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21 July 2014 : Column 1127

House of Commons

Monday 21 July 2014

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]


Standing Orders (Private Business)


That the Amendments to Standing Orders relating to Private Business set out in the Schedule be made.—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Attainment (Less Affluent Children)

1. Sir Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): What steps she has taken to raise attainment among less affluent children at school. [904948]

The Minister for Schools (Mr David Laws): We have introduced the pupil premium, which supplies significant additional funding to schools for each disadvantaged pupil.

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who has been a passionate advocate of higher standards in education for every single child in the country. Our reforms of the curriculum, of qualifications and of accountability, along with the drive to establish more good and outstanding schools, will continue.

Sir Andrew Stunell: I can report to the Minister that schools in my constituency are delighted with the pupil premium, and are particularly delighted that they have complete flexibility in relation to how they can best use it to improve the outcomes for children. May I urge the Minister not to be seduced or tempted by those who want more central prescription of how the pupil premium might be allocated in future?

Mr Laws: I will not be tempted or seduced. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend that it is vital for us to continue to give schools the flexibility that will enable them to spend the money in the best evidence-based way. As my right hon. Friend will know, the Ofsted

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reports that were published last week show that schools are beginning to use it very effectively to narrow the gap.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): One of the ways in which the last Government sought to address this issue was the London Challenge, which, as the Minister will know, had a very positive impact on the achievement gap in London. What lessons does he think can be drawn from it for the rest of the country?

Mr Laws: There are certainly a great many lessons to be learnt from the London Challenge. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of reports which have been published over the last few months and which seek to draw those lessons. One lesson that I would draw is that it is important for us to provide the opportunities that the London Challenge helped to create for every part of the country, and not just for areas that have been selected by Ministers.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Even if we believe the argument that faith schools improve attainment—which I do not, given the middle classes’ propensity to discover God shortly before their children’s schooling is due to begin—is segregation by faith a price worth paying by our society?

Mr Laws: We certainly do not want schools that seek to segregate members of the society that we have, but, as people in a liberal society, we also want to respect the right of many parents to have their young people educated in the way that they wish.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): I welcome the new Education Secretary to her job. I also welcome back the Schools Minister, who has made the greatest comeback since Lazarus. I am not sure why we need two Schools Ministers, one in the blue corner and one in the yellow corner, but perhaps that is the reason.

One suggestion for the Education Secretary that I have received is that she should change the locks at Sanctuary Buildings to ensure that the former Education Secretary and his adviser Dominic Cummings cannot sneak back in after dark. However, she could help less affluent pupils immediately if she reversed her predecessor’s political instruction to Ofqual to end the AS-level link, which research shows helps them to obtain good university places. Will she signal a fresh start by reversing that decision?

Mr Laws: There are no plans to go down the route that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. We, as a Government, believe passionately that the final years of education for young people should be years in which they focus not just on examinations, but on learning. The problem during the most recent period of Labour government was that, in the last four years of education, too much time was spent taking exams rather than learning new facts.

Special Educational Needs

2. Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): What steps she is taking to reform the support available for children with special educational needs in (a) Peterborough and (b) England; and if she will make a statement. [904949]

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7. Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): What steps she is taking to support children with special educational needs. [904954]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): Our SEN and disability reforms are the largest for 30 years. They place children and families at the heart of a single, more integrated birth-to-25 system which focuses on improving outcomes for children and young people.

Last month we announced further substantial funding for local areas to deliver the reforms from this September: £45.2 million, on top of the £70 million that has already been provided this year. Peterborough’s total share is more than £500,000.

Mr Jackson: I pay tribute to John and Louise Ravenscroft of the charity Family Voice for their wonderful work in Peterborough. What assurance can the Minister give that parent carer forums will receive core funding from the Department for 2015-16 and beyond, so that they can continue their work in facilitating parent participation? Will he mandate local authorities to provide top-up funding beyond 2016?

Mr Timpson: We recognise the important role played by parent carer forums. We have therefore increased the funding for each forum from £10,000 to £15,000, which amounts to a total of more than £2 million for 2014-15. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, we have not yet made any decisions about funding beyond that time frame, but, in his customary manner, he has made a strong case for support for their continued work by citing the work of his constituents.

Daniel Kawczynski: I am very pleased with the additional £10.4 million in funding the Government are providing to Shropshire schools. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), who has spearheaded the caucus on the funding issue. What further steps will the Government take to help parents with children with special educational needs? I still receive a lot of correspondence on the issue from constituents. I hope that, as the economy improves, more attention and focus can be brought to bear on the issue.

Mr Timpson: The reasons why my hon. Friend is receiving correspondence about the current SEN system are also why, under the Children and Families Act 2014, we are bringing in substantial changes to introduce, from September, a single SEN system that puts families at the centre of decision making right at the start when they require extra support. Over and above that, we are also providing an additional £30 million of new funding so that parents can have independent supporters to assist them in navigating themselves through the system, which, in the past, too many of them have found too difficult.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister is aware that there is a crisis up and down the country—whether in Peterborough or Huddersfield—as many schools do not have the capacity for early diagnosis and treatment. When will he ensure that there is such capacity in every school in our country?

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Mr Timpson: The hon. Gentleman, as the former Chair of the Select Committee on Education—which I had the pleasure to serve on during his tenure—is acutely aware of the importance of early identification in our schools for a whole host of reasons. That is why the new code of practice that underpins the Children and Families Act 2014 makes it clear throughout that early identification must be at the centre of the work that schools do on behalf of their pupils. We are providing additional funding to support those endeavours—I will be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with more details—but many of the decisions will be made at a local level and will be made far more transparent through the publication of a local offer in every council.

18. [904965] Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Will my hon. Friend say what more specific support his Department is providing for parents who suspect their children may have dyslexia and be in need of such an assessment?

Mr Timpson: The number of children with dyslexia in this country has grown, so it is even more important that we recognise how we can support the many excellent organisations that are out there. That is why we are funding the Dyslexia-Specific Learning Difficulty Trust to the tune of £1.5 million over two years to help provide it with a range of special services so that it can increase the support available to children and young people with dyslexia. We are also funding the British Dyslexia Association’s primary literacy project, which is training over 3,000 teachers who have obtained specialist dyslexia qualifications. Ultimately, however, it is the changes we are introducing in our SEN reforms that will make a difference to families.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Let us hope that Peterborough can become a beacon of progress.

Many families will be greatly encouraged by the store the Minister places on the local offer as a means of driving up standards and improving services for children and young people with special needs and disabilities. If I were the Minister, I would organise an annual assessment of the local offer so that, across the country, we can see exactly what is working and what simply is not good enough. What will the Minister’s approach be?

Mr Timpson: As the Minister, I think I can do better than the suggestion the hon. Gentleman has made, and that is to have a constant review of the formulation and implementation of local offers. Of course every council will have to publish and review them, and to consult local families and young people so that they have an input into ensuring that the services they require are available when they need them. Ofsted also plays a role in trying to understand the impact of the reforms, and I am looking forward to seeing its response.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Many schools, such as St Paul’s in Withington, have an outstanding reputation for supporting statemented children, and therefore become a school of choice for many parents of SEN children, but do not receive the necessary resources. What can the Minister provide for such schools that end up with a higher than average number of children who have a statement?

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Mr Timpson: It is important to remember that the amount of money being made available to schools for SEN children is the same this year as it was last year, and so this is about how we allocate those resources. In addition, those on statements will in future be on education, health and care plans, whereby there are additional duties, not just on schools, but on health providers, where schools sometimes complain that there is less co-operation and less endeavour to ensure that the required support is made available. That extra duty on the health providers is a big step forward, and people have been calling for it for a considerable time.

22. [904969] Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): In the light of those new EHC plans, will the Minister continue to ensure that specialist services such as speech and language therapy, and child and adolescent mental health services—CAMHS—are available in our communities?

Mr Timpson: I completely agree with my hon. Friend that those are key services for many families where there are children with SEN and disabilities. Through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme, we have made much more money available—£54 million, I believe—to provide better services. I also know that work is going on in the Department of Health to look more widely at the role of CAMHS, as we know that provision has been patchy for too long. Although there are good examples in places such as Liverpool, where it is functioning well, it is falling short in too many parts of the country. As I say, there are greater duties on health services to make sure that what is in an EHC plan is provided, but of course we need to ensure that that remains the case right across the board.

Child Care

3. Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): What steps she is taking to make child care more affordable and improve the flexibility of child care provision. [904950]

13. Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): What steps she is taking to make child care more affordable and improve the flexibility of child care provision. [904960]

The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): One of the greatest achievements of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), was to put in place real reforms that ensure that all our young people—from the earliest age—have the opportunities to succeed. It is a privilege to follow him in this role.

We are the first Government to fund 15 hours a week of free child care for all three-year-olds and four-year-olds, and for disadvantaged two-year-olds. We have also taken action to give more choice to parents, including by creating childminder agencies and by supporting schools to open nurseries and offer 8 am to 6 pm provision.

Jonathan Ashworth: As a fellow Leicestershire MP, may I welcome the right hon. Lady to her promotion, which is well-deserved? I am sure she will know that in Leicester the cost of holiday child care has doubled

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since 2010, with parents paying about £50 more than they were. When is she going to get a grip of escalating child care costs?

Nicky Morgan: I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his kind sentiments. He will know that the National Day Nurseries Association published research last year showing that the cost of child care had stabilised and was starting to come down. I am sure that he would therefore support our proposals for tax-free child care, which would allow parents to build up credit in accounts, which they could then spend in holidays or in term time as they feel appropriate, in line with the needs of their family.

Mr Reed: In welcoming the Secretary of State to her post, may I say that I am afraid she gave a rather complacent response to my hon. Friend? This is not just about the affordability of child care; it is also about its availability, and the Government are failing on that, too. Figures from the Family and Childcare Trust show that the amount of holiday child care to help working parents has halved under this Government—for parents of disabled children the figure is even worse. Will she tell working parents in my constituency what real help this Government are going to give them, particularly as they face the reduction in summer holiday child care availability?

Nicky Morgan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. As a working parent, I sympathise with all working parents about the availability and affordability of child care. This Government take that extremely seriously. I have mentioned tax-free child care, but we have also introduced shared parental leave and we are increasing child care support under universal credit. It should also be noted that the latest figures show that there are about 100,000 more child care places than there were in 2009.

Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend to her post. As a fellow working mum, she will know that school holidays can be a particularly challenging time for families when it comes to child care. I am particularly interested in her views on how the Government are supporting families with older children, as they can find it especially difficult to find the right sort of support during the summer holidays.

