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House of Commons

Monday 30 November 2015

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Mr Speaker: As a guest of the Lawn Tennis Association, I had the pleasure and privilege of being present in Ghent to observe the Davis cup final over the weekend, and I feel sure that the whole House will wish to join me in expressing congratulations to the victorious British team. Captained by Leon Smith, it featured, legendarily, Andy Murray, Jamie Murray, James Ward, Kyle Edmund, Dan Evans and Dominic Inglot. It was a superb team effort to secure the cup, and to enable Britain to be the world champion of tennis for the first time since 1936. How fitting it was that the victory was sealed by a performance, both outstanding and majestic, by Andy Murray. We congratulate each and every one of those players.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Autism Support

1. Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): What support the Government provide to children with autism in the education system; and if she will make a statement. [902408]

The Minister for Children and Families (Edward Timpson): On behalf of Conservative Members and, I am sure, the whole House, let me echo the sentiments that have just been expressed about the Davis cup victory of the Great British team. It was good to see the Scots leading the way in ensuring that we had our first Great British victory in about 70 years.

The Children and Families Act 2014 introduced significant reforms so that children and young people with autism could be better supported in education. The reforms have rightly focused on needs and aspirations, enabling all pupils, including those with autism, to achieve better outcomes in education and adult life. The Department is also funding the Autism Education Trust to deliver training to staff, the National Autistic Society to help to reduce exclusions, and Ambitious about Autism to support transition to college.

Keir Starmer: Netley primary school in my constituency has a fantastic resource base for 25 children with autistic spectrum disorders. Many of them are making excellent progress, but one of the concerns raised with me is that Ofsted’s published data for the school, which includes children from the resource base along with other pupils, do not adequately reflect that. Does the Minister agree that Ofsted data should clearly take into account the specific needs and challenges of children with special educational needs such as autism, and will he agree to meet me to discuss the specific case of Netley primary school?

Edward Timpson: I should be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss what Netley primary school is doing, and some of the challenges it faces in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We obviously want to ensure that every child, irrespective of his or her needs, is receiving the best possible education, and we are introducing progression measures throughout the school system so that every child’s progress counts towards a school’s overall performance. We shall also be introducing the first ever special educational needs inspection framework, along with both Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. I am sure that that will help to deal with many of those issues, but I should be happy to discuss them further with the hon. Gentleman.

Ben Howlett (Bath) (Con): One of the key challenges for those with autism and Asperger’s is the transition between leaving school and attending university, which is

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a big step for young adults. Will the Minister join me in welcoming an initiative by Bath university, which hosts an annual autism summer school that gives young people with autism spectrum disorder a chance to experience all aspects of university and student life, and does he agree that it should be rolled out in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Edward Timpson: I am delighted to hear about the great work that is being done in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that Bath university has a good and proud record of supporting all vulnerable children, but it is important for those who have autism to be given the same opportunities to move on to higher education. There are independent institutions, but, through the new code of practice and our special educational needs reforms, we have tried to bring forward the time when assessments take place to ensure that all children with a special educational needs background who have the potential to go on to higher education are given support as soon as they arrive at university, so that they can thrive and move on to better things.

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): I recently spent some time at Durants school, a secondary school for pupils with autism in my constituency. It does a fantastic job, but one of the big problems is that so little support is available to students who could leave and go into employment or training beyond secondary school. Will the Minister undertake to meet me, and the head teacher of Durants school, to discuss the problem?

Edward Timpson: My diary is filling up, and we are only on the first question. There is more that we can do, and the whole thrust of the special educational needs reforms is to move towards an ambitious birth-to-25 system so that those who have the potential to move on from secondary school into college, apprenticeships, university and the world of work have every chance to do so. In some areas of the country, the new supported internships have seen the number of young people moving into employment rising from around 15% to 70%. We know that there is more we can do through different routes, but we need to make them available to more young people. I am happy to discuss with the right hon. Lady how we can do that.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): It is good to hear about the Government’s support for children with autism. Will the Minister join me in welcoming proposals for additional resource in Rugby from MacIntyre Academies, who are setting up a new special free school specifically for children with learning difficulties?

Edward Timpson: I am very pleased to hear about the initiative in Rugby, which is one of many across the country that is using the new free schools programme to bring about a whole range of specialist schools for those with special educational needs. I think that that will include five in the next tranche of free schools that are specifically for children and young people with autism. This is a great step forward and it is good to see Rugby leading the way.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The Minister mentioned the importance of staff training in his initial answer, and I wonder whether he could comment further on the importance of building awareness and understanding

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among teaching staff, so that children with autism and many other children with poor mental health and other additional needs really get an opportunity to develop and thrive in mainstream schools?

Edward Timpson: I have just come from a conference organised by the Nuffield Foundation, at which we heard that a new report on the educational attainment of children in care—the vast majority of whom have some form of special educational needs—was advocating exactly that. It proposed more training for the whole care workforce and all education staff. Through funding from the Department, the Autism Education Trust has trained more than 80,000 staff in schools, but we need to do more to ensure that there is consistency right across the country, so that all those children get their chance to thrive, irrespective of background.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): To improve the provision of special educational needs and disability support for young people, including those with autism, it is vital that the best quality data are collated and the results shared to establish best practice. As the Minister knows, I was successful in bringing forward a private Member’s Bill in 2008 to ensure that data on special educational needs were collated and published. However, that legislation has since been repealed by the Children and Families Act 2014, and many charities have told me that they now find it increasingly difficult to obtain that information. Will the Minister therefore give me an assurance that the data will continue to be published annually and to be made readily available to all bodies in the sector, including me, so that issues can be highlighted and improvements made?

Edward Timpson: I will look carefully at what the hon. Lady says. Another of my diary appointments is a meeting with her tomorrow to discuss this—and, I am sure, a whole range of other issues that cross my brief. I am conscious of the need to ensure, through the publication of the local offer that every local authority now has and through the increasingly rich data that are available on children with special educational needs, that we use those sources to inform our decision making on how we support children. I will use my meeting with the hon. Lady tomorrow to extrapolate the matter further and see what progress we can make.

School Funding

2. Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): What progress she has made on introducing a national funding formula for schools. [902409]

3. Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): What plans the Government have to deliver fairer funding for schools. [902410]

7. Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): What plans the Government have to deliver fairer funding for schools. [902414]

8. Mr Alan Mak (Havant) (Con): What plans the Government have to deliver fairer funding for schools. [902415]

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10. Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): What plans the Government have to deliver fairer funding for schools. [902418]

17. Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): What plans the Government have to deliver fairer funding for schools. [902425]

The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): The Government are firmly committed to implementing our manifesto pledge to make school funding fairer. In the spending review last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced our intention to introduce a national funding formula for schools, high needs and early years in 2017. This will mean that, for the first time ever, funding is transparently and fairly matched to pupils’ and schools’ needs, and we will set out our detailed plans in the new year.

Mr Robertson: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response; it is welcome that this is finally going to happen. May I urge her to introduce a full national funding formula for all schools as soon as possible? The longer we leave it, the worse the problem is going to get and the more difficult it will be to put it right. We need to ensure that children in Gloucestershire no longer lose out in the way they have been doing for far too long.

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is right; we need to move as quickly as possible to ensure that low-funded areas such as his constituency of Tewkesbury are funded fairly and transparently. We have taken the first step by increasing Gloucestershire’s schools budget by £12 million and protecting that amount, and we will now go further by introducing a national funding formula while ensuring that the pace of change provides security for schools and local authorities.

Peter Aldous: As Suffolk’s schools have suffered from underfunding for many years, last week’s announcement was extremely welcome. Time is of the essence in addressing this iniquity. The Secretary of State has said she will start work straight after Christmas, but I would be grateful if she went into a little more detail about the first steps she will be taking.

Nicky Morgan: I wish to thank my hon. Friend, who made a very valuable contribution to the recent petition to the Prime Minister calling for urgent action on fairer funding. I intend to consult in the new year, but I assure my hon. Friend that much work has been going on already, led by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), to unpick the funding formula so that all schools are funded fairly and all pupils have access to a good education.

Andrew Bingham: Schools in my constituency have suffered greatly under the current formula. For example, funding in Glossop is almost £300 per pupil less than in neighbouring Tameside, so for the sake of just a few miles the funding is about 6% less than it is elsewhere. Will the Secretary of State therefore ensure that the new funding formula she is going to work on—I am pleased to hear that she has started so quickly—will at last remedy this anomaly, which has been going on for far too long?

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Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend puts into words just one of the differentials between areas. It shows exactly why we need to tackle this unfairness in the funding formula—it is a matter of social justice that drives our determination to solve it—and why the Government are committed to introducing a funding formula to ensure that funding is transparently matched to need.

Mr Mak: Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Purbrook Park school, Havant academy and Crookhorn college, which have all recently received good ratings from Ofsted and all stand to benefit from this new fair funding formula?

Nicky Morgan: I, of course, take great pleasure in congratulating all the staff and pupils at Purbrook Park school, Havant academy and Crookhorn college on their hard work and their excellent Ofsted rating—I know how much hard work goes into getting that. As I said, we will consult in the new year and set out the schools benefiting in the detailed plans for a national funding formula.

Pauline Latham: I am glad the Chancellor announced that we would fulfil our manifesto commitment of creating a fairer funding system for schools during the spending review last week. Will the Secretary of State confirm when we will have a formula that is fair for all schools across the country? There are winners and losers now, as there have always been. Will it be any different in the future?

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is right to say that there is patent unfairness in the system now. Some £16 million extra was allocated to schools in Derbyshire in 2015-16, and we will work with her and other stakeholders to make sure that the funding is based on the characteristics of pupils, rather than on unfair historical calculations.

Andrew Bridgen: As my right hon. Friend will be well aware, Leicestershire is second from bottom of the current funding formula league. Despite my constituency having some of the most deprived areas in the county, its children receive almost £500 per pupil less than those in the city of Leicester and a staggering £1,000 per year per pupil less than those in Birmingham, which is only 22 miles away. Will she assure the House that the new funding formula will correct this for our county of Leicestershire?

Nicky Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend very much for that. He will not be surprised to know that I am very well aware of the position of Leicestershire, having talked to parents, school governors and of course local councillors. In 2015-16, we made an additional £20 million available to Leicestershire and the county will continue to receive that funding in 2016-17, but he is absolutely right to say that we will be introducing a national funding formula to end the grossly unfair variations he highlighted in his question.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): The principle of fair funding is clearly right, but the devil will be in the detail. Will the right hon. Lady reassure the House that in areas of high poverty such as my constituency in Liverpool this will not result in significant cuts in spending on schools?

