House of Commons
Wednesday 2 November 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Cabinet Office and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Voter Registration: Young People
The Government are building a democracy that works for everyone, including young people. Online registration has made it easier and faster to register to vote, and since its introduction a record 4.2 million applications to register have been made by people aged 16 to 24.
That was a very interesting answer. How can the Government be building a democracy when they have excluded nearly 2 million people who were allowed to vote in the referendum, and are going ahead with boundary reviews that will particularly affect young people in universities?
We are absolutely committed to taking account of the issues that matter to young people. As for the boundary changes, it is right for us to ensure that every seat is of equal value. It cannot be right for some constituencies to contain 95,000 people and others 38,000. We will ensure that every vote is equal, and that includes those of young people.
As my hon. Friend will know, next week the Youth Parliament will sit in this place. Does he agree that many 16, 17 and 18-year-olds are taking a growing interest in public affairs and what we do in the House—that is certainly what I find when I visit schools in my constituency—and that such initiatives will help youth registration?
It would be remiss of me not to note that the Youth Parliament will be sitting in this very Chamber on 11 November under your command, Mr Speaker. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing young people discuss the issues that matter to them. When it comes to “every vote matters”, we should bear in mind the fact that young people are interested in issues such as mental health and a curriculum that works for everyone, and those are the issues that are being debated in the Chamber. We look forward to working with young people to ensure that their voice is heard.
The Minister will be aware that 16-year-olds in Scotland are able to vote for Members of the Scottish Parliament and for councillors, and that the plans for devolution under the Wales Bill might mean that 16-year-olds are allowed to vote for Welsh Assembly Members and councillors. Will he now give proper consideration to a full and positive report on the need to ensure that 16-year-olds can vote for Members of the House of Commons so that there can be full democracy for people aged 16 and over?
We discussed this issue at the previous session of Cabinet Office questions. We will not be lowering the parliamentary voting age, because since the general election Parliament has debated the proposal a number of times and repeatedly voted against it. It is important to recognise that most democracies consider that 18 is the right age to enfranchise young people. A person must be at least 18 to serve on a jury for similar reasons.
My hon. Friend referred to the need to ensure that every vote is equal. In the light of the number of spoiled ballot papers in elections for police and crime commissioners, will he think again about reintroducing the first-past-the-post system for elections of that kind in England?
My hon. Friend is right that we need a clear and secure democracy if we are to continue to have confidence in our system. In the elections for police and crime commissioners, about 8 million people voted and there were more than 300,000 spoiled ballot papers. For the EU referendum, in which 35 million people voted, there were just 25,000 spoiled ballot papers. There is clearly an issue that the Government will want to look into.
Has it occurred to the Minister that if the Government were not so aggressively making it difficult for millions of people to be included in the register, and if the previous Prime Minister had not so arrogantly dismissed the case for enfranchising 16 and 17-year-olds, the referendum result would have been different, and he would still be Prime Minister?
It is important to recognise that in the referendum a record number of people voted on one side—17.4 million voted for the UK to leave the European Union—and that a record 46.5 million people were registered to vote, of whom 3 million registered using the individual electoral registration system online. That shows that people have full confidence in the future of our new system.
Does the Minister agree that more young people might register to vote if they thought that it would make a positive difference to their lives, and that decisions such as trebling tuition fees, abolishing the education maintenance allowance and restricting young people’s housing benefit only act as a disincentive for them to become involved in politics?
The hon. Lady is right, but there is a problem with young people’s registration: we allow 16-year-olds to register to vote, but only 37% of them choose to do so. As I said earlier, we need to take account of the issues that matter to young people. Such issues will be debated by the Youth Parliament next Friday, but none of those to which the hon. Lady refers are on the agenda.
Voting Rights: Overseas UK Citizens
On 7 October the Government published a policy statement setting out our detailed proposals for votes for life, and explaining how we plan to meet our manifesto commitment to scrap the 15-year time limit for overseas voting. We intend the system to be in place before the next scheduled UK parliamentary general election.
We are determined that by the time of the 2020 general election, the historic principle of equal seats will be in place. If we do not introduce that reform, we will be fighting our seats on the basis of data that go back to the year 2000, meaning that they are 20 years out of date. That is completely unacceptable, which is why we must press ahead with boundary reform.
Does my hon. Friend agree that by including British citizens living abroad who have previously been resident to vote, as well as those who have previously been registered, the Government are enabling more people to participate in our politics and delivering a democracy that truly works for everyone?
We will ensure that we have a democracy that works for everyone, which is why we are determined to ensure that Britons living abroad will, regardless of which country they live in, be able to participate in our democracy, especially those who have lived abroad for more than 15 years, such as Harry Shindler, a Labour voter who lives in Italy and fought in world war two, but is unable to vote at the moment. It is right that we give these people who have served their country the right to vote.
Alongside extending suffrage for UK citizens living abroad, what consideration has the Cabinet Office given to extending suffrage in general elections to all EU and non-Commonwealth immigrants permanently living in Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
In terms of local government suffrage, EU citizens can already vote. For parliamentary suffrage, we are extending the franchise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) rightly says, to an extra 3.7 million Brits abroad. When it comes to the question of those living in this country, obviously that is subject to future negotiations.
At a time when the Government are failing in any serious way to address the democratic deficit in the UK, they are, as has been mentioned, pursuing plans to remove the 15-year time limit for overseas voters and to hand a vote for life to an estimated 1 million expats. Will the Minister explain how that might affect Electoral Commission guidelines on “permissible donors”, and will he assure the House that under no circumstances will the proposed changes allow unlimited political financial donations from non-UK taxpayers abroad to be funnelled into the coffers of any UK political party?
First, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place? It is great to see him across the Dispatch Box.
On the issue of overseas electors and ensuring that those living abroad for more than 15 years have a vote for life, the principle is clear: we must ensure that those who were born in this country, who have often paid tax in this country and have moved abroad are given a right to participate in our democracy. These include people such as Harry Shindler, a Labour voter who fought in world war two. We want to ensure that these people who have given something to our country are allowed to participate in our democracy.
House of Lords: Membership
The Government agree that the House of Lords cannot grow indefinitely. However, comprehensive reform is not a priority for this Parliament, given the growing number of pressing priorities elsewhere. Nevertheless, when there are measures that can command consensus, we would welcome working with peers to look at taking them forward.
A simpler answer would have been, “No, we will kick that into the long grass.”
It is clear that the House of Lords needs radical reform. In fact, we should listen to the new Lord Speaker, who said only last week:
“I don’t think we can justify a situation where you have over 800 peers at the same time as you’re bringing down the Commons to 600 MPs”.
