House of Commons
Wednesday 14 July 2010
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Civil Service Compensation Scheme
I wrote to the chairman of the Council of Civil Service Unions immediately after making my statement to the House on 6 July. I have invited the unions to begin discussions with us on developing a sustainable and affordable long-term successor to the current civil service compensation scheme. I met the unions yesterday, and my officials have had further meetings with them.
It is common ground that the current civil service compensation scheme is unaffordable. The hon. Lady’s own Government attempted to introduce a new scheme that introduced modest changes to the current scheme. That was agreed by five out of the six civil service unions, but sadly, the sixth did not agree, went to the High Court, and had it struck down. The result is that savings that had been scheduled to be made by the previous Government now cannot be made, so there is an additional cost. I have taken the view that it is not responsible to leave matters as they are. Nor is it fair to leave in limbo for ever people who know that there is, through no fault of their own, no job for them for the future, which has been the case for some time.
Does the Minister accept that any plans severely to restrict redundancy payments for hundreds of thousands of low-paid civil servants will be seen as a kick in the teeth for thousands of workers who have faced uncertainty about their jobs over the past few years, and who face uncertainty in the future?
It is precisely for that reason that I want to engage quickly with the unions to negotiate additional protection for low-paid workers. Contrary to general belief, large numbers of civil servants are not very well paid—half of them earn £21,000 a year or less—and we want there to be extra protection for them. I want to engage as quickly as possible with the unions to negotiate an arrangement that has not only fairness but accountability built into it.
Last week, the Minister said that his proposals may not have been necessary if the Public and Commercial Services Union had joined the other five trade unions in agreeing to the previous Government’s reform package. That being so, will he start his negotiations with that package, which would have saved £500 million over three years and protected the lowest paid?
As I say, we are very keen to have proper protection for the lowest-paid workers. Had that scheme been in existence when the coalition Government came into office, a pressing case would have been made to leave it as it was and work on that basis. That option is no longer on the table, so it seemed to us right to look at a scheme that is sustainable for the long term. The previous revised scheme made only relatively modest changes, and it was still way out of kilter with anything available under the statutory redundancy scheme or, indeed, throughout most of the private sector.
I am grateful for that answer. However, it is hard to take the Minister seriously about these negotiations when after all the press speculation, and more than a week after he sent his letter to the trade unions, the 600,000 staff who are affected still have no details of what he is proposing other than the threat of a 12-month cap on redundancy payments to all staff. Why should the lowest-paid staff—the junior official in a jobcentre—be treated in exactly the same way as the permanent secretary of a Government Department?
It is precisely my intention that that should not be the case. That is why I want to engage with the unions quickly to develop a scheme that protects the lowest paid. It is quite a complicated thing to do—it is not capable of being done in the course of a Bill—so we need to negotiate it. I want to ensure that it works and is effective in providing fairness, but is also affordable. I hope that we can engage with this as soon as possible. I have made it clear to the unions that it is our intention not only to negotiate on the ceiling that is available for voluntary redundancy schemes but to provide protection for the lower paid.
Government Projects (Consultants)
In May, we announced an immediate freeze on the use of consultants. Where there is an operational necessity and the work cannot be carried out by in-house staff, any new consultancy spend above £20,000 a month must be signed off by a Minister. In addition, all consultancy spend, whether pre-existing or newly approved, must be re-approved on a rolling basis every three months. Processes are now in place whereby both my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and I must personally approve any request to employ a consultant beyond nine months.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Has he considered the fact that by reducing the use of consultants, we will be able to help public servants to develop their own careers more successfully, and that that will have the added advantage of protecting jobs, because we can keep the work with them rather than putting it out to consultants?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The excessive use of consultants—we discovered that there were 2,500 consultants embedded in Whitehall across Government—is not only expensive and a wasteful use of money but demoralising for mainstream civil servants, who feel that they are undervalued. By cutting back on the use of consultants we can begin to re-equip the mainstream civil service with the professional skills that it wants.
Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will not employ any consultants at all on the experimental free market schools strategy at the Department for Education? I am sure I heard a rumour that the Government had paid half a million pounds to the New Schools Network.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if there are any consultants being used, that will have been signed off personally by a Minister in the Department for Education and will be made public online shortly. He should address his question to my colleagues in that Department and scan the website for notification.
Voluntary and Community Sectors
We thoroughly accept the implication of the question. Voluntary organisations are subject to much too much regulation and monitoring. That is why, in addition to the important work that Lord Young is doing on reducing the impact of health and safety legislation and the compensation culture on those organisations, we are about to launch a specific taskforce to examine the impact of regulation on small organisations. We hope to announce the chair of that taskforce very shortly and that it will complete its work by next spring.
I thank the Minister for his answer. One of the key areas of the Government’s big society project is to encourage volunteering. However, it is accepted that in many disadvantaged areas there are lower levels of volunteering. For example, school governor places remain vacant. Will he consider how we can break down the barriers, whether regulatory or otherwise, that deter a broader number of people from coming forward to volunteer, particularly in disadvantaged areas?
The short answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes. She is absolutely right that we need to break down those barriers, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is currently looking at how we might do that.
It is important to note that the accusation that is sometimes made that school governors will need to have Criminal Records Bureau checks is not correct. Unless those governors are involved in working with children in school on a day-to-day basis, all that needs to be checked is the list 99 bar. We are, of course, also looking at how we can reduce CRB checks to a common-sense level and at the vetting and barring regime. I hope that all those things will help persuade people that it is well worth doing important voluntary work.
All over the country this Sunday there will be “big lunch” street parties, and Battersea is no exception. In my area it has been greatly facilitated by the council issuing a flat-rate charge for street closures with an easily completed form, and generally being accommodating and encouraging. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should encourage all councils to do that?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her part in getting that to happen, and her council on taking that admirable attitude. One reason why we are so keen to decentralise and to give councils much more responsibility and power is precisely that they can then take sensible local initiatives of that kind to encourage local and community groups to flourish, which of course is part of our big society agenda.
I should say, Mr Speaker, that no one has previously accused me of having a mellifluous tone.
My hon. Friend is on to something enormously important. It is not just that we need to extend additional funding—it is much more than that. We need to involve the voluntary sector in a whole range of massive reform programmes. We hope to see it involved in schools, in the rehabilitation revolution, in the Work programme, in drug and alcohol rehabilitation and in much else besides. We are moving away from the micro-management of processes in contracts and towards a very exciting new world of payment by results, so that voluntary organisations can use their talents and initiative to achieve real results.
One of the biggest barriers to volunteering and volunteer groups is taxation, not just the increase in VAT that was voted through last night but the level of taxation that volunteer drivers have to pay on their mileage. Will the Ministers please talk to HM Customs and the Chancellor about the increase in that taxation, in line with the petrol duty increase over the past decade?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to do something that a ministerial career cannot long survive—speak for the Chancellor of the Exchequer on tax matters. I certainly undertake to continue the discussions with the Chancellor, which I have on all occasions, about how he can further our general programme to favour community groups in the voluntary sector. That is high on his agenda as well as ours.
It appears that there is a combined effort on the Labour Benches to persuade me to adopt the role of a Treasury Minister, which I am not and cannot do. Of course, we are conscious of the burdens that fall on the voluntary sector. However, for many people in that sector, a framework that enables them to do what they do best, in a way that achieves results, is what really counts. My response to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) is the response to that.
Big Society Bank
The Government are committed to setting up that independent wholesale bank to develop the market for social investment. It will be funded by dormant bank accounts and I will work with ministerial colleagues to establish it by April 2011.
When visiting the River Bourne community farm in my constituency in Salisbury and many other community groups, I found that one of their big concerns is the bureaucracy that they might face when accessing the funds from the Big Society bank, though they are encouraged by its creation. Will my hon. Friend confirm the process and the means whereby small community groups, which do not have the information, can access those much needed funds?
The intention is for the bank to be as independent and unbureaucratic as possible. It will be a wholesaler, not a retailer, so it will support intermediaries that are growing the market for social investment. If it invests in social enterprises in Salisbury, it will do so through intermediaries that have structured financial products, such as social impact or community bonds that connect private capital with the opportunity for good, and for social impact.
I have had a series of discussions with several intermediaries in the marketplace that are in the business of trying to encourage and support social investment. The intention is for the bank to stand behind and support those intermediaries to allow them to do more.
Civil Servants (Terms and Conditions)
I met the Council of Civil Service Unions yesterday. The main issue discussed was the proposed changes to the civil service compensation scheme, which I covered in my reply to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark).
Did my right hon. Friend discuss yesterday a subject of great public concern: civil servants on average have higher pay, get better pensions, work shorter hours and have longer holidays than their private sector counterparts, and they also have lower productivity? What are the Government doing about that?
