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House of Commons

Monday 4 March 2013

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

School Information

1. Mr Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): What recent steps he has taken to increase the amount of information about schools available to parents and the public. [145452]

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): School performance tables now include four times as much data as those published before May 2010. In addition, since September 2012, schools are required to publish information on their websites on the use and impact of the pupil premium, their curriculum, their admission arrangements and their policies on behaviour, charging and special educational needs.

Mr Gibb: My right hon. Friend will know that the new school information regulations came into force on 1 September last year. Among other things, they require schools to publish details of the curriculum for every subject in each year. Looking at a sample of schools’ websites, I do not yet see widespread compliance with this regulation. Given the importance of this information to parents and of parental choice in driving up standards, will he take steps to publicise the new requirement and take measures to ensure compliance?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of ensuring that parents are well informed about schools and the curriculum they offer. The Department sends out termly e-mails reminding schools of their obligations under legislation, and most recently Her Majesty’s chief inspector has written to all schools reminding them of the requirement to publish information and pointing out that inspectors will use the publication of this information as a starting point when considering inspection of provision in the school.

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Last week, the Secretary of State said of the schools in east Durham:

“When you go into those schools, you can smell the sense of defeatism.”

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Will he tell the House which of those schools in east Durham he has actually visited since he became Secretary of State, and will he apologise to the people of east Durham for his outrageous remarks?

Michael Gove: I absolutely will not apologise to the people of east Durham for standing up for better education for their children. Perhaps the most telling remarks about the lack of ambition in schools in east Durham were uttered by Lord Adonis. Having visited a school there, he said that a teacher had told him, “In the past children turned right to work in the shipyards or left to work in the coal mines. Now they might as well walk on into the sea.” That spirit of defeatism reported by the noble Lord is exactly what we need to attack. Instead of attacking the Government, the hon. Gentleman would be better off tackling underperformance in his own constituency.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I welcome the publication of the dashboards launched by Ofsted last week and recommend them to the public, parents and governors. Will the Secretary of State go further, though, and explain how we can reconcile some of the Ofsted judgments with the attainment and other progress reports?

Michael Gove: The chief inspector is absolutely right to publish these dashboards, but they are only the beginning of how governors and others can hold schools to account for their performance. For example, if we look at the performance of schools under the English baccalaureate measure, we see that there are many schools across the country whose superficial headline GCSE figures flatter to deceive.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): A number of parents have approached me with concerns about children who are particularly high achievers, whom they feel are sometimes not given the support they require in the classroom. Will the Secretary of State outline how he will ensure that schools provide more information to those parents in order to encourage people to achieve more broadly and ensure that high achievers with particular talents can flourish in our schools?

Michael Gove: That is a very good question. We have introduced new papers in primary schools allowing children at the end of key stage 2—the end of their primary curriculum—to aspire to do even better by reaching a level 6, which is a higher level of achievement than was previously available to them, while the changes we hope to make to GCSEs will, I hope, drive a higher level of attainment as well. Furthermore, we have said to all state schools that they have an opportunity to visit for free a Russell group university on behalf of their students in order to aspire to do better. There is much more that we can do, however, and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman to do it.

Schools: Curriculum

2. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What steps he is taking to ensure that schools are able to shape the curriculum to their own pupils’ aspirations and priorities. [145453]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education recently announced our proposals to reform the new national curriculum. In addition to being more rigorous in the core subjects, the new national curriculum will also be much slimmer, meaning that schools will have greater freedom to design lessons that inspire and motivate all their pupils.

Stephen Metcalfe: Will the Minister join me in encouraging schools to deliver a curriculum that not only meets the aspirations and priorities of pupils but reflects the needs of local employers—core skills such as maths and English as well as vigorous vocational qualifications in engineering, computer science and technology?

Elizabeth Truss: There is much more scope in the new national curriculum for schools to develop programmes involving design, technology and computing to prepare students for high-tech roles, as well as improving their maths and English core skills. The computing curriculum now focuses on programming and understanding how computers work, and has been developed with the British Computer Society. We are also introducing a new technical baccalaureate that will provide a high level of technical training, including maths for students up to the age of 18.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Flexibility for schools is welcome, but what is the minimum time parents should expect their children to spend on sport and physical activity under the new national curriculum?

Elizabeth Truss: We are ensuring that physical education is a core part of the curriculum for children aged up to 16, and we have introduced new topics to the subject.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I am worried about the curriculum for children who are currently being flexi-schooled. The Government recently announced—without consultation and without notice—the abolition of flexi-schooling, which has existed for decades and which meets the needs of many children. How will the Minister ensure that the needs of those children are met in the immediate future?

Elizabeth Truss: We will ensure that our attendance procedures are absolutely correct, so that we know whether students are at school or not. If they are being home-schooled, that is a decision for their parents; if they are at school, they must be properly at school, and their attendance records must be properly monitored.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): May I take this opportunity, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, to wish Her Majesty a speedy recovery?

The Minister is actually making the curriculum less flexible. For instance, she is insisting that primary school children will have to study Dafydd ap Gruffydd. Can she tell us about Dafydd ap Gruffydd, and can she spell Dafydd ap Gruffydd?

Elizabeth Truss: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, in that we are ensuring that students gain a good chronological understanding of history throughout their school career. During my own school career, I spent one

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lesson studying Sir Francis Drake and the next talking about the princes in the tower. I would certainly have preferred a school career that enabled me to learn about chronology and understand our island story.

Adopted Children

3. Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): What steps he is taking to improve outcomes for adopted children in (a) Enfield North constituency, (b) London and (c) England. [145454]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): Adoptive families can struggle to get the help that they need, and I am determined to change that. We have already announced measures that give adopted children rights to priority schools admission and free early education, and we are introducing an “adoption passport” so that adoptive families know about their entitlements. Further measures in the Children and Families Bill are aimed at tackling delay and improving outcomes for adopted children, including children in Enfield North.

Nick de Bois: Is the Minister aware that the children of adoptive adults who have died without locating their biological families are often left in a quandary, as they are unable to gain access to vital information about their parents’ families, including information about hereditary medical conditions? What steps will he take to rectify that? Will he agree to meet me to discuss this important matter, in which the British Association for Adoption and Fostering is taking an interest?

Mr Timpson: My hon. Friend is right to raise what is indeed an extremely serious and important matter. We must think carefully about the information that adopted people have to find out about their parents’ families, particularly when there may be hereditary medical problems. I know that the matter was referred to the Law Commission in 2010, but we must do more work to establish how we can ensure that more information can be provided when it is needed. I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend and discuss the matter in more detail.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Given that adoption is sadly never likely to be the solution for all looked-after children, may I ask the Minister what measures he is introducing to ensure that children in foster care or residential care homes also manage to bridge the attainment gap?

Mr Timpson: The hon. Gentleman is right: we need to consider all routes of permanency for children who go into the care system. There is no inbuilt hierarchy, although we know that adoption is a very successful route for many—we think more—children. Through the Children and Families Bill, we are trying to improve the educational attainment of children in care by introducing a statutory duty for local authorities to appoint a virtual school head, whose remit is specifically to try to improve the educational attainment of children in the care of local authorities so that the outcomes are better and they have the prospect of a fulfilling adult life.

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Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Having visited on Friday a remarkable lady who both is an adoptive mother and advises Kent county council’s adoption panel, may I say that the measures the Minister has announced over the past year are extremely welcome but that the overriding need is to speed up the court processes, which are still much to slow?

Mr Timpson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why, under the Children and Families Bill and the work we are doing with the Family Justice Board, we are trying to drive every element of unnecessary delay out of the court process and are bringing in a 52-week maximum limit on the time a care case should take to ensure that, where there is an opportunity for a child’s adoption placement to be made permanent, that happens sooner rather than later and they can get on with their life and form those all-important attachments with their new family.

School Funding Formulae

4. Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): What steps he is taking to ensure that the funding formula for school sixth forms and sixth-form colleges is fair and equitable. [145455]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills (Matthew Hancock): In 2010 we committed to ending the historical disparity in post-16 funding so that by 2015 schools and colleges will be funded at the same level as one another for the first time, on a per-pupil basis. Transitional protection will apply for four years from 2011 to give institutions time to adjust.

Lorely Burt: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and to the Secretary of State for his correspondence. In Solihull and elsewhere, differences in funding for sixth-form colleges and state schools are putting sixth-form colleges under great competitive pressure. Will the Minister assure Solihull sixth-form college, and all sixth-form colleges, that he will introduce remedies as quickly as possible?

Matthew Hancock: I am a strong supporter of sixth-form colleges, which do excellent work, including Solihull sixth-form college. I congratulate the newly formed all-party parliamentary group on sixth-form colleges. I regularly meet the ministerial working group on post-16 funding to discuss the implementation of the fair per-pupil funding system, and I will bear my hon. Friend’s comments in mind.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I thank the Minister for attending the all-party group’s reception last week. I think that he recognised at the meeting that sixth-form colleges, in particular, face a challenging funding situation because their learners are funded significantly less than those pre-16 or in higher education. Will he commit to addressing that issue as soon as possible?

Matthew Hancock: Of course funding is tight, and it is important that we get it to the right place. The starting point is ensuring that, as far as possible, students doing the same sorts of courses are funded the same across different institutions and that, just as we do

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before the age of 16, someone in full-time education is funded by broadly the same amount as anyone else in full-time education.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): As a vice-chairman of the newly formed all-party group, and as the Member who represents the finest sixth-form college in the country, Farnborough sixth-form college, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows only too well, I welcome the Government’s commitment to ending the disparity. However, I have just been on the phone to the principal of the college, who tells me that even now it is looking at being between 9% and 15% less well funded than its counterparts in mainstream education. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend expedited his proposed changes.

