House of Commons
Thursday 24 November 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
New Southgate Cemetery Bill [Lords]
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 29 November at Four o’clock (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Mr Speaker, with your permission, may I take this opportunity to thank the emergency services, the Environment Agency and all who helped with the recent flooding? Our thoughts are with those who have been affected. Our £2.5 billion six-year capital floods programme to improve flood defences will provide better protection for at least 300,000 homes in the six-year period from 2015 to 2021.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the investment on the Medway provides an extremely good and important opportunity for the Government to protect homes around the Tonbridge, Edenbridge and East Peckham area?
As an ex-Tonbridge Grammar School girl, I know the area well. The Environment Agency is progressing business cases to increase the capacity of the live flood storage area on the River Medway, alongside new schemes at Hildenborough and East Peckham. The agency has estimated that these schemes qualify for a £15.5 million Government grant in aid. If approved, this will better protect more than 1,900 properties in the Medway catchment.
The Secretary of State rightly has a responsibility to protect buildings. In my constituency, in the lower Don valley, there is a lot of ex-industrial brownfield land that, with remedial work and protection from flooding from the Don, could provide homes for thousands of people and stop the building on greenfield sites. Does she accept that, as well as protecting existing buildings, the Government should be interested in protecting sites where buildings could be built?
Absolutely. Of course, it is important that we take into account the protection of new homes being built—that is what the Environment Agency does, as a key stakeholder in all planning decisions—and it is absolutely our intention to make sure that new developments are better protected.
Given that more than 5 million homes are at flood risk in Britain, is it not important that the Department continues its excellent work, not just in building flood defences with concrete, steel and earthworks, but in looking at how nature and land managers can be incentivised to create greater protection for households?
Yes, my hon. Friend is quite right. There are concrete barriers, which are very important, and we have had 130 new schemes since January, better protecting 55,000 homes. However, natural flood management—slowing the flow, and looking at ways to work with the contours of our environment to improve protection—is also vital. I can announce that we have been given £15 million to invest in further projects to do just that.
Through the Secretary of State, may I thank the Environment Agency in the west midlands? Its regional director told me last week that 34 more homes will be protected in the Blythe valley in my constituency. Will she confirm that the agency is constantly updating its modelling in response to rainfall records constantly being broken?
My right hon. Friend knows a great deal about this subject, and she will be aware that the resilience review, which we undertook across Government, contained an enormous amount of remodelling of the likely impacts of increasingly extreme weather events. Of course, the Environment Agency is always looking not just at what schemes can protect people better, but at where the best types of flood protection can be developed, whether through concrete barriers or natural flood protection.
I have just returned from being with my family in Devon, so I have personally experienced the floods caused by Storm Angus, and I would like to join the Secretary of State in thanking the emergency services and everybody who helped so quickly with the clean-up and with supporting people.
Yesterday’s autumn statement gave little hope to the residents of the 5 million properties at risk of flooding. In the March Budget, an additional £700 million of capital expenditure for flood defences and prevention was announced, but just how many schemes have seen a spade in the ground?
As I have already mentioned, this Government have in fact committed £2.5 billion to new flood defences in the six years to 2021. Just this year, since January 2016, we have had 130 new flood schemes completed, protecting a further 55,000 homes. We have also enormously increased our temporary flood defences and all our infrastructure capabilities. including incident control vehicles, light towers, pumps, sandbags and so on, to try to deal with the unpredictable nature of these extreme weather events, but we are committed to doing more.
Twenty-five-year Food and Farming Plan
We remain committed to publishing a 25-year food and farming plan. However, the context has changed significantly following the decision to leave the EU, which creates many new opportunities to do things differently and better. We will therefore develop the 25-year food and farming plan alongside our plans for leaving the EU, and we will consult with both industry and the public.
I thank the Minister for that response, which fills me with concern. I hope that he will bring the report forward as soon as possible, given that the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recommended that it be published in April this year. Can he give me some indication of when we will see this important report?
The hon. Lady is wrong to be concerned, because as I have made clear, we are committed to publishing the plan. It is a manifesto commitment. There was no commitment to publish it in April; there is a commitment to do so in this Parliament, and as I have said, the context has changed significantly. It is right to develop the plan alongside our plan to leave the European Union, so that it bears relevance to the context.
The great British breakfast cereal Weetabix is made in Burton Latimer in the Kettering constituency, and the wheat for Weetabix is grown on farms within a 50-mile radius. What proportion of the nation’s food do we grow ourselves, and what proportion would the Minister like us to grow ourselves?
