic alliance remains the absolute cornerstone of our security, as does NATO, and that will remain the case in the years ahead.

T5. [66885] Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The French Defence Minister has said that the military action against Colonel Gaddafi’s regime is not working. He has also said that Colonel Gaddafi should be welcomed into negotiations with pro-freedom rebels. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with our French ally?

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Mr Hague: Well, I agree with my own French counterpart, and with the Prime Minister and the President of France, on the way in which they have put this. I think that the French Defence Minister has said one or two things that differ from that. My own colleague, Alain Juppé, is absolutely clear on this. He was with me at the Libya contact group meeting in Istanbul on Friday, and at our Brussels meeting yesterday. France and the United Kingdom take exactly the same position: Colonel Gaddafi has lost legitimacy, and negotiations certainly exclude the possibility of his remaining in power. The United States has made that position very forcefully to the Libyan regime as well in recent days, and that is our united position.

T8. [66889] Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): The Secretary of State will be aware that the UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, said that if there is “a UN resolution” about

“a Palestinian state, and nothing changes on the ground, this will create a dangerous situation.”

Given the Foreign Secretary’s ambition to have peace negotiations started as soon as possible, can he give us an insight into why, when the Quartet met on 11 July, it failed to agree a statement on President Obama’s framework for peace negotiations?

Mr Hague: The answer is that discussions continue within the Quartet. There was a difference of view between the United States on the one side and the European Union, the United Nations and Russia on the other about the details of a Quartet statement. I hope that those differences can be resolved. We welcome the fact that the United States has said, as we urged them, that a settlement should be based on 1967 borders. That has been a big step forward, but there are continuing disagreements over the definition of a Jewish state and over the precise way in which to phrase a commitment to 1967 borders, so we are working to overcome those differences. That is the current situation.

T7. [66888] Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend think there should be a UN-led inquiry into human rights abuses in Bahrain, bearing in mind reports of the arrest and mistreatment of doctors from the Salmaniya medical centre in Manama?

Mr Hague: We take very seriously the human rights situation in Bahrain, but welcome the fact that the King of Bahrain has announced an independent investigation into human rights concerns and abuses. It is an investigation that carries some credibility; in fact, it is headed up by one of the members of my own human rights advisory group. I expect it will give a robust report up to international standards. We should welcome that, but we continue to urge the Government of Bahrain in the meantime, as I have done, to ensure that due process is followed and that human rights are satisfactorily looked after in Bahrain, because it has done the country no favours to give the opposite impression.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): It is 20 years to the month since little Ben Needham went missing on the island of Kos. His mother, Kerry, is my constituent. It appears that new evidence may have come to light, and Kerry believes that any investigation

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or review of her case would be helped by securing political commitments to her cause at the top level of Government, such as we have seen in the case of Madeleine McCann. Will the Foreign Secretary agree to meet Kerry and me to discuss the case of missing Ben?

Mr Lidington: The hon. Lady will appreciate that I would not want to comment in detail on the case across the Floor of the House, but I would happily make time to see her and her constituents to discuss it further.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. We need very brief questions and answers.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Will Ministers say what reports they have received on the economic situation in Greece, on whether there has been any intelligence on the likelihood of a default and on the likelihood of Greece remaining in the euro?

Mr Lidington: We receive many reports on Greece—including, of course, on the very grave economic situation there. The economic health of the eurozone, including that of Greece, is important in assuring jobs and prosperity in this country. It is important both that the Greek Government deal with the structural reforms and the changes to bear down on their own deficit and that the eurozone more widely addresses the causes of instability. We hope that they do so at their meeting planned for this week.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The Hadeel fair trade shop in my constituency has for some years imported from small producers in the west bank and Gaza products of various types that support the very type of economic development that was supported earlier. It has recently had great difficulty in importing material and in sending money back to the producers. If I write to the Secretary of State with more details, will he look into this issue and try to resolve this blockage of what is a sensible fair trade measure?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): Yes, I would be very pleased to receive a letter from the hon. Gentleman. Ensuring that the economy of both the west bank and Gaza continues to improve is of vital importance for security in the region, as well as for the development of both Israel and Palestine.

Joseph Johnson (Orpington) (Con): Nitin Gadkari, president of the Bharatiya Janata party—India’s main opposition party—was in Parliament yesterday singing the praises of Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat. What is the United Kingdom’s stance? Would Narendra Modi be a welcome visitor to the UK in the light of the massacres in Godhra 10 years ago?

Mr Hague: I shall be meeting the president of the BJP later today. No doubt we shall have an opportunity to discuss the issue then, and I think that we will determine our answer to my hon. Friend’s question after those discussions.

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Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Will the Secretary of State give us an update on the situation in Kosovo, particularly in relation to moves towards proper and full democracy and the stamping out of corruption at Government level?

Mr Lidington: A Government have been formed in Kosovo, after initial difficulties, but there is certainly much more to be done to deal with the problems of corruption and organised crime. We therefore fully support the work that is being done by EULEX, the European rule of law mission in Kosovo. We also take every opportunity to urge Ministers in Kosovo to take the lead in making dealing with those problems a priority.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): I assure my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that Liberal rebels are not yet taking delivery of any weapons, although the notion of campaigning with a Kalashnikov in the one hand and the alternative vote in the other does have its attractions.

May I return my right hon. Friend to the issue of Palestinian recognition? Given that there is every indication that there will be recognition of a Palestinian state, what assessment has he made of the impact on the influence of the United Kingdom in the region if that recognition takes place without our endorsement?

Mr Hague: Campaigning on the alternative vote might be more successful with a Kalashnikov. [Laughter.] I think we are allowed to have a little tease within the coalition.

Of course recognition of a Palestinian state is one of the factors that must be weighed up. As I explained earlier, we will reserve our position on recognition, along with all our EU partners, and I therefore do not want to become involved in speculation about hypothetical scenarios either way. However, we will certainly weigh the implications for us—as well as all our European partners and the United States—of our relations with other states in the region. That is one of the factors that we will consider.

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Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): The development of nuclear weapons by Iran would not just trigger a middle eastern arms race, but would make it much more difficult to prevent Ahmadinejad from arming terrorists in the region. He is persisting with the illegal enrichment of uranium and continuing to call for Israel’s destruction, and has recently unveiled new missiles capable of reaching Israel. What more can the United Kingdom Government do to prevent Iran from acquiring those weapons?

