Wednesday 13 April 2016
[Valerie Vaz in the Chair]
Private Members’ Bills
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the procedure for debating and voting on Private Members’ Bills.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I thank the good number of MPs who are present and who have expressed an interest in speaking. I also thank the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), who will be wrapping up for the Government and the Opposition respectively.
A debate on parliamentary procedure would not normally generate much interest outside this estate, but the level of interest may be rather different this morning, because many members of the public have become disillusioned with some of the things that we do in Parliament, and no more so than with the charade of those Fridays when we discuss private Members’ Bills.
Some of the most progressive legislation by Parliament in recent decades has come through private Members’ Bills: the suspension and then abolition of the death penalty, the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in 1967 and the Abortion Act 1967—all the result of private Members’ Bills advanced by Back Benchers and given time by the Government. Between 1997 and 2015, however, across four Parliaments, of the 1,977 private Members’ Bills introduced, only 103 became law. Since many of those were Government handout Bills, the number of private Members’ Bills with which an individual Back-Bench Member was able to make a difference to law and society by bringing forward a Bill was tiny.
That is no surprise when we see what happens to private Members’ Bills under the existing system; when a small number of MPs are present in Parliament to discuss Bills because MPs know there is only a very small chance of them being enacted; when Bills are talked out by an even smaller number of usually Conservative Members, whose only aim is to stop them being voted on; when serious Bills about serious issues are not given serious consideration or the chance to become law; and when most private Members’ Bills do not get discussed at all and those that do rarely get a Second Reading vote. The system is broken.
The procedure for debating and voting on private Members’ Bills is dishonest and misleading. It is an expensive and frustrating waste of time. What happens on Fridays in this place not only brings Parliament into disrepute, but feeds the cynicism that increasing numbers of people feel about politics and politicians. It does us no good service.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on a really important issue, which I have personal experience of, with my High Cost Credit Bill in the previous Parliament. Does he agree that sorting the system out will contribute significantly to rebalancing the relationship between Parliament and the Executive, and that one of the practical issues we need to look at is how to prioritise private Members’ Bills according to their degree of support, as well as the possibility of using Tuesday evenings, to avoid conflict with constituency work on Fridays?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will come to some of those issues shortly. He is right, which is why tackling the matter is important, as he says.
I will try to be brief, because a lot of Members who want to have a say are present, some of them with extensive experience of this issue, and because my suggestion is quite simple: if we want to do something in this place, let us do it properly. If we are going to allow a system in which Members may bring forward Bills, we should have a system that allows those Bills to be debated properly and voted on.
The Procedure Committee is looking at this issue, and I hope our debate will help to inform its deliberations. In its current review, the Committee has taken evidence from a whole range of people: the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House, Back-Bench Members, parliamentary officials, journalists, charities and the Hansard Society. When the Committee reports, I hope that this time the Government will act on the findings, because as hon. Members might know, the Procedure Committee also discussed the issue in the last Parliament. The Committee accepted that the system was flawed and came up with some proposals for change, so that private Members’ Bills would at least be put to a vote at the end of Second Reading—not as much of a change as I would have liked, but progress nevertheless. It was disappointing, however, that the Government found no time to debate or endorse the Committee’s proposals in the last Parliament.
I hope that the Procedure Committee will have more success this time around. Last time, the Government rejected the first proposal and did not even respond to the second proposal, so perhaps this will be third time lucky. I also hope that better progress will be made in this Parliament, because it is now widely agreed that the system is flawed. I do not often quote a Conservative MP, but I completely agree with what the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), said:
“In their current form private members’ bills are a cruel deception that we play on our electorate.”
I agree, because the existing system gives a false promise to the public—that the procedure for private Members’ Bills will result in meaningful legislation and make a difference to their lives.
I do not want to get too bogged down today in talking about the technicalities of parliamentary procedure. We could talk for a long time about process—I will make a couple of suggestions about that—but other hon. Members present also have suggestions, and I look forward to hearing them. What is more important is the wider principle: the false hope that the process gives members of the public, who think that they might be directly affected by what is being debated, and the impact not only on constituents, but on the reputation of Parliament, as the existing system fails the public.
My hon. Friend is making many good points. Does he agree that it is not just about the Government’s ability to stop legislation on Fridays, but that the existing system is discriminatory against non-London or south-east hon. and right hon. Members, who find it more difficult to attend the Commons on Fridays?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As a fellow Mancunian MP, I could not agree more.
The system gives false hope to people who want to see action on issues that matter to them: people, for example, who think it is a good idea for children to be taught first aid at school or carers who have to pay high car-parking charges when they visit hospital—the subjects of two Bills that were talked out on Fridays in recent months. Let me quote two people who were particularly frustrated. Jonathan Ellis of the British Red Cross said:
“It is very frustrating that the emergency first aid Bill was ‘talked out’ as we had cross-party support from MPs, over 14,000 members of the public and a number of other organisations. Filibustering denied the opportunity for a democratic vote on this uncontroversial issue and ultimately denied school children the opportunity to learn first aid.”
Ellie Rose of Macmillan Cancer Support said:
“It’s not fair that many cancer patients and their carers pay extortionate hospital car parking charges in order to access life-saving treatment. An important opportunity was lost to vote on an issue that could have made a significant difference to hundreds of thousands of people’s lives.”
We have all heard similar complaints and we have probably all had representations from our constituents. I have spoken to people who have tuned in to watch debates on issues that they had a personal interest in and that they thought Parliament was being given a chance to make a change on—a change that might have improved their lives or the lives of people they know, only to see a debate ruined by filibustering—
Simply because the debates were on a Friday—I will come to that. If the hon. Gentleman is so convinced of the arguments against those Bills, we should have had a proper debate on a day in Parliament when lots of people are present. We could debate the issue and vote on it, rather than talking it out.
I am on the Select Committee on Procedure and have had a private Member’s Bill, and I have quite a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he agree that we are almost victims of our own misfortune, as it were, in that we have transferred sitting Fridays, on which we are sent to Westminster to represent our constituents and constituencies, to be constituency days? My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) is absolutely right that if issues are important, we should be able to say to our constituents, “I will not be at the opening of the school or the fête”—whatever it might happen to be—“because I am discharging my duties as a Member of Parliament on a sitting Friday,” of which we only ever have 13 in a year.
The hon. Gentleman has identified an important point, and I will come to sitting Fridays shortly. In some cases I have had hundreds of emails from constituents urging me to turn up on a Friday for a private Member’s Bill—sometimes because charities or other organisations have mobilised them—and we are doing a disservice to those organisations and constituents, and to ourselves, by allowing expectations to be raised that a debate in Parliament will lead to a Bill being passed.
Expectation management is important, both for charities, in managing the expectations of those who are emailing us, and for us, in the way that we respond. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that to a certain extent that extends to the ten-minute rule Bill procedure? I had emails from constituents who wanted me to vote on a Representation of the People ten-minute rule Bill because they genuinely thought there would be a debate in this place that would change the voting system of the United Kingdom, but that was not going to happen. I do not think that is necessarily the constituents’ fault. The charities have to take a bit of responsibility for managing the expectations of the people they ask to write to us.
I agree with that important point. Sometimes it is difficult to know whether it is due to lack of knowledge or wilful misreading of parliamentary procedure. I like to think it is the former, but that indicates that we need to be much more open and clear about not just private Members’ Bills but a whole range of other parliamentary procedures, as the hon. Gentleman rightly indicated.
Does the hon. Gentleman not think it ridiculous to expect people outside this place to know the minutiae of procedure? Those of us who are in our first term are still struggling to come to terms with it and, when we have 27 Bills on a list and we are getting emails about No. 17, that brings the House into disrepute. The responsibility is on us, not on the charities or constituents.
That is a good point, and if the responsibility is with us, our responsibility is to change the system to make it understandable for the public.
When people write to us about these Bills, they think they are something that will make a difference, but we know as parliamentarians, once we have learnt the rules—some of us are still learning them—that it is not going to happen. A case in point is the NHS reinstatement Bill. Many constituents wrote to me and implored me to attend the debate because they thought it was an opportunity to change Government policy on the NHS, an issue of huge importance to many of our constituents. I was interested to hear the debate on the Bill. I thought there were flaws in it, but I understood the sentiment behind it and I was hoping to hear a debate in which the issues were explored. However, on the day, as a result of filibustering, the Bill was left with around 20 minutes at the end of the sitting.
Seventeen minutes at the end of the session. That was hardly enough time for the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) to introduce the Bill properly. There was no chance to vote on it and now it is lost in the parliamentary wilderness. There is a fundamental dishonesty in a system that allows people to believe that a private Member’s Bill will make a difference, when we parliamentarians know that the system will not allow that.
On the day we were in the Chamber for that, one Member took up one hour and 20 minutes speaking on the first private Member’s Bill. The general public think that there is a speech time limit, and that may be something we should really consider, because one hour and 20 minutes of chuntering on, as Mr Speaker would say, is ridiculous. That gave no time for the NHS Bill that everyone was desperate to have debated.
That is absolutely right, and I will come to time limits shortly.
We have two key problems. The first, which is widely acknowledged, is of Bills being talked out. Other hon. Members may want to speak about their experience of that. I have no doubt that Members who indulge in that practice will say in their defence, “We are working within the rules.” If that is the case, we must change the rules.
It is not just about MPs talking Bills out, however. The second problem is that it is very difficult for a private Member’s Bill to make any progress without the Government’s support. If a Bill gets a Second Reading, even if the will of the House is clear, there is no guarantee that it will get parliamentary time to enable it to make progress. Back-Bench Members from all parties find it incredibly difficult to make a difference unless they have Government support and co-operation. It is therefore dishonest to pretend that Members can bring in a Bill without at least tacit Government support. Those are the two key problems, but we could introduce a combination of measures to tackle them and allow a culture change in this place in which private Members’ Bills are taken seriously and given proper consideration. They relate both to when private Members’ Bills are taken and how they are dealt with.
The key question, which has already been identified, is whether private Members’ Bills should be confined to Fridays, because when they are, it is almost inevitable that they will not receive the consideration they are due. I am a new MP who came in last year, but from speaking to long-serving colleagues it seems there has been an increasing expectation in recent years that hon. Members should spend more time in their constituencies being available to their constituents.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. As a Member in this House since 2001, I have put a high premium on being accessible to constituents on a Friday, as well as during as much of the rest of the week as I can, as I am sure that he does. Does he agree that the suggestion that private Members’ Bills should perhaps be discussed on a Tuesday evening would be at least a step in the right direction, rather than giving them the graveyard slot of a Friday, which massively inconveniences those of us who put a premium on Fridays and who live a considerable distance from Westminster?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. It is quite correct that Members should be able to spend some time on a weekday in constituencies, visiting schools and businesses, doing advice surgeries and meeting residents, and it is sensible to allow one weekday a week for that. There should not necessarily be the need, therefore, to attend Parliament on a Friday. If we were to move consideration of private Members’ Bills to another day, that would give all Members the opportunity both to take part in debates that consider those Bills seriously and to have time in their constituencies.
There are options. We could take private Members’ Bills on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening or morning, or we could use some Back-Bench business time. I think it is recognised that that time is not heavily subscribed, so we could use some of it more effectively to deal with private Members’ Bills on days when all Members are around Parliament. In addition, we should ensure that private Members’ Bills are properly programmed, with sufficient time to discuss each one that comes forward.
It is not just about when, but about how we deal with the business. Here are three things we could do. First, there is no reason not to have time limits on speeches in debates on private Members’ Bills. We have them regularly in other debates, so why should we not have them in those? Secondly, we could bring in rules to guarantee a vote on a private Member’s Bill on Second reading.
The hon. Gentleman is being generous with his time. As he knows, the Procedure Committee is undertaking an inquiry into this matter and in our evidence gathering it has transpired that on a sitting Friday the Chair can indeed impose a time limit—there is nothing to stop them doing that. Without questioning the Chair’s decision, the fact that they have not used that power is a question for the Chair, but the residual power is there for them to respond if they so wished.
The point is that that does not happen. My understanding is that under Standing Order No. 42 the Chair can direct a Member to discontinue their speech, but between 1945 and 1999 that was used on only 21 occasions, so that parliamentary procedure is used rarely. I also think there are better ways of organising our time. As I have said, if we moved the debates to a Tuesday or Wednesday, we could have a fuller debate, and all Members could be there. This is about a package of measures, not just a single measure.
We should guarantee the vote on Second Reading and, thirdly, if a private Member’s Bill is agreed on Second Reading, we should guarantee time for it to be considered in Committee. Those are not difficult things to do, but if the measures are too revolutionary to bring in at once in this place, we could even introduce them as a pilot and see how they go. They would be easy ways to improve the way we debate and vote on private Members’ Bills.
The reason I was keen to debate this issue today is not solely the extensive negative publicity that the current process has generated in the media in recent months—and we have all seen such negative publicity, which reflects badly on Parliament. There was a more personal reason. I was sitting in the Chamber on a private Members’ Bill Friday a few weeks ago, as hon. Members talked out a Bill, and I looked up and saw a group of school students in the Gallery. As a student of parliamentary oratory—I take an interest in it—I have to acknowledge the extensive skill involved in talking out the Bill. It was a masterclass in filibustering. However, to the group of school pupils in the Public Gallery the speeches must have been as boring as the process was mystifying. I remember thinking, “Is this the impression we want to give those young people of our Parliament? Is this really a positive image of politics and politicians?” I was, frankly, embarrassed to be in the Chamber that day.
We are sent here by our constituents to try to make a positive difference to their lives. They have a right to expect our discussions to be honest, realistic and serious. It is dishonest to the public to maintain the illusion that Friday’s private Members’ Bill debates are proper legislative process. Members bring forward private Members’ Bills on serious and important issues. It is about time we debated them and voted on them as such. The last report of the Procedure Committee said of reform of programming:
“This is an idea whose time has not yet come.”
After what we have seen in recent months, I believe that that time has come.
Order. We are actually running short of time, so we can do one of two things. One would be for those who wish to speak not to intervene on others. My aim is that the Front-Bench speeches should begin at 10.35. I am loth to impose a time limit, but if I did it would be roughly three minutes, if everyone who wants to speak is to get in. That is my guidance on how long speeches should take to enable everyone to have their chance, and I ask hon. Members to use their discretion. If I impose a time limit, each intervention will take up a minute and encroach on others’ time.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) on finding an opportunity to raise this important matter, which is of concern not only to all parliamentarians but to those who watch our affairs. It is right that private Members should have the opportunity to initiate legislation, but we have to consider the terms on which that can best be done. They should be aware that they will always have doughty opponents—those Members who feel that private Members’ Bills must face a severer test than supposedly Government-tested legislation, and, of course, the Government of the day themselves.
The only point of dissent I felt with the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington was with his faint reference to the will of a Conservative Government. I appreciate that that is mostly what is seen in action at the moment, but the Lord High Executioner of private Members’ Bills is a Government Whip and we must recognise that that is the reality. A Member whose Bill is flying in the face of the policy of the Government of the day will have a very hard task. However, that is not to say that over a period of time a good idea sown in a private Member’s Bill may not be taken up and eventually gather support and become the law of the land.
We recognise that there are different types of Bills: there is the off-the-shelf Bill that is fairly innocuous in itself and gives a private Member the opportunity—the prestige, if you like—of having piloted a Bill through Parliament, and there are the new ideas that will vary in their attractiveness to colleagues and the public. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington about the absurdities of Fridays, which do no good to Parliament’s image and are wearisome even for those who are here. I think I can make the claim, for what it is worth, that no other Member of this House has presided over as many Friday debates as I have, and it is a disgrace that we can find no better way of dealing with things.
As the hon. Gentleman said, false expectations are raised among the public. However, I would add the rider that, where campaign groups get involved, they should know through the people they employ as parliamentary officers when a Bill has a real chance of being debated and when it does not. They stoke up representations. Numbers of people wrote to me about the National Health Service Bill, which has been referred to, and it was nonsense to suppose that it would get serious attention, regardless of its merits or demerits. We take a lot of time to lower the expectations that have been falsely raised.
Everyone who has spoken so far has, I think, recognised that Fridays have become ever more precious to Members as constituency days; so what fresh approach could we take? I do not pretend to present a completely thought-through package, but I offer some thoughts. The first question to ask ourselves is how many private Members’ Bills it is reasonable to suppose might be brought forward in any one Session of Parliament. Bills produced by the various means now available are accumulating all the time, and that is going to ridiculous lengths; we end up, at the end of a Session, with 50, 60 or 70 Bills. That is obvious nonsense. It is more than any Government produce in a Queen’s Speech.
We should also look at the means by which the Bills can be born. The ten-minute rule Bill should be subject to particular scrutiny, because many Members who have the opportunity of a slot to persuade the House to let them introduce a Bill have not got as far as drafting it. Yet the impression is created among the public that there is a Bill in existence. That cannot be right. Certain other Parliaments, many of which function according to systems that closely resemble ours at Westminster, find slots in prime time that allow a Member to raise an issue but not necessarily to produce a Bill as a result. However, they can at least get prime time in which to reflect a matter of concern.
Another alternative, which the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington mentioned, is to think about Tuesday evenings; and I think I rather favour that. However, just as we have talked about whether Members want to be here on Fridays, we should recognise that quite a lot do not want to be here on a Tuesday evening—something that is reflected in the fact that we have advanced our sitting time to 11.30 with a finish time of 7. I am afraid that has been turbo-charged by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority rule under which colleagues who, in its view, live sufficiently close do not have taxpayer-supported accommodation close to Westminster—so they go home. That is unfortunate, but it is the truth of the matter. One can be bowled down in the Member’s cloakroom by people who are rushing to catch a train after a 7 o’clock vote. They would have no appetite to be here on a Tuesday evening.
Nevertheless, I would suggest that if a Bill could be guaranteed a three-hour slot at that time there should be a deferred Division. The whole House could then participate in Second Reading at some time. That might create a situation, depending on the number of Bills, as to how much time it will take to fill in the pink slip on the deferred Division—but it would mean the view of the House could be better reflected. I would say that only one Bill should be dealt with per Tuesday evening, so that a Bill—even if it is an off-the-shelf Bill that takes five minutes to go through—cannot be on the Order Paper as a means of holding up consideration of a second Bill. We should decide what is a reasonable number of Bills, and consider the number of Tuesday evenings that there will be in a Session. We could consider adding Wednesday evenings if we wanted to further multiply these opportunities.
If Bills get the chance of a Second Reading, should one have only one Committee channel for them, or should there be a second Committee channel? That is another option to consider. We then come to the more complicated business of Report and Third Reading. The hon. Gentleman hinted that the Backbench Business Committee might have some role in this. That is an elected Committee. A Member could appear before it as the promoter of a Bill that has got a Second Reading and negotiate to get time provided for Report. Third Reading, again, could be subject to a deferred Division.