Does the Minister agree?
This was raised at an important debate on 26 October, when the House agreed with the Government that this is not a priority. The Government agree that House of Lords reform is not one of the priorities of the British people: a recent YouGov study showed that just 18% of the public think House of Lords reform is a priority. I am amazed that the Scottish National party has chosen this issue to campaign on. Why not campaign on education or on health—why not campaign on the issues that matter to the Scottish people?
What an outrage to democracy that answer from the Minister was. We have the ridiculous situation that there are more unelected Members of the House of Lords than MPs living in the highlands of Scotland, yet this Government want to cut democratic participation. We will be left with three Members of Parliament for half the landmass of Scotland and the highlands. That is not democratic accountability. Cut the Lords, not MPs.
The Minister is absolutely right that reducing the size of the House of Lords is not a priority, but neither is reducing the size of the Commons. As we are abolishing goodness knows how many MEPs and taking on their workloads, should not the Government look again at their proposal and equalise seats, which is quite correct, but keep the same number of Members of Parliament?
The previous Parliament passed a law to ensure that we could reduce the number of seats from 650 to 600, but a delay occurred because Opposition Members decided to kick this can down the road. The reduction in the number of seats will save £66 million over the course of a Parliament. It is right that we should make savings and put our own House in order.
It is absolutely right that there should be equal votes and that we should cut the cost of politics in the House of Commons. It is absurd that there are no Scottish National party peers in the House of Lords while the party has 56 Members in this House, and that there are 100 Liberal Democrat peers but a pathetic rump of only eight Members here. Does the Minister agree that this shows the need to rebalance membership of the House of Lords?
Does my hon. Friend recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill when he said that democracy was not a particularly good system but the best that we had? Does he agree that, until someone comes up with a better idea, the House of Lords is perhaps not that bad?
Could we not at least get rid of the by-elections for hereditary peers? Earlier this year, the House of Lords decided to remove the second Baron Bridges because he had not turned up for five whole years. There was then a by-election, in which the 15th Earl of Cork and Orrery defeated the 12th Lord Vaux of Harrowden and the eighth Viscount Hood. Under the alternative vote system, the Earl of Limerick was bottom of the list. Does not this bring the whole system into disrepute? Is this “Blackadder” or Gilbert and Sullivan?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I think that people watching this debate will be terrified by the complacency of this Government. Does the Minister not realise that the twin actions of increasing without limit the number of unelected Members of Parliament while reducing the number of elected lawmakers is seriously damaging this institution in the eyes of our own electorate and lowering the esteem in which we are held abroad?
The Government agree with the primacy of the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman made those points in a debate on 26 October, and at that time the House agreed with the Government that this was not a priority and that our priority should be to equalise seats and to ensure that the historic principle of boundary reform occurs.
Departmental Efficiency Savings
The Government are striving towards their manifesto commitment to achieve £20 billion of annual efficiency savings by 2020. Cabinet Office functions are supporting Departments by providing expert support and advice in all areas, including commercial property, infrastructure, fraud and error, and debt. In addition, I will be leading a review with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to see whether further savings are possible over that period.
I thank my hon. Friend and you, Mr Speaker.
We saved £18.6 billion in the previous Parliament. We hope to do better than that over this Parliament. We have made a good start with more than £1.5 billion saved by transforming how Government works, but there is more to do. It is a hard task, but we will complete it.
May I first congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your energy efficiency saving this morning, on the bicycle in Portcullis House, for the poppy appeal? Is it possible for hon. Members and the wider public to track savings in various Departments to see the practical benefits of those savings?
The hon. Gentleman makes a sensible suggestion. As we evolve the single departmental plans, I hope to be able make the savings in individual Departments far more transparent. He is right to touch on that subject; it is something that I want to do more with.
Given that the cost of special advisers has almost doubled in 10 years and that the Tory Government are spending more on special advisers than the new Labour Government, would not dealing with that be a simple cost-cutting measure?
The Government are committed to tackling fraud in UK polls. We have already taken steps to improve the security of polls through the introduction of individual electoral registration. We are currently considering the findings and recommendations of the report of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) into electoral fraud. The Government will provide a full response in due course.
For democracy to work for everyone, we need to ensure that it is clear and secure. The Government are determined to ensure that the electoral register is as complete and accurate as possible. We note that the Electoral Commission has also made recommendations about ID in polling stations. We will reflect on the report of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar and respond in due course.
Obviously, the electoral system in Northern Ireland is separate and has seen advances when it comes to security around polling stations and the electoral process. The Government are interested in all such examples and will be happy to respond when we publish our findings following the report of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar.
The Cabinet Office is responsible for delivering a democracy that works for everyone, supporting the design and delivery of Government policy, and driving efficiencies and reforms to make the Government work better.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the work of the Minister for the constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), with my constituent Mehala Osborne and the domestic violence charity Survive, to reform anonymous registration to ensure that women silenced by the current registration process will no longer be denied the chance to express their democratic will?
I will indeed join with my hon. Friend. His commitment to the cause is well known, as is the commitment of my hon. Friend the Minister for the constitution, who has really taken this on as something that he wants to achieve in his post. For survivors of domestic abuse, voting is more than just a cross on a ballot paper; it is a renewed statement of the freedom that is rightfully theirs.
Let us take the Minister back to the boundary review, because interestingly the Government payroll is not being cut in this process. Ministers should therefore listen to the Members sitting behind them, such as the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who has said:
“We are talking about reducing the number of people we elect at the ballot box, whilst stuffing the House of Lords with yet more people”.
If this is really not a partisan process, and in view of Brexit and the fact that we are removing 73 MEPs, is it not now time to have a fresh review, based on having 650 seats in this place?
The review is going on at the moment, and I am leading it. We have started by looking at senior civil service capacity, but it will go through the entire civil service. It is a very thorough process, and I am making sure that I am talking to all the Ministers leading Brexit-affected Departments to make sure that they are happy with the capacity of their offices.
The hon. Gentleman talks about data, so let us go back to the fact that if we delay boundary reform even further, we will be drawing up the seats on the basis of data, in England and Wales, from 2000—20 years ago. That is clearly unacceptable, which is why we must ensure that boundary reform takes place. [Interruption.]
My hon. Friend makes a sensible point. We are learning a lot from the devolved Administrations, just as they are learning from us. His point is well made, which is why we signed a concordat on statistical evidence a few months ago, ensuring that we are sharing the same methods of evidence gathering across all the Administrations.