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Nicky Morgan: I am pleased that we have got to questions from other Members of the House, and the hon. Gentleman rightly says that the principle is of course right. We will be looking in detail at the needs of the disadvantaged pupils. I should point out that we have also introduced the pupil premium—we did so after the funding formula was first introduced—at a cost of more than £2.5 billion a year. We want to make sure that there will be full consultation, and all Members and others will have an opportunity to have their say.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): White working-class boys are three times less likely to go on to university than their counterparts from wealthier families, so should this review not be about closing that gap and addressing the social mobility crisis that exists in our country, instead of being about some sort of crude, one-size-fits-all, national standard, which is what the Members behind the Secretary of State are clearly urging her to introduce?

Nicky Morgan: As I have said, there will be a full consultation, but I think that the hon. Gentleman has got the wrong end of the stick. The funding formula to be consulted on will absolutely take into account the needs of disadvantaged pupils. If he wants to talk about working-class boys, let me say that it cannot be right that there are schools in Knowsley that are receiving hundreds of pounds less than schools in Wandsworth, and that is just one such example. We must end that inequity, and this Government have taken the difficult decision to do that.

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): I echo the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). Cambridgeshire schools, like Suffolk schools, have suffered historical underfunding. As 2017 is some way away, will the Secretary of State tell us what happens between now and then?

Nicky Morgan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will not be surprised to hear that I have also been lobbied by Cambridgeshire MPs, as well as by many other MPs from across the country. The £390 million extra that was announced for 2015-16 will continue to 2016-17. That amount of money will continue into the baseline for the rest of this Parliament. We must strike a balance between ensuring that we make swift progress on something that is demanded by MPs from across the House and getting it right, so that we do not end up having to untangle things again in a decade’s time.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): What assurances can the Secretary of State give the parents of pupils at Tadcaster grammar school, who were alarmed and surprised to receive a letter from the school recently consulting on potential financial contributions from them?

Nicky Morgan: Schools are able to ask for voluntary contributions, but they must make it clear to parents that the contributions are voluntary and that there is absolutely no obligation for them to pay. I understand that Tadcaster grammar school consultation has been published on the website and that it does clearly state that children of parents who do not contribute will not be treated differently and that there is no obligation on parents to contribute. I am happy to clarify that message for my hon. Friend.

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Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): We support moves towards fairer funding. Can the Secretary of State reassure head teachers who are worried about how the changed funding formula will impact on their schools that transition from the old to the new formula will be achieved in a way that ensures that no school will lose out in cash terms if their pupil numbers remain the same?

Nicky Morgan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I know that, in the past, he has been an influential member of the f40 group of local authorities. We will have a full consultation. We absolutely realise that we will not solve the problem by making schools’ lives more difficult. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed that core schools funding is protected in real terms per pupil until the end of this Parliament.

Education Funding: Scotland

4. Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): What the effect of the spending review was on the amount her Department plans to spend on policies and services which in Scotland are devolved to the Scottish Government. [902411]

The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): First, I wish the hon. Lady and all Members a happy St Andrew’s day. As she will know, education is fully devolved in Scotland, so the Scottish Government will benefit from the Barnett consequentials of the cash terms increase to my Department’s budget that was announced last week. That includes real-terms protection for core schools funding, investing a record extra £1 billion a year by 1920 in free childcare and protecting core 16-to-19 funding, so that all young people gain the skills they need.

Dr Cameron: I wish all hon. Members a happy St Andrew’s day. Gaelic medium education is available to children in 14 out of 32 Scottish local authorities. The benefits of that bilingual education are well documented. Does the Minister agree that cutting BBC Alba’s funding as detailed in the spending review could impact on children learning in Gaelic? Will the Secretary of State join me in calling for that decision to be reversed?

Nicky Morgan: I am very happy to look further into the decision, which has not been raised with me before. I think we all agree—those of us who, presumably, are in this Chamber today because we care about education and the standards in our schools—that the most important thing in children learning is the quality of the teaching. As I have said, education is a devolved matter, and the Scottish Government will make decisions about how they are spending on languages.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): My right hon. Friend has said that an additional £1 billion will be spent in Scotland. Notwithstanding devolution, which is all very good, cannot she be a little bit inventive and find some way of ring-fencing the money so that children can be taught that we are better off together?

Nicky Morgan: I admire my hon. Friend’s bid to help the Scottish Government to write the curriculum, and I can see that SNP Members are ready to take him up on

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that offer. I should clarify that I was talking about the extra £1 billion a year for free childcare, but he is absolutely right to say that we are spending more on education in this Parliament.

Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): I join my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), in wishing the House staff and all Members latha Naomh Anndra sona dhuibh, or happy St Andrew’s day.

I am glad that the Secretary of State has recognised the importance of BBC Alba, but of course it is more than just a TV channel in Scotland: it plays a crucial role in supporting parents of children in Gaelic medium education. Will she outline what she can do to support those parents as a result of this savage UK Government cut?

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Lady will be pleased to hear that I am not going to compete with her Gaelic.

Education funding, as I have already said, is devolved to Scotland and although BBC Alba might provide a valuable service I am sure that there is much more that the Scottish Government can do to support both parents and teachers in schools with the funding that they receive. I note that the attainment gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged in education in Scotland has not narrowed at all.

Sixth Form Colleges: VAT

5. Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the VAT treatment of sixth form colleges. [902412]

The Minister for Skills (Nick Boles): Following a sustained and effective campaign by my hon. Friend and others, in last week’s autumn statement, the Government announced that we will give sixth form colleges the opportunity to establish themselves as 16-to-19 academies as part of the area reviews of post-16 education and training. A sixth form college that becomes an academy will be eligible to recover their non-business VAT costs.

Bob Blackman: I thank my hon. Friend for all his efforts to lobby the Chancellor to ensure that that sensible decision was made. Will he update the House on the timescale for 16-to-19 colleges to transfer to the new regime? Most importantly, will those that are involved in mid-term reviews or area reviews at the moment or have not chosen to take this route be eligible for this new opportunity?

Nick Boles: Proposals for individual sixth form colleges to become academies will be considered alongside other recommendations from the relevant area reviews, which are taking place between now and March 2017. When a college’s application is approved, it will be eligible for VAT reimbursement as soon as it has been re-established with 16-to-19 academy status. Once all the area reviews have been completed, we will of course review which sixth form colleges have not yet taken up the option and what course they want to take.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): What justification is there for treating sixth form colleges differently from other schools for tax purposes?

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Nick Boles: I assume that the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell me, not least because a Labour Government put up with it for 13 years.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Does the Minister agree that a great advantage of this change will be that it will enable sixth form colleges to become academies and therefore part of multi-academy trusts, which will stimulate them to even greater things?

Nick Boles: I entirely agree with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education. One of the great opportunities that this proposal offers is for sixth form colleges to become part of academy groups, to become the sixth form for those academy groups and to thrive.

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): Does the Minister recognise that, although the Government finally allowed sixth form colleges welcome VAT relief through their becoming academies, it will not alter the cuts so far, which mean that three quarters of sixth form colleges have had to slash language and STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—provision? Of course, they still face a real-term funding cut until 2020. Is it not critical that their excellence and innovation should not now be curbed by DFE micromanagement of them as academies?

Nick Boles: Last week—perhaps it was the week before—the hon. Gentleman was shroud waving, suggesting that there would be cuts of somewhere between 25% and 40% to the per pupil funding for 16-to-19 education. I did not hear him welcome the Chancellor’s confirmation that it will remain flat cash throughout this Parliament. It is, of course, important that sixth form colleges can prosper, which is why we introduced this proposal.

Education Maintenance Allowance

6. Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) (Ind): What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the abolition of the education maintenance allowance on educational participation and attainment inequality. [902413]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): The purpose of the education maintenance allowance was to raise educational participation. Our reforms, including targeted routes to employment for all 16 to 19-year-olds and the creation of 3 million apprenticeships, deliver far higher participation and attainment than EMA on its own ever did.

Natalie McGarry: In Scotland, EMA provides a lifeline of support for talented young people from a low-income background to give them access to decent opportunities. In England, EMA has been yet another casualty of the Government’s austerity obsession. Why has the Minister not followed the lead of the Scottish Government, who have not only retained EMA support but from January will expand that key support to an additional 12,000 students in Scotland?

Mr Gyimah: I thank the hon. Lady for her question and congratulate her on her recent engagement to a Conservative councillor. I did not think such things were possible, but they are yet another reminder that there are ways in which we are better together.

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I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the point made by the Scottish Education Minister on narrowing the gap: children from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland are seven times less likely to attain three A grades in their highers than their most affluent peers. There are no lessons that we can take from Scotland on narrowing the gap.

Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): Of course in Scotland, when we put together our figures on further and higher education and compare them with figures put together on further and higher education in England, Scotland is leading.

As a teacher, I am only too aware of how important EMA is for keeping talented young people not in apprenticeships but in education, so what steps has the Minister taken to ensure that youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds can continue to access further and higher education?

Mr Gyimah: Education is a devolved matter in Scotland, but if we are talking about huge cuts, there were 141,726 fewer college places in 2013-14 than in 2008-09. As I said, we will take no lessons from the Scottish National party.

School Attendance

9. Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): What plans the Government has to improve attendance in schools. [902416]

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): Regular attendance at school is vital for academic success. Overall absence rates are down from 6% in 2009-10 to 4.4% in 2013-14, amounting to some 14.5 million fewer school days lost. We have supported head teachers to improve school behaviour, and we have addressed the misconception that pupils are entitled to time off for holidays in term time. Some 200,000 fewer pupils regularly miss school compared with 2010.

Mr Speaker: While we are on the subject of congratulations, I congratulate in public, as I have congratulated him in private, the Minister of State on his recent marriage. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

Caroline Nokes: I echo the Speaker’s comments. Does my hon. Friend agree that improving attendance can sometimes come about as a result of a range of innovative and interesting measures? The all-girls breakfast club at Cantell school in Southampton is a brilliant example of how building a strong and cohesive school community can improve attendance.

Mr Gibb: I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, and to my hon. Friend for the congratulations. I echo the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah): we are better together.

I am delighted to pay tribute to the work of the breakfast club at Cantell school in Southampton, which is an excellent example of the innovative approaches that many schools take to improve attendance. The Department funds the charity Magic Breakfast to provide free, sustainable breakfast clubs in 184 schools in disadvantaged areas. We are also giving parents new rights to request breakfast clubs and other wrap-around care, which should expand their availability.

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Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): Has the Minister considered the impact of the Government’s welfare policies on school attendance by disabled pupils over 16 who are required to attend interviews for the personal independence payment? I have been dealing with the case of a constituent who has been summoned under threat of sanction for this stressful process in the middle of their exams. Will the Government take action to ensure that the timing of PIP assessments for those in full-time education works around the school year and the timetable?

