Wednesday 9 September 2015
[Albert Owen in the Chair]
Affordable Housing (London)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered affordable housing in London.
[Interruption.] We seem to have been attacked by some sort of ghost in the acoustic system.
As long ago as 1946, Anthony Eden laid out a vision of a property-owning democracy, describing ownership of property as
“a reward, a right and a responsibility that must be shared as equitably as possible among all our citizens.”
I hope that both Government and Opposition Members agree with that sentiment. Demand for housing in London is at record levels. The population of our city recently exceeded the pre-war high of 8.6 million, overtaking the peak in 1939. It is growing by 100,000 people per year. That rate is forecast to continue, and by 2030 the population of our city will exceed 10 million. That population growth means that each and every year we need to build 50,000 more homes in the city to keep pace with population demand. I ask Members to keep that number in mind as we continue the debate.
The challenge that our city faces is that for the last 20 years or so we have been building only between 15,000 and 25,000 new homes a year, meaning that each and every year we are building fewer houses than required to meet population demand. That situation is clearly not sustainable. I have done some calculations for the period since 2000: in that time, we have built about 300,000 fewer homes than required to meet population demands, so we have that accumulated under-supply in our city. As a consequence, there are enormous pressures on the availability and affordability of houses in this city, as Members know from their constituency casework. [Interruption.]
As Members know from their constituency postbag, there is enormous pressure on the affordability and the availability of housing in our city. That is why 25% of 20 to 35-year-olds are still living with their parents. As the father of two-year-old twins, I very much hope that that is not the case in 18 years’ time. The average age of a first-time buyer in this city has risen to 37, so there are real challenges to do with the availability and affordability of housing.
Some people, such as the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), may talk about rent controls and so on, but at the most fundamental and basic level the issue is one of supply and demand: demand is exceeding supply. The demand side of the equation— population growth—is hard for the Government to regulate, and the only component that they can influence is probably immigration, which is clearly a big driver of housing demand in London, so it is right that the Government should want to get immigration under control. The other side of the equation is supply. By increasing supply we can alleviate the pressures to which I have referred.
Will the hon. Gentleman address the point that in a capital city the demand is not only from people who live here, but from international developers, who see housing as a good investment? We could increase supply, but none of our communities would be able to muscle their way into getting some of those properties.
Let me take the latter point made by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) before coming on to the hon. Lady’s. On affordability, supply and demand clearly drive prices. I am delighted that under the current Mayor of London we have delivered 3,000 council houses, whereas under the previous Mayor virtually none were delivered. Taken together, the number of housing association starts and local authority starts under this Government is 5% higher than under the Labour Government.
I would like to make a little progress first; I will give way in a moment. The Mayor of London, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), has brought forward 94,000 affordable units during his mayoralty —a considerably larger number than was brought forward by his predecessor, Mr Livingstone. We have a good track record on affordable housing, but more clearly needs to be done.
On foreigners buying property in London, there are two elements: who is buying it, and are they occupying it? On foreigners buying it, the phenomenon tends to be concentrated in prime central London places, such as Kensington and Chelsea—
It is good that Hackney is a desirable place. Figures produced by Knight Frank suggest that 93% of new build stock in outer London and 80% in inner London is sold to UK residents. Savills estimates that in 93% of all transactions across London, the property, whether new or second-hand, goes to people who live here, so it is possible to overstate things. In 93% of property transactions, the property goes to Londoners.
I am delighted to report that vacancy rates in London under this Government have dropped dramatically. Long-term vacancy—vacancies for longer than six months—stood at 34,000 units in 2010; that has dropped to 20,000 units, which is a reduction of 41%. That is good progress achieved under this Government.
May I suggest to my hon. Friend that the rather self-serving evidence from Knight Frank and Savills not be given too much credence? There are important points that all of us in London, across the political divide, feel strongly about, and making the debate rabidly party political is unhelpful, not only for London MPs, but for all those we represent.
It is certainly not my intention to make the debate rabidly party political—I am not sure that I have been called “rabid” before, but I thank my right hon. Friend for introducing the adjective. I want this to be a non-partisan and constructive discussion about London’s housing. I hope there are things that we can agree on during the debate.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his Government’s policies to force the sale of high-value council homes in London and to restrict or cut the rents without compensating councils, which is completely decimating council building programmes, are not helpful in providing more affordable housing?
I am sure that the Minister will comment later, but the sale of valuable houses might provide councils with the opportunity to use the proceeds to build two or three new social housing units. For example, I used to be a councillor in Camden and some of its housing stock, such as some units in Bloomsbury, was worth well in excess of £1 million—one of those units was occupied by the hon. Gentleman’s former colleague, Mr Dobson. Were such a unit to be sold, we could have built two or three council or social housing units elsewhere in Camden or London. There is some merit in that.
On the rent reductions, making housing more affordable clearly means making rents cheaper, which will help housing association and council tenants to pay lower rents. There are opportunities to force efficiency savings in those organisations. Most branches of government—local authorities, the police, every Department—have made savings over the past four or five years, quite rightly, and it is fair to ask other organisations to make savings and pass those on to their tenants.
The hon. Gentleman should have read his brief a little more carefully. In places such as Camden, it will often not be possible to find the land on which to build to replace those houses that are sold. If it can be found, under his Government’s rules, it is likely that the newly built homes will also have to be sold. The fact is that councils in London have tried hard to have house building programmes. The effect of the rent cut may be good in itself, but unless Government money is supplied to compensate for it, there will be no council housing building programme for London. He needs to address those points if we are to take him seriously.
If there are challenges in inner London boroughs such as Camden and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where it is difficult to find new sites, it is important that houses are built in the wider London area. The Mayor of London has strongly advocated having a London ring fence, whereby the proceeds of council house sales and the like are ring-fenced for use within London. I am sure the Minister will comment on that suggestion in due course.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so generous in giving way. He seems to be saying that in boroughs such as Hackney—where, under the Government’s proposed right-to-buy policy, large family council properties would need to be sold off, but over a fifth of residents under 16 will need those family homes—we should be content to encourage people to go and live in Ruislip or Mitcham. I am sure that those are fantastic places to live, but they are not where Hackney residents want to live; they would have to take their children out of school to do so, which they do not want to do. Is he saying we should be shipping people out of expensive areas to cheaper areas?
No. I am simply saying that where there are very high-value council properties, it makes sense to sell them and free up money to build more properties. Ideally, those would be in the same borough, but if there is a lack of land—I am not sure that Hackney has a particular lack of land; that is more a problem for the inner London boroughs, such as Camden, Westminster and RBKC—and it is impossible to find new land in the borough, we should look a little more widely. That seems to be common sense. If we can sell one unit and build three, that seems to be a trade-off well worth—
I will make a little progress. I have been unusually generous.
The Mayor of London has made progress during the seven years of his mayoralty. He has brought forward 94,000 affordable houses since 2008, which—to respond to the point made by the right hon. Member for Tottenham—is extremely welcome. The 20 housing zones established jointly between the Government and the Mayor of London, with £400 million of investment, are also extremely welcome. In those zones the local authority, the Mayor and the Department for Communities and Local Government get together to put in place the planning, infrastructure and support required to deliver large-scale housing. Those zones will help, and the £200 million London housing bank will help as well.
There are also specific projects that I am sure we are all keen to encourage. For example, the Mayoral Development Corporation is bringing forward 24,000 units on derelict industrial land at Old Oak Common in Ealing. We need to see far more schemes—
Is it partly in Hammersmith? [Interruption.] The fact that it goes over three London boroughs shows that we need MDCs to step in and make things happen when large numbers of public bodies are involved. In my own borough, the Croydon growth zone is important; it will, I hope, bring forward 4,000 houses. The Brent Cross regeneration project is another important scheme. Those specific projects, in which the Government, the Mayor of London and the boroughs focus together on bringing forward large numbers of houses in a particular area, are very effective. I strongly encourage the Mayor and the Minister to do even more in that way.
I also commend the Greater London Authority for its programme of disposing of its public land for housing. Over the last couple of years, the GLA has disposed of 98% of the land that it owns—that excludes Transport for London, by the way—for public housing. That includes the site of the old Cane Hill hospital in my constituency—which is directly overlooked by my house—where Barratt Homes is currently building 650 houses. That is an example that other public bodies should follow.
In that vein, I welcome the London Land Commission, which met for the first time on 15 July. Its duty is to catalogue surplus public sector land that can be brought forward for housing. TfL has 6,000 acres that could be used across 600 sites; the NHS has 1,000 acres, 15% of which is potentially surplus to requirements. There is a huge amount that can be done by bringing forward public sector land for house building.
I also strongly support the idea of using local development orders to effectively grant outline planning consent on suitable brownfield land, even if the landowner has not applied for consent. The target is to get LDOs for 90% of brownfield sites by 2020. That is a really important initiative. One housing association estimates that there are 8,000 acres of developable brownfield land in our city. It is a matter of absolute urgency that we develop that land as quickly as possible, partly to create new housing and partly to take pressure off the green belt, which it is essential to protect.
I am conscious that other Members wish to speak. In closing, I will briefly put eight specific proposals to the Minister. The first is to consider extending the office-to-residential conversion scheme that has been in operation for the last two or three years, in areas where there is no pressure on office supply. Certainly some clarification is needed about the definition of change of use. At the moment, the change of use has to have occurred by May 2016, but there is a little ambiguity about what the change of use actually is, so some clarification would help developers and investors.
Secondly—this is more a matter for the Treasury than DCLG—the regime for buy-to-let mortgages is currently a bit softer than the mortgage regime for owner-occupiers. For example, most owner-occupier mortgages are repayment, whereas most buy-to-let landlords get interest-only mortgages. In my view, that means that buy-to-let landlords are unfairly advantaged relative to potential owner-occupiers. The Bank of England and the Treasury should look at that, to create a level playing field so that owner-occupiers can purchase on an equal footing to buy-to-let landlords. That would encourage home ownership.
Thirdly, local authority planning departments are often a serious bottleneck, leading to the missing of statutory deadlines for granting planning consent. I suggest that we should consider allowing higher planning fees to be charged in exchange for a guaranteed service level. Planning fees are quite low, and I am sure that many developers—particularly larger ones with big schemes—would happily pay a great deal more money to get a quick, clear decision. That would bring planning consents forward more quickly and get us building.
No. Proper consultation is clearly very important. Quite often, however, it the process with officers that is slow. It is not the planning committee; the officers who prepare the reports and do all the work prior to the application can take a very long time, often because they are under-resourced, because of the understandable pressures on local government finances. I am sure that larger developers in particular would be happy to pay significantly higher fees to speed up the process. Some planning departments and councils are very good, but some are not, and when they are not performing and are letting local residents down by being slow in dealing with applications, we should consider outsourcing planning functions to a third party that can do the job more effectively. That could be paid for by planning fees.
Fourthly, we must make sure that the brownfield register being compiled for the LDOs is given real focus. I suspect that the GLA will play a role in supporting that process, and it may need some financial assistance. It is essential to get the list of brownfield land and develop those 8,000 acres as quickly as possible. I hope that the Department, the Mayor of London and the boroughs will put a huge focus on identifying that land and giving it outline planning consent over the next five years.
My fifth point is a more general one, about talking to developers. I should draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I have a previous and a current professional involvement in the area. Parts of the planning process put up barriers—things like bat studies and crested newt studies. They are less of an issue, I imagine, in Camden and Hackney, but in other parts of the country they can delay developments by months or years. Bats and crested newts are important, but building houses is important as well, and sometimes the balance struck between those considerations is not quite right.
My sixth point relates to the London Land Commission. Its current mandate is simply to identify surplus public sector land. I would go further and give the commission, supported by the Mayor of London and the Department, the power to take on surplus public sector land—whoever it happens to be owned by—and to bring that land directly forward for development. Some 50%, say, of the proceeds would go, with no restrictions, to the previous landowner—the NHS, Network Rail or TfL—and the other 50% would be ploughed back into housing. There would therefore be an incentive for such organisations to co-operate with the process, whereas if the money just disappears somewhere else, they may not be very co-operative. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to granting the commission the powers I have described.
The seventh point is to make the adoption of a local plan by local authorities—both inside and outside London—mandatory. At the moment, a number of authorities do not have local plans, which makes it difficult to bring forward housing. If authorities do not bring forward a local plan by a particular point—for example, by 2017—the planning inspector or DCLG should simply develop one on their behalf. Authorities have had plenty of notice, but a number have not developed a plan.
My final point is that community infrastructure payments should be used for infrastructure that is relevant to the local community. When local authorities take community infrastructure levy money, it can disappear into a black hole, and there is a temptation to replace capital spending elsewhere, which causes resentment among local residents. In the case of the project close to my house, there is a £7 million CIL payment, but the money could disappear to the other end of Croydon, which would mean that any pressures on schools, hospitals and local roads were not necessarily alleviated. I think the local public will be more accepting of large-scale development if they can see that it is directly linked to infrastructure improvements in their locality, and that will ease the passage of development.
I have tried to make eight constructive suggestions to help to alleviate the house building issues that London faces. I hope Members on both sides will agree with my diagnosis of the problem and with some of the solutions I have mentioned. I hope colleagues will come forward with other ideas in the next hour and 10 minutes and that the Minister will be able to respond to them.
Our city faces problems on housing. Progress has been made, but there is more to do. I therefore hope that we can work together, as London MPs, with the Mayor of London, the boroughs and the Department to alleviate the pressures our city faces.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, Helen Hayes, I remind Members that I will call the first of the three Front-Bench speakers at 10.30 am, so Members have about five minutes each. If everybody keeps to that, there will be no need for a time limit.
I thank the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) for calling the debate. The housing crisis is, indeed, the biggest issue facing London. More people than ever are on the waiting list for a council home, huge numbers of people are in expensive, insecure private tenancies, and there is a whole generation of people for whom owning their own home is an unattainable aspiration.
People with housing issues fill my surgery every week. The impact of those issues is wide-ranging, stretching from health problems, to educational disadvantage as a result of a lack of space to do homework, to young people being unable to put down roots in their communities because they are constantly subject to eviction following the end of private tenancies.
Within London’s housing crisis as a whole, however, there is a sub-crisis—the availability of affordable housing. In that context, the Government are seeking to introduce policies that will make delivering affordable housing much harder unless additional mitigating measures are put in place.
I wrote to the Minister for Housing and Planning on 21 July about the proposal to reduce social rents by 1%, and I am disappointed that I have yet to receive a response. I therefore want to bring to the debate the issues raised in that letter and to press the Government on them.
The London borough of Southwark, of which I represent part, is one of the largest social landlords in the country, responsible for 39,000 council homes and 15,000 leasehold properties. It also has the single biggest commitment to council house building of any local authority in the country, with a 30-year plan to build 11,000 new council homes. The plan was developed following an independent housing commission, which explored in detail housing needs and housing stock in the borough and the ways in which the council could best address the condition of current council homes and the need for current and future housing.
In 2014, as part of the 2014 spending review, the Chancellor set rents for the next 10 years at consumer prices index plus 1%. That clear financial position formed the basis for Southwark’s long-term planning for current and future council homes. The announcement in the emergency Budget that social rents will now be reduced annually by 1% for four years will have significant consequences for Southwark Council’s housing revenue account if the Government take no steps to mitigate the proposal’s impact. The announcement was made without consultation with, or prior notice to, the housing sector, giving councils and housing associations no opportunity to evaluate its effects or to make representations to the Government.
The proposal represents a fundamental shift in Government policy and is the most profound of a number of changes that, cumulatively, undermine the principles of self-financing and the ability of councils and housing associations to meet their long-term investment needs and contribute to addressing the housing crisis. It removes previous resource certainty, which is a key factor for any organisation seeking to make investment plans, because rental stream is critical to the viability of social housing providers’ business plans. It removes all local discretion and introduces de facto rent control for social housing, at a time when the Government are not looking at any measures to curb rents in the private sector.
The proposal’s stated purpose is to curb the housing benefit bill, but impeding social housing providers’ ability to build new social homes will significantly increase it, not reduce it. The emergency Budget contains no equivalent measures on the level of private sector rent or the definition of affordable rent—up to 80% of market rent in London—which have played by far and away the most significant role in increasing the housing benefit bill.
The proposal’s compound effect over four years on Southwark Council alone will be an annual cut of more than £65 million from 2015-16 levels. In the long term, the loss of resources, which will be compounded over the business plan’s 30-year life, will be of the order of £1.1 billion. That will have a staggeringly large impact on council homes in Southwark.
During the last Parliament, the Government provided financial support to enable councils to freeze council tax. In a similar vein, I seek confirmation that they will provide additional funding to compensate for the impact that the proposal to reduce council rents by 1% will have on housing revenue accounts, to ensure the council can continue to deliver new council homes and invest in its current homes.
Taken together, the Government’s proposal on council rents and the proposal to extend the right to buy to housing associations—funded by the forced sale of high-value council properties—will mean a dramatic worsening of the housing crisis in London over the next five years, with no improvement whatever.
I am absolutely dismayed by the Government’s proposals, which fundamentally belie the suggestion that they have any understanding at all of housing finance or of the practical ways in which the housing sector delivers new homes and contributes to solving the housing crisis. I therefore hope I will get a response today to the points that I raised on 21 July.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp). I did not wish to be unkind to him earlier; the point I was trying to make was that housing in London is a toxic, complicated issue. In many ways, it is one issue on which all of us, as London Members of Parliament, need to try to work together, although there will, of course, be party political differences from time to time.
I hope colleagues will forgive me for focusing my comments not on social housing, which is close to my heart—it is an issue even in my constituency—but on foreign ownership. Property ownership in Britain is a key component of the social capital that enables a free enterprise system to have popular legitimacy and to function effectively.
Foreign investment in London property is so desirable because property here is widely considered to be relatively low risk, while offering high returns. There are a great many reasons for that, mainly stemming from the inclusive and welcoming society created by this nation—our forefathers—over many generations. All this so-called social capital cannot simply be bought; it has evolved over many centuries.
As the international enclave expands in central London boroughs, prices have also been driven up in the outer suburbs. It is getting tough for even the highest paid professionals to buy homes, as population growth exacerbates supply issues. High rent gobbles up funds for deposits, and prices get a boost from artificially low interest rates. There is something very wrong, here in the capital, when hard-working residents, our own constituents, who play by the rules, are completely priced out of their own housing market. These are the sort of people who will maintain and build London’s social capital and pass it on to the next generation. Property developers benefit from that social capital and it is only right that they play their part in preserving it.
Lest we forget, the fundamental purpose of residential property is to house people. It is a precious resource and should not routinely be locked away as part of an investment portfolio. Housing is a key component of every city’s eco-system and it may now be time to consider having residential developments that are open for purchase by only UK citizens and permanent residents. That would to some extent prevent non-resident overseas investors from bringing about what is, despite the honeyed words of Knight Frank and Savills, massive distortion of London’s property market.
Nations such as Switzerland and Singapore have strict restrictions on the foreign ownership of property. Yet they are global players that still operate successfully as financial centres. In Switzerland, only Swiss citizens and permanent residents can own property. The property market is a free market that operates within those rules. In Singapore most Singaporeans live in Housing Development Board properties, which only Singaporeans can own, some of which are by any standards luxurious. Singapore also has unrestricted ownership of non HBD properties—mainly high-cost luxury properties, which are open to foreign ownership. However, high stamp duty and penal capital gains taxes are levied on speculative purchases, if the property is sold within four years of securing ownership. I fully appreciate that for London to remain a dynamic, global city we must continue to welcome people from abroad to live, work, study and build businesses here. They will make an important contribution to our city’s culture. However, that is different from welcoming speculative capital that forces British citizens and other permanent residents who live and work here out of our city.
