House of Commons
Monday 13 October 2014
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
We have cut red tape and given the police just one simple target: to cut crime. The work that we have undertaken to reduce bureaucracy could save up to 4.5 million hours of police time across all forces every year. That is the equivalent of more than 2,100 officers back on the beat.
I remember that when I was a young barrister practising in Bow Street magistrates court—I could not get a better brief anywhere else—the police officers just rolled up with their note books and justice was swift and usually fair. [Interruption.] Yes, it generally was fair—if they weren’t guilty of that, they were guilty of something else. Ever since then, every single Home Secretary has tried to cut police bureaucracy, but it now takes up to a third of police time. Can we just cut through this matter and repeal the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which started the rot?
I am not about to repeal the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which contains some important safeguards in respect of the way in which the police should conduct investigations. However, my hon. Friend’s overall point about the necessity of ensuring that the criminal justice system works smoothly, efficiently and effectively, not just for those who are investigating and prosecuting but for those who are brought to trial, is important. That is why the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice continue to do such work. The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims is continuing the work that was started by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) when he was in that position to reduce the paperwork in the criminal justice system as much as possible so that we get the police doing what everybody wants them to be doing, which is preventing and cutting crime.
In her reply to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), the Home Secretary said that the reduction in bureaucracy was the equivalent of 2,100 additional bobbies on the beat. How many bobbies were on the beat a couple of years ago and how many are on the beat now?
The purport of the hon. Lady’s question is that there has been a cut in the number of police officers over the past few years as police forces have dealt with the changes in their budgets. I am pleased to say that, despite that, the proportion of police officers on the front line has gone up over the past few years.
A couple of years ago, I was stopped for the fairly inoffensive crime of failing to clear the frost from my windscreen. The police officer who stopped me inquired what my ethnic origin was. When I asked why he wanted to know, he said that it was demanded by the Home Office. Will the Home Secretary therefore tell me whether there are officials locally, regionally or in the Home Office itself collecting that information? Would those people not be better deployed catching criminals?
There are a number of circumstances in which police officers ask for the ethnicity of the individual they have stopped—for example, they record that information for stop-and-search. That is why we know that in stop-and-search cases, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are six times more likely to be stopped than young white males. Such information has enabled us to bring about changes in stop-and-search, which I believe are absolutely right, to ensure that nobody on the streets of this country is stopped simply because of the colour of their skin.
It was absolutely right to introduce police and crime commissioners. They have introduced a degree of local accountability to local policing that was not there when the police authorities were in place. I understand that the hon. Gentleman’s party thinks that at local borough command level, police borough commanders should be jointly appointed by the local council and the chief constable. That would be a wrong move; it would mean the politicisation of the police, and I suggest that his party think again.
Child Abuse Inquiries
On 5 September I announced Fiona Woolf as the chair of the inquiry. Ben Emmerson QC was announced as counsel to the inquiry, and Graham Wilmer and Barbara Hearn were announced as panel members. The remaining panel members and terms of reference will be announced shortly. It is important that we get this right to ensure that the inquiry is able to challenge individuals and institutions, get to the bottom of these abhorrent crimes, and ensure that they do not happen again.
The number of people barred from working with children has fallen from 11,000 in 2011 to 2,660 in 2013, which means that people convicted of serious offences against children are no longer automatically barred from working with children. Will the Home Secretary consider whether the inquiry will examine that issue, together with current child protection practices?
The inquiry was set up in recognition of the number of cases, both historical—and, as we have increasingly seen—ongoing, that have taken place and that have suggested significant failings and problems in certain institutional and other environments where people have frankly not been abiding by their duty of care to children. The inquiry will consider those circumstances and tell us what we need to do in future to ensure that state and non-state institutional environments maintain their duty of care to children so that these horrific crimes are not committed in the future.
Will the Home Secretary explain why the inquiries will not consider the outcome of the forthcoming serious case reviews or the impact of cuts to local authority children’s services, especially as the severity of cuts in some areas will make it impossible for local authorities to take on board the inquiries’ recommendations when they eventually arrive?
When the terms of reference for the inquiries are published the hon. Lady will see the nature of work they will do. As I explained in response to the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), the inquiry was set up against the background of concern about the number of historical cases of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children that we have seen. Subsequently, a number of other cases have come forward that show that sadly this is not simply a crime that occurred in the past but something that occurs in the present. It is necessary to ensure that institutions are abiding by their duty of care to children. That will involve identifying the faults and what happened in those institutional environments, and considering what lessons need to be learned from that.
Communications data are vital in child abuse and other serious cases. In a recent speech, the Home Secretary said that in a six-month period the National Crime Agency had to drop at least 20 cases in which a child was judged to be at risk of imminent harm, and the Met also had to drop 12 cases in three months. Meanwhile, the Deputy Prime Minister has said that the only issue that needs resolution is the availability of unique IP addresses. Will the Home Secretary say whether that is correct?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about communications data. He sat on the cross-party Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft Communications Data Bill and accepted that there was a need for legislation to improve our ability to access communications data. He mentioned the cases that I have cited recently, and among them are cases that are not just about IP addresses but about our inability to obtain communications data, because communications service providers based overseas do not retain the right data.
Of the NCA cases I mentioned, two were discontinued because of that problem, one of which was a case involving the distribution of indecent images of children. Of the Met cases that my hon. Friend mentioned, six were discontinued because of the lack of retained data, and of those one involved posting indecent images, one related to child protection in which there was a threat to life, and one was a kidnap where there was a threat to life. The Communications Data Bill would have addressed that problem. Therefore, while we are taking action to address the problem caused by IP addresses, it is not true that the cases I mentioned in my speech were related simply to IP addresses. Even for cases that were discontinued because of the lack of a unique IP address, had there been such a unique IP address it would not mean that the case could have been continued—the scale of the problem probably means that no communications data would have been available for that IP address anyway.
I say to Members across the House and to our coalition colleagues that if they are serious about giving the police the capabilities they need to keep us safe, protect children and save lives, they should reconsider their position on the Communications Data Bill.
When the terms of reference are published, could they be as wide as possible? Also, the Home Secretary will know that I have pushed for some time to try to increase the tariffs for those who abuse children and are involved in paedophilia.
I thank my hon. Friend. We aim to ensure that the terms of reference are able to cover everything they need to cover, but I am sure all Members of this House will recognise that we want this not to be an inquiry that just goes on ad infinitum, should the terms of reference be too wide. We need to have resolution of these issues: we need to identify the problems and we need to be able deal with them. I note the point he has made, and I know he has championed this particular cause for some time.
I have received representations in relation to the Kincora inquiry. Sir Anthony Hart is undertaking an inquiry. At the moment, I am looking at the best means of ensuring that the most thorough investigation and inquiry possible relating to the events at Kincora take place. I have not yet come to a decision on whether to bring that within this inquiry, or to make it possible for it to happen within the Kincora inquiry in Northern Ireland, but the aim of us all is the same: to make sure that the issue is investigated thoroughly and that all the elements that need to be addressed are addressed.
The Home Secretary will be aware of the failure of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in the Project Spade case, where 2,500 names of people buying child abuse images were passed on by the Canadian police but not looked at. A doctor at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge was abusing children and was on that list. Had CEOP acted with the powers it already had, a number of children would not have been abused. What does the Home Secretary have to say to those children about the failure of the police on her watch?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise a level of concern about the action taken in relation to Project Spade and the information that CEOP received from the Toronto police. The NCA has referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is looking into this issue and I am sure that he, like me, will await with interest the outcome of its inquiry.
The NCA knows of 20,000 people it thinks are accessing online child abuse, but it lacks the resources to follow that up. Many police forces also have a huge backlog, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) has just referred to the case of the Cambridge doctor who was also a deputy head, and who had 15 months more in the classroom before conviction because information was not passed on. We currently have separate lists of people suspected of posing a risk to children and of those working closely with children. Will the Home Secretary explain why those lists are not being cross-checked, and why last year the police referred only 108 cases of people they were concerned about to the Disclosure and Barring Service?
The hon. Lady cites a number of figures in her question. It is right that a significant number of people have been identified as accessing child abuse images. I think it is true to say—I have made this point more generally in the past—that we are not yet fully aware of the scope of the problem of child abuse, either in terms of people accessing images or of child abuse that takes place, and the implications. The NCA has recently made a significant number of arrests of individuals in relation to Operation Notarise. It operates on a very clear basis to ensure that it is dealing first with those cases where it considers there is particular harm to children. It is right that it should prioritise in that way, but this issue is wider than suggested by the sort of figures she cites and wider than the response from the NCA.
Rape Cases (Cheshire)
This is my first opportunity as the new Policing Minister to say how proud I am to be at the Dispatch Box. However, I am not proud of what was disclosed by the investigation in Cheshire.
The Government are committed to improving the police response to rape, and it is vital that police-recorded crime statistics are robust, especially for the victims of such abhorrent offences. That is why the Home Secretary asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to carry out an all-force investigation of crime recording practices—this is how the Cheshire situation arose—and I expect the police and crime commissioner and chief constable to use the findings to improve the service to victims in Cheshire.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but the chief constable was quoted as saying:
“HMIC questioned the administration process of recording the crimes at fault, not the investigations into them.”
Does that not show that he has failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation? With a chief constable who is so complacent and a police and crime commissioner who has been unusually silent on this issue, how can any woman in Cheshire have the confidence that if she reports a rape it will be treated seriously?
No matter what type of rape it is—whether it is rape against a woman or against a male—it must be treated seriously across the country as a whole. The hon. Lady says the police and crime commissioner is being quiet, but this is a quote from him:
“I am committed to ensuring that victims are at the heart of policing”
in Cheshire. I expect him to adhere to that.