With regard to the food that we can produce in this country, my hon. Friend will be aware that we produce around 74% of what we consume. If we include foods that we are unable to grow here, the percentage is slightly lower. We have a commitment to having a vibrant, profitable farming industry. We want to grow more, sell more and import less, and if we achieve all that, our self-sufficiency will improve over time.
Given the impact that Brexit will inevitably have on the 25-year food and farming plan, which has yet to be published, what discussions will the Minister have with the Northern Ireland Executive about how the plan will accommodate Brexit, particularly when it comes to agricultural exports, on which we rely for the development of our economy, as he will realise?
I have already had meetings with Michelle McIlveen, and I recently visited Northern Ireland, where I met the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association and spoke at its dinner, so I am already in close engagement with the Northern Ireland Executive, and indeed the Northern Ireland industry, on these issues.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Wight Marque, which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’s rural development programme helped to establish, celebrates the Isle of Wight’s brilliant food culture by accrediting local produce. DEFRA fully supports accreditation schemes. They are an opportunity to showcase local and sustainable food, they can make a real contribution to local economies, and they are completely in line with DEFRA’s approach to strengthening our brand.
Rural Economy: Leaving the EU
Rural areas account for a quarter of all registered businesses in England. Small businesses continue to be an important part of the rural economy, with 29% of those employed in rural areas employed in small businesses that have one to nine employees. Leaving the EU gives us an opportunity to have policies to support the rural economy that are bespoke to the needs of this country.
Scotland’s food and drink exports are worth more than £2 billion to our national economy, and businesses in my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire contribute significantly to that total. However, many in the agricultural workforce are seasonal workers from other EU states who take advantage of the single market’s free movement policy. Given that, can the Minister provide a guarantee to rural businesses in my constituency and beyond that those seasonal workers who come to Scotland for produce-picking and food and fish processing will still be able to work here after the UK has left the EU?
My right hon. and hon. Friends are well aware of this issue, which is not unique to the hon. Lady’s constituency. She will recognise that this will be part of ongoing discussions within Government and, of course, with the EU.
I attended the convention on international trade in endangered species in September this year, when we secured greater scrutiny of trade in trophies to ensure the sustainability of lion exports. We already have suspensions in place for some countries where hunting cannot be considered sustainable at the current time. For example, we are refusing imports of lions and lion trophies from Mozambique, apart from animals hunted in the Niassa reserve, where hunting is considered to be well managed and sustainable.
One of the characteristics of European structural funds has been support for post-industrial areas. Areas such as mine in west Wales have been huge beneficiaries of structural funds to boost training and businesses. What assurances can the Minister give that west Wales will continue to have access to such funding streams post-2020?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already given an assurance that schemes signed in advance of the autumn statement would be honoured in full. He has also continued to give the assurance that as long as funding schemes that are being developed offer good value for money, we will continue to support them in all parts of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that by leaving the EU, we have the chance to design policies that are bespoke to the needs of this country. My right hon. and hon. Friends are actively engaged in developing those options right now, with my support, and at looking at what potential environmental schemes could be at the heart of any future agricultural support.
Agricultural and fisheries businesses right across Scotland depend heavily on freedom of movement and access to the single market. Why will Ministers not simply guarantee that people will have their rights protected post-Brexit, which would clear up the uncertainty and allow those businesses to plan for the future?
The Government’s intention is to provide a smooth transition as we leave the European Union, but the hon. Lady will be aware that these matters are actively being considered and will form part of any future negotiation.
Does the Minister agree that if we are to make a realistic attempt at becoming economically productive, we have to make sure that our infrastructure works—and that includes the internet? Small businesses in rural areas would be able to thrive if it did.
My hon. Friend is right to stress the importance of access to the internet, and to other mobile network operators. That is why the universal service obligation has been enshrined in law through the Digital Economy Bill, and will be in place by the end of this Parliament.
Food and Drink Sector
Ah, young Gove. Where is the fellow?
The Prime Minister has set out our vision for making the UK a world leader in innovation, which includes spending an extra £4.7 billion by 2020-21. Food and drink is our largest manufacturing sector—bigger than cars and aerospace combined. Our £160 million agri-tech strategy is taking forward brilliant ideas, such as monitoring crops using the latest satellite data.
It is an indescribable delight to see the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). My surprise was merely at the fact that he has perambulated to a different part of the Chamber from that which he ordinarily inhabits. I am sure that we will enjoy the same eloquence as usual.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. As a migratory species, I am glad that you have noticed the different habitat that I am now in.