Matthew Hancock: The changes will be brought in by 2015. We have put in place transitional arrangements to ensure that institutions have time to adjust. Especially in sixth-form colleges such as Farnborough, which has an excellent track record—it is truly inspirational—it is important that we move to per-pupil funding in a considered way.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Sixteen to 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds studying at further education sixth-form colleges do not receive free meals at lunchtime, whereas their counterparts in school sixth forms do. Is not that another injustice that needs to be addressed?

Matthew Hancock: Schools do not receive any extra funding for provision of that duty, so when looking at that question we need to be extremely careful not to add new duties without extra funding to go with it.


5. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of the use of phonics in schools. [145456]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): The phonics screening check confirms whether year 1 pupils can decode using phonics to an appropriate standard. In 2012, the first year of the national roll-out, 58% of children met the expected standard. We have commissioned an independent evaluation of the check over a period of three years, which will examine the impact of the check on phonics teaching.

John Pugh: I thank the Minister for that response, but many experienced, skilled and successful teachers of reading are a bit concerned about an over-reliance on phonics. What can she do to persuade them that the Government are not being a little doctrinaire in this area?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. A large body of research evidence shows that phonics is the most effective way of teaching literacy to all children. Last year’s phonics check identified 235,000 children who will now receive extra help, which is very important because PIRLS—the progress in international reading literacy study—showed that this country has one of the largest gaps between the strongest and weakest

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performers in reading. It is really important that we identify children who are struggling with reading early, so that they can receive help as soon as possible.

School Exclusions

6. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): What steps he is taking to ensure that no children with disabilities or additional needs are illegally excluded from school. [145457]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): We have issued new statutory guidance setting out schools’ responsibilities on exclusion, making it clear that discrimination against disabled pupils is unlawful and emphasising the importance of stepping in early to address the underlying causes of disruptive behaviour. Early identification and intervention also underpin the Government’s planned reforms to the special educational needs system and a new approach to exclusion that the Government are trialling in a number of local authority areas.

Kerry McCarthy: I thank the Minister for that response, and he will be aware of Contact a Family’s survey of more than 400 families of children with disabilities and additional needs. It found that 22% of these children are illegally excluded at least once a week and 15% are illegally excluded every day for part of the day, with the most common reasons given being that there were not enough support staff to help or that the child had what the teacher described as “a bad day”. There are no sanctions against schools that carry out these exclusions and Ofsted does not take them into account in its reports, so what can be done to ensure that schools abide by the guidelines?

Mr Timpson: I am aware of the Contact a Family report, which was completely right to emphasise that schools should act lawfully and follow the correct procedures. Ofsted has an important role to play in this regard and, with the new criteria on behaviour and leadership, it will look carefully at where illegal exclusions are taking place, will take them seriously and will take them into account when making its overall judgment on a school’s performance. Our trials in 11 local authorities will give a greater incentive for schools to think carefully about what happens after they exclude a pupil and they will have to take greater responsibility.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I am grateful to the Minister for setting out how those trials are proceeding. Has he any information to share with the House on how the new process for dealing with exclusions is following on from the Education Act 2011?

Mr Timpson: My hon. Friend will have heard me refer to the new statutory guidance, which we issued last September, and the new code of practice will strengthen the arrangements for dealing with children with SEN to make sure that there is a clear focus on ensuring that no illegal exclusions take place in future. I am happy to discuss that with him if he wishes to do so.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): What sanctions or actions is the Minister willing to take against schools that are illegally excluding pupils?

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Mr Timpson: I have already set out Ofsted’s role in this area and, clearly, we take any judgment of inadequacy that it makes extremely seriously. As a Minister in the Department, the Secretary of State has powers of intervention that we can use, if necessary, where we feel that a school is failing to provide a fair and adequate level of education; clearly, the factor of illegal exclusions will have to be taken into account.

School Improvements

8. Mrs Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): What plans he has for school improvements; and if he will make a statement. [145459]

The Minister for Schools (Mr David Laws): We are determined to drive up standards in all schools. We are doing that by providing significant additional funding for disadvantaged pupils, through the pupil premium. In addition, Ofsted has implemented a more rigorous inspection framework. For the lowest-performing schools, we will look to secure a sponsored academy solution, with a high-quality sponsor.

Mrs Riordan: Moorside community primary school in Halifax is driving up standards, but it has been waiting for investment in a new school building for far too long. Promises have been made, but there is still no new building. When will the school get that new building, to ensure that another generation of pupils does not miss out?

Mr Laws: The hon. Lady will know that when the Government came to power we inherited from the previous Government a complete mess, through the Building Schools for the Future programme. It was over-extended, inefficient and unaffordable. We have now put in place an affordable school building project that is consistent with the finances this nation can afford.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): One of the best ways of improving schools is by getting former armed forces personnel into teaching roles. What progress are Her Majesty’s Government making in turning troops into teachers?

Mr Laws: My hon. Friend is quite right that we are pioneering that initiative. We believe that many people who were previously in the armed forces can make a major contribution to learning and we will continue to take forward that project.

Traineeships Scheme

9. Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): What assessment he has made of the potential effect of his Department’s traineeships scheme on young people’s readiness for work and apprenticeships. [145460]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills (Matthew Hancock): Last week, data showed the lowest number in a decade of people aged 16 to 19 who were not in employment, education or training. One NEET is too many, so traineeships will help young people gain the skills, attitudes and experience they need to get into an apprenticeship or a good job. They will combine

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substantial work placements and work skills training with English and maths and will help tackle the scourge of youth unemployment.

Rehman Chishti: I thank the Minister for that answer. In Medway, the council-led SUCCES—or sustainable uplifting client centred employment support—initiative, which assists over-16s looking for work who have low skills and little experience, has been named as an example of best practice in Europe, helping more than 500 people. What plans does the Minister have to work with existing schemes and providers to deliver new traineeships?

Matthew Hancock: I congratulate Medway council on its SUCCES initiative. Traineeships are being designed in a highly consultative way to support and enhance existing best practice not only from councils but from organisations such as the Prince’s Trust, which does brilliant work in this area. I am happy to look at the work that goes on in Medway and to ensure that what we do on traineeships supports it.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): How will the Minister ensure that more apprenticeships go to younger people, as we know that the figures from last year showed that 9,000 fewer under-19s had gone into apprenticeships?

Matthew Hancock: Of course, apprenticeships have been a huge success story and the number of 19 to 24-year-olds involved is rising sharply. We must ensure, too, that apprenticeships are rigorous and high quality, so we have taken steps to do that. I hope that the hon. Lady will join me next week, which is apprenticeships week, in celebrating apprenticeships. Every Member of this House has the opportunity to explain to everybody that apprenticeships are good for the apprentices, good for business and good for society as a whole.

23. [145476] Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will my hon. Friend support the roll-out of the scheme initiated by the Department for Work and Pensions, which ensures that companies offering procurement contracts must hire apprentices? Will he ensure that the scheme, which has resulted in thousands more apprentices in the DWP, is rolled out across Government Departments?

Matthew Hancock: I know the scheme well and it is both simple and effective. It also takes value for money into account. I was talking to a permanent secretary about it only this morning and I shall be doing far more of that.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): I welcome investment in pre-apprenticeship training and preparation, but is the Minister not concerned about the accelerating decline in the number of apprenticeships available to 16 to 18-year-olds, which is down 7% from last year’s figure alone, and that the funding providers found a shortfall of £61 million in expenditure on that group last year? It is right and proper to invest in pre-apprenticeship training, but does he not agree that the bigger crisis is in whether those young people will have an apprenticeship to go on to?

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Matthew Hancock: The crisis would be if we did not improve the quality of apprenticeships, because they are vital in getting people into good jobs and ensuring that there is training in jobs. We took out some low-quality provision, which inevitably had an impact on the numbers, but that is a vital part of ensuring that apprentices are seen to be high quality and are regarded as such and that they are an attractive option for young people, adults and employers.

Early Intervention and Child Care

10. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): What plans he has for early intervention and child care provision; and if he will make a statement. [145461]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): The affordability and availability of child care are a concern for many working parents, yet staff wages are often too low to support high-quality provision. “More great childcare” outlined reforms to improve quality and availability. We will introduce rigorous new inspection, new qualifications for early years teachers and new flexibilities to enable providers to deliver what is best for children. Childminder agencies will reverse the decline in the numbers of childminders.

Robert Flello: Stoke-on-Trent has been hit harder than almost any other local authority in the country, including by a massive hit to early intervention funding—despite it being one of the most deprived areas facing the greatest need. If the Minister expects her claim to want to improve the quality of child care to be taken seriously, perhaps she will tell us what arguments she has had with Ministers in her own Department and indeed in the Department for Communities and Local Government to tackle these pernicious cuts?

Elizabeth Truss: Overall, we have increased early intervention funding from £2.2 billion to £2.5 billion. We are also introducing a new scheme for low-income two-year-olds, starting this September and the following September, which will make sure that those two-year-olds access high-quality provision from good and outstanding providers. Let us face the fact, however, that over 13 years of Labour government what we ended up with was the most unaffordable child care in Europe as well as the lowest salaries with staff paid only £6.60 an hour.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): As the Minister said, child care workers in England are paid barely more than the minimum wage. Does she agree that the present rigid staff-child ratios place a cap on wages and therefore on the quality of staff?

Elizabeth Truss: I completely agree with what my hon. Friend has just said. Let us make it clear that we will allow more flexibility in ratios only for high-quality providers where high-quality staff are being hired. The aim, as advocated by the shadow Secretary of State, is to move to systems such as those of Sweden and Denmark, which have high-quality providers, high-quality staff and more flexibility and professional judgment operated at a local level. Everyone, from Andreas Schleicher of the OECD to Sir Michael Wilshaw, backs that plan to raise quality.