Alistair Burt: The hon. Gentleman is right about the concerns that the world shares about the development of Iran’s nuclear programme, on the subject of which it is being deliberately opaque. New sanctions were introduced only two weeks ago in relation to targeted individuals. The pressure of sanctions will continue from the world, and the determination of the world to see the nuclear programme opened to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has already expressed its concern, will continue until such time as Iran turns away from what appears to be a very dangerous course.

Mr Speaker: Last but not least, I call Jeremy Lefroy.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Some of the fastest-growing economies in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa. What steps is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office taking to help our exporters and investors in those countries?

Mr Hague: Many steps, I am glad to say. We are making many more ministerial visits to the region. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just been to South Africa with a trade delegation, I have just visited Kenya, and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), is in Africa at the moment. There is great ministerial engagement. We are enlarging many of our diplomatic missions, we are opening new embassies—including some in Africa—and we have the strongest commitment to developing trade links with Africa that this country has seen for decades.

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Point of Order

12.34 pm

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for taking this point of order, which, for reasons that will readily become apparent, is time critical. Last night, a Member on the Government Benches objected to my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) being put on to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. This was done in the knowledge that it would prevent her from being able to attend today’s very important Committee meeting, at which Rebekah Brooks, James Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch are giving evidence. There is, however, a motion on the Order Paper, tabled by the Committee of Selection, that will allow the House to vote to put this right, but it will not be debated until later. Is there anything you can do, Mr Speaker, to enable it to be taken now, or earlier, so that my hon. Friend can take her place alongside the other members of the Committee when they meet at 2.30 this afternoon?

Mr Speaker: As the right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, this is an unconventional time for points of order, but as his inquiry is time critical I have exercised my discretion, as I did yesterday, to take the point of order. The answer is that, for the protection of all parts of the House, the Order Paper is settled at the end of the previous sitting. The Back-Bench business takes precedence, and the motion to which he refers is one that cannot be made without notice. I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD) rose—

Mr Speaker: I shall exercise my discretion in favour of the very long-serving right hon. and learned Member.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Those of us who were in the Chamber towards the end of yesterday evening’s sitting, over which, if I recall correctly, you presided for a substantial part of the time, must surely recognise that it was not Parliament’s finest hour—although it may have been the latest hour—because there was obstruction that has been met by a response. Surely this matter ought to be referred to the Procedure Committee to see if steps can be taken to prevent this kind of activity in the future?

Mr Speaker: I note what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, but I will not comment on that today. Suffice it to say that he has reminded the House of his interest in, and skill at, conciliation—a role to which many will feel he is well suited. We shall leave it there for today.

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School Funding Reform

12.37 pm

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): With your permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on our plans to reform school funding. As Members across the House will know, the current systems for funding schools—both their revenue and capital needs—are too complex and lack transparency, which is why I want to make the way we fund all schools fairer, simpler and more efficient.

I want to turn first to capital spending. Capital investment is crucial to education reform, but at a time of economic difficulty we need to ensure we are getting the maximum value for every penny we spend, and we must ensure that tight resources are targeted on those most in need.

In order to ensure that we could target money on those areas in absolutely greatest need, last year I had to take the difficult decision to stop a number of school rebuildings planned under the Building Schools for the Future programme. In areas where planning was most advanced, more than 600 projects will go ahead, but other projects were stopped. I recognise the deep disappointment that was provoked in communities where hopes had been raised, but we had to ensure money was spent efficiently, and the design of the old BSF scheme was not as efficient as it could have been. Specifically, it did not prioritise schools in the worst condition and it did not procure new buildings as cheaply as possible.

In order to ensure that we spent money properly, I asked Sebastian James of Dixons store group to review the entire Department for Education approach to capital funding. His report makes compelling reading and I commend it to the House. He found that the whole capital system was bedevilled by a complex allocation process with multiple funding schemes, a lack of good- quality building condition data, inefficiency in building design, a lack of expertise in improving new buildings, a failure to make procurement as efficient as possible, a lack of clarity on maintenance, and overly complex regulatory and planning requirements. I am grateful to Sebastian James for his exceptionally thorough work, and I wish to accept the majority of his recommendations, subject to a thorough consultation process over coming months.

Specifically, I have accepted the recommendation to conduct a full survey of the school estate. The last Government stopped collecting any data on school condition in 2005, which has made fair distribution of funding much harder. I have also accepted the review’s recommendation significantly to revise the school premises regulations, so that a single, clear set of regulations applies to all schools. I intend to consult fully on this in the autumn. In addition, I have accepted the recommendation to move towards greater standardisation of design. One of the aspects of the BSF programme that Mr James criticised was that each school was separately designed, costing unnecessary millions in consultancy fees and often resulting in buildings that were not fit for purpose. Greater standardisation will reduce costs, improve quality, and limit the opportunity for error.

However, I recognise that in the short term schools around the country are facing real and pressing problems. The most pressing problem is ensuring that every child

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has a school place. In some local areas, there are simply not enough school places to meet rising demand. Local authorities have told me that insufficient attention has been given to this issue in the past, which is why I have already doubled the sums available to meet this pressure, announcing £800 million of additional spending given directly to local authorities to meet the demand for school places. Today, thanks to efficiencies and savings that we have identified, including in BSF projects, I can announce an additional £500 million to fund more new school places in the areas of greatest need.

Funds will be allocated this financial year to the local authorities with the greatest demographic pressures so that they can provide enough places, especially at primary schools, in September 2012. Details of those allocations will be provided over the summer and finalised in the autumn. But that is not all. I am also aware that many of our existing school buildings across the country are in desperate need of repair. I am grateful to hon. Members from all parties who have shown me and my colleagues schools in their constituencies that desperately need investment. The energy and skill with which so many colleagues have lobbied underlines how effectively so many hon. Members across the House represent the most needy in their constituencies.