Nicky Morgan: May I thank my right hon. Friend very much for her warm welcome? She is absolutely right to say that child care, which can be challenging at all times, can be particularly challenging during the holidays and especially when the six-week holiday period stretches out in front of families. The Government’s tax-free child care policy will extend to children up to the age of 12—it will extend up to the age of 17 for disabled children. That is why it is so very welcome and progress must be made on it—I know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is doing that.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May I reinforce the comments of the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth)? The whole House will consider my right hon. Friend’s promotion very well deserved.

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On child care, am I correct in thinking that the Government will cover 85% of the child care costs of about 300,000 families receiving universal credit and are seeking to ensure that work always pays?

Nicky Morgan: I thank my right hon. Friend for his warm words. He is absolutely right to say that under the universal credit that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is introducing, families will be able to receive 85% support with their child care costs, up from 70% under the current working tax credit system?

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op): I, too, welcome the new Secretary of State to her position today. May I take it from the fact that she is answering the questions that she is now the child care Minister as well as Secretary of State and that despite her expanding ministerial team she has taken on those responsibilities? I am all for flexi-working, but given the challenge our country faces with its child care system I hope that she can focus full time on this issue. As other Members have said, the Family and Childcare Trust and Netmums have shown that the cost and availability of holiday child care are damaging the economy, with 1 million working days lost because parents cannot find or afford holiday child care to fit their needs. What does the Secretary of State say to parents being forced to take time off this summer, during this Parliament, because they cannot get the summer child care they need?

Nicky Morgan: I thank the hon. Lady for her warm words. She will be aware, as a fellow working mum, that women are excellent at multi-tasking. Of course, as Secretary of State for Education, I am interested in child care and the whole range of issues that my Department will be dealing with as well as my brief as Minister for Women and Equalities. I look forward to continuing these debates with the hon. Lady, as does the Minister who will be taking on the specific responsibility for child care. She is absolutely right that the holiday costs are very important and that is why we have increased the number of free hours of child care available as well as introducing tax-free child care, shared parental leave and policies on flexible working, all of which I am sure she welcomes.

School Governors

4. Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): What steps she is taking to support school governors. [904951]

The Minister for Schools (Mr David Laws): We recognise the vital role that governors play in our schools. We have increased funding to the National College for Teaching and Leadership to expand and develop training programmes for chairs, governors and clerks and to increase the numbers of national leaders of governance.

Ms Stuart: In Birmingham, Ofsted found that governors “asserted inappropriate influence” to

“alter the character and ethos of schools”.

Sir Michael Wilshaw also found that local government structures and accountability are too weak and need to be strengthened. How does the Minister suggest that an authority such as Birmingham should respond to the need to have a coherent approach to its governors when it faces a totally fragmented structure?

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Mr Laws: We certainly need to learn the lessons not just for Birmingham but for the wider school system of the events that have been reported on over the past few weeks. I should say to the hon. Lady that the Department expects to publish Peter Clarke’s report tomorrow and, with your permission, Mr Speaker, the Secretary of State intends to make a statement to the House on how we intend to respond both to the Clarke report and to Ian Kershaw’s report.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): A school funding revolution is taking place in Northumberland as the fairer funding consultation will lead to an increase in April 2015 of up to 7.2%. That is also a revolution for our governors, who, under the previous Government, were often consulted but always ignored. Will the Minister take this forward and ensure that we have fairer funding for all?

Mr Laws: As my hon. Friend ingeniously points out, the funding reforms we are making will certainly help governors and teachers in schools. As a result of his campaigning and that of many other hon. Members we are introducing the fairer funding system next year. When we consulted on this, Northumberland was initially going to benefit to the tune of £10.6 million. I can say that the final settlement is that Northumberland will receive £12 million more to ensure that it is funded fairly in the future.

23. [904970] Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The Minister said that he felt we should learn the wider lessons of the Birmingham inquiry, not just those about Birmingham schools. Peter Clarke is reported to have described a system of “benign neglect” in the Department for Education. Does the Minister agree that the way to deal with that benign neglect is to introduce a proper system of local oversight?

Mr Laws: As the hon. Gentleman will understand, we are not going to comment today on leaked reports. Tomorrow the Secretary of State will be in a position to set out very clearly the way in which we intend to respond to both reports, but I would say to the hon. Gentleman gently that all those engaged in the education debate have something to learn from this. Birmingham local authority did not cover itself in glory in all aspects of these issues either.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Governors across North Wiltshire who run some of the best schools in the land do an outstandingly good job, but many of them tell me that they are overburdened by rules, regulations, bureaucracy and the forms they have to fill out for central Government. Is there a way that they could be freed from some of these responsibilities so that they can take a much more strategic overview of the direction of the school and spend less time bogged down in bureaucracy?

Mr Laws: My hon. Friend is exactly right that the Government want to reduce all aspects of bureaucracy in the school system. We want to make sure that governors are not overburdened with bureaucracy but are armed with the vital information that will allow them to do their job properly and to have more effective governing bodies, which can play a vital role in school improvement.

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Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that schools such as Priory Lane primary in my constituency, where the governing body wants to take the school forward by academising, should be given a choice of at least two academy sponsors to find the appropriate fit to take the school community forward?

Mr Laws: We always pay due regard to the views of individual schools and governing bodies, but it is vital that when we academise schools that have been failing in the past, the Department discharges its responsibility to select the sponsor which we believe will be most effective.

Free Schools

5. Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the performance of free schools; and if she will make a statement. [904952]

14. Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the performance of free schools; and if she will make a statement. [904961]

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr Nick Gibb): Based on Ofsted inspections of free schools undertaken so far, the majority of free schools are performing well. They are also more likely to be rated outstanding than other state-funded schools.

Mary Macleod: My constituency is one of the fastest- growing boroughs in London. We currently have one free school, which is performing well, according to parents. School places are my biggest local issue. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss this and see whether we can prioritise the creation of more new free schools in Brentford and Isleworth?

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend is, I know, closely involved with all the schools in Brentford and Isleworth and is active in helping to identify sites for new free schools. I would welcome the opportunity to visit that one free school she refers to—I think it is the Nishkam school in Isleworth—and to join her in meeting her constituents who want to establish new free schools in response to parental demand. That is what the free schools programme is all about—new schools set up in response to local parental demand, delivering strong discipline and high academic standards.

Charlie Elphicke: The Minister will be aware that free schools are very popular with parents and achieve results that outperform many maintained schools. In view of that, would he consider supporting a new free school in Deal in my constituency?

Mr Gibb: My hon. Friend is right. There are currently 174 free schools up and running, of which 40% have already had a section 5 Ofsted inspection, in addition to their pre-opening inspection. Of those, 24% are graded outstanding, which is a staggering achievement for a school that has been open for just four or five terms. This represents a higher proportion than other schools. Some 71% of free schools are graded good or outstanding.

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We would certainly welcome an application for a new free school in Deal if there is evidence of a need for more good school places.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): May I, too, welcome the Minister back to the Dispatch Box? I would be interested to have his assessment over a coffee some time of his old boss versus his new boss.

As the Minister will be aware, Ofsted said that at one school, children’s reading ability had regressed, and of another school that

“too many pupils are in danger of leaving the school without being able to read and write properly.”

This was Ofsted’s report on two free schools. What early warning systems exist to spot problems in free schools before they become entrenched, and how many free schools are currently under investigation by the Education Funding Agency?

Mr Speaker: That is enough material for at least one Adjournment debate, and possibly two. I have a feeling the hon. Gentleman will be putting in his applications before very long.

Mr Gibb: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) said to me on Wednesday, “It just shows that you can boil cabbage twice.” [Interruption.] I think it was meant kindly.

The Government are committed to eliminating illiteracy. We have introduced the phonic check and we are determined to raise reading standards right across the school system, but free schools and academies are taking action more swiftly than local authority schools to tackle failure in those schools.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): The Government’s policy on free schools is in free fall. Given that local authorities have no formal powers under the Government’s education policy, what will the Government do to ensure strong local oversight at local authority level to ensure that the debacle that has been played out in Birmingham is not repeated elsewhere?

Mr Gibb: The evidence is that in those small number of examples where free schools have not succeeded, action is taken more swiftly than in local authority schools. There is evidence that many local authority schools languish in special measures year after year. That is not what is happening with the academies and free schools programme.

21. [904968] Mr Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend on his return to the Front Bench. Free schools and academies are rightly popular with parents and many of them, such as Cams Hill in my constituency, turn children away. Will he consider giving academies and free schools the power to borrow to expand so that more parents have a choice of places for their children?

Mr Gibb: That is more an issue for the Treasury than for this policy. We are seeing more and more free schools coming on line, and they are popular. We already

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have 157 free schools in the pipeline, about 80 will be opening this September, and I am convinced that they will all be very successful.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I also congratulate the Minister. If he has been boiled twice, I wonder what happened to the other vegetables.

I am a firm supporter of free schools. As the Minister knows, the first Sikh free school will open in September this year. I congratulate the Secretary of State, whose constituency of Loughborough is a fast 10 minutes away from Leicester, on her appointment. Will the Minister ask her to come along in September and open our new free school for the Sikh community?

Mr Gibb: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s warm words—I think they were warm. I would welcome the opportunity to visit that school, but I will pass on the invitation to my right hon. Friend if I am not good enough to visit it myself.

Sixth-form Colleges (Funding)

6. Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effects on performance of sixth-form colleges of funding changes since 2010. [904953]

10. Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effects on performance for sixth-form colleges of funding changes since 2010. [904957]

The Minister for Skills, Enterprise and Equalities (Nick Boles): Although sixth-form colleges have had to make a contribution to our efforts to deal with the massive budget deficit left by the previous Government, the number of students in sixth-form colleges attaining level 3 qualifications by age 19 has increased by almost 8% since 2010.

Paul Blomfield: The Minister will know that recent figures show that academies have access to 35% more funding per student than sixth-form colleges, yet sixth-form colleges still have to pay VAT, insurance and capital costs, diverting money away from teaching and learning. As the Minister settles into his new job, what will he do to secure fairness in education for all young people?

Nick Boles: Fairness is exactly what we are trying to achieve, and we want a system whereby students receive the same level of backing for their studies regardless of the institution to which they go. Despite the previous Government having had 13 years to sort out the unfairness of the school funding system, we inherited a system that was byzantine in its complexity, and it is taking us some time to work it out.

Julie Hilling: A number of sixth-form providers across Bolton have contacted me to say that the funding regulations for sixth-form colleges mean that they are under pressure to place students on additional courses to meet the minimum hour requirement, which is detrimental to those students who succeed better when they are focused on just three subjects. Will the Minister look again at the regulations that are pressurising students to follow educational pathways that are not in their best interests?