Another key aspect to examine is the reported reluctance of banks to lend money for residential property developments, so that developers look for off-plan purchasers, frequently in Asia, to deposit 20% of the value of their purchase to allow building to commence. That is an extremely complex issue and I fully acknowledge that, for example, Battersea power station would have remained derelict had it not been for the substantial boost afforded by some of that foreign investment.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that another element of that foreign ownership is dirty money being trafficked through London from Russia and other places, with 3.7 square miles of London owned by offshore companies—we do not know whom—and that we need serious regulation?
There are two issues. There is clearly some dirty money; it would be naive to suggest there is none. That said, there is also significant investment from Russia and the middle east that is not dirty money at all. As for offshore companies, we should not necessarily assume that there is a direct connection there. There is a range of reasons for using offshore financial vehicles in an entirely legitimate way. The important thing is to have a registration process—although it need not necessarily be open, because that would lead to all sorts of other difficulties—so that the authorities in the Channel Islands or Cayman Islands, for example, are well aware of what is going on.
I appreciate that others want to speak but want briefly, if I may, to suggest some qualifications that we might have in mind as criteria for purchasing into the London market. An individual should be either a British citizen or permanent resident, and the purchase should not be for a buy-to-let investment, but a home to live in. It should be possible to let the property out only after period of residency, and then only for a specified time before it would need to be sold. If the property were immediately sold, a penal capital gain would be levied, and it would have to be sold to people who qualified under the same criteria. Additional levies on speculative ownership and buy-to-leave-empty purchases might also need to be considered alongside a potential system for a higher non-resident council tax, which I have also discussed in the past.
I am trying here to provoke some thoughtful debate, and I recognise that some of my proposals will not necessarily prove entirely practicable. However, we should not lose sight of the foundations on which the high property prices in London are built. They have much to do with the huge amounts of social capital created by our constituents over many centuries. We are custodians of that social capital, and our duty is to grow it, improve it and bequeath it properly to future generations.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), one of my near neighbours, on getting the debate. London MPs have a serious job to do on behalf of our constituents. I want to make some suggestions about people’s ability to own their home in London.
A survey in July by the Evening Standard suggested that 82% of Londoners who currently do not own their home believe that it will always be outside their price range. A significant number of those people have good jobs by any estimation and want to buy, but cannot. I think the reason for that is that we have lost the connection—in a moral, civic and party sense—between owning a home and using housing as an investment. That is why, while I fully support the Government in their Budget plan to reduce the tax breaks on buy-to-let mortgages, I do not believe that they go far enough.
The flawed principle that landlords can claim tax relief on mortgage interest will remain. Landlords will get a slightly lower tax relief. The Government’s own documents on that cut suggest that they will save just £665 million a year by 2020. That is just one tenth of the £6 billion in mortgage interest claimed back in tax by landlords in 2012-13. A major contribution to tackling the root causes of the housing crisis seriously would be to get an even playing field between those attempting to get mortgages to buy, and those attempting to get them to let.
To touch on the issue of international investment in property, on which I would not want to compete with the knowledge of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), it cannot be right that in a major new development in Thameside only a fifth of the properties were purchased by domestic buyers. In July a new £140 million development in Canary Wharf sold out in hours, and half the flats were bought by overseas investors not resident in the UK. A 2013 report by Knight Frank, taking a different tack, found that 28% of central London property buyers were non-UK residents. I challenge the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Croydon South that that is something that happens only in central London.
I represent a suburban London constituency that is cheap by London standards; 18 months ago I had an email from a constituent who said, “Siobhain, you need to know what is going on. My daughter and her boyfriend want to buy their first one-bedroom flat”—in a part of Mitcham that no one would regard as palatial. When they turned up to try to put in an offer, there were 32 people in that one-bedroom flat. The person next to my constituent’s daughter and her boyfriend was a representative of a Chinese bank, which was interested in investing in it. How can that couple ever compete in that environment?
We need to find some solutions. I am sure there are many sophisticated suggestions. One that I want to suggest is a levy on property sold to non-UK residents. It would raise billions in tax revenue and that could be invested in affordable housing. Reducing demand from buy-to-let landlords and foreign property investors would also cut the spiralling housing benefit bill. Housing benefit paid to private landlords has now reached £9.3 billion, or 38% of the total bill. With fewer people able to buy homes, there is more demand in the private rental sector, which again puts up rents. If we removed mortgage tax interest from buy-to-let mortgages, we would release £6 billion. That is roughly the equivalent of grants to housing associations to build 100,000 new social homes—a real contribution to helping those who are having difficulties. We would also help the economy, because as we all know, for every £1 spent on housing construction, an additional £2.09 of economic output is generated.
I urge the Government to be more assertive in their efforts to encourage home ownership through the tax system, and to discourage the damaging crowding of the market by buy-to-let landlords and non-UK residents. We must enable people to fulfil that most basic of human desires—to own their own home—and so we must encourage and incentivise buying to live, and not buying to let.
We are all agents for change in our constituencies. I suggest that Members on both sides of the House look at the YMCA’s Y:Cube, which is about going back to the prefabs. They can be built on bad, difficult, and small sites, and they can be constructed for only 25% of normal construction costs. They can be built within five months of receiving planning permission, and the money is paid back in around 10 years, so it is a great investment. If anybody wants to know more about Y:Cube, I have a pack here, but I am sure that the YMCA would love to talk to them. We need to be broadminded about the solutions and consider things that we may never have thought of in the past, because it is a huge problem.
May I be opportunistic and place on record my appreciation of the Queen’s public service to this country, Mr Owen?
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) is not so far down the road of public service, but he has done us a great service today by securing this debate on what one Member rightly described as the No. 1 political issue in the capital. It goes to the heart of the debate about what kind of London we want to live in and have our kids grow up in. I feel passionately that London, if it is to continue being the vibrant, brilliant place it is, must be somewhere that people of all ages and incomes can afford to live in decent homes, in neighbourhoods that are not segregated by wealth, class or nationality. In particular, it must be a place where young people feel that they really have a decent chance of buying or renting their own space and have the chance to get on.
I think most of us are here because we fear we are heading in the wrong direction, and that the pressures in this context are enormous. For me, it is an issue of social justice and intergenerational equity. It matters enormously, and I have detected, as I am sure that other MPs have, enormous change in sentiment in the area I represent, which is a relatively affluent suburb on the edge of London. Now, people cannot buy a one-bedroom flat for less than a quarter of a million pounds there, nor can they rent one for less than £1,000 a month. This issue is really concerning for people. The debate has changed from 2005, when I stood on platforms trying to get elected. The question then was, “How do we stop the development?”, whereas it is now, “Where are my grandchildren going to live?”, and “How do we build what we need to build without spoiling the area?”
There is no easy answer to those questions, but this is a fundamental challenge for our generation of politicians, because as others have said, the problem is likely to get worse, given the demand pressures, not least due to population increase. This is one of the biggest challenges for our generation of politicians. The past is less interesting than the future, but we have to recognise that Governments of both colours have failed the capital in the past, in terms of building the number of homes required. As hon. Members would expect me to say, the coalition Government deserve a great deal of credit for stopping the rot. I will leave it to the Minister to give the roll call of achievements; I think it is substantial.
The Mayor of London is not here today, but I think he also deserves great credit for changing the tempo and ambition, and for some really interesting innovation, particularly in helping working families on low incomes and giving them the support that they need. There have been a lot of very interesting initiatives and very good projects that I hope his successor—with respect to other candidates, I sincerely hope it will be my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith)—will turbo-charge.
However, I guard against looking simply at incremental reform. I think we need to be more radical. The absolute priority is increasing the supply of affordable homes. This cannot just be about increasing the volume of building, because that will take too long. It is largely about what gets built. The starting point—if it takes a Conservative to point this out, so be it—is recognising that the market will not deliver, because, certainly in my area, it delivers what the market can afford, and not necessarily what the community needs. I believe that the state has to be more radical in terms of intervention. Local authorities have to get back into the business of building. We have to do big Conservative things to open up this market, which is too opaque. The power is concentrated in too few hands. We need more competition, more transparency and more innovation in how stuff gets designed, built and financed, and we need to bring in the public in a much bigger way, so that they feel a bigger sense of buy-in.
The debate is normally framed around power, land and money. I simply add a concern about skills. It was put to me by the director of a major development company that we can have the best policies in the world, but we do not have the people or skills to build what we want to build, and we need to address that.
In terms of power, I am a strong believer in decentralisation. I would like to see the next Mayor have more power, and we should be open to the idea of a new delivery agency. We need to question why Transport for London and the NHS think that they should be in the redevelopment business. I support the London Land Commission, but we need more clarity around the presumption and policy priority relating to public land. Is the priority to maximise the value to the taxpayer or to maximise value to the community? We are seeing that with the potential development of Northwood and Pinner cottage hospital in my constituency. The situation is too vague, and it is frustrating.
I am not at all sure that extending the right to buy is the right policy priority for London at the moment. I am open to persuasion. I want to be assured that it is compatible with a big increase in supply, and I certainly support the Mayor in his call for all proceeds of the policy to stay inside London.
Last but not least, I want to see much more innovation in design and financing. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) is entirely right. Organisations such as Create Streets show what can be done to redesign failing estates. We can build in different, modern ways. Laing O’Rourke is leading the way in the UK with important thinking on modular design that transforms the cost and timing of building. We should be doing more than dipping our toe into the waters of giving people the freedom to build their own home. We should be giving local authorities more freedom to explore new vehicles that give them more flexibility to deliver the homes that they see are needed. Enfield, Sutton and Ealing are leading the way with that.
We need much more creativity in giving opportunities for new sources of finance to come in that are not rapacious, but want to support and invest in infrastructure. Sir Merrick Cockell gave a fascinating speech in which he talked about the potential for London local authority pension funds to collaborate. They want to invest in infrastructure and they need new opportunities. He talked about the potential of municipal bonds and retail bonds to get communities involved in the opportunity to invest in their area. I was proud to lead our work in Government on developing social investment as an asset class. We lead the world in that, and there are pioneers in that area, such as the Cheyne Social Property Impact Fund, the Real Lettings Property Fund, and the Golden Lane Housing bond. Those organisations are looking for opportunities to invest for social benefit in this area, and what they are missing is opportunity. The problem is not supply of capital, but supply of opportunity, so I think there is a huge opportunity for local authorities, MPs and the Mayor to work together and reach out to designers, architects, developers, investors and pioneering local authorities who want to do things in different ways. That is what we need if we are to get serious about tackling the No. 1 issue in the capital that we love.
In the four minutes or so I have available, I want to acknowledge the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark—[Interruption.] Sorry, my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), who represents the borough of Southwark, because she painted exactly the picture in my constituency. She laid out very comprehensively the financial challenges of building homes for social housing providers. I find myself, perhaps not for the first time actually, in total agreement with the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), because there is a real issue in my constituency too about overseas developers, and I will touch on that.
I want to cut to the issues that I want to raise with the Minister, but I need to add that my surgeries, too, are full of people in great distress. When I started out in politics about 20 years ago, housing was a huge issue. It was a case of having to visit people in bed and breakfasts; there were all those sorts of problems. Things got a bit better, but they are now worse, I think, than they have ever been. People are so distressed. They are living in overcrowded conditions, and there is no way out. They are put in temporary accommodation a long way from home and have to remove their children from school. They are unable to get a foot on the housing ladder, find it a struggle to pay the rent and have no security of tenure in the private sector.
I should just alert Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, Mr Owen. I let a property, so I understand the technical side for landlords. There is a lot of bleating, frankly, from some of the landlords’ associations about the challenges of keeping rents at a rent escalator level, so that when someone goes into a tenancy, they know how long they will be there and what the rent will be. I do not think that there is a problem for any landlord, big or small, in managing a business model along those lines.
Let me cut to the issues that I would like the Minister to address. I agree with the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster that we need to tax the overseas investors. I am not an expert in how that should happen, although the Select Committee that I chair may well end up pursuing that issue. It is a real issue. I commend to the Minister the map that Private Eye did. It simply looked at properties that were sold and whom they were sold to. The situation is shocking. Let me just mention my area. There are flats down the road from me. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) said, small properties that should be going to local first-time buyers are being bought by overseas companies. They are somehow getting a tax break for doing that. That is not the sort of investment that we need. I recognise that huge sites, such as Battersea power station, may need to attract overseas investment, but this is taking away from local people, so the Minister and the Government need to look at that.
The Government need to go back to the drawing board on the right to buy. As I said in my intervention, taking family-sized properties away from Hackney council to backfill for the sale of housing association properties is double-hitting the affordable housing stock in my area, where it is increasingly unaffordable for someone on the minimum wage even to rent a property, certainly without housing benefit. I recently heard of a nurse moving into a new housing association development who was reliant on housing benefit from day one. That is my other point: the Government must grasp the nettle of housing benefit. Subsequent Governments of differing hues have not done that. When Sir George Young, who was formerly in this place, was a Housing Minister more than 20 years ago, he said, “Let housing benefit take the strain.” Housing benefit is now taking the strain to a ridiculous extent. If that money were better invested, we would make a dent in the problem.
This is something the Minister could easily do. Certainly my party had discussions with the Council of Mortgage Lenders before the last election about allowing longer tenancies in the private sector. It is the mortgage lenders that, ridiculously, suggest that a year’s contract is more secure. Frankly, a tenanted property in London often represents a more secure income for the mortgage lender than that from someone in a precarious job. That is something the Minister could quickly act on, and I urge him to do so.
We are hearing a list of questions for the Minister, and I just want to throw in a few of my own, because although I am new here, even I am getting a sense of déjà vu. I led a similar debate almost exactly two months ago, and we did not have any answers then, so I just want to throw in three questions from then.
In the 30 seconds remaining to me, I will rattle through my points. Shared ownership needs to be reviewed. Recently on the market in my constituency was a £1 million shared ownership property. One would need to earn £77,000 a year to get a quarter share in that property. That is not computing; it is not working, and it needs to be reconsidered in London.
The Government could and should consider co-operative ownership. The garden suburbs were on that model. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden said, there is an opportunity to think more broadly and innovatively. Perhaps there could be a competition for housing solutions, and that could be one of them.
We need to give London much more autonomy. We need to devolve more property tax, so that the London Mayor, whatever party they are from, has the control to be able to grapple with this issue in the London market. We need to have a much better strategy for public land. Hon. Members have already talked about this in the debate. Her Majesty’s Treasury is demanding the highest pound return for the taxpayer. That sounds admirable, but the better dividend locally for communities would be to have affordable housing for local purchasers and local renters on the sites. It is common sense to look at the way land is dealt with, so the London Land Commission is a step in the right direction.
The Minister, I hope, will recognise that housing is a huge problem for our constituents. That has to be grappled with now or it will remain a problem for the next 20 years. It is going to take a long time to solve as it is, and if he does not tackle it now, it will become worse. We will see London hollowed out, with key workers and people on low incomes unable to live in the areas in which they work and which they serve. That will be devastating for the social capital of London.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) on having initiated one of the most important debates that we can have in London. I want to echo a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who talked about the changing dynamic in his constituency. I have no doubt that that is echoed all the way around London. When I was selected in 2008 to be the Conservative candidate for Richmond Park and north Kingston, the main emphasis in the hustings, in the open primary, that decided it in the end was who was going to fight off the inappropriate development best—who was going to take it to the developers. And the very same people, just a couple of months ago in the run-up to the most recent general election, were asking in the hustings, “How on earth are our children going to get on the housing ladder? There is no prospect of it at all.” There has been a sea change in public attitudes, and I do not think there is any doubt that housing is the No. 1 concern in London. The population is soaring and will continue to soar. We expect the population to hit 10 million over the next 15 years and we are not building anything like enough to match that demand, so volume does matter.
The average price for the first-time buyer in London is, as has been said, more than £400,000. That requires a deposit in some cases of about £100,000 and an income of about £75,000 or £76,000 to manage the mortgage. Rent is more than double the national average. Even in the least expensive postcodes in London, renters on the London living wage can expect to spend more than 40% of their income on rent, which means that they have no chance of saving for a deposit in order to get, eventually, on to the housing ladder. Therefore, Londoners are already being priced out of their own city. That is hurting families, but also our competiveness as a city.
There is no single answer, but a lot can be done. In the two or three minutes that I have left, I will not be able to talk about some of the really meaty, interesting issues such as devolution of property taxes, which was touched on in the last speech, or another issue that I do not think has come up, which is putting empty homes back on the market. There are about 80,000 empty homes in London that should not be empty. The current Mayor has done more than, I think, any other British politician in living memory to bring empty homes on to the market, but we have a long way to go and we can be more robust.
However, the bottom line is, whether we like it or not, that we need to build more—45,000 to 50,000 homes every year just to avoid a crisis. The question then is how we do that. There is the problem of land banking, which has been raised. There are more consents to build than developments actually happening, but it is not just the private developers that are land banking. As has been mentioned, there is an enormous amount of publicly owned brownfield land—it is owned by the public sector. TfL alone owns the equivalent of 16 Hyde parks. The NHS owns an enormous amount of land that it is not using. A typical local authority can own up to one third of the land in its borough. We can deliver the homes that we need in London without even touching the green belt—without encroaching on our green spaces at all. I strongly welcome the initiative by the Mayor and the Government. The London Land Commission will provide the inventory that we need. We do not have the information at the moment, but we will shortly.
However, to get building we also need to address a problem in the development sector, which is that it has increasingly become an oligopoly. A very small number of mega-developers account for the vast majority of the building that we see in London and, in turn, demand unrealistic levels of return based on often spurious “viability tests”. There is a need to open up the viability test and to help local authorities with the expertise they need to deal with the developers and with that process.
To build new homes, we need three things—I am aware that I have only two minutes left, so I am going to rush. We need land, which we have. We need planning, which, between the local authorities and the Mayor, we have. It is possible to de-risk development with the powers that the Mayor and the local authorities have between them. And we need finance. It is not difficult to get that finance, for precisely the reason that we have heard from a number of hon. Members. There is an overwhelming appetite among people around the world to invest in London. At the moment, that is causing serious resentment, because buildings are being built and then bought by people who have no intention of living in those buildings. “Safety deposit boxes in the sky” is how they are often described.
That appetite is there, but it does not have to be a negative; it could be a positive. If we channelled that investment in order to deliver the homes that Londoners need—affordable homes for purchase and for rent on publicly owned, publicly available brownfield land—we could turn that negative into an overwhelming positive. We could create a pan-London investment vehicle designed to attract that investment. There are people who, because of the volatility and dangers in the world around us, want to put their money somewhere safe—that is, in London property. We could create that investment opportunity for them and for the pension funds, which want nothing more than long-term investments—low risk and medium return. This is ideal for London property. We need to find a way of creating that vehicle to attract and then channel that funding in such a way that it does good.
I note the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field). I very much agree with the thesis that he put forward. We need to look carefully at the ideas that he suggested, some of which I think absolutely do need to be implemented.
In my remaining minute, let me say that one huge opportunity we have is to redevelop some of the poorly designed estates that were put up in the ’50s and ’60s. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner mentioned Create Streets, an organisation that has been looking closely at this. It takes the view that if we were to redevelop about half of London’s 1950s and 1960s estates, we could increase density even while lowering the height of these buildings, which would improve their attractiveness and quality. By doing so, we could potentially provide the affordable homes that we need for the next 10 to 15 years. There is an enormous amount of work to do there, and it is a massive opportunity.
