House of Commons
Monday 18 April 2016
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
2. What discussions he has had with the Leader of the House on the timetable for a vote in the House on replacement of the Trident missile submarines. 
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear on 10 February, we will bring forward a debate and vote in the House at the appropriate moment, and announce it in the usual way.
Can the Minister tell the House where Trident falls in value terms in regard to the cost-benefit ratio using the Government’s own standard appraisal mechanism? Can he confirm that an appraisal has been conducted, and will he make it available to Members in the Commons Library?
I will of course make available what figures I can to the hon. Gentleman, but let me be clear that the overall cost of the Successor programme was set out in the strategic defence and security review that we published in November. It is £31 billion, which should be seen in the context of a deterrent that will serve us for over 30 years.
It is an open secret that the Ministry of Defence wanted this debate to take place in the spring, so I do not blame the Secretary of State for the fact that it has not happened. However, he is on record as saying that people are worried about the wavering position of the Labour Opposition on this matter. Would it not assist us to restore bipartisanship to the issue if the debate were to be brought forward, at least to before the Labour party’s conference, or do the Government—by which I mean No. 10—prefer dissension at a Labour party conference to bipartisanship on a particularly important issue?
Well, no. The position is that in November we announced our commitment to replacing the existing four Vanguard submarines, and we would like that principle to be endorsed by a vote in this House. I would obviously like that vote to take place as soon as possible, respecting of course the periods of purdah that will exist this spring and summer.
Does the Secretary of State understand that, unlike some on the Opposition Benches, we will not allow any individual questions over cost—valid though they might be in and of themselves—to be used as an excuse to wriggle out of our commitment to the British people? Those who remain true to the spirit of Attlee will do the right thing for Britain.
I am very glad to hear that. I would certainly caution the Labour party against moving away from the moderate mainstream support for a deterrent that every previous Labour Government have expressed. Indeed, I note that the advisers of the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) told journalists that her review would be fudged, as the
“last thing we want…is another reason for those who oppose Jeremy to call for him to go”.
The hon. Lady seems to be the only person who thinks that defending our country means defending the Labour leader.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Trident alternatives review concluded that there was no credible or affordable alternative to a Trident-based nuclear deterrent?
Yes. The alternatives were looked at exhaustively as part of the Trident alternatives review three years ago, and I set out the principal arguments as to why we are making this replacement in a speech to Policy Exchange on 23 March.
Last Monday, I had the privilege of visiting Rolls-Royce in Derby, which is working on the Successor programme, and meeting members of the unions and the management. The one thing that they all want is certainty on the decision on this programme and on provision for the future. Does the Secretary of State agree that any notion that we would have an easy option to cancel the programme at some point in the future—say, at the next general election—would be disastrous not only for our defence but for the workforces in Derby and other places that are reliant on it?
It would be disastrous for our defence and for jobs in this country. It would also be disastrous for our relationship with all our principal allies. Let me be very clear that this programme is already going ahead. We have spent nearly £4 billion, as authorised by the House, on the Successor programme. Work is under way in Barrow, in Derby and in a number of other locations across the country, including those in Scotland, and the programme is already employing several thousand people in small companies.
The Minister for Defence Procurement wrote in November 2014:
“The security requirement to source and sustain certain capabilities within the UK—for instance nuclear submarines…means that single source procurement is and will remain a significant activity… The taxpayer is entitled to know that this money is being spent properly…That is why the Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO) has been established”.
So can the Secretary of State please tell the House how many meetings his Department has had so far with the SSRO about the Successor programme?
I am very happy to write to the hon. Lady about the number of meetings that may or may not have taken place. Let me be clear, however, that the programme is now under way and it is time she made up her mind as to whether she will support it or will we be taking a message to our allies, including the President of the United States, who visits on Friday, that the Opposition are no longer prepared to support a deterrent that they have always supported in the past?
I dare say that we will find out who thinks what when the vote comes.
I asked the Secretary of State specifically about the SSRO and the Successor programme. I appreciate that he does not know the answer, so let me tell him that there have been no meetings—I have a letter here from the Ministry of Defence. The SSRO was tasked with saving at least £200 million last year through its scrutiny of MOD contracts. However, because the Secretary of State will not allow it to do its job properly, it has agreed savings of only £100,000. Why is it not being allowed to scrutinise the Successor contract? Is it because, as the Department has said:
“The government needs a safe space away from the public gaze to allow it to consider policy options… unfettered from public comment about”
their “affordability”? That is not good enough. We demand that the Secretary of State reverse the decision and open up the Successor programme to the independent scrutiny that it requires.
The hon. Lady appears to misunderstand completely the function of the Single Source Regulations Office, which is to supervise contracts once they are signed. This particular contract is still under negotiation, and I am certainly not going to go into the details with her or, indeed, in the House until it is signed. Once it is signed, we will of course ensure that it is properly scrutinised.
Defence Attaché Network
3. What plans he has to strengthen Britain’s defence attaché network. 
Our growing defence budget allows us to expand the defence attaché network, including new posts in Finland, Albania and Senegal, also covering the Gambia, Mali and Niger. We are also creating new deputy posts in Qatar, Afghanistan, Latvia, Lithuania and Georgia. The expansion of the DA network will increase our global defensive reach and influence and will strengthen our partnerships around the world, as set out in the 2015 strategic defence and security review.
I thank the Minister for that reply. It is critical that we continue to be vigilant about the security threat coming from Russia. Will he ensure that there are sufficient numbers of defence attachés in the Baltic states, central Europe and, in particular, Ukraine and Poland to provide the analysis and expertise required to understand fully the security and defence dynamics of the region?
Indeed. I am sure my hon. Friend welcomed the announcement of the new DA in Finland and the new deputy posts in two of the Baltic states.
On expertise, I should stress that we are expanding not only the number of DAs, but their career path and expertise. For example, we have opened a new defence attaché and loan service centre in Shrivenham and have reviewed and enhanced their terms and conditions of service.
I am a big supporter of our DA network, but it is also important that defence attachés are robust in their relationships with their host countries. Will the Minister tell us what representations the defence attaché in Riyadh has made regarding the allegations of civilians being targeted in Yemen following claims that a UK-made PGM 500 missile was located at one of those sites?
The Department gets a constant stream of advice from the DA and several other sources on the matter that the hon. Gentleman ingeniously managed to work into his question.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Army 2020 and the creation of regional forces will help to grow future defence attachés and will enable officers to follow a career path that includes a substantial element of foreign service, allowing them to get the skills necessary to be effective defence attachés?
My hon. Friend is exactly right on that matter, as he of course knows, having previously done the international brief in the Ministry of Defence. The new approach of having brigades facing particular parts of the world means that expertise and institutional memory on particular regions will grow. Combining that with the greatly improved career prospects for DAs should in the medium term greatly enhance our representation.
May I, through the Minister, thank the DA to Tunisia and Libya for the excellent, candid and rigorous briefing he gave the Foreign Affairs Committee on our visit about a month ago? What can the Minister tell the House about any envisaged deployment to the Libyan international assistance mission? What British contribution is being considered?
My hon. Friend has shown ingenuity in managing to work that question in as a supplementary. As he knows very well, this matter has not yet been decided, but I am delighted that he has received such typically excellent assistance from the DA who covers Tunisia.
The Minister does not have to sound quite so surprised, because, as we have discovered, ingenuity is not an entirely novel phenomenon in the House of Commons.
4. What estimate he has made of the likely change in the level of defence spending over the course of this Parliament. 
As from this month, the Ministry of Defence’s budget has risen to more than £35 billion—that is an increase of £800 million on the year just ended. This is the first real-terms increase in six years, reflecting the priority set out by this Government in the 2015 spending review to increase defence spending by 0.5% above inflation every year to 2020-21. This Government have clearly committed this country to meeting the NATO guideline of spending 2% of GDP on defence each and every year of this decade.
I welcome this increased budget. If we were to adopt the position advocated by some and not spend 2%, what would the impact be on the morale of our troops, their equipment and our security?
My hon. Friend is right to identify that the threats we face are growing in scale, complexity and concurrency, and a failure to meet this commitment would have a significant adverse impact on our ability to deliver the capability we need to face those threats and would send a very wrong message to our adversaries. Our commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence enables us to deliver one of the most capable armed forces in the world; to spend more than £178 billion on equipment and equipment support over the next decade; and to fund an increase in the number of regular personnel for both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, and of reservists for the British Army.
19. But the Minister cannot pull the wool over our eyes on this one, because we all know that defence spending was set to fall below 2% of GDP, but for the Government including things that had never been included in the NATO analysis before, such as war pensions and the pension contributions of MOD civilian staff. Will he now come clean? Will he have to resort to these sorts of accounting gimmicks to be able to assure NATO that in future we will maintain 2% spending? 
The hon. Gentleman, in characteristic style, is looking for smoke where there is no fire. We use the NATO definition to make the calculation of our proportion of GDP spent on defence, and it assesses the figure and then publishes it. We have done that in the past under previous Administrations and we will do it again under this one.
18. The Government’s defence review set out a £178 billion programme of investment in equipment for our armed forces over the next decade. Will the Minister ignore calls from the other parties to cut defence spending, which would mean smaller, weaker armed forces and the loss of highly skilled jobs in the defence sector? 
I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to rehearse again our commitment to increased spending on defence and security for each and every year of this Parliament—that will be a real-terms increase. We have published our 10-year forward equipment plan, which shows the contribution that defence will be making to the prosperity of the nation—that is another objective we have taken on in the defence review for the first time. That will benefit both the security of our nation and the economy as a whole.
Despite the claims by the Minister’s Department, the reality is that, between 2010 and 2015, the Royal Navy has had a 33% decline in carriers and amphibious ships, a 17% decline in submarines and a 17% decline in destroyers and frigates. We are a maritime nation, and yet our Navy is declining. Is it not time that we placed greater investment in our maritime capabilities?
The hon. Lady is very experienced in these matters, and she will know that, in 2010, the then coalition Government inherited a dire financial situation across the public sector, and especially in defence, and some very difficult decisions had to be taken to reduce certain front-line elements, including our aircraft carriers. She is also fully aware that we are in the midst of the largest shipbuilding programme that this country has ever known. Early next year, we expect to see the first of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers moved out of Rosyth to take up their position with the Royal Navy.
I proposed a private Member’s Bill last year requiring the Government to enshrine in law that we spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. May I welcome today’s announcement and hope that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) is wrong and that this really does represent new money? May I also take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on the important work that he has done, under the lead of the Prime Minister, in promoting defence exports, and to welcome the 24 Typhoons that have been sold to Kuwait and hope that that will contribute to the Ministry of Defence’s budget?
I thank my hon. Friend who, in a previous role, had responsibility for promoting defence exports. I also wish to say that I have even better news for him: the announcement last week of the sale of Typhoons to Kuwait was for not for 24 aircraft, but for 28.
What defence spending can the Minister guarantee for the steel industry given that the procurement rules allow for community benefit?
This Government have undertaken a new set of procurement guidelines for steel, which we have implemented through the Ministry of Defence through a combination of briefings to the Defence Suppliers Forum undertaken by the Secretary of State. I have also written to the chief executives of the 15 largest contractors. We are cascading that through the supply chain to ensure that, for future defence procurement, there is every opportunity for UK steel manufacturers to bid for tenders.
Government Members appear to be insinuating that the Labour party is advocating a reduction in defence spending, which is entirely untrue. It is perhaps unfortunate that the hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) talked about the impact that defence cuts have on the morale of our armed forces, because I have here a letter from the Secretary of State confirming that the MOD agreed to make £500 million of in-year savings after the Budget this year. The Government, of which this Minister is a part, has overseen a 17% cut in those Royal Navy warships and now, for the first time since 1982, have left the Falklands without a Royal Navy frigate protecting it. Can he clarify the record that we have a Government who are cutting defence spending—massively in recent years—and leaving the nation less protected as a result of it?
The hon. Gentleman really needs to read those letters more carefully. The reduction to which he referred related to the in-year spending of the Department, which ended at the beginning of this month. The defence budget for the current year, and for each future year, is going up, and the question that he and his colleagues need to answer is this: why will his party not commit, as our party has, to the 2% NATO commitment?
5. What assessment he has made of the progress of the international campaign to defeat ISIS/Daesh. 
11. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on progress in the campaign against Daesh. 
14. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on progress in the campaign against Daesh. 
15. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on progress in the campaign against Daesh. 
My next regular meeting with my counterparts in the coalition is on 4 May. The campaign against Daesh is making progress. With coalition support, Iraqi forces hold Ramadi, are clearing Hit, and have begun preparatory operations for the retaking of Mosul. In Syria, Daesh has been driven from al-Shadadi, cutting a key supply route from Mosul to Raqqa.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. With the advent of a new unity Government in Libya, does he believe that they are preparing the ground to request military assistance from the UK, and does he think that, as part of that request, they will require assistance with airstrikes against Daesh targets in Libya?
It is early days. The Foreign Secretary visited Tripoli this morning in support of the new Government, and I and fellow European Union Defence Ministers will be meeting in Luxembourg tonight to hear directly from Prime Minister Sarraj as to how he thinks we can best help stabilise that new Government. We urgently need to engage with them, not least to help close down the very dangerous migration route that is seeing so many lives lost in the Mediterranean, and to help that Government tackle the spread of Daesh along the coast.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that contrary to its propaganda, Daesh has lost much of the territory that it held a year ago, and that now is the right time to back the Iraqi security forces in taking the fight to Daesh?
My hon. Friend is right. With coalition support, Iraqi security forces have retaken around 40% of the populated areas that Daesh once held in Iraq, including Tikrit, Sinjar and Ramadi, and as I said, Hit is in the process of being cleared. We are continuing to provide vital air support, as well as specialist training and equipment.
Experience tells us that unless we get civil institutions up and running quickly after a conflict ends, we can end up with a failed state. What steps is my right hon. Friend’s Department taking to make sure that that does not happen in Syria once Daesh has been driven out?
Following the Syria conference held in London in February, there is now a stabilisation plan for Syria that we are working to deliver with our international partners. We are already working with existing Syrian institutions to try and restore stability, and we are working with communities on local government and civil defence, but stabilisation in Syria depends on a sustainable peace deal that protects communities from attack either by Daesh or by the regime. We are supporting that peace deal through the International Syria Support Group.
Tomorrow the Mayor of London will unveil in Trafalgar Square a reconstruction of the arch of the temple of Bel from Palmyra, as the symbol of our defiance against Daesh and also of our commitment to protect culture in war zones when it is reasonably possible to do so. In December my right hon. Friend announced that he was commissioning a group within the armed forces of modern-day “monuments men” to lead this agenda and to bring the UK into compliance with The Hague convention, and I hope that will be in the Queen’s Speech shortly. Will he update the House on that?
Yes, the Government have announced that they will ratify The Hague convention at the earliest opportunity. That includes the establishment of a military cultural property protection unit, and my Ministry is already engaging with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the stabilisation unit to further develop plans for that capability to help better protect such important monuments in future. It is also important to deny Daesh the revenue that it has earned from selling artefacts and coins from archaeological sites.
Does the Secretary of State believe that it is possible to stabilise Libya only by having ground forces there? Does he accept that that may include British forces?
