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House of Commons

Wednesday 10 December 2014

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Economy/Inward Investment

1. Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): What steps her Department is taking to strengthen the economy of, and increase inward investment to, Northern Ireland. [906458]

2. Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): What steps her Department is taking to strengthen the economy of, and increase inward investment to, Northern Ireland. [906459]

3. Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): What steps she is taking to promote business investment in Northern Ireland. [906460]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr Andrew Murrison): May I first thank you, Mr Speaker, Opposition Front Benchers and the House for your indulgence in allowing the Secretary of State to be absent, exceptionally, today? As you know, she is chairing the extremely important talks at Stormont, and we hope that they will come to a satisfactory conclusion very soon. She takes her duties in this House very seriously, as you know, and she is grateful to you for your indulgence today.

The Government’s long-term economic plan is working for Northern Ireland, and the UK Government continue to work with the Executive to promote Northern Ireland as a great place to invest. Political stability is paramount in attracting further investment, and I encourage the parties to make significant progress in the current cross-party talks.

Glyn Davies: As a result of the autumn statement, 12,000 people in Northern Ireland will be lifted out of income tax altogether following the increase in personal allowances, and almost every home buyer will pay less stamp duty. Does my hon. Friend agree that the autumn statement will bring great benefit to the whole of Northern Ireland and its people?

Dr Murrison: Yes, I very much do. It is quite clear that we need to increase prosperity in Northern Ireland. Prosperity is the key to improving security, as indeed is security to the prosperity of Northern Ireland. It is worth noting the substantial amount of foreign direct investment that Northern Ireland is now attracting. It

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gets the UK’s second most FDI per head, with a 32% increase last year. Foreign investors are recognising that Northern Ireland is a great place in which to invest. The latest figures are extremely encouraging.

Robert Jenrick: I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement that corporation tax setting powers will be on their way to Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland economy is of course very heavily dependent on public sector jobs. What more can the Government do, using the corporation tax powers when they come, to encourage inward investment and innovation in Northern Ireland?

Dr Murrison: The Chancellor has expressed our desire to devolve that power to the Executive, and the Executive are keen to take it on. The extent to which it will impact on the Northern Ireland economy is of course a matter for the Executive—as is the level at which they wish to pitch corporation tax, once devolved—but they have suggested that up to 40,000 jobs might be created in Northern Ireland by having the power. It is particularly important for encouraging the private sector. As my hon. Friend will know, we are trying with the Executive to rebalance the economy so that the private sector is encouraged, and the devolution of corporation tax is an important part of that.

Neil Carmichael: Does the Minister agree that the Government’s key extra measure of focusing on skills and making sure that people are properly trained, coupled with business investment, is precisely the way to improve productivity and therefore living standards?

Dr Murrison: I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend will have noted that the changes to national insurance in particular in the autumn statement are very much focused on getting young people into employment. The national insurance rebate is extremely helpful for small business in particular. He will have read with pleasure, as I have, the list of firms that are increasing their presence or investing for the first time in Northern Ireland. It is truly impressive, and it just shows what a great place Northern Ireland now is in which to invest.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): The Minister rightly referred to the big increase in foreign direct investment under the Northern Ireland Executive in recent years, but does he agree that the Executive has to deal with many issues and problems that are unique to Northern Ireland? The legacy of the past causes a financial drag on the Executive—increased expenditure—and that has to be addressed by the parties and the Government in the talks this week.

Dr Murrison: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. The past still hangs heavy over Northern Ireland. For people of my generation, our image of Belfast in particular is of course shadowed by what we saw on the television screen all those years ago. Investors who are now looking to Northern Ireland still have those images in their minds, and we need to overcome that. The security situation is key to this, and the improvement in the security situation has been instrumental in making Northern Ireland look and feel a far better place in which to invest.

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Mr Dodds: Does the Minister agree that, as we all accept, political stability is absolutely key in growing the economy in Northern Ireland and creating the conditions for economic prosperity? In his recent remarks in Enniskillen on 24 November, Gerry Adams said that his party was using equality to “break” Unionists—he actually used a foul-mouthed expletive at that point. He said that that was the republican strategy. Does the Minister agree that such language on the use of a policy such as equality is deeply offensive to everybody in Northern Ireland, undermines political stability and confidence and shows that Sinn Fein’s honeyed words and positive language sometimes mask a deeply disturbing policy?

Dr Murrison: I think Sinn Fein needs to be very careful about the language it uses, as indeed do all politicians. People are looking at Northern Ireland as a potential place to invest and are put off by that kind of posturing. It is very important that all parties work together to continue making Northern Ireland a great place to invest.

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Lab): As the Minister said, central to attracting business investment into Northern Ireland is political stability and leadership. In that context, the Opposition welcome the Prime Minister’s planned visit to Northern Ireland later this week and his intention to participate, alongside the Taoiseach, in the current all-party talks. Will the Minister assure the House that, alongside an agreement on the budget, including welfare reform, the Government are at the very least seeking to secure agreements on the past and on parades?

Dr Murrison: The talks are comprehensive, and it is hoped that their outcome will be ambitious. The hon. Gentleman is right that issues around the legacy of the past are central to what is being discussed in Stormont at the moment. I am hopeful that by the end of the week we will have a positive outcome, but all parties need to understand that this is part of a process and that they must remain engaged. Let us hope for some good news in a few days’ time.

Mr Lewis: I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he clarify whether the Government are linking the devolution of corporation tax solely to the parties reaching an agreement on next year’s budget? Surely the decision should be based on longer-term considerations such as the impact on jobs and growth and the block grant in Northern Ireland, as well as on the implications for the rest of the United Kingdom.

Dr Murrison: No, I think it is important that corporation tax is seen as part of a whole. It cannot be taken in isolation, and it is important that the Executive formulate a balanced budget that takes welfare reform into account. Without that balanced budget, it is difficult to see how we can reasonably devolve an important power such as that.

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Just a week ago, the members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee met Senator Gary Hart in Belfast. He was

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very positive in suggesting that it may well be possible to arrange a trade mission to come from America to Northern Ireland to see what the possibilities are. Will the Minister follow up such a suggestion?

Dr Murrison: I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has met Senator Gary Hart, who is very much part of the current talks process. Apropos my remarks earlier about foreign direct investment, I am pleased to say that it is going up dramatically, although clearly it is not enough, and we would like to see far more in Northern Ireland from America and elsewhere. I would certainly welcome such a proposition.

Security Situation

4. Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): What recent assessment she has made of the security situation in Northern Ireland. [906461]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr Andrew Murrison): The safety of people and communities remains the Government’s top priority in Northern Ireland. Although the threat level in Northern Ireland remains at severe, excellent co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and its partners has put violent dissident republicans under strain in recent months. There have been a number of significant arrests, charges and convictions, which are helping to suppress the threat.

Dr McCrea: I thank the Minister for his update on the serious nature of the security threat from republican terrorists and the absolute necessity of defeating them.

Does the Minister also accept that there are those who violate the sanctity of the homes of elderly people living in our community, threatening and terrorising them? Should not those criminals get custodial sentences of at least seven years, irrespective of how little or how much they actually steal through their criminal activity?

Dr Murrison: I will not be drawn on matters that are outside my sphere of competence, and I would certainly defer to the Department of Justice for action on many of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises. I know that the PSNI takes these matters extremely seriously, as do the Government, and appropriate action must be taken.

Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South) (SDLP): Does the Minister agree that the greatest contribution to increasing overall security would be a successful and comprehensive outcome to the talks, which enter a vital period this week? It is important that we confront not only the problems of today but the wounds of the brutality and violence of the past. Is the Minister aware that a number of families are in Westminster today as part of their campaign looking for justice and for answers?

Dr Murrison: May I thank the hon. Gentleman, particularly for his contribution to the current talks? He is correct to say that the outcome of those talks will have a big impact on security in Northern Ireland, and we must all understand that. All parties must understand the extent of the stakes, because if this process fails I am afraid that the future will not look good. The positive

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developments that we have already discussed today cannot be guaranteed, so we must ensure that the talks have a positive, comprehensive outcome.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (UKIP): Is the Minister satisfied that appropriate and, as necessary, enhanced security measures are in place over the festive season?

Dr Murrison: That is a matter for the Minister of Justice in the Executive and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I know that as we approach Christmas the tempo of operations by dissidents in particular has a tendency to increase. The PSNI and the Department of Justice are aware of that and making appropriate preparations.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): There is a high level of dissident republican activity over Christmas and new year, and there is evidence that dissident republicans have direct contact with terrorist groups in north Africa and the middle east. Will the Minister outline what discussions have taken place with Governments from that region to ensure that the flow of weapons and bomb-making expertise is stopped?

Dr Murrison: Those matters are primarily for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and she is in touch with relevant countries to ensure that the threat of terrorism from individuals from countries outside the United Kingdom is reduced as far as possible. The hon. Gentleman will be following closely the progress of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill through this House, as that is relevant to the issue he raises.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): In recent weeks the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee heard from officials in Northern Ireland and the police service that cuts to budgets are already leading to long delays in the resolution of actions covered by the Historical Enquiries Team. Will the Minister look into that and ensure that no further cuts lead to people who should have had justice years ago having to wait even longer? People are already waiting three times longer than was originally scheduled.

Dr Murrison: The spending power of the Executive has increased since the beginning of this Parliament and will continue to do so. Spending within the police budget is a matter for the Chief Constable, who has set up the historical legacies team from the Historical Enquiries Team. A further body is under discussion as part of the current talks.

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Lab): I understand fully the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) about the recent horrendous attack in Lisburn on an elderly person, although I am not authorised to speak on sentencing policy on behalf of my party. The first responsibility of any Government in relation to Northern Ireland remains security. In the run-up to Christmas when threat levels are high, as other hon. Members have said, we owe a particular debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who serve in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Looking ahead,

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what assessment has the Minister made of the impact of current and projected budget cuts on police numbers and public protection?

Dr Murrison: The deployment of police assets is a matter for the Chief Constable and the Department of Justice, which broadly takes its funding from two sources—the block grant, plus additional security funding provided by the UK Government, which, as the hon. Gentleman will know, amounts to £31 million in the next financial year. I know that the Chief Constable greatly values that additional resource to cover some of the additional security costs in Northern Ireland, but principal responsibility for the deployment of that resource rests and remains with the Minister of Justice.

Party Funding

5. Mr Andrew Robathan (South Leicestershire) (Con): What assessment she has made of the level of transparency of political party funding in Northern Ireland; and if she will make a statement. [906462]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr Andrew Murrison): Political parties in Northern Ireland must report funding they receive to the Electoral Commission, but this is not published owing to the risk of donor intimidation. Legislation will be brought forward shortly to increase the information available about party funding in Northern Ireland, while still protecting donor identities.