Mr Gibb: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that matter with me. I will, of course, look at the case in detail and write to her.

Holiday and Wrap-around Care

11. Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): What steps the Government is taking to give parents a greater say in access to holiday and wrap-around care. [902419]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): Childcare is the key issue for many parents, not just for under-fives, but for all children. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in October that parents will be granted a new right to request wrap-around or holiday childcare at their school. Childcare providers will also be given the right to request the use of school sites outside school hours to provide this care.

Mike Wood: Flexibility is key in the provision of childcare, for both school-age and pre-school children. Can the Minister assure my constituents that, as the Government extend childcare provision, they will allow for greater flexibility over things such as drop-off and pick-up times?

Mr Gyimah: The autumn statement set out the record levels of funding available to deliver our pledge of 30 hours of free childcare. As working fathers, my hon. Friend and I know that it is not just about the money; it is about flexible childcare available when it is needed. We will be consulting in the new year on ways to deliver that.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Has anyone told Westminster City Council of the Government’s intention to increase choice in school-age childcare? The council has just announced an end to all funding for the play service, which provides its after-school care for primary school-age children. It offered this to schools and, the last time I asked, only one school had agreed to take on the service because of the pressure on school budgets. Is it not the case that, in places such as Westminster, it is essential that working parents have the opportunity of decent after-school childcare, but that that is in retreat, not in advance?

Mr Gyimah: That is precisely the purpose behind the announcement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made. Where schools cannot deliver wrap-around care themselves, they can work with private and voluntary providers to use their site to deliver that wrap-around care. This change will set a new expectation for schools to follow through on it.

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Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): Questions about childcare—wrap-around, flexible childcare and childcare during school holidays—are particularly opportune. Before the election in May, the Minister told us that Labour’s 25 hours of free childcare would cost £1.2 billion. The independent Institute for Public Policy Research has said that the Government’s 30 hours will cost £1.6 billion. Last week, the Chancellor told us that he was setting aside just over £600,000 for this, which leaves a shortfall of almost £1 billion annually. Will that come from quality, will it come from ratios or will it come from both?

Mr Gyimah: It was impossible for the IPPR to know how much the Government’s policy would cost before it knew the eligibility criteria for the new entitlement. The Chancellor announced the eligibility criteria at the autumn statement and made it clear that there is record investment going into childcare—£1 billion in 2019-20. That is something we should all be proud of.

Educational Provision: City Regions’ Contribution

12. John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on the potential contribution by city regions to developing educational provision. [902420]

The Minister for Children and Families (Edward Timpson): The hon. Gentleman will be pleased, I am sure, to learn that the Secretary of State meets regularly with Cabinet colleagues to discuss a range of issues. City regions can certainly play a role, as seen from our work with Greater Manchester on a review of children’s services, and we already have combined authorities in Sheffield and Manchester leading the area reviews of post-16 education provision. We expect new combined authorities and city regions to work closely with the eight regional school commissioners.

John Mann: That was a bit of waffle. Is it not a good idea to formally link secondary academies with city regions so that the economic development and education potential can be rolled together? Will the Minister take that forward to other Ministers and get it properly on the agenda?

Edward Timpson: The hon. Gentleman has a habit of calling anything that anyone else says waffle. I have described what is happening, which is devolution, which I am sure he will welcome, as the area in which his constituency is located is looking to create a combined authority. We have the regional school commissioners doing excellent work, holding each area to account and making sure that regions are raising the performance of schools and education across their area. I am sure that is something he would welcome in Bassetlaw and elsewhere.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the bonus of city regions is that they are a way of bringing together public services, including those delivering skills and education to younger people, to create better outcomes that reflect the priorities of their areas, such as the heart of the south-west?

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Edward Timpson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the advantages, of course, is that such regions bring together post-16 education and employers, which are parts of the system that we need to connect much more closely so that we deliver the opportunities that we know are out there for young people who have ambition about where their world of work will be, they have a greater understanding of what they can achieve and a much closer relationship with the businesses that want to employ them.

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): Was the Minister as delighted as I was on Friday when the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Mayor of London, supported Labour policy by advocating a schools commissioner for London? When will the Government accept political reality, start devolving power, introduce some democratic accountability into our schools policy and raise standards at a local level?

Edward Timpson: Like the hon. Gentleman, I am always delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who speaks with a lot of wisdom on a range of subjects. On this issue, the most important thing is that we devolve power to where it is most needed, to teachers and head teachers, so that they can run their schools in the free way that I know deep down he really wants them to.

Teacher Recruitment

13. Sir Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): What steps she is taking to ensure adequate recruitment of teachers by primary and secondary schools; and if she will make a statement. [902421]

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): There are now more better qualified teachers in England’s classrooms than ever before. We are attracting top graduates and career changers with generous incentives, including tax-free bursaries worth up to £30,000 and the opportunity to earn a salary while training. This year over 2,000 more post-graduate trainee teachers were recruited than in 2014-15. We exceeded our target for new primary teachers and finished ahead of last year in key secondary subjects such as maths and physics.

Sir Simon Burns: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his response, but can he explain how schools that have historically struggled to attract great teachers can find the best and brightest teachers for their areas?

Mr Gibb: My right hon. Friend raises an important point. That is why we have established the new national teaching service, which by 2020 will place 1,500 outstanding teachers and middle leaders in underperforming schools in areas that, as he suggests, find it hardest to attract, recruit and retain good teachers.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): UCAS has reported a shortfall in trainee teachers for chemistry and physics. What bold steps will the Minister take to ensure that young people are taught by qualified teachers in science, technology, engineering and maths?

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Mr Gibb: We have introduced generous bursaries—up to £30,000—for top physics graduates coming into teaching. If we look at this year’s teacher training recruitment, we see that in physics we recruited 746 graduates, compared with 637 last year, and in mathematics we recruited 2,407 graduates, compared with 2,170 last year. There is more to do, but we are heading in the right direction.

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con): Head teachers in my constituency tell me that the biggest block to the recruitment and retention of teachers is the cost of housing. Can my hon. Friend confirm that in the review of the funding formula the price of property in local areas where teachers have to rent or buy will be factored in?

Mr Gibb: As the Secretary of State has said, we are determined to tackle the historic unfairness of the funding formula. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), will be consulting on that in the new year.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Recent Government figures show that there is a 50% recruitment shortfall in design and technology. Is not there a case for urgent and special attention?

Mr Gibb: We continue to offer bursaries for graduates coming into teaching design and technology. We have also revised the curriculum, which we believe has made it a more attractive and rigorous qualification. The number of students taking it at GCSE and A-level has been falling over a number of years, and to tackle that we have improved the qualifications in that subject. That should follow through into more people becoming graduates in those subjects and moving into teaching.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab): Retention in teaching is a far bigger problem than recruitment. We are haemorrhaging teachers. That is caused largely by the adverse workload that teachers are placed under. What specific steps are the Government taking to lessen teacher workloads in England?

Mr Gibb: The doom-mongering notion that the hon. Gentleman is citing is wrong. Eighty-seven per cent. of teachers who qualified in 2013 were still teaching a year later, and 72% of those who qualified in 2009 are still teaching five years later. He should stop talking down what is a very popular profession in this country. We are tackling the excessive workload that teachers inherited from the previous Labour Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State introduced the workload challenge, and we have three working groups specifically tasked with tackling the issues that were identified in it.

EU Funding: Learning Outcomes

14. Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): What steps her Department is taking to use EU funding to improve learning outcomes. [902422]

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): The main sources of EU funding for education are the European social funds and the Erasmus+ programme. Many schools take advantage of the Erasmus+ programme,

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which supports partnerships among schools across the EU, including through the funding of foreign language assistance. The Department works to ensure effective use of the European social funds, which contribute to technical education, including apprenticeships and 16-to-19 training.

Hannah Bardell: I thank the Minister; I am glad we got someone to answer in the end. Has he considered the consequences that a vote to leave the EU would have for the funding channels for programmes such as Erasmus, with an outcome that would destroy the rich cultural and linguistic programmes that the EU offers, including Erasmus and school trips to visit key institutions such as the Commission and the European Parliament?

Mr Gibb: The Prime Minister is focused on a successful negotiation. The Government are clear that Britain’s best future lies within a reformed European Union if the necessary changes can be agreed. He set out the United Kingdom’s position in his recent letter to the President of the European Council, Mr Tusk.

24. Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): [902432] Does the Minister agree that as the United Kingdom sends £350 million each and every week to Brussels, just a small amount of that spent on teachers and schools would be of great advantage? Is not that one of the reasons for coming out of the EU?

Mr Gibb: These are the issues that the Prime Minister is tackling, and we will debate them in due course.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Further to that point, does my hon. Friend agree that if schools use propaganda provided by the European Union, teachers must make certain that both sides of the argument on our membership of the European Union are fairly and properly put to pupils?

Mr Speaker: Order. The question is about learning outcomes.

Mr Gibb: In the name of improving educational outcomes, Mr Speaker, the Education Act 1944 made it absolutely clear that any lessons involving political issues have to be balanced.

Topical Questions

T1. [902398] John Pugh (Southport) (LD): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Education (Nicky Morgan): Last week my Department published a call for evidence to help broaden our understanding of out-of-school education settings and the potential scope of the system of oversight announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last month. We are committed to safeguarding all children and protecting them from the risk of harm and extremism, including in out-of-school settings, many of which provide valuable learning opportunities. I would ask all interested parties to make a contribution before 11 January.

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John Pugh: Local education authorities are Ofsted-inspected, which is a good and rigorous system. What plans are there to inspect academy chains, by Ofsted or any other means?

Nicky Morgan: It is very nice to hear the hon. Gentleman, who I believe is his party’s education spokesman, although we have not heard much from him on education since he took up that position. He will be aware that these matters were explored fully by the Education Committee in the previous Parliament. We want Ofsted to inspect individual schools and the support they get. It is able to question multi-academy trusts and chains as part of those inspections.

Mr Speaker: We have heard from the hon. Gentleman twice today, and it is worth pointing out that he is a philosopher. That we know: it is on the record on his CV.

T2. [902400] Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con): What are the Government doing to encourage more young people to study maths and numeracy subjects in school?

The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): Our ambition is that by 2020 the vast majority of young people will study maths to the age of 18. We have strengthened GCSE maths, to provide a more secure basis for studying the subject at A-level. We have increased mathematical content in science GCSEs and A-levels. We have introduced the new core maths qualifications so that all students have the opportunity to study the subject after the age of 16. We have also launched the Your Life campaign, to promote to young people the value of studying mathematics and science.

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to arrive a few moments late, as I had to attend a very high-profile meeting elsewhere on the estate. Members can read all about it in the papers later.