Public sector productivity generally fell in absolute terms in the past 12 years, whereas private sector productivity rose by between 20 and 30%. There is therefore a problem with productivity in the public sector. However, I must tell my hon. Friend that median pay in the civil service is lower than that in the private sector, but pay in the wider public sector is higher.
As the House has heard, we intend to reduce the bureaucratic burdens on the sector and get more resources into it, not least through the Big Society bank and a new community grants programme. We want to reform commissioning to make it easier for voluntary sector organisations to compete for public sector contracts.
Rumbles is a charity in my constituency that provides training for young people with learning difficulties. It has enjoyed a good relationship with local colleges, supplying national vocational qualifications, but recent budgetary pressures have put the whole system under threat. What will the Minister do to help support the relationship between local colleges and local charities and volunteers?
I thank my hon. Friend for giving me advance notice of his specific constituency interest. I have liaised with the Department for Education, which is very clear that the voluntary sector has an important role in ensuring that all 16 to 18-year-olds can access learning opportunities that best suit them. However, the Department pointed out that it is for colleges to decide what their learning offer should be. On a more constructive note, if Rumbles believes it has a learning offer that will fill a gap in the 16-to-18 learning market, it should discuss it with the local authority and seek to become a 16-to-18 provider in its own right.
7. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the compact between the Government and the voluntary sector. (8073)
The right hon. Gentleman has a long-standing interest in this area. The Government are fully committed to the compact, as the Prime Minister stated when he launched the big society programme at No. 10 on 18 May. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General has written to Ministers with responsibility for the big society agenda to ask them to consider the compact as decisions on in-year budgetary savings and efficiencies are taken.
I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities, and I am sure that we will look at the detail of this matter in the coming months. Departments and Government agencies are large and powerful, whereas voluntary organisations are generally small and innovative. Does he therefore agree that supporting the compact process is an important responsibility of Ministers across Departments, as is ensuring fairness in how Departments deal with the voluntary sector organisations that are vital to their work?
I totally understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point. That is why we have set up a group of Ministers with responsibility for the big society agenda. The first meeting of those Ministers will be chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General next week. The compact and our plans to strengthen the transparency and accountability of its implementation will be on the agenda.
We have identified significant scope for efficiency savings through a variety of means, including moratoriums on information and communications technology spending of more than £1 million, on consultants costing more than £20,000 a month, on advertising and marketing spend, on new websites and on new or renewed property leases. Other means include a freeze on recruitment, the procurement of goods and services for the whole Government using our aggregated scale to drive down prices, removing discrepancies such as the variation of 170% in the cost of a standard computer monitor, and renegotiating with the Government’s biggest suppliers on a portfolio basis to take out excessive cost. I met the 20 biggest suppliers to the Government last week to kick that process off. That is just the beginning; there is much more to do.
In the light of that important answer, does my right hon. Friend remember the pledge given in 2006 by the previous Government to reduce dramatically the 794 websites that they ran at that time? Accordingly, was he as astonished as I was to discover just a few weeks ago that the number of websites had actually grown to 820? What is he doing to reduce that inefficient use of public resources?
My hon. Friend is completely right that the result of the previous Government’s attempt to cut the number of websites was actually a significant increase. We will take urgent steps to cut the number of websites, particularly in relation to those that compete with each other. I discovered that the Department of Energy and Climate Change was bidding against the Carbon Trust for spots on Google, which is one indication of the lack of discipline in that field.
Has the efficiency and reform group made an assessment of the Government’s programme for converting 800 schools into academies at a cost of £495 million over the next four years? In particular, has the group formed a view on whether that represents good value for money when set against the loss of hundreds of new school buildings following the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme?
That was a very good effort from the right hon. Gentleman, but we believe that the coalition’s programme to increase the number of academies is very valuable. It is part of the process of giving much more power to parents, and of giving the schools that are available for local people the ability to reflect what they want rather than what central planners dictate.
National Citizen Service
The coalition Government are committed to introducing a national citizen service to give young people an opportunity to develop the skills needed to be active and responsible citizens, mix with people from different backgrounds and get involved in their communities in order to promote engagement, cohesion and responsibility. Details of this programme will be announced by the Cabinet Office later this year, with a launch expected in 2011.
The whole point is to bring together young people from different backgrounds, rather in the way that national service was a great leveller. People from all sorts of backgrounds and geographies came together to work together, and that did promote cohesion. We are especially concerned that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds should not be excluded from this process. I hear what my hon. Friend says and it would be good if one of the pilot schemes next year could involve disadvantaged young people from his constituency. [Interruption.]
North Yorkshire county council has four fantastic outdoor education centres, including Bewerley park in Nidderdale in my constituency. I suspect that my right hon. Friend does not have time for potholing, but would he come and meet me so that I can show him how those four centres could deliver on the national citizens programme?
We want to encourage more people to set up and join local voluntary groups, and we want those groups to have much more influence over the issues that affect their communities. Our plans include the training of new community organisers, who can be fantastically effective in that context, and a new community grant programme to help put money in the hands of neighbourhood groups to implement their own neighbourhood plans.
Is the Minister aware that in Harlow the big society has been operating for some time? Will he agree to visit successful charities such as the Michael Roberts charitable trust and Rainbow Services, which are ready to pilot the big society reforms, independently of Government and at the heart of the community?
I am delighted to hear that the big society is alive and well in Harlow, and I know that my hon. Friend is a passionate advocate of the values that underlie it. I am happy to confirm to him that I will visit Harlow on 29 July and I look forward to seeing what is being done, what we can learn from and what we can build on.
Does the Minister share my concern that many voluntary and community organisations that deliver public services and value for money could be targeted unfairly for cuts in the present economic environment if sufficient and proper consideration is not given to their efficiency and effectiveness?
I share that concern, and that is why I am working with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and our strategic partners to try to identify examples of best practice, especially where local authorities are working in a partnership with the voluntary and community sector to manage this difficult transition carefully.
The programme is subject to approval in the comprehensive spending review, but all being well our intention is for it to be operational early next year. The focus will be on trying to provide grass-roots community grants to deprived areas that are characterised by high levels of economic deprivation and low levels of social capital.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave to Question 8.
We established at an early stage a moratorium on new advertising and marketing spend. Any exceptions to that moratorium have to come to me personally, and I am delighted to find that remarkably few applications are being made for exceptions. The amount of taxpayers’ money spent by the Government on advertising and marketing has been significantly reduced. At the end of the year, I expect to be able to show a very significant reduction in what was being spent by the last Government on what I have to say was a pretty incontinent basis.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 14 July. (8052)
I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to our soldiers who have died in Afghanistan over the last week. They are Bombardier Samuel Robinson, 5th Regiment Royal Artillery; Marine David Hart, 40 Commando Royal Marines; and a Marine from 40 Commando who died yesterday. We also pay tribute to the three soldiers from 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles who lost their lives yesterday and to their comrades who were injured. We believe this incident was caused by the actions of an Afghan soldier betraying his Afghan and international comrades. I spoke to President Karzai about this issue yesterday, and a joint investigation by the Afghan authorities and international forces is under way, which will cover every aspect of the incident and the lessons to be learned from it.
I have to say that there should, however, be no knee-jerk reaction and no change in our strategy. We must continue to work with the Afghan army to create a stable Afghanistan able to maintain its own security and to prevent al-Qaeda from returning. At this very sad time, our thoughts should be with the families and friends of all these brave servicemen. What they do on our behalf is brave, courageous and shows their dedication and professionalism. It is right that we pay tribute to them.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I would like to echo the warm words of the Prime Minister about our service personnel serving abroad.
Will the Prime Minister join me in praising One NorthEast and Redcar and Cleveland Labour council for helping develop a £600,000 regeneration plan for the market town of Guisborough in my constituency in order to help small business? Is it not the case, however, that for those who run small businesses, the Government’s VAT increase is the real jobs tax?
First of all, I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I know he used to work for Ashok Kumar, who was widely liked and respected across the House of Commons. What we are doing to help small business is to cut the small business rate of corporation tax. We think that is the best help we can give. The future for small business will, of course, also be helped by our local enterprise partnerships, which we think will be much more focused, much more local and will deliver better than the regional development agencies they replace.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Loughborough university student union rag committee, which as well as providing many volunteers to local groups has this year raised more than any other rag in the country—more than £1 million, including raising £34,000 in one day for the Royal British Legion? Is not this an example of the big society in action?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is absolutely right. Sometimes students can get a bad press for what they do, but we can see from the example of Loughborough that they have focused on doing things for other people and raising money for charity. They should be congratulated.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Bombardier Samuel Robinson, 5th Regiment Royal Artillery; to Marine David Hart, 40 Commando Royal Marines; to the Marine from 40 Commando Royal Marines who died yesterday; and to the three soldiers from 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles who lost their lives yesterday and those who were injured. Everyone will share the Prime Minister’s concern about what happened. It is right to have a thorough investigation, but as he said, we must not lose sight of the importance of the work our troops are doing in Afghanistan.