Mr Robathan: Section 15A of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 makes provision for funding to be published and, thanks to the excellent Library, I have today read the Sinn Fein accounts, which told me next to nothing, needless to say. Sinn Fein’s money used to come from the IRA through nefarious activities. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for the integrity of the political process in Northern Ireland that we have transparency in political funding as soon as possible so that we can learn whether Sinn Fein is taking a legal approach?

Dr Murrison: I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that transparency of funding of political parties is essential. Indeed, I see on the Sinn Fein website that it is the stated intention of that party itself. Although the material published on the Electoral Commission’s website in relation to Sinn Fein’s accounts is basic, I hope that the new legislation—in which my right hon. Friend was very much involved—will give us greater clarity, although it is important that donor identity is preserved.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): We had the scandal of the on-the-runs, we had the scandal that for 10 years people associated with one political party were involved in fuel smuggling to raise money, and we have the ongoing scandal of elected Members not taking their seats but receiving money from the House. When will the Government address that?

Dr Murrison: People considering how to cast their votes should pay particular attention to the work that their elected representatives do here. That increasingly

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appears to be the case and, given the current circumstances, I would have thought that it applied to Sinn Fein more than any.

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): While I wholly support the cross-party consensus on transparency in political funding in Northern Ireland, I would like a commitment from the Government that they will continually reassess the position. Until we have full transparency, Northern Ireland will not be wholly free.

Dr Murrison: We are all working towards complete normality in Northern Ireland. The assessment at the moment is that we are not there yet, and for security reasons we have to ensure that donors have anonymity. My hon. Friend must accept that, but it is an issue that needs to be kept under constant review. At some point—sooner rather than later, I hope—we will be able to normalise that aspect of election law across the United Kingdom.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): With the general election only five months away, can the Minister confirm that the Northern Ireland Office has already sought an assessment from the Chief Constable of the risk of violence to donors to political parties in Northern Ireland?

Dr Murrison: The provisions in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act should protect the identity of donors, but if they wish to make themselves known through the Electoral Commission, they can do so. In the run-up to the general election, the security services in Northern Ireland are well aware of increased threats to individuals that may obtain, including those whom the hon. Lady mentions.

Corporation Tax

6. Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): When the Government plan to publish an analysis of the potential effect of introducing a devolved rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland. [906463]

8. Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): When the Government plan to publish an analysis of the potential effect of introducing a devolved rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland. [906465]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr Andrew Murrison): The autumn statement set out that the Government are in favour of devolving corporation tax powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. If the powers were devolved, the Executive would be responsible for setting the rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland. The effect would therefore be dependent on the approach taken by the Executive.

Mr Brown: What assessment has been made of the effect of the Government’s economic and welfare policies in Northern Ireland on the feasibility of devolving corporation tax? Can the Minister give the House a fuller explanation?

Dr Murrison: It is estimated by the Executive that the devolution of corporation tax, and the implementation of the cuts it envisages, would result in 40,000 new jobs

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in Northern Ireland, which is substantial. It will certainly help to improve and enhance the level of foreign direct investment, which I have touched on already. That is impressive, but it has to be sustained. It is particularly interesting to note that in the Office for National Statistics figures announced today, one of the highest sub-regional centres in the UK, in terms of gross value added per capita, is Belfast. We need to grow the economy in Belfast. The devolution of corporation tax would play an important part in that.

Chris Evans: Will the Minister give a guarantee that the devolution of corporation tax will not have an adverse effect on the block grant to the Northern Ireland Executive?

Dr Murrison: No, I cannot, because the EU Azores rules mean that it has to be taken into account.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Whenever the Minister is speaking with his right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, will he ensure that ongoing talks consider the possibility of additional resources, so that the skilled work force in Northern Ireland can become a pool of employees for inward investors who take advantage of corporation tax?

Dr Murrison: The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the economic pact published about 18 months ago and updated during the summer, which gave significant new powers to promote the economy, in particular to grow jobs, and there was a significant amount of lending as a result. It has been successful. The groundwork has been laid and we have seen, in the figures I have quoted today, that it is having some level of success. Corporation tax will take that to the next level.

10. [906467] Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the figures on the cost of devolving power over corporation tax to the Northern Ireland Executive were given to the Executive. Will the Minister spell out to us the cost to the block grant and the timeline for implementation?

Dr Murrison: That very much depends on whether the powers are taken up by the Executive and the extent to which they are taken up. The hon. Lady will be aware that corporation tax in the last financial year raised in excess of £400 million. Were corporation tax to be devolved, and reduced as far as it possibly could be, then we are talking about that sort of figure.

13. [906470] Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that the Nevin Economic Research Institute warns that £400 million will have to be cut from public spending in Northern Ireland should corporation tax be moved there?

Dr Murrison: That is a matter for the Executive. They need to make a judgment on whether it will produce a net improvement to the economy in Northern Ireland. They have decided that it will create up to 40,000 extra jobs, so they clearly believe that corporation tax will

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have a net benefit to the economy of Northern Ireland, but they will have to find the money from the block grant.

Welfare Cap

7. Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): What assessment she has made of the effect in Northern Ireland of the introduction of the welfare cap. [906464]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr Andrew Murrison): Welfare expenditure accounts for one-sixth of all public spending. The introduction of a UK welfare cap was overwhelmingly approved by 520 Members of this House, although I accept not by the hon. Gentleman. The cap ensures that social security expenditure remains fair to claimants and yet affordable to taxpayers in both Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Mark Durkan: On welfare spending in Northern Ireland, what assurance can the Minister give that the operation of the cap will not entail a cap within a cap in ways that mean future benefit take-up campaigns will, for the first time, be at the expense of other benefits, which has never been the case in the past?

Dr Murrison: The hon. Gentleman is perhaps confusing the welfare cap with the benefit cap. It is important to note that the previous Minister in the Department for Social Development, Nelson McCausland, said that universal credit will lift 10,000 children out of poverty, and that most people in Northern Ireland will benefit from the change in the welfare rules. This has a substantial capacity to improve the lives of those who are reliant on welfare in Northern Ireland.

Youth Unemployment

9. Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): What steps she is taking to tackle youth unemployment in Northern Ireland. [906466]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr Andrew Murrison): The November labour market survey reports that the unemployment rate in Northern Ireland for 18 to 24-year-olds has come down 5% over the year, and the Government are directly helping to get young people into work by abolishing national insurance contributions for businesses employing under-21s and apprentices aged under 25.

Ann McKechin: The Minister will be aware that unemployment in Northern Ireland is much higher than the UK average, and a recent survey by the BelfastTelegraph found that two thirds of young people wanted to leave Northern Ireland. What specific steps is he taking to improve skills and training to encourage young people to stay in Northern Ireland?

Dr Murrison: Of course, these are matters primarily for the Department for Employment and Learning, with which the Government work closely. I hope the hon. Lady will be aware of the economic plan published 18 months ago in collaboration with the Northern Ireland Executive laying out the steps that we would take jointly to promote a shared and integrated future, including the creation of the further education college

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at Craigavon. Further such measures will be considered. The important thing is to increase the number of apprenticeships in Northern Ireland, and the national insurance contributions announced in the autumn statement are an important part of that.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [906543] Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 10 December.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): I have been asked to reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is visiting Turkey and Auschwitz.

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

Jonathan Reynolds: Last week, the Deputy Prime Minister refused to attend the autumn statement. Exactly which parts of the statement did he most object to?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The autumn statement was a coalition autumn statement. I spent one day in Cornwall; Opposition Members have spent five years in cloud cuckoo land when it comes to the economy, and the Government side of the House has been clearing up the mess they created.

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): In the light of my right hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for devolving powers from the UK Government to the component parts of the UK, does he have similar plans for devolving competences from Europe to the UK?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman might be surprised to know that I once wrote a booklet about that very idea. Just as we must do at a European level what nation states cannot do on their own—on the environment, globalisation, trade talks and so on—so other powers should be devolved downwards where possible.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): It is good to see the Deputy Prime Minister back in his place after his important day trip during the important statement last week.

Since he became Deputy Prime Minister, he has had the opportunity to appoint seven Cabinet members. Will he remind the House how many have been women?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. and learned Lady knows exactly who the members of the Cabinet are from the Liberal Democrat team. I would remind her, however, that millions of women in this country have got from this Government what they never got from her Government: better pensions; more jobs; tax cuts; shared parental leave; better child care; and more

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flexible working. Instead of scoring Westminster points, why does she not do the right thing for millions of women around the country?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman is reluctant to answer the question, which is unlike him, because normally when he is asked about numbers and women, he is quite forthcoming. I will tell the House the answer: four and a half years as Deputy Prime Minister, seven Cabinet appointments, and not one woman. And this is not a Westminster point, because it affects what they do. So will he tell the House, since his Government introduced tribunal fees, what has been the fall in the number of sex discrimination cases?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not have that statistic to hand, but I am happy to provide it to the right hon. and learned Lady. Once again, however, she displays her and her party’s total denial about their record on women. Female unemployment rose 24% under Labour, and in one year women were given a paltry 75p rise in the state pension—scandalous, a total shame. Through our new, fairer single-tier pension, 650,000 women will get an extra £400 a year from 2016, and I care more about those 650,000 women across the country than I do about anyone around the Cabinet table.

Ms Harman: I will answer the question since the right hon. Gentleman has not. Since the introduction of their tribunal fees, there has been a 90% fall in women taking sex discrimination cases to a tribunal, including women who have been discriminated against at work because they are pregnant.

Let me turn to another of the right hon. Gentleman’s key decisions. Of those who get the millionaires’ tax cut, what percentage are men?

The Deputy Prime Minister: This is quite breathtaking. Is the right hon. and learned Lady not aware that of the over 26 million people who have benefited from our tax cuts for low and middle-income earners, the tax cut has disproportionately gone to women? Is she not aware that under her Government the top rate of tax was 40p—5p lower than it is under this Government? Is she not aware that there are now more women in employment than ever before? That is a record of which we are very proud indeed.

Ms Harman: And he should be aware that any gains on tax changes for women have been more than wiped out by the hit they have taken on the cuts to tax credits. And yes, I would indeed agree with him that it is breathtaking that 85% of those who benefit from the millionaires’ tax cut are men. Let us try him on another one. What proportion of those hit by his bedroom tax are women?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Since the right hon. and learned Lady is losing her way a bit with the statistics, let me tell her that we have cut tax for 11.9 million women, and that the gender pay gap for women under the age of 40 has pretty well disappeared under this coalition. Under her Government, only one in eight of the FTSE 100 board members were women. Under this Government, there are more women on FTSE 100 boards

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than ever before. The Labour party is becoming the Lance Armstrong of British politics: it has forgotten the better half of a decade of how it messed things up.

