House of Commons
Wednesday 24 June 2015
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Stormont House Agreement
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will first offer my condolences, and those of my colleagues in the Government, in relation to the tragedy that occurred in Berkeley which took the lives of five Irish students. The pain of that loss is felt across the UK and Ireland.
The Government are making progress on their obligations under the Stormont House agreement. We have legislated for corporation tax devolution and we expect to introduce a Bill soon on new structures on the past. I urge the Northern Ireland political parties to deliver on their side of the agreement, including welfare reform and passing a sustainable budget.
I would like to associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments.
Many young people in Northern Ireland have been given the opportunity to build a shared and integrated future through educational programmes for which there are substantial resources under the Stormont House agreement. Now that a waiting game is being played as the parties in Stormont must agree on other matters, will the Secretary of State update the House on the status of those initiatives?
An important part of the financial package offered by the UK Government under the Stormont House agreement includes £500 million to support shared and integrated education as a crucial means of building reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The financial package is of course contingent on the Stormont House agreement being implemented. The UK Government think this is one of the main reasons why we need to press ahead with the welfare provisions and the sustainable budget. It would be a huge setback for Northern Ireland to lose the rest of the Stormont House agreement, including the valuable funding for shared and integrated education.
I do agree. We are working hard and the Executive are making a degree of progress with a number of their obligations under the agreement, but it is vital that welfare reform, which was agreed in Stormont Castle and Stormont House, is implemented. It is a good deal for Northern Ireland. The reformed system provides real help for vulnerable people and rewards work. It is a better system than the one it replaces. Under Stormont Castle, the five political parties agreed top-ups from the block grant that would give Northern Ireland the most generous welfare system in the United Kingdom.
As has been mentioned, the Stormont House agreement contained a financial package of up to £2 billion of additional spending power for the Northern Ireland Executive. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that represented a substantial commitment by the Government to Northern Ireland which, should the agreement not be implemented, could be in jeopardy?
It would indeed be in jeopardy, which is one of the main reasons why it is very important for the Northern Ireland Executive to pass a budget that works. That will be impossible without the implementation of the welfare provisions. It is incumbent on every Administration worldwide to live within their means. The consequences of denying the deficit and spending money without regard to the consequences are extremely negative for front-line public services, which is why getting the Stormont House agreement back on track is essential if we are to continue to ensure public service provision is of high quality in Northern Ireland and vulnerable groups are protected.
Everyone in Northern Ireland and further afield agrees that the reason the Stormont House agreement is not being implemented is the failure of Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour party to live up to what they agreed back in December, and to implement what they agreed and signed up to. Will the Secretary of State accept that this is now costing Northern Ireland £2 million a week in terms of loss to the block grant? That is hitting vulnerable people, and imposing austerity and greater cuts, which those parties claim to be against. Does she accept that she must live up to her responsibilities and take action to ensure the agreement is implemented?
I agree that every day welfare reform is delayed and every day Sinn Féin and SDLP refuse to live up to their obligations under the Stormont House agreement costs the Northern Ireland Executive money. If the situation is not resolved soon, we will start to see a significant negative impact on Northern Ireland’s front-line services, because it will not have a sustainable or workable budget without Sinn Féin and SDLP living up to the commitments they undertook as part of the Stormont House agreement. I will continue to work to see that welfare reform is agreed and implemented, and the Government will consider all the options.
Given that we are now into the period running up to 12 July and beyond, does the Secretary of State accept that enormous efforts were made last year by community leaders and political parties to ensure peace and calm on the streets of Belfast and elsewhere? Since then, she has abandoned the only initiative that was in the offing to move things forward, and has not come up with an alternative. Will she undertake to look at the parades legislation? She has the responsibility for parading issues—it is not devolved—so will she come forward with proposals to move the situation forward and find a replacement for the current failed regime?
The best way to take forward reform of parades adjudication is, of course, through the Stormont House agreement. I understand that the Office of the Legislative Counsel has been preparing the options for which it was tasked, under the agreement, for reform of parades legislation. I hope that they will be published soon. Alongside others, I will take part in the debate about what a reformed system of parading would look like and how it would work. In the meantime, it is crucial for us all to work together to encourage a peaceful parading season, where determinations are obeyed and any protests and parades are both peaceful and lawful.
With regard to setting the budget and many other decisions that need to be taken, is not the fundamental problem that the Assembly and the Executive were designed for the very good reason of bringing people together, but that that does not make for an efficient decision-making body? What thought has the Secretary of State given to how we might move forward to a position in which the Assembly and the Executive can take decisions on a day-to-day basis?
These difficult decisions on living within one’s means are more challenging in a situation in which there is a broad coalition and multiple vetoes. Where there is the political will, however, it is perfectly possible for the Northern Ireland Executive to pass a sustainable budget and implement the Stormont House agreement. That is why it is very important for the two nationalist parties, Sinn Féin and the SDLP to live up to the undertakings they made. The Stormont House agreement was a good deal for Northern Ireland. It was rightly praised by Sinn Fein when it was agreed, and now it needs to get on and implement it.
Let me reassure the Secretary of State that the SDLP has lived up to, and will continue to live up to, every detail of its obligations. I would be very glad to discuss with her any of the details that she has not understood. Although the Stormont House agreement achieved much, it did not fully complete the circle of the many issues involved. Will she define the Government’s position with regard to the Stormont House agreement? Are they active participants for peace and progress, or are they neutral observers?
We are active participants for peace and progress. That is why we are fully engaged on our side of the Stormont House agreement and in encouraging the parties to live up to theirs. Obviously, a crucial part of the agreement is progress on dealing with the legacy of the past. That is another reason why I appeal to the hon. Gentleman and his party colleagues to unblock the questions about welfare so that we can press ahead with those institutions that his party championed during the Stormont House talks.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that in the event of the Stormont House and Stormont Castle agreements being implemented, the Northern Ireland Executive will operate a far more compassionate and generous benefit system than is available in the rest of the United Kingdom?
I believe that the welfare reforms introduced by this Government are the best ones for the whole of the United Kingdom. I believe it is crucial to replace a system that has failed and trapped people in poverty with one that rewards work and caps benefits. I believe that the top-ups agreed by the Northern Ireland parties at the Stormont Castle agreement produce a useful and helpful addition to match specific local circumstances.
Although we disagree with the Government on the bedroom tax and on their refusal to come clean on future benefit cuts, the Secretary of State is right to insist that these agreements are honoured without extra money from the Treasury. In the past, Northern Ireland’s leaders have earned great respect for making tough choices for peace. Does she agree that all parties must now accept that an affordable and sustainable welfare system is vital to securing financial and political stability in Northern Ireland?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments. It is crucial for the Northern Ireland Executive to find a way to live within their means. They are not being asked to do anything that Governments across the developed world have not had to grapple with over the last five years. Their block grant has gone up a little in cash terms and come down only by about 1% per year in real terms. It is deliverable; it is possible to do this. The Stormont House agreement delivers a good deal for Northern Ireland, including on welfare.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced that, from October, the national minimum wage will increase by 3% to £6.70 per hour, the largest real-terms increase since 2006. The Government are also committed to increasing the personal allowance to £12,500, and to ensuring that anyone who works at least 30 hours a week on the minimum wage pays no tax at all.
The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action has said that introducing the living wage would benefit 173,000 low-paid workers, giving them an average pay rise of £1,300 a year. What are the Government doing to help workers in Northern Ireland, which has the lowest private sector pay rates in the United Kingdom?
One of the best ways to help the low paid is to allow them to keep as much as possible of the money that they earn. The hon. Lady will be delighted to learn that, according to the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, average gross weekly earnings in Northern Ireland have increased by 10.2% over the past year. That is a whacking, massively great increase compared with the United Kingdom average of 1.7%. I am sure that the hon. Lady will be delighted to recognise that our long-term economic plan is working for the low paid in Northern Ireland.
I welcome the Minister—my neighbour—to his post, and hope that he will be successful in it.
One in five children in Northern Ireland lives in poverty. The Government are not really considering going back on their legal commitment to tackle child poverty, are they?
Like every previous Government, this Government have tried—and, in many instances, continued successfully—to deal with child poverty. Let me reiterate that one of the best ways of doing that is to make sure that works pays, and that people keep the money that they earn. To ensure that that happens, we have increased the personal tax allowance by 63% since 2010, from £6,475 to £10,600.
That absolutely is the key, and our long-term economic plan will deliver a rebalancing of the economy and new jobs. I am delighted to say that 40,000 more people are employed in Northern Ireland than was the case in May 2010. Giving people jobs is the fastest way out of poverty, and ensuring that the Northern Ireland economy converges with and improves alongside that of the rest of the United Kingdom is our No. 1 priority.
15. Some 89,000 working families in Northern Ireland receive an average of £4,000 a year from the child element of tax credit. How will the Minister help them to restore the money that they will lose when the Prime Minister implements his welfare cuts? (900439)
The best way to help those people is to ensure that there is an economy that allows them to work, rather than forcing them to rely on the benefits system. It is interesting to note that ours is the party that wants to give people a hand up, while the hon. Gentleman’s party seems to want to give them a handout.
I must not pre-empt job news which will be heard later today in Derry, and which will obviously be welcome in a city and region with high unemployment and a lower wage profile. Given that lower wage profile, however, are Northern Ireland Ministers discussing with their Treasury colleagues the possible implications of the changes that are afoot in relation to tax credits, not least the implications for cross-border workers?
We are, of course, always talking to the Treasury to ensure that Northern Ireland’s voice is heard and its special needs recognised. We are also working hard with the Northern Ireland parties to ensure that, should the Stormont House agreement be fully implemented, we can achieve the most competitive possible corporation tax in the rest of the United Kingdom in order to allow further inward investment.
I have regular discussions with Treasury Ministers, including the Chancellor. The Government are giving £2 billion of extra spending power to the Northern Ireland Executive under the Stormont House agreement.
I am glad to hear that Northern Ireland Ministers are having conversations with the Treasury, but will the Secretary of State and her Minister now act as persuaders on behalf of Northern Ireland, which would benefit from a reduced rate of VAT on tourism for the whole United Kingdom?
