House of Commons
Wednesday 16 July 2014
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
When the previous Government set up the tribunal in 1998 to investigate the tragic events of 30 January 1972, no one could have anticipated that it would take 12 years to complete and cost more than £191 million. The inquiry produced the definitive account of the tragic events of that day, the value of which is very clear.
I thank the Minister for that answer. One hundred and ninety-one million pounds would have paid for 10,000 nurses for a year or, indeed, transformed a large part of the economy of Northern Ireland. It is clear that the Government completely failed to control the costs. Can the Minister confirm that never again will an inquiry be set up with no attempt whatever to control costs and that the relevant civil servants understand that as well?
Notwithstanding my remarks about the value of the inquiry, the Government have been clear that although each case will be considered on its merits, we should indeed resist further costly, open-ended inquiries. I note that the Inquiries Act 2005 will help in that regard.
May I welcome the Minister to his new position? Does he agree that the taxpayer is still paying for the ongoing costs of the Saville inquiry—as a reply I received from the Secretary of State in the past few weeks made clear—10 years after the last witness left the stand and after the £191 million was expended?
Yes, I can only say that the Saville inquiry was set up under the previous Administration, under rules that existed at that time, and that Lord Saville was given free rein—rightly—in his independent inquiry. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, so many years after this began, the costs are still coming in. Nevertheless, the value of the Saville inquiry is clear, and we need to understand that.
May I welcome the Minister to his new role? In order to deal with the issues of the past in a more comprehensive way, we obviously require some momentum to take the discussions between the parties in Northern Ireland forward. What role will the Northern Ireland Office play in trying to bring parties back together, when some have walked away from the challenge of dealing with the past in a comprehensive manner?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that a long-term peaceful settlement relies entirely on co-operation between the parties. The Northern Ireland Office has done, and will continue to do, everything in its power to bring the parties together so that we can ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of Northern Ireland.
Figures released this morning show that the claimant count fell by 900 in June, the 18th consecutive month it has fallen in Northern Ireland. Economic commentators have forecast growth of 2.8% this year—more than many major economies around the world. The Government’s long-term economic plan is working in Northern Ireland.
Does the Secretary of State agree that in order to attract further inward investment to Northern Ireland, we need to project an image to the world of peace and stability? In that vein, does she further agree that the recent peaceful passing of the twelfth of July celebrations gives us hope for the future and is something we can build on?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The fact that there was a peaceful twelfth of July is an important step forward for Northern Ireland. It has been rare over recent decades that one can say that the twelfth of July weekend has been entirely peaceful. I commend the efforts made by Unionist leaders from a range of parties and the Orange Order—and, indeed, by nationalists as well—to keep the situation calm, despite the distress and upset caused by the Parades Commission determination.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating companies in Northern Ireland that have recently announced major investment? The Moy Park organisation, the Almac corporation and Thompson Aero Seating have invested tens of millions of pounds in the economy, creating hundreds of new jobs?
I will join the hon. Gentleman in that. We have had a hugely successful month for inward investment over June and July. I am sure that everyone who watched the World cup saw the Moy Park adverts, demonstrating that Moy Park is a world beater. That company alone announced 628 jobs in Dungannon, Craigavon and Ballymena. We have had further good news, with jobs announcements from Alexander Mann Solutions, HeartSine Technologies, Wrightbus, Thales, First Derivatives and, of course, Thompson Aero Seating.
I think there is great scope for growth in this area. The Digital Derry initiative is one that immediately springs to mind, but I believe that the strength of Northern Ireland’s creative industries also opens up great opportunities for success in the digital media world. A number of software companies have had great success in Northern Ireland, which is now ranked by the Financial Times as one of the best places in the world for financial services technology investment.
11. Some four years into this Government, we had the announcement this year of the first pilot enterprise zone in Northern Ireland. When does the Secretary of State believe that we might be able to have further enterprise zones, and is she open to the idea of working with the Irish Government and the Executive to have a cross-border enterprise zone in the north-west? (904835)
We are certainly open to discussions with the Irish Government about cross-border initiatives to boost the economy, which could well include enterprise zones. Our report back on the Government’s economic pact with the Northern Ireland Executive made it clear that the Treasury is prepared to discuss the possibility, subject to affordability, of additional enterprise zones in Northern Ireland, and I think it would be great if those discussions went forward.
I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) to his new role and thank the right hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan) for his contribution during his period as a Northern Ireland Minister.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the economic impact that parade-related disorder has had in the past on local shops and businesses in Northern Ireland. Does she therefore agree with me that the leadership shown over the weekend, both by political leaders in all communities and the Orange Order, demonstrates what can be achieved if local leadership is shown at its best in Northern Ireland?
I agree, and I think the hon. Gentleman puts the point very well. Sadly over recent years, we have seen a number of instances of public disorder in Northern Ireland, but the weekend shows that that is not inevitable and that if leadership is demonstrated, people on the streets will hear it. As hon. Members have said, it is crucial for Parades Commission determinations to be respected and that we do not have public disorder because those kinds of incidents cause great damage to Northern Ireland’s reputation abroad and make it harder to attract the inward investment we are discussing.
The Secretary of State is also aware that unresolved issues around parades will continue to have an economic as well as social cost. Will she therefore indicate how she intends to respond to the First Minister’s request for a commission on Ardoyne and wider associated issues, and what she is going to do to strengthen confidence in the downgraded Parades Commission, which she established with undue haste and with fewer resources than its predecessor?
I can assure the shadow Secretary of State that the Parades Commission has not been downgraded. In response to his question about Unionist leaders’ proposal for a commission on the situation relating to the Crumlin road in north Belfast, I will meet those leaders in a few days’ time to discuss those proposals. I will listen carefully to what they have in mind. It is, of course, important for any way forward to take account of the position of the Parades Commission and to do nothing to undermine its responsibilities.
The threat level in Northern Ireland remains severe, with persistent planning and targeting by terrorist groupings. However, action by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and its partners continues to keep the pressure on these terrorist groups, with significant arrests and charges over recent months.
Instability in the Northern Ireland security system continues to be fuelled by organised crime and criminal activity. I therefore ask the Secretary of State this question again. Royal Assent for the National Crime Agency was achieved on 13 April 2013, so what steps has she taken since the last Northern Ireland questions to ensure that the NCA operates in Northern Ireland?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have raised this repeatedly with political parties in Northern Ireland. If we are to give the people of Northern Ireland the same protection against organised crime as is currently the case in Great Britain, I believe it essential that the National Crime Agency is given its full powers of operation in Northern Ireland. I am working with Keith Bristow, the Home Secretary and Justice Ministers to do all we can to build a consensus for the introduction of full powers for the National Crime Agency.
I apologise, Mr Speaker.
While this year’s parade season has been relatively peaceful, the PSNI is experiencing a budgetary shortfall and does not have the requisite number of officers. What can the Secretary of State do to enable it to fund sufficient police numbers to ensure that there is continued peace and security?
The Government have stepped in, providing an additional £231 million to support the PSNI’s efforts in regard to national security matters. That will help across the board, assisting community policing as well. It is, however, of grave concern that the failure of Sinn Féin and the SDLP to agree on welfare reform is having an impact on the budgets of other Departments in the Northern Ireland Executive, and, sadly, that includes the PSNI.
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, let me first commend my right hon. Friend for her excellent work to secure peace and prosperity for all the people of Northern Ireland.
My right hon. Friend may recall that about three weeks ago I visited south Armagh, where is little security and where criminality runs rife despite the PSNI’s best efforts. We need the National Crime Agency in south Armagh, and in Northern Ireland as a whole. Will my right hon. Friend please put pressure on the good people of the SDLP, who are opposing that, and on Sinn Féin, which has been subsidised in the past by the very terrorists who are still running the criminality in Northern Ireland?
I warmly commend my hon. Friend for all the brilliant work that he did in Northern Ireland. I also warmly welcome his successor as Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison).
I agree that NCA capability in Northern Ireland is crucial. Only recently I had a conversation with Keith Bristow, the head of the NCA, who commented that a major child protection operation had been inhibited in Northern Ireland. The NCA had had to ask the PSNI to carry out work that was being carried out by the NCA everywhere else in the United Kingdom. That put further pressure on PSNI resources, which need not happen.
12. Does the Secretary of State agree that close co-operation between the PSNI and the Garda Síochána is essential? Does she share my optimism that the leadership of the guards is now more proactive and imaginative when it comes to closer working with its opposite number in the north? (904836)
My hon. Friend is right. The working relationship between the Garda and the PSNI is crucial to the combating of both terrorism and cross-border organised crime. As recently as May, the Garda made major arrests in relation to terrorism offences, and in a number of instances plots have been frustrated and arrests have been made as a result of a working relationship between the Garda and the PSNI that is better than it has ever been before.
Will the Secretary of State reiterate her commendation of leaders of the north Belfast community, political leaders at all levels, and the Orange institution for having devoted many hours of work to ensuring that the twelfth of July passed peacefully, despite provocation and republican threats of violence? Will she now recognise that this issue is not going to go away, and that she and the Minister need to make every effort to ensure that a solution is found?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I repeat my commendation of the efforts that have been made. I know that those efforts were assiduous, and that they involved many conversations with people on the ground. I think that had it not been for the efforts made by the leaders of Unionist political parties, by Members of Parliament such as the right hon. Gentleman, and by the Orange Order itself, the situation on the twelfth of July would have been very different. The determinations of the Parades Commission must always be obeyed, and those who disagree with them must find a peaceful and lawful way in which to express their concern.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s undertaking to look carefully at the Unionist leaders’ proposal for a commission of inquiry, and to consider all practical options to resolve the situation in north Belfast. Does she accept that respect for, and tolerance of, both traditions is at the heart of that? If a shared future is to be meaningful in Northern Ireland, it must mean sharing space as well.
I agree. I believe that what is happening in Northern Ireland illustrates that it is possible to enable loyal order parades to take place peacefully and without problems, often in areas with a predominantly nationalist population. There are many examples of that, but Derry/Londonderry is frequently cited. It is possible to enable people to express their culture in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding, and I recognise that that is an important goal in north Belfast.
13. In the light of the recent incident involving two petrol bombs being thrown at Willowfield police station in east Belfast, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure local police officers are given sufficient safeguards against extremist acts? (904837)
Of course that was a disgraceful attack, as was the shooting attack on a G4S vehicle involved in tagging offenders. PSNI officers subject themselves to risk every day. The terrorist threat continues to be lethal and is predominantly focused on police and prison officers. That is one of the reasons why this Government acted to provide an additional £231 million of funding to help the PSNI fight terrorists and maintain the safety of its officers.
10. Can the Secretary of State confirm that an independent arbitration body is absolutely necessary to arbitrate the contentious parades, and will she confirm that the Parades Commission is the law and that those who want to support law and order must support the Parades Commission rulings, even if they disagree with the detail of a decision? (904834)
Yes I can. The Parades Commission is the lawfully constituted authority. Its determinations have the force of law. They must be obeyed and I welcome the huge efforts made over the weekend to ensure the determination in north Belfast was obeyed. I am afraid that I think we always will need some form of body to adjudicate parades where there is no local agreement, but I hope in all cases as much effort as possible is made to try to reach local agreement so there is not a further need for a determination.
I, too, welcome the Minister—my fourth—the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) to his position, but I confess myself saddened by the Government’s decision to downgrade the post from Minister of State. I hope this is not indicative of any diminution in the Government’s commitment to the proud people of Northern Ireland. I would also say that those on my Front Bench need be under no duty to emulate that.