We should think about the venue. Westminster Hall Chamber is now sufficiently mature. That matter is separate from the subject matter of this debate, but as part of any review of the use of this Chamber, we should consider whether there is a means by which there could be a proper ventilation of private Members’ Bills here, rather than necessarily in the main Chamber. I agree that time limits on speeches could, in the context of a more general reform, become a more common approach if demand is there.
Those are my thoughts. I hope they are helpful in considering the way forward. They are not perfectly rounded or anything of that kind. I add one final caution, if I may: when we use the term “will of the House”, we must be careful to recognise that that should be the will of the whole House, not just the will of 40 Members who have managed to get something through at the present time. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington is right to raise this matter. The public are now viewing our proceedings on a Friday, wondering what the heck we are all about at that time, and we have to do better by them.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) on securing this debate? It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst).
Members of the public who are following this might think it is a self-regarding, inward-looking debate about what we do as the House of Commons. That is perhaps understandable, but I argue that this debate actually strikes at the heart of our role as elected Members of this House. Erroneously, we are considered to be legislators, but the reality is that we are not legislators at all. Back-Bench Members of Parliament have little or no control over legislation and the progress of it in this House.
As the right hon. Gentleman just said, all Governments —I have served under Conservative Governments, Labour Governments and coalition Governments—take control of the legislative process. It is perfectly natural for Governments to want to use the time available in this House to their benefit, but that ignores the role of Back-Bench MPs altogether. The Government, in my view, hold far too many cards.
In my hon. Friend’s opening speech, he talked about some of the successful private Members’ Bills in the late 1960s. They were mostly social reform measures. He referred to them, so I will not repeat that, but the important thing about those Bills was that they were all Government handout Bills, mainly associated with Roy Jenkins.
I want to say a word about a solution to this problem that would put more power in the hands of Members of Parliament and take power away from the Government in controlling the process, but first I want to talk about the role of the Procedure Committee, to which reference has already been made. I am a great admirer of the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who chairs that Committee, but I detect a singular lack of will on the part of that Committee to resolve this issue. I do not want to criticise any members of that Committee, and certainly not the Chair; but this issue has been outstanding and urgent for a long time, and yet the Committee has failed to come up with a solution.
There are several members of the Procedure Committee here. We are putting a lot of effort into the current investigation and did so on the previous one. A very comprehensive report was produced at the end of the last Parliament, and then the Government did not make time for debate. It is important to have that on record.
I cannot give way without responding to the first intervention. I will give way in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman exercises a little bit of patience.
My criticism is not of the work that is being done, but of the lack of will there seems to be to bring the matter to a conclusion, not necessarily on the part of the Procedure Committee or of this House. My argument is that Members of this House have to take control of this issue and determine what they want to do. It is as simple as that. No amount of effort on the part of the Procedure Committee can, in itself, bring about that solution.
I am truly grateful. I think I am right in saying that I am the only Member here who served on the Procedure Committee in the previous Parliament. That Committee did amend its proposals to try to meet the wishes of the Government. To be fair, it tried to do all it could to reach an agreement.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; I simply observe that we are no further forward on the issue. Despite the frequent and lengthy deliberations of the Procedure Committee and everybody else, we are still in the position that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington described, whereby the public look askance at what we do on a Friday in this House. Frankly, we need to do something about that. My argument is that no Committee of this House seems to have the will or the drive to bring the matter to a conclusion. We, as Members of this House, have to take control of this issue and determine a course of action that will resolve the problems.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden and I have been looking at this problem in parallel, from different points of view. We have, between us, some of the solutions to the problem. I thank the Clerks in the House of Commons for their advice. I have been working to try to bring a solution. Certainly in terms of when private Members’ Bills are considered, there is a solution, in principle. We could amend Standing Order No. 14. Unless we reduce the number of Bills, we would need to sit on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings—26 of each—for a three-hour period to make up the necessary time. There are other consequential amendments, but with time being at a premium, I will not go through them. For example, we would need to amend Standing Order No. 12 so that the House would not sit on Fridays unless otherwise ordered to do so, and we would have to repeal Standing Order No. 19 altogether.
The right hon. Gentleman and I, between us, have some of the solutions, but other issues would need to be resolved. How would we timetable? I certainly would not be averse to the Backbench Business Committee taking control of the timetable. One thing that has not been mentioned yet is that any Back-Bench Member who had a serious prospect of bringing legislation to a conclusion would need advice about the drafting of private Members’ Bills. We all think that we could sit down and draft a perfect Bill. In reality, having been a Minister responsible for legislation in the past, I know that that is not the case. Any of us, in order to do that properly, would need advance advice from parliamentary draftsmen, to ensure we had a competent Bill.
If the House wants to control this issue, it is in our hands. One way forward might be for Mr Speaker to establish an advisory committee as to how to deal with private Members’ Bills. If he was minded to do so, I would certainly be happy to be part of that, and I am sure other Members would also. This issue can be resolved if we, as a House, have a will to resolve it.
We can see the interest in this issue from the attendance today, and we are not going to have a lot of time to air our thoughts. The Procedure Committee is looking into the matter for the third time, yet nothing appears to have changed. Personally, I have experienced the problems with private Members’ Bills on two occasions. One was with the Off-patent Drugs Bill, on which every Member who spoke did so in support. The responding Minister then stood up and said, “I will speak for 27 minutes and this will be finished.” The other occasion was with the recent National Health Service Bill, which has been referred to. That got 17 minutes of debate after four and a half long hours on the previous Bill. People have written to me asking me to speak on a Bill that is 17th down the list and will never be aired. We are being disingenuous, and the system brings us into disrepute.
There are things to be said for timetabling private Members’ Bills on a different day, because for all of us who live outwith a commutable distance, Friday is our time in the constituency. We cannot do a surgery on a Monday morning before coming to the House, and we cannot attend meetings in the evenings. Therefore, this is a big deal. Members must give up time to attend on a Friday, and the fact that it is such a farce, with Bills not coming to a vote and perhaps not even a debate, means that most Members simply do not attend. After they have attended a few Fridays, that is it—it is over.
We are often given the impression by the Chair that it cannot set time limits, yet when I attended the excellent debate on the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill, a time limit was set. Filibustering was not used and the Bill came to a vote. It was a really honest debate and the public response to it was incredible. The Bills that are looking for time tend to be on social reform issues and things that everyone would benefit from, which ought not to be controversial, and I feel that the procedure is partly about the Executive keeping Parliament under control.
In the Scottish Parliament, every Member has the option of two private Members’ Bills in an entire Parliament, and they must get support from a minimum of 18 other signatories from at least half the parties. Once that has happened, a Bill is given time and there are time limits on speeches, and it must be brought to a vote. The Non-Government Bills Unit provides the support to bring it through. Private Members’ Bills that come purely from a Back Bencher therefore result in legislation. I think we all recognise the many different things that could be done, but the time is now to actually do something.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) for securing the debate. Like him, I have attended several sitting Fridays since I came to this place. I have to say that on two of those occasions, I had two very different experiences. One was what I consider to be Parliament at its best and the other was what I consider to be Parliament at its worst.
The first, which was referred to by my hon. Friend, was the Assisted Dying Bill, on which we had a full debate. Many Members contributed and we had a clear outcome. The second occasion, which has also been referred to, was when two Bills were debated: the Off-patent Drugs Bill and the NHS (Charitable Trusts Etc) Bill. Both were worthy matters for debate, but events were manipulated so that the Off-patent Drugs Bill was talked out.
The particularly frustrating aspect of that for me was that the first Bill, on NHS charitable trusts, was uncontroversial, but several Back Benchers used and abused the system to ensure that the second Bill was talked out. The charitable trusts Bill had a particular application to Great Ormond Street hospital and the legacy of J. M. Barrie, so that gave Members the perfect opportunity to talk at length about his work and, of course, Peter Pan. However, such was the garrulous nature of proceedings that the words “Peter Pan” were mentioned more times in the debate than they were in the original book—if that does not damage the reputation of Parliament, I do not know what does. Certainly by the end of the debate I was ready for a man in green to fly me away from the Chamber.
Most of all, the situation disappoints, frustrates and angers the many members of the public who will rightly feel that to some Members, the playing of parlour games is more important than proper debate and scrutiny of legislation that could change people’s lives. Of course, it is a matter for Members if they wish to attract the obloquy that follows if a well-intentioned Bill is defeated, but is that really what their time in Parliament should be remembered for? Is democracy not about engaging with the issues, trying to persuade others of the case and then testing that with a vote?
The nub of the issue is that we have a dishonest process. The 2013 report from the Procedure Committee identified the central issues, to which my hon. Friend referred. The report correctly stated that the overwhelming majority of private Members’ Bills fail because of a lack of time, but one only has to read the numerous press reports about parliamentary recess lengths to understand that the public will not be too sympathetic to the idea that we do not have enough time to discuss legislation. Even now, 60 private Members’ Bills appear on the latest Order Paper, despite the fact that there are no sitting Fridays currently scheduled for the rest of this Session. None of them have any chance of passing into law, so why are they there? It just gives people a false impression and does this place no credit at all.
If the Government of the day do not wish to see private Members’ Bills pass, they have the majority to ensure that they do not, and they should have the courage to say so. I am sure that most members of the public would prefer a straightforward response from the Government, rather than the games that are currently being played, which do us no credit at all.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) on securing the debate. However, I have to say that I think it is slightly premature, given that, as has been referred to, the Procedure Committee is looking into the matter. It has conducted a number of evidence sessions and will shortly be issuing a report, about which I cannot talk this morning for obvious reasons.
However, I want to put a couple of things on record very briefly—I am conscious of the fact that others want to speak. My first point—I speak as a northern Member of Parliament who represents a northern constituency, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who is a frequent attender on Fridays—is that if a private Member’s Bill reaches the statute book, it affects my constituents in just the same way as a Government Bill. I therefore regard it as my job to give that Bill the same level of scrutiny as I would any other Bill.
The answer to that lies in Standing Order No. 36. The hon. Lady referred in her speech to the assisted dying debate. Because there were so many Members in the House that day, there was no need to have closure motions, because the parties agreed that it would go through. It was the will of the House that there should be a vote, so a vote took place on the merits of the Bill. The important thing about that Bill was that, just as in the case of the Bills that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington referred to, such as on the abolition of the death penalty and abortion, it was on a matter of conscience, on which Members have a free vote. To put it another way, the Government are neutral on such matters. As has been said a number of times this morning, no Back-Bench Member should expect their Bill to get through the House unless it has the support of the Government, or at least their tacit silent agreement to stand aside.
Well, there was a vote on the Assisted Dying Bill. As far as I am aware, when any Bill on a matter of conscience has come before the House, it has generally been given a vote. However, I make no apologies for using the procedures of the House to oppose a Bill in any way that I can.
I am conscious of the fact that my three minutes have already gone, Ms Vaz—although I have taken a couple of interventions—so I will just say this: those who want to change the procedures of the House should be careful what they wish for. Anyone who thinks that simply changing the procedures will make it easier to get private Members’ Bills through is frankly kidding themselves. The reality is that if the time for consideration of private Members’ Bills is moved to a Tuesday or Wednesday evening, the Government will use their majority and a three-line Whip will be imposed on Government Members. Any Bill that the Government oppose will be voted down—that is the reality of the situation. I look forward to hearing what other Members have to say.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), and I am pleased that his contribution was relatively brief.
I am a relatively new Member of Parliament, and when I started, the documentary “Inside the Commons” was being filmed. When I watched it and saw the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) filibustering, I thought, “It’s editing and artistic licence. They’re showing Parliament in a particular way, but surely that’s not really how it conducts its business.” But I witnessed it at first hand at the Committee stage of a private Member’s Bill, the NHS (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill. The hon. Member for Bury North took up the whole two hours of the first session talking about the difficulties of starting at 9 o’clock in the morning and people’s perceived travel problems getting to the Committee, and the Committee stage was talked out. The hon. Member for North East Somerset gave us all manner of information about his dietary habits. We all know that he loves Cadbury’s Creme Eggs.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would have been happy to carry on debating it day and night, but the fact is that no meaningful debate was allowed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) for securing the debate, because it is vital to do something about the charade on Friday mornings. I was present when the Hospital Parking Charges (Exemption for Carers) Bill was shamefully talked out. That was an absolute disgrace, and the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) deserves an honourable mention for his part in not allowing that Bill to make progress. I was also present for the Compulsory Emergency First Aid Education (State-funded Secondary Schools) Bill. That was outrageous. I had been encouraged by constituents to be there, and as many hon. Members have said, we give up our Fridays to attend. I am a northern MP, and I give up time in my constituency to take part in discussing Bills that go absolutely nowhere.
This afternoon, I will present a petition to No. 10 Downing Street on the Criminal Driving (Justice for Victims) Bill. It is a private Member’s Bill and has no chance of being heard, so we must resort to presenting a petition with 20,000 signatures.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Ms Vaz. I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) on bringing forward this important debate.
For me as a new Member, the past year has been a steep learning curve. I have had to become educated in not only the rules and procedures of the House, but the unspoken courtesies and quirks. Tradition is evidently important, and it is not hard to see why. The parliamentary estate is impressive and rich in historical significance, and it perpetuates tradition and keeps some of that history alive. However, there are signs that the House is unafraid of moving with the times. The widespread availability of live and on-demand video feeds show not the willingness to do that but an earnestness to make the process of democracy more transparent. The example of ParliamentLive.tv is apt, as it is a wonderful illustration of how an emerging technology can wonderfully complement the existing Hansard without replacing it.
Coming to this place with a fresh perspective, I have also found myself growing frustrated with some of the more time-honoured traditions. The most frustrating procedure has been that for debating and voting on private Member’s Bills. My chagrin seems to be shared by the wider public, because social media has recently become alight with talk of Bills being talked out, and the word “filibuster” seems to be used more frequently.
There seems to be greater public awareness of the democratic process. In Scotland particularly, it seems that the Westminster system is observed by the public in almost forensic detail like never before. The independence referendum had the wonderful effect of engaging many people who had come to feel disfranchised from politics but who now tune in regularly to parliamentary proceedings at Westminster. Comparisons are also being made with the Scottish Parliament, from which important lessons can be learned. The private Member’s Bill system in Edinburgh could be adopted and adapted for this place.
Some private Members’ Bills have led to wonderful moments of consensus recently. Video footage of the successful passing of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill, with unanimous support from the parties, went viral. The public gallery, which was filled with people whose lives would be made profoundly different by the legislation, erupted with joy. However, in this place, I am disappointed that some Bills have been the victim of what can only be described as party political pursuits.
Would the hon. Lady say that the fact that statutory instruments are now being used with gay abandon—that was criticised by Lord Judge this morning—is part of a wider pattern that includes the cutting of Short money and the Trade Union Bill? It is part of a wider pattern of an attack on democracy?
I take the hon. Lady’s important point, and I am sure the Minister will respond to it.
As a sponsor of the Food Waste (Reduction) Bill, I was eager to hear it debated and scrutinised, and for the House to be given the opportunity to vote on it. The measures in the Bill had widespread public support, and for it to be talked out was an affront to democracy. Similar legislation has been passed in other European countries, such as France and Italy, and the Bill warranted fuller discussion by the House. So too did the NHS reinstatement Bill. No time limits were imposed on speakers during the debate, and one speaker alone was able to orate for more than one hour and 20 minutes.
The system is clearly in need of reform, and I propose that time limits should become a regular part of the discussion of private Members’ Bills. There also needs to be proper timetabling to ensure a more equitable method of dealing with Second Reading debates. There must also be the presumption of a Division on Second Reading. It is incredibly frustrating to take time away from my constituency on a Friday for an important debate, only to be denied a vote. That may not be a problem for some Members with constituencies in closer proximity to Westminster, but the logistics mean that Members based in Scotland must sacrifice an entire day in their constituency.
I hope that careful consideration will be given to the points I have raised. Reform of the current system will not only lead to a fairer process but create one that is much more accessible to the electorate.
It is a pleasure to serve with you as Chair, Ms Vaz. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) on securing such an important debate.
As a new Member, I was delighted to be drawn in the ballot for private Members’ Bills in June 2015 and to introduce the Off-patent Drugs Bill, the central aim of which was to bring about more consistent access to drugs for which new indications had been found. That Bill was talked out on 6 November, as hon. Members have said. Since then, I have been delighted to work on a cross-party basis with the hon. Members for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences to make progress in obtaining pledges from the Government and achieving legislative change through a different private Member’s Bill.
None the less, the events of 6 November 2015 did a great deal of damage to Parliament’s reputation. It is simple to see why, if one looks at what happened that day. Parliament starts at 9.30 on Fridays, and the first Bill under discussion was the NHS (Charitable Trusts Etc.) Bill, a laudable but simple Bill to allow Great Ormond Street hospital to continue to benefit from J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” royalties. The exchanges on that day sum up the issue. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), who introduced the Bill, said:
“The Bill is purely about 16 NHS charities and their move to independence, and about Great Ormond Street.”
Madam Deputy Speaker responded that
“the hon. Lady is right to point out that the Bill is narrow.”—[Official Report, 6 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 1257.]
Yet it took from 9.30 am until 1.8 pm to discuss that Bill. So uncontroversial was it that there was not even a Division. My Bill was then discussed, and things proceeded very quickly until just after 2 o’clock, when the Minister for Community and Social Care got to his feet and said:
“In the time available before half-past 2—and I make it very clear that I will talk until then, because that is the procedure here”.—[Official Report, 6 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 1304.]
There is no doubt about it: the Government were deliberately talking out the Bill.
I believe in the private Member’s Bill system. It is very useful, because we have an Executive fused into our legislature and the Executive dominate parliamentary business. This procedure gives Back Benchers an opportunity to make a difference. Also, there were social changes in the 20th century that were regarded as being better brought about by this route than by Government business. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) pointed out, the 1960s changes came about because the Home Secretary from 1965 to 1967, Roy Jenkins, either tacitly or overtly supported the Bills. Therein lies a double problem: first, there is the Executive dominance of the system, but secondly, there is the filibustering. The fact that the Executive exercise their dominance in that non-transparent, arcane way is equally a problem. The time has come for reform.
I am grateful to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) for raising this very important subject, and grateful just to have a few minutes in which to speak. It is ironical that when my name was selected and I was given the opportunity to introduce a private Member’s Bill, five hours were available, but some Members took the opportunity to speak for more than 90 minutes on that occasion, with the deliberate aim of talking out the Bill, and the Minister who responded talked to the very last minute, half-past 2, so that there could be no possibility of a vote.
I chose a very serious subject that mattered to a lot of people in this country. I was trying to help, in a small way, the carers who give so much to so many, and 1 million carers and their families would have benefited had my private Member’s Bill progressed. However, from the outset that was not to be. There was no pretence even of serious debate on the Government Benches. The opportunity was taken by three Members—the same three Members, I note, who regularly attend private Member’s Bill debates on a Friday, so I have to ask the question: do they feel so strongly about every private Member’s Bill? That was hugely disrespectful to the public who watched the proceedings. It brings Parliament into tremendous disrepute. Hundreds of people contacted me. They just could not believe it. They did not understand the system. How can the great British democratic system behave in this fashion, sometimes week after week?