I know that is a matter of great importance to the hon. Lady and her party. The reality is that the Government have to act with caution when it comes to reductions in taxes. We have identified further increases to the income tax threshold as our priority, but no doubt the Chancellor will be able to share more information on those matters in his Budget.
I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that the last party that should be seeking additional fiscal flexibility for Northern Ireland is the SDLP, given the way in which it and Sinn Féin have put the budget in Northern Ireland in jeopardy. But will she spell out for us the implications for the budget of the financial mess that the refusal to implement the Stormont House agreement has made? What are the implications for the devolution of corporation tax, which has already been agreed?
The implications are very serious: if the welfare question is not resolved, it means that the pressure on the Northern Ireland Executive budget grows considerably and, ultimately, that the Executive will get to a point where they cannot pay their staff and bills, and front-line services will suffer as a result. Without resolving the welfare question, the prospects of corporation tax being devolved and reduced are remote.
Police Officers (Security)
The safety of police officers, and others who work tirelessly and with great courage to tackle the terrorist threat, is paramount. The Government are in regular contact with Executive Ministers, and the Secretary of State and I regularly meet the Chief Constable, the security services and the Minister of Justice to ensure that every effort is made to tackle the threat from violent dissidents.
The safety of police officers is critical. Recently, the Policing Board purchased Vauxhall Vectra cars, which are completely unsuitable for policing in west Belfast, Londonderry or south Armagh. Police officers—who have an average height of 5 feet 10 inches—with body armour and weapons cannot get into those cars in time if attacked, and nor can the Vauxhall Vectra be armoured. What discussions will the Minister have with the Policing Board to ensure that this issue is looked at again?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As someone who previously had to squeeze into armoured cars on the Falls Road, I know, and have full sympathy with, what it is like trying to get into such cars at speed. Procurement decisions are a matter for the Chief Constable, but I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point and am happy to raise his concerns directly with the Chief Constable when I next see him.
I am very curious to establish what criteria the Secretary of State uses to judge appeals by retired police officers who have had their personal protection weapons withdrawn. They feel increasingly vulnerable to attacks by dissident republicans.
Obviously we do not comment too much on intelligence matters, but from intelligence and information that we receive on individuals we take into account the threat to them. We regularly review applications, and when a threat increases, or a threat against an individual is demonstrated, we seek to do what we can to protect them.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I pay tribute to the outgoing Minister, the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), who has many friends in this House and made many friends in Northern Ireland? He is remembered with affection and respect. I welcome the new Minister, the fifth I have shadowed, to the Dispatch Box, and note that among them have been one Royal Navy surgeon and three former Army officers, all of whom wore their uniform with great distinction—much more than I did, although admittedly the opportunity for gallantry is limited for London Transport bus conductors.
Last year there were 550 twelfth of July parades and the vast majority went off peacefully. Does the Minister not agree that further reductions in the PSNI budget threaten the stability of the peace process, and will he make a statement?
Policing budgets are a matter for Stormont and the Northern Ireland Executive, and we are keen to see the current impasse move on so that they can make those decisions. To anyone in the parading environment, the Government’s message is that violence does not pay. It helps neither side resolve the issues, and we urge them as much as possible to work together to resolve the often long-held disputes over parading.
The political situation in Northern Ireland continues to be very difficult. It is essential that the current deadlock on welfare reform is resolved so that the Stormont House agreement can be implemented.
I think it does have a negative impact on the reputation of Northern Ireland. Of course it is crucial that we are all promoting Northern Ireland around the world as a great place in which to invest, and part of that is about ensuring we can deliver political stability. That is yet another reason why the Stormont House agreement needs to go ahead.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the current political impasse as a result of two parties failing to implement the Stormont House agreement is costing us about 50,000 private sector jobs, as corporation tax reductions and investment in the likes of the Ballykelly camp in my constituency are being held up?
There are the direct consequences that we have talked about before in terms of public finances and the effectiveness of the Executive, but the huge jobs boost that could come with corporation tax devolution is not going to be delivered unless a sustainable budget is settled and welfare reform is implemented.
The threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism continues to be severe. It is potentially lethal and it is enduring. It is being suppressed through the hard work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and MI5, but the need for a high state of vigilance remains.
I have just heard the Minister passing the buck on the cuts to the PSNI, but the situation in Northern Ireland goes on, with 171 bombings, shootings and paramilitary actions in the past year. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the PSNI has the resources it needs to meet this ongoing security situation?
The Government have provided £230 million in extra security funding for the PSNI. The primary responsibility for funding the PSNI rests with the Executive, but the Stormont House agreement contains a provision to seek to protect its budget. That is yet another reason why this welfare question must be settled; the PSNI is among other front-line services that will suffer directly if it is not and if the Executive start to run out of money because their budget is unworkable.
The residents of Randalstown, Ballyclare and Antrim in my patch are all suffering from the police cuts. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that if the Stormont House agreement—or the welfare agreement—does not happen, sufficient funding will be going through to ensure that we have enough police on the ground?
The security situation is one that we monitor at all times, and of course the security implications of the current political impasse will be an important part of our thinking in how we approach it. It is vital that this question is resolved. There is a question for Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour party: do they want to spend this money on a more expensive welfare system or do they want to fund front-line public services?
Belfast woman Maíria Cahill was raped by Martin Morris, with his crime being covered over by Padraic Wilson. Both those individuals’ trials have collapsed. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a worrying trend that legacy cases in Northern Ireland involving senior republicans are not resulting in convictions?
It is obviously not appropriate for me to comment on the outcome of a particular court case, but these events were very shocking. This is another reason why it is important to press ahead with the new structures on the past, including the Historical Investigations Unit and the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, which were agreed as part of the Stormont House agreement, because the current systems are not providing good enough outcomes for victims and survivors. Their interests should be at the heart of the actions of all of us in this House and in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Budget (Northern Ireland Executive)
The devolved institutions are responsible for setting a viable budget for Northern Ireland. Under the Stormont House agreement, the Government provided £2 billion of additional spending power to help deal with problems which are specific to Northern Ireland, such as addressing the legacy of its past.
I have an almost continuous round of meetings with the Northern Ireland political parties. I have a review meeting on the Stormont House agreement on Thursday, alongside Minister Flanagan from the Irish Republic. I will be doing everything I can to get the process back on the road, but, fundamentally, it is down to Sinn Féin and the SDLP to live up to the commitments they made under the Stormont House agreement.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland made great play in London at the weekend of how the vulnerable are hurting. Will she remind our Deputy First Minister that the vulnerable have been hurting while we have had an impasse over the Stormont House agreement, and they will continue to hurt should there not be any progress on the issue?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that taking an irresponsible approach to the public finances means that the people who really suffer are the most vulnerable in our community. That is why difficult decisions are needed in Stormont to ensure that a sustainable Budget is passed and that the Stormont House agreement is back on track.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House wishes to join me in celebrating Armed Forces Week. Our armed forces are the best in the world, and this week is an important opportunity to pause and reflect on their dedication and sacrifice in keeping the country safe.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I, too, welcome the Prime Minister’s comments about Armed Forces Week, and there is a major event in my constituency to mark the occasion. I thank him for agreeing to meet me and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) following the announcement yesterday of significant job losses by Young’s Seafood, which is the largest employer in the area. It is particularly disappointing after a run of good news. Much investment has been attracted with the help of the regional growth fund. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that additional help and support may be given to the area through the RGF. It is important to retain Young’s presence in the area.
First, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend. As he says, the recent reports surrounding Young’s are concerning, and I know that this will be a difficult time for employees and their families. The company will be talking to employees, and the Government stand ready to assist in any way they can. He is right that the broader picture is more positive. We have the Able UK Marine Energy Park creating up to 4,000 jobs, and also the Siemens’ project nearby, which is a major investment for the region. We will continue to provide support for the regional growth fund; 49 awards have been made in Yorkshire and the Humber area. We will keep up with that and with the long-term economic plan to create the jobs we need.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to our armed services, including the Reserves. We honour those who are serving today, and we remember the sacrifice of those who have served in the past. Let us never forget them when we think of the freedom and democracy that we have today. I also pay tribute to the families’ federations—the Army Families Federation, the Naval Families Federation, and the RAF Families Federation. The great work they do supporting service families contributes so much to the strength of our services.
We have all seen the chaotic scenes at Calais where British travellers and lorry drivers are facing harassment and intimidation as 3,000 migrants try to get illegally into the UK. The French should be assessing them as soon as they get to Calais to decide whether they are genuine refugees or migrant workers who should be removed. How confident is the Prime Minister that the French are going to start taking effective action? What is he doing to put pressure on them, and will he raise the matter at the EU Council this weekend?
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for what she said about forces’ families. She is absolutely right. This Saturday, when many of us will be attending Armed Forces Day celebrations and commemorations, is a moment to talk to those families and thank them for what they do when they are missing their loved ones.
The right hon. and learned Lady quite rightly asked about Calais. We have all been witnessing totally unacceptable scenes there over the past day. Of course, a key role was played by the strike that took place in France. She asked specifically about what should be done. Let me answer very clearly that of course we want to see migrants better documented and fingerprinted, but much of that needs to happen in Italy, where they land, rather than in France. There are three things on which we must act. First, we need to work with the French to achieve better security at Calais. We have already invested £12 million, and I am happy for us to do more if that is necessary. Secondly, we must work with our European partners to stop this problem at source—to break the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe. Thirdly, we must do more to ensure that Britain is a less easy place for illegal migrants to come to and work in, and that is what our Immigration Bill is all about.
The Prime Minister is right that the problem is the responsibility of the Italian authorities and the French authorities, but as he acknowledges, it is also about the security of our border at Calais. Can he say a bit more about what steps he has taken to strengthen security at the UK border in Calais?
The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right that the juxtaposed border controls on the French side are a good thing for our country, and we should be prepared to invest in them. That is what the £12 million has been about, but in talks with the Home Secretary this morning, we have been looking at whether we can put more personnel and, indeed, sniffer dog teams on that side of the channel to make a difference. Also, more work is being done on installing fencing, not only around the port at Calais, but around the Eurostar and Eurotunnel entrance. All those things can make a difference, and we should work very closely with the French. There is no point in either side trying to point the finger of blame at the other. This is a strong partnership that we have in place and we should keep it that way.