Does the Secretary of State now accept that there is a growing teacher shortage in our schools?

Nicky Morgan: I hope the hon. Lady might be able to tell us whether she is going to continue to be a member of the shadow Cabinet after this very exciting vote, but let us talk about the issue at hand. We have always been very clear that there is a challenge in terms of teacher recruitment. Although the overall vacancy headline rates are low, we are aware that there are issues in certain subjects and in certain parts of the country, which is why I announced the creation of the national teaching service earlier this month.

Lucy Powell: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. It is good to hear that she now accepts that there is a growing problem of teacher shortage. That stands in contrast to some of the earlier answers given by the Minister for Schools. Last week an important report showed that half of all schools had unfilled vacancies at the start of this academic year. To try to plug those gaps, one in four schools are increasingly using supply teachers; one in six are using non-specialist teachers to cover vacancies; and more than one in 10 schools are resorting to using unqualified staff to teach lessons.

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Does the Secretary of State think that that is good for raising standards in schools, or does she think that that is not happening?

Nicky Morgan: What is needed is for all Members on both sides of the House to recognise the enormous contribution that teachers make. Those who try to talk down teaching at every opportunity by talking about the problems do not help our schools and education service at all. One of the subjects where recruitment is hardest is modern foreign languages, so the hon. Lady might like to reflect on the fact that in 13 years of her party being in power, the number of those teaching, studying and taking exams in modern foreign languages plummeted. That means it is now much harder to find students to teach modern foreign languages.

T4. [902402] Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): What steps have been taken to encourage more schools outside London to work with charities such as Free the Children?

The Minister for Children and Families (Edward Timpson): I recall meeting my hon. Friend a few years ago to discuss the benefits derived from the work of Free the Children. It is good to hear that she remains a strong advocate of extracurricular activities that support academic attainment and employability skills and that help children to become active citizens. That is why this year we have invested more than £5 million in building children’s character resilience, including £3.5 million in grants to help organisations across the country, not just in London, to deliver competitive sport, volunteering and social action projects.

T3. [902401] Clive Lewis (Norwich South) (Lab): A number of parents whose children attend the Hewett academy in my constituency have made complaints about the implementation of a new uniform policy. At short notice, parents are being told that they must buy a new, full and costly uniform. Children who do not do so have been forced to attend the learning support unit—what is, in effect, an exclusion room. With limited academy accountability, what can Ministers do better to protect parents who cannot afford such upfront costs from their children being punished?

Nicky Morgan: I am very happy to look into the individual case, but I am afraid to say that this is about the hon. Gentleman and others yet again putting more barriers in the way of that school dramatically improving. Since 2005—for more than 10 years—that school has been below the national average for five A* to C English and maths GCSEs. It is now an academy and it is sponsored by a trust, which the hon. Gentleman knows has done extremely well for another school, Norwich primary academy, in his constituency. I am happy to look at the individual case, but the hon. Gentleman would do better as the local MP to work with the school to raise the educational attainment of all children.

T5. [902403] Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): The Government’s ambition to make sure that every child, regardless of background and circumstances, receives a high-quality education extends to children with special educational needs, including those at the fantastic Tor View school in my constituency. One year on from the

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special educational needs and disability reforms, will the Minister update the House on what progress is being made?

Edward Timpson: I am pleased to hear about the work that my hon. Friend is championing in his constituency. The reforms we have brought in represent the biggest change to and the biggest opportunity for special educational needs and disability support in a generation. Good progress is being made. This is a three-year transition, but to date all councils have published their local offer, setting out the support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities in their area. Integrated education, health and care plans are also available for the more complex needs that have to be addressed. As I mentioned a few moments ago, we are now working, with Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, towards the introduction of the first ever SEND inspection framework to ensure parents and young people know whether they are able to access the range and quality of services that they need.

T6. [902404] Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): Following the Paris attacks, there is a real concern that intolerance towards ethnic minority pupils could intensify. How will the Secretary of State ensure that ethnic minority pupils continue to participate fully at school, and what plans does she have to prevent religious intolerance?

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Lady asks a very important question. Sadly, it is ever more becoming something that we are all having to think about. Religious intolerance in schools is unacceptable. All schools are required to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. Schools should be places where we promote community cohesion—for example, through the national curriculum programme for citizenship, and the National Citizen Service—and, of course, such curriculum subjects teach about the importance of respecting others. I am pleased that many schools already do that in very diverse areas, but we will continue to focus on this important matter.

T7. [902405] Sir Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): When considering the review of schools funding, will my hon. Friend ensure that it addresses the problem that has arisen in recent years with the underfunding of the two grammar schools in Chelmsford and other grammar schools in Essex? It seems particularly unfair that they should suffer in the way they have from the current funding formula.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): As my right hon. Friend is aware, we have protected the core schools budget in real terms, and we intend to make the school funding formula fairer. I can assure him that King Edward VI grammar school and Chelmsford County high school for girls will receive funding that reflects their pupils’ needs transparently and fairly.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): On Friday, I had a meeting with the Glasgow English for Speakers of Other Languages Forum, whose funding is under pressure at a time when demand is increasing. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether any funds from the refugee

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resettlement programme will be made available for ESOL? Generally, what steps is she taking to promote ESOL as a means of cultural understanding?

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The speaking of English is hugely important for integration. For anyone who comes to this country in need, we can support them if they want to become full members of our society, so English is very important. I am very happy to take this matter away and to talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. There are strict rules about what overseas development aid money can be spent on, but I am happy to take that away and to write to the hon. Gentleman.

T8. [902406] Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): Constituencies such as mine have an increasing need for school places and for new schools, but a lack of suitable sites for new schools. Will the Minister visit Twickenham with me to see what more the Government can do to help local authorities find suitable sites for schools in places such as mine?

Mr Gyimah: As the Secretary of State said at last week’s London education conference, we recognise just how challenging affordable sites and buildings are in our capital. We will work with local authorities to support our dedicated property team in the Education Funding Agency by identifying any potential sites. When it comes to school buildings and repairs, the Government are creating places and fixing the school roof while the sun is shining. I will of course be happy to meet my hon. Friend.

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab): Following last week’s devastating report from the Children’s Commissioner about 450,000 children being sexually abused in the past two years, does the Secretary of State still disagree with me and, now, with the Children’s Commissioner that healthy relationships education should be compulsory in all of our schools?

Nicky Morgan: I do not disagree with the hon. Lady that such education should be compulsory, but I think it should be age-appropriate. Just because something is in statute, which is what I think she is referring to, does not mean that it is always taught well. On these issues, I would rather see that there is a good curriculum, and that it is taught well by confident teachers or people coming in from outside who will inspire young people.

T9. [902407] Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Will the Secretary of State join me in saluting the work of STEM ambassadors and tell the House what further steps have been taken to ensure that more children do STEM subjects in schools?

Mr Gibb: I join my hon. Friend in saluting the work of STEM ambassadors. Since 2010, A-level entries into STEM subjects have increased significantly by 15% for chemistry, 15% for physics and 18% for maths. Maths is now the single most popular A-level choice, with 92,000 entries last year. We want to go further. The Your Life campaign, for example, is targeting year 11 pupils as they make their A-level choices, with the aim of increasing the uptake of the physics A-level by 50% in three years.

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Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Will the Minister for Schools meet me to discuss funding for the new Ernesford Grange school in Coventry?

Mr Gibb: I am very happy to have such a meeting.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): Prince William school in Oundle recently converted to an academy, but for many years it has suffered from a chronic lack of investment. I am grateful to Ministers for the interest that they have shown to date, but what reassurance can they give that such schools will be at the top of the Government’s investment priorities?

Mr Gibb: We are planning to spend £23 billion on school buildings between 2016 and 2021. In February, we announced allocations of £4.2 billion for between 2015 and 2018 to improve the condition of existing schools. That includes the condition improvement fund, for which Prince William school is eligible to apply. The core priority of the CIF is to keep buildings at academies and sixth-form colleges safe and in good working order. I am happy to discuss the issue further with my hon. Friend.

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): In June, the Scottish Government launched the new children, young people and families early intervention fund, which is focused on reducing educational inequality and allowing young people to achieve their potential. Given that today is St Andrew’s day, are the Government prepared to say that they will look at that fine example in Scotland and implement something similar down here in England?

Nicky Morgan: We have already had a lot of jokes today about being better off together and I am always happy to look at what is happening in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman and the Scottish Government might want to look at what we have done in England to narrow the attainment gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged. They might find that they can learn something from us.

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): How many schools require pupils to wear a burqa or jilbab as part of their uniform?

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Mr Gibb: We do not collect data on that, but it is an issue for the headteacher and governing body of a school. By law, they have to act reasonably and as a public body.

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): The Government’s own findings show that the 26-week timescale that is applied in care proceedings is leading to rushed and unsuitable placements for children under special guardianship orders. In the light of that, will the Minister accept what the social work profession has known all along: that 26 weeks is not sufficient to plan properly for a vulnerable child’s life?

Edward Timpson: From memory, the hon. Lady was on the Children and Families Public Bill Committee, so she will know that when we brought in the 26-week timescale for care cases, the average length was over 55 weeks. In anyone’s view, that is well over what it should be for a decision about a child’s long-term future. We have managed to bring the average down to close to 26 weeks. In relation to special guardianship orders, we need to ensure that the assessment of the potential carers for those children is as robust as it is in respect of any other decision about a child’s long-term permanence. There is a concern that, in too many cases, that is not happening.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): Many headteachers in my constituency are reporting an increased prevalence of mental health problems among young people in schools. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need better integration between schools and child and adolescent mental health services to deal with that growing problem?

Mr Gyimah: My hon. Friend is a passionate campaigner on mental health issues. He will be aware that we have funded a £1.5 million joint pilot with the Department of Health on a single point of contact between schools and CAMHS, so that parents do not have to go through the aggravation of trying to work out how to access those vital services to support their children.

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High Speed 2

3.34 pm

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his latest decision on the route and station choices for High Speed 2.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): The Government are getting on with building HS2. Legislation to build the first phase to Birmingham is progressing well, and last week the Chancellor confirmed the funding. Today we are responding to the report published last year by Sir David Higgins, chairman of HS2. He recommended building the line to Crewe more quickly, so as to bring the benefits to the north sooner. I have therefore announced my decision on the section from Fradley in the west midlands to Crewe, now referred to as section 2a. We intend to accelerate the building of that section so that it opens in 2027, which is six years earlier than planned. That will bring faster journeys to Crewe, Manchester, and other cities in the north and Scotland, thereby supporting growth, jobs and the northern powerhouse. I have set out those plans in the Command Paper and supporting documents, copies of which have been placed in the Library.