The point has been made that if a private Member’s Bill is introduced and is against the will of the Government, it cannot hope to succeed. I accept that; we live in a democracy. But should not we have the opportunity of a democratic vote? What is happening is dishonest. Members from across the parties gave their support to my Bill privately. I spoke with Conservative Members, Scottish National party Members, Liberal Democrats and the representative of the Green party, and they all said, “This is a fantastic Bill and we would like to see it implemented,” but they, more experienced Members than I, had seen how the system works. Some of them were not able to be here on a Friday, and quite understandably. How could I expect an SNP Member to stay and have a long journey afterwards, knowing full well that the Bill would be talked out?
It is particularly dishonest when Government Members pledge support for carers to their constituents and out in the wider community—that is fine; they are entitled to their opinion—but then come into Parliament and deliberately deny the public the knowledge that they are not delivering on that pledge. If the Government did not want the Bill to proceed—they clearly did not—let us be honest about it. Let us have a vote. Let the Government say, “We do not support carers,” which was what really happened on the day. If there is a will to sort this, we can do it.
I think the hon. Lady needs to be careful. Just because not enough MPs chose to come to support her Bill in Parliament does not mean they do not support carers. She has to be careful about differentiating between her Bill and the issue of carers.
That was how it appeared to the wider public, and many people were tuned in, watching the debate. Carers and their families were watching the debate. But there is a will to sort this. Time is pressing; I could talk about this issue for a very long time, but I will not. We can change this situation. If there is a will to do it, we can restrict the length of speeches. We can look at the days on which the debates are held so that Members from across the country can attend more easily. And we can ensure that every private Member’s Bill comes to an honest democratic vote.
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) on initiating this important debate. It has been said by many hon. Members that private Members’ Bills perpetrate a deception on the public. We need to think hard about how to address that, because we know that people are becoming increasingly disengaged from politics and this system does nothing to remedy that; in fact, it simply adds to it. There is no silver bullet to restore trust, faith and engagement with this place, but we could do something about this issue to help to address that problem. Addressing the outmoded, outdated, convoluted and obfuscatory way in which private Members’ Bills are dealt with in this place could restore a little bit of faith in the Westminster parliamentary system.
Like my colleagues, I cannot help but look at this system through the prism of the Scottish Parliament. We look at it as new MPs, admittedly, but with utter bewilderment because it makes no sense, and perhaps—I throw this out just as a suggestion—that partly explains why the people of Scotland feel much greater affinity with, and ownership of, the Scottish Parliament than they do with this place. Like the rest of the UK, the people of Scotland are very detached and disengaged from what happens in this place. There is much that this system can learn from the Scottish Parliament if it is serious about addressing the disengagement that constituents feel.
We have talked a lot today about the NHS reinstatement Bill—the National Health Service Bill. Like my colleagues and, I suspect, the hundreds of thousands of people across the UK who are concerned about that Bill and the wider issue, I watched what happened in the debate. There is no point in blaming it on procedure and saying, “That is how it works.” We looked at the response to the debate and what we saw was what very much appeared to be contempt and disregard for the very important issue that that private Member’s Bill was trying to address. What that tells those of us who were frustrated on that day and what it tells the public is that there is little or no opportunity for MPs or groups of MPs to introduce a meaningful debate on something that does not have the support of the Government, so I ask: where is the balance between the Parliament and the Executive? We watched the debate that day on the NHS reinstatement Bill with utter despair, because we know that all it takes is three or four MPs to filibuster, chunter, ramble and obfuscate in order to throw the entire issue that the private Member’s Bill is trying to tackle into chaos—into the long grass.
I sincerely wish that the hon. Gentleman were correct. When I watched what happened that day—admittedly, as a new MP with fresh eyes and all the rest of it—I said to myself and a couple of my colleagues, “If this is the mother of Parliaments, God help the others.” The hon. Gentleman was present in the Chamber that day and I know that he knows that there was a clear attempt to talk out the NHS reinstatement Bill. That is evidenced by the fact that 17 minutes were allocated to the debate of that Bill, and 17 minutes is not even a proper debate.
I am a London MP so I do not have the Scotland problem, but even I have found the situation frustrating. On one of those frustrating Fridays, I went into a TV studio with a Conservative Member and explained what had happened. He sort of said, “You should have known better. That’s our hit squad. We send them every Friday.” For us, as new MPs, the honeymoon should not be over yet, but we are continually being frustrated on Fridays.
I understand exactly the hon. Lady’s point. I am afraid that the honeymoon was over very quickly in terms of parliamentary procedure because what we see, and what we saw on that day, are shenanigans and parliamentary games, which do this place and our constituents no credit. It matters in the wider sense because the public do not understand the outdated procedures of this place. And why should they understand? I have been here for almost a year and I do not understand. I do not know what is going on because it makes no sense.
I know we are under time pressure, but I will leave hon. Members with this thought: this place is detached from the people it seeks to represent and we have to be very careful because this place is in danger, if we are not already quite there, of becoming an absurd and grotesque carbuncle on the face of the UK. If we seek to represent people, we must take it seriously. We must treat serious debates that aim to do serious things with the respect that they deserve. Our constituents deserve better.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) on securing this important debate. I thank all my colleagues who have spoken passionately on this procedural subject. In particular, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) and my hon. Friends the Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) and for Burnley (Julie Cooper) on their contributions. It has been valuable to hear the experiences of those who have tried to introduce their own Bills and who took part in the lottery that we were all excited about at the beginning of the Session, only to find that it is a cruel joke not only on the public, but on us as individuals starting our adventures in Parliament.
It is clear to the majority of us that the current system for debating and voting on private Members’ Bills is undemocratic. It looks outdated to the public and it needs to change. Individual MPs currently have virtually no chance of influencing legislative change. This place has nothing to fear from the duly elected representatives from all parts of this nation raising important issues that are a high priority for constituents or large sections of society.
As the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) mentioned, other parliamentary systems make specific provision for individual Members to be able to create, generate or better influence change to legislation, and now we have the opportunity to do that ourselves. Since the election, Bill after Bill that could have saved lives and money, and helped those who most need it has been blocked. That is not only damaging to those pieces of legislation that have not passed into law; it is hugely damaging to our democracy, because they were blocked by filibuster and were not even voted on.
I am well aware of that. It just shows the importance of the issue to members of the public. I would urge anybody who is tuning into Parliament TV today to sign up. Maybe we will have a private Member’s Bill on private Members’ Bills at some point.
I do not want to echo comments that have already been made too much, but it is really not fair that one Member of this House can block legislation from being voted on and possibly becoming law. We never hear a defence of the filibuster rule. We hear objections to changes to the procedures and we hear Members justifying their actions by working within the rules, but very rarely do we have an outright defence of the system. That is because it is unjustifiable for one or two MPs to deny the representatives of the rest of the country a voice on important and potentially life-saving legislation.
Very often—we have heard examples of this—it is a Government Minister who does the filibustering and not some rogue Back Bencher, which often seems to be the general impression. An Education Minister blocked the Bill that would have made it compulsory for children to be taught emergency first aid at school, and the Minister for Community and Social Care talked out a Bill to allow the NHS access to low-cost medical treatments for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and Parkinson’s. The same Minister prevented a Bill from passing that would have exempted carers from paying hospital parking charges.
I have much sympathy with what the shadow Minister and her colleagues have been saying, but we all have to accept, whether we like it or not, that it is a misnomer to talk about private Members, because none of us is. We are all part of a party machine. If the Government of the day, irrespective of what stripe they are, do not support a Bill—irrespective of how we change the Standing Orders and whether we sit on a Tuesday, Saturday or Thursday—and do not want it to go ahead, it will not go ahead.
The important thing is that we should at least have the opportunity to vote on these things, which we do not have at the moment. If we are going to run a Parliament and say to people, “We’re here to influence change. We can properly represent you,” and then be denied that, it is the time for change.
As long as the Government are able to veto private Members’ Bills before they are voted on, the only Bills that will be allowed to pass are the ones that the Government are in favour of, but if the Government are in favour of them, they could just as easily introduce the legislation themselves. Why do they not just do away with the nonsense—that is how it is viewed at the moment—of private Members’ Bills?
Other speakers have said that it would not be right to allow the small number of Members who turn up on a Friday to decide the laws of the country, but I think that the current system for private Members’ Bills actively discourages Members from being here on a Friday because, as there are no time limits on debates, it is impossible to know which legislation will be reached and debated, let alone what will be voted on. Most MPs, including me, would rather spend an extra day in our constituencies than stay in Westminster on the off-chance that their Bill will reach a meaningful discussion or even a vote.
I made clear my position on the need for reform, but we have to be careful. If we are going to say that private Members’ Bills should have the same degree of scrutiny as all measures brought before the House, Members will have to commit to rather more time at Westminster than there has been an appetite demonstrated for in recent years.
I am particularly concerned about the time we have to discuss this. We have changed the system. In the previous Session, there was a change so that petitions that reach 100,000 signatures can be debated in the House of Commons. We can make meaningful changes when we really want to. Although many people will be pleased that debates can take place, what they really want to see is change. Our legislative process is long overdue an upgrade. Is it not time that we put an end to this cruel joke that we are playing on the public?
Hon. Members have suggested several different changes to the way that we debate and vote on private Members’ Bills, and I hope they will be heard fully. The suggestions are an improvement because the processes are based on the reality of the system as it operates today, rather than a notional way, as has been suggested by Conservative Members, that is just not based in fact or reality.
I await the Procedure Committee’s forthcoming report and recommendations because we are open to further suggestions. The hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) suggested that perhaps this debate is in some way premature. I would say entirely the opposite: this is a very timely debate. We do not want yet another report that does not get anywhere; we would like some commitment to change, which will hopefully change things for society for the better.
To challenge the point about private Members’ Bills always being about matters of conscience, I am not clear where there is a matter of conscience in higher education information or the fitness of homes for human habitation. Private Members’ Bills are not always about matters of conscience. I support the comments of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford): some of them are about social reform matters and are important to many people.
The most important thing is that the Procedure Committee and the Government should recognise that the current system does not work and needs to change. The Procedure Committee’s second report said that it would not be putting its proposals to the House and that, instead:
“This is an idea whose time has not yet come.”
Following the passion Members have shown today, I entirely disagree with that statement. This is entirely the idea’s time, and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will commit today to allowing the whole House at least to debate and vote on the Committee’s proposals once they have been published.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) on securing this debate. I also welcome hon. Members who have participated, particularly those who have shepherded, or have tried to shepherd, a private Member’s Bill through Parliament—or, indeed, who have supported their hon. Friends in trying to do so. It is noticeable that most Members here today, although not exclusively, are from the 2015 intake, and it is encouraging to see so many hon. Members who have an interest in parliamentary procedure and who want to use this place to get things done.
It is an important principle that a Member of Parliament can initiate legislation and that it is not left to the Government. There are three ways to achieve that in this House. There are ballot Bills and the private Member’s Bill process, with ballot Bills having priority on sitting Fridays, which are dedicated to private Members’ Bills. We have ten-minute rule Bills, where at least a debate is guaranteed on the principle of the Bill, and we also have presentation Bills, which are probably the ones that have the least chance of getting a debate because ballot Bills have priority on sitting Fridays. However, each route has seen success in securing an Act of Parliament, so it has been possible to use each of those routes to get a change in the law.
Members should not measure success on their particular issue only by achieving an Act of Parliament. I happen to have secured an Act of Parliament in the first Session of the last Parliament, from 2010 to 2012, so I have been through the process of having to organise a debate and a Committee and having to find a Member of the House of Lords who is prepared to take the Bill through, and it is not a light undertaking. Indeed—dare I say it?—I am sure that hon. Members who were successful in the ballot, even if they were drawn below No. 7, will have been inundated with phone calls and emails before they even knew that they had been successful in the ballot, which shows that there are organisations out there that are keen to use this process to secure legislation.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that hon. Members should think about the outcome of what they are trying to do. Using their Bill as a device might not always result in an individual Act of Parliament but, as he says, such Bills often result in change.
The hon. Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper) mentioned her Bill. Carers UK has supplied written evidence to the Procedure Committee’s current inquiry, and it is fully aware of how to use private Members’ Bills. Carers UK rightly encouraged people to come along to support the Bill, but it is happy that it secured a change in ministerial guidance, which was committed to on the Floor of the House that day. Even though the Minister said directly that the Government would not support that Bill, he said that they would support some of the Bill’s outcomes through a change in guidance.
I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. He has been a Minister, and he can use that experience in his role as a Member of Parliament. I believe that we can, if we wish, make a serious contribution to the progress of any law going through this House.
Traditionally, private Members’ Bills have been used to raise smaller issues, as well as big, significant issues of conscience, which have already been mentioned. The private Members’ Bills that have been successful have either changed an outcome in Government policy in due course or have made a modest and sensible change to the law with which people agree. In this Session, six such Bills have passed through the House of Commons, of which three have received Royal Assent and three are in the Lords.
It is important to say that, although the Government do not, and should not, have a monopoly on legislation, they have a mandate to legislate, whereas private Members’ Bills do not necessarily have an elected mandate from the country. As a consequence, I support the fact that we should encourage people to write to us if they want to support particular legislation, and I will shortly address expectation management and the role that each of us can play.
It can be difficult to get legislation through if the Government are opposed to it, but it has happened. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) succeeded with the Autism Act 2009. She secured a closure against the wishes of the then Labour Government by getting a sufficient number of Members to come and support the Bill—those Members were not just from the Conservative party. She then managed to make progress through the House. The right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) knows that such Bills are in the control of hon. Members because we can get closure motions. There were several such closures in the previous Parliament, including on the Daylight Saving Bill, several on European Union (Referendum) Bills, on the Affordable Homes Bill, on the National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill and on the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill. Members were ready in case a closure motion was needed on the Live Music Bill. There was an unsuccessful attempt to move a closure on the Tenancies (Reform) Bill, when not enough people were here. I understand that constituency days are important, but if Members genuinely believe that a piece of legislation should make progress, it is within their power to make that happen.
I only have two more minutes before the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington sums up.
On public perception, use and abuse, people have thrown about the word “filibuster.” I recognise that it is generic, but it is for the Chair to keep order in debate, and the Chairs do respond to filibustering. MPs and organisations need to be clear with their constituents, and with the people who contact them, about expectations. We have talked about the National Health Service Bill, which the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) presented on 1 July 2015. On that day, when she was asked, she said that Second Reading would be on 11 March 2016. There was zero chance of that Bill ever becoming law, and it was actually quite unlikely to get a debate. We have to remember that, historically, such Bills were the only way that Back Benchers could get debates in the House. We now have more opportunities, through the Backbench Business Committee, debates on petitions and a lot more Westminster Hall debates. In a way, we have other opportunities to raise issues, rather than just through legislation.
Having a dedicated day for private Members’ Bills matters. In the last Parliament, the House voted not to sit on Tuesday evenings, and I have heard it suggested that the House should sit on Wednesday evenings. There may be an opportunity for the House to reconsider its sitting hours, which I am sure the Procedure Committee is considering. There have been six written submissions to the current inquiry and five oral sessions, in which MPs, Clerks and journalists have contributed, and members of the Procedure Committee are here today. The Government look forward with eager anticipation to the publication of the Committee’s report, and there may be an opportunity to debate it in due course—it is open to any Select Committee to try to secure such a debate on a report.
This has been an interesting and full debate, and I encourage Members to recognise that they can help to shape legislation—it is not just about the Government. The Government have the mandate, but people can work together on other issues. As the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) said, 11 September 2015 was one of the most powerful days that I have been in Parliament, and I was pleased with the outcome. Nevertheless, it was an opportunity for each and every Member, and a majority of Members came along and expressed their view decisively.
I do not have much time, so I will be brief in thanking all the Members who have contributed to this debate. We have had a respectful, interesting and mature debate, which is more than we usually get on Fridays. There is a consensus that there is deep frustration with the system on both sides of the House. The system is broken and change is needed. We have had some good suggestions, and I particularly thank the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) for their suggestions about ways forward. I hope that the Procedure Committee and, more importantly, the Government will listen to those suggestions and take them on board, because one thing is clear: the longer we continue with the current system, the more the reputation of Parliament will be damaged. The time has come for change.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the procedure for debating and voting on Private Members’ Bills.
Air Cadet Organisation and Gliding
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of gliding and the Air Cadet Organisation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Ms Vaz.
I first became aware of concerns about the future of gliding after receiving a letter from the Air Cadet Organisation, which I assume was sent to many colleagues. I immediately took an interest as I have two local air cadet units—one in my constituency of Hornchurch and Upminster and the other just over the constituency boundary, in the part of Elm Park that lies in the constituency of the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas).
It is always a pleasure to see the air cadets march with the Royal British Legion in parades on Remembrance Day, Armed Forces Day and Battle of Britain Day. They are proud to wear their uniforms, and proud to remember those servicemen and women who have given their lives for their country. There is a close interest locally in the RAF because of the Hornchurch airfield, which played a prominent role in world war two, including in the battle of Britain, and local schools and roads are named in memory of pilots who flew in that conflict.
When I was at grammar school, which I am embarrassed to say was a very long time ago, it was in the days when it was not thought necessary for girls to know about current affairs, and when the only two respectable occupations for girls were teaching and nursing. At that time, it was usual for armed forces cadets to be run from most secondary schools; cadets wore their uniforms in school and paraded in the school playground. Sadly, over the years that became unfashionable and politically incorrect, and schools did not want to see pupils in uniform. I think that was a retrograde step and I, for one, would welcome the return of cadet corps in schools.
I am sure, Ms Vaz, that both you and my hon. Friend the Minister who will respond to this debate—the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier)—appreciate the value and importance of armed forces cadet corps, and indeed of all young people’s organisations. That is because while young people are enjoying the activities arranged by those organisations, they are also learning qualities that will carry them through life and make them good citizens and good employees, such as teamwork, fitness, leadership, reliability, personal discipline, responsibility and self-confidence, plus the technical skills associated with their particular organisation. In that respect, the Air Training Corps is one of our strongest assets in youth development.
I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has secured this really important debate. I have air cadets in my constituency, up in Brownhills, and I have visited them on a number of occasions. Does she agree that air cadets also play a really important part in more general terms in the local community, by helping and linking in with community organisations?
I thank my hon. Friend for that valuable contribution, because she is absolutely right that young people’s organisations, and the air cadets in particular, are noted for joining in with community organisations, for volunteering and helping with elderly people, and for raising money for charities, which makes those young people very well-rounded good citizens.
May I just put it on the record at the very beginning that although there are very few people present I am delighted that the hon. Lady has secured this debate? This issue is really important in Northern Ireland. That is because, of course, in Northern Ireland the air cadets have had to travel to England for what has been a short but very valuable training course; and the fear in Northern Ireland is that such training will be lost completely if we move to residential courses in England. Young people cannot afford to spend such a long period of time away, and parents cannot afford the cost of such a residential course in England. Therefore, may I encourage the hon. Lady to seek assurances from the Minister when he winds up that Northern Ireland’s air cadet corps will not be forgotten amid the changes that are about to be introduced?