While the whole House will pay tribute to outgoing Chief Constable Matt Baggott—and I hope I speak for everyone—the Secretary of State will shortly be meeting the new Chief Constable. What are the strategic priorities she will wish to establish with the new Chief Constable?
I have met the new Chief Constable on a number of occasions. I commend him and his officers on the work they did over the twelfth of July. I am sure his strategic priorities will continue to be countering the lethal terrorist threat from dissident republicans, keeping Northern Ireland safe and secure from that threat, and also being absolutely serious and determined in providing community policing as close to the community as possible and cracking down on organised criminals in cities in Northern Ireland.
I regularly discuss inward investment with Northern Ireland Executive Ministers, including at the recent meeting between the Prime Minister and the First and Deputy First Ministers.
Some 16,000 new employee jobs were created in Northern Ireland over the last year, the vast majority of them in the private sector. As we see in Wales, so we can see in Northern Ireland that the Government’s economic strategies are working well. What plans does my right hon. Friend have for building on this success, particularly through Invest Northern Ireland, to ensure that it continues into the future?
The Government are working closely with the Northern Ireland Executive on economic matters. Following the economic pact we signed last year, we have recently published an update demonstrating achievements on improved lending to small businesses—that is up 46% on last year—and we have got the enterprise zone set up, and access to finance initiatives from the business bank are also helping to restart the economy in Northern Ireland. Securing 100% assisted area status for Northern Ireland is also hugely helpful to Invest NI in attracting inward investment.
The economic package agreed between the Prime Minister and the Northern Ireland Executive is now a year old. It was designed to rebalance the economy. What specific measures in that package have now been implemented that will assist in attracting inward investment, dealing with youth unemployment and rebalancing the economy?
There are some which I just mentioned; the specific inward investment conference attended by the Prime Minister, which prompted 800 new jobs at Convergys and EY; the banking transparency measures, which were a specific ask of the business community—we now have details of lending to small and medium-sized enterprises published for the first time in Northern Ireland; the enterprise zone has been set up; we are pressing ahead with projects from the green investment bank on anaerobic digestion in parts of Northern Ireland; and we are pressing ahead with a UK-Ireland visa system, which means that business people from China and India can visit our two countries with just a single visa, thus encouraging tourism, business links and inward investment.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had a number of discussions with the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and Northern Ireland Minister for Education on this issue. Shared education featured prominently at the recent meeting of the Prime Minister, Secretary of State, First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Through the capital borrowing provisions in the economic pact, the Government have supported a number of initiatives to promote shared education, including the Lisanelly project in Omagh. I look forward to visiting Lisanelly shortly. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I recently met the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland and the Chair of the Education Committee there, and we discussed shared education, among other things. I was listening carefully to what the Minister just said and although I would not expect him to have met the Minister for Education, can he confirm whether the Secretary of State has ever done so?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position. Clearly, one key issue in Northern Ireland is the future of education, so can he set out his plan for how he is going to encourage the breaking down of the divide in terms of the sectarian side of schooling in Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it is important that we move towards shared and integrated education where the parents wish that that should happen. He will know from the pact, and from the update that is to be published shortly, that £100 million of additional borrowing has been made available as part of that pact for shared education and shared housing, both of which will be of help.
When the Secretary of State meets and has further discussions with the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, will she ask him to expedite the digging of the first sod of the Parkhall integrated college in Antrim as soon as possible, because that new build has been announced for some time, and the staff, pupils and community are anxious for the work to commence right away?
Tackling youth unemployment remains a critical issue, but specific measures to address it in Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the Executive. The Government are reducing the largest structural deficit in UK peacetime history, and that, more than anything, will help deliver a sustainable economic recovery and so directly assist young people to get into employment.
I welcome the new Minister to his position. Almost one in four young people in Northern Ireland are out of work. Many are forced to seek agency jobs on zero-hours contracts, while others are taking the path to emigration because of the downturn in the construction industry. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister have discussions with the Chancellor about the need to reduce VAT on tourism, as such a reduction would provide an opportunity for these young people to remain in Northern Ireland, working in tourism attractions and so on?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that. She will of course have seen today’s figures, which show that although youth unemployment in Northern Ireland is 20.4%—that is too high—it has dropped by 2.1% over the quarter. I am sure she will warmly welcome both that and the drop by 1% to 6.7% in the overall level of unemployment in Northern Ireland—the 18th successive drop in the claimant count. I hope she warmly welcomes that, as right hon. and hon. Members from across the House certainly will.
Young Protestants in Northern Ireland are experiencing great difficulty in seeking employment. Will the Minister confirm the steps that the Government are taking to help those Protestant youths gain worthwhile skills, training and employment?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We need to work at school level and to build the number of apprenticeships in Northern Ireland to ensure that the figure to which I have referred, which remains too high—albeit fairly good in comparison with many other countries in Europe—comes down dramatically.
First World War (Commemorations)
The Northern Ireland Office is committed to assisting in the delivery of the Government’s programme for the first world war centenary. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) for his work on the Prime Minister’s advisory group. The Department is also co-ordinating closely with the Irish Government on the centenary and the wider decade of commemorations in the island of Ireland.
I very much welcome the move of my hon. Friend’s local authority in that respect. It is absolutely right. There is great potential over this centenary period for local authorities to mark appropriately the contribution made by local people. That goes for Northern Ireland as it does for the rest of the country.
The Prime Minister was asked—
The hon. Lady is being a little bit churlish. The Government before mine had four women Cabinet Ministers and three additional women attending Cabinet. We now have five full members of Cabinet and an additional three attending, so more women are attending. I am of course leading a coalition Government, and when it comes to Conservatives sitting around the Cabinet table, I am proud to say that a third of them are now women.
We have always said that we will support the Government when they do the right thing, so can I join thousands of parents across the country in congratulating the Prime Minister on getting rid of the Education Secretary? Why did he demote him?
Before answering the question, I hope that the whole House can come together in this way. My right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) has served in this House of Commons for over 40 years and will be retiring at the next election, so when it came to replacing an extraordinary politician and someone who has given so much to this country as the Chief Whip, I wanted to find the very best candidate, and I am proud to have done so in the former Education Secretary.
The right hon. Gentleman obviously has a very short memory, because this is what he used to say about the former Education Secretary:
“I want to trust”—
the Education Secretary—
“to get on with that job for many years rather than saying…‘I’m now going to shove you over somewhere else.’”
So why did he do it? Is it the shortage of primary school places, the unqualified teachers, or the failure of his free schools?
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what the former Education Secretary achieved: a record number of academies, new free schools, standards rising across the country and reforms that will endure. Is it not extraordinary that on the day of a record increase in the numbers in work in our country, the right hon. Gentleman will do anything not to talk about economic recovery, the deficit falling, the economy growing or the numbers in work rising? I am not surprised that he does not want to talk about people in work; his own job looks a bit shaky.
I am bound to say that if it has all been such a great success, I still do not know why he has sacked the Education Secretary. Let us talk about the figures today. We have welcomed the fall in unemployment, but the Prime Minister’s real problem is that this recovery does not benefit most working people, who are working harder for longer for less. There are 7 million people in working families who are paid so little that they are in poverty. Does he think that the economy is working for them?
Let me bring the House up to date on the unemployment figures released this morning. We see employment up by 254,000 this quarter, women’s employment up, youth employment up and the unemployment count falling by 121,000. We have reached an important milestone, which is that there are more people in work in our country than ever before in our history. We can now say that since this Government came to office there are 1.8 million more people in work. That is a record of which we can be proud.
On an issue that the Labour leader has raised week after week, long-term youth unemployment is now lower than when this Government came to office. Of course, it is disappointing that pay is not rising faster, but let me remind him of what the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said:
“We’ve had a great big recession. We had the biggest recession we’ve had in 100 years; it will be astonishing if household incomes haven’t fallen and earnings haven’t fallen.”
That is what has happened, and we know who is responsible for the great economic recession because, extraordinarily, they are still in their jobs.
The right hon. Gentleman is in his fifth year as Prime Minister and all he can do is try to blame someone else. He just does not get it. This week, we saw shocking figures about another group suffering from the cost of living crisis: millions of young people whose earnings are falling faster than everyone else’s. One in four are living with their parents because they cannot afford to buy a house or even rent one. Does he honestly think that they are feeling the benefit of the recovery?
Of course we want living standards to recover faster and there are two things we need to do to make that happen. First, we need to get more people into work, and we are getting people into work. Secondly, we need to cut spending so that we can cut taxes, which is exactly what we are doing. Yesterday, Labour made the important announcement that it is now its policy to put up taxes on middle-income people. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can now get to his feet and tell us which taxes on which people.
I ask the questions and the right hon. Gentleman fails to answer them. The reality is that he has the worst record on living standards of any Prime Minister in history. There is one group—[Interruption.] Government Members are shouting “weak”. I will tell them what is weak: saying a month ago from that Dispatch Box that he is happy with his team and then sacking part of his team.
One group is feeling the benefit of the recovery. Will the Prime Minister confirm that while average pay is down £1,600 a year since the last election, last year the top 1% took home an extra £15 billion after his millionaires’ tax cut?
I have to say that I am happy with my team and, looking at the shadow Chancellor, I am pretty happy with the right hon. Gentleman’s team too. Let me explain one of the things that was not noticed that happened yesterday. The deputy leader of the Labour party said on the radio, and I want to quote her very precisely:
“I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes.”
That is what she said—[Interruption.] They should? There we are. That is their policy. The squeezed middle will be squeezed more. Now the right hon. Gentleman needs to tell us which people will pay which taxes, because on this side of the House we have cut council tax, we have cut petrol duty, we have cut the jobs tax and we have increased the married couple’s allowance. Labour would put a tax on your job, on your mortgage, on your home and on your pension, so will he tell us where the middle-income taxes are coming from?
This is totally desperate stuff because the Prime Minister has nothing to say about the cost of living crisis. That is the reality, and his reshuffle had nothing to do with the country and everything to do with his party. After four years of this Government, we have a recovery that people cannot feel, a cost of living crisis that people cannot deny, and a Prime Minister whom people cannot believe.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about five years under this Government. We have record numbers in work, the economy growing, record numbers of businesses, record numbers of women in work, our health service is improving, and everyone can see the contrast: in this party, the leader reshuffles the Cabinet; in his party, the shadow Cabinet desperately wants to reshuffle the leader.
It is just like the old days, Mr Speaker.
As the Prime Minister is enjoying a week in which he is making a lot of new best friends, when he gets to the Brussels summit will he give a particularly warm greeting to the man who might yet be his best and certainly his newest friend—President Juncker, who yesterday called for more European reform and warned that applicant states who want to join the European Union face a complex, difficult and drawn-out period of up to, perhaps, five years? As we do not meet before the Scottish referendum, barring a recall, should not the Scots voters bear those words in mind?
This is a remarkable moment when the right hon. Gentleman and Jean-Claude Juncker have together said something with which I wholeheartedly agree. It is noticeable in what the right hon. Gentleman said that there would not be new members joining the European Union in the next five years. That is very important in the context of the Scottish referendum debate. But I will take him up on one point. He says we will not meet again before the Scottish referendum. According to my diary, the House of Commons will be meeting in September.
Q2. Can the Prime Minister explain why he has now given more knighthoods to men he has sacked than he has given Cabinet jobs to women? (904884)
It is always interesting to take a lecture from a party that gave a knighthood to Fred Goodwin. That is always a good place to start. I have appointed more women to the Front Bench and more women to our Cabinet on the basis that they deserve those jobs. I want a team that reflects modern Britain and can be everything that modern Britain needs it to be. I make no apology for saying that I think in public life we should recognise public service—people who have worked hard, people who have contributed to our nation and to our Government. I think that is a good thing to do.