It is up to the new Government of national accord being established in Libya with our support, led by Prime Minister Sarraj, to make it clear what assistance he needs. A number of countries, including ourselves, have already indicated that we will be part of a Libyan international assistance mission, but it is far too early to speculate about what form that assistance might take, whether it is training, advice from the Ministries, or other support.
22. My right hon. Friend will be all too aware of the evidence of atrocities being committed by Daesh against religious minorities and the destruction of antiquities in the areas that it controls. What specific actions have been undertaken in the military campaign against Daesh to prevent both of those? 
We have to continue to degrade and eventually defeat Daesh to bring to an end the horrific attacks that we have seen and the persecution of those of other faiths that we have witnessed, particularly the persecution of the Yazidi minority. In the end, Daesh has to be defeated so that we can have a tolerant and comprehensive settlement in Syria that protects all minorities.
Let me begin by sending my sincere best wishes to the Royal Regiment of Scotland, which will celebrate its 10th birthday on Friday with a celebratory service at Canongate kirk. I am sure that the whole House will join me in passing on our congratulations.
Libya is increasingly becoming the focus of a campaign by the international community to defeat Daesh. Given that the UK’s last intervention in Libya was by any measure a catastrophic failure, what plans do the Government have to ensure that we have clear, stated objectives, an exit strategy and a coherent and transparent policy for rebuilding the country afterwards?
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in wishing the Royal Regiment of Scotland a very happy 10th birthday and acknowledge the enormous contribution it makes to the military tradition in Scotland.
Let me be clear that no decisions in respect of any involvement in Libya have yet been taken. We are waiting to hear from the new Government of national accord what kind of assistance they need. We have a very strong interest in helping them rapidly stabilise the country, not least because of the spread of Daesh along the coastline, which is a direct threat to western Europe and to ourselves.
It has been widely speculated that the Government are considering sending ground troops to Libya. Can the Minister give us a cast-iron guarantee that any such deployment would be discussed on the Floor of this House and voted on by this House?
First, let me be very clear that no such decision has been taken, and we are not contemplating at the moment a commitment of that kind. What I can say is that if we are, in future, to deploy military forces in a combat role into a conflict zone, we would of course, as the Prime Minister has made clear, come to this House first.
This is a very important constitutional issue, as I am sure the Secretary of State understands. How can it be that we read in the media that the Government have already drawn up plans to send 1,000 troops to aid the Libyan unity Government in fighting Daesh? When asked whether or not they would be deployed in hostile areas, a defence source told the Daily Mail that that was not yet clear. Surely it is important that the Secretary of State, instead of briefing the media, commits to coming to this House and answering questions directly. I am very concerned that in a written answer published today he has said that he reserves the right to take military action without parliamentary approval. Does that mean that we will not have a proper debate on proposed deployment, or will he come to the House, allow us to have a proper debate, answer questions and allow us to have a proper vote?
First, let me caution the hon. Lady against believing everything she reads in the Daily Mail. Secondly, let me make it very clear that we are not currently planning a deployment, as reported in that newspaper. Thirdly, I am always prepared to answer questions in this House, as indeed I am doing at the moment. Fourthly, the written answer published today makes very clear the circumstances in which we would of course come back to Parliament for its approval. However, I should also emphasise that the Prime Minister and I have to take decisions about the deployment of ships, planes and troops, and we do not want, as the House will understand, to be artificially constrained in action that would keep this country safe. We will keep Parliament informed and we will of course seek its approval before deploying British forces in combat roles into a conflict situation.
EU Withdrawal: Effect on National Security
6. What assessment he has made of the potential effects of withdrawal from the EU on UK defence and national security. 
NATO remains the cornerstone of the United Kingdom’s defence, but the European Union has an important complementary role in addressing and managing international crises, especially where NATO cannot, or chooses not to, act. Our response to the complex security threats we face requires a united, comprehensive approach, including the European Union’s diplomatic, humanitarian and economic levers.
Our most important defence allies, including a certain US President, who will visit this week, have recognised that leadership and membership of the EU are vital for Britain’s national security and place in the world. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the implications of leaving the EU for our transatlantic alliance and our national defence?
I cannot think of one ally—never mind the United States—that thinks that the world would be safer or that we would be safer if we left the European Union. Let me be clear: our central defence rests on our membership of NATO, but there are things that the European Union can add to that—not least, for example, the recent action taken against Russia after its annexation of Crimea and its interference in eastern Ukraine. It was the European Union that was able to apply economic sanctions—something NATO cannot do.
President Obama is indeed visiting the country later this week. Nobody doubts for a second the total commitment of the United States to NATO, and nobody claims for a second that, just because the United States is not in the EU, it is any less committed to national defence, NATO or anything else—indeed, it would never surrender a jot of its sovereignty. The fact is that our security depends on NATO, not the EU, and if we leave the EU, we will be just as safe as we are now.
My hon. Friend and I, although we have been friends for many years, differ on this matter. Let us be clear: the United States, as we do, shares its sovereignty by its membership of NATO—by being prepared to come to the aid of other NATO members under the obligations in article 5. There are many international ways in which we decide to share our sovereignty for the common good and for the better security of our country.
Does the Secretary of State recognise the enormous value of EU membership to our defence industry? That was recently reflected in an ADS survey, which showed that 70% of companies want Britain to remain in the EU. Does he agree that access to the European funding—particularly in research and development—is critical for British defence companies to maintain a leading edge in the global market?
I do agree with much of that. We heard earlier this afternoon of the success of the Typhoon sales to Kuwait. That European consortium was put together with four different European countries and is now successfully selling aircraft to eight separate nations. There are projects and programmes of such a scale that European collaboration is only beneficial.
Should this country decide to leave the European Union, would my right hon. Friend undertake to use his best endeavours to secure as much of the £10 billion a year we would save to boost the defence budget?
I do not anticipate this country actually taking such a dramatic step. Let me repeat: I do not know any of my Defence Minister colleagues around the world who would like this country suddenly to start leaving the international alliances and partnerships that it has entered, so I do not think the money my hon. Friend thinks might be available will be.
Successor Ballistic Missile Submarines
8. What assessment he has made of the effects on the UK’s (a) economy and (b) security of building four Successor ballistic missile submarines. 
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State indicated earlier, the nuclear deterrent is at the apex of the UK’s full spectrum of defence capability. The UK’s defence nuclear enterprise is gearing up to deliver the successor to the Vanguard class submarines. Last month we announced a further £642 million of preparatory work ahead of the investment decision for this £31 billion programme. That investment in Successor submarines will not only help keep Britain safe but support over 30,000 jobs across the UK.
With Russia openly menacing our allies, and with us on the cusp of the centenary of the greatest sacrifices ever made by our armed forces in defending this country, would it not be foolish and totally inappropriate for us no longer to be prepared to make a relatively small financial sacrifice to maintain the only asset that can guarantee the freedom of this country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As the Secretary of State indicated in his speech on nuclear deterrence before Easter, we have both a political and a moral responsibility to protect our people and allies. The nuclear deterrent is assigned to NATO, and as a leading member of NATO we cannot and should not outsource our commitments to others. There has been broad political consensus for decades in this House on the need to maintain the UK’s independent strategic deterrent. Government Members are clear where we stand. This remains the official policy of Her Majesty’s official Opposition, and it is in our view irresponsible that the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) and her leader appear determined to put the ultimate security of our nation at risk.
The Minister and, indeed, the Secretary of State have referred to the long-held and well-known views of the Leader of the Opposition on this issue, but it is the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister who will put the resolution to the House. Given that there is overwhelming support for the renewal from the Ministry of Defence, the forces, industry, the workforce and the majority of this House, will the Minister get the message through to dithering Dave in No. 10 to stop playing party politics with this issue of national security and to put the vote to this House?
The right hon. Gentleman, who speaks with some knowledge on these matters, has given a strong indication to the House that there will be a broad measure of support, which we thoroughly welcome. I will offer the Prime Minister his advice.
Two weeks ago I had the great privilege of visiting Rolls-Royce up the road in Bristol, where I met apprentices and workers at the defence aerospace operations and turbine manufacturing facility. I witnessed the important work that Rolls-Royce is doing around the country on manufacturing nuclear engines for servicing naval vessels. Does the Minister agree that Trident stands to benefit the economy by virtue of the many jobs it will create?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the fact that that programme will benefit not just those folks working for Rolls-Royce in various plants, particularly around Derby, or those employees of BAE Systems, the prime contractor, but companies in constituencies right across the breadth of this country, including his own.
Armed Forces: Protection from Persistent Legal Claims
9. What steps he is taking to protect the armed forces from persistent legal claims. 
Although we will always investigate serious allegations of wrongdoing, we are committed to ending the large amount of opportunist litigation brought against our armed forces, which places great stress on them, undermines human rights and corrupts our operations. The Prime Minister chaired a National Security Council meeting on the subject in February, which looked at a range of options we have developed, and tasked the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who has responsibility for human rights, and me to produce a comprehensive package to address the problem. We expect to make announcements very shortly.
Two weeks ago Justice Leggatt said that Public Interest Lawyers showed
“a serious failure to observe essential ethical standards”
when it claimed that British soldiers were responsible for the death of a child. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is simply the latest example of the hounding of our forces—something we committed in our manifesto to clamp down on—and that it must now be investigated by the regulator?
I agree with my hon. Friend and it is right that Public Interest Lawyers has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Justice Leggatt criticised them for failing to take action when they discovered inconsistencies between their claimants’ accounts and, worse, for ignoring those inconsistencies when they were pointed out to them and for continuing to advance the case. In his words,
“no responsible lawyer…conscious of their duties to their client and the court would have felt able to advance the original allegation.”
Would it not help to deter future legal cases against our soldiers if the House read the remarkable speech made in this House last Thursday by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway), who said, from his authoritative position as a former soldier and journalist, that many untruths by Ministers, civil servants and the military resulted in grave errors in the war in Afghanistan? When can we start a full inquiry into the reasons we went into Helmand?
I know that the hon. Gentleman cares passionately about these issues. I point him to a number of investigations that have gone on, both very lengthy investigations by the Ministry of Defence and investigations by Committees of the House into Afghanistan and, in particular, Helmand in 2006. It is important that we learn the lessons from those inquiries. I hope that he will be able to see from operations today, in particular Op Shader, that we are acting on those lessons learned.
NATO Countries: Defence Spending
12. What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in other NATO countries on spending 2% of GDP on defence. 
The UK is proud to be one of five NATO countries that meet the commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. Since the defence investment pledge was made at the Wales summit in 2014, progress has been made, with 16 allies increasing defence spending in real terms and 24 allies now spending more of their defence budgets on equipment. As it happens, the leadership role that the UK is given in NATO on this issue was warmly welcomed once again by the US Deputy Defence Secretary in my bilateral discussions with him last Friday.
What signal would it send to our NATO partners, and to our adversaries, ahead of the Warsaw summit if the Government took the advice of some in the House and failed to commit to spending 2% of GDP on defence? Will my hon. Friend update the House on the Libya and wider middle east situation?
I am not sure that the Speaker will give me enough time to answer both those issues, so I will focus on the first, if I may. The NATO Secretary-General was here last week and he praised the United Kingdom for our leadership on defence spending and our contribution to NATO. By the NATO summit in Warsaw in July, we expect to see further progress on the part of our allies in working to meet NATO’s 2% guideline. By contrast, the deafening failure to match that commitment by the Labour party sends precisely the wrong message to our allies and, even worse, to our adversaries.
The Minister and many other hon. Members make much of this 2%, but 2% in the United Kingdom is quite different from a measurement of 2% for other NATO allies. Does the Minister not agree that this process of self-assessment, which NATO seems to tick off, has profound implications for the alliance’s method of calculation of GDP expenditure on the military?
As I indicated earlier this afternoon, NATO makes the definition and assesses the contributions that are made by each member nation to its return. It is not for the United Kingdom to make that determination; it is for NATO to do so.
13. What steps his Department is taking to support British jobs and industry through its procurement process. 
In the recent strategic defence and security review, the Ministry of Defence agreed a new strategic objective of contributing to the nation’s prosperity. We do that in many ways, not least by spending some £20 billion a year with industry, around half of which is in the manufacturing sector, and some £4 billion with small and medium-sized enterprises.
Will the Minister tell the House just how much his Department has saved by buying cheap steel from Sweden? Does he think that that in any way offsets the devastating impact on our steel industry?
I am in a position to update the House on the steel component of the aircraft carrier contract, which is much the largest defence procurement contract. Of the structural steel, some 95,000 tonnes have been procured from UK steel mills over the period of that contract.
Can the Minister confirm that the United Kingdom works very closely with countries such as Pakistan on defence procurement? Will he join me in welcoming the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who is sitting at the top of the Public Gallery?
Order. First, one should not refer to the place to which the hon. Gentleman referred. After six years in the House, frankly, he ought to know that. Secondly, that was pretty wide of the question.
I call Stephen Phillips. Not—
Ah! Mr Phillips is here. Splendid. How could I have thought otherwise for a moment? It is only that the hon. Gentleman has perambulated to a different position in the Chamber. We are delighted to see him.
17. What measures he has put in place to improve the quality of service housing. 
My Department is committed to improving the quality of service family accommodation provided to our service personnel and their families. We have been working closely with Carillion Amey to deliver those improvements. Work to improve accommodation has resulted in the upgrading of some 3,000 homes through complete refurbishment and the separate installation of around 10,000 new kitchens, bathrooms, and central heating systems.
I will be short, Mr Speaker—which may be why you did not see me earlier.
Service housing is absolutely critical not only to the wellbeing of our servicemen and women and their families, but to their morale. Carillion Amey has been an appalling contractor, and I know that the Department has taken this issue seriously. May I encourage my hon. Friend to continue to be robust, and to take the contract away from it unless and until it starts to discharge its obligations properly?
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to highlight the poor performance of Carillion Amey to date. I am determined, as indeed is the Secretary of State, to improve this matter, which is why we will continue to work closely with Carillion Amey. I can reassure my hon. and learned Friend that Carillion Amey has committed to meet all the key performance indicators across the suite of the next generation estate contracts, including the national housing prime contract, by the end of May 2016.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
My immediate priorities remain success in our operations against Daesh and implementing our SDSR commitments. This month, the defence budget increases for the first time in six years, and it will increase in every year of this Parliament. Our choice to spend more on stronger defence will help keep us safe.
The Secretary of State will know about the worrying number of cancers and terminal illnesses among groups of former RAF personnel working in Scotland in the 1980s and 1990s who worked in a toxic soup of chemicals with precious few safety precautions, and he will surely know of the distressing inconsistencies in financial support for those affected. Will he confirm that the Government’s duty of care under the armed forces covenant extends to investigating this properly and to compensating victims fully and consistently?
Yes. When a veteran considers that their service has led to an illness or injury, they are entitled to make a claim for compensation through our legal claims department, or to apply for enhancements to their pensions. Let me assure the hon. Lady that the Veterans Welfare Service will listen and will provide all necessary support.
T2. Last week, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), responded to a debate in Westminster Hall secured by our hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) on air cadet training facilities. In Southend, 1312 Air Training Corps uses the facilities for gliding in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly). Will the Under-Secretary of State make sure that those facilities are still made available to our cadets? 