Let me end by saying that whichever route we take, it is essential that we build well; that we work with, not against, communities; and that we build homes that enhance communities. We know how big the challenge is, and if we build badly—if we dump hideous buildings and disproportionate developments on communities—we will exhaust Londoners’ appetite for the level of development that we will need if we are to have any chance of delivering the required number of homes.
It will be down to one minute. The Minister has offered two minutes, and we are using up time arguing over a minute or two. The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) will each make a two-minute contribution. If the Front-Bench spokespeople keep their contributions to eight minutes each, we will get everybody in. David Lammy—two minutes, and you will be cut off.
For the last time, the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) is cutting my time short. He demonstrates well why he should remain in this House.
I want to emphasise solutions. It is important to recognise that there has been a collapse in London for those who require social homes. If the average income is £32,000 in London, many Londoners will never be able to own a home of their own. If the Government continue to extend right to buy to housing associations, more social homes will come off the market. If they do nothing about those who exercise the right to buy, which for many is effectively a discount of hundreds of thousands of pounds from the taxpayer on social homes, there will continue to be a collapse in social homes. It is of concern to me that despite quite a lot of cross-party consensus, little is said by the current Government on social homes and where we will see them.
We need new solutions. What we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) was absolutely right—prefab, discount homes for young people at prices that they can afford. That is why, in my bid to be London Mayor, I have suggested that we issue bonds and enable people to build at a discount on public land. We cannot build in such a way on public land if we continue to sell it at best value to the highest bidder. TFL land and Scotland Yard have been sold off to the highest bidder. Local authorities are selling off land to the highest bidder. That is public money and public land, so it should absolutely be used to build discount homes that people can properly afford. We need a bond issue. Finally, we need to revisit green-belt designation.
I want to raise some questions that remained unanswered when we debated the subject in July, and I wonder whether we will have better luck with this Minister than we did with the previous one. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) on securing this vital debate.
The average age of an unaided first-time buyer in London is now 37, and at the debate in July I asked what the Minister predicted that would be by the end of this Government’s term in office. I also raised the question of affordability. The hon. Member for Croydon South talked about Old Oak Common, where 24,000 dwellings are coming on stream. The Mayor of London’s definition of affordable is 80% of market rent, but is that realistic or desirable? Can we change it? I had no reply to that question.
The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) made some interesting comments about overseas matters. I remember asking in the previous debate whether we would soon be “turning Japanese”. In that country, people bequeath a mortgage from generation to generation. Do we foresee that happening? Regarding overseas investors, I asked the Minister who responded to the debate in July whether he would consider including a provision in his next housing Bill banning overseas and off-plan investors from buying future new builds, so that local London first-time buyers would at least have a chance. That was the No. 1 thing for me as a candidate, and it is the No. 1 thing in my postbag and inbox as an MP.
Recently, I posted a picture when I was door-knocking in Stephenson Street, NW10—a cobbled road of terraced housing that is often used in period dramas, and that was in the video for “Our House” by Madness. I posted it to say what a fantastic cultural heritage we have in East Acton ward, and somebody posted underneath asking, “Have you looked at what these are going for? The last one sold went for half a million.” Those houses were not meant to be for rich people. I fear that London will experience a brain drain, and that in time it will be only for the oligarchs and the super-rich.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I thank the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) for securing the debate and bringing the matter to the House for discussion.
As a new MP looking for a flat in London, I encountered some of the problems that have been talked about today. The number of people living in London has increased by a fifth, while the number of homes available has not increased at the same rate.
As the third-party representative summing up the debate, I would like to share some points from north of the border, if I may. The right to buy will end for all council and housing association tenants in Scotland on 1 August 2016. In 2013, 185,000 people were on the waiting list, while only 54,000 council houses were available to let. Although the right to buy has driven up home ownership in Scotland, it has contributed to an acute shortage of social housing. The abolition of the right to buy will keep 15,500 homes in the social sector for the next decade.
Absolutely. In Scotland, we have shown that investment in affordable housing can keep costs down, create jobs and, importantly, help people to live better lives. As has been mentioned, it is not only about buying. We have actually taken over abandoned properties, repaired them, brought them up to housing standard and let them out. The SNP MPs in Westminster will push for a funding boost for affordable housing from the UK Government to help build more homes in Scotland and across the UK. Specifically, we will call for the UK Government to put in place a new target to build 100,000 affordable homes each and every year.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Owen. I start by paying tribute to Her Majesty the Queen on becoming the longest-reigning UK monarch. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) on securing the debate. We know that this is an important and serious issue, not least because this is the second time that we have debated it in this Chamber in recent months.
The hon. Member for Croydon South carried out a forensic analysis of the lack of availability and affordability of housing in London. When he went through his eight points, I thought that he had lifted about five of them directly from the Lyons commission report that we produced before the last election, which was widely acknowledged as being a sensible blueprint for how we should go about increasing supply of, and access to, housing. I urge him to read the report again and to talk to people about it, because that would be very helpful.
I take issue with the hon. Gentleman on one point, which is the effectiveness of planning departments. Planning departments in this country are extremely effective, by and large. Figures from the Department show that 80% to 90% of applications are assessed on time. We need to acknowledge that planning departments are going through a really difficult time in many areas of the country, because resources are being taken away from them under austerity measures, but they are receiving more applications. How will the Minister ensure that planning departments are adequately resourced to carry out the tasks before them?
There is consensus on both sides of the Chamber on the problems facing Londoners in accessing not only housing but affordable housing, and it is good that that is the subject of this debate. There is also a strong degree of consensus on the solutions. I hope the Minister is listening and will take on board the suggestions from Members on both sides of the Chamber, but I will focus on the interesting comments made by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), my hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), on how to address international investors. They have suggested what can be done to reduce the number of homes sold to international investors, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Affordable housing is a serious issue that we have often debated in this House. There is a significant problem with the supply of houses in London. The solution is not only about supply, but supply is important. Estimates of the need for additional house building in London fall within a range of 50,000 to 80,000 a year, yet there were only 21,900 net completions in 2012-13. That is obviously far below the required target, but the goal set by the Mayor’s office leaves a lot to be desired. The Mayor’s housing strategy contains an ambition to build 42,000 new homes a year for 20 years, which does not reach even the lowest estimated requirements. A consequence of that lack of supply and lack of building is that the cost of housing in London is rising.
London’s population has increased by 14% since 2002, and the number of jobs has increased by 15%, but the housing stock has increased by only 9%. As many hon. Members have demonstrated, that 9% does not go to local people. A number of colleagues have demonstrated that people either cannot find affordable social housing or are unable to buy a home due to rocketing costs, yet the Government seem to be doing very little to stem the tide and, in some respects, are exacerbating the problem. Shelter and other organisations have for some time been highlighting how a whole generation of young people in London are being priced out of the housing market.
There is no way that supply will be able to meet demand if building affordable homes—I stress that we are talking about affordable homes—is not one of the Government’s top housing priorities. Local authorities in many areas of London are doing amazing work in trying to build new homes for social rent, and I cite Islington as an example, but they are very concerned that, under the Government’s new proposals, those homes will be sold off before they even house a social tenant, which cannot be a sensible policy. The number of homes being built for social rent has fallen to a 20-year low, against a rising population in London who require such homes.
For every 11 council houses sold last year, just one was built to replace them, which, as a number of my hon. Friends have said, raises questions about what will happen when the right to buy is extended to housing association properties. That is a real issue for the Minister to address today. What will the Government do to ensure that houses sold under the right to buy are not only replaced, but replaced in the areas where those houses have been sold? Otherwise, the replacements will not help local people to access social-rented housing.
The Chancellor’s “pay to stay” scheme is also exacerbating the issue. By making households in London that earn more than £40,000 a year pay market rents, he is undermining the very concept of social housing. He is essentially pricing people out of a system that was designed to help them. The £40,000 London threshold could be met by two adults earning £20,000 a year, which is way below the average wage. If that is a family with children living in a two-bedroom home, they would be paying a weekly rent, at average market rates, of £322, which would probably be rising daily. They would be paying some £1,300 a month, which is essentially the entirety of one parent’s monthly pay packet. That is without including council tax, utility bills and household expenses.
London’s economy depends on workers in lower-paid jobs, and we cannot expect people to be willing to stay to work in a city where all their wages are spent on rent. That point has been forcefully made by the Chartered Institute of Housing, which says that pay to stay would create
“devastating costs for social housing providers”
and put them in a
“precarious position ethically and in relation to their charitable status”.
The Chartered Institute of Housing is saying that the scheme is unworkable. That charge is being made not by the Opposition, although we support what the Chartered Institute of Housing is saying, but by a respected housing organisation. What will the Minister do to address those points? The Government keep telling us that they want to get the housing benefit bill under control, but they seem to be doing very little to address the issue other than reducing rents, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) said, is creating ongoing problems for housing associations, possibly affecting their future building programmes.
What is happening to housing in London is fundamentally changing the city as people are pushed out of the central boroughs into outer London, even now, because of the pressure. And people are finding it increasingly difficult to afford housing in those outer boroughs, as my hon. Friends have demonstrated. How will people in London access affordable housing? What we need from the Minister are not one-off initiatives that do not add up to much, and often exacerbate the situation, but a long-term plan to create more affordable housing in London.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. It is a privilege to be speaking in Parliament on the day that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II becomes our longest-reigning monarch, which is a truly remarkable achievement. We all wish her well for the future.
A great number of points have been raised in this debate, and I will do my best in the limited time available to cover as many as possible. I recognise that the demand for affordable housing in London is challenging, and the Mayor clearly has a significant task ahead to meet the needs of the growing population in such an important world city. That is why the Government remain committed to working with him to address the issue, which is important to people across the capital. My remarks will focus in particular on affordable housing and our plans to help to increase supply in the capital over the years ahead.
I am pleased to say that we have an encouraging track record over the past five years in delivering affordable homes, with more than 260,000 delivered in England since 2010, including more than 67,000 in London, of which more than 3,000 were delivered in the Croydon borough of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp).
I have a lot to cover. If the hon. Lady is patient for a moment, I might be able to give way later.
We exceeded our 2011-15 affordable homes target by 16,000 homes, delivering nearly 186,000 affordable homes during the period. In fact, more council housing has been built since 2010 than in the previous 13 years. To give one example in my hon. Friend’s constituency, the Cane Hill development, which he mentioned, will include up to 675 homes, including 25% affordable homes and 80% family-sized homes. It will also bring back into use three local listed buildings, which are currently derelict, and provide new open public space. It is a very good example of the kind of mixed use development that can take place in London and that can help boost affordable housing along the way.
Several hon. Members mentioned foreign ownership of properties. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) made a number of suggestions on that point; I am not sure that I agree with all of them. I think that he was provoking debate and I suspect that he succeeded. He referred to capital gains tax at one point. On that specific point with regard to overseas purchasers, he will know that the autumn statement 2013 announced that from April 2015, the Government will introduce capital gains tax on future gains made by non-residents who sell residential property in the UK. That change addresses a significant unfairness in our capital gains tax and property tax regime. That is perhaps one point of comfort that I can offer him, and of course, given the timings, that change is in effect now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) mentioned, among several points, the so-called skills gap in construction. It is worth mentioning that the Construction Industry Training Board has reported a rise in apprenticeships. In a 40% increase on 2013, 15,010 new apprenticeships started in 2014, so in fairness the CITB is playing its part to bring people, including young people, into the construction industry to provide the skills that we need for the future.
I talked about initial steps for affordable housing, but we need to go further. We have a big ambition to deliver 275,000 new affordable homes over the course of the Parliament. It will be the fastest rate of affordable housing building in the past 20 years. Delivery in London will be a vital element of that programme, and our officials are working with the Mayor, the GLA and London Councils on increasing capacity to make that ambition a reality to benefit the people of London.
Nearly every Member who spoke talked about the need to increase the rate of affordable house building in the capital, so I will come to that point specifically. The Mayor aims to build at least 42,000 homes a year. The 2015-18 programme is already under way. The initial programme was announced last summer, including the Mayor’s housing covenant 2015-18, and the GLA are inviting further bids. Last year, the Mayor exceeded the target for the number of affordable homes to be built in London, building 17,914 affordable new homes. That was the highest number of affordable homes delivered since current records began in 1991. The Government have invested £3 billion through the GLA from 2011-12 to 2014-15 in housing, Olympic legacy and economic development. An additional £1.45 billion will be invested in housing delivery for the period 2015-18.
In addition, to boost the supply of affordable housing, the Mayor has announced 18 out of a promised 20 housing zones in London, bringing the total number of homes to be built as part of that specific initiative to more than 50,000, of which nearly one third will be affordable to buy or rent. The Mayor expects to confirm two further zones—to complete the 20—later this year.
As several Members mentioned, we have launched a new London Land Commission, which first met in July, with a mandate to identify and release all surplus brownfield land owned by the public sector in London. Led jointly by the Government and the Mayor, the commission will take a central role in driving the delivery of new homes. For example, with the amount of property held by Transport for London, there is a possibility of developing housing, including affordable housing, around some of the stations across the capital.
I thank the Minister for giving way. The Minister for Housing and Planning wrote to me last month to confirm that the Government believes that
“the best way to encourage affordability”
—his term—is by “increasing supply”. I thank the Minister for his description of the supply he is bringing. If that is the sole policy driver, I would like to know what formula the Government are using to deliver that market-based policy. To put it another way, by what level will private rents in London come down with the delivery of that 42,000?
On the formula, to help with the increasing supply of affordable homes, we are making debt cheaper for housing associations to deliver more affordable housing through the affordable housing guarantee scheme. It aims to deliver up to 30,000 homes through guaranteeing up to £3.5 billion of debt.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the matter of buying property in London.
The Minister is a absolutely right that the London Land Commission has the ability to be transformational. I urge him to use the good offices of Government to ensure that the whole of the public sector complies. Parts of the public sector have a history of dragging their feet in bringing the land forward. The Government can play that inspirational and effective role.
My hon. Friend knows a lot about the subject and his point is well made.
The Mayor’s London housing strategy includes a commitment to double the number of First Steps homes —the single brand for shared ownership products in London—delivered in the capital by 2020, and to double it again by 2025, helping 250,000 Londoners into home ownership.
Several hon. Members mentioned planning. The Localism Act 2011 gave the Mayor strategic housing and regeneration powers and enabled the establishment of mayoral development corporations to support the regeneration the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park—it is very fitting to mention that today—and Old Oak Common and Park Royal. Since then, the Government have invested more than £3 billion and housing delivery has increased. In 2014, 52,000 homes were granted planning permission in London, up from 45,000 in 2013. Those figures include both minor and major schemes and are consistent with the national total of 253,000 for 2014.
The Government have helped to unlock major regeneration sites in London to deliver new housing. Those include the Greenwich peninsular, with 10,000 new homes, including approximately 3,270 affordable homes for rent or part-rent, 600 student beds, and 3.5 million square feet of commercial floor space. Of the 10,600 new homes at Barking riverside, 31% will have three or more bedrooms and more than 40% will be affordable. Of the 10,000 new households at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park, around one third will be affordable housing, with many built for long-term rent, as well as to buy. Five new neighbourhoods provide play areas, schools, nurseries, community spaces, health centres and shops, with places to relax, play and exercise all within easy walking distance.
Some hon. Members mentioned changes in rents and the pressure on housing associations. It is important to bear in mind that housing associations generated a surplus of about £2.4 billion in 2014. The sector is financially robust and will be able to deliver the efficiency savings that the change in rental costs implies. To help them further, the regulator will be on hand to help housing associations consider how they can deliver greater efficiency and value for money.
In the few minutes that I have had, I hope that I have managed to outline the number of initiatives under way to increase the supply of affordable housing in London. The Mayor has an extremely proactive programme of attempting to do that. There is a step change in the number of affordable houses being aimed for in London. He is rolling that programme out and making progress. It is incumbent on us all in this debate, which has been conducted in a relatively non-partisan manner, to encourage the Mayor and his successor—whoever they may be—to continue the programme of providing affordable housing in London and giving the people who live in our great capital city a good place to live. On that point, I will keep my word and give just over one minute to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South to conclude the debate.
I thank hon. Members on both sides for coming today and contributing to a very important debate. We heard how challenging the affordability climate is and how hard it is for our constituents, particularly young constituents, to get on to the housing ladder from the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd). It is in the interests of our country and our city to address those issues, principally by bringing forward more supply. We heard a lot about bringing forward brownfield projects and public land projects, to which the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) referred. I was struck by the comments about overseas buyers from the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field); that would be an interesting area for further research, at least to know the facts, which are not completely clear. Doing more work to confirm the exact figures would be productive.
The debate has been very productive. I thank the Minister and hon. Members for joining us this morning.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered affordable housing in London.
Contaminated Blood Products
I beg to move,
That this House has considered contaminated blood products.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship Mr Owen. I am also pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), is here to respond to the debate.
To set the context—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Owen.
To set the context for this debate, it is my duty and responsibility to acknowledge the very good work of the all-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood. One of the joint chairs of the group, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), is here today for this debate. The all-party group published its report on contaminated blood products in January and clearly outlined the requirements of Government in respect of this very vexatious issue.
I secured this debate to highlight the cause of the victims of contaminated blood and blood products, in particular my constituent, Brian Carberry, a haemophiliac from Downpatrick in South Down. Along with all the other victims, he has waited too long for truth and an acknowledgement that the Government, through the Department of Health, imported such contaminated blood products from the USA in the 1970s and 1980s. The victims have waited a long time for proper compensation and access to drugs that are currently being assessed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and they need those drugs before stage 2 of the illness, which causes liver dysfunction, sets in.
I hope the Minister can today provide a detailed outline of how she will address this issue once and for all. Two thousand people touched by this tragedy have already died, and that number is rising, as people die waiting for the Government to make a final determination. I urge the Minister today to bring this prolonged delay to an abrupt close with a programme of action, including a commencement date for the consultation, which was announced back on 17 July, and the moneys to help those who have endured endless pain, suffering and anxiety for so many years.
In the ’70s and ’80s, around 7,500 people were infected with hepatitis C or HIV as a result of treatment with blood products provided by the NHS. Many of those people were being treated for haemophilia. Those viruses did not just transform their own lives; their families’ lives were also turned upside down, and some of them, including my constituent, can no longer work.
The several thousand people treated with contaminated blood and blood products by the NHS have been denied the real financial security, and the health and social care that they need. The support currently in place is only partial and does not offer the full and final settlement that those affected and their families need to live with dignity, and it falls far below the equivalent compensation in the Republic of Ireland. The development in support, financial and otherwise, over the years has been haphazard and has been delivered much too slowly. Contaminated blood victims already face substantial financial demands because of the nature of their infections and the inadequacy of their financial compensation.
One lady suffering from the infusion of contaminated blood products told me last week that some sufferers are denied even the basic stage 1 payments, even though they have a weakened and compromised immune system, and suffer chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, depression and unexplained rashes, with a potential link to breast cancer for women. This lady also had an ileostomy, as her bowel burst, and she had a stillborn child, with all the attendant trauma attached to such an incident. Unlike other contaminated blood patients, she has been denied stage 1 Skipton fund payments. Needless to say, she did not receive the Caxton payments either.
Between 1970 and 1991, almost 33,000 people were infected with hepatitis C; between 1978 and 1985, 1,500 haemophiliacs were infected with HIV, and some of them were co-infected with hepatitis C as well. The issue of compensation is a big one, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing it forward for consideration—the number of people here in Westminster Hall today is an indication of its importance. Does she agree that, regardless of the stage of a person’s illness, compensation should be given to them?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very helpful intervention. That is the case that I am trying to make—that there needs to be a full and final end to this issue, with a good story for the people affected, not only through compensation, but with proper access to the right drugs that will help them and ease their journey.