Horrifyingly, one in five women will experience sexual violence during their life, yet only 15% of the victims of the most serious sexual offences report those crimes to the police. Does the Minister agree that if more victims are to come forward, the police up and down the country need to send out a robust message that these crimes will be taken very seriously?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. When people come forward, they must have confidence in the force and the police officers who are dealing with their complaint. I hope that that is why more people are having the confidence to come forward these days.
Police performance in dealing with crimes of rape is getting worse, not better. Last year there were 4,000 more crimes recorded in the UK, but on this Government’s watch since 2010 we have seen hundreds fewer prosecutions and convictions, and there is a postcode lottery around the country. In Suffolk, for example, we know from freedom of information requests that the police have no-crimed more reports of rape than they have detected rapists. In Lincolnshire, the no-crime rate for rape is over 20%. Does the Minister agree that this is unacceptable, and will he now back Labour’s plan for a commissioner on domestic and sexual violence to raise standards across every police force in this country?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on what I think is her first outing at the Dispatch Box with her new portfolio, but I can agree with hardly anything she said, apart from that we must take rape very, very seriously, whether it be against women or men, and we want more and more people to come forward and to be confident that the investigation will be robust. That is what we need, not running down the police time and again.
Working with the Cheshire rape and sexual abuse support centre and St Mary’s sexual abuse referral centre, Cheshire police have established a dedicated rape unit. Does my right hon. Friend agree that work between the police and third sector organisations is one way of improving the support available to rape victims and helping to encourage them to come forward and report the crime?
This cannot be done by the police alone; they have to work with partners across communities. I shall be visiting this particular part of the world in the near future, and I hope to look at this scheme so that we can possibly see how it can be done elsewhere in the country.
Police Emergency Response Times
This Government’s reforms have freed forces from a top-down approach and placed more power in the hands of local people through police and crime commissioners, who can set local priorities and decide how to respond to emergency calls.
We said that the 20% cut to police budgets would affect front-line services, but the Secretary of State disagreed. Does she accept that the increase in police response times could be the difference between catching the criminal in the act or someone getting away—and in extreme cases, the difference between life and death?
Coming from a blue-line emergency service background, I probably know more about response times than most people in this House. That is not being patronising; it is being absolutely honest. I think there are ways in which we can improve response times, particularly if we get more of the police cars out of the stations where they tend to spend more time—that is, getting police officers away from bureaucracy—but crime has fallen under this Government, and that is something Opposition Members cannot get away from.
When he did not turn up for work on Friday 22 August, my late constituent Mr Joseph McIntosh’s employers alerted Merseyside police, as they were concerned about his well-being. The police called at his home and, finding him to be in need of medical attention, called an ambulance. When no ambulance had turned up after an hour, the police took Mr McIntosh to the local hospital themselves. Sadly, he later passed away. I have raised this matter with the Health Secretary, who accepts that North West Ambulance Service’s response did not meet the required standard. The chief constable of Merseyside police has referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. As the Merseyside police and crime commissioner, Jane Kennedy, has said, the only body being held to account for Mr McIntosh’s sad death so far is Merseyside police. Will the Minister make it clear that the police are neither trained nor equipped to act as a substitute for the ambulance service?
The police are no substitute for the ambulance service or for any other emergency service. The Health Secretary has explained exactly what the situation is, and the matter will be looked into. However, I was out on patrol in Holborn in north London recently when someone with a mental health illness was reported to the police. The police could have arrested that gentleman for a public order offence, or taken him to the hospital where he could receive the care that he needed. He went to the hospital with the police.
The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens, but with the Home Secretary having imposed the biggest cuts to the police service of any country in Europe, including a cut of 8,000 from response alone, the police are taking up to 30% longer to respond to calls for help. Does the Home Secretary accept that she is failing in her duty and that, as a result of her swingeing cuts to our police service, sometimes desperate citizens dial 999 only to be let down in their hour of need?
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, and outside the Chamber we are actually quite good friends. I am sure he would agree that the police service do an absolutely fantastic job. There has been a reduction in police officers, and there has been a reduction in crime. Two thousand police officers who were in back-office roles are now in front-line roles, and that is what we want to see, along with crime coming down.
Serious and Organised Crime
Serious and organised crime is a threat to the UK’s national security, and damages communities across the country. The Government are committed to tackling this threat. One year ago, we launched a comprehensive new strategy to tackle serious and organised crime and a powerful new crime-fighting organisation—the National Crime Agency—which is already making a difference. We are driving forward reform, including through the Serious Crime Bill, which will strengthen our ability to disrupt and prosecute serious and organised criminals.
I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. Two families in Selby have lost their entire life savings as a result of a sophisticated organised phone-fraud scam. In both cases, the victims quickly realised that they were being scammed and alerted their banks and the police. After a bit of cajoling and arm-twisting, some of the banks involved have reacted well and returned the money, but the Yorkshire building society and the TSB have so far not been as helpful as they perhaps could have been. What action does the Minister plan to take to protect our constituents from these fraudsters? Will she meet me to discuss a way forward?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. This Government take economic and financial crime extremely seriously, which is why the Home Secretary set up the economic crime command within the National Crime Agency and why she and I have been working with banks and other financial institutions to ensure that we can give everyone security in their financial operations. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his great work as a constituency MP and on achieving the recovery of money for one of his constituents. I would be more than happy to meet him to discuss what else we can do.
If the Minister is to tackle serious and organised crime, will she consider looking at the competency and fitness for purpose of the Serious Fraud Office? Its recent history does not fill many of us with confidence. The fact of the matter is that, because of a lack of resources, the SFO has increasingly had to listen to the big accountancy firms, which is leading us into terribly dangerous waters.
Britain’s border controls are among the toughest in the world. All passengers arriving at passport control are checked carefully before they are allowed to enter the country. Last year, 17,000 people were refused entry and more than 3,000 people were arrested as a result of border system alerts. Substantial quantities of illegal goods and cash have also been seized.
The Government have completely failed to meet their immigration target; despite what the Minister says, the number of people who have been stopped at the border and sent home has actually fallen by 45%. Why will the Government not bring in checks to count people in and out? Why will they not bring back fingerprint checks for illegal migrants at Calais? Why do the Government not stop people claiming benefits for children abroad? Why will they not change the law to make it easier to deport EU criminals for a first offence when they first arrive?
I shall certainly try to be pithy, as you request, Mr Speaker. I say to the hon. Gentleman that we are introducing exit checks from next spring and they will do what he has sought, which is counting people out—the previous Government got rid of that. On benefit reforms, I hope he will welcome the fact that we have introduced changes to ensure that people from the EU cannot claim benefits until they have been here for three months and that that benefit entitlement is then limited to six months, reducing to three months next month.
Will the Minister confirm that, notwithstanding the socialist taxation policies of its Government, which some in this place would seek to introduce here, France remains a safe and wonderfully civilised country, as no doubt are the many other countries that have been crossed by those who are camped at Calais and seeking to launch asylum applications in this country?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the Dublin regulations and the fact that we do return people to other EU member states, because it is right that people seeking humanitarian protection should claim it in the first country in which they arrive. Obviously, we are stepping up security around Calais, and he will be aware of the announcement the Home Secretary made last month about the work we are doing with the French Government to ensure greater security around the port of Calais. Indeed, we are working very closely with the French authorities.
7. What steps she is taking to improve the service offered by the Passport Office. (905429)
I have today issued a written ministerial statement which confirms that, with effect from 1 October 2014, Her Majesty’s Passport Office ceased to be an Executive agency of the Home Office and now reports directly to Ministers. That follows a review I commissioned and it has been done so that there will be more effective oversight, robust forecasting and the right level of trained staff to ensure that families and business people do not face the same problems as this year.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her answer. Like many other right hon. and hon. Members, I received a large number of complaints during the summer about delays in obtaining passports. My staff found the experience of using the MPs hotline very frustrating. They often had to wait ages for the phone to be answered and when they did get through the person who answered said that they would ring back and never did. Will she take steps to ensure that if there is to be an MPs hotline, the staff answering the phones are properly trained to respond in a timely and helpful fashion?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. Following my statement to the House in June, we introduced more staff and more telephone lines for the MPs hotline. A number of MPs were complimentary about the service they received, but I recognise that he had a different experience. We want to make sure we learn all the lessons necessary for the future, and we will be reviewing the service.
I warmly commend the Home Secretary for her decision to abolish the agency status of the Passport Office, which occurred 10 days after it was recommended by the Home Affairs Committee—we look forward to her accepting our recommendations on other matters as promptly. Last month, however, it emerged that officials at the Passport Office received £674,000 in bonuses, whereas citizens had to pay £103 for a fast-track passport before she allowed that process to be free. Will she stop those bonuses and instead give the money to those who suffered so badly over the summer?
As I pointed out in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson), I did commission a review of the status of the Passport Office. I think that the report of the right hon. Gentleman’s Home Affairs Committee came between considering the response to that review and the decision, but we are at one in thinking that the correct action was taken. A number of people did receive some financial help. Following my statement to the House, people whose holidays were in danger of being cancelled as a result of the problems at the Passport Office received free upgrades in relation to the handling of their passports. It is important that we ensure that the forecasting at the Passport Office is right and that the office is able to deal with people in an appropriate time scale, so that we do not see a repeat of the problems that we had this summer.
We grant humanitarian protection only when it is genuinely needed. Sometimes that includes people who have overstayed their permission to be here, or who have entered the country without permission. Since 2010, 18,000 such people have been granted asylum.
Surely anybody who enters this country illegally should not be able to remain here with indefinite leave or be granted asylum, but should go through the proper processes. Will the Minister explain how many such cases have occurred as a result of the Human Rights Act, dating back to 1997? Is it not the case that that Act, rather than giving any meaningful rights to decent, law-abiding citizens in this country, is a charter for illegal immigrants? Is it not time that that wretched Human Rights Act was scrapped?