May I ask the Prime Minister about Northern Ireland? Although it is now highly unusual for people in Belfast to see such violence on their streets, everyone will be worried about the events of recent days. Will the Prime Minister update the House and tell us what discussions he has had with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister? Although this is a devolved responsibility, will he join me in paying tribute to the professionalism and bravery of the men and women of the Police Service of Northern Ireland?
I certainly join the right hon. and learned Lady in paying tribute to that police service. Anyone watching the pictures on our television screens last night could see how brave and how restrained the police were in the way that they dealt with behaviour that was, frankly, completely unacceptable. To update the House, last night was the third night of violence, the most serious of which was in the Ardoyne district in north Belfast. Over 80 police officers have been injured after being attacked with, for instance, petrol bombs, pipe bombs and bricks. The police came under fire on Sunday night, and shots were fired again last night. The police have been forced to retaliate with battle rounds and water cannons, but, as I have said, I think that anyone who watched what they did or who, like me, has had a briefing from David Ford, the Policing and Justice Minister, will know that they acted with real restraint.
I keep in touch regularly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has been in Belfast as well, to ensure that everything that needs to be done is being done. As the right hon. and learned Lady knows, however, this is a devolved issue, and, having devolved policing and justice, we should allow David Ford and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to give the lead that they are indeed giving.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his answer. I reiterate what I said earlier: we will continue to support and work with the Government in their efforts to ensure a peaceful future for all the people of Northern Ireland.
This week the Government published their White Paper on the national health service. They say that they will get rid of targets. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether patients will keep their guaranteed right to see a cancer specialist within two weeks of seeing their GP?
May I first make one further response on the Northern Ireland issue, with which I think everyone will agree? Now that we have a police service that is fully representative of the whole community in Northern Ireland, there is no excuse for anyone not to co-operate with that police force. We all know that in the end these things are not dealt with just by the police; they have to be dealt by the communities as well, working with the police to bring people to justice for completely unacceptable behaviour.
As for the NHS, what we have decided is that we will keep targets only when they actually contribute to clinical outcomes. We all want to see a higher cancer survival rate. I am afraid that, after 13 years of Labour government, we have not the best cancer outcomes in Europe, and we want the best cancer outcomes. That means rapid treatment, yes, but it also means rapid follow-up, and it means people getting the radiotherapy, chemotherapy and drugs that they need. Those are all essential. The one thing that we on this side of the House will do is continue to put real-terms increases into the NHS, whereas I understand that it is now Labour policy to cut the NHS.
Quite apart from the anxiety of having to wait, results are best if treatment starts as soon as possible. That is why it is important to be diagnosed and to see a specialist quickly.
The Prime Minister has not answered the question. The whole House will have seen that. He has dodged the question, just as his Health Secretary did. This is what the Health Secretary said in the House when he, too, was dodging the question:
“I have not said that we are abandoning any of the cancer waiting-time targets at the moment”.—[Official Report, 29 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 698.]
I ask the Prime Minister to give us a straight answer. Will cancer patients keep their guarantee to see a specialist within two weeks—yes or no?
For some people, two weeks is too long. That is the whole point. If a target contributes to good clinical outcomes, it stays; if it does not, it goes.
Now let the right hon. and learned Lady answer a question. Is it your policy—[Interruption.] I know that the right hon. and learned Lady is not involved in the leadership election, which basically involves sucking up to the trade unions, but she is capable of answering a question. Is it Labour policy to cut the NHS?
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and the Prime Minister has still not answered. He is obviously ditching the guarantee for cancer patients, but he has not the guts to admit it to the House. Perhaps he can be more straightforward with this question. The White Paper says that his reorganisation of the NHS will mean extra up-front administration costs, but it does not give the figure. Surely he must know the figure. How much extra will it cost next year?
We are cutting £1 billion of administration from the NHS. We are cutting administration costs by 45% over the next Parliament. Obviously Labour Members cannot answer questions, because they have no answers, but perhaps it is not unfair to point out that they are now defending the bureaucracy of the NHS. We say that the primary care trusts and the strategic health authorities—all that additional bureaucracy—should go. We want the money to be spent on treatments, on patients, on doctors and on nurses. The right hon. and learned Lady is left defending the vast bureaucracy that saw the number of managers go up far faster than the number of nurses. Is that still Labour policy?
The Prime Minister is talking about longer-term speculative savings, but he has not answered my question. It is no good him resorting to his usual ploy of asking me questions. I am asking about the real costs of his reorganisation next year—the very time when he says his priority will be cutting administration and cutting the deficit. The White Paper admits that there will be extra costs because of loss of productivity, staff relocation and redundancy. Does the Prime Minister stand by what he said just a few months ago about NHS reorganisations? He said:
“The disruption is terrible, the demoralisation worse—and the waste of money inexcusable.”
We are not reorganising the bureaucracy; we are scrapping the bureaucracy. Is it really Labour’s great new tactic that the right hon. and learned Lady will be left defending the bureaucracy of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities and all the quangos and all the bureaucrats, all of whom are paid vast salaries and huge pensions? Is that the new divide in British politics: they back the bureaucracy, we back the NHS? [Interruption.]
Voluntary organisations and charities were not responsible for the banking crisis, nor for the financial crisis left by the last Labour Government. As we both value voluntary organisations and charities, will the Prime Minister discuss with his Treasury colleagues how the increase in VAT that those organisations have to pay can be refunded to them?
I will certainly have those conversations with the Treasury, and we will want to do everything we can to help what used to be called, rather condescendingly, the third sector but I believe is the first sector: the excellent charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises that do so much for our country. One thing we should do is look at funding them on the same basis as the Government fund themselves. The Government are always very generous with their own bureaucracy, and they need to recognise that so often these first sector organisations have the right answers to the social problems in our country.
Q2. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that firefighters and police officers, who we all rely on to undertake dangerous and physically demanding jobs, will retain the ability to retire and access their occupational pensions before reaching state pension age? (8053)
First, may I welcome the hon. Lady to the House? I will look very carefully into what she says. As she knows, we have a review of pensions taking place, which is being carried out by the former Labour Minister, the former Member for Barrow and Furness, who has great expertise in this area. He will be making two reports, one before Christmas and another in the new year, where we can look at the issue of public sector pensions and try to reach some fair resolutions—and I think that is something all parties should be involved in.
Will the Prime Minister consider having another conference call with Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, whose site is currently hosting the group “RIP Raoul Moat”, where a whole host of anti-police statements are posted? Can the Prime Minister have a conversation with Mark Zuckerberg about removing this group?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. As far as I can see, it is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer—full stop, end of story—and I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man. There should be sympathy for his victims, and for the havoc he wreaked in that community; there should be no sympathy for him.
Q3. In 2005, the pupils of Joseph Leckie community technology college made a DVD depicting their crumbling school. The Labour Government gave them £6 million. Morally and legally their legitimate expectation was to have their funding continued, so please will the Prime Minister ask the Secretary of State for Education to take some time out from his “I am sorry” tour of the country to meet me in Walsall South and explain his decision—the fifth version—to Joseph Leckie school, and also to Alumwell business and enterprise college? (8054)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be happy to meet the hon. Lady, whom we should all welcome to this House. Presumably, she has come here to keep an eye on her brother and to see what he has been up to. Let me just say this about the apology tour. I think there is something quite refreshing about a Minister who makes a mistake, comes to the Dispatch Box and makes an apology. [Interruption.] They have got their hands in the air—the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) has got his hand in the air. Can anyone put their hand up if they ever remember him apologising for anything, ever? He can start by apologising for the fact that for the last three years, he has been telling us that the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) is actually the best thing since white sliced bread, and now we are being told that he is mad, bad and dangerous.
The BBC Trust has described BBC 1 and BBC 2 as boring. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the gaiety of the nation would be immeasurably enhanced by the televising of a 17-part psychodrama called “New Labour”, with Lord Mandelson playing himself?
What you can see from the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast is that, according to it, there will be a fall in unemployment in every year during this Parliament. That is because, like others—like the OECD, which made it so clear yesterday that the Budget is courageous, responsible and right—we are putting this country back on the path to prosperity from the complete picture of ruin that the last Government left.
Q5. Thanks to the massive deficit left by Labour, all but two departmental budgets are to be cut by between 25% and 40%. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether we are about to see a 40% reduction in the funding sent to Brussels, and is the European budget also to be cut? (8056)
It is very true to say that all international organisations have to recognise that, as we make painful budget reductions in this country, they should be looking to their budgets also. I have to say that one thing we will not be doing is giving up part of the rebate for absolutely nothing in return, which is what Labour did.