People with autism have specific social and communications needs which can cause distress and misunderstanding, particularly when they are admitted to hospital for routine or emergency treatment. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Baroness Angela Browning and the National Autistic Society, who tomorrow will launch the new hospital passport for people with autism? That will make a great difference to many people’s lives in this country.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this important issue. Baroness Browning has worked very hard on this issue over many years in both Houses, as has my right hon. Friend with the Autism Act 2009, which is making a huge difference to the way that we help young people with these conditions. I join her in making sure that these services are properly put together.
Q3. Given that recent data show that the gender pay gap is increasing again, can the Prime Minister confirm the excellent news that any woman not receiving equal pay for equal work will now have her salary topped up from Tory party funds? (904886)
First, it is welcome news that under this Government the pay gap for those below the age of 40 has all but disappeared, so we are making progress. I am happy to confirm that the Leader of the House of Lords will do the same job as her predecessor, will sit at the same place round the Cabinet table as her predecessor, and will receive the same amount of money.
Q4. Charlotte’s Helix is part of an international research project seeking to establish a link between the DNA of anorexia nervosa sufferers. This afternoon, the project is coming to Parliament, seeking to obtain DNA samples from former sufferers, including my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark). Will my right hon. Friend commend the work of Charlotte’s Helix and all those who have been brave enough to speak out about their struggles with eating disorders? (904887)
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I am sure that everyone in the House has friends or family who have been affected by the condition and who desperately want to see the help that we provide as a country improve. I commend the bravery of all those who have spoken out about their experience with eating disorders. It is not an easy thing to do. We need to learn more about these conditions so that we can provide the right kind of support. In that context, what the Government are doing about parity of esteem for mental health conditions is also important.
Q5. We now know for certain that last year taxpayers were robbed of around £1 billion because of the botched, bargain basement fire sale of Royal Mail. Will the Prime Minister now do as the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills has asked and publish the list of those preferential investors? When will somebody be held to account for this right Royal Mail fiasco? (904888)
I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. For year after year, Royal Mail lost money and the taxpayer had to back it up. This Government have achieved what no previous Government have achieved, which is a successful privatisation of Royal Mail. The taxpayer has received money from that sale and we now receive the tax on the profits of Royal Mail, rather than the losses and the mismanagement of the Labour years.
Q6. Later this year, North Yorkshire will become the best connected county in terms of superfast broadband, which is hugely helpful for our growing hospitality and tourism industry, which already provides thousands of jobs in my Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency and received a wonderful boost from the recent visit of the Tour de France. Does my right hon. Friend agree that rolling out superfast broadband is a great boost for jobs in all sectors, not just hospitality, and will help to build upon the wonderful economic legacy of the Tour de France? (904889)
I thank my hon. Friend for the warm welcome that he and people in Harrogate gave me during the stage of the Tour de France, marred only by Mark Cavendish’s tragic accident. It was an extraordinary event and showed his constituency and the whole of Yorkshire in their best light. He is quite right about the importance of superfast broadband. We are putting £790 million into superfast broadband access. We have half a million UK premises connected already and around 400,000 new premises are being upgraded every week. Everyone in the House has a duty to get out there to help to advertise what is happening with broadband and to encourage take-up rates.
It is fundamental, is it not, that the holder of the office of Attorney-General should be fiercely independent, defend the rule of law and be ready to speak legal truth to power. Given the distinction and respect with which the holder of that office pursued that role, what possessed the Prime Minister to dismiss him yesterday?
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is vitally important that the Attorney-General gives unvarnished, independent advice, and is the Government’s legal adviser. But I also believe that, in government, when someone has served extremely well for four years, there are often times when it is right to bring on new talent and to make the most of all the talent in one’s party. That is the approach that I take as Prime Minister, and I explain that very clearly to my team.
Q7. The number of young people coming off the unemployment register across North Yorkshire is at a record high. Does the Prime Minister agree that today’s small business Bill, Conservative-inspired, is yet another boost to the women and men who are creating the jobs to make this happen? (904890)
Today’s Bill will help to make the United Kingdom the most attractive and easy place to start, to finance and to grow a small business. That is our ambition. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the unemployment figures. In his constituency, the claimant count has fallen by 37% in the last year and by 51% since the election, and the long-term youth claimant count is down 60% in the last year. The most important thing is to make sure that young people are getting those opportunities.
Q8. The last two European Commissioners from the UK have held major portfolios that have been central to our interests. The outgoing Commissioner has been the spokesperson on foreign affairs, and her predecessor held the trade portfolio. What post does the Prime Minister hope to secure for his nominee, Lord Hill, as the consolation prize for his failure to prevent the appointment of Mr Juncker? How does he intend to build support for his objective this time? (904891)
First, I think this is a good moment for everyone across the House to pay tribute to Cathy Ashton and to the very good work that she has done as the High Representative—effectively the Foreign Minister for Europe—over the past four years in what is a gruelling and exhausting job. We will be discussing these issues tonight; whether there will be a resolution or not I do not know, but there is an opportunity to ensure that Britain has an important portfolio so that we can maximise our influence in the areas that we care about the most. Those are areas to do with our economy, and we will work very hard to do that. Lord Hill has experience in the previous Conservative Government and in this Government, holding as he does the equivalent post that Baroness Ashton held before she became a Commissioner, and he will do a very good job for our country.
My constituency is very dependent on the oil and gas industry, in which the unemployment rate is currently 0.5%. The Prime Minister will therefore understand that there is some concern following the reshuffle, given that the Treasury Minister and the Energy Minister responsible for that industry have been changed yet again. Will he take this opportunity to reconfirm the commitment to implement the Wood review, as announced by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in a written statement today?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. North sea oil is absolutely vital and we must ensure that we have the tax regime appropriately in place. Implementing the Wood review is absolutely something that we are committed to. My hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), the new Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, will do an excellent job, and I am delighted to welcome her to the Treasury.
Q9. On 4 August, people from across the country will come together to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the first world war. That is an important opportunity to commemorate a conflict that changed Britain for ever. Will the Prime Minister join us in supporting the 14-18 NOW “Lights Out” campaign and encourage people across the UK to turn out their lights between 10 and 11 pm on 4 August, so that as a country, we can pay a fitting tribute to those who sacrificed themselves and served their country 100 years ago? (904892)
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that excellent campaign, which was inspired by Sir Edward Grey’s famous remark on the eve of the war:
“The lamps are going out all over Europe”.
This is a way to get people, particularly young people, engaged with what happened a century ago and to help them to understand the consequences for Europe, for our world and for our society. A lot of events will take place this year to commemorate the first world war appropriately. One of the most significant will take place tomorrow when the Imperial war museum—an absolutely superb museum—reopens to the public after a major investment. I know that my own children enjoy going there, and I am sure that many people will make the most of it.
Q10. Given the north-west’s and Cheshire’s proud history of contributing significantly to our national economy, does my right hon. Friend acknowledge the importance of the rapid and safe development of fracking to boosting the competitiveness of our country and to ensuring that the north-west and Cheshire continue to be a significant contributor to our wealth and welfare? (904893)
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. It is good news that, in the north-west, we have seen the claimant count in his constituency come down by 40% in the past year. If we want to sustain the increase in employment and sustain our economic growth, however, we should not hold ourselves back from new sources of energy, including unconventional gas. It is striking that the United States has something like 100,000 unconventional gas wells, whereas there are only about 100 in the whole of Europe. We have about three quarters as much unconventional gas across the EU as there is in America, and I do not want us to miss out on this. It could help to deliver more competitive energy prices, it will help to keep our economy and our industry competitive, and I think it is vital for the future of our country.
Parliament may be about to close down for the summer, but that will not stop people from having babies, getting injured and needing routine and emergency care on the NHS. In the light of the forthcoming report into safety at Stafford hospital by the Care Quality Commission, will the Prime Minister have a word with his friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to ensure that the Treasury funds in full the changes to health services across north Staffordshire that the University hospital in Stoke-on-Trent has to provide—and provide at no extra cost to the health of people in Stoke-on-Trent?
I certainly take into account what the hon. Lady says. I am following the situation in Staffordshire very closely and am regularly advised about it. Changes do need to take place, and the inspection that is under way is vital. The important thing is that where we have problems in the health service we should not hide them but properly address them. Today, Bruce Keogh is reporting a year on from his report. He put something like 11 hospitals into special measures. What his report will show is that all 11 of them are making improvements, and that five of them can come out of special measures all together. We need to ensure that we see improvements in all our hospitals.
Q11. I thank the Prime Minister for supporting the west country and particularly for investing in our railway in Dawlish and in our broadband. Does he agree that our recently announced growth deal of £130 million needs to be matched by a fairer funding formula for rural councils such as mine in Devon, which play a vital part in delivering the Government’s long-term economic plan? (904894)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We must continue to support transport infrastructure in the south-west. We have the important report on Dawlish coming out, and work is being done right now to ensure that the line is more resilient. We have had the important announcement about the sleeper service to the south-west and announcements about a number of other road and rail schemes. I will look carefully at what she says about fair funding, because it is important that everyone can see that the situations are fair.
Q12. Figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility show that the Government’s new system of student fees will add £15 billion more than expected to Government debt by the end of this Parliament. Have the Government not got it all wrong when it comes to tuition fees? (904895)
Of course, what we were told by Labour is that no one would take up these loans, no one from poorer backgrounds would go anywhere near university and the numbers going to university would collapse. What has actually happened is that record numbers are going to universities, including record numbers from low-income backgrounds. Obviously, we need to ensure that this system is cost-efficient, but I am satisfied it is working. The Chancellor announced in his recent Budget that, far from having problems with the funding, we are uncapping the numbers that can go to university. That is the aspiration society we are building in this country.
Q13. Unemployment has more than halved in my constituency since 2010, and York is poised to benefit from a multi-million pound investment through three agri-science projects as it strives to become a world-class centre of excellence in agriculture. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that clearly demonstrates our commitment to tackling the north-south divide and delivering a northern-led long-term economic plan? (904896)
I am delighted to share with my hon. Friend the fact that the claimant count in his constituency is down by 42% over the past year, and by 61% since the election. [Interruption.] I know that Labour does not want to hear about falling unemployment numbers and the numbers of people in work, but the fact is that every single one of these people getting a job is someone having a livelihood and the chance to provide for their family. That is what this is about. He is absolutely right to raise the importance of the agricultural and linked industries in Yorkshire. I am sure that the new Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary will want to make an early visit to her birthplace of Yorkshire.
Q14. Specialist spinal cord injury beds are a precious resource for people and patients in desperate need. Why is it therefore that, on the Prime Minister’s watch, specialist beds at the Stoke Mandeville spinal injuries centre are being used for people who do not have spinal cord injuries? (904897)
Obviously, decisions are for individual trusts and individual clinical commissioning groups, but we made two important decisions as a Government: to fund the NHS with extra money, £12.7 billion in this Parliament; and to abolish the bureaucracy that built up under Labour, with 17,000 fewer bureaucrats. Both those decisions were opposed by the Labour party, but we can see 7,000 more doctors, 4,000 more nurses, more patients treated and an NHS that is doing well.
In the recent case of Nicklinson, on the question of assisted dying, Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, said that Parliament now had the opportunity to consider reforming the law in the knowledge that if Parliament does not act, the courts may. That could raise serious constitutional issues. Does the Prime Minister agree that, whatever one’s views on the subject, the other place is to be commended for having a debate, but what the public really want is a debate in this House?