Ms Harman: I will tell the Deputy Prime Minister and the House the reality for people who are paying the bedroom tax. Two thirds of those hit by the bedroom tax are women. It does not seem that there is any shortage of spare rooms in Downing street for the spin doctors to spin against each other. Let me ask him about something else. Of the £26 billion this Government have raised through changes to benefits and direct taxes, a staggering £22 billion has come from women. Can he explain why?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I think it is time to call out the right hon. and learned Lady on her Government’s record. Under Labour, unemployment was higher; female unemployment was higher; youth unemployment was higher; inequality was higher; child poverty was higher; pensioner poverty was higher; relative poverty was higher; fuel poverty was higher; and income tax for low and middle-income earners, including millions of women, was higher. When will she come to admit that her party created so much of the mess that this side of the House has had to clear up?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman has just demonstrated that he is completely out of touch with women’s lives. It is always the same with this Deputy Prime Minister. He talks the talk, but he walks through the Lobby with the Tories. He briefs against them, but he always votes with them. He complains about the autumn statement, but he signed it off. That is why people will never trust him or his party ever again.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Does the right hon. and learned Lady seriously think that the British people are going to trust her and her party on the economy? Of course not. Manufacturing jobs were destroyed three times faster under Labour than they were under Margaret Thatcher. This was the party—[Interruption.] In fact, the shadow Health Secretary, sitting there demurely, is the only man in England who has ever privatised an NHS hospital, and they dare to lecture us. [Interruption.] Hinchingbrooke hospital—the only NHS hospital to be privatised, and by the Labour party. Inequality higher under Labour; privatisation of the NHS higher under Labour; and an economy destroyed under Labour.

Q2. [906544] Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): My constituents will have been delighted to hear the Deputy Prime Minister support last week’s excellent autumn statement, because they know that it is the only credible plan for economic recovery. They have been worried about scurrilous rumours that he wants to raise taxes and impose a homes tax in the next Parliament, but, in view of his answer to Question 1, that cannot be true. Will he now confirm his loyalty to the long-term economic plan, which is bringing jobs and growth to people in Wimbledon?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Of course I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend that we must stay the course in order to finish the job, and finish it fairly. He may be aware that the long-term youth claimant count in his constituency has fallen by a full 40% in the last year alone, which is an extraordinary achievement.

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As my hon. Friend knows, my view is that it is simply not fair or justifiable to apply council tax bands to low-value properties without adopting the same approach to high-value properties. Why should a family living in a family home in Lewisham pay the same council tax as someone living in a £10 million palace, possibly in Wimbledon? That does not make sense to me, and it should change.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): My 69-year-old Atherton constituent Margaret was run over by a car, and was left bleeding in the road for 90 minutes before the ambulance turned up. The Chancellor said last week that the Government had made cuts without affecting front-line services. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with the Chancellor, or does he regret supporting every cut that the Government have made?

The Deputy Prime Minister: What I regret enormously is the fact that every household in the hon. Lady’s constituency—indeed, every household in all our constituencies—took a hit of £3,000 because of the crash in 2008, which was caused in large part by the absolute neglect of the Labour party in government. That is what I regret. The economy has suffered a cardiac arrest the likes of which we have not seen before during the post-war period. I am very proud of the fact that this coalition Government are making painstaking, if controversial, decisions to ensure that we live within our means rather than simply burdening our children and grandchildren with this generation’s mistakes.

Q3. [906545] Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): My constituents in Dover and Deal are very concerned about border security and the situation that we have seen in Calais this year. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that, while we have acted, the European Union should take more responsibility for people trafficking and the problems of Schengen open borders, and that it should make Italy take responsibility as the first country for asylum claimants on the island of Lampedusa?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Of course I understand what an important issue this is for my hon. Friend and his constituents. I agree with him that it is a problem shared and that therefore the solution needs to be shared as well, across the European Union. That is one of the reasons why I have always been an advocate of cross-border co-operation in the EU on issues concerning people who cross our borders. We cannot act on our own. I agree with my hon. Friend that, whenever possible, the European Union should act effectively and together.

Q4. [906546] Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): Opposition Members have called for a section 30 order to fast-track elements of the Smith commission to Scotland, especially votes for 16 and 17-year-olds in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election. I know that the Deputy Prime Minister’s boss does not usually allow him to make the big decisions, but as he is in the big seat today, will he commit himself to going ahead with the section 30 order now?

The Deputy Prime Minister: We will stick to the timetable to which all the main parties in Westminster committed themselves at the time of the referendum.

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We have stuck to that timetable religiously so far. In fact, despite predictions to the contrary by the Scottish National party, we have over-delivered on the commitments regarding further devolution to Scotland.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, a lively debate is taking place about the franchise for 16 and 17-year-olds. My party has always believed that we should give them the right to vote. They took up that right with alacrity at the time of the Scottish referendum, but the issue will clearly continue to be debated across parties in the House.

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Michael Thornton.

Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am a bit surprised!

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman was standing, so presumably he was standing in the hope of being called. I do not know why he is so surprised.

Mike Thornton: Sometimes I worry I might forget where I am.

Some of the most heart-rending cases in my surgery on a weekly basis involve people who have had mental health difficulties and feel let down by the national health service and other organisations set up to help them. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with me that it is time we did more?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I suspect that many Members from all parties in this House will agree that mental health services have for too long been treated as a poor cousin—a Cinderella service—in the NHS and have been systematically underfunded for a long time. That is why I am delighted to say that the coalition Government have announced that we will be introducing new access and waiting time standards for mental health conditions such as have been in existence for physical health conditions for a long time. Over time, as reflected in the new NHS mandate, we must ensure that mental health is treated with equality of resources and esteem compared with any other part of the NHS.

Q5. [906547] Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): When the Health and Social Care Act 2012 passed through Parliament, the Government said it was not about privatisation. A recent study by the British Medical Journal says that one third of all contracts have gone to the private sector and only 10% to the voluntary and social enterprise sector. Does the Deputy Prime Minister regret supporting that legislation?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is being highly selective in describing what that report said. It actually said that of all NHS budget contracts, 6% had gone to the private sector. Guess how high it was when this Government took office: 5%. So Labour presided over a 5% delivery of contracts to the private sector, and we have added 1%. The Opposition delivered £250 million-worth of sweetheart deals to the NHS, deliberately undercutting the NHS for operations that did not help a single NHS patient in the country—and they have the gall to lecture us on the privatisation of the NHS!

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Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Will the Deputy Prime Minister unreservedly condemn what appears to be the killing this morning by the Israeli defence force of the Palestinian Government Minister Ziad Abu Ein, who was doing nothing more than protesting in his own country against illegal demolitions and the destruction of ancient olive groves by the state of Israel? Will Her Majesty’s Government join in international pressure demanding a full investigation and then calling, should it be so justified, for the prosecution of the soldier who struck him?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Of course I and the Government will urgently look into the circumstances around this killing. Of course we condemn all unwarranted acts of violence on all sides in the middle east. I am not familiar now with the circumstances of this particular death, but clearly we want to see restraint exercised on all sides, we want to see an end to illegal settlement activity and to indiscriminate violence being inflicted on innocent Israeli citizens, and a demonstrative move on all sides, which will involve difficult compromises, towards the two-state solution, which is the only means by which peace and security can be delivered to all communities in the middle east.

Q6. [906548] Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister has received donations totalling £34,500 from the managing director of Autofil Yarns Ltd. What does he think of the fact that workers at Autofil Yarns Ltd have received the news recently that as many as 160 jobs could be moved overseas—jobs lost to Britain—by Autofil Yarns?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Clearly I cannot speak for Autofil; any company needs to explain its own business and investment decisions. I am very surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s line of questioning, given that the Labour party is entirely bankrolled by the puppet-masters of the trade unions. For all I know, that question might have been written for him by his trade union bosses. Surely he would agree with me that it is time we cleaned up party funding on a cross-party basis once and for all.

Q7. [906549] Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): In Peterborough, youth unemployment has halved since 2010, apprenticeships are at record levels and the jobseeker’s allowance claimant count has come down 51% in the past four years. In addition, the number of children living in workless households is now at a record low nationally. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that such achievements—and the policies that give rise to them, which were consistently opposed by Labour—show political courage and will change people’s lives for the better, and are not, as some people have foolishly suggested, the result of an ideological commitment to austerity?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Given that we were told by the Opposition at the outset of the coalition that 3 million people would be unemployed, it is striking that there are now more people in work than ever before. I find that striking in my own constituency, as the hon. Gentleman no doubt does in his. I remember being warned by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) that there

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would be a “post-Soviet” meltdown and that people would be fending for themselves on the streets, but we now have fewer young people than ever in Sheffield who are not in education, employment or training. There are fewer NEETs in that great city than ever before, and we are seeing that repeated across the country. That is a result of a balanced, pragmatic, non-ideological approach to balancing the books steadily over time.

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): Will the Deputy Prime Minister use his evidently widespread support in the coalition ranks, particularly with the Prime Minister, to prevail on the Prime Minister to honour a pledge he made in June this year to the victims of the contaminated blood scandal that took place in the NHS? That scandal has reflected badly on successive Administrations, probably going as far back as that of Harold Wilson, if not further. In June the Prime Minister undertook to look at and rectify the situation, to the extent that that is possible, and this would be one promise that the coalition Government have it in their power to deliver.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is quite right to say that this heart-wrenching issue has dragged on for a very long time. If I may, I shall write to him about it. I know that steps have been taken to address some of the many legitimate outstanding claims, and I shall look into the matter and write to him.

Q8. [906550] Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is currently in special measures. What assistance can he give to the Health Secretary as he works with the trust to ensure continued improvement despite its having to wrestle with its £40 million a year repayments on a private finance initiative deal signed under the previous Government?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am afraid this is another example of the Janus-faced approach to the NHS by the party opposite. The Labour Government entered into this appalling PFI contract, along with other such contracts in the NHS, and those contracts are now costing the NHS £1 billion a year. It is an absolute scandal that the Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been crippled by a botched PFI deal entered into by the previous Government. The trust is now receiving central support to address its underlying financial deficit, and it has developed a plan showing year-on-year improvements in its position, including 145 extra nurses, nursing support staff and doctors since going into special measures.

Q9. [906551] Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): If the Deputy Prime Minister had attended the autumn statement, he would have heard the Chancellor claim that this is a Government who back small businesses. He could give those words some meaning by backing Labour’s plan to outlaw large companies charging small companies to be on their supply list. Will he take this opportunity to back that plan in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill and really start to stand up for small firms?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: Thankfully, we have seen more new and small businesses being created under this coalition Government than since records began. I agree with the hon. Gentleman—I think everyone would agree—about the revelations that have come to light in recent days of some large companies, particularly in the food sector, in effect charging small suppliers for the privilege of providing them with supplies. I know that the right hon. Member, the right hon. Minister, my—

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Friend?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is looking carefully at this matter, and he has already pledged publicly to take action if necessary.