Instead of using the single example of an expat war veteran to justify extending the franchise to UK citizens abroad, should the Minister not concentrate on those who live here and pay their taxes—EU citizens—and those who will have to live with the consequences, the 16 and 17-year-olds?
Giving votes for life to those Britons who have lived abroad for more than 15 years was a manifesto commitment that will be delivered by this Government. We are determined to ensure that British people who live abroad are given the right to participate in our democracy, which is absolutely the right thing to do.
I will, and I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. It is of course important that we take people with us on this, but at its core we must remember that the state is there to serve people, not the other way round. That is why this Administration are putting themselves at the service of the British people, and I intend to ensure that public services reflect that fact.
As Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I oversee the administration of the estates and the rents of the Duchy of Lancaster. I contribute to the Government’s policy and decision-making process by attending Cabinet and attending and chairing Cabinet Committees. This role is not without precedence under both Labour and Conservative Governments.
I am pleased that the Government plan to audit racial disparities in public service outcomes, but may I ask Ministers that, in doing so, they ensure that every Department and agency uses the 2011 census classifications, which differentiate Gypsies and Travellers?
It is absolutely right that we make the system as efficient as possible and less expensive. To address both those aims, we are undertaking three pilots this year to test new approaches to conducting a canvass. I am also pleased to announce today that there will be 18 more pilots in England and Wales in 2017.
Latest assessments suggest that only 51% of 16 to 17-year-olds are registered to vote, compared with 85% of adults. In Neath, we have had successful voter registration awareness events to encourage under-18s to register. Will the Minister please explain the Government’s plans to promote young people’s registration?
As part of a democracy that works for everyone, we are determined that young people’s voices will be heard, which means going around the country, as I am doing in the coming weeks, to places such as Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool to talk to young people about their priorities and how we can ensure that they are fully involved in the democratic process.
The Prime Minister was asked—
We have no clarity on access to the single market, huge disadvantages still in energy costs, and foreign steel being used in our key defence projects. We know that the Prime Minister likes to try to channel the Iron Lady, but when will she show some mettle in standing up for British-made steel?
This Government have stood up for British-made steel, and we have taken a number of measures that have improved the situation for the steel industry. The hon. Gentleman says that there is no clarity in relation to Brexit. I am very clear that what we want to achieve is the best possible deal for businesses in the United Kingdom, so that they can trade with, and operate within, the single European market.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and for recognising the contribution that the Government have made in increasing investment in infrastructure, and the importance of that investment. We have consulted on proposals around a lower Thames crossing. There were more than 47,000 responses to that consultation. Those are now being considered, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will respond to that consultation in due course.
May I take this opportunity to welcome Neasa Constance McGinn? I hope that the evidently effective crash course in midwifery undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) is not a sign to the Government that we believe in downgrading midwifery training.
Just a few months ago, on the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister promised to stand up for families who are “just managing” to get by. However, we now know that those were empty words, as this Government plan to cut work allowances for exactly those families who are just getting by. Is it not the case that her cuts to universal credit will leave millions worse off?
First, may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the birth, I understand, of his granddaughter? [Interruption.] No? I am sorry. In that case, I am completely mystified. [Interruption.] In that case—[Interruption.] Wait for it. In that case, perhaps one should never trust a former Chief Whip. [Interruption.]
On the point that the right hon. Gentleman raised in relation to universal credit, the introduction of universal credit was an important reform that was brought about in our welfare system. It is a simpler system, so people can see much more easily where they stand in relation to benefits. Crucially, the point about universal credit is making sure that work always pays. As people work more, they earn more. It is right that we do not want to see people just being written off to a life on benefits and that we are encouraging people to get into the workplace.
It is a bit unfair to blame a former Chief Whip for some little bit of confusion—very ungallant. Can we not just admire my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North for his work? [Interruption.] It is extremely rude to point.
The Prime Minister’s predecessor abandoned those same cuts to working people through the tax credit system. Now the right hon. Lady as Prime Minister is enacting them through universal credit. The Centre for Social Justice says that these cuts will leave 3 million families £1,000 per year worse off. Why is the Prime Minister slipping the same cuts in through the back door?
At least my former Chief Whip has a job. On the serious point that the right hon. Gentleman raises about universal credit, I repeat what I have just said. I think it is important that we look at why universal credit has been introduced. It was introduced because, with the benefits system under the Labour Government, we saw too many people finding that they were better off on benefits than they were in work. What is important is that we value work and we value getting people into work if they are able to work, but we want a system that is fair both to those who need the benefits and to those who pay for the benefits through their taxes. There are many families struggling to make ends meet who are paying for the benefits of others. I want a system that is fair to them as well.
This week, an Oxford University study found that there is a direct link between rising levels of benefit sanctions and rising demand for food banks. A million people accessed a food bank last year to receive a food parcel; only 40,000 did so in 2010. I welcome the Government’s promise to review the work capability assessment for disabled people, but will the Prime Minister further commit to reviewing the whole punitive sanctions regime?
It is absolutely right that in our welfare system, we have a system that makes sure that those people who receive benefits are those for whom it is right to receive benefits. That is why we have assessments in our welfare system. But it is also important in our welfare system that we ensure that those who are able to get into the workplace are making every effort to get into the workplace. That is why we have sanctions in our system. What the right hon. Gentleman wants is no assessments, no sanctions and unlimited welfare. That is not fair to those who are accessing the welfare system, and it is not fair to the taxpayers who pay for it.
According to a Sheffield Hallam University study, one in five claimants who have been sanctioned became homeless as a result. Many of those included families with children.
Could I recommend that the Prime Minister support British cinema, and takes herself along to a cinema to see a Palme d’Or-winning film, “I, Daniel Blake”? While she is doing so, perhaps she could take the Work and Pensions Secretary with her, because he described the film as “monstrously unfair” and then went on to admit that he had never seen it, so he has obviously got a very fair sense of judgment on this. But I will tell the Prime Minister what is monstrously unfair: an ex-serviceman like David Clapson dying without food in his home due to the Government’s sanctions regime. It is time that we ended this institutionalised barbarity against often very vulnerable people.
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that, of course, it is important that, in our welfare system, we ensure that those who need the support that the state is giving them through the benefits system are able to access it. But it is also important in our system that those who are paying for it feel that the system is fair to them as well. That is right; that is why we need to have work capability assessments—it is why we need to have sanctions in our system. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has a view that there should be no assessments, no sanctions and unlimited welfare. I have to say to him that the Labour party is drifting away from the views of Labour voters; it is the Conservative party that understands working class people.
