House of Commons
Wednesday 19 October 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
I am sure the whole House will join me in marking the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan tragedy this Friday. That event shocked not just Wales but the whole of the country and the wider world. I am sure colleagues across the House will pay tribute to the bravery and strong community ties that pulled the people of Aberfan through the immediate aftermath and provided so much support in the months and years that followed.
Wales is benefiting from millions of pounds of UK investment across the country. We are modernising our rail infrastructure, investing in the North Wales prison, and providing significant funding and support to improve internet speeds. This is a clear demonstration of the Government’s commitment to delivering improvements in infrastructure in all corners of Wales.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. He rightly underlines the Barnett arrangements, and we were pleased to introduce a funding floor that provides Wales with £115 for every £100 that is spent in England. In addition, we have the electrification of the Great Western main line, North Wales prison is a significant project, and we have broadband roll-out. After all, we are interconnected economies, and the Government are determined to do the best for the whole of the UK.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work he is doing cross-border with the Mersey Dee Alliance and the all-party group on Mersey Dee North Wales. That resonates with our policy to develop a growth deal that works on a cross-border basis. We are working with those who are developing the north Wales growth deal. We are in negotiations on that. We have recently received the Growth Track 360 bid, and we will analyse that in due course. We are keen to work together, and with the Welsh Government.
My hon. Friend highlights the investment in the Great Western main line, and much attention is rightly drawn to the infrastructure of the electrification itself. However, it is fair to say that, as soon as we have electrified as far as Didcot or Swindon, the new trains will be operational, so his constituents, my constituents and those in Wales and the south-west in general will benefit from modern trains well before the infrastructure has been completed.
Roads are critical in infrastructural investment—roads on both sides of the border. What conversations has the right hon. Gentleman had with the Welsh Government about the A5/A483, which goes from Oswestry towards the Wrexham area, given the particular road safety problems in the community of Chirk?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. It is something that has crossed the discussions over the north Wales growth deal, and it underlines the interconnectivity of the region she mentions with Manchester, Merseyside and north Wales. We are working closely with the Welsh Government on their infrastructure plan and the national infrastructure plans for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is important that they dovetail appropriately.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done on this important issue. I think he drew attention to it at one of the first meetings immediately after the general election, and that started the discussions that have led to the Growth Track 360 proposal. There are growth elements and transport infrastructure elements, and it is important that we ensure that those come together for the benefit of the whole region. I am happy to work with him and with the Department for Transport as we approach the control period 6 considerations that will take place in due course.
I, too, associate my party and myself with the Secretary of State’s comments on the Aberfan disaster.
The Treasury aims to pool local government pension schemes in Wales and England to create wealth funds to invest in infrastructure, with each fund containing accumulated assets of £25 billion. Combined Welsh assets amount to £13 billion, meaning that if the Treasury has its way, Welsh funds will be swallowed up by a cross-border pool. Will the Secretary of State demand a specific Welsh wealth fund so that the contributions of Welsh local government workers are used to invest in infrastructure projects in Wales?
The hon. Gentleman raises a fairly technical area of policy. Appropriate economies of scale are involved in this. I am happy to discuss the details with him. The Welsh Government have made their views clear. However, it is not only about “Welsh money for Wales”—which, on the face of it, would sound good—but about having the economies of scale such that we can access funding elsewhere as well. Therefore, it is not necessarily the right thing, but I am certainly not closed to the idea.
Swansea Bay City Deal
I am very supportive of achieving a deal for the Swansea bay city region. However, this is not about Government telling local authorities what to do; it is about empowering them to bring forward bespoke proposals for their region. I welcomed the announcement in the Budget that we were opening negotiations, but it must be the right deal—a well-thought-out deal that delivers for the whole region.
The Minister will know that Brexit will deal a major body blow to Swansea’s universities and the Swansea region overall. What assurances can he give that in the autumn statement the Chancellor will make a firm commitment to put his money where his mouth is, because we want hard cash, not hot air, to provide the required support for jobs and prosperity in the area?
First, I should correct the hon. Gentleman: the city of Swansea voted to leave, so if there was a body blow to Swansea, it was delivered by people in Swansea. On the city deal, he has to be slightly fairer about what this Government are doing. We have delivered a city deal for Cardiff, with over £1 billion of investment, including £500 million from this Government, and a guarantee that the European elements would be supported. If the Swansea city deal is as good as early indications appear to suggest, it can be supported by this Government in due course.
The Swansea bay city deal aims to turn the region, which includes Neath, into a digital super-hub to boost the local economy, transform energy delivery, and improve health and social care. Will the Minister assure the House that this deal will not face the delays experienced by the Swansea bay tidal lagoon and rail electrification projects?
It is important to point out that this was announced in the last Budget and is being taken forward. However, there is a bottom-up approach. This Government do not take the view that Westminster knows best. We believe very strongly that the proposal should come from the region, and it is fantastic to see the way in which the four local authorities are working together. I am confident that the deal brings something quite special to south-west Wales, but let us see the detail. If the detail is persuasive, the support will be forthcoming.
This week will see the completion of the engineering work in the Severn tunnel required for the electrification of the Great Western main line. This is a truly historic occasion and a clear demonstration of this Government’s commitment to deliver a rail investment strategy that will benefit the people of Wales in its entirety.
The Secretary of State has spoken of the Growth Track 360 campaign, which, as the Minister will know, has the potential to transform the north Wales and Cheshire area by delivering 70,000 new jobs over 20 years. Improving the Wrexham to Bidston line, which serves Neston in my constituency, has been identified as the first priority for the team. Will the Minister join in the words of encouragement that we have already heard in agreeing to make representations to the Chancellor ahead of the autumn statement so as to deliver some of this much-needed investment?
I am pleased to echo the words of the Secretary of State, who highlighted the Growth Track 360 proposals. These are made in north Wales or made in north-west England proposals which will try to improve connectivity between parts of north-west England and north-east Wales. We are supportive of the proposals. I am pleased to say that this morning the Treasury wrote to the proposers in north Wales stating that support.
Some £738 million has been ring-fenced for the electrification of the valley lines, although that is not expected to be completed until at least 2022 or 2023. What assurances has the Minister had that the £120 million from the European regional development fund will still be forthcoming for this project before the UK leaves the EU?
The situation is very clear. The proposals for the south Wales metro are part of the Cardiff city deal. They are a significant investment, and they include a contribution of around £110 million from the European fund. My understanding from the Treasury is that it will, if necessary, underwrite that element of the contribution, but if the proposals move forward in a timely manner, the European elements will be funded by the European Union.
I associate myself with the words of the Secretary of State on Aberfan. In 1966, I was the same age as the schoolchildren who were killed in that tragedy. My predecessor Cledwyn Hughes, who was Secretary of State for Wales, said that that was the darkest day of his life when Aberfan lost a generation.
On rail integration, can the Minister tell the House whether he has had discussions with the Welsh Government, and indeed the Irish Government, about connectivity between rail and the port of Holyhead?
Does the Secretary of State agree that the Department for Transport and its predecessors have prevaricated over funding rail electrification in north Wales for more than 40 years, and can he give us a definite date for the project to move ahead?
I agree with the hon. Lady that the situation in north Wales has been one of under-investment for a very long time, so it is important to highlight the current investments: £43 million for signalling in north Wales, and a significant investment in the Chester links into Wrexham. It is important to look at the Growth Track 360 proposals carefully and coherently to see how we can improve connectivity through rail in north Wales.
I join the Secretary of State in marking the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan tragedy, and I pay tribute to the spirit and resilience of the people of Aberfan.
Rail passenger numbers into our capital city station, Cardiff Central, are forecast to increase to 22 million a year by 2025, so the expansion of the station, in conjunction with the south Wales metro project that includes EU funding, is critical. Will the Secretary of State explain why the Government have been willing to invest in Birmingham and Edinburgh stations but will not confirm funding to accelerate feasibility work on expanding Cardiff Central? Does he want our capital city to have a station that is fit for purpose, or not?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place on the Front Bench. The situation in Cardiff is another example of the old-fashioned view that Westminster knows best. We are still waiting for the proposals from south Wales for what needs to be done in relation to Cardiff station. This Government are investing in rail in a manner that simply did not happen under 13 years of Labour government. If the proposal from south Wales meets the Government’s expectations, it will be looked at in a constructive manner.