I say to my hon. Friend that it is right that appropriate process is undertaken, but that this country is proud of its record of providing humanitarian protection for those in genuine need. He makes an important point about the Human Rights Act. As he will know, the Prime Minister and others have underlined our commitment to see that Act reformed so that actions and matters are dealt with in our courts rather than elsewhere.
As the Minister will know, asylum seekers who successfully achieve refugee status have a 28-day move-on period before asylum support is withdrawn, in which to sort out a job, housing, benefits and so on. A recent report by the British Red Cross has, however, highlighted the fact that many successful claimants of refugee status find 28 days insufficient time to get all those arrangements in place. What discussions is the Minister having with other Departments, specifically the Department for Work and Pensions, to improve procedure so that such refugees are not left destitute?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting the issue of ensuring a smooth transition for genuine claimants who have been granted asylum. We keep such issues under careful review. Under the new contract put in place on 1 April, Migrant Help provides appropriate support and advice.
Detention plays a necessary role in our immigration asylum system, but detention centres must be sensitively designed and appropriate to their location. Plans to double the size of Campsfield House are neither and, as such, they are unsurprisingly opposed by both the independent monitoring board and the people of Kidlington. Will the Minister reconsider his plans, as they will not work for the detainees or for the local community?
I certainly recognise the local issues that my hon. Friend has highlighted and which she and I have discussed outside this House. It is right that the Government have the appropriate immigration detention facilities in place in the right parts of the country, and that is part of the overall reforms that we are putting in place to secure and achieve that. None the less, I note her comments and we will continue to reflect on them.
The national cyber-security programme provides £860 million over five years to transform our response to cyber threats. We are strengthening law enforcement capabilities through the National Crime Agency’s national cybercrime unit and establishing regional organised crime unit cyber-teams. We fund the “Cyber Streetwise” campaign, which provides advice on safer online behaviour.
My constituent, Sandra Moss, lost £6,000 when she bought a non-existent car from a non-existent garage on eBay. She got no help from anybody, apart from being referred to an online fraud number through which she could not speak to the police or find out what was happening. After intervention from me, action is now being taken but she is unlikely to see her money again. Does the Minister agree that the system and staffing of fraud investigation are inadequate? What will she do to fix that?
I sympathise with the hon. Lady’s constituent, and I am sure that we would all go out of our way to help a constituent who suffered a similar loss. City of London police have taken charge of Action Fraud and I urge the hon. Lady to ensure that in future all instances of cybercrime are reported to Action Fraud, which is a central hub to ensure that we get the right level of information and the right level of reporting. We are working with the College of Policing to ensure that front-line police officers have the right training, which is also vital.
The UK has a proud record of providing protection to those who need it, but we also take firm action to prevent illegal migration and deter abuse. We are addressing asylum shopping by sending back those who should have claimed asylum in another EU country, we are working with France to strengthen border security at Calais, and we are working internationally to stem the flow of illegal migrants into and across Europe.
Further to the question that will be asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), does the Minister agree that if all those asylum seekers claimed asylum in the first European country they came to it would solve the crisis in Calais? How many asylum seekers who have come from Calais and France have been returned to France or to other countries?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s important point. Asylum seekers cannot travel through safe countries illegally and then choose where to claim asylum. If we have evidence that an asylum seeker has travelled through another European country before claiming asylum in the UK, we will seek to return them under the Dublin regulations. Since those regulations came into force in 2003, 12,000 asylum claimants have been so returned.
Our reforms have cut net migration by a quarter since the peak under the previous Government and have led to net migration from outside the EU falling to levels close to those last seen in the 1990s. However, the latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics show a rise in long-term immigration from EU nationals coming to the UK for work-related reasons.
I underline the reforms that the Government have made, which have been effective in cutting net migration from outside the EU. My hon. Friend raises the issue of EU migration and free movement. It is absolutely right that the Prime Minister has underlined the need for reform of free movement, and how, if we are elected as the next Government, that will be at the heart of our renegotiation with the EU.
The Minister said in an article on 6 September—he has said again just now—that the Government have cut net migration by a quarter. Has he had a chance to see the letter to me, dated 9 October, from the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Andrew Dilnot? It says that net migration was 244,000 in June 2010 and is now, four years later, 243,000—just 1,000 lower. Will he explain to the House how he came to that conclusion and, while he is at it, does he expect to meet the Government’s manifesto commitment made at the last election?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for highlighting the poor record of the previous Labour Government. On their watch, 2.5 million people were allowed to come into this country. It is absolutely right that our focus should remain on returning net migration to sustainable levels, from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. I know that the shadow Home Secretary has said that she wants to talk more about immigration, but the Labour party’s record says it all.
Our membership of the European Union brings with it a right to free movement into this country for people from other EU countries, and that brings with it a feeling that our friends in Commonwealth countries are being completely discriminated against. Is not the only solution to that problem for us to leave the European Union and be free of these rules once and for all?
My hon. Friend makes his clear point, which he has made consistently over the years. He is right to say that we need to focus on net migration from outside the EU, as well as the implications of free movement. That is why we made the changes that we have made to reform benefit entitlements. I say again that free movement is absolutely one of the aspects on which we will want renegotiation to take place.
Internet Islamic Extremism
The Home Office works with the internet industry and police to restrict access to terrorist and extremist material. Since 2013, over 32,000 pieces of unlawful terrorist-related content have been removed from the internet. We are also working with industry to build the capacity and skills of civil society groups to counter online extremism.
My hon. Friend will know that the servers that provide this information and encourage people to become jihadist extremists originate abroad, often in countries over which we have no control, so could he explain in a little more detail precisely how we can stop those servers producing such websites?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The counter-terrorism internet referral unit, which is at the heart of our response in taking down these unlawful websites, is working with the providers that are obviously hosting this material, and there are successes in taking them down. But he highlights the need for more to be done. That is what we are doing through discussions with the internet service providers and other EU partners as well, which is what I was in Luxembourg to do last week.
Many in Bristol, particularly within the Somali community, are concerned about the whereabouts of 15-year-old Yusra Hussien, who has disappeared and is rumoured to be on her way to Syria to try to join the jihadis. Her aunt has blamed internet grooming for her disappearance. What is the Minister doing to protect young people from that risk?
Obviously, we recognise the pressures and dangers that are on the internet. That is precisely why the counter-terrorism internet referral unit is doing the work that it is doing to prevent material from being there and it is working with the industry to filter out much of this material, which may not cross an illegality threshold. The hon. Lady highlights the broader need to work with families and communities, which we are doing, so that if people have concerns about an individual who may be at risk, they can come forward to report that, knowing that their concerns will be appropriately considered and support can be provided to help prevent that from happening.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in his statement to the House on 1 September, we will be bringing forward further powers to disrupt terrorists, particularly those who travel abroad to fight in Syria and Iraq. We have already introduced a range of measures to protect the UK from terrorism, including seizing passports, barring foreign nationals suspected of terrorism from re-entering the UK, and enacting recent emergency legislation to safeguard the retention of communications data.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for alerting the House to the important relationship that the Government have with the aviation sector in relation to aviation security. We have done a lot of work with this sector over the years. We have taken the decision now that we need to bring some capabilities into a legislative framework, but we continue to talk to the industry and work with its members on the best possible means of ensuring that we can provide the greatest security for people travelling by air.
Hundreds of thousands of British Muslims have come together to say that the actions of ISIL and other terrorist organisations have nothing to do with the peaceful and dignified religion that they follow. What message does the Home Secretary have for those British Muslims, including many in Worcester, who have stood up and said, “Not in my name”?
Certainly, I and, I am sure, the whole House would want to congratulate those British Muslims in Worcester and across the whole country who have stood up and said that the actions of ISIL and, indeed, other terrorist organisations are not taking place in their name. Indeed, across the country, it has been good to see increasing numbers of Muslims coming forward with that message. I was very pleased recently to share with a number of Muslim women from across the UK the inspired programme of #makingastand, saying that this is, again, “Not in our name.”
ISIL’s brutal and barbaric acts continue to demonstrate the very deadly threat that we face from terrorism. More than 500 British citizens have travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq. The Government have already taken action to combat these threats, as I have just outlined, by toughening the royal prerogative power that allows us to remove the passports of British citizens who want to travel abroad to engage in terrorism. We have used it to stop people travelling to Syria in over 20 cases. So far this year, just over 100 people have been arrested for Syria-related offences, 24 have been charged and five have been successfully prosecuted. We must do more. That is why we have announced plans to introduce legislation to deal with this increased terrorist threat, and we will engage in cross-party consultation on these proposals and intend to introduce this urgently needed legislation at the earliest opportunity.
The police and courts recommended that an asylum seeker and London gang leader should be deported because he represented a danger to the public, especially to young children. He was not deported; he was relocated to my constituency, where in the summer he was arrested in possession of an illegal drug in a children’s play area. Is the Government’s failure to deport Mr Joland Giwa typical of their immigration policy, which is boastful in promises but impotent in action?
That is a bit rich coming from an Opposition Member. [Interruption.] I will answer the question. This Government have tightened up and improved our ability to deport people from this country, but there remain certain countries to which it is difficult for us to deport people. That is why we have continued the programme of deportation with assurances from a number of countries, to enhance our ability to deport people. There are still a number of countries where it is not possible for us to deport people, but we continue to work on that to make sure that we can do so in the future.
T3. Are the Home Secretary and her team aware that crime in Norfolk has fallen by a welcome 11% since 2010? Will she and her team join me in congratulating the Norfolk constabulary on the part that it has played in this achievement? Will the Policing Minister find time to come up to Norfolk to build on this very good work? (905390)
Mr Speaker, you will be pleased to know that I will visit Norfolk in the very near future. Even though there has been a small reduction in the number of police in Norfolk, there has been an 11% reduction in crime, and I congratulate the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner.