The housing benefit bill has gone up by more than £4 billion because of high levels of rent and the necessity of supporting people with that. Is that a sensible use of public money? I think not.
In response to the March Budget, I asked the Chancellor to abandon the £30 cut for disabled people on employment and support allowance, who are unable to work, but who, with support, may be able to work in the future—they want to be able to get into work. What evidence does the Prime Minister have that imposing poverty on people with disabilities actually helps them into work?
I am pleased to say that what we have seen under this Government is nearly half a million more disabled people actually in the workplace. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has launched a Green Paper on work, which is starting to look at how we can continue to provide and increase support for those who are disabled who want to get into the workplace. But the right hon. Gentleman started his question by asking me about the increase in the money that is being spent on housing benefit. If he thinks that the amount of money being spent on housing benefit is so important, why did he oppose the changes we made to housing benefit to reduce the housing benefit bill?
As the Prime Minister well knows, my concern, and that of my party, is about the incredible amount of money being paid into the private rented sector in excessive rents, and that could be brought under control and handled much better.
Many people in this House will have been deeply moved by the article by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) about the tragic death of her son and having to take out a bank loan to cover the funeral costs. The Prime Minister may be aware that the Sunday Mirror, with the support of the Labour party, is calling for an end to council charges for the cost to parents of laying a child to rest. It would cost £10 million a year—a very small proportion of total Government expenditure—to ensure that every council could ensure that those going through the horror of laying a child to rest did not have a bill imposed on them by the local authority to put that child to rest. I hope the Prime Minister will be able to consider this and act accordingly.
I recognise the issue that the right hon. Gentleman has raised. There are, of course, facilities available through the social fund funeral expenses payment scheme for payments to be made available to people who qualify and meet the eligibility conditions. Of course it is difficult for anybody when they have to go through the tragedy of losing a child and then face consequences of the sort that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. We are making sure, of course, in relation to local authorities, that they now have the extra revenues available to them through business rates and other local revenues. It is up to councils to consider what they wish to do on this, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there are facilities available through those social fund funeral expenses to deal with the issue that he raises.
We have protected the schools budget in relation to funding paid per pupil, and we are protecting the police budget. But of course, as we look at the various ways—the various funding formulas—through which we are funding public services in my hon. Friend’s constituency and in the county of Northamptonshire, we will be looking at the very issue of what is right in terms of the needs of the local area and the numbers of people there.
It is with sadness that we learned of the death of a serviceman in a live firing exercise at the range in Tain. No doubt the Prime Minister and right hon. and hon. Members across this House will extend their condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the serviceman who has died so tragically.
The Prime Minister says that she wants to tackle international and domestic tax avoidance and serious criminality. SNP Members support this. If she were told that specific UK financial vehicles were being used for tax avoidance and other serious criminality, what would she do about it?
First, I am sure that, as the right hon. Gentleman says, the whole House would wish to pass on our condolences to the friends and family of the serviceman who has died at the Tain range.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions tax avoidance. Yes indeed, we have done a significant amount in relation to tax avoidance. He asks what anybody should do if they have evidence of people actually avoiding tax. I suggest that he speaks to HMRC.
Scottish limited partnerships were established by this House in 1907, and they are being aggressively marketed internationally, especially in eastern Europe. The International Monetary Fund has warned of the risk posed by SLPs in the fight against global money laundering and against organised crime. It is now a matter of public record that SLPs have acted as
“fronts for websites peddling child abuse images, and…have been part of major corruption cases”
in Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Latvia and Moldova, including in the arms industry. Given the seriousness of this issue and the Prime Minister’s commitment to dealing with criminality, but the lack of progress on SLPs, will she agree to meet me to discuss a joint way forward?
The right hon. Gentleman raises issues around criminality and investigations into criminal activity that is taking place, and talks about the issue of websites peddling child abuse and child sexual exploitation. It is precisely in order to increase our ability to deal with this criminal activity that we created the National Crime Agency and have been ensuring that we are working with the City on other issues such as money laundering. We are looking at the whole question of how we can ensure that we are taking effective action on criminal activity. I am pleased to say to the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] He keeps asking me to meet him. As he knows, I do meet him on occasion—I am always happy to do so—but if he wants to talk to me about dealing with criminal activity, then I will be able to tell him about the work that has been done over the past six years under this Government in terms of the National Crime Agency, working with the City on money laundering, and enhancing our ability to deal with exactly the sort of criminal activity he is talking about.
My hon. Friend is right in two senses. First, it is extremely disappointing that the Leader of the Opposition has not welcomed this, unlike his colleague, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who has welcomed the fact that these jobs have been saved in her constituency and in the supply chain around the country—that supply chain is every bit as important. I know that Automotive Insulations in my hon. Friend’s constituency is receiving money as part of a project funded through the Advanced Propulsion Centre, and I wish it all the very best for the future.
I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that we are determined to get the best possible deal for the British people on exiting the European Union. We are looking at the various sectors and we are very conscious of the importance of the food and agricultural sector across the United Kingdom, particularly in Northern Ireland. We will do everything we can, including listening to representations made by the Northern Ireland Executive, to ensure that we get the best deal possible for our agri-food sector.
My hon. Friend is right to welcome the accelerated access review and to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who has done so much to place life sciences in the UK on the agenda and to ensure that the UK develops as the best possible place to develop new drugs, which is exactly what we want to see. The Department of Health will look at the review’s recommendations and respond to them shortly. This is an important development in our ability to accelerate access to drugs, which is to the benefit of patients.
We understand the challenges faced by the UK oil and gas industry and we take them very seriously. That is why we established the Oil and Gas Authority and why we have taken action, with the £2.3 billion package of measures in the last two Budgets, to make sure that the North sea continues to attract investment, and to safeguard the future of that vital national asset. We have taken a range of measures. We understand the concerns about the oil and gas industry, which is why the Government have already taken action.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of small and medium-sized businesses, particularly in the technology industry. That is why I am pleased that I will take leading small and medium-sized businesses from the life sciences and technology sectors with me on my forthcoming trip to India. It is important to enable them to forge trading links with India, and I assure my hon. Friend that, as we look at the arrangements for leaving the European Union, we will take the interests of all sectors into account.
I can assure the hon. Lady that we recognise both the importance of steel and the importance of Tata in the United Kingdom. That is why, as a Government, we have had discussions with Tata on the future of steel here in the United Kingdom, and we will continue to do so.