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Nick Boles: I am happy to look into any question that the hon. Lady raises, because she is a great expert in this area. I do not recognise the charge, but I am happy to look into it if she would like to send me more information.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Minister is right to remind the Opposition that they had 13 years to put right the anomaly, but we have had four years. What is the justification for continuing for another year a funding formula under which sixth-form students at an 11-to-18 school have two thirds more funding than if they go to a sixth-form college?

Nick Boles: The great Sir Bob—my hon. Friend—is of course so experienced in the House that he knows he has attacked Ministers for withdrawing funding from one institution too quickly, and I am sure that he has argued for damping mechanisms for any sudden effects of changes in the funding formula. There is always a balance to be struck between ensuring that the funding is fair and ensuring that no institution has the rug pulled from under it. It is a balance that we are determined to achieve.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Notwithstanding the undoubted unfairness of their funding arrangements, sixth-form colleges are the most successful institutions in our education system, with regard to both the quality of education provided and value for money. When will the Government take steps to increase the number of sixth-form colleges across the country, and would the Minister care to visit the superb Luton sixth-form college in my constituency to find out how good they really are?

Nick Boles: I am happy to take up any invitation; as the former planning Minister, I do not get so many. I will simply say that there are more places in sixth-form colleges this year than there were in 2010. Despite the funding constraints and the need to make some difficult choices, this Government are backing sixth-form colleges.

Work-related Learning (Schools)

8. Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of work-related learning in schools. [904955]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): Work-related learning helps young people to become better prepared for employment and develop the skills that employers say are important. The new technical awards for 14 to 16-year-olds are one example of how young people can learn the practical skills needed for the workplace. Our revised statutory guidance on careers advice, effective from September, will strengthen the requirement for schools to build links with employers to give students an insight into a broad range of careers.

Chris Evans: I welcome the Minister to his new post. I listened to what he just said and cannot disagree with any of it. Even the CBI says that 52% of respondents to a recent survey say that schools must teach pupils about work-based skills. Therefore, can he tell the House why the Government have seen fit to abolish year 10 work experience?

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Mr Gyimah: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman says that there is not much we can disagree about. We removed the duty in order to allow schools the freedom and autonomy to decide how they provide work-related learning at key stage 4. We are focusing on high-quality and meaningful work experience post-16 so that students can acquire the skills and experience that employers demand. Following the introduction of our 16-to-19 study programme in traineeships in 2013, work experience is now an important element of post-16 education.

19. [904966] Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I welcome the Minister to his new post. Does he agree that the measure introduced by the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill to ensure that we properly track students from school into work will be of great benefit in work experience and in ensuring that students get into the right jobs?

Mr Gyimah: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important not only that we ensure high standards in schools, but that pupils get the right experience as they go through the education system—both academic qualifications and employability skills—in order to get work.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): I, too, welcome the Secretary of State and her new Ministers to their posts. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has found that young people who have four or more work experience activities during their education are five times less likely to fall into the category of NEET—not in education, employment or training—in later life, yet work experience placements have declined by 15% on this Government’s watch. Will the Secretary of State reverse her predecessor’s decision to abolish work experience?

Mr Gyimah: The hon. Lady forgot to mention that we currently have the lowest ever level of NEETs, thanks to this Government’s long-term economic plan. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), many education providers already have excellent links with employers, as the CBI says, and what they want to see is organisations such as the National Careers Service, Jobcentre Plus, local enterprise partnerships and education business partnerships offering support to schools. That is how we will get our young people into work.

Sixth-form Colleges (Funding)

9. Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effect on admission numbers for sixth-form colleges of funding changes since 2010. [904956]

The Minister for Skills, Enterprise and Equalities (Nick Boles): In case it was not clear the first time, let me explain that despite a fall in the population of 16 to 19-year-olds, sixth-form colleges have been allocated 2% more places in 2014-15 than in 2010-11.

Ian Lucas: My question is different from the one that the Minister answered earlier, so it would be helpful if he addressed himself to it specifically. The Sixth Form Colleges Association tells us that £100 million has been

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taken out of sixth-form colleges since 2010, and we have also heard about the disparity they face in connection with VAT. Why are this Government treating sixth-form colleges so badly?

Nick Boles: I do not want to be pernickety, but the hon. Gentleman’s question reads as follows:

“What assessment she has made of the effect on admissions numbers for sixth-form colleges of funding changes”.

The answer is that the funding changes have produced an increase in admission numbers to sixth-form colleges.

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): May I ask the Minister to turn his mind from the general to the specific—namely, City College Coventry, which trains about 50% of 16 to 18-year-olds in Coventry and which, for the year 2015, is receiving an 18% cut? Will he look at that specifically and perhaps come with me to visit the college?

Nick Boles: I would be happy to look at the particular financial situation of the college in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and to see how the damping mechanism that is in place is working in that case.

Traineeships Programme

11. Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): What progress has been made on the traineeships programme; and if she will make a statement. [904958]

The Minister for Skills, Enterprise and Equalities (Nick Boles): The Government launched traineeships last August to help 16 to 23-year-olds to develop the skills and vital experience they need to get an apprenticeship or a sustainable job. Some 7,400 young people have already started a traineeship.

Rehman Chishti: I welcome the Minister to his new post, and I know he will do an outstanding job. What commitment have the Government received from major national employers to offer traineeships to young people that will also help to benefit the 640 NEETs in Medway, which covers my constituency?

Nick Boles: I am delighted to be able to tell my hon. Friend that Virgin Media, Jaguar Land Rover, Siemens, the BBC, National Grid and Barclays, to name just a few, are committed to setting up and offering traineeships. I will certainly be happy to look into seeing whether any of those could be available to his constituents in the Medway area.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): We now have a raft of opportunities for young people—traineeships, apprenticeships, sixth-form colleges, further education colleges—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That is not to say that they are all something that Government Members should claim credit for. Does that not underline the importance of good, transparent, independent careers advice from a young age—from 14? Would the Minister be willing to come to speak to constituents of mine who have expressed to me very strongly their desire for access to face-to-face careers advice at an early stage so they can make the right choices in life?

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Nick Boles: The National Careers Service does provide face-to-face meetings for up to 1 million young people, but I am of course happy to meet the hon. Lady and her constituents. We recognised that not all schools were doing exactly what we expected of them. That is why we produced new guidance on making sure that schools are doing what is required of them in offering young people a choice of opportunities, not just within the school but among all other institutions, to take their education forward.

Technical Baccalaureate

12. Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): What progress she has made on introducing the technical baccalaureate. [904959]

The Minister for Skills, Enterprise and Equalities (Nick Boles): This feels a little like machine gun fire, but I am always happy to take bullets from the hon. Lady. The technical baccalaureate will be available in all schools and colleges from this September. Students will need to pass one or more tech levels and a maths qualification, such as AS maths or the new core maths qualifications, and to undertake an extended project.

Lyn Brown: I will do my best with the bullets. When the Leader of the Opposition announced the “tech bac” at the Labour party conference in 2012, the Tories briefed that it would leave thousands of young people unemployable. How many young people does the Minister predict will be taking up the Government’s “tech bac” from September 2014, and how many of them does he think will be unemployable?

Nick Boles: The reason we are in government and the hon. Lady is not is that we are very good at taking ideas that are not yet perfect and making them perfect, which is exactly what we have done with the idea of a “tech bac”. I am very hopeful that about 25% of young people will take up the opportunity of a “tech bac”. The key thing is what is in it—that the qualifications that make it up are themselves demanding. That is what we are ensuring.

Child Care

15. Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): What steps she is taking to improve the quality of child care. [904962]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): As the new Minister for child care, let me state clearly that the Government’s position is that high-quality child care has a powerful impact on children’s development and educational attainment, and is a driver of social mobility. That is why we are driving up standards through a stronger inspection framework and focusing local authority support on weaker providers, improving the skills and status of the work force and investing £50 million through a new early-years pupil premium, which will benefit 170,000 three and four-year-olds from low-income families. Finally, we are providing 20% of disadvantaged two-year-olds with access to high-quality provision, rising to 40% in September.

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Barbara Keeley: As well as congratulating the new Education Secretary and her team on their new roles, may I say that I hope they will ensure that their Department pays the London living wage to all who work there, like some other Departments?

Early intervention grants to Salford have been cut by 50% since 2010 and, overall, Salford city council has had £100 million cut from its budgets. The situation now threatens the existence of our excellent Sure Start centres. How will those savage budget cuts contribute to the quality of child care and to the continuation of our Sure Start centres?

Mr Gyimah: This Government are increasing the amount of money invested in early intervention in child care to the tune of £5 billion. As I said in my previous answer, we have also introduced a new early-years pupil premium, which will help 170,000 three and four-year-olds, and we are extending the offer of free child care from 20% to 40% of the most disadvantaged two-year-olds. That is what I call supporting quality child care.

Local Oversight of Schools

16. Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): What steps she is taking to improve the oversight of schools at a local level. [904963]

The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): From September 2014, eight regional school commissioners, supported by head teacher boards, will ensure more local oversight of academies and free schools by highly respected local practitioners and leading sector representatives. We have also strengthened the guidance for local authorities on intervening in maintained schools, as well as ensuring that Ofsted inspections use a risk-based approach, with more frequent inspection for those performing least well. The chief inspector has the power to inspect any school at any time where he has concerns.

Shabana Mahmood: On Birmingham schools and the Trojan horse affair, will the Secretary of State recognise that improving oversight of schools in Birmingham will require support, trust and confidence from the local communities affected, and will she acknowledge the damage done to that task by the leaking of the Clarke report, which shows, at the very least, that oversight in her own Department could do with some improvement as well?

Nicky Morgan: I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. I look forward to working with not only the local community, but local Members of Parliament, who will be critical in getting to the bottom of exactly what has happened. There is absolutely no place for extremist views in our schools, and I will say more about that tomorrow.

Topical Questions

T1. [904938] Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will shortly make a statement on flight MH17, but let me pay tribute in particular to Ben Pocock, a student at Loughborough university who lost his life along with the hundreds of other innocent victims.

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I also pay tribute to the achievements of my predecessor as Secretary of State for Education. I believe that he will be remembered as one of the great reforming Secretaries of State for Education. Let me be absolutely clear that I share with him a total commitment to creating an education system that enables young people, regardless of their background, to unlock every ounce of their potential.

Henry Smith: I join my right hon. Friend in sending our condolences to the family of the MH17 victim from Loughborough university. I also warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment as Secretary of State for Education. Will she join me in congratulating students from Oriel high school, Hazelwick school and Holy Trinity school in my constituency who recently won awards at the STEMfest, which I launched for the third year in my constituency, and does she agree that it is important that we encourage young people to consider science, technology, engineering and maths subjects?