In April’s Welsh questions, the Minister told the House:
“The European Union makes a massive contribution to the Welsh economy: it is our largest trading partner; it supports thousands of jobs; and it provides significant investments for projects all around Wales.”—[Official Report, 13 April 2016; Vol. 608, c.340-341.]
Four months on from the referendum result, what is the Secretary of State’s Brexit plan for Wales to replace that trade, those jobs and that infrastructure? Where is that plan, and when are we going to see it?
I remind the hon. Lady that the people of Wales voted to leave the European Union. I stand by the comments that I made four months ago, but it is important to point out that the Wales Office has been going around Wales and talking to stakeholders, identifying the opportunities as a result of Brexit and trying to provide reassurance. I hope that the hon. Lady will at least welcome the commitment made by the Chancellor to support European funding projects in Wales and agricultural funding in Wales. Those are underwritten proposals from the Treasury that Opposition Front Benchers should welcome.
Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon
I remain in close contact with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the proposed lagoon at Swansea bay. This is an exciting project for Wales. I am due to meet Charles Hendry tomorrow to gain an update on the progress of the independent review, and I look forward to reading the findings when he reports later this autumn.
Last week, Sheffield Forgemasters and a host of other industrial companies in the northern powerhouse urged Charles Hendry to back a new tidal lagoon project, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments. If the Government will not listen to Wales, will they listen to the industrial north and finally get on with the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project ?
I recognise the hon. Lady’s interest in all things environmental, but Charles Hendry’s review has been seen as a positive intervention. The approach he has taken has been welcomed, as has been pointed out, not only by the lagoon company, local authorities and politicians, but by the business community in south Wales and across the northern powerhouse. We recognise the contribution that it could make, and we are looking forward to his judgment.
While it is important to take the findings of the Hendry review into account, will the Secretary of State press for progress on this exciting project as soon as it reports? The project not only has the potential to deliver clean energy, but will continue to build on the success, vibrancy and ambition that characterises Swansea and Wales.
My hon. Friend, like me, looks forward to the Charles Hendry report. There is no doubt that, as a test project, it has great potential for Swansea bay, but he, like me, has an obligation to the taxpayer to ensure that it works for consumers and taxpayers, and that it represents good value for money for all concerned.
The hon. Lady and I agree that we would like something like that to be developed and to go ahead for the prospects and opportunities it will provide, but we have an obligation to the taxpayer: we have to ensure that it provides value for money. Only in recent weeks, the hon. Lady and her colleagues have complained about the cost of energy for Tata and other energy-intensive industries. It is important that we generate energy in a cost-effective way that suits consumers as well as taxpayers.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his time as shadow Secretary of State and thank him for his contribution at the Dispatch Box in that role.
As the House will know, tourism is vital to delivering economic growth in Wales. It has been a great year for inbound tourism in the UK and in Wales, with day visits increasing by 24% in the last 12 months.
Will the Minister pay tribute to the magnificent tourist attractions in Newport—Tredegar House, the wetlands, Celtic Manor, and the splendid Roman baths and amphitheatre—all of which increased tourist numbers last year by up to 70%? Will he confirm that visitors to all parts of Wales always praise the warmth of our hospitality?
I clearly agree fully with the comment about the welcome in Wales. In particular, I pay tribute to the South Wales Argus and its “We’re Backing Newport” campaign, which highlights the fact that Newport is not just a great place to live, but a great place to visit.
With B&Bs such as the Old Rectory on the Lake and the Ty’n y Cornel in Tal-y-llyn under new management and prepared, I hope, to do bar mitzvahs and gay weddings, does the Minister not agree with me that Welsh B&Bs offer a warm welcome to the English?
I associate myself and my colleagues with the tribute to the people of Aberfan on the 50th anniversary.
In a previous life, the Minister was a very passionate supporter of the campaign to reduce VAT on tourism. He has made some very pronounced comments about that campaign in the past. Does he stand by them? More importantly, what representations will he make to the Treasury to make such a case to benefit tourism in our communities?
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in saying that I am a politician who advocates lower taxes, so I welcome the fact that this Government have cut national insurance contributions for small businesses and are cutting corporation tax for small businesses. There is a case to be made on VAT for many sectors of the economy, and that case will be made by the Wales Office, but there are no promises, I am afraid.
Certainly I am more than happy to agree with my hon. Friend that tourism in north Wales has done extremely well over the past few months. Last week I spoke to hoteliers in Llandudno, who were saying that they have enjoyed 90%-plus occupancy during the summer, so there has been a Brexit dividend in that respect.
I am in regular contact with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the First Minister and the Welsh Minister for the Economy. We have not lost focus while these issues have been out of the headlines. The Government leave no stone unturned in supporting the steel sector.
What assurances can the Secretary of State give that, in the event of the completion of a joint venture by Tata Strip Products and ThyssenKrupp, commitments will be made on jobs, investment and the continuation of primary steel making at Port Talbot and across Wales?
It is in the UK’s strategic interests to maintain a steel-making capacity, and so quite obviously to maintain that at Port Talbot. The Government stand ready and waiting to support any bidder. It is a matter for Tata as to whether it pursues the joint venture. We are maintaining a relationship with Tata and other potential bidders that were in discussions earlier this year. We are keen to maintain a sustainable future.
Welsh steel is obviously of the highest quality, and I hope that when Heathrow airport is expanded Welsh steel will be used. In that sense, will the Secretary of State have a word with the Prime Minister to ensure that she stops faffing around on Heathrow expansion and that we have a positive decision as early as possible?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me, but he knows that that decision will be coming soon. He makes an important point about the use of steel in infrastructure projects. The UK Government have already changed procurement rules, making it easier for British steel to be used in contracts. For example, Crossrail, Europe’s largest civil engineering scheme, uses almost entirely British steel.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. As the representative for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, I too would like to associate myself with the comments of the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), in relation to the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, an unimaginable loss for the families and, indeed, the whole community.
One major challenge—if not the major challenge—facing the Welsh steel industry is that its energy costs are far higher than those of our competitors. Despite warm words, little action has been taken. What action is the Secretary of State or the Government taking to bring down energy costs faced by energy-intensive industries?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State to their positions. He makes an important point on steel-making capacity and energy costs. He will be well aware that the energy-intensive industry package the Government have brought forward responded to the demands from the industry and from Tata specifically. We have reduced energy costs to the steel sector by £109 million, which has been welcomed and has put the sector in a much stronger position, with a turnaround in finance from a loss of £64 million to an operating profit of £95 million.
Arriva Trains Franchise
The in-principle agreement between the Welsh Government and the Department for Transport to devolve the Wales and Borders franchise was announced on 21 November 2014. We are engaging constructively with the Welsh Government to enable them to achieve the successful procurement of the next Wales and Borders franchise in October 2018.
Labour has tabled an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill to write free wi-fi into the renewal of any rail franchise. Does the Minister agree that this requirement would be welcomed by passengers in Wales and should be included in Arriva’s next franchise agreement?
This is a fair point. That would be appreciated by passengers in Wales. As part of the devolution package, that is something to be agreed between the Department for Transport and the Welsh Government, but I am sure they will have heard the hon. Lady’s comments.
Ensuring rural areas of Wales benefit from our broadband roll-out is one of my key priorities. The UK Government have supported investment in broadband across rural Wales, including £14.2 million in Powys and £13.9 million in Gwynedd. The Secretary of State recently had positive discussions with the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and the Minister for Science and Skills on future work to roll out broadband in Wales.