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20. [145473] Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): In welcoming the move to a better qualified child care work force, I raise the case of Becky, who has dyslexia and will struggle to achieve the necessary GCSEs for working in child care. Does the Minister accept that for people such as Becky there needs to be a balance between academic and vocational child care qualifications, which means that qualifications should be focused on identifying the people who are best at working with children, not just on those who can pass exams?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but all the international evidence from EPPE— the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education—to the OECD “Starting Strong” survey indicates a strong relationship between the qualifications people have, the quality of the child care provision and the outcomes for the children. I think there should be some flexibility in the system, however, so we can get high-quality people and improve vocational training and apprenticeships. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman respond to the consultation on precisely the point he raised.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Many people, including the shadow Education Secretary, have praised the Scandinavian approach to child care. Will the Minister confirm that in Sweden and Denmark there is no mandatory national child care ratio at all?

Elizabeth Truss: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are no national ratios. Indeed, in parts of Sweden, no ratios at all are set for some nurseries. What the Swedes do is to rely on high-quality professionals exercising their professional judgment in the particular setting. That is the system we want to move to here. It is backed by the OECD and by Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted, so I suggest the Opposition back it as well.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I am sorry to say that I truly believe that the Minister and the Secretary of State sat before us today are the most out of touch in the whole of Whitehall—apart from those in Downing street, that is. They pursue policies such as increasing child care ratios that generate almost unanimous opposition from across the country, to which they refuse to listen while systematically undermining popular services such as Sure Start by slashing the budget by almost half. When will they start listening to the people whom they are supposed to serve and put the best interests of children and families—rather than dogma and pet policies—at the forefront of their policy?

Elizabeth Truss: I have already pointed out that there is strong evidence for our reforms, and I point out to the hon. Lady that fewer than 1% of Sure Start centres have closed. They provide about 4% of full-time child care places. I would be interested to hear what the hon. Lady’s policies are for the other 96% of child care places and how she plans to make them more affordable. Under her watch, fewer women or mothers went out to work, and we were overtaken by countries such as France and Germany. What is her solution to that?

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Careers Advice

11. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What steps he is taking to ensure that careers advice is available to pupils choosing AS levels. [145462]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills (Matthew Hancock): Schools have a legal responsibility to secure independent and impartial careers guidance in years 9 to 11, and in years 8 to 13 from this September. This requirement will be extended to those up to the age of 18 in colleges. This will help those taking AS-levels to make successful transitions.

Andrew Selous: My very excellent Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) has quite properly highlighted the scandal that this country produces only 19,000 graduate engineers a year when we need 41,000 graduate engineers. Unless children take maths and ideally physics at AS-level we are not going to bridge that gap, so will the Minister make it clear to schools that when children make these vital choices, they are told that graduate engineers are being snapped up, the country needs them, and a graduate engineer creates 12 extra jobs in the economy?

Matthew Hancock: I can think of few better people to make that argument than my hon. Friend or my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), with whom I am meeting Professor Perkins, the chief scientific adviser, later today. This is a huge and important area. The lack of engineering skills in this economy is a serious problem, the product in part of 13 years of failure to address the problem. We are working four-square towards that, and we will not rest until it is sorted out.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): Is not the problem with that answer that the Government are proposing to downgrade AS-levels? Good advice is vital if we are to widen participation in higher education. Cambridge university’s response to the Government’s proposals on AS-levels is that they are

“unnecessary and, if implemented, will jeopardise over a decade’s progress towards fairer access.”

Will the Government think again?

Matthew Hancock: We are upgrading AS-levels to ensure that we get the best possible and most rigorous education. The Opposition say they are in favour of rigorous education, then they oppose every measure meant to achieve it.

Stephen Twigg: We absolutely oppose what the Government are proposing on AS-levels, as do the vast majority of people in the education system, including Cambridge university and the other Russell group universities. Which universities support the Government’s proposals on AS-levels?

Matthew Hancock: Seventy-five per cent. of universities do not use AS-levels. What is crucial, therefore, is not only that we work with universities to reform A-levels, but most importantly that we have broadly a rigorous exam system that universities and employers trust. Not only do we in this country have youth unemployment that has been rising since 2004 and became much too

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high, but worse than that, we have skills shortages at the same time. That means that we need to reform radically the education and skills system that we were left.


12. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): How many schools have become academies since May 2010. [145464]

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): Since May 2010, 2,470 new academies have opened.

Andrew Stephenson: My right hon. Friend will be aware that one of those schools is Colne Primet high school in my constituency, which converted to academy status as part of a multi-academy trust, the Pendle education trust, on 1 January this year. It has recently submitted an excellent bid for capital funding through the Education Funding Agency to carry out much-needed improvements to its school building. Will my right hon. Friend let me know how I can draw this excellent bid to his attention and that of the rest of the team?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend has just done so, with characteristic acuity and passion.

Secondary School Curriculum

14. Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): What his policy is on the secondary school curriculum. [145466]

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): We recently published a number of proposals for the reform of the national curriculum in primary and secondary schools and those proposals are now subject to public consultation.

Helen Goodman: We know from industry that computing science is extremely important, and particularly coding skills. However, two thirds of schoolteachers do not have the relevant skills to teach coding. What does the Secretary of State intend to do about that?

Michael Gove: That is a very good question from the hon. Lady. One of the things that we have done is disapply the existing information and communications technology curriculum that we inherited from the previous Government, which was not appropriate, was out of date and ensured that students did not acquire the skills they need. We now have a new curriculum and we are working with industry, including Microsoft, in order to ensure that that new curriculum teaches children the coding skills required. I had the opportunity on Friday to see a school in my own constituency doing just that.

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on financial education for young people, I welcome the proposed inclusion of financial education in the maths and citizenship curricula. What more needs to be done during the consultation period to make sure that we deliver on our duty to equip the next generation of consumers to make informed and savvy financial decisions?

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Michael Gove: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the tenacity and skill with which he has fought his campaign. It is important that all of us recognise that we need to equip children with both the mathematical skills and the strength of character to be able to navigate choppy financial waters.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to include financial education, but what about relationship and sex education? Should they not be part of personal, social, health and economic education, as a statutory part of the curriculum, especially in light of the allegations around Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith, to ensure that young people know how to deal with sexual predators?

Michael Gove: Sex education is a statutory part of the national curriculum. The broader point about the nature of sexual exploitation is most effectively dealt with by ensuring that we can prosecute those people who are responsible for despicable crimes.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware of “Informed Choices”, which was published by the Russell group of universities and deals with subject selection at GCSE and A-level. Does he agree that all young people, not just those designated as gifted and talented, should be made aware of the implications of subject choices at GCSE so as to maximise their opportunity to attend such universities?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a characteristically good point. It is absolutely right that we do not prematurely curtail young people’s freedom of choice. In order to do that, we need to make it clear to them which subjects give them the widest choice later in life, and those are English, mathematics, the sciences, a modern or ancient foreign language, history and geography.

Special Educational Needs

16. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What steps he plans to take to ensure that children with special educational needs receive a joined-up service across agencies. [145468]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): Children and young people’s needs will drive local commissioning arrangements to deliver joined-up services. The Children and Families Bill will require local authorities and clinical commissioning groups to commission jointly the education, health and care provision needed for children with SEN.

John Howell: What action is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that one of those agencies, the health service, can contribute fully to the provision of services for children and young people with special educational needs?

Mr Timpson: My hon. Friend highlights an important aspect of the reforms in which many parents are eager to see significant progress. Over and above the new joint commissioning and duty to co-operate, there will be clear and binding duties on clinical commissioning groups to ensure that services meet the reasonable requirements of people for whom they are responsible. The NHS

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mandate specifically references children with SEN, and we continue to have discussions with the Department of Health. I hope to make further progress in this area.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): The Minister is aware of my concern about the gap between the ages of 16 and 18 where children with learning difficulties and special educational needs find that they have only three days a week rather than five. Is there any chance that the new regulations will lay down that such hours will be delivered over at least four days a week?

Mr Timpson: My hon. Friend has studiously raised this matter on every occasion that we have debated special educational needs in the House during the last four or five months, and I am acutely aware of the issue that he raises, which is relevant to his constituency. He had the opportunity to meet my officials in order to understand better how our reforms will affect the issue that he raises, and I am happy further to discuss that with him as the Bill now moves into Committee. Our overall objective is to improve outcomes for all children with special educational needs, and clearly making sure that they have quality support and provision is at the heart of those reforms.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. Having myself known the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) for three decades this year, I can testify that he is indeed a persistent woodpecker.

Priority School Building Programme

17. Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): What recent progress he has made on the Priority School Building programme. [145470]

The Minister for Schools (Mr David Laws): We are taking forward the delivery of schools being funded using capital grant. We have appointed contractors to build the first two groups of schools, and construction work is expected to start in May. We are also working with the schools that we believe will form the first three privately financed groups of schools.

Bridget Phillipson: The Minister is aware of the case of Hetton school in my constituency; it has been affected by delays to the PFI element of the programme. Parts of the school have been closed due to asbestos, there are falling drainpipes and the heating system is failing. Will the Minister resolve the funding issues as a matter of urgency? The situation facing teachers and pupils simply cannot be allowed to continue.

Mr Laws: I am aware of the hon. Lady’s interest in this issue; she has written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about it on a couple of occasions. From the letter that she has already received back, she will be aware of some of the issues arising in getting the batch ready for private finance. I have seen the most recent letter that she sent to the Secretary of State and I would be happy to meet her to discuss the practicalities of these issues further.

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Munro Review

18. Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): What progress he has made on implementation of the recommendations of the Munro review of social work. [145471]

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): We are making a number of changes to the child protection system. “Working Together to Safeguard Children”, the guidance that provides support and advice to those who look after children potentially subject to abuse, risk or neglect, will be republished shortly in a tighter and more focused way.