Nicky Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate those schools in Crawley that took part in STEMfest and my hon. Friend, who is an excellent constituency Member of Parliament, on his continuing support for that valuable event. Such events provide students with an insight to future STEM careers and the importance of STEM to the UK economy. I hope those students who took part will be inspired to continue to study STEM subjects in the next stage of their education and beyond.

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): May I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new post? I also pay tribute to her predecessor. He was a man full of ideas; they just happened to be the wrong ones, which is why he had to go. After no change on AS-levels, work experience or free schools, will the Secretary of State explain to the House why she is also continuing with the flawed and unpopular policy of increasing the number of unqualified teachers in our schools? When will she make the break and put the interests of parents and pupils above those of Tory party ideology?

Nicky Morgan: I thank the hon. Gentleman very much indeed for his warm words. He started off so well, but the theatrics were typical of somebody who took part in the Cambridge Footlights when he was there. I am not going to take lessons from the hon. Gentleman—oh, no! Wait a minute. He does give lessons, as an unqualified teacher, doesn’t he?

Tristram Hunt: No change there, so let me try another question. The Government’s rushed curriculum changes risk undermining faith in the examination system, causing confusion for parents and pupils. Ofqual has already warned of greater than normal turbulence in examination results this summer. Is the Secretary of State fully satisfied that her Government’s changes will not compromise fairness and consistency as pupils receive their results in August?

Nicky Morgan: I would like to answer that question with a one-word answer: yes. I am not going to take lessons from the hon. Gentleman, because under this Government there are 250,000 fewer pupils in under- performing schools and 800,000 more pupils in schools

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that are rated good and outstanding. That is the legacy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), which I intend to build on.

T5. [904943] Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Only one of the six secondary schools on the Isle of Wight, Christ the King, has been judged good by Ofsted. It is massively oversubscribed. Two new schools will open next term, but what is being done to encourage the remaining schools to become good or even excellent schools?

The Minister for Schools (Mr David Laws): My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that educational standards on the Isle of Wight are unacceptably low. That is why, in July 2013, the previous Secretary of State issued a direction notice to Isle of Wight council to improve standards. My hon. Friend will know that Hampshire is now the island’s strategic partner, and that it is making good progress with the schools on the island. However, the Department for Education and all its Ministers will be keeping a close eye on the island to ensure that standards continue to improve.

T2. [904939] Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The Government’s own figures show that there are nearly 600 fewer children’s centres than there were at the time of the last election. According to the charity 4Children, a further 100 children’s centres are under threat of imminent closure as a result of cuts by this Government. Will the new Minister take the necessary action to halt the decline in the number of children’s centres and to remove the threat to services that are relied on by so many families and children?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): We want to see a strong network of children’s centres in place across the country, offering families access to a wide range of local, flexible services. In fact, a recent survey showed that, under this Government, a record number of parents—more than 1 million—were now using children’s centres, and that the centres were reaching more than 90% of families in need. I guess that listening to the views of families is what is important here.

T8. [904947] David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I welcome the Government’s positive approach in creating a fairer funding formula for schools. That will mean that pupils in Macclesfield will be receiving a £125 cash boost. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that a fairer funding formula will continue to be a strong focus under this Government?

Mr Laws: I can promise my hon. Friend that a fairer funding formula will be delivered in 2015-16. His own area will receive an additional £5.7 million. This is the biggest move towards fair funding across England in a decade, and it is long overdue. It should have taken place under the previous Government, and it will take place under this one.

T3. [904940] Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): I was glad to read in the newspapers that the Minister had finally abandoned plans to allow firms such as G4S to run child protection services, but then I looked more closely and discovered that he now intends to allow those firms

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to set up not-for-profit subsidiaries that would run those services anyway. That would mean that the same firm could place a child into a care home and run that care home, and not be inspected by Ofsted. How on earth can the Minister think that that would be good for children?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): I think the hon. Lady should talk to those on her Front Bench, as well as to her colleagues in the previous Labour Government who started this whole process by legislating on social work practices. We have been clear, following the consultation, that there will be non-profit organisations running children’s services but also that the same levels of accountability and oversight will apply as a consequence. She needs to look carefully at the detail and talk to her Front Benchers about what their position is.

Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): Schools across Norfolk will every day serve an extra 21,000 free school meals to infant-aged children from September. Will the Minister join me in thanking head teachers and schools in my constituency that have worked hard to ensure that these meals are delivered, and will he update the House on how many schools are going to fulfil the policy?

Mr Laws: I would like to thank head teachers, governing bodies and local authorities right across the country that are now delivering the policy. It is one of the most important social reforms introduced by our Government. It will raise attainment, raise the quality of food eaten in schools and help with household budgets. The vast majority of schools are on track to deliver it successfully in September, and we continue to work with the small minority that have further work to do.

T4. [904941] Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): Many parents across Leicester, and I dare say across Loughborough too, do not think it unreasonable to expect teachers to be qualified. Why does the right hon. Lady disagree with them?

Nicky Morgan: I think the hon. Gentleman ought to ask his own shadow Education Secretary, who himself has been teaching unqualified. Government Members believe that head teachers are the best people to know about the qualifications of those who teach children. We want to look at the outcomes, not to be obsessed always with the structures and the people.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a national scandal that under the previous Government an estimated 350,000 young people a year were studying for post-16 qualifications that offered no route into stable employment or higher education?

The Minister for Skills, Enterprise and Equalities (Nick Boles): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This Government have got rid of 3,000 poor-quality qualifications allowed in by the previous Government who, in doing so, debased the currency of qualifications and led young people up the garden path with no real prospect of getting a job at the end of it.

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T7. [904946] Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): The Government’s flagship education policy—free schools— looks like it is fast becoming their greatest liability. When will the Department set out how it will encourage applications from areas with forecasts of high or severe need for additional school places, working with local authorities where appropriate? Will the Secretary of State give a commitment today to a timetable for that to happen, or is she content with business as usual?

Nicky Morgan: I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his question, but the plain fact is that two thirds of free schools have so far been judged good or outstanding. The tremendous policy of free schools is supported by parents, and we will continue with them.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): State boarding schools are the hidden jewel in the crown of the state education system. It would benefit the taxpayer greatly if more service personnel’s children went to state boarding schools, rather than to independent schools. Will the new Secretary of State work with the Secretary of State for Defence to allow greater capital funding for state boarding schools to enable them to expand to take more service personnel’s children?

Nicky Morgan: Two of my Ministers will speak to the relevant organisation later today. The Secretary of State for Defence is on the Front Bench, and I will certainly be happy to talk to him further about that.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Local authorities have warned of a £20 million shortfall in capital for the introduction of universal free school meals. What cuts does the Minister expect schools to make to deliver on this Government imperative?

Mr Laws: Schools and local authorities are delivering on this policy. We have allocated an additional £150 million for 2015-16. In addition, local authorities have a budget for improving maintenance of £1.2 billion to call on, if they wish to do so.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Minutes of a meeting of governors at the Duke of York’s Royal Military school held on 26 November last year note that the Ministry of Defence, the school’s sponsor “were not keen” to be involved with military academies due to “reputational risk”. Will the Secretary of State elaborate on what that reputational risk comprises, say whether it applies to all military schools sponsored by the Ministry of Defence and enlighten the House about what discussions have taken place between her Department and the Ministry of Defence?

Mr Laws: We support the contacts between the military school and state school systems. I am happy to look at the points that my hon. Friend has raised and to write to her about them.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): The current problems in Birmingham academies and my experiences of Byrchall high in my constituency lead me to believe that the last Secretary of State left academy schools completely unaccountable. Will the new Secretary of State take action and change the regulations to force head teachers, at the least, to give a written response to MPs’ inquiries?

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Nicky Morgan: I expect all schools to work closely with their Members of Parliament. I will talk more about this matter tomorrow when I make a statement about the Clarke report. It is not true to say that academies are not subject to oversight. They are subject to more oversight from the Department for Education and the Education Funding Agency than maintained schools.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): The Secretary of State’s predecessor was not radical enough on free schools. Will she take this opportunity to state unequivocally her support for free schools, and will she bring forward new ideas for a more rapid expansion of free schools across the country?

Nicky Morgan: It is always exciting to be tempted to be more radical. My commitment to free schools is absolutely undimmed. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and Members from all parts of the House to get more free schools up and running.

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Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): The Secretary of State will know that I have worked for five months to uncover problems at Park View school. The leader of Birmingham city council has apologised for the city’s role in the historic failures. Will she apologise to my constituents for what Peter Clarke has called the “benign neglect” of Park View since it became an academy two years ago, and will she respond positively to my letter of last week, which called for a new joint director of school standards in Birmingham so that this never happens again?

Nicky Morgan: The right hon. Gentleman will have heard my earlier answers in which I said that these matters will be discussed more fully tomorrow on publication of the Clarke report. I pay tribute to the work that the right hon. Gentleman has done. I have his letter and will respond to it.

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Ukraine (Flight MH17) and Gaza

3.31 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): This is the first time that the House has met since the tragic loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 last Thursday, and I think that it is right to make a statement about that and the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza.

Flight MH17 was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board were killed. That includes 10 of our own citizens, as many as 80 children, and victims from nine other countries, including 193 Dutch citizens. It also includes members of an Australian family who lost relatives on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 earlier this year. From Adelaide to Amsterdam, from Kuala Lumpur to Newcastle, we are seeing heart-wrenching scenes of grief as communities come together to remember their loved ones. I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the friends and families of everyone affected. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

Alongside sympathy for the victims, there is anger. There is anger that this could happen at all; there is anger that the murder of innocent men, women and children has been compounded by sickening reports of looting of victims’ possessions and interference with the evidence; and there is rightly anger that a conflict that could have been curtailed by Moscow has instead been fomented by Moscow. That has to change now.

In the past few days, I have spoken to Presidents Obama and Hollande, Chancellor Merkel, and the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Poland and Australia. We are all agreed on what must happen. First, those with influence on the separatists must ensure that they allow the bodies of the victims to be repatriated and provide uninhibited access to the crash site to enable a proper international investigation of what happened to flight MH17. Secondly, President Putin must use his influence to end the conflict in Ukraine by halting supplies and training for the separatists. Thirdly, we must establish proper long-term relationships between Ukraine and Russia; between Ukraine and the European Union; and, above all, between Russia and the European Union, NATO and the wider west. Let me take each of those points in turn.

The first priority remains ensuring that there is proper access to the crash site to repatriate the bodies and investigate what happened. The UK has sent air accident investigators and a police-led victim identification team to help the international effort. The Ukrainian Ministry of Emergency Situations has searched an area of 32 sq km around the crash site and recovered 272 bodies. The work has been made more difficult by the presence of armed separatists. The bodies sitting on a refrigerated train have still not been allowed to leave. The pictures of victims’ personal belongings being gone through are a further sickening violation of the tragic scene. It is welcome that international experts have been able to visit the site, but this should not have taken four days, and even now they are still not getting the unimpeded access that they need.