Wethersfield, the facility to which my hon. Friend is referring, has been identified for disposal, and the new site is yet to be selected. However, I can reassure him that we are strongly committed to gliding, and 614 Volunteer Gliding Squadron, when it moves from Wethersfield, will expand into its new role as a regional hub. Our immediate priority is to get cadets back flying again, after a gap of about two years. That will start again this year, and should be fully delivered by 2018.
Those injured in the course of their duties should receive the financial support they need, but currently the value of compensation payments is being eroded by a comparative third under the armed forces compensation scheme’s guaranteed income payments and the war disablement pensions supplement. Applying the triple lock to military compensation payments would ensure that the highest of earnings, inflation or 2.5% was paid. When will the Government take evidence to review this payment and examine the impact of the real-term loss under the current system?
We always keep our payments systems under review. The hon. Lady will of course be aware that, in the recent Budget, the Chancellor decided that, for the first time, payments under the war pensions scheme would be set aside for care costs. These are the sort of positive measures that we keep under review in support of our veterans.
T3. Does my hon. Friend agree that Kuwait’s decision to buy 28 world-beating Typhoons is testament to the skill of the BAE workforce at Warton, many of whom live in my constituency, and this Government’s commitment to defence exports? 
We welcome wholeheartedly this month’s contract signed by Kuwait for 28 Typhoon aircraft. Kuwait thereby becomes the eighth country to select the Eurofighter Typhoon and the third in the Gulf to do so. It is very positive both for our bilateral and defence relationship and, as my hon. Friend indicates, for jobs across the British aerospace and defence industry, including the thousands employed by BAE Systems at Warton in Lancashire, many of whom are her constituents. It is excellent news for the whole supply chain right across the UK.
T5. Following the Foreign Secretary’s statement that we“stand ready to provide further assistance to Libya and its people”,will the Secretary of State confirm what kind of assistance the UK would be willing to provide and how much notice this House would have before a vote on military action in Libya? 
I have made it clear that we are waiting to hear from Prime Minister Sarraj and the new Government, who have only been established over the past few days, what kind of assistance they want, whether it be training or other support. On notice to this House, I repeat that there is no plan to deploy British troops in any kind of combat role. If there were a plan to deploy troops in a combat role in a conflict zone anywhere in the world, we would come to the House first.
T4. A particularly nasty Daesh force has seized territory at the top of the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the British Government are doing everything they can to support the Government of Lebanon in tackling this particularly nasty group of people, who are inflicting misery on local people? 
Yes. Last week, I discussed with the Lebanese Defence Minister, Samir Mokbel, the threats that Lebanon faces and the importance of its security. We recently committed to spend a further £23 million on equipment, mentoring and training to help the Lebanese armed forces secure their entire border with Syria. We plan to spend an additional £4.5 million on urban and rural operations training so that by 2019, some 10,000 Lebanese soldiers will have received British training.
T6. Will the Minister say a little more about what progress is being made to ensure that a very high percentage of UK steel is used in defence procurement? In particular, will he say what steps he has taken to ensure that there is the capacity and capability for UK steel to be used to build any Successor Trident submarines, should the House determine that that is what it wishes to happen? 
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government as a whole are committed to supporting the UK steel industry. The Ministry of Defence has issued new policy guidance to the prime contractors to address barriers to the open market. I am working closely with our contractors to ensure that they support the new policy. In relation to the submarine contracts, as and when they are placed, UK suppliers have an important role to play in the supply of some specialist steels, but at present we do not have manufacturers that are capable of supplying other specialist steels, so there is a balance.
T7. Is the Secretary of State aware that the standard of food for the military at HMS Sultan and similar naval establishments has become such a source of complaints that service personnel have been banned from taking photographs and using social media to critique it? What is he doing to ensure that our servicemen and women are properly looked after in such a basic area as food? 
Defence personnel are offered core meals, covering breakfast, lunch and dinner, with set calorific and nutritional standards. That includes unlimited access to carbohydrates and vegetables. I confess that I experience the food that is served to our armed forces personnel on a regular basis, and I have not experienced a poor standard. The normal process is for complaints to be made via the chain of command, but I am more than happy to look into the matter for my hon. Friend.
Ministers have been remarkably coy this afternoon about the timing of the maingate decision for the Trident Successor programme. I understand entirely the point about purdah, but will one Minister at least help the House by indicating whether we are likely to get a vote after 24 June and before the House rises for the summer recess on 21 July?
I hope we will have an early debate and vote on the principle of supporting the replacement of our four existing submarines. I should explain to the hon. Lady that it will not be on the maingate decision, because there is not one maingate decision. We are obviously negotiating with our suppliers for four separate submarines.
T8. The Secretary of State is a suave and polished parliamentary performer, which is why the Defence Committee would like to see a little more of him and why it is doubly disappointing that, despite trying since the beginning of March to agree with his private office to two two-hour slots before the end of May, so far we have achieved only one and the offer of a second on what happens to be local government election day, which is far from ideal. Will he kindly have a word with his private office, ask them to extract their proverbial digit, and thus avoid our two quite important inquiries on the middle east and Russia being either delayed or written without his valuable input? 
I always enjoy my appearances before my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on the Select Committee. It is not always easy to reconcile the dates he offers with some of my international travel commitments but I will certainly have another look at the diary today.
We all know that the Secretary of State is a very busy man with many commitments and a very full diary, but the House’s Committees are very important, and I am sure that he will not forget that. Get it sorted, man.
Hawk aircraft are built at Brough and flown by the Red Arrows, promoting the very best of British. Are there plans to procure new planes for the Red Arrows?
I recently announced a new support contract for the Hawk aircraft that takes it up to November 2020. We have time to decide how to sustain Hawks beyond that. That is much as I can say. However, I will tell the hon. Lady that the Red Arrows are due to commence a substantial programme of displays in this country and overseas this summer. I hope that many Members have the opportunity to watch them.
T9. One hundred years ago, Porton Down was established as a centre to deal with nerve gas attacks during the Somme; 100 years later, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory continues to do a fantastic job, now tackling the growing threats we face in this country from Daesh. Following the visit by the Secretary of State and other Ministers, what reflections do they have on the continuing role of DSTL at Porton Down in my constituency? 
DSTL’s remit to defend our nation and armed forces against a wide range of threats is just as crucial today as it was 100 years ago. We need to continue to invest in science and technology to stay ahead of our adversaries. I congratulate all our staff at Porton Down, Portsdown West and Fort Halstead, which is in my own constituency, on reaching this milestone and on the remarkable work they do to help keep our country safe.
With both the existing Trident programme and the potential Successor programme in mind, will the Minister tell me what measures his Department is taking to identify unexploded ordnance in the River Clyde?
The Department places the safety of our nuclear fleet at the highest possible level. There are continuous attempts to ensure that any potential threats to our submarines are monitored. If the hon. Gentleman has something specific he would like to draw to our attention he should do so, and I am happy to meet him to discuss it.
Tata Steel developed three new types of steel to build the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carrier. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that British steel manufacturers continue to innovate with as well as deliver for the Royal Navy?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the success of Tata Steel in supplying steel for the aircraft carrier. Other grades and types of steel are not currently available in this country and we would be happy to talk to the industry about what steps it can take to make such steel types available.
The Army Reserve centre in Cobridge in my constituency is home to the A detachment 202 (M) field hospital. I have been in correspondence with the Minister but have yet to receive a response to rumours about its imminent closure, something that is yet to be confirmed or consulted about with the wider community. May I have a response from the Minister?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her letters on this issue; we have also had a word in the margins. We are looking into the matter. We have a robust system for appeals. I am so far unable to offer her any comfort but I will come back to her shortly.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), the 1206 Air Training Corps squadron in Lichfield is one of the biggest in the west midlands, but it too has been suffering from a lack of glider training provision. What hope can the Minister give my friends and corps members that that training will be resumed?
I am delighted to answer a question from the distinguished president of that squadron. Nearly two years ago, all gliding had to be suspended for safety reasons. We have been unable to find a contractor who could credibly take on the repair of the Vigilants, but the Vikings are all on their way up, together with a very small number of Vigilants. By 2018 we will be delivering a full programme of gliding, with an enhanced level of powered flying with more Grob Tutors, and that will start this summer.
Some 5,000 service personnel who serve overseas have applied for postal votes. They tell me that by the time the postal votes are sent to the regiment, those serving overseas are disadvantaged. How will the Minister ensure that postal votes are received by those serving overseas who wish to vote?
We partook in the Government-wide scheme launched on 1 February to try to ensure that our service personnel were aware that they could register, and we will do the same again through a defence information notice on the EU referendum that will be issued in May. Ultimately, it is down to individual service voters whether they register or vote.
May I ask the Secretary of State, or perhaps my hon. and very gallant Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces—[Interruption] Gallant because she is in the Royal Navy reserves—to assure the House that no investigator used by Leigh Day or Public Interest Lawyers is paid for by the Ministry of Defence for any service?
I can give the assurance that, although the Ministry of Defence does not direct the investigations of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, it is responsible for ensuring that public money is spent well and efficiently. While we can clearly justify investigations into wrongdoing and those that exonerate our armed forces, we cannot justify spending money on processes that frustrate those investigations. We have given clear ministerial direction that those agents are not to be paid with public money, and we have received assurances that that is the case.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am sorry, but demand invariably exceeds supply and we must move on.
Junior Doctors Contracts
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the imposition of a new junior doctors contract.
This House has been updated regularly on all developments relating to the junior doctors contract, and there has been no change whatsoever in the Government’s position since my statement to the House in February. I refer Members to my statement in Hansard on 11 February, and to answers to parliamentary questions from my ministerial colleagues on 3 March, which set out the position clearly. Nevertheless, I am happy to reiterate those statements to the hon. Lady.
The Government have been concerned for some time about higher mortality rates at weekends in our hospitals, which is one reason why we pledged a seven-day NHS in our manifesto. We have been discussing how to achieve that through contract reform with the British Medical Association for more than three years without success. In January, I asked Sir David Dalton, the highly respected chief executive of Salford Royal, to lead the negotiating team for the Government as a final attempt to resolve outstanding issues. He had some success, with agreement reached in 90% of areas.
However, despite having agreed in writing in November to negotiate on Saturday pay, and despite many concessions from the Government on this issue, the BMA went back on that agreement to negotiate, leading Sir David to conclude that
“there was no realistic prospect of a negotiated outcome.”
He therefore asked me to end the uncertainty for the service by proceeding with the introduction of a new contract without further delay. That is what I agreed to, and what we will be doing. It will start with those in foundation year 1 from this August, and proceed with a phased implementation for other trainees as their current contracts expire through rotation to other NHS organisations.
Let me be very clear: it has never been the Government’s plan to insist on changes to existing contracts. The plan was only to offer new contracts as people changed employer and progressed through training. This is something that the Secretary of State, with NHS organisations as employers, is entitled to do according even to the BMA’s own legal advice. NHS foundation trusts are technically able to determine pay and conditions for the staff they employ, but the reality within the NHS is that we have a strong tradition of collective bargaining, so in practice trusts opt to use national contracts. Health Education England has made it clear that a single national approach is essential to safeguard the delivery of medical training and that implementation of the national contract will be a key criterion in deciding its financial investment in training posts. As the Secretary of State is entitled to do, I have approved the terms of the national contract.
The Government have a mandate from the electorate to introduce a seven-day NHS, and there will be no retreat from reforms that save lives and improve patient care. Modern contracts for trainee doctors are an essential part of that programme, and it is a matter of great regret that obstructive behaviour from the BMA has made it impossible to achieve that through a negotiated outcome.
Just when we thought this whole sorry saga could not get any worse, it now appears that Government policy is in complete disarray. Despite the Health Secretary giving us all the impression back in February that he was going to railroad through a new contract, it now appears that he is simply making a suggestion—or, as his lawyers would say, approving the terms of a model contract. Last night, the Health Secretary took to Twitter to claim that this was not a change of approach, and we have heard the same again today, so, on behalf of patients, I have to ask him: what on earth is going on?
We need a straightforward answer to a simple question: is the Health Secretary imposing a new contract—yes or no? If he is not, but merely suggesting a template, why did he not make it clearer beforehand, and why, in his oral statement on 11 February, did he lead Parliament, the media, the public and, crucially, 50,000 junior doctors to believe that he was announcing imposition? The junior doctors committee took the unprecedented step of escalating its industrial action on the back of his decision to force through a contract. How can he possibly justify a situation whereby his rhetoric, underpinned by nothing but misplaced bravado and bullishness, could lead to the first ever all-out strike of junior doctors in the history of the NHS? He must get back to the negotiating table, and quickly.
We also need answers to the following questions. Do all NHS employers have free rein to amend the terms of the Health Secretary’s so-called model contract? Does this include non-foundation trusts? Is it legal for Health Education England effectively to blackmail trusts on the part of the Health Secretary by withholding funding, if that is what Government policy now is? Finally, it seems there are two basic scenarios: either he has known all along that he does not have the power to impose a new contract, and so all this is part of a cynical attempt to take on a trade union, or he was oblivious to the fact that he did not have the power, in which case, what is going on in his Department? This is no way to run the NHS. Today’s revelations call into question the motives, judgment and competence of the Health Secretary, and the House, doctors and patients deserve some answers.
That is a truly desperate attempt to divert attention from the single biggest question that people in this House want answered: does the Labour party support or not support a strike that will see the care of thousands of people up and down the country suffer?
Let me answer the hon. Lady’s question very directly. Yes, we are imposing a new contract, and we are doing it with the greatest of regret, because over three years—with three independent processes, 75 meetings and 73 concessions that we made in a huge effort to try to come to a negotiated settlement—the BMA refused to talk. With respect, I think Sir David Dalton, the trusted chief executive of Salford Royal, understands these things better than the hon. Lady has shown she does today. After working very hard, he concluded that a negotiated settlement was not possible. That is why I announced on 11 February that I would introduce a new contract.
As for foundation trusts, if the hon. Lady had listened to my statement she would know that it is true that foundation trusts have the freedom to introduce new contracts on pay and conditions. They can choose to exercise that freedom, but none of them has done so. She asked about non-foundation trusts. They do not have that freedom, and that is why we will be introducing a new contract for everyone.
Let me say this to the hon. Lady. There has been a lot of talk about this, but none of it as specious as the story that she planted in The Guardian this morning about the Government changing their position, which was absolute nonsense. We have not changed our position. The fact of the matter is that the Government have bent over backwards to avoid this strike. Right now, the people refusing to talk, whether it be on rota design with hospital managers or training reform with the academy, are not the Government but the BMA. Had it negotiated on Saturday pay, as it said it would, we would have had an agreement by now. Instead, we have a strike—the first ever withdrawal of emergency care in NHS history. [Interruption.]
Order. Opposition Members should calm themselves. The Secretary of State is responding, and everybody will be heard.
Rather than try to fabricate some story about the Government changing their position, which the hon. Lady knows perfectly well they are not, she might think about the words that do need to be said in this Chamber this week—about whether or not it is appropriate for the BMA to be telling people to deny life-saving care to patients.