Meg Munn: We are two years on from the original work, whose aim was to reduce the amount of bureaucracy and the time that social workers were spending on form filling. Many social workers are reporting that the situation has not changed at all and that they are still in a system that does not give them sufficient time to work directly with children. Where have things gone wrong and what is the Secretary of State going to do about it?

Michael Gove: The hon. Lady is right to emphasise how difficult life is for many social workers at the front line. Part of the problem rests with the complicated process that we inherited, which the revision of “Working Together” attempts to address. The space or gap between the initial and subsequent assessments that children at risk of abuse or neglect have to face is one of the changes addressed through the Munro recommendations. However, we also need to change how local safeguarding children boards operate and to make sure that the capacity of the social work profession to cope with the challenges thrown at it is greater. That is being addressed through the College of Social Work and the additional support that we hope to give through the launch of the Frontline programme.

Topical Questions

T2. [145478] Fiona Mactaggart: If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): On Friday, I was absolutely delighted to publish details of the allocation of money that we are giving to local authorities to help them meet the need for additional pupil places, including in local authority areas such as Slough.

Fiona Mactaggart: I am glad of the money for extra places, because we need them.

I want to ask the Secretary of State about his permanent secretary’s response at a Public Accounts Committee hearing last week. The permanent secretary said that everything that the Department for Education does is early intervention. Yet the National Audit Office report reveals that 40% of newly sentenced prisoners had been permanently excluded from school. What is the Department doing to prevent the failure in attainment among those 40%?

Michael Gove: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that there is an iron-clad link between under-achievement at school and the likelihood of someone’s becoming known to the criminal justice system.

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The most important thing that we can do is address the particular problem that so many young men have in learning to read properly and in acquiring the qualifications that will give them good jobs. The changes we are making to the national curriculum, to Ofsted and in particular to how literacy is assessed at the end of primary school and through GCSE are all intended to ensure that young men do not continue to be failed.

T3. [145479] Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I commend my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Education on the Children and Families Bill, not least because it brings about welcome reforms to the special educational needs system. It is clear that pathfinders will have an extremely important role in informing the legislation and the new code of practice. What progress are pathfinders making in that area?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): My hon. Friend is right to point out that the issue is not just about the legislation, but about how the reforms will be implemented on the ground. That is where the pathfinders are so crucial.

A progress report—an independent evaluation of how pathfinders are developing—will be published tomorrow. There has been good progress in the local offer and its development, in the engagement of parents and in the transition into adulthood, as well as in personal budgets and in the continued assessment process becoming more co-ordinated. Of course, pathfinders will continue to inform our legislation and the code of practice and regulation that will follow once we move into the consultation part of the process.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): I want more people from all walks of life to come forward to adopt children, and when they do I want them to be welcomed with open arms and given all the help and support they need. Does the Minister share his predecessor’s view and recognise his Department’s own guidance, which states that adopted children may well need their own bedroom when they join a new family? If so, will he promise them and this House that no prospective adoptive parent will be refused permission to give a child a loving home because of the bedroom tax?

Mr Timpson: I know that the hon. Lady has taken an extremely keen interest in this very important issue. Of course we need more people to come forward to adopt, because we have a huge shortfall, and that is a national crisis that we need to address. That is exactly what we are doing through our Children and Families Bill reforms, which will help to drive up the interest and confidence of the many people who want to adopt and enable them to do so. One of the reasons we need to do that is that more children require adoption as their best route into permanency. We need to ensure that the people who come forward have the requisite skills and capability to provide a loving home. I am sure that as we move into Committee and hear evidence tomorrow on the adoption reforms we will enjoy discussing this issue further.

T7. [145483] Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): In addition to improving children’s education across the country, the other great commission that Ministers in the Department are charged with is to strengthen family life. The Department runs some great

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programmes such as “Let’s Stick Together” and “Parents as Partners”, but given the scale of the challenge what more can be done to strengthen family life in this country? Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss this important issue?

Michael Gove: I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, who has a formidable record in campaigning to support family life. It is a massive challenge. No single set of Government interventions will help to sustain family life, but it is important that we do what we can. I look forward to working with him to ensure that we can support people who stay together and who demonstrate love and support for the next generation.

T4. [145480] Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): The Government have cut Sheffield’s early intervention grant by 27%, or £6.8 million, forcing the council to make deep cuts to early years provision. Last week the Secretary of State was invited to present evidence to the council’s children, young people and family support scrutiny committee. As he missed that opportunity, will he now tell the House what he would say to some of the most vulnerable families in our city whose child care is threatened as a result of his decision?

Michael Gove: I am reliably informed by the Department that in this financial year £25.2 million has been allocated to Sheffield in the early intervention grant. [Interruption.] It is a 3.9% increase on last year.

T8. [145484] Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his progress with free schools, but may I urge him to go further and faster in opening up free school provision by bringing in profit-making enterprises paid by results and focused on the parts of the country where educational achievement is weakest and where free school take-up is scarce?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend is right. Free schools are making a significant difference in driving up standards in every part of the country from Merseyside to the Mendips. I am absolutely committed to making sure that everyone who is committed philanthropically to supporting state education is given the chance to do so.

T5. [145481] Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): When I give the awards at Longley Park sixth-form college on 21 March, I shall pass on the enthusiasm of the Under-Secretary of State for Skills for sixth-form colleges. The college teaches maths and English to 16 to 19-year-olds, and through its teaching enrichment programme, which continues at over 600 hours per year, it has increased access in a way not seen in generations. Is it not strange, therefore, that £740 per student is going to be cut from its budget by 2016?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills (Matthew Hancock): As we discussed earlier in questions, it is vital and fair that we move to a system where all pupils up to the age of 19, except those with specific needs or those studying particularly expensive subjects to teach, are funded on the same basis. Whether someone attends a further education college, a sixth-form college or a school of any description, we must have fair

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funding per pupil. That is what we do from the ages of five to 16, and raising the participation age to 19 is an entirely fair way to run the system.

T9. [145485] Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): I welcome the Government’s move to introduce the pupil premium, which has helped schools in South East Cornwall, but more can be done. What further action is the Minister taking to assist the 40 education authorities, including Cornwall, that are listed by the f40 campaign as receiving the lowest income?

The Minister for Schools (Mr David Laws): My hon. Friend is right that the introduction of the pupil premium has been very important across the country, and we will announce a further increase in its level for 2014-15. She should be reassured to know that, after we have completed the roll-out of the pupil premium, we intend to move to a fairer national funding formula, which will help many of those areas of the country that have been underfunded, unfairly and illegitimately, for many decades.

T6. [145482] Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): The Government claim to be promoting family life, but the truth is that the bedroom tax will penalise non-resident parents who keep a room so that their children can stay with them on a regular basis. What representations have Ministers in this Department made to the Department for Work and Pensions?

Michael Gove: I do not know why the hon. Lady and, indeed, all Opposition Members keep referring to this as a bedroom tax. It is not a tax. It is timely and necessary action to deal with our out-of-control welfare bills, and that action is needed because of the way in which our economy was driven into the ground by the Labour party. It was in power for 13 years, during which no effective welfare reform took place and during which money was spent on a series of vanity projects that only left the country saying, “Thank heavens that a coalition Government have two parties clearing up the mess left behind by that crew of socialist wreckers on whom we wish nothing but a rapid path to contrition.”

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): Over the past 15 years, professional, face-to-face careers advice has virtually vanished from our schools. Could the Minister advise us when it will return?

Matthew Hancock: Yes. The new duty for independent and impartial careers advice came into place in September, and this summer Ofsted will do a thematic review to assess how well schools are implementing it, where it is being done excellently and where it is not yet being implemented correctly. I look forward to receiving that review.

T10. [145486] Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): The Daycare Trust has warned that it will be children from low-income families in particular who will lose out as a result of Government changes to child care ratios. Will the Minister listen to the concerns of parents, child care staff and experts, and think again on the proposals?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): Child care ratios will be flexible only where providers are of high quality and hiring high-quality

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staff. This proposal is designed to drive up quality in the child care sector, is supported by Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted and Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, and is best practice in most European countries. Ratios for two-year-olds are higher in virtually every other country in Europe, including Scotland and Ireland. I advise the hon. Lady to look at what goes on abroad and see high-quality child care with well-paid staff.

Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): We all want young people to be able to cook, but the design and technology curriculum on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is consulting at present is very important to the whole future of British industry and the British economy, so does he not think that giving primacy to cooking in that curriculum might be over-egging the pudding?

Michael Gove: In design and technology, we absolutely need to listen to those sections of our economy that will generate prosperity for the future and that want people to be well trained. However, cooking is not just important, but critical as a life skill and as a means of ensuring that Britain remains a wonderful and attractive place for visitors and our own citizens. I pay tribute to Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent for the fantastic work they have done on the school food plan.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I hope that the Secretary of State will reflect on the inaccurate and deeply offensive remarks about teachers, pupils and parents that he made at a conference in London on Thursday. Given his own culpability and the unlimited finance available to his pet project of free schools, will he think again about the funding for schools such as Seaham school of technology in my constituency, which serves one of the most deprived communities in the country? I have a Latin motto for him: sublimiora petamus, or “We must do better.”

Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the fair way in which he made his point. My comments were reported from a conference that I spoke at last Wednesday on educational underperformance. It is the case that east Durham performs less well than the rest of the county of Durham and that Durham county council has itself acknowledged that with its East Durham area action partnership. It is also the case that half the secondary schools in east Durham are rated by Ofsted as “requires improvement” or “inadequate”, which is worse than the national average, and that, whether at A-level, AS-level, GCSE or English baccalaureate, these schools are underperforming. I always enjoy my visits to the north-east, but we must work together to help these children secure a better future.