Phase 2 of the Ministry of Defence strategic defence review is currently reporting back. Under consideration for closure and cutback in Scotland are two of three airbases, the only Royal Marine base in the country, minesweepers on the Clyde and aircraft carrier contracts—and that is before we even get to the Army. We expect regimental and battalion amalgamations and the remaining command functions at Cragiehall to go, and there is also the question of the future of Fort George and the Territorial Army network. Does the Prime Minister not understand that this is a wholesale destruction of conventional defence capability in Scotland?
Obviously, we have to have a defence review, as the Opposition recognise. I always find the position of the Scottish National party on this quite confusing. I did not think that the SNP was in favour of having a British Army, a Royal Air Force or the British Navy. Perhaps if the policy has changed—[Interruption.] What we will be having is a defence review, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to make a submission to it he is very welcome to do so. I am sure it will be taken extremely seriously.
Q6. As far as I am aware, it is not standard practice in the public sector for workers to fund and equip their offices out of their own pockets, and then to negotiate a bureaucratic obstacle course in order to get the money back—if they are lucky. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether he thinks this a good system for Members of Parliament, or whether it is undermining efforts of MPs in all parts of this House, who want to offer a good service to their constituents? (8057)
My hon. Friend asks a popular and well-placed question—[Interruption.] I will answer him seriously; I think it is important. What we wanted to have and what is necessary is a properly transparent system, a system with proper rules and limits which the public would have confidence in, but what we do not need is an overly bureaucratic and very costly system. I think all those in the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority need to get a grip of what they are doing, and get a grip of it very fast.
May I, along with my colleagues on these Benches, pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in recent days in Afghanistan—I join the Prime Minister in that—and to the police officers in Belfast who have been injured? May I specifically mention a Gurkha who lived in my constituency and was killed, tragically, over the past days? I visited his home last night, speaking at length to his family and, in particular, his father. They were very proud of the fact that he had achieved so much in his short life. His ambition was to be an officer with the Gurkhas. He was commissioned this year, he went to Afghanistan in March and he died in July. Can the Prime Minister assure this House that whatever investigation is held will be thorough and that details will be given to the family? May I say in closing that this House will know that, when it comes to the Crown forces, young men and women of Northern Ireland have never been found wanting? Today, we have lost another son and we hope it is the last.
The hon. Gentleman pays a very eloquent tribute to his constituent. He is right to say that we need an inquiry that gets to the bottom of what happened in this tragic, although I believe isolated, case. There is nothing you can say to parents who have lost a child that will help with the sense of grief and loss; there is nothing you can do. But it is important that they get the information to try to help achieve some sort of closure on what has happened. That is one of the many reasons why this review will be so important. Let me just say that there are now about 5,000 British troops that are fully partnered with Afghan forces, working together day and night. When we hear their stories about how well they are working together it does gives us hope that we are building an Afghan army that we will be able to hand over to. We must not lose sight of that, in spite of all the difficulties.
Q7. Three years ago, the Conservative council in my constituency recognised the need for a new primary school. It identified the site and, having sorted out the financial mess that the Labour council had left before it, committed the funding. Despite being left the funds, the Labour council leader is now publicly failing to commit to building this school. Does the Prime Minister agree that my constituents should conclude that this is the reality: the Labour party is saying one thing and doing another, and is endangering schoolchildren’s education? (8058)
My hon. Friend makes not only an important local point, but a very important national point, which is that Building Schools for the Future did nothing for primary schools. There is actually a growing problem of a shortage of primary school places, which was not being addressed by the previous Government but which will be addressed by this Government.
Q8. The Prime Minister will be aware of members of his own party using parliamentary rules to try to undermine the national minimum wage. Can he, here and now, dedicate himself to maintaining the national minimum wage, not only ensuring its support, but ensuring that it increases in line with inflation in the years to come? (8059)
Q9. In south Acton, the Acton Community Forum is piloting an extremely good scheme called “Generations Together”, which is all about encouraging each generation to pass on its own skill sets to each other; basically, it is about getting the community to help itself. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is an excellent example of what the big society is all about? (8060)
I agree. I have to say to Labour Members, who sort of sigh every time an hon. Member actually mentions a worthwhile charity, voluntary body or project that is doing something in their communities, that we are going to change the way we do politics in this country. Instead of endlessly talking about the money that goes in, let us talk about the outcomes that come out. I think that that is a better way of doing things.
Q10. I am delighted to report that GCSE pass rates have doubled in Westminster in recent years and four brand-new schools have opened. This week, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that he was “terrified” of his children attending a local school. May I ask him to swallow his fear and instead join me in acknowledging the enormous progress that has been made, particularly in London’s secondary schools, in recent years? (8061)
I am pleased to say that my children attend a local school in Conservative-controlled Kensington and the other part of her constituency, Conservative-controlled Westminster. Of course there are good schools in London and of course progress is being made, but like any parent looking at the state of secondary education, you want to know that there are going to be really good schools, really good choice and a diversity of provision. That is what we are going to ensure and I hope that the hon. Lady will vote for it when the time comes.
Is the Prime Minister aware that I and colleagues had the privilege of a visit this week from the Royal Anglian Regiment. Will he join us in thanking them for their amazing professionalism and for the work that they do for us?
I will certainly do that. The regiment’s members have served in Afghanistan on a number of occasions and on one occasion I met them in Helmand province and heard them speak about some of the incredibly difficult decisions that they had to take and some of the very brave things they had done. We should recognise that we have been in Afghanistan in one form or another since 2001. Many soldiers are going back again and again. That puts pressure on them and on their families and it just means that we need to redouble everything we do to support their families and our brave servicemen and women.
Q11. Dr Kieran Breen, the director of Parkinson’s UK, has been on the BBC this morning discussing the start of a clinical study in Oxford using skin cells. All of us in this House want to see ongoing research into finding answers to degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that despite the global economic conditions this Government will not cut back on their funding for medical research? (8062)
No one wants to see reductions in those programmes—they are very important—but, like everything else there is a comprehensive spending review—[Interruption.] It is no good Opposition Members making that point—whoever was standing here right now would have to look at public spending programmes and make sense of them. I have to say that they should perhaps listen to the speech that the shadow Trade and Industry Secretary is going to make this afternoon. Quite rightly, he is going to say that fighting
“the cuts is a tempting slogan in opposition…But if that is all we are saying the conclusion will be drawn that we are wishing the problem away.”
We have a new problem in British politics. They are called “deficit-deniers” and I am looking at a whole row of them.
Q12. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the case of Mr Nur and his family, who have moved into a £2,000 a week house in Kensington at taxpayers’ expense, is exactly the sort of thing that the coalition was elected to fight against? (8063)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The housing benefit situation, particularly in central London, has got completely out of control. The idea that a family should be able to claim £2,000 a week for their house is an outrage for people who go to work every day, pay their taxes and try to do the right thing for their family. That is why we will cap housing benefit levels from April next year so that the maximum that can be claimed will be £400 a week for a property with more than four bedrooms. Many people on ordinary incomes will look even at that £400 and find it to be very generous help for people. Every penny of that comes out of hard-earned taxes.
Q13. The coalition agreement mentions rural fuel derogations. My constituents in the Outer Hebrides pay more fuel tax per litre than just about anybody in the UK. However, there is no mention of VAT in the coalition agreement, and that will affect road transportation. Is it not reasonable, surely, to ask for a rural fuel derogation before January, when the VAT rise comes in, in the interests of respect and fairness? (8064)
We are looking at the rural fuel issue and obviously the hon. Gentleman has a friend, as it were, in the Treasury in the Chief Secretary, who also has a large rural Scottish constituency. I know that the issue will be considered seriously and that discussions will be had. When we have something to say, we will come back and talk about it.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Yes, we have to take difficult decisions but, when we look at the NHS, we know that there are expensive drugs coming down the track, expensive treatments and an ageing population, and more children born with disabilities and living for longer. There are cost pressures on our NHS that mean that even small real-terms increases will be an heroic thing to achieve. I think that the Opposition have completely lost touch and lost their senses to think that you can somehow cut the NHS.
As a former head teacher, I endorse the commitment given by the Prime Minister to improving discipline in schools and in education more widely. May I ask him what special measures he, as the Head of Government, plans to invoke in relation to his Education Secretary, who has failed to do his homework properly on five occasions in the past week?
In the week of the Mandelson memoirs—to get a lecture on ill discipline. We used to say that the Labour Government were dysfunctional and shambolic and that they were all at each other’s throats, but we were wrong—it was much, much worse than that.