Q10. [906553] Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): My constituent Diane Howells visited GPs in Newark 15 times in eight months last year before she was eventually diagnosed with terminal cancer when her son Luke took her to the accident and emergency department in Newark. A quarter of all new cancer cases—amounting to 80,000 people a year—are only diagnosed at A and E. Will my right hon. Friend agree to review this tragic case and to back Luke’s campaign to have cancer ruled out first, rather than last, and to increase referral rates from our GPs?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Of course I shall look into the case, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will also be keen to look at it and get back to my hon. Friend. As he knows, the NHS is successfully seeing 51% more patients with suspected cancers than it was four years ago; survival rates have never been higher; almost nine out of 10 patients say that their care is excellent or very good; and the cancer treatment fund has helped thousands upon thousands of patients. But, of course, where possible we should always do more.

Q11. [906554] Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister has made a series of extraordinary claims today, but among the most extraordinary is the one, in response to a question from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), that pensioner poverty rose under the last Government—in fact, pensioner poverty fell dramatically. Will he explain to the House what his source for that claim is? It certainly cannot be the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which in 2010 reported that pensioner poverty fell dramatically under the last Government.

The Deputy Prime Minister: The source is that what we are doing is a whole lot better than the insult of 75p. We have delivered the largest cash increase in the state pension ever; we have delivered the triple lock guarantee for pensioners; and we want to put that into law, so that, unlike under Labour, pensioners on the state pension will know that because of this coalition Government their state pension will go up by a decent amount every single time. That is my source.

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Spending Priorities (Defence)

Q12. [906555] Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the position of defence in the UK’s spending priorities.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Our defence budget is the biggest in the EU and the second largest in NATO. This Government are spending 2% of GDP on defence this Parliament—we are one of only four NATO countries to do so.

Dr Lewis: That was not exactly an answer to the question on the Order Paper. Given that this country for decades spent more than 4% on defence, does the Deputy Prime Minister not agree that it would be a disgraceful dereliction of duty if the British Government ever fell below the 2% minimum recommended by NATO?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend will know, we are spending 2% of GDP on defence, and have consistently met and exceeded this NATO guideline. We are spending more than £160 billion on equipment and equipment support over the next 10 years, which will ensure that we have one of the best trained and best equipped armed forces in the world. Decisions on defence spending after 2015-16 will, of course, have to be determined in the next comprehensive spending round.


Q13. [906556] Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What does the Deputy Prime Minister think of the fact that under his Government if he now needed an operation in Devon, he would be denied it because he smokes, as would the Communities and Local Government Secretary because of his size?

The Deputy Prime Minister: That’s a bit harsh. I do not think anyone would disagree with clinicians in Devon and elsewhere urging patients to look after themselves and prepare themselves for operation. My understanding is that the decision—or the announcement mooted—in Devon is about patients preparing for operations, but of course I disagree with the idea of, in effect, rationing in this way, which is one of the reasons we have announced, in total, £3 billion of extra money for our beloved NHS.

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): On 13 November, the people of Switzerland voted overwhelmingly to retain freedom of movement with the European Union, because their politicians talked about the economic benefits of being in the single market. Will the Deputy Prime Minister continue to do what the City, the CBI and companies in my constituency want, which is to talk about those benefits for the UK and reject the politics of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend that freedom of movement, which is a privilege and entitlement that more than 1.5 million British citizens benefit from across the European Union, is something we should defend. But freedom of movement is not the same as, and is not synonymous with, the freedom to claim, which is why there is now a very

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healthy debate about how we ensure that freedom of movement can be protected while the rules on access to benefits can be changed.

Fixed-term Parliaments

Q14. [906557] Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effect on the performance of Government of the introduction of five-year fixed term parliaments; and if he will make a statement.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and the Committee he chairs for their work on the operation of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. Fixed-term Parliaments give greater predictability and continuity, enabling better long-term legislative and financial planning. The full effect of introducing fixed-term Parliaments is something that can only be assessed over time, which is why the Act will be reviewed in 2020.

Mr Allen: Nearly 25 years ago, I asked the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, at Prime Minister’s questions whether she would set up a national institution to reduce the sexual abuse of children. May I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister and his Government on setting up, over the past five years, a series of “what works” organisations to provide best practice including early intervention? Will he and other party leaders consider putting in their manifestos the creation of a national institute for the study and prevention of sexual abuse of children so that we do not have another 25 years’ worth of belated inquiries? Such an institute would pre-empt perpetration and help victims with the best evidence-based practice and programmes both nationally and internationally.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I happen to know that the hon. Gentleman is seeing my right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Prevention on that issue next week. I and my party agree with the hon. Gentleman about the merits of “what works” initiatives. A “what works” institute for crime prevention would be a good idea. He shines a spotlight on the reprehensible and grotesque crimes of child sex abuse and exploitation. I agree that we need to work together, which is why the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People has been set up, to work across agencies, areas and local authorities to bear down on these reprehensible crimes.

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Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Motcombe primary school in my constituency. It has fought tooth and nail to introduce free school meals, and has been very successful. Will the Deputy Prime Minister take this opportunity to congratulate Motcombe and all the primary schools in my constituency and across England which have done such a fantastic job delivering on his policy?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Of course I congratulate everybody at Motcombe primary school and all the primary schools across the country which, despite all the scepticism and cynicism, have delivered healthy free school meals at lunchtime to 1.5 million more children. The educational and health benefits are considerable, and I am delighted that we are now doing this across the country.

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): With crude oil now below $70 a barrel, will the Deputy Prime Minister tell us why that price is not reflected at the pumps?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I know that my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury have raised this with the industry. We all want to see the lower shifts in oil prices across the world reflected in the prices on our forecourts. We must continue to focus on that in our dealings with all the oil companies.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): “We should be clear. It is not wrong to express concern about the scale of people coming into the country. People have understandably become frustrated. It boils down to one word: control.” Does the stand-in Prime Minister agree with the Prime Minister, because they were his words?

The Deputy Prime Minister: There are some important controls that we need to improve and strengthen. It is essential that we reintroduce the proper border controls and exit checks that were removed by previous Governments. I insisted that that was in the coalition agreement. We are now on track to do that, so, just as we count people in, we count them out as well. Those additional controls are important, because we can then discover who has overstayed their presence here in the United Kingdom illegally, which is one of the biggest problems that we face.

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Points of Order

12.33 pm

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the Deputy Prime Minister to make claims about an issue as important as pensioner poverty and not back them up with any facts whatsoever? If he has inadvertently misled the House, should he not withdraw those claims? [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. It is not for me to control who remains in the Chamber. As the hon. Gentleman has raised a point of order, I am sure that he will be interested to hear the reply. I think that I just about heard, amidst the noise, the gravamen of his point, which related to a claim that the Deputy Prime Minister gave an answer that was not based upon fact. I simply say that were the Chair to be held responsible for answers, or even for questions, on account of the presence or absence of facts, the Chair would be even busier than he already is. I think that one has to be reasonable about this. Look, it is a point of debate. I say in the gentlest and most festive spirit to the hon. Gentleman, who was becoming extremely excited and excitable while awaiting the answer to his question, that I have always regarded him to be something of a cerebral academic, and it is most unusual for him to become over-excited. I wish him a very enjoyable Christmas and a happy new year.

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When it comes to accuracy, the Deputy Prime Minister appears not to have had a particularly good outing this afternoon. He said during the course of questions that I privatised an NHS hospital when Secretary of State for Health. That is not a point of debate; it is a point of sheer inaccuracy. The contract for Hinchingbrooke hospital was signed under the coalition, and when the previous Government left office there was still an NHS bidder in the competition. Do you not believe that the Deputy Prime Minister might have inadvertently misled the House and that he should return right now to correct the record?

Mr Speaker: Well, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is his own best advocate, and he has put the position on the record with crystal clarity. If a Minister feels that in the circumstances it would be prudent or courteous to return to the Chamber now or at some other opportunity to correct the record, it is open to that Minister to do so. We will leave it there.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am saving the hon. Gentleman up. It would be a pity to waste him too early in the proceedings.

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Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The shadow Health Secretary repeatedly says that there was an NHS bidder in the final three that he left. The last three bidders for the Hinchingbrooke contract were Circle, Ramsay and Serco. Could he let us know which of those he thinks is the NHS bidder?

Mr Speaker: I blame myself. My natural generosity of spirit got the better of me. Because the hon. Gentleman is himself a cerebral academic, as distinguished, I am sure, as the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont), I rather thought that he might raise a genuine point of order, rather than inappropriately continuing the debate. In future I will know better. The hon. Gentleman might look very serious, but that does not mean that he is not about to abuse our procedures.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Accuracy is important in this House. The Deputy Prime Minister also asserted that the majority of people who would benefit from the increase in tax allowances were women. In fact, the House of Commons Library, which we all take very seriously, has confirmed that the majority of people who will benefit from the increase in tax allowances are men.

Mr Speaker: I refer to my earlier ruling in respect of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, which was that the Chair is not responsible for adjudicating upon factual accuracy. The shadow Home Secretary has put the position very clearly on the record, and I am sure that the House of Commons Library will be grateful to her.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the last day news has emerged of a large-scale maritime security operation taking place off the Scottish coast. It is doing so in circumstances in which the UK Ministry of Defence is unable to deploy any maritime patrol aircraft and has had to depend on MPA provided by the United States of America, Canada and France. Given the seriousness of the situation, have you been advised by the Ministry of Defence that it intends to make a statement to the House so that we, as parliamentarians, can be informed of the situation?

Mr Speaker: The short answer is that I have not been so advised. I have received no indication that a Minister intends to make a statement in the way the hon. Gentleman would like and is advocating. However, he has made his point with force and alacrity, and knowing him as I do, I rather feel that if he considers that he has a good point, he is unlikely to let it go, and it is even conceivable that at appropriate points he might repeat it.

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Resettlement of Vulnerable Syrian Refugees

12.39 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement about the resettlement of vulnerable Syria refugees.

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): The whole House shares deep concern about the continuing situation in Syria, the suffering and hardship it is causing for millions of refugees, and the enormous strain it is placing on the region. With 3.2 million people displaced into Syria’s neighbouring countries and millions more in need within Syria itself, this Government believe it is right to focus efforts on substantial aid to help the large numbers of people who remain. This is a crisis of international proportions. Alleviating the suffering and seeking an end to the conflict are the best ways to ensure that the UK’s help has the greatest impact for the majority of Syrian refugees and their host countries. Ending the war, defeating extremism and ending the humanitarian crisis require both military pressure and a political settlement that replaces the Assad regime with a Government who can represent all Syrians.

The UK has committed £700 million in response to the humanitarian crisis. This significant contribution makes us the second largest bilateral donor after the United States. The UK’s support is helping hundreds of thousands of refugees across the region to access vital food, water, medical care and essential supplies that are so desperately needed. UK aid has provided water for up to 1.5 million people per month and supported over 600,000 medical consultations. Last year, we funded 5.2 million monthly food rations.