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): I am a governor of two academies in my constituency of Devizes, both of which have been asked to become sponsors of primary schools that are doing less well. We are happy to get involved in that process, but the due diligence process is very rapid and there is concern that if we rush, we may ignore important local interests. I have written to the Minister for Schools on that issue. Will he please meet me to discuss this important process as soon as possible?

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Michael Gove: A Minister will certainly meet my hon. Friend.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): First, we had the pile ’em high, teach ’em cheap approach to child care and in the Children and Families Bill, there is a move towards agencies, but there has still been no unveiling of the supposed policy on tax breaks for working parents. Will the Secretary of State let us know when that is coming and whether it will replace the tax credits that parents already get?

Michael Gove: All tax issues are a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His policies are always right and should always be announced when he wishes to announce them and not, however beseeching the hon. Lady’s questions are, when she wants them to be announced.

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): What advice would the Minister give to the governors of the school that I visited this morning, which, despite their best efforts, has a low take-up of free school meals and, as a consequence, is in receipt of considerably less pupil premium than similar schools nearby?

Mr Laws: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Many schools across the country could be receiving far greater amounts of pupil premium if they ensured that all their pupils were registered. The Department recently put out information showing the great range in the take-up of free school meals and advice on how schools should seek to raise that figure.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), the Secretary of State has failed to answer the series of questions from

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The Northern Echo

after his disparaging remarks about some east Durham schools. Will he say how many of the schools he referred to he has actually visited or will he have the decency to apologise for his remarks?

Michael Gove: I was first alerted to the problems in east Durham schools when I visited schools in north and north-west Durham and those who were responsible for raising attainment in those schools shared with me their concerns about the underperformance in east Durham. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman to deal with the problems at Dene community school of technology, Seaham school of technology, Easington community science college, Wellfield community school and St Bede’s Catholic comprehensive school, all of which have underperformed dramatically compared with the national average in English baccalaureate scores and all of which do not yet provide the quality of education that children deserve.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: I am sorry to disappoint the remaining colleagues, but we must move on. Before I call Mr John Baron, I should as a courtesy explain to the House that since my selection of this urgent question, I have been informed that it is the intention of the Foreign Secretary to make an oral statement to the House later this week. That is welcome, although we had no way of knowing about it in advance of my decision. In view of that fact and the important legislative business to follow, I might not feel able to accommodate all those who seek to catch my eye today. I ask colleagues to understand that they may have to wait until later in the week to put their questions on this matter to the Foreign Secretary. In the approximately half an hour that is available today, we shall do our best.

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Syria: anti-Government Forces

3.33 pm

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on support for anti-Government forces in Syria.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): I confirm that the Foreign Secretary will make a statement on this subject later this week.

The UK’s overriding goal is to achieve a political transition in Syria that ends the bloodshed on a sustainable basis. That is why we are working intensively with the United Nations, Arab League Special Representative Brahimi, the United States and our partners in the Friends of Syria to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough. In the meantime, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, we must continue with our life-saving humanitarian aid and practical support to the Syrian people and opposition.

A key part of our approach is to work to strengthen moderate political forces in Syria that are committed to a democratic future for that country. The Foreign Secretary announced to the House on 10 January that we had committed £9.4 million in non-lethal support to the Syrian opposition, civil society and human rights defenders. As he said at that time:

“All our assistance is designed to help to save lives, to mitigate the impact of the conflict or to support the people trying to achieve a free and democratic Syria…We are also helping the National Coalition to co-ordinate the international humanitarian response, and we have provided a humanitarian adviser to work with it. At all times, we urge the coalition to ensure that all opposition groups meet their commitments on human rights.”—[Official Report, 10 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 484.]

Despite that assistance, the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. According to the United Nations, more than 70,000 people have now been killed, the number of refugees in the region is fast approaching 1 million and more than 4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The longer the situation goes on, the greater the danger that extremism will take hold, the greater the danger of neighbouring countries being destabilised and the greater the extreme humanitarian distress involved. We must therefore do more to try to help save lives in Syria. That is why we led the way in agreeing an amendment to the EU sanctions regime to ensure that the possibility of further assistance was not closed off. We are now able to increase the range of technical assistance and non-lethal equipment that we can provide to the Syrian opposition.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is currently travelling in Mali and will return tomorrow to answer Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions. In addition, I reiterate that he will be making a statement in the House on this very subject later this week.

Mr Baron: I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I say at the start that the Government have been absolutely right to restrict aid to non-lethal support when assisting anti-Government forces in the civil war. Until recently, a strict arms embargo has been preventing the flow of weapons from the European Union to Syria, but at a recent EU summit the Foreign Secretary appeared

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to press for that embargo to be at least relaxed. Yesterday, he appeared to suggest that the British Government might at some stage be prepared actively to arm the rebels.

I appreciate the statement that my right hon. Friend the Minister has made today, but I suggest to him that there can be little doubt that, although there has not been a change in Government policy—there cannot be without EU approval—there has been a change in Government thinking. That prompts a number of questions. Why the change in approach and thinking? It is quite clear from yesterday’s statement that the Foreign Secretary believes that a step up in support by way of exporting arms is on the agenda. Let us not forget that, only in January, the Government were strongly advocating non-lethal support for opposition forces.

What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with fellow Security Council members? I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister that any increase in our support by way of arms can only escalate the violence on the ground in the short term, and with it the suffering of the people. Both sides have been accused by human rights groups of committing atrocities, and that is important to remember.

What calculation have the Government made? Is the thinking that a sharp escalation will somehow bring this torrid affair to an end, and that the only way to quicken the end is to arm the rebels? Moreover, there are credible reports that extremists are fighting alongside the rebels. Will the Minister update the House on that matter, and what guarantees can he give that if we were to export arms to rebels, they would not fall into the hands of terrorists? It is difficult to ensure on the ground that that does not happen.

I advise caution. The Foreign Secretary appeared to be contemplating stepping up support for one side in the civil war, but both sides have been committing atrocities. We may be supplying the terrorists of the future and shipping arms does not reduce tensions. Such a policy would also bring us closer to intervention. When we supplied arms to Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war, a lot of people died but in the end neither side became our friend. Interventions rarely go to plan and I hope the Government will think carefully before pushing for a change to this policy with regard to neighbours and friends.

Mr Swire: I thank my hon. Friend for his question, which gives me the opportunity to state again that the change in the EU sanctions to which he alluded is about non-lethal equipment and technical assistance. The Foreign Secretary was tempted yesterday on the “The Andrew Marr Show” to go further, but right hon. and hon. Members will have to wait for his statement, because he wishes—quite properly—to make his position clear in this House.

My hon. Friend mentioned the suffering of the people, and that is precisely what the change is designed to help alleviate. It is worth remembering that 4 million people are now in need of urgent assistance and that 2 million have been internally displaced. More than 900,000 Syrian refugees are in need of assistance in neighbouring countries, and my hon. Friend of all people will be acute to the dangers of unsettling regional areas close to that country.

The change under debate is about ensuring that all options are on the table and that EU countries have maximum flexibility to provide the opposition with all

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necessary assistance to protect civilians. We want to support moderate groups precisely to boost their appeal and effectiveness over the extremists to whom my hon. Friend alluded. I assure him that the support we provide is carefully targeted and co-ordinated with like-minded countries, consistent with our laws and values, and based on rigorous analysis.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I think on both sides of the House there is a sense of profound frustration and disgust at the continued violence in Syria, and consternation at the remarks made by President Assad over the weekend which—we agree with the Foreign Secretary—were “delusional”. As the Minister said, the death toll in Syria approaches 70,000 people; human rights groups have estimated that 4,000 people died last month alone. We have all been frustrated by the lack of progress at the UN Security Council to reach a collective position, and the pressure to urge for further action is understandable.

We welcome recent steps taken by the Syrian opposition coalition towards a political transition plan, and we must maintain the pressure on Assad. What is the Minister’s assessment of the current sanctions, and what steps can the international community take to ensure that they are comprehensively enforced?

Let me turn to UK support and the potential easing of the EU arms embargo in Syria. Labour Members have repeatedly stressed that all efforts must be focused on bringing an end to the violence, not fuelling the conflict. Given comments by the Foreign Secretary over the weekend, it seems there is some consideration by the British Government for the EU arms embargo to be amended further and—potentially—lifted. Will the Minister clarify today at the Dispatch Box whether that is the case?

Is the Minister aware that last week The New York Times reported that arms are being procured from a European source for the Syrian opposition, and that that is happening now? Is the Foreign Secretary aware of those allegations, and when did he and other Foreign Office Ministers become aware of them? What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with his EU partners on the sourcing of arms for opposition parties in Syria?

In an interview this weekend the Foreign Secretary admitted that when it comes to lifting the arms embargo the

“risks of arms falling into the wrong hands is one of the great constraints. And it is one of the reasons we don’t do it now.”

At the same time, however, he said that he did not rule out anything for the future. What assurances or guarantees will the Government seek before lifting any arms embargo? The Foreign Secretary said that this was a matter of balancing risks, but will the Minister set out further details about how the balance of risk is currently being assessed?

We are aware that al-Qaeda is operating in Syria. What is the British Government’s assessment of the scale of its activity as part of the opposition to Assad? All of us in the House have the same objective: to end the deaths and the violence and to leave the Syrian people free to decide their own future in a peaceful Syria. All our efforts must be focused on that end.

Mr Swire: The hon. Gentleman raises a number of interesting points, but he is working on the premise that this is somehow about lifting the arms embargo. He will

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be able to question the Foreign Secretary more closely on that matter later this week, but I say again that this is about non-lethal equipment and technical assistance; it is not about lifting any arms embargo. It is worth reiterating the kind of aid that we have been giving. For example, 5 tonnes of water purification equipment, power generators and communications kit were delivered in December. We have agreed funding to train Syrians to gather evidence of torture and sexual abuse, and we have trained activists to form a network of peace-building committees across five cities in Syria—




I would have thought that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) would have been interested in these humanitarian aspects. I shall address my points through the Speaker to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas).