In the Commons on 25 March, the Prime Minister pledged to help “these people more” after the publication of the Penrose report, promising that “it will be done” if he was re-elected. He was re-elected, but that inquiry, which scrutinised events between 1974 and 1991, has been branded as failing to get to the truth by Professor John Cash, who is a former president of the Royal College of Physicians of London and a former director of the transfusion service.
I thank the hon. Lady for taking my intervention, and I congratulate her on securing this important debate. I am here on behalf of several of my constituents, particularly Andy Gunn, whose whole life has been blighted by this unimaginable injustice. Despite several promises that we should expect a comprehensive Government response to the report of the Penrose inquiry, we have heard nothing regarding the time scale. Does she agree that the Government must take immediate action to rectify that?
Before the hon. Lady carries on, let me say that I understand that Members here have individual constituency cases, but this is a 30-minute debate and I want the Member who secured it to make her case as concisely as she can in the time given, and I want the Minister to have the time to respond. The hon. Lady will also have a couple of minutes at the end of the debate to sum up. Let us see how we go; I am sure that the Minister will be generous with her time.
Thank you, Mr Owen, and I also thank the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) for his intervention, which captured the crux of the problem. We want a full and final settlement for these people, accompanied by drugs for them, because they have suffered immeasurable and unimaginable pain and grief.
It is interesting what Professor Cash—a former president of the Royal College of Physicians and a former director of the transfusion service—has said. He asserts that the Inquiries Act 2005, which defines the parameters of public inquiries, enabled the executives responsible to avoid giving evidence. Apparently, the Act meant that there was a whole area that he could not address, and that is an area worthy of further investigation. I hope that the Government will not fall short in relation to that.
The Haemophilia Society was also critical of the Penrose inquiry report, saying that there had been systemic failures in public health and public oversight. Furthermore, we know that Lord Prior of Brampton made a statement to the House of Lords on Friday 17 July, which was reaffirmed in the Commons on Monday 20 July, when my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North asked her urgent question. However, so far neither Parliament nor the wider public, including the victims, have been told when the consultation announced on 17 July will take place. The victims of contaminated blood products are still suffering while the Government continue to procrastinate on this issue.
I just wanted to widen the debate. I have taken everything the hon. Lady has said, but I want to speak in particular for some of my constituents with contaminated blood who are supported by the Macfarlane Trust, to which I hope she might refer. My constituents are reporting that it is not working and should be dissolved, and they, too, want a final settlement so that they can live out their lives in peace. This is just one small group of people, and that the least we can do so that they can finish their lives, which were blighted unexpectedly, peacefully. I would very much like her to refer to that body.
I thank the hon. Lady for her helpful intervention. The bottom line is that none of these trusts has provided adequate help or succour for those who have suffered immeasurably. These people need an acknowledgement of liability and a sum of money that will enable them to live independently and with dignity. Such a sum should be supplemented with ongoing payments to recompense them for years of lost income and for the physical and emotional trauma that the contraction of these viruses has caused.
I support my hon. Friend and welcome this debate. Will she stress that, although we are giving voice to people in this debate, we are unable to give their names because of the continuing stigma? Those people include the “The Forgotten Few”, some of whom are constituents of mine, who are co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C. They and their families have lived for many years with not only the financial hardship but the stigma. In every debate on this subject I have been unable to name them, but they deserve justice as well.
I am grateful for that helpful intervention, which characterises the real emotional trauma and pain that people who have been given contaminated blood products have had to endure for many years. The uncertainty needs to be addressed as well. The only body and the only people who can address the problems endured by those affected are the Government.
There is concern that the compensation resulting from the consultation could come directly out of Department of Health funds. Nobody who is suffering as a result of contaminated blood products wants anyone else with any other type of illness to suffer because of a lack of resources. Dedicated funding should come out of the Government’s contingency funds for people who suffer from this ailment, because these are special circumstances.
One of the families from my constituency who are affected are present in the Public Gallery. Does the hon. Lady agree that in framing compensation it is important to look not only at the pain, suffering and misery that has already occurred, but at the future needs of those concerned?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right. People’s future lives have to be taken into account, and we must also think of those who will contract these viruses at a later stage. The Government must consider the planning of resources and the availability and approval of medicine.
I am so pleased that my hon. Friend was able to secure this debate and congratulate her on doing so. Does she agree that the situation is intensely difficult for families, particularly because of the lack of transparency over the years?
My hon. Friend has captured the anxiety and trauma of those affected and the need for Government compassion on this issue.
I will encapsulate the principal points. We need to know the commencement date of the consultation. It was supposed to be in autumn; we are now in autumn and we have not heard anything since the announcement on 17 July. We need the Government to detail how the £25 million will be spent and whether the various trusts will be dissolved and a lump sum made available. We need to know whether the Government will acknowledge liability and provide ongoing payments for victims and for the families who have been left with nothing following the death of a family member who contracted a virus or viruses as a result of contaminated blood products.
I say again: victims feel strongly that compensation should come not from the Department’s principal budget but from the Government’s contingency fund. Victims must have access to proper medicine, and drugs are required to be prescribed at stage 1 of the illness, before the onset of stage 2, in order to prevent liver dysfunction.
The Minister said in a statement that the Penrose report,
“together with over 5,000 documents from the period 1970-85…have already been published by Government”,
and that the Government
“have also committed to releasing all additional documents from 1986-1995 late this summer.”
When is “late this summer”? When will the documents be released?
These people, who are suffering so terribly, require truth from the Government. My constituent went to the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast for continual reviews and was told that he had to get another test. He said, “Why do I have to get another test? Everybody knows I was born a haemophiliac, along with my two brothers.” They said, “You have hepatitis C,” and he said, “How did that happen?” It was because of blood products that were imported from the United States. That was the first he knew of it, 20 years ago. Members can imagine the trauma he felt, and that of his wife, children and wider family. Those blood products have meant that he has to attend hospital on a weekly basis and is without a job. He cannot do what he wants to do most: care for and bring up his family.
For the sake of Brian and many, many others, I urge the Minister to ensure that an abrupt close is brought to this matter, that a date for the consultation is announced, that interim moneys are made available, that full and final compensation is made available out of the Government contingency fund, and that all these terrible injustices are rectified once and for all.
I will do my best, Mr Owen.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) on securing this debate; she is a consistent champion of this issue. Many other colleagues present have also done so much important work over many years on this difficult and tragic topic.
During the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, many individuals were sadly infected with hepatitis C, HIV, or both, from NHS-supplied blood or blood products before effective donor screening tests were introduced. To this day, many people continue to be affected by the grievous outcome of their earlier treatment, so it is right that the matter is given our attention and collaborative consideration. I know that I will not be able to satisfy all the points raised by the hon. Member for South Down, but I hope that I can at least give the House a very keen sense of how much I share the desire to move towards a better outcome and a conclusion.
I do intend to touch on new treatments, because that is one aspect of the landscape in this policy area that has changed profoundly for the better in recent years. I am also always happy to follow up on any issues with colleagues.
I know how much interest there is in this issue, as demonstrated by the presence of so many Members today. Many Members have heard from constituents, as have I, of the significant and devastating impact of this tragic matter on their lives. Successive Governments of all complexions have looked at and wrestled with this difficult issue. I have spoken directly to affected individuals and families and I read many letters—every single one that is sent to me—detailing people’s concerns and frustrations with the current schemes of support and the situation in general.
I assure Members that the matter of infected blood and the reform of the payment schemes continues to be a priority for me. I meet regularly with my officials in the Department of Health, including over the summer, to maintain progress towards a better outcome. As I indicated in my statement before the recess, the Government are considering the provision of future financial assistance, and other support for those affected, within the context of the spending review and in a way that is sustainable for the future. It does need to be sustainable.
We will be consulting to help develop the shape and structure of any new scheme. Members know that, and we have said that before. I appreciate and share the frustration that we have not been able to move to publish a date. I cannot give Members a date today, but we still intend to consult as soon as possible.
It is vital that the Minister gives us a date for the commencement of the consultation today. We are talking about a life and death issue for many, many people. I know the Minister appreciates that, but she has to understand that a date is the most compelling requirement, along with the compensation and access to drugs.
I am well aware of that fact, and I do not casually say that I cannot give a specific date today. The consultation will take place before the end of the year, as we have previously committed to. We are working on the detail of that, but I cannot give Members a specific date today. It is an absolute priority to bring it forward. The area is complex, both legally and in its proximity to the spending review, but we have made that commitment.
Not if it is on the same topic. I have said what I can today, and I have also said that I will inform Members as soon as I can when we have a date for the consultation. I have done everything in my power to keep Members informed on the issue, and I will continue to do so.
In addition to a full, fair and final resolution to the issue, the victims also need clarity on access to drugs. Will the Minister clarify why NHS England has made access to drugs more complicated than it is in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with the networks of hospitals? Why is that required?
I will come on to drugs and access to drugs, although perhaps not quite in the detail that my hon. Friend seeks. I will now make progress and not take any interventions for a while to ensure that I get to the points that Members have raised.
Suffice it to say, I was strongly aware, as I was present for most of the urgent question on 17 July, that access to treatment is uppermost in Members’ minds. Considerable time and attention is being given to the issue, and I will touch on it in my remarks. Following the consultation, we will take into account the views that we receive, and then look to work as quickly as possible to announce how the schemes will be reformed. Several thoughtful suggestions have already been made to me by MPs and patient representative groups on how we should approach the consultation. I am grateful for those suggestions, which I am considering carefully.
The Government are continuing to work with the devolved Administrations on the issue, and I hope that the hon. Member for South Down agrees that we should work as much as possible towards a four-nations approach. I suggest that, as part of that, it would be helpful if she shared her knowledge and insight with Ministers in Northern Ireland. We continue to do so at official level and we will ensure that appropriate ministerial exchanges happen.
While decisions have not yet been made on what the new scheme will look like, the House should be assured that, given the level of unhappiness with the existing schemes, we are considering root and branch changes, which I know is what campaigners are calling for. I would, however, like to be clear that while we are working to establish a full and fair resolution, liability has not been established in the majority of cases, so it would not be appropriate to talk about payments in terms of compensation, particularly on the scale that some campaigners and colleagues envisage. I know that Members are not happy with that, but I need to say that for the record. We will continue to fund ex-gratia payments, but we will look to reshape those following consultation. It is my hope that, pending decisions after the consultation, transition to a new scheme can begin from April 2016.
While many individuals may feel frustrated at the expected timescale for scheme reform, it is important that we take time to get things right, because we need suitable and lasting changes. That includes identifying all the complexities involved in making changes to a system of support such as this, and the need in due course to consider consultation responses.
As colleagues have mentioned, in March 2015, the Prime Minister announced that up to £25 million would be allocated to support transition to a reformed scheme. As previously stated, I confirm that we do not intend to use that for the administrative costs that might be associated with reform of the existing schemes. We expect to announce our plans for that money once we have a better understanding of what the wider scheme reform might comprise. If it is necessary to roll that money into the next financial year, we will do so.
The announcement by the Prime Minister on the allocation of the £25 million came on the day the Penrose inquiry final report was published. I am aware that many campaigners have written to their MPs regarding the Government’s response to Penrose. We have fulfilled our commitment to implement the recommendation in the Penrose report to take
“all reasonable steps to offer an HCV test to everyone…who had a blood transfusion before September 1991 and who has not been tested for HCV”
by reminding GPs, nurses and other clinical staff of the matter, along with the NHS guidance to offer a hepatitis C test to those at risk. I can give Members details if they are interested in how we have done that. Those reminders will act to ensure that awareness is significantly increased across England and will help to identify anyone who is currently unaware that they may have been infected with hepatitis C. However, the House should be reassured that look-back exercises took place in 1991 and 1995 to try to identify those individuals, so I would not expect the recent action to result in significantly increased uptake of hepatitis C testing.
I refer the Minister to the report by the all-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood, which my colleague the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) chairs. It was an extremely comprehensive report. We heard from many hundreds of victims on how to reform the trusts and funds. Will the Minister make a commitment that, when she has some timeline details, she will make a ministerial statement on the Floor of the House of Commons, so that Members will be able to question her?
I have done my best to ensure that the House and individual Members are kept informed at all times. I have had a number of individual Member meetings. I will touch on this again, but I will of course look to keep the House informed on all important timelines, as we have to date. The all-party group, to whose comprehensive report my hon. Friend rightly referred, has informed our thinking, but there has never been a public consultation on any aspect of scheme reform. No Government have done that before, so this will be the first time that any formal public consultation has been undertaken.
No. I will touch on the issue of drugs, and if there is time afterwards, I will take another intervention.
Many Members are aware that a new generation of promising drug treatments is emerging that has the potential to offer an effective cure for many patients with hepatitis C. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence issued guidance recommending two of the drugs earlier this year, and those are now routinely available on the NHS for eligible patients. NICE is developing guidance on three further treatments and has recently consulted on draft guidance. NHS England announced in June that it has made £190 million available this year so that patients with confirmed cirrhosis from hepatitis C can benefit from the new treatment options. In previous debates, I have offered advice to Members on how constituents who are worried that they are not getting access to those options, yet meet the clinical guidelines, can get access. In particular, it is important that patients to talk to their hepatologist.
We estimate that around 550 individuals infected with hepatitis C through historical treatment with NHS-supplied blood and blood products can now access the new treatments under the NHS’s interim commissioning policies. As the Secretary of State committed to on 25 March, the Department of Health is continuing to work to bring transparency to the matter of infected blood. The documents covering the period from 1970 to 1985 have been published in line with the Freedom of Information Act, and are available on the National Archives website. The Department is completing the transfer of the documents that we hold for 1986 to 1995 to the National Archives. Once those have been handed over, the National Archives will need to take the records on to its systems and make them available on its “Discovery” website. As to the precise date, we had hoped that it would be this summer, but for technical reasons the National Archives has indicated that it anticipates the documents being made available on its website after the January 2016 releases. I stress that that is only for technical reasons associated with the transfer of the documents.
I appreciate the House’s frustration and I am sorry that I will not be able to let the hon. Member for South Down back in to respond at the end. I understand the sense of urgency and the need for change. In hoping to reach a conclusion as soon as is practicable, I have, through the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), offered parliamentarians a meeting ahead of the consultation so that I can hear their concerns and suggestions and so that they can contribute to shaping scheme reform.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
West Midlands Police (Funding)
[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered funding for West Midlands Police.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I am grateful to have secured this debate.
I begin by expressing my thanks to the officers and staff of West Midlands police, who do an extraordinary job under immense pressure. As the largest force outside London, West Midlands police are the people who walk the beat and respond to some of the most diverse and challenging calls in the UK. The work and effort that they put in is especially remarkable given the funding cuts that they have already had to endure.
It is widely accepted that the Government’s approach to police funding over the past five years has seriously disadvantaged the big cities, where crime is often higher and more complex in nature. Our region has been hit harder than anywhere else. Over the past five years, disproportionate cuts have cost West Midlands police £126 million, which has led to one of the largest staff reductions in the country, in both numbers and proportion, with a 1,500 drop.
There are two big aspects of and reasons for such comparably high reductions: the region’s low council tax precept and the Government’s practice of formula damping. The council tax precept is the second lowest in the country, behind Northumbria, which means that West Midlands police is more reliant on central grant funding. A flat-rate cut in the central grant therefore has a disproportionate effect. Although central Government provide 86% of West Midlands police’s budget, for some forces the percentage can be as low as 49%.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is timely, to say the least. Does he agree that, with a 23% budget cut over the past four years and something like 5.8% of the overall distribution, rather than the 6.8% that other police authorities have been getting, West Midlands police has been discriminated against?
My hon. Friend is right: West Midlands police really has been hit disproportionately. For example, compare West Midlands police with Surrey police, which has seen its total income fall by 12%. As my hon. Friend said, West Midlands police has already lost 23%, despite recorded crime having risen in the west midlands and fallen in Surrey. The cap on council tax rises, along with the huge costs associated with a referendum to go above that cap, leaves West Midlands police with no ability to mitigate cuts to the central Government grant in the same way that other forces sometimes can.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. It is an important issue that he is right to raise. I want to make two points. First, West Midlands police deserves to be congratulated on the 17% reduction in crime that I understand it has achieved. Secondly, will the hon. Gentleman say a little more about the extraordinary position in which we find ourselves, whereby the amount of the subvention from central Government is far higher than for any other force, apart from Northumberland, and the precept is very much lower? Most of our fellow citizens in similar cities—if one can say there are similar cities to Birmingham—are paying much more. That is an established fact, but it would be very helpful if the hon. Gentleman could discuss the options for remedying that.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right—that is what I touched on earlier. The fact that we start with a lower council tax base means that we are more reliant on the central Government grant, so it is much harder to mitigate or to compensate for the effect of flat-rate cuts. I will come to crime levels, particularly the levels for different kinds of crimes, in a minute.
My right hon. Friend is quite right about that. I will mention some of the specific demands on West Midlands police in a little while, but he is absolutely right to draw attention to counter-terrorism work.
In addition to the issue of council tax, the west midlands is also hit doubly hard by how formula damping works. In brutal terms, such damping prevents the region from receiving the funding allocation that the national formula says we need. This year, West Midlands police will receive £43 million less than the Government’s own formula says is required.
As my hon. Friend says, under the existing system we are being robbed of £43 million that we should receive. In the past, the Minister has recognised that that is wrong. The Minister will not want to comment too much on his future plans today because of the ongoing consultation, but does my hon. Friend agree that at the very least we need an assurance that we will not lose, as has been speculated, a further £20 million under the plans that the Minister is going to put into action?
My hon. Friend is right on both points. First, the impact of formula damping is a problem. Everyone seems to recognise that, but then nothing is done about it, so I hope that the Minister will reassure us on that. Secondly—I hope that the Minister will say something about this as well—the current consultation is also important, because some of the scenarios could hit the west midlands very hard indeed. I will say something about that in a little while. Suffice it to say that, if the funding was increased by just £10 million to compensate for the formula damping problem, that would still leave West Midlands police hit three times as hard as any other force, but we could recruit 450 additional police officers. Instead, £43 million is given to other forces. I understand the problems when formulae change and the effects have to be smoothed, but the reality is that other forces will get more funding than the Government’s formula says they need and West Midlands police will get less.
At this point, I want to note that in the individual force assessments for handling austerity, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary rated West Midlands police as outstanding. Credit for that is due first, and most importantly, to the officers and staff of West Midlands police. It is also important to mention the contributions of the late Bob Jones, the former police and crime commissioner, and David Jamieson, the current PCC, as well as that of Chief Constable Chris Sims, who will soon be retiring—we should thank him for his work during his time in the west midlands.
It is important that policy makers listen to people such as those I have just mentioned, because they are not crying wolf; they are raising legitimate concerns about the sustainability of the police service in the west midlands. Were the existing formula regime to continue, the force would expect to lose a further £100 million over the coming years. That would mean that a further 2,500 officers, police community support officers and staff would be set to go. At the end of the decade, West Midlands police would be expected to be smaller than when it was established back in 1974. In a moment, I will give more detail about the demands facing the force, which were mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar), but for now I will simply say that crime is often more complex and sophisticated now than it was in the ’70s. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that West Midlands police gets a fair deal to halt the huge drop in officer numbers that it is facing?