The Secretary of State will be aware that 80 years ago, the number of fish landed at British ports was 14 times the number we land now. The fishing industry has suffered grievously under the common fisheries policy. Now that we are leaving the European Union, can she say a little more about how investment, growth and innovation in the fish trade will ensure that we bring prosperity back to our great fishing ports?
I can reassure my right hon. Friend that we will do everything possible to preserve his habitat. I know that he has great knowledge of fishing. Just last week, in China, I signed a memorandum of understanding on seafood that is worth £50 million to UK fishermen, and I have met a number of fishing groups to hear their ideas about what we can do to ensure that our fantastic fishing sectors develop in a positive way once we have left the EU.
Such innovation will be enhanced, and indeed is necessary, in order to restore the water meadows of the lower Avon valley. Will the Secretary of State visit the area to see what we can do?
I am, of course, delighted to accept my right hon. Friend’s invitation. We will certainly revisit the area to look at that scheme in the new year.
Although there are limits to what Governments can do when there is a global downturn in commodity prices, we have implemented a number of measures over the past two years. We made a crisis payment to farmers at the end of last year, we have extended tax averaging to make it easier to offset tax from good years, and we have supported intervention and private storage schemes. Looking to the future, we are working with industry to develop risk management tools such as futures markets, supporting new producer organisations, and opening new export markets.
I welcome efforts to increase exports of food and drink, but there is still concern about the domestic market in milk. What efforts are being made to ensure that farmers obtain fair prices from supermarkets, and what assistance could the Groceries Code Adjudicator provide?
My hon. Friend has made a good point. These have been two very difficult years for the dairy industry. However, I think we should give credit where it is due, and acknowledge that many of the major supermarkets offer their farmers aligned contracts that are linked to the cost of production. Those farmers have continued to obtain good prices over the last two years. Nevertheless, they are a minority, so we are investigating ways of strengthening the negotiating position of farmers in the supply chain, such as reviewing the operation of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, strengthening the voluntary dairy supply chain code, and strengthening recognition of producer organisations.
What assessment has the Department made of the importance of the provision of school and nursery milk in supporting dairy farmers?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, there is a small European Union scheme to support school milk, which is worth a few million pounds, but it is dwarfed by the much larger, much more important nursery milk scheme run by the Department for Education and the Department of Health, which is worth some £60 million a year.
The Government’s proposal to withdraw operating licences for approved finishing units with grazing in culling areas is causing great concern to dairy farmers in the south-west. Has the Minister assessed the impact that that measure will have on dairy farmers’ ability to sell their calves, and generally on the market for livestock in the south-west? I urge him to think carefully about it before introducing it.
I can reassure my hon. and learned Friend that I consider such issues very carefully. Approved finishing units do have an important role to play as we try to tackle the long-term challenge of bovine tuberculosis, but if we are trying to roll back the disease, the risk associated with grazing on approved finishing units is greater. It is still possible to have a licence for housed finishing units, and there will still be finishing units in other areas where there is no cull.
The Department’s farm business survey for last year shows that dairy farm incomes fell by 50%, largely owing to lower milk prices. Will the Minister consider introducing a statutory code to safeguard the dairy sector, and will he agree to expand the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to cover the primary producers’ relationships with their suppliers and provide more stability for those producers in the market?
A consultation on the Groceries Code Adjudicator is in progress and is, I believe, open until 10 January. We have issued a call for evidence from the industry, and from others who may have ideas about how we might be able to extend the adjudicator’s remit or consider it further.
Fishing Industry: Recruitment
We predominantly deliver training for new entrants and young people through the levy body Seafish. Since 2011, Seafish has run 97 courses and trained more than 850 new fishermen. There has been a renewed interest in fishing as a career in recent years.
The fishermen in Plymouth are very positive about the future of the fishing industry post-Brexit. They want to improve the commercial fishing facilities at Sutton harbour. Will my hon. Friend find a date to visit Plymouth Trawler Agents, which manages the fish market, and learn of its plans to build a fishing academy to train the fishermen and women of the future?
As we prepare to leave the EU, the mood in the fishing industry is certainly lifting, and there will be opportunities to do things differently and better. My hon. Friend’s constituency has a very proud maritime heritage. Last year I visited the Marine Biological Association and I would of course be more than happy to visit Sutton harbour to discuss the scheme he describes.
Many of our coastal communities have suffered heinously under the common fisheries policy. Will the Minister look at the idea of an investment pot for the under-10 metre fleet to enable it to get up to speed when we leave the EU?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have the European maritime and fisheries fund, one of the EU structural funds, which will run until 2020. Looking beyond 2020, we will be developing and working to establish how best to support the industry. We have also top-sliced some of the uplift of quota linked to the discard ban this year to give the under-10s more quota than they previously had.