My hon. Friend’s invitation to some west country cheese and cider is difficult to refuse, so I look forward at some stage to coming down to Somerset and being able to sample those products. He is absolutely right, as others in this Chamber have been, about the importance of our agricultural sector to economies across the UK. Particular parts of the UK rely heavily on the agricultural sector, and we will be taking their needs and considerations into account as we negotiate and deliver the best possible deal for this country in leaving the EU.
I have been asked about air quality in this Chamber previously at Prime Minister’s questions, and I have always made it clear that we recognise that there is more for the Government to do. We have been doing a lot in this area. We have been putting extra money into actions that will relieve the issues around air quality, but we recognise that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs now has to look at the judgment that has been made by the courts, and we have to look again at the proposals that we will bring forward. Nobody in this House doubts the importance of the issue of air quality. We have taken action, but there is more to do and we will do it.
The Prime Minister will remember visiting the Witney constituency recently. I am pleased to report that Chipping Norton has been shortlisted for the Great British High Street awards. Will she join me in congratulating the small businesses of Chipping Norton, and can she tell me what support Government offer to the small businesses in our market towns?
May I take this opportunity, which is my first, to welcome my hon. Friend to this Chamber? I congratulate him on his excellent result in the by-election.
My hon. Friend’s question brings back many happy memories for me, because when I was a child Chipping Norton was our local town. I used to go there and spend my pocket money assiduously in the shops, so I have done my bit for his high street in Chipping Norton. We are very clear, as a Government, that the action we have taken on issues such as business rates is there to help to support small businesses.
The hon. Gentleman will know that a lot of work has been done by the Government on the whole question of immigration detention, and a number of changes have been made. An independent review took place about a year ago on the whole question of detention of people in the immigration estate. It is important to realise that where people are due to be removed from this country and there is the prospect that they could be lost to the system if they are not detained, there are circumstances in which it is right to detain them in the immigration estate. We need to make sure we have got that estate right, and that is why a lot of work has been done on this. The fundamental point is that I suspect he does not think we should detain anybody in relation to immigration enforcement, but we believe there are those who are rightly detained before we remove them from this country.
When people make fun of Christianity in this country, it rightly turns the other cheek. When a young gymnast, Louis Smith, makes fun of another religion widely practised in this country, he is hounded on Twitter and by the media and suspended by his association. For goodness’ sake, this man received death threats, and we have all looked the other way. My question to the Prime Minister is this: what is going on in this country, because I no longer understand the rules?
I understand the level of concern that my hon. Friend has raised in relation to this matter. There is a balance that we need to find. We value freedom of expression and freedom of speech in this country—that is absolutely essential in underpinning our democracy—but we also value tolerance of others and tolerance in relation to religions. This is one of the issues we have looked at in the counter-extremism strategy that the Government have produced. Yes, it is right that people can have that freedom of expression, but that right has a responsibility too, which is the responsibility to recognise the importance of tolerance of others.
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that has been raised on a number of occasions in this House. That is why the Government are implementing new guidelines in relation to the operation of these telephone lines. The number of lines that are costing people in the way to which he refers is being reduced, so the Government have recognised the issue and are taking action.
The past 18 months have been hell for commuters in my constituency of Lewes using the Southern rail network. Last night, a journey that should have taken just over an hour took over four hours. May I beg the Prime Minister to intervene on the Southern rail network? While we have a country that works for everyone, in Sussex we have a railway that works for no one.
I feel for my hon. Friend in relation to the journey she had to go through last night and the extended time that it took. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has been taking action in working with Southern rail and Network Rail in relation to the improvements that are necessary. We have stepped in to invest £20 million specifically to tackle the breakdown on the Southern rail network, which is proving so difficult for passengers. I recognise the degree of concern about this. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is on the case, and is working to ensure those improvements.
I think the stance that has been taken by FIFA is utterly outrageous. Our football players want to recognise and respect those who have given their lives for our safety and security. I think it is absolutely right that they should be able to do so. This is for our football associations, but I think a clear message is going from this House that we want our players to be able to wear poppies. I have to say to FIFA that before they start telling us what to do they jolly well ought to sort their own house out.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her recent announcement of a taskforce to stamp out the vile business of modern slavery? Will she join me in congratulating my constituent Mike Emberson and the Medaille Trust on their 10 years of work with the victims and the 70 places they now provide across their homes for these most unfortunate women?
I am very pleased to endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. I have met representatives of the Medaille Trust and talked to some of the victims they have helped. It is absolutely right that we continue the momentum in our fight against modern slavery. This country is leading the world and we should continue the fight because, sadly, too much slavery is still taking place on the streets and in the towns and villages of this country. That is why the taskforce I have set up will continue that momentum. We will be relentless in our pursuit of eradicating modern slavery.
We absolutely recognise the debt we owe to our veterans. That is why, through the armed forces covenant and throughout the work the Ministry of Defence is doing, we increasingly recognise the support that is necessary for veterans. The hon. Gentleman talks about what we can do. One thing we can do is to help people who come out of the armed forces to find their way into the world of work. That is why it is important both that we have a system that helps them to find the support that is necessary to get into the world of work and that we have an economy that is providing the jobs that people need.
This week is Offshore Wind Week. The development of the offshore wind sector is vital to my Cleethorpes constituency. Will my right hon. Friend assure the industry and my constituents that the Government will continue to work with the industry to develop future jobs for young people, with a particular emphasis on training?
I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that the Government will continue to work with the industry. It has been an important development for the United Kingdom and makes up an important part of the energy we generate from renewables. As he says, it does provide jobs and we need to ensure that we look at the training that will enable people to take up those jobs. That is why skills form part of the work we are doing on our future industrial strategy.
Does the Prime Minister agree that it is highly irresponsible and, indeed, dangerous for people to talk up the prospect of increased violence in Northern Ireland as a result of our leaving the EU, and that people should use the agreed institutions that were set up under the various agreements, not stand outside them or create new ones? Does she also agree that Brexit will not result in any change, alteration or impeding of the way in which the regions, countries and people within the UK connect with one another?
I am very happy to give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance in relation to movement around the United Kingdom. No change will take place. We will ensure that Brexit is a good deal for the whole of the United Kingdom. Those who wish to encourage violence off the back of that should, frankly, be ashamed of themselves. It is essential that we all work together to make a success of this and get the best possible opportunities for people across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Will the Prime Minister join me in praising Henley-on-Thames for receiving its first tranche of community infrastructure levy money at the higher rate because it has a neighbourhood plan? Will she join me in praising neighbourhood planning generally as the best means of giving communities a say over the planning system?
I am very happy to congratulate my neighbouring MP and Henley-on-Thames on that achievement. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that neighbourhood plans are a crucial part of the planning system. That is how local people can have a real say over what is happening in their local area.