We have already made £1.4 billion available this year to deal with maintenance problems. Overall, we are spending more on school buildings in every year of this Parliament cumulatively than the previous Government spent in every year of their first two Parliaments. But I want to do more, which is why today I am launching a new privately financed school building programme to address the schools in the worst condition, wherever they are in the country. The programme will be open to local authorities and schools that had been due funding via BSF but, critically, it will also be open to those which, despite real problems, had never been promised BSF funding. I believe strongly that those in genuine need should receive the funding they deserve and that no part of the country should be favoured over any other. Individual schools and local authorities will all be able to apply, and I am launching the application process today. The scheme will be rigorously policed to ensure that we do not incur the excessive costs incurred by previous privately financed schemes. The programme should cover between 100 and 300 schools, with the first of these open in September 2014, and is expected to be worth about £2 billion in up-front construction costs.

Some of those local authority areas that had experienced the termination of their BSF projects asked for a judicial review of my Department’s decisions. In February, Mr Justice Holman found in favour of the Department on the substantive matters in dispute, but he found against me on procedural grounds and asked me to look again at the decision in six local authorities. He stressed that the decision to restore all, some or none of the projects was a matter for me. Over the past few months, Ministers and officials have listened carefully to the case made by the six local authorities and I am very grateful to them for the timely and constructive way in which they have presented their case. I have today written to those authorities to let them know that I am minded to indemnify them for contractual liabilities resulting from the stage their projects had reached but I

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am not minded to restore their specific BSF projects. They now have a further opportunity to make representations to me before I take a final decision.

I appreciate that the local authorities and their representatives will be disappointed, but let me also make it clear that this decision, if confirmed after any representations have been made, does not mean an end to new school buildings in their areas. These local authorities will all be eligible for support from the new programme that I am establishing to cater for population growth in the areas most in need and the new programme to cover the worst dilapidation. That is central to my reasoning on why I am minded not to restore their specific projects. I want to ensure absolute fairness in the distribution of the resources at my disposal. Because the previous Government chose to not to collect data on the condition of school buildings after 2005, I do not have the facts to judge how the needs of these schools compare with the needs of other schools around the country. The fairest thing that I believe I can do is to help to meet the costs which might arise from the stage these projects had reached and then to invite the affected schools to apply to the new school rebuilding programme and be assessed on an equal footing with everyone else, on the basis of need. Of course, should any of those local authorities have severe population pressures, they are likely to receive a portion of the £500 million fund that I have announced today.

I would now like to turn to schools revenue funding. The current system is of course extremely complex, opaque and often unfair. Most colleagues will have lived with the inconsistencies for years now, as similar schools in different parts of the country received widely differing and inequitable levels of funding, and the problem with the system we inherited was recently underlined by concerns expressed over academies funding. Under the system set up by the previous Government, academies received money in lieu of services that would previously have been provided by their local authority, but local authorities continued to receive the same funding as they would if they were still providing those services. That meant that local authorities were, relatively speaking, overfunded for duties they no longer discharged, so at the spending review we announced that from now on we would deduct money from local authorities to take account of the fact they no longer provided services to academies.

The huge success of the academies programme, with 803 open and more than 800 more in the pipeline, has meant that we need to reconsider the issue, and a number of local authorities have asked us to reconsider the amount of money deducted, so today I am publishing a consultation document for local authorities explaining the basis on which it is intended that the money will be deducted this year and next.

This area, however, is only one of those in which the funding system that we inherited is failing to meet the needs of the 21st century. Much wider reform is needed, so today we are also publishing a consultation proposing a fair and comprehensive reform of the way in which schools revenue funding is calculated overall. At present, similar schools in different areas can receive very different amounts of funding for their pupils. That is not fair on head teachers, teachers or pupils. That is why I am proposing a new, fairer national funding formula, with appropriate room for local discretion, in order to have a simpler, fairer and transparent system.

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The problems with the current system run very deep, and we will not be able to solve them overnight. We want to consult and take everyone’s views so that we know how much change schools can cope with. We will not introduce change until we are confident in the new approach, and certainly not before 2013, and we will ensure that there are substantial transitional arrangements, but we are determined to start moving as soon as we can towards a system which ensures that all children are given the right level of funding to meet their needs. If that is taken together with our investment in 100 new teaching schools, announced last week, our investment of an additional £300 million in the early years, and an extra £2.5 billion in the pupil premium, I believe we can now begin to ensure that our schools are funded in a way that is modern, fair and just.

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and wish him the best of British in securing media coverage for it.

Let me begin on the subject of revenue. Across the House, we share a responsibility to ensure that the £35 billion budget for schools in England is spent as fairly as possible, giving every young person the best start in life, and I can assure the Secretary of State that we will work constructively with him to achieve that. The current system is not perfect, and the principles he has set out are a good basis on which to build, but the devil really is in the detail, and changes need to be considered very carefully.

With that in mind, may I welcome the Secretary of State’s conversion to the merits of consultation before imposing change that affects the lives of young people? Three times he has failed to consult and then been forced to change course under the threat of legal action: on Building Schools for the Future, on the education maintenance allowance, and on academy funding. Today, we have some grounds for hope that he has learned his lesson, with one major caveat. Is it not odd timing, to say the least, to start a 12-week consultation just as schools and colleges start the long break? Will the practical effect of that not be that it is a rushed six-week consultation that will coincide with the start of term, when people’s minds are elsewhere? Given that his announcement has far-reaching implications for every school in the land, and given that these changes are planned to come in only from September 2013, will the Secretary of State agree to a 12-week period of consultation from the start of the school year?

On a national funding formula for schools, the Secretary of State will know that that has been considered in the past and there is considerable scepticism about the ability to deliver it fairly. Does he accept that a rigid national funding formula could bring lots of winners and losers and remove local government’s ability to ensure fairness across an area? Will he commit to retaining as much flexibility as possible and will he ensure that any changes are carefully managed so that we do not see wild swings in school budgets?

As I have said, the changes will take effect from 2013-14, but we know that the Secretary of State was recently forced to agree to an interim review of academy funding. Will he update the House today on the progress of that review and how it will link to the consultation he has announced? Equally, can he assure the House that this review of funding will take account of responses to the special educational needs Green Paper, as parents of

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children with SEN will have concerns that giving more direct funding to schools will give them fewer guarantees over the funding available for their children?