The remainder of phase 2 will see the full Y-route built to Manchester and Leeds by 2033, and today I have set out my plans for the rest of the Y-route, ahead of a route decision next year. I am also asking HS2 to explore how we might best serve Stoke, including via a junction at Handsacre. Handsacre junction will be part of phase 1 and will allow trains to serve stations on the existing line through Staffordshire.

I want to ensure that those affected by the scheme are properly compensated. The Government are committed to assisting people along the HS2 route from the west midlands to Crewe. Today I am launching a consultation on a proposal to implement the same long-term property assistance schemes for phase 2a as we have for phase 1. As with phase 1, the Government propose to go above and beyond what is required by law, including discretionary measures to help more people. HS2 will deliver economic growth for this country, not just in the immediate future but for the long term, and that is why we continue to commit to this essential project.

Tristram Hunt: I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Today marks a sad day for Stoke-on-Trent as our campaign for “Stop in Stoke” as part of phase 2 of High Speed 2 hits the buffers. We have long argued that the rail line from London to Manchester could have been achieved more quickly and cheaply with a route through the potteries, and as we seek to mitigate the blow, I have some questions for the Secretary of State.

The initial modelling for High Speed 2 suggested a downgrade of services to Stoke-on-Trent based on £7.7 billion of cuts to existing inner-city services to cities such as Stoke, Leicester and Wakefield. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that is no longer the plan? The Department for Transport document published today speaks of working to retain

“broadly comparable services to today”,

but my constituents are not interested in the expenditure of billions of pounds just for similar services. Will he confirm that the Government are committed to running

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classic-compatible trains via the Handsacre junction, with equal regularity and faster speeds, so that Stoke-on-Trent maintains its vital connectivity?

Finally, with Crewe rather than Stoke benefiting from this massive investment, plans for a northern gateway partnership between Stoke-on-Trent and east Cheshire become even more important. In the previous Parliament, the city of Portsmouth had a dedicated Minister for regeneration. I am not saying that we necessarily want the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), but it is right that we should have the same support to co-ordinate cross-departmental strategy in the region. High-speed train lines work for the country when they focus on growing the economies of regional and second-tier cities as much as major metropolises. In Britain, Stoke-on-Trent will be the litmus test for the success of such a strategy, and we will be watching it closely.

Mr McLoughlin: First, there has been a positive case made and a good dialogue between Stoke-on-Trent and Sir David Higgins about the way that HS2 will serve the whole region. I was a member of Staffordshire County Council for seven years so I know Stoke-on-Trent incredibly well, and I fully accept the importance of the high-speed train link, which I think will come to the whole region. The hon. Gentleman talks as if Crewe is 100 miles from Stoke-on-Trent, but it is literally just up the road and on the other side of the M6, given where the station may well go. I very much look forward to the advantages of it serving not only Crewe but Stoke-on-Trent too.

The hon. Gentleman asks about classic-compatible trains, which are not dissimilar to those serving Kent. Handsacre junction is important in serving not only Stoke-on-Trent but Macclesfield and Stafford, so they will benefit sooner from faster services. I fully accept his point that nobody wants a diminution of services to Stoke-on-Trent, or to anywhere else for that matter. One reason for this huge investment is to have more services and more freight options. The west coast main line is one of the busiest lines anywhere in Europe, so it is right we focus on how to have the relief and extra capacity it needs. I am more than willing to continue conversations with Stoke-on-Trent about the best way for the whole region to move forward.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Despite the documents published today, in the past week alone we have seen the ombudsman find HS2 guilty of a maladministration over communications, the Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons) describe its supply of information as an absolute shambles and a freedom of information request from the Chesham Society reveal a massive inaccuracy in basic track assessments in my constituency. What confidence can we have that today’s announcement of a speeded up timetable for phase 2a of HS2 will not lead to an increased catalogue of mismanagement, mistakes and more misery for people along the route?

Mr McLoughlin: The truth is that anything I say about HS2, as far as my right hon. Friend is concerned, will not be met with any kind of favour whatever. She has made her opposition perfectly clear. I believe HS2 is absolutely essential for the long-term economic interests of the United Kingdom, particularly our northern cities,

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and that is why it is right to go ahead. I do not dismiss those people directly affected and who, as a result, have trouble with a major infrastructure project taking place, but I am aware of no major infrastructure project that has received universal support at the time of its construction. That support is usually found afterwards. In fact, plans for the very first railway line to be built between Birmingham and London were defeated in the House of Commons because the canals were considered to be perfectly adequate.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) on securing the urgent question. He has campaigned constantly to secure benefits from HS2 for his constituency, and I echo his statements on the importance of Handsacre junction and the existing network.

Labour supports HS2, and we want to make sure that sections of the route can be delivered ahead of schedule, including to Crewe, especially after Ministers’ delays have left the Bill running 18 months late. However, the paper published today raises new questions, alongside some belated answers. Will the Secretary of State explain why Manchester Airport station has still not been fully confirmed? Does he agree that it would be a body blow for the northern powerhouse if Manchester airport was not served by HS2? Why will HS2’s exact route and station locations, including in the east midlands, not be finalised until late 2016? To put it another way, why will it have taken the Government over six years to confirm their plans for high-speed rail in the midlands and the north?

The Government previously said that they would consider accelerating construction of the Leeds to Sheffield part of the eastern leg. Is that still on the table, and what consideration, if any, has been given to accelerating the west midlands to east midlands section of phase 2?

On cost, an increase was announced in the comprehensive spending review from £50.1 billion to £55.7 billion. Will the Secretary of State confirm that this increase is simply a result of recasting HS2 from 2011 prices to 2015 prices, or are there other components to the cost rise?

Finally, Labour amended HS2’s planning legislation to ensure that cost increases or underspends are reported. The Secretary of State’s Department had said that the first such report was due in autumn 2015. Why has that report now been delayed? When will we see it? Does he agree that the Government must keep the costs of this vital project under constant scrutiny?

Mr McLoughlin: I shall answer the hon. Lady’s last question first: I have published the documents today. She pointed out that HS2’s cost has risen to £55.7 billion, which, she is absolutely right, is the costing at 2015 prices, whereas the other costing was at 2011 prices. That is the reason for the increase. During this spending review, HS2 will equate to 0.14% of GDP, so it is not over-burdensome on the Government’s overall spending.

The hon. Lady asked about the other stations. I am pleased that there now seems to be a consensus, which was lacking until fairly recently, on where the east midlands station should go. I hope to say more about that next year, but points raised in the consultation have thrown up issues that need to be addressed, which is why I have said today that I hope to confirm the rest of the route for the east side by late 2016. Manchester

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Airport station comes under the qualification I just made about the consultation, but these issues are discussed in the document I have published today.

The hon. Lady also said that the Bill was 18 months late. The people serving on the Bill are doing an exceptionally good job, and I do not regard it as 18 months late; I regard it as on time, according to the timetable set out by the former Secretary of State under the last Labour Government, who published their plans only nine months before the general election.

Sir Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important thing about HS2 is not improved journey times per se, but creating the capacity we need on the west coast, where the conventional line will be full to capacity by 2024? Will he please tell the House whether phases 1 and 2 are still on time and confirm that his announcement about Crewe means that it will be built six years prior to the original deadline?

Mr Speaker, given that you have been so generous in congratulating people today, may I ask you to congratulate the Secretary of State on his birthday?

Mr Speaker: I am very happy to do so. If I had known to remember to congratulate the Secretary of State, I would have done, but I did not, and so I did not, but I do now, and I am very happy to do so. It is always helpful to have a bit of information, even if it is not put across quite as pithily as it might be.

Mr McLoughlin: I thought your birthday present, Mr Speaker, was your granting this urgent question, to give me an opportunity to speak at the Dispatch Box today.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that one of the key reasons for the whole HS2 project is not just to have faster journeys but to increase capacity. We have seen a huge increase in the number of people using our railways over the last 20 years—from 750 million to 1.6 billion—and we are seeing continuing growth in our railways, not just in passenger numbers, but in freight. I am pleased to say, therefore, that the project is on time. It is a huge project, and I understand that some people will be disrupted by it, but it is in the long-term economic interests of the UK.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): The Chancellor’s announcement that high-speed rail will reach Crewe six years earlier than planned is to be welcomed, as it should lead to reduced journey times between Scotland and London, but the UK Government now have an opportunity also to accelerate planning to extend high-speed rail to Scotland. Will the Secretary of State reaffirm their aspiration for a three-hour journey time between the central belt in Scotland and London and turn this aspiration into a firm commitment?

Mr McLoughlin: I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming my statement. It is true that phase 2a will give Scotland even quicker journeys to London sooner than was originally planned. The journey time between London and Glasgow will be three hours and 42 minutes, when phase 2a opens, which is an improvement. The full Y-network will deliver London to Glasgow journey times of three hours and 38 minutes and London to Edinburgh journey times of three hours and 39 minutes.

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Overall, HS2 will bring huge benefits to the Scottish economy. The UK and the Scottish Governments are working closely together to consider options to reduce journey times further, and HS2 is doing further work on that. I hope to make a statement on the next steps in the new year.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Handsacre 2, which has been mentioned a number of times, is in my constituency, and I am afraid that, once again, my constituents are faced with some anguish as they have already faced phase 1, and phase 2a starts in my constituency as well. I ask my right hon. Friend two specific questions. Will he give an indication of the timetable for the publication of the proposed route, so that my constituents can look at it and come up with suggestions, and when does he think the Committee stage and the petitions might begin? Is the Handsacre junction—the one that connects with the west coast main line, which also goes through my constituency—really necessary now, given that the connection to Crewe will happen six years earlier than planned?

Mr McLoughlin: The plans that I have announced and the maps have been published today, so my hon. Friend and his constituents will be able to examine exactly where the proposed route will go. That was part of the announcement made in a written ministerial answer this morning. I appreciate that there will be disruption in certain parts of his constituency, but he will know from his experience with phase 1 that beneficial changes can be made if a case is argued and the engineering is possible, as indeed has happened in and around Lichfield.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the announcement that the benefits of High Speed 2 will come to the north sooner than previously planned. However, I emphasise a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) that Stoke-on-Trent and indeed other areas not directly on the line should benefit through improved connectivity, and it is very important to arrange things so that that indeed happens. Is the 37% cut to the Secretary of State’s departmental budget announced last week compatible with delivering this important project on time?

Mr McLoughlin: The hon. Lady, through her work as Chairman of the Transport Committee, has always been supportive of the overall objective for greater train capacity, and she has made the case for a more direct service to Liverpool, which is part of what I will be considering when I address the full route towards the end of next year. I have to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson), who has joined me on the Front Bench, has also made the case as to why he believes that the announcement I have made today is the right decision. However, it is not just my decision. It is based on the overall structure reports produced by Sir David Higgins, the chairman of HS2. It is important how this feeds in to the rest of the question about national infrastructure, on which we have asked the National Infrastructure Commission to advise us, as far as the future of HS3 or indeed Crossrail 2 is concerned.