May I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn)? Moving swiftly from midwives to doctors, is the Prime Minister aware that doctors in Doncaster face a crisis in primary care, because as GPs retire, it is proving almost impossible to get new ones to take over their practices? Because of restrictions in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, NHS bodies cannot take the necessary action, for example putting in salaried GPs. Will she do something about this matter quickly? Otherwise, many of my constituents will be left without a doctor.
After my unfortunate mistake earlier about the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), I failed to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), so am happy now to do so.
It is important to have GPs coming through, so that we can replace those who are retiring. Over the past six years we have seen thousands more GPs in our NHS. That is why the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health are ensuring that we have a programme to bring more doctors into training, so that places such as the right hon. Lady’s constituency, and those of other Members across the House, have GPs in the numbers needed.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you do anything about the fact that the Home Office is not observing named days? On 17 October, the Home Secretary made a statement on the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, in the course of which she said that she had passed on a request that Dame Lowell Goddard should appear before the Home Affairs Committee—as you know, Dame Lowell Goddard had resigned as the inquiry’s chair. I put down a named day written question to the Home Secretary asking if she would put the relevant correspondence with Dame Lowell Goddard in the Library. There was an interim reply saying that the Home Office was unable to answer the question on that particular day. A few days later I therefore put down another question, due for answer yesterday, asking when the Home Secretary would make a substantive reply to the first question. There has been no reply at all.
The Home Office, as I understand the position, seems to be in such a state of crisis about written questions that it is not able to answer them—unless it does not want to provide an answer in the first place. This seems quite simple to me: the Home Secretary could say that she had placed the correspondence in the Library or else say what she meant when she said what she had passed on the information. It is hardly a complex question, so why do I have to raise a point of order with you, Mr Speaker?
It is a very curious state of affairs to which the hon. Gentleman alludes. If he has a wider concern about overall response rates to questions it is of course open to him to write to the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), the Chair of the Procedure Committee, which keeps an eye on these matters. In relation to this particular question, the situation seems rather curious. However, experience tells me that when a Member raises his or her disquiet about a lengthy delay in securing a reply to a parliamentary question, that reply is, thereafter, ordinarily forthcoming very quickly. If the hon. Gentleman is in any doubt on that matter, he can always have a word with his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who has found it expedient to complain from time to time and has then secured very quick replies. The Leader of the House will have the hon. Gentleman’s interests at heart and I think a solution will be found, possibly within hours.
British Victims of Terrorism (Asset-Freezing and Compensation)
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 freezing and seizing of assets belonging to states or organisations who sponsor or perpetrate acts of terrorism for the purposes of enabling compensation to be paid to the British victims of such terrorism; to provide a definition of British victims for the purpose of eligibility for such compensation; and for connected purposes.
Today, I lay before the House a Bill that will give hope to all British citizens who have suffered at the hands of terrorism—hope that one day soon their own United Kingdom Government might be obliged to act decisively against the perpetrators and backers of these horrific crimes, and deliver justice to all those whose lives have been so cruelly cut short, or have suffered injury or loss. My Bill would give Her Majesty’s Government direct power to freeze or seize assets of any state or organisation that sponsors or perpetrates such acts. IRA terrorism, supported by Colonel Gaddafi’s regime, is the most significant example in recent times of when British citizens have been failed by their own Government in seeking justice for crimes committed against them, but in today’s world there are new threats and new generations of terrorists who seek to harm British people. My Bill will mandate Governments to seek compensation for all British victims of terrorism, providing them with the powers they need to do so.
As chairman of the parliamentary support group for victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism, I am proud to have championed, along with my colleagues, the cause to obtain compensation for the victims of these dreadful crimes, and to follow on the good work of the former Member for Thurrock, Andrew Mackinlay, to whom I pay heartfelt tribute for his steadfast support for the campaign for justice for the victims of terrorism perpetrated by the IRA.
Many of us have friends, family or constituents who have suffered at the hands of politically motivated terrorism. Last year marked a quarter of a century since the assassination of my friend and former Member for Eastbourne, Ian Gow, whose murder at the hands of the IRA in July 1990 had a profound effect on me and on so many others who knew Ian as a soldier, lawyer, parliamentarian, friend, and staunch defender of Queen and country. In this Chamber, we commemorate with personal shields our own fallen colleagues who were victims of terrorism: Ian Gow, Airey Neave, Robert Bradford and Sir Anthony Berry, who was killed in the Grand hotel, Brighton in 1984. All were victims of IRA-INLA terrorism.
Terrorism in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s had a profound effect on so many of my generation, who remember growing up with the threat of bombs in London, Belfast and towns and cities across the United Kingdom. Indeed, 9 February 1996 will always be etched on my mind. I visited the Britannia hotel in Docklands to discuss plans for an international dinner I had organised, to be held on 1 October that year, in honour of Lady Thatcher. I travelled back via South Quay station and arrived home in Romford only to watch the “ITN News” with horror, as I learned about the devastating bomb explosion that had occurred soon after I had boarded the docklands light railway. That bombing, as well as so many other acts of terrorism by the IRA, was carried out using explosives supplied by the Libyan regime, yet so many years later victims have not received the compensation they rightly deserve. Some of the victims and their families who suffered that trauma are now elderly or have passed away.
Zaoui Berezag was a victim of the Canary Wharf bombing, and was left severely mentally and physically impaired; he was cared for by his devoted wife Gemma until she sadly died last year. They never received one penny in compensation. Victims of the Harrods bombing of 17 December 1983, such as the family of WPC Jane Arbuthnot and Police Inspector Stephen Dodd, did not receive compensation, while the family of an American who was killed precisely in the same place at the same time did receive compensation. That is because, unlike the UK Government, the United States Government, under President George W Bush, fought and won the argument with the Gaddafi regime for American victims.
How can it be justified that some victims should receive compensation while others do not? Surely it should be settled when the victims or their families are still alive. It is truly terrible that British victims have been treated so differently from Americans. Their Government stood by their victims; our Government did not.
Each time the issue of compensation for these deserving victims is raised, we have until now received the same empty response from Governments of all persuasions. Each time, we hear weak excuses for not pursuing a way of bringing this matter to a satisfactory conclusion for the British victims of terrorism. Each time, the long-hurting victims of the IRA-Gaddafi’s regime listen in, only to be let down and left to wait indefinitely.