I am sure the mailbox of every MP would highlight the fact that it is time for BT Openreach to raise its game. On the importance of broadband to rural economic development, I can only agree fully with my hon. Friend. In my constituency of Aberconwy we have a call centre in Llanrwst, which is only in place as a result of the broadband roll-out encouraged by this Government’s funding.
The “vast majority” is perhaps overstating the case, but the improvement over recent months has been spectacular, with rates of 90%-plus in many rural counties. There is still more work to be done, but in terms of rural broadband we are going in the right direction in Wales and the UK.
The main superfast broadband line passes the community of Crymlyn in my constituency, literally at the bottom of the people’s gardens. Many of these people run businesses from home and need to access substantial documents, but the download speed in Crymlyn would be an embarrassment even in the previous century. When will the Minister, or his Labour confederates in Cardiff, actually do something to remove this huge barrier to prosperity and economic growth?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the investment in his own constituency, which is approaching £12 million. There are still issues in relation to broadband roll-out in Wales, but sometimes we have to recognise that what has been achieved is tremendous. We are slightly ahead of the situation in England, which is something we should all applaud. However, I make no bones about the fact that more and faster broadband connectivity in Wales is crucial. The Wales Office will carry on pressurising BT Openreach to ensure that that is achieved sooner rather than later.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know the whole House will wish to join me in remembering all those who lost their lives and were affected by the Aberfan disaster 50 years ago this week. It claimed the lives of 144 people, the vast majority of them children. It caused devastation to the local community. It is right that we pause and reflect on this important anniversary, and recognise the solidarity and resilience of the people of Aberfan to overcome this powerful tragedy.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I will have further such meetings later today, in addition to my duties in this House.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister? I am of an age that I can remember the terrible black and white film of this tragedy. It affected everyone. We in this House pass on our thoughts to the people of Aberfan today.
Mr Speaker, as you might know it is my birthday today. The Prime Minister has already given me a huge birthday present by letting everyone know that we will be out of the European Union no later than 31 March 2019. May I press her for another present? Her excellent policy of closing Victorian prisons and opening modern ones is spot-on. Will she support the reopening of Wellingborough prison as part of this excellent programme, or would she rather just sing happy birthday?
Calm down, Mr Speaker.
On the serious issue about prisons, I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend applauds the policy we are following of closing out-of-date prisons and building new ones. I hear the lobbying he has made for Wellingborough, and I can assure him that Wellingborough is one of the sites that is being considered. The Secretary of State will look at the issue very carefully and make an announcement in due course.
I join the Prime Minister in commemorating the disaster at Aberfan all those years ago when 118 children along with many adults died. Many in that community are still living with that tragedy, and they will live with it for the rest of their days. As a young person growing up at that time, I remember it well, particularly the collections for the disaster fund. The BBC documentary presented by Huw Edwards was brilliant and poignant, and serves to remind us all of what the disaster was about.
One in four of us will suffer a mental health problem. Analysis by the King’s Fund suggests that 40% of our mental health trusts had their budgets cut last year, and six trusts have seen their budgets cut for three years in a row. Is the Prime Minister really confident that we are delivering parity of esteem for mental health?
First, like the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), I am of an age when I can remember seeing on television those terrible scenes of what happened in Aberfan. I did not see the whole of Huw Edwards’ documentary, but I thought the bits that I happened to see last night were very poignant, as the right hon. Gentleman said. Interestingly, what it showed again was the issue of those in power not being willing to step up to the plate initially and to accept what had actually happened, but the inquiry was very clear about where the responsibility lay.
It is right that we are introducing parity of esteem for mental health in our national health service. We have waited too long for this, and it is important that it is being done. We are actually investing more in mental health services—an estimated record £11.7 billion. In particular, we are increasing the overall number of children’s beds to the highest number for mental health problems, which I think is important. There is, of course, more for us to do in looking at mental health, but we have made an important start and, as I say, that funding will be there.
I received a letter from Colin, who has a family member with a chronic mental health condition. Many others, like him, have relatives going through a mental health crisis. He says that the
“NHS is so dramatically underfunded”
that too often it is left to the underfunded police forces to deal with the consequences of this crisis. Indeed, the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall has this month threatened legal action against the NHS because he is forced to hold people with mental conditions in police cells because there are not enough NHS beds. I simply ask the Prime Minister this: if the Government are truly committed to parity of esteem, why is this trust and so many others facing an acute financial crisis at the present time?
May I first of all say to Colin that I think all of us in this House recognise the difficulties people have when coping with mental health problems? I commend those in this House who have been prepared to stand up and refer to their own mental health problems. I think that has sent a very important signal to people with mental health issues across the country.
The right hon. Gentleman raises the whole question of the interaction between the NHS and police forces. I am very proud of the fact that when I was Home Secretary I actually worked with the Department of Health to bring a change to the way in which police forces dealt with people in mental health crisis. That is why we see those triage pilots out on the streets and better NHS support being given to police forces, so that the number of people who have to be taken to a police cell as a place of safety has come down. Overall, I think it has more than halved, and in some areas it has come down by even more than that. This is a result of the action that this Government have taken.
The reality is that no one with a mental health condition should ever be taken to a police cell. Such people should be supported in the proper way, and I commend the police and crime commissioners who have managed to end the practice in their areas. The reality is, however, that it is not just Devon and Cornwall suffering cuts; the Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trust has been cut in every one of the last three years.
I agree with the Prime Minister that it is a very good thing for Members to stand up and openly discuss mental health issues that they have experienced, because we need to end the stigma surrounding mental health conditions throughout the country. However, NHS trusts are in a financial crisis. According to NHS Providers, it seems to be the worst financial crisis in NHS history: 80% of acute hospitals are now in deficit. There was a time, in 2010, when the NHS was in surplus. What has happened?
Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman what has happened in relation to NHS funding. We asked the NHS itself to come up with a five-year plan, and we asked the NHS itself to say what extra funding was needed to deliver on that. The NHS came up with its five-year plan, led by Simon Stevens as its chief executive. He said that £8 billion was needed. We are giving £10 billion of extra funding to the NHS. I might also remind the right hon. Gentleman that at the last election, it was not the Conservative party that was refusing to guarantee funding for the NHS; it was the Labour party.
In six years, the NHS has gone from surplus to the worst crisis in its history. A total of £3 billion was wasted on a top-down reorganisation that no one wanted, and Simon Stevens made it very clear to the Select Committee yesterday that he did not believe that NHS England had enough money to get through the crisis that it is facing.
May I offer an analysis from the Care Quality Commission, which seems to have quite a good grasp of what is going on? It says that cuts in adult social care are
“translating to increased A&E attendances, emergency admissions and delays to people leaving hospital, which in turn is affecting the ability of a growing number of trusts to meet their performance and financial targets.”
Will the Prime Minister also address the reckless and counterproductive adult social care cuts that were made by her predecessor?
The right hon. Gentleman quoted what had been said by Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England. At the time of the autumn statement last November, he said that
“our case for the NHS has been heard and actively supported.”
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of social care, and the interaction between healthcare and social care. More than £5 billion extra was put into the better care fund in order to deal with precisely those issues, and local authorities are able to raise 2% of council tax to deal with the social care costs that they face. What is important, however, is for the health service and local authorities to work together to ensure that they deliver the best possible service to people who require that social care. I saw a very good example of that at Salford Royal on Monday, and I want to see more examples throughout the national health service, delivering for patients. We have put in the funding, which the right hon. Gentleman’s party would not have done, so that the NHS will receive better care for patients.
We all want local government and the NHS to work closely together, but the problem is that local government funding has been cut, and 400,000 fewer people are receiving publicly funded social care as a result. The NHS is having difficulty coping with the crisis that it is in, and unfortunately there is bed-blocking. Acute patients cannot leave, because no social care is available for them somewhere down the line. The issue is a funding crisis in both the NHS and local government. Figures published by NHS trusts show that the total deficit is £2.45 billion, but the chief executive of NHS Providers says that the figure may be even bigger. The Government are disguising the extent of the crisis through temporary bailouts. [Interruption.] They are bailing out trusts in a crisis. That is, of course, a good thing, but why are the trusts in a crisis in the first place?