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The hon. Lady asked whether this will be deliverable within the departmental spending changes announced last week, and the answer is yes.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): What are the forecast revenues and losses on the Crewe to west midland section when it opens in the first couple of years, and what are the consequentials on revenue and subsidies on the existing railway?

Mr McLoughlin: We believe that the benefit-cost ratios for the lines that I have announced today are positive and will bring a return for the country. I say to my right hon. Friend that it is not all about BCRs. If only BCRs had been taken into account, the Jubilee line would never have been built, Canary Wharf would never have been opened, and the Limehouse link tunnel, which had a BCR of 0.4 or 0.7, would never have been built, yet they have made huge differences. Infrastructure is sometimes expensive, but we should judge the BCRs not on the next 30 years, but on the next 100 years.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Given that, unlike Network Rail, HS2 Ltd is not devolved to any part of the United Kingdom, will the Secretary of State explain why the statement of funding policy for the devolved institutions, which was published along with last week’s comprehensive spending review, provides for a 100% Barnett consequential from HS2 to Scotland and Northern Ireland, and one of 0% to Wales?

Mr McLoughlin: I believe that Wales will benefit from what I have announced today, because it will be very important to the north Wales economy.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): The Secretary of State is well aware of my views about HS2. Two weeks ago, when the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill)—who is responsible for HS2 phase 2—visited my constituency, I explained to him, and showed him, the devastating effect that the current route would have on the village of Measham. It will remove the major employer at the southern end of the constituency, halt a new housing development, and require the building of a new piece of the A42, which will cause huge disruption. When will we have a definite route for phase 2, and when will my constituents receive the compensation that they deserve?

Mr McLoughlin: As I have said to my hon. Friend before, and as I have just said to the House, I hope to be able to say more next year about the entire route, both the east and the west sections.

Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): My opposition to HS2 will not come as a surprise to anyone. It will blight the lives of thousands of residents of Hampstead and Kilburn. Will the Secretary of State make clear whether what he has announced about the line to Crewe will affect the line of route into Euston station, the rest of Camden, and the vent shafts in Brent?

Mr McLoughlin: No. The announcements that I have made today will have no impact at all.

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Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I note today that Leeds City Council has been successful in lobbying for the “T” station in the centre of the city, and also that the concerns expressed by my constituents in Woodlesford and—as my right hon. Friend knows, by me—have led to options being at least considered in regard to the route to Leeds. I hope that they will include the tunnel idea. May I urge my right hon. Friend to put pressure on HS2 Ltd to publish the route as soon as possible, in order to avoid circumstances such as those experienced by one of my constituents, who tried to remortgage his house last week and found that the mortgage company had given it a £0 rating?

Mr McLoughlin: I am incredibly sympathetic towards cases of that kind, and my Ministers and I are always willing to look into individual cases. This is a huge project. As I have said, I regret not being able to say more and confirm the rest of the route at this point, but that is still being studied, and all the options suggested by Members are being examined. Once we have announced the route, there will come a time for legislative changes to be made in the House of Commons. I am afraid, however, that part of the difficulty with planning long-term infrastructure projects is caused by the fact that they are long term, and they do take a long time.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): I echo everything that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt). The Secretary of State will also know—happy birthday to him, by the way—that, while Crewe may look as though it were next door to Stoke-on-Trent on a map, it takes a good hour for my constituents to drive there. I know that, because I have done it many a time. If they travel by train, once they have got into Stoke, the Crewe-Derby line is appalling, as the Secretary of State will know very well. I think that he needs to look carefully at the line, and bring that work forward by six years.

Mr McLoughlin: All these points need to be considered, but I think it essential for Stoke-on-Trent to benefit from HS2, along with the whole area of north Staffordshire and the southern part of Cheshire. It is a very important area, and we need to ensure that it has the necessary connectivity. Any other issues of connectivity that can be dealt with during the planning process should also be considered.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I entirely endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt). It is vital for Stoke-on-Trent—and, indeed, Stafford—to have that connectivity. I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about a generous compensation scheme; it needs to be both generous and swift. May I ask him, however, whether there will be opportunities to look again at the alignment, or at least the elevation, of the route through my constituency, given that every single point that we have made has been disregarded?

Mr McLoughlin: What I have announced today is a line extension of 37 miles between Fradley in the west midlands and Crewe. Of those 37 miles, 1.1 miles consist of three tunnels, and there will also be 4 miles of viaduct. Of course I am always willing to listen to representations

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from my hon. Friend and others who wish to make them, and once the Bill has been published, people will be able to petition as well.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): If things are being accelerated, is there any chance of Liverpool being properly linked to HS2 before 2033, if ever?

Mr McLoughlin: As a result of the announcements I have made, Liverpool will get a faster journey time as far as the high-speed link is concerned, so it will see the benefits. Other people are making the case that we should go even further with the HS2 line.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Will the Secretary of State reconfirm the Government’s full commitment to the whole of the Y-route and, in that regard, will he commit to bringing forward some of the work so that the east midlands gets the proposed connectivity a lot earlier than is planned?

Mr McLoughlin: I very much welcome the fact that there is now a common agreement between the east midlands councils as to where the site will be. On my hon. Friend’s request for a faster decision, I will do what I can, but I have outlined the routes that we are going to take and the process that we are going to go through.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I will hold back from wishing the Secretary of State a happy birthday unless he gives me good news. As he knows, I have raised this point many times before. I have constituents who live just outside the catchment area for compensation, but he has said that intends to extend that area. Can he give me some good news on that now?

Mr McLoughlin: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman does not get a chance to come back with a further comment. The announcements that I have made today will make no difference to the route that is already before the House or to the scheme being investigated by the Committee that is dealing with the route from London to the west midlands. However, we have improved the compensation arrangements for the whole of the route.

Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): As my right hon. Friend will be aware, a number of my constituents and businesses in Long Eaton will be bitterly disappointed that, as of today, they still do not know what the route will be. Will he use his influence with HS2 Ltd to bring forward early compensation, so that those people can move on with their lives?

Mr McLoughlin: My hon. Friend should be pleased to note that the new consensus in the east midlands has removed from her constituents in the Beeston area the possibility of a station being located there. I will obviously listen carefully to what she says, however. We have the exceptional hardship payments for certain cases, and I am always willing to look at any individual cases.

Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): I endorse the comments made by my neighbours, my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) and the

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hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). I share their dismay that we are not going to have a station at Stoke-on-Trent. Having said that, I welcome the announcement on Handsacre. Will the Secretary of State give me details of the timing of the consultation and of a final decision on Handsacre?

Mr McLoughlin: The provisions on Handsacre are partly covered by the Bill that is before the House, which is being studied by the special Committee that is looking into the first part of the route. On the hon. Lady’s other point, I refer her to what I said to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), which is that I am keen to see Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford benefiting from the new train services. As I said earlier, capacity is one of the most important reasons for this project.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues. We normally take the bulk of Members wishing to ask a question, but we must move on because there is heavy pressure on time today. I thank the Secretary of State and colleagues who have taken part.

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Junior Doctors Contract

4.3 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to update the House on the junior doctors’ strike. Earlier this month, the union representing doctors, the British Medical Association, balloted for industrial action over contract reform. Because the first strike is tomorrow, I wish to update the House on the contingency plans being made.

Following last week’s spending review, no one can be in any doubt about this Government’s commitment to the NHS, but additional resources have to be matched with even safer services for patients. That is why, on the back of mounting academic evidence that mortality rates were higher at weekends than in the week, we made a manifesto commitment to deliver truly seven-day hospital services for urgent and emergency care. However, it is important to note that seven-day services are not just about junior doctor contract reform. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges noted:

“The weekend effect is very likely attributable to deficiencies in care processes linked to the absence of skilled and empowered senior staff in a system which is not configured to provide full diagnostic and support services seven days a week.”

So our plans will support the many junior doctors who already work weekends with better consultant cover at weekends, seven-day diagnostics and other support services, and the ability to discharge at weekends into other parts of the NHS and the social care system. But reforming both the consultants’ and junior doctor contracts is a key part of the mix, because the current contracts have the unintended consequence of making it too hard for hospitals to roster urgent and emergency care evenly across seven days.

Our plans are deliberately intended to be good for doctors: they will see more generous rates for weekend work than those offered to police officers, fire officers and pilots; they protect pay for all junior doctors working within their legal, contracted hours, compensating for a reduction in antisocial hours with a basic pay rise averaging 11% and average pay maintained; they reduce the maximum hours a doctor can work in any one week from 91 to 72, and stop altogether the practice of asking doctors to work five nights in a row; and, most of all, they will improve the experience of doctors working over the weekend by making it easier for them to deliver the care they would like to be able to deliver to their patients.

Our preference has always been a negotiated solution, but the House knows that the BMA has refused to enter negotiations since June. However, last week I agreed for officials to meet it under the auspices of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service—ACAS. I am pleased to report to the House that, after working through the weekend, discussions led to a potential agreement early this afternoon between the BMA leadership and the Government. This agreement would allow a time-limited period during which negotiations can take place, and during which the BMA agrees to suspend strike action and the Government agree not to proceed unilaterally with implementing a new contract. This agreement is now sitting with the BMA junior doctors executive committee, who will decide later today if they are able to support it.

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However, it is important for the House to know that right now strikes are still planned to start at midnight, so I will now turn to the contingency planning we have undertaken. The Government’s first responsibility is to keep their citizens safe. That particularly applies to those needing care in our hospitals, so we are making every effort to minimise any harm or risks caused by the strike. I have chaired three contingency planning meetings to date, and will continue to chair further such meetings for the duration of any strikes. NHS England is currently collating feedback from all trusts, but we estimate that the planned action will mean up to 20,000 patients may have vital operations cancelled—these include approximately 1,500 cataracts operations, 900 skin lesion removals, 630 hip and knee operations, 400 spine operations, 250 gall bladder removals and nearly 300 tonsil and grommets operations.

NHS England has also written to all trusts asking for detailed information on the impact of the strikes planned for the 8 and 16 December, which will involve not just the withdrawal of elective care, but the withdrawal of urgent and emergency care as well. We are giving particular emphasis to the staffing at major trauma centres and are drawing up a list of trusts where we have concerns about patient safety. All trusts will have to cancel considerable quantities of elective care in order to free up consultant capacity and beds. So far the BMA has not been willing to provide assurances that it will ask its members to provide urgent and emergency cover in these areas where patients may be at risk, and we will continue to press for such assurances.