The Home Secretary and the whole House will want to express to the families of David Haines and Alan Henning our thoughts and prayers. Both men were helping innocent people caught up in conflict, and that is how we will remember them.
ISIL’s actions are barbaric—killing and torturing anyone who gets in its way—and the Home Secretary is rightly concerned about British citizens who are going to fight, but may I ask her about those who are returning? Will she tell the House whether the Government agree with reports that between 200 and 300 people have returned after fighting to Britain and whether the police and Security Service believe that they know who and where those people are? She referred to only 24 people being charged. Will she tell the House whether any of the others are now subject to terrorism prevention and investigation measures and what proportion of them are engaged in the Channel deradicalisation programme?
I echo the right hon. Lady’s comments about the absolutely brutal beheadings of David Haines and Alan Henning and, of course, of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, the two Americans who have been beheaded by ISIL. Our thoughts are with all their friends and families at this very difficult time.
The Government are, as the right hon. Lady knows and as I have just said in a previous answer, looking at a number of extra powers that we can introduce to deal with these issues and with those who are returning, as well as preventing people from going to Syria in the first place. Some people have returned from Syria—not all of them will have been involved in fighting, of course—and the Security Service and our police do everything that they can to ensure that they maintain the safety and security of citizens here in the United Kingdom. They do an excellent job, day in and day out.
I thank the Home Secretary for her answer, but it would be helpful to have more information, as and when she is able to give it, about the scale of the problem and what is being done. More action is needed against those returning. Has she looked at making it a requirement that those returning from fighting engage with the Channel deradicalisation programme? When TPIMs were introduced, she took the decision, which we opposed, to remove relocation powers; can she confirm that she will reintroduce those powers at the earliest opportunity—before Christmas—in the legislation that she plans to bring forward?
We are looking at a number of ways of dealing appropriately with those returning from Syria. Part of that will be through measures brought forward in the legislation to which I referred. As the Prime Minister made clear in the House, we are looking at the question of relocation, and at exclusion zones and the extent to which they can be used. We will put Channel and Prevent on a statutory footing, but it is important that we look on a case-by-case basis at what action is appropriate for returning individuals, rather than assuming that one route is always the right way of dealing with them. Of course, in the consultation on the legislation, the right hon. Lady will be appropriately briefed, on Privy Counsellor terms.
T6. Recently, 130 people who are in the asylum system were placed in temporary hotel accommodation in Folkestone, with little or no notice to the local authority. Will the Minister tell me what the Home Office is doing to review the situation to make sure that this type of temporary accommodation is not used in future? (905393)
We have certainly made it clear to our contractual providers that the use of hotels is only ever acceptable as a short-term measure. The Home Office does not decide which hotels providers use, but we are clear that asylum seeker accommodation must comply with strict contractual standards relating to safety and habitability. We are working with our providers to increase the range of provision available. The hotel in my hon. Friend’s constituency to which he referred was vacated last week.
T2. A growing number of charities and businesses are echoing Labour’s call for the Modern Slavery Bill to include measures relating to the supply chains of large companies operating in the UK. Charities say that that will change corporate behaviour, and British businesses want legislation to create a level playing field, so will the Home Secretary tell us why she is resisting these calls? (905389)
The hon. Lady has perhaps not had a chance to see a copy of the letter that I put in the House of Commons Library, in which I confirmed that the Government will bring forward a world-leading provision in the Modern Slavery Bill to ensure that we tackle slavery within supply chains.
T7. I welcome the new Policing Minister to his post. Will he join me in praising the proactive work of the West Mercia police, who, in Operation Fuchsia, have taken the fight against burglary and drug dealing into the homes of the perpetrators? (905394)
I congratulate West Mercia police, not only in general, but on their recent operation, in which I believe they used chainsaws to get into certain premises and reach villains who had thought that they could get away with it. Also, I praise the West Mercia police for a 17% reduction in crime since 2010, and a 3% reduction this year alone.
T4. Northumbria police’s budget has been cut by a third, which has meant that violent crime in my area has increased by 25%. When will the Government get their priorities right and treat crime as an important issue in this country, rather than giving filthy rich tax cuts to companies? (905391)
T8. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will know that in one part of the United Kingdom, namely Northern Ireland, the writ of the National Crime Agency does not run. What discussions has she had with the Minister of Justice and others in the Northern Ireland Executive about extending the NCA to Northern Ireland? In particular, will she speculate on the opposition from, for instance, Sinn Fein, to cracking down on serious crime? (905395)
The restrictions on NCA activities in Northern Ireland clearly create a major gap in tackling serious and organised crime, put additional pressures on the Police Service of Northern Ireland and inhibit the recovery of criminal assets. Organised crime groups on both sides of the Irish sea cannot be properly investigated. We are committed to resolving this fully, and fully support the proposals that Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister has put to the political parties—proposals that provide the transparent accountability that they seek.
T5. The Government’s deportation of fewer foreign criminals than the previous Labour Government has nothing to do with the Human Rights Act but everything to do with the Home Office issuing fewer deportation notices. When will the Home Secretary stop blaming the law and start deporting more foreign criminals? (905392)
We are deporting foreign criminals and there is work across Government to achieve that. The hon. Gentleman may say that there are no obstacles, but he should be aware of some of the issues on documentation and proving identity. That is what we are doing with our colleagues in the Foreign Office and with overseas Governments to ensure that those who have offended in this country are removed.
T9. Crime is down in Chester but there has recently been a spate of burglaries aimed at members of the Asian community in the belief that they have gold and jewellery at home. The local police believe that this has been done by a national gang. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that this is being taken seriously at the centre of Government and that the resources have been put in place to tackle these horrific crimes? (905396)
Good afternoon, Mr Speaker.
May I give my hon. Friend the assurance that we are taking these matters seriously? In fact, the issue of family gold has been considered by one of the crime prevention panels that I have established and we are well on top of that particular issue.
The Home Secretary will no doubt agree that co-ordination in the fight against ISIL and extremists in this country is crucial. Will she therefore explain why, to my dismay, it appears that the Secretary of State for Education and the Minister for Universities, Science and Cities have yet to meet their Welsh counterparts and other devolved counterparts to discuss tackling extremism in schools and universities throughout our country?
Through the extremism task force there is work that is chaired by the Prime Minister on combating extremism and terrorism. This work is ongoing, and putting Channel and Prevent on to a statutory basis will ensure that we have that co-ordination at a local level and that there is consistent priority across the country.
Last week, a retired RAF officer was found guilty by a court martial in Bulford of 21 cases of child sexual abuse 25 years ago on a German RAF base. Although he is retired, his address was given as RAF Northolt, and he escaped the usual rigours of being tried in an open civil court. Will the Home Secretary refer this matter and the use of courts martial for child sexual abuse cases to the independent panel to ensure that the process of courts martial does not allow the services to keep such hearings unreported and under wraps?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who discussed that matter with me last week, and I share her concern about the particular case to which she refers. There is an issue there that needs to be looked at, but she will understand that such matters have to be considered carefully, so I will, if I may, get back to her in writing.
Further to her answer earlier on the inquiry panel in relation to child abuse, what steps has the Home Secretary taken to ensure that the security services are making sure that no documents of theirs are destroyed or removed, that all information will be made available to the inquiry panel, and that former officers and agents have every encouragement and confidence in coming forward with their information?
As I said in reply to the earlier question, in relation to Kincora particularly, but it goes across the board, we want an inquiry that is able to look properly into the events of child abuse that have taken place in the past, particularly, obviously, in state institutions, although we will cover non-state institutions as well. It is important therefore that the information is made available to the inquiry, and steps are being taken with a number of departments and agencies across Government to make sure that that happens.
In 2010, just 1,162 asylum seekers were deported from the UK under the Dublin convention. In 2013, that number had fallen to 757. Given that Calais is heaving with illegal immigrants, all of whom have gone through safe countries to get there, why are we not deporting tens of thousands of asylum seekers each year under the Dublin rules?
We are working with other European partners to ensure that they take all the steps necessary to be able to document people and show where they first arrived in the EU in order to uphold the Dublin regulations. There are issues relating to litigation and, in particular, the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in 2011 that returns to Greece breached article 3 of the convention, but I can assure my hon. Friend of the focus and attention we are giving to that very subject.
Does the Home Secretary recognise the real public concern about how long it is taking to establish the child sex abuse inquiry and, in particular, the fact that we have not yet seen the terms of reference? When we will see the terms of reference?
I fully understand the degree of concern that the hon. Gentleman refers to. We want to ensure that we get the balance of the panel’s membership and the terms of reference right. As I said earlier, I expect to be able to announce the remaining members of the panel and the terms of reference shortly, because I am as keen as he is to ensure that the panel inquiry starts its work and that we get some answers for the victims who suffered those horrendous crimes.
The following Members took and subscribed the Oath, or made and subscribed the Affirmation, required by law:
Liz McInnes, for Heywood and Middleton
Douglas Carswell, for Clacton.
Business of the House
With permission, I should like to make a short statement on the business of the House:
Tuesday 14 October—General debate on devolution following the Scotland referendum.
The business for the rest of the week remains unchanged:
Wednesday 15 October—Opposition day (6th allotted day). There will be a debate on the minimum wage, followed by a debate on the NHS. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 16 October—Debate on a motion relating to progress on the all-party parliamentary cycling group’s report “Get Britain Cycling”, followed by a general debate on the national pollinator strategy. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 17 October—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 20 October will now include:
Monday 20 October—Remaining stages of the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill, followed by a motion to approve a Church of England measure relating to women bishops.
Tuesday 21 October—Second Reading of the Recall of MPs Bill.