Compared with aid, resettlement can only ever help a minority. We do, however, recognise that there are some particularly vulnerable people who cannot be supported effectively in the region, which was why earlier this year we launched the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme to provide sanctuary for those displaced Syrians who are most at risk. The VPR scheme is the first resettlement programme run by the UK to target support for refugees specifically on the basis of their vulnerability. It is prioritising women and children at risk, people in need of medical care, and the survivors of torture and violence.

It is right that our resettlement efforts focus on the most vulnerable refugees, rather than our operating any form of crude quota system. Arrivals under the scheme so far have included a number of children and adults with very severe medical needs who could not access the treatment they needed in the region. The Government have committed to helping several hundred people over three years, and that is exactly what we are doing. Between March and September, 90 people were granted humanitarian protection in the UK under the scheme. We continue to work closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify the most vulnerable cases displaced by the conflict in Syria and to relocate them to the UK. This is, of course, in addition to the many other Syrian asylum claims that

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we consider under our normal rules. Since the crisis began in 2011, we have granted asylum or other forms of leave to more than 3,400 Syrian nationals.

Resettlement can make a real difference to the lives of refugees who can be supported effectively only outside the region. I am delighted to see those arriving under the scheme settling into their new homes and receiving the care that they need, but we must not lose sight of the millions of Syrians who remain in the region. Our primary focus was and still is the provision of humanitarian assistance and aid to displaced people both within Syria and in its neighbouring countries. Continuing our efforts to help them through aid must remain our highest priority.

Yvette Cooper: The British Government have, rightly, committed £700 million to help those affected by the Syrian conflict, and the UK’s largest ever humanitarian crisis response reflects the values of the British people. I applaud the Government’s efforts, but the scale of the response is also a reflection of the horrific nature of this war. Ten million people need help and thousands are displaced every day. This is a war seemingly without end and with no limits to its inhumanity.

More than 3.2 million Syrians have become refugees in the surrounding region—in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Those countries are providing an immense amount of support and shelter. Everyone agrees that the vast majority of people affected want to go home and should stay in the region. Yesterday, however, the United Nations asked at a conference in Geneva for countries across the globe to increase support for its limited programme that helps the most vulnerable refugees who struggle to survive or cope in the region: orphaned children, women who have been sexually abused, victims of torture and those needing treatment or support. What did Britain do when asked for more help yesterday? Nothing. Why?

This is the worst refugee crisis since the second world war. It took weeks of pressure from the House before the Home Secretary set up the vulnerable persons relocation scheme in January. Even then, she still refused to be part of the United Nations programme. She did say that she would help several hundred people, but a year later only 90 of those vulnerable refugees have been helped. That is not good enough.

As part of the UN programme, Finland has provided 500 places, Ireland 310 places, Norway 1,000 places, France 500 places—as well as further humanitarian visas—Switzerland 500 places and Sweden 1,200 places. Other countries, including Germany and Austria, have chosen to offer thousands of places each. The UN scheme is flexible. It is not a quota. It is not about every refugee, but about each country doing its bit and what it can alongside others.

I have three questions for the Government. First, will they accept that their parallel programme is not working and sign up to the United Nations programme instead? Secondly, will they take refugees out of the net migration target immediately? The Government are under pressure over immigration, where stronger controls are needed, but asylum is different from immigration. They must not allow the debate about immigration to cloud their conscience over helping refugees.

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Thirdly, will the Government now agree to do more to help? Will they rapidly accelerate the programme to meet the promises made in January and also convene an urgent meeting with local councils across the country? Kingston-upon-Thames has agreed to help 50 Syrian refugees and other councils have said they could do more if they got the right support from the Government. Will the Minister convene a meeting to ask local councils how many vulnerable refugees in total we can offer to support?

When we raised the issue a year ago, the Home Secretary sent a Minister to say no. I hope that the Government will not do the same again. The violence of the Syrian conflict is unimaginable for us sitting here. Once, we were proud as a country to offer safe haven—from the Kindertransport to those helped from the Rwandan genocide. It would be shameful, but also against our history and our values as a country, if we were to turn our backs when asked for more help now. I urge Ministers to think again.

James Brokenshire: The shadow Home Secretary is right to underline the significance of the issues faced in Syria and of the millions of people displaced by that horrific conflict. As I said, it is right that we focus our efforts on seeking to bring an end to the conflict as well as on providing direct assistance in the most effective way to those who have been affected and displaced. That is precisely what the Government are doing and the UK can be proud of our record in seeking to provide that direct assistance to those most in need as a consequence of the conflict.

The right hon. Lady suggested that the vulnerable persons relocation scheme was in some way not working and not fulfilling its intentions, but I entirely reject that. The VPR scheme is already providing direct help for people fleeing persecution and for those most in need of help, medical or otherwise. I congratulate the local authorities that are supporting the scheme and providing such direct assistance. To reflect one of her other points, I would certainly encourage more local authorities to come on board and be part of the scheme to ensure that those arriving in this country are able to receive the support and assistance that they need to be able to settle well and effectively in the UK.

The right hon. Lady made a point that was not worthy of our proceedings when she suggested that our decisions are in some way being clouded by a focus on net migration figures. That is absolutely not the case. Our country can be proud of the work that we are doing in providing this direct assistance under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme which, as I said, has provided asylum to 3,400 people from Syria who have been fleeing the conflict. I therefore entirely reject her assertion.

The right hon. Lady highlighted the need to ensure that support is provided to children and women in need. Through our work via the Department for International Development and our aid programmes, the UK has allocated £82 million to provide protection, trauma care and education for children affected by the crisis in Syria and the wider region, recognising their vulnerability and the need to ensure that assistance is provided directly.

The right hon. Lady referred to the contribution of several countries in seeking to take in refugees from Syria. Each country provides assistance in its own different manner. Given the £700 million that the UK is providing

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to support millions of people in the region directly and immediately, and the asylum that is being provided to Syrians fleeing persecution through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, this country should be proud of the role it is playing in providing help and assistance to those most in need. This is an ongoing crisis and tragedy, which is why we are providing direct assistance and aid, and we would certainly encourage others to do so. Focusing on humanitarian assistance and on bringing an end to the conflict will provide the most direct help.

Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): I think that we should deal with this question in context. I have visited Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and seen the immense work that the British Government are doing in looking after refugees. The Minister is right to be proud of it, and the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) was right to mention it. In the context of the extraordinary efforts that the United Kingdom is making, it is not correct—it is rather unfair—to suggest that any part of our support can be termed “shameful”. Admitting people through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme is the right thing to do. Will the Minister confirm that it has no quota and that it can be extended, as it is a matter of finding the right people who can most benefit? It would always be nice to find a reason to take in more people, but if we set this scheme in the context of the rest of the work that the United Kingdom is doing, it is clear that our contribution, which is over and above that of many of the countries mentioned by the right hon. Lady as taking in more people, means that we can be proud of what we are doing.

James Brokenshire: I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments, for the work that he has done in the region and for his continuing focus on these issues. He is absolutely right that there is no quota. We said that the vulnerable persons relocation scheme will provide assistance to several hundred people over a three-year period, and that is precisely what is happening—the scheme remains on track to deliver that. I underline the point about the work of a number of countries in region to solve this humanitarian crisis. I pay tribute to their work and to the direct role that the UK is playing in assisting them.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a sad irony that the Home Office published figures today showing that 11,000 foreign national criminals are still in our country, at a cost to the taxpayer of £250 million, yet under this scheme we have allowed in fewer than 100 people. We need to do much more to enable such people to come here. Has the Minister spoken to the European Union’s Migration Commissioner about the difficulties faced by Greece and Italy due to the large number of Syrian refugees making their way into the EU? What support are we giving those countries to help those people arriving in the EU, rather than those who manage to get to Calais?

James Brokenshire: The Government maintain that because of the number of people involved, the most effective way to provide the most support is in region via humanitarian assistance. The right hon. Gentleman asks about our discussions with EU partners and countries that may experience these flows of people through southern European borders. The week before

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last, I attended a conference in Rome with European Ministers and Ministers from several African countries. Through the Khartoum process, which is about such linking and joining up, we are taking a number of steps to deal directly with some of the issues that he highlights.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made her statement earlier this year, I welcomed it, perhaps more generously than some in the House. However, that has resulted in a far higher degree of disappointment on my part about the implementation of the scheme which, after all, is intended to try to deal with those who have suffered the most as a result of events in Syria. We can be proud of what we are spending and of what we are doing in general, but surely that should not exclude the possibility of our doing something particular for those who have suffered most. I regret to say that I hope we are not allowing the shadow of Mr Farage to obscure our humanitarian responsibilities.

James Brokenshire: No. When the vulnerable persons relocation scheme was launched, we were very clear about its nature and intent: to help, over the course of the next three years, several hundred of those people most in need. The scheme was put in place very quickly and a steady number of people have been coming through month on month. Through the scheme, we are able to provide care, housing and assistance locally to ensure that people’s specific needs, including the significant health needs that many have, are adequately and properly met. The scheme is performing and doing the job that it needs to do.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Ernest Bevin once described a political statement as “clitch, clitch, clitch”, and that—clichés—is what we have had from the Minister today. It is just rubbish to say that we must concentrate on bringing an end to the conflict, because there is nothing whatever that we can do to bring this ghastly conflict to an end. We are talking about simply the worst humanitarian disaster on this planet—and that is saying a lot, considering other such disasters. While I do not in any way deride or dismiss the financial aid that is being applied, it is the human beings whom we ought to be doing something about. The Home Office is failing in that, and it is about time that it had a heart.

James Brokenshire: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for highlighting the scale and extent of the problem, but I am sorry that he has sought to downplay the significant contribution that the Government are making to help millions of people who have been affected by this appalling conflict. It remains absolutely right that we seek to end the war and to defeat extremism, as well as ending the humanitarian crisis, and that is why we must also focus on the political process. Dialogue remains active between the United Nations and the international community, among supporters of the opposition and among Syrians themselves. This Government and this country can be proud of what we are doing through this assistance and our political focus—and, yes, through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme in providing asylum.

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Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I congratulate the Minister on his approach to the problem because he reflects the Government’s sympathy and concern for the plight of the Syrian refugees. Small organisations in this country such as the Lady Fatemah Charitable Trust, which is based in my constituency, do great work in providing food assistance and humanitarian aid in places such as Iraq and Lebanon, as many refugees do not wish to go far from home and want to be helped directly wherever they have landed. Will the Minister encourage more organisations to carry out such work?

James Brokenshire: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for highlighting the incredible work of so many charities and non-governmental organisations. I pay tribute to the work of the organisation in her constituency. We should remember the incredible risks that so many people take to provide such help and assistance. It is important to underline that, as well as to recognise their supportive work with DFID and other partners.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): We know that the Minister has the scheme that he has outlined—it is the subject of this urgent question—and that Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are doing an enormous amount to help in the refugee crisis, but what more can the Government do to put pressure on other Governments in the region, such as the Gulf states, to open their doors to more refugees from Syria?