I have already been in contact with the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) about this issue and I congratulate her on bringing it to Westminster Hall for consideration. In my constituency of Strangford, I have one of the RAF cadet squadrons, at Newtownards. However, it is the intention of the Minister and his Department that we will lose the opportunities for gliding at RAF Newtownards, which is operated out of Regent House School; the school has one of the largest cadet groups in the whole of Northern Ireland.
I will just make a point about cost. The cost of sending a student from Northern Ireland across to the mainland, which is the alternative to having the motor-glider in Northern Ireland, will be at least £80,000 for all those cadets, and it will cost £100,000, Minister, if the staff costs are added on to that. That is the price of a motor-glider that could be kept in Northern Ireland for 20 years. I say with great respect that the proposed change is not financially economical or viable. Does the hon. Lady feel that this debate enables the voice of people in Northern Ireland to be heard? If so, it will hopefully persuade the Minister to reverse his decision.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution and I will go on to talk about issues of funding and the value of investment in this activity, which will pay dividends in the future of the young people involved.
The concern about the Air Training Corps is the decline in cadet numbers, which were down 6.5% from 34,500 to 32,250 in the year 2014-15. That fall is predicted to become a 10% fall by April 2016 and is attributed, at least in part, to the declining opportunities for gliding.
The current air cadet gliding fleet comprises 81 Viking conventional—that is, winch-launched—gliders and 65 Vigilant motor-gliders. In 2014, a glider airworthiness review took place for assurance reasons. Colleagues will understand that all sports and physical activities carry a degree of risk, and demand the proper training of instructors and maintenance of equipment for health and safety. Gliding is likely to be quite high on the risk scale, for obvious reasons.
It has been decided that at least 73 Viking gliders will be recovered, but for reasons of practicality and value for money, only 15 Vigilant gliders will be brought back into service, with this residual fleet being retired in late 2019. That will leave 10 volunteer gliding squadrons out of the current 25, all operating the Viking. The 614 Volunteer Gliding Squadron—based at Wethersfield, near Braintree in Essex—will continue to operate; I was pleased to learn that, because it is the closest volunteer squadron to Hornchurch and Elm Park. Currently, the Wethersfield squadron serves a total of 55 air cadet units from as far away as Suffolk, Cambridge and London. The maximum reasonable travelling time from an air cadet unit to a volunteer gliding squadron is set at two hours, to avoid fatigue.
Given the reduction in volunteer gliding squadrons, the number of units using 614 VGS at Wethersfield is predicted to increase from 55 to around 135 or 140. A significant increase in the number of volunteers, instructors and staff living within reasonable commuting distance will be needed to sustain the squadron’s contribution to the current national total of 50,000 flights annually, or to achieve the uplift of 40% in gliding—to 70,000 flights annually—that is planned by the Air Cadet Organisation.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give an assurance that the 10 remaining volunteer gliding squadrons, including 614 Wethersfield, will have a secure future in terms of airfield availability. As he knows, gliders may only be launched safely with cables given suitable airfield infrastructure, taking into account local airspace constraints and other airfield users. All those requirements limit the number of suitable venues, and alternatives would be difficult to find. Sustaining gliding opportunities would prevent worsening of air cadet numbers and ensure a strong base of air cadets and potential RAF recruits. In 2014-15, the Air Cadet Organisation accounted for 33% of officer intakes and 18% of RAF airmen intakes. It will become an increasingly vital source of high-calibre recruits with suitable experience and values for the service.
Common sense tells me that gliding is not only an exciting activity, but an expensive one. I am sure that budgetary constraints must play their part in decision making, but gliding is a worthwhile investment. Air cadets are the next RAF personnel. Alternatively, they might use their transferable skills acquired as cadets in other occupations, whether technical or engineering, where they will play their part in society and set an example to others. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give assurance to the air cadet gliding organisation that there is a secure future, albeit with a reduction in size, so that it can attract young people to join the Air Training Corps knowing that gliding opportunities will be included in their activities.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) for giving me some of her thinking in advance of the debate and I congratulate her on securing it. I am also grateful to other colleagues who have spoken. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is coming to see me shortly about the situation in Northern Ireland, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Byron Davies) has just been to see me about the situation in Wales. I have been looking particularly closely at those two specific issues.
On the issue in Wales, the Government are expecting young people to travel at least three and a half hours from west Wales all the way to Gloucestershire to have the experience of flight. There is some talk about synthetic flight, but that in no way compensates for the thrill of flight when young people are being introduced to flying.
If I may, I will come back to my hon. Friend’s intervention towards the end of my speech.
In November, I had the privilege of watching the cadets from 1838 (Elm Park) Squadron—it is based in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster—march proudly alongside the Royal British Legion at the Lords Mayor’s show. They are great ambassadors for the air cadet corps and for the future of the Royal Air Force. It is a sobering thought that some of the pilots who saved this country in the battle of Britain were the same age as some of the oldest cadets. Since I took over as Minister for cadets last autumn, I have been lucky enough to visit air cadet units from places as far apart as Perthshire and south London, and I have been consistently impressed by the cadets’ spirit of adventure, leadership and good citizenship skills and by the quality and dedication of their instructors.
Let us be clear that the recent restructuring of air cadet gliding is not a cost-cutting exercise. The Air Cadet Organisation remains hugely valued and the Royal Air Force is fully committed to offering flying training to all air cadets. My hon. Friend acknowledged that an in-depth audit of glider engineering in 2014 made it clear that the Vigilant and Viking fleets were not airworthy. The decline in numbers that she referred to reflects the fact that for nearly two years there has been no gliding in the air cadets. Indeed, almost half the air cadets I met recently at a 75th anniversary celebration event had not been in the air at all.
The blunt truth is that we were unable to find a sufficiently reliable contractor with the capacity to take on the bulk of the Vigilant fleet. Faced with no viable option but to draw it right down in the way that my hon. Friend described, we are increasing spending to get almost all the Viking gliders back into service, as well as offering an uplift of more than 50% in air experience flights. In addition, we can offer some excellent synthetic training through the generosity of the RAF Charitable Trust, to which I am most grateful. Let me reassure hon. Members that, following my recent announcement on the relaunch of air cadet gliding, we will get back to a position where all air cadets across the country have the opportunity to fly gliders and to participate in Grob Tutor air experience flights.
The cadets in Newtownards in my constituency operate out of Ards airport, where there is a lot of experience, skill and ability, which could provide the background technical expertise that is needed. Has the Minister considered offering such opportunities outside the circle of companies that could look after the gliders? In Ards airport we have that ability, because there are already gliders there.
I am looking forward to the hon. Gentleman coming to see me shortly. I should say that we are setting up an air experience flight of powered aircraft in Ireland. Northern Ireland will be getting one of the two new offerings of air experience flights with Grob Tutors.
I appreciate that the loss of any volunteer gliding squadron will be disappointing, not least for the volunteers, who selflessly give their time to help to support and develop our young people, but it was essential to look again, given the grim background of what has happened with the gliders. Decisions have not been taken lightly or in haste, although when I took over, finding a resolution to this issue was my top priority from the cadet angle. I have taken advice from RAF experts, who are extremely committed to solving the issue. It became clear that our most sensible option in resuming sustainable cadet flying would be to provide a reduced glider fleet operated by fewer, but larger regional volunteer gliding squadrons. That was not an easy decision, but I believe it was the right decision.
While it is true that we are having to draw down the fleet of Vigilants, we are refocusing the resource on reinvesting for the future of the remaining volunteer gliding squadrons. We are extending the life of the Viking gliders by heavily rebuilding them. We are also building much improved infrastructure. Where cadets will have to travel longer distances, investment is being increased to include good quality residential accommodation for cadets and staff during weekends and camps.
I have been to see what will be the new Scottish centre of excellence at Kirknewton. The gliders will be as good as new. We have new winches for them. We have enhanced synthetic training, which we should remember means that each cadet does not have to spend the whole day waiting for their one go on the glider. The simulators really are good. I made a bit of an idiot of myself trying to fly a glider on a simulator, but they are remarkably realistic, and they are in addition to, not instead of, flying. There will also be a major uplift in the Tutor powered aircraft, with an increase of more than 50%, from 40 to 70, including the two additional new air experience flights.
Just for clarification for those air cadets in Northern Ireland who will be following the debate and who look for everything that mentions Northern Ireland, is it in the Minister’s mind that air cadets in Northern Ireland will have the choice between going to the new facility that will, I think, be opened at Aldergrove airport—the Minister has hinted at that—or going to England, Scotland or Wales for residential courses? Actually, I do not think there are any residential courses in Wales, which is disappointing. If it is a residential course, will subsistence funding be given to those young people who have to travel long distances for a residential course?
I will have to come back to the hon. Lady in writing on the last part of her question about the detailed position, although I may be able to answer it in a minute. As for the first part of her question, we envisage, as at present, cadets doing a mixture of gliding and powered flying. The powered flying will now be available in Northern Ireland, but the plan is for the gliding to have to be on a residential course. I should say, as the president of a sea cadet unit, that that is completely normal for kids going away with a sea cadet unit to sail or with an army cadet unit going off to a camp. We do not normally expect cadets to do everything in one day. [Interruption.] We will have a more detailed discussion when the hon. Member for Strangford comes to see me. Perhaps he might invite the hon. Member for North Down to join him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster specifically mentioned Wethersfield and 614 Volunteer Gliding Squadron. The plan remains that the size of the squadron will be expanded—she mentioned that—to facilitate its role as a regional hub. As she mentioned, Wethersfield has been identified for disposal as part of the MOD’s programme of estate rationalisation by 2020. This is part of the Government’s commitment to provide land for 160,000 extra homes by the end of the Parliament, so the squadron will move to another site. I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate that work to identify the potential future location remains at an early stage. I am confident that, throughout its transition to a future location, the staff of 614 Squadron will continue to ensure that the unit provides the same excellent training to cadets as it always has in the past.
In the last 48 hours I have talked to a former volunteer instructor who was with a unit that moved from RAF Locking in Somerset to Hullavington in Wiltshire, which is a round trip of more than 200 miles. Almost all the staff moved there and they may now be moving back to somewhere closer to their original location.
People have asked how the Air Cadet organisation can offer the same amount of experience to cadets with a substantially reduced glider fleet. Many Members will be aware that front-line Royal Air Force pilots in our flying training system make very extensive use of realistic simulators to provide basic flying skills training on the ground, prior to consolidating that in the actual training. This saves on real flying hours without diminishing the trainee’s competence levels to operate the aircraft.
The Air Cadet organisation is following suit, developing a common syllabus so that every single flight in future will be focused on training—rather than simply providing a passenger experience—whether in gliding or powered flight. The air cadet aviation flying programme will remain unmatched by any other national cadet force worldwide.
The Royal Air Force Charitable Trust has generously purchased 25 simulators—part-task trainers. Although I did not do very well, I can attest to how realistic they are in preparing young men and women for flight, and I am most grateful to the trust for paying for those simulators.
The redesigned courses provide a cadet flying training structure built for the future, just like that used by our future RAF Typhoon and Lightning II pilots. When I was in Woolwich, I had a go on a very effective simulator for an F-22. I am sorry to recall I did not do particularly well on that, either. I am not the sort of person the RAF would ever want to recruit—parachuting and gravity do it all for you—but again I was impressed.
On the redesigned courses, cadets will learn basic flying skills from an early point in their air cadet careers starting with ground school lessons and realistic synthetic training. This smart use and integration of synthetic flying during the early stages will ensure that a much higher proportion of actual glider launches will be used for the consolidation of already learned skills and will get cadets ready faster to be able to go solo.
The planned uplift in the number of Tutor aircraft and the creation of two additional air experience flights will also enable us to fly a far greater number of cadets in this aircraft type. Again, this activity will be integrated into the wider aviation training programme. In future, all AEF powered flying will be phased to relate directly to the individual cadet’s level of experience, so each AEF sortie that a cadet undertakes will further enhance his or her aviation expertise.
The RAF and I are extremely grateful for the commitment and professionalism of the volunteers who support each Volunteer Gliding Squadron, and so a plan has been developed to offer alternative opportunities for the volunteer gliding instructors who are affected by the closures. This includes opportunities for Vigilant instructors to convert to Viking and in some cases to transfer to another Volunteer Gliding Squadron. Another option is to transfer to a formally established ground cadre within a VGS that provides the synthetic training and ground school elements. We aim to have a significant gliding programme again by this summer and to have the full programme in place by 2018.
This year, 2016, is an important year for the Air Cadet organisation, as it celebrates its 75th anniversary and the cadet expansion programme continues to provide new cadet units throughout the country in schools. This is indeed an important year. There are two parts to the programme that I am still looking at in more detail in relation to Wales and Northern Ireland. I want to ensure that we have a fair outcome, although, as I mentioned, Northern Ireland is getting a new AEF squadron to balance the loss of the gliding.
After this very unhappy, unprecedented period, in which we have had nearly two years with no gliding, the combination of getting the Vikings back in the air again with the expansion of the Grob Tutor powered flying, and building in the simulators and the good quality accommodation that will enable weekends and camps to become a reality, this is a really positive way forward. I believe that air cadet gliding will emerge to be safer and more resilient in the long run and that the volunteer instructors will continue to be the strongest part of it. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster for initiating the debate and I thank all colleagues who have participated in it. [Interruption].
Thank you, Ms Vaz. I failed to say how much I have enjoyed speaking under your chairmanship for the first time. The note says that cadets are assisted through squadron and wing HQ budgets. Similar to when they attend annual camps in mainland UK, food and accommodation are free to cadets.[Official Report, 27 April 2016, Vol. 608, c. 1MC.]
Question put and agreed to.
Mental Health Taskforce Report
[Phil Wilson in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the report from the independent mental health taskforce to the NHS in England.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. This is a very important debate on the “Five Year Forward View for Mental Health” report, published in February. I pay tribute to the chair of the taskforce, Paul Farmer, who is the chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, and the vice-chair, Jacqui Dyer, for all their work. I also thank all the other members of the taskforce and the people throughout the country who contributed to its work. It is an excellent study that contains more than 50 concrete recommendations about how we need to go about improving mental healthcare in our country.
The report represents an historic opportunity. There are three reasons why I believe it is pivotal to the whole history of our approach to mental healthcare in Britain. First, both the public debate in Britain about mental health and our social attitudes towards it have been transformed over the past 10 years. The quality of the debate in Parliament, the media and the public square is at a completely different level from where it was for many years. We are addressing issues of stigma and are open to discussing mental health problems in society.
Secondly, there is a general recognition in the Government and across parties that for too long, mental health care has been underfunded in the national health service. There is now a mature debate about how we should fund mental health services over the next decade.
Thirdly, I strongly believe that, as a result of the work of many people from all political parties over a long period of time, mental health is now at the top of the list of public policy priorities. We now have the political will, which is manifested in the Minister himself, who is absolutely committed to delivering on the plan formulated by the independent taskforce. Those are the reasons why I believe the report represents an historic opportunity.
The report provides a route map for change so that we can give hope to those throughout the country who are currently suffering from mental health problems and who may not be getting, or feel that they are getting, the level of service that they should from the NHS. I shall concentrate on the implementation issues highlighted in the report. There have been many reports over the past 20 years, and many strategies have been determined by Governments of both main political parties. I think we would all agree that over that period we have not made sufficient or fast enough progress, given that mental health issues are becoming more visible in society and given the prevalence of the mental health issues we are seeing across the age range and across the social and economic landscape of the country. There is a real urgency that we get this right, and now.
What do we need to do to drive the change that we all want to see in the quality and availability of mental health care in Britain today? The report focuses on four areas that are critical to implementation—commissioning; the importance of research and data; the incentives, levers and payments for services in today’s NHS; and leadership in the NHS and across Government. The truth is that, to achieve our goal of transforming mental health services in Britain, we need urgent action in all four areas.
The report is clear about the challenge we currently face on commissioning. It states:
“The quality of local mental health commissioning is variable. We found a twofold difference in apparent per-capita spend by CCGs, a more than threefold difference in excess premature mortality in people with mental health problems in England and a fourfold variation in mortality across local authorities.”
The reality is that we need better and more effective commissioning at a local level.
The report discusses the model of commissioning set out by the “Future in mind” taskforce, which looked into child and adolescent mental health services and came up with recommendations for improving commissioning. Those recommendations, which are picked up in the “Five Year Forward View” report, speak to the need to improve commissioning across mental health services and across the age range.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for securing this debate and for all he has done for mental health in his time in Parliament. He has been an absolute champion of it. Does he share my concern, which is shared by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, that there is currently no proper accountability for local clinical commissioning groups? The Bill on accountability in commissioning that I presented to Parliament last year would have required every CCG in the country to report back to the Secretary of State every year on the resources and spend in the local area. That way we would know exactly what was going on and could ensure parity of esteem in resources and allocation.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He is right, and I will come to the need for greater accountability later in my speech.
On commissioning, the “Five Year Forward View” report states:
“The transformation we envisage will take a number of years and without clear information about what the best care pathways look like and good data on current levels of spending, access, quality and outcomes, it will be hard to assess the impact of organisational change and ensure mental health services are not disadvantaged.”
Its very first recommendation is:
“NHS England should continue to work with Health Education England…Public Health England…Government and other key partners to resource and implement Future in Mind, building on the 2015/16 Local Transformation Plans”—
which I know are in the process of being implemented—
“and going further to drive system-wide transformation of the local offer to children and young people so that we secure measurable improvements in their mental health within the next four years.”
I dwell on those recommendations because—this speaks to my hon. Friend’s point—we need more transparency on what clinical commissioning groups are spending and where. The report is clear that there is currently simply too much variability across the country. I have long been an advocate of the importance of local, decentralised decision making. It is important that clinical commissioning groups have the freedom to commission services that they think are appropriate to their local population. The report is clear that we need a more consistent approach on mental health services that focuses on collaboration and more integrated commissioning across the spectrum.
Will my hon. Friend reflect, in the context of the devolved settlement for services, on the importance of substance misuse services and on the impact that the fragmentation of those services away from other mental health services may have had on patient care?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. We need to deal with some of the issues to do with fragmentation in the system—he refers to substance misuse. The thrust of the recommendations in the report is about making sure we have a more integrated approach to commissioning mental health services across the piece.
The second important facet of the implementation challenges that the report throws up is research into mental health services. It mentions the need to have a proper, coherent 10-year plan for research into mental health to fill what are, as many of us would agree, big gaps in the evidence base.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he share my horror at the fact that the Medical Research Council spent 3% of its budget on mental health research in 2014-15? That bears no relation to the degree of disease burden in our country, yet it chose to spend just that much on research.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention and pay tribute to him for all the work that he has done, particularly when he was Minister with responsibility for this area. I agree that we need to spend much more on mental health research, and we need to know what we want to research. For example, there is much talk about the power of peer support in mental health. There is an assumption that it is a good thing and that it works, but we do not have a particularly rich evidence base about whether it does.