I spoke to President Putin last night and made it clear that there can be no more bluster or obfuscation. We expect him to help right now by using his influence with

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the pro-Russian separatists to secure full access for international investigators, and to support the repatriation of the bodies by handing them over to the appropriate authorities and ensuring that they are treated with dignity. Families want information and answers, and we must make sure that they get them. The UK and Australia have tabled a joint resolution at the United Nations Security Council demanding proper access in support of a credible international investigation, and we expect that resolution to be voted on this evening.

Secondly, I also made it clear to President Putin that we expect Russia to end its support for the separatists and their attempts to further destabilise Ukraine. No one is saying that President Putin intended flight MH17 to be shot down—it is unlikely that even the separatists wanted this to happen—but we should be absolutely clear about what caused this terrible tragedy to happen. The context for this tragedy is Russia’s attempt to destabilise a sovereign state, violate its territorial integrity, and arm and train thuggish militias.

Over the past month there has been an increasing amount of heavy weaponry crossing the border from Russia to separatist fighters in Ukraine, and there is evidence that Russia has been providing training to separatist fighters at a facility in south-west Russia, including training on air defence systems. Seconds before flight MH17 dropped out of contact, a surface-to-air missile launch was detected from a separatist-controlled area in south-eastern Ukraine. According to expert analysis, an SA-11 is the most likely missile type. In an intercepted conversation, a known separatist leader was overheard claiming that a separatist faction had downed an aircraft. Another separatist leader claimed on Twitter at about the same time to have shot down an aircraft, while a video on social media over the weekend showed an SA-11 missile system, missing at least one missile, travelling back towards Russia. Those who argue that the Ukrainians could be responsible need to explain all this. In addition, there is no evidence that Ukrainian forces have fired a single surface-to-air missile during the conflict, and no Ukrainian air defence systems appear to have been within range of the crash. By contrast, pro-Russian separatist fighters have downed more than a dozen Ukrainian aircraft over the past few months, including two transport aircraft, so the picture is becoming clearer and the weight of evidence is pointing in one direction: MH17 was shot down by an SA-11 missile fired by separatists.

Thirdly, this is a defining moment for Russia. The world is watching, and President Putin faces a clear choice in how he decides to respond to this appalling tragedy. I hope that he will use this moment to find a path out of this festering and dangerous crisis by ending Russia’s support for the separatists, but if he does not change his approach to Ukraine in that way, Europe and the West must fundamentally change our approach to Russia.

Those of us in Europe should not need to be reminded of the consequences of turning a blind eye when big countries bully smaller countries. We should not shrink from standing up for the principles that govern conduct between independent nations in Europe, and that ultimately keep the peace on our continent. For too long there has been a reluctance on the part of too many European countries to face up to the implications of what is happening in eastern Ukraine. It is time to make our power, influence and resources felt.

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Over the weekend I agreed with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande that we should push our partners in the European Union to consider a new range of hard-hitting economic sanctions against Russia. We should take the first step at the Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels tomorrow, and if Russia does not change course, then we must be clear that Europe must keep increasing the pressure. Russia cannot expect to continue enjoying access to European markets, European capital and European knowledge and technical expertise while she fuels conflict in one of Europe’s neighbours. We must do what is necessary to stand up to Russia and put an end to the conflict in Ukraine before any more innocent lives are lost.

Let me now turn to the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza. The crisis was triggered by Hamas raining hundreds of rockets on Israeli cities, indiscriminately targeting civilians in contravention of all humanitarian law and norms. In the last fortnight, Hamas has fired 1,850 rockets at Israeli cities. This unprecedented barrage continues to this moment, with Hamas rejecting all proposals for a ceasefire, including those put forward by the Egyptian Government.

I have been clear throughout this crisis that Israel has the right to defend itself. Those criticising Israel’s response must ask themselves how they would expect their own Government to react if hundreds of rockets were raining down on British cities today. But I share the grave concern of many in the international community about the heavy toll of civilian casualties. The figures are very disturbing. More than 500 people have now reportedly been killed in Gaza, and over 3,000 injured. The UN estimates that over 83,000 people have been displaced so far. Israel has also faced loss of life, with 18 soldiers and two civilians killed, including 13 soldiers yesterday alone.

I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu again about this crisis last night. I repeated our recognition of Israel’s right to take proportionate action to defend itself, and our condemnation of Hamas’s refusal to end its rocket attacks, despite all international efforts to broker a ceasefire. But I urged him do everything to avoid civilian casualties, to exercise restraint, and to help find ways to bring this situation to an end. Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear that Israel had been ready to accept each of these ceasefire proposals and had unilaterally implemented a temporary ceasefire in the hope that Hamas would follow suit.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to President Abbas to welcome his support for a ceasefire and underline our wish to see the Palestinian Authority back in Gaza. The United Nations Security Council met in a special session last night and issued a call for an immediate ceasefire. The Council expressed serious concern about rising casualties, and called for respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians. We strongly endorse that call. It is vital that Hamas recognises the need to enter into serious negotiations to end this crisis. In particular, we urge Hamas to engage with the ceasefire proposals put forward by the Egyptian Government. It is only by securing a ceasefire that the space can be created to address the underlying issues and return to the long and painstaking task of building the lasting and secure peace that we all want to see, and I commend this statement to the House.

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3.41 pm

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and advance sight of it.

The shooting down of MH17 over the skies of Ukraine was a tragedy that shocked the world. On behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, who is visiting Washington, I join the Prime Minister in expressing our heartfelt and deepest sympathy to the relatives of those who have lost their lives. All of us have been outraged by the images of the site left open for anyone to trample over, and the way that the bodies of the deceased have been handled with what looks like casual indifference. We have all been horrified, but what must it be like for the families of the deceased to see that?

Those families face not only grief and loss, but multiple practical issues. Will the Prime Minister identify a senior Minister to co-ordinate support for them? That role was performed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) after 9/11, 7/7 and the tsunami. Will he ensure that his Government do everything they can to enable the international community to help secure the site, repatriate the bodies, and gather the evidence that shows who is responsible? Does he agree that as soon as the investigation of the disaster is complete, there should be an emergency meeting of European Heads of Government to consider what further steps should be taken? It appears that international civil aviation regulators imposed no restrictions on crossing that part of eastern Ukraine. In the light of the attack on flight MH17, is there now specific travel advice for British citizens planning to go abroad?

As the Prime Minister set out in his statement, evidence is growing that this was not simply a tragedy but a terrible crime. Surely this is a moment of reckoning for Europe. This is the moment for a strong and determined EU to step up to its responsibilities and confront the Russian actions. Europe must show its sorrow, but it must also show its strength. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to seek a toughening of EU sanctions against Russia at tomorrow’s EU Council meeting. Will he tell the House what measures he wants to be considered? Will he support decisive steps to extend sanctions not just against specific individuals but against Russian commercial organisations, to dissuade President Putin from the supply of arms and the support for separatists that he is now providing across the Russian border?

Turning to the horror that is unfolding in Gaza, it is intolerable to see the harrowing images of hospitals overwhelmed, mortuaries overflowing and parents devastated as they cradle their dying children. Yesterday the world stood witness to the most bloodstained day. Since the start of this conflict, 20 Israelis have been killed, 18 of whom were soldiers. More than 500 Palestinians have been killed, including countless children—innocent young children whose short lives have been ended in the most brutal and horrific of circumstances.

We cannot reduce this conflict to a ledger of casualties, but we must acknowledge the scale of suffering in Gaza, because the life of a Palestinian child is worth every bit as much as that of an Israeli child. Every death of a Palestinian child will fuel the hatred, embolden Israel’s enemies and recruit more supporters to terrorist groups such as Hamas. We stand up for Israel’s right to defend itself, but this escalation will not bring Israel lasting security.

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Does the Prime Minister agree with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that we must continue to press for an immediate ceasefire, an immediate end to the Israeli military operation in Gaza, and an end to the rocket fire by Hamas; that all sides must respect international humanitarian law; and that Israel must exercise maximum restraint?

What is the Prime Minister’s view of the report suggesting that Israel is using flechette shells? Does he agree that the only way to avoid the cycle of violence and perpetual insecurity in the region is to address the root causes of the conflict and that there must be an immediate return to the negotiating table and talks on a two-state solution? As Ban Ki-moon said:

“Israelis, but also Palestinians, need to feel a sense of security. Palestinians, but also Israelis, need to see a horizon of hope.”

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for her response and also for her condolences for those who have lost loved ones. She is absolutely right to say that what has happened over the skies of Ukraine is a deeply human tragedy; that is how we should see it first and foremost. Our thoughts should be with the victims and their families and on the need to get the bodies off the site and to have that site properly dealt with. That is our first priority. She asked a number of specific questions and made some specific points. On the consular work that is being done, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), is leading on that. In time, I will want to discuss directly with the victims’ families how best we can take care of all their needs and concerns.

The right hon. and learned Lady asked whether there should be an EU Heads of State/Heads of Government European Council emergency meeting. I certainly do not rule it out, but, in the first instance, we should task our Foreign Ministers, who are meeting on Tuesday night, to set out the tough measures that are necessary to show that Europe is heading on a different path. Then she asked about the travel advice to UK citizens. Of course, Eurocontrol is the organisation that sets the parameters for where aeroplanes can and cannot fly, whereas we give advice about individual countries to which people should and should not travel, and that information is regularly updated on the Foreign Office website.

The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to say that this is a moment of reckoning for Europe, and I very much hope that the European Council will not be found wanting. She asked specifically about the steps that should be taken. As she knows, we have the tier 2 sanctions, some of which have already been put in place, but there is more that can be done, such as naming individuals and increasing the number of asset freezes and travel bans. I suggested at the European Council last week that that number should be broadened to include the cronies and oligarchs around President Putin and other leaders, even if there is not a direct link between them and Crimea and Ukraine. I made some progress on that on Wednesday night, and I hope to make some more progress. It is time to start to go into the tier 3 sanctions. For instance, future military sales from any country in Europe should not be going ahead. We have already stopped them from Britain. A number

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of other suggestions were made about airlines and banks, particularly those connected with Crimea, which have not yet been acted on, so there is a whole set of things that needs to be put in train with a very clear message.

On Gaza, the right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right that we cannot look at the situation in terms of a ledger of casualties. Again, this is a deeply human tragedy. Anyone seeing those pictures in Gaza of the children running across the beach before their young lives are snuffed out—as a father of three, I cannot help but be incredibly moved by that. What is happening in Gaza is absolutely heartbreaking. We have to be clear, though, about how this could most quickly be brought to an end: that is for Hamas to stop the rocket attacks on Israel. If it stops those, all the other things that we need—the end of the Israeli operation, and the ceasefire—would be in place.