Q15. The Prime Minister will be aware that former Para and Teessider, Anthony Malone, has languished in an Afghan jail for more than two years and is still being held in lieu of payment of an outstanding debt. Given that his imprisonment is potentially in breach of international law, will the Prime Minister put pressure on the Afghan Government to secure Mr Malone’s release? (8066)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this case, which is worrying. I can assure him and Anthony Malone’s family and friends that the British embassy continues to raise this case with the Afghan authorities. The ambassador in Kabul has raised the case with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and we are in discussions at the moment with the Afghan Attorney-General about why Anthony Malone continues to be detained. If my hon. Friend keeps in touch with my office, we will keep in touch about developments in this case.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have made it very clear on a number of occasions that Ministers should make statements to the House first, rather than making them elsewhere. In response to a number of recent questions, the Secretary of State for Defence has refused to say what the outcome of the review of the costs of Trident is and has urged Members to wait until the statement at the end of the month. However, today’s Guardian reports that, in a speech yesterday at Chatham House, he decided, unannounced, that Trident was “pretty good value” for money, giving an indication that the review is of no consequence whatever and therefore that he has already made up his mind on this matter. Is there any way in which you can ask him to make it clear to the House whether his answers mean anything or not?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, but I am not sure that there is a matter for me immediately to rule on because I do not have the material in front of me. However, it does seem to me a point that he can reasonably raise with the Secretary of State for Defence, and I have a feeling that he is likely to do so sooner, rather than later.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I ask you, and, as he is in his place, the Leader of the House, to look into something that has come to light this morning? I have inquired at the Public Bill Office about the procedure regarding the Academies Bill next week and it appears that amendments for Committee are to be tabled after Second Reading, but as the first day of Committee is next Wednesday, amendments from Front Benchers have to be given to the Clerk at the Table of the House at 10 o’clock on Monday. They will then have to be checked in the House and if there are any technical issues, there will be a problem. This system means that if any Government, Opposition or other Back Benchers decide during Second Reading that they want to table an amendment, they would have to know that they had to do so at 10 o’clock, before the closing of the House at 10.45 pm, or whenever the business finishes. Is it not an extraordinary way of running business to say that people have to table amendments on the same day as Second Reading? That is highly unusual and will make it very difficult for us properly to hold the Government to account on this Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I think I am right in saying that if there were to be a facility for amendments to be tabled before Second Reading, that would require a motion in the name of the Government. In the absence of such a motion, I think that the Chair would give sympathetic, and certainly due, consideration to starred amendments. I hope that that is all readily intelligible to the hon. Gentleman and, of course, the whole House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not know whether you are aware that shortly before Parliament opened today, the road outside Westminster was temporarily closed by a demonstration by the stop the trafficking campaign. Is it not amazing that so many people can be so bothered and concerned about 20th-century slavery that they can actually stop the traffic outside Parliament?
It is, indeed, amazing and it also enables the hon. Gentleman, whose work on trafficking is respected across the House, to underline the importance of the campaign. That is precisely what he has done and I have a feeling that he will share the Hansard report of his point of order with people in Wellingborough.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The issue of the five lists and the mishandling of the Building Schools for the Future announcement was raised at Prime Minister’s questions. You will know that, on Sunday, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Education and copied the letter to you, to ask for a clear answer to the question of whether, a week ago, before the first list was published, the Secretary of State was advised by his departmental officials not to proceed on this course but to consult local authorities instead, because of the danger of getting the lists wrong and causing both confusion and legal challenge. I have had no reply yet from the Secretary of State. I wonder whether you think that that is in order or a gross discourtesy both to you and myself.
I do not think that there is anything disorderly at all at this stage, but if the right hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied by the absence of a reply to his letter, it is perfectly open to him to table questions to inquire when he can expect a reply. I have a feeling that that device, and possibly other parliamentary devices, will spring into the right hon. Gentleman’s fertile mind.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I thank the Prime Minister for restoring to its proper place the reading of the names of the fallen in Afghanistan? As you know, that has not happened in the past three weeks, and there was considerable unhappiness because the names were read out at other times. Can we look forward in future to the names of those who, sadly, will fall in the next few weeks being read out at a time of the maximum attendance of MPs and the maximum attention on the House from outside?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that I think that there is great merit in that proposition, which is in no sense a partisan or political one. If there is to be any change on this matter from what has happened this week or that, it is something that should usefully be discussed with the people who make these announcements. Rather than pronouncing upon that here, it would be better for me to talk to other people who are directly involved in these matters, and the upshot of any such discussion will become known to the hon. Gentleman sooner rather than later.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We heard in Prime Minister’s questions about the difficulties being experienced in Northern Ireland. May I bring it to your attention, Sir, that the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs is not yet up and running, despite the fact that I had the honour of being elected its Chairman some weeks ago? I am not making accusations, but I understand that the problem is that the Labour party has not submitted its names to the Committee of Selection. I understand that that Committee meets later today. Will you use your good offices to try to encourage the Labour party to submit its names, so that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee can begin to undertake what could be very important work?
The difficulties that the hon. Gentleman describes in respect of his Select Committee apply also to a number of others. Of course, I am in favour of the speedy constitution and operation of Select Committees; but, sadly, that matter is not in my hands. I have no power in this regard, notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm to ensure that I have. I hope that that is helpful, but his point will have been heard, not least by those to whom he was indirectly addressing it.
Carers (Identification and Support)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require health bodies and general medical practitioners, and certain other organisations, to identify patients who are carers or who have a carer; to require identified carers to be referred to sources of help and support and to make further provision in relation to such arrangements; to make provision in relation to the responsibilities of local authorities and schools for the needs of young carers and their families; and for connected purposes.
In April 2007, I introduced a similar Bill aimed at helping to ensure that carers and young carers were identified and referred to sources of advice and support. I am reintroducing the Bill today because, although some progress has been made, there is still much work to be done. We have a population that is living longer and living more often with dementia, illness or a long-term condition. It has become clear that more and more families are stepping in to provide full-time and high levels of care.
The 2001 census found that 10% of all carers in the UK were caring for more than 50 hours a week. Provisional figures published last month by the NHS Information Centre show that that figure has now more than doubled to 22%. In Salford, which is the local authority that covers my Worsley and Eccles South constituency, the proportion of carers providing full-time care has been at a higher level for some time. In 2001, some 24% of Salford carers provided care for more than 50 hours a week, which was more than twice the national figure for those with the heaviest caring commitments.
Carers play a vital role in helping with social care. They are key partners in care for the NHS, but their own health is threatened by caring. We know that full-time care can take a toll on carers’ health, so the health needs of carers must be recognised. Carers who care for 50 or more hours a week are twice as likely to suffer from ill health, while those caring for a person suffering from dementia or stroke disease are even more at risk of ill health. We must act to ensure that those who care for more hours than are associated with a full-time job are identified and then supported.
Early identification and support for carers means that they can maintain their health, and better manage and sustain their caring role. My Bill would require GPs to identify patients who are carers, or who have a carer, and to take the carers’ needs into account. It would also require schools to have a policy to identify young carers.
Some progress has been made over the past 10 years on identifying carers and referring them to support. We started with the first national carers strategy in 1999, when GPs and primary health care teams were given a five-point checklist for use with carers in their practice populations. By 2008, The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and the Royal College of General Practitioners had created a best practice guide and self-assessment toolkit called “Supporting Carers: An action guide for general practitioners and their teams”. GP training pilots followed, as did awareness training modules on carers in the skills for care and skills for health programmes.
Research shows, however, that the work done nationwide by GPs to identify carers in their practice populations is still inconsistent. Only a small proportion of the total number of carers is identified. Even those GP practices with good links to their local carers centres are not identifying all the carers whose health might be affected by caring responsibilities. A pilot programme in Devon that was featured at the recent international carers conference reported that one of the crucial factors in the sustainability of such work in primary care was having a lead GP in each practice to act as a strategic figurehead. The Princess Royal Trust Salford carers centre is working on that so that the lead GP ensures that their GP colleagues are on board and making the necessary referrals. Salford carers centre works jointly with many local practices and gives them access to the list of carers of whom the centre is aware. I have no doubt that such work in primary care has increased the registration of carers and is leading to positive outcomes. “Personal Social Services Survey of Adult Carers in England—2009-10”, which was the first national user experience survey of carers, found that carers in Salford whose GP knew that they were a carer reported that they always or usually felt supported by their GP.
The Bill also contains an important provision for schools to recognise the needs of young carers and their families. Young carers are the most hidden group of carers. Research conducted in May by The Princess Royal Trust for Carers found that only 40% of young carers said that their teachers were aware of their caring role. Figures in the last census suggested that 2% of all children in the UK were young carers, but it is difficult to obtain accurate figures because of the hidden nature of such caring, so the percentage could be much higher.
Young people and their parents are often silent about the extent of the support that a child provides because of guilt or fear of separation. To combat that, we need to introduce measures so that schools and local authorities recognise the problems faced by young carers. It is likely that the most vulnerable young carers will continue their caring role throughout their childhood without any support. Young carers might have parents with substance misuse or alcohol problems. The extent of that problem is not fully understood, but according to the charity Turning Point, up to 1.3 million—or one in 11—children in the UK live with parents who misuse alcohol or are problem drug users. Such children might find themselves responsible for their own and their parents’ safety. My Bill would place duties on social services authorities to consider what support services are needed to sustain the parenting role in such families. When a parent is assessed for community care services, support should be offered if it is found that the adult relies on the caring role of his or her child so that we ensure that the health, education and well-being of the child or young person are not impaired by such caring responsibilities.