Some people in the NHS have shown great courage in speaking out, even against their own profession: Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS England medical director, Lord Darzi, the former Labour Minister, and Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer. But there is one person on the public stage who has not had the courage to condemn those emergency strikes, and that is the shadow Health Secretary. I hope that, for the sake of her constituents and the reputation of the Labour party, she will say at the earliest opportunity that withdrawing emergency care in pursuance of a pay dispute is wrong, disproportionate and inappropriate, and that the right thing to do now is to show courage to reform these contracts for the benefit of patients and a seven-day NHS.
The BMA has always been a very militant trade union. It has had bitter political battles with just about every Secretary of State that the national health service has had since it started. It has, however, never previously contemplated strike action, withdrawing urgent services in pursuit of what is essentially a pay claim. I do not believe that before this year the Labour party would ever have supported the BMA if it had done so. Does my right hon. Friend agree that as the pressures on the NHS are obviously mounting, with the ageing population and the rising level of demand, it is urgent to move towards a fuller seven-day service, and that it would be totally wrong for him to delay that in the face industrial action or nit-picking legalisms from a shadow Secretary of State who has just discovered what the legal status of foundation hospitals actually is?
My right hon. and learned Friend speaks with huge wisdom and experience. He makes a point about what happened under previous Labour Governments. He might also have said that those were the same Governments that gave us the current badly flawed contracts. Because those previous Labour Governments did not stand up to the BMA and because they ducked difficult decisions, we saw the pay bill balloon and some shocking failures of care. Leadership is not just about talking and negotiating; it is also about acting. That is what Ministers have to do, and in this situation we have a very simple decision to make after three years of talks: do we proceed with the measures necessary to deliver a seven-day NHS and better care for patients, or do we duck those decisions? This Government choose to act.
Yet again, I must pull up the Secretary of State. It is not a case of excess deaths at weekends; it is a case of people admitted at weekends dying within 30 days. He said the same thing again today, and it is being repeated over and over.
The Secretary of State has described, within the same pay envelope, having more doctors at weekends, not fewer during the week, and reducing a maximum of 91 hours to 72 hours. I do not see how the maths of that can possibly add up. We are not managing to cover the rotas that we have, and those rota gaps pose a danger to patients.
I was very disappointed that the equality impact assessment dismissed the impact on women and other people who train less than full-time as acceptable collateral damage. We are facing the first ever all-out strike next week, and I cannot believe that we are not in negotiations. We should be at the table trying to prevent that strike. May I ask the Secretary of State how he plans to get us out of this? He should come back to the table, because that is the only way in which an impasse can ever end.
Let me gently ask the hon. Lady how long she expects us to sit round the table. We have been trying to discuss this for three years. She asked how the maths added up. I will tell her how the maths adds up. It adds up because we are putting an extra £10 billion, in real terms, into the NHS over the course of this Parliament. Conservatives put money into the NHS. The Scottish National party, incidentally, takes money out of the NHS.
The hon. Lady referred to the equality impact assessment selectively. She normally pays very good attention to detail, but the paragraphs from which she quoted related to changes that were agreed to by the BMA. What she did not quote was paragraph 95, which says that the overall assessment of the new contract is that it is “fair and justified” and will promote “equality of opportunity”. Why is that? Because shorter hours, fewer consecutive nights and fewer consecutive weekends make this a pro-women contract that will help people who are juggling important home and work responsibilities.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, notwithstanding the appalling nature of the decision that, for the first time during strike action, junior doctors may not provide life-saving care for young children and other vulnerable patients, that decision is also totally incomprehensible, given that the doctors’ own leader has said that it is indefensible to take such action?
It is totally incomprehensible, and I know that many doctors will be wrestling with their consciences. However, I think that, in the context of the House, this could be an occasion for us to put aside party differences. I think that there was a time when Members in all parts of the House would have condemned the withdrawal of life-saving care in a pay dispute, but that day has sadly passed, and it is the Conservatives who must now show leadership in this regard. As we heard from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), the NHS faces huge challenges, but we will not tackle those challenges if we allow obstructive unions to hold a gun to the Government’s head and refuse to allow us to proceed with really important changes—modern contracts that will allow safer care for patients and better terms for doctors. We are determined to do the right thing for the NHS, and, indeed, to be the party of the NHS.
If the Secretary of State wanted to do a deal with anybody, does he not think it is a bit unwise to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) that she planted a story in a newspaper? That is accusing her of reprehensible conduct. I think he ought to be looking at withdrawing that. I am an expert on this subject. Somebody said to me on the picket line, “Do you know what sums up this Government, Dennis? ‘When first they practise to deceive’”—I had better not finish it. [Interruption.] “Oh what a magic web they weave, when first they practise to deceive.” That is what they are.
Well, if planting a story in a newspaper is reprehensible, I do not think many Members of this House would survive the scrutiny of the hon. Gentleman’s very high code of moral conduct for long. Let me say this to him and to all Labour Members: we should be honest about the problems we face in the NHS, whatever those problems might be, and we should not sweep them under the carpet. One problem that we face—not the only one—is the excess mortality rates for people admitted at weekends. There was a time when Labour Members would have recognised that their own constituents were the people who depended most on services such as the NHS and who had the most to gain from a full seven-day NHS. Labour Members should be supporting us, not opposing us.
We are eight days away from an unprecedented full walkout of junior doctors, including the withdrawal of emergency care. Our constituents want to know whether they will be safe on the strike days. Will the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State join me in calling on the BMA at least to exempt casualty departments and maternity units from this walkout? We know that, even with goodwill arrangements in place to bring people back in when hospitals are overwhelmed, the delays will cost lives.
As ever, my hon. Friend speaks very constructively on this issue. She is absolutely right to say that the departments at most risk are emergency departments, maternity departments and intensive care units. Those are the areas that we are most keen to ensure will maintain critical doctor cover over the two strike days that are planned. I really hope that the BMA will co-operate with NHS England as we identify where we think the gaps might be. We will share that information with the BMA and I hope very much that it will help us to plug those gaps with junior doctors, because in the end no one wants there to be any kind of tragedy. We all have a responsibility to work to ensure that that happens.
The Secretary of State will be aware that, when it comes to a medical diagnosis, words and clarity matter. The same applies to us as politicians. He has said today that he is imposing a contract, in contrast with what his legal team are saying to the doctors. For the avoidance of doubt, will he set out explicitly what legal powers he thinks he has to do that?
I am very happy to do so. We are introducing a new contract from this August, and it will be for all junior doctors. It will go progressively through the different ranks of junior doctors and, over the course of the next year, the vast majority of new doctors will move on to the new contracts. The reason that we did not use the word “impose” in the original statement was not a matter of semantics. We are proceeding with this new contract and everyone will move on to it, which is the gist of what most people mean by this. What we are not doing is changing existing contracts, so when people move trust or move to a new position, they will move on to a new contract. That is why we have used the term “introduction” of new contracts. However, it would have been much better if the introduction of the new contracts had been done through a negotiated process. That is why we took such trouble: we went to 75 meetings and made 73 different concessions in order to try to do this on a negotiated basis. Very regrettably, that proved not to be possible, which is why we took the difficult decision to proceed with these new contracts anyway.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is totally unjustified for doctors to demand higher premium rates at weekends when almost all other NHS workers, and indeed most other working people across the economy, do not get them? It is completely disrespectful for the BMA to suggest that doctors’ lives are somehow uniquely disproportionately inconvenienced by Saturday shifts and that those of other people are not.
It is true that the BMA rejected Saturday premium pay that was more generous than the Saturday premium pay offered to nurses, healthcare assistants or paramedics working in the same hospitals and operating theatres as those doctors. Many people will ask whether that was a reasonable position to take, given that the doctors’ overall pay was protected. I think they will also ask whether, even if the doctors disagreed with the Government on that point, it was appropriate or proportionate for them to withdraw life-saving emergency care from patients in the pursuance of their disagreement. I wonder whether that is something that will shape many people’s confidence in what the NHS stands for.
I have been disappointed by the Secretary of State, and by his language and tone, during this urgent question. Looking at how he has responded here, we can understand why the discussions and talks have ended up as they have done. He asked how long we should do this for; I would say, “As long as it takes.” The problem with the negotiations so far has been the Government’s failure to respond to the BMA and to work with junior doctors, who do care about their patients and do want to provide a good quality of care.
I think that sums up the difference between the two parties. It is true that Labour would take “as long it as takes” to negotiate the changes, which is why we ended up with poor contracts in 1999, 2003 and 2004. After three years of trying to get reforms to contracts to make the NHS safer for patients and better for doctors, we need to proceed with a manifesto commitment. Ministers have to decide and act as well as talk. We did not choose this outcome and tried hard for a negotiated decision, but when the hon. Lady says that talks should go on for “as long as it takes”, she is actually saying that the other party has a veto over change. No one should have a veto over an elected Government’s manifesto commitments.
One thing that the whole House can agree on is that the postponement of treatment or operations is never cost-free for patients. Every hospital has an ethics committee, so does my right hon. Friend agree that all striking doctors should consult their hospital’s ethics committee? Does he agree that the removal of emergency cover by any doctor for industrial reasons would be unlikely to meet with the approval of any medical ethic committee? Finally, does he agree that it is unacceptable for any doctor to act unethically, and that that would place him or her in serious jeopardy?
My right hon. Friend speaks wisely. A whole chorus of senior doctors, from Professor Sir Bruce Keogh to Dame Sally Davies to Lord Darzi, have urged doctors to think hard about the ethics involved. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that consulting the ethics committee in the trust is a wise thing to do. Doctors might also take note of what the General Medical Council said about it being increasingly difficult to justify the withdrawal of emergency care and about the ethics involved. In the end, this is a personal decision for doctors, and it is about whether it is right to withdraw emergency care from patients in an industrial dispute about pay. This is a bridge that the NHS has never crossed before. It is a very big decision, not only for the NHS, but for every single doctor inside it.
On the basis of the Secretary of State’s previous comments, and particularly his opening comments, is he absolutely confident that he has the legal power to impose the new contract?
In November, the BMA promised to negotiate on Saturday pay. Has it kept that promise?
No, it has not. If it had, I do not think that we would be having a strike. I think we would have a negotiated settlement, and the NHS would be able to proceed with the contracts, which have important benefits for doctors, such as reducing the number of consecutive nights or consecutive long days that they can be asked to work. The refusal to negotiate on the crucial issue of Saturday pay, which is not a reduction in take-home pay because the reduction in Saturday premiums was made up for with an increase in basic pay, was what led Sir David Dalton to say that a negotiated settlement was not possible. It is a matter of huge regret, but I am afraid that it leaves the Government with no option but to proceed in the way that we are doing.
A senior executive at Babcock once said to me that there are employers who could pick a fight with themselves. During 30 years in the world of work, I cannot remember a legitimate sense of grievance so grotesquely mishandled. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that he is poisoning relationships with a generation of junior doctors? Will he not get back to the negotiating table and stay there until the dispute is resolved?
Without going over the previous points about the three years we have been around the negotiating table, I just say this to the hon. Gentleman: I think there are legitimate grievances for junior doctors, and they extend well beyond the contract. There are some big issues with the way training has changed over the years, and there are some serious issues we need to address about the quality of life for junior doctors—sometimes they have a partner working in a different city and they are unable to get training posts nearby to each other. We want to address those issues, which is why we set up a review, led by Professor Dame Sue Bailey, the president of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. Who is refusing to talk to that review, and refusing to co-operate with it? It is the BMA. That is why it is so important that people get around the table and start to talk about how we resolve these problems, rather than remaining in entrenched positions.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the new contract provides a far better work-life balance than the current contract, which doctors tell me cannot even help them to provide and plan for important family events?
Absolutely. One of the key changes in the new contract that we hope to see is much more predictability about weekend working, and a sense for junior doctors that when they do go into work at the weekends they will get the same support around them as they would during the week; it can be incredibly stressful when junior doctors are called into work at the moment. All these things are improvements, and what has made it very difficult is that these improvements have been misrepresented by the BMA to its own members, so that people have become very suspicious about these changes. That is why we tried so hard to get a negotiated outcome, and why we have been so disappointed that that has not been possible.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that the studies of mortality rates within 30 days of weekend admissions have in no case said that the rostering of junior doctors is a problem? Instead of talking about others negotiating, why does he not take responsibility and get around the negotiating table himself?
With respect, not very far away from the hon. Lady’s constituency is the Salford Royal, whose very respected chief executive concluded that a negotiated outcome was not possible. That is why I reluctantly took the decision to proceed with the new contracts. As for the studies on mortality rates, we have had eight studies in the past six years, six of which have said that staffing levels at weekends are one of the things that need to be investigated. The clinical standards say that we need senior decision makers to check people who are admitted at the weekends, and junior doctors, when they are experienced, count as senior decision makers, which is why they have a very important role to play in delivering seven-day care.
I know that the BMA very properly balloted its members before embarking on a policy of industrial action, but has it yet balloted junior doctors on the specific question of withdrawing emergency cover?
No, it has not, and I think that is what is causing many junior members to pause for thought. Many people say that this escalation is something that the BMA should consults its members on, once again.
Does the Secretary of State accept that we need closure on the junior doctors’ strike, for patients and for doctors, to enable the NHS to concentrate on issues such as the projected £8 billion shortfall in the NHS; the GP out-of-hours services, which are under real pressure; the worst ever NHS performance in the first month of this year; and the long-term threat to the financial viability of our whole health and social care system?
We do face many challenges; the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we need to focus on those, and so the sooner we resolve this dispute with the BMA, the better. I simply say to him that if we were to carry on negotiations that were clearly not going anywhere at all, this dispute would go on for even longer. We have been trying to resolve these issues for a very, very long time, and in the end one has to decide if one is going to do what it takes to move forward.
Mr Speaker, if every one of the 650 MPs came to you and said that one of their constituents was dying unnecessarily every five weeks—that is the lower estimated number of excess deaths; it would be once every two weeks at the higher estimated number—I would hope that you would grant this kind of debate every day until we had a system that was safer for patients and junior doctors, and until we brought into the open the nameless characters behind the BMA negotiators. They refuse to come out into the open and argue their case on its merits, and to say why they will not discuss Saturday pay.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Part of the hallmark of this Government’s approach to the NHS has to be honesty about where we have too many avoidable deaths, and where there is the weekend effect for people admitted to hospital at the weekends. We have a big responsibility in that regard. The reason why we discharge that responsibility is that we believe in the NHS. We want the NHS to be the safest, highest-quality system in the world. Just as this Government have pioneered reforms that have dramatically improved the quality of state education, so too we need equal reforms in the NHS. That is why it is absolutely right to say that we have to focus on these things and debate them in this House. We should not automatically say that there is someone who must be blamed when we are dealing with these difficult situations. Unfortunately, one of the things that has led to feelings running high in this dispute has been the sense of blame being tossed around, when what the Government want to do is try to solve the problem.
May I tell the Secretary of State about my admission to hospital in the early hours of a Saturday morning? I spent five and a half weeks in intensive care. I had many conversations with doctors during the time I was in St Mary’s hospital, Paddington. I ask him to look at the circumstances of those doctors today, as they do work weekends. We do have a weekend NHS. It is not true to say that the lives of people like me who are admitted at the weekend are not saved, because it is the doctors who make it possible for us to survive. Will he stop talking down the medical profession and start defending the doctors?