Next month, sustainability and transformation plans are going to be published. Many people across the country are quite alarmed by this because of the threat to accident and emergency departments. Will the Prime Minister deal with this issue now by quite simply saying there will be no downgrades and no closures of A&E departments in the statement coming out next month?
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that over the course of this Parliament, the Government will be spending over half a trillion pounds on the national health service. That is a record level of investment in our national health service. There is a key difference between the way the right hon. Gentleman approaches this and how I approach it: Conservative Members believe that people at a local level should be able to make decisions about the national health service, and that decisions about the national health service should be led by clinicians—it should not be a top-down approach, which is typical of the Labour party.
Wow! Well, top-down was what we got. It cost £3 billion for a reorganisation that nobody wanted at all.
I started by asking the Prime Minister about parity of esteem. All this Government have produced is parity of failure—failing mental health patients; failing elderly people who need social care; failing the 4 million on NHS waiting lists; failing the five times as many people who are waiting more than four hours at A&E departments—and another winter crisis is looming. The Society for Acute Medicine has it right when it says that this funding crisis and the local government funding crisis are leaving the NHS “on its knees”.
What has happened in the NHS over the past six years? More patients being treated, more calls to the ambulance service, more operations, more doctors, more nurses—that is what has been happening in the NHS. But let us just look at the right hon. Gentleman’s party’s approach to the national health service: a former shadow Health Secretary said that it would be “irresponsible” to put more money into the national health service; and a former leader of the Labour party wanted to “weaponise” the national health service. At every election the Labour party claims that the Conservatives will cut NHS spending; after every election we increase NHS spending. At every election Labour claims the Tories will privatise the NHS; after every election when we have been in government we have protected the NHS. There is only one party that has cut funding for the NHS: the Labour party in Wales.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are right to invest in infrastructure such as the A303. That can make a real difference to local communities, but it is important that local communities embrace those opportunities. I know that my hon. Friend has been putting together ideas for a vision for Yeovil and I am sure he will share them with my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary.
I join the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party in remembering the Aberfan disaster. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by that.
Thousands of innocent civilians have now been killed by Saudi air strikes in Yemen. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that those civilians have not been killed by Paveway IV missiles partially manufactured in Scotland that are under licence from her Government to Saudi Arabia?
First, may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his election as deputy leader of the Scottish National party?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have one of the toughest regimes in the world in relation to arms exports. When allegations arise, we press—I have pressed in the past and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has pressed—the Saudi Arabia Government to properly investigate the issues and to learn lessons from them.
I thank the Prime Minister for her kind wishes but, to return to the subject of my question, it is beyond doubt that Saudi air forces are bombing Yemen. Planes made in Britain are being flown by pilots who were trained by Britain and dropping missiles that are made in Britain. I asked her a direct question and she could not answer it, so I will try a second time. Can she give the House an assurance that civilians have not been killed by Paveway IV bombs being dropped on Yemen that are partially manufactured in Scotland under license by her Government? If she does not know the answer to that question, how can she possibly, in good conscience, continue selling them to Saudi Arabia?
In response to the right hon. Gentleman, the point that I made was very simple: we press for proper investigations into what has happened in those incidents before we reach a decision or a conclusion. We have a very strong relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is important for this country in terms of dealing with counter-terrorism and a number of other issues, but what matters, when incidents happen about which there is concern, is that they are properly investigated.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I am sure that he is not the only Member of the House who has had that experience, and he is certainly not the only person who has been affected, as Members will know from their constituency mailbags. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 introduced a review of online ticket sales. Professor Mike Waterson’s independent report on online secondary ticketing makes a number of recommendations, including some whereby the industry itself could better protect itself from the problem. The Government will look very carefully at those recommendations to see what can be done to address the issue.
For too long, the voices of people who had been subjected to child sexual abuse went unheard and they felt that they were not getting justice. That is why it is very important that the inquiry is able to continue and to find that justice for them.
I have to say to the hon. Lady that one of the important aspects of this is that, over the years, too many people have had concerns that those in positions of power have intervened to stop them getting justice. There were stories around about the inquiry and about individuals related to the inquiry, but the Home Secretary cannot intervene on the basis of suspicion, rumour or hearsay.
The hon. Lady refers to the statement that was made in this House yesterday about information being discussed with a director general at the Home Office. She will also have noted that it was asked that that conversation would be confidential, and it was, as far as I am aware, treated as such. It is important for us to recognise that when the Home Office was officially informed of issues, it acted. It is now for the inquiry to get on and deliver for victims and survivors.
As a former Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend is well aware of the impact of the Aberfan disaster on south Wales and those local communities. As I said in my opening remarks, the events were absolutely tragic and the thoughts of the whole House are with those affected by them. I can give the commitment that she is asking for to Wales and to working with the Welsh Government. I am clear that this Government will deliver a country that works for everyone, and that means every part of the United Kingdom. Of course, the Wales Bill will put in place a historic transfer of powers to the Welsh Assembly. It will allow the Welsh Government to focus on the job of transforming the Welsh economy and, of course, we are talking to the Welsh Government about how we go forward with negotiations for leaving the EU.
Everybody in this House recognises the role and contribution of community pharmacies up and down the country, but it is also right that we look at how we are spending NHS money. That is why the Government are looking carefully at this whole issue. If the hon. Gentleman supports community pharmacies, perhaps he ought to have a word with the Leader of the Opposition, because his right hon. Friend’s policy is to nationalise the health service completely, lock, stock and barrel—GP surgeries, Macmillan nurses and community pharmacies.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue, and he is absolutely right. This month, the Government will take a decision on the appropriate site for extended airport capacity in the south-east. The subject has been debated, discussed and speculated about for 40 years; this Government will take a decision, but then a formal process has to be undertaken. The Government will identify their preferred site option. That will go to a statutory consultation, and then the Government will consider the results of that consultation and introduce an airports national planning statement on which the House will vote.
My right hon. Friend has expressed reluctance to submit to the House even broad plans for our negotiations with the EU because of worries that to do so might weaken her Government’s negotiating position. She might have noticed that, this week, one or more Brexiteer members of her Cabinet have been briefing the newspapers copiously on every proposal being put forward in papers to the relevant Cabinet Committee by their colleagues and launching political attacks on Cabinet colleagues who seem to disagree with them. Will she take firm action to stop this process? Does she also agree that the proper approach should involve parliamentary scrutiny of the broad strategy, once her Government have reached agreement on what it should be?
The Government are very clear that the vote on 23 June was a vote to ensure that we had control of movement of people from the EU into the UK. Also, we want the best possible access for businesses for trading in goods and services, and for operating within the European market. That is what the Government will be aiming for, and we will be ambitious in that. Parliament will have its say. There are going to be lengthy negotiations over the course of the two years and more, and Parliament will have its say in a whole variety of ways, not least in relation to the great repeal Bill.
The hon. Lady raises an issue that is a matter of concern to Members across the House. I am making sure that those who are being assessed are being assessed properly and that the right decisions are being taken. The Department for Work and Pensions is looking at the whole process of what should be done and how those assessments should be undertaken. I hope that she welcomes the fact that this Government have said that those with long-term conditions that are not going to improve will not be put through the regular assessments that they had under her Labour Government.
The first nuclear science degree apprenticeship, with apprenticeships with EDF at Hinkley Point and with the Ministry of Defence, has just been launched at Bridgwater and Taunton College. This is at the forefront of the Government’s apprenticeship reform policy. The course combines academic study with practical work experience and it is paid. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is exactly the kind of business-led course that the nation needs if it is to forge ahead?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I commend Bridgwater and Taunton College for the steps it is taking to work with businesses to ensure that its courses are what business needs. That is exactly what we want to see. We also want a regeneration of our expertise in the nuclear industry.