There has been a change, in that the new Secretary of State Kerry and the Foreign Secretary agreed when Mr Kerry visited London last week that, because of the deteriorating situation and the increasing loss of life, the situation in Syria demanded a stronger response from the international community. At the Friends of Syria meeting in Rome, the US announced an additional $60 million of non-lethal aid to the armed opposition to bolster popular support. We believe that those are all moves in the right direction.

The hon. Gentleman asked specifically what we could do to prevent arms from falling into what he described as the “wrong hands”. We are not providing arms to either side, as he well knows, and we urge countries that are providing arms to the Assad regime to desist from doing so and to stop contributing directly to the misery of that wonderful country.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. In order to maximise the number of contributors, I appeal for short questions and short answers.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): May I put it to the Minister, as I have on previous occasions to the Foreign Secretary, that the carnage in Syria is a manifestation of the 1,500-year religious civil war between Sunni and Shi’a that is now resurgent in Iraq and Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Islamic world? The only way to stop it in Syria is to persuade Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the one hand, and Iran on the other, to stop sending arms to their co-religionists before Syria inevitably breaks up into two separate countries, which would solve no problems at all.

Mr Swire: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving us that historical perspective. Although I have not been to Syria for many years, I know the country relatively well, and I weep when I think of the human carnage being wreaked on it by that deluded Assad—given his interview over the weekend, there can be few in the House who would not agree with that term.

On a positive point, the national coalition has committed to protect the rights of minorities and is also working to increase minority representative membership within the coalition. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we want to ensure that any peaceful, democratic transition to the more open society that the Syrian people deserve should respect the rights of all the citizens of that country, be they Alawite, Sunni or Christian.

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Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I urge the Foreign Secretary, in his forthcoming statement to the Commons, not to change Government policy. This is a military stalemate that cannot be won by the rebels or by the Government. Handing weapons to jihadists and Salafis who are leading attacks and planting bombs will make the killing worse, not better, and will hinder aid efforts with which the UK Government are helping. I urge him not to get dragged into the quagmire of a catastrophic civil war. President Assad, with all his flaws, announced at the weekend that we need to promote negotiations, and the opposition leader has said that he is ready to do so.

Mr Swire: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, and he makes a valid point. I stress again, however, that the change to EU sanctions legislation concerns the provision of non-lethal and technical assistance; it is not concerned with the provision of weapons or with arming either side. I repeat what I said earlier: the countries arming President Assad’s Government in particular should stop, because it is they who are directly contributing to the carnage unfolding in Syria.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): I congratulate the Minister of State on stepping in at short notice, particularly for a brief with which he is not familiar. I agree with him completely that there are several questions—who is arming, what they are being armed with and the nature of the EU embargo—that will be far better answered by the Foreign Secretary later in the week. A humanitarian disaster is occurring on the Jordanian and Turkish borders with Syria. Will he give us an indication of the levels of help and assistance being given by the British Government?

Mr Swire: It is not for me to question the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I think that somewhere inherent in his remarks was a compliment—at least I like to think so. I assure him that the Foreign Secretary, who as he says is better placed to answer these questions, will give him a full update on humanitarian assistance to the neighbouring countries to which he alluded.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Advice to UK Governments has been that regime change cannot be the objective of military actions. Although there is cross-party consensus condemning the Assad regime and its brutality, will the Minister assure the House that proper respect will be shown to international law?

Mr Swire: I wish only that President Assad showed any interest in international law, any law, or any kind of human decency—a decency that the EU and the countries that are trying to help the people of Syria are currently showing.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I welcome the Minister’s cautious yet well-informed replies. In the case of Syria, should we abide by the rule of three used by the Foreign Secretary with regard to Libya, which is that no state should intervene militarily except where there is a strong humanitarian and legal case, regional support and explicit UN sanction—three things notably absent 10 years ago in Iraq?

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Mr Swire: No one is talking about intervention of that sort, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the fact that in Syria there are now 4 million people in need of urgent assistance, 2 million people have been internally displaced, and 900,000 refugees are in need of assistance in neighbouring countries. The instability that that is causing in Syria is evident for all to see, but the instability that it is causing in the region is, in the long term, as much of a worry.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister clarify what forms of non-lethal force multipliers will be given to help an already well-armed opposition which is being supplied by some Arab countries, and which has captured many arms supplied by Russia and Iran to the Assad Ba’athist-fascist regime?

Mr Swire: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was tempted to list them during his interview on “The Andrew Marr Show” yesterday, but resisted doing so. As a former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Gentleman will understand that the proper place for the Foreign Secretary to list them and state policy is right here in the House. He will be doing just that later this week.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): If the dreadful Assad regime is overthrown, as the Government wish, the Government will no doubt feel very pleased. However, how long will that pleasure last if the successor regime contains elements of al-Qaeda, which then gets its hands on the stocks of Syrian chemical weapons that are known to exist, and uses them against the west?

Mr Swire: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, although there are a lot of ifs in his question. The whole point of providing the additional aid is to bolster the opposition groups in Syria in order to prevent the country from sliding into the kind of anarchy that he describes.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): Is it not the case that, although all options are still on the table, the slaughter on the ground continues? Does the Minister agree that sadly this is another demonstration of the inadequacy of international organisations, most particularly the United Nations, in dealing with these problems as they arise, and is it not time for major a reform of how international organisations respond to these situations?

Mr Swire: I share the right hon. Gentleman’s continuing concern about the inability of either Russia or China to take the same view as other members of the UN Security Council, but I am proud to stand in front of the House to announce that the UK and its EU partners have taken this measure. Where we lead, others should follow.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): The Minister will note the reports about divisions within the Syrian coalition. For example, Mr al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian coalition, on the one hand wanted discussions with the regime, but on the other hand did not want to go to Rome to take part in the international conference. What steps are being taken to unite the opposition? Without a united opposition, there will be no real transition in Syria.

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Mr Swire: These things are never exact in what is an ever changing situation, but clearly the meetings in Rome, those before Rome and those that will follow on from Rome are all designed to bolster the opposition so that it can speak with one voice and be seen as a credible, accountable and democratic alternative, concentrating on human rights and the rights and welfare of the people—in stark contrast to the current regime, which we must all pray the opposition replaces at the earliest opportunity.

Mr Speaker: I understand the Minister of State’s temptation to look behind him at the person by whom he is being questioned, but if he could face the House, we would all be doubly grateful.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Will the Minister update the House on what discussions the Government have had with Turkey and tell us whether Turkey is arguing for or against lifting the arms embargo?

Mr Swire: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will no doubt wish when addressing the House to update Members on the situation in Turkey, as well as that in all other neighbouring countries and others closely involved in Syria.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): May I urge my right hon. Friend to put Lebanon at the heart of the Government’s considerations? It is a country that has been repeatedly destabilised and brutalised by the Assad regime and which currently enjoys the only cross-confessional army in the area, which is widely respected.

Mr Swire: My hon. Friend mentions another country affected directly by the actions of the Syrian regime—and a country I know well—and clearly we have to watch the situation there. I think the Foreign Secretary was in Lebanon as recently as last week and again will want to update the House on what he discussed there. He met refugees, among others, while he was there.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): The New York Times and other reports have claimed that the Croatians have provided weapons, paid for by the Saudis and with the tacit support of the United States, to the Free Syrian army and that there is emerging evidence that grenade and rocket launchers have been found in the hands of jihadist movements. Is this the case? I know it is difficult on a Monday afternoon responding to an urgent question, but will the Minister say what representations the UK Government have made to Croatia about this?

Mr Swire: I am not aware of the story that the hon. Gentleman alludes to, but he follows the press more closely than most people in the House. I will write to him with the full facts.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I have recorded in the register my recent visit with the Council for European Palestinian Relations to Lebanon to visit some of its 20,000 double refugees—Palestinian refugees who were living in Syria but who have now fled to Lebanon and so have been made refugees twice over. Will the Minister ensure that his colleagues in the

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Department for International Development liaise with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency—because that body, not the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is dealing with these refugees—to see what extra assistance the UK Government can give?

Mr Swire: Indeed. I have seen UNRWA’s work at close hand in the past, and a very excellent job it does.

I think that the United Kingdom has a good story to tell. Our total funding for Syria and the region now stands at £139.5 million, and will provide humanitarian aid such as food, medical care, blankets and clean drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and, critically, in the region. That is something that I feel the House should applaud.

Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that a number of Syrian, Kurdish and Muslim extremists are travelling to Syria to join the rebellion and fight along with al-Qaeda? What steps is he taking to prevent that insurgency from extending to the United Kingdom?

Mr Swire: The sooner we can bring the situation in Syria to an end, the sooner we can reduce the need for any kind of people to seek to fight on one side or the other. The way in which to do that is to embolden the official opposition, which we are supporting. We hope that these new measures will go some way towards strengthening the opposition and allowing it to position itself as the Government in waiting.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): In response to questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and me during his last statement to the House on 10 January, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that the European Union arms embargo covered non-lethal items such as body armour and kits to protect or guard against the use of chemical weapons, and spoke of the need for flexibility in regard to the embargo. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the policy has not really changed?

Mr Swire: Let me repeat that the amendment of the EU arms embargo allows us to provide a wider range of non-lethal equipment and technical assistance that will do more to save lives. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary intends to make a statement to the House about UK assistance on Wednesday 6 March, and the details are being finalised.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has already mentioned Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons. What contingency arrangements have been made by the British Government and our allies in case Assad decides to use those weapons, or they fall into the hands of extremist groups?