It is good that a debate is being held. I am sure it will be worth while reading the report of the debate that will take place on Friday in the other place. I am very happy for a debate to be held here, and there are opportunities for Back Benchers to secure debates in the Chamber. I am sure that the new Leader of the House of Commons—I am sure we all want to welcome him to his place—will be listening carefully to that request. I myself am not convinced that further steps need to be taken. I worry about legalising euthanasia because people might be pushed into things that they do not actually want for themselves, but by all means let us have the debate.
On the subject of taxes and middle-income people, when will we get an answer from Labour about what the deputy Leader of the party meant when she said—let me repeat it again for the record:
“I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes”?
As we go into the summer, there is one party in this House with a big tax problem, and I am looking at it.
Given that poor mental health is the single biggest driver in relation to well-being in this country, will the Prime Minister act on a recommendation from the think-tank CentreForum and tackle the £23 billion cost to business of poorly supporting mental health by signing the Government up to the mindful employer framework? They should tackle those issues by giving a lead as a Government.
I will look very carefully at the CentreForum report that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. It is important—he helped to do this in government—that we now have a situation where mental health is given proper parity of esteem through the NHS constitution. We have made good progress in making available more talking therapies for mental health patients in the NHS, and I will look carefully at the report.
Special Measures Regime
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about hospitals in special measures, and the next steps for rolling out a new inspection regime in the social care sector.
One year ago in the wake of the Francis inquiry, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh delivered his report into NHS hospitals with the highest mortality rates. Shockingly, he found that the poor care swept under the carpet for four years at Mid Staffs was not an isolated incident or “local failure” as some have claimed, and he recommended that 11 trusts should be placed into special measures. As a result of the new independent hospital inspection regime introduced by this Government, a further five trusts have been placed into special measures, taking the total to 16 trusts—more than 10% of all acute trusts in the NHS in England. Today I am reporting back to the House on the progress of the first trusts to be put into special measures, and on how the lessons we have learned can be applied to adult social care.
I would like to start by thanking all the front-line staff who have been involved in the special measures process, which can often be traumatic and stressful, with difficult media coverage in local and national newspapers. Thanks to their superb efforts, I am pleased to report today that progress is being made in nearly every trust and that the chief inspector of hospitals has recommended that five should now come out of special measures. Together with Monitor and the TDA—the NHS Trust Development Authority—he will shortly be publishing a report of his findings.
Across all the initial special measures trusts, leadership capability was carefully reviewed, leading to 53 changes at board level. A hundred more doctors and 1,300 more nurses and nursing support staff have been recruited. Every hospital has put in place a comprehensive improvement plan and was partnered with at least one other high-performing hospital, giving access to best practice and hands-on guidance and assistance.
The chief inspector and Monitor have confirmed that Basildon and Thurrock NHS Foundation Trust can leave special measures with no further support. Under Clare Panniker’s inspired leadership, the trust has appointed 241 additional nurses and has been given a “good” rating overall, with its maternity unit the first in the country to be rated “outstanding”. The chief inspector has recommended that George Eliot NHS Trust should also exit special measures, with a new acute medical unit, 31 more doctors and a strong partnership with University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.
The chief inspector and the TDA have confirmed that Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, where there has been good progress on staffing, nutrition and hydration, should also leave special measures, with some continued support in place. The chief inspector has recommended that East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, with some 238 more nurses and nursing assistants in place, should also exit special measures with some continued support. He has recommended that Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust should also leave special measures, with some continued support in place, having improved stroke care and employed 166 extra nurses and nursing assistants.
While United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust has made progress, including the employment of 140 additional nursing staff, work remains to be done, and the chief inspector has recommended that it should remain in special measures for a further six months. Turning around a hospital which had significantly high death rates going back to 2006 is a big task, but I know, having visited the trust myself, how much enthusiasm there is to exit special measures.
At North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, a further 90 nursing staff have been employed, and mortality is now within normal limits. However, the chief inspector has recommended that further progress is still needed, although we are hopeful that this will be completed within six months. At Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, while staff are reporting a better leadership culture and there have been improvements on some key safety indicators, he recommends a further six months in special measures to ensure that sustainable improvements really are in place.
The chief inspector continues to have strong concerns about Medway NHS Foundation Trust—an organisation with long-standing difficulties, care failures and high mortality rates going back to 2005. He recognises some progress, including the recruitment of 113 nurses, but has concerns about the sustainability of those improvements. He will make his recommendations about Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in the next few days, following their local quality summits.
All the Care Quality Commission’s recommendations will need to be fully considered by Monitor or the TDA before they are confirmed. I pay particular tribute to the work done by the chief inspector and his team from the CQC, and to Monitor and to the TDA, for the extraordinary effort they have put into making the improvements outlined above.
However, the responsibility for safe and compassionate care goes far beyond hospitals. Hundreds of thousands of people—some of the most elderly and vulnerable in our society—receive care in their own homes or in residential and nursing homes. Yet in recent years a member of the public, Jane Worroll, discovered from a secret camera that her mother was being systematically abused in Ash Court care home in London. Another secret camera filmed a resident being slapped and mocked at the Old Deanery home in Essex earlier this year. Perhaps most shocking of all was, in the words of the West Sussex coroner, the “institutionalised abuse” handed out to the residents of the Orchid View care home in Copthorne, where five people were found to have died as a result of poor care. The long list of failings included residents being left in soiled sheets, call bells ignored or left out of reach, and medications mismanaged.
Every older person has a right to be treated with dignity and respect in the way we would all wish for our own parents and grandparents. This Government are determined to see demanding standards and tough enforcement apply as much outside hospitals as inside.
Inexplicably, the previous Government scrapped expert-led inspections of adult social care organisations—as they did for hospitals. The same individuals, therefore, might have been inspecting a large teaching hospital and a small care home in the same week without any opportunity to develop the detailed expertise necessary to make important judgments.
Today I can confirm that we are bringing back expert-led inspections for adult social care, and I am encouraged that the new chief inspector of social care, Andrea Sutcliffe, has announced the toughest ever enforcement regime, to ensure that ongoing abuse and neglect in residential care homes and domiciliary care services is stamped out once and for all.
Alongside the new programme of rigorous and independent inspections, the CQC is being given the power to produce ratings of care providers that will provide a fuller picture of the quality of care than mere compliance with minimum standards. The first ratings will be published in October.
New fundamental standards of care will also be introduced, which will allow the CQC to prosecute those responsible for unacceptable care. In addition, we are introducing safeguards that will allow the CQC to remove and bar individual directors.
I can announce today that once in special measures, care services will be given six months to shape up or action will be taken that will lead to them closing down. This regime will start next April. From then, any care service rated as “inadequate” under the new ratings system will be required to improve within a time-limited period. The CQC will then take action to close down any services that do not meet the standards that people have a right to expect.
My Department and the CQC will work with the sector on the details of that framework, including what support can be given to failing providers and the timing of any closures. In particular, the CQC will work with people using services, their carers and their families to ensure that no one suffers as a result of any service closing down.
We are taking these steps because we have a moral duty to our most vulnerable people to ensure that they receive the best possible care and that they are treated with compassion, dignity and respect. We also owe it to those many excellent providers who deliver good care every day and need proper recognition.
When this Government took the tough decision to confront the reality of poor care within the NHS, people said we were running down the NHS and its dedicated staff. But we refused to accept a status quo that tolerated poor standards, betrayed NHS values and, most of all, betrayed hard-working staff who have given their lives to the care of others.
As a result, we are finally turning around performance in failing hospitals—something we are today extending to social care. Much remains to be done, but after a traumatic moment in its history, both the NHS and the social care systems have faced the truth, confronted the past, and can now face the future with confidence.
I commend this statement to the House.
Anyone who supports the NHS must always be prepared to shine a light on its failings so that it can face up to them and improve. Therefore, I welcome much of what the Secretary of State has said today, and I join him in thanking Sir Mike Richards and Sir Bruce Keogh. Their work builds on foundations laid by the previous Government, and I do not think the Secretary of State helps his case today by continuing to make assertions not supported by the facts. Let me once again gently remind him of the broader context.
It was following care failures in the 1980s and 1990s that independent regulation of the NHS was introduced for the first time by the previous Government. It was that independent regulator that, as Sir Bruce Keogh said, helped reduce mortality in all NHS hospitals over the past decade and then uncovered problems at Mid Staffs.
The Secretary of State was right to say that Mid Staffs needed to be a moment of change for the NHS. The central lesson of the first Francis report, which I commissioned, was that staffing levels were critical to safe care. The big question that arises is for this Government to answer: why, following that report, did they fail to learn the lesson and allow staffing to fall across the NHS in the first three years of this Parliament? Nurse numbers were cut by almost 6,000 in the three years between July 2010 and July 2013, but the cuts fell particularly hard on some of the 11 trusts that we are considering today. North Cumbria cut 148 nursing posts, United Lincolnshire cut 179 and Basildon cut 345. When the Health Secretary was forced to put those trusts into special measures, it was because they were getting worse on his watch.
The Health Secretary mentioned Basildon—like him, I congratulate the trust and its staff on its improvement—but I left a clear warning in place about Basildon in 2010, following a statement I made to the House. Why on earth was it allowed to cut so many staff in the following three years when Francis had already warned of the dangers of doing so? I have an answer to a parliamentary question that shows that Ministers did not hold a single meeting about Basildon up to its being placed in special measures, presumably because they were distracted with their reorganisation. Will the Health Secretary now admit that it was an error to cut so many nursing staff, and will he today accept the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommendations on safe staffing levels?
Let me turn to the special measures regime. We welcome the improvements at some of the 11 hospitals and pay tribute to the staff, but it is a concern that four are showing only limited signs of improvement. One trust, Medway, has barely shown any, but how can that be after a year in special measures? Does it not raise questions about whether the regime is providing enough support to improve? A CQC inspection published last week found a catalogue of concerns at Medway—patients on trolleys overnight without appropriate nursing assessment, medication given without appropriate identification of patients, and insufficient nursing levels with an over-reliance on agency staff. The Secretary of State claims that all the problems are long-standing ones, but the CQC found that happening right now. The trust has been in special measures for one year. How can there have been no improvement, what is he doing to help Medway to improve, and given its worrying lack of progress, will he report back to the House at the first opportunity?
There are also questions about the inspection regime. Last week, it was revealed that in 2012 the CQC employed as inspectors 134 applicants who had failed competency tests, of whom 121 are still in place. Again, how was that allowed to happen? Is the Health Secretary confident in the ability of those inspectors, and if not, what is he doing about it?
Three of Cumbria’s four largest hospitals are in special measures. General practitioners are under severe pressure, and my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) relayed their warnings to the House yesterday. Is there not a much wider failure in the health economy, as he warned, and with an overly hospital-focused inspection programme, is there not a risk that wider problems in the heath economy are being missed? Is it not the case that hospitals are often dealing with pressures and problems not of their own making—but due to cuts to primary care, social care or mental health—and to be truly effective, should not the Health Secretary’s inspection regime take a much wider view of the whole health economy?
That brings me to social care, about which the Health Secretary is right to say that we have seen appalling failures in recent years at Winterbourne View, Orchid View and Oban Court. We welcome the extension of the special measures regime to care homes, but I must say that it sounds like a U-turn. Only recently, he legislated to remove the CQC’s role in assessing whether councils commission care effectively. Is he conceding that that was a mistake, and does he accept that it must be reversed if we are to have truly effective care inspection?