I am sure that the hon. Lady knows that we have transitional arrangements in place and that action was taken by the Government to ensure that the period of time for the pension age change would be no more than 18 months compared with the previous timetable. For 81% of women affected by the 2011 change, it will be no more than 12 months.
The employment figures that have come out today are of course fantastic news, but I am wary about the economic volatility that could result from Brexit, with the potential for inflation to rise and the cost of living to go up for people on very modest wages. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need to keep as many people in employment as possible? We have made the right decision on tax credits. May I urge her personally, ahead of the autumn statement, to look at the cuts that are still embedded in universal credit to ensure that she understands what they will do to people who are trying to get into work?
My hon. Friend is right to talk about the importance of getting people into work, which has a benefit not just in terms of families having an income. I am proud of the Conservative Government’s record over the past six years of getting more and more people into work so that hundreds of thousands fewer households now have no work income coming in. That is extremely important. The point of universal credit is to ensure that the transition from benefits into work means that people do see a benefit if they get into the workplace. The previous system meant that some people said that they were better off on benefits. We want to see people in work and that is what the system is there to encourage.
We have been clear that women who have a third child as a result of rape would not be subject to the limit that is being considered in relation to benefits. I absolutely recognise that the hon. Lady’s point addresses concern about dealing with individuals who have been through the trauma of rape, and that is why the Government are taking their time to consider that. We are consulting at the moment and looking at how to ensure that we do this in absolutely the right way.
Given the increasing relevance of the Commonwealth for trade, will the Prime Minister give her personal support to the first ever meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers here in the UK next year? When she goes to India next month, will she commit to persuade Prime Minister Modi to attend the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in the UK?
I am happy to encourage all leaders to attend CHOGM when it takes place here in the United Kingdom. I assure my right hon. Friend that we are indeed looking at the possibility of trade deals in relation to the Commonwealth. I applaud that first ever meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers, which is an important step as we look to forge a new global role in the world, ensuring that we make a success of leaving the EU and trading our way around the world.
I recognise that this is not the first time that the hon. Gentleman has raised concerns about West Cumberland hospital. The point of how we are approaching this is that decisions are taken at and generated from the local level. It is the local area that will be looking at the services that people need, and at ensuring that they can be provided and are safe for his constituents and those in other parts of Cumbria.
The tragic murder of one prisoner and the critical wounding of two others at Pentonville prison last night brings home the stark decline in safety in our prisons. Will the Prime Minister give the Secretary of State for Justice her full support in commissioning an immediate, thorough and complete review of the operation, management, capacity, leadership and resourcing of the National Offender Management Service, which has singularly failed to arrest this declining situation?
My hon. Friend raises a matter that was one of the first issues that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice raised with me: violence and safety in prisons. That is why my right hon. Friend is looking across the board at the action that needs to be taken. She has already announced extra money for more staff in prisons and recognises the importance of this particular issue.
I want to see every child getting the education that is right for them. I want every child to be able to get on as far as their talents and hard work will take them. That is why we need to increase the number of good schools in this country. If we look at the gap in attainment in grammar schools between those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who are not, we see that it is virtually zero—that is the not the same in other schools. I just say to the hon. Lady that it is wrong that we have a system in this country where a law prevents the opening or expansion of good schools. That is what we are going to get rid of.
Will the Prime Minister work with her Ministers and Secretaries of State to champion a reduction in the ivory trade and in the trade in the organs of endangered species throughout the world so that this country tries to lead by example?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. This is something the Government have been taking up, and I can assure her that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has not only heard her representations, but promoted this as an issue that the Government will take up.
I am very pleased to welcome the renaissance in the ceramics industry that the hon. Gentleman refers to. His constituency, of course, has a long-standing history of and tradition in ceramics. What are we doing? As we go through the negotiations for leaving the European Union, we will be ensuring that this country has the best possible access to trade with and operate within that European market. That is what people want and that is what we will deliver.
Many constituents have contacted me to express concern about anti-Semitism. I am sure that every Member of this House can agree that we should show zero tolerance of anti-Semitism, but does the Prime Minister also agree that we must ensure that all parties do not allow a situation to arise in which it appears that an environment is created where anti-Semitism is tolerated?
Yes, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that this House should send a very clear message that we will not tolerate anti-Semitism. I have been concerned about the rise in the number of incidents of anti-Semitism in this country. We should very clearly ensure that those incidents of anti-Semitism are properly investigated and dealt with, and that we give the clear message that we will not tolerate it. But that does have to be done by every single political party in this Chamber, and I say to the Leader of the Opposition that given the report of the Home Affairs Committee about anti-Semitism and the approach to anti-Semitism in the Labour party, he needs to think very carefully about the environment that has been created in the Labour party in relation to anti-Semitism.
We are now just one month from the start of the new inquest into the Birmingham pub bombings. West Midlands police has set aside for itself a legal fund of £1 million, but as of today, the bereaved families have no legal funding. Prime Minister, this is a shameful state of affairs. Please intervene and show the Birmingham families the same compassion as was shown to the Hillsborough families.
The right hon. Gentleman might be aware that the Birmingham families have been encouraged to apply—I believe they have applied—to the legal aid fund for exceptional funding. That was, as I understand it, what happened after the 7/7 bombings. The Home Secretary has made clear her expectation that funding will be provided. We are waiting for the decision from the legal aid fund, and we are hopeful that it will be a positive one.
I assure my right hon. Friend that no decision has been taken on the site of airport expansion in the south-east. As she will know from her previous background, the Davies commission said that airport capacity in the south-east should be expanded and the Government accepted that argument. The Davies commission identified three sites, all of which it said would be credible and deliverable, and the Government will take a decision this month.
May I thank the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other Members for their comments about the Aberfan disaster, and about the resilience and quiet dignity shown by the people of Aberfan? At 9.15 on Friday morning—the anniversary of the disaster—the people in that community and communities across Wales will mark the disaster with a minute’s silence. As the disaster affected communities right across the country, if not the world, will the Prime Minister support that minute’s silence being marked across the UK as well?
I know that the Secretary of State for Wales will be attending the memorial that will take place in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency on Friday. It is appropriate that we all show our respect for those who lost their lives and for the families who suffered as a result of the Aberfan tragedy 50 years ago. As we said earlier, it was a terrible tragedy not just for individual families, but for a whole community, and it is right that we recognise that and mark it.
Sale of Annuities
This Government have taken a great step forward in giving more and more people freedom to choose how they use their pension savings when they retire. We have already seen more than 300,000 people choosing to access their pension flexibly since the reforms were introduced. Alongside our efforts to do that, we also said that we would look at how we could spread that flexibility to people locked into existing annuities. We consulted extensively with the industry and with consumer groups to explore whether we could put in place the right conditions for a market to develop to facilitate that idea.
Throughout our investigations, one of our very highest priorities was to establish whether people could get a good deal through such a market. In the course of our efforts to investigate the viability of a secondary market in annuities, two things became clear. First, without compromising on consumer protections there would be insufficient purchasers of these annuities to create a competitive market in which British pensioners could get a good deal. Secondly, pensioners trying to sell their annuities would also be likely to incur high costs in doing so.
This Government have made it very clear that we want this to be a country that works for everyone, and that includes making sure that everyone gets a high level of consumer protection. It has become clear, through our extensive research, that a secondary market would not be able to offer this. Rather than being to the benefit of British pensioners, it would instead be to their detriment. It is for that reason that we are not prepared to allow such a market to develop, and we will not be taking this policy further.
No disrespect to the Minister, whom I like, but the Chancellor should have been here to answer this question, particularly given the disgraceful way in which the announcement was made.