It is regrettable that this strike was called even before the BMA had seen the Government’s offer, and the whole House will be hoping today that the strike is called off so that talks can resume. But whether or not there is a strike, providing safe services for patients will remain the priority of this Government as we work towards our long-term ambition to make NHS care the safest and highest quality in the world. I commend this statement to the House.

4.9 pm

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and for advanced sight of it. When we last debated junior doctors contracts in this Chamber, the Health Secretary was too busy to attend, so I am glad that he has found time to be here today.

May I start by saying that I strongly welcome what the Health Secretary has announced? Nobody wants to see industrial action, not least the junior doctors. Hopefully, common sense will prevail. However, I have a number of issues on which I wish to press the Health Secretary, including how services tomorrow might still be affected, workforce morale, and what happens next.

A week and a half ago, I wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting independent ACAS talks to resolve this dispute. My proposal was immediately supported by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and accepted by the British Medical Association. It took the Government a further five days to agree to enter talks. The issue is this: given that a number of operations have already been cancelled, is it not the case that if the Health Secretary had agreed to this proposal when it was first put to him, he could have avoided, or at least mitigated, any disruption to patients tomorrow?

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During my urgent question in this House on Friday 20 November, the Minister of State for Community and Social Care was asked 12 times about ACAS involvement, and 12 times he refused to agree to talks. Will the Health Secretary say very clearly why it took the Government so long to agree to talks, and why Ministers initially appeared to rule out the proposal?

Secondly, the Health Secretary will know that this dispute has been deeply damaging to workforce morale. Many junior doctors will have already voted with their feet, or would have been planning to do so over the coming months. Has the Department made any estimate of the effect of the dispute on staff recruitment and retention? What action is the Secretary of State taking to stop the brain drain of our brightest medics to countries such as Australia and New Zealand?

It was clear from my conversations with junior doctors that they felt that they were the first line of defence in a fight for the future of the NHS. Whether that is right or wrong, it is a remarkable situation in which our junior doctors find themselves. Will the Health Secretary now set out his approach to negotiations with other groups of staff about pay and conditions? Does he accept that we cannot keep asking our NHS workforce to do more for less?

Finally, I say gently to the Health Secretary that his handling of these negotiations has been a lesson in precisely how not to do it. I trust that today’s announcement will mark a change in tone and approach on the part of the Government. With that in mind, let me say this to the Health Secretary: everyone in this House agrees that if someone goes to hospital in an emergency on a Sunday, they should get the same treatment as they would on a Tuesday. The Health Secretary has repeatedly failed to make the case for why reforming the junior doctor contract is essential to that aim.

I make a genuine offer to the Health Secretary today. I am prepared to work with him on a cross-party basis to do everything possible to eradicate the so-called “weekend effect” and we will support any necessary reforms to achieving that aim. In return, the Health Secretary needs to be absolutely clear about what needs to change in order to deliver that. As many studies have concluded, there needs to be much more research into why there is a weekend effect, so that we can ensure that we focus efforts on the actual problem. Will the Health Secretary today commit to commissioning new independent research into how reforming staffing arrangements at the weekend might help improve the quality of weekend services? Does he understand that part of the problem has been that he has implied that junior doctors are to blame for differential mortality among patients admitted at the weekend? What other steps will he take to ensure that we have consistent seven-day services, including ensuring that social care is available outside the working week? Will he update the House on the consultant contract negotiations, which are separate to the junior doctor negotiations and are more directly linked to seven-day services?

I welcome the fact that the Health Secretary finally agreed to ACAS talks last week and I welcome the news from those talks today. Nobody wants patients to suffer and I hope that now we can start to put this whole sorry saga behind us.

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Mr Hunt: What an interesting response from someone who has never championed seven-day services and has never been prepared to stand up for patients and do the right thing, however difficult it might be.

The hon. Lady asked about ACAS, so let me respond to her comments. We did not respond immediately—incidentally, our response was not to rule it out but to say that we would consider it and that we did not rule it out—because I made a private approach to the head of the British Medical Association to see whether there was enough common ground to make an approach to ACAS worth while. I wanted to give time for that private approach to bear fruit.

The hon. Lady asked about the brain drain. I will tell her what we are doing to stop the brain drain: there will be £3.8 billion of extra resources for the NHS next year. That is £1.3 billion more than Labour promised at the last election. That is a commitment that we can make on the back of a strong economy, which all doctors know that the Labour party would never be able to deliver.

The hon. Lady has repeatedly called for the Government to remove the threat of contract imposition. Let me tell her why we cannot do that. It would give the BMA a veto over a manifesto commitment that has been endorsed by the British people—[Interruption.] She is making noises from her seat, but let me tell her what we have actually said. We will suspend proceeding to the new contracts during the period in which negotiations happen—a short, time-limited period—and in return the BMA will suspend the threat of strikes for that time-limited period. Removing the threat of imposition permanently has not been agreed in any other part of the NHS or any other part of the public sector. The Government must balance the needs of patients, doctors and taxpayers and giving one of those groups a veto over any new contract would make it impossible to make that judgment.

The hon. Lady talked about the way in which I have approached this. Being intemperate and unreasonable is a quality that I appear to share with every Minister of Health the BMA has met; those are not my words but those of Nye Bevan, the person who founded the NHS. Had he listened to the BMA, he would have not been able to set up the NHS; it would have had to be set up by the Conservative Government who followed that Labour Government.

This junior doctors contract is not the only thing we need to do to have seven-day services, but contract reform is what hospitals say is the most important thing of all. It is based on independent research. The 2013 report from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges had 10 clinical standards, on which we have based our proposals. We have also based them on the seven studies we have now had over five years that talk about the problems of the weekend effect. We have also had the independent research by the pay review body on which we based the bulk of our proposals.

I gently want to say to the hon. Lady that when it came to the biggest issue of patient safety in the NHS in recent years she did not speak out against the strike. She did not support the Government’s moves to seven-day services and when it came to avoidable mortality she preferred to pick holes in the data rather than make the moral case for action. The British public have noticed.

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Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his steady and patient pursuit of a seven-day service for patients in the face of the extraordinarily militant tactics of the BMA. As one of his predecessors, I can reassure him that the tendency to personalise any dispute against the Secretary of State is a long-standing tradition of this trade union that goes back to Lloyd George, when it resisted panel doctors. It was ferocious in its opposition to Nye Bevan and the establishment of the NHS and every Secretary of State of every party since that time has had exactly the same experience in a dispute. If my right hon. Friend succeeds in getting the negotiations under way on a time-limited basis, as he rightly said, will he approach the BMA—of course, in a reasonable way—and insist that it make it clear that it supports a seven-day service, which would be of benefit to the country, and will not turn this into a demand for large amounts of extra pay? I think the British medical profession is among the best paid in Europe, if not the best paid. Everyone should concentrate on how to raise standards of service to ordinary patients up and down the country and how to get rid of higher mortality rates at weekends?

Mr Hunt: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his robust support. I seem to remember that when he was Health Secretary posters were put up all over the country saying, “What do you call a man who ignores doctors’ advice”, with a picture of my right hon. and learned Friend. He knows exactly what this is all about. It is not just Conservative Health Secretaries: Nye Bevan and Alan Milburn went through this.

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right: we will all be delighted if the strike is postponed. Incidentally, it begins at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning, not midnight—I must correct that. He is right: the Government’s focus is unremittingly on improving patient care. We have made it clear that any settlement has to be within the current pay envelope. The great sadness is that the vast majority of doctors are passionate about doing something about seven-day services. If only we had had the chance to negotiate from June, we could have avoided the situation we are in.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): I, too, welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has been to ACAS and made the change to plain hours that would have resulted in hours between 7 o’clock to 10 o’clock on a Saturday being counted in the same way as the equivalent period during the week. That would particularly punish people who already work at weekends such as acute medical staff and doctors working in accident and emergency—the very people we need.

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has made that change. I should be grateful for clarification of whether the threat of imposition is there or not. The statement says that it has been removed, but in his reply to the shadow Secretary of State he implied that it has not been removed. It would be helpful if he clarified the position.

We keep talking about more people dying at the weekend. May I again stress that it is not excess deaths at weekends, implying that hospitals look like the Mary Celeste? It is excess deaths of people admitted at the weekend, who may die on any day of the week. Junior doctors already cover weekends. It is the additional services

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to diagnose and get people on their journey that we are discussing. We need to focus on that. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State, in previous statements, has moved from talking about excess deaths to talking about the consultant opt-out clause, which applies only to routine work—I am sorry, a toenail clinic on a Sunday will not save lives—but he needs to focus on strengthening the seven-day service for urgent cases, in which people are ill and where existing provision leads to excess deaths. Hopefully, we can make progress. I join the Secretary of State and everyone in the House in hoping that there is not a strike tomorrow.

Mr Hunt: The hon. Lady is right that this is about the excess mortality rates of people admitted at the weekend—not of people who are already in hospital at the weekend. I am afraid that she is mistaken in her characterisation of the rest of the Government position. Clinical standards are clear: people admitted at the weekend, or at any time, should be seen by a consultant within 14 hours, but that is true in only one in eight hospitals across seven days of the week, which is why sorting out the consultant contract for urgent and emergency care matters. Although the opt-out in the consultant contract applies only to elective work, half as many consultants are available in A&E on Sunday as are available during the week, although Sunday is one of the busiest days of the week, so it is not just about junior doctors. However, if we are going to make life better for junior doctors, we need to make sure that they have more senior cover and do not feel clinically exposed, which is what independent studies have said they feel.

Governments of any party must have the right to set the terms and conditions of an employment contract. That is a right that no part of the public sector has moved away from, and it is a vital right for all employers. I have simply said that I will not move towards any new contract while negotiations are happening during this time-limited period. That was what my statement clearly said, and the BMA for its part has said that if this agreement is honoured, it will remove the threat to strike during that period.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on coming here today on this very important matter. All parts of the House support him in trying to find a negotiated solution to this knotty problem. However, if the strike goes ahead—although we very much hope that the BMA will see sense and agree to the terms so far put on the table—I understand that the BMA has not been willing to provide assurances that it will ask its members to provide urgent and emergency cover in areas where patients may be at risk. What more can the Secretary of State do to encourage the BMA to make that statement? That is what will be worrying patients out there.