I will announce further business, as usual, during the business statement on Thursday.
I thank the Leader of the House for his business statement. I welcome tomorrow’s debate on devolution following the Scottish referendum and the Command Paper on further powers that has just been published by the Scottish Secretary. After Scotland’s historic decision to remain part of the United Kingdom, we must now honour our commitment to deliver further powers within the promised timetable.
It is also right that as we debate further powers to Scotland we consider further devolution to the rest of the UK to help to address the declining trust in our politics and the widespread feeling of disempowerment. However, Labour Members believe that, instead of petty partisan games and 7 am announcements, we need a considered process that seeks to achieve broad public support as well as cross-party agreement. That is why a partisan fix in Westminster just will not wash.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing our Opposition day debates on the minimum wage and on the NHS this Wednesday. During the NHS debate, perhaps senior Tories can use the occasion to explain to the House and have the guts to admit on the record what they have told The Times today—that their top-down reorganisation of the NHS has been their biggest mistake. If they did that, for once there would be something on which we could all agree.
I take that as a warm welcome for the change of business, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She is right: my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary will be making a statement, coupled with the publication of the Command Paper that has indeed just taken place. Across the Government, and I think across the House, we are all very determined that the commitments made to the people of Scotland will be honoured. She said it is right that we should consider further devolution and its consequences for the rest of the UK. That is quite right. No one is looking for a partisan fix, but equally no one should imagine that the question of the consequences for England can now be evaded. Many of us will want to make that point in tomorrow’s debate.
As I said, I will give the details of further business on Thursday.
If the Liberal Democrats agree to a simple amendment to Standing Orders on a Government motion as soon as possible, so that we can have English votes for English issues, can that be tabled urgently? When will the Leader of the House know whether the Liberal Democrats want justice for England?
This is a matter of fairness for the whole of the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend raises now, and has raised before, this very important issue. Discussions are taking place within the Government under the auspices of the committee that I chair. I have also invited Labour Members to attend that committee and put forward their own proposals. As I have said publicly, I believe we need to set a deadline and say that if we do not have cross-party agreement by the end of November—the same timetable as that for Scotland—then it will be important to test the opinion of the House.
On 5 September, the House granted a Second Reading to the Affordable Homes Bill, which will go some way towards getting rid of the bedroom tax. So far the Government have not yet tabled the money resolution that would allow it to go into Committee. Will the Leader of the House please commit this afternoon to tabling it by the end of business tomorrow?
I will seek to open tomorrow’s debate and much of what I will say will be updated following the events of the Scotland referendum and comprise the Government’s response to those issues. Given that the situation has changed considerably, even since the McKay report was produced, it would be right for us to take stock of opinion in the whole House and for us all to be able to express our views.
May I thank the Leader of the House for responding so positively to my request for a full day’s debate tomorrow? Does he agree that the debate has to be about the solemn vow, promise and guarantee made by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition? The people of Scotland will be appalled if the debate is hijacked by English Members of Parliament making it about English votes for English laws. Should it not be the Prime Minister who stands at the Dispatch Box tomorrow in order to look the Scottish people in the eye and tell them that the vow will be honoured without condition, caveat or any reference to any other external issue?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that all three leaders of the pro-Union UK parties have made it very clear that the commitments will be honoured. He should not go about his business by trying to frighten the people of Scotland into thinking that they will not honoured when all of the political parties are absolutely determined that they will be. My right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary will make a statement later about the Scottish issues, but let me make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that tomorrow’s debate is for all Members in the United Kingdom. It is about the consequences for Wales, Northern Ireland and England as well as for Scotland, and that is entirely appropriate in the United Kingdom Parliament.
Of course, the debate will primarily be about what the House will make it about, but this is about the whole of the United Kingdom following the Scotland referendum. Therefore, it is a debate for all Members, including those who wish to raise the vital issue of English votes for English laws, as it has become known.
Will the Leader of the House assure the 55.3% of the people who voted to keep the Union that his committee will not do anything further to threaten the Union, including changing the franchise for UK Members of Parliament from Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman and I support the 55.3% and, indeed, the Union being able to work successfully, not just for them but for everyone in Scotland. For the great majority of us, all of our business should very much be about strengthening the United Kingdom, but the hon. Gentleman should not think that strengthening the United Kingdom will be achieved by indifference or insensitivity to the needs of other parts of it. This is a matter of fairness for the whole United Kingdom.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that tomorrow’s debate will be not only for those who represent the 45% who wanted independence for Scotland and the 55% who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, but for those who represent the 85% of the population of the United Kingdom who want to see English votes for English laws?
As the questions go on, we are beginning to have tomorrow’s debate. It will be an opportunity to discuss all of those issues, including, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, views about the governance of England as well as of the rest of the United Kingdom.
That may well be a topic of debate tomorrow. That is why we are having the debate, so that such issues can be aired and all points of view can be put. Many of us would emphasise that fairness to all parts of the United Kingdom, including the voters of England, is a necessary part of keeping the United Kingdom together.
Although I understand the import of debating the Command Paper and the new devolution settlement, the Leader of the House is effectively replacing a day’s debate on a major Government Bill on the recall of MPs with an admittedly important but general debate. Would it not have been better to replace Thursday’s Backbench Business day with the Scottish debate, thus not only preserving the Government’s legislative timetable this week, but advancing Scottish and English issues?
I try, whenever possible, not to remove the days selected by the Backbench Business Committee. I have announced that the Second Reading of the Recall of MPs Bill will take place a week tomorrow—just one week later than intended, so the Government’s legislative programme will remain on track—while also facilitating the debate tomorrow.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the Government’s response to the Ebola epidemic in west Africa.
I shall start with the chief medical officer’s assessment of the current situation in the affected countries. As of today, there have been 4,033 confirmed deaths and 8,399 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola recorded in seven countries, although widespread transmission is confined to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The number is doubling every three to four weeks. The United Nations has declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.
The Government’s first priority is the safety of the British people. Playing our part in halting the rise of the disease in west Africa is the single most important way of preventing Ebola from infecting people in the UK, so I would like to start by paying tribute to the courage of all those involved in this effort, including military, public health, development and diplomatic staff. I would particularly like to commend the 659 NHS front-line staff and the 130 Public Health England staff who have volunteered to go out to Sierra Leone to help our efforts on the ground. You are the best of our country and we are deeply proud of your service.
Among the three most affected countries, the UK has taken particular responsibility for Sierra Leone, with the US leading on Liberia and France focusing on Guinea. British military medics and engineers began work in August on a 92-bed Ebola treatment facility in Kerry Town, including 12 beds for international health workers. In total we will support more than 700 beds across the country, more than tripling Sierra Leone’s capability. With the World Health Organisation, we are training more than 120 health workers a week and piloting a new community approach to Ebola care to reduce and, hopefully, stop the transmission rate. We are also building and providing laboratory services and supporting an information campaign in-country.
We are now deploying the Royal Navy’s RFA Argus and its Merlin helicopters along with highly skilled military personnel, bringing our military deployment to 750. They will support the construction of the Kerry Town Ebola treatment centre and other facilities, provide logistics and planning support, and help establish and staff a World Health Organisation-led Ebola training facility to increase training for health workers.
Taken together, the UK contribution stands at £125 million, plus invaluable human expertise: that is the second highest bilateral contribution after the US’s. However, we do need other countries to do more to complement our efforts and those of the US and France. On 2 October, the Foreign Secretary held an international conference on defeating Ebola in Sierra Leone during which more than £100 million and hundreds of additional health care workers were pledged.
I now move on to the risks to the general public in the UK. The chief medical officer, who takes advice from Public Health England and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, has this morning confirmed that it is likely that we will see a case of Ebola in the UK. This could be a handful of cases over the next three months. She confirms that the public health risk in the UK remains low and that measures currently in place, including exit screening in all three affected countries, offer the correct level of protection. However, while the response to global health emergencies should always be proportionate, she also advises the Government to make preparations for a possible increase in the risk level. I can today announce that the following additional measures will take place.
On screening and monitoring, rapid access to health care services for anyone who may be infected with Ebola is important not only for their own health, but to reduce the risk of transmission to others. Although there are no direct flights from the affected region, there are indirect routes into the UK, so next week Public Health England will start screening and monitoring UK-bound air passengers identified by the Border Force as coming in on the main routes from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. This will allow potential Ebola virus carriers arriving in the UK to be identified, tracked and given rapid access to expert health advice should they develop symptoms. These measures will start tomorrow at Heathrow terminal 1, which receives about 85% of all such arrivals across the whole airport. By the end of next week, they will be expanded to other terminals at Heathrow and Gatwick, and to the Eurostar, which connects to Paris and Brussels-bound arrivals from west Africa.
Passengers will have their temperature taken and will complete a questionnaire about their current health, their recent travel history and whether they might be at potential risk through contact with Ebola patients. They will also be required to provide contact details. If neither the questionnaire nor the temperature reading raises any concerns, passengers will be told how to make contact with the NHS should they develop Ebola symptoms within the 21-day incubation period, and allowed to continue on their journey. It is important to stress that a person with Ebola is infectious only if they are displaying symptoms. Any passenger who reports recent exposure to people who may have Ebola or symptoms, and any passenger who has a raised temperature will undergo a clinical assessment and, if necessary, be transferred to hospital. Passengers identified as having any level of increased risk of Ebola but without any symptoms, will be given a Public Health England contact number to call should they develop any symptoms consistent with Ebola within the 21-day incubation period. Higher risk individuals will be contacted daily by PHE. Should they develop symptoms, they will have the reassurance of knowing that this system will get them first-class medical care—as the NHS demonstrated with nurse William Pooley—and the best possible chance of survival.