I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. Efforts on all sides will need to be stepped up.
On another issue, in his speech on Monday the Prime Minister said:
“There’s…nothing progressive about robbing from our children”,
but is it not inevitable that cuts in tax credits for working families, unless employers raise their wages immediately, will mean that children are worse off?
First, what I said in that speech about robbing from our children was about the importance of getting our deficit down and not asking them to pay debts that we were not prepared to deal with ourselves. What we need to do is make sure we go on with a plan that is seeing 2.2 million more people in work. Crucially for children, compared with when I became Prime Minister, there are 390,000 fewer children in households where no one works. My programme for tackling poverty is to get more people in work, get them better paid, and cut their taxes.
Well, I am asking about robbing from children in families who are facing tax credit cuts. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that cutting £5 billion from tax credits would mean working families losing, on average, £1,400 a year. Now I know the right hon. Gentleman does not have to budget, but many families do—[Interruption.] That is the truth—[Interruption.] It is the truth. If hon. Members will just for a moment think about a lone parent working part time: to compensate her for that loss of £1,400, the minimum wage would have to go up overnight by 25%. That is not going to happen, is it?
Because the last Government did not budget for the country, the whole country was plunged into poverty, which is what we have been dealing with. Let me explain what we are going to do. For those who are out of work, we want to get them a job—a well paid job. That is the best route out of poverty. For those in work, we want to see higher rates of pay and lower taxes. Our programme is simple: let us have an economy with higher pay, lower taxes and lower welfare. What the right hon. and learned Lady seems to want is the current failure of low pay, high taxes and high welfare. That is what we need to move on from.
You see, Mr Speaker, you do not get higher pay by cutting tax credits. The Prime Minister seems to be saying that low income families will not lose out because, somehow, on the day that he cuts tax credits, every employer in the country will rush to put up pay immediately. To compensate for the loss of tax credits, employers would have to put up pay overnight by twice what the Office for Budget Responsibility has said they will do over a full year. That is not going to happen, is it?
We are seeing rates of pay in our economy go up because we have a strong and successful economy due to the decisions we took. What the right hon. and learned Lady does not seem to understand is that if you do not get people back to work and reduce welfare, you will have to make deep cuts in the NHS, which we do not want to see, or put up taxes, which we do not want to see. If the Labour party wants to spend this five years arguing against any change in the welfare system, I say let it; it will end up with the same result.
What the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand is that these are people who are in work. They are going out to work, providing for themselves and their children. The truth is that the Prime Minister will cut tax credits, and will not make up for that loss by putting up the minimum wage overnight. Employers will not make up for that loss either, so millions of families with children will be worse off. He says that he is tackling low pay; he is not. He is attacking the low-paid. So much for the party of working people.
The party of working people is the party that has got 2 million more people into work and almost 400,000 more children in households where people are working. That is why people see a party that believes in work up against a party that, according to one of its leadership contenders, is now the anti-worker party—that is what the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said. I say to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) that in the week when Greece teeters on the brink, we should learn the lessons of what happens when debts spiral and a country loses control of its economy. Labour is stuck with the same answer: more borrowing, more welfare, and more debt. It is the same old Labour, and it will lead to the same old failure.
Q2. Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the best ways of tackling the cycle of child poverty is ensuring that we deal with persistent educational under-achievement, so that children get the best start in life, particularly in schools, universities and—just as importantly—vocational education? (900511)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we really want to tackle the deep and entrenched poverty that we have in our country, we need to go after the causes of poverty: sink schools, high unemployment, debt, addiction and family breakdown. Those are the things that can make a difference. I was at a school this week on the outskirts of Runcorn with 65% free school meals, yet that school was able to achieve almost two thirds of pupils getting five A to Cs at GCSE. That is a better record, frankly, than that of many schools in leafy, well-off constituencies, so it can be done. Let us go after the causes of poverty; then we can really lift people out of that entrenched poverty.
We join in the tributes to the armed forces, and to all those people who have organised and will attend Armed Forces Day events across the UK.
The Prime Minister and other UK party leaders made a vow that more powers would be delivered to the Scottish Parliament. The people were promised home rule; they were promised
“as close to federalism as possible”.
Why does the Prime Minister’s Scotland Bill not even deliver the limited Smith commission proposals?
The Bill that we put in front of this House does deliver the Smith commission; it fulfils the vow that all of us have kept. Of course, what it does not fulfil is the full fiscal autonomy that the hon. Gentleman’s party would like, which would land Scottish taxpayers with a bill of thousands and thousands of pounds. If that is his policy, when he gets up to speak, he should say so.
The House of Commons Library says that important parts of the Smith commission proposals are not in the Scotland Bill that the Prime Minister has proposed. The Bill’s shortcomings have been identified by an all-party committee in the Scottish Parliament—a committee on which the Scottish Conservative party sits. Are all these people wrong? Will the Prime Minister now commit to delivering the Smith commission proposals in full, and all the powers that were voted for by the people of Scotland in the general election?
We addressed precisely the points made by the Scottish Parliament committee to which the hon. Gentleman refers. This goes to a larger truth, which is that the Scottish National party only wants to talk about process. It does not dare talk about which of the powers that it is being given it would like to use. If you do not like the way that things are fixed, why don’t you put up taxes and spend more money? Is it not time that you started talking about the policies that you want to put in place, and the outcomes? The truth is that full fiscal autonomy has become FFS: full fiscal shambles.
Q3. Will the Prime Minister investigate why some Labour-controlled councils, including Leeds, are ramping up their charges to schools wishing to become academies? A good example of this is Woodkirk Academy in Morley and Outwood. (900512)
I am delighted that Woodkirk Academy and its feeder primary schools have applied to set up a multi-academy trust. It often really works if secondary schools work with primary schools to improve the results in those primary schools. I am also convinced, from looking at the figures, that converter academies are performing better than the local authority main schools. That is why the change is so necessary. I would say to the Labour party: do not stand in the way of this change; help to bring these academies about.
The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that the Department for Transport is planning to scale back and axe rail electrification projects. Will the Prime Minister inform the House, and the people of Wales, whether it continues to be the policy of his Government to complete the electrification of the great western line to Swansea by 2018 and part-fund the valley lines?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely committed to electrifying the great western main line to Cardiff and through to Swansea. We are also contributing £125 million to the costs of the wider valley lines electrification. It is vital that this work goes ahead. We need to make sure that Network Rail gets its costs under control and has strong leadership in place, and we will make sure that those things happen.
Q4. Unemployment is down by 61% in Thirsk and Malton since 2010—a strong endorsement of this Government’s policy to make work pay and of the hard work and investment of business people in my constituency. What further support will the Prime Minister offer to help with much-needed investment in the A64, superfast broadband, and mobile phone coverage, all of which would further help job creation in my area? (900513)
Let me welcome my hon. Friend to this place and the work that I know he will do on behalf of his constituency. He is absolutely right. In rural areas like the one he represents, better transport, better broadband and filling in the “not spots” on the mobile phone network are absolutely vital. The mobile infrastructure project is providing more homes and businesses with mobile coverage, but we need to make sure that we build the masts. I am pleased to say that the A64 is part of our £3 billion investment in roads in the north-east and Yorkshire. As for broadband, I think that 130,000 homes and businesses are getting access in North Yorkshire, but there is more to be done.
Q5. Historically, 500 babies per year are damaged in the womb by sodium valproate, a drug prescribed for epilepsy. Although GPs are now more aware of the risks, the national archives show that the risks were well known by drug companies and Government as far back as 1973, yet mothers were kept in the dark. Will the Prime Minister urge his Health Secretary to meet me and a delegation of mothers who are affected by this issue to discuss their case? (900514)
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this case. I am not aware of the specific drug she mentions, but I will look at it very closely. As someone who had a son with very severe epilepsy and knows how little we really know about many of these drugs, I will certainly fix the meeting between her and the Health Secretary so that they can make progress on this issue.
Q6. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a northern powerhouse requires proper transport infrastructure? Can he update me on my campaign to get the A6 Hazel Grove bypass to reduce congestion and increase growth in my constituency? (900515)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we are increasing transport levels in the north-west. We are investing £4.3 billion on the strategic road network. As he knows, the A6 to Manchester airport relief road is going ahead. I am pleased to confirm that we have provided Greater Manchester combined authority with £350,000 to fund a feasibility study for the next stage of the bypass route around Stockport and Hazel Grove that he refers to. I do understand that if this could go ahead it would really make a lot of difference in relieving congestion.
With the death of yet another cyclist—again, a young woman commuter, beneath the wheels of a tipper truck—will the Prime Minister meet a small delegation from the all-party parliamentary cycling group to discuss what more can be done to protect vulnerable road users, including the call by the acting leader of the Labour party for a ban on these killer lorries in our towns and cities at peak times?
I am very happy to have that meeting. It seems to me that although a lot has been done in London to try to make cycling safer on our roads with the cycling strategy—money is being invested and cycle lanes are being introduced—the number of fatalities is still very high, and it is extremely depressing that young lives are being snuffed out in this way. I am very happy to have that meeting and perhaps keep in contact with the Mayor about this important issue.
Q7. As the Prime Minister mentioned, access to high-quality broadband is essential in today’s digital economy. Will my right hon. Friend tell us about his plans to get broadband to my rural constituents and those in rural areas across the country? (900516)
First, let me welcome my hon. Friend to this place. He has the job of following in the footsteps of William Hague, which a number of us have found very difficult in all sorts of different ways, but I am sure he will do it very well.
The figures on superfast coverage are encouraging. We went from 45% in 2010 to over 80%, but obviously there is a real challenge getting to the remaining bits of the country, including the most rural areas. We have the £8 million investment fund and are piloting a number of solutions, one of which, run by Airwave, is testing new technology in the Upper Dales communities, near my hon. Friend’s constituency, so he is on the cutting edge of this digital technology, and if it works we can obviously boost it faster.