On the efficacy of certain psychotherapies, the evidence base shows that cognitive behavioural therapy can be effective for people with mild depression and anxiety, but we do not really know about the effectiveness of other psychotherapies that we may want to promote and develop in the national health service. We clearly do not know very much about a lot of emerging areas that have an impact on mental health. For example, using technology and mobile phone and other apps to help people with mental health problems is a big emerging area, but we do not know much about its effectiveness. We certainly do not know in any coherent sense about the implications of genomic medicine on mental health care. A coherent strategy on mental health research is required over the next decade so that we can extend and expand the evidence base, because the truth is that we are often flying blind.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that one of the key issues in constituencies such as mine, which is a low-wage, low-skill economy, is tackling depression? That is helping us get everybody into work. If we want growth, it is important that we deal with people who suffer from depression, which is, of course, another mental health problem.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to support people with depression back into work. The report makes a number of recommendations, which he may be aware of, on the use of strategies such as individual placement and support to get people with mental health problems back into work.
The report also talks a lot about data, which underpin our decisions about where we should focus our efforts on mental health. It refers to a “black hole” of data and calls for a “transparency revolution” in mental health. As I said earlier, for a long time—probably 20 years or more—we have not been collecting sufficiently robust data about what is actually going on in mental health services. We need better data on what is going on to have a firm basis on which to understand what is working, what is not working and what is going on at local and national level. Recommendation 50 in the report—this pertains to what my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) said about accountability—is at the heart of the implementation challenges that we face. It states:
“The Department of Health and NHS England should require CCGs to publish data on levels of mental health spend in their Annual Report and Accounts, by condition and per capita, including for children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, from 2017/18 onwards. They should require CCGs to report on investment in mental health to demonstrate the commitment that commissioners must continue to increase investment in mental health services each year at a level which at least matches their overall allocation”
of funding. That goes to the heart of our data challenge.
For too long, mental health services have not been properly resourced because we do not have an effective data set on what is actually happening in the NHS or, as the report highlights, an effective model in the NHS for paying for mental health services. They tend to be commissioned on what is called a block contract basis, which often has the effect of focusing on the delivery of a low-cost service, rather than on quality outcomes. We certainly do not have a model of care that focuses on an individual care pathway or a cure for an individual patient.
We need a different model of payment for mental health services in the NHS that focuses on quality and outcomes and reflects our aspiration, which is written into the NHS’s operating mandate, for parity of esteem—the integration of physical and mental health. How can we express that aspiration? To give an example, if I suffer from diabetes and a serious mental health problem, my treatment in the national health service is effectively split in two: there is a physical health pathway, which is paid for in one way, and a mental health pathway, which is paid for in another way. I believe that we need to move towards a payment-by-activity model in the NHS that does not discriminate between physical and mental health. That will certainly not happen overnight, but the report goes some way towards arguing for it in recommendation 47, which states:
“NHS England and NHS Improvement should together lead on costing, developing and introducing a revised payment system by 2017/18 to drive the whole system to improve outcomes”.
Does my hon. Friend think it is right that we have a separate payment model for mental health, or should physical and mental health be treated together? Separating them could cause the very division that we are trying to lose.
That is precisely what I am arguing for. Over time, we need to move to a model that does not discriminate between mental and physical health, with integrated payment reflecting the fact that there are a lot of conditions and a lot of comorbidity. Getting the payment system right in the NHS is fundamental to everything about the aspiration for parity of esteem. “Parity of esteem” is an interesting set of words, which can be interpreted to mean that we want a culture change or a system change—all of which is right—but to achieve it we need to change the payment model for how services are commissioned and purchased in the NHS.
I agree with the model that my hon. Friend is proposing. From my discussions with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which has backed a Bill on accountability, I believe that such a model would achieve a more holistic approach for patients, which can only be a good thing for outcomes.
Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The model contained in recommendation 47 and discussed in the report should drive the achievement of parity by moving towards an integrated tariff or pricing model. A lot of detailed work needs to be done to achieve that—I am not saying it is something that the Minister will be able to implement in the next week—but it goes, fundamentally, to the transformation argument that is at the centre of the report.
Perhaps most importantly, the report talks about the importance of, and absolute need for, strong leadership in the NHS and across Government to drive the change and to make things happen. This is not only about the NHS, but about the whole of Government; it is about putting mental health at the heart of our thinking in many different areas. We need a cross-Government approach, with a strong grip at the centre. I say that despite being someone who believes in devolution, because in mental health policy we have reached the stage of consensus, with much agreement about what needs to be done, but we need political will and a grip at the centre of Government to make things happen. The truth is that the existing system needs to be challenged. We need a culture of challenge—if we say that we are allocating money to mental health, why is it not being spent? Why is it not delivering the outcomes that we need?
As the report highlights, successful implementation is about not only co-ordinating our healthcare response but what we need to do on mental health in education, criminal justice and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) said, back to work programmes in the Home Office. Everything should be working together to achieve the goal of supporting the five-year transformation plan for mental health.
The last recommendation of the report, recommendation 58, might sound somewhat technical and bureaucratic, being a little obsessed with governance, but it is fundamental. It states:
“By no later than Summer 2016, NHS England, the Department of Health and the Cabinet Office should confirm what governance arrangements will be put in place to support the delivery of this strategy.”
That process of ensuring that the recommendations are followed through, that there is a performance and accountability framework, and that change is driven from the centre strikes me as fundamental.
The implementation challenges highlighted in the report are substantial and require action on multiple fronts. As I said earlier, the Minister has shown absolute commitment to addressing many of them. Will he give us an update on what progress has been made in the four areas that I have described today, namely commissioning, data and research, new payment mechanisms in the NHS and leadership in the NHS and across Government?
Getting this right is an historic opportunity. As I said at the beginning, to some degree the stars are aligned: we have a high-quality public debate; much more openness about mental health and its discussion; a mature debate on how we fund mental health; and political commitment at the highest level of Government, with the Prime Minister having made several speeches on and commitments about mental health in the past few months. We have the opportunity to drive forward what a 21st-century mental health care system should look like and make it deliver for all the people out there who need care and support. They are relying on the opportunity being realised and on us getting it right.
Order. Before I call the first speaker, I will impose an informal time limit on speeches of five minutes, because so many people want to get in. Please will the next speaker and others keep within the timeframe, so that I do not have to reduce the time limit any more?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson.
I thank the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) for setting out the framework of this excellent report by Paul Farmer and his taskforce on addressing concerns about mental health. What stood out for me was that it was a very practical report—with time lines and specificity about how the debate should be taken forward, the resources required and the instruments we put in place to make the report a reality—but the hon. Gentleman was absolutely right: it is important that it should be accountable at every step of its journey. I will come to that later.
The report also sets out a clear action plan for some of the areas that need a focus, including the setting of key targets. I welcome the ambition in the report to improve access to services and reach a much wider community than they do now. It sets out a new chapter in this journey about how we build capacity for mental health services in future. I doubt that there will be disagreement in the Chamber about some of the emphasis in the report on funding and the requirement to put more resources into the service. What stood out for me was the startling figure that poor mental health costs us, economically and socially, £105 billion, a figure that compares with only £34 billion being spent on the service.
There is a lot of opportunity to move the debate about funding and finances forward, as well as addressing issues to do with facilities. That has been a particular issue for us in York, as we have seen the closure of our acute service and the slow rebuilding of that service, with more emphasis on community delivery. It is important to ensure that we have the right number of beds as we put in a new facility for the people of our city. When we look at capacity issues, we should not look backwards at how a service was delivered, but look forward to the future needs and requirements of the service.
It is also important to reflect issues of workforce planning. We have seen a serious shortfall in people working across the mental health services. I welcome the recommended drive-up of, for example, 1,700 therapists. Will the Government be producing an action plan, as they did for health visiting, to ensure proper mentoring and support in the system to ensure that those therapists come online, while also ensuring a proper regulatory framework for the health professions across mental health? We do not have one currently, and I know that many of the professions are calling for proper regulation.
The other figure that really stood out for me concerned when people require support, with 50% of mental health problems established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. What stands out for me is the need to shift resources into early intervention and prevention services. I welcome the investment to be made into perinatal mental health, but we need to build up from those services, as we look at the provision that will be needed into the future.
In particular, if we are looking at that focus, I know from talking to teachers in my community that too much of the burden is being placed on them. We need to ensure that it shifts to the real professionals in the service, who are properly trained to provide support, diagnosis, signposting and screening for young people. There is urgent need to look across services for young people as they move out of school. We have also had specific issues with transition, and I still think there are cliff edges, as commissioning and service provision are done by different bodies. As a result, we get cliff edges—not smooth transition—based on a date of birth rather than clinical need. That really needs to be addressed.
In the short time remaining, I want to mention the raising of concerns in mental health services. The current system is quite inadequate—HealthWatch has contacted me today specifically about this issue. There are too many places where concerns can be raised. We have the Care Quality Commission and NHS Improvement; we also have regulators who look at the professions and other places, such as the healthcare safety investigation branch. There are so many different places. We need one place where concerns can be raised, so that service users and staff know where to go and can get a clear response. I hope the Minister will address that as well.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson, and to speak in the debate. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) for bringing the debate, for his continued advocacy of the needs of mental health patients and for pushing continually during his time in the House on an important issue in ensuring that we hold our Government and NHS providers to account, so that genuine parity of esteem is delivered for mental health patients.
In the brief time available, I want to talk about a few points raised in the mental health taskforce’s good report, focusing on the need for more holistic care and joining up physical and mental healthcare for people with mental illness. I want to talk about access to care, recognising that some people struggle to access physical healthcare owing to their ethnicity or because English is not their first language. Such problems are compounded for those who have mental illness. I will also focus on some of the challenges in joining up what is a very fragmented health and care system, particularly for people with complex and enduring mental illness.
On holistic care, we know that somebody who is mentally unwell and has a chronic and enduring or severe and enduring mental illness can live a life up to 20 years shorter than somebody without that mental illness. That fact alone makes the point that we need to join up physical and mental healthcare better. My hon. Friend talked about a patient with diabetes. Such a patient may well develop diabetes because they are mentally unwell and do not have the right physical healthcare and support, or they may develop it as a side effect of some of the medication they are taking. We know that antipsychotic medications, for example, are linked with high cholesterol and developing diabetes.
We need to do much more to join up physical and mental healthcare. It is quite frankly scandalous and wrong that someone who is mentally unwell has a 20-year shorter life expectancy than someone who does not have that condition. That is something we must focus on and get right. We need to improve the physical and mental healthcare services for those with chronic and enduring mental illness.
We talked a little about the commissioning opportunities in that, and we must recognise that, at a local level, despite the Government’s best intentions, commissioners do not often put additional money into mental health services. Certainly in Suffolk, which I represent, the NHS funding increases—small though they may be—went largely to physical health and local CCGs failed to increase the money going to mental health conditions adequately.
The question is: how do we improve holistic care and join up physical and mental healthcare for those with long-term mental illness? We can and must learn lessons from the care in the community programme in the 1980s. The purpose of the programme—to deliver more care in the community and move away from the old asylums—was right, but the programme was not properly resourced. We must face up to that. Also, a lot of the money freed up by that was swallowed up by the physical healthcare sector and did not go into mental healthcare in the community. If we are talking about putting all the money for physical and mental healthcare in one place, we have to be careful that, by doing what sounds like a good thing, we do not effectively end up propping up the acute provider sector, which already consumes 55% of the NHS budget—that figure has risen over the last five years, as the Minister will be aware—and inadvertently further disadvantage mental healthcare, which receives only around 10% of NHS funding.
It may be appropriate—the report touches upon the importance of this—to improve liaison services on both sides of the divide between physical and mental healthcare. We could improve psychiatric liaison services for people with complex physical healthcare problems or enduring physical illnesses and, for people with long-term and enduring mental illness, we could improve medical liaison services in hospitals and properly involve and support physical healthcare in the community through GPs. I will not expand on that, as I do not have very long, but I would be grateful if the Minister responded to that point.
On access to services, we have to recognise that there is a fragmented care environment, in particular for people with chronic and enduring mental illness. Addressing that is not just about providing money for the health service, but about having appropriate housing—we know there is a shortage of appropriate housing to look after people with mental ill health in areas such as London—and dealing with the challenges in delivering proper social services care for such people. We also have to recognise that the state is often the only mechanism of support for such people. The only people caring for some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in our society—people with long-term mental illness—work for the state; they are NHS and council workers. Unless we properly value and recognise their roles and properly fund—and increase funding—in a holistic, meaningful and long-term way, we will be unable to deliver the care that we need. There needs to be more money, more key workers and joined-up physical and mental healthcare. I endorse a lot of what the report says and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) and thank him for all the work he has done in advocating for mental health. I also congratulate Paul Farmer, Jacqui Dyer and their whole team on their substantial piece of work.
This is a historic injustice. The disadvantage suffered by people with mental ill health in accessing treatment is not the responsibility of any particular Government; it has always been there, but the report gives us the opportunity to end that historic injustice, and we have an absolute responsibility to ensure that that happens. It is both morally wrong and economically stupid to ignore mental ill health. The case is made so well on page 5 of the report, where it says:
“Those with conduct disorder—persistent, disobedient, disruptive and aggressive behaviour—are twice as likely to leave school without any qualifications, three times more likely to become a teenage parent, four times more likely to become dependent on drugs and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. Yet most children and young people get no support. Even for those that do the average wait for routine appointments for psychological therapy was 32 weeks in 2015/16.”
That encapsulates the problem. It is scandalous that children with such needs do not get access to treatment. It destroys their life chances, and the cost to society of the outcomes described in the report is enormous.
I am conscious of the time available to me, so rather than highlight a number of issues from the report I will address some key points directly to the Minister. First, we know that there will be £1 billion of additional funding, but it is due to come late in this Parliament. Between now and then, the NHS Confederation believes that mental health will lose out on funding and that in 2016-17 the bulk of the front-loaded money will go to acute hospitals. I have a real concern that the ambition in this document will not be realised unless that investment is made. Will the Minister ensure that that investment is delivered?
I do not have time; I want to ensure that others can speak.
Secondly, there needs to be a clear implementation plan—others, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists and NHS Providers, have made this point. We need to understand exactly the practical mechanism for making these things happen. NHS providers say the plan should be delivered by August of this year. Can the Minister confirm that that will happen and that there will be reporting back on progress, so that we understand exactly what is happening? We need proper governance arrangements to make sure that these things happen.
Thirdly, the report endorses the approach that I took of implementing comprehensive maximum waiting times standards. That is an essential component of achieving equality—an equal right to treatment on time, whether someone has a physical or mental health problem. The Government have endorsed the report, yet there is no funding attached to ensuring we get comprehensive waiting times standards. How will the Government ensure that that happens? It is fundamental to ensuring that we end the historic injustice.
I am delighted that there is now a commitment to end the outrageous practice of out-of-area-placements. It is outdated, it treats people appallingly, and we know that there is a higher risk of suicide among people who end up being sent out of area. To do it by 2020 takes too long. The Royal College of Psychiatrists report—Lord Crisp’s report—says it could be done by October next year, so I urge the Minister to follow that timescale. Will he also commit to implementing all the recommendations in Lord Crisp’s report, which has been widely welcomed? Everyone recognises that it makes sense, so I hope he will confirm that.
There is a responsibility on all of us to ensure that we do everything we can to implement the recommendations. I chair a commission on mental health in the west midlands. Is the Minister interested in a briefing on the progress we are making? There is a real opportunity to implement early some of the recommendations in the report.
Finally, I will make the case for preventive healthcare. Relate, the organisation, has made a powerful case for the value of couple therapy and ensuring that every provider of IAPT—improving access to psychological therapies—provides that among the other evidence-based interventions.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) on securing this important debate and affording us the opportunity to look more closely at the excellent mental health taskforce report.
I want to highlight some issues from the report. First, I completely agree that more children and young people should benefit from an increase in high-quality mental health support when they need it. The pressures on young people in today’s climate have too often been ignored. Social media, education, home life and even peer pressure have an astounding effect on young people. Those are just a few everyday factors that are often overlooked and may result in young people suffering in silence.
The report’s recommendations would give individuals the support that they need to overcome their difficulties and continue to develop their talents throughout their education, and subsequently their employment. Crucial to tackling mental health illness across the UK is the need to tackle individuals’ problems at an early age, and certainly when the first warning signs are elicited.
The second point I want to touch on is the NHS’s approach to identifying what steps services should take to ensure that all deaths by suicide across NHS-funded mental health settings are learned from to prevent repeat events. The NHS would be wise to learn from previous events, and it must ensure that the right investment is provided to help prevent people from taking their own lives. I know what it feels like to lose someone to suicide, including for the family.
The figures in the report also strike a note with me. It states:
“A quarter of people who took their own life had been in contact with a health professional, usually their GP, in the last week before they died.”
Indeed, when my cousin took his life, he was in contact with a GP and awaiting counselling. Even if we could save only one life, that would be one less family who would have to experience the heartbreak of losing a loved one. I am therefore pleased to hear that the recommendations outline a system in which more will be done to help GPs further understand the issues surrounding mental health. That will hopefully help to reduce the number of people who take their own life even having seen a healthcare professional in the weeks leading up to their death.
I was recently appointed to the position of rapporteur on mental health to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and the first area I will be reporting on is self-inflicted deaths in custody among 18 to 24-year-olds. The taskforce report touches on the issue of mental health in prisons and in the time following release from prison. There is no denying that prison should be a punishment. However, the criminal justice system is a difficult place for people with mental health issues, and I welcome the proposals to improve mental health provision both for those currently serving a prison sentence and those who have recently been released. We need to ensure that we provide the appropriate support to help ease people back into society and help them forge a life away from crime.
Nine years ago today, my mum died at the age of 67, having fought all her life against mental health issues—she was in and out of several institutions—and it strikes me that we could have had her for another 12 years had some recommendations in the report been adhered to.
The NHS taskforce report covers many aspects of mental health, which is an issue that is impossible to address overnight. We need a strong, detailed and considered plan of action to be implemented over the coming years. The Government have highlighted mental health as a key priority, and I hope that by working with the NHS and the organisations and charities at the heart of mental health, we can produce an effective plan to improve mental health provision across the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) on securing today’s debate on the excellent report from the independent mental health taskforce to the NHS in England. I reiterate many of the comments made so far, especially those about housing, jobs and the immediate environment in which someone lives. My constituency has shocking health inequalities, and improving all those things could lead to good mental health.
The report contains a series of recommendations that, if implemented in full, will lead to the introduction of essential reforms and the additional investment that our mental health services desperately need and people with mental health problems undoubtedly deserve. To understand why we need this fundamental step change in mental health provision in this country, we need look no further than the human and economic costs associated with the poor mental healthcare that has far too often been the norm.