Again, I agree with the right hon. and learned Lady on the root causes. We need to make progress with the two-state solution. That is not going to happen while we do not have a ceasefire and while Hamas is subjecting Israel to rocket attacks. That is the root cause of this, and that is the thing that needs to change and change quickly in order to bring peace to the middle east.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that since visa controls and asset freezes have been introduced, President Putin has illegally annexed Crimea and sent in his special forces and so-called volunteers to fight with the insurgents to try to further dismember Ukraine? He has now been responsible for the missile launcher that brought down the international civil airliner. Is it not time to acknowledge that asset freezes and visa controls are useless as a way of influencing his policy, and that the only measures that will influence him are those that go for his Achilles heel? It is not just the United Kingdom but Europe, the United States and as many other countries as are willing to take part that should introduce financial, banking and widespread economic sanctions.

The Prime Minister: I think my right hon. and learned Friend, who speaks with great experience, is right. The point I would make is that there have been occasions when the relatively modest measures taken so far have had an effect on the Russian stock market, the Russian currency, Russian investment and Russian growth. Those issues have had an effect, but it is quite clear that we need to do more and we need to it rapidly.

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Surely friends of Israel, like the Prime Minister and I, have a duty at this time to speak the truth. These attacks, despite the horrendous rocket assaults on Israel and the extremism of Hamas, are not “disproportionate”; in any other conflict they would be described as war crimes. That is the truth. The problem also is that there is no end in sight to this. What will happen, a moderate Palestinian leadership having been replaced by Hamas through the failure to succeed in negotiations, is that Hamas, as the respected former Israeli Government adviser Daniel Levy has suggested, could soon be replaced by ISIS in Gaza. We have to start, as the west, speaking the truth, acting and persuading the Israeli Government to negotiate seriously.

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The Prime Minister: As a friend of Israel—the right hon. Gentleman said that he is one too—I think we should always speak the truth, and I always have done with Israel, for instance in the case of illegal settlements. But I think another element of the truth is that if Hamas stopped the rocket attacks on Israel, the Israeli operation in Gaza would end and there would be a ceasefire. The point that the Israeli Prime Minister makes, which I think is a legitimate one, is that there have been a number of occasions when he has unilaterally declared or agreed to a ceasefire, but Hamas will not follow suit. I absolutely agree that we need to speak the truth, but the truth must start with an end to these attacks.

Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that within the next few days negotiations should be concluded between the member states of the European Union on a proper sharing of the economic burden that will fall on our own economies from economic sanctions? Does he also agree that if this outrageous behaviour is not met with truly effective sanctions, the west faces very grave problems in the next few years from Russian behaviour across the rest of central and eastern Europe, including the Balkan states and the Baltic states inside the Union itself?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend makes two extremely good points. First, we have to make sure that when tier 3 sanctions come—and they should come—they cover areas such as financial services, defence and energy. That will affect different countries in different ways, but we need to ensure that we are all effectively sharing in the burden. Britain has been clear that we are willing to do that. The second point he makes is that those who argue that the effect of sanctions will be to damage our own economies are missing the bigger point, which is that our economic future is bound up with our economic security. We will lose that diplomatic and economic security if we do not confront the fact that one country in Europe is now being destabilised by Russia, and if we let this happen, others will follow.

Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab): I am sure the Prime Minister will join me in sending his deepest condolences to the family of Richard Mayne, who lost his life in this appalling tragedy, who live in my constituency.

Europe must send a far stronger message to Russia about what has happened and its responsibility for putting it right, so will the Prime Minister say how other European leaders have responded to his proposals for additional sanctions and how likely they are to agree them?

The Prime Minister: First, I join the hon. Lady in sending our condolences to Richard Mayne’s family and friends for their loss.

On what other European leaders have said, we discussed Ukraine and sanctions last week, but I believe that, since then, things have changed and things need to change. On what I agreed with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, there is now a willingness to consider a package of sanctions that includes important measures in what I have called the third tier of sanctions, and obviously the Dutch Prime Minister, having suffered this huge loss to his country, will want to engage directly

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in this debate as well. It will not be easy, because we will have to agree everything together in the European Council, but I think the whole world can see what happens when there is a Russian leader who has been fomenting unrest in another country and potentially supplying the weapons that could have brought down this plane. It is a toxic mixture that has led to this tragedy, and if we do not do something, it could happen again.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): My right hon. Friend asks what the reaction should be here, were we to be subject to such rocket attacks as those sustained by Israel. As a Member of Parliament, I would ask—indeed, demand—that our Government respond in a proportionate way, consistent with international law and with proper regard for the safety of innocent men, women and children. With all the sophisticated military technology at its disposal, can Israel really protect itself only by the kind of operations that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has called “atrocious”?

The Prime Minister: Of course, we would urge every country to act in a way that is proportionate and consistent with international law. We believe in those norms of international law and uphold them ourselves, but it is worth putting ourselves for a minute in the shoes of the Israeli people who have suffered these rocket attacks and who quite sensibly ask their Government to take action to try to prevent them in the future.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman condemn outright the Israeli massacre over the weekend at Shujai’iya of 67 Palestinian innocents whom Netanyahu has obscenely described as “telegenically dead”, together with the four innocent people killed today by the Israeli direct hit on the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades’ hospital? Will he also increase the Government’s valuable aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency? Some 67,000 Palestinians have fled to its refuge centres, but they are running out of water and money to feed them. While in no way condoning the actions of Hamas, I ask him to point out to Netanyahu, on the evidence of the two previous Israeli attacks on Gaza, that he can kill, but he cannot win.

The Prime Minister: First, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are increasing our funding for UNRWA to the tune of £2 million, as the International Development Secretary made clear this morning, and, as he knows, we are a significant donor to the Palestinian Authority and the humanitarian causes that need to be supported in the Palestinian Territories, and will continue to be. We do not support the idea that it is acceptable to have civilian casualties, and we would condemn the deliberate targeting of civilians—it is contrary to international law—but I repeat what I have already said: we have urged the Israelis to demonstrate restraint, to avoid civilian casualties and to find ways to bring this to an end, but the fastest way this can come to an end is for Hamas to stop firing rockets.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): The crisis in Ukraine not only exposes the brutality and malign intent of the Putin regime but is a test of the west’s moral fibre, following our inadequate response to the

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Estonian cyber-attack, Ukrainian gas being cut off, the invasion of Georgia and, most recently, our unwillingness to deal with the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Germany, France and Italy are responsible for 90% of defence exports to Russia. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the leaders of those three counties and in particular with President Hollande about the €1.2 billion export order of Mistral vessels to Russia? It is not just future export orders that must be stopped, but current ones.

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that this is a test of Europe’s fibre—of proving that we can stand up to these threats and do so in a way that is consistent, firm and predictable. That is what needs to happen, so that Russia knows what the result of these types of actions will be. On the issue of defence equipment, we already unilaterally said—as did the US—that we would not sell further arms to Russia; we believe other European countries should do the same. Frankly, in this country it would be unthinkable to fulfil an order like the one outstanding that the French have, but we need to put the pressure on with all our partners to say that we cannot go on doing business as usual with a country when it is behaving in this way.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The Ukrainian separatists have managed to acquire heavy weapons, armour, missile systems and, now, refrigerated trains. They are, beyond argument, an extension of the Kremlin’s power and policy. A gesture strategy simply will not do; we need economic disentanglement, we need effective sanctions and we need, in the face of this kind of regime, to re-examine our security policy, along with that of our allies. Does the Prime Minister not agree?

The Prime Minister: First, I do agree with the right hon. Gentleman that so much of what we see in eastern Ukraine is actually being controlled remotely or at one remove by the Kremlin. I think there is growing evidence for that, and we should be clear that this is not simply a home-grown resistance movement. There are Russian personnel, there is Russian backing, there are Russian weapons systems, and despite repeated requests that the border be properly closed, that has not happened.

I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman as well that we need to take a tough, clear and predictable approach. We have got to explain to Russia that it cannot expect a normal relationship with the EU, Britain or the US if it continues to behave in this way, so what is required, as he says, is a tough, clear and predictable response. In examining our own security, that is something quite rightly done in the strategic defence and security review.

Mr Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Sanctions have a justifiable purpose when they successfully target the right people, but they often have unintended consequences and penalise those for whom they were not intended. Given the lack of any judicial or parliamentary process to oversee sanctions, will the Prime Minister establish a focal point in Government to which those who think they have been unfairly hit by them can turn to seek urgent redress for their grievance?

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The Prime Minister: The purpose of the sanctions we have put in place so far is not simply to target the right people, although that of course has been part of the aim, but, quite deliberately, to have the broader effect of demonstrating to the Russians that when it comes to the economy, energy and these things, Russia needs the EU and America more than the EU and America need Russia. Yes, of course there will sometimes be some collateral damage to people who suffer because of sanctions, but in this case the only way to bring home to the Russians that their approach is damaging for them is for them to see that the Russian economy will suffer as a result.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): May I thank the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for so cogently expressing the grief and anger, which I believe is shared across the House—indeed, across the whole country—over the appalling events in Ukraine? They are quite right to stress that the primary concern is the immediate, unimpeded access to the site and the treatment of the bodies with dignity and humanity. Is there any timeline on this desire? If sanctions do not work, will the international community examine the possibility of criminal charges being brought against those who are responsible?

The Prime Minister: I think the hon. Lady is right to say that the primary concern relates to the dignity of the victims and securing the site, and ensuring that everything possible is done to handle that properly. Time is running out. Daily temperatures in eastern Ukraine are now exceeding 30 degrees, so things need to be done very quickly. The pressure is already on, and progress is being made—international experts are now on the site—but problems such as the train not being able to move have not yet been solved.

I believe that we should think of sanctions not only in the context of securing a proper international investigation, but much more in the context of the longer-term problem, which is Russian involvement in the destabilisation of Ukraine. That is, if you like, the cause that led to this dreadful chain of events. Criminal sanctions should not be ruled out. If we believe all that we are being told about what has happened, this was a crime.

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Russians will laugh at us unless the European Union, this country, NATO and the wider world do not use their resources, power and influence properly, and show evidence of their real determination? If they do not, the Russians will step into the vacuum, to our great disadvantage.

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. During debates on these matters in the European Union, it is often the countries that have the most to lose from economic sanctions that are the strongest supporters of them. The leaders of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Romania speak very passionately about the issue, even though their countries will suffer, because they are aware of the consequences of not standing up to a bully. In our EU debates, it tends to be Britain that backs those countries in favour of tough action, and I hope that we shall be able to make more progress in the future than we have made up to now.