James Brokenshire: I understand from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), that that matter is being raised at international bodies and in international discussions. The right hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the work done by countries such as Jordan and others. We are providing more than £300 million in aid assistance outside Syria to some of the countries on which the displacement of people is most directly having an impact.

Sarah Teather (Brent Central) (LD): I have visited both Lebanon and Jordan to see projects supporting Syrian refugees, as outlined in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. In talking about numbers, it is worth noting—on a day when the Prime Minister is in Turkey—that Turkey has received more Syrians fleeing the war in the past three days than the number resident in the whole of Europe altogether. Will the Minister consider expanding not just the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, for which many colleagues have argued, but other safe routes to travel? For example, family reunification, which Switzerland has done, would be cheaper to administer and would alleviate significant suffering.

James Brokenshire: People subject to the vulnerable persons relocation scheme are also eligible for family reunion under our normal rules. The hon. Lady mentioned Turkey and other countries. Again, it is important to underline that our support has reached hundreds of thousands of people across all 14 governorates of Syria, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. She is absolutely right to emphasise the impact on other countries.

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Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Desperate Syrians were heavily over-represented among the 500 people in a boat that sank in the autumn in the eastern Mediterranean, from which there were only 11 survivors. We now know that 3,419 refugees have died in the Mediterranean this year. Does that not underpin the critical importance of not reducing sea rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, while we work to find solutions to the refugee crisis that has engulfed so much of the world?

James Brokenshire: As the hon. Lady will be aware, Operation Triton is being conducted by Frontex along the borders of the southern European Mediterranean countries. It is important to underscore that people are not in any way being left to drown as a consequence of the changes endorsed by all EU member states. I draw her attention to the fact that, on 29 November, a commercial ship under Royal Navy command picked up 145 Syrian migrants in the Mediterranean and landed them in Sicily.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): May I commend my hon. Friend for the UK’s significant financial contribution to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria and the British people for their generosity? Does he share my pride—not the shame that the Labour party is talking about—that the UK is the second largest donor in the world in this instance?

James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which we need to underscore and recognise. As a country, we should be proud of the extent and scale of the assistance that the UK is providing in region to those most in need of help. We can stand tall in respect of that contribution.

Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): In his earlier responses, the Minister made it very clear that political pressure to reduce net migration has had no impact on the number of refugees this country is accepting. However, he must accept that such a conclusion is inevitable, given that refugees are included in the net migration figures. Why are refugees included in the net migration figures, and will the Home Office now reconsider that matter to avoid such accusations in future?

James Brokenshire: I again entirely reject any assertion that the manner in which net migration statistics are calculated has any bearing or influence at all on this country’s international obligations on humanitarian assistance. Indeed, we should be proud of the work that this country does in providing humanitarian aid, assistance and asylum to those in need. Net migration statistics are calculated on the same basis as in many other countries, and they are drawn up in that manner for use in international comparisons.

Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con): Any proposals for resettlement must be set in the context of the scale of the problem. Some 1.4 million Syrian refugees are currently resident in Jordan, many of whom are children of school age. Does the Minister agree that activities such as those of the Manchester-based NGO Syrian Women Across Borders, which is educating young Syrian refugees

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in Amman, play an important part in improving the lives of the young Syrian refugees who are struggling against such odds?

James Brokenshire: I agree with my right hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to the project he mentions. Important facilities are provided through our aid and assistance, and we are funding partners to provide education supply kits in refugee camps in Jordan. That supports the very work he identifies, including the supply of pencils, exercise books and other facilities. In addition, the Government have committed to providing textbooks to benefit at least 300,000 Syrian and Lebanese children attending Lebanese public schools, showing a real focus on children.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): The Minister stated that there are no quotas for the number of refugees we are taking, but he does not seem, from his answers, to be very proactive in trying to obtain offers of assistance within the United Kingdom. May I suggest that he arranges a summit with the devolved Administrations and local government in England to find out how many authorities are prepared to make offers of assistance so that the UK can increase the number of refugees we take, as many of my constituents are demanding?

James Brokenshire: I know that many local authorities are actively assisting the work of the vulnerable persons relocation scheme—I commend them for doing so—and others are offering help and support. I absolutely endorse the need for more local authorities to come forward to do so. On the hon. Lady’s suggestion about the devolved Administrations, I will certainly consider what further steps we could take to underline the importance of their contribution, as well as the help that local authorities can give.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Having visited a refugee camp on the Syria-Turkey border earlier this year, I am all too aware of the conflict’s impact, especially on children. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking the Turks for all they are doing to provide support? Does he agree that the best way to resolve the problem is to find a way to end the war, however difficult that may be? Will he remain committed to providing whatever support is needed both at home and abroad?

James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend has experience of travelling to see the very direct impact of the situation on the ground, and I commend him and other Members from across the House for their work and the real focus and attention that they have given to this very serious issue. He is right to identify Turkey’s contribution. The Prime Minister is in Turkey at the moment, and it is important to work with our international partners to seek to resolve this appalling crisis.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I point out to the Minister that none of us is criticising the generosity of the population or of our constituents? Britain is doing pretty well on many measures. What the rest of the world are criticising is the lack of leadership and the drift. Here is a Prime Minister—in Turkey—who is regarded by so many allies as a modern-day Neville

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Chamberlain. Where is the determination to sort out this conflict, to face up to the humanitarian crisis and to get allies to work with us, across Governments, to do something about it?

James Brokenshire: The Prime Minister and the Government have shown clear leadership at the UN and elsewhere, and by working bilaterally with other Governments. Indeed, the fact that we have committed £700 million, the biggest aid project this country has ever seen, shows very direct leadership. We are not just talking about it, but actually doing something about it. On that basis, we are showing leadership, and our country can be proud that we are doing so.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) and my friend the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love), I returned from Jordan last week. We visited Syrian refugees in Zaatari and saw the institution that my right hon. Friend referred to. May I say gently to my hon. Friend the Minister that it is a particular pity that the enormous amount of aid that the United Kingdom is giving is being overshadowed by the frankly derisory numbers of refugees that we are taking relative to the size of the problem? In addition, despite all the assistance going to particular NGOs and the UN in Jordan, the Jordanian Government’s budget is not receiving the help that it desperately needs given that the Jordanian public services are picking up much of the responsibility.

James Brokenshire: The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who is sitting alongside me, will be visiting Amman next week, and I am sure that he has heard clearly the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) makes and will raise them with his opposite numbers and colleagues in the Jordanian Government. However, this country can be proud of the overall contribution that is being made. Each country is providing assistance directly, and we are doing so through significant aid, through the vulnerable persons relocation scheme and by providing asylum to those who need it.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): When I asked about this issue during Scotland Office questions on 18 December last year, Germany was taking about 80% of the Syrian refugees coming to the EU and Amnesty International said that the amount of help coming from the UK should cause heads to hang in shame. By June, reports were that only 24 Syrians had been relocated to the UK. The SNP Scottish Government want to help and have been in touch with the UK Government. Can the Minister update us on those talks? How many refugees can we hope to welcome to Scotland and give a “Failte gu Alba” to before too long?

James Brokenshire: I note that the hon. Gentleman highlights one individual country within the EU, but each country provides a balance of assistance, whether by accepting people through various schemes or by providing monetary assistance. Each country does so in its own appropriate way. We have said that we will

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provide support under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme to several hundred of those most in need of assistance, and we are providing quarterly updates on that work. The scheme is therefore transparent and clear, and we are obviously continuing our discussions with local authorities and others to see what further assistance they can provide. I will seek to take that further forward following this session.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): The Minister is right to be proud of the aid that Britain is giving in the region, and to give asylum to Syrian refugees who can make it over here. However, as he knows from our exchanges at the Home Affairs Committee, I believe that the efforts to tackle the problems of the most vulnerable refugees who cannot easily get here are simply tokenistic and fall far short of what Members of all parties agreed when the system was set up. It is far less than other countries are doing. Will the Minister reflect on that? I know that he and the Home Secretary were careful not to give any quotas or numbers, but will he at least try to edge the numbers upwards to deliver what this country would like to see and to help people in need?

James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend says that the vulnerable persons relocation scheme is in some way not meeting what he sees as the intent behind it, but when the scheme was launched we were clear that it would assist several hundred vulnerable Syrians over the course of three years, and it is doing that and remains absolutely on course to achieve it. Again, I highlight the fact that we are providing assistance to some of the most vulnerable people through our direct aid assistance to individual countries. That aid contribution and the vulnerable persons relocation scheme mean that this country can be proud of what it is doing.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): The number of people that this country has admitted this year under the vulnerable persons relocation scheme has been, in January, one; in February, none; in March, none; in April, one; in May, one; and in June, four. The Minister looks puzzled, but those figures are from a parliamentary answer that he supplied to me, and they show the priority that he gives the matter. Will he confirm that neither he nor the Home Secretary has ever met the Refugee Council to discuss those shameful figures? Will he please undertake to do that, and to do better from now forward?

James Brokenshire: The vulnerable persons relocation scheme was launched in February and was got up and running within the first two months, which was rapid given the significant needs of so many of the people involved. Many have medical needs and have suffered huge trauma, and the arrangements have been implemented appropriately to ensure that we provide them with the help that they need when they arrive. They do not simply arrive here and then wait for assistance; there is wrap-around care when they arrive in the UK. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is hectoring from his place, but the scheme is working and is providing direct assistance. I am sorry that he does not recognise that, because there are people receiving direct help. I am sorry that he appears to be blind to that.

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Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): My hon. Friend is right to point out that the quality and extent of British aid is second only to that of the United States. Britain’s historic role and ties in the region put a greater onus on us to play our full part in the resettlement of refugees. What work are the Government doing to encourage more local authorities to sign up to the vulnerable persons relocation scheme?

James Brokenshire: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to underline again the significant contribution that many local authorities are making by allowing people to be located in their area through the scheme and ensuring that essential help and assistance is provided. I certainly encourage more local authorities to come forward, as I have said in response to a number of questions, and I encourage hon. Members of all parties to talk to their local authorities in support of what the Government are doing so that we can ensure that more areas make that assistance available.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I very much agree with my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister is showing real leadership in delivering humanitarian and local support to refugees in Syria. Will he join me in praising the work of Cornish-based ShelterBox, which is doing phenomenal work in Syria right now, ranging from health care to educating children, with the support of the Department for International Development and voluntary donations?