The Secretary of State was silent today about 16-to-19 funding, which is perhaps not surprising, as it is the subject of a devastating report today from the Education Committee. Is it not the case that changes to post-16 funding, and reductions in funding to school sixth forms, could see some forced to close their doors? He has promised a review of post-16 funding. Would it not make sense to conduct this review concurrently with the consultation that he announced today?

The Secretary of State mentioned progress on academies. It is clear that we are moving at pace to a very different school system. An all-academy world where schools are directly contracted to London under a national funding formula will feel very different from the world we have known. It also raises the question of what happened to localism. Can he tell us what, if any, ongoing role he sees for local authorities in education? His consultation talks ominously about “chains of academies”. Can he tell us today how big he expects these chains to become, and whether he will place any limits on their expansion?

On capital, we will look carefully at the announcements that the right hon. Gentleman made today. Let me set out the context. At the spending review, the schools capital budget was left in tatters. His own officials briefed the Financial Times that the Secretary of State had folded too early in negotiations with the Treasury—possibly the understatement of the year. From that much-reduced budget he is funding his pet projects and giving them priority. There will be deep disappointment in the six local authorities that were forced to take legal action because he failed to consult them first. He says he has listened carefully to them. He made a promise to visit Sandwell, for instance, which I believe he has never carried out, so how can they have any confidence that he has properly looked at the condition of schools in Sandwell, and that this is not just a hollow exercise that has been ordered by a High Court judge?

The Secretary of State said today that he would meet the costs—that he would indemnify the six local authorities concerned. How much will he now have to pay to those schools? Is that not money that could otherwise have been properly spent on schools and children? It is a waste of public money in the current climate. How much money has he spent on legal costs since he became Secretary of State? He has never been out of the dock since taking on that job. We need to know how much money he has wasted.

In my constituency, the Secretary of State is funding free schools, having terminated the Building Schools for the Future programme. That has led to concerns that existing schools are trapped in crumbling buildings while the Secretary of State is funding one of his pet projects. It raises the question whether he can live up to the fairness and transparency about which he spoke today. Can he explain to the House how it is fair to fund the creation of surplus school places in cities such as Bristol, when he is failing to fund basic need in primary schools up and down the country? Is that not ideological rather than fair? With a much reduced budget, should he not be prioritising basic need? And can he tell us what is transparent about a free school programme where cheques are handed out around the country, but parliamentary questions from Members on all sides about the costs of that programme go unanswered?

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The statement comes on a day when the Conservative-chaired Education Committee has delivered a devastating end-of-term report on the Secretary of State’s conduct. The education world has learned through bitter experience to be extremely wary of his announcements on funding. As ever, we will be watching closely to see whether the reality matches his rhetoric.

Michael Gove: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the broadly constructive tone of his response. He asked a series of detailed questions, which I shall do my best to reply to in the time available.

On the timing of the consultation, plans to move towards a national funding formula were outlined in the education White Paper, “The Importance of Teaching”, which was published last autumn. There has been extensive engagement on the ground with local authorities and school leaders, not least through the task and finish group of the ministerial advisory group on local government finance. This consultation is a step towards ensuring that we can move in the right direction, but judging by the response that we have today, I know that there are many people who are impatient for us to proceed. We will make sure that in the consultation there is, as the right hon. Gentleman requests, appropriate room for local authorities to stress the importance of flexibility.

In the consultation documents, which are available in the Vote Office now for all Members, we emphasise that there are a range of options, and it is clear that we want to ensure that there is appropriate local flexibility—not just room for local authorities to allocate resources to those schools most in need, but greater transparency, for example, over the operation of schools forums. I hope the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will engage constructively in making sure that those decisions on the ground can properly balance school autonomy with local accountability.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the interim review on academies and LACSEG—the local authority central spend equivalent grant. We are specifically consulting today in a way which can ensure that local authorities are funded fairly, and that we do not have the double funding that has arisen under the complex funding system that we inherited. As a result of that consultation, I hope we can provide a reassurance to all students in all schools.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about special educational needs. In the consultation overall on schools funding, we make it clear that high needs pupils are a specific priority. There will be a block of funding in the overall dedicated schools grant which is for them and which will be disbursed at local authority level. The central role of the local authority in protecting vulnerable pupils will be protected, and I am sure he will want to work with us in ensuring that that is successfully implemented.

On 16-to-19 funding, it is critical that we ensure that we align any reforms with the Wolf review, which the right hon. Gentleman so warmly welcomed just a few months ago. Wolf argued that we need to ensure that when we reform the funding of 16-to-19 education, we do not recreate the perverse incentives in the old system of 16-to-19 funding, so we aim to align that reform with the broader reforms to improve vocational education.

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The right hon. Gentleman asked about progress on academies. Like him, I am delighted that so many schools have now become academies. He asked about the sustainable level of growth of chains. I believe that chains such as the Harris group, Ark or the United Learning Trust are doing an amazing job on the ground, working with local authorities and turning round schools in the worst condition. As far as I am concerned, they should grow at the fastest sustainable rate. That is why we are making the reforms that we can. Our aim always is to help those children most in need, and those academy chains have helped those children most in need.

On negotiations at the spending review, I am proud of the fact that at the spending review we were able to secure the best revenue settlement for any domestic Department, apart from the Department of Health. I am proud of the fact that as well as guaranteeing fat cash payments for all schools for the rest of the spending review period, we secured additional money for the early years and for the pupil premium. I am particularly proud that we have since then ensured that on our capital budget, we have driven forward efficiency. The James review and the associated steps that we have taken have meant that we have liberated an extra £500 million for basic need.

The right hon. Gentleman asked if I would listen carefully to representatives from Sandwell and other local authorities. I shall. I appreciate the particular concerns in every local authority, but the vital thing is that we need to be fair to all local authorities. There are local authorities represented across the House that were not in the BSF scheme and have not had their case heard, and we need to ensure that they receive the funding that they deserve.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked me about basic need and the importance of prioritising it. We are spending 62.5% more on basic need than the previous Government. They were specifically warned in February 2010 that local authorities were saying that basic need funding was far from adequate, and they were invited to undertake an urgent nationwide review. No action was taken. The lead member for children’s services in the London borough of Newham, the Labour councillor Quintin Peppiatt, said:

“We gave warning for the last five years through various deputations that this was a real problem, and I have to say it was not taken with the seriousness that it should have been. At last, serious action is being taken and not a moment too soon.”