These wicked acts took place a long time ago and many of the victims fear that, unless action is taken soon, they will not be around to see this matter concluded and will never receive the justice and compensation they deserve. Time is running out, so today I bring this Bill to the Floor of the House with the aim of giving Her Majesty’s Government the power to act and resolve this issue by making provision for the freezing and seizing of assets belonging to any state or organisation that sponsors or perpetrates acts of terrorism against a British citizen. I include in that category citizens of Ireland, as well as any citizens of our Crown dependencies or overseas territories that might have been affected.
When sanctions against Libya are eventually lifted, it is vital that we do not miss the opportunity finally to bring this matter to a close and come to an agreement with any future Government in Tripoli. The British victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism must never be forgotten, and we must not discard the one bargaining tool we have—frozen assets—to ensure that justice is served.
Over many decades, Governments have both missed and avoided opportunities to bring justice to the victims. This cannot be allowed to happen one moment longer. It would be intolerable if, when the assets are unfrozen, the UK is unable to ensure that talks are opened and had no power to act. Just as the Libyan people were victims of Gaddafi, the British victims of Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism are too, and it is the duty of Her Majesty’s Government to fight to bring justice.
This Bill proposes a thorough basis for legislation to allow Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that eventually, however many years it takes, the UK victims of the IRA-Gaddafi regime will eventually receive compensation and justice. I say to the House that we need a law that ensures that any future victims of terrorism will not have to suffer the same trauma. That is why my Bill is important, not just for the victims of IRA terrorism, but for those British citizens who may, God forbid, become victims of terrorism in years hence. So it is for the defence, the well-being and the protection of all of Her Majesty’s subjects that I commend this Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Andrew Rosindell, James Cartlidge, Mr Nigel Dodds, Kate Hoey, Sir Gerald Howarth, Daniel Kawczynski, Danny Kinahan, Mr Khalid Mahmood, Dr Paul Monaghan, Ian Paisley, Gavin Robinson and Henry Smith present the Bill.
Andrew Rosindell accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 February 2017, and to be printed (Bill 88).
[11th Allotted Day]
I beg to move,
That this House notes that community pharmacies are valued assets that offer face-to-face healthcare advice which relieves pressure on other NHS services; calls on the Government to rethink its changes to community pharmacy funding; and further calls on the Government to ensure that community pharmacies are protected from service reduction and closure and that local provision of community pharmacy services is protected.
This is an issue that affects many of our constituents, and it has aroused considerable opposition from so many of them that 2.2 million people have signed a petition. Community pharmacists, I am sure, have lobbied Members of all parties about these cuts and have explained why they should be opposed. Indeed, Members of all parties have raised their concerns and their opposition to these cuts.
I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher), who has campaigned tirelessly on this issue, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron). Government Members have also raised their opposition in Westminster Hall debates, Adjournment debates and parliamentary questions. Their opposition to the cuts is entirely understandable.
When the Government announced, in December last year, that they were going to pursue the cuts, they talked of cutting the budget for community pharmacy services by £170 million, with further cuts to follow. Opposition to the cuts was clear, and indeed was heightened when the previous Minister, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who I see in his place and for whom I have tremendous respect, suggested that the cuts could lead to the closure of up to 3,000 community pharmacies.
We have had a lot of correspondence from local pharmacists and their customers worried about essential parts of the local community such as businesses, but is it not also the case that, with massive cuts in acute services and with primary care under pressure, those pharmacies provide an essential and cost-effective part of the local health service, which we simply cannot do without?
My hon. Friend has anticipated my argument—I could probably sit down now that he has put it so eloquently, but I shall plough on while I have the indulgence of the House.
I was saying that the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire had said that the cuts might lead to some 3,000 community pharmacies closing. Then, of course, the right hon. Gentleman left his post in the Department of Health, which we are all very sad about. Now we have a new Minister, and we are delighted to welcome the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) to his place—not least because in one of his first interventions when he was allowed out, he visited the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s annual conference in September and said he was delaying the cuts. He said:
“I think it is right that we spend the time, particularly me as an incoming minister, to make sure that we are making the correct decision”.
He continued by saying that
“what we do is going to be right for you, is going to be right for the NHS and right for the public more generally.”
Well, if the Minister had left it there—with that U-turn—he would have won the praise of Labour Members.
Unfortunately, we then had a U-turn on the U-turn from the Minister. When the Minister came before the House last month we found out that, far from having listened, taken account of various consultations and decided to do what was best for the NHS, he intended to impose a 12% cut on current levels to pharmacy budgets for the remainder of this financial year—giving pharmacists just six weeks’ notice—and a 7% cut the year after that.
It is a privilege to represent my hon. Friend’s mother, and he, of course, knows my constituency well. The constituency has high levels of deprivation, and our primary care services face incredible pressure owing to unsuitable practice premises and the difficulty of recruiting GPs. Does my hon. Friend agree that with only seven weeks’ notice, it is impossible for GPs, other primary care providers and pharmacists to accommodate and make provision for these cuts in a way that will allow them to continue to support deprived communities in my constituency and, indeed, the constituencies of all Members?
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Over the past few years, a significant amount of work has been put into the Think Pharmacy First campaign, whose aim is to take pressure off GPs, ambulances and A & E services, but is “Think Pharmacy First for cuts and closures” really what the Government have in mind?
I want to make a bit of progress, because I know that many other Members wish to speak.
The cuts will mean that patients, many of them elderly and unable to travel long distances, will be forced to go elsewhere for essential medical advice and support. What we need from the Minister now are the details of how many pharmacies will close. The previous Minister, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire, told us that up to 3,000 community pharmacies—a quarter of all pharmacies—could close.
It may be helpful if I make a brief intervention at this stage. I gave an estimate which was based on what we thought was a possible worst-case scenario. The Department never had any plans to close pharmacies. It was the best estimate that I had at the time, but it was not a definitive figure.
The right hon. Gentleman is an extremely experienced former Health Minister, possibly the most extreme—[Laughter.] He is definitely not an extremist, but he is possibly the most experienced Conservative former Health Minister apart from, perhaps, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). It is very noble of him to try to get the Minister off the hook, but the fact remains that he was the one who said that 3,000 pharmacies would close, and we will continue to remind Ministers of that.
Doncaster pharmacists have told me that at least 20 pharmacies in the town will close as a result of the cuts. That is their estimate, on the ground. They have also told me that the Government should sit down with pharmacists and engage in meaningful discussions about pharmacy delivery. For example, setting up a minor ailments service and cutting the drugs budget could possibly save the NHS £5 million in Doncaster and £650 million overall.
I should like to make a bit of progress, if I may. As I said earlier, I am extremely conscious that other Members wish to speak.