The human costs are self-evident. They can be counted among the many vulnerable people with mental health problems who have been left to suffer in silence, with no help at all, stigmatised and shunted to the margins of society, their lives simply put on hold or irrevocably changed and ruined. I am talking about the many people for whom mental health provision has for too long been a second-rate, second-class service, and those who have been let down by the inadequacies of a system that is supposed to be there to support and care for them yet treats their body and their mind unequally. Regrettably, that has all too often been the reality for far too many people, simply because the way we think about and treat mental illness in this country has been woefully inadequate.
I reiterate that there are economic costs to such neglect, which are as unsustainable as the human costs are unacceptable. Failing to address mental illness through poor care has been a significant problem for decades in this country and costs the economy, the NHS and society dear. The taskforce’s report makes it clear that the economic cost is estimated to be £105 billion a year, as we have already heard. To address the challenges, we must, as the taskforce recommends, seek to transform services and support for people with mental health problems and ensure that everybody gets the right help at the right time, in the right place and from the right people.
Similarly, we must ensure that mental health is recognised as a priority for the NHS, Government, businesses, schools and society as a whole. That will enable us to promote good mental health, prevent poor mental health and respond effectively when mental health problems occur. If we are truly to achieve the ambition of parity of esteem for mental and physical health in the NHS we must, as a first step, ensure that the taskforce’s recommendations are delivered and funded in full. Transforming the way we deal with mental health is an enormous challenge, I know that, but one that we, as a country and a society, must tackle head-on for the future.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) on securing the debate. It was a pleasure to listen to the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and the Minister speaking at the launch of the mental health taskforce report last month.
Since I was elected, constituents’ concerns about mental health provision have caused me to immerse myself in the issue and further my education on this most harrowing of subjects. I want to focus on concerns about early-stage treatment for young people. At Prime Minister’s questions recently, I mentioned visiting three families in one day in my constituency, each of whom had a child who they felt had not been given the early-stage intervention that they expected by child and adolescent mental health services. I asked the Prime Minister for more focus on early-stage treatment, so that young people do not find their condition becoming more acute. I work closely with my local CAMHS team, and I have the highest regard for the many excellent specialists who do their best. However, it is of concern to me that constituents face lengthy waiting times and that some have been moved from pillar to post when receiving treatment.
Building up trust is a key ingredient in successful diagnosis and treatment. I hear stories about young people finding the courage and trust to open up about their condition only to find that there is a new practitioner at the subsequent session, and it disappoints me to find that the young person has then regressed because of the change in personnel. I would like a commitment to treatment being given on a fixed one-to-one basis. If we can do that for maternity provision, surely we can do it for mental health treatment.
At the mental health taskforce launch, I was buoyed by the commitment by the Minister and the chief executive of NHS England to implement the excellent report. I pay tribute to the chief executive of Mind, Paul Farmer, and his team for the review. An aspect of it that cheered me was the commitment to funds to ensure that our non-mental health NHS hospitals have adequate mental health expertise on site to deal with those who are hospitalised as a result of mental health issues or who have such a condition in addition to a physical illness. What drove my concern about that was the experience of a family in my constituency following a suicide attempt. The NHS staff did not have the ability to deal with the mental health condition and my constituent, a young man, was forced to wait until CAMHS staff could make their way over from another town miles away. I understand the need for specialist treatment, but it strikes me that there is a need for a culture change across the NHS, and that all staff should be trained to understand mental health and provide a basic level of treatment in the area. Specialisation in health is important, but if the NHS becomes overly specialised it can lead to a lack of general involvement in care for patients in such areas.
I welcome the news that the Government will fund 24/7 mental health provision in our hospitals, but I was somewhat alarmed at the suggestion by my local trust that the funding may not stretch far enough. I also want to ensure that that specific coverage will not mean that other NHS staff with the necessary levels of technical understanding and empathy feel that they are not empowered to help the many patients in hospital who need help with their mental health care in addition to their physical wellbeing.
Getting early-stage intervention right is a key part of getting proper diagnosis for people with a mental health condition and lessening the chances of acute difficulties. It is the most important investment not only for people’s welfare and wellbeing but to enable young people to fulfil their hopes and dreams in their careers and make something for themselves and their country. We should not misdiagnose young people who are suffering growing pains, and who need families’ and friends’ coaching and guidance to overcome the problems of adolescence. However, I have met too many young children who face a difficult future because their mental health condition was not treated at an early stage. I applaud the report and the Government’s response. They are leading the charge to ensure that we can support all who are affected by this terrible condition. I look forward to a better mental health service in the years to come.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. Congratulations are due to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) on securing the debate.
The report is very important. In the short time available I want to touch on two problems that people with mental health issues have, which the report focuses on and which many of us will have encountered in our constituencies. If people are young their problems are with schooling, family disruption and access to services. If they are older they may struggle to get work. There is often a lack of support to enable people with mental health issues who are in work to keep their job, and a lack of employers who understand the often sporadic nature of mental illnesses.
I am a patron of Mind in mid-Hertfordshire and a supporter of its “Time to Talk” campaign, and I welcome the investment in talking therapies discussed in the report. However, the employment rate for people with mental health issues is still far too low. In 2012 I and, I am sure, many other Members of Parliament, supported the “Way to Work” campaign that Mind championed. I presented a little trophy to an employer that took on employees with mental health conditions, but sadly the take-up among employers in St Albans was very low, and nothing further happened.
It is worrying that too many companies find ways not to employ someone with mental health issues, particularly if an episode of ill health has resulted in absenteeism. I would like to know what more the Government can do to work with employers and show them how they can manage a workforce in which there may be mental health issues in much the same way as they would if there were people with disabilities. I do not think enough is done to bring people into the workforce and show how they can be supported in their periods of good health and ill health.
On the subject of young people, I have been told of people having trouble in dealing with CAMHS. A recurrent theme is having sporadic meetings with a lot of different people. I learned of the sad case of a very young lad who experienced extreme mental health problems. He had problems going to school, and in the end it became too difficult for him to get there. With regard to getting home schooling, he has almost dropped off the teaching rota. The lad is housebound because of his severe anxiety. There is not enough support for his parents, or for other families with young people living with mental health issues. The mother had to give up work, and the family could never go anywhere. They could not go on holiday. There was no real support for the family in their situation. We need a more holistic approach that deals with the family rather than just treating the young person with the mental health issues.
I have a few questions for the Minister. What will the Government do to improve access to talking therapies and specialist back to work support for older people who have mental health problems? What more is being done to help people find and stay in work? What more is the Department for Work and Pensions doing to integrate services for young people, to make sure that when they have problems with the education system and getting access to services, they get the right information in a timely fashion? If someone recovers from a mental illness that they had when young, whether that was self-harming or, as in the case I mentioned, agoraphobia, they may be set up for a life of failure because their education went out of the window during a formative period.
What more can be done to help people who had mental ill health when they were younger and did not have a good experience in the education system? What more can be done to support them to get their lives back on track when their mental health improves? I would like a co-ordinated approach. At whatever age a person presents with mental illness, they should be assessed holistically. If there have been gaps in their training to get into work or in their education, extra resources must be put in to ensure that when they are well, they can move on with their lives like the rest of us. That would be much like our approach to people in prisons, who often have mental health issues.
We are subjecting many young people to a life in prison if we do not allow them to be trained up and get the help they need. Otherwise, they will end up in a life of crime, because when they leave school or are at school leaving age they will have little to offer any employer. We need to ensure that those people’s lives are not snuffed out and wasted at an early age, and that they have the chance to form a life for themselves and their families.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) on bringing this important and timely debate to Westminster Hall.
Although the report pertains to NHS England, the Scottish National party very much welcomes it. It is an opportunity to share best practice recommendations right across the UK. I would like to declare an interest: I worked in mental health as a psychologist for 20 years prior to coming to the House. I am particularly glad that the report has been produced. It is excellent, and I commend the work of those involved. The report is detailed, thorough and, importantly, based on inclusivity and service users’ views. It addresses key issues of prevention, access and parity.
In terms of prevention, we know that half of mental health issues are established by the age of 14, and three quarters by the age of 24. A new focus on young people and effective interventions designed for that age group via CAMHS are clearly required. More widely, we should look at mental health awareness training for teachers, so that we can pick up on early warning signs and refer on. Mental wellbeing could also be part of the curriculum, so that young people can develop positive, adaptive coping strategies, which are key to preventing the onset of mental illness.
We are dealing with the young generation, so the use of technology and modalities that young people like and use—for example, apps, which I am not particularly familiar with—will be really important. We have to get up to speed. Evidence-based interventions are required in particular for self-harm, eating and conduct disorders, depression and anxiety, which are common problems within the younger age group.
I welcome the fact that crisis teams will be locally based, 24/7, but I wonder if we could have some more detail. Will that involve specialist clinicians, nurses or doctors on call in each area who are trained in working with young people? More widely, in order that people present, should we have more public health awareness campaigns to reduce stigma?
Mental health care needs to be targeted across the lifespan, from younger people in CAMHS to adults and older adults. The report establishes that 40% of older adults in care homes are affected by depression, yet I read little information in the report about services provided or required for older adults, who may have co-morbid dementia, physical frailty or have suffered stroke, adjustment problems or loss. That area needs some more work and detail. Access to psychological therapies in the community, in hospital and in residential care appear to be key. Experts in psychological therapy for older adults are likely to be required, because people will be working with complex presentations.
I welcome the taskforce report’s recommendation of an integrated approach, looking at housing, employment, social needs and physical health. That suggests the need for integrated and holistic assessments in mental health, as well as in physical health settings. We need a formulation-driven approach, with an understanding of the precipitants, problems and exacerbating factors, but also of the protective factors. All those factors need to be targeted and integrated into treatment, in order to evidence improvement. Fundamentally, we are talking about a biopsychosocial approach, which means a change in assessment procedures across the system. We will have to evidence how that will happen and how it will be implemented across both mental and physical healthcare, but it links well to the integration agenda of health and social care.
I caution that although obtaining work is a very positive step in reducing depression for many people, pushing someone who is acutely unwell into work will invariably set them back, so this is about clinical judgment and timing. One of the major differences since I began working in the NHS more than 20 years ago is that there are now waiting time initiatives in Scotland and across the UK. That is significant. It challenges services to focus, and monitoring leads to an improvement in standards, but it must have ongoing underlying investment.
I welcome the recommendation that crisis care be provided 24/7. However, that will require specialists to be trained to work with individuals who have co-morbid substance abuse and mental illness problems. All too often, people are turned away because they are intoxicated at hospital when they present. I understand that it is difficult to properly assess people in that condition, but unfortunately research indicates that that may be when they are at highest risk of suicidal behaviour and at their most impulsive.
I particularly welcome access to psychological therapy for new mothers. One in five have depression, which impacts on the self, the family and the baby. I also suggest the extension of counselling to those who have suffered miscarriage or stillbirth, and who experience great trauma in that regard.
I am unsure of the fit of the recommendation on specialist GPs from my reading of the report. Does that mean treatment through minimal interventions or assessment by GPs? Does it mean specialist nursing staff in GP surgeries who could engage in treatment? My concern is about the cost-effectiveness of GPs engaging in therapeutic work, but training and assessment at a primary care level is a welcome idea.
The report highlights that nine out of 10 people in prison have mental health problems or drug or alcohol misuse issues, but it does not clarify how recommendations on criminal justice will be implemented. Cross-party and cross-Government agreement on how to implement the recommendations will be required across the country. Is it about access to psychologists in prisons? Again, more thought is needed on the detail of integration.
I will sum up, because I am running out of time and I want the Minister to be able to respond. I am pleased to see the inclusion of technology in the report, which I believe will be one of the key issues in transforming mental healthcare. The use of Skype, email and online treatment packages can increase access and links to therapists and improve access for rural communities.
Data collection is excellent. We need it, and we need to evidence outcomes and waiting times, but I appeal for balance. Drowning mental health staff in paperwork is not the answer. That reduces time for clinical work and time with patients, and we do not want this to become a tick-box exercise.
In conclusion, there is much to welcome. There is much to do. We need more strategy on integration plans. We need more detail on older adults and criminal justice. I was not able to touch on learning disability today, but that is another area to be considered. We do not want a postcode lottery, so it is important to look at local commissioning and share best practice, to ensure high-quality mental healthcare across the UK.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Wilson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) both on securing this vital debate on the final report of the independent taskforce on mental health and on his excellent contribution. I am pleased that we have the opportunity to examine this incredibly important piece of work and to hear a detailed response from the Government. I thank all Members who have spoken in the debate; the quality of the speeches we have heard is testimony of the strength of feeling on both sides of the House on the issue of mental health.
I echo previous contributions today in saying that the taskforce report is an extremely comprehensive piece of work. I pay tribute to all those who were involved in delivering it. The recommendations it makes are robust and wide-reaching and signal what the chair of the taskforce—Paul Farmer CBE from Mind—has rightly described as a
“landmark moment for mental health”.
I also thank vice-chair Jacqui Dyer for her commitment and passion.
If implemented in full, the changes could make a huge difference to a system that is under increasing and unsustainable pressure. The real challenge lying before us now is ensuring that the aspirations set out in the report are actually delivered. For too long the rhetoric on mental health has not matched the reality on the ground. Members today have reflected the concerns felt by the people whom we represent across the country—people who themselves suffer from mental health conditions, their families and the services and professionals that care for them—who are anxious to ensure that the opportunity we now have to transform mental health in our country is not wasted.
I will focus my remarks on implementation and three key areas where unanswered questions remain—funding, transparency and accountability. Turning first to the money, the taskforce identified a £1.2 billion funding gap in mental health services each year by 2020. The Government responded to the publication of the report with an announcement of an additional £1 billion of investment for mental health services up to 2020. That is, of course, very welcome but I understand that the £1 billion will be taken from the £8 billion set aside for the NHS up to 2020. If that is the case—perhaps the Minister can confirm that for us today—I struggle to see how it will meet what the taskforce says is required.
Given that mental health receives just under 10% of the total NHS budget, it is difficult to see how the funding announced could be considered as additional, particularly in the context of the £600 million cut that mental health trusts have experienced over the course of the last Parliament. I should have thought that the Minister would have allocated that proportion of the £8 billion to mental health anyway, so I am keen to hear his response on that point.
There are also real concerns about how this funding will be distributed and what systems will be in place to ensure that it reaches the front-line services for which it is intended and not siphoned off to plug the deficits of acute trusts. That point has already been made by the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). The Minister is right to prescribe that CCGs must increase the amount of their budget that they allocate to mental health at a rate that is at least in line with the general growth in their budget. However, as that budget information is not published centrally, I have yet to see any evidence from the Government that they are able to guarantee that CCGs are fulfilling that commitment. In fact, I have had to make freedom of information requests, which have exposed the fact that more than one in three CCGs are not meeting that expectation.
Just before Christmas, the Health Secretary announced that from June there will be independently assured Ofsted-style ratings for mental health provision by CCG area that will expose the areas that are not making the commitment to mental health that they should. I asked then if he would clarify whether that commitment would include publishing a clear picture of mental health spending for every CCG. I am still awaiting a response to the follow-up letter I wrote seeking clarification on that very important point, and I would be pleased if the Minister were able to confirm that for us today. As he will know, the Opposition strongly believe that the annual survey of investment in mental health must be reinstated. It was stopped in 2011, and it is an absolutely crucial piece of information.
That is especially important given the concerns that have been raised not only by many hon. Members today, but by the Mental Health Network, which represents mental health trusts, who have said that providers of mental health services are yet to see the difference from the investment in child and adolescent mental health services that the Government announced last year. During this debate, many hon. Members have raised specific concerns about CAMHS and the imbalance in the amount that they are allocated from the overall mental health budget. It is less than 10%, and it is a significant challenge. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response both to those very serious concerns and to the proposal from many mental health leaders that the cash should be ring-fenced—I am very keen to hear what he thinks about that.
That brings me to the second key theme of the report—the startling lack of transparency and accountability in our mental health system, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti). The significant gaps in the information that the Government collect on mental health present a significant obstacle to their ability to deliver what they have promised on mental health. On Monday we saw further shocking evidence of that information gap during the BBC’s “Panorama” programme, which highlighted the discrepancy between the data that the Government hold on the number of children who have died in in-patient mental health trusts and units and the figures from the charity Inquest’s research. I raised that in the House yesterday.
I totally agree with the point that the hon. Lady is making. I always took the view that I was operating in a fog, without access to the proper data. The “Panorama” programme made reference to the fact that I gave a parliamentary answer saying there had been no deaths in children’s mental health services—an answer that was wrong, because I was given the wrong information. I have asked the Secretary of State for a full investigation into how that happened. We have to have absolutely accurate reporting of these things.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I believe it is absolutely imperative that we are able to see how deaths in psychiatric care are not only treated and recorded, but investigated and learned from. We have heard from the Minister that there will be progress on that front.
The situation is particularly concerning given the ongoing case of Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which was found to have failed to investigate more than 1,000 unexpected deaths of mental health and learning disability patients since 2011. Only last week, more than two years since the very tragic death of Connor Sparrowhawk, Southern Health trust was found by the Care Quality Commission not to have addressed serious concerns that were raised about the safety of its patients and was issued with a warning notice. I would be grateful if the Minister shared with us what the Government are doing specifically to improve the mental health data that are being collected, published and made accessible to the public. When will we have a further update on avoidable deaths in the area of mental health and learning disability? Data are absolutely critical, not only to enable the Government to understand the realities of what is happening on the ground, but to allow us to check that the Government are delivering on what they have promised.
That brings me to the final point I wish to cover today—accountability for the implementation of the taskforce’s recommendations. The taskforce asked NHS England, the Department of Health and the Cabinet Office to announce what governance methods they intend to introduce for the delivery of the recommendations. That really is needed as a matter of urgency. We need greater transparency than before in the way that the recommendations are implemented. I note that one recommendation of the taskforce report is that the Government accept the recommendations from the previous taskforce on CAMHS—another issue raised by many Members during today’s debate—which reflects the fact that the delivery of these recommendations has been too slow. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm what plans there are to publish and publicise updates on implementation of the taskforce’s recommendations.
The Centre for Mental Health has produced a fantastic report for NHS England, exploring what helps and what hinders the implementation of policies and strategies relating to mental health. I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to read the report but, among other things, it calls for a robust implementation infrastructure to support local agencies in delivering the report’s recommendations. I should be grateful if the Minister would share with us today what plans there are to support local authorities, CCGs and mental health trusts to deliver on that strategy.
Many recommendations in the taskforce report also require Government Departments—such as the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education—to deliver their own areas of work that relate to mental health. I was very pleased to see those recommendations, and as I have said and will continue to say, we will not address the challenges of our nation’s mental health just from the Department of Health. Prevention and early intervention are absolutely crucial, which was a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher).
Take the work of the Ministry of Justice, for example. The report calls for the completion of the roll-out of liaison and diversion services, as well as the increased uptake of mental health treatment requirements and improvements to prison mental health care. At a time when, as a country, we are seeing one person take their life every four days in our prisons, it is absolutely crucial that we address this very serious issue.