The move towards pension freedoms was the flagship announcement in the Budget just two years ago, in 2014. Originally the brainchild of the former Liberal Democrat Pensions Minister Steve Webb, it was embraced by the former Chancellor and specifically included in the manifesto on which this Government were elected. Yet yesterday afternoon, the Government announced via the press, not via this House, that they were scrapping the whole deal. This is a huge U-turn, which was announced after clear lobbying by an industry that never really subscribed to it, and a failure by the Government to build a reasonable secondary annuity market. Of course it is right that protections are put in place to ensure that people are not exploited on the secondary annuities market, but there are tens of thousands of people trapped in poor-value annuities who are eager to be able to take advantage of the new freedoms. Based on the promises in this Government’s manifesto, many of them will already have been considering how to take advantage of the plans in order to release themselves from their annuity and invest their savings differently. This announcement will leave many people having to make different decisions about their retirement from those to which they were being directed—if, that is, they have even heard of the change, given the way that it was rushed through and the way it was announced by the Government.
Can the Minister say, first, when the decision was made to drop the new pension freedom plans? Secondly, why was this decision not announced to Parliament before it was announced to the media? Thirdly, what are the Government doing to inform those who may wish to cash in their annuity that they will no longer be able to do so? Fourthly, what assessment have the Government made of people’s change of behaviour in response to the freedom, and how will this affect their financial decisions?
The pensions freedom plan was about trusting people with their money. Clearly, this Government have decided that they no longer trust people. They owe an apology to those who have spent time and money examining their options for retirement, and I hope we get one today.
It is easy to wish to have the cake and eat it, as the Lib Dems regularly do. It is difficult being a Minister. Sometimes we have to make hard decisions, but on balance, the interests of the consumers, often older people and the most vulnerable in our society, have trumped the desire to further increase pensions flexibility. The hon. Gentleman is disingenuous. It was one element of our pension freedoms and, after extensive consultation, it transpired that it would not provide value for money. Which?, which is totally independent of Government, has said that
“it would have been wrong to move forward without assurances that consumers could get value for money and have the necessary protections”—
assurances and necessary protections protecting those most vulnerable people in our society.
Order. I did not interrupt the Minister in his flow, but may I ask that from now on we avoid the use of the word “disingenuous” or “disingenuously”? There is an imputation of dishonour and we should avoid that. The Minister is a dextrous fellow with, I am sure, an extensive vocabulary and he can deploy some other term to get his point across. On the subject of those with dexterity and great vocabulary, I call Sir Desmond Swayne.
Mr Speaker, I acknowledge your sound advice, as ever, and apologise if I have been anything other than my usually well-behaved self.
My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) raises an interesting point, but this is about people, many of whom are older and more vulnerable, making the right choices, and the Government making sure that the market is there to support them. That is not the case, which is why we have changed tack.
This is the latest of the many U-turns that the Government have made. I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) for securing this urgent question. Labour Members want to know why the Government did not do proper market analysis prior to the announcement. They were warned at the time. If they had done that analysis at the outset, they may have realised the chaos and confusion that such an announcement would cause for up to 500,000 pensioners across the country, who are already worried about their long-term future.
This U-turn on pensions comes in the same week as the Government have pushed forward with their proposals for a lifetime ISA, despite widespread cross-party concern about the impact of future public finances on personal retirement plans. In the UK pension market the consumer is unable to make an informed choice because of a lack of cost and performance data. We believe that it should be the role of the Government to provide those data. What will the Government do to assist with that process?
Like the hon. Member for Leeds North West, we would like to know when the Government decided to abandon the policy. Who made the final decision? Was there another interference by the Prime Minister in the previous Chancellor’s decisions? Who was consulted? How extensive was that consultation? The Government were warned. What assessment has been made of the pension market in general and the knock-on effects of this decision? What influence, if any, has the recent vote for Britain to leave the European Union had on this decision?
There is an indication that because of this decision, £900 million may be lost in the first two years in tax that would have come in as a result of people paying tax on the sale of their annuity. Where is that money going to come from? Is that not another black hole in the Government’s finances?
Let me deal with the points in reverse order. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the autumn statement to see what the finances look like, but it became increasingly apparent that not only was it not a good deal for consumers—those vulnerable people who we care about—but it was unlikely to provide the kind of income that had first been expected. We consulted extensively with the industry and consumer groups. I had many conversations with the Department for Work and Pensions, and particularly with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Pensions. The hon. Gentleman asks where information will be provided. The Government are introducing a new money advice service that will provide such information.
I shall finish with a quote from the Association of British Insurers, in whose interest the hon. Gentleman might suppose it was for us to continue with the policy. The ABI says:
“This is the right decision for the right reasons”
and that there were
“considerable risks for customers, including from unregulated buyers”.
We do not want to see unregulated buyers out there or vulnerable people affected.
As ever, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. There were very few people interested in buying those products, which would have resulted in a very poor deal for customers. The market was not big enough to provide value for money and on that basis we decided not to proceed.
On that point, given that we now know that there was an absence of buyers in the market, where was the Government’s consultation before they offered their proposal? We cannot get away from the fact that this was a manifesto commitment from the Government. I welcome the U-turn; they have done the right thing, but why was the matter not brought to the House? Why did we read about it in the media?
Last April the Financial Conduct Authority said that there were concerns about the secondary market in annuities, which would mean
“a significant risk of poor outcomes for consumers”.
The regulator said:
“Annuities are inherently difficult for consumers to value, and consumers who will be able to participate in this market will include a higher proportion of older, more vulnerable consumers.”
We could see that. The FCA came out with that last April. Why has it taken so long for the Government to do the right thing? We recognise some of the concerns for consumers as a result of the pensions freedoms introduced. May we have a full review of the pensions freedom policy?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for recognising that this is the right thing to do. It is a difficult decision and it is, as ever, a balance between two conflicting viewpoints. My job as a Minister at the Treasury is about making sure that consumers are protected, that industries are regulated sufficiently, and that there is the very best possible deal for customers. Withdrawing this product, which is aimed at many old and vulnerable consumers, is absolutely the right thing to do.
I know that the Minister has very bravely taken this decision to protect the more vulnerable pensioners who are suffering, but what will he and the Treasury be able to do to ensure that pensioners on very low incomes who are trapped in difficult annuities can escape those punishing regimes?
We are looking at an economy that works for everyone, including those pensioners on low incomes. The Treasury will be considering this very carefully, but my hon. Friend will have to wait until the autumn statement to hear how we are best placed to deal with this. However, those people are absolutely at the centre of our attention, and we will do all we can to help.
Of course, guarding against mis-selling is important, but does this announcement not represent two new problems? It is a problem, first, for those hundreds of thousands of pensioners who have been marched up the hill only to be marched back down again, and left uncertain about their financial options, but, secondly, for those other generations of potential savers who are baffled by pensions generally and who will find this mixed message—this chopping and changing—on flexibilities even more of a reason to feel sour towards the attractiveness of pensions? We have a savings crisis in this country, and the Government need far more consistency and a clearer policy.
None of us wants to see people being baffled, and none of us wants to see uncertainty, but at the end of the day we are surely better off making the right decision, which protects vulnerable consumers, rather than carrying on regardless. The hon. Gentleman is right that we all have a responsibility to educate and inform people throughout their lives about the importance of savings and pensions, and that is something the Government fully intend to continue doing.
I know that this is a difficult decision for my hon. Friend, because he feels passionately about pension freedoms. Can he assure the House, though, that every effort is now being made to ensure that pension providers fully co-operate with all other aspects of the Government’s wider pension freedoms, which have been so warmly welcomed around the country?
I can give my hon. Friend the reassurance that I will do all I can to make sure that providers work closely with the Government to get the best possible deal for older people and indeed savers, including younger people—people who are perhaps not in the habit of saving or contributing to pensions. That is an important thing, and I am happy to pursue it with my full vigour.
I will ask the Minister a third time why this announcement was not made to Parliament before it was made to the media. Also, what is he going to do to inform people who may have intended to cash in their annuity, but who are now not going to be able to do so?