We have completed 130 new flood schemes this year, protecting over 55,000 households. All but three of the 660 Environment Agency flood defences damaged last winter have now been repaired and the three remaining assets have contingency plans in place. The Environment Agency recently launched its flood awareness campaign and last month we launched the property level resilience action plan on how householders can protect their homes from flooding. It also details measures that will allow them to get back into their home more quickly if they are, unfortunately, flooded.
This year, after the devastation caused by storms Desmond, Eva and Frank right across the country, the Government announced an extra £700 million of flood defence spending, but apart from saying £12 million of that would be spent on mobile flood defences to protect electricity and infrastructure assets, there has not been a clear plan from the Government about how the money is going to be spent. The Environmental Audit Committee made strong recommendations on the protection of roads and railways, and with Devon and Cornwall, the north-east and Scotland suffering landslips and ballast washaways in the recent flooding, is not now the time to set out a proper transport infrastructure resilience plan for the whole country?
About half of the money has already been allocated, but the hon. Lady may not yet be aware that the autumn statement included the announcement of a package of £170 million to be deployed, £150 million of which is specifically to tackle road and rail.
The Minister may recall that in December 2013 there was a tidal surge that affected the Humber estuary. Many of my constituents had their homes flooded, and throughout the Humber hundreds were affected. Can the Minister reassure me that there will be no slippage in future flood defence spending on the Humber?
The 2013 tidal surge affected the entire east coast, including my constituency. I can assure my hon. Friend that the schemes already planned will continue given the record £2.5 billion investment this Government are making in flood defences.
I learned recently that water companies are not a statutory consultee, despite companies such as Severn Trent Water wanting to be and having a great deal of knowledge not only about flooding areas, but also about, for example, whether storm drains can cope with additional water created by new building. Will the Minister have a conversation with her opposite numbers in the Department for Communities and Local Government about changing things so that water companies can be a statutory consultee?
I recognise that water companies are not currently a statutory consultee, but that does not stop them having conversations. The Environment Agency continues to provide advice on all planning applications, and in 98% of planning applications across England its advice is accepted.
Farmers and Environmental Groups (Funding)
My top priority on becoming DEFRA Secretary was agreeing with the Treasury continuity of support for farmers. We are guaranteeing that the agricultural sector will receive the same level of pillar one funding until 2020, which has provided vital certainty, but we are also guaranteeing agri-environment and rural development schemes under pillar two, which are vital to making sure we take every opportunity to improve our environment.
Many farmers in my constituency have been signed up to agri-environmental schemes for many years. What contribution does the Secretary of State think that the schemes, and our farmers, are making to improve our environment?
I join my hon. Friend in applauding the efforts of farmers across the country. In the past five years, our agri-environment schemes have delivered excellent long-term benefits, including 150,000 acres of habitats, the planting of more than 11 million trees and the restoration or planting of 950 miles of hedges. All of this supports our long-term pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better place than we found it.
Welsh farmers face a future of unprecedented uncertainty. Will the Secretary of State commit to devolving agricultural funding according to need, rather than through the unfit-for-purpose Barnett formula?
I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that we will consult in great detail on future policy with all the devolved Administrations once we have left the EU, to ensure that we focus on what is best for our UK food and farming producers rather than for 28 EU member states.
Flooding is devastating for anyone who experiences it, and I have spent a great deal of time recently ensuring that we have the best possible preparation for the winter weather. There will be opportunities for all colleagues to play our part in ensuring that our constituents are as well prepared as possible—for example, by getting them to sign up to the Environment Agency’s free Flood Warnings Direct service or to visit the Floods Destroy website, which enables people to check their own flood risk. The Environment Agency will also be hosting a drop-in session for parliamentarians next Tuesday from 1 pm to 5 pm in Committee Room 9, where we will be able to hear more about winter preparedness.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I would like to ask her about her Department’s UK food and drink international action plan, which suggests that the Department will seek foreign direct investment to fill existing gaps in skills and production. How will she ensure that food standards, production rates and manufacturing skills will be maintained in the event of foreign takeovers of existing companies, as we have seen with Mondelez and UK biscuit production?
The UK has some of the highest animal welfare, food safety and food traceability standards in the world, and we will always seek to maintain them, notwithstanding our international food export action plan, which seeks to promote great British food abroad as well as to take advantage of foreign direct investment to make our sectors even more successful.