Last week, this Government sent out a message to the world that Scotland was closed for business when it comes to future investment in the renewable energy sector. Today, the Cole report on exports estimates that this Government are set to miss their target for exports by up to £300 billion. Will the Prime Minister confirm when he is going to stand up for the best interests of the Scottish economy?
If Scotland was not part of the United Kingdom, there would not be the access to the UK energy market—but I suppose we can leave that on one side. I say to the hon. Lady that we have had a huge increase in renewable energy right across the United Kingdom in recent years. We have removed some of the subsidy from onshore wind—we are going to reach 10% of our electricity generation from onshore wind—so now it is right that it should be for local communities to make that decision. Interestingly, before they got into government, that was a position that the SNP agreed with.
Q8. Last year, the £75 million mis-selling of cashback warranties by Scottish Power, including to thousands of my constituents, was raised with the Prime Minister. A year later, very little has happened, with Scottish Power dodging its responsibilities to 625,000 people across the United Kingdom. In the light of the most recent evidence, will my right hon. Friend urge Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to look again at this issue, to get people back the money they are owed? (900517)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. I understand that the liquidation of the companies involved in the scheme is still under way. As a result, the creditors of the companies have not yet received the reports from the liquidators to see whether that money can be extracted—[Interruption.] Before Labour Members get too excited, most of this happened between 1997 and 2001. I have asked the Business Secretary to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his concerns directly.
Yes, I do, and that is why Britain fulfils its obligations in taking asylum seekers from all over the world and having a system that many other countries see is robust and fair. It is also why we are playing our role in the Mediterranean—first with HMS Bulwark, now with HMS Enterprise—rescuing people who are desperately in need. It is also why, uniquely among the large, rich countries, we have kept our promise about funding overseas aid and are investing in the north African countries from which these people are coming. I am quite convinced that we are doing what we should to fulfil our moral obligations as a nation.
Q9. In the last comprehensive spending review, the clever wheeze of transferring expenditure on the BBC World Service from the Foreign Office budget to the BBC helped to prevent a calamity in our foreign policy capacity. Five years on, foreign policy making and analysis have got considerably more challenging. Will the Prime Minister ensure that a siloed savings requirement is not applied to our capacity to direct the overseas element of our national security strategy or our ability to represent the country abroad? (900518)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election as the Chairman of the vital Foreign Affairs Committee of this House. I know that he will always speak out without fear or favour, and that he is vigorously independent.
My hon. Friend is right that the soft power that we have as a country, whether through the British Council, the BBC, the Foreign Office or our overseas aid budget, which I was just talking about, is vital not just to fulfil our moral obligations but to project power, influence and British values in the world. I want to ensure that those things continue. He talked about the BBC funding being a wheeze. I am not sure that I would call it that. It was part of the BBC making sure that it found efficiencies, as other parts of the public sector were.
Yesterday, we heard that early referral for cancer tests could save 10,000 lives a year. Siobhan Galbraith, a 21-year-old Erdington mother of a three-year-old son, suffered in agony for six months. Three times, she was refused a referral; she was told that she was too young. Now, she is battling cervical cancer and will never have another child. Will the Prime Minister ask the Secretary of State for Health to investigate what happened and to meet me? Will he act to ensure that in future we have early referral so that never again are people denied treatment that could be the difference between life and death?
I quite understand why the hon. Gentleman raises that individual case, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will look at it specifically. He is right that early referral is the key to improving cancer outcomes. Although I will not stand at this Dispatch Box and say that the problem has been solved, I would say that we are now making sure that about 650,000 more patients are being referred in respect of cancer. Crucially, we are seeing many more of the diagnostic tests that can find out whether someone has colon cancer or bowel cancer—about 400,000 more of those tests are being carried out. The key is to ensure that GPs get the training and information that is necessary to identify cancer early so that they can onward refer rapidly.
Q10. The Prime Minister made two promises before the general election that were especially important to the people of mid-Wales. He has fulfilled one of them by scrapping onshore wind farm subsidies. When he fulfils the other by visiting the Royal Welsh show in three weeks’ time, perhaps he will call in on Montgomeryshire to see the wonderful landscapes that will now not be desecrated. (900519)
This morning’s “Today” programme on Radio 4 was partly recorded at Brompton bicycles in my constituency. The concern of Brompton, an award-winning company, and other employers of good quality staff producing good quality goods for export is that the apprenticeship scheme in this country is not fit for purpose to meet their needs. What plans does the Prime Minister have to meet those employers and to develop an effective, quality apprenticeship scheme, rather than the cheap and cheerful scheme that is currently in place?
I welcome the hon. Lady to this House. I, too, have visited Brompton bicycles. It is an absolutely excellent firm. I seem to remember that I recorded a party political broadcast while I was there, so it is obviously an equal political opportunities employer, which is very good. It is important to ensure that we have really good apprenticeship schemes. We must focus on the quality as well as the quantity. We are committed to working with employers, and to making sure that those employers work with local colleges, to ensure that the standard of the qualifications is very good.
Q11. Last week my constituents were very pleased to hear the news that, as part of the measures the Prime Minister is introducing to boost mobile coverage in rural areas, three of our very worst “not spots” have been selected for consideration for new mobile masts, in Boxford, Bildeston and Assington Green. Does he agree that better mobile coverage has an important role to play in improving rural economic growth, and will he continue to do all he can to ensure that we spread the benefits of this technology as far and wide as possible? (900520)
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to this place and congratulate him on winning his constituency. He is absolutely right that if we are to have the productivity revolution that the Chancellor and others have spoken about, we must improve broadband coverage in our country. The mobile infrastructure project can make a difference. Three potential sites—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should calm down a little. Three potential sites have been identified in South Suffolk that will make a difference. It is important that all Members of the House recognise that while there are often very strong campaigns against masts, we need to see them built if we are to crack the problem of “not spots.”
The Prime Minister has repeatedly been reported as saying that he wants to create “a new era of transparency in government.” Given that desire, why is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions refusing to release the statistics relating to the deaths of people who have been declared fit for work, which he has been instructed to do by the Information Commissioner? Will the Prime Minister intervene and get the Secretary of State to comply with the spirit of his desire and the instruction of the Information Commissioner?
First, let me reassure the hon. Lady that the data will be published; they are being prepared for publication as we speak. I think that it is important that we publish data, and this Government have published more data about public spending than any previous Government.
Let me welcome my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right to raise this. What we saw happen in Rotherham, Rochdale and in my own city of Oxford was absolutely horrific. Steps are being taken by the police and social services to deal with it much better in future, and there have recently been some very important prosecutions, for instance in Oxfordshire. But I am not satisfied with the progress, so I have asked the Education Secretary to chair a new child protection taskforce to drive fundamental reforms to improve the protection of vulnerable children. I want us to bring the vigour and emphasis on quality that we have brought to education to the area of social work.
Q13. This month’s International Monetary Fund report shows how unequal the UK has become, with 15% of all income in the UK going to just 1% of top earners while over 5 million people earn less than the living wage. Given the evidence showing that increasing the income of the poorest 20% will lead to an increase in growth, why is the Prime Minister contemplating a cut in tax credits to people on low pay? (900522)
What I would say to the hon. Lady is that the statistics show that inequality in Britain has gone down, not up. One of the reasons for that is that we have 2.2 million more people in work. As I said to her right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), what we want to see in Britain is an economy in which we create well-paid jobs, cut taxes and keep welfare down. The alternative, which is a low-pay, high-tax and high-welfare economy, is what we had under Labour, and it has not ended extreme poverty.
Q15. Every week, 15 babies die or are stillborn, which is devastating for the families who suffer that loss. In half the cases no cause of death is established. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate a meeting between the Secretary of State for Health and the charities the Lullaby Trust and Sands so that we can try to reduce those figures? (900524)
I welcome my hon. Friend to this place. She served in the Welsh Assembly and I know she will serve her constituents and this place with great dedication and ability. She proves that by raising such a difficult and heartbreaking case. The death of every child is a tragedy and no words can do justice to the loss felt by parents in such cases. We have made some steps forward with more midwives and, crucially, more health visitors, which can make a lot of difference in the run up to those vital days before birth, but I can tell her that NHS England is going to fund a project to develop a national child death review information system to try to drive more information. The Health Secretary will keep everyone informed and I am sure that he will want to discuss the issue with my hon. Friend, given her knowledge in this area.
Q14. Why has the Prime Minister promised local people the final say on onshore wind farms but denies local people in Blackpool and Lancashire the final say over local fracking applications? Why are there double standards on renewable energy and fracking? (900523)
The hon. Gentleman is making a slightly odd comparison. We have taken away the unnecessary subsidy for onshore wind, given that it is now a mature technology, and we have a sensible planning system so that unconventional gas can go ahead under very strict environmental conditions. I will tell him what I want for Blackpool. I want Blackpool to be the centre of expertise and excellence for this industry. I want the jobs, the apprenticeships and the training rather than to see things stuck, which is what he wants.
Border Management (Calais)
Industrial action by striking French workers yesterday caused significant disruption at the ports of Calais and Coquelles in northern France. This action resulted from a dispute between local trade unions and the owners of the French ferry operator, MyFerryLink. As a result of this disruptive strike, the port of Calais was shut for a period of more than 13 hours and train departures were suspended at the channel tunnel rail port of Coquelles. Sadly, the strikers damaged SNCF railway tracks outside the tunnel, which led to the cancellation of all Eurostar services until 6 o’clock this morning. More generally, the disruption caused backlogs of traffic in the Calais area that presented existing migrants around the town with opportunities to attempt to enter slow-moving lorries.
The French and UK Governments were well prepared for this event and tried and tested contingency plans were quickly put in place. Despite the extra pressure caused by the French strikers, Border Force maintained border security by following plans to put additional staff in place to search freight vehicles passing through the affected ports during the industrial action and thereafter. All freight vehicles passing through the Calais ports undergo searching by both the French authorities and the UK’s Border Force before boarding a ferry or train. During the course of yesterday’s disruption and since, Border Force and the French authorities have successfully identified and intercepted a significant number of would-be migrants.