We expect these measures to reach 89% of the travellers we know have come to the UK from the affected region on tickets booked directly through to the UK, but it is important to note that no screening and monitoring procedure can identify 100% of people arriving from Ebola-affected countries, not least because some passengers leaving those countries will not be ticketed directly through to the UK. Today, I can therefore announce that the Government, working with the devolved Administrations, will ensure that highly visible information is displayed at all entry points to the UK, asking passengers, in their own best interests, to identify themselves if they have travelled to the affected region in the past 21 days. This information for travellers will be available by the end of this week.
We are taking other important measures. We tested operational resilience with the comprehensive exercise that took place on Saturday, which modelled cases in London and the north-east of England. Local emergency services across England will hold their own exercises this week and share lessons learned. It is vital that the right decisions on Ebola are made following any first contact with the NHS, so we have put in place a process for all call handlers on NHS 111 to ask people who report respiratory symptoms about their recent travel history so that appropriate help can be given to higher risk patients as quickly as possible. During recent months, the chief medical officer has issued a series of alerts to doctors, nurses and pharmacists setting out what to do when someone presents with relevant symptoms. We will also send out guidance to hospital and GP receptionists.
The international profile of the UK as a favoured destination inevitably increases the risk that someone with Ebola will arrive here so, working closely with the devolved Administrations, a great deal of planning has gone into procedures for dealing with potential Ebola patients in the UK. All ambulances are equipped with personal protective equipment. If a patient is suspected of having Ebola, they will be transported to the nearest hospital and put in an isolation room. A blood sample will be sent to Public Health England’s specialist laboratory for rapid testing. If they test positive for Ebola, they will be transferred to the Royal Free hospital in north London, which is the UK’s specialist centre for treating the most dangerous infectious diseases. We also have plans to surge Ebola bed capacity in Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield, making a total of 26 beds available in the UK.
I will always follow medical advice on whether any measures that we adopt are likely to be effective and are a proportionate response to the risk. However, I believe that we are among the best and most prepared countries in the world.
Lastly, we are harnessing the UK’s expertise in life sciences to counter the threat from Ebola. The UK Government, alongside the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, have co-funded clinical trials of a potential vaccine, which might be pivotal in the prevention effort. We are working actively with international partners to explore how we might appropriately make further vaccine available.
We should remember that the international community has shown that if we act decisively, we can defeat serious new infectious disease threats such as SARS and pandemic flu. The situation will get worse before it gets better, but we should not flinch in our resolve to defeat Ebola both for the safety of the British population and as part of our responsibility to some of the poorest countries on the planet. Our response will continue to develop in the weeks and months to come, guided by advice from the chief medical officer, Public Health England and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement and commend him for making it at the first opportunity.
We have all been horrified by the devastating scenes from west Africa and our hearts go out to the communities that are confronting this threat on a daily basis. Public concern about Ebola is rising here and it is important that people have reliable facts and regular updates.
There are parallels between the current situation and the 2009 swine flu pandemic with which I dealt. I was grateful for the helpful approach of the then Opposition, particularly the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), and I aim to provide the Secretary of State with the same approach. However, we do have a role in scrutinising the Government’s approach and I will do that today in a constructive spirit.
I echo the Secretary of State’s tribute to the many NHS staff, Public Health England staff and members of the armed forces who have helped on the ground in west Africa. We have a duty to protect them in any way we can. I want to start with the advice that is given to those who are treating people with the disease. People will be worried by the reports of a second case of Ebola in a health worker, this time in Dallas. We have seen protests in Spain by clinical staff who feel that a colleague has been unfairly exposed to infection. In the light of that, will the Secretary of State say whether he has confidence in the official advice that is being given to those who are treating the disease, and whether it needs to be reviewed?
Let me turn to the risk to the public here. The Secretary of State says that it remains low and the chief medical officer predicts a handful of cases. A handful is not a very scientific term. Will he be more precise and give the House the full range of figures that the advisory group has considered, including the worst case scenario? I recall agonising over whether to publish the official predictions for swine flu and about the risk of worrying the public unnecessarily. However, I think that the public interest lies in openness. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is planning for the worst case scenario, so that there is no sense of complacency?
Let me turn to our preparedness to deal with an outbreak. There has been confusion about screening at point of entry. Last Thursday, the Department of Health said:
“Entry screening in the UK is not recommended by the World Health Organization, and there are no plans to introduce entry screening for Ebola in the UK.”
Screening was also ruled out by the Secretary of State for Defence. However, just 24 hours later, we were told that screening was to be introduced. Will the right hon. Gentleman say what prompted that about-turn? What official advice has he received from the chief medical officer and Public Health England on entry screening? Based on the science, do they think that it is necessary? Do the arrangements he has announced for temperature checks fully comply with that advice?
As there are currently no direct flights from the affected countries, will the Secretary of State say exactly who will be screened? Will it be all arrivals from those countries? How many people a day or week do we expect that to be, and how will they be identified? Have front-line Border Force staff been properly briefed about what is expected of them, and are they being trained in what to look for and in screening procedures? Why is there only partial coverage of ports of entry? What about sea ports and other UK airports? Will he say where the checks will take place on Eurostar, given that it stops at a number of places en route to London?
On the exercise this weekend, as the Secretary of State will know, a patient was transferred from Newcastle where there are beds in negative pressure isolation units to the Royal Free hospital, which has Trexler isolators. Do the Government believe that Ebola is better handled in Trexler beds, and is the Secretary of State satisfied that the two NHS beds—both at the Royal Free—are sufficient? Given that in addition to the two Trexler beds there are already 24 negative pressure isolation beds, which make up the 26 beds he referred to, will he say what he means by “surge Ebola bed capacity”? If it becomes necessary to treat Ebola cases more widely in isolation beds, is he satisfied that there is adequate provision across England? Is he satisfied that all relevant NHS staff, including GPs, ambulance and 111 staff, know how to identify Ebola, the precautions to take in any potential presentation, and the protocols for handling it? He mentioned symptoms a few times in his statement. For the public watching this statement, will he tell the House simply what those symptoms are?
On treatment, the British nurse who was successfully treated here was offered and took an experimental medication called ZMapp. Will it be standard practice to offer all affected patients ZMapp, and if so, are there sufficient supplies in the NHS to do that? The Secretary of State rightly focused on a vaccine, which would of course be the best reassurance we could give the public. During the swine flu pandemic, huge effort went into compressing the timetable for the development of a vaccine. Is he confident that everything that can be done is being done to speed that up?
Finally, as the Secretary of State said, the best way to protect people here is to stop Ebola at source. The UK has rightly pledged £125 million to assist Sierra Leone, but with cases doubling every three to four weeks there is wide agreement that the response of the wider international community has been slow and inadequate. The window to halt Ebola before it runs out of control altogether is closing fast. What assessment has been made of the resilience of neighbouring countries such as Guinea and Liberia, and what help is being offered to them? The International Development Committee report was clear that the lack of proper health coverage allowed the outbreak to grow unchecked for so long. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that improving global health systems is the best way to prevent these outbreaks, or at least ensure that they are caught before they get out of control? Many countries support placing universal health coverage at the centre of global development, yet the UK is currently opposing such plans at the UN. Will he say a little more about the Government’s position on that, and whether they are prepared to reconsider it in the light of recent events? Knowing from my experience how difficult these situations are, I assure the Secretary of State that the offer of help is genuine, but on behalf of the House I ask him for regular updates and maximum openness in the weeks and months to come.
I thank the shadow Health Secretary for the constructive tone of his comments. That is totally appropriate and I am grateful. I will start with the point on which he finished, because the most crucial thing we can do to protect the UK population is deal with the disease at source and contain it in west Africa. That is why I am working extremely closely with the International Development Secretary, and she is working closely with me because the role of NHS volunteers is important. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the initial international response has focused on taking the three worst affected countries and giving them a partner country in the developed world to help them—we are helping Sierra Leone, America is helping Liberia, and France is helping Guinea.
That has worked up to a point, but we need more help from the rest of the international community. I had a conversation earlier today with US Health Secretary Burwell. We talked about a co-ordinated international response for the whole of west Africa, because we will not defeat this disease if we operate in silos. We need to recognise that this disease does not recognise international boundaries; the right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to make that point.
Let me try to give the right hon. Gentleman some of the information he requested. First, he is absolutely right to raise the issue of the protection of health workers. That has to be our No. 1 priority both here in the UK and abroad. That is why we are building a dedicated 12-bed facility in Sierra Leone that will give the highest standards of care, equivalent to NHS standards of care, for health care workers taking part in the international effort to contain the disease there. That is also very relevant to health care workers here: events in both Spain and the US will have caused great concern.
I am satisfied that the official advice to health care workers is correct. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, the US equivalent of Public Health England, believes that breaches in protocol led to the infection of the US nurse—the case we have seen in the media recently—but it is investigating that. The advice is always kept under review and if that advice changes we would, of course, respect that. It is important that we follow the scientific advice we have, but that the scientists themselves keep an open mind on the basis of new evidence as it emerges. I know that they are doing that.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the full range of figures. He is absolutely right to say that we will maintain public confidence in the handling of this by being totally open about what we know. The reason we have stuck carefully to the formula of “a handful of cases” is because it is genuinely very difficult to predict an accurate exact number. Let me say this: we would not have used the formula of “a handful of cases” if we thought that the number of cases over the next three months would reach double figures. However, it is also important to say that that was a current assessment. That assessment may change on the basis of the evidence. I will, of course, keep the House informed if it does change.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about screening. It is important to deal with a misunderstanding. Why did the policy change on Thursday? The answer is that it changed because the clinical advice from the chief medical officer changed on Thursday. Her advice changed not on the basis that the risk level in the UK had changed—she still considers it to be low—but because she said that we should prepare for the risk level going up. That is why we started to put in place measures, but they are not measures primarily intended to pick up people arriving in the UK who are displaying symptoms of Ebola. We think that most of those people should be prevented from flying in the first place. The measures are designed to identify people who may be at risk within the incubation period of developing the disease, so that we can track them and make sure they get access to the right medical care quickly.