Given the categorical unfairness of the existing regime, I think that many colleagues present, from both the Government and the Opposition, were encouraged when the Government finally announced a review of the current formula. That should have been good news. The problem is that the Home Office has refused to publish any detailed exemplifications or impact assessments using its proposed models. We are already seeing the Government’s attempt to have an open discussion, which they say they wanted, starting to unravel. How can anybody offer an informed judgment to the consultation without the full information? As was reported in The Guardian at the weekend, even attempts to get figures via a freedom of information request have been rejected.
Thanks to the revelations published by the same newspaper, forces may still have time to review the implications of the new formula just before the consultation closes next Wednesday. Early analysis of the modelling suggests that there are several serious concerns about the Home Office’s approach that are likely to disadvantage our region even more. Based on modelling of the new funding formula by the Police and Crime Commissioners Treasurers’ Society, West Midlands police could lose more than 25% of its current funding. That is on top of the existing 40% cut, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) alluded. Before the end of the decade, that could leave the force with a budget smaller than the fixed costs for the officers it already has.
The hon. Gentleman is being most generous in giving way and is making an important speech. May I press him further about the budget and funding? Does he believe that the precept should rise or does he think that the Government should continue to give more of a subvention because we are providing a smaller precept locally? It is important to address that point, so that we have it clear and in the open.
I will say two things in response to the right hon. Gentleman. First, tackling the question of the precept and the relative level of the council tax base is a long-term issue. It raises fundamental questions about how much it is legitimate to raise locally, as opposed to being dependent on central Government grants, when funding local government and other local services. That brings with it issues of how to compensate for particular levels of deprivation and so on, but he is right that it is a vital discussion, which goes beyond police funding.
In relation to this debate, however, we are where we are. We have a lower council tax base and are disproportionately dependent on central Government grants. Unless central Government formulae recognise that and respond to it, we will not be able to move forward.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. It does not really matter whether someone thinks that the precept should rise or not; the reality is that the Government have locked in a system that requires a referendum before it can rise, which is part of their intention to limit the rise. This is surely a spurious argument.
That is saying perhaps a little more bluntly what I meant when I said that we are where we are. The Government must listen to the implications of their own policies.
My hon. Friend mentioned referendums. Let us say that we in the west midlands decided that, as the Government will not change their mind, despite our low council tax precept and so on, we should have a referendum. Where would that funding come from? It would come from the police budget, and we would lose even more as a consequence.
I am stunned at the suggestion that I might have made a spurious point. It would be perfectly fair for the Minister, in seeking to confront the funding difficulties that we all agree exist, to ask whether senior politicians in Birmingham, such as the hon. Gentleman, believe that the Government should continue to give far more as a proportion because the precept in Birmingham is so low or whether senior local politicians believe that that needs to change and that the Government should not immediately assume that the wider taxpayer will provide an extra amount because the precept is so low. I am only trying to ensure that the hon. Gentleman is making a point of principle and is not simply asking the Minister for more money without expressing a view.
I hope that it was clear from what I said at the outset that if a region has higher needs and a lower capacity to meet those needs locally, an important part of which is the level of the council tax precept, the Government should not ignore that problem. The formula should take account of that kind of thing, and the support should reflect the region’s needs and its lower capacity to raise money, which is partly a result of deprivation and the historical level of the council tax precept. As I said, if we decided to try to go for a higher council tax precept, the police force would have to pay for the referendum, which is patently unfair.
Bedfordshire decided to hold such a referendum in order to increase the council tax. That vote was lost and it cost Bedfordshire police some £600,000. It would be madness for the West Midlands police to try that even if it was desirable.
My hon. Friend makes a good point about the costs of referendums.
I am concerned that the Government’s proposals fail to take into account the multiple and complex demands on policing in the UK’s second largest city and the wider west midlands region. My constituency of Birmingham, Northfield, part of the Birmingham south local police unit, has recently seen a wave of high-profile incidents that have raised safety concerns among local residents. The reality is that those incidents are unrelated and exceptional—it is not a high-crime area—but the fact that they are taking place underlines the cross-cutting demands and sporadic pattern of many of the crimes with which large urban areas must contend. As a result, the question of police providing essential community reassurance is as important as crime detection and crime prevention.
Police community support officers are familiar faces of reassurance in many of our communities, mine being no exception. They play a vital role in deterring crime and building confidence among local people. Yet, despite their prominence and value on our streets, we look set to lose huge numbers of PCSOs. What is the Minister’s assessment of his Government’s pledge not to undermine front-line policing services such as PCSOs? Traffic police are another key, often overlooked front-line service. Specifically trained traffic officers are vital in deterring dangerous driving. Yet as their numbers have fallen in the past five years, casualties have risen dramatically nationally. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the Central Motorway Policing Group, for example, will maintain adequate staffing? Indeed, when considering job cuts to police officers, traffic officers and PCSOs, what assessment has he made of the required policing capability and capacity of each force area?
Across the west midlands—this goes back to the point of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) about crime levels—recorded incidents of violence against the person have increased by 10%, sexual offences by 18% and public order offences by 13% in the last year alone. West Midlands police is facing increasingly important challenges, such as radicalisation, child sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation. Safeguarding the most vulnerable in society and investigating and bringing perpetrators to justice are time and resource-intensive processes. When we consider the increases in many types of recorded crime, many of us will be aware that the real figure is probably much higher.
Critics of official crime statistics are well aware that many crimes, such as rape and sexual assault, regrettably go unreported. Others such as cybercrime and credit card fraud are simply not recorded properly. Crime is changing—not falling—and the Government must recognise that fair and proportionate funding for police forces is important.
In closing, I have two specific questions for the Minister. First, will he publish in full the data that his Department has used to develop the consultation proposals and will he then consider extending the consultation deadline to allow all respondents more time to review that information? Secondly, in the light of the disproportionate cuts in funding for West Midlands police, as found in the recent National Audit Office report, and given the growing local and national security demands in our region, will the Minister commit today to those things being taken into account in the new formula?
On Tuesday, the Select Committee on Home Affairs will take evidence about such matters, not only from the West Midlands police, but from other forces as well. For the Committee’s discussions and debates on Tuesday to be as informed as possible, I hope that the Minister will give at least some of that information today. He should be able to answer today the questions about the nature of the consultation, the basis for the figures arrived at and the work of the National Audit Office, without in any way jeopardising the consultation.
Order. There is no set time limit, but I intend to call the first of the two Front Benchers at 15.40, which gives us almost 50 minutes. Five people are standing, although I am sure that other people might change their mind later on, so if Members will keep their contributions to less than 10 minutes, including interventions, we will get everyone in.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on securing the debate and on his contribution to it.
Every area of the UK feels a connection with and a debt of gratitude to its police services. They keep us safe day in, day out, in overt and sometimes covert ways. They are part of the glue that holds our society together. In my constituency I know my local police by first name, where their beats are and even some of their hobbies—I have to reveal that a few are fellow cyclists. I am sure that most, if not all hon. Members can echo such sentiments and experiences.
My latest briefing from the local police found that the level of high-impact crimes such as burglary has been cut dramatically. Officially, as of last spring, the previous three-year period had seen a 10% drop in crime in our area. Police are doing more, sometimes with less, but always, it seems, more efficiently and intelligently. This Government are all about good husbandry of resources—we understand that the money is everyone’s, not ever the Government’s.
We are undergoing a review of the police funding formula. As was the case with schools, we have had to wait a decade or more for a review. The social make-up of our country has changed markedly over that period. However, such reviews always throw up worst-case scenarios, and a lot of stories in the Birmingham media involve the possible direction of the review based on those worst-case scenarios. Understandably, therefore, I have received several letters from constituents concerned about future police funding in the west midlands, and I have held informal discussions with senior local police to gauge their views. The overwhelming response is that we do not want to see the fantastic work done by our police in bringing crime down to be damaged by any misallocation of resources.
We have particular challenges in the west midlands, which should carry extra weight in any funding allocation. We face acute challenges in combating radicalisation, child exploitation and female genital mutilation. On a straight population model, it is easy to see how Ministers might look at West Midlands police funding as a potential area for future efficiencies. However, I am encouraged to read in the Home Office consultation document that basing the funding model on per head of population has in effect been ruled out. In addition, I welcome the part of the document that acknowledges that funding based purely on police activity “may skew the results”.
We are not helped in our cause by the office of the police and crime commissioner, which has overseen the expenditure of some £30 million on its headquarters and holds more than £100 million in reserves according to some estimates. The PCC also employs seven people in a public relations capacity, compared with an average among all the other PCC areas of two. To be fair to the police and crime commissioner, however, he is planning to apportion a substantial slice of those hefty reserves on front-line policing and recruitment in the near future.
The West Midlands force has also been slow in weaning itself off central Government financing. It relies on central Government for some 87% of its financing, and over time the proportion drawn from the precept has not increased by the level that it should have. The socioeconomic challenges that we face, however, should give real pause for thought before any substantial cuts to central Government financing are undertaken; and I am confident that we will be listened to and that no such cuts will be made. Furthermore, West Midlands police should be allowed to show how the force will redress the funding balance between the precept and central Government.
That is a matter for local decision makers—just as it is a matter for them that they have not increased the precept over previous years. The hon. Gentleman used the word “spurious” before, but frankly the only spurious argument put forward so far has been that used by Opposition Members—that the referendum costs would be so prohibitive that one could never actually happen. If the argument is that a precept increase would spark a level of council tax sufficient to require a referendum automatically, I suggest that it would be up to the local decision makers, councillors and politicians to put the strong case for why—which is, in effect, that the West Midlands force is playing catch-up.
I have the greatest respect for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), but I asked whether the Opposition favoured national subvention or a greater contribution from local resources—merely to flush out Labour’s thinking on funding—so for him to put the same question to my hon. Friend and then look rather askance when he does not answer shows, if I may say so, a bit of brass neck. This is an important point: we are asking those who want to see an increase—we all want to see the West Midlands police properly funded—where they think it should come from and in what proportion. So far we have not had an answer from the Opposition, although I have no doubt at all that my neighbour, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), will give us precisely that answer when he speaks in the debate.
I concur with my right hon. Friend’s thoughts in that respect. The realities are that when we want to discuss financing and to argue a case with Ministers, we have to show a route map towards future decisions. We have to show a way in which we are ultimately going to wean ourselves off the precept. Shouting about it, saying, “Woe is me!” and making party political points will do no good in achieving what we want, which is—this is the bottom line—the best possible funding deal for West Midlands police. I hope everyone in the Chamber would agree with that.
The west midlands should be allowed to show clearly how it will redress the balance between precept and central Government funding for the police. Let me use the example of the BBC, an institution that I have touched on once or twice in recent debates. That organisation’s model of funding is not fit for purpose, but it has been allowed an opportunity, in the charter renewal, to show how it will correct itself. I am asking for the same consideration to be given to West Midlands police. After all, the police are more important to our way of life than whether BBC4 or the BBC website exists. The long-term objective has to be that local decision makers must show a route map away from the existing levels of precept funding. That has to form part of the negotiations, so that we do not end up with any formula that dramatically cuts funding to the police. We need a gradual process of retrenchment by central Government, with more of the burden being put on the local area.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on initiating this important debate.
In all the time I have served as a west midlands Member—a very long time indeed—the West Midlands police force has never received such a financial blow as it has over the last five years. The force has, at times, been the subject of controversy—perhaps the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) will remember only too well some of the more recent controversies—but the fact of the matter is that the force has been treated properly under successive Governments until, unfortunately, the last few years, and it is due to be hit again. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield referred to a future meeting of the Home Affairs Committee. On 21 July, the very day that the Home Secretary gave evidence to that Committee, the Chancellor called for a further 40% cut from what are known as unprotected Departments. I asked the Home Secretary during that session what effect that would have on the police, and in particular on the West Midlands force, and she gave, more or less as one would expect, a rather ambiguous reply.
As has been pointed out, the West Midlands police force relies far more on a central Government grant allocation than do most other forces in the country. As the Minister will know, that point has been emphasised on so many occasions since 2010—by local authorities in the west midlands and by both the late and the new police and crime commissioners. Indeed, few Members, even Conservative ones, have not made the point that the manner in which finance has been organised over the years—the damping process that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield referred to—has been particularly adverse to the West Midlands police force.
In my earlier intervention I made reference to referendums. To increase the precept by just under 2%, a referendum would be necessary. When a referendum took place in Bedfordshire, the answer was no, and the cost was in the region of £600,000. Bearing in mind incomes in the west midlands, and the way in which so many people, certainly in public services, have had their wage increases frozen at 1%, it would not be right or proper to ask people in the region to pay more.
In comparison, Surrey, which undoubtedly is a far more prosperous area than the west midlands—I do not think there is any controversy about that—gets half its income from council tax. That is very different indeed from in the west midlands, yet Ministers and the Home Secretary have simply refused to recognise the difference between places such as Surrey, which rely far more on council tax, and those that rely more on the grant allocation.
In five years there has been a 17% reduction in the number of police officers in the west midlands. I do not think that the Minister is likely to challenge that figure—if he does, I will be interested to hear what he says. Moreover, there has been a 24% cut in the number of police community support officers. I would also be interested to hear the Minister’s comments about the fact that some 590 west midlands officers, each with more than 30 years’ service, have been forced to retire under regulation A19. Of those 590 officers, nearly 500 have put in claims regarding pension sums that amount to more than £71 million—a very substantial figure.
Let me add a little about my own constituency. Over the years there have been two police stations, in Bloxwich and Willenhall. In addition, there has been the main station on Green Lane—I will not go into the fact that it was opened by the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, in 1966. What is happening now is that Willenhall station is to close and be sold off. The borough’s central police station, on Green Lane, is to close next year and the building will be sold off also. Bloxwich will, fortunately, remain—I hope we are not going to be told that it is also to close.
That is the situation locally. No wonder the police and crime commissioner, David Jamieson, has said that
“the force will have to look and feel different”
in respect of crime in the future. How different? The chief constable, who is retiring, has said that by 2020 the police force will have to be reduced by almost 45% over 10 years.
In conclusion, law-abiding people in the west midlands must feel a good deal of anxiety, certainly among those who understand what has happened and is likely to happen—people who feel that if they are burgled or their cars are stolen, there will be difficulties contacting the police, getting the crimes investigated and all the rest. Such anxiety is perfectly justified. Criminals and potential criminals must feel a good deal of satisfaction about what is happening. I believe that the Government, and certainly the Home Secretary, have a duty to understand the concern that is being expressed by so many, including Members on both sides of the House, and to find a formula that is fair for the people of the west midlands. That is what we are asking for today. I hope it is not too much to ask that the Minister bear in mind our concerns and our desire to ensure that there are sufficient police officers and facilities to protect law-abiding people in the region.
It is a pleasure to be called to participate in my first Westminster Hall debate under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I join my right hon. and hon. Friends in congratulating the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on securing the debate on this extremely important topic. As the son of a west midlands police officer, who served for nearly 30 years in West Midlands police and before that in the Birmingham force, through the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and mid-’90s, this issue is important to me personally. The future of West Midlands police is obviously dear to me, as well as vital to my constituents.
I appreciate that time is short, and I will try to keep my remarks brief and avoid repeating things that have already been said better by my right hon. and hon. Friends. As has been said, we have seen crime levels fall by 17% in the west midlands over the last few years. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield that the crime has changed, but I do not accept his assertion that crime levels have not fallen. The evidence is that, however crime is measured, the trend generally points in the same direction. If anything, the scale of the fall, on other measures, is greater than 17%.
Sorry, but whether we take our crime figures from the police or the victims of crime surveys, the general trend in the west midlands and nationally is down. Of course, some sections of crime—the hon. Lady is right to identify domestic violence as an issue—have had a large impact on recent crime figures. Domestic violence is, of course, an important issue, which West Midlands police has to address; and it is, in fact, working hard to do that.
The work being done to reduce crime across the west midlands has come at a time when the Government have had to take extremely difficult decisions, and they will continue to do so. That is despite the scare stories we have had since day one, when we were told that decisions that have now been taken would inevitably lead to apocalyptic outcomes, but that is not what we have seen. Of course, we all want the best funding settlement for West Midlands police, but we should be careful about accepting at face value some of the more apocalyptic predictions.
As I said, West Midlands police has achieved significant reductions with reduced budgets. We are fortunate to have a police force that is innovating and that has shown that it is, where appropriate, prepared to work with the private sector to deliver the police service we need. Its success in that field has been recognised as outstanding by HMIC.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the innovative work of West Midlands police, and I can think of one area where that has been somewhat understated. West Midlands police identified a problem with people with mental health conditions being put in inappropriate locations. They are now working in an innovative partnership with the NHS, and there has been a huge reduction in the number of people being put in inappropriate locations under the Mental Health Act 1983.
I absolutely agree, and I was fortunate enough to join my hon. Friend on a visit to see that initiative. We accompanied the team as it responded to a call, which it dealt with in a way that ensured that the person involved received appropriate medical care, rather than ending up in a police cell, which was clearly the worst place for them. Police forces around the country could learn a lot from the work being pioneered in the west midlands.
The West Midlands police force is clearly being ambitious in its plans, but we have to ensure that taxpayers in Dudley South and across the west midlands get a fair deal. That means making sure not only that the funding settlement is fair to the west midlands, but that the money is spent effectively. The heart of the Conservative approach is that we must fix the roof while the sun shines.
That does not mean that things are perfect or anywhere near perfect. The police funding system does not work as it should—it is complex, opaque and out of date. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield said, the damping system seriously disadvantages the west midlands, and it has done so for the past 10 years, since the last Labour Government introduced it. That needs to be addressed as part of the review. That is why it is right that the Government focus on replacing the existing funding formula with a simpler one, but we must make sure that forces such as the West Midlands get the deal they deserve and need. The new funding formula needs to reward forces that innovate and that succeed in bringing down crime. It also needs to recognise the level of underlying crime that remains in the west midlands, as well as the need to tackle it and the resources that are required to do so.
The West Midlands force is the second largest in the country, and there is a need for funding that reflects that. However, too often it also seems that we do not get the full 100p for each pound of police funding, and we have seen questionable uses of that funding. Only last week we heard of a local police officer receiving almost £33,000 in overtime alone. I think there is perhaps rather more to that than appears in the newspapers, but that is clearly not an ideal or efficient way to allocate resources. The overtime bill for 39 forces in England and Wales rose by £6 million last year, and it has totalled more than £1 billion over the last three years.
My hon. Friend is making some important points. He is spotting many of the inefficiencies that already exist, including in relation to the office of the police and crime commissioner. Will he comment on the fact that the commissioner has reserves of up to £100 million and that £30 million has been spent on Lloyd house?
If I could just finish a sentence, I will give way.
People are surprised at the use of £33 million to refurbish Lloyd house. I understand that there were some contractual obligations, but the situation is obviously not sustainable. Tying up so much of the force’s resources in a prime property in Birmingham city centre is not delivering the police service we need.
I agree, as I am sure everybody here does, that we must spend our resources wisely, so does the hon. Gentleman feel that the £4 million spent as part of a flawed policy on an exceptionally flawed by-election, which was badly managed by the Home Office, was a good use of spending?
I campaigned in last year’s by-election. Obviously I was not happy with it being in August or with the result, but we have to move past both those factors.
The current police allocation formula is clearly outdated and in desperate need of reform. I will respond to the Home Office consultation as soon as I work out what some of the questions refer to.
Some of the model does, as the hon. Lady suggests, lack clarity. The lack of detail about how the five factors involved are to be incorporated and the information they are based on makes it difficult to understand how a new formula would affect the west midlands. That is a serious problem, which I hope the Minister will reflect on. It certainly makes it difficult for me and other Members to understand how a change would affect our constituents.