Another point made by the taskforce was about housing and the local housing allowance, which the Government seriously need to address. During today’s debate other Members have talked about the importance of employment and what more needs to be done to support employers to help people with mental health conditions into the workforce, and to support people who might be experiencing those issues. It was disappointing that the Government accepted only formally the taskforce’s recommendations relating to the Department of Health and its arm’s length bodies. I hope the Minister will confirm today whether other Departments will accept and implement the other recommendations.
In conclusion, for the many thousands of people who could benefit from these changes and the others set out in the taskforce’s final report, Ministers must keep their promise and deliver the vital reforms that are long overdue and desperately needed. We have heard a lot of rhetoric and warm words on mental health. Now is the time for real action and to translate parity of esteem into reality. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) for this debate.
Among several impossible jobs I have, responding to a debate of this quality in 10 minutes simply cannot be done, so in accordance with my normal practice, if I do not answer any question, I will write to the hon. Member and, with colleagues’ permission, I will link the questions so that everyone gets the same letter, so that virtually everyone who has spoken will get a letter. I will put a copy in the Library so that other colleagues can see it.
There are many things on which there is no disagreement. To give some one-liners, My hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) said that we now deal with mental and physical illness in an holistic way; that is absolutely right and ensures that money goes to the right place. I will cover that later, but no one disagrees.
On psychiatric liaison, we are on to that. The importance of housing and so on is now understood as part of dealing with mental illness.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis spoke about valuing the public sector; yes, that is not said often enough and it is vital to do. The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) spoke of the economic case for dealing with mental illness. No one now disagrees with that. The priority that the hon. Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) mentioned is absolutely right, and when it comes to waiting times, we are on to those. We are funding waiting times differently from when the right hon. Gentleman set them up, but they are being funded and I am happy to write to him separately on that. His worry is not shared in the Department and I can clear that up.
We are accepting the taskforce’s recommendation that we act on out-of-area placements by 2021. I would like to do it sooner if possible. I am determined to do it, but it takes time and the attitude to tier 4 will need to change. My recent experience in Hull showed me how inept current NHS processes are in deciding where new tier 4 beds should be. The situation is unacceptable and they have got themselves into a complete mess. That must change and be done properly, and I am determined it will be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) rightly spoke about the importance of early intervention, as did the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). I pay tribute to the knowledge and work of the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) in this area. Perinatal care is very much on everyone’s agenda.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) talked about the importance of work. There is now a joint unit between the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions to do more of that. A White Paper or Green Paper is expected later this year and will show its importance.
On the importance of young people, the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow mentioned our work with the Department for Education on new technology, apps and earlier intervention. She is absolutely right.
I do not want to dwell on any of those matters, although I could spend 10 minutes on each, but we have all grasped how important they are. I would like to respond to the key issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). I can cover transparency and implementation right up front.
I thank Paul Farmer, Jacqui Dyer and colleagues for their very important report. I am determined that it will not gather dust and as a way forward I have suggested—and we will do it—that an implementation plan is published by the end of the summer. I am not sure whether that will be in August, but it will be by the end of the summer. It will detail how we intend to implement the recommendation. There will not be one response; there will be a series of responses, and there will be a website where people can see what is being done and monitor what is planned. It will be transparent. There will be monitoring by all those who have been engaged but there will be constant reference back to the taskforce’s work, so that people can see that what is being done is related to that. The Department is putting in place a robust process with people to monitor it. That is how we will do it.
I want to cover the cross-Government issues not by interministerial committee, but by way of bilaterals with colleagues to drive things forward. I think that is the right way to do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis mentioned data, particularly in the context in which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree mentioned them. I think there is recognition that the way in which data have been collected in the past has not been good enough, and there is also recognition that we are trying to lever up standards in all places. The “Panorama” programme and the hon. Lady’s questions over a period exposed the difficulty of getting all the data in the right place. This needs a separate debate and a separate set of answers. I have put in place an investigation into where the deficiencies in the data are, and how data that are collected elsewhere but centrally can be brought together. That will not be necessary in some cases and a written question may not provide all the answers.
In relation to the matters raised in “Panorama” on Monday and the difficulty for the right hon. Member for North Norfolk, it should be possible to answer the question. The problem is in terminology and deciding at what point a young person might be in the mental health system. I have agreed to meet Deborah Coles of INQUEST to talk about the information they have gathered. Plainly, it cannot be right that one Minister says “none”, I say “one”, the NHS says “four” and INQUEST says “nine”. That cannot be fair to the people involved.
A lot of attention is paid to the death of any young person with mental health problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) raised this in a personal context. I can reassure colleagues. There are serious incident reviews, a child death overview panel, and the Care Quality Commission is involved.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me on this occasion, there is just too much to cover in a short period.
There is a national confidential inquiry into suicide and homicide by people with mental illness and the Office for National Statistics is involved. Unfortunately, there is a gap in the data between national and local sources due to commission arrangements changing. That is an explanation; it is not an excuse or an answer, so my officials are looking urgently into how we can make sure our data collection is more unified and that we are working collaboratively with INQUEST to make sure we get an accurate number and resolve any discrepancies. Most importantly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis said, we must make sure we learn from every tragedy so that we can apply the learning to make things better. We are on to that. I promise the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree that I will find a way of responding to the House to put that right. I will be in touch with her further.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work with the all-party mental health group. He and other colleagues have been responsible for raising these issues over a period.
A figure from the National Institute of Health Research indicates that it spent £72.6 million on mental health research programmes in 2014-15, which in terms of particular research is £27.7 million higher than in any other disease area, including cancer. We are determined to do more research, but I am not convinced the figures are quite as bad as people say None the less, we need data and we need research. Again, the taskforce is right. The Department has accepted all the taskforce’s recommendations.
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a need for better commissioning. We are changing the tariff terms. He said it could not be done from tomorrow, but it is being done from April 2017. To end the block payments, there will be two new payment approaches with two different tariffs. I agree with him on leadership.
The funding will be there, but it must build up over time. The money is being delivered through the spending review and how we intend to fund the national health service generally. The commitment for the £1 billion of extra funding the taskforce asked for is very important and I believe it will make a significant difference.
Commitment, money and determination from the whole of Parliament will be of huge importance in this area and I thank colleagues for their engagement.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for taking part in this debate. We have got to the stage of knowing where the problem is and what the solutions are. We need the will in Government and across Parliament to make them happen. We owe that to all the people out there who are relying on us to get this right and I think the stars are aligned to make it happen. Let us get it right.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the report from the independent mental health taskforce ta the NHS in England.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Personal Independence Payments
[Steve McCabe in the Chair]
It is a real pleasure to be in a debate that you are chairing, Mr McCabe—I think this is the first time it has happened for me. I apologise to all my colleagues because I have a great deal to say on the issue, and I propose to say it and then, hopefully, to take some interventions. I am very grateful to them for attending to listen to the debate, which has provoked an awful lot of interest not just from fellow colleagues, but from individuals who have contacted me. I thank all the people and organisations who have contacted me; I have read all the submissions they sent.
The Government’s present agenda on disability is to reduce the number of people receiving disability benefits and the amount of money they receive. There has been a marked increase in the number of constituents coming to my office to seek help in connection with disability benefits, particularly with the personal independence payment process. In preparing for this debate, I have worked very closely with, and I am very grateful to, Wrexham citizens advice bureau and the welfare rights service of Wrexham Council.
In recent months, it seems that the Department for Work and Pensions has targeted the Wrexham postcode, inviting large numbers of working age, pre-existing disability living allowance claimants to move to the replacement benefit, PIP. Failure to respond to the invitation results in the existing DLA award ceasing, with an associated knock-on loss of any premiums—for example, means-tested benefits, Motability car tax, blue badge entitlement and so on. At any time in the Wrexham area, about 10,000 people have been in receipt of various combinations and levels of DLA, and considerable numbers of them are now going through the migration process, which is almost entirely driven by DWP, not by the claimants themselves.
The DWP invitation gives people a limited amount of time to claim PIP and return the paperwork, with a claim form of about 40 pages in length. Many claimants struggle to complete social security benefits claim forms and seek help to do so. If constituents do not respond, the DLA stops. That is one way of the Government achieving their objective to reduce the benefit paid.
One constituent of mine—a former nurse—has a degenerative neurological condition, yet her PIP assessment resulted in her losing her Motability car, an outcome repeated and experienced by sufferers of Parkinson’s disease, according to a briefing sent to me before this debate. This does, of course, secure the Government’s objective of reducing the benefit paid to disabled people.
The changes to the system are being made against a backcloth of withdrawing specific benefits advice, reductions in legal aid eligibility and reductions in funding for citizens advice bureaux, welfare rights advisers and other sources of advice. The result is that little advice is available for vulnerable people, which further helps the Government to reduce the benefit paid. In any event, the system operated means that applicants invariably complete the long, complex forms without advice and without any knowledge of the criteria applied to award PIP. As a consequence, it is very often the case that the initial application results in previous recipients of DLA being awarded PIP, if at all, at a lower level.
When an application is made for mandatory reassessment, again the applicants have no detailed knowledge of the criteria, and the reasoning applied by assessors and communicated to the applicant is set out without specific reference to the points awarded for each individual disability. DLA was assessed by health professionals. The Government now contract private businesses such as Capita to carry out assessments. In Wrexham, the largest town in north Wales, there is no geographic base for personal assessments to be carried out and applicants are requested, as a matter of course, to travel more than 40 miles to Rhyl for an assessment. That is a disincentive to vulnerable people to proceed with the application.
On Monday evening, in the excellent “Dispatches: The Great Benefit Row”, presented by Ade Adepitan, we saw the shocking mindset of a number of the assessors. However, the views expressed in that programme reflect what I am told by my constituents. Individual applicants are subjected to rudeness from assessors when they question the obligation to travel distances. When one constituent of mine asked to have an assessment in Wrexham, rather than travel the considerable distance to Rhyl, the conversation went: “Do you receive DLA?” “Yes.” “Use the bloody money to get to Rhyl.”
When the mandatory assessment is completed, the appeal process is complex and difficult and, again, there is a paucity of advice available to applicants. There has been a huge increase in the number of individuals seeking advice in my office, and there are real capacity constraints in handling the quantity of them. Applicants are often vulnerable, stressed and upset by the whole process, and are intimidated by the complexity of the forms.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am sorry but I am going to continue. I will try to take interventions later.
Applicants are also intimidated by the manner of the assessors and the way in which assessments are set out when they are presented to applicants. Having considered a number of the assessments personally, I find it difficult to draft responses to the assessments effectively. The process is much more difficult than drafting court pleadings—I am a solicitor—and, without training and support, it is very difficult even for those experienced in drafting documents.
It is essential to have detailed knowledge of the points awarded for individual actions in order to respond properly to assessments made. The reality is that most applicants do not have that information themselves and do not have adequate access to expert advice to help them. I quote the experience of one of my constituents, Lindsay Usher, who sent an email to me earlier this week. She says:
“I am a carer for my husband John who had a major stroke, aged 55, in October 2010 that left him with various disabilities. He was awarded indefinite DLA...and recently had correspondence to say that he had to now apply for PIP. I made the initial telephone call on his behalf and then the 40 page booklet appeared. We duly completed it and that in itself is stressful. John could not have done it on his own due to the complexity and ambiguity of the questions. They repeatedly try to trip you up and the stroke has left him with a degree of cognitive impairment. We returned it by the due date, 24 March. The receipt was acknowledged by the DWP by text message.
John then received a letter from Capita dated 28 March informing him that he would be assessed face to face by a ‘health professional’ at his home address on 11 April at 08.00 a.m. John takes about an hour and a half to get up, washed and dressed independently in the mornings (this information was written on the PIP claim form) but even though the timing of the appointment was not ideal we decided to accept it as the wording in the letter from Capita includes, in bold, ‘It is important that you go to this appointment. If you fail to go without a good reason, the decision-maker at the Department for Work and Pensions is likely to refuse your claim’. It’s quite intimidating. A further reminder letter dated 2 April was received from Capita confirming the appointment with the same ‘It is important that…’ sentence. Finally a text message was received from Capita on 6 April once again confirming the appointment…Roll forward to the appointment day…Alarms set for 06.00 a.m. Ready, waiting, stressed and nervous by 07.45 a.m. No sign of ‘health professional’. No email, no phone call, no text message. So I telephoned the Capita ‘Enquiry Centre’ at 08.56 a.m. The lady who answered had no idea why John had been ‘stood up’. I said we would give it a while longer. By 10.32 a.m. I phoned again. We got the obligatory ‘sorry’ but I told the young lady I spoke to that she could not be held responsible for the ‘health professional’s’ failure to appear.”
Another constituent became enmeshed in an argument over whether he was able to fully wash the top half of his body, as he has the use of only one arm due to a stroke; the assessor accepted that he could not wash the whole of the bottom half of his body. Parliamentary colleagues have approached me since this debate was listed to tell me of similar accounts affecting those they represent. This degrading assessment process makes sense only if it is understood that the policy’s central objective is to reduce the benefits of these disabled people. All these procedural steps work towards that end and make it more difficult for claimants to apply.
It made me sick to the stomach to see further personal independence payment cuts proposed in the Budget and to see the Minister defending them even before the Budget speech was made. At the same time, the Government cut capital gains tax and corporation tax. This rotten system endures and is often run by rotten people—we saw some of them on Monday night’s programme on Channel 4—who treat vulnerable people and their families with absolute contempt.
If the Minister wants to help disabled people—I respect him, and I am telling him what my constituents are telling me—will he now ask his Secretary of State to carry out a fundamental reappraisal of this appalling system? If he wants to salvage his reputation, that is the only way he will be able to do so. If he wants respect, he and his Department, and those who his Department employs and commissions, need to start treating vulnerable disabled people with the respect they deserve.
Everything my hon. Friend has said is applicable to the Delyn constituency in north-east Wales. It might help Members and the Minister to know that the value of the contract to Capita over 60 months in central England and Wales is £121 million. We can get better value and better, more compassionate performance out of that contract.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He is right that this is a massive issue. “Dispatches” highlighted the concerns that many people have about the PIP assessment. The same firm is contracted to carry out PIP assessments in Northern Ireland, where we have one of the highest DLA claimant rates in the whole United Kingdom because of the troubles. Like me, does he feel—perhaps the Minister will respond to this—that there is a great need for those who carry out the tests to have a higher level of competency?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There is clearly a major problem, and MPs are seeing that in their constituencies across the United Kingdom. The purpose of securing such debates is to draw to the Minister’s attention to the mistakes made by Government. All Governments make mistakes—mistakes were made under a Labour Government—and there is a real mistake in this particular case that he needs to address.
Given the information that we have, this is an extremely valuable and timely debate. As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on disability, I have particular concerns about the lack of involvement of individuals such as mental health professionals and general practitioners in gathering the information. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that should be standardised as part of the procedure?
Absolutely. These assessments, which often deal with vulnerable people who in many cases have particular complex medical needs, need to be carried out by individuals who know what they are talking about and who have not just been sent on an away day to establish whatever criteria Capita want to apply to let as few applications through as possible.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. One of my West Lancashire constituents had their mobility car repossessed following a PIP assessment, but that was before a mandatory reconsideration or a tribunal to reconsider the case. Where is the natural justice? Does he agree that that is just one more area where the PIP process is ineffective? It is not always cost-effective, and it is certainly uncaring in its treatment of people. All of that has consequences for those being assessed, and it is time for the Government to reconsider their absolutely appalling approach to this problem.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his speech and on securing this debate. Are not the shortcomings that he rightly describes underlined by the success rate at first-tier tribunal appeals? The Barton advice centre in my constituency has an 82% record in overturning such wrong decisions.
Everything my hon. Friend says is happening in Neath. What is the Department for Work and Pensions doing to ensure that the healthcare professionals who undertake the assessments are mental health specialists, as Capita claims? What exactly does “mental health specialist” mean? Are they qualified mental health nurses, doctors or carers? In one case in Neath, a report was done by a paramedic.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), who cares passionately about his constituents. I have enjoyed working with him on a wide range of issues relating to my role. I genuinely understand why he takes such a close interest in this subject, and I will do my very best to address the points raised both by him and in the interventions that he kindly allowed.
I want to make a few basic points absolutely clear at the beginning. This is not about reducing the number of claimants or the amount of money spent; it is a fact that the number of claimants and the amount spent will increase in every single year of this Parliament. PIP is a modern and dynamic benefit to help cover the extra costs faced by people with disabilities. By way of comparison with the old system, 16% of DLA claimants would expect to get the highest rate of benefits; it is 22.5% under PIP. An example of where there is a big difference is in hidden impairments, such as mental health conditions. Only 22% of those with a mental health condition would qualify for the highest rate of DLA, but under PIP it is 68% because the system is better designed to take such cases.
That situation comes about because, under DLA, claimants were predominantly assessed on the form they filled in—it was a long, complicated form. I accept that the PIP form is still not the simplest form, but it is better than the old DLA form. Some 70% of people who were given a benefit under DLA had no medical evidence, and the problem with that is that people will often under-diagnose, particularly if they have a hidden impairment. They might take for granted the challenges that they face and think that they are the norm and not something for which they should get support, whereas we recognise as a society that they should get that support.
The job of the assessors is, in effect, to help people fill in their form to a better standard than under the old DLA system. The Government determine how much is paid and how many points people need in order to qualify, so we are at the end of the system, but the assessors are there to assist claimants in making the very best case that they can make.
I appreciate that people with mental health conditions or learning disabilities are likely to do better, but the 2010 Budget clearly set out, on page 40, table 2.1, line 23, that DLA reform was solely designed to reduce spending on working-age DLA expenditure by £360 million by 2013-14 and by more than £1 billion by 2014-15. To claim that PIP is about being more generous to disabled people is just plain dodgy.
No, it is the reality that every year the number of people either on DLA or PIP—as Members can imagine, people are increasingly switching to PIP from DLA—is rising and the amount being spent is rising. That is what is happening. As things stand today, 1.32 million people have gone through the PIP process. About 745,000 claimants are now on PIP, and about 1.5 million claimants remain on DLA.
I say gently that that is a little muddled, but I will come on to explain things. Under DLA, not only was the form complicated and people did not necessarily have the medical evidence, meaning that they could be under-diagnosed, but they were not reassessed. Many Members have implied today that we should not reassess people, but the reality is that every year the condition of one in three people will change so significantly that they should be on a different level of benefit. For the majority of those people, their condition is getting worse, not better.
Under DLA, we found that people were on a lower rate than they should have had for decades. Under the PIP process, there is a lot more evidence, which we use to say, “Right, this person has a fluctuating health condition, or a degenerative health condition, that will probably get worse, and they are currently only on the standard rate, but we have an expectation that they will probably progress to having a requirement for an enhanced benefit at a certain period of time.” We flag that up in the system, and that person would then automatically come in for reassessment.
People who are already on the highest rate and have a degenerative condition are not likely to have intense reassessments on a regular basis. It may very well be that many years pass before there is a telephone call to ask, “Are conditions still the same?” That is something that the old DLA system failed—
Does the Minister appreciate that my constituent Linda Isaac, who is currently receiving chemotherapy for bowel cancer, who has waited for 19 weeks only to be denied PIP and another nine weeks for a mandatory reconsideration, will not appreciate the modern “dynamic” PIP system that he is talking about?