With respect, that precisely encapsulates the problem. The hon. Gentleman has interpreted the fact that I want to do something about excess mortality rates, which mean that a person admitted at the weekend has an 11% to 15% higher chance of death than if they were admitted in the week—that is proven in a very comprehensive study—as an attack on the medical profession. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was actually the medical profession—the royal colleges and Professor Sir Bruce Keogh—that first pointed out this problem of the weekend effect. We are simply doing something about it.
The Health Secretary rightly mentioned the excellent Salford Royal, which the BMA has used to suggest that the new contract is not necessary, because of the progress that it has made on seven-day working and on Sir Bruce Keogh’s clinical standards. However, is it not the case that what might be right in a large hospital in a densely urban centre might not be applicable right across our national health service? Is that not why the very radical changes to working practices that he is rightly prosecuting are necessary?
Yes, there are some hospitals that have managed to eliminate the difference between weekend and weekday mortality under the current contracts, but there are only a few. Having talked more widely with the medical profession, it is clear that we need a sustained national effort—contract reform is part of that effort—if we are to promise uniformly across the NHS that we will provide every patient with the same high-quality care, every day of the week. Part of that is having a modern contract for junior doctors that deals with the anomalies that they themselves recognise in the current contract; that is why this is the moment for wider reforms.
This is clearly a fight that the Secretary of State went looking for because he expected to put himself on the side of the patients. The trouble is that it has not worked out like that, because the patients, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), use these services and know that junior doctors are in work at the weekend; it is some other procedures that are sometimes not available. Their feelings now will be fear and anxiety that they, their children or their elderly relatives will get sick, fall or need help on strike day. They will be seriously, seriously worried about that. Does the Secretary of State take any responsibility for the situation that he has caused?
On the contrary, I take full responsibility for delivering a safer NHS for patients. That is my job. If the hon. Lady wants to talk about patients, perhaps she might listen to the comments of one of the most famous patient safety campaigners in the country, James Titcombe, who tragically lost his son because of mistakes made at Morecambe Bay. He said that there has been
“much progress towards a safer NHS in recent years”,
but that there is
“much more to do to reverse the cover-up culture that flourished under Labour.”
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that on the last occasion that the BMA called on junior doctors to take strike action, that call was rejected by 47% of junior doctors? Now the BMA wants junior doctors to remove emergency cover. What does he think it will say about the BMA’s mandate for future action if fewer than half of junior doctors support its call for further strikes?
That is a very important point to make. On the BMA’s mandate for the current strike action, many hon. Members have said today that we should get round the negotiating table. They may not be aware that the BMA decided to ballot for strike action before even sitting down to talk to the Government about our plans. It decided to go straight to a ballot for industrial action on a false prospectus of the Government’s planned changes. That sowed many of the misunderstandings in the current dispute.
Like most hon. Members, I have had many doctors coming to my constituency surgery—not junior doctors, but registrars, on whom our hospitals rely. They have sometimes been in tears. They have asked me if the Secretary of State will define exactly what he means by a seven-day NHS, because clearly there is seven-day care. Is it just an ideological mantra?
I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman’s definition of “ideological” is. If “ideological” is giving safer care to patients, it is an ideology that we can all share, but I will tell him exactly the answer to his question, which he can relay to his constituents. What we want to do is reduce the difference between the mortality rates for people admitted in the week and at weekends. We have identified four key clinical standards that we believe are necessary to do that. It is by making sure that we can deliver those four clinical standards across the NHS that we will deliver this strategy.
Can my right hon. Friend imagine the distress and the anxiety felt by constituents who have come to see me over the past six years because they are concerned about the treatment of their relatives admitted at the weekend, when they see the BMA and the Labour party appearing to use them and other patients as hostages in a long-running dispute that must come to an end?
My hon. Friend is right. What patients want is a safe NHS where it does not matter on which day of the week they are admitted if something goes badly wrong. The big surprise here is that this is not something that the whole House can unite behind. It is something that people who believe in the NHS, as I think we all do, should strongly support. We are standing up for those patients, and I hope Labour, the party that founded the NHS, might do the same.
I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could update the House on any legal action against the Department, and on whether the Department will be defending it.
We have two cases ongoing, and we are defending them vigorously.
I, too, have been contacted by a number of junior doctors who are increasingly disillusioned by the way that the BMA is handling the dispute, and especially by the militant tendency, which has been hell-bent on strike action for many months. Will the Secretary of State meet other groups of junior doctors who want to resolve the dispute, recognise that a reformed contract is needed, and want to get back to looking after patients?
Of course I am delighted to engage with junior doctors, and I have been talking to a number of them over recent months. I agree with my hon. Friend. My observation from talking to junior doctors is that most of the time I am with them, they are not talking about things they do not like about the new contracts. They are concerned about things to do with their training and quality of life—things that I think we can sort out outside the current contractual negotiations. As my hon. Friend has correctly been passing on to them, there are many things in the new contract that will benefit junior doctors, and we should make sure that everyone knows about them.
How can the Secretary of State claim that he is motivated by a desire for a seven-day NHS when he and others in the coalition Government legislated to allow hospitals to make up to 49% of their money from private patients? If hospitals achieve that 49%, what impact will that have on mortality rates for NHS patients?
The difference between those of us on the Government side of the House and those on the Opposition side is that we do not have an ideological view about a trust wanting to offer some private treatment in order to benefit its NHS patients. That is what some trusts are doing, within very strict constraints. I think that most people know that all the scare stories that were put out about the Health and Social Care Bill in 2012 have not materialised. We are finding that trusts are being very sensible about making sure they get that balance right. Indeed, in certain circumstances it makes a big difference to improving NHS care.
The key thing is looking after patient safety, so will my right hon. Friend consider changing the law so that hospitals such as Derriford hospital can make use of dedicated military doctors to fulfil that service if it is needed?
My hon. Friend always makes important suggestions that can benefit his constituency, and rightly so. I do not think that there is a need to change the law for that to happen; if military help were needed, I think the military would stand ready to offer it. At the moment, we are making contingency plans by drawing on the consultant workforce, who are not involved in industrial action, and our hope is that A&E departments throughout the country will be covered by that extra support.
If the Health Secretary is unable to impose the original contract, how can people be expected to abide by a new contract that is not legally binding? Does he agree that maintaining a constant approach is absolutely vital, particularly in a fifth walkout, which could involve everyone? What actions is he taking to restore faith in the NHS among both the staff and the general public?
Just to be absolutely clear, the new contract is legally binding and it will apply to all junior doctors in the NHS. On restoring confidence, obviously morale is low at the height of an industrial relations dispute. I think the real way to restore confidence is to point out to the doctors who work incredibly hard inside the NHS that the Government are this year giving the NHS the sixth biggest funding increase in its history, that we are committed to making the NHS the safest and highest-quality system in the world, and that we believe that if that happens it will also be a better place for them to work. I believe that all those things will come together, but obviously there is a very difficult period that we have to get through first.
Against the background of Kettering general hospital being under huge pressure, there is a great deal of local sympathy for junior doctors, but increasingly people are bemused as to what the strike is about, given that the contract involves a reduction in hours from 91 to 72 and a 13.5% increase in basic pay. My constituents are opposed to strike action, and they are completely opposed to any strike action that involves the withdrawal of emergency cover.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am sure that that position is shared by many members of the public. I think people are very perplexed, because both sides in the January negotiations concluded that there was only one area of outstanding difference, which was Saturday pay. I adopted a compromise position on Saturday pay, which I thought was the fairest thing to do, but the BMA was not prepared to countenance any flexibility on that whatsoever. I therefore had to make the very difficult decision of whether we go forward, or whether we do not address the big issues that we need to address for a seven-day NHS. I share his concern about whether the strikes are really worth it, and I am concerned about the impact on the residents of Kettering.
If the Secretary of State is correct that he has the legal power to impose contracts, can he tell the House from where that power derives? Can he also explain why the Government’s legal team failed to argue that case?
I hope the hon. Lady understands that I am not going to go into the details of the legal cases that we are currently arguing. However, let me make it clear that the Secretary of State does have that power and that we are using it correctly, and we will argue that case very strongly in the High Court.
Many hundreds of operations were cancelled during the last strike. The next strike will see the unprecedented step of emergency cover being withdrawn, and many junior doctors are themselves worried about that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for the BMA’s leaders, who are calling for the strike, to heed the worries of those junior doctors and of patients, and to call it off?
I absolutely agree. It is entirely legitimate to disagree with the Government of the day about contract reform—we have tried to make the case as to why that reform is important—but it is wrong for patients to pay the price for that disagreement. While the NHS can cope with the withdrawal of labour for elective care, it is a much bigger deal when emergency care is withdrawn, and people throughout the NHS are extremely worried about the impact of that. Doctors should also worry about how the public will view their profession if they proceed with this wholly unnecessary step.
I am glad the Secretary of State has come to the Chamber to answer the urgent question—I witnessed for myself his eagerness to get here as he sprinted across Portcullis House.
There is a real lack of clarity in this debate. “Agenda for Change” staff get paid a premium rate for working unsocial hours. Foundation trusts’ freedom to set rates allows them only to improve conditions and pay, not to diminish them. May I add that 98% of those who voted in the BMA’s ballot supported industrial action, including the full withdrawal of labour? May I suggest that the Secretary of State arm himself with the facts and get back round the negotiating table?
The hon. Lady is right that I sprinted here—I was a little concerned that Defence questions might not last the full hour, although they did, and I am sure Mr Speaker is pleased about that. The point I would make about the ballot, which did receive the overwhelming support of junior doctors, is that it happened before they knew what the deal on the table was. On the heated issue of Saturday premium rates, we ended up with a proposal where the Government agreed to pay premium pay on Saturdays for any doctors who work one Saturday or more a month. At the moment, therefore, we have this extreme step—the withdrawal of emergency care—to boost the pay of doctors who work less than one Saturday a month. I think many members of the public will say that that is not proportionate.
Let us be clear: this is an old-fashioned wage dispute, run by one of the most militant long-standing trade unions. My constituents are asking why the highest-paid NHS workers should be paid extra for working Saturdays when some of the lowest-paid NHS workers are not.
My hon. Friend is right. Doctors who strike will need to explain that to paramedics, healthcare assistants and nurses working in their own operating theatres. In the end, that issue is why this strike is happening. The BMA said in writing in November that it would negotiate on Saturday pay; it went back on its word in February. As a result, this is the only outstanding issue, and we now have this extreme step—the withdrawal of emergency care. I find that very hard to justify.
At the beginning, the Secretary of State said he was publishing a model contract, which he believed trusts, including foundation trusts, would by convention implement, but he has subsequently said that there is a legal duty that he can impose. He needs to clarify that, and it would be helpful if he could publish the legal advice. That would not be a surprise in the judicial review cases, because his lawyers are presumably doing their skeleton arguments. We have a right to know the answers to these questions.
With respect, all the hon. Gentleman needs to do is look in Hansard at my response to the urgent question, which made it clear that we have the right to introduce a new contract. On the basis of the conventions that currently apply in the NHS, that contract will apply to all junior doctors. Foundation trusts do indeed have the right to set their own terms and conditions, but they choose not to do so.
This unprecedented withdrawal of emergency care seems to revolve principally around the issue of pay on Saturdays. Will the Secretary of State clarify whether pay uplifts will continue to be available to junior doctors who work regular Saturdays?
Absolutely. More to the point, any doctors who see an increase in their Saturday workload will see a significant increase in their pay, including their premium pay. The contract is designed to make sure that we reward people who work the longest and most antisocial hours, including women, but in a way that means that we can afford to deliver a seven-day NHS, which is why it is good for patients as well.
Many weekend admissions are for urgent cases such as heart attacks and strokes, while many weekday admissions are for elective surgery and other non-life-threatening conditions. Is not that the main reason for the myth of excess weekend deaths?
Why will the anxiety of this strike be felt only by patients in England, while the other nations have settled? Is it because of bad negotiation or because the health service is never really safe in Tory hands?
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would have the courage to say that in Wales, but let me answer his question directly. The 15% increase in mortality rates for people admitted at weekends falls to 11% when we take account of the more chronic conditions, so there is a small reduction, but the mortality rate is still significant.
May I take the Secretary of State back to the question he did not answer when it was asked by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State? If the Government are now arguing that the Secretary of State does have the power to impose a contract, can he explain why Government solicitors did not argue that case in their letter of 15 April? Can he point to where it is proved that he actually has that power?
We do have that power by law. The letter we put out in defence against the legal action that has been taken against the Government explains very clearly why and how we have that power. It is all written there for the hon. Gentleman to see. I assure him that, on something as contentious and difficult as this, we take every care to make sure that we are acting within the law.
If I were Secretary of State for Health, I would feel personally responsible for this unprecedented action taking place on my watch, and I would do everything I could to build bridges to make sure it did not happen and that patients were not threatened in the way we all fear. What is the Secretary of State doing to build trust between himself and the NHS workforce?
I will tell the hon. Gentleman one of the things we are doing, which is turning around the hospital in his own constituency, which is no longer in special measures because the quality of care has improved dramatically. What else are we doing? Over three years, there have been 75 meetings, 73 concessions and three different independent processes. We have tried everything to get a negotiated outcome, but in the end we have to do the thing that is right for patients.
The Secretary of State needs to face reality: there is a recruitment and retention crisis of junior doctors in paediatrics, A&E, intensive therapy units and acute medicine. Those specialisms demand seven-day working and people working unsocial hours. The junior doctors know that these contracts will make the situation worse, so why is the Secretary of State not doing everything in his power to get people to sit around the table—even if that does not include him personally or David Dalton—to have negotiations to address the real issues concerning junior doctors?
That is exactly what we have been doing. Indeed, there are a number of changes in the contracts that will be beneficial for people working in A&E departments, as has been recognised by the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Cliff Mann. The difficulty we have had in terms of morale is that we have been faced with the BMA, which has consistently misrepresented the contents of the new contract to its own members. Nothing could be more damaging for morale than that. What we will need to do, I am afraid, is wait until people are on the new contracts, and then they will actually see that they are a big improvement on their current terms and conditions. That is the right thing for doctors and the right thing for patients.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is great concern in Wrexham about the disappearance in Peru of a local cabinet maker and craftsman, Harry Corder Greaves. I have spoken today to the Foreign Office, which has been extremely helpful both to the family and to me, and I am grateful for the support that it is offering. May I, through your good offices, Mr Speaker, make it clear to the Government of Peru that the people of Wrexham and the wider community would be extremely grateful for any efforts that that Government can put in to try to find this young man, who is 29 years old, and whose family is going through terrible distress at the present time?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. Although this is not a matter for the Chair to determine, the hon. Gentleman has made his understandable concern about his constituent extremely clear. He will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, and his concern will doubtless be conveyed to the relevant Ministers. I hope and trust that they will have contact, as appropriate, of a kind that I hope will, in due course and preferably soon, allay the concerns of the hon. Gentleman.
Appointment of the Commissioner for Public Appointments
Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
Select Committee statement
We come now to two Select Committee statements. In a moment, I shall ask Mr Bernard Jenkin to address the House. He will do so for up to 10 minutes, during which I remind the House that no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of his statement, I will call Members to put questions on its subject, and I will call Mr Bernard Jenkin to respond to those in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. Interventions should be questions and should be brief. The Front Bench team may take part in questioning. The same procedure will be followed for the second Select Committee statement.