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that there is another statement to follow and a series of very heavily subscribed debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, as a consequence of which there is a premium on brevity from Back and Front Bench alike.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I welcome the statement from the Secretary of State. Too many areas, particularly rural areas, have suffered from grossly inequitable funding for too long. I welcome what the Secretary of State said because rural areas have additional costs, which are not met by current

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funding. Can he assure the House that we will not falter in moving to fairer funding and we will put real need ahead of political convenience in bringing forward a national funding formula in due course?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I say to the Secretary of State that “modern, fair and just” is a description that we all aspire to for educational funding, but is he not missing off his list—and adding—the danger, “highly centralised”? For many of us who believe in a good education system in our country, there is a real fear when the Department takes so much responsibility into the centre. Also, will he stop members of his party from criticising, in a very unfair way, Tim Byles, who is a fine public servant and did a very good job with Building Schools for the Future? It does no one any good to revile fine public servants of his character.

Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman makes two very fair points. On the first, we want to strike the right balance between local accountability through local authorities and school autonomy. The consultation seeks to do that, and I will welcome his response to it. On the second point, let me place on record here, as I did in my letter thanking Tim Byles for all his public service, that I am immensely grateful to him for his work. I have criticisms of the way in which BSF was run, but those are not criticisms of Mr Byles or of any of his team; they are merely a reflection of the difference of opinion between myself and the previous Government on how capital spending should be prioritised. Let me underline that Mr Byles is an exemplary public servant, and I hope that we can continue to work with him in future in whichever role he pursues.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): Glossopdale community college in my constituency was not due any imminent BSF funding despite being in desperate need of renovation, or even rebuilding. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that schools that genuinely need renovation or rebuilding will be given priority in the new capital programme?

Michael Gove: That is absolutely correct. What I want to do is make sure that the schools in greatest need receive the funding. Resources are limited and it will be difficult to prioritise, but we must be fair.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): On Thursday I will meet school governors from Walthamstow. The Secretary of State has just, again, cruelly dashed their hopes that our fears about the lack of school places and the condition of our schools in Walthamstow will be acknowledged. Will he join me at the meeting on Thursday and explain for himself why he will give Waltham Forest the money for its legal fees but not the money to fix the leaky roofs and the asbestos problem that we have in our schools, or for the school places that we so desperately need?

Michael Gove: That was a passionate case well made, but I have to emphasise that I need to be fair to all local authorities. That means that we will look at the condition of schools in all local authorities, and the evidence will be sifted objectively. I am aware that Walthamstow, like many London boroughs and many areas in the south-east, is facing particular pressure on primary school places.

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Because Building Schools for the Future was primarily about secondary school places, we need to ensure that the absolute need for every child to secure a school place is at the front of everything we do.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. This long overdue review of the funding formula will ensure that there is a much fairer system across the country, and will involve looking at the possible double funding of local authorities and any potential overpayment that academies have had over and above LACSEG—the local authority central spend equivalent grant. That is due to replace the services that local authorities provide. On capital, will he ensure that there is a constant review to see whether there is any underspend from any other programmes in the Department or other money that could be channelled elsewhere? Will he also ensure that schools that need renovation or rebuilding will be prioritised?

Michael Gove: We will absolutely seek to ensure that academies are fairly funded and that they are neither penalised nor overfunded. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to emphasise that in some cases we need to look again to ensure that there is absolute propriety. On the broader question, we will continually seek to bear down on inefficiencies, and money that we liberate will go to those most in need.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): Five schools in my constituency lost out with the cancellation of BSF, including St John Bosco and Holly Lodge. Those schools will have their hopes raised by the Secretary of State’s announcement of the new private capital fund. Can he tell us how quickly decisions will be made on the allocation of that fund? Will deprivation be a criterion according to which it is decided which schools will get money, and will there be scope for match funding by local authorities?

Michael Gove: I hope to take decisions this autumn. I would not wish precipitately to raise hopes in any part of the country, but we will seek to work constructively. Deprivation obviously figures in revenue funding, but in capital funding the question I have to ask is: which schools are in the gravest danger? We need the information now to ensure that every child is in a safe school place, whichever part of the country they are in. Obviously, if a council such as Liverpool is prepared to work constructively, we will work constructively with it.

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): I warmly welcome the statement, which I know will be read with great interest by, in particular, the governors and head teacher of St John Bosco college in my constituency. My local authority despaired of the—often—30 months of bureaucracy that preceded any BSF project getting to the construction phase. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the new capital programme will be a big improvement on that?

Michael Gove: We will absolutely ensure that capital gets to those who need it more quickly, as a result of the James review recommendations.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): I welcome what the Secretary of State said about additional school places from September of next year, but what help can he give to parents and children in the Sale area

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of my constituency—Trafford residents in an area run by the Conservative party—where we have long waiting lists and insufficient primary school places? That is the situation now: what help can he give? Will he also consider what help he can give to schools in the Sale area in the year ahead?

Michael Gove: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his typically well-made point. One reason why schools are oversubscribed in Trafford is because it has such a superb local education authority and so many brilliant schools. I enjoy working with Trafford because it is such a good local education authority. Wherever there is basic need we will do everything we can to support it.

Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): Knights Templar school in Baldock in my constituency is an outstanding community school that provides an excellent education for children from all backgrounds. It has recently become an academy, but its buildings are dated and in some cases need rebuilding. Will an academy of that sort be able to apply for the new private funding that my right hon. Friend has described, and what is the application process?

Michael Gove: Yes. All schools—academies, community schools and voluntary-aided schools—and local authorities that are responsible for the maintenance of a number of schools will be able to apply this autumn.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): As a member of the Education Committee I was recently invited to a meeting with Lord Baker and Lord Adonis, who told me they had managed to secure £150 million from the Treasury for an experiment in university technology colleges. That £150 million would go a long way towards reinstating the education maintenance allowance, which is the one big thing I have seen in 30 years of working in education that has made a real difference to the participation of poor pupils and to narrowing the attainment gap. The Secretary of State tells us that we cannot afford EMA, which we know works, so how can we find £150 million for an experiment, when we have no idea whether it works or not?

Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making those points, but we must agree to differ on EMA. I think that the new learner support fund that we are introducing with the discretionary capacity that local colleges and schools will have to support students will effectively meet needs. On university technical colleges, I do not believe that they are an experiment; they are on the ground and working well already. I was pleased to read a speech by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) only last week in which he reflected on his visit to a university technical college that JCB helped to establish.

Andy Burnham: A Labour academy.

Michael Gove: In that speech, the right hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the success of the Conservative donor, Sir Anthony Bamford, in helping to establish that school. I, too, should like to pay tribute to Sir Anthony Bamford, who is a great man. May I underline the fact that that is a cross-party initiative? Lords Baker and Adonis are heroes and their work deserves to be supported.

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James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): The Secretary of State knows that Ian Ramsey school in my constituency has a particularly dire need for capital investment to secure its future in the buildings that currently exist. If it applies for the new funding that he has announced today, how soon at the earliest might it get a decision and some certainty about its future?

Michael Gove: I had the pleasure of visiting Ian Ramsey school, which is a superb school with great leadership that also enjoys the advocacy of a great constituency Member. Like every other school, it should be able to apply and should know this autumn.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): The Secretary of State said in his statement that he would police the new privately financed school building programme to ensure there are not the excessive costs incurred by previous privately financed schemes. Can he give some more detail about how he intends to do that?

Michael Gove: We have benefited from looking at some of the PFI schemes that were inaugurated under the previous Government. The James review drew various appropriate lessons about how we could ensure, through standardised design and more effective procurement, that we can save money right at the beginning of any process. My colleagues in the Treasury have today published a report revealing how it has managed to bear down on costs in existing PFI schemes, never mind new ones. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to Ministers in the Treasury, and to the campaigning energy of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman). Together, they have ensured that we will make sure that PFI works in the interests of the whole public.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of the fair funding formula, which is something I have been championing for more than 20 years, since local management of schools let the genie out of the bottle, with local authorities publishing school spending. It is not fair that one school gets £4,000, while another gets £8,000, for the education of young children. Can I get an assurance from the Secretary of State that he will look into rural funding and so-called leafy suburbs, and that they will not be left out? They have always been penalised in the past by local authority funding. Will he also look at the funding for Lees Brook school, which takes a lot of pupils from my area, and is falling down? I have sent him the documentary evidence of that.

Michael Gove: A case for fairness well made, which we will seek to meet.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Will the full survey of the school estate include sixth-form colleges, and can they bid for capital support under the new private finance initiative scheme?

Michael Gove: We want to make sure that all schools are capable of bidding under the scheme, and we want to make sure that the gateway into such bidding is fair. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman to make sure that

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there are no anomalies that mean that any institution that educates children is excluded for any reason. I shall seek to work with him, given his experience as a distinguished former further education principal.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of more basic need funding. I urge him and the Government to focus on Stratford town, where there is a severe shortage of primary school places.

Michael Gove: There are many parts of the country that have serious problems with population growth, including Stratford-on-Avon, not least because it is such an attractive town that has enjoyed effective representation for many years.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I speak as Member of Parliament for one of the six boroughs that took legal action, and I wish to express our deep disappointment at the Secretary of State’s announcement, particularly for Perryfields and Bristnall Hall schools. Year after year, much-needed refurbishment and repair has been put on hold by the Department for Education, because those schools were in the BSF programme. They now face inadequate overcrowded buildings and a rising school population. Does the Secretary of State understand how let down they feel, and will he come and meet them so that they can get that view across?

Michael Gove: The right hon. Gentleman is a formidable constituency Member of Parliament. He invited me to make sure that I made this announcement before the House rose for the recess, and I am happy that I could do so. I appreciate that Sandwell, like many other local authorities, will want to make its case fairly, so I want to make sure that it is heard alongside every other local authority in a way that is fair to all.

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): The Secretary of State kindly arranged for civil servants to visit Montacute school, an outstanding special school in my constituency. They subsequently wrote a report on its condition and fitness for purpose. When will he release the contents of that report, and can he give the school some indication of when it will hear, and how to apply for funding if it has to do anything more, in the light of his statement?

Michael Gove: That work will help to inform decision making. I will work with the hon. Lady to make sure that she can do the best job possible for that school, and other schools in her constituency that wish to apply.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The Secretary of State knows that the outstanding and good schools that are most likely to become academies under his system will probably have less need for support for special needs, behavioural support and advisory services. Does he agree that it follows that the academies that he is creating will be tempted not to buy back support services from local authorities under current arrangements, which will mean big cuts in authorities such as Sefton, where seven schools are becoming academies. Will he review funding arrangements for academies so that support services available within local authorities are—

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think we understand the thrust of his question.

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Michael Gove: That is a thoughtful question, but behind it lies an uncomfortable fact for the hon. Gentleman. If the majority of good and outstanding schools are in leafy suburbs or richer areas, that only underlines the way in which Labour failed to advance social mobility in their 13 years in power.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware from representations that I have made to him that, as has also been said by Opposition Members, there is an urgent need to get capital funding into schools in Sandwell. Does he agree that now is the time to draw a line under the BSF programme and find innovative ways of getting capital into Sandwell schools in the most cost-effective way possible?

Michael Gove: I entirely agree, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the effective way in which he has lobbied for a more imaginative and sensitive response to school building in future. He has specifically argued that we should ensure that we safeguard the interests of the schools in the west midlands that are in the greatest need, whether in Sandwell or in adjacent boroughs. I commend him on his statesmanlike and constructive approach.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): At a time of devastating cuts to local authority budgets, will local authorities face yet another in-year cut for which they will not be able to budget? As there is an economy of scale in providing services to schools, will children in non-academy schools suffer because of that deduction from local authority funding?