More broadly, as well as needing a fair funding formula that delivers fair funding for the west midlands, we must accept that it is not sustainable in the long term for 87% of the funding to come from central Government grant. As the former finance spokesman on Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, I am the first to argue for council tax bills to be kept as low as possible. However, I hope the Minister will discuss with DCLG colleagues whether there might be some way to introduce an element of flexibility into the referendum criteria, as happened in previous years, recognising low-precepting authorities and perhaps setting a cash ceiling that would trigger a referendum, rather than a straight percentage increase. West Midlands fire service certainly took advantage of that three or four years ago. It would help to put West Midlands police on to a more sustainable footing if the balance between centrally and locally funded streams were addressed better.
It is clear that the police reform that is happening locally is working. West midlands police have been working to identify and respond to crime, and crime has fallen. I want to express my thanks to West Midlands police force, my local police officers and, of course, the West Midlands police leadership, from the chief constable down.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, and to follow the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood). It is interesting that he, a new Member, has already seen the difficulties of the policies brought forward by the previous Government. It is good that he has been creative in that way.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), for obtaining the debate. It is not a question of people ringing around forcing Members to attend. As can be seen, Members from throughout the west midlands are here, quite rightly, because the debate is about a key issue for our constituents. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) is here, and I hope that he will report back some of today’s comments at the Select Committee sitting that he will attend next week.
The debate is about fiscal fairness, and protecting our constituents and their public services. Lots of Members have already raised the financial issues, and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield, eloquently went into the issue of the damping formula, but I want to add my voice on the concerns about finance and the funding of the West Midlands police. I am not giving a political statistic, but information from the National Audit Office. The West Midlands police have had 23% cuts. By comparison, as many hon. Members have said, Surrey has faced cuts of only 12%. Those are all facts. There have been cuts of £126 million in the past five years. Under the current formula, £43 million should have been given to the West Midlands police, but has not been.
Members touched on the matter of the council tax precept. The creative thinking of the hon. Member for Dudley South is interesting, and I hope that the Minister will look at what he said carefully, but I repeat that the precept for the West Midlands police is the second lowest in the country. People have talked about a referendum; that was the previous Government’s policy, and was part of the Localism Act 2011. There has been a squeeze on the West Midlands police nationally, but also locally, and it has resulted in the loss of 1,471 police officers, which is a huge number. I have had conversations with the police, and there has been a recruitment freeze. In addition to the effects of retirements, it is difficult to get new people into the force to provide the service that my constituents need. The effect of that has been huge.
There have been several criticisms of the police and crime commissioner, who is not here to defend himself, so I hope he will get an opportunity to provide clarification, given some of the misinformation about what he has done about the budget.
I want to thank Chief Superintendent Dave Sturman, who has moved on to another job—yes, it may well be in Lloyd house—and who has been fantastic about responding to concerns that I have raised on behalf of constituents. He has raided houses where there were sex workers and drugs, and he brought to justice the perpetrator of an attack on an elderly gentleman who was on his way to a mosque. In 2011 there was proper consultation with the local authority and Walsall town centre was free from riots. That is what it is about—partnership with local people.
Terry Simmons, the secretary of the Walsall borough neighbourhood watch, whom I have spoken to, has said that there is concern about what is happening. The association has enjoyed a good relationship with the police, but one neighbourhood team has moved back to the town centre. One person spoke of being at the mercy of a local response team, and those will not always deal with the low-priority cases. Pleck, Alumwell and Birchills are distressed at the kind of things that the police, with the minimum of resources, are having to do—they cannot do their job. As to response teams, it is said that they are moving away from the public, given the closure of front offices and falling numbers of patrols. People cannot talk to police officers on the street. The police are retreating into their cars. That is the wrong strategy.
Now more than ever before, we are in a challenging time. We need people to be vigilant, and we need to build up relationships with local people. We need local intelligence to protect our communities. In Walsall there have been two marches—a drain on people’s resources—of people who do not consider that a diverse community should be together, and who try to divide it. Those are the kinds of things that we face in Walsall.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield, commented on the funding formula, which is currently opaque. How opaque can it get, when all the information is not provided? I ask the Minister to start the consultation again, because the process is flawed. A decision cannot be made without all the information. I ask for all the information to be published immediately—not on 29 September after the consultation period ends, as has been suggested. If the consultation period is extended, perhaps all the information can be provided. West Midlands police should not have to make a freedom of information request to get basic information that they need. It is simple. When someone buys a house they have all the information—the survey and the price—before making a decision on whether to proceed. We cannot have a situation in which public services are de-funded, things do not work and people get angry, and then the services are handed over to G4S—after which, as happened during the Olympics, the state has to take over again. My constituents want to know the police officers they speak to every day. They want them to know the community, and they want to allow the police the resources to do what they need to do to serve the community.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, and that is particularly true in this important debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). He outlined precisely the effect, and the unfairness, of the cuts that are to be made after the so-called consultation. I hope that the Minister will look at the considerable number of representations made about the adverse effect on the West Midlands police. As my hon. Friend said, if they must stick to the budgets outlined, they will not have sufficient finances to pay for their current staff. That will be a grave situation for all of us.
I will concentrate on my constituency, Birmingham, Perry Barr, where I took over as MP 14 years ago. We have faced significant issues with crimes against the person, gang-related crime, gun crime, knife crime and robbery. There have also been significant issues with regard to supporting people with mental health concerns, and particularly with some of the hostels for them, of which there are a considerable number in my constituency. We have had quite a lot to tackle over the past 15 years. I am proud to say that, by working with precision with the West Midlands police, and with proper funding, we have managed to reduce those crime rates hugely. When it comes to crime levels, we are now probably one of the best constituencies in the country. That is a credit to all the police officers, and all the people who work with the West Midlands police, including elected councillors and lay people who work in the neighbourhood forums. Delivering all that has been a combined effort. However, we have increasing issues to do with how we move forward and deal with our situation. We have lost a considerable number of police community support officers, and we could be about to lose all the ones we have left.
I want to mention a PCSO, Rob Capella, who has been in the force for almost 15 years—he joined the service as I became a Member of Parliament. He has done phenomenal work in the local area of Lozells and East Handsworth. He knows the families and people who live in those streets. People invite him in for a cup of tea and give him the information and intelligence that we need to work on reducing crime and finding out where the issues are and how we can deal with them. Losing a resource such as the one that Rob provides would be hugely detrimental.
In my constituency, we have held neighbourhood forums, which the police have put resources into; officers attend to listen to local people. They have been able to deliver a hugely important service. Residents have been listened to by the police, and the police have delivered services; for example, they have taken huge numbers of email addresses and phone numbers, and have been able to text and email people about the issues arising. That has been quite effective.
We are starting to see some of that work being undone, however, because of the cuts. Considering where we have come from, that is sad to see. A lot of people have put a lot of effort into local areas, and the community has been working together with the police; before I was elected in 2001, it was difficult to imagine that happening in areas such as Lozells, Aston and Handsworth. We have broken down barriers by working with the police, but now we find it extremely difficult for the police to engage with people in those places who want to protect those communities and be part of the solution, not the problem.
It is important that we can put that work together, but to do what we have to, resources are needed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield, said, resources are crucial to providing that kind of support to our communities. I do not think any of us wants a return of the era we have come from.
To conclude quickly, I know that the Minister is taking part in a consultation. He is a very fair man, and I am sure that he will have listened to the concerns that all Members have raised today. This issue is important to all of us. As for the outcome of the consultation, I hope he is able to bear in mind the concerns we have all raised. That would go some way to addressing some of the issues.
This is my first go at contributing to a debate in Westminster Hall, Mr Crausby. I did not know where the Chamber was—luckily one of my colleagues from Coventry was coming here—but I do know an awful lot about policing in the west midlands. There is not a single MP here in whose constituency I have not worked with the police teams. In fact, I welcomed the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) into a women’s refuge in my area some years ago, and had a cup of tea with him and Francis Maude. I have also—I am sure that the Minister is not aware of this—acted for the past five years as an adviser to the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice on international human trafficking and police resources for domestic and sexual violence.
I know what I am talking about when it comes to police funding, and what should be central or local. There is definitely a need for both to play their part. There is a huge array of different funding models for preventing crime in the west midlands. My experience has largely been that those that are protected, part-funded—for want of a better word—and encouraged by central Government always work best.
I want to give some apocalyptic examples of exceptionally bad husbandry. The bad husbands that I will talk about are people who abuse their wives. I have worked on every Birmingham MARAC. Not everyone will know that acronym; it stands for multi-agency risk assessment conference. MARACs deal with people at imminent risk of death from domestic violence—the most high-risk victims, who have been put through unimaginable terrors. In Birmingham, we have had four MARACs. For 10 years, they were chaired by serving police officers; then it changed to police personnel chairing the meetings. The administration and co-ordination of all those meetings, at which all the cases were heard and we decided together what to do about them, was managed by police staff. Police people put together the minutes, gave everyone their actions and chased people who were to come back to the meeting once they had taken action; they would ask, “Probation, what have you done about the offender? Housing, have you got a house for this woman and her children?”
Until about 18 months ago, it was the police who held that together. Then the police did not do it any more. The three MARACs that now exist in Birmingham do not have an administrator or a co-ordinator. We go along to the meetings and talk about stuff, and action points are taken away, but stuff falls through the cracks. That stuff is what you—[Interruption.] Sorry, Mr Crausby, not you. That stuff is what the Home Office will receive when it has its domestic homicide reviews. It will say that the system is broken and that we cannot communicate with each other any more, because we had resources—once it was police officers, and then, one step down, police personnel—but now we do not have any.
This might sound apocalyptic, but that situation will mean that people die. It will mean that we fail in our duty to keep people safe. That is what police cuts mean. Yes, we all feel that crime is going down, and that good husbandry and efficiency in management has really helped, but I am seeing that it has not. Members will never see inside the MARAC room. No one from a newspaper will ever say, “Gosh, there’s no MARAC co-ordinator—MARAC co-ordinator scandal!”, but in the real world, where people are working on the frontline in every single one of your constituencies—sorry, Mr Crausby—that is what is happening. It is bad.
There is a difference between crime figures and safety. The public protection unit of West Midlands police is one of the greatest police units. West Midlands police have done an awful lot to clear the decks and try to recognise that child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, sexual violence and rape have to be dealt with. The force has put huge effort, care and love into that, but the report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary still says that the response is not good enough for the people in my constituency and across the west midlands. That is not the fault of the police. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) said, if we were where we were 20 years ago, things would look very different; on domestic and sexual violence, on gang violence and on working with our communities, we have come really far, and there is a reason for that: we were able to do the work.
I have seen how a really good multi-agency, multi-partnership community response has gone because of cuts to policing. I can do no more than urge the Minister to hear me when I say that the papers will be coming across the Home Office’s desk, but unfortunately they will be about the deceased.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on his public service in securing this debate.
Last weekend I was in Erdington high street with Louis, a much loved police community support officer who works with the town centre partnership, making the high street a safe place to go. Popular with the local community, he is a grandfather figure to the local children in the high street. Last month I was with Cindy Tierney, out on the beat in Perry Common. She has been doing the job for 11 and a half years. “I love the job,” she says, and she is much loved—I saw that at first hand. She polices one of the poorest wards in Britain and undertakes exemplary work with local young people. Now both are at risk of losing their jobs as a consequence of budget cuts that will see PCSOs become an endangered species in the west midlands.
West Midlands police is rightly regarded as one of the best forces in Britain. It is ably led by Chris Sims, and has been ably represented, first by Bob Jones and then by David Jamieson. Centres of excellence are contained there, including award-winning neighbourhood police schemes, such as in my constituency, in Stockland Green. The West Midlands police service has done everything and more that the Government have asked of it. The Police Minister often says that the police should make the best use of resources. West Midlands police has done precisely that and been rated as outstanding by HMIC for doing so. That includes undertaking a groundbreaking partnership with Accenture on the modelling of the police service looking to 2020.
However, West Midlands police is reeling from 23% cuts over the last five years—the biggest cuts to any police service nationwide and in Europe—with £126 million gone from their budget. The west midlands is increasingly feeling the consequences, and I have seen that at first hand all over the west midlands—the progressive hollowing-out of neighbourhood policing, with more and more neighbourhood police officers getting taken back on to response; 27 police stations closing; and a generation of progress in cutting crime now being reversed. The latest figures on police recorded crime is for a 1% increase for the period of March 2014 to March 2015—and by the way, West Midlands police has been praised by HMIC as being the best force in the country for the accuracy of its crime statistics.
Now the West Midlands police service is facing catastrophic cuts, with potentially very serious consequences. Why? Because of the cumulative impact of what has happened thus far, with 1,500 police officers gone, and now, because the comprehensive spending review is looming, with the police not protected and with at least another £100 million and 2,500 more police officers to go. What has made things worse is the grotesque unfairness of the approach adopted by the Government. As hon. Members have said, had the west midlands been treated fairly over the last five years, we would have seen £43 million more in funding. Unfortunately, the west midlands has been treated grotesquely unfairly.
To add insult to injury, a funding formula review is about to make a bad situation worse. A fresh review was necessary and was promised for a year. It was published on the last day on which Parliament sat. The situation is now descending into farce because vital information has been withheld. The review talks about a number of principles, saying that some forces would be significantly affected, yet the Government have withheld which forces and by how much. There must have been an study on the likely impact of the new formula on all forces—on West Midlands police in particular—and there has to be, under law, an equality impact study. Neither has been disclosed.
On 30 July, I wrote to the Police Minister asking for that information to be disclosed, but there was no answer. The West Midlands police service has asked for it to be disclosed, but there was no answer. Therefore, it had to put in a freedom of information request, but there was no answer; or, now at least: “We may answer. If we do, we’ll do so on 29 September”—14 days after the consultation period closes. You couldn’t make it up.
Now at last we have some clarity, as a consequence of the leaked document. Work has been carried out by the Police and Crime Commissioners Treasurers’ Society, suggesting that the West Midlands police could lose another 25.1% because of the new formula, which does not include the departmental spending cuts to come. It reveals that, under the proposed formula, there will be a shift from urban to rural. The second hardest hit will be the west midlands, with a cut of 25.1%, the third hardest hit will be Merseyside, at 25.5%, and the fourth hardest hit will be Greater Manchester, at 23.3%. That will mean that the West Midlands police service will be near cut in half and will be smaller than when it was founded in 1974.
The Government have perpetrated a myth that somehow massive cuts can be inflicted on the police service and crime can be cut. Well, not only is recorded crime rising after a generation of progress, but crime is changing. Demand is rising. We have seen a massive increase in fraud, online crime and cybercrime—nearly 4 million last year alone—while the biggest concentration of cases of female genital mutilation outside London is in the west midlands. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) said in her excellent contribution, this is not only about the impact on the victims of domestic violence; it is about protecting those who have been subject to child sex exploitation and abuse. What the West Midlands police service has done is rise to the challenge to tackle these obscenities, increasing the numbers in the public protection unit from 300 to 800. However, it is still struggling to cope with rapidly growing demand.
There is also counter-terrorism. At a time like this, it is utterly irresponsible to inflict such cuts that hollow out neighbourhood policing. The former head of counter-terrorism, Peter Clarke, and the current head of counter-terrorism, Mark Rowley, have both said that the patient building of good community relationships through neighbourhood policing is absolutely vital to the apprehension of terrorists and potential terrorists. Seeing neighbourhood policing being increasingly hollowed out will put the people of the west midlands at risk.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield asked some powerful questions. Fundamentally, it comes down to two points. First, will the Police Minister agree to publish in full all the studies that must have been carried out on the impact on our police service, so that this debate can be properly informed? Secondly, will he agree to extend the deadline on the consultative process? Otherwise, the consultative process is utterly meaningless, concealing a serious hidden agenda.
In conclusion, what the Government and the Police Minister must do today is come clean about exactly what they are proposing. Thus far, both the Government and the Police Minister have been in denial, asserting that, as was said earlier this week, numbers of police officers somehow do not matter—but yes, they do. They have been claiming that the front line will be protected, when it has not been—12,000 have gone from the front line over the last five years and the number is rapidly rising. Sometimes we are accused by the Police Minister, when we are telling the truth about what is happening—as hon. Members have in the powerful contributions that have been made in this debate—of somehow attacking the police. Nonsense. I bow to no one in my admiration for the West Midlands police service and for the good men and women that I see doing an outstanding job, day in, day out. We are not attacking the police; we are standing up for our police service, because that is exactly what our constituents want us to do. We are standing up against a Government that are doing terrible damage to our police service.
The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. Cuts on this proposed scale will make it very difficult for the police to do their job, and it will make many communities in the west midlands less safe places to live and work. The Government cannot fail in that fundamental duty to the people of the west midlands, and we urge them to think again.
It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) on securing the debate. If I was still a Back Bencher—we all start in that position—I would probably have put my name down for a debate here today on this subject as well. As colleagues who are here from both sides of the House know, that is what this place is for, and I have never hidden any of my views on this subject. I stand up again today, as I do every time I stand up as the Police Minister, which it is an honour and a privilege to do, to pay tribute to the police officers not only in the west midlands, but across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—this great kingdom of ours. They do a simply fantastic job.
The forces around the country have adapted brilliantly to changes in the crime that they deal with daily and to austerity. Opposition Members will not like this point, but we inherited a really difficult financial position, and we went into an austerity process. The country made a decision at the general election. Many of the things that I heard in the speech by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), were also put out by him across the country during the general election campaign, but the public believe in what we are trying to do, which is to run a stable ship with the money available and not continue to get ourselves in a difficult financial situation.
I have met representatives of many forces, from chiefs right down to junior constables who have just joined the force. The other day I was at Hendon, where training of new recruits was going on. The one thing that has always been clear to me is that 99.9% of police officers are in the job for the right reason. That is true whether they are at the bottom or the top. I do not think that the press pay enough of a tribute to them; too often, they focus on the bad apples who spoil it for everyone else. It is right that they should be rooted out, and they are.
I pay tribute to the comments made on both sides of the Chamber. In the time allowed, I probably will not be able to answer all the points that were raised, but, as always, I will write to colleagues—and I did write to the shadow Police Minister in response to his letter to me. If he has not got that response, I do not know where it has gone, but I have responded.
Let us begin right at the start. Every time I went to see different forces, the one thing that the chief and the PCC either said in unison or quietly said individually to me was that the existing formula was fundamentally flawed. We were basically saying to forces, “This is how much money you should have, based on what you’re delivering, and this is what we’re going to take away from you through damping, top-slicing, etc.” All of them said that it was fundamentally flawed, so the principle of what we were looking at was how we could find a fairer system for all 43 forces that I represent.
I fully understand that there have been real, substantial and difficult financial decisions to be made by PCCs and chief constables about where and how they deliver their policing. I pay tribute to the work that has been done. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) said that I might not know what she has done. Trust me: the civil service is quite good and did tell me exactly what she has done in the past. I thank her for the work that she has done for the Department and in her community. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
It is important that we ensure that the people on the front line and not the people—without being rude—in this room decide how policing is delivered in their communities. With that in mind, I have, interestingly enough, a new member of staff joining my private office from the Metropolitan police. They will be seconded from the Metropolitan police for one year, so that I can hear about what is happening on the front line, rather than perhaps just going by other experiences in the room. Actually, that person has volunteered to do it; they have not been seconded.
It is crucial that we ensure that a modern police force can deal with modern, difficult crimes. Some of those crimes are not new to us. FGM has been around since we became—this interesting word—a multicultural society. A lot of people have brought here traditions that we find completely abhorrent. Fortunately, we now have the legislation on the statute book to try to do something about that and people are coming forward.