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Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): The Prime Minister said that the most recent bloodshed in Gaza and Israel had started with the Hamas rocket attacks. I deplore those attacks, but does the Prime Minister not accept that they are not happening in a vacuum, but are a consequence of the ongoing Israeli occupation and siege of Gaza? Given that this is the latest in a long line of Israeli breaches of international law, does he recognise the growing movement that is calling for an embargo on all military co-operation with Israel?

The Prime Minister: I do not think that we should in any way seek to justify or explain away rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel. [Interruption.] That is, I am afraid, rather what it sounded like. We must be absolutely clear about the fact that we condemn those rocket attacks, and must make it clear that if they stopped there would be a ceasefire, and we could then make progress.

Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): Yesterday I was in contact with the director of the International Commission on Missing Persons, the excellent international body supported by the United Kingdom Government which has done such fine work in the Balkans and Iraq to identify the victims of violence. It has been asked by the Ukrainians to go and help to identify victims of the Ukrainian air crash. Will my right hon. Friend impress on the authorities that have custody of the bodies that it is a matter not just of dignity, but of identification? You cannot repatriate until you identify. Will he give every support to the ICMP in terms of the representations that must be made to enable it to do its vital work on behalf of the families who so desperately want to have their loved ones back?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly look very closely at what my right hon. Friend has suggested. As he knows, we have police victim identification teams that are going out to Ukraine, and they will be able to help. The work that they and other international experts do is absolutely vital.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Putin’s is a barbarous and a murdering regime—we have known that for a long time. We know what happened to Anna Politkovskaya, to Alexander Litvinenko—in this country—and to Sergei Magnitsky, who worked for a British company in Russia. Let me ask the Prime Minister this, for the seventh time in this Parliament: will he please make it absolutely clear that, as the House agreed unanimously on 7 March 2012, those who were involved in the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and in the corruption that he unveiled are not welcome in this country?

The Prime Minister: I will look very closely at what the hon. Gentleman has said and the names he has mentioned. Perhaps I can write to him about it.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I welcome the Prime Minister’s determination that Russia must cease its support for the separatists, but surely, as my right hon. Friends have said, the time for empty threats is over. Surely all civilised Governments, not just European Union members, must now combine to adopt really effective sanctions in order to make it clear to Mr Putin that he can no longer pursue his lawless banditry with impunity.

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May I also ask, on a technical note, whether the Prime Minister can tell us anything about the location of the black boxes, and whether the air accidents investigation branch, which is based in Farnborough in my constituency, has had access to them yet?

The Prime Minister: The answer on the black boxes is that we have seen the reports that they have been taken away by separatists and we have not seen anything to contradict that. They certainly have not yet been seen by air accidents investigation branch members from the United Kingdom. As for what else my hon. Friend says, I agree with him: a tough, predictable and clear response is required.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): What representations has the Prime Minister ever made to the Government of Israel concerning its illegal settlements, its occupation of the west bank and the siege of Gaza, which has gone on for a long time and has led to 70% unemployment? Does he not think that the current crisis and the carnage in Gaza is caused essentially by the failure of Israel ever to recognise the rights, needs or justice of the Palestinian people, and does he not think it is time Britain did something about it, such as by doing that?

The Prime Minister: To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question specifically, I have repeatedly made references—including in speeches and television appearances, including in Israel—to illegal settlements and illegal occupation. I remember, on my first visit to Israel, in East Jerusalem referring to it as occupied East Jerusalem, and I was quite surprised when one of the Foreign Office officials said it is very refreshing to have someone who is as clear about that, because the then Government were not always clear about it when they were asked the question.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): My right hon. Friend rightly emphasised the needs of the victims and their families. Does he accept that sometimes media reporting can be insensitive and can create greater bereavement and distress as a result, and will he urge the media to try to do whatever they can to make sure the situation is not made worse by the reporting?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Having watched some of this absolutely harrowing coverage, there are moments when it is clear that people are leafing through personal belongings and suitcases in a way that is completely inappropriate. It has mostly been the separatists who have been doing that, but there have been occasions, I think, when mistakes have been made by members of the press. People have to understand that this is effectively a murder scene, but also a scene where there are people’s loved ones, whom they are desperately worried about and want to know whether they will be able to be brought home, and people should behave in an appropriate way.

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): While Israel is rightly claiming its right of self-defence under international law, we cannot have international law for the Israelis and another international law for the Palestinians. When is Britain, and more importantly the United States, going to bring pressure to bear to get the

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Israelis to comply with international law, to end the blockade of Gaza and the settlements on the west bank?

The Prime Minister: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that international law should apply to everybody, and in what we say to the Israelis we stress the fact that, although they have a right to self-defence, in order to be legal self-defence has to be carried out in a way that is proportionate, and that is why we have been urging restraint. So we are very clear: international law applies to all sides.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): I commend the Prime Minister for the Government’s response thus far and wish him well in his talks with the European leaders in the days and weeks ahead. During those talks, will he remind other European leaders that Russia, as well as its activities in Ukraine, remains the largest supplier of arms to the Assad regime, and that some of those arms have been passed to extremist groups and thereby threaten our, and other European nations’ national interests and citizens?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and we should keep reminding other European leaders of that point. What this is all about in the end is Europe’s continued security, on which our prosperity depends, and sometimes we have to take action that can be painful and difficult in the short term in order to deliver the longer-term security and prosperity we want.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I entirely accept the Prime Minister’s sincerity in condemning what happened to Palestinian civilians over the weekend, but if what did occur—100 killed yesterday, so many more injured; as he said himself, four young lads playing hide and seek last week slaughtered by Israeli shelling—are not war crimes, what are war crimes?

The Prime Minister: What is certainly a war crime is launching unprovoked missile attacks on to the sovereign territory of another country—I think we should be very clear about that. It is absolutely a crime against international law and we should be very clear about it. But we should be equally clear, as we are, that Israel, in acting in self-defence, must do so within international law.

Sir Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): In Gaza, much has been made of what is and is not “proportionate”. The argument is being made that it should be an eye for an eye, but in international law the correct definition is that the response should be proportionate “to the threat”. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Israel has no alternative but to go to find who is firing the missiles at it and to stop them?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend, with his experience as Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, is right to quote that important definition of international law—that is the correct position. That is why Israel, understandably, feels under pressure to try to stop the missile attacks that have brought this situation about.

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Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): On 9 July, in evidence to the Select Committee on Defence, the then Secretary of State for Defence—he is now Foreign Secretary—was asked whether he thought that events in Ukraine meant we ought fundamentally to reconsider our strategic defence approaches. He said:

“I think it is important not to overstate the extent to which what has happened in Ukraine has come as a surprise to us.”

He also said it was a bit like what happened in Georgia. We did not think that was accurate on 9 July and it certainly is not accurate now, and the Prime Minister, in his response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), said we should wait for the next defence review—that is not good enough.

The Prime Minister: What I say to the hon. Lady is that we have the fifth largest budget defence budget in the world, and we have altered our spending so that our defence forces are more flexible, more deployable and more useful for the needs we have today. When we look at the challenge with Ukraine, we see that nobody is talking about deploying military assets into Ukraine; what we are talking about is using Europe’s combined financial resources and power to inflict on Russia an approach that means it has to change its course. It is actually political will that is required, rather than an immediate strategic defence review.

Mr Keith Simpson (Broadland) (Con): My right hon. Friend has led the charge in trying to get our European friends to increase sanctions against Russia, but can he tell the House what actually influences Putin? Many people looking from the outside will feel that we are unable to change his behaviour, at least in the short term.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I think the only thing that will influence Russia’s strategic thinking about Ukraine is a sense that the rest of the world is actually going to team up and put in place sanctions that will damage Russia’s economy. As I said, in the end Russia needs Europe and America more than America and Europe need Russia, and we need to make the balance in that relationship show in order to change Russia’s thinking. It is not acceptable to destabilise Ukraine and instead the Russians should be seeking a civilised relationship with Ukraine. That is what we have to make them think about, and it is going to take tough action.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): May I, too, commend the Prime Minister for the efforts he has made over the weekend? May I also urge him to see the relatives of the British victims as quickly as possible, as they must be not only grief stricken but totally bewildered about what is happening? The key thing is not to leave Ukraine on its own. Are we prepared to share any intelligence information with the Ukrainian Government to help them with this terrible threat to their security?

The Prime Minister: First, I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says about the victims, and I certainly am available to have a meeting with their families and talk to them about all the concerns they have. Immediately, the concerns are the consular issues that need to be dealt with, and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign

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and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), is doing that.

The right hon. Gentleman’s other question was about sharing intelligence, and we have already done that with the Ukrainian Government. Lots of countries have information about what happened. Russia, specifically, will have a lot of information about what happened. As I said to Putin on the telephone last night, he should make that information available, in the same way as the Americans and others have made that information available. He could probably put beyond doubt, if he wanted to, what actually happened over the skies of eastern Ukraine, and I urge him to do so.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): If the gangsters in the Kremlin and their sock puppets in the Russian media do not understand the enormity of bringing down a civil aeroplane on an international route, should we not at least consider whether Russian commercial carriers are any more welcome in sovereign airspace in the civilised world?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. All these issues need to be considered in the context of bringing together what Europe can do collectively to send the clearest possible message to Russia.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does the outrage in Ukraine call for a speedy review of the international rules on the safety of flying over conflict zones? Does the much-needed call for a ceasefire in Gaza include a call for the end of Hamas’s terror tunnels and does the Prime Minister agree that they, too, are a war crime?

The Prime Minister: I strongly agree with what the hon. Lady has just said about Hamas, as I mentioned a few moments ago. In terms of the rules governing which airline should fly on which routes, I have asked the Secretary of State for Transport to consider the issue carefully. Eurocontrol is the organisation that sets out the parameters for European flights and obviously airlines themselves have to choose whether to continue with those flights. We are going to look very carefully at whether more needs to be done in this area.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Even if the Prime Minister will not accept the call from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) for some reappraisal of the defence strategy after these terrible events, will he not accept that the national security strategy was written some four years ago, before Iraq, before Syria, before these events and before Ukraine? Surely it is now time for a fundamental reappraisal of our position in the world.

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend that the important thing about a national security strategy and a strategic defence and security review is that they should be regularly refreshed. That is why we are planning to do that next year. We start with the strategy and then move on to what that actually means in practice, but I do not think that we should do this every time a new event takes place. We should have a proper process for setting out these things and that is what we will do.