Young carers may have a parent with an illness or with a learning or physical disability, and the parent may rely on the care from their child. Such children miss out on their education and can find themselves misunderstood at school. When they are missing from school due to caring responsibilities they are treated as truants by teachers and often bullied by other children. My Bill would require that both schools and local authority children’s services have written policies in place to support such young carers. The Princess Royal Trust for Carers is campaigning for schools to have a nominated lead on young carers’ issues, and this could be implemented by the Bill.
Many health and social care professionals are frustrated by the different thresholds for service provision for different client groups. An adult mental health worker may be aware of children affected by their parent’s mental health condition, but unless the children are at risk of serious harm, the health professional will probably not be able to help them, so the general duties to young carers and their families outlined in my Bill would help. A simple joint working protocol between children’s and adults’ services, combined with a training programme for staff, would help with this problem.
The measures in my Bill would ensure that health professionals identify carers and refer them to much needed help and support. My Bill is supported by Carers UK and The Princess Royal Trust for Carers. I would like to thank Carers UK and Luke Clements for helping me to draft the Bill, and Gordon Conochie of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers for his input. I would also like to thank Julia Ellis and Dawn O’Rooke from The Princess Royal Trust Salford carers centre, whose work has created an excellent example of good practice in identifying carers within primary care.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and the House for giving me the opportunity to present the Bill today.
Question put and agreed to.
That Barbara Keeley, Diana R. Johnson, Andrew Gwynne, Ann Coffey, Kate Green, Nia Griffith, Luciana Berger, Mr. David Anderson, Tony Baldry, Annette Brooke and Caroline Lucas present the Bill.
Barbara Keeley accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 November 2010, and to be printed (Bill 55).
Police Grant Report
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2010-11: Amending Report 2010-11 (House of Commons Paper No. 47), which was laid before this House on 10 June, be approved.
The Government’s top priority is to reduce the unprecedented budget deficit that this country faces. As a first step towards achieving that aim, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 24 May a £6 billion package of savings across the public sector. The Home Office share of this spending reduction is £367 million. In order to minimise the impact on the police service, the Home Office has cut a greater than proportionate share of its central budget by bearing down significantly on overheads and reducing waste, including cuts to consultancy services, marketing costs and travel. National policing organisations have been required to make significant savings too. For example, the National Policing Improvement Agency will make a saving of £40 million this year, on top of a £73 million saving already planned for this year. That is a greater proportionate cut than we are asking police forces to make.
However, the police account for well over half of Home Office spending, so we cannot make the necessary savings at the centre alone. We need the police to contribute to the drive to efficiency. On 27 May, I announced my intention to reduce this year’s core Government funding to the police by a total of £135 million. I propose that this will mostly be achieved by a £115 million reduction in rule 2 grant, for which the Government today seek the House’s approval. Those proposed reductions to police funding are fair and reasonable. Every force is treated equally, with a cut equivalent to 1.46% of their core funding from central Government.
Obviously the Minister regards those reductions as fair and reasonable; others might not regard them in that light. At the end of the day, he must have received some advice from his officials, so will we have fewer police officers on the front line as a result of what the Government propose to do?
We do not believe that there need be fewer police officers as a consequence of the savings that we are asking the House to approve today, for the simple reason that, as I said, the savings amount to less than 1.5% of the core funding that forces receive from central Government. Police forces can make those savings and the front line can be protected.
My right hon. Friend clearly makes the point that there will be equal cuts throughout the country, yet the previous situation meant a massive imbalance thanks to corrupt formula funding and the damping effect, which affects my county of Northamptonshire immensely unfavourably. Will he consider the matter and tell the people of Northamptonshire that he will review formula funding and remove the damping process?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern and hear the passion with which he intervenes on me. The purpose of damping was to ensure that no force received less than a minimum increase in funding each year and therefore to provide financial stability, but I appreciate the concerns about the process, not least from forces such as my hon. Friend’s in Northamptonshire, which feel that they have lost out by subsidising others. It has been the intention for some time—it was the intention of the previous Government—to remove the damping mechanism, and I shall look again at those issues and the position of individual forces once we know the situation in the spending review, to which I shall come. I shall try to ensure fairness, but I should say to my hon. Friend and to right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House that there is no pot of gold or easy solution to the situation that all forces currently face and will face. Whatever the funding formula and the adjustments, we and every force will all have to make significant savings, and I should not pretend otherwise to my hon. Friend.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in constituencies such as mine, where the police are already having to make efficiencies, these further efficiencies—of £6 million throughout Wales, I think—will inevitably lead to cuts in front-line policing, and that, alongside cuts in education, which will lead to more drug abuse, and cuts in the number of public service workers, which will lead to unemployment, there will be greater pressure on the police and fewer police to sort out that pressure? Will we not see an increase in crime, as we did under the previous Conservative Government?
No. I accept no part of what the hon. Gentleman says. We are talking about in-year cuts in relation to police forces of less than 1.5% of their Government funding, and we do not believe that that will mean that police forces have to cut front-line services. We believe that forces can make efficiencies, albeit in in-year services, so we do not believe that it will impact on crime levels. Indeed, I should say that the reason we have to make these savings is this Government’s inheritance from the previous Government, which left us with a budget deficit. It is our responsibility to tackle it, and if the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have concerns about future police funding levels, they should address them to their right hon. Friends who were in charge of the country’s Exchequer and finances, and who supported the misjudgments that have left us all in this position.
Obviously we want an honest debate that is essentially focused on the evidence. Is it therefore noteworthy that on 20 April the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), specifically ruled out guaranteeing that police numbers would stay the same or increase? That is important for Opposition Members to take into account.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. On 20 April, in a “Daily Politics” general election debate, the right hon. Gentleman, now the shadow Home Secretary, was asked in terms whether he could guarantee that police numbers would not fall if Labour formed the next Government. He replied, “No.” He could not offer any such guarantee. But more than that, we know that the Labour Government were planning—indeed, we inherited spending plans—to cut departmental budgets by £44 billion a year by 2014-15. That would have been £44 billion of unallocated spending cuts. Where did they think they were going to get that money from? What services were they going to cut? They would not tell us, but the figure implied an average real reduction for unprotected Departments of 20%. Let us be clear: where cuts have to be made to police forces, they are Labour’s cuts; they are the cuts that Labour bequeathed to us because of its financial mismanagement.
We will shortly say more about the policy of directly elected individuals. It was a manifesto commitment that we made, and that reform will be valuable in protecting front-line policing and neighbourhood policing. I shall come on to that shortly, if the right hon. Lady will forgive me.
Does the Minister accept that 50% of a police officer’s time is actually spent at the police station doing paperwork, and that if we get rid of such paperwork and targets we will get more police out on the street and therefore save the taxpayer money?
I strongly agree. There would be little point in recruiting additional police officers—if we had the budget to do so, and we do not—if they did not spend their time out on the beat, delivering the visible and available policing that the public want. One paradox of the past 10 years is that, in spite of a substantial increase in police officer recruitment, the public still feel that the police are not sufficiently visible or available.
What discussions has the Minister had with Boris Johnson about the impact of these cuts in London? I ask in the context of the Mayor having already decided to cut 455 police officers, and refusing to guarantee the long-term future of safer neighbourhood teams in each London borough.
I have discussed these matters with the deputy Mayor who has responsibility for policing. I shall discuss them with the Mayor, and I have had a number of discussions, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. They do not believe that the budget cuts, which the House will vote on today, amounting to—I repeat—less than 1.5% of what the Government provide to forces, require them to reduce the number of officers in the force. However, we will take no lessons about cutting police numbers from Opposition Members, as they clearly would not guarantee force levels and left this Government with the responsibility of managing the public finances properly.
When my local police make an arrest, it takes them seven hours to complete the paperwork. There are great savings to be made in police time, and some of that work can surely be passed to civilians. There are savings to be made, but we can still keep front-line police on the beat.
I agree. Of course there are savings to be made through more efficient working practices. We are determined to try to drive down bureaucracy in order to free up more police time, and there will be better management of police officers’ time. For instance, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner pointed out this week that he had increased the availability and visibility of the police by requiring officers to patrol individually rather than in pairs.
I am going to make some more progress, if my hon. Friends and others will forgive me.
I made this announcement at the earliest opportunity to enable forces to plan ways of managing reductions that will not impact on the front line of policing. I am aware that forces will have slightly less money this year than they expected, but this is still £124 million more grant funding than was received last year. Let me repeat: even after this reduction in grant, police forces will still have more cash this year than they did last year, and Government funding for the police in this financial year will be £9.6 billion. To put the grant reduction further in context, it represents, for every force, less than 1% of their expected spend this year.