Michael Gove: Again, that is a thoughtful question. First, our consultation on reform of LACSEG—the local authority central spend equivalent grant—is designed to balance stability with a reflection of the fact that some local authorities no longer discharge such responsibilities, but still receive funding. On the second point made by the hon. Lady, it is only fair to say that in our consultation we point out that some economies of scale that are claimed do not materialise on the ground— but she will have an opportunity to contribute to the consultation, and I look forward to hearing her thoughts.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Will the new capital building programme offer opportunities for special schools such as Crowdys Hill in Swindon, which has ageing buildings and limited space, so that they can benefit while avoiding the pitfalls of previous PFI schemes?

Michael Gove: Absolutely. It is critical that we recognise that some schools that have not received the investment that they need are special schools—or, indeed, schools with a large proportion of students with special educational needs. We will ensure that the scheme takes account of their specific needs.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I would expect Birmingham to be one of the local authorities to benefit from the Secretary of State’s announcement of extra funding in areas that require extra places. Given Birmingham’s Lib Dem/Tory-controlled administration’s ability not to do what Government want them to do,

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irrespective of which party is in government, will he keep a close eye on it so that it does not waste the money that it did on BSF, and spend a million on architects when it comes to bidding for money for extra places?

Michael Gove: As my noble Friend Lord Adonis has pointed out, education in Birmingham needs many things to change, and I suspect that the hon. Lady and I know just how much change is needed.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): My right hon. Friend’s focus on special schools will be particularly welcome to the Ridgeway, St John’s and—oh my goodness. [Interruption.] The Grange, Ridgeway and St John’s—I am terribly sorry, Mr Speaker, I shall not live that one down. May I ask my right hon. Friend, particularly on the issue of capital allocations to schools that are transitioning to academies, for an assurance that the scheme will not be used by local authorities in any way, shape or form as a brake on the decisions by those schools to become academies?

Michael Gove: That is a very fair point. I have sought in the consultation—and we will seek in the decisions that we make—to be absolutely fair and balanced. It is no secret to anyone in the House that I am a great champion of school autonomy and I am critical of local authorities that have not done their job well. However, local authorities have a vital role to play in future, which is why the huge increase in basic need funding will go directly to local authorities, which are best placed to make those decisions. That balanced approach, encouraging autonomy while respecting local authorities’ critical role, is the right way forward.

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that it is deeply insulting to parents who have wanted a community secondary school for their area for more than 20 years to hear the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) criticise Bristol free school, particularly when many of those parents are frantic about the shortage of primary school places in Bristol? That ticking time bomb should not have been a surprise, given the baby boom four years ago, and the certainty that children grow up.

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. It is incumbent on all of us to recognise that the provision of schools in Bristol has not been good enough for far too long, although recent changes have brought about real improvement. Some of those changes have been driven by councillors who have shown imagination, but they have also been driven by organisations that have helped to establish new schools and to extend the academies programme. Bristol free school should be seen in that light. It is an effort to drive up attainment in an area that has underperformed for far too long.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): There could be no greater evidence of the inequities in the funding system than the situation in the East Riding of Yorkshire and in North Lincolnshire, where per pupil funding is well below the national average. Similarly, many schools are leaking, despite the 13 years in which we were told

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that there was investment. Having been through the BSF process both as a schoolteacher and as a local councillor, may I have an assurance that there will be an end to all these expensive airy-fairy vision statements and massive consultancy fees, as well as perfectly functional buildings in one local authority area being knocked down only to be replaced with butterfly-shaped schools, while others in more affluent or more rural areas do not receive any money at all for their schools?

Michael Gove: That is a blast of good sense from north of the Humber. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Will the Minister join me in congratulating Swindon borough council on seeking to design and build a generic modular school at half the cost of a bespoke new design?

Michael Gove: Swindon council does a lot of things right, and that is just one more.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): I warmly welcome the commitment to a new national funding formula—something for which I have been calling since I made my maiden speech. Today the Secretary of State will receive a letter signed by all six Worcestershire Members of Parliament urging him to press ahead with these desperately needed reforms, and to close the appalling £1,100 gap between Worcestershire and the neighbouring authority of Birmingham. May I urge him, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Chair of the Select Committee on Education, did, to press ahead with the reforms and not to listen to the siren voices calling for delay?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes an impressive case for Worcestershire, as do my hon. Friends the Members for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), for Redditch (Karen Lumley), for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier). I am very sympathetic to the case they make.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Wiltshire schooling has long been among the least well funded in England, so I welcome the Education Secretary’s review of the fair funding formula for schools. Will he give particular attention to the challenges in rural areas faced by small primary schools—that is, those that we still have left?

Michael Gove: That is a very fair point. In our consultation we are explicitly saying that there should be a fixed sum for all primary schools, to ensure that smaller primary schools remain viable.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Woodlands school in Basildon has just received the excellent news that its much-needed rebuild is to proceed. However, may I ask my right hon. Friend to adopt a slightly more flexible approach so that if schools wish to keep some of their existing better-quality buildings they can do so, to meet local need?

Michael Gove: I absolutely support local flexibility, and I think that Essex county council has shown admirable imagination in the past in doing just that.

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Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Parents, pupils and teachers alike at the four schools in Swanwick and Alfreton in my constituency that lost their BSF funding will head into the summer in a much more optimistic mood following the announcement that there might be some funding coming their way. Will my right hon. Friend advise them on whether they should think about dusting off the radical BSF plans that were scrapped—or should they perhaps be looking for a simpler and more cost-effective approach to replace buildings that are in desperate need of rebuilding?

Michael Gove: Emphatically the latter.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May I press the case for Northamptonshire, where the number of primary school places is struggling to catch up with population growth that is among the UK’s fastest?

Michael Gove: I am very much aware that all of Northamptonshire, east and west, is benefiting from population growth. It is critical that we meet basic need pressures wherever they are. They are most acute in London and the south-east, but there are many parts of the country where the population is growing fast.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I welcome this announcement. The shortage of primary school places is due in part to the baby boom, as we have heard, and it is staggering that those warnings went ignored for so long. In my constituency this has been compounded by massive residential estates on brownfield sites, leaving my schools to struggle and the situation to get worse. I urge my right hon. Friend to give due consideration to that, and to the schools that are suffering.