These are extremely important matters, but I hope that the House will understand if I express the hope that together, the two Select Committee statements do not consume more than 40 minutes of our time, because there are important Backbench Business Committee debates—two of them, to be precise—to which we need to move on, and in which I want to accommodate all interested would-be contributors. With that, I call the Chair of the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs, Mr Bernard Jenkin.
I am grateful to have this opportunity to make a statement on the report by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee entitled “Appointment of the Commissioner for Public Appointments”, which we published last week. The post of Commissioner for Public Appointments was established in 1995 following the recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its first report, the Nolan report. The Nolan report recommended the creation of the post as a means of enhancing public confidence in the public appointments process and the quality of appointments made under it. The role of the Commissioner for Public Appointments is set out in the Public Appointments Order in Council 2015.
Since the post and office of the commissioner were established in 1995, there have been four Commissioners for Public Appointments. From 2011 to 2016, the post of CPA was held jointly with the role of First Civil Service Commissioner by Sir David Normington. However, with Sir David’s departure, the two posts of First Civil Service Commissioner and CPA were advertised separately. That was the result of a recommendation made to Ministers by Sir Gerry Grimstone prior to the publication of his review of public appointments. As indicated by the recruitment advertising for this post, the commissioner will be expected to work with the Government in implementing the Grimstone review’s recommendations. The Grimstone review, however, was published only in March this year.
After two hearings with the Government’s preferred candidate, the right hon. Peter Riddell, and after some discussion, we have given Mr Riddell a qualified endorsement as Commissioner for Public Appointments. He is well known to many in this House as a respected political journalist and commentator. He was appointed a Privy Counsellor for his work on the Gibson inquiry into the possible illegal rendition of UK detainees. He has also been chair of the Hansard Society and, most recently and perhaps relevantly, director of the Institute for Government.
PACAC remains concerned, however, that the changes proposed by the Grimstone review, as interpreted by the Government, alongside other changes, such as the introduction of enlarged ministerial offices—whereby Ministers, instead of the civil service, can themselves make appointments to their private offices—may be leading to an increasing politicisation of senior public appointments. We will report on our inquiry into the Grimstone proposals after the code of practice for public appointments and the new Order in Council have been published.
The proposals are controversial. They propose a significant removal of the powers exercised by the office of the CPA over the public appointments process. Ministers, instead of the CPA, would set the rules by drawing up the new governance code. Ministers could decide to run an appointment process without referral to the CPA. Ministers, not the CPA, could determine the membership of appointment panels, including the independent member. Ministers could include on selection panels an official acting as a Ministers’ representative without the consent of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Ministers would have latitude to interview and appoint someone even if the selection panel had marked him or her below the line.
The new Order in Council and the new code of conduct for public appointments have yet to be published even in draft form. Publication of the Grimstone review was originally expected last year, but it was held back. There was a gap of only three days between the publication of the Grimstone review, along with the Government response, and Mr Riddell being named as the preferred candidate. That left us with no opportunity, by the time of Mr Riddell’s appearance before the Committee on 21 March, to consider the Grimstone review.
We concluded that it would have been inappropriate for us to make a report on the Government’s preferred candidate that could have been regarded as an implicit and unqualified endorsement of the Government’s interpretation of the Grimstone proposals. After our initial evidence session with Mr Riddell before Easter, we therefore issued a call for evidence on the Grimstone review. We took evidence from the outgoing CPA, Sir David Normington, from Sir Gerry Grimstone himself and from my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General prior to concluding our pre-appointment scrutiny of Mr Riddell on 12 April. I am very grateful to the Government for delaying Mr Riddell’s appointment while we completed our pre-appointment scrutiny.
We intend to report on the implications of Sir Gerry Grimstone’s review shortly. We will welcome any further written evidence. The present Committee on Standards in Public Life has warned that this could
“all add up to a public perception of a system which was being operated under increased political patronage. It could also run counter to the intentions to increase transparency and diversity.”
The outgoing CPA, Sir David Normington, has expressed his opposition to the proposals as a reversal of the Nolan reforms of 20 years ago. Sir Gerry Grimstone has made it clear that transparency rather than the direct powers currently held by the commissioner would enable the commissioner to remain a powerful regulator. However, the Minister for the Cabinet Office has made it clear that the CPA would be consulted by Ministers, but the CPA would no longer have the power to direct an independent appointment process, as now.
PACAC will therefore closely monitor how Mr Riddell works with Ministers to implement the Grimstone review’s recommendations, and how he responds to the recommendations that PACAC have yet to make on the Grimstone review. PACAC will underwrite Mr Riddell’s authority and independence as the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and we will make use of our ability to carry out follow-up scrutiny, if necessary, to make sure that any concerns we have are heard. We agree with Sir Gerry Grimstone that the role of the CPA should be robust and authoritative, and should not be undermined.
Furthermore, in the light of the Grimstone review’s proposed changes to the public appointments process and in line with other roles, such as those of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the chairs of the Office for Budget Responsibility and the UK Statistics Authority, PACAC recommends that future appointments of the Commissioner for Public Appointments should be subject to a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. This will be an additional safeguard, and act as a public reassurance that the independence and status of the Commissioner for Public Appointments is not threatened. We also recommend that a similar procedure should apply to the post of First Civil Service Commissioner. I am very pleased to present this report to Parliament.
I commend the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee for his report and today’s statement.
Sir David Normington, the outgoing Commissioner for Public Appointments, said that the Government’s proposals put at risk 20 years of progress and risk ushering in
“a return to the days of political and personal patronage”.
Indeed, he said that as the commissioner, he would be contacted once a month by the Prime Minister or other Ministers, asking why party donors, office holders or former MPs had not been shortlisted or recommended for posts.
In the light of those concerns, does the hon. Gentleman share our fear that dismantling the powers of the independent Commissioner for Public Appointments will open the door to political cronies being gifted public service jobs either as a reward for donations or to create an army of political enforcers in the public sector? Rather than appointment being made on merit or according to skills or public service ethos, are not the Government putting themselves at risk of accusations of cash for jobs?
I think the danger is not that those things will happen, but that people will say that they may seem to be happening. Curiously, it might make it harder for the Government to put a friend or supporter into a public appointment job if the Minister is more directly involved. The current arrangements were created to protect Ministers.
If Ministers are frustrated that the wrong people are being interviewed, that people are being appointed according to the wrong job specifications or that people with the right skills are not being given an interview, it is up to them to make sure that the job specification for a job is as they think it should be before the recruitment process starts.
I will not defend the public appointments process in total. The Grimstone review has started a much-needed debate about public appointments, but before my Committee and I give a definitive view of Sir Gerry Grimstone’s proposals, we want to consider all the arguments and all the evidence.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and his Committee on their excellent publication and the robustness of their recommendations, and I congratulate him on his statement to the House. What was Mr Riddell’s response when the Committee put the points that my hon. Friend has made to him? Does my hon. Friend foresee Mr Riddell being invited back before the Committee before the end of 12 months?
On the latter point, we certainly intend to give Mr Riddell an opportunity to appear before the Committee before too long to see how he is settling into his new role. We would not have agreed to his appointment unless we were convinced that he was determined to be independent, but with so many of his powers being questioned and with Ministers substantively proposing to take back control of the appointments process, how he carries out the role will be crucial. How he maintains the importance of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments will be very interesting to observe.
We would like whatever changes are made to be made on the basis of consensus. We have picked up a certain amount of—how shall I say it?—tension between civil servants and Ministers about these appointments. There may be an opportunity to build a better understanding of both parties, so that these changes are not necessary.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that to ensure that the best candidates are aware of these opportunities, the vacancies must be promoted far and wide? That would go some way towards ensuring that applications were received from candidates regardless of their race, creed, colour, religion, gender or even the university or school they happened to go to. It would also open up the process to people from different and varied walks of life who could bring their life experience to a different arena. Advertising a job on a specialist website and then phoning round our pals to encourage them to apply is not an effective or appropriate way to attract the strongest candidates.
At a time when the public are rightly demanding more accountability from their elected representatives, the opportunity to apply for jobs such as the Commissioner for Public Appointments should be widely publicised across a spectrum of United Kingdom society to encourage a diverse range of applicants, rather than going down the traditional route, which will reaffirm the public’s view that there is cronyism and engender disenchantment and apathy.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. I thank him for the very diligent work that he puts in on the Committee. I do not think he will mind me putting on the record that in the discussions to which I referred he was one of those who expressed a strong reservation about this appointment, not least because no one could possibly describe Peter Riddell as an outsider to Westminster. Whether an outsider is appropriate for this particular role is debatable. We do not know who else was interviewed for the role, as that is not the job of a Select Committee. One of the frustrations of pre-appointment hearings is that we are not interviewing the person for the job but merely trying to establish in our own minds whether the proposed appointment is an appropriate one and the person has the necessary skills and experience. That is what we concluded, but with reservations. In his evidence, Mr Riddell confirmed his determination to make sure that a much wider pool of people are attracted to public appointments than currently appears to be the case. Certainly, we do not want to go back to the discreet tap on the shoulder—“Why don’t you apply for this job, old boy?”—that used to exist before the Nolan rules were brought into operation.
Are we not going back to pre-Nolan days, which were rife with personal and political patronage? Is this not a case of the role of the commissioner being emasculated? Sir David Normington said that he managed to see off the monthly attempts by the Prime Minister and other Ministers to appoint Tory donors or former MPs to key roles. We will be back in that position. Will that emasculation not be very similar to what has happened with the Government’s adviser on ministerial conduct, where we have seen cases of the most egregious misconduct by Ministers that were not referred to the adviser? We are going back to the bad old days. We have lost so much trust in the parliamentary system in this country. Our reputation was at rock bottom after the great scandal of Members’ expenses; it is now subterranean or worse. Will the implementation of Grimstone’s changes not take us further down that road? How will the Committee make sure that those abuses of patronage do not return?
I am reminded by the hon. Gentleman’s stentorian warnings of the cries of St John the Baptist from the dungeon until his head was presented on a platter. Such warnings are important, and we have to have a system that we can defend against them. People are always going to be suspicious that there has been something of a fix about a public appointment. That is perfectly legitimate. Ultimately, the authority for such appointments rests with Ministers. We want a balanced and transparent approach, with safeguards. I repeat that if Ministers get a grip on the job specifications at the outset of such appointment processes, and have confidence in the independence of the interview panels, there should be no problem with the people of quality they want getting through the interviews. If that is not the case, we need to address that.
I am grateful for the Select Committee’s support for the appointment of Peter Riddell to the post. He is a heavyweight and distinguished public servant. The Grimstone report, which the Chairman of the Committee mentioned, follows the Nolan principles, adding to them the principle of diversity in public appointments. Although the proportion of appointees to such posts who declare a political allegiance is the lowest on record, down from more than 20% in the early 2000s to less than 5% now, transparency is important in this area. On those grounds, it gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to ask the Chairman of the Select Committee a question, rather than the other way around. As a sturdy defender of the principle of parliamentary democracy, does he accept that voters would expect Ministers to make appointments to these vital public roles?
Yes, of course they do. In the end, no public appointment of the general nature that we are talking about is made without a Minister signing off that decision. The question is twofold. First, are Ministers being presented with a choice of candidates that they consider appropriate? If they are, can we be certain that the process has not been fixed to get friends and cronies through the appointment process? We need a balance that the public will respect and have faith in. On job specifications, if we get the process right at the outset, there should be no need for the Minister to complain. If we take away too many safeguards, it is Ministers who will be criticised for the appointments they make, not civil servants who have been sitting on panels and been ignored.
We are most grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee.
Private Members’ Bills
Select Committee statement
I am presenting the third report of the Procedure Committee 2015-16. On private Members’ Bills, the Government are in the last-chance saloon. I adore this place, and I adore taking part in debates, but for so many good, hard-working and committed people here, Fridays are becoming no-go zones. The private Member’s Bill process is in total disrepute, and I hope that we can bring it back from the edge in the months ahead. If we cannot, I see a world where private Members’ Bills as we know them cease to exist. People in this place are doing so much good work in their constituencies and on legislative matters that they will not be willing to give up their time for something that many would say—indeed, as tens of thousands of people are now saying in petitions—is broken.
Let me bring the House’s attention to our report. The current system is designed to fail. We do not recommend getting rid of the ballot system in its entirety, but at the start of each Parliament it creates a scenario in which people put their name into a lottery and if they are lucky—or, indeed, unlucky—their name is drawn out and they are bombarded with worthy causes to take forward as legislation. That is for Opposition Members. Government Back Benchers are bombarded by bright and good ideas from the Whips, and they are seen as another avenue for the Government to get their legislation on the books.
That means that either we have handout Bills, which are worthy but boring, or we have Back-Bench Bills proposed by Opposition Members, a lot of which, to be fair, are frankly ill thought through and perhaps do not deserve to become law. That is how the system is structured and what it creates. Our key recommendation is to give the Backbench Business Committee a role in how private Members’ Bills are conducted in this place.
Our report suggests that up to four Bills—the first four Fridays—should be decided by the Backbench Business Committee. I hope that will mean that groups of Members, or individual Members with a good legislative proposition, can invest a great deal of time—perhaps upwards of a year—working on that proposition, talking to Ministers and respected Members in this place, and building coalitions in and outside Parliament. They can then take that legislative idea before the Backbench Business Committee and say, “This is our work. This is what underpins our legislative idea. It is not a flight of fancy. It has real support in this place and out in the wider community.” The Committee will decide whether a great deal of work underpins that proposition and whether it deserves to be heard in Parliament. That is for the first four Bills. The Committee could decide in one year that no Bills are worthy of one of those sought-after slots, but in other Sessions it might decide that four Bills are worthy of being taken forward.
We recommend that, on the first seven Fridays, the first private Member’s Bill on the Order Paper gets a guaranteed vote on Second Reading. That is important because a lot of people do not turn up, thinking, understandably and with demonstrable proof, that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), while opining often on things of importance that matter to him, might fail to express himself in a measured period of time—to put it generously—but instead orate for vast acres of time. I am afraid that a lot of people, as much as they love him and other hon. Members who specialise in boring the House to tears, find better things to do with their time.
Our proposals, however, would provide protections even for my hon. Friend—I do not want to ruin his Fridays. If a Bill, when it came out of Committee and on to Report, still did not meet with his approval, he could do what he does best. I am hoping, however, that if we allow the first seven Bills at least to get to Committee, the sponsors will have a significant amount of time in which to talk to Ministers, build support and perhaps iron out some of the problems that would otherwise lead the Bill to be talked out.
We suggest reducing the number of Bills in the ballot from 20 to 14 to ensure better and more thorough scrutiny. Of those 14, four, potentially, could be assigned by the Backbench Business Committee and a further 10 through the ballot, but if the Committee decided that nothing was worthy of being introduced by it to the House, there would be 14 in the ballot. There is a proposal to change the name from “private Members’ Bills” to “Back-Bench Bills” but there are people in the House who might not like that, and we cannot force anything on the House; all this can be contested in debate.