Given that these retirement annuities can form the bedrock of many people’s financial security, it is right that a decision is taken to secure the interests of those people rather than to press ahead purely because of a manifesto commitment. Will the Minister reassure me, though, about what work the Treasury is doing to ensure that people get a better deal on their annuities in the first place? For many people, looking to cash in their annuity in was about trying to deal with the bad deal they got on that annuity, not necessarily about wanting a lump sum.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: two wrongs, sadly, do not make a right. The Government are committed to giving people pension freedoms so that they can choose what to do with their money, because that is the right choice to make, but, in this particular and individual circumstance, it was not the appropriate way forward.
My constituent, Mr Anderson, contacted me and advised me that, despite the risks, he planned to take up the option of selling his annuity. I wrote to the Treasury and was assured only 19 days ago:
“The Government remains committed to delivering these proposals”.
Yesterday’s announcement is a betrayal of people such as Mr Anderson. I notice that the Minister did not answer the question a few minutes ago, so what exactly do the Government suggest that Mr Anderson and others do now?
Obviously, Mr Anderson is as important as all the other people who, no doubt, will be very interested in this announcement. It transpired through consultation that a very small percentage of people would be better off. We were looking at legislation that would oblige the Government to provide guidance and advice; in the vast—very vast—majority of cases, that advice would be that it would not be appropriate and in the consumer’s best interests to proceed. There is no easy answer, but at the end of the day, I am not going to allow vulnerable older people to take advantage of what may, superficially, seem a good deal, but what, in the long term, is a poor one.
John Lawson, the head of retirement policy at Aviva, has said that one of the obstacles in the way of the secondary annuities market is the existence of statutory override clauses in annuity contracts. Has that played any part in the Government’s decision, and do they have any plans to at least look at passing legislation to deal with that?
That is certainly something we will be looking at. At the end of the day, many people got a poor deal on the way in; the last thing I want to do is to give them a doubly poor deal on the way out because the market is not big enough to provide value for money. If that means the option of reducing regulation, I am not a fan of that; regulation exists to support people and to help them make the right decisions.
The industry opposed this; millions of pensioners who were locked into low-paying annuities supported it. The Chancellor at the time knew all the problems, yet he claimed to be the champion of choice for the people. What has changed? Do the Government now believe that the nature of people they said would make good choices because they were sensible and had good advice has changed? Given that the Minister has removed choice, but not the problem, what does he intend to do for those who still find themselves locked in annuity arrangements that do not give them a sensible and fair income?
It is fair to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time was not in possession of all the information following the consultation. It was our intent, clearly, at the time to listen carefully to not only the industry but consumer groups, which we have done extensively. It is worth saying that we remain absolutely committed to all the other pension freedoms that we are introducing. This is a sensible way forward, and I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes it.
This pop-up policy, which has now been popped down again, came from a Government who had a long-term economic plan, yet this policy has not survived very long. As has been indicated, the policy was a response to the bubbling sense of scandal that was there because people were stuck with meagre and marginal annuities, and it was a chance to give them something different. If the Minister is convinced that he is avoiding the new scandal that would have happened, of people ending up mis-selling their annuities, what is he doing about the original scandal of the meagre annuities that people are trapped in, which this policy was designed to respond to?
The hon. Gentleman is right in as far as that certainly was the intention of the policy. There is a long-term plan, because I am concerned about the long-term financial wellbeing of these older and vulnerable people, and it is important that they get the right deal and make the right decisions. That is why this suggestion, which is only one of many, is not appropriate to carry forward. It is not a pop-up policy; we have listened carefully, and we have made the right decision.
This U-turn has come about because of concerns about mis-selling and protecting consumers. The same risks and concerns must surely apply to the people who are currently exercising pension freedoms by cashing in their pension policies for lump sums. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) said, when are this Government going to have a coherent review of the existing pension freedoms legislation?
What happens in the secondary annuities market is very different from cashing in existing pensions for lump sums. To be clear to the House, selling an annuity would never have been the same as getting a refund on all the money that was put into the product or the original pension pot minus any payments made. Purchasers would have paid what they thought the income stream was worth. Without a competitive market, that income stream would have represented poor value for money, and people would have got a very poor settlement as a result.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday at Foreign Office questions, the shadow Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood):
“When can we expect full, independent, UN-led investigations of the thousands of airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen?”
In his reply, the Minister stated:
“There are not thousands, as the hon. Lady suggested—that is to mislead the House—but there are a number with which we are concerned that need to be clarified.”—[Official Report, 18 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 667-668.]
However, I have discovered that on 16 September The Guardian newspaper stated that the independent Yemen data project
“records more than 8,600 air attacks between March 2015, when the Saudi-led campaign began, and the end of August this year.”
Moreover, Human Rights Watch lists dozens of airstrikes that have appeared to be “unlawfully indiscriminate” and have caused civilian casualties. Can you advise the House on whether the Minister needs to come to the Chamber and correct the inaccurate and rather dismissive reply that he gave to my hon. Friend yesterday?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he intended to raise this point of order. What Members say in this House—I often have to make this point, but it bears repetition—is their individual responsibility. This applies to Ministers, and indeed to Opposition Front Benchers, as it does to other right hon. and hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman believes that Ministers have been inaccurate in what they said yesterday—or, specifically, that the response to the shadow Foreign Secretary was inaccurate. He has made that view clear, and he has done so on the record. I am sure that it will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench, and that it will be relayed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am also sure that if the Foreign Secretary and the Minister feel that the House has been inadvertently misled, the relevant Minister will take swift steps to correct the record. It is only fair to say, as it is not for me to umpire on whether a clarification is required, that a Minister may take a view of the facts of the matter that differs from that of the hon. Gentleman. As to whether that is the case, we will have to await events.
Cosmetic Surgery (Standards of Practice)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a bill to make provision about the training, qualifications and certification of medical practitioners conducting cosmetic surgical procedures; to establish a code of practice for the provision of information to patients on the options and risks in relation to such procedures; to make provision about permissible treatments and the advertising of such treatments; and for connected purposes.
I became aware of the scandal around the £3.5 billion-a-year cosmetic surgery industry through a constituent, Dawn Knight, who in 2012 had cosmetic surgery on her eyes at Dolan Park hospital, run by Hospital Medical Group. The surgery was sold to her with a lifetime aftercare package to take care of any complications arising from the procedure. Following the surgery, Dawn was unable to close her eyes, and still, to this day, has to apply artificial tears to her eyes every two hours to stop them drying out. Dawn saw the surgeon who undertook the procedure, Arnaldo Paganelli, who refused to admit there was a problem. When she contacted Hospital Medical Group about the aftercare package, it simply pointed out a clause in her contract that said that treatments could be undertaken only if the surgeon agreed to it. No further help was offered, making a complete sham of the aftercare plan she was sold. As in similar cases, the NHS is now having to pick up the bill for Dawn’s ongoing care. Dawn’s case is not an isolated one. Many others have come forward since the publicity around it.
Although Hospital Medical Group promotes itself as a cosmetic surgery company, along with its associated companies, it is nothing of the sort. Rather, it is a facilities management company, simply providing the facilities where surgery takes place and marketing the procedures. When Dawn complained, she found out that her contract was not with Hospital Medical Group but with the surgeon who performed the procedure, and was told that it was her responsibility to check his General Medical Council registration and insurance. In Dawn’s case, her surgeon was a bankrupt, under-insured individual who was based in Italy and flew into the UK to work for Hospital Medical Group.
Herein lies the problem: at present, cosmetic surgery is not a defined surgical speciality in its own right. As the Department of Health has noted, the training within certain defined specialities such as plastic surgery, ear, nose and throat surgery, and eye surgery includes an aspect of cosmetic training, but no qualification is available for those who perform cosmetic surgery. In fact, the law allows any qualified doctor—they need not even be a surgeon—to perform cosmetic surgery without undertaking additional training or qualifications. My Bill aims to close this loophole. It has the support of the Royal College of Surgeons.
The Government and the Department of Health are aware of this situation. Following the PIP breast implant scandal, the Government asked Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, the then NHS medical director, to undertake a review of the regulation of cosmetic interventions. That review was published in April 2013. It asked the Royal College of Surgeons to establish a cosmetic surgery inter-speciality committee to set standards for cosmetic surgery practice and training, and to make arrangements for formal certification of all surgeons regarded as competent to undertake cosmetic procedures, taking into account their training and experience.