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Our population has risen for a variety of reasons, and unfortunately the previous Government did not prioritise that in the way they should have done, but I am grateful that the right hon. Member for Leigh is now emphasising that basic need should be our shared first priority.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): I welcome today’s statement, especially the announcement on capital funding, and ask the Secretary of State to keep the very patient King Richard school, and other schools in Portsmouth, at the forefront of his mind as the process develops. I ask him to go further on funding reform to ensure that as well as fairness, we have more flexibility in how we spend per pupil funds in the independent sector, if that is the best provision for the child.

Michael Gove: I am in favour of more flexibility overall, but we need to recognise that money spent on state education should stay in state schools. There are many great state schools in Portsmouth, and I was fortunate enough to talk yesterday with the leader of Portsmouth city council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, and appreciate how hard he is working, along with my hon. Friend, to ensure that Portsmouth gets the support it deserves for its state schools.

Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): In making the new capital programme more efficient than BSF, will my right hon. Friend confirm that sums of money

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will not be earmarked and siphoned off for things like the unnecessary IT projects that led to such cost overruns under BSF?

Michael Gove: That is a very distinguished point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds). One of the problems with BSF is that £210 million was spent by local authorities on consultants, including IT consultants, and some of that money was invested in material that we would not describe as state of the art. It is critical to ensure that we get value for every penny we spend. Information technology is critical to effective learning in the 21st century, but so is ensuring that we get proper value for money.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): The Education Secretary will know from his recent and very welcome visit to my constituency how grateful parents and teachers will be for his announcement today about changing the schools funding formula, under which pupils in my constituency have for far too long received almost half the spend per pupil received for pupils from areas with similar levels of deprivation in other parts of the country. My right hon. Friend will also know that we have a short-term immediate problem with LACSEG funding. I seek an assurance that his Department’s officials will work closely with the local education authority to try to overcome those problems before the start of the new school year.

Michael Gove: I very much enjoyed my visit to Gloucester and Stroud on Friday, and the first thing I did when I arrived at the Department on Monday was to instruct my officials to co-operate with Gloucester city council and the Young People’s Learning Agency to ensure that we deal with this issue.

Mr Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. Parents in the city of Winchester will have heard his statement loud and clear, despite various other noises going on in the media today. What guidance has his Department issued to local authorities in recent years about the need to keep spare capacity in the primary system?

Michael Gove: That is a typically shrewd point from my hon. Friend. One of the problems we inherited is that under the system that prevailed under the previous Government, guidance was given in 2007 to reduce surplus places, particularly in the primary sector, and we now have a basic need problem. It is good that the Opposition now recognise that we should prioritise meeting basic need.

Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): The Secretary of State knows that Mildenhall college of technology in my constituency is one of the most dilapidated schools in the country. The skylights are falling in: it turns out that no one fixed the roof when the sun was shining. Will he give me an assurance that fixing the school will be promoted, and that a date will be set for when we can start to rebuild it, so that children can be educated somewhere they can be proud of?

Michael Gove: This will be a needs-led process. Putting the jargon aside, that basically means that the money will go to the schools in the worst condition. I hope that we will see that building commence in 2014.

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Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I welcome the statement, and I am particularly interested in the private finance side of things, with regard to improved specification systems. Will the Secretary of State consider the need to build in more capacity when looking at the school funding formula, so that schools can plan ahead?

Michael Gove: That is a very good point from another member of the Education Committee. One of the things we want to do is to ensure that good schools can expand. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) made the point earlier that when we have good schools we often find that the original pupil place planning is out of date. We need a system of school buildings that is flexible enough to accommodate parental choice.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): How quickly will many of the oversubscribed primary schools in my constituency, including Lindley junior school, which is going through a consultation on becoming an academy school, find out what share they will receive of the £500 million of additional funding for new school places?

Michael Gove: This autumn, I hope.

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly his commitment to fairer funding for schools. As he will be aware, Devon languished close to the bottom of the funding league table under the previous Government. Will he assure me that he will look very carefully at the possibility of improving the relative funding for schools in Devon?

Michael Gove: I visited almost all the local authorities in the F40 area—very possibly because they contain a number of Conservative-Liberal Democrat marginals. For a variety of reasons, I want to ensure that I am fair to all local authorities, which is why we will prioritise funding on the basis of need.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): The London borough of Harrow was at the absolute bottom of the queue for BSF funding, because all the secondary schools are outstanding despite being in very poor buildings. At the same time, there is a basic need case estimated for 16 forms of entry at primary school within the next four years, which is the equivalent of two additional secondary schools. How quickly can we start to see some finance flowing to get the places for the children who need them now?

Michael Gove: I hope that the finance will be flowing in this financial year. That is the intention. I appreciate that Harrow, like a number of local authorities in London,

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including Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham, has specific problems. We need to look at them all in the round in order to ensure fair funding for all.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): There is huge pressure on school places in the borough of Croydon, partly as a result of the UK Border Agency’s presence there, and we did not get a single penny of funding from Building Schools for the Future, so I very much welcome what the Secretary of State has said. In the absence of the right hon. Member for Croydon North (Malcolm Wicks), may I give a particular plug for the Archbishop Lanfranc school in connection with rebuilding?

Michael Gove: That plug has been registered, and I hope that it will appear in the South London Press and other newspapers that circulate in Croydon.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): My constituency has one or two of the primary schools that are now in urgent need of repair. How long will it take before the doomsday survey of the fabric of our schools is completed and the funds are therefore available?

Michael Gove: We are prioritising that survey and we hope that it can take place within a year, but that need not mean that schools have to wait. They can make clear their specific needs and we will look at the evidence, judging school against school so that those most in need are prioritised.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): In contrast to the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), my constituents are passionate about a university technical school and we have put in a very strong bid because of all the benefits of vocational education that it may bring. Residents will also welcome the £500 million extra for deprived areas. Will my right hon. Friend set out how that money will be allocated?

Michael Gove: We will seek to allocate that money to the local authority areas where there is the greatest population pressure. I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for the principle of university technical colleges, which enjoy growing support across the House.

Mr Speaker: Let me take this opportunity to inform the House that after the Front-Bench exchanges had been completed, we had 32 minutes of questions from Back Benchers, and the pithiness of those questions and of the Secretary of State’s answers meant that in those 32 minutes we got through 44 inquiries. The Secretary of State has, I think, set a record in this parliamentary term. He has won the trophy; I hope he is pleased.