Local authority commissioning can be the root cause of care failures, but so can the impossible budget cuts that many providers now have to absorb. Is that not the real reason why we have such problems in our malnourished social care system today? New House of Commons Library analysis—we are publishing it today—shows that £3.7 billion has been cut from adult social care since 2009-10. That is not sustainable. How does the Health Secretary think that older and disabled people will ever get the standards of care to which he aspires with cuts on this scale?
The truth is that the collapse of social care is in danger of dragging down hospitals, which are becoming dangerously full of older people and struggling to function. The Health Secretary will not like to admit it, but in the year to the day since he stood at the Dispatch Box and made his first statement on the Keogh report, hospital accident and emergency departments have missed his own lowered A and E target in every single one of those 52 weeks. Does that not tell us more clearly than anything that it is not just a small number of trusts that have got worse on his watch, but the whole NHS? The cancer treatment target has been missed for the first time ever, it is harder to see a GP, and waiting lists have hit a six-year high. He does not just need a plan for some trusts; he urgently needs a credible plan to get the whole NHS back on track.
I had hoped for a little more consensus on the issue of dealing with poor care. I am afraid that what we had from the right hon. Gentleman was a set-piece speech. However, let me go through the points that he raised.
First, the right hon. Gentleman spoke about nursing numbers. Let us look at the number of nurses since the Government took office. We have 6,200 more nurses on our wards than when he was Secretary of State for Health. Why is that? It is because we took the difficult decision, which he opposed every step of the way, to get rid of the bureaucracy, the primary care trusts and the strategic health authorities—19,000 administrators—so that we could afford more nurses, more doctors, more paramedics and more front-line staff. It is time that he admitted that he was wrong to oppose those important reforms.
The right hon. Gentleman then talked about trusts missing A and E targets. Despite the fact that we are doing better on A and E than he did as Health Secretary, he has missed the point about targets. It was an obsession with targets under Labour that led to the problems in Mid Staffs and many of the trusts that are in special measures today. Let us just take one example. [Interruption.] The Opposition should listen to this example because it provides an important lesson about targets that the Labour party has still not learned. Buckinghamshire had a terrible tragedy in 2004 and 2005, when more than 30 pensioners died in a clostridium difficile outbreak. Why did that happen? The independent report said that the trust was too focused on Government targets.
That is the dividing line. The Opposition want an NHS that is obsessed with targets. The Government recognise that targets matter, but that treating people with dignity, respect and compassionate care matters. Is it not extraordinary that the party that founded the NHS has got itself into a position where it does not care how people are treated in the NHS?
The right hon. Gentleman talked about social care. If he wants more funding for social care, why has he called for the better care fund to be halted, when it will put an extra £1.9 billion at the disposal of the people who commission adult social care?
Let us look at some of the examples that the right hon. Gentleman raised. He talked about Basildon. When he was Health Secretary, the CQC sat on a report about that trust for six months that talked about bloodstains on the carpets, blood on the floors and vital safety measures being ignored. When the reason why the report was not published for so long was looked into, people at the CQC said that they were afraid to publish something that could embarrass the Government of the day. Is it not time that he admitted that the way the Labour Government ran the CQC was wrong? We now have an independent inspections regime, which is a big step forward.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about Cumbria. There are real issues in some of the hospitals in Cumbria. However, when Labour was in office, somebody in one of those hospitals—North Cumbria—was paid £3.6 million because they were disabled for life. Should that not have been a warning sign? There were also issues at Morecambe Bay involving children.
What are we doing? We are doing what I set out in the statement. We are putting more nurses and doctors into hospitals that are in special measures. We are turning around the failing hospitals that Labour swept under the carpet.
Even if Labour has not understood the lessons of Mid Staffs, the NHS has. We have 6,000 more nurses; five hospitals are out of special measures; there is record public confidence in safe and compassionate care; and, from today, we have new plans to stamp out poor care in adult social care. When everyone in the NHS is so keen for those plans to work, is it not time that Labour ended its denial about the past and backed them as well?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing back an expert-led inspection regime for adult social care. I ask him to learn from the experience with schools in Birmingham five, six or seven years ago, which managed to bamboozle Ofsted by planning for the inspections. I ask him to ensure that a good proportion of the inspections under the new regime have no notice whatsoever.
My hon. Friend, as ever on health issues, makes an extremely important contribution. She is right that we drew a lot of inspiration from the Ofsted regime, which is clear, transparent and easy for the public to understand. She is right that snap inspections are importation. I reassure her that the CQC has the power to perform snap inspections. It has already used that power and will continue to do so.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is a tribute to the new leadership of Professor Eileen Fairhurst, the chair of the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, the other senior clinicians and managers, and the vast majority of staff at the trust, who are of a high quality, that the trust has been able to turn around and get out of special measures? Does he also accept that, as Professor Sir Bruce Keogh makes clear—these are my words, not his—it is essential that the trust does not take its foot off the gas, but continues the process of change and, above all, cultural change in the way that patients are treated? Lastly, although the additional nurses are welcome, will he say something about the implications for the future funding of the trust?
The right hon. Gentleman makes some important points. I will start with the point that provides a broader lesson for the NHS. Not taking our foot off the gas is really important. This is the start of a very long journey. I said last year that it would take about three years to turn around a hospital where the wrong culture has become entrenched.
I pay tribute to the leadership at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust. The CQC report said that the staff on the front line now feel more supported, more empowered to take decisions and more able to raise concerns. If there is one thing that we have learned, it is that successful hospitals make it easy for their staff to speak out and support them in speaking out. The hospitals with problems are the ones where people feel bullied and intimidated when they speak out. I am delighted with the progress that has been made.
In respect of finances, this is a challenging time for finances across the NHS. I simply say that, as I am sure the leadership of the right hon. Gentleman’s trust recognise, the most expensive thing of all is delivering poor care. The most important way of saving money is ensuring that the care that is delivered is safe.
I very much welcome the changes the Secretary of State has announced on social care inspections. However, standards and enforcement alone are not sufficient. Does he agree that we need to look at the support that is provided to organisations so that they can change before they get to a point of crisis? If so, will he look at the work of My Home Life, which runs programmes to transform the lives of people in care homes and improve their quality of life by working with staff in a different way? I commend that work and hope that he looks at it.
I am happy to do that. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I would like to see a lot more innovation. Even in the best care homes, which deliver good care by today’s standards, there is room for much more innovation and imagination in seeing how we can make people’s last years ones that they really enjoy. I have seen some amazing dementia care homes that break the mould. I am very happy to look at the work of that organisation. I am sure that there is a lot we can all learn.
The Secretary of State said that 16 trusts are in special measures, but he mentioned only 11 of them. As he knows, Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust includes King George hospital in my constituency. Will he take this opportunity to explain why he has not said anything about that trust? Is it because the plans to close the A and E this year or next year are in total disarray, but he does not want to admit it publicly? Will he take this opportunity to clarify—yes or no—whether it is still his intention that King George hospital’s accident and emergency will close?
First, let me reassure the hon. Gentleman on the last point. The trust has made it absolutely clear that the change in A and E will not happen until it is safe. It is very unlikely that it will happen in the near or medium term. The reason I did not mention his trust is that the statement was about the 11 trusts that were put into special measures exactly a year ago and his trust was not put into special measures until just before Christmas. It, too, is making progress. It has employed 31 additional nurses, it has an excellent chief nurse, whom I have met on a number of occasions, it has had a new chief executive since April and there is an increase in patient satisfaction. However, there is still a long way to go because it is a very challenged trust with some deep-seated problems. We need to support it at every step of the way.
Today’s statement and the appointment of the chief inspector of hospitals arise from the Francis report on Mid Staffs in my constituency. I am sure my right hon. Friend acknowledges the great improvements that have been made at Mid Staffs thanks to the hard work of staff and others, but he will also acknowledge that the situation remains fragile. Will he ensure that both Stafford and the University Hospital of North Staffordshire are given the full support they need to come together and implement the recommendations of the trust special administrators in full, as a minimum?
I pay tribute to the staff in Stafford hospital. I also make the point that, even through the four years when those terrible examples of care happened in the hospital, much excellent care was happening, too, and the hospital had dedicated and hard-working staff. This has probably been tougher for them than for anyone else in the whole NHS. I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which he has campaigned for his local hospital. No one could have done more for their local services. I agree with him that we must implement the very detailed recommendations of the TSAs quickly and in full, and ensure that we give every bit of support necessary to both Stafford and UHNS to ensure that that merger works.
The Health Secretary talked about denial of the past, but that was a bit rich given that Conservative Ministers gave Jimmy Savile a managerial post at Broadmoor. He wants to think about that a bit more.
In view of the disgraceful care failures the Health Secretary detailed, I find it surprising that he relies on inspection to raise standards and ignores the obvious impact of cuts of £3.7 billion in social care budgets. Does he not see that inspection will not fix the parlous state of social care?
I am afraid that that is the difference between Government and Opposition Members. The hon. Lady says that there was denial over Jimmy Savile, but I stood at this Dispatch Box and apologised to relatives and members of the public for the mistakes relating to Jimmy Savile. I do not call that denial; I call it facing up to the past.
Of course, inspection is not the only answer, but the reason it was so wrong to abolish the expert-led inspections we used to have in social care is that the first step, if we are trying to improve standards, is at least to know where the problems are. Until we have those expert-led inspections, we will not know that. The next step is to work out how to solve the problems. We will be doing both.
The Queen Elizabeth hospital in King’s Lynn serves my constituency and that of the Secretary of State’s deputy, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb). Will the Secretary of State pay tribute to the superb acting chief executive, Manjit Obhrai, and the former acting chairman, David Dean, who have done a sterling job, along with the hard-working staff, on the hospital’s comprehensive improvement plan? When will that hospital come out of special measures, and will he pay tribute to the excellent work that has been done in the past few months?
I am happy to do so. The hospital has recruited 95 more nurses and nursing support staff since last July. It has appointed a director of nursing and a medical director and lead for patient safety, which strengthens clinical leadership. Some very important changes have been made, and I pay tribute to the hospital’s leadership for making that possible. I hope my hon. Friend understands that, under the new system we have set up, it is not for the Secretary of State or any Minister to say when a trust is ready to come out of special measures. We have deliberately given that judgment to an independent chief inspector, so that no one who has a vested interest or a hope that a hospital will come out of special measures, and no one who is involved in turning around a trust, is responsible for that important independent judgment. However, that means that, when hospitals come out of special measures, people can have confidence that the judgment has been correctly made.
This is an important statement, but it is regrettable that the Health Secretary is implying that the care failures were all the fault of the previous Government. Will he confirm that Sir Bruce Keogh, who gave evidence to the Select Committee on Health yesterday, and not the Secretary of State, decided which hospitals would be placed in special measures? I understand that Sir Bruce’s decision was based on those hospitals being outliers for two consecutive years. According to my maths, that means that the failures described by the Secretary of State occurred on this Government’s watch. If he is apologising and feeling contrite, would he like to own up to that failure?
The examples of poor care I gave happened under this Government. I am therefore being absolutely clear that failures in care happened under both the previous Government and this one. The difference is that this Government are doing something about it. We are taking action and taking the difficult steps to get those trusts out of special measures. The public are beginning to have confidence that, when there are problems, they are not being swept under the carpet but being dealt with.