James Brokenshire: I am pleased to offer my support for, and commend the work of, ShelterBox and a number of other charities that are providing direct support and help to people in Syria and other areas affected by conflict. It is also important to underline the contribution that the British public make through their huge generosity to so many charities and aid organisations. As a country, we can be proud not simply of the Government’s work in investing aid money but of the public’s huge contribution and the funding that they are providing to give direct assistance.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): The Minister has used the word “proud” eight times so far today. Many of my constituents are proud of the immense courage of the Syrian and Assyrian Christian communities that are currently facing a fearful and frozen future in a part of the world where they have lived for centuries but where they may simply not be able to survive much longer. Many of my constituents have offered accommodation—they have offered homes and bedrooms, and they have offered succour to those people. Will the Minister agree to collate the information about such offers and feed it in to the UNHCR, which will be responsible for the first year’s cost of any resettlement, to see whether the British people can show their pride in a courageous Christian community in the same way that he has shown his pride? Winter is coming fast to the region, and we have very little time.

James Brokenshire: I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s points. There are a number of persecuted communities, and he rightly highlights the situation in Iraq. I also recognise, from the letters that I see, the number of individuals who want to contribute. The most effective way for them to do that is through their local authorities

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and the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, but we continue to have discussions with the UNHCR, which identifies individuals who come through that scheme, and we will always reflect on what further information we can provide and how we can make the scheme work as effectively as possible.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): My constituent, Razan Alsous, fled Syria two years ago and thanks to a new enterprise allowance now runs an award-winning Yorkshire halloumi cheese-making factory in Linthwaite. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Razan and other Syrian refugees who are making such a positive contribution to our communities?

James Brokenshire: I am pleased to congratulate Razan and all those who are making a new life in the UK, contributing to and enriching our communities. The vulnerable persons relocation scheme is precisely to provide such assistance and enable people to escape the conflict and settle into the relevant communities, and that is the reason for our measured approach.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Britain has a proud history of providing refuge and asylum, but I share the concerns of a number of hon. Members about how that issue has been confused with a wider debate on immigration, including data collection. I am still unclear—perhaps the Minister can help me—why we have set up a parallel programme to that of the United Nations, and about the criteria used for relocation. For example, will families be relocated close to other Syrians or family members?

James Brokenshire: The scheme operates in close conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. We judged it best to contribute through a complementary scheme, working in partnership with the UNHCR and focusing exclusively on the most vulnerable cases, particularly women and children at risk, those in need of medical assistance, and survivors of torture and violence. As I said, this is the first scheme of its kind in the UK with that direct focus. The UNHCR will make recommendations about those who are appropriate and suitable for the scheme, and through that complementary work we are actively supporting its efforts.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) on securing this urgent question, and the Minister on the excellent way he is responding. I disagree with the Opposition, however, because surely the Prime Minister has shown great leadership not only on Syria but on overseas aid. We are the second highest contributor of aid, but I think we have been concentrating too much on the money. Will the Minister say what that money is doing for people on the ground?

James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend makes a powerful and important point about the way that aid money provides assistance to hundreds of thousands of people. That money means food, water and shelter, and I have already mentioned the books that are being provided and other assistance to ensure that children receive an education despite their displacement from within Syria. The money is providing direct, practical, real-life assistance and we should underline work that has been done to

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ensure that we meet aid commitments, as well as the leadership being shown. As my hon. Friend said, I think the Prime Minister has shown leadership not only in Syria but on many other things as well.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Rochdale has more asylum seekers than the entire south-east of England. Cardiff has 900, Newport 400, but the Minister’s constituency has 33. The Home Secretary’s constituency has one—an increase on last year. Would it be far easier to rescue more people from that hell if the burden that asylum seekers place on local authority services was spread fairly? What will the Minister do to stand tall and proud in his constituency and prepare it to take a fair share of asylum seekers?

James Brokenshire: We work regionally with local authorities and I have had a number of meetings to see how the Home Office can work towards and assist a further spread of those in receipt of asylum across the regions. I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about ensuring that more local authorities receive asylum applicants, and I have been taking forward discussions in a number of areas to ensure that new local authorities, and others in the region, play their part in providing asylum support.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): A substantial number of my constituents have recently contacted me about this issue because they care and see its importance. They thought that the debate earlier this year about whether we should resettle people or act in the area had been resolved when the Home Secretary said that we would seek to take in several hundreds of refugees under this scheme over three years. Currently, however, the numbers involved are tiny, and I have heard nothing from the Minister about why those numbers are so small or what plans he has to honour that commitment to take in several hundreds of refugees?

James Brokenshire: I recognise the care and concern over this situation felt by many people across the country, and that is testament to the nature of this country and the values we hold. The Government were clear that the scheme would provide assistance to several hundred people over three years, as the hon. Lady rightly highlighted, and we are doing that. We remain firmly on course to seek to meet that objective and aim, and we will provide quarterly updates on our progress. We have provided the figures to September and further updates will follow. She will see that we are meeting our commitments and providing the help that is needed.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Along with the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) and the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), I

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visited Jordan recently and saw for myself the tremendous work that has been done using British aid funds to feed and shelter massive numbers of refugees. We also visited a British Syrian charity to see its work in looking after women and children, and particularly the rehabilitation needs of those who directly and abruptly became victims of the conflict in Syria. Many of those people would be appropriate and suitable for the vulnerable persons scheme, and I plead with the Minister to look carefully at the need in countries such as Jordan because the numbers are huge.

James Brokenshire: The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the scale and impact of what is happening in that region, and that is why we remain in close contact with the Government of Jordan and are providing assistance. He is right to say that those who have been traumatised may be appropriate for the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, and we are working with the UNHCR to ensure that those who come to the UK have their needs identified. We work closely with them so that once they arrive they can receive direct medical or other assistance from the word go. That is why the scheme is—rightly, I think—being undertaken in that way, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting his direct experience.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister said earlier that the withdrawal of the wider search and rescue scheme in the Mediterranean had not led to more people drowning. He cannot possibly know that, however, because the new Operation Triton only operates close to the Italian coast. Given evidence that people are still dying in their hundreds and thousands in the Mediterranean, and that the Italian navy is putting about one third of its boats at the service of the new rescue operation, should the UK and the rest of the EU be thinking about a wider search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean? How many people is the UK assisting Italy with in Operation Triton?

James Brokenshire: The decision taken on Mare Nostrum was endorsed by all EU member states because it was felt that the programme was leading to more people putting themselves at risk, and—sadly—more people dying. More than 3,000 people have died crossing the Mediterranean already this year compared with 700 in the previous year. The UK is not part of Frontex, which is the EU body that leads the current work on a pan-EU basis, but we are nevertheless providing two debriefers and a nationality expert to support the operation, and considering what other resources we can provide. On search and rescue, if a vessel is in distress, another vessel in the vicinity will clearly seek to come to its aid. Indeed, as I have already highlighted, a Royal Navy commanded vessel did precisely that in recent weeks.

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Preparing Young People for Work

1.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the next phase of our plan for education—preparing young people for the world of work.

Ensuring that young people leave school or college prepared for life in modern Britain is a central tenet of the Government’s plan for education, and a vital part of our long-term economic plan for Britain. It is the students of today who will be the work force of tomorrow and on whom the future success of our economy—and everything that flows from that—will depend. That is why our plan will ensure that every young person learns the knowledge, skills and values they need to be able to leave school or college ready to fulfil their potential and succeed in life.

The Government have done a huge amount to raise standards in our schools. We now have a million more pupils in good and outstanding schools—more than ever before; 100,000 more six-year-olds are now on track to become confident readers because of our focus on phonics; the number of pupils taking core academic GCSEs is up by 60% since 2009-10 thanks to the EBacc; and, critically, we now have the most highly qualified teaching profession ever, with more graduates from top universities choosing teaching than ever before.

While helping every child to master the basics is vital, I am clear that it is only the start. Schools and colleges have a broader role to play in preparing young people for adult life. That is why I recently allocated £5 million of funding to support new, innovative projects that build character, resilience and grit—because as much as I want the next generation to be able to solve a quadratic equation, I also want them to be able to make a compelling pitch for a job, and to be able to bounce back if things do not work out. It is also why today I am setting out an ambitious new approach to the way we open young people’s eyes to the world of work.

It is widely acknowledged that careers provision in schools has long been inadequate. To date, we have encouraged schools and colleges to take the lead. We have placed a clear duty on them to provide students with access to impartial advice and guidance. But, though we published an inspiration vision statement in September 2013 and strengthened the statutory guidance to support schools and colleges in making this vision a reality, it is clear that many schools and colleges need additional support if we are to ensure every young person—regardless of background or location—receives the life-changing advice and inspiration that they need to fulfil their potential and succeed in life. That is a view supported by a number of respected contributors in this area, including OFSTED, the National Careers Council, the Sutton Trust, the Gatsby Foundation and the Education Committee, as well as many employers, sector experts, and schools and colleges themselves.

Some schools and colleges are doing great things to ensure that their students access the necessary support, but too often provision is patchy. Already busy schools and teachers do not always have the time to give this the focus they should. Meanwhile, many organisations—including employers—offer excellent programmes for

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young people. The challenge before us is how to ensure that every young person in every part of the country is given access to them.

I have consistently heard calls from both employers and schools and colleges to help them navigate this complex landscape and to spread the good practice that is happening in some parts of the country to all. Today I am answering those calls. I am pleased to tell the House that Christine Hodgson, chair of Capgemini UK and someone with a strong track record of developing young talent, will chair a new careers and enterprise company for schools. This will transform the provision of careers education and advice for young people and inspire them to take control of and shape their own futures.

The company will support much greater engagement between employers on one hand and schools and colleges on the other. It will ensure that young people get the inspiration and guidance they need to leave school or college ready to succeed in working life. It will be employer led, but will work closely with the education and careers sectors. It will also act as an umbrella organisation to help employers, schools and colleges and other organisations navigate their way through the existing landscape. It will provide a vehicle to help other organisations co-ordinate their activities where appropriate.

The company will not itself be a direct delivery organisation, or act in competition with the many existing providers in the market. Instead, it will help schools, colleges, organisations and employers work together in partnership. The company will focus on the offer to young people, initially those aged 12 to 18. It will work closely with the National Careers Service, which will continue to support adults and young people and help the company to bring employers, schools and colleges together.

It will be for the new company’s board to set its own strategy but we envisage that it will do a number of things. It will use relationships with employers—private, public and third sector—to break down barriers between schools and colleges on the one hand and employers on the other, and increase the level of employer input into careers, inspiration and enterprise in all schools and colleges. It will do that partly through a network of advisers who will broker strong and extensive links at local level. It will assist schools and colleges in choosing effective careers and enterprise organisations to partner with, including considering the use of quality marks. It will stimulate more and better activity in areas where the current provision is poorest. Last but not least, it will develop an enterprise passport to incentivise young people to participate in a wide range of extra-curricular activities that boost their appeal to employers, as well as their enterprise skills.

The network of advisers and the enterprise passport are ideas championed most effectively by my noble Friend Lord Young, to whom I should like to pay generous tribute for his invaluable work in this area. His report, “Enterprise for All”, has informed our thinking about the way forward. I am also grateful for the support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and his officials in ensuring that our work reflects the needs of employers and business and for providing £1.4 million this year to ensure that the company makes a strong start. It is also important to say that this announcement builds on the

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work already under way in this area, such as the common online application portal being developed by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister responsible for business and skills.