Last night, I spoke with the French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve. He was as grateful as I was for the strong co-operation between UK and French authorities during yesterday’s incident, and I thanked him for the French police’s efforts to maintain law and order in the Calais area. Our two Governments have been working closely and constructively in recent months to bolster security at the juxtaposed border at Calais and other French ports. Last September, Her Majesty’s Government committed £12 million to that work. This has led to the installation of fencing around the port of Calais and the approach road and improvements to the layout of the port to speed up flows of traffic and create secure buffer zones for heavy goods vehicles. This is in addition to £3 million spent on the provision of new scanners and detection technology to assist with the searching of freight vehicles and additional dog searching undertaken by contractors. At the port of Coquelles, we have already provided significant investment in upgrading perimeter security and freight-screening technology. We will continue to work with Eurotunnel and the French authorities on installing additional security measures at the site to prevent migrants from making incursions into the port.
More broadly, the ongoing situation in Calais serves as an important reminder of why EU member states need to work together to tackle the causes of illegal immigration in source and transit countries. We are already co-operating closely with the French to tackle the organised criminal gangs that facilitate the movement of migrants into and across Europe. UK and French law enforcement organisations have already had considerable success in dismantling criminal networks behind people trafficking and smuggling on both sides of the channel, resulting in the prosecution of 223 individuals, and Monsieur Cazeneuve and I have agreed to build on this important work. As the Prime Minister and I have repeatedly made clear, the most important step to resolving the situation in the Mediterranean is breaking the link between migrants making this dangerous journey and achieving settlement in Europe.
Traffic on both sides of the channel is moving again. There will, however, continue to be a significant border security operation as the backlogs of traffic are cleared at the affected ports. The inconvenience caused by the French strikers to the travelling public and lorry drivers is deeply regrettable. Though yesterday’s incident was caused by events that were beyond the control of Her Majesty’s Government, our law enforcement organisations reacted to the events extremely well. I am sure the House will want to join me in commending the excellent work done by Border Force, Kent police and others on both sides of the channel who have worked tirelessly to maintain border security and minimise disruption to the travelling public. I commend this statement to the House.
As the Home Secretary rightly says, the situation in Calais has been caused by a wider humanitarian issue across the whole of the Mediterranean and north Africa, which is in turn caused by hunger, civil war, political instability and the movement of people across the Mediterranean. Alongside the strike and the problems in Calais last night, the situation there has been causing problems for some time, as I saw on a visit in November last year, and it remains a real challenge.
Will the Home Secretary tell us what steps she is taking, following her discussions with the French Interior Minister, to ensure that the French Government assess, process, identify and take action on those at Calais? She has rightly said that they are the victims of people traffickers, but they are also in France and the responsibility of the French Government. Will she resist the calls from some quarters in France to end the UK Border Force presence at Calais, given that it is extremely important in maintaining the integrity of our border?
Will the Home Secretary tell us whether, at the European summit this weekend, the Prime Minister intends to raise the points he made at Prime Minister’s questions about the situation in Italy and southern Europe? As he and the Home Secretary have said, that situation plays a key role in determining the intentions of the people who come to Calais. Will the right hon. Lady also tell us what proportion of the £12 million that she and the Prime Minister have mentioned has been spent to date? She will recall that the £12 million relates to a three-year programme, and we are now in year one. I would like her to stop talking about the £12 million and tell us what has been spent to date, and whether further resources are required to meet the challenges.
Will the Home Secretary and the Transport Secretary advise hauliers, train operators and the public on the assessments that they should be making, and on whether compensation claims could be made in the light of yesterday’s incident? Will she also ask the Transport Secretary to make an assessment in due course of whether Operation Stack operated as an effective response yesterday in southern England?
The Home Secretary has announced a new taskforce today. Will she tell the House more about its remit and resources, and explain how she would measure any success that it might achieve? Will she also make a further commitment to tackle the scourge of people trafficking through working with our European partners and their police forces? I would like her to make a commitment to report regularly to the House on the success of the taskforce in achieving its objectives.
This is a humanitarian crisis and the Home Secretary will have the support of Her Majesty’s Opposition in dealing with it. It is important that we do so not only on behalf of those victims of the crisis, but for the integrity of our borders. The French need to take further action to ensure that they support us in both of those objectives.
The right hon. Gentleman’s questions raise a number of issues. He referred to the fact that he visited Calais last year. Indeed, at the time he said of the problems of migrants building up at Calais:
“This is not new—we saw problems over ten years ago.”
That is precisely why the previous Labour Government worked with the then French Government to introduce the juxtaposed controls. The Le Touquet agreement was important and I reassure him that we certainly intend to do everything we can to maintain those juxtaposed controls. They are an important part of our border security and we will continue to work with the French authorities, as previous Governments have done, to ensure that they are maintained and operate well.
On the issue of processing people, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated in Prime Minister’s questions when asked about it by the acting Leader of the Opposition, there is a challenge to the Italian authorities. People are due to be processed and fingerprinted when they first arrive on European shores, and for the majority of those people that means Italy. My French opposite number and I have been working with the Italian Government and, indeed, other European member states to encourage Italy to do exactly that. The European Council will be looking at the question of Mediterranean migration, as did the Justice and Home Affairs Council that I attended in Luxembourg last week. One of the key messages the United Kingdom has been giving consistently—and others support it—is that the best means of dealing with the issue is to break the link. This is about ensuring that people see that if they make this dangerous journey, they are not going to achieve settlement in Europe.
We need to work to break the organised criminal gangs and the people traffickers. The new taskforce is bringing together people from the National Crime Agency, Border Force, immigration enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service. Some of them will be based overseas and some in the UK. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that they will be working not just among those British agencies, but with the French authorities and others, to ensure that there is better intelligence and a better understanding of where the gangs are and what the routes are, so that we can take appropriate action against them. I absolutely agree with that. It was this party, as part of the coalition Government, that introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which makes it easier for law enforcement to deal with human traffickers. Obviously, that is important legislation.
My right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister has had a number of meetings and conversations with representatives of road hauliers about the security aspects. We believe that, overall, Operation Stack worked well. The process has been in place for some time, but the Department for Transport will continue to look at it and about half of the £12 million has already been spent.
Obviously, none of the member states of the European Union can just take in the vast numbers of people who are fleeing here from poverty and oppression in Africa and the middle east. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the moral and practical dilemma is that it will not be possible for Italy, France or the United Kingdom simply to ship back to Somalia, Eritrea, Syria and other places where they face death and oppression men, women and children who have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean? In addition to the very welcome steps she has described of EU member states beginning to work together, as opposed to trying to blame each other—it is farcical to blame the Mayor of Calais and the French for the present situation—is any work being done to try to identify, locate and finance civilized camps where people can be held in decent conditions while they are processed and not left drifting destitute to all kinds of places over Europe? While there, they can be processed and proper plans can be made for how to resettle them somewhere they can properly find new lives.
My right hon. and learned Friend raises important issues, but it is wrong to assume that all the people coming through those routes are refugees or have valid asylum claims. Significant numbers come not from the countries to which he refers, but from Senegal, Nigeria and other west African countries, for whom the issue is somewhat different. Many people who come across from Libya into Italy are economic migrants who are trying to get into Europe illegally and to get settlement. That is why breaking the link is so important. Those individuals should know that they should not make that dangerous journey because they will not get settlement in Europe as a result. It is also why dealing with human traffickers and people smugglers is important.
Within the European arena, we are talking about the possibility of establishing places—we are currently looking at west Africa—where it is possible to return people. The other side of the matter is working in countries such as the ones my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned, using aid money, to ensure that we are developing those countries in a way that means we are reducing poverty in them, and reducing the temptation or incentive for people to try to move.
While delays to cross-channel transport are concerning, as is the associated disruption, surely the bigger issue, which others have touched on, is the humanitarian aspect. Some of the migrants trying to cross from Calais to Dover are desperate. Many have gone through unimaginable suffering and are risking their lives in the hope of a better life in the United Kingdom. Many are fleeing countries that the United Kingdom had a hand in destabilising.
We need to take our fair share of refugees in the UK, as we have a proud tradition of doing in the past, from the Kindertransport in the 1930s to the Ugandan refugees in the 1970s. Even Mrs Thatcher took some of the Vietnamese boat people, although not as many as other countries.
The Scottish National party and the Scottish Government remain committed to assisting in this matter. We believe that there should be cross-country co-operation throughout the European Union. Will the United Kingdom Government accept the help of the Scottish Government, and participate in multilateral and collective action across the European Union, to deal with the problem of refugees?
The Government are addressing the issue of refugees in a number of ways. First of all, in relation to those displaced from Syria—refugees as a result of what is happening there—the UK Government are the second-largest bilateral donor to the region in terms of the money we have made available for refugee camps. Many people are being given medical treatment, water, food, clothing and shelter as a result of the money we have given—it is getting close to £900 million. We should be proud that we have done that. Given the number of refugees, they will not be accommodated by allowing everybody to move to Europe. Many of them want to be able to return to their home country in due course. Giving that provision in that area is important.
In relation to Scotland and asylum seekers, it is open to the hon. and learned Lady to encourage local authorities in Scotland to take larger numbers of the asylum seekers that we disperse around the United Kingdom.
I, too, commend the work of Border Force, which has deterred tens of thousands of illegal migrants from coming to this country. Without its effectiveness, the French would have rather a lot more to complain about. If our border became known as a weak link, many thousands more would pour into Calais.
What is the Home Secretary doing to bust the myth that the Home Affairs Committee has identified? Those people who are trafficked to Calais believe that we are some sort of El Dorado, where they will get jobs, benefits and support services. The truth is that they absolutely will not and that they will be illegal. What are we doing to bust that myth to deter people from going to Calais in the first place in the hope of coming here illegally?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important that people understand what that journey means, what they will be coming to and the dangers of the journey. We have been working with the French authorities on the messages given to people who reach Calais about the fact that they should claim asylum in France. By the end of this year, the French authorities will have more than trebled the number of people processed in Calais compared with 2013.