Bad care is unacceptable, but what turns bad care toxic is covering it up and denying that it is happening. I am pleased that we are beginning to get a consensus across the House that transparency and unearthing problems is the beginning of solving them. On that note, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State work on a cross-party basis with the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and the Labour party on Wales, which was also targeted by Bruce Keogh’s expertise? He has suggested that it would be sensible to have a Keogh-style investigation in Wales, not only because of mortality statistics and diagnostic waiting times, but because tales coming to me and the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) are raising the alarm. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House who are worried about patients in Wales to urge such an investigation there, because the investigation here unearthed problems.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. It is an absolute tragedy for people who use the NHS in Wales and Welsh NHS workers that they are not getting the support that people in England get to deal with poor care. For some reason, the Labour Administration in Wales believe that it would be incredibly embarrassing to find problems, but that is what hospitals and hospital staff are crying out for. The staff did not go into those jobs to deliver poor care. They want the support to deliver the best care. It is time that Labour in Wales understood that and got the support of Labour in England to do so.
The Secretary of State will know that the local MPs covering Tameside hospital have never pulled their punches in calling for the need to improve our local hospital. He may recall that we publicly called for the previous leadership of our hospital to be removed even before the Keogh review process began. Speaking on behalf of my hon. Friend the Members for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who sits on the Opposition Front Bench, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (David Heyes), we are disappointed that Tameside remains in special measures, but we believe that progress has been made, particularly in A and E and with regard to mortality rates. We believe that the new management team, who have brought about those changes, deserve our support. We will never accept anything but the very best care in Tameside, and we agree that there is more to do, but we believe we are on a journey of improvement and that our hospital is in a different place from where it was 12 months ago.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the tone of his comments and totally agree with his sentiments. Tameside has recruited 70 new nurses and nursing staff. To take one important indicator—it is only one—the number of falls has decreased by 18%. The staff definitely feel more supported by the management. However, he is right that this is a long process—the trust has been troubled for many years—and we are absolutely determined to back the staff and get them over the line.
Mortality rates at Medway are not as elevated as they were in 2005, but does the Secretary of State believe that the astonishingly well paid interim managers have made any sustainable improvements, and will he expand on how University Hospitals Birmingham will help us to drive improvements at Medway?
To be frank with my hon. Friend, the situation at Medway is still troubling. It has made some improvements to maternity services and has about 100 more nurses, and the dementia unit has made progress, but we have not had the stability of management and leadership that will be necessary to sustain improvement. It always takes a very long time to make such improvements. We will therefore work hard to do that. I hope that the partnership with UHB will be a part of that change, because Julie Moore is one of the best chief executives we have in the NHS. I will work closely with my hon. Friend, because I know he takes a great interest, to ensure that we get the lasting changes we need at Medway.
Sir Bruce Keogh focused on the A and E at Royal Blackburn, which I have had the privilege of visiting. However, Hyndburn faces significant NHS cuts, such as cuts to the walk-in centre, which 36,000 people have been through; cuts to the NHS GP practice in Accrington Victoria; and cuts to personal medical services GP contracts, which GPs are deeply concerned about, and which will lead to a reduction in hours. GPs tell me that that will impact on A and E. Is the shadow Secretary of State right to say that we should look not only at hospitals, but at the broader picture, if we are not to neglect patients and let them down?
If the hon. Gentleman is worried about cuts, perhaps he might talk to the shadow Secretary of State and ask him why he said it was irresponsible for us to increase the NHS budget as we did.
On the particular issue the hon. Gentleman raises, I actually agree with the shadow Secretary of State. It is not always possible to solve these problems simply by reference to the institution. Sometimes we have to look at the broader health economy. That is particularly true of A and E, but it is true for many other parts of the NHS too. Where there is a broader health economy issue we must look at that as well, but this process means that Ministers are held to account for finding a solution, whatever that solution is.
I join my right hon. Friend in his tribute to the front-line and managerial staff at North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust. My constituents will particularly welcome the increase in staffing levels and the improvements in the stroke unit, which has been a particular concern. He will be aware of recent public criticism of the hospital trust by North Lincolnshire clinical commissioning group. Can he assure my constituents that the continuing help and support will focus on the aspects of its criticism?
That certainly needs to happen. I visited my hon. Friend’s trust and saw a knee operation. I talked to the staff about the special measures regime, and they said that they thought important changes were happening, so I was delighted too when they came out of special measures. We will certainly give all the support they need, and I thank him for the support he is giving his local hospital.
Does the Secretary of State agree that possibly the single most important factor in turning these hospitals around is the quality of the leadership? He has referred already to Tameside hospital, where the report talks of the staff reporting a better leadership culture. This hospital has suffered for far too long from inadequate leadership. I am confident that good leadership is in place now. The change in the hospital is palpable. I am confident that, given a fair wind, it can be out of special measures within the six months referred to, despite the severe underfunding with which the hospital management is grappling daily.
Funding pressures are everywhere in the NHS, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments that this is largely about leadership. As well as this work, we are working with Sir Stuart Rose to try to understand what we can better do to sustain and support the highest quality leadership. We have some great leaders in the NHS, but we probably do not have enough of them. I think there has been an improvement at Tameside. I strongly welcome that and we will certainly be supporting the leadership and the staff in that hospital every step of the way.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. I, too, congratulate Clare Panniker on her inspirational leadership at Basildon hospital. She informs me that rather than cutting 345 nurses between 2010 and 2013, there were 1,908 in 2010, 2,000 in 2013 and that that number is now up by 241. Does he agree that to tackle problems in the NHS we need honesty and accuracy when discussing these issues?
We do. I think it is time that those on the Opposition Front Bench, in particular, recognised that they were wrong to oppose so bitterly the move to get rid of 19,000 administrators in the NHS, so that we can afford 7,000 more doctors and 4,000 more nurses across the whole NHS. That has made a huge difference to the statement we are making today.
The Secretary of State is right to say that abuse should never be tolerated, but does he not also accept that many of the problems in residential care for the elderly stem from a system that is trying to make profits out of the running of homes that are grossly underfunded because of the cuts his Government have imposed, and which, despite having some excellent staff who do their best, rely largely on untrained and underpaid staff? When is he going to tackle the real problems at the heart of the system, as well as announcing inspection regimes?
I do not accept that all profit-making organisations are going to deliver poor care. There are some excellent ones and some bad ones. Poor care is poor care wherever it exists. The hon. Lady is right to say that we need to value more the staff who work in residential care homes and domiciliary care services. They do a fantastic job that is often not well paid. The best thing we can do for them is to make sure that, where they are in an organisation that delivers poor care, we shout about it and talk about it, so that people find out about it and something gets done.
More nursing staff and a rigorous focus on care for the person, as well as an improved inspections regime, are very welcome, but does the Secretary of State agree that we also need to focus on sharing best practice and innovative approaches to care, such as those being pioneered at the Association for Dementia Studies at the university of Worcester?
We absolutely do need to do that. Dementia care is an area where there needs to be lots more work and innovation. There is huge variation and even some very caring places could try new ideas. There are some very interesting ideas about dementia care in Holland, too. I absolutely welcome that work.
We have recommended levels of staffing, but in the NHS we have decided not to have minimum levels of staffing. We were worried that that would be seen as a hurdle where, once achieved, nothing more would need to be done about staffing levels. The real issue about staffing levels and mandating numbers from the centre is that care needs change on a daily basis depending on how complex the needs are of the patients in a particular ward or home. That is why it is difficult to do it from the centre. We want to make sure that everywhere has the right numbers of staff. That is why I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that we have so many more nurses.
Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust is working really hard to get out of special measures. We have a new chief executive and a new chairman who are paying particular attention to the recruitment of nurses and improving the efficiency of the appointment system. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Barking, Havering and Redbridge Trust on improving the level of patient satisfaction by four points?
I am very happy to do that, and I pay tribute to the leadership of the trust. There is a new chief executive and, as I have said, I have met the chief nurse. It is a very large trust with two big hospital sites. There are some very big challenges to tackle, but they are making important progress, and, like my hon. Friend, I am keen to get them out of special measures as soon as we can.
Having read the Care Quality Commission annual report and met the CQC, and seen in the report that in Stoke-on-Trent more than 20% of care homes have not been fit for purpose for a period of more than three and four quarters, may I welcome the inspection regime of care homes? Training and enforcement will be important.
May I refer back to the comments made by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) in respect of Mid Staffordshire Trust and Stafford hospital, and to previous meetings we have had with the Secretary of State, his colleague in the House of Lords and the Prime Minister and say that, between now and September, we need to know categorically from the Treasury whether the Government are going to fund in full what the University Hospital of North Staffordshire trust says it will cost to run the new configured hospital services across the whole of north Staffordshire? Only when that happens can the Government say that they have solved the issues relating to Mid Staffordshire.
I thank the hon. Lady for her support for the new special measures inspection regime for care homes. With respect to the merger of UHNS and Mid Staffs, we will make sure that the funding is available that is necessary for that merger to happen. Money is not the issue. The issue is doing what the TSA asked to be done quickly and in full, and making sure that we have the right leadership across both hospitals on a long-term sustainable basis. I do not think it is about money; it is about taking rapid action to make sure there are stable services and that there is continuity of care.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the staff at George Eliot hospital on their hard work in the past year and on the excellent result they achieved in the CQC review? Does he acknowledge that we need to do more at George Eliot to keep that improvement going and agree that we have now built a very strong platform on which to build the future of George Eliot as an important district general hospital in my constituency?
I agree with my hon. Friend on both points. We have seen 31 more doctors there since special measures, 52 more nurses, a new acute medical admissions unit and better flow throughout the hospital, reducing the number of moves that patients make between wards during their stay, so lots has been done. When I did a stint in the A and E department at George Eliot, I was very well looked after by the nurses there, but they told me how bad the IT systems were—I think they said there were 16 different IT systems in the hospital—and how they were constantly filling out new forms. I therefore hope that the partnership with University Hospitals Birmingham, which has one of the best hospital IT systems in the country—a fantastic system, developed by the trust itself—will mean that George Eliot can move to having really good IT, so that nurses have more time with patients, which is what they want.
The Secretary of State spoke earlier about the need to value staff who work in residential homes. I presume he meant by that people who care for vulnerable, elderly and disabled people in their own homes as well. I completely agree with that, and he knows that we have discussed many times in the House issues such as the 15-minute time slots and the lack of reimbursement for the travel costs that people who care for elderly or disabled people have to bear. Does he agree, therefore, that unless we address issues such as the pay and conditions of staff, whether in residential homes or in people’s own homes, we will struggle to recruit and retain the very best staff, whom we desperately need to look after our vulnerable people?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to value staff who work in the social care sector much, much better. I think they do a fantastic and very difficult job for what is not high pay at all, so I recognise that issue. I also agree with his concern about 15-minute slots. I find it hard to believe that anyone can really do everything they need to when visiting someone who is frail or vulnerable in their own home in just a 15-minute slot. The new inspection regime will look at that and if it is unsatisfactory, it will say so.
I am very keen to accommodate the interest of colleagues who are still waiting to question the Secretary of State. I should just remind the House that we have quite a substantial load of business today, and I know that the main debate is very heavily subscribed, so if I am to accommodate all remaining colleagues, there is a premium upon brevity—a seminar in which I think can most appropriately be conducted by a member of the Procedure Committee. I call Mr David Nuttall.
We all hope that the special measures regime speeds up the improvements that are needed in Morecambe Bay hospitals, but does the Secretary of State accept that the turmoil that those hospitals have been in for years now will never properly end until the Government recognise that the trust simply cannot deliver services with the same level of funding, given the almost unique challenges of rural isolation, severe deprivation and health need in the area?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done with James Titcombe on the tragedy that happened at Morecambe Bay. I think there are particular issues in that trust owing to the fact that it is on two sites that take a long time to travel between geographically. The point of the new regime is to ensure that those issues get surfaced and that Ministers and the system have to address them. I hope that that is what will happen.