As I mentioned, we think we will reach 89% of people arriving in the UK from the affected countries. We will continue to review that. If the numbers increase and the risk level justifies it, we have contingency plans to expand the screening, for example to Birmingham and Manchester. The reason we have included Eurostar at this early stage is because there are direct flights from those three countries to Paris and Brussels, from where it is easy to connect to Eurostar. We will use the tracking system for people who are ticketed directly through to the UK in order to identify, where we can, people who then independently get a Eurostar ticket. It is important to say that because they are changing the mode of transport in Paris and Brussels, tracking is not as robust as it would be for people taking a direct flight to the UK. We will not be able to identify everyone, which is why we need to win the support of people arriving in the UK from those countries, so that they self-present, in their own interest, to give us the best possible chance of helping them if they start contracting symptoms.
I am satisfied that the Trexler beds and the negative isolation rooms are safe both for health care workers and in preventing onward transmission. They use different systems—one of them is a tented system and the other is based on people wearing personal protective equipment —but I am satisfied that both of them are safe. I will continue to take advice on that. It is very important that ambulance staff know that someone is a potential Ebola case, so that they wear the PP equipment.
As we will not be able to identify everyone who comes from the affected countries, it is important that the 111 service knows to ask people exhibiting the symptoms of Ebola whether they have travelled to those affected areas. The right hon. Gentleman asked what those symptoms are. They are essentially flu-like symptoms, but they are not dissimilar to the symptoms someone might exhibit if they had, for example, malaria. That is why it is important to ask for people’s travel history and whether they have had or may have had contact with people who have had Ebola, in order to identify the risk level.
We would like to continue using ZMapp for people in the UK who contract the disease, but that is subject to international availability. It might not be possible to get it for everyone, because there is such high international demand, but we will certainly try.
In terms of the development of a vaccine, we are doing everything we can to work with GSK to bring forward the date when a vaccine is available. Indeed, we are considering potentially giving indemnities if the full clinical trials have not been conducted.
May I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and pay tribute to all the staff who are giving him professional detailed scientific advice? I join him in paying tribute to all the NHS personnel, our forces personnel and diplomatic staff putting their own lives at risk in west Africa.
I am particularly pleased to hear that those individuals returning to the UK or coming to the UK from west Africa will be able to access support in a timely manner and in a manner that does not put other individuals at risk in crowded health care settings. Will the Secretary of State say more about the testing arrangements, which I hear are going to be at Porton Down? Does he have any plans to make further testing centres available so that testing can happen more rapidly?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments and her support for the statement. I want to pay particular tribute to the chief medical officer and Dr Paul Cosford at Public Health England, who have done an enormous amount to make sure we develop the right policies, which are both proportionate and enable us to prepare for the future. The Government are hugely grateful for their contribution.
We are satisfied that the testing arrangements at the PHE facility at Porton Down are adequate to the level of risk, but one of the reasons why I wanted to announce to the House the current estimate of the number of Ebola cases we are dealing with in the UK was to make the point that we will continually keep those arrangements under review should the situation change. We need to recognise in a fast-moving situation such as this that it might well change, and I will keep the House updated, but in such situations the resilience of all those very important parts of the process will be checked.
In May the Government announced the closure of the health control unit at Heathrow airport in my constituency. It contained the staff who undertook the monitoring, screening and treatment of passengers who were sick. I believe many of those staff have now been made redundant, so can the Secretary of State tell me what the staffing arrangements will now be at Heathrow airport? Also, will a training programme be developed for airport staff themselves, including cabin crew and others?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. In terms of the staffing arrangements, a total of about 200 people will be employed in the screening process, working at both Heathrow and Gatwick airports in the hours when they are open, and potentially at other airports if we expand the screening. It is a comprehensive facility.
The hon. Gentleman’s most important point is that we must make sure that those who might come into contact with people who might have Ebola—airport staff and people working on aeroplanes, and people working at receptions at GPs’ surgeries, at A and E departments and at hospitals—have basic information about how the virus spreads, so that we can avoid any situations of panic. The virus is transmitted through exchange of bodily fluids. It is not an airborne virus, so it is not transmitted as easily as something like swine flu. The advice is that those doing physical examinations of patients need to wear the protective equipment, but that that is not necessary when having a conversation with a patient, for example. That advice will always be kept under review, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we need to make sure everyone knows that advice.
The work that the British Government have done in Sierra Leone and Liberia to build health systems has been extremely important, but those systems were clearly inadequately developed to cope with this kind of problem. I welcome the joined-up thinking across government, but will the Secretary of State give me an assurance that the legacy of this situation will be not only that we have contained Ebola but that we have built health systems in those countries that are capable of dealing with future outbreaks? The long-term legacy must be stronger health systems, as well as the protection of British citizens, which is of course important.
I remember working with the right hon. Gentleman on the International Development Select Committee many years ago, when we had many conversations about strengthening the resilience of local health care systems. He is absolutely right to say that that must be our long-term goal, and I will ask the Secretary of State for International Development to write to him to explain how our efforts in Sierra Leone will help to strengthen its local health care system in the long run. The simple point I would make is that this illustrates the dual purpose of our aid budget more powerfully than any example I can remember. First, our aid budget gives humanitarian assistance to some of the poorest countries in the world and, secondly, it protects the population at home in the UK. Those two aims go hand in hand.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and I appreciate having been given an advance copy of it. He mentioned the devolved regions. First, will he tell us which Minister in Northern Ireland will take personal responsibility for this matter? Secondly, he will know that the main point of entry for potential victims of this terrible disease is the Republic of Ireland. What special measures are being put in place to stop people using those points of entry to travel from the Republic to Northern Ireland when there are no apparent protective measures in place?
The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), has been in touch with Jim Wells in the Northern Ireland Assembly and she will take up that issue. The broader point that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) makes is that there are many points of entry into the UK, and it is important for us to recognise that our screening and monitoring process will not catch absolutely everyone who comes from the affected regions. That is why we need to have other plans in place, such as the 111 service, and to have encouragement at every border entry point for people to self-present so that we can protect them better, should they develop symptoms.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement to the House, and I am also grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for what he said. All Members share the Secretary of State’s admiration for the staff of the NHS and Public Health England who are assisting in the front-line treatment and care of those in west Africa. In that context, he is right to try to tackle the virus in west Africa, but this is not just about the availability of much better treatment facilities; it is also about working in the community in short order to try to stem the continuing transmission of the disease. Work has clearly been done on that; will he tell us how we might scale it up?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I discussed this with United States Secretary Burwell today. The US is piloting a programme in Liberia, and we are doing the same thing in Sierra Leone. We are both providing the same response, which is to tackle the disease at source. We know that, if we can get 70% of the people who develop Ebola symptoms into treatment and care, we will contain the disease. At the moment, the disease is replicating at a rate of 1.7, which means that every 10 people infected are going on to infect another 17 people. That is why the virus is spreading so fast, and we can halt it only if we get people into treatment very rapidly. Community treatment centres are therefore an important part of the Department for International Development’s strategy to help to contain the virus, and that is why we are supporting the development of 700 beds in Sierra Leone.
May I beg the Secretary of State to work across Europe and all the countries that can help? I have a daughter who has just returned from west Africa and she has reported to me and the family that the situation is critical—it is desperate. There is a lack of any kind of facility to control this disease. Parents are dying, leaving children with nobody to care for them. The situation is very grave, so will he redouble his efforts to persuade Europe, the World Health Organisation, the UN—all of us—to do something more significant and to do it now?
The hon. Gentleman speaks movingly and well about the incredible gravity of the situation, and he rightly says that we need full international support on it. In such a situation there are a number of things we are much better tackling as part of an international effort; we are very proud of our 659 NHS volunteers, but volunteers from the whole of Europe could go out and play a part. They need reassurance that they will be safe if they end up contracting the virus, because the truth is that there is no 100% guarantee of safety, even for people who follow the correct procedures—that is why these people are so brave. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in what he says, and I reassure him that that is exactly the conversation I have been having with international colleagues: we do need a co-ordinated effort.
We are doing that already: we have made a commitment of 750 military personnel, who will be going to the affected region to help; we have military engineers helping to build the 92-bed facility in Kerry Town; and Royal Fleet Auxiliary Argus is on the way to Sierra Leone. We are tapping into that expertise, and it has a vital role to play.
Following on from the question put by my colleague from Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), clearly the nearest hospital to Scotland with provision is in Newcastle. Who is the responsible person with whom the Secretary of State has been working in Scotland? What arrangements are taking priority in Scottish towns, because someone who has 21 days to travel in the UK might not wish to stay in England alone?
The hon. Gentleman is right in what he says. This morning, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary spoke to Alex Neil, the Scottish health Minister, and on Wednesday we will have a Cobra meeting with the devolved Administrations to test how resilient the structures are between the constituent parts of the UK. That is a very important part of our effort.
Perhaps I should declare a non-pecuniary interest, Mr Speaker, as my wife works for Public Health England. I join the Secretary of State in applauding all of her colleagues and the others who are putting themselves in harm’s way in the front-line battle against Ebola. Given his predecessor’s reorganisation of the NHS and of public health, does the Secretary of State need to check whether there are now sufficient local directors of public health in post and whether they have sufficient resources, qualified staff and seniority within local authorities to take a local lead, should that be necessary, in the fight against Ebola?
I do not know whether the Secretary of State has any plans to speak to the hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell), but if he does will he ask him why he now supports a party that would decimate the UK’s aid budget? Does the Secretary of State, like me, feel a great sense of pride in being part of a family of nations whose aid budget is saving lives in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and, in turn, keeping people in the UK safe?