We recommend changing the system whereby Members have dozens of presentation Bills on the Order Paper on a Friday to one in which a Member has only one a day. We want to remove the dummy Bills from the Order Paper. I am sure this will find favour with a lot of colleagues. If we remove them, we will not be asked to turn up to Parliament on a Friday to vote on a Bill that is 18th on the Order Paper and has no chance of seeing the light of day. Our report also refers to the possibility of taking a private Member’s Bill or two on a Thursday, but again that is just a suggestion.
We say that not every happy thought that occurs to a Member should become law—that would not be a good thing—but we think that serious legislative propositions should have the chance of progressing. I read closely the speech by the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) last week in Westminster Hall, and I apologise to everyone in the House for not having resolved this matter in the last Parliament. As Chairman of the Procedure Committee, I have to be held accountable for the lack of progress, but I conclude my brief speech by saying that the Government are in the last-chance saloon, and if they do not act now, there are other people in this place who will be less understanding than me, and the change they will bring forward will make the Government’s eyes water, and rightly so.
The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) says he adores the House, and we adore him—certainly more than we do the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)—not least because he is quite right: the private Members’ Bills system is, frankly, bust. It is not only open to abuse but is regularly abused. It misleads the public and wastes the House’s time, so we stand four-square with the Committee and will do everything we can to support him. I take just one tiny exception to his report. He says this should start in 2017-18. What is wrong with now? Why can the Government not give us time to debate these changes before the next Session of Parliament so that we can do it in May?
That is an ideal suggestion, and I look to the Government to be revolutionary in their approach to our report and to take it forward as quickly as possible. I am sure the Deputy Leader of the House will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
I shall aim to be brief. In saying that the first Bill on the Order Paper should be guaranteed a vote, my hon. Friend failed to mention that the first Bill on the Order Paper can already be guaranteed a vote. All it requires is for 100 MPs to turn up to support it. As we saw with the overseas aid Bill—the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill—the European Union (Referendum) Bill and the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill, if a matter is important enough to hon. Members, plenty of them turn up to debate it. Does my hon. Friend not agree that if a Bill cannot muster the support of 100 MPs out of 650, it clearly does not have the support that others might claim it has?
I say to my hon. Friend—I love him dearly—that his determined efforts and those of a few of his colleagues, including Labour colleagues in previous Parliaments when Labour were in government, have almost destroyed people’s faith in this place and in the process. People are simply not turning up because, too often, they spend a lot of time listening to my hon. Friend. [Interruption.] As I said, we are not trying to ruin my hon. Friend’s sport because we are not recommending a guaranteed vote on Report. What these Bills need is a bit of space on Second Reading to get approved at that stage so that negotiations can take place with the Government before the Bills go into Committee and there is a chance of some output. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend will not wind me up with his barracking because I love him too much to rise to the bait.
As a member of the Procedure Committee, I pay tribute to the skilful work of its Chair, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), in piloting this report through. Those of us from Scotland are familiar with the far more robust procedure for Members’ Bills in the Scottish Parliament. Perhaps that provides an example of the process that the hon. Gentleman threatens if the Government are not willing to give ground on the proposals in our report. I echo the comments of the shadow Leader of the House on the importance of the Government providing time at a very early opportunity to debate, consider and implement these proposals. If that fails, perhaps we could look to the Backbench Business Committee to give us some time.
I hope the Government are listening to these exchanges because the mood is darkening, and quite rightly so, not just in the Chamber, but out there among those whom we represent. I would like to thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), along with all members of the Committee and the Clerks, for their hard work in bringing forward a sensible report. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is so agitated by it because he knows it is sensible and reasonable, and he will find it difficult to oppose it.
One problem with private Members’ Bills is that pressure groups raise the expectations of the public that every private Member’s Bill stands a really good chance of becoming law. Does my hon. Friend not agree that it is incumbent on us all to make sure that the procedures for private Members’ Bills are more widely and better understood?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In communicating with constituents, we too often demur from telling them how it is. I suspect that on occasions that is because we are embarrassed about what happens on Fridays.
I would not go as far as to say that I adore the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), but I certainly hold him in high regard. Any criticisms were not directed at either him or his Committee. Does he agree that this issue now needs to be resolved, and speedily? We need some means of testing the will of the House. The options set out in the report, and options proposed by me and other right hon. and hon. Members, could be put before the House so that people can vote on how they want to proceed.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a fantastic point. If the Government find time to debate the report, which I sincerely hope they will, there would be opportunities for Members to table their own amendments to the report. I hope that this will be a vehicle for change in this place and for improving a fairly bankrupt private Member’s Bill procedure.
I commend the report and the Chairman, who has been a superb leader of the Procedure Committee in recent years. Does he feel as I do that the process misleads the public and brings the House into disrepute, and that if the Government fail to act now—this is our second report on this issue—the problem will get ever-deeper and the public will lose even more faith in the processes of this House?
I agree with the hon. Lady, who worked tirelessly on the report, and who has been involved in this process for a number of years. We are selling our constituents a false prospectus as private Members’ Bills Fridays are currently constructed, and they will not forgive us lightly for that.
I commend my hon. Friend for his chairmanship of the Committee, but I think that he is being extremely unfair on our hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), because our hon. Friend and others are the ones who actually turn up on Fridays to scrutinise draft legislation. Is it not the case that in any given year there are 52 Fridays, and the House sits on only 13 of them? The myth has built up that every Friday is a constituency Friday, as an excuse for Members not to be here, but the bald truth is that only one person per constituency is entitled to represent his or her constituents in this House, and that is their Member of Parliament. The Members who should be condemned are those who do not turn up on Fridays, not those who do.
I have been so generous in my appraisal of the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley! He often does very important work, but on occasion he does not, in my view. The truth of the matter is that people are not coming here because they have lost faith in Fridays, and they are bored with listening to my hon. Friend.
As you know, Mr Speaker, and as the Deputy Speakers know, if we have a guaranteed vote on Second Reading of the first seven days of private Members’ Bills, you could put a time limit on speeches—and what a happy occasion that will be for the ears of some in this place.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his excellent chairing of the Committee, and for producing the report. Does he agree that, if implemented, the report will increase the transparency and credibility of the private Members’ Bills process, and will therefore increase our standing in the eyes of the general public whom we serve?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman—who also serves on the Committee—that incrementally it will, but we have a lot of ground to recover in this place. As I have said to him, and as he knows, if we do not succeed in implementing the report, there is no guarantee that the House will tolerate private Members’ Bills remaining on Fridays. They could well end up being dealt with on another night of the week.
As a Member who has been present on Fridays since being elected, I have seen both the good and the bad in terms of Friday debates, and I therefore welcome the report. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need less focus on individuals, and that there is already a procedure that could bring debates to an end? How does he think that the Backbench Business Committee will be able to define the level of cross-party support, given the comments that have been made about pressure groups and the impression that is given that Bills that have no chance are going to get through? How can there be a definitive ability to work out which Bills have enough genuine support to take those prime slots?
I have been involved in a successful private Member’s Bill, the Bill that became the Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Act 2013, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell), and which attacked discrimination in the area of mental health. In partnership with Lord Stevenson, my hon. Friend spent an enormous amount of time—over a year—building up a coalition of support across the Benches, talking to private secretaries and Ministers, and to well informed pressure groups which are well respected by Members on both sides of the House. By the time the Bill appeared on the Floor of the House, a great deal of the hard work—the groundwork —had been done. That, I hope, is what members of the Backbench Business Committee will be looking for when assessing whether a Bill warrants one of those coveted first four spots.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for all the work that he and his Committee have put into the report. I was grateful for the chance to give evidence to the Committee during its preparation.
It seems to me that, provided that we allow filibustering to be the means by which the Government defeat legislation in 2016, the reputation of the House will simply sink lower and lower. If the substantive changes are to be made in 2017-18, or even in 2016-17, the onus is now on the Government to provide a debate in Government time so that these issues can be discussed and further suggestions can be made. Filibustering Friday must end, and we must have change now.
I am delighted that the mood of the House is more ambitious than that of the Chairman of the Procedure Committee; the House is to be commended for that. If we can bring forward these recommendations earlier, that would be a truly fantastic thing. We need to restore faith in Fridays so that people attending on Fridays have a chance to put their point of view and so that people watching Fridays with interest have a chance to hear a diversity of voices in this place from both sides of the argument. I do not want to see poorly drafted legislation getting on to the statute book, however. As I keep saying, the protections that we are proposing will not protect Bills on Report. If they are not up to scratch by Report, they can be dealt with by a variety of means.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for this incredibly impressive piece of work, and I support many of the recommendations in it. I welcome the fact that it looks as though it will at last bring to an end the sport that takes place on private Member’s Bill Fridays, when on many occasions there is no serious attempt to have a proper debate on issues that concern or distress the wider public. It brings the whole of Parliament into disrepute when serious issues are the subject of sport in this House.
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. Debate in this place should never be a sport; it should be about contesting the issues, arguments and propositions before the House. I agree with her sentiments, and I hope that we are beginning to travel in the right direction.
I congratulate the Procedure Committee on its report and wish it more success than previous attempts at achieving reform. We have a tired, discredited system that really does us no credit at all. Much of this short debate has focused on the benefits of Fridays, and I note that the report does not talk about the sitting hours of the House. May I urge the Committee to look at that question as a matter of urgency, because I believe that some of the answers might lie in having different sitting times for private Members’ Bills?
The Procedure Committee has deliberately steered away from looking at the sitting times of the House, but during the last Parliament, we pledged to conduct a survey of Members’ views on sitting hours at the end of the first year of every new Parliament and to bring forward a neutral motion that Members could then amend. I hope that will provide the hon. Gentleman with some comfort. He will get an opportunity at some stage in the near future to look at the sitting hours of the House, at which point I imagine that everything will be up for debate.
I should like to assure the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that, as a new Member and a London Member, I did make an effort to turn up on Fridays early in the Session. However, I am afraid that I now have to write back to my constituents to explain that my time is better spent in my constituency. I welcome the report from the Procedure Committee, and I hope that it will give people more confidence in Back-Bench business. Given the Chair of the Committee’s experience of previous attempts at parliamentary reform, does he agree that the risk now is that perfect will be seen as the enemy of good, and that we need to build as much consensus as possible for at least some reform, if not perfect reform?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and I really hope that the Government are listening to him. Let us try to build some consensus and find a way forward. I do not think that we are going to come up with a perfect solution, simply for the reason that every happy thought that occurs to Back-Bencher should not become law, as I said earlier. However, I would just say that in my time in this House, serving under two different Governments, I have observed that the people who specialise in talking out Bills are very good at talking out Opposition Back-Bench Bills but they seem to go missing in action when it comes to a Government handout Bill. That applies to Members on both sides of the House.
I also welcome the report from the Procedure Committee and I strongly agree with the comments made by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). We had an excellent debate in Westminster Hall in my name on this subject last week, in which it was made clear that there is a desire for change right across the House. I would have liked a slightly bolder proposal involving moving private Members’ Bills away from sitting Fridays. Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction. I should also like to echo the plea from the Chair of the Committee and others for the Government to act quickly on this. Does he agree that we need to move quickly in order to restore the reputation of Parliament?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. For the sake of Members on both sides of the House, I must stress that it is important to recognise that the Procedure Committee cannot impose anything on the House. Our recommendations will be subject to debate and a vote. [Interruption.] I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, as a procedural expert, would be aware of that, but he clearly is not. All our recommendations will be subject to a vote on the Floor of the House, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will have the chance to carry the day for his side of the argument, just as the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) will have the chance to carry the day for his point of view.
National Living Wage
As a courtesy, I might mention to the House that the motion was to be moved by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). Unfortunately, she sustained an injury and had to go to hospital and was not, despite her willingness, allowed to be available to move the motion today. In the circumstances, I am sure colleagues will agree that is perfectly fitting and right that the motion should be moved instead by the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan), her good friend and colleague.
I beg to move,
That this House agrees with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Britain deserves a pay rise and commends his introduction of the national living wage; notes, however, that some employers are cutting overall remuneration packages to offset the cost of its introduction, leaving thousands of low-paid employees significantly worse off; and calls, therefore, on the Government to guarantee that no worker will be worse off as a result of the introduction of the national living wage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) has been campaigning tirelessly on the implementation of the national living wage, and has been fighting for all workers to truly benefit from the new proposals. Unfortunately, as Mr Speaker said, she is in hospital and cannot be with us today. I am sure that Members from across the House will join me in wishing her a speedy recovery. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I have spoken to her today, and she is on the road to recovery. I understand that she will be listening and possibly watching our proceedings.
I had intended to speak in support of my great friend and colleague’s work, but I am proud to be a signatory to the motion, and I am honoured to have been asked to present her speech and lead this important debate on her behalf. She is delighted that the debate can go ahead without her. She thanks the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for the debate, and the Speaker’s Office and the Table Office for allowing me to lead the debate on her behalf.
When my hon. Friend made her application to the Backbench Business Committee, she had no idea just how huge the issue would be. It all started a few months ago, when a friend of hers approached her with his payslip from B&Q. He said, “Siobhain, B&Q has given me new terms and conditions, which it says I have to sign or I’ll lose my job. It is cutting back my Sunday and bank holiday pay, as well as my summer and winter bonuses. I think I might have my pay reduced.” How right he was. Indeed, my hon. Friend was shocked when she calculated that he would lose up to £50 a week, or about £2,600 a year. The saddest thing was that this was happening after his basic pay had been increased by the introduction of the national living wage. To be clear, this was a pay cut after the Chancellor guaranteed that Britain was getting a pay rise.
After raising the matter at Prime Minister’s questions—frankly, the Prime Minister did not have much of an answer for her—my hon. Friend started receiving dozens of emails from B&Q employees from around the country. From Exeter to Aberdeen, she was contacted by staff at all levels and from all walks of life who would also lose out.
I pass on my best wishes to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), who has done tireless work on this issue. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the fact that, as I have heard myself, because of the differential whereby under-25s are not eligible for the living wage, others are losing out on overtime and other hours, which are given to younger workers who can be paid less? Not only are younger workers losing out because they are paid less, but other people are not getting the overtime or extra hours that they might have thought they would.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. This is a double whammy for some workers; not only are they losing out because their employers are altering their terms and conditions, but they are losing these valuable other hours. Many of these workers absolutely depend on being able to work extra hours and overtime.
B&Q, like so many companies nationwide, has made all employees sign new terms and conditions under a variation of contract. Those new terms scrapped double time for Sundays and bank holidays, as well as seasonal bonuses and other allowances that staff relied on to top up their income. These pay cuts were much greater than the gains of the national living wage, which is why so many employees are losing out.
Would my right hon. Friend think it a good idea for the UK Government to make a register of the companies that have undertaken such action, and bring them to a round-table meeting to explain that the purpose of the living wage was to improve, not reduce, people’s expenditure power?