The Department of Health requested the Law Commission to draft legislation, and this was done in 2014. The legislation was widely supported, but the coalition Government failed to enact it, as have the current Government. The Royal College of Surgeons would like only surgeons with appropriate skills and experience to undertake cosmetic surgery. I strongly support that, and I think that most members of the public would do so. To facilitate this, the GMC needs to be given legal powers to formally recognise additional qualifications or accreditations such as those that the Royal College of Surgeons is developing in cosmetic surgery. It should then be mandatory for those offering cosmetic surgery not only to have these but to make it clear to the public that they have them when advertising their services.
This is not the first time I have spoken about this case; I raised it in the House on 20 October 2015. I would like to put on record my thanks to the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer), the then Health Minister, who met me and my constituent, Dawn Knight.
Another area that the Bill aims to address is the marketing of cosmetic procedures. Some of the techniques that are used would be more appropriate for selling double glazing than cosmetic surgery, with its related risks. They include two-for-one offers, along with glossy brochures with no explanation of the potential risks of undertaking the surgery. The whole thrust of the advertising is to sell such procedures without any counselling or advice on whether it is appropriate for an individual to undergo them. Individuals who have already undergone surgery are often bombarded with more adverts, by email or on Facebook, despite the fact that that practice has been reported to the Advertising Standards Agency. Such aggressive marketing needs to be banned and a mandatory cooling-off period introduced once people have signed up to allow them to change their minds. I would go further and include mandatory counselling for individuals before they undertake any such procedure.
I want to address the way in which the companies that sell cosmetic surgery are structured. Dawn Knight responded to an advert from the Hospital Group, but her contract was with a company called the Hospital Medical Group Ltd. If we look at the Companies House register, we see that under the main Hospital Group holding there are eight different companies. In 2012-13, the group’s turnover was £44 million and dividends of some £7.5 million were paid to its directors. In 2016, the Hospital Medical Group was liquidated and its assets were sold to one of its parent companies. Some 80% of creditors on the liquidator’s list are solicitors representing former clients. One suspects that that structure was put in place to avoid any potential for former clients to sue the company for negligence.
With the liquidation, the lifetime guarantee that Dawn was sold is, like those sold to many other people, now completely worthless. Regulation is needed to ensure that guarantees offered on cosmetic surgery can actually be used to get redress. Despite the fact that a large number of women now have no recourse to law, the Hospital Group continues to operate and sell its products. The continuing care of individuals such as Dawn is falling on the NHS, while the group and its associated companies continue to make a profit. Guarantees must be backed up by insurance, so that if a company is liquidated, people can get legal redress.
The Prime Minister, in her speech to Conservative Party conference, said that the state should intervene where the market fails. We have here a classic example of the market not only failing but being used to exploit people, which is ruining their lives and costing the NHS millions of pounds a year. The Government are aware that action is needed in this area, and there is no reason why they should not act.
Question put and agreed to.
That Holly Lynch, Judith Cummins, Claire Perry, Helen Jones, Fiona Mactaggart, Paula Sherriff, Mr Iain Wright, Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Mr Kevan Jones present the Bill.
Mr Kevan Jones accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March 2017, and to be printed (Bill 77).
[9th Allotted Day]
Rights of EU Nationals
I beg to move,
That this House recognises the contribution that nationals from other countries in the EU have made to the UK; and calls on the Government to ensure that all nationals from other countries in the EU who have made the UK their home retain their current rights, including the rights to live and work in the UK, should the UK exit the EU.
It is nearly four months since the EU referendum, and the long-term status of non-UK EU nationals living in the United Kingdom is still unclear, just as the Government are still without a plan or a negotiating strategy for the Brexit that they accidentally delivered. The status of millions of our fellow workers, friends and neighbours is uncertain. That is simply not good enough. Despite repeated requests, the Government have refused to guarantee, in the long term, the rights of EU nationals who have made their home in the United Kingdom. In the meantime, in England and Wales hate crime has soared and xenophobic rhetoric is common in the mainstream media and, sadly, sometimes in the mouths of Ministers.
I thought that the Government had clearly said that they had no wish to make anybody leave unless there were evictions from the continent. Is the hon. and learned Lady saying that continental countries are going to evict British citizens?
The whole point of this motion is that human beings should not be used as bargaining chips in negotiation. If the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues think that the United Kingdom has so much to offer the European Union in its negotiations, why do they insist on using human beings as bargaining chips?
Does the hon. and learned Lady agree that many of the people we are talking about provide vital services and work in our public services? For instance, 6% of doctors working in the Welsh health service come from the EU. We face a crisis in that a third of our doctors may retire in the next few years, so we will need those people and additional qualified individuals to work in our health service. If the Government’s rhetoric is translated into policy, it will have a detrimental impact on the delivery of health services in my country.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The statistics are very similar in Scotland, where about 6.7% of staff in the NHS are EU nationals. The net result of the refusal to guarantee the long-term status of EU nationals, and of the xenophobic rhetoric and hate crime across the United Kingdom, is that many EU nationals are living with considerable stress and worry. We all receive letters from them as their constituency MPs. Damage has been done to the British economy and, importantly, to our international reputation.
My hon. and learned Friend will undoubtedly have read the disgraceful comments in some quarters of the press this morning by a Tory MP who suggested that some child refugees should have to undergo dental checks to confirm their age before gaining passage to the UK from Calais—as if those children had not been through enough. Leaving aside the fact that those children have a legal right to family reunification here—
I am the Conservative MP who has just been referred to. This is not a matter that is before us today. I wanted to speak about EU migrants, being married to one myself. If the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) wants to raise a completely unrelated matter, will I be able to answer that in the speech that I hope you will call me to make later on, Mr Speaker, even though it has nothing to do with this debate?
I did not judge the remark to be disorderly, although it needs to be made briefly. I did not and do not think it was disorderly, but I give the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) the assurance, which he is entitled to seek, that he will have an opportunity in his remarks to respond as he thinks fit. No one should deny him that opportunity. Briefly, Mr Gray; let us hear it.
I will make some progress. Those of us who have actually been to Calais, met some of these child refugees—some of them are young men, but they are still children—and seen them separated from their families and in tears found the comments to which my hon. Friend referred deeply distasteful.
I am going to make some progress.
Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will attend her first European Union summit in Brussels. I very much hope that it will not be her last. Britain’s position on EU migrants will be a central issue. Now is the opportunity for the UK Government to do the right thing, so the Scottish National party calls on this House today to recognise the contribution that EU nationals have made to the UK. We also call on the Government to ensure that all EU nationals who have made this country their home retain their current rights, including the rights to live and work in this country, should the UK exit the European Union.
I asked the Home Secretary how an EU citizen demonstrates that they have lived in the UK for five or more years, how citizenship is claimed after six years, which Department will be responsible for confirming the right to remain, what citizenship they will be able to claim, what certification of these rights will be provided and what the estimate is of the costs of going through this process. In reply to that parliamentary question, I was told:
“The Home Office has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period.”
Is it not time we got our act together as a country and gave people who have given their lives and their taxes to this country the security of knowing that they can remain?
Order. These are all very serious and worthy interventions, but they suffer from the disadvantage of being too long. This must not continue. We must try to restore some sort of order to this debate. I do not want to embarrass him unduly, but if Members would model themselves in terms of brevity on the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)—or on the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart)—they would serve the House well.
I could not agree more with the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon). Is this not symptomatic of the complete failure of various Departments to answer any questions arising from the strategy they will presumably need to adopt as a result of the result on 24 June?
I will give way in a moment.
To pick up on the hon. Lady’s point, I am delighted that Scottish National party Members have the full support of Labour party colleagues for the motion. We are very happy to work with them as part of a cross-party, progressive alliance, which I am sure will include some Government Members, to protect the rights of EU nationals across the UK.