I understand that point. It is difficult to comment on an individual case, and I am happy to look at such cases after the debate. The hon. Lady and I have worked together carefully on a number of cases, and I am happy to extend that invitation again.
The Minister is giving the impression that people on the old DLA are all being upgraded under PIP and retaining their payment. What we see in our constituency casework, however, is people coming off benefits altogether, and he is not addressing that point. Some of those people’s conditions are either getting worse or remaining the same.
I will make one final point, if I may. Will the Minister or his Department take action after the “Dispatches” programme on Channel 4?
I am sure there will be many other opportunities for the hon. Lady to ask me questions, and I look forward to them. Perhaps I have got a foresight of what her next question at Work and Pensions oral questions will be.
I acknowledge that when we first introduced the PIP process there were major problems with timings, but there has been a settled position for about a year now. It currently takes seven weeks for an assessment and 13 weeks—median end to end—to get a decision. The time taken has been reduced by about three quarters since June 2014.
I will now touch on the TV programme, which is obviously topical. I was as appalled as everybody else who watched that programme. To the credit of Capita, it has reacted quickly and the individual concerned— Mr Barham—has been dismissed, and rightly so. We have not been made aware of any evidence that this is a significant issue; it seems to be a disgracefully appalling but isolated one. We have been told, “The overwhelming feedback gathered so far is one of frustration, disappointment and anger about how this individual has let everyone down, undermining the hard work and effort that everyone puts in daily to deliver and continually improve the level of service provided both to the Department and the PIP claimant community.” Capita has assured me that it will conduct further checks to make sure that this incident was an isolated one, and I was genuinely as appalled as everybody else who saw that programme.
Before the programme was screened, individuals had been saying to me that the assessors’ attitudes were wrong. I recounted one particular case, and I have been given other examples that I did not have time to cover today. Will the Minister please speak firmly to Capita and tell it to start treating people with respect?
Let me make some progress and then, if I have time, I will take some more interventions.
The hon. Member for Wrexham made a fair point about the limited time for a claim. It is actually a month, but people can ask for longer. They automatically get two weeks without any questions, and further extensions are considered depending on the circumstances. For example, if somebody says, “I will need assistance in filling the form in”, additional time will be given. If people struggle to fill in the initial forms on their own for a variety of reasons, the Department will send people to help them do so as quickly as possible.
As I highlighted earlier, the PIP forms are shorter and simpler than the old DLA forms. That does not mean that they are absolutely perfect yet. However, part of my role and my officials’ role is that we regularly meet charities, other stakeholders and users of the service, who make suggestions. There are continuous improvements, and I would expect that to keep happening. The hon. Gentleman raised a fair point, and we have a taskforce on our wider communication, with representatives from all the major charities going through things with a fine-toothed comb. I am grateful for all their help and support in that regard.
At the very beginning of the process, if an individual has a condition that means that we have concerns about their ability to return forms, that is flagged up so that we do not just automatically let them drop off the system. We can then be proactive in trying to contact them and contract people who can provide support for them, to make sure, as I say, that they do not simply drop out of the system. That is a very important point.
We are constantly reviewing the quality of the system—that is really important—and one change we made recently was to add a further 10 days for the assessment providers to be able to gather and consider further evidence. That came about because of the 60%-odd success rate in the appeal process, which a number of Members have mentioned. To put that into context, it involves about 2% of total claimants; as I have said, about 1.3 million people have gone through the system. When I first became the Minister and I saw the figure on successful appeals, the first thing I did was to visit the Cardiff office. I said, “Right. Presumably every time one of these is assessed on appeal, you down tools, sit down, analyse what we have done and make sure we never do that again.” Actually, more often than not a decision is overturned because of additional evidence that has been provided—the key word is “additional”—either oral or written. So in theory the decision at the beginning was right, based on the evidence that was given, but we as a Department rightly provide people with two further opportunities to submit additional evidence for a reconsideration.
All Members will share our frustration in this sense—in an ideal world someone would phone up for a claim, give their national insurance number, we would have full access to all their medical records and they would not have to go and find the reports from their doctor or occupational therapist. Former Governments had a good go at achieving that, but for a variety of reasons it has not happened. We therefore ask people to submit new evidence.
A typical example of what can go wrong for a claimant is that they get their GP’s evidence and put that in with their application, but they do not think to get the evidence from their occupational therapist. However, when we send them the letter that does not give them the benefit rate that they were hoping for, the information in it is clear enough for them to think, “Ah! If only I had done that.” They then have those two further opportunities to submit evidence. So the majority of the 65% or so successful appeals are because of additional evidence being submitted, not because of mistakes in the system.
I am grateful to the Minister. His position seems to be that the process is right and that it is the fault of individuals for not submitting information at the right time. Would it not be in the Department’s best interests to save money by ensuring that the decisions are right first time, by allowing individuals enough time to get their medical information in.
We have just added a further 10 days to the process, recognising that point. We want to get the right decision for the claimant first time. That is an absolute given, but we rely on individuals to present evidence. Everyone is unique. Everyone involved is facing a different challenge, which is why they are applying for the benefit. In an ideal world, we would have access to all their information and no one would have to provide it, but as I have explained, that information is not available. My colleagues in the Scottish Parliament are doing some interesting work in this area, and we will look carefully at how that progresses, but we have added that extra time and are trying to be as clear as we can in the letters.
Beyond this debate, I will be interested to look more closely at the points that the hon. Member for Wrexham made about how the information that comes back to people is sometimes not clear enough. However, all claimants can request a copy of the full health professional’s report at any stage in the decision-making process. That is automatically triggered at the independent appeal stage, but it is available before that if people wish to have it.
We are also working on the online application process, to put all the information in one place. A lot of people want to be able to apply online for convenience. An added benefit will be that we can put additional help and support online, but people will still be able to claim in the traditional way if they want to.
I do not have long, but I want to address the point that was made about locations. All claimants in north Wales are offered—
Sustainable Development Goals
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank all Members for taking part in this debate. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations on behalf of the Women and Equalities Committee. It was the first time we had attended the United Nations, and it was a great chance to discover what more we can do as a Select Committee domestically and internationally to promote equality, specifically gender equality. During that week, it was clear that all nations have a responsibility to implement the sustainable development goals. Unfortunately, the UK is lagging behind, not least on goal 5, which is about the promotion of equality for women and girls. Given the evidence I saw at the CSW, we as a nation are falling short on our obligations to fulfil the sustainable development goal targets, and that needs to change.
There are three questions that the Government must answer so that we can ensure the goals are met. Who is in charge of the implementation of the goals in the UK? What is being developed? When is our approach going to be tested? I am sure everyone here knows what the sustainable development goals are, but for those who do not, the sustainable development goals were agreed by nations at the United Nations last year and provide the world with a new set of goals to meet by 2030. The goals aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all, and I am sure we are all in agreement that those are essential for the world and our peoples. Each of the 17 goals has its own set of targets, with 169 in total. If all those are met, that will ensure that the overall goal is reached by 2030.
What makes the sustainable development goals different from the millennium development goals is the commitment that no one will be left behind. If the goal is not reached for everyone, it simply is not reached. I hope that will encourage Governments, private companies and society as a whole to put establishing an equal society at the heart of everything they do. It will be vital to keep the aim of achieving the sustainable development goals constantly at the back of the mind when considering new policies, whether for individual companies or the country as a whole. The need for equality of opportunity underpins many of the goals and is important for no one to be left behind.
It is fantastic that we have this clear set of goals. It not only ensures that everyone in the world is working towards the same aim, but ensures that there are clear targets to allow us to measure our success. However, it would be a travesty if we were all standing here in 15 years’ time contemplating what went wrong and why the targets were missed. We have the privilege of experiencing fantastic rights here in the UK, but we owe it to all those who do not share the same rights to ensure that we meet each of the 17 goals set out at the UN last year. In fact, we owe it to the UK population to ensure that those rights are enshrined in British policy making. How can we as a nation turn to such countries as Kenya and preach about how they can enhance their rights when 58% of Kenya’s Parliament are women and only 29% of MPs in our Parliament are female? That seriously impacts our credibility as a nation. To ensure that we are not in that situation, we need to start acting now.
The Overseas Development Institute has done vast amounts of research into the goals, looking into what progress the world will achieve towards reaching them if Government policy across the globe stays as it is today. Through its detailed assessment, the ODI found that if current trends continue, none of the goals or targets will be met. The goals are set in a way that forces big change to occur if we are to reach them—I believe that is what makes them such an asset—but the research makes it crystal clear that urgent work is necessary. We cannot let the goals pass us by, and we certainly cannot afford to reach 2025, just five years from the deadline, and realise that we are too far away to be successful.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that the goals are not legally binding, but they are internationally binding, and civil society and all parts of our society have a role to play in pushing them through. As a result of the sustainable development goals, I have seen many conversations in this place looking from an international perspective at how we can implement our sustainable development goals in this country. What we are missing is that crucial part, which I will come on to later, relating to who is responsible and when will the development goals be put into practice.
We need a well thought-out, holistic approach whereby we identify and tackle problems that still persist in our own country, while supporting other nations with their progress. It would be helpful to have a clear lead in the Government who can be held responsible for our progress, either in the Cabinet Office or the Department for International Development. Questions already need to be answered, such as why there has been such slow progress. We need to ensure that the Secretary of State for International Development is not sitting on the next high-level UN economic panel feeling awkward that Britain is without a clear implementation plan.
The Overseas Development Institute put together a scorecard showing how much effort is needed to achieve each goal. The scores did not make for good reading. Three of the goals were given a B rating, meaning that reforms are still needed to reach the target, but that we are none the less on the right track. Most of the targets received a C to E rating, meaning that reaching them needs a revolution in attitudes and policy, with radical approaches and innovation needed for us to have any chance of success. Five goals received an F rating, meaning that the world is moving in the wrong direction to achieve them. I hope the Minister will address what the UK is doing to improve those grades. At the end of the day, this is not something we can fail and resit.
The ODI research makes it clear that we have much to do over the next 15 years to reach any of the goals. As I have said, following my recent visit to the CSW, my personal focus, and that of the Women and Equalities Committee, is on seeing us reach goal 5, which is to:
“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
That is a big statement. It seeks equality. That is not just a bit of equality, or a step forwards or a 2% reduction in the gender pay gap or a few more girls taking science, technology, engineering and maths; it states “equality”, and we must remember that we signed up to that. As the UN document says:
“Realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution to progress across all the Goals and targets. The achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities.”
At this point, I would like to pause and pay tribute to the superb work being done by the UK’s mission to the UN. Its ability and passion for the delivery of the sustainable development goals was totally apparent over that week at the UN. Much more must be done to ensure that that work is not done in vain. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, and Baroness Verma in the other place also took a superb lead at the commission, focusing on tackling goal 5.
Because of Britain’s significant soft power, other nations are looking to us to make a stand and implement the sustainable development goals. Further delays will risk our credibility in the world’s eyes. The Select Committee will be doing more internationally to hold our Government’s feet to the fire and more to put equality legislation in an international context. We will be doing more work with other European and international equality committees and with other Parliaments to fight for the delivery of the goals by 2030. Of course, I look forward to reading the International Development Committee’s report on the sustainable development goals in the coming months.
It is clear that the world has a lot to do to reach the goals, but it is still not clear what the world is going to do. It is crucial throughout the next 15 years that we remember that the goals are interrelated. We must understand that the policy to reach one goal may affect our attempts to reach others. I see equality and goal 5 as pivotal. The latter is central to ensuring that no one gets left behind.
We cannot be left behind in the implementation of the goals. Other nations are already being proactive about reaching them. Colombia set up an inter-agency commission on the preparation and effective implementation of the SDGs to oversee their implementation. Even before the goals were agreed, Sweden commissioned a delegation to support and stimulate the implementation of the SDGs, and it will develop a comprehensive action plan for their implementation. We must take similar action and create a cross-departmental strategy to reach each of the targets.
The SDGs certainly contain a bold commitment: to leave no one behind when it comes to change and progress towards an equal society. If we begin to create a plan today, we can ensure real progress around the world and in our own country.
It is a great honour and privilege to speak under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) on securing such an important debate, and at the right time too.
Friends, in September last year, one could have seen a strange sight on a bright but crisp New York day. An unlikely crowd had been drawn together. I was stood with parliamentary colleagues from around the world at the announcement of the finalisation of the international negotiations. Alongside my colleagues were other, better-known faces: Beyoncé, Coldplay and Ed Sheeran. What could bring such unlikely allies together?
Building on the successes of the millennium development goals, the sustainable development goals have the potential to lift 800 million people out of extreme poverty. That is no mean feat, and on its own would be a success of broadly unmatched effect in global development. I have been campaigning on goal No. 3 in particular, which is to ensure
“healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”.
Too many children and older people around the world are left behind when progress is made. That is why I am so proud to have supported our commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international development. That commitment has provided long-term stability to the programmes we support. Department for International Development programmes have helped to save the lives of 44,000 women during childbirth and 97,000 newborn babies, and provided food security to 3.5 million people. That is the real effect of the money we spent and an indicator of what a comprehensive, integrated implementation of the sustainable development goals can achieve. Let us make success a reality, rather than just a goal.
The MDGs were plagued with questions; they did not offer a truly international solution to global problems and they created two classes of country. That is why such a diverse group joined together in New York last year. Where the MDGs were successful was in their fight to stop the global increase in the incidence of TB, malaria and HIV and AIDS. We now look to end those three epidemics by 2030. The new global goals are far more worldwide than the MDGs were. They apply not only in developing nations, but here in the UK as well. We are now committed to eradicating TB and HIV and AIDS at home, not just abroad.
In 2015, TB re-emerged as the world’s leading infectious killer. It led to 1.5 million deaths in a single year. The Global Fund works across all countries ravaged by TB and is key to the fight to end the epidemic. It has saved about 17 million lives through its interventions so far, and perhaps 5 million more can be saved this year alone. More than 75% of all the financing in the global TB fight comes from the Global Fund. Sadly, however, at the current rate of investment, it looks as if we will only end TB in 150 years—not by 2030.
On finance, does the hon. Gentleman agree that for all the goals to be achieved, which is what we want, we need to convert billions of pounds into trillions of pounds in aid? Does he agree that, in order to do that, much more work needs to be done to engage the private sector and make the most of the private capital market?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She is a proactive member of the International Development Committee and we all agree that a partnership is needed, with Governments, the private sector, the third sector and all non-governmental organisations working in the field coming together to find a solution and the resources, which will be a huge amount.
The Global Fund needs replenishment. As part of our implementation of the SDGs, I want to see a commitment to keep the fund well supported. In the last round, we pledged £1 billion and, in line with most donor nations, we need to increase that by 20% to keep up with the aims of the goals to eliminate the diseases by 2030. The fund has the chance not only to eradicate infectious diseases, but to save a further 8 million lives by 2019.
The new SDGs offer a better way forward, and our Prime Minister threw his support behind them in New York. Implementation must be universal—universality is what makes the SDGs as promising as they are. The British Government should not merely choose a few goals and targets to focus on; all 17 goals and 169 targets should guide our strategy. However, this is not just an international development issue, because the SDGs work even more broadly than that. Along with, I am sure, others present in the Chamber today, I want to see the Cabinet Office given the role of co-ordinating the work across not only DFID, but the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. We are falling behind other countries, but we can do better, and co-ordinating action across Government to fulfil the promise of the Prime Minister’s words in September is how we do that.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) on securing the debate on sustainable development goals, which are now referred to as development goals. Along with other Members here, I am a member of the Select Committee on International Development and I am also the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on sustainable development goals. I take a particular interest in this matter and the International Development Committee has an ongoing inquiry on it, so I welcome the chance to speak.
The SDGs are the successors to the millennium development goals. There were eight MDGs but there are 17 SDGs, which were agreed to at the end of last year. They are much broader than the MDGs and I was pleased to see that they gave particular focus to women and girls as well as to health, governance and much more. In fact, there is much more in the SDGs than in the millennium goals. They also require a fundamentally different approach to sustainable development from the UK and beyond. Like any plan, strategy or agenda, the goals are all down to the delivery and implementation on the ground and the difference that will make to people’s lives. That is how they will be judged, be that in the next few months and years or in 15 years’ time.
In broader terms, the UK is taking a leading role in international development. I, too, am a supporter of the UK’s commitment to 0.7% for international development, but it is not enough just to commit to spend; we must commit to deliver and achieve value for money and accountability for the British taxpayer. Good and effective international development is the right thing to do, and it is the smart thing to do as well. It is in the country’s interests to do good international development, be that in responding to humanitarian emergencies and disasters, building resilience in countries that are prone to crisis, building stability or using influence. All of those are linked to goal 5 on women and equality, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) referred to today. The goals are very much interlinked. It was often said when they were agreed that perhaps there were too many, but I would not have liked the job of trying to remove one of them.
My hon. Friend spoke eloquently about women and equality, on which the Government have made a huge contribution. In particular, the girls’ summit in 2014 showed the way and the importance of putting women and girls at the centre of international development, especially in education and in health. They have also done work on preventing sexual violence against women in conflict. Of course there is much more to do. I, too, would like to see greater clarity as to how the SDGs are linked into other Departments’ plans as well as the broader official development assistance-defined projects.
I take the opportunity to highlight a couple of projects and campaigns that show the importance of SDG 5 and women and equality. First, as some Members know, I spent many of my summers in Rwanda with Project Umubano. I was there a number of years ago and I had the pleasure of visiting a project organised by ActionAid, helping to empower women—I often refer to it as the bee project. A group of women were shown how to farm beehives, which produced not just an income and livelihood for them but enabled them to educate their children, empower themselves and improve the future chances of their families, which is really important.
More recently, the Select Committee was in Nigeria, where one of the most humbling experiences was to meet some of the campaigners from the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. They hold a daily vigil at the Unity fountain in Abuja and we could not help but be moved by the stories they so bravely shared with us. These are just two examples.
I, too, would like to comment on the Bring Back Our Girls campaigners. We have been doing a lot of work with the Nigerian Government to try to help them to overcome Boko Haram and its horrendous maltreatment of young girls in northern Nigeria. The anniversary of that campaign is coming up; the girls have been missing for two years. I hope that the Minister will reflect on what more can be done.
I thank the hon. Lady for her valuable contribution. We were all moved that afternoon.
These are two very different stories. The bee project is a story of great hope, but Chibok is one of great sadness and tragedy. That is why SDG 5—achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls—is so important. I hope that in today’s debate we are able to continue to raise the importance of DFID’s work, the SDGs, women and diversity and, crucially, implementation and accountability. The success of the SDGs will depend upon the collection of data to analyse and assess the results, which is a challenge in itself. We need to be robust, because accountability matters. However, there must also be a recognition that although the UK is putting huge effort into the SDGs and playing a significant part, these are universal goals and it is up to everyone to play their part in them. Others must also step up to the mark.