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Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): For the avoidance of doubt, will the Prime Minister agree that the targeting of civilians or wilful disregard for the lives of civilians is a crime, whether those civilians are flying in a civilian aircraft, sheltering in their homes in south Israel or sheltering in their homes in Gaza? Is he aware that Israel has a history of using UK-supplied arms and components in contravention of the EU consolidated criteria? Would he consider Israel’s use of British-supplied arms or components in Gaza today to be in contravention of those criteria, is he asking Israel whether they are or whether they are not and what answer is he getting?

The Prime Minister: First, let me agree with the hon. Gentleman that the deliberate targeting of civilians is illegal. It is illegal whoever is doing it and we do not support it on any basis, so I would agree with him about that. As for the European Union rules to which he refers, we always ensure that we comply with them.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that the unspeakable events in eastern Ukraine tell us that Putin’s Russia is now as big a threat to democratic values as Islamist terrorism? Does he also agree that unless we in the west have collectively a much stronger response than we have had so far, we are in danger of drifting into another cold war with fighting conducted by proxy armies, which would blight the economic and social progress of a generation? Will he commit the British Government to doing as much as possible in the coming months to avoid that terrible prospect?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend speaks clearly and sensibly about this. We must recognise the scale of the threat that Russia’s actions in Ukraine represent. When one sits in the European Council and listens to the testimony of the Baltic states or countries such as Romania, with their concerns about what is happening in Transnistria, one can see that if we do not act on this occasion firmly, clearly and consistently, while totally changing the approach we have taken, there will be other such problems to come.

Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): What is the Government’s assessment of the reports that the Israelis are using illegal white phosphorus as part of their illegal campaign in Gaza? Will he condemn the use of any chemical weapons in Gaza, as he has been so quick to do on other occasions?

The Prime Minister: I would certainly condemn the use of chemical weapons, whoever is using them. I have not seen reports or any evidence of the use of the weapons to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I shall look very closely at the points that he makes.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): After the immediate practical considerations in Ukraine, the thoughts of many of the families and other countries will turn to justice. Can the Prime Minister say what can be done to identify the individuals who perpetrated this atrocity and where he thinks the jurisdiction will lie? Will it be with the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice or elsewhere?

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The Prime Minister: It should be possible, if every country produces the evidence that it has, to piece together exactly what happened. From the information so far made available, we know the height of the plane and the trajectory and starting point, approximately, of the missile, and the evidential picture, as I described, is building all the time. But if the Russians were to make available all the information that they surely have, it would be much easier to have a very clear picture. On where this could be justiciable, we are looking very closely at that. My right hon. Friend may well be right that the International Criminal Court could come into play.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The Prime Minister is right that what is needed in Gaza is an urgent ceasefire. It has to come, obviously, from both sides. In his judgment, who would have the most influence on both Israel and Hamas to get such a ceasefire, and does he still see a role for the former Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister: The only proposal on the table currently is the Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire and a process. We have said that we back that, the Israelis are willing to back that, and we need Hamas to back that as well. Everyone who can should bring their pressure to bear. All those countries that have a relationship with Hamas—of course, we do not because it does not recognise Israel’s right to exist and it believes in violence—should bring that pressure to bear.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): One of the people tragically lost on flight MH17 was Glenn Thomas, a British national who worked for the World Health Organisation and who was known to a number of us in this House through his work with our all-party parliamentary groups, including the group on global tuberculosis. His loss was a great shock to us. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to his work and to those who were travelling to the world AIDS conference? Do not the values of the World Health Organisation and that conference, the values of internationalism and respect for human rights, stand in stark contrast to the disregard for such values shown by Russia, the aggressor?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I certainly join him in paying tribute to Glenn Thomas and in sending our condolences to his family and friends. The World Health Organisation and specifically the work that has been done on diseases such as TB, malaria and AIDS has been staggeringly successful and it is a beacon for what we can achieve if we spend aid moneys wisely and sensibly and work together as a global community. My right hon. Friend is right—what a contrast between that lifesaving effort and the brutality of what we have seen on our television screens.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): Events over the weekend have been horrendous. What is going on in Gaza is atrocious. Our thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives on flight MH17 in Ukraine. One of my constituents, John Alder, was on that flight. Along with Liam Sweeney from Newcastle, John was going to see Newcastle United play in a pre-season tournament in New Zealand. John was an extraordinary man because

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of the sort of football supporter he was. He went to see every game that Newcastle played—no matter where it was in the world—but he lost his life in that dreadful disaster. Newcastle and Sunderland supporters have united in paying tribute to those lads and in raising funds for charities and for a funeral service. Can we get their bodies home, please, Mr Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister: We are doing everything we can, with international partners, to try and make that happen. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is right to pay tribute to John Alder, Liam Sweeney and all those who lost their lives. It is heartbreaking—the families that have been ripped apart and the lives that have been snuffed out due to this appalling tragedy. We have to think very carefully—the deputy Leader of the Opposition raised this issue—about how best we can talk to the families and hear about how they want to commemorate and remember their loved ones. That was done with great sensitivity following 7/7 and we must make sure we do the same on this occasion.

Mr Andrew Robathan (South Leicestershire) (Con): Under the good stewardship of my right hon. Friend, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), we brought the astonishing, appalling chaos of the Ministry of Defence finances under control and they are now on an even keel. Notwithstanding what the Prime Minister said to our hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray), does he not feel that a sign of our determination to the increasingly bellicose and aggressive Putin, and to the situation in Syria and Iraq and a lamentably long list of other places around the world, might be to now reconsider opening the strategic defence and security review and perhaps spending more on defence rather than less?

The Prime Minister: First, I thank my right hon. Friend for his service in the Ministry of Defence and in the Northern Ireland Office. Because of the work that he and others have done, we now face a situation in which the defence budget is not being cut. Having sorted out the black hole in the defence budget, we now have the launch of the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, the biggest ship ever delivered to the Royal Navy, with the Type 45 destroyers, the hunter-killer submarines, the A400Ms and the joint strike fighters all to arrive. So we have a drumbeat of superb, deployable, high-tech, world-beating equipment so that we can ensure that our country is safe long into the future. There is a proper time to consider whether the events that we see today fundamentally change the strategy and the laydown that we need, and we will do that at the right time.

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): A year ago, the House took a decision not to intervene militarily in Syria, and that was quickly followed by a similar decision by the United States. These decisions were both coloured by a reaction to long military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. If the Prime Minister is right that the shooting down of this airliner was the responsibility of Russian-backed separatists armed by Russia, how will he ensure a robust response in the light of that mood, that affects both politics and

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political decision-making, which shows that we have not lost our ability to act or our willingness to stand up for what we believe in?

The Prime Minister: I agree with the sentiment behind what the right hon. Gentleman said absolutely. It is true that Britain is war weary after Iraq and Afghanistan. I still believe that if the challenge came along where we were asked to serve alongside others to protect our national interests, this House and the country would answer the call. But in this case we are not talking about military intervention; we are talking about, with our partners and with like-minded countries, using our economic and financial muscle in the world to demonstrate what I have said, which is that Russia needs European markets far more than we need Russian markets, and we need to make that strength show. But we will only do it, as he says, with an exercise of political will.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Last week, when the then Foreign Secretary made a statement on Gaza, the death toll of Palestinian children in the conflict since 2000 stood at 1,430. Today it is reported at 1,472. When democracies depart from the rule of law, they give legal and moral authority to our enemies. Israel is in consistent and, today, grievous breach of the Geneva conventions. What is my right hon. Friend doing to bring Israel back within the rule of law?

The Prime Minister: As I said earlier, I spoke to the Israeli Prime Minister last night, and while I said that we believe in Israel’s right to defend itself, we believe that it needs to exercise restraint, to avoid civilian casualties and to find ways of bringing this to a close. But the best way to bring this to a close is the fastest way, and that is for the rocket attacks to stop.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): The revelation to waiting cameras of the previous advice to the Government about the possible effect of sanctions against Russia on the City of London, gave the dreadful impression that the UK, too, was just following its own narrow interests, when, frankly, London would be much better off without much of that tainted Russian money. After this latest abominable act, is it not time for much harsher financial sanctions against Russia, including the denial of use at all levels of international payment systems in London, Frankfurt, Paris, New York and all across the world?

The Prime Minister: These are all things that can be looked at as we look at tier 3 sanctions. But when it comes to Britain’s negotiation within the EU over these issues, although, as the hon. Gentleman says, there are a lot of Russian money and Russian businesses in Britain, Britain is not the back marker in arguing for tougher sanctions; we are usually in the vanguard, with the Poles and Baltic states, arguing that we need to give a strong, clear and predictable lead on these issues. It is not those interests that are holding us back.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): May I echo the Prime Minister’s sympathy for the victims of Flight MH17, and indeed for the even greater number who have died and continue to die in Gaza? He emphasised the movement of heavy equipment from Russia into Ukraine, and indeed there is evidence of rocket launchers

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being hastily moved back into Russia the day after the crash. As a signatory to the Budapest memorandum, what can this country do to offer more advice or practical assistance of some kind to the Government of Ukraine to help them at least secure their frontier with Russia?

The Prime Minister: We certainly work closely with the Ukrainian Government and have a strong relationship with them, and I have spoken with President Poroshenko in recent days. In terms of securing the border, I think that the person who could make the biggest difference is President Putin, because at the moment it is being used as a porous border to smuggle weapons and people into Ukraine to destabilise the country. It is the Russians who could stop that happening if they wanted to.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. As we are fortunate to have the Prime Minister with us, and as the summer recess is approaching, which means this might be the last occasion upon which he is with us before the House rises, I am keen to accommodate the interest of colleagues, but if I am to have any serious chance of doing so, I will require brevity. Perhaps the textbook example can be provided by the author of “How to be a Backbencher”, Mr Paul Flynn.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister use the Newport NATO summit to galvanise the new-found unity of NATO states to act strongly against the belligerence of Putin?

The Prime Minister: It is good that the NATO summit will be held in Newport. I think that the opportunity to demonstrate the unity of NATO, and indeed its original purpose, which was to provide collective security, could not have come at a better time.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman’s book must be due for a further reprint.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend recognise that the utility of military force, and of having enough of it, is not what one might wish to deploy in combat now, but what one has available to shape the global strategic environment, which many would rightly say is what we lack today?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend that it is what we have available—what is deployable—that counts, but I disagree with the suggestion that we do not have the sort of capability we need. When it came to providing additional air policing for the Baltic states, who was able to step up to the plate? It was Britain, because we have the relevant fighter aircraft and other aircraft. When it came to the conflict in Libya, who had the right capabilities for deploying the Typhoon, air-to-air refuelling and the other surveillance aircraft? I am not saying that everything is perfect, but by getting rid of mainland European battle tanks and bases in Germany and replacing them with deployable assets that can be used in modern conflict, I think that we have made some progress.