We await the report from Sherwood Forest Hospitals Trust with interest. Improvements have been made there, certainly in staffing levels, with the number of nursing staff rising significantly since the hospital trust went into special measures. However, one of the impediments to change at the trust is the terrible legacy of the private finance initiative, which is taking up 15% to 20% of the trust’s annual budget—something like £45 million. Is there anything more we can do to assist trusts in special measures that have a crippling legacy of PFI?
That is certainly something we keep under constant review, because it is a particular issue in some trusts. I would like to pay tribute to the progress made in Sherwood Forest trust—and in Newark hospital, which I know my hon. Friend has campaigned for—and to mention that it has an excellent chief executive, who has done a very good job in challenging circumstances.
I would like to pay tribute to the staff team at Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals Trust for the progress they have made, which has resulted in the trust moving out of special measures, but there is still much more to do. How will the Secretary of State ensure that the funding challenges faced by the local health service do not get in the way of making the further progress that is necessary?
Good progress has indeed been there, including centralising stroke services in Scunthorpe. There are funding pressures everywhere. What I would say about funding is that I do not want to run away from the fact that money is tight throughout the NHS, but lots of places are delivering safe, compassionate care even with those funding constraints. In fact, when we look in detail, we see that less safe care is the most expensive, so what we are doing should help trusts such as the hon. Gentleman’s to deliver safer care.
May I reiterate my support for my right hon. Friend’s policy of putting patients at the centre of the NHS? Clearly I am disappointed that North Cumbria Trust continues to remain in special measures, particularly given the hard work of the staff and management there. However, will the Secretary of State assure me that if the trust, with the support of Northumbria, produces a robust action plan to address the issues that have been raised, a re-inspection by the CQC can happen sooner rather than later?
No one is keener than my hon. Friend and I to get the trust out of special measures as quickly as possible, and I thank him for the many representations he has made with respect to North Cumbria. I know that the trust is disappointed not to come out of special measures, but it is now rated good in terms of being caring, and the CQC said in July that the staff were supportive to patients and those close to them, so some encouraging things are happening at the trust, and we will do everything we can to help it to go the final furlong.
I very much welcome the progress that has been made at East Lancashire hospitals. Following action by the Secretary of State last year, the trust has now recruited more than 200 new nurses, nurse support staff and consultants. In March, a new state-of-the-art £9 million urgent care centre at Burnley was officially opened to the public, replacing the old A and E department, which was downgraded under Labour in 2007. Given that poor performance at the trust was established back in 2005 and that the last Government failed to act on it, how can we ensure that future problems are addressed speedily, rather than being hushed up?
I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in his local hospital and I agree with him that the trust has made good progress. There is a simple way to ensure that these things get acted on quickly and that is to make sure they are public. When things are public—when they are transparent and everyone knows about them—the NHS and Ministers have to act, and that is the purpose of this system.
With reference to University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, which has just gone into special measures, may I reassure the Secretary of State that the CQC has seen some improvements there delivered by front-line staff, particularly at Royal Lancaster infirmary? However, I want to underline what the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) said about the unique geographical problems facing a trust with four hospitals separated by hundreds of miles of sea, mountains and valleys.
I absolutely recognise that issue, which is something we will have to think about in terms of the long-term sustainability of the trust. Let me reassure my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness that the CQC chief inspector will not say that a trust can come out of special measures unless he can see a long-term sustainable future for that trust, so part of the purpose of the regime is to force everyone in the system to confront those issues so that we bite the bullet quickly.
The positive progress of the Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust is to be welcomed and is a direct result of the work of health care assistants, nurses and doctors. On the issue of social care, may I commend North Lincolnshire to the Secretary of State and ask him perhaps to visit again? The local council has not only refused the request by the Labour opposition on the council to cut social care in the budget, but has actually increased funding for elderly and disabled people by £1 million in this year’s budget and is opening up a network of well-being centres to support older people in their own homes, as well as constructing a £3.2 million intermediate care facility, so that a lot of our residents do not have to go into hospital in the first place.
I thank my hon. Friend for the warm welcome he gave me when I visited the trust—including the visit to a not particularly healthy, but delicious bakery as part of the trip. I welcome what is happening in social care, and I think it is something on which we can agree at the national level across the House—that cuts in social care can be very counter-productive, leading to more pressure on the social care system and more pressure on the NHS.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s questions, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) referred to “President Juncker, who yesterday called for more European reform and warned that applicant states who want to join the European Union face a complex, difficult and drawn-out period of up to, perhaps, five years.” The right hon. Gentleman went on to say, “As we do not meet before the Scottish referendum, barring a recall, should not the Scots voters bear those words in mind?” The Prime Minister then said that he “wholeheartedly” agreed with Mr Juncker’s comments, which he said were “very important in the context of the Scottish referendum”.
Since yesterday, the BBC has been running the following report:
“Scottish independence: Jean-Claude Juncker ‘not referring to Scotland’. New European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was not referring to Scotland when he said there would be no new members of the EU in the next five years, BBC Scotland has learned…a spokeswoman confirmed that he was talking about countries outside the EU.”
I know you are not in a position, Mr Speaker, to explain why the Prime Minister or the former leader of the Liberal Democrats would falsely attribute comments to the Commission President about Scotland. However, how can both the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and the Prime Minister correct the record, withdraw the bogus assertions and apologise in the Chamber?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman both for the fact of his point of order and for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, as all Members will surely be conscious, that there are means by which people can correct the record if they think that they have inadvertently erred. It is open to any Member, including the two Members to whom the hon. Gentleman has just referred, to do so. I think it would be fair to say, however, that such matters are way beyond the pay grade of the Speaker. Suffice it to say, I do not think the question of attribution was specifically in the forefront of the minds of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) or of the Prime Minister. I think they were probably thinking in terms of what they judged to be a read-across between Mr Juncker’s observations on the one hand and the situation appertaining to Scotland on the other. In that sense, it seems to me that it is a matter of debate, but the hon. Gentleman has made his point with his usual alacrity, and he looks satisfied to have done so. We shall leave it there.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists (Regulation) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Geraint Davies, supported by Dr Julian Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, Mrs Siân C James, Jessica Morden, Chris Evans, Mr Mark Williams and Jim Shannon presented a Bill to provide that the Health and Care Professionals Council be the regulatory body for counsellors and psychotherapists; to prohibit gay to straight conversion therapy; to make consequential provision for the protection of children and adults; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 7 November, and to be printed (Bill 78).
Political Party Policy Costings (Office for Budget Responsibility)
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 amend the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011 to allow the Office for Budget Responsibility to scrutinise and certificate the policy costings of political parties represented in the House of Commons.
This Bill would allow the Office for Budget Responsibility independently to audit tax and spending measures in the manifestos of the main political parties. I think that would provide tough and serious scrutiny for all political parties. Although the Bill is not specifically about forecasting, I remind Members of the comments of the American economist J. K. Galbraith:
“The function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”
That is a little joke for economists, but perhaps in years gone by economic forecasting owed more to its being an art than a science. The innovation of the OBR, however, has done much to improve transparency and the manner in which economics is discussed and debated in this place. The Bill would build on that reform and improve the way in which the OBR is able to contribute to democratic debate about the economy.
If I may, I shall provide three short reasons to explain why I think the Bill is a good idea. First, it would not introduce a particularly large change; it is rather modest. The OBR’s current purpose is to provide independent scrutiny of the Government’s policy proposals. Providing scrutiny of those seeking Government office is, in fact, a relatively small change, as it is already central to the OBR’s mission and a natural extension to what it does. It is neither complicated nor difficult for us to decide to accept the Bill, which would require just a few clauses. It would not introduce a wholesale change or invent any new bodies; it would merely extend existing responsibilities. It would introduce a moderate change to what the OBR already does.
Despite it introducing a small change, I think the Bill could make a huge difference to the quality of economic debate. In a good year, the spending of public money should always be done carefully. Even when times are better than they have been recently, we should think hard about each pound spent in the public’s name. At times like the present, however, when all our constituents have had to face four very difficult years, scrutiny of the spending of public money and taxation becomes all the more important, particularly to those who are the hardest up in our society, who have often worked hard to pay the taxes we collect.
At the end of this Parliament, we know that the Chancellor will leave any future Government with very serious challenges, both on the deficit and on borrowing. Any future Government would need to be careful and cautious. Without being too party political at this point, the Chancellor has failed the test he set for himself. We will still have a significant deficit, and the value to political parties of the OBR performing this function would be significant at a time when we need to be so careful about the spending of public money.
Proper scrutiny and transparency will help political parties to get it right and help the public to choose in a well informed way. In fact, Robert Chote of the OBR said that
“independent scrutiny of pre-election policy proposals could contribute to better policy making, to a more informed public debate.”
I think he is right. Our experience tells us that where scrutiny and transparency are carried out in a considered and well resourced way, we get better policies in the end. The academic literature is absolutely clear on this point—independence and transparency are crucial to the political process, generating good economic results. That is almost certainly why other countries—the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, and even the US Congressional Budget Office—already do this and have similar functions to help political parties and, more importantly, the public to see what is going on in manifestos by independently auditing tax and spend measures.
For those three reasons—this would be a relatively small change; despite its modest nature, it would have significant impact on assisting the public and our democratic process; and various countries whose economies and democracies are similar to ours already carry this out—the Bill provides a straightforward way to use the powers of this House to help the public to understand our economy a little better, to choose in a democratic way which of the political parties they want to vote for, and to understand what is going on in manifestos at election time. I can think of very few reasons why we would not want to proceed, and I have provided three very good reasons why we should do so.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23).
That Alison McGovern, Ian Murray, John Woodcock, Bill Esterson, Gregg McClymont and Barbara Keeley present the Bill.
Alison McGovern accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 January 2015 and to be printed (Bill 79).
Retirement of the Clerk of the House
I beg to move,
That Mr Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Robert Rogers KCB, on his retirement from the office of Clerk of the House, this House’s gratitude for his long and distinguished service, for his wise contribution to the development of the procedure of the House and to public understanding and appreciation of its work, for his leadership and professionalism in the discharge of his duties as chief executive of the House Service, and for the courteous and helpful advice always given to individual honourable Members.
It is a great pleasure, as my first duty as Leader of the House on the Floor of the House, to move the motion on the Order Paper and to lead the tributes to a highly respected Clerk of the House, Sir Robert Rogers, who is to retire at the end of August. He has been a distinguished presence at the Table for 10 years, the last three as Clerk, itself the culmination of an eminent career of 42 years in the service of the House.
Expertise, intelligence and authority are the essentials of a successful Clerk. Robert has these in full measure and combines them with an abundance of good humour, which at times he has certainly needed. He is both our Clerk and the chief executive of the House, and he has fulfilled each of those responsibilities with great assurance and imagination, for which we salute him. The two roles involve ensuring the highest quality of service to Members at the minimum cost to the taxpayer, and perhaps the greatest testament to his success in combining those goals is his stewardship of a challenging savings programme without detriment to the front-line services provided to Members.
Some might think from his dignified bearing and the immaculate performance of his constitutional duties that he represents only the formal, traditional nature of the House and, of course, he is, indeed, a doughty defender of the interests and traditions of the House— and few, if any, of his 48 predecessors have sported such a fine and constitutionally correct beard. This beard is beyond criticism, since he maintains he wears it by royal command, having been told many years ago to keep it by the Queen of Denmark. But it would be a great mistake to think this means in any way that he is wedded to outdated customs or averse to reform—in fact, quite the opposite, and I hope and believe it is true that the scale, scope and success of the House in scrutiny of the Executive and the relevance of the Chamber to those who elect us to represent them have increased in this Parliament, and his role in fashioning the ideas for this and steering reform has been instrumental to that success.