This crisis has been waiting to happen and no blame should be attached to the Government on it, because enormous amounts of money have been spent trying to deal with security in Calais, as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) and I saw for ourselves. The problem is the Mediterranean. Once people get to Calais, it is too late. Once people enter France, it is too late. That is why I welcome the establishment of the taskforce. The taskforce has to work with the Governments of the Maghreb. They are the key to preventing people from setting sail in the first place. It is not just the Italian border, but the Greek-Turkish border. The Home Secretary will have our support in trying to ensure that other EU countries bear their responsibility as well.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question and take the opportunity to congratulate him on his re-election to the chairmanship of the Home Affairs Committee. I dare say that he and I will be looking at each other across a room in the House of Commons on a number of occasions over the coming months.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that we need to identify the need to do something about the journeys from parts of Africa through the Mediterranean. The route from Libya to Italy is crucial, but he is right that people are being transported and moved through the Turkey-Greece border into Europe. We will work with Governments in Africa and elsewhere to ensure that we have an understanding of those movements and that we are able to deal with the criminal gangs. That is why I am pleased that the National Crime Agency has already focused on that and is increasing that focus.
My hon. Friend is right. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) referred to a crisis. The problem of migrants gathering at Calais has been there for some time. As the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), said, we saw that many years ago. Of course, the problem was exacerbated yesterday by the action of the French strikers, which meant that lorries were queuing, and therefore presented a greater opportunity and incentive for the migrants to try to clamber on to them.
I join the right hon. Lady in paying tribute to UK Border Force, which does a fantastic job around the country. Within the past fortnight, a further 50 illegal immigrants were found in the back of a lorry that arrived in another major UK port. We have a serious problem not only in Dover and Calais, but around the UK. UK Border Force redundancies are taking place in Teesport. Will she put a stop to any immediate front-line redundancies and ensure that what is happening down in Calais does not suck resources from around the country and put other ports at risk?
The aim of Border Force is to have a flexible workforce, so that it is possible to move officers around and reinforce particular ports when we need to, as we have seen happen because of the problems in Calais. We are conscious that clandestines have been found in the backs of lorries entering the UK through other ports. I have raised that matter with the Dutch immigration Minister. There will be talks between UK Ministers and Dutch Ministers about how we can help to reinforce the Hook of Holland. We are making extra capacity available to do that.
The path to Calais may begin in Khartoum or Conakry or other places in Africa, but it passes through a number of Schengen countries on the way. Those countries have no borders internally. What discussions is the Home Secretary having with her European counterparts to ensure that they take responsibility for that concentration, which is what we have in Calais, of that humanitarian disaster?
My hon. and learned Friend is perfectly right to point out that migrants who come to Calais will have come through a number of Schengen countries. Obviously, we are not a member of Schengen, and it is up to countries that are members to look at the rules they operate. He may have seen last week that there was activity by the French authorities at the French-Italian border because of concerns about migrants being able to move through from Italy.
The Home Secretary rightly reminded the House of the importance of aid policy in addressing the causes of increased migration. Can we take the opportunity in the next few days to remind our European Union partners of their obligation to match our 0.7% commitment and to press the French Government, who are cutting development assistance at this time?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I congratulate him on his recent election as Chair of the Select Committee on International Development.
Yes, we do. In fact, at the Justice and Home Affairs Council last week, I raised the need for Europe to look collectively at how its aid money is disbursed to ensure it is being used properly to alleviate poverty in the areas people are coming from.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that preserving good relations with the French Government so that our border is effectively at Calais and Coquelles, as opposed to Dover and Folkestone, is the biggest single contribution to the integrity of our borders in this part of the country. She also said that Operation Stack worked well. May I gently point out that it may work well in administrative terms, but whenever it comes in, it causes huge disruption and misery to my constituents and thousands of other people in Kent? Will she, with the Secretary of State for Transport, take this opportunity to redouble efforts to make sure that alternatives to Operation Stack are brought in? Every time it comes in, it causes massive disruption to one of our biggest road routes to Europe.
I thank my right hon. Friend for gently pointing that out to me. He makes his representations. Representations are also made to me on a regular basis by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) on the impact these incidents have on the port and the surrounding transport network. I will raise the comments my right hon. Friend makes with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
The Secretary of State makes a fair point about the work of humanitarian organisations in the theatre—we all applaud that—but does she realise we are facing the worst refugee crisis since the war and that the UK response has been described as paling in comparison with that of other EU countries? Does she welcome the Scottish Government’s offer to work with them and take more Syrian refugees in the resettlement programme?
First, several thousand Syrians have been able to claim asylum in recent years here in the United Kingdom. We introduced the vulnerable persons relocation scheme, which the Prime Minister announced last weekend will be slightly expanded. The scheme, working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, focuses on the most vulnerable. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that to describe the donation of £900 million of aid to refugees, supporting many people’s lives through medical provisions, water, food and shelter, as pitiful is quite wrong. This country should be proud of the fact that we have taken such a leading role.
I welcome the measures the Home Secretary is taking to tackle the problems in Calais. Do we not need to work on the longer-term problem of illegal immigrants trying to find their way into Europe and into this country? What measures is the Home Secretary taking to tackle this long-term issue?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to ensure that we deal not with the symptoms of the problem—people arriving at Calais and trying to get into the UK—but the origin of the issue. We need to work with the countries of origin on the provision of support such that people can have a better life: a better economy and the stability to ensure that they are less likely to wish to move to Europe. We must also ensure that we catch the criminals, the people smugglers, who are helping people on their way. They take people’s money and then put them into dangerous conditions on the sea. We must break that link, so people see that paying out that money will not actually get them to Europe.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. Is she aware of the media reports this morning indicating that some eastern European countries will not stop illegal immigrants coming through their countries, thus increasing the impact on France and the United Kingdom? What steps can she take to address that issue?
I am aware that a number of countries in eastern Europe are taking a number of measures. Some of them are putting in place greater physical security on their borders, while others are looking at the operation of what is known as the Dublin regulations, which require the claiming of asylum in the first country that an individual enters. We will be discussing these issues with our European colleagues.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is right that the scenes we are witnessing in Calais are the natural result of the failure of the borderless Schengen area. Is she pleased, as I am, that we are not in it? Will she confirm that we will never join it?
Does the Home Secretary think that deeper UK engagement in resolving the problems Italy and Greece are facing in handling large numbers of refugees and economic migrants would maximise the chances of securing a European solution to the European problem at Calais?
We are working with a number of Governments across Europe. Indeed, as part of the Greek action plan agreed across Europe and put into effect by Frontex some time ago, we have been putting resources into that plan to help to support the Greek authorities to deal with the numbers they have coming across their border.
Surely, two of the issues are these. First, we are seen as an El Dorado because we have high employment rates compared with the rest of continental Europe. We do not want to change that. The second issue is Schengen. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the French Government to strengthen border controls, which she has already mentioned, with Italy and other countries? Schengen partners are allowed to do that in such emergencies.
As I said in response to a similar question, we are not part of Schengen and any discussions on how the Schengen rules operate are predominantly for those countries within the Schengen area. As my hon. Friend will have seen, the French have taken recent action. This is not the first time such action has been undertaken. I am aware that the Schengen countries have had discussions on the question of internal border controls, should emergency circumstances require them.
Is the Home Secretary concerned about reports today that people traffickers are now causing a proliferation of people smuggling by recruiting businessmen, students and day trippers to bring people into the country in their cars, which are subject to less scrutiny than lorry transport? What steps can be taken to deal with this new development without massively disrupting traffic through ports?
Sadly, the situation we face is that the people smugglers and the human traffickers will try every way possible to ply their trade. That is why it is so important that our law enforcement agencies, working with law enforcement organisations in Europe and elsewhere, are identifying trafficking routes, traffickers and people smugglers and can take action against them.
Does the Home Secretary agree that the scale of the problem yesterday was exacerbated by the French strikers gaining forcible access to the channel tunnel, leading to the closure of services there as well as at the port, and that the French authorities need to do more to secure the channel tunnel at Coquelles? Has she been given any reassurance by the French Interior Minister on that point?
My hon. Friend is right to identify the fact that the problem yesterday was the strike and the damage to the tracks. Lorries and other vehicles were queuing or moving very slowly, which gave the migrants a greater opportunity to try to clamber aboard. I have had discussions with the French Interior Minister, both last night and previously. We are looking at what extra security can be put around Coquelles, in addition to the extra security at Calais. I have been reassured by the French authorities that they intend to ensure a police response is available at the ports, so that we can deal with this problem as it arises.
It is estimated that one in 122 people on the planet is now a refugee, and many of them are children. Will the Secretary of State tell us how much of the £12 million is being spent on child protection for those children collected at the borders who are vulnerable to being seduced into paedophile rings and trafficked again by criminal gangs?
The hon. Lady has misunderstood, as the £12 million is specifically for improving border security at the juxtaposed controls. In respect of the issue she raises—children being exploited and trafficked—we are stepping up the efforts we are able to make as a Government. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is a seminal piece of legislation, the first of its kind in Europe. It is very important, giving extra powers to law enforcement agencies and ensuring that victims are taken into account. We are taking a number of actions to provide extra support to victims of human trafficking when they are identified.
Many of these criminal gangs will, of course, have links to the funding of terrorism, and the capability of civilian police forces in Europe is somewhat limited by comparison with the military. It is unlikely that a UN resolution will be granted for limited and targeted NATO military action in north Africa, but what progress, if any, is being made on an EU resolution to deploy an EU military force to disrupt and degrade the logistical supply chains?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Taking action on this matter has been discussed at the European level, but action against the boats setting forth from the Libyan coastline has to be done in discussion with the Libyan authorities. Those discussions are taking place. The United Kingdom is also playing a leading role within the UN in looking to see whether a resolution can be brought forward that would enable action to happen.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, particularly in respect of transport logistics. The Home Secretary has rightly explained that this is not a recent issue—indeed, it has been an ongoing problem. She also rightly identified that Coquelles and Calais should be the border. Many commercial drivers, however, are stopping much further away from the port on the French side and are being targeted by highly organised criminal gangs, sometimes in places more than 100 miles from Calais. Can she reassure us that the conversations she is having take that issue into account and are aimed at enforcing the rule of law, so that commercial drivers are protected all the way through their journeys?
Yes, we are absolutely looking at that issue. There are two aspects to it. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration is having discussions with the Road Haulage Association to talk about its point of view, and the National Crime Agency, in tandem with other law enforcement organisations, is working with law enforcement bodies elsewhere in Europe to identify the routes and where the potential attempts at incursion can take place and to take appropriate action.
Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), will my right hon. Friend or her Ministers have ongoing discussions with their continental European counterparts to ensure that the security arrangements are resilient enough to withstand the type of industrial action that we have seen recently?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. When Border Force looks at security issues around the ports, it takes into account the work necessary to deal with the migrants building up at Calais and Coquelles, but it has contingency arrangements in place to deal with potential strike action, which actually took place at Calais yesterday. It will continue to look at those arrangements and make sure that they are robust, so that we can, as far as possible, ensure that the cross-channel routes can be maintained, while we maintain the security of our borders.
Many of these people are coming from Italy. Given that Italy is feeling absolutely overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the numbers coming in, what specific help is the Home Secretary offering to her Italian counterparts to deal with those problems in Italy?
The longer-term answer is, of course, working with Italy and others to break this link, so that we do not see people trying to make this journey. Some members of the organised immigration crime task force will operate in Italy, working with the Italian authorities and others. Extra resources are also being offered to the Italian authorities for asylum processing in Italy.
The Home Secretary can be rightly proud of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the fact that there are now tougher penalties for traffickers, that it is easier for the police to take action and that a commissioner has been created. However, these are evil criminal gangs, equal in evil to the gangs that deal in drugs, yet we put in only a proportion of our resources for fighting traffickers and much more for fighting drugs. Can we look at that balance to see if we have it right?
My hon. Friend is right. He is well aware of these issues from when he was chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and of the terrible evil that, as he says, lies behind this crime. We do indeed look at the balance, and I have asked the National Crime Agency to provide a focus on human trafficking. We should not think that the gangs deal either in drugs or in people: sadly, these gangs will deal in anything that they think will make them money. Many of them are therefore dealing in people and drugs.
The Secretary of State claims over and again that the way to tackle the crisis in the Mediterranean is by breaking the link between travel and settlement. Is that the reason behind the Government’s unbelievable decision to scale down our capacity to undertake search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean? Does she not recognise that that decision will cost lives and should be reversed?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has been misinformed about exactly what happened. I think that he is trying to refer to Mare Nostrum, which was not a European-wide engagement but one done by the Italian Government. Indeed, in the year Mare Nostrum was in place, more people died in the Mediterranean than in the previous year. There is now a Frontex operation, to which the UK Government give support. The Prime Minister referred earlier to HMS Bulwark, and it will be replaced by HMS Enterprise. There are also two Border Force cutters taking part in the enterprise of saving lives in the Mediterranean. The UK is certainly playing its part.
I join hon. Members across the House in commending the work of the UK Border Force in securing our border over the last year or so. I welcome the extra investment that the Government have made in bolstering security across the ports in northern France. Will my right hon. Friend tell us in a little more detail what that includes?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments about Border Force and its work. The money made available covers physical security, in the form of extra fencing and looking at the layout of a port to make it more secure by providing larger areas for lorries, for example. We have also put in some extra sniffer dog capacity by increasing the numbers in the teams, as well as extra detection equipment, so that we can identify when clandestines are in lorries.
Before I first came to this place, I represented the Home Office in several people-smuggling cases, and I echo the comments of other hon. Members in commending Border Force officers. Will my right hon. Friend say more about investigatory powers for police officers, the duties of investigation for haulage companies and sanctions for breach?
These are areas where, in respect of human trafficking, we have been able to bring offences together in one Act of Parliament, increase sentencing and make extra powers available to the police to deal with those responsible. In the immigration Bill, which will be forthcoming later this year, we will look at the responsibilities on hauliers and other parties to make sure that our border is as secure as possible.
I am glad that the Home Secretary mentioned the work of Kent police in her statement, because they have been working tirelessly on the whole issue. Whenever industrial action of this nature takes place in France, it has a knock-on impact in Kent and causes problems for both motorists and the police. I understand that the police were given extra resources to help them to tackle the issue, but will the Home Secretary keep their funding under review, so that they can continue their good work?
My hon. Friend is right. Given that the Kent force polices the Dover area in particular—but, obviously, other Kent ports as well—it often finds itself having to react to various initiatives, and in need of resources to enable it to do so. We do, of course, consider the basis on which police forces are funded, and take account of their requirements.
I understand that we are not part of the Schengen agreement, but actions taken by Schengen countries clearly have an impact on our borders. Will my right hon. Friend encourage the French to conduct more operations like the Italian border operations, to ensure that the problem is not concentrated on Calais as it has been to date?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The more that can be done to stop the flow of people further upstream, the better it will be for Calais and the less pressure there will be not just on the French authorities there, but on Border Force and our juxtaposed controls. I assure my hon. Friend that healthy discussions are taking place in the European arena about the actions that can be taken by Schengen countries.
May I ask the Home Secretary to continue the hard work that is being done to deal with the confusion caused by a failure to differentiate between the economic migrants who often come here to work and the vulnerable refugees who come here in search of a place of safety? I think that those who are considering the arguments from the outside feel very confused about the work that the Government are doing, and I therefore welcome the forthcoming immigration Bill, which will help to tackle the problem.
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that issue. Reports about what is happening at Calais and about people crossing the Mediterranean often use terms such as “refugee” or “asylum seeker” to describe all those people, although, as we know, a significant proportion of them are economic migrants who are trying to enter Europe illegally. We think it important to break that link, so that people are made aware that they cannot make those journeys, arrive in Europe illegally, and settle here.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Monday, I asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions why he was refusing to publish information about the number of people who had died within six weeks of claiming incapacity benefit or employment and support allowance,
“including those who have been found fit for work”,
although he had been ordered to do so by the Information Commissioner on 30 April. The Secretary of State replied:
“She knows very well that the Department does not collate numbers on people in that circumstance.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 611.]
His statement was in direct contradiction of his own Department’s submission to the Information Commissioner, which stated that it did collate those data and had last published them in November 2011. I should be grateful for your guidance, Mr Speaker, on how we can correct the record and seek an explanation for the error. This happens too much, and it brings the House into disrepute.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving me notice of her intention to raise it. If there is an inconsistency between what she has been told in the Chamber and what has been said elsewhere by the Government, and if that is a matter of fact, it will be apparent to Ministers, who are responsible for the accuracy of what they say, and, in the event of inaccuracy, for ensuring it is corrected. I cannot say more than that today, but the hon. Lady has made the point with crystal clarity; it is on the record, and it will have been heard by Ministers. I think that she should, at this stage, await events.
Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Rob Marris, supported by Crispin Blunt, Heidi Alexander, Lucy Allan, Jim Fitzpatrick, Paul Flynn, Norman Lamb, Karin Smyth and Stephen Twigg, presented a Bill to enable competent adults who are terminally ill to choose to be provided with medically supervised assistance to end their own life; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 September, and to be printed (Bill 7).
Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Chris Heaton-Harris presented a Bill to make provision for access to innovative medical treatments; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 8).
Defence Expenditure (NATO Target) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Sir Gerald Howarth presented a Bill to make provision about the meeting by the UK of the NATO target for defence expenditure in each member state to constitute not less than 2 per cent of gross domestic product; to make provision for verification that NATO’s criteria for defence expenditure are met in calculating the UK’s performance against this target; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 October, and to be printed (Bill 9).
Hospital Parking Charges (Exemption for Carers) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Julie Cooper presented a Bill to make provision for exempting carers from hospital car parking charges; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 30 October, and to be printed (Bill 10).
NHS (Charitable Trusts Etc) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Wendy Morton, supported by Mr Adrian Bailey, Neil Carmichael, Maria Caulfield, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Mr Nigel Evans, Jeremy Lefroy, Stephen Pound, Mary Robinson, Mr Barry Sheerman, Keir Starmer and John Stevenson, presented a Bill to make provision for, and in connection with, the removal of the Secretary of State’s powers under the National Health Service Act 2006 to appoint trustees; to make provision transferring to Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity the right to a royalty conferred by Schedule 6 to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 November, and to be printed (Bill 11).
Compulsory Emergency First Aid Education (State-funded Secondary Schools)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Teresa Pearce, supported by Sir David Amess, Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, Dawn Butler, Thangam Debbonaire, Mr Nigel Dodds, Bill Esterson, Mr Philip Hollobone, Jason McCartney, John McDonnell, John Pugh and Mr John Spellar, presented a Bill to require the provision of Emergency First Aid (EFA) education by all state-funded secondary schools; to require that EFA education include cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillator awareness; to provide for initial and continuing teacher education and guidance on best practice for delivering and inspecting EFA education; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 November, and to be printed (Bill 12).
Riot Compensation Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mike Wood, supported by Mrs Cheryl Gillan, Byron Davies, Chris Heaton-Harris, James Morris, Andrew Griffiths, Craig Tracey, Nigel Mills, Amanda Milling, Simon Hoare, William Wragg and Wendy Morton, presented a Bill to repeal the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 and make provision about types of claims, procedures, decision-making and limits on awards payable in relation to a new compensation scheme for property damaged, destroyed or stolen in the course of riots.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 December, and to be printed (Bill 13).
Off-patent Drugs Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Nick Thomas-Symonds, supported by Dan Jarvis, Dr Liam Fox, Liz Saville Roberts, Dr Phillip Lee, Dame Angela Watkinson, John Healey, Jessica Morden, Mr David Nuttall, Carolyn Harris, Robert Neill and Glyn Davies, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to seek licences for off-patent drugs in new indications; to require the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to conduct technology appraisals for off-patent drugs in new indications; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 November, and to be printed (Bill 14).
Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Ms Karen Buck, supported by Kate Green, Jack Dromey, Matthew Pennycook, Emily Thornberry, Andy Slaughter, Mr Gordon Marsden, John Pugh, Lyn Brown, Rushanara Ali, Clive Efford and Fiona Mactaggart, presented a Bill to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to require that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 15).