I would indeed. Part of what we are doing today is asking the Government and the Chancellor to address these issues. There are strengthened penalties for employers who do not pay the national living wage, but I suggest that alongside those should go penalties for employers who deliberately circumvent the national living wage in this way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden was grateful for the fact that her speech during the Budget debate last month offered a great platform to get this issue the recognition it deserves. She was especially grateful for the interest shown by the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, which doubtless brought further attention to this issue, and I am pleased to see her here. My hon. Friend’s speech highlighted how illogical and unfair it was to claim that Britain was getting a pay rise while hard-working employees across the country were being hit by such pay cuts. She reminded the Government that the week before, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor had been unwilling to promise that nobody who works on the shop floor would be taking home less money after 1 April. Last year, the Chancellor said he was committed to a higher-wage economy. He said:
“It cannot be right that we go on asking taxpayers to subsidise…the businesses who pay the lowest wages.”
He promised that the change would have only a “‘fractional’ effect on jobs”, and that the cost to business would be
“just 1% of corporate profits.”—[Official Report, 8 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 337 to 338.]
That was a cost he offset with a cut to corporation tax.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this opening speech, and on the way in which she is making it. May I raise the issue of care providers? The care sector is faced with a bill of £330 million for implementing this legislation—this is money that the Government have not provided—and I hope to be called today so that I can talk about the impact the change is having on wages and conditions there.
That is a crucial point, because the cost to business is offset by the reduction in corporation tax, and smaller businesses will also benefit from increased business rate relief and higher national insurance allowances. In terms of care homes, there is also a significant impact on local authorities, and that has not been taken into account.
I should declare an interest as a councillor in the London borough of Redbridge. The Local Government Association and others have estimated that the amount put aside through tax increases—through the new social care levy—will barely cover the cost to local authorities of providing the living wage, as they should. This is once more a Government pledge being delivered through stealth tax rises, with the buck passed to local authorities.
I could not in any way disagree with my hon. Friend, and as ever, it is the most vulnerable and the needy who suffer the most.
Companies such as B&Q use the introduction of the national living wage to “reform their pay and reward structures”, as they put it. That is a euphemism for cutting staff pay. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden received a rather panicky email from B&Q requesting a meeting to clear things up. Indeed, B&Q’s chief executive officer and its head of human resources were eager to convey how much they appreciated their staff and how generous the reward package was. At the same time as my hon. Friend’s meeting with them, they announced that they would extend by an extra 12 months the period of compensation for those staff members who were going to lose out—an increase from 12 to 24 months. Of course that was because of the reputational pressure that B&Q was under. Although that is definitely a good step forward, achieved because of the considerable public pressure, lots of questions remain unanswered. What will happen to these employees after 24 months? Does B&Q hope that we will forget about the issue and quietly let these long-serving staff members lose out? Will it review its pay structures to guarantee that staff receive the pay they deserve?
Does my right hon. Friend think that the Chancellor’s decision to conflate the national minimum wage with the reality of the living wage was the gimmick at the outset that allowed these employers to think that this was not to be treated seriously, and that that is why we see these different actions by big chains and unscrupulous employers?
Undoubtedly that is the impression, especially as the real living wage recommended by the Living Wage Foundation is significantly higher than the one that the Chancellor proposed. We certainly could question it, as he could not have been unaware that what happened was always going to be possible.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, welcome though the living wage is, the tendency of many employers—some of them with internationally high reputations—to introduce the casualisation of labour through zero-hours contracts and rolling contracts is likely to be accelerated? Does she also not agree that, in exposing these companies, the Government should go not just for a register, which would be welcome, but for regulating the way that these contracts are used, as they undermine wage rates and people’s security in employment?
Absolutely. There is no question but that low pay runs alongside job insecurity, and the situation is getting worse. What has happened absolutely demonstrates that terms and conditions and pay are inextricably linked. Again, as we have said with the care sector, people who are vulnerable and needy and who have the weakest voice are always the most affected. If it were not for the trade unions raising their voice, us raising ours, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden focusing on the issue in such a forensic manner, awareness of this matter would probably have been nothing like it is. Whatever the outcome, it is clearly totally wrong that any company should cut wages of loyal, long-standing members of staff off the back of the national living wage.
Let us make no mistake about it: if a company as big and as well known as B&Q can do this, anyone can. When my hon. Friend met the chief executive, Michael Loeve, he told her that he was “a bit annoyed” that B&Q was being singled out. He said, “We’re a great employer, and we’re not the only ones making the changes.” We seem to be in the realm of two wrongs making a right. He is right, though, about not being the only ones, sadly. B&Q was just unlucky to have received so much attention. It was unlucky that my hon. Friend’s friend worked there, instead of for one of the many famous high-street retailers doing the same thing.
It is true that B&Q had been particularly thoughtless about the predicament of its staff. Let us consider a few of the people from around the country who contacted my hon. Friend in desperation about their situation at B&Q. There was a gentleman who works at a B&Q store in the south-east, where he has been employed for more than 15 years. To give him whatever protection we can, let us call him Mr Jones. He has a family—two children—and is the sole wage earner in his household. He works hard but part time because of the strains of his physical disability. He works every Sunday he can, as well as all the unsocial hours on offer, but from April, under the new contract that he has been coerced into signing, Mr Jones will lose £1,000 a year. Yes, it is true that he will not lose out for the next 24 months because of the one-off payments that B&Q has promised to employees who are set to lose out, but he will still lose out after this period, because B&Q has no contingency plan.
Let us also consider Ms Smith from Yorkshire. She is a hard-working, low-paid mum. As a result of her contractual changes, her total monthly wage will be reduced by a staggering 30% pay cut, and the two one-off payments that she will receive do nothing for the £2,000 a year that she will lose from 2018. She says:
“How exactly am I going to make up this wage deficit? I have a young son to support, and next year is looking very bleak for us. . . I am worried about how I will support my family next year. I am heartbroken that the company I have worked so hard for, done 16-hour shifts for, come in on days off for, and valued greatly, has treated me like this.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just a matter of current income? People will also lose their deferred income and salary, which is their pension, so there will be a longer-term, knock-on effect when they retire.
Indeed. Compare that double whammy—loss now and loss of deferred income, which is pension income—with what happens to the companies: they gain from cutting pay, and from the reduction in corporation tax, which should offset the pay increase, not allow them to cut pay. Although B&Q says that it has rectified the sort of situation I have described, I defy B&Q senior management to place themselves in the shoes of Mr Jones and Ms Smith and honestly say that they feel optimistic about their future.
Let us turn our attention to other employers that we know are doing similar things. Bradgate Bakery is part of the group that owns famous brands that we all enjoy, such as Ginsters pies and Soreen loaf, but the pay that it is offering staff is a lot less tasty than its food. Bradgate has written to all its Leicestershire staff, detailing changes to their wages. Most shop-floor employees at Bradgate were earning just over £6.70 an hour before 1 April, so the introduction of the national living wage should have made quite a difference for them, but Bradgate, like B&Q, has found an opportunity to save money. That is because of the universal truth that companies will usually pay their workers a lot less than they can afford, if they can get away with it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the problem is that employers see the national living wage or minimum wage as a ceiling for payments, rather than a floor, and will always try to pay the least that they can get away with?
Order. Thirteen Members wish to speak after the right hon. Lady, and we are already well into a good debate, so I am worried that we might be squeezing the time for other Members.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I take your point.
Certainly, the national living wage does not mean that that is all that employers can pay. Bradgate Bakery, like B&Q, found an opportunity to save money, so it has changed staff terms and conditions to phase out double pay for Sundays by 2019. That means that while employees on the national minimum wage earned £13.78 per hour on a Sunday last month, by 2019 they will earn just £9 per hour. That is the national living wage according to Bradgate Bakery. Extra pay for night shifts, Saturdays and overtime are also being scaled back. In sum, Bradgate workers are being sold a lie: they are told that their pay is increasing, but what the Government are giving with one hand, Bradgate is taking with another. According to one very worried worker who approached my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden, these cuts will affect the whole range of shifts that run in the factories. That means that by 2018 a production operative on night shift will be paid £2,778 less a year, while a night shift team leader will be paid £344 less.
I want to make a few things clear. First, increasing the minimum wage is not a bad thing. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden, myself, and indeed all hon. Friends, were proud to be part of the Labour Government who introduced it almost 20 years ago, and we wholeheartedly support moves to increase it. Our workers work hard and deserve every penny that they are entitled to. We quite agree with the Chancellor that Britain does deserve a pay rise.
Secondly, despite what they say, businesses can cope with the increase in the minimum wage. Every minimum wage rate rise since its introduction has been greeted with predictions of doom and gloom by a minority of employers, but their dire warnings have not come true.
Thirdly, we all know that businesses will tend to pay their workers less than they actually can, because that is what profit-making is all about, but businesses should not be cutting staff pay via terms and conditions to offset the costs. Despite what they say, there are alternatives: they could improve productivity and invest in the skills and talents of their employees; they could cut back shareholder pay just a little, so that those who work hardest get the remuneration they truly deserve; or, following the Chancellor’s suggestion, they could use the further 1% cut in corporation tax announced last month to fund the increase in the minimum wage.
Fourthly, I have discussed B&Q and Bradgate Bakery today, but there is an industry-wide problem. Huge supermarket retailers, such as Morrisons, cut their staff pay months ago, to little media attention. For instance, while hourly pay at Morrisons has now increased to £8.20, the firm simultaneously scrapped a raft of pay perks to save money. Only last week, we read reports of how popular, thriving café businesses, such as EAT and Caffè Nero, are cutting free staff lunches to claw back costs. That will save them about £3.60 per employee per day—less than the cost of one of their toasted paninis. According to media reports today, it looks like Waitrose will also be scrapping Sunday and overtime rates for new workers. This is all part of a worrying trend.
I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree that what we are asking for is not easy, but we truly believe that there is a precedent for cross-party support on this issue. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden was delighted to receive the support of the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) during their “Channel 4 News” interview on the subject last week. He joined her in calling for employers to guarantee that no one loses out. During the interview, my hon. Friend said:
“Any Member who wants to join me on calling for action from employers and the Government, from whichever side of the House they may be, is a friend of mine.”
The truth is that securing meaningful change is not beyond the Government’s ability. If the Chancellor promised everyone a pay rise, then everyone should receive one. If he promised that the Government would be radical on strengthening wages, then he needs to deliver radical change. A thriving economy is not built on low pay and unscrupulous employers; it is built on a proper day’s pay for a hard day’s work. It is time the Government gave hard-working people—the same people all political parties claim to represent—the outcome they truly deserve.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. May I suggest that people use up to seven minutes? However, if you start making interventions, I will have to drop the time later. It is up to Members, but I do want to get everybody in.
I want to make a few brief points in the time available. The first—we have to have a few home truths here—is that the whole concept of a national living wage is intellectual nonsense. The amount that people need to earn to cover their living costs depends on all sorts of factors. It depends on their housing costs. It depends on how close they live to their workplace and how much it costs them to get to work—the cost is obviously a lot less for somebody who lives right next to their place of work than for somebody who lives a considerable distance away. The idea that one national living wage can apply to everybody in the country, irrespective of their personal circumstances, is therefore nonsense, and we should make that clear from the start. What we are talking about with the living wage is an increased minimum wage, so let us just be honest about our terminology.
The right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) made the usual mistake of thinking that every employer in the country is some rich baron who lives in a huge mansion, drives around in a Bentley and has all the goods in the world. Actually, the vast majority of businesses in this country are small and medium-sized enterprises. I advise her speak to a few shop owners down her local high street, because she will actually find that many are struggling to earn a living. In fact, many of the people she is talking about do not earn the minimum wage or the living wage—whatever anyone wants to call it—themselves. She berates them for trying to do down their staff, when many of them are working desperately long hours to keep their staff in employment because their staff matter to them.
The hon. Gentleman is throwing up all sorts of straw men, but what we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) were concrete examples of large companies that have the ability to pay their staff properly but are not doing so. When will the hon. Gentleman engage with the facts rather than straw men?
I am engaging with the facts—these are home truths the hon. Gentleman should appreciate.
When people ask, “Do you think everybody should get a pay rise to £9, £10 or £11 an hour?”, everyone of course says yes. I think it was Norman Tebbit who said that if we ask people, “Would you like a Rolls-Royce?” they will all say yes, but if we say, “You’ll have to live in a tent for the rest of your life to pay for it,” the answer will be no.
We have to realise that there are consequences to increasing the minimum wage. We all know that if we want to reduce the consumption of something—if we want less of something—we increase its cost. If the Government want fewer people smoking, one of the tools they use is to put the price up. If we want fewer people drinking, we put the price up. The same rules apply to employment: if we put up the cost of employment, we will find fewer people employed—that is just an economic fact.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but the binary choice he presents of a Rolls-Royce or a tent is not the living reality of most of our constituents.
Last year, the Big Help Project’s food bank in Knowsley helped to feed 6,000 people, 3,500 of whom were children, for three days. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that cutting people’s wages will mean that even more people are dependent on food banks? Is that the 21st century, or is he harking back to the 19th century?
The right hon. Gentleman should be aware that what is more likely to send people to a food bank is not having a job at all.
When the Chancellor announced the higher rate of the minimum wage, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated that 4 million hours a week would be lost, half resulting from reduced hours for workers and half resulting from the loss of 60,000 jobs. The great thing about the OBR is that at least we are now able to understand the consequences of such a policy.
There are a lot of advantages to having a higher minimum wage. A lot of low-paid people have found themselves in higher-paid jobs, and I very much welcome that. However, Labour Members who praise the policy should at least be honest about its consequences.
I have already given way to the right hon. Gentleman; he can have another go in his own speech later.
Labour Members have to face the consequences of the policy: the OBR has made it clear that it will result in fewer people being employed. The right hon. Member for Enfield North mentioned companies such as B&Q and Morrisons. When I worked for Asda, every employee was given a 10% discount card. I have no idea what Asda’s policy is today—it may well be the same—but it used to employ a lot of people with families, and a 10% discount card was a very valuable commodity to them. We should be wary about forcing employers to put up pay, because the inevitable consequence will be that some benefits might have to go if they want to keep the same number of people employed in their stores. These decisions have consequences, and we cannot pretend that increasing people’s pay will not have consequences.
The right hon. Lady mentioned care homes and the care sector. We need to think carefully about what the consequences will be for them. In my constituency, in Bradford, a very small proportion of the extra 2% that is being levied on council tax is being passed on to independent care homes. I thought it was designed to help them with the costs of things such as the national living wage. This high-minded policy is motherhood and apple pie. It enables people to look good and argue, “I think that, whatever people earn, they should get more, and that even when they do get more, they should get even more than that,” but an awful lot of care homes around the country could close as a consequence. Is that really what we want to happen in the UK? It would happen not because employers are mean, nasty people, but simply because they cannot afford to pay the national living wage at the rates that the councils are giving them for care home fees. That is the economic reality, whether people like it or not.
I met a number of employers recently, and they pointed out that the policy takes no account of differentials. When the pay of people at the bottom is raised to a higher rate, they are not the only ones to get a pay rise, because everyone else in the organisation will say, “Hold on a minute, I was paid £1 an hour more than they were, so if their pay’s being increased by £1 an hour, I want an extra £1 an hour as well to maintain that differential.”
Anybody who knows anything about running a business will know that, particularly for employers who run small businesses on the high street in small towns in our constituencies, there is not a never-ending pot of money to pay higher wages to everybody and to protect those differentials. Something has to give: either those differentials disappear, much to the unhappiness of the people who had them before, or fewer people will be employed, or people will be employed for fewer hours.