My hon. Friend has raised this issue with me before, so I am well aware of it. I am also aware that it is a matter for the local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Agency, although DEFRA does have a role in working with IFCA and signing off any proposals. I understand that this particular case is at the consultation stage, so local fishermen should make their views known at this point.
The pound has fallen, the cost of imports has risen and Brexit is costing the wine industry £413 million more in imports alone. From Marmitegate to the Toblerone gap, we have seen rising prices across the food industry. Customers are paying more for food while those working in farming and food production have been hit even harder. And it is getting worse. What is the Secretary of State doing to mitigate these factors?
The hon. Lady will be aware that we have an incredibly thriving food and farming sector that employs one in eight of us. It is worth more than £100 billion a year to our economy. Our food innovation is second to none: we produce more new food products every year than France and Germany combined. Food inflation continues to be low, and our thriving sector’s exports are improving. They have gone up this year and we are doing everything we can to create a sustainable environment for the future.
The reality is that food inflation is at 5%. This is happening on the Secretary of State’s watch. It is her responsibility and her crisis. People are struggling now. The sector is calling for security: security of labour; security in the market; security of trade; and security in knowing the plans for the sector on leaving the EU. Labour can provide the sector with confidence today—we have a clear plan. Why will the Secretary of State not share her plan? Is it because there is no plan?
If I may say so, that was nonsense. Food prices have been dropping after peaking in 2008, and they do move up and down. On the hon. Lady’s point about the resilience of the food and drink sector, exports this year are well up on last year and growth in the sector is booming. We are doing everything we can on food innovation and getting young people into apprenticeships in increasingly high-technology jobs. This is a well-organised sector with great potential.
In several conversations with the National Farmers Union and farmers in south Wiltshire, complaints have been made to me about how the Rural Payments Agency has been working. Edward Martin and Will Dickson complain of unilateral changes to agreed eligibility calculations. What will the Minister do to ensure that such issues are sorted out so that I do not have any more complaints from my farmers?
Having ironed out some of the difficulties we encountered in 2015, we are in a stronger position this year. The RPA reports that over 80% of basic payment scheme claims were submitted online, meaning that the number of cases requiring manual data-entry was significantly reduced. If my hon. Friend would like to give me further details of those two cases, I will ensure that they are investigated and will personally get back to him.
We have committed to continue to make all payments up until 2020, and we are already engaging with the industry and others to devise future agriculture policy. Those plans will be announced well in advance of 2020.
In my fishing town of Filey, only seven boats have been licensed by the Environment Agency and all licences will expire by 2022, ending heritage fishing in the town. Will the Minister meet me to seek a solution to secure the future of fishing in Filey?
I understand my hon. Friend’s issue. The situation with wild salmon is particularly bleak at the moment, which is why we are looking at additional measures to reduce the catch through netting. However, I am quite sympathetic to the arguments made about the sustainability of T-nets, which I understand are used along the shoreline in his constituency, and I am more than happy to meet him.
Since the floods, small and medium-sized enterprises have received over £6 million of direct support from the Government to help with their resilience. On insurance, I recently met representatives of the British Insurance Brokers Association and expect them to be launching new products next month so that more businesses can get flood insurance.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that both the 2010 and 2015 Conservative party manifestos said that we would ban all ivory trade. Will she update the House on what progress she made towards that aim at the Vietnam conference last week?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. The conference was superbly successful and some real steps were taken towards improving awareness of the importance of preserving endangered species, the elephant in particular. In this country, we have announced our intention to ban the trade in post-1947 ivory—that is 70 years—and we will consult on that shortly to consider how we implement that and what further steps can be taken to meet our manifesto commitment.
I think we have all been consistently clear that in leaving the EU we will be seeking the best possible deal for the UK. That will involve close co-ordination and communication with all the devolved Administrations to make sure that we absolutely understand what it means to get the best possible deal for all sectors within the DEFRA family.
Food and drink production has flourished under my right hon. Friend’s leadership; as we have just heard, record levels of hard cheese and sour grapes are emanating from the other side of the Chamber, and in my constituency the Hogs Back brewery, a very successful micro-brewery, is doing a roaring trade. May I invite her to join me for a knees-up in my brewery—something Opposition Members could never organise?
I would be delighted to do that. We have some amazing products. We have taken gin out to the Chinese, which was a great experience, and just look at the beers from the UK that the Vietnamese are drinking already. We are seeing market access and greater exports, and just yesterday we saw the beers at the “Taste of Cheltenham” event. My right hon. Friend is right to highlight produce from his constituency and I would be delighted to share in a knees-up with him any time.