Mr Swire: Any use of chemical or biological weapons would of course be abhorrent, and would send a further signal of the depths to which the Assad regime would be willing to stoop to attack its own people. The regime is under intense international scrutiny, and any use of such weapons would be universally condemned.

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Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): May I ask what efforts are being made to bring the Syrian crisis to a conclusion through the G8, especially given that one of its members is the Russian Federation?

Mr Swire: I have not seen the agenda for the forthcoming G8 summit, but I have no doubt that Syria will be discussed, even if it is not on the agenda itself.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Many people will see this as mission creep, and will feel that we are being drawn ever more into a civil war and the taking of sides. Is that a fair description?

Mr Swire: No, it is not a fair description, and I have spent the past 35 minutes or so trying to illustrate why it is not. Today is about non-lethal equipment and technical assistance to embolden the Syrian opposition and encourage it to provide a credible Government to replace the brutal dictatorship of President al-Assad.

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Points of Order

4.3 pm

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Over the last few days, there has been widespread Government briefing about the contents of the impending United Kingdom defence basing review, on which we expect a statement in the House at some point this week. Will you please clarify, Mr. Speaker, whether it is appropriate for newspapers to be briefed in detail by the Government before the House is, especially on such an important subject?

Mr Speaker: I am not familiar with the reports to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, but suffice it to say that ministerial statements of public policy should be made first in the House. If the hon. Gentleman has compelling evidence to the contrary and wishes it to be brought to a wider audience, I suspect that he will require no further encouragement from me.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister of State has just said that there will be a statement from the Foreign Secretary this week. Would it have been in order for him to tell the House on which day it would be made? [Hon. Members: “He did.”] Would it be possible for my hearing to be improved, Mr. Speaker?

Mr Speaker: My hunch is that—if I remember correctly, either from what emerged from the lips of the Minister of State or from information from my own usual channels—the intended date is Wednesday this week.

Mr Swire indicated assent.

Mr Speaker: The Minister is nodding, which is encouraging both to me and to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). I do not think that the hon. Gentleman’s hearing requires any improvement.

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Justice and Security Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Order of 18 December 2012 (Justice and Security Bill) [Lords] (Programme)) be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be concluded in two days.

3. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the following Table and in the order so shown.

4. Each part of the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in relation to it in the second column of the Table.

ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings

First day

Amendments to Clause 6, other than amendments to leave out Clause 6; New Clauses relating to cases to which proceedings under Clause 6 are not applicable; amendments to leave out any of Clauses 6 to 14.

8 pm

Remaining New Clauses and New Schedules relating to Part 2; remaining amendments to Clauses 7 to 16.

10 pm

Second day

New Clauses and New Schedules relating to Part 1; amendments to Clause 1; amendments to Schedule 1; amendments to Clauses 2 to 5; amendments to Clause 17; amendments to Schedules 2 and 3; amendments to Clause 18; remaining proceedings on Consideration.

One hour before the moment of interruption.

5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.—(James Brokenshire.)

4.4 pm

Sir Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I believe that the Bill, being a constitutional Bill, is of enormous importance to the well-being of our society. The concepts contained in it touch on the very intimacy of our concepts of liberty and due process. I therefore object to the guillotine motion on the basis that it is a

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truncation of the most primary and fundamental charge that this House has: namely, to give all due consideration to Bills that touch on our constitutional rights, our freedoms and our liberty. The Bill seeks to do something very profound indeed: to deny open justice on the basis that we will get better justice by making it covert or secret. It would place a British citizen in the position of not knowing why they might have lost a claim in the courts, and their lawyer will not be able to tell them why either. Surely this House should be given the time it requires to consider the Bill, which is on a constitutional matter of the gravest importance, and examine fully the contentions contained therein.

4.6 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Following that excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd), I would like to add my support to his argument. The Government seem routinely to table programme motions of the sort they opposed when in opposition. They really do not need a programme motion. We are not exactly pressed for business at the moment. It seems to me that on the constitutional matter we are discussing, which is extremely important, and there are deep arguments about it on both sides, we should have unrestricted time to scrutinise it.

4.7 pm

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I do not disagree with the substance of the comments made by hon. Members, but my concern is that a Division now would eat into the time available for debating some very important clauses. I say to those colleagues who have spoken, who have the best intentions, that by dividing the House we are in danger of eating into that valuable time.

4.8 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): I wish to make it clear that the programme motion before the House respects the fact that the Bill’s original programming indicated that there would be two days for Report and remaining stages. That is what we have put before the House today. Indeed, the programme motion seeks to reflect the issues and concerns expressed in Committee by prioritising matters to ensure that all issues that need to be debated are discussed fully. Therefore, for the reasons that have been alluded to, to allow debate to take place and not to lose time, I urge the House to accept the programme motion so that we can move on to the debate at hand, which is about underlining that the Bill will deliver more justice, not less.

Question put and agreed to.

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Justice and Security Bill [Lords]

[1st Allocated Day]

[Relevant document: The Eighth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights of Session 2012-13, Legislative Scrutiny: Justice and Security Bill (Second Report), HC 1014.]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.

Clause 6

Declaration permitting closed material applications in proceedings

4.9 pm

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I beg to move amendment 26, page 4, line 39, leave out ‘two’ and insert ‘three’.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 27 and 42.

Amendment 28, page 5, line 4, after ‘proceedings)’, insert

‘and such disclosure would be damaging to the interests of national security’.

Government amendments 43, 44 and 29.

Amendment 30, page 5, line 36, leave out from ‘that’ to end of line 37 and insert

‘the degree of harm to the interests of national security if the material is disclosed would be likely to outweigh the public interest in the fair and open administration of justice.’.

Amendment 31, page 5, line 37, at end insert—

‘(6A) The third condition is that a fair determination of the proceedings is not possible by any other means.’.

Amendment 32, page 5, line 38, leave out ‘two’ and insert ‘three’.

Amendment 33, page 5, line 40, leave out from ‘proceedings’ to end of line 41.

Government amendments 46 and 47

Amendment 34, page 5, line 41, at end insert—

‘(7A) Before making a declaration under subsection (2), the court must consider whether a claim for public interest immunity could have been made in relation to the material.’.

Amendment 70, page 6, line 22, at end insert—

‘or proceedings at an inquest conducted by the Chief Coroner or a High Court judge.’.

New clause 2—Proceedings in which section 6 proceedings are not applicable—

‘(1) Section 6 proceedings will not be applicable in proceedings where the outcome could result in, contribute to, or impede efforts to challenge the—

(a) imprisonment; or

(b) continued detention

of a party, whether in the UK or overseas.

(2) Section 6 proceedings will not be applicable in proceedings—

(a) relating to conduct which may amount to commission of the following domestic and international wrongs—

(i) genocide;

(ii) murder;

(iii) torture;

(iv) slavery;

(v) cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment;

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(vi) child abuse; or

(vii) other matters that the court regards as breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

(b) where there is a real risk that non-disclosure of that material or information may result in the wrongful imprisonment of an individual in the UK or overseas or the death of an individual overseas.’.

Amendment 1, page 4, line 29, leave out clause 6.

Amendment 2, page 6, line 25, leave out clause 7.

Amendment 3, page 7, line 4, leave out clause 8.

Amendment 4, page 8, line 1, leave out clause 9.

Amendment 5, page 8, line 25, leave out clause 10.

Amendment 6, page 8, line 30, leave out clause 11.

Amendment 7, page 9, line 16, leave out clause 12.

Amendment 22, page 10, line 4, leave out clause 13.

Amendment 23, page 11, line 17, leave out clause 14.

New clause 7—Notifying the media of CMP applications and media rights to make submissions—

‘(1) Rules of court relating to section 6 proceedings must make provision—

(a) requiring the court concerned to notify relevant representatives of the media of proceedings in which an application for a declaration under section 6 has been made;

(b) providing for any person notified under paragraph (a) to intervene in the proceedings;

(c) providing for a stay or sist of relevant civil proceedings to enable anyone notified under paragraph (a) to consider whether to intervene in the proceedings;

(d) enabling any party to the proceedings or any intervener to apply to the court concerned for a determination of whether there continues to be justification for not giving full particulars of the reasons for decisions in the proceedings; and

(e) requiring the court concerned, on an application under paragraph (d), to publish such of the reasons for decision as the court determines can no longer be justifiably withheld.’.

New clause 8—Ensuring closed judgments can become open when secrecy is no longer required—

‘(1) Rules of court relating to sections 6 and 7 proceedings must make provision—

(a) enabling any party to the proceedings or any intervener to apply to the court concerned for a determination of whether there continues to be justification for not giving full particulars of the reasons for decisions in the proceedings; and

(b) requiring the court concerned, on an application under paragraph (a), to publish such of the reasons for decision as the court determines can no longer be justifiably withheld;

(c) ensuring applications under paragraph (a) are not granted more than once in any 12 month period;

(d) enabling the court to deny a paragraph (a) application if the court views it as an abuse of process; and

(e) ensuring that all closed judgments undergo a paragraph (a) determination every five years, even in the absence of an application under paragraph (a).’.

Amendment 35, in clause 7, page 6, line 29, leave out from ‘that’ to end of line 30 and insert—

‘any of the conditions in subsections (4) to (6A) of section 6 is no longer met.’.

Amendment 36, page 6, line 33, leave out from ‘that’ to end of line 34 and insert

‘any of the conditions in subsections (4) to (6A) of section 6 is no longer met.’.

4 Mar 2013 : Column 687

Amendment 37, page 6, line 41, leave out from ‘whether’ to second ‘the’ in line 43 and insert

‘any of the conditions in subsections (4) to (6A) of section 6 is no longer met.’.

Government amendment 48.

Amendment 38, in clause 8, page 7, line 18, at end add

‘and that damage outweighs the public interest in the fair and open administration of justice’.

Amendment 39, page 7, line 20, leave out ‘consider requiring’ and insert ‘require’.