When I was a young man on the council estate where I was brought up in north London, domestic violence was, I am ashamed to say, almost accepted. Thank God it is not today. People do have the confidence to go to the police and report it—sometimes through a third agency—and those prosecutions are going up.
Some of the figures for crime were alluded to by the shadow Minister. Has it gone up in the west midlands by 1% this year? Yes, it has. People should have a quick look, though, at what the figures tell us about where the reporting of offences is—I am referring to rape, sexual violence, male rape and domestic violence. Those are the areas where we should all be proud that people now have the confidence to come forward. Because of some of the historical sexual abuse cases, there are, rightly, more and more people coming forward. They are telling us things that we perhaps would never have dreamt had taken place in this country.
Crime as a whole is falling. I accept that it has also been falling in other parts of the world, but the police have done a simply fantastic job, with more limited resources, of ensuring that crime is coming down.
I am going to speak; I am not going to give way.
The key is what is being delivered; that is crucial. I know that the Labour party opposed PCCs, even though it fought a very interesting by-election campaign when Bob Jones sadly died. It was very sad that he went. I respected him enormously; he was a very good PCC and community leader. And he has been replaced by a similarly very good community leader.
Several hon. Members talked about referendums. The provision is there. I understand the argument about the precept. It has been raised with me several times by the local police and the PCC. If there is a need or want to increase the precept, let the people decide. Interestingly, we will have PCC elections in May next year. Perhaps someone will put it in their manifesto that if they put 10% on the precept, they could raise £7 million and put more than 124 officers—if they want to use the money for that purpose—back on the beat. [Interruption.] I will touch on the problem that has been alluded to.
Although I praise what is happening in the west midlands, it is crucial that we ensure that good work that is going on elsewhere in the country is also done in the west midlands. We do not necessarily need huge numbers of buildings with just police inside them. I had the pleasure of going to Winchester. I am an ex-fireman; I went to the fire station there and in the fire station was the police station. I went down the bottom of the drill yard, where the firemen were practising the excellent work that they do, and the armed response unit was also at the bottom of the yard. They were completely unified. It is very important that that is the case. In my own constituency, the police station will soon move into the new civic centre—that is where it needs to be. The interesting thing from my point of view is that when the front desk was closed, I asked my local force how many times people were coming to the front desk on the average day and the answer was three. Is that really the best use of our resources? Can that service not be delivered in a different way?
The aim of the consultation document that we put out was to try to find a fairer way of doing this. Instead of coming from the top and saying, “This is how much you deserve, but we’re going to take this away,” let us start from the bottom and build up from there in terms of what we deliver and what the needs are. That is part of the consultation that is going on.
I am not going to give way.
What is really wrong is when people scaremonger. There is no calculation, whether there is a leaked document or not. No one really knows until we come to a conclusion about whether the “bottom” principle is actually right, and the reason—[Interruption.] The shadow Minister holds up a document, saying, “This is fact.” It is not fact, because we do not know yet. Once the consultation is over and we agree on the principle of feeding up from the bottom, we can see what the needs of West Midlands police are—what they are bringing to the market. This relates to counter-terrorism. We will know more about exactly how things will be delivered. Will it be through the ROCUs—regional organised crime units? Will it be through the National Crime Agency? What will actually need to be delivered by West Midlands police? Will it deliver in collaboration with the forces around it? It is a very large force; it has a lot of capacity. Could some of that capacity be used elsewhere? What it brings to the party will decide the fundamental principle of how much money is coming.
That is why we have not released a set of assumptions. We cannot release a set of assumptions until after the consultation is over. That was the advice I took, and that is the advice I continue to work from today. But it is a consultation. One principle is crucial, and those who have been in the House for a while with me will know that when I did the coastguard consultation, which was very controversial, I said this categorically. It is a consultation. I will look very carefully not only at what has been said here today, but at all the other representations. I encourage colleagues to be part of the consultation. They should not assume that what they have said today is everything that needs to be said. They should be part of the consultation. And what we will come out with, I believe, is a fundamentally better formula for the whole of England and Wales—the 43 authorities. Trust me, Mr Crausby: plenty of chief constables and PCCs from other parts of the country are desperate for a change, because they feel that they have been fundamentally underfunded for many years. We therefore need a fairer policy. As soon as we can get the consultation finished and—
Orphaned Open-cast Mines
[Philip Davies in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Orphaned Opencast Mines.
I am grateful for your chairmanship today, Mr Davies. This will be quite a complicated discussion, because I am aware that several colleagues from other areas of the United Kingdom want to take part in the debate. I have said that I will take one intervention from each of them so that they can be engaged, but I feel that it is important that we move forward in tackling this issue.
This is my fourth debate on the subject, in which there is cross-party interest. I am so sorry that I did not look for a 90-minute debate or another Backbench Business debate, because the level of interest would have made that feasible. The Minister is the third Minister I have discussed the problem with. Let us hope that this is the last debate needed and that she is the one who will finally address the problem of open-cast sites, so that communities up and down the country can at last feel that their problems are being addressed and that help is at hand.
Equally, let us hope that the companies that have abandoned sites and not completed their commitments to restoration understand that they cannot ravish the countryside in the name of profit and greed and then simply walk away, leaving their responsibilities for others to take on and finance.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I agree entirely with her point about land restoration and companies not running away from their responsibilities. Does she agree that we must also ensure that the application process is a broad one, which takes into account public opinion and anticipates future problems?
I assume that my hon. Friend is talking about the need to take into account public opinion in the restoration process. That is absolutely critical. My community of Cynffig Hill are very clear that they want the void on the Parc Slip site to be filled in, because they think it is highly dangerous, and any restoration must include that.
The Coal Industry Act 1994, which received Royal Assent under the Major Government, privatised the remains of British Coal and gave the then Department of Trade and Industry powers to ensure full continuity from the coal corporation to private companies. The Department committed to checking carefully the financial status of successor companies as part of the bid process. Too many communities have found those to be empty promises, and the result has been environmental devastation, pollution and failure.
In the case of Parc Slip, the company that eventually became Celtic Energy bought the site with the inclusion of a 10-year restoration bond-free period. For 10 years, no money was put aside for restoration, the company having paid up front to the Major Government a sum that was, it argues, to include the cost of that 10-year restoration. The Government took the sale money and coal levy payments for 13 years; Celtic took the coal; and the communities of Margam, Cefn Cribwr, Cynffig Hill and Pyle have been left with the consequences.
Parc Slip is mostly in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), but most of the residents affected by the site are in Cynffig Hill. Most of them live about 300 metres south of the void. The site is more than a mile and a half long, and half a mile across. It includes the void, which contains foul water that rises and falls with the seasons. At one point this winter, there was huge fear that the void would overspill and water would cascade down into the community in Cynffig Hill.
After further planning applications, an escrow account was belatedly established, which contains £1.5 million. However, the full restoration costs of the site are estimated at £57 million. Roads, footpaths and farming land have been lost, and promises to restore them and sell back the farmland have been reneged on. I do not intend to repeat the horrific story of Celtic selling off its restoration liabilities to Oak Regeneration, which is based in the British Virgin Islands, and the subsequent dispersal of £73 million elsewhere in the company—millions of pounds that could have paid for the restoration went to pay those involved in establishing paper offshore companies.
The Serious Fraud Office and the judiciary have also failed my community. In February 2014, fraud charges against six individuals, including members of Celtic Energy, were dropped. They had been charged with conspiracy to defraud Neath Port Talbot, Bridgend and Powys Councils, as well as the Coal Authority; and with
“deliberately prejudicing their ability effectively to enforce obligations to restore cast mining sites to open countryside and/or agricultural use”.
That relates to the Oak conspiracy.
Mr Justice Hickinbottom said that there had been no economic injury to the local authorities or the Coal Authority. He said that although the transactions may have been dishonest, they were not illegal, and that Celtic was obliged to restore the land to countryside and agricultural use once mining was complete. I cannot begin to tell the Minister—or you, Mr Davies—how that decision is viewed in Cynffig Hill, or indeed in Cefn Cribwr or Margam. It is felt that everyone has turned their back on their responsibilities to this site, and the community is left to live with the most horrific situation.
According to the results of the court case, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend Councils were not adversely affected, but the reality is that they have been gravely adversely affected, because they have no funds at all to restore the land. Bridgend Council has had a £50 million budget cut. Both planning departments failed to protect the local community over a number of planning applications and conditions applied. One thing is clear, however. Whatever restoration comes out of any discussions between the planning departments and Celtic—however minor the results that £5.5 million can achieve—the void must be made safe.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate, and I thank you, Mr Davies, for your chairmanship. Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation has now become a serious health and safety issue? Whatever the questions around who owns what—is it Celtic? Is it Oak Regeneration? It seems as though we will be constantly bamboozled by those two companies as they sneak away from their responsibilities—it is for the Government to take responsibility for the health and safety of my hon. Friend’s residents and of others in the surrounding areas. The situation is a ticking time bomb. Something needs to be done, beyond economic and small-scale political considerations, because we are talking about the health and safety of human life. We need to see the matter in that context, and urgent action is required by the Government immediately.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour on astutely and carefully laying out the case as it is. Most people have run from any liability or responsibility, and it is not right that this now falls on local taxpayers or the Welsh Government. There needs to be a solution. I constructively suggest that she, the people involved and the Minister consider a proposal such as the one suggested by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others for some sort of levy to address those sites where no bond can be found, where no money has been put aside and that are sitting there presenting a real danger to the local public, as well as being environmental disasters.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her hard work on this issue, on which she has secured many debates in Parliament. Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and the hon. Lady’s point about health and safety, is it not true that the operators are blasé? The restoration plan for the massive development at East Pit mine, on the border between my constituency in Carmarthenshire and Neath Port Talbot, revolves around building a lake in the hole in the ground following the completion of mining activities. That is clearly not good enough, is it?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is not acceptable. The water, certainly at Parc Slip, is foul. It is rain-fed, and there is no way of cleansing it. There is a huge risk of children seeing the water as somewhere to go, have fun and swim. Depending on the level of the water, they are at grave risk of injuring themselves as they try to gain access, which is a real problem.
I echo the hon. Lady’s comments. Although I am a new Member, I know about her hard work over the past couple of years. On health and safety, does she agree that the only way of addressing the situation, including the environmental concerns, is through some form of restoration? The only way that can be achieved is through some sort of UK Government measure. Local authorities do not have the money. The restoration of my local authority’s sites is estimated to cost up to £200 million, and the authority faces a £35 million budget cut over a five-year period. The devolved Administrations are suffering budget cuts. The UK Government have received the main tax income over the years, and a UK Government-driven scheme could target the appropriate sites across the UK.
As I have already said: Westminster Governments have taken money from the sale of the sites; Westminster Governments have taken the coal levy, and Westminster Governments have failed to ensure through legislation that companies are restoring the sites. In the case of Parc Slip, the 10-year bond-free period was an unmitigated disaster. The Welsh Assembly Government have lost £1.5 billion in funding. They have had no financial gain from Celtic’s bond or the coal energy, and they do not have the powers to place limits on companies or to raise funds in Wales to do any of this work.
When these companies that have abandoned their responsibilities make subsequent planning applications, or take the form of another company, I hope that the Welsh Assembly Government or the Scottish Government will be able to say, “No. If you want to work and do business in our communities, you have to meet your responsibilities. Your reputation is your bond. Never mind any deal that you did elsewhere.”
That leaves Her Majesty’s Government. Following my first two debates I met the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who was then the Minister for Business and Enterprise and the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change. I know him to be an honourable man, and in a meeting literally days before Parliament was dissolved he told me that, over the general election period, civil servants would be putting together a plan to cover all the orphaned coal sites across the UK. He acknowledged that there was a major problem and said that it would be addressed by whatever Government, of whatever form, was formed following the election.
Sadly, the right hon. Gentleman moved, but we had a new Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). I met her, and she promised to take an active interest. Sadly, the issue was then moved to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and it has taken me five months to secure this debate. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change has also generously agreed to meet me, and hopefully other Members present, after this debate so that together we can work out a solution for all our communities, which is how we need to move forward—through a joint approach.
There has been one change since March in relation to Celtic. Consent for a further extension to East Pit, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees), was gained under the guise of the “lakes development.” The development significantly reduces Celtic’s restoration obligations from £115 million to £23 million. The section 106 agreement for the new consent would not otherwise have been agreed—I am sure she will correct me if any of this is incorrect. The freeholds of East Pit, Selar and Nant Helen have been returned to Celtic. It is therefore possible for Oak Regeneration, in the right circumstances, to move responsibility for restoration back to Celtic. Oak Regeneration has not restored the rights to Parc Slip to Celtic, and I hope we will work together to ensure that that happens.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on all her hard work. Although I represent Neath, I was born and brought up in Cynffig Hill, which is close to my heart.
Celtic has made a planning application to restore East Pit, but people do not want it to be restored in the way Celtic has proposed. They do not want a lake or a hotel up there. There is also a balance of jobs. By again setting work out there, jobs are saved. I hope we will have a similar situation with Parc Slip in the future, and I will help in any way I can.
I thank my hon. Friend.
We now come to the Government’s plan. Where is the plan that we were promised would be in place after the election? How do we move forward? How are Celtic and other companies to be held to account? What role does Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs play in examining the movement of money that would have been used for restoration? What powers does the Minister have to see the return of the freehold of Parc Slip to the ownership of Celtic? Has the Minister considered the establishment of a restoration investment fund financed through a proportion of carbon price support revenue from coal generation? That approach would support restoration jobs and maximise benefits for the community and the environment.
There are also suggestions for a carbon price support exemption for coal extraction at sites with legacy restoration problems. That proposal is opposed by the RSPB, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore and others mentioned, as it poses additional risks. I hope the Minister is willing to work with us all to find a solution. All these communities have given money and coal and have sacrificed their environment to the wellbeing of the UK. It is now time for us to acknowledge what they have done and take up our responsibilities here in Westminster.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) on her efforts in getting the debate on this very important subject. She will be aware that I have also met Welsh Minsters to discuss the topic. I am delighted to be meeting her and some of her constituency colleagues later today.
I fully appreciate the concerns of hon. Members and their local communities about the lack of restoration work at the former open-cast sites. I can understand that they are looking to local and national Government to address the remediation of the sites so that they can become local assets. My office has looked carefully at what was said by the previous Energy Minister, and I can confirm that he agreed that the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills would look at potential solutions, including tax exemptions. To clarify the situation, the Exchequer Secretary sent a letter today confirming that a tax exemption would not be possible for future coaling in those open-cast mines.
As the hon. Lady explained, of particular concern in Wales are the sites that transferred at privatisation in 1994 to the Welsh successor company to British Coal. The new company acquired a number of operational sites and also British Coal’s land ownership and planning consents at a number of “prospective” sites. Having developed and worked those sites for several years, the company transferred the freehold ownership of the remaining sites to another company, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands. As I understand it, that company has taken the view that they cannot afford to restore some of the sites unless they are awarded planning consent to undertake further surface coaling. That of course places the local authority and the Welsh Government in a very difficult position. On the one hand, there is local resistance to yet more coaling in the area and on the other hand, any attempt to enforce restoration risks precipitating the insolvency of the company involved. Such an insolvency could allow the liquidators to “disclaim” the land assets, rendering them effectively ownerless; the land would be left unrestored unless there were costly public sector intervention.
As set out by the Prime Minister and in the Wales Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech, the UK Government are committed to delivering extensive new powers to Wales, building on the Government of Wales Act 2006, though which the National Assembly for Wales took on responsibility for town and country planning. As the hon. Lady knows, part of those responsibilities is the need to meet the liabilities, both future and historical.
Obviously the issues do not affect communities only in Wales; in Scotland and England there are other examples, and we can all learn from each other’s experiences. One such experience is that of Northumberland County Council, which in July this year approved an extension to the existing Potland Burn open-cast site, so that UKCSMR Ltd—the not-for-profit company established to deal with a number of UK Coal’s mines—could mine an additional 164,000 tonnes of coal and 50,000 tonnes of brickshale, to help meet the financial commitment of restoring the site.
I listened carefully to the hon. Lady. I truly admire her strong support for her constituents. Although I appreciate that hon. Members and their local communities will be disappointed, I find it difficult to see that it would be right for the Government to intervene in Wales while there continues to be a solvent site owner and while discussions with local planning authorities are ongoing. I am looking forward meeting the hon. Lady, along with the hon. Members for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), after the debate to discuss the matter further. That will follow on from the meeting I had with the Welsh Government Minister for Natural Resources recently, at which I offered the support of my officials to look at other private-sector led possibilities to address the funding required.
The Minister still has not addressed the fact that a 10-year bond-free period was given to Celtic, with an advance payment made to the Major Government, which would otherwise have been put into an escrow account that would have paid towards the restoration. Some of the money for restoration rightly rests with Westminster because the Government had the money for restoration in advance.
I would have to take up that specific point separately with the hon. Lady. It is not something that I particularly addressed. Obviously, she is telling me that, and it may indeed be the case, but I would want to look into that carefully with the Department.
My officials will shortly visit Wales to see one of the sites for themselves and have discussions with interested parties. I am sure that the hon. Lady will want to be involved with that.
Many of the problems our communities experience are a result of the privatisation of coal by the Coal Industry Act 1994 and the fact that the restoration protocols were not watertight. The UK Government have been receiving the revenue for the Treasury from the mining activities, so I find it very difficult to understand why the Minister thinks responsibility falls on the Welsh Government.
Governments do not allocate specific revenue lines to specific activities. I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s point.
Importantly, my Department’s non-departmental public body, the Coal Authority, now provides to local authorities its expert advice on calculating the level of bonds required for future surface mine operations, to ensure that restoration costs are covered should the mining company in future no longer be in a position to carry out the work. The Welsh Government have recognised that work. The Minister for Natural Resources announced in April 2015 that the authority would continue that work and provide further advice on active surface mine sites in Wales. The authority is also working with the coal industry, national Governments and local authorities to provide the specialist skills needed to manage sustainably the risks presented by the decline of the industry. The Government have done as much as possible to support the coal industry throughout its recent challenges. They have provided financial support to help UK Coal and Hatfield colliery, for example, with their efforts to avoid insolvency and achieve a more orderly closure of their deep mines, and with the impact on those directly affected.
With the closure of Thoresby and Hatfield earlier this year, and impending closure of Kellingley later this year, surface-mined coal is now our major remaining source of indigenous supply. Production of surface-mined coal has been relatively static over the past four to five years, when it overtook deep mine production as the majority source. The future of the industry is closely linked to that of the power sector. Coal generation has been a critical element of our electricity generation mix for a long time. As hon. Members know, there will be no long-term role for unabated coal as we move to a low-carbon energy environment, and the Prime Minister has publicly pledged to end its use for power generation. As we move to decarbonise the power sector substantially, the role of unabated coal will diminish. Coal supplied 29% of our electricity in 2014, which is down from 40% in 2012. We expect that trend to continue.
I presume that the Minister is aware that in the current climate most coal burned in the UK is imported from Russia and Colombia. There is therefore still a market for UK domestic coal. Moving towards carbon-free energy provision in the future is not necessarily an argument against further coaling in the UK at the moment.
I thank the hon. Gentleman; I completely accept his comments and I will address his point.
Any longer-term role for coal will be dependent on the successful deployment of cost-competitive carbon capture and storage. The Government have put in place one of the most comprehensive programmes on CCS in the world; we have committed £1 billion to our CCS competition, plus operational support under contracts for difference. There could still be demand for coal in the UK power generation sector in future, but, unfortunately, continued demand for coal for power generation has not necessarily translated into opportunities for domestic production, as the hon. Gentleman points out. The industry as a whole is in decline, with indigenous production at less than 12 million tonnes in 2014—around 95% lower than the levels some 60 years ago.