I have always thought of the right hon. Gentleman sitting and reading Proust, rather than having a knees-up, so one’s imagination is challenged a bit—but there you go, it is probably good for us.
I am meeting a Welsh Minister just today to discuss that very subject, and my colleagues have met a number of Welsh Ministers in recent weeks. At official level there are constant discussions, we have had informal stakeholder meetings and, as we have pointed out, formal consultations will be taking place, starting in the near future.
I think we have all just felt the effects of slow broadband in that question! Nevertheless, I am aware of the plans and I can assure hon. Members that conversations have already been had with the Treasury.
Thanks to the Minister, the sheep dip sufferers group now has access to documents including medical records from the poisons unit at Guy’s hospital, which show what many sufferers have known for years: there were long-term health impacts of using sheep dip. Will he meet us again so that we can act for those who still suffer?
The hon. Lady will be aware that I met her and others about a year ago, when we looked at this issue in depth. I subsequently went back through all the submissions that came from the chief veterinary officer in the early 1990s to establish precisely why we stopped using sheep dip, and it was not because of health concerns; it was because of a belief that it was not possible to tackle the disease. I note that she has now got the documents, but I simply say that the committee on toxicity looked at this issue exhaustively, examining 26 different studies over a period of more than a decade, and concluded that in the absence of acute poisoning there would not be meaningful long-term effects.
Traffic hotspots in the Broomhill area of my constituency create unacceptably high levels of nitrogen dioxide. The council is doing what it can, but it is frustrated by the Government on issues such as the deregulation of taxi licensing. We need joined-up action across government, and as the High Court said earlier this month, we need it urgently. So when will the Government produce an effective and comprehensive air quality plan?
We have accepted the Court’s judgment and we now have a new timescale for revising the plan. We have already said that we would update our plans on the basis of evidence on vehicle emissions. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will contribute to the clean air zones consultation, which was launched on 13 October. More than 100 councils applied for an air quality grant and these decisions will be made in due course.
The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative published a report card on the UK last week which awarded zero points out of 10 to the Government’s plans for protecting infant and young child feeding in emergencies such as flooding. Will Ministers work with their colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure that when flooding or power cuts occur during the winter there are plans in place to protect infant and young child feeding?
I have already had discussions with officials from various Departments on our preparedness for winter. There is an inter-ministerial group meeting next week at which the Department of Health will be represented, and I will make sure that it is aware of the hon. Lady’s question.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for Gainsborough, Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, was asked—
National Audit Office: EU
Order. I think the hon. Gentleman wishes to group this question with question 4, does he not?
Very good. Well done.
I apologise. I am not used to being a Minister. [Interruption.]
It does not show. “Honourable” is the hon. Gentleman’s middle name.
The National Audit Office uses its resources to provide direct support to Parliament and stands ready to support parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit. In my humble view, there should be more, not less, parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit. The NAO is keeping in close touch with Departments as their preparations for exiting the EU develop. This will be a major task for Departments and is likely to include additional work for the NAO, not least the audit of the new Department for Exiting the European Union.
What value-for-money aspects of Brexit does the NAO intend to examine?
The NAO’s scrutiny will focus initially on the capacity and capability of Departments to deliver an effective and efficient exit process. The NAO will work with all Departments to assess the potential impact of exiting the European Union on their financial performance and position. The NAO is already the auditor of the new Department for Exiting the European Union and will work with it and the Treasury to ensure efficiency.
Following the rather over-pessimistic forecast that we heard about yesterday from the Office for Budget Responsibility, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be interesting to have another independent assessment from the NAO, which might show a more optimistic post-Brexit forecast?
The National Audit Office will not actually assess any economic effects of exiting the EU, but what it can do is ensure that the civil service carries out its task with due diligence and efficiency. I am confident that our civil service, which is one of the most efficient in the world, will do the job properly. The NAO is certainly one of the best auditors in the world, and we will make this process work efficiently and smoothly as best we can.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Persecution of Christians
The Church of England remains concerned about a number of religious minorities across the world, not just Christian ones. Recently, the Lord Bishop of Coventry travelled to northern Iraq to visit the Christians in Mosul because it is clear that questions remain about their continued safety and the need to make their homes and businesses safe if they are to sustain themselves there.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the Open Doors organisation, which does so much to raise awareness of the persecution of Christians around the world and often courageously defends communities?
Yes. There are a number of excellent organisations such as Open Doors, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Aid to the Church in Need which are working to support the Christian community overseas. I plan to attend a reception for the launch of the 2017 World Watch List in January, and I encourage hon. Members also to attend.