Amendment 40, page 7, line 22, at end insert

‘sufficient to enable the party to whom the summary is provided to give effective instructions on the undisclosed material to their legal representatives and special advocates.’.

Government amendments 50 and 65.

Sadiq Khan: Let me begin by making it absolutely clear to the House where the Opposition stand on the issue of closed material procedures in civil proceedings. We accept that there may be rare examples where it is preferable for a CMP to be used because there is no other way a particular case can be heard. Our position has been influenced to a large extent by the views of the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Mr David Anderson QC. He has written two memorandums on the proposals in the Bill and has given evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. He has said that

“there is a small but indeterminate category of national security-related claims, both for judicial review of executive decisions and for civil damages, in respect of which it is preferable that the option of a CMP—for all its inadequacies—should exist.”

We are persuaded.

There may be rare examples where it is preferable for a CMP to be used because existing tools used by the court—for example, public interest immunity, redaction, confidentiality rings and in-camera hearings—may not be sufficient to allow sensitive intelligence material to be disclosed in court, meaning there may be no other way a case can be heard. However, we do not give unqualified support and shortly I will deal with some of the conditions we consider must be attached to the extension of CMPs, conditions which David Anderson said were important.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I apologise for intervening so early in the right hon. Gentleman’s speech. David Anderson used the word “small” in those comments, but the Government’s impact assessment indicated that there will be about 15 of these cases a year. We should therefore not underestimate exactly what we are talking about.

Sadiq Khan: I believe that one of the impact assessments gave a figure of seven, whereas the press reports I read over the weekend mentioned one of 15. For those reasons, it is important to attach great weight to the conditions to which David Anderson refers. We would not wish, inadvertently, to see more cases than the Government say they expect to be reaching a CMP.

Minister without Portfolio (Mr Kenneth Clarke): It seems to me that we do not know how many of these cases there will be, because we do not know what effect the new process will have. This is becoming a popular

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jurisdiction and the number of cases is slowly climbing, because no defence is offered to people’s claims and they are being awarded quite large sums of money. Once it is possible for the Government to defend themselves, people will, presumably, think more clearly about the substance of their allegations before bringing claims, and we just do not know how many we will have.

Sadiq Khan: May I adopt the Minister’s arguments in support of our sunset clause, which we will be debating later? He cannot predict the number of cases, which is why we think a sunset clause is appropriate.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sadiq Khan: Briefly, because I actually want to start my speech.

Simon Hughes: Does the right hon. Gentleman mean a sunset clause or does he mean a renewal order, which is a different thing?

Sadiq Khan: I mean the latter, and we will discuss that after the votes at 8 pm, when my colleague will be dealing with those things. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to remind the House of the difference between the two measures.

Our conditions are set out in the amendments standing in my name and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) and the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). Labour’s position has been consistent on this matter since the publication of the draft Bill. We said that the legislation was drafted in such a way that there were too few safeguards in place on the use of CMPs. Safeguards are crucial because CMPs are alien to our tradition of open and fair justice, where justice is not only done, but is seen to be done. Any proceedings held in secret are a major departure from that. Given the exceptional and aberrant nature of CMPs, their use should be clearly constrained. That has been our position and remains so now: consistent and clear, balanced and proportionate. The Lords delivered a strong and clear verdict on the Bill last November.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend sets up a choice between open proceedings and CMPs, but is not the real choice between public interest immunity, where nothing ever gets heard by anybody, and CMPs?

4.15 pm

Sadiq Khan: Public interest immunity is a device by which we can exclude evidence, but it can also lead to hearings with some anonymity of witnesses, to the redaction of documents and to confidentiality rings. The choice is not simply between the exclusion of material or its admissibility—evidence can become admissible through certain devices, which I shall come on to shortly if my right hon. Friend gives me time to develop my argument.

Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Cross-Bench peers agreed that the original Bill was poorly drafted and gave too much power to Ministers to decide what did or did not stay secret in court proceedings. Amendments were passed by substantial margins to put

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in place what we considered to be appropriate checks and balances. No longer would the decision on whether a proceeding was held in secret be in reality taken by a Minister with the façade of a judge’s rubber-stamping it. Instead, it would be truly taken by a judge, who would be empowered to balance the public interest of holding proceedings in the open against the public interest of holding proceedings behind closed doors due to the harm done to our national security. The Lords amendments would also have ensured that the use of a CMP remained a last resort, as befits something that is anathema to open and fair justice and that, as all sides accept, should be used only in exceptional circumstances.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sadiq Khan: I will, but then I must make progress or we will reach the knife before I have finished my speech.

Caroline Lucas: The shadow Secretary of State is very kind to give way. Does he not recognise that if CMPs are available, even if in theory they are a last resort, that very fact will mean that they will be used? Huge numbers in the legal profession want to get rid of secret courts in civil law altogether, which is what my amendments would achieve.

Sadiq Khan: If the hon. Lady reads the Supreme Court judgment in al-Rawi, she will see that one of the court’s concerns was about not having in its toolkit the ability to have a CMP in an appropriate case. Its point was that it is for Parliament to add the option of a CMP to the armoury in the toolkit to be used after all the other options have been exhausted. Our amendments seek to do that. CMPs will not be the first choice made by a judge, but as a last resort judges might decide to use one if all the other tools in their toolkit are inadequate.

Further amendments were also made that permitted all parties to seek the use of a CMP and not just the Government, and to ensure that the judicial balancing of public interest and national security also took place once proceedings were being held in secret. There was a degree of contentment on Second Reading in the Commons that because of the improvements made by the Lords, the worst excesses of the proposals had been ameliorated. The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, who is also a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), said that

“the amendments made in the House of Lords have been regarded by many people as being entirely favourable and reasonable.”—[Official Report, 18 December 2012; Vol. 555, c. 713.]

We agree. He not only wanted the Government to accept the amendments but wanted to persuade them to accept further amendments with the purpose of extending the discretion of the court, and we also agree with that.

The pity is that the Government shredded the Lords amendments as the Bill progressed through Committee. I must also, at this point, put on record how disappointing it was that the Government tabled its amendments at such late stages on repeated occasions—they did so at the latest stages possible, both in Committee and now on Report. It is unacceptable that the Bill had its

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Second Reading in the House of Lords on 19 June and yet the Government were still tabling amendments as late as last Thursday, thereby depriving us, interested parties and experts a chance properly to analyse those late amendments. That is not befitting of such a sensitive and complex issue.

Let me turn my attention briefly to the Liberal Democrats. If we are to be successful in our attempts to improve the Bill today, we will need their support. During the passage of this Bill, the Liberal Democrats have had a number of different positions, often at the same time. The grass-roots party voted to ditch part 2 in its entirety, but a Liberal Democrat Minister, the noble Lord Wallace of Tankerness, steered it through its Lords stages and resisted any changes or improvements. Liberal Democrat Back-Bench peers, to their credit, supported the amendments made to the Bill. More than 80% of the Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords voted with us to amend the Bill to incorporate the concerns of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. In Committee, the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) sided with Labour in our amendments to restore the improvements made to the Bill by the House of Lords.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and he is right that a number of Labour Members voted with us on a series of our amendments. I was grateful for that support and I hope that it can continue in other areas. Is he also concerned about the number of Labour peers who went home rather than vote, as many Liberal Democrat peers did, on issues such as Wiley balancing in the second stage and the principle of closed material procedures?

Sadiq Khan: That is a curious intervention. I am trying to be nice to the hon. Gentleman because I want his vote, so I will not respond in the way his intervention deserves. Instead, I will remind him and the House of what he said in Committee. In response to what was then Government amendment 55, which undid some of the House of Lords improvements, he said:

“I accept that the Minister’s case will be bolstered significantly if the Joint Committee on Human Rights agrees with what he is saying, but”—

this was his advice to the Minister—

“he should reflect carefully on what he will do if that Committee, having looked at the amendments he is proposing and the state of the Bill when that Committee publishes a report, disagrees with him.”

He went on to say:

“I will, further, support any other amendments that take us in the direction of improved safeguards and towards the direction of the Joint Committee on Human Rights”.––[Official Report, Justice and Security Public Bill Committee, 5 February 2013; c. 195.]

I hope the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will support us and have the courage to vote for our amendments, which reflect the positions taken by Liberal Democrat MPs in Committee and Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords. Any other position would be a tragic betrayal of their liberal instincts.

Simon Hughes: I want to make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that my predecessor on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, my hon. Friend the

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Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart), and I have worked to make a case to push the Government forward. I will support, on all issues, exactly the position taken by the Joint Committee, which says that the Government have moved forward, made progress and improved the Bill, but that more work is to be done.

Sadiq Khan: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that clarity, which shows the advantages of being nice to Liberal Democrats. In case any of his colleagues have any doubt about the advice given, I have the report with me and will remind them of what the Joint Committee said just last week on the Government’s manoeuvres upstairs in Committee.

Given that in Committee the Minister unpicked the Lords changes to the Bill, amendments 26 to 40 are designed to emulate the same improvements as were made in the other place. Our amendments seek to put in place appropriate checks and balances on the use of CMPs. We do not underestimate the difficulties in reconciling the issues of justice and security as contained in the Bill’s title, but this is difficult and not impossible. By putting appropriate measures in place, we believe that the use of CMPs could be made proportionate to the scale of the problem they are intended to address. As has been said, our position is backed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, whose most recent report systematically goes through the changes made in Committee by the Government and is consistent with the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation and with the views of the House of Lords.

So here we are once again, trying at a late stage in proceedings to bring some balance to the proposals in front of us. Our amendments address four main areas: judicial balancing both outside and inside proceedings, the use of CMPs as a last resort and equality of arms. I shall deal first with judicial balancing.

We have consistently agreed with David Anderson when he said that