Throughout a career in which he has discharged all the principal Clerks’ roles, Sir Robert has demonstrated a readiness to enable positive change. Over a decade ago, he supported the Liaison Committee by drafting its report, “Shifting the Balance”, which set out its goal to disprove the notion that the House of Commons was nothing more than a
“toothless adjunct of an all-powerful Executive”.
Looking at the range and prominence of Select Committee activities today, a great deal has been achieved in that regard.
As Clerk of Legislation from 2006 to 2009, Sir Robert implemented the changes in the legislative process agreed by the Modernisation Committee. In 2009 he drew up a 75-point menu of potential changes to the procedures and practices of the House, some of which, such as the appearances by the Prime Minister before the Liaison Committee and the more active use of urgent questions, have come to fruition and have improved the accountability of Ministers to this House.
As Secretary to the Commission and in his present role, he has supported the House’s adoption of new technology. Parliament is continuing to adapt to the digital era, including by the establishment of a Digital Office. Written questions are about to become fully electronic, and many Select Committees now operate on a paperless basis.
Sir Robert has embraced such changes himself. I understand that 1972, the year Robert joined the House services, was the last year in which quill pens could be seen on the desks of the Clerks. The current Clerk, we have all observed, by contrast taps away on a tablet at the Table, and I am assured it is not only to keep abreast of the cricket scores.
It is a further tribute to him that he has been an ardent and very visible ambassador for the House. He has also promoted the explanation of some of the mysteries of the House to the outside world. He has been a great supporter of the outreach service, which you, Mr Speaker, have also championed. He has laid on briefings for the media on complex procedural issues. He has given a large number of lectures and presentations each year. Behind the scenes, he has forged stronger links with both the Executive and the judiciary. He has also seen and embraced the hinterland of Parliament. Many hon. Members will have got to know him while singing in the parliamentary choir or participating in the armed forces parliamentary scheme. Still more will have enjoyed coming across him indirectly, through his two books on Parliamentary miscellany, which must have helped lighten many a constituency speech, and the more cerebral book he co-authors, “How Parliament Works”, which I suspect is not yet read as widely as it should be, even in this House. He has also led his staff well. His loyalty, leadership and support to them have earned him the admiration and affection of his colleagues, as has his unstinting generosity, in which the distillation of the fruits of his knowledge has apparently often been joined by regular baskets of apples from his orchard.
Members, too, have benefited from this largesse in many other ways, such as those on the Defence Committee, which Robert clerked in the mid-1980s. Prior to one visit to British forces in Germany, the Committee insisted they would rough it with the troops in “field conditions” rather than stay in a hotel. They arrived on a wet and windswept night, and found that their enthusiasm had evaporated. They discovered that the Minister for the Armed Forces was staying in a nearby castle with the local baron, and that the standard issue sleeping bags were not built for their bulk. Dealing with this mutinous Committee, Sir Robert apparently produced from somewhere about his person a bottle of fine malt whisky and plastic cups, and restored good order and temper all round. This is a very splendid Clerk indeed.
Members will be familiar with his gift for anecdote and laughter. For every problem or predicament, he has an historical equivalent or amusing anecdote, or a few apposite lines from “Blackadder”. His customary response to any office disaster is a twinkling, “So that went well then.”
In retirement, our loss will be Herefordshire’s gain, where he plays the organ at his local church, is active in the local community and will find more time to indulge in sailing, shooting and watching the cricket.
So I believe I can speak on behalf of the whole House in saying that in all these things, from offering us his excellent advice to cheering us with his good humour, Sir Robert has been unfailingly helpful, patient and courteous, showing admirable and calm authority and finely honed diplomatic skills. In short, he has been an exemplary servant of the House, and I want to thank him, on behalf of us all, for his loyal service to this House and I wish him, his wife Jane, and their family all our very best wishes for the future.
First, I would like to welcome the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) to his new role as Leader of the House. There will be time on Thursday to pay proper tribute to his predecessor, who is in his new place, but I just wanted to acknowledge that this is his first outing in the House since the reshuffle and wish him well in his new role.
It is with great pleasure that I rise to support the motion in the name of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other right hon. Members to mark the retirement of Sir Robert Rogers as Clerk of the House. Sir Robert has been in the service of the House for more than 42 years, for the past three serving with great distinction as our 49th Clerk—and as chief executive. Since becoming a junior Clerk in 1972, Sir Robert has served in all of the most important roles. He has been Clerk of Private Members’ Bills, Clerk of the Defence Committee, Clerk of the European Legislation Committee, Principal Clerk of the Table Office, Clerk of the Journals and Clerk of Legislation. To all those important roles he has brought his formidable intellect, his insight and, as the Leader of the House has pointed out, his great sense of humour.
I think all Members will agree that Sir Robert has left his mark on this place. He has delivered a savings programme that has ensured that services to Members are protected and value for money is much improved. I know some of his proudest achievements are improving the outreach programme, expanding Parliament week and increasing efficiency by creating a single commercial division. He has also improved diversity by ensuring that the management board of the House contains a 50:50 ratio of women and men. He would be the first to admit that there is more to do on diversity, but he has certainly made a difference.
To serve as Clerk of the House is to occupy a position at the very heart of our democracy. The job description for his successor includes a recommendation from Sir Robert saying that the position is
“the best job in the world”.
Perhaps that explains why in 1748, Jeremiah Dyson, who was to became the 25th Clerk, bought the role for a whopping £6,000 in old—very old—money. I would like to reassure the House that there will be no “Cash for Clerks” scandal to mar the recruitment of the 50th Clerk, which will be done strictly on merit.
While reading Sir Robert’s book “Order! Order!”, I discovered that in 1854 an exam was introduced as part of the selection for employment in the House service. Among the prerequisites were good handwriting and spelling; good knowledge of the history of England from 1603 onwards; and fluency in French, German and Greek. This long-standing requirement to be fluent in several languages stood Sir Robert in good stead when in 1977 he did three weeks on a Royal Navy fishery protection vessel as part of a Committee investigation into the fishing industry. During that stint of practical research, he was part of a boarding party on to a 1,300-tonne Russian trawler caught fishing illegally. Rather than be impounded, the Russians set course for Murmansk, with the boarding party kidnapped—cue international incident and the scrambling of quite a few of our military assets. When the Russians finally agreed to go into Plymouth late at night their officers refused to navigate the ship and so Sir Robert, who is an amateur sailor, took orders from the accompanying warship and translated them into German for the helmsman, who understood no English. The fact that Sir Robert has been with us for the rest of the time demonstrated how successful he was at steering the ship safely into port.
While at Oxford Sir Robert captained Lincoln college’s team on “University Challenge”, when it was presented by Bamber Gascoigne—I say that for hon. Members who remember as far back as I do. Having got in touch with the producers, I can reveal that, unfortunately, no TV footage survived, but with his typical flair Sir Robert led his team to the semi-finals. Over the past 10 years Sir Robert has managed to write three books—“Order! Order!”, “Who Goes Home?” and “How Parliament Works”, which is now in its sixth edition. I should tell the House that a parliamentary question from last year revealed that “How Parliament Works” is the most requested book in the Library— apparently, just ahead of Tony Blair’s autobiography.
Many Members will be aware that Sir Robert read old Norse, mediaeval Welsh and Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. So accomplished was he at his studies that he was offered a scholarship to study “Anglo-Saxon colour words”, but he clearly decided that he would pursue a study of modern rowdy behaviour in the Commons Chamber rather than waste his talents studying ancient swear words and their uses—Mr Speaker, we have reason to be very grateful that he did.
Sir Robert will be remembered as one of the most forthright defenders of this place and the work we all do here making democracy survive and thrive. His letter of resignation offered a typically eloquent case for Parliament’s role as the fulcrum of our democracy, which I know was greatly appreciated by many Members on all sides of this House. I know Sir Robert is a huge cricket fan, although age has dictated that spectating is all that is now left for either of us to do if we are to avoid the possibility of sustaining serious injury. So I hope he will follow the example of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who entered government in the same year that Sir Robert joined the House, and leave office to spend more time at the test match.
Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Opposition, I would like to extend our sincerest gratitude for 42 years of the most distinguished public service. May I add my thanks and best wishes to Sir Robert, and wish him, his wife, Jane, and their family all the best for the future?
There can be few public offices with an unbroken history of over half a millennium, but the office of Clerk of the House of Commons is one of them. If Sir Robert Rogers had taken the Clerk’s traditional place at the Table at any time over the past 626 years, he would always have looked perfect for the role. I am also confident that had Sir Robert been there when King Charles I burst into the Chamber, with his troops in the Members Lobby behind him, he would have coped with the situation with as great aplomb as did John Rushworth at the time.
We went to the same school—I refer to Sir Robert, not the King. It was not a four-letter school calculated to cause concern; it was Tonbridge school. We were not contemporaries at Tonbridge. I am 20 years older than Sir Robert, as I seem to be of almost everyone nowadays, except of course our Sovereign. But what our school lives had in common was that at our time of leaving, the Worshipful Company of Skinners, who owns the school, bestowed on both of us an Andrew Judde Exhibition to Oxford—the school’s top academic honour—together with a golden quill pen, which both of us, in different ways, have put to good use.
At Oxford, Sir Robert was an all-round athlete at university level. As the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) has told us, for his degree he studied old Norse, mediaeval Welsh and Anglo-Saxon, an almost uniquely challenging trilogy of academic disciplines. I am told that on the rare occasions he loses his temper, he breaks into incomprehensible old Norse—although its meaning is clear to the dimmest recipient.
To new Members this House may sometimes seem crowded, but after serving in a few Parliaments those of them who retain an inclination to think for themselves may find that the House of Commons can be the loneliest place in the world. Asquith said that Parliament is an institution that eventually destroys all friendships. He was thinking of Haldane and Grey, his closest friends, both of whom he sacked in reshuffles forced upon him—plus ça change. Harold Macmillan, in his old age, told me that, even after his four years in the trenches and his two serious wounds, there were times in the 1930s when he had to summon up all his courage to go into the Smoking Room or the Carlton club. The fact is that any worthwhile parliamentarian must be able to stand with a tiny minority, or alone if necessary, in the defence of their conviction of the national interest.
When friends are in short supply, I strongly advise a visit to the Clerk of the House of the day. There will be found kindness, comprehension, wise and disinterested advice and absolute discretion. That is part of the fine tradition of the clerkship. No one has been better equipped by temperament and experience to discharge it than Sir Robert Rogers. His countenance at the Table is of a granite detachment, unmoved by the funniest of jokes or by the most tedious misbehaviour. In private, he sparkles with vivacity and wit. He is, of course, a man of immense scholarship, steeped in a life dedicated to the rules, practices and conventions of this House. Any Clerk of the House who was not so equipped would leave the Speaker of the day hopelessly floundering in a crisis.
The Clerk is not a civil servant. He is appointed by the Sovereign on advice and owes his loyalty to this House and to none other. However, Sir Robert has not confined his energies to this place and its staff of 2,000—the size of three infantry battalions. He has always been passionate about getting people to understand the great contribution that Parliament makes to our national life. He has, as the Leader of the House told us, given many lectures around the country, not only about the history and procedures of Parliament, but over a wide range of legal and constitutional issues. Last year, when he addressed a seminar in the Lord Chief Justice’s court, he attracted an audience of 70 High Court judges and Lord Justices of Appeal.
I was shocked when I heard that he had decided to retire early. He has been an adornment to his historic office.