That point brings me back to the heart of the matter we are debating today: balancing the challenges facing the industry going forward and addressing the significant legacy it has left behind. There is an important role for those involved in the industry in achieving that balance. I assure the hon. Lady that the Government will continue to provide support and advice wherever we can.
Question put and agreed to.
Dementia Care Services
I beg to move,
That this House has considered dementia care services.
It is a pleasure to lead this debate—the first in my name since my election—under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. It is also a pleasure to debate with a Minister whose commitment to this cause is well known, on a subject of such importance. Indeed, its importance grows daily.
I am particularly pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani) next to me. I hope that she plans to speak in this debate, because her work in her constituency on this subject, and the depth of her knowledge, is well known and will be of great benefit to the House.
Dementia is incredibly cruel; it can take a person away from you even while they are still with you. It is estimated that there are around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK; that 21 million people have a family member or close friend with dementia; and that a third of people over 65 will develop it. The majority of those 850,000 people are over 65, but an estimated 17,000 people below that age have dementia. In my constituency of Charnwood, it is estimated that just over 1,000 people have dementia. All of this—put aside the human consequences for a moment—is estimated to cost around £23 billion per annum, with a huge proportion of that being met by families, either through care that they engage or through the free hours of care that the 670,000 voluntary carers provide. The challenge before us is huge.
Significant progress on dementia has been made in this country in recent years. However, while we as a society have made significant strides in improving our longevity and our ability to fix and patch up our physical selves through the medical profession, our understanding of and care for the mind have fallen behind somewhat. Dementia poses a massive financial challenge to our country, as people live longer—a good thing, but a partial consequence is an increase in the number of dementia cases.
The last Labour Government should be rightly proud of their work in bringing forward the first national dementia strategy, and I pay tribute to them, through the shadow Minister, for that far-sighted step. It is a baton that the current Government, and particularly this Prime Minister, have seized with vigour; there has been the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia 2012, the G8 dementia summit, and the Prime Minister’s 2020 challenge. All this is hugely positive, and dementia is an issue on which there is considerable consensus in all parts of the House, and among all the parties represented within it. However, we must not think for one moment that we have done enough, nor lose the momentum built up thus far.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter to the House for consideration. A great many of us across my constituency of Strangford and the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland know people who suffer from dementia. Just last week, I had the opportunity to go to what is referred to as a memory café, which is organised by the Alzheimer’s Association, which is a wonderful organisation. I met some wonderful people, as well as their carers and families. Does he recognise the good work that the Alzheimer’s Association does? Does he feel that now is the time to not only raise awareness of Alzheimer’s but commend the Alzheimer’s Association for its work?
In addition to the hon. Gentleman’s many talents, which are well known in this House, he appears to be a mind-reader, as I was about to come on to that subject, having visited a similar memory café on Monday. He is absolutely right to highlight and pay tribute to the work of such places. On Monday, I went to the Syston community centre, where our local Alzheimer’s Society group was holding its regular Poppies memory café session for about 30 carers and people with dementia. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman did on his visit to his local memory café, I met some amazing people and it was a fantastic session. My memories of that session, and the lessons I learned from it, remain with me; I continue to reflect on them. However, across the UK, including in my region—the east Midlands and Leicestershire—the access to and coverage of such vital services remains patchy; that was a message I got loud and clear from the people I spoke to. As I suggested, that session left me in no doubt about the vital role of dedicated and passionate carers, including the amazing people whom the hon. Gentleman and I met, in helping people with dementia.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this debate, and he has made some powerful points. I would like to share with him some things that we are doing in Cheshire, and indeed in Weaver Vale. Dementia awareness is so important. My staff have received dementia awareness training, so that we can identify people with dementia. Also, our local town centres are dementia-friendly, which is significant. It enables people to come out as families and they are made most welcome in town centres, such as that of Northwich. Does my hon. Friend agree that town centres across the country should be dementia-friendly?
Yet again, it appears that another hon. Member has the facility of reading minds and anticipating speeches, because I was about to say that there remains too little understanding of dementia in our communities, despite the progress made, and dementia-friendly communities and workplaces can play a hugely important role in supporting both those who have dementia and those who care for them.
I encourage the Minister to push all Government Departments to become dementia-friendly workplaces, and to keep talking about dementia and raising awareness of it. I also encourage her to keep the NHS talking about it. I know that other hon. Members—not least the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth, who is chair of the all-party group on dementia and possibly the only dementia champion in this House—will continue to raise these issues, as the shadow Minister has done over many years.
A recent survey showed that 25% of 18 to 25-year-olds are keen to learn and understand more about dementia, as opposed to only 15% of those aged 55-plus; that was a 2012 YouGov survey, so it is relatively recent. While it is encouraging that young people are keen to understand and learn more about dementia, those figures are still far too low.
One thing that I became aware of after visiting the memory café last week and speaking to some of the people there—by the way, the Big Lottery Fund was one of the funders of that café, so it is doing good work—is that the age of those being diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s is starting to fall. There are some people in the 40-to-50 bracket who have dementia, which worries me. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that there is anything we can do to raise awareness of that issue?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Just last Saturday, I was at a gala in Anstey, which is a village in my constituency, and a man came up to talk to me about this issue. He said that a lot of emphasis is put on those in their 60s or 70s who develop dementia, but he told me about a lady who had developed it very early in life, which creates a whole new set of challenges around children, paying mortgages and the support that should be in place but is not always there. I will come on to the support that is or is not in place shortly.
The second part of the picture is about diagnosis and care. Diagnosis rates have improved. In 2011-12, only 45% of people with dementia received a formal diagnosis, but Department of Health figures suggest that the figure is now up to 59%, which is real progress. I know that 66% was the target set for the end of this year, but can I encourage the Minister to go that little bit further and press for a 75% target for diagnoses by 2017? That is ambitious but achievable, and if we do not set ambitious targets we will not achieve them.
However, diagnosis is only the start. Too many people tell of being diagnosed and then receiving no information or support, or only very limited information or support. In a recent Age UK survey, 89% of those surveyed said that they did not feel they had enough information about dementia. We need to improve GPs’ understanding of dementia care; many GPs are fantastic, but that is not universal. We need to ensure that after a diagnosis, people and their families receive information on “What now?”, as well as support. What steps do the Government propose to take to create minimum mandatory standards to ensure that everyone with a diagnosis receives swift signposting and advice from dementia advisers and a proper support package for them and their carers, possibly through the NHS outcomes framework?
We all know—all the research shows this—that once someone is diagnosed with dementia, if they are to continue to lead a full life, it is best for them to be able to live independently at home with their family, but if they are to do that, we must ensure that carers are cared for and supported, and that support plans are in place—as much for the carers as for any individuals with dementia. A recent pilot in Norfolk on the use of Admiral nurses—they are the dementia equivalent of Macmillan nurses, and although they are sadly rather less well known, they do a fantastic job—saved more than £400,000 and provided a strong local support service for carers and people with dementia. What consideration have the Minister and the Department given to how that might be made more widely available? What support can be given to local authorities in that respect?
We are all aware of the funding pressures faced by local authorities—not least my own, Leicestershire. It gets one of the lowest per-head funding settlements in the country, and I hope that that can be reviewed and revisited in this Parliament, with rural councils being given a fairer share. While I would not presume to burden the Minister with responsibility for dealing with the local government finance settlement as well, what progress has been made nationally on developing integrated dementia care pathways, which can go some way to alleviating financial pressures?
While care and support to stay independent at home are key, there are times when people with dementia have cause to be admitted to hospital, and here the picture is by no means universally good. According to a recent survey, 41% of hospitals do not include dementia awareness training in staff inductions, and only 36% have a care pathway in place. Many people with dementia still have real problems when they are admitted to acute care. More research into the quality of personalised care for those with dementia, particularly in hospitals, would be immensely valuable. It is estimated that a quarter of hospital beds are occupied by people with dementia, although they might not necessarily have been admitted for dementia. On average, such people have a 20% longer hospital stay than others.
While some hospitals have made progress in having dementia-friendly wards, it simply is not enough. We should have hospitals that are dementia-friendly in their entirety. We often hear of instances of people with dementia not having that noted on their hospital records, meaning that no allowance has been made for it. We also hear of carers and partners not being allowed to stay with relatives with dementia in hospital, which often leads to acute anxiety and distress among those patients at being in an unfamiliar environment without any familiar faces around them. I hope that Simon Stevens and the NHS can look at that.
The national dementia strategy and the Prime Minister’s challenges on dementia for 2015 and 2020 set out an array of targets and objectives. The key to success, however, will be proper implementation to deliver clear and focused outcomes that are measured, monitored and reported. Will the Minister update the House on the implementation plan to achieve the objectives that we all welcome, and to ensure that dementia care gets its share of the very welcome additional funding that the Government have pledged to the NHS as a whole? Specifically, as we look at how to improve care and support, 37 NHS vanguard sites are piloting new care models, but only three make specific mention of dementia. Will she consider adding to that number? The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is updating the 2006 clinical guidelines on dementia. That work is due to be completed in September 2017. Will she make representations to NICE on updating the dementia quality standard as part of that? It is an important tool in driving up NHS standards in this area.
The third and final part of tackling dementia is research. We have seen some encouraging early signs over the summer that finding a way of slowing down the progress of dementia might be that little bit closer. There is still a long road ahead for that research, but it is a reminder of the importance of a continued focus.
As a Dementia-Friendly Hampshire ambassador—I am not quite a champion, but an ambassador—I welcome the debate and remind my hon. Friend of the Government’s commitment just before the election to creating a dementia research institute somewhere in the UK within the next five years. Does he agree that it would be helpful if the Minister updated us on the funding envelope for that, and the implementation plan for it over the next four and a half years, given that time is running out for its creation? I have to declare a slight interest, as the idea was fermented at City Hall. I may have had a hand in it, and therefore have a stronger motive to see it come to fruition.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am beginning to think that I must be careful about what I think, because yet again a Member has touched on a paragraph I was about to begin. He is absolutely right. The Government’s dementia research funding now stands at £66 million. That is double what it was in 2010, but we need to be clear that we must not stop there. I was pleased that earlier this year the Government reaffirmed their commitment to doubling the dementia research spend by 2025. That is vital, and I know that Members on both sides of the House, in the spirit of constructive support, will help to hold the Government to that. Will the Minister commit to collating information on that spend centrally, and to publishing it annually, so that we can track progress? Coming to my hon. Friend’s point, I would be grateful if the Minister updated the House on the plans for a dementia research institute to drive forward research in a truly world-leading way. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he did in City Hall, and as a Deputy Mayor, in pushing that agenda forward.
Finally and most importantly—I declare an interest as a member of the Alzheimer’s Society—I pay tribute to such organisations as the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK, Age UK and myriad others for the work they and their members do to ensure that we in this House and society never forget this cause, and that we continue to support the tens of thousands of people with dementia—and the voluntary carers, who are the real heroes and heroines. We have a duty to recognise what they do, and to do everything we can as a country to support them. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on what we can do to support carers.
I will close by quoting from a moving and powerful article by Alice Thomson about her father’s dementia. It was published in The Times this summer. She said:
“Old age shouldn’t be seen as a humiliation but more as the other bookend to your childhood; a time when you can rely on the help and patience of others to reach the end but can also still be a central part of family and community life”.
I echo those words and ask the Minister, the Government, all of us and society as a whole to continue to rise to the challenge and to make that a reality for all those who have dementia in this country.
It may be helpful if I point out that for hour-long debates, we need 20 minutes for the Front Benchers: five minutes each for the two Opposition Front Benchers and 10 minutes for the Minister. If the Minister leaves any time at the end, Mr Argar may get a few seconds to wind up. I will be going to the Front Benchers no later than 5.10 pm. As I understand it, three Members are seeking to catch my eye to make a speech. I will not impose a time limit, but if they think of taking seven minutes each, that would give everyone a fair crack of the whip.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) on securing this important debate and on his commitment to making life better for dementia sufferers and their relatives. I will not take up much time, and my observations are probably from a more personal point of view.
I completely support the Government’s objective to be a world leader in fighting dementia, but it is a challenging objective at a time of cuts in social care and given the difficulties in recruiting people to work in jobs that have traditionally been poorly skilled and badly paid. Social care is fundamentally task-orientated. It best supports people with physical disabilities and frailty, but it is not necessarily the best way to help people who have dementia.
In an area in which I have some personal experience, I know that the quality of the relationship between the carer and the dementia sufferer is vital in enabling the dementia sufferer to feel reassured and cope with anxiety, which is a common consequence of the illness. One of the symptoms of dementia is a complete loss of short-term memory, which results in the inability to do simple tasks. For example, a dementia sufferer may see a cup, a tea bag and a kettle, but not the connection among them. Making the cup of tea is, of course, an important task to ensure that the person does not become dehydrated. However, once the tea is made, the elderly person may be reluctant to drink it and may need continuous prompting. If the carer is new and does not know the person, and can spend only 15 minutes with them, the cup of tea may never get drunk.
A person’s relationship with their carer and the amount of time they can spend together is vital. It is sometimes forgotten how important relationships, emotional support and encouragement are to people with dementia, and how vital it is not to add to their confusion with multiple carers. Particularly when a person has no near relatives, the carer has to get to know them to understand when something is wrong with them, because a person with dementia cannot tell the carer themselves that their dentures are too tight.
Dementia sufferers need good quality care, and carers must have good antennae to be able to spot, for example, the signs of a urinary tract infection by changes in the person’s behaviour or level of confusion. We therefore need to move from a task-centred social care system in which multiple carers make short visits to a system that involves skilled care in which continuity of care and carers’ skills are a high priority. Simply integrating the health and social care system does not necessarily do that, as my experience in Scotland shows.
Of course, we cannot produce a vast army of skilled carers now or in the near future, particularly given population changes, so we need to look at how we can better use existing resources, including relatives, who at the moment seem to spend most of their time negotiating the system. The constant rounds of phone calls to doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and social workers leave relatives exhausted and with less time to spend with family members on social activities. There needs to be more support for relatives, who are important for ensuring the continual wellbeing of their family members.
We also need to be more imaginative about using technology to help people with dementia to free up the time for relatives and carers to build those important, high-quality relationships. We still tend to think of aids in practical terms, such as hand rails, bath mats or clocks with large faces, but I am interested in how we can use new technology to promote emotional wellbeing. For example, carers could help people to communicate with their relatives via Skype or smartphones, or set up digital photo frames that can be programmed to show photographs, which can help spark memories and support conversations. Relatives can link cameras to their smartphones and computers to check whether the person is all right at home, and they can use technology such as personal alarms and health monitoring devices. For example, bed pressure sensors can help reassure from a distance that the person has got out of bed, and a front door sensor can ensure that they have not left the house.
Hopefully, a cure will be found for this devastating illness, but until then we need to use the resources that are currently available better. In particular, we should develop technology, which, if it can free social carers from monitoring and supervision, would be very helpful in freeing up resources. We also need to use the resources of relatives, neighbours and the community. I hope that in the future we will be able to look at what the whole system can provide.
Thank you, Mr Davies, for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) on securing it. He raised many issues that I was going to speak on, so I will keep my speech short. I must declare that I am the chair of the all-party group on ageing and older people, and I previously worked for Age UK. Dementia is an issue particularly close to my heart, and I am delighted that we have the chance to discuss it today.
On 12 September, All Saints church in Crowborough in my constituency is hosting a day conference entitled “Living with Dementia”. Hilary Mackelden, a constituent of mine, once feared that she had dementia, and wrote about the condition in my local paper, the Kent and Sussex Courier:
“There can be no more terrifying illness. How do you cope in a world you don’t recognise, with people who say they love you but who you think are strangers?...How should that world respond to and support you?”
In our ageing society, ever greater pressure is being put on healthcare services and charities, so our response to dementia is a vital humanitarian and social care issue. In my region of east Sussex, one in four of the population is aged 65 and over. It is predicted that one in three people aged 65 and over will develop dementia, which means that as many as one resident in every 12 could suffer from the condition. What is more, it is estimated that there will be an 11.3% increase in the number of people aged 85 and over in east Sussex by 2019. That means not only that more people will develop the condition as they grow older, but that those who develop it at an early age will require care and support for a longer period as their life expectancy increases, which will inevitably put huge pressure on care providers.
In Wealden, under the leadership of Councillor Bill Bentley, we are already tackling our responsibility for managing the multiple healthcare and social care needs of our elderly. There are concerns that budget restraints will affect the delivery of community-led programmes for dementia sufferers and respite for their carers.
Dementia-friendly communities do much to promote the rights, welfare, independence and livelihoods of people with dementia, and they help to eliminate the stigma that surrounds it. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister championed them as part of the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia. I am proud to represent Rotherfield, a dementia-friendly village. We do not yet have a dementia-friendly town, but I will go home with that ambition. The church of Rotherfield St Martin is a charity that works to ensure that elderly people are supported to live their lives the way they want to. It is run by Jo and Sasha Evans, who should be commended for their work. I was delighted that Rotherfield St Martin was nominated for a “Small Charity, Big Achiever” award at the Third Sector Awards last month. I wish them every success when the winner is announced in a couple of weeks.
We should not underestimate the work of local councils, which support people with dementia by helping to create dementia-friendly communities. The upcoming spending review is an important part of the Government’s entirely necessary effort to eliminate the deficit, but I hope it will not compromise local councils’ ability to support dementia-friendly communities. What action is the Minister’s Department taking to ensure that future funding settlements take account of our ageing population? What pressure does she anticipate that local authorities—particularly those in the south-east—will face in the coming years? Projections tell us that we are likely to have to reduce significantly support for people with dementia and their carers. I urge the Minister to ensure that does not happen.
By 2021, there will be more than 1 million people living with dementia in the UK. One in three people over 65 will die with dementia, and dementia costs the UK £23 billion a year, not to mention the incalculable costs to individuals and families, who give so much time, energy and love to offer care. NHS England has been set a target of diagnosing 66%, and my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood mentioned reaching a target of 75%. Has that target been met, and will we continue to be ambitious by setting even higher targets?
At the heart of the issue is the fact that dementia takes so much away from people: their ability to recognise loved ones, remember special occasions and communicate as they once could. It would be cruelly ironic were we to allow some of the support that dementia sufferers and their carers depend on to be taken away. We owe it to dementia sufferers and their carers to fight for the support they count on and the funding it requires. I hope this debate will throw that obligation into sharp relief.
I declare an interest as a proud supporter of the Dementia Friends movement, which has done so much in my constituency. I praise in particular Mrs Christine Parker, whose work in bringing the Dementia Friends message to so many in Tonbridge has echoed across other areas. I draw inspiration from her for my remarks, which I hope I can make on her behalf as well.
The rising demand on the NHS in my community is not unlike that in others. One in three people in my constituency is over 65, so the pressure on dementia services is naturally high. Indeed, 1,600 people in my community have dementia, and in the west Kent NHS region, 322 are under 65 and therefore count as young dementia sufferers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) so eloquently put it, when we think about dementia and old people, we usually think about people for whom it is an end-of-life event, but for too many in our society it is not—it is part of life. It is something with which individuals, families and communities—indeed, our whole society—will have to live as they experience this terrible disease.
It is important that we work together, because this is not something that central Government can solve alone; nor, indeed, can the devolved Administrations or local government. It requires a fully joined up approach. The work by a lot of third-sector organisations to bring together the community at all levels has been essential. I particularly praise the organisations working in my part of Kent: Age UK, Crossroads, the Alzheimer’s Society and many care homes.