The hon. Lady speaks extremely wisely and there is cross-party agreement on that matter. That shows why it is so wrong to make an artificial division between helping people abroad and helping people at home. I think we have a moral responsibility to help people in the poorest countries abroad in any case, but in my time in this House there has been no better example than this one of how doing so is in the interests of people in the UK, too. It helps to make us more secure, and we can be incredibly proud of the work we are doing as a result.
The Secretary of State has spoken about multiple points of entry, and major connection points are via Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle, Madrid and Frankfurt. Has he spoken to his opposite numbers in those countries to see whether they are following the best practice that is being rolled out in the United Kingdom? Will he ensure that those who are manning the points of entry in the UK have the ability to deal with children, because if a parent is detected with symptoms, their children will have to be properly looked after?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am sure that those arrangements are already in place, but I will ensure that they are. Yes, we are in touch with colleagues in other countries. It is important to say that there are only a very few direct flights to Europe from the affected region, and indeed there are none to the UK. At the moment, it is possible to be fairly confident that we will reach the vast majority of people who come from those affected areas. But part of what I am trying to convey in this afternoon’s statement is that the risk level could change—for example, there could be a breakdown in public order in the affected countries—which is why we need to be prepared for a much more porous situation, with people coming from many different points of entry.
Is the Secretary of State talking to our universities, as a number of them must have overseas students from west Africa returning for their studies in October? Is he focusing on them in particular, and what provisions are we making to cater for them?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. Clearly, it is important that anyone who comes from those countries, whether a student or a visitor, is treated with the same screening and monitoring process. Screening and monitoring people simply on the basis of their passport would not work. There will be people who have indefinite leave to remain in the UK but who have a Sierra Leonean passport, and it would not be appropriate to put them through that process. It is most important that we have a system in place in which we can check and find out who has been to the Ebola-affected areas in the past three weeks, so that we can give them help if they need it.
My right hon. Friend has given details of plans for extra Ebola bed capacity in regional centres such as Sheffield. Will he confirm that those regional centres will be used alongside the Royal Free hospital in London, or will they be used only when capacity there has been reached?
Essentially, the plan is to start with the Royal Free, which has capacity to go from two beds to four. Then we have six beds available in Newcastle and Liverpool and two beds available in Sheffield. Following that we can further expand capacity at the Royal Free.
Will the Secretary of State ensure that British citizens fleeing Ebola-affected countries are not left destitute and homeless? My constituents Mr and Mrs Mahmood have been working in Sierra Leone for the past four years. When they returned, they were told that they were not eligible for income-based jobseeker’s allowance or housing benefit. Will the Secretary of State speak to his counterparts at the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that no British citizen is left in such a state when they have to flee a country that is affected by Ebola?
A systemic lacuna in the Government’s proposals relates to the lack of monitoring of lower-risk travellers. Will the Secretary of State consider having daily contacts with such travellers on the basis that identifying erroneous risk assessments at the first stage is the key to bringing things under control in the interests of the travellers as well?
The judgment on how effective we are at identifying higher-risk passengers must be made by the scientists and the doctors involved. Their view is that we are currently going further than we need to given the current risk level, but that it is prudent to do what we are doing because that risk level might increase. I will always listen to their advice.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement on Ebola. Given that one of the busiest air routes within these islands is that between London and Dublin—the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) has already referred to the role of the Republic of Ireland—will he outline what discussions have taken place between him and his officials and the Minister for Health and his officials in the Republic of Ireland?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, has been in contact with the Northern Ireland Health Minister, and we will pursue discussions with the Republic of Ireland. Although the hon. Lady’s concern is legitimate and it is right that she has asked the question, it is important to say that the current assessment is that the risk level to the UK is low. I would imagine that the risk level in Ireland is similarly low, but that is ultimately a matter for the Irish authorities. At the moment, we are following a precautionary process just in case the risk level increases. We will of course involve colleagues in the Irish Republic in our assessment of those risks.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend is focusing on the protection of health care workers in the vital work he is taking forward. Given that lessons are still being learned from cases in Texas and Madrid, what mechanisms are in place to update procedures when any new findings are brought into the public domain?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that what happened in Dallas is of great concern. We need to listen to our colleagues in the Centre for Disease Control in the US as they try to understand exactly what happened. If they decide that we need to change the protocols for protecting health care workers, we will of course take that advice extremely seriously. At the moment, their scientific assessment is that there was a breach in protocol, not that the protocols were wrong. Until we identify what those breaches were, we cannot be 100% sure. We are working very closely with them and we have a good and close working relationship. We will update our advice to UK health care workers accordingly.
I thank the Secretary of State for the answers he has given so far, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) asked whether he was satisfied that all relevant NHS staff, including all GPs, know how to identify Ebola, know the precautions to take with patients presenting, and know the protocols for handling Ebola. I did not get a sense from the Secretary of State’s reply of how complete that knowledge is. He has talked a lot about receptionists, and that is important as they are in the front line of risk, but hospital cleaning staff and cleaning staff in GP practices are also at risk if such patients present.
The hon. Lady makes an important point, but I reiterate the point I made earlier to another hon. Member. The risk level to the UK general population remains low, so the measures we are taking are precautionary because of a possible increase in that risk level. As part of that, we are sending advice to everyone we think might be in contact with anyone who says that they have recently travelled to the Ebola-affected areas and who displays those symptoms. That is why alerts have gone out to hospitals, GP surgeries and ambulance services to ensure that they know the signs to look for and are equipped with that important advice.
To cross a typical western international border illegally, one needs a passport and passports are meant to have stamps in them. What steps are we taking with the seven most affected west African countries to ensure that they stamp the passports of people who go into and leave those countries so that we can readily identify the stamps in their passports should they come to the UK? What extra resources is Border Force putting into checking the stamps in people’s passports when they come to the United Kingdom?
I will get back to my hon. Friend with the exact details of what is happening with passport stamps, but I reassure him that we are working very closely with Border Force officials and we have a high degree of confidence that we will be able to identify the vast majority of people who travel from the most directly affected countries within the recent incubation period of the virus. It is important to remember that that incubation period is 21 days, so we are looking at the previous three weeks. We have a high degree of confidence, but I will get my hon. Friend information on whether passport stamps could be an additional source of security.
I join others in congratulating the Secretary of State on initiating screening, as he did on Thursday. That is the right approach, as is targeting it at certain ports. As he knows, viruses do not wait for direct flights and it is extremely important that there is a synergy between our screening processes and those of Sierra Leone and other west African countries. Did we supply the screening equipment, and if we did not, is he satisfied that it is fit for purpose? The same goes for the screening in other hubs throughout Europe.
We have absolutely checked the screening equipment that is being used in those three countries, and in Sierra Leone, which is our more direct responsibility, that is being done by Public Health England officials. The reports that we are getting back say that people are checked not just once, but several times. It is really important to say that the main purpose of the screening that we are introducing—I call it screening and monitoring, rather than screening—is to identify passengers who may be at higher risk. We are not particularly expecting to identify people showing symptoms because they should have been prevented from leaving the country in the first place, but we want to keep tabs on them while they are in the UK, in their own interests, and that is the purpose of the process.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Given the large number of languages in use in that part of west Africa and the consequent practical difficulties in producing notices and posters that travellers can actually read for the purposes of self-presenting, may I ask my right hon. Friend in what circumstances he would reconsider the decision not to introduce the screening and monitoring of passengers arriving at Manchester airport?
We have not yet made a decision on Birmingham and Manchester, and we will continue to review the risk advice from the chief medical officer and PHE on whether such action would be appropriate. It is important to say that the measures we take must be proportionate, but they must also look forward to potential changes in the risk, so that we can react very quickly were that risk to increase dramatically, and that is exactly what we are doing at other UK airports.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for the support given to health services in west Africa, but does he not agree that this terrible time shows the massive health inequalities that exist all around the world and that, although there will be a big international effort to deal with Ebola, it calls into question the effectiveness of the millennium goals on preventive health measures, not just in west Africa, but in a much wider sense? Do we not need to redouble our efforts to reduce health inequalities around the world for the protection of everyone?
The hon. Gentleman is right, although the millennium development goals have been successful in making a start on the process of reducing health inequalities. We can see that in other areas, such as the provision of antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive patients in Africa, and that has been completely transformed in the past decade. But he is right: while some countries have very underdeveloped health care systems, the risk of such public health emergencies is much higher and therefore the risk to the UK is higher.
I should like to echo the tributes paid to our NHS volunteers and to all health workers. Today of all days, it is important to recognise the sacrifices that they make. The Secretary of State has indicated that Newcastle’s Royal Victoria infirmary in my constituency is next in line after the Royal Free to receive Ebola victims. Will he say a little more about what measures are or will be in place for public awareness, training, equipment, staffing and basic hygiene procedures to enable that to happen?
I am happy to let the hon. Lady have full details of what is being planned at the RVI, which is an excellent hospital. It was one of the hospitals that was part of the exercise that we did on Saturday to test preparedness. In that exercise, we modelled what would happen if someone became sick and vomited in the Metro centre and was then transferred to the RVI. We modelled the decisions about whether they would be kept there or transferred to the Royal Free, and so on. I am very satisfied with the measures in place at that hospital, but I will happily send her the details.
I am one of a group of parliamentarians who returned from a visit to west Africa on Friday. We were quite surprised to be asked no questions about where we had travelled, and to be offered no screening at either the EU or UK border; I came back to Newcastle from Brussels. Will the Secretary of State reassure us that all regional airports will offer screening and advice to people who might be affected? Will he redouble his efforts, in partnership with other agencies, to stop the spread of this disease, which is devastating parts of west Africa?