Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he did as Minister for disabled people. Does he agree that we also need to help employers? Does not dealing with people with learning difficulties or mental health issues, about which the Prime Minister has talked today, require a great deal of support for the employer as well as the apprentice?

Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Absolutely. That is at the heart of the points that I am going to make. People need time to develop the necessary skills, and employers need to be able to provide suitable opportunities for individuals with learning disabilities. All Governments, in all generations, have tried their best to give opportunities to people with learning disabilities. The proportion has stayed rigidly at about 6%, which is the worst percentage involved in any disability and therefore presents us with the largest challenge.

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Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): What progress her Department is making on the provision of 30 hours of free childcare to working parents.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Caroline Dinenage): We are committed to ensuring that we have the high-quality affordable childcare that families need, and are on track to deliver 30 hours of childcare to working parents. We are investing record funding of £1 billion per year by 2020 and have announced a fairer early-years funding system. Eight early implementer areas are already providing nearly 4,000 places one year early.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Last week I visited Hadfield Nursery School in my constituency. That excellent and very well respected local nursery is a maintained nursery. It is concerned about the level of funding it will receive when the 30 hours provision comes in. Will she give us some reassurance on that, and would she like to visit Hadfield Nursery School, because it does a great job and everyone there would be delighted to see her?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Caroline Dinenage): I thank my hon. Friend for that very kind invitation. I would be more than happy to visit both him and the Hadfield Nursery School in his beautiful High Peak constituency. He is right to highlight the importance of maintained nursery schools. We have committed to providing local authorities with an additional £55 million per year for nursery schools until at least the end of this Parliament.

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Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): What progress his Department has made on protecting the armed forces from persistent legal claims.

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mike Penning): We have made significant progress in recent months: we announced our intention to derogate from the relevant articles of the European convention on human rights in future conflicts where appropriate, and I have launched a consultation on enhanced compensation for soldiers injured or killed in combat, so that members of the armed forces and their families do not have to spend years waiting to pursue claims against the Ministry of Defence. We hope to announce further measures shortly.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. My constituent 87-year-old Arnold Hustwick, himself a former soldier, will also welcome that news, because he has expressed his outrage about some of these claims. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if it was not for the MOD submitting evidence of malpractice by Mr Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, and the Ministry of Justice cancelling Mr Shiner’s legal aid contract, this man would still be hounding our soldiers?

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mike Penning): I was at the Ministry of Justice when we revoked the legal aid, and if it was not for this Secretary of State and my former colleague sending submissions to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Mr Shiner would probably still be pursuing our soldiers and servicemen. Mr Shiner should probably do exactly what the Secretary of State called for him to do in December 2014 and apologise to our former servicemen.

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Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): What steps the Government are taking to protect vulnerable witnesses when they testify in court.

The Minister for Courts and Justice (Sir Oliver Heald): We are committed to helping vulnerable witnesses to give their very best evidence. A range of measures exist to help to reduce the anxiety of giving evidence, including video-link evidence away from the courtroom, and, within the court, giving evidence behind a screen.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): Following the closure of my local court in Buxton, witnesses will have to travel from my High Peak constituency to the nearest court. Can my right hon. and learned Friend provide further assurance that there will be protection for witnesses not only in the court, but when they are travelling to it?

The Minister for Courts and Justice (Sir Oliver Heald): Yes, I can do that. When a witness needs protection, the police assess what is required to keep them safe. Witness care officers also help to ensure that the witness has any help that they need to attend court.

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Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): What steps her Department is taking to confiscate money from criminals; and what plans she has further to strengthen the asset recovery regime.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Amber Rudd): Since 2010, £1.2 billion of criminal assets have been recovered, and a further £3 billion have been frozen. The Serious Crime Act 2015 provided new powers, and the Criminal Finances Bill will further improve our capability, but there is more to be done. Next year we will publish a new asset recovery action plan, and the Cabinet Office will look at the UK’s response to economic crime more broadly. This will include looking at the effectiveness of our organisational framework and the capabilities, resources and powers available to the organisations that tackle economic crime.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): What my right hon. Friend says is welcome, but can she assure me that the asset recovery regime will extend to all forms of crime, and particularly tax evasion? The potential financial gains from tax evasion are large, and whatever people think about it being a victimless crime, it is wrong, and the regime should apply to it as well.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Amber Rudd): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is an important part of the new proceeds of crime legislation, and, yes, it will be included in it.

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