The Government will support the new company with start-up funding in 2015-16, the cost of which will be met from the £20 million announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in last week’s autumn statement. Some £5 million of this will constitute an investment fund to support innovation and stimulate good practice across the country. In the longer term, the company will sustain itself.

I am confident that the plan I have announced today will build on the excellent work that is already going on in some parts of the country, but will ensure it is replicated in every part of the country. It will herald a step change in the quality of careers inspiration, advice and guidance provided to all young people, paying no regard to ability, interest or background, and it will help to realise our ambition of ensuring that every child leaves school or college prepared for life in modern Britain. We know that the ultimate success of our long-term economic plan for this country rests on the shoulders of the next generation, and we are backing them every step of the way. I commend the statement to the House.

1.37 pm

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of this statement—on page six of The Sun. As we approach the 750th anniversary of the de Montfort Parliament, I would have expected a little more respect for this institution. Parliamentary democracy is, after all, a British value.

Education is the handmaiden of a competitive economy, but the Government’s education policy has systematically undermined young people’s preparation for the world of work. Secondary work experience placements have been scrapped; practical assessments have been removed; young apprenticeships have been devalued; and a teacher supply crisis looms in the STEM subjects so critical for this country’s future prospects. But it is the dismantling of careers advice that stands among the Government’s greatest crimes.

As the CBI has said, our careers advice system is “in severe crisis”. The Chairman of the Education Committee, who is not in his place, has said that the state of the careers service

“should shame the Department for Education”.

Sir Michael Wilshaw pointed out on the radio this morning that

“careers education is particularly bad”.

Famously, prisoners get more careers advice than school pupils under this Government.

The Opposition take these warnings seriously. That is why we want to see work experience guaranteed for every secondary school pupil; a governor responsible for enterprise and careers education on every governing body; new destination measures, so that all schools track pupils into work, apprenticeships and higher education; more support for innovative careers education charities such as Future First, which is doing such a

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tremendous job to spread alumni network opportunities to disadvantaged schools; and a vocational education system that spreads opportunity and excellence to those young people who want to pursue high quality apprenticeships.

Today’s announcement is perfectly welcome as far as it goes, but, to be frank, even for this Government it is pretty undercooked. What was the bidding process for the new company receiving £1.6 million of taxpayers’ money? What will the company actually do? What are its costs? What is its strategy? How will it stimulate “more and better activity”? What will its relationships with employers be? This is a piecemeal, scattergun approach. Astonishingly—it is very good see the Business Secretary in his place—the statement does not even mention local enterprise partnerships. If we are to have joined-up government on careers advice, I would have thought that at least the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills could talk to each other.

In short, like the Secretary of State’s tenure in office, today’s announcement signally fails to rise to the challenge. The Secretary of State could have said something strategic about the competitiveness challenge we face. She could have highlighted Lord Adonis’s scheme for directors of enterprise, the CBI’s local brokers model or the Gatsby Foundation’s 10 benchmarks. Instead, she has retreated to the Tory comfort zone of Lord Young, whom we on the Opposition Benches remember for putting a lot of young people out of work. In a week when Britain faces a skills crisis and has had to import brickies from Poland, when the chief inspector of schools has highlighted the failure of Government policy in raising standards in secondary education, and when a leading head teacher has said the Secretary of State is “just not up to the job”, this country deserves better than this poorly thought through end-of-term initiative.

Nicky Morgan: I think that among all the rhetoric and playing to his own gallery the shadow Secretary of State actually welcomed the announcement. He represents the Labour party. As one of his colleagues said, the clue is in the title: it is all about representing working people. That is what we on the Government Benches are doing.

If the shadow Secretary of State wants to see a failure to prepare young people for the life of work, he ought to be thinking about the fact that under the previous Labour Government one in three of our young people were leaving primary school unable to read and write. That is a shocking statistic.

We have the lowest number of NEETs since records began. Yesterday saw the announcement of the 2 millionth apprentice. Those of us on the Government Benches want to go further. The Chancellor, in the autumn statement last week, confirmed his support for the employment of younger people through continued national insurance tax breaks. The shadow Secretary of State called for destination measures. He must have missed the announcement, because we have done that and we are going to enhance them. He called for support for careers organisations. That has been done and that is exactly what this organisation will do. The company will be an employer-led company. There will be an advisory board. The Government are backing and setting up the company, which has been called for by business organisations for many, many years. Some £20 million

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is being put behind this company and we will of course let the House know how that money is spent. I mentioned the £5 million investment fund. The company will of course work with the local enterprise partnerships, which are critical to supplying both investment in skills and local labour market information.

The shadow Secretary of State could have said something about his plan for education, but as always he retreated to his comfort zone. As always, he talked about some of the problems he saw, but said nothing positive about the hard-working teachers and school leaders up and down the country who have willingly taken this on and know best what is right for their students and the inspiration for their future. Today’s announcement is about making sure that schools broker good and deep relationships with employers and businesses, and that young people are inspired by all the options open to them in the future. All the shadow Secretary of State’s response showed was the continuing failure of the Opposition’s education policy, and the fact that he and the Labour party have no plan for young people.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Will the Secretary of State ensure that help from employers will grow, including in particular from the overwhelming number of tiny employers on the island?

Nicky Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is absolutely right. One of the issues for smaller businesses is that it is difficult to build links with schools—it is often difficult to know who to contact. As I said in my statement, when schools are busy it is difficult for them to know which businesses they should be contacting. The company we are setting up today will have advisers in all parts of the country to broker those links and to ensure that our young people find out about all careers, whether they are in big or small companies or in the public sector, and apprenticeships and going on to further study.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): When I heard there would be a statement from the Secretary of State for Education today I thought it might be about the warnings from Ofsted about low standards in secondary schools. I thought it might even have been about the tender opportunity that has appeared on the Department for Education website for the privatisation of children’s social care. I was therefore very surprised at the actual choice. As the statement was on preparing young people for the world of work, may I tell the Secretary of State what the witnesses to this morning’s Select Committee on Education had to say about 16-to-19 apprenticeships? They all agree that her proposals for apprenticeships are nothing short of a train wreck. I urge her to listen to their calls for greater quality apprenticeships that are matched to each individual, and to have a complete rethink to get rid of the increase in bureaucracy that she is proposing.

Nicky Morgan: First, the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of the proposals for children’s social care services is absolutely wrong. We have absolutely and categorically ruled out any form of privatisation in relation to those services. I have no idea where he has got that from. All we hear from the Opposition Benches is more negativity about the proposals to inspire our young people about all the options open to them. He mentioned apprenticeships.

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He ought to reflect on the fact that we have seen more great apprenticeships right across the country. Already this week, we have celebrated the 2 millionth apprentice and she is to be congratulated on signing up to it.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): I warmly welcome the statement. For so long, businesses have been calling for an antidote to the painfully inadequate careers advice, supervised by the previous Labour Government, that spectacularly failed to prepare young people for the world of work. Will the Secretary of State confirm how the proposals will counter the lack of awareness of the value of apprenticeships and solid vocational routes?

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Schools already have a duty to ensure that young people are advised independently on all the options open to them. There is no doubt that one of the things we hear when we go around the country is the positive nature of apprenticeships, but often young people find out about them through a roundabout route. The company will be working with organisations such as the National Apprenticeship Service, but one of the most powerful things is for employers to go into schools and speak about the opportunities available to them. I was at Crossrail yesterday talking to one of the apprentices. We hope very much that he, and other apprentices, will go back into schools to talk about their experiences in the world of work.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I am the daughter of a skilled manual worker and I went to an ordinary comprehensive school. When I was growing up I simply did not understand what jobs existed or how one might progress from entry-level jobs to top positions. What makes the Secretary of State so confident that her announcement today will change that, because it is still a problem for many young people?

Nicky Morgan: I thank the hon. Lady for that question, and I agree with her that that is one of the issues. The whole point about the body is that it will be employer led. I mean “employer” in the widest sense of the word. It may very well be that young people have never thought about setting up their own company, or that they are not aware of the opportunities available to them in the third sector, the public sector or the private sector. The body is needed to inspire young people, and to tell them about all the options open to them, the fact that often they may go from one career to another and the impact of the subject choices they make at school. I want young people to be advised early on, when they are making GCSE choices and before they get any further, on their subject choices and on the amazing careers that are open to them. We saw this week the publication of a report that mentions 40 jobs that were not available even a few years ago. The jobs landscape is changing all the time.

Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): I welcome the new careers company, which I hope will help schools to promote opportunities for young people. Thousands of my constituents have jobs in the public sector. Will the Secretary of State inform the House how public sector employers will be involved in the careers and enterprise company and its advisory board?

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Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We want to ensure that the widest possible options and inspiration are available to all our young people, and we intend that various large public sector organisations will have a role on the advisory board—for example, the NHS, which employs 5 million people, and the armed forces, which are a huge source of career opportunities for our young people.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Given the skills shortage highlighted this year, there is clearly a need for an organisation to enhance careers education in schools. What does the Secretary of State mean when she says that in the longer term she envisages this company sustaining itself? Does that mean a charge to the schools, to the employers or to both?

Nicky Morgan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the creation of this company. I intend that in the longer term employers will see the value of the company and therefore will invest in it.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I agreed with the Secretary of State when she said: “as much as I want the next generation to be able to solve a quadratic equation, I also want them to be able to make a compelling pitch for a job”.

If we are going to win the global race for excellence, we need top-flight scientists and mathematicians, and a disproportionate number of them are provided by our remaining 160 grammar schools, yet under this Government funding for grammar schools has been cut, meaning that the top-performing grammar school in Lincolnshire gets £4,000 per pupil per year and the worst-performing comprehensive gets £7,000 per head per year. We must do more to help our excellent schools provide the top-class mathematicians of the future.

Nicky Morgan: I am not sure I agree with the entirety of my hon. Friend’s question, but I agreed with his final point: we must ensure that all our schools are good or outstanding local schools and are encouraging our young people to consider studying science and maths for longer. As we have seen, it makes a difference to young people’s earnings. The best way to improve social mobility is for all our schools to be good or outstanding, and, since 2010, 1 million more pupils are in good or outstanding schools.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State wants people to be positive, and I want to be positive, about this initiative. She will know that I co-chair the Skills Commission, which reported last week on the relevant skills for the changing nature of work. I hope she had a chance to look at the report. If we are to be positive, we have to start with a partnership, but over the past four and a half years, she and the Government have destroyed the old fabric of careers advice in our schools. That has to be rebuilt. I have nothing against the new company, but I would like to know more about it: is it third sector, a company limited by guarantee, a private company? Whatever it is, all of us who care about the future of our young people want it to succeed. We will work with her, but only on the realistic basis of what we need into the 21st century.