What discussions did the Archbishop of Canterbury have during his recent visit to Pakistan about religious persecution there?
The Archbishop of Canterbury made his second pastoral visit to Pakistan last weekend and met the victims and the bereaved of the recent suicide bomb attacks in Islamabad and Lahore. He also met the adviser to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, where the conversation was warm and constructive on a range of matters, including the contribution of the Christian community in Pakistan and the suffering of many Muslims and Christians in the struggle against terrorism.
What representations has my right hon. Friend received in relation to the persecution of Christians in Iran? Last week, we had a conference attended by several bishops, and the concern there was that Christians cannot even congregate and are subject to military rule.
As I mentioned, the Lord Bishop of Coventry made a recent visit to Iraq, precisely to look at the terrible oppression that religious minorities, including Christians, are suffering. There is no question for any Member of this House but that safety and security are paramount issues, and we look to the Foreign Office to help us in our support for persecuted religious minorities in the region.
If we made it a criminal offence in this country for a Christian to become a Muslim, there would be outrage across the world. Yet people in many Arab countries face legal persecution and prosecution if they convert from Islam to Christianity. What representations is the Church making to these Arab countries that have such rules on apostasy?
Obviously nations are sovereign, and we know that in this country there is an appetite to respect sovereignty, but that does not preclude Government Ministers and Church leaders from speaking with force to the Ministers of countries where religious minorities are oppressed, to ensure that there is tolerance towards those minorities in their society.
The Church of England does provide advice and support to parish churches in the following ways: diocesan advisory committees, which give free advice; specific officers to advise parishes regarding the care of historic churches; the national ChurchCare website, which provides guidance; and grant schemes operated by ChurchCare.
Earlier this autumn, the Ministry of Defence announced that the Royal Citadel, which includes a royal chapel, will be released back to the Crown Estate. I suspect it will need significant restoration and investment. Who shall I speak to about the restoration, and what will be the status of St Katherine once the royal chapel and the barracks are fully released?
That is a specific question about a specific type of church, but I can assure my hon. Friend that if he takes up direct contact with me, I will take up that specific case on his behalf to see how we can assist this transition. However, the community that worships at that church is able, of itself, to look at the ChurchCare website to see what is available in theory to assist the church. My hon. Friend has seen for himself the way in which the Church has assisted St Matthias Church in Plymouth to transform itself to meet the needs of the student community, with services that are appropriate for that age group and with a style of worship it would enjoy.
When I was a curate, which was obviously in another millennium, one of the biggest problems that faced the Church in relation to conservation was not only meeting the cost, particularly for beautiful elderly churches, but finding the people who had the craft skills to do the work. Now that the head of the Church’s Buckingham Palace is going to be done up, at the same time that this Palace and many churches around the country are going to be done up, would it not be a good idea to have a joint industrial strategy to make sure that we get lots of young people trained up in these skills?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, during his curacy, knew what a struggle it is to maintain these ancient buildings. That is why the Church is participating in the ongoing review by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to examine the sustainability of Church of England churches. However, I am sure he will join me in once again thanking the Treasury for its assistance with the world war one centenary cathedral repairs fund, which helped 42 cathedrals around the country to make significant repairs and created jobs for many young people in the crafts he would wish to see flourish.
The Church of England welcomes very much the Red Wednesday initiative from Aid to the Church in Need. This is a multi-faith initiative. I would particularly like to thank you, Mr Speaker, for agreeing that the Palace of Westminster should join Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and Lambeth Palace in lighting their buildings in red yesterday to stand in solidarity with those facing persecution for their faith.
May I join the right hon. Lady in thanking all those who lit church and other buildings, including, as she said, our own Parliament? While I live in hope that religious persecution will diminish and one day end, will she join me in encouraging those responsible for all buildings to take part next year to make a public statement of our solidarity with all those suffering persecution on the grounds of their religious faith?
Yes, I very much hope that other significant buildings will join in with this. The fact that students from schools in many parts of the UK marked Red Wednesday by wearing an item of red clothing and holding prayer services is an example of how we extend the acknowledgment of the suffering and persecution of religious minorities. That is important, and I hope that this will catch on.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will join me at 11 o’clock this morning in the Grand Committee Room, where I am sponsoring an event for the wonderful organisation, Aid to the Church in Need. Indeed, I hope that all Members might consider turning up. Three quarters of the world’s population now live in countries where there is some sort of religious persecution. This is such an important issue that I hope we can all unite behind my right hon. Friend, the Speaker and everybody else to voice our concerns.