It is for chief constables to use their expertise to decide what savings make most sense for their force, but I am quite clear that these can be achieved by driving out wasteful spending on support functions, reducing bureaucracy and increasing efficiency in key functions, leaving the front line of policing strong and secure. We expect forces to be held to this by their police authorities and by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, ensuring that they are delivering the most effective service possible.
It will not be comfortable to stand up and defend the reduction of almost £1 million in the police grant for Wiltshire. However, we can see that this process offers enormous opportunities to improve efficiency. I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees, for example, that police forces waste about £400 million a year by not procuring together. We have 43 police forces which all buy their own uniforms, all in the same shade of blue, thanks to the fact that Labour Members taught them that money was a free commodity. Police forces waste about £17,000 a day on renting cars because they procure them separately. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are enormous efficiency opportunities, the value of which could be about £10 million for each police force in the country?
Order. Before the Minister responds, may I say, first, that I hope the hon. Lady will now have an opportunity to breathe, which would be a very healthy thing; and secondly, that I encourage Members who intervene to bear in mind that the total duration of the debate is three hours?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Of course there are greater opportunities for the 43 forces to share services and to procure collectively. I will say more about that later, if she will forgive me.
I promised, perhaps unwisely, to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley.
I agree with everything that the Minister has said so far: nothing that he is announcing today will in itself cause a problem to the police. My concern is not what he is saying but things said by other Ministers that will drive up pressures on the police. For example, the Secretary of State for Justice has decided not to send persistent offenders to prison but to let them out into the community, and to stop the police using CCTV and DNA to their full capacity. Does my right hon. Friend accept that these things are putting upward pressures on the police that are not consistent with what he is announcing?
I knew that it was a mistake to give way to my hon. Friend. He must not inadvertently misrepresent what my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary said about the use of imprisonment. We have said that we must do more to reduce reoffending. Reoffending rates, particularly in relation to short-term prison sentences, are far too high. We must break the cycle of crime. That means doing far more, innovatively, to ensure that offenders can be supervised and supported using “payment by results” models. I am sure that when my hon. Friend investigates that more closely, he will welcome the radicalism in what we are saying.
The Government will play their part in helping to protect the front line by reducing the burden of bureaucracy on forces, which several of my hon. Friends have mentioned. The Home Secretary has already announced that we will scrap the central targets, overt and back-door, that have bedevilled policing, and we are reviewing the nature of force inspection with the same aim. Labour’s 10-point policing pledge will go. The previous Government spent £6 million of taxpayers’ money on promoting that pledge, including on totally misleading advertisements that claimed that 80% of police time would be spent on the beat—adverts that were censured by the Advertising Standards Authority. We know what that pledge was about—propaganda and spin. That discredited Government have gone, and so has their approach.
In place of the centralised, bureaucratic accountability of the past decade, which undermined professionalism and added cost, we will introduce local democratic accountability. The introduction of directly elected individuals in 2012, together with a new focus on outcomes rather than processes, will not only strengthen the links between the police and public but unshackle police forces from Whitehall’s tick-box tyranny. We want the police to be crime fighters, not form writers. We want forces to work for local people, not for Whitehall officials or Westminster politicians.
As regards the democratic election of these police officers, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a danger, first, that they will no longer engage with the wider democracy of MPs, Assembly Members, councillors and so on; and secondly, that they will be hijacked by a small group about a niche issue and ignore some of the important things that the police do, such as counter-terrorism?
No, I do not believe that either of those two things is a risk. In relation to London, for instance, we now have policing arrangements that Members of Parliament in London find it perfectly possible to engage with, and we have a system whereby those who are responsible for supervising policing still attend to the functions of policing that reach beyond the local. It is perfectly possible to institute a more democratic arrangement that addresses that requirement. The important point is that there is an exchange in this regard. If we want to reduce the amount of central direction on policing and free the police to take more decisions for themselves and to have the ability to manage their forces and address local issues, then the police must answer to someone, and that is why we propose to enhance local accountability.
Unlike the deficit deniers, the Minister has pointed out that there is no golden pot of money. Can he confirm that the previous Government wasted £500 million on the idea of forced police mergers, and that there is a far more efficient way of providing the democratic accountability that our police service needs and directing the money to the front-line policing that we need?
I agree with my hon. Friend, who had experience of the problem of force mergers as leader of West Sussex county council, where such a merger was strongly resisted. Huge sums of money were wasted by the previous Government on attempting, and failing, to drive that policy through. That is not a course that this Government will pursue.
I am going to make a little more progress.
Of course, the challenge of tackling the deficit does not end this year; as we go forward, it will be vital for the police to deliver better value for money. The Government’s spending review will report in October, and we will not know until then what future police funding will look like. However, the Chancellor made it clear that unprotected Departments, including the Home Office, will face spending reductions, implying an average real cut of around 25% over the next four years. Whatever the outcome of the spending review, value for money considerations will become a new imperative for police authorities and forces.
We have been working constructively with the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss how forces can meet the considerable challenge of reducing spending on this scale. Our joint ambition is to do everything possible to protect front-line services. We appreciate the importance of police functions that the public do not always see. Those can still be front-line services, but as I have repeated to chief constables, the people’s priority is to maintain visible and available policing, and that is what we must all strive to protect.
The Northumbria police force is expected to make in-year cuts in the region of £3.5 million this year, which causes great concern to people in my constituency. We all experienced the massive manhunt in Northumberland only last week, which ended on Saturday morning. It has cost Northumbria police something in the region of £3 million, making a double whammy of about £6.5 million. Does the Minister agree that that is unsustainable, and will he review the initial £3.5 million cut?
I do not think it would be appropriate to review the spending reduction that we are asking every force to make on an equitable basis, which we announced some weeks ago subject to the approval of the House. However, there are special arrangements that can apply in relation to unforeseen expenditure by police forces. Northumbria police and its authority are well aware of that, and we will happily discuss the matter with them.
The Government’s view is that more can be done to achieve greater value for money in policing through national procurement, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes suggested, and through sharing services, outsourcing and working more efficiently. If 43 forces can buy equipment more cheaply together, we can no longer allow anything to stand in the way of that. If tasks can be performed just as well or better by civilian staff, and so reduce costs and release sworn officers for other duties, ideology should not stand in the way. If some forces can use modern systems to improve business processes, so can others, and if some forces can show that collaborating with each other or with other local agencies delivers savings, others can take the same path. We need to see new solutions, innovation and strong local leadership. The first resort must be to drive out cost and the last resort must be reductions in police numbers.
Yes, I have had the misfortune to read all the previous Government’s documents. The problem is that despite the suggestion that greater savings could be achieved, for instance through collaboration, it has not always happened. Today we find ourselves in a different environment in which forces and authorities face a new imperative to find those savings. The Government are willing to ensure that those savings will be made, in return for greater local accountability.
The quid pro quo for returning power and enabling far greater local decision making is that we will be tougher about driving savings through central procurement, and about collaboration between forces where it is clear that there is a policing need—for instance in relation to serious crime that crosses force borders—or that by working together, forces can achieve better value for money. We do not support the compulsory merger of forces, as I reaffirmed to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), but a great deal more can and must be done through enhanced collaboration.
The Government have also already announced a full review of remuneration and conditions of service for police officers and staff. We want to ensure that pay and conditions support the delivery of an excellent service and provide value for money, so that they are right for both those who work in the service and the public. Spending on the work force accounts for about 80% of police expenditure. It is therefore right to examine carefully arrangements such as the use of overtime. We will provide more information about the review, including its timing, shortly, but we will expect it to report by January next year.
No, I am going to draw to a conclusion now, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I know that many Members wish to speak.
This Government inherited a £155 million budget deficit, one of the worst in Europe and the largest in our peacetime history. This country cannot sustain a situation in which, without action, in five years’ time we will be spending over three times more on debt interest alone than on the entire criminal justice system. Achieving savings will mean driving value for money and delivering more for less. The criminal justice system, including policing, is no more immune from those imperatives than any other public service.
It is our responsibility to tackle the deficit, restore the health of the public finances and ensure that we are able to fund high-quality public services in the years ahead. We have not ducked that responsibility. It means taking tough decisions but the right decisions, and it means showing leadership. Chief constables and police authorities must show leadership, too, in demanding the savings that we can all make. For those reasons, I commend the proposal to the House.
I welcome the Minister to his position. He will know that it is an excellent job to have, and it is one that I certainly enjoyed in government. He has great support in the Home Office from a fine team of officials and staff in doing that job.
Having got the niceties out of the way, I come to the crunch. I am disappointed and unhappy about the approach that the Minister has taken to the in-year funding cuts for allocations to police authorities in England and Wales for 2010-11. There are a number of new Members in their places, and I do not think that they will realise that this debate was held, done and dusted, in the House in February. We had a debate then on the 2010-11 police grant. I stood at the Government Dispatch Box when we debated the third year of a settlement for the police in England and Wales. We had already announced the three-year settlement two years before, and the House was to confirm the third year on 3 February.