Pavement Parking (Protection of Vulnerable Pedestrians) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Simon Hoare, supported by Mrs Cheryl Gillan, Scott Mann, Johnny Mercer, Bob Stewart, Wendy Morton, Craig Williams, Richard Burgon, Stephen Twigg, Caroline Lucas, Robert Flello and Mr Clive Betts, presented a Bill to make powers available to highway authorities to make further provision for the safety, convenience and free movement on pavements of disabled people, older people, people accompanying young children and other vulnerable pedestrians; to clarify, strengthen and simplify the law relating to parking on pavements in England and Wales; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 December, and to be printed (Bill 16).
Local Government Finance (Tenure Information) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Dame Angela Watkinson, supported by Sir David Amess, Bob Blackman, Lyn Brown, Meg Hillier, Mr Stewart Jackson, Boris Johnson, Charlotte Leslie, Paul Maynard, Mark Menzies, Bob Stewart and Mr Mark Prisk, presented a Bill to amend the Local Government Finance Act 1992 to make provision for collecting information about tenure and the details of private landlords; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 30 October, and to be printed (Bill 17).
On-demand Audiovisual Services (Accessiblity for People with Disabilities affecting Hearing or Sight or both) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Lilian Greenwood, supported by Peter Aldous, Sir Peter Bottomley, Neil Carmichael, Rosie Cooper, Kate Green, Norman Lamb, Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger, Ian Mearns, Jim Shannon, Ruth Smeeth and Dr Eilidh Whiteford, presented a Bill to require the appropriate regulatory authority of on-demand audiovisual programme services to draw up a Code relating to the provision of subtitles, signing and audio-description for persons with disabilities affecting their hearing or their sight or both; to require the appropriate regulatory authority to consult before issuing any such Code; to make provision for minimum requirements to be included in the Code; to require that on-demand programme services providers observe the requirements of the Code; to provide for regular consultation about and review of the minimum requirements; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 November, and to be printed (Bill 18).
Highways (Improvement, Traffic Regulation and Traffic Management) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Sir William Cash presented a Bill to make provision for the prioritisation of maintenance of unclassified roads; the management of heavy commercial vehicle traffic; the regulation of the use of certain roads by such vehicles; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 November, and to be printed (Bill 19).
Criminal Cases Review Commission (Information) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
William Wragg, supported by John Howell, Mr Peter Bone, James Davies, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Keith Vaz, Mr Graham Brady, James Berry, Dr Liam Fox, Dr Tania Mathias and Seema Kennedy, presented a Bill to extend the Criminal Cases Review Commission’s powers to obtain information.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 December, and to be printed (Bill 20).
Higher Education (Information) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Heidi Allen, supported by Sir Oliver Heald, Mr Jonathan Djanogly, Kevin Hollinrake, Oliver Colvile, Mr David Burrowes, Daniel Zeichner, Caroline Ansell and Victoria Prentis, presented a Bill to require information to be made available to prospective undergraduate students about what is provided to students for the tuition fees charged, how tuition fee resources are expended and what is expected of students; to establish transparency in how tuition fees are spent; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 October, and to be printed (Bill 21).
Representation of the People (Young Persons’ Enfranchisement and Education) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Vicky Foxcroft, supported by Ms Mhairi Black, John Pugh, Justin Madders, Ruth Smeeth, Keith Vaz, Clive Lewis, Ian Mearns, Conor McGinn, Tulip Siddiq, Stephen Kinnock and Caroline Lucas, presented a Bill to reduce the voting age to 16 in general elections, elections to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the European Parliament, local government elections and referendums; to make provision about young people’s education in citizenship and the constitution; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 September, and to be printed (Bill 22).
Crown Tenancies Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mark Pawsey, supported by Andrew Bingham, Graham Evans, Oliver Colvile, Jeremy Lefroy, Jack Lopresti, Karen Lumley, Jason McCartney, James Morris, Wendy Morton, David Mowat and Craig Tracey, presented a Bill to provide that Crown tenancies may be assured tenancies for the purposes of the Housing Act 1988, subject to certain exceptions; to modify the assured tenancies regime in relation to certain Crown tenancies; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 September, and to be printed (Bill 23).
Mental Health (Independent Advocacy) (England) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr Geoffrey Cox, supported by Stephen Hammond, Mr Charles Walker, Mrs Sheryll Murray, Stephen Phillips, Oliver Colvile, Mr Nigel Evans, Daniel Kawczynski and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, presented a Bill to amend the Mental Health Act 1983 to make further provision for powers and responsibilities of independent mental health advocates for qualifying patients in England; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 November, and to be printed (Bill 24).
Health and Safety Executive (Powers) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
James Cleverly presented a Bill to confer further powers on the Health and Safety Executive.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 25).
Assessment of Government Policies (Impact on Families) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Caroline Ansell, supported by Mr David Burrowes, Mrs Anne Main, Mary Glindon, Richard Graham, Fiona Bruce, Martin Vickers, Jeremy Lefroy, Mr Peter Bone, John Howell, James Cleverly and Jim Shannon, presented a Bill to require ministers to carry out an assessment of the impact of government policies on families by giving statutory effect to the family test; to place a duty on the Secretary of State to make a report on the costs and benefits of requiring local authorities to carry out equivalent tests on their policies; to require the Secretary of State to establish, and make an annual report on, indicators of and targets for the government’s performance in promoting family stability; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 December, and to be printed (Bill 26).
3rd Alloted Day
I beg to move,
That this House notes that hospital A&E departments have now missed the four-hour A&E target for 100 weeks in a row; further notes that trusts are predicting record deficits this year; believes the pressures on hospitals are a consequence of declining access to out-of-hospital services under this Government, including fewer older people receiving social care and more people waiting a week or more for a GP appointment; further believes the increasing bill for agency staff is also adding to the pressure on hospitals; notes that the Government plans to stop the weekly reporting of A&E data; believes this decision will make the NHS less transparent and make it harder for patients to judge the performance of their local hospital; and calls on the Government to reinstate the publication of weekly A&E data and to set out how it will tackle hospital deficits in 2015 in order to protect services.
I want hon. Members from all parts of the House to cast their minds back to the week commencing 14 July 2013: the country was still basking in Andy Murray’s historic win at Wimbledon; England had just embarked on a successful Ashes series against Australia; and hospital A&E departments achieved their target to see 95% of patients within four hours. Since then a number of unlikely things have happened: the then reigning world champions, Spain, have crashed out of the World cup in the first round; a group of scientists remotely have landed a probe on a comet hundreds of millions of kilometres from earth; and Cuba and the United States have begun to repair diplomatic relations. But in the same period some sadly predictable things have occurred: England have crashed out of the World cup in Brazil; they have been whitewashed by Australia in the cricket; and under a Conservative Government hospitals in England have now missed their A&E target for 100 weeks in a row.
I start this debate by paying tribute to the hard-working staff at every level of our national health service. They work tirelessly in trying circumstances, and without them there would be no NHS. Ministers have in this place adopted the practice of attempting to pretend that any criticism of Government policy is a criticism of the health service or its staff, so let us make clear one thing right at the start of this debate: NHS staff are remarkable and we are all in their debt. The achievements of NHS staff are despite Government policy, not because of it.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. If he paid attention to the Francis report, he would learn that it was not the targets themselves that were to blame for the Mid Staffs tragedy, but the way they were applied in that hospital. That is clearly stated in both the first and second Francis inquiries; indeed, it was a point that the Prime Minister made on the Floor of this House when he reported to Members.
In the past 100 weeks, nearly 2.4 million patients have waited more than four hours in hospital accident and emergency units in England.
Why does the hon. Gentleman think that in my constituency A&E targets have been met for 97% of patients, that in his own hospital in his constituency in England they have been met for 93% of patients, but that in Wales they have been met for only 83%?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. Had he been in this House longer and paid more attention to these issues, he would know that the datasets comparable between England and Wales are not actually the same. He would know also that the last time we had a Conservative Government people in Wales were waiting two years for operations, and that nobody campaigns more than I do on behalf of hospitals in my area on the waiting times there.
In the past 100 weeks nearly 2.4 million patients have waited more than four hours in hospital accident and emergency units in England; almost half a million people have spent more than four hours on a trolley waiting to be admitted; and more than 1,500 have waited more than 12 hours to be admitted.
Those figures offer a stark analysis of the difficulties facing accident and emergency. Even in this week of the summer solstice, this Government’s A&E winter crisis shows no signs of abating. In a debate in January the Secretary of State for Health said that the NHS had just been through a tough winter, but the evidence from NHS England shows that accident and emergency departments have had two tough winters and are well on their way to a third tough summer. Under this Government accident and emergency is experiencing a permanent winter.
My hon. Friend will know that Northwick Park hospital in my constituency has had some of the worst waiting times in the country over the past year. Does he understand, and will he address in his remarks, the fact that the ageing population—those over the age of 80—in Brent has increased by 50%, yet the funding available to cope with that increase has been reduced by 25%? It means that, of the 250 people who attend A&E each day, 100 are dementia patients who become bed blockers because the integrated care package is not in place and is not working.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is right to mention those issues, which I will come to later. I pay tribute to him for doing so.
The reason for those pressures on A&E, in addition to the issues that my hon. Friend raises, is the sharp increase in people attending A&E since 2010. In the past the Secretary of State has tried to claim that the increase is the fault of the previous Labour Government, but that is patently nonsense. Annual attendances at hospital accident and emergency units increased by 60,000 in the four years before 2010, whereas in the four years after they increased by nearly 600,000—10 times faster. The reality is that A&E dramatically improved between 2004 and 2010, when 98% of patients were seen within four hours. This is a crisis that only started on the Tories’ watch—after they made it harder to see a GP, after they started stripping back social care services and after they launched their damaging top-down reorganisation.
The hon. Gentleman has made that point on the Floor of the House on many occasions, and he has been a constant voice with regard to the hospital services used by his constituents. That was a decision made by clinicians in the area, and he will recognise that. He will recognise also how much the framework has changed and how much more difficult the Government have made it for communities such as his to have their say on health reconfiguration.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The point is not that there should never be any change in our national health service. When clinicians plan it and put it forward to improve services, we are right to support it. The difference is that the Conservative-led Government came in and attempted to close A&Es from the centre, such as Lewisham A&E, which they were going to close. They said they would not close Sidcup A&E, but they closed it within months of entering government. That is the difference: the Government dictated the closures, not local clinicians.