I had meant to mention myself that this event is being held just after this session of questions, so if hon. Members would like to divert to the Grand Committee Room they will indeed find the report being launched. We would all do well to read it.
The Church of England takes anti-Semitism very seriously and is supporting the work of the Chief Rabbi and the Holocaust Memorial Trust to counteract the growing anti-Semitic and extreme language evidenced in a report by the Home Affairs Committee.
With the incidence of anti-Semitic attacks rising by 11% in the first six months of this year, and the documented rise in hate crimes since the Brexit vote in June, what more could the Church of England, as the established Church in England, do in its leadership role in communities throughout the whole of England?
I could not commend strongly enough to all Members the Home Affairs Committee report recording the very disturbing rise in anti-Semitism. That is precisely why, last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi launched In Good Faith, a twinning arrangement between rabbis and priests in local neighbourhoods around the country. It is in its early stages, but it will involve a commitment to work together to counteract anti-Semitism.
House of Commons Commission
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Electronic Voting: House of Commons
The Commission has given no formal consideration to a move to electronic voting in the House. Its responsibility in this matter is limited to any financial or staffing implications of any change to the current system, were a change to be agreed by the House. The Procedure Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman has been a member since 2015, will be well placed to inquire into the matter and come up with proposals.
It is a pleasure to ask a question of a spokesman on the same side of the House. During the Report stage of the Higher Education and Research Bill on Monday we spent nearly an hour trooping through the Division Lobbies. Has the Commission ever made a calculation of the cost to the taxpayer of that dead time in terms of staff, security and utilities? If we are to be decanted as part of a restoration process, surely that presents an opportunity to devise a pilot for electronic voting if we are not going to replicate every last detail of where we are now.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those two questions. On the time it takes Members to vote, he may not be aware that back in 1997 this House did consider substantial changes to the way in which we voted, and I am afraid it voted to keep things exactly as they were. I hope that by, perhaps, early next year we will have a substantive debate in this place on the restoration and renewal issue, and that would be the appropriate opportunity for him to raise his point.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the current system affords Members an opportunity to nobble Ministers when they are bereft of their heavies and spin doctors?
It is indeed true that when trooping through the Division Lobbies there are opportunities to lobby Ministers, but clearly those opportunities are more frequent for Government Members than for Opposition Members.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it gives Opposition Members an opportunity for team building, which is extremely important? Will he do everything he can to keep the issue at the bottom of his in-tray?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, which gives me the opportunity to underline the importance of team-building opportunities in the Lobby, particularly for her party.
The right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his timely question as we prepare for the arrival of Advent this weekend. The Church of England will launch a new website—www.achristmasnearyou.org—on 1 December to help the 2.7 million members of the public who attend church over Advent, and the 2.5 million people who attend at Christmas, find their nearest church service or celebration.
How are churches being encouraged to use social media to share the message of Christmas, and what is the take-up of social media by churches in constituencies such as mine?
Some 23,000 services have been added to the website by more than 5,000 parishes. It might interest hon. Members to know that it has filters, so, for example, disabled parishioners can find out how easily they can access a church, and there is a filter for those who wish to know whether mince pies and mulled wine will be served. The social media campaign also includes a video in which Mr Speaker’s very own chaplain makes her important contribution under the hashtag #joytotheworld. I recommend that we all watch that.
That is very good news, because she is an excellent woman, as everybody in the House can testify, and, if I say so myself, a fine appointment by me.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 28 November—Remaining stages of the Digital Economy Bill.
Tuesday 29 November—Second Reading of the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill, followed by opposed private business for consideration, as announced by the Chairman of Ways and Means.
Wednesday 30 November—Opposition day (14th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 1 December—Debate on a motion on transgender equality, followed by a general debate on the future of the UK fishing industry. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 2 December—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 5 December will include:
Monday 5 December—Second Reading of the Children and Social Work Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 6 December—Remaining stages of the Health Services Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill.
Wednesday 7 December—Opposition day (15th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 8 December—Debate on a motion on UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, followed by a general debate on the cancer strategy one year on. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 9 December—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 8 December will be a debate on the fourth report of the Scottish Affairs Committee on post-study work schemes.
In view of yesterday’s conclusion of the trial of the man who murdered our late colleague Jo Cox, I hope that you will allow me, Mr Speaker, to say that I believe that the entire House would wish, first, to express our thanks to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service for the work that they did in bringing this man to trial and securing his conviction, and, secondly, to send our solidarity and our love to Jo’s family, who have shown unbelievable grace, dignity and courage in the months