At that time, I challenged the Liberal Democrat spokesman, who sat where my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) is sitting today, and the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley), who was sitting where I am now. I asked whether, if they were in government in any way, shape or form—much to my surprise, the Liberals have found themselves in that position—they would reduce or change this year’s grant. The answer was that they would not. In fact, the Liberal Democrats called for more spending on the police—a point that I shall return to later. Our proposals for the third year of the agreed settlement were supported by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in opposition but are now opposed and torn up by them in government.
One of the most distressing aspects of the debate is the fact that the third-year settlement has been agreed, is known and has been put to police authorities across England and Wales. Police authorities went into their precept-setting meetings in February, March and April based on that grant and on what they expected their income from Government to be for 2010-11.
The right hon. Gentleman is moving to the crux of the issue, despite his engaging and emollient beginning. We would take his protestations slightly more seriously if his own Government had brought forward a comprehensive spending review last autumn, and specifically if the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) had ruled out cuts in police numbers during the election campaign. Neither happened, so we have to take the right hon. Gentleman’s protestations with a pinch of salt.
I look forward to the hon. Gentleman voting today to reduce Cambridgeshire’s policing grant by £1.2 million. That is what he will be doing. He needs to go back to Cambridgeshire and explain to the residents of Peterborough why he is voting to reduce the budget by £1.2 million this year. I and my 257 colleagues on the Labour Benches stood on a manifesto commitment to ensure that policing resources were maintained after the general election. We won our seats on that basis, and we are being consistent in putting forward our arguments today. The hon. Gentleman is voting to remove money from his police force.
I look forward to the hon. Gentleman going back to Crawley and telling the people how he voted today to remove £2.4 million from West Sussex police’s budget. I look forward to him explaining that, and I am sure that he is looking forward to that discussion.
I have already started to explain to many of my constituents, who have of course been writing and e-mailing, why we have to reduce the police support grant. Most people understand that there is no money, thanks to the Labour party’s disastrous economic policy. Labour Members have been unspecific about where they would cut. This is the sort of ideology that led to the former Cabinet’s conclusion that the Labour Government were “finished”, “futile” and—finally in opposition. People are looking for an engaged and informed discussion about what we can do to get the deficit under control.
I look forward to the people of Devizes learning that the hon. Lady has voted for £1 million to be cut from their police grant—unless my speech convinces her to vote with Labour Members to oppose those cuts. She asked an important question about what the Labour party would do to reduce the deficit. We went into the election campaign with clear commitments. Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Members did not oppose the settlement that we debated on 3 February; we agreed the grants for this year in February. For future years, we agreed that we would spend money above the rate of inflation on policing, health and education, and make the savings that we needed through a deficit reduction plan for other matters.
Does my right hon. Friend remember his visit to Harrow police station in January to hear from yet another borough commander about the need for a new police station to help Harrow police do the job that they need to do? Does he share my disappointment that the cuts will reduce the capital available to the Metropolitan police, and are probably yet another excuse for the Mayor of London to continue to refuse to help Harrow police get the equipment and facilities that they need to do their job?
Today’s cuts not only reduce the capital budget but take some £28 million from London’s budget. I believe that the Mayor is still one Boris Johnson, who has already agreed not to raise the precept this year. That means a real cut not only, through inflation, on the precept, but in the grant.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that suggesting that today’s cuts and the huge cuts to come can be achieved by getting rid of backroom staff who apparently do nothing is a cruel deception of the British people? There will be more pressure on front-line police to do the jobs that civilian staff currently undertake.
My hon. Friend is right. Not only that, but he knows that some 80% to 85% of all policing costs are for police officers and staffing. Today’s reduction, and potential future reductions, will hit staff hard.
Police forces have set their precepts on the basis of the grant agreed in February, so they will now find it difficult to fulfil their strategic commitments this year. Cutting services and police numbers ultimately cuts the ability to reduce crime. I am particularly disappointed, given that Members called for support for the police during their election campaigns, that members of the coalition will go back on their commitments and vote through this unfair cut today.
I pay tribute to the police’s excellent work. They work under extreme pressures, risking their safety to keep us safe. Often, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck said, they have to deal with severe emergencies. We want to ensure that we give—as we did in government—the police the powers and resources to get on with their job. As a result of investment under the Labour Government, there were record numbers of police on our streets—17,000 more police officers than when we came to power in 1997—cutting crime and making our communities safer. We have some 16,000 police community support officers—positions that did not exist when the Labour Government came to power—engaged with communities and helping reduce crime. Consequently, crime fell by 36%. In the past year alone, car crime, robbery and burglary were down. Even in a recession, firearm offences decreased by 17%, robbery was down 5%, and overall crime reduced by 5% last year. The chances of being a victim were the lowest since records began. Confidence in policing was nearly 60% and rose over the year. Labour Members fought the election on a manifesto commitment to give the police the resources to maintain that record, to ensure that they had funding and to continue that investment for the next three years.
The Minister’s points about efficiencies did not escape the Labour Government. There were real concerns about how to get best value for the Government’s police funding. That is why I referred to the White Paper that we produced last December, which examined cutting police overtime by some £500 million; ensuring support for merging back-office functions properly and effectively, and supporting the voluntary merger of forces. We got burned by the forced merger but wanted to ensure that voluntary mergers went ahead. We accordingly supported voluntary mergers of forces. I allocated £500,000 to Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire to consider how to develop such a merger in due course. I note that the Minister for Housing, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), opposes such a merger. So much for concerted activity on backroom costs.
We considered national procurement, which the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) mentioned. I initiated national procurement proposals for the next few years for uniforms, vehicle support and air support. We considered removing resources and saving around £1 billion from that budget while maintaining the provision of more money to support forces’ crime-fighting activities.
On force mergers, does my right hon. Friend agree that it was a question not only of saving money, but of operational efficiency? We have too many police forces that do not have the capacity to deal with serious organised crime. We face that threat alongside what happens in our neighbourhoods and on our streets. The cut in grant will have an even greater impact on that work, but we must also consider structures that inhibit effective policing on such serious matters.
My right hon. Friend is right. She knows that serious organised crime often requires a cross-border, regional approach. Crime in my area of north Wales is, sadly, often generated from Manchester and Liverpool, and the forces need to co-operate—and they do—to tackle those problems. Regional co-operation is particularly important for tackling terrorism, and it will be hit not only by spending cuts this year, but by the potential for cuts in future years.
The right hon. Gentleman said that in the 13 years for which his party was in government, it took waste seriously. Why, therefore, at the end of that time, did we still have separate procurement, the cost of which the Home Office estimates to be more than £400 million a year?
Again, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the White Paper. We considered a range of things in the 13 years. In the year that I was Police Minister, from last July, I initiated procurement proposals on uniforms, vehicles, air support and other matters. Procurement is one of the subjects about which we are very concerned. There are savings to be made on it; that is a matter of common agreement.
I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. I agree with him that there are savings to be made on, for example, uniforms, vehicles and air support. We were trying to do that, and I will fully support the Minister’s attempts to get those contracts. However, that does not detract from the fact that the core grant for this year, which we agreed in February—without a vote, with Conservative and Liberal Democrat support—is being cut today. And we face further cuts down the line because of cuts in the Home Office grant.
The right hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. He was candid earlier when he said that the Labour Government were burned over the mergers. They were burned because there was no consultation and a top-down approach was forced on individual forces. Ten, eight or six years ago, the previous Government could have given police forces a fiscal incentive to share back-office functions, procurement, equipment and so on, but they failed to do that. That is a fair point to make to inform today’s debate on budget reductions.
Let us revert to the subject before us. I think that there is scope for mergers of police forces. As a Minister, I encouraged the provision of a grant of £500,000 to help move that process on. I agree with the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) that we were burned by forced mergers. I wish the Minister a fair wind if he can continue to encourage forces that, with local support, want to merge. Mergers should not be forced from the centre, but agreed locally. Let us not disagree about that.
Labour supported mergers and procurement measures when in government, and I support the Minister for Police on them in opposition. The key is that we still require resources to undertake policing. This year, resources are being cut in-year, despite an agreed settlement; the 25% that might be cut in future years will also be damaging. That will have a serious impact on crime generally. I do not very often agree with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), as I am sure the Minister does not, but he knew what he was talking about on DNA, CCTV, appropriate prison sentences, reducing reoffending and investment in police. He is right on those issues, and the Conservative party will be proved wrong.
All MPs value the increases in police officers in their constituencies in the past 13 years. Today’s cut could result in the loss of about 4,100 officers from our streets this year alone, according, I should tell the Minister, to House of Commons Library figures.