As we have heard, the former Health Minister said that 3,000 community pharmacies could close. When pressed about the figures last month, the current Minister said
“no community will be left without a pharmacy.”—[Official Report, 17 October 2016; Vol. 615.]
I hope he will confirm that he still stands by that statement. He also claimed:
“Nobody is talking about thousands of pharmacies closing”. —[Official Report, 17 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 602-3.]
He obviously did not receive the memo from the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire. But what did he say when he was pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) about the number of closures? What soothing, reassuring words did he offer to all our constituents? He said, “I do not know.”
I am sorry that the Minister has not got a clue, but I hope that when he winds up the debate he will be able to tell us how many pharmacies will close as a result of these cuts. If he is not prepared to tell us that, will he tell us how many services will be cut?
Although the Government say that they want to devote a greater proportion of overall health spending to primary care, our Health Committee’s report on primary care, published in the summer, showed that a smaller proportion was being devoted to the primary care sector, which, of course, includes pharmacies. Is that not the ultimate false economy? If we do not invest more in primary care, all the pressure goes into the acute sector.
If I may, I shall make some progress. I promise to give way to the hon. Gentleman in a few moments, but I know that others wish to speak.
The Government will say that they are mitigating the cuts by introducing a pharmacy access scheme, but the scheme takes no account of the needs of the most deprived communities. The four constituencies that top the health deprivation and disability indices are Liverpool Walton, Blackpool South, Manchester Central and Blackley and Broughton. Not one pharmacy in those constituencies is eligible for the pharmacy access scheme. The least deprived constituencies are Chesham and Amersham and Wokingham. In Chesham and Amersham, 28% of pharmacies are eligible for this mitigating scheme, while in Wokingham 35% are eligible. [Interruption.] The Minister says that it is a disgrace, but those are the figures. Only this Department, which spins figures all the time and which has been discredited for the way in which it uses them, can call a pharmacy cuts package an “access scheme”.
Today, in an article in The Times, the Minister himself focuses on cities such as Leicester and Birmingham. He claims that if you walk
“along roads in Leicester you will see 12 pharmacies within ten minutes of each other”.
As the Member of Parliament for Leicester South, I walk along roads in Leicester every day. I do not know whether the Minister has actually walked along any of those roads; he has never told me that he has. Let me therefore extend an invitation to him to come to Leicester, where he will see numerous community pharmacists in areas with a high proportion of black and ethnic minority communities providing specialist services for families who have relied on them for 20 or 30 years, often dealing with elderly people and speaking to them in Gujarati, Urdu and Punjabi. Many of those people will have to go to GPs’ surgeries and A & E departments if the pharmacies are closed. The Government’s assessment takes no account of the disproportionate effect that the cuts will have on black and ethnic minority communities in cities such as Leicester and Birmingham.
Will the hon. Gentleman at least acknowledge that we all support community pharmacies? The town I live in has 3,500 residents and there are four pharmacies within a quarter of a mile. Will he at least acknowledge that a model that gives a block grant of £25,000 to each of those pharmacies purely for establishing themselves regardless of demand obviously needs review?
If the hon. Gentleman wants to tell his constituents he is in favour of closing pharmacies, good luck to him.
Of course it is not just pharmacy closures that we will see. The National Pharmacy Association has reported today that that 81% of community pharmacies will have to restrict services that help elderly people and 86% will have to restrict free services such as delivering medicine to housebound patients. Does that not confirm that the elderly and the most vulnerable will be hit the hardest by the cuts to community pharmacies, and the Government are entirely to blame?
Surely the hon. Gentleman accepts that we have to get the most efficiencies we possibly can from the system? His party colleague the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton) made a serious point about engaging with pharmacies to see how we can do it better. Does he agree—I would be interested to know why this is not in his motion—that category M clawbacks, which are levied exclusively on small independent pharmacies, might be extended to vertically integrated wholesalers as a way of making sure the system is more efficient than at present?
The hon. Gentleman talks of efficiencies; he will presumably have seen the research that says if people cannot get to a pharmacy one in four will go to a GP. We will see greater demand on GP surgeries and A&E departments. That is not efficient. It is a false economy, which is why the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee has said the proposals are
“founded on ignorance of the value of pharmacies to local communities, to the NHS, and to social care, and will do great damage to all three. We cannot accept them.”
It is why the chief executive of Pharmacy Voice described the decision as
“incoherent, self-defeating and wholly unacceptable”,
and it is why charities such as Age UK have said the plans are
“out of step with messages encouraging people to make more use of their community pharmacists, to relieve pressure on overstretched A&E departments and GP surgeries.”
Age UK has hit the nail on the head: these cuts to community pharmacies completely contradict everything we have been told by Ministers over recent years and will lead to increased pressures and increased demands on GP surgeries and A&E departments.
My hon. Friend has made some crucial points about how the funding has been allocated across our country. There are 129 community pharmacies across the whole of Liverpool, yet just two of them will be eligible for this payment. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is absolutely outrageous and will impact on the entire population of Liverpool?
My hon. Friend is right, and even after this scheme is in place pharmacists who are eligible for the mitigating funds are still saying that they will have to close despite them.
We believe in the importance of community pharmacies, because
“pharmacies have a big role to play in this, as one in 11 or 12 A and E appointments could be dealt with at a pharmacy”—[Official Report, 25 February 2014; Vol. 576, c. 162.]—
“Pharmacies have an important role to play, because they could save a significant number of A and E and GP visits.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 1049.]
Those are not my words: they are the words of the Health Secretary, said from that Dispatch Box over the last two years.
If the message the Health Secretary has been giving at that Dispatch Box is that community pharmacies are a way of relieving pressure on A&Es and GP surgeries, why is he now coming to the House to support cutting community pharmacies? It is a complete false economy. I will give way if he wants to explain that. He does not, probably because he knows it is a completely false economy.
Arundhati Patel runs the Jamaica Road pharmacy in my constituency and an alcohol cessation service is one of the services it provides to the local community. He pointed out there were 1,400 hospital stays in Southwark due to alcohol harm. On the point about efficiencies and avoiding visits to hospital that Members have talked about, is this not another example of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) called a false economy?
My hon. Friend is right, and Government Ministers, including the Health Secretary even on Monday, justify these as part of a package of efficiencies. Indeed when I raised this a few months ago with the previous Minister, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire, he told me in correspondence that these cuts were necessary as part of delivering the £22 billion-worth of efficiency savings. So this is more proof that when they talk of efficiency savings, they are actually talking of cuts to frontline services.