Mr Hunt: On the overall picture, we must be clear that this is not about asking junior doctors to work a lot of extra hours for free. We expect that as we have increased take-up of seven-day services and more people working antisocial hours, particularly on Sundays, that might lead to a higher pay bill, but we need to make sure that the proposals for the workforce that we have at present protect average pay and mean that as we move to seven-day services, they are affordable by hospitals. To answer my right hon. Friend’s question, we respect

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the right of doctors to strike, even though it is very disappointing when they choose to do so, but they have said on this occasion, in a way that is quite unprecedented, that they will withdraw urgent and emergency care on 8 and 16 December. All we have said to them is that if there are areas where we are not able to make alternative arrangements for urgent and emergency care by, for example, using other front-line clinicians, we would like their support in those specific areas, not across the whole country, in asking junior doctors to step in on those cases in the interests of patient safety. We have not yet had those assurances, but we very much hope we will get them.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. The Secretary of State is seeking to provide comprehensive and informative replies and that is appreciated. However, progress so far—and it is not entirely down to the Secretary of State, but to the length of questions—has been a bit slow. I am keen to get through everybody if possible, but I remind the House that the next debate is very heavily subscribed, so brief questions and brief answers are the order of the day. We will be led, as usual, in this matter by Gisela Stuart.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): When the Secretary of State chaired his three contingency meetings, did he take account of the fact that last year we had something like 43,900 excess winter deaths, which were avoidable and largely caused by almost toxic overcrowding of emergency departments? What provisions has he made to avoid the excess deaths that we had last year and to make sure that that is not made even worse by the present situation?

Mr Hunt: The hon. Lady is right to be concerned by the much higher than normal excess winter deaths that we had, but I would not characterise the reason for those excess deaths as she did. We think they were largely caused by the ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine that was recommended by the World Health Organisation last year but proved not to be as effective as it normally is. The early signs are that this year’s flu vaccine will be more effective. Those excess deaths are deaths at home and throughout the system, not just in hospitals, but of course we are doing everything this winter, as we did last winter, to make sure that we minimise the possibility of excess deaths.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: I call Helen Whately—[Interruption.] Order. May I gently remind Members that it is a good idea to continue to stand? One should not stand once and assume thereafter that the Chair is psychic. I had a hunch that the hon. Lady wished to contribute, but keep standing—it helps the Chair and it is also helpful exercise.

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I welcome the fact that the BMA is returning to talks and that there is a potential agreement on the table. The dispute has focused on pay and hours, but I think that its roots might go deeper. For instance, juniors often do not feel valued or part of the team. Does my right hon.

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Friend agree that the best way to improve the situation for juniors is for them to engage in talking, rather than striking, and that talking, which they are doing, is the right choice by juniors, who are the future leaders of the NHS?

Mr Hunt: I agree with my hon. Friend, who has great knowledge of NHS matters. I simply say to junior doctors that this is not just about contracts and pay; it is also about training. Having consultants more available at weekends will help improve training for junior doctors. We will also need to look at continuity of training, which I think has been undermined in recent decades. If junior doctors are looking for a visible reflection of this Government’s commitment to the NHS, they should look at last week’s spending review statement and the extra resources we are putting into the NHS in very tight circumstances. This Government are backing the NHS, and we are doing everything we can to back junior doctors as part of that.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker—I was standing.

The Secretary of State referred in his statement—in the last line of page 1 of the copy we have been given—to a “time-limited period” during which negotiations will take place. Is that a day, a week or a month? Will the contract be imposed after that?

Mr Hunt: I hope that the hon. Lady will understand that, because I very much hope that the BMA’s junior doctors executive committee will agree to go ahead with the agreement we have made with its negotiators, I do not want at this stage to go into further details about its contents. Obviously, the agreement will be published as soon as it is made, but I think that I would be pre-empting that decision by going into detail. It is a reasonable period of time for negotiations to take place.

Ben Howlett (Bath) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker—it appears that I need to bob more often.

I am pleased to hear that all parties might be back around the table. I join the Secretary of State in hoping that the strike action is called off. Following a meeting with Bath junior doctors this weekend, it was clear to me that they, too, will be delighted. Will he confirm that safeguards will be a central part of the renegotiation?

Mr Hunt: Absolutely. We want to reduce the number of doctors working unsafe hours and make sure that we have binding ways of ensuring that hospitals cannot ignore the intention of any agreement we make and ask doctors to work extra hours that they do not want to work and that might be unsafe, or indeed to trade on the good will that means many doctors work extra hours unpaid. That is an important part of the discussions that I hope we will now be able to enter into.

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): I have received a number of emails from constituents about this matter. What impact does the Secretary of State believe this fiasco will have on the long-term morale of staff in the national health service?

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Mr Hunt: I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s characterisation of the situation as a “fiasco”. We are making really important changes that will save patients’ lives by eliminating the weekend effect that we have seen in the NHS for some time, which I think any responsible Government need to deal with. The way to improve morale in the NHS is by making it easier for doctors to give their patients the care they want to give, and at the moment that is very difficult in many places at the weekend. We want to put that right.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): We have heard about the 20,000 cancelled operations and the inconvenience caused to patients by the planned strikes, but I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could report to the House how serving the needs of patients features in the negotiations with junior doctors so that patients can get the same level of care seven days a week?

Mr Hunt: That is the reason we have had this whole dispute with the BMA, and it is disappointing that, rather than it negotiating with us on something that I think every doctor understands we need to address, it has come to the eleventh hour like this. In the end, my hon. Friend is absolutely right that doing the right thing for patients is also doing the right thing for doctors, because doctors go into medicine because they want to look after patients.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. None of us wants to see a new contract imposed on doctors; that would be the worst possible outcome. It is very important that we have the seven-day process in the NHS. The BMA represents many doctors in Northern Ireland, where health is a devolved matter, so what discussions has he had with the Health Minister in Northern Ireland to address the issue and find a solution?

Mr Hunt: We are keeping in regular contact with our counterparts in the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments. As this is a devolved matter, it is obviously up to them to decide what they do, but I hope they will be encouraged by the progress that I think we are beginning to make in the argument for seven-day services.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): There are no winners on either side whenever there is a strike, so I wish the Secretary of State well with the negotiations. What answer does he have for the doctors I have met who believe that this contract change forces junior doctors to work even longer for less?

Mr Hunt: I would like to reassure categorically those doctors that that is not the intention of the changes we are making. We have made it clear that we will protect the pay of anyone working within the legal contracted hours, and in fact three quarters of junior doctors will see their pay rise as a result of these changes. We want to deliver safer care. If we are able to go ahead with the negotiations with the BMA that I hope we can in the coming weeks, I hope we will be able to put in place very strong safeguards that all sides agree will reassure my hon. Friend’s constituents.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The Secretary of State has to accept his responsibility in bringing about the cancellation of operations, because if he had been prepared

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to go to ACAS at the outset, all this would have been avoided. Does he accept that he is going to have to change his attitude towards negotiating with these junior doctors if we are to get the satisfactory outcome that we all want?

Mr Hunt: My attitude is very straightforward: I need to do the things that will make patients in the NHS safer, and I want to negotiate reasonably with anyone where there is a contractual issue that needs to be resolved. I think that the Government’s position has been reasonable. The vast majority of doctors will see their pay go up, and the pay for everyone else working legal contracted hours will be protected. This is a very reasonable offer that does a better job for patients, but it has been difficult to get through to the BMA. I urge the hon. Gentleman to talk to his friends at the BMA and to urge them to be reasonable and talk to the Government, whereby we could have avoided some of the problems.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State and the BMA for their work over the past few days in bringing this matter—I hope—to a resolution, and encourage that spirit in moving forward. May I suggest that the main way in which morale can be restored is to see that both sides are acting in the interests of patients and, in particular, patient safety, which is so vital to doctors and to all of us?

Mr Hunt: No one knows more about campaigning for patients than my hon. Friend, as he has done in his constituency, and I congratulate him on that. He is right. There does not need to be an argument on a matter such as this, because it unites the Government in what we want to do to make the NHS the provider of the safest care in the world with what doctors themselves want to do. The best way forward is to put aside suspicion and for both sides to recognise that we are trying to do the right thing for patients, for doctors, and for the NHS.

Dawn Butler (Brent Central) (Lab): The Secretary of State has failed. He has failed patients, he has failed junior doctors, and he has failed his Government. He says that people should put aside suspicion. I suspect that the reason he did not agree to meet ACAS sooner was so that he could sneak in the announcement during the autumn statement.

Mr Hunt: Let me tell the hon. Lady what the failure was: it was setting up a contract for junior doctors in 2003 that has made it impossible for hospitals to roster proper care at weekends. The duty of a Secretary of State is to put right those historical wrongs so that patients are safe.

Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam) (Con): Tomorrow I am due to go to St Helier hospital to meet some of the doctors on the picket line. I am sure that we all agree that it would be far better if tomorrow, instead, the doctors were there working and their representatives were talking to Government representatives. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in talking to the BMA, there is genuine room for negotiation and agreement on many of the details?

Mr Hunt: I have always believed that a negotiated agreement will be better for doctors, patients and the NHS, because I am sure that the BMA has value that it

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can add in the negotiating process to make sure that we implement the spirit and not just the letter of what the Government want to do. I agree with my hon. Friend, and I hope that we can enter into constructive, serious negotiations.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): I have watched my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) fight night and day, and for seven days a week, for services in her constituency, so I would counsel the Secretary of State against saying that she has not fought for seven-day-a-week services. May I help the Secretary of State? In order to restart the process with trust, will he confirm that he has heard from junior doctors—as I have heard from junior doctors who are constituents of mine—that their primary concern is for nothing but patient safety?

Mr Hunt: I do think that that is the primary concern of the vast majority of junior doctors, which is why I think it was wrong for the BMA to refuse even to sit down and discuss with the Government how we were going to implement a manifesto commitment. I now hope we can get past that, so I will not say any more other than that I think it is now possible to get a better agreement for the NHS, and I hope we will now be able to do that.

Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Having been fortunate enough to hear both from junior doctors in my constituency and from the Secretary of State, it is clear to me that both parties are talking the same language but that the communication has not quite filtered through via the BMA. Once this matter is, I hope, resolved, will the Secretary of State think of ways in which dialogue can be improved directly between the Department of Health and junior doctors?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have had some very unfortunate megaphone diplomacy over recent months, but I hope we can now put that behind us and that lessons will be learned. As he rightly says, we have never wanted to do anything other than what I think is good for doctors, as well as what is good for patients, and that is what the proposals were about.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): It should not have come to this and, of course, there will be a cost implication as a result. I welcome the involvement of ACAS to get to this stage and I hope the strike will be averted. Could the Secretary of State assure me that the specific concerns of anaesthetists are taken into consideration, given that they are on site all the time and are essential in making sure that hospitals are safe?

Mr Hunt: Anaesthetists have an absolutely vital role to play in providing proper seven-day services. In the highest-risk operations it is obviously very important for consultant anaesthetists also to be present, to give their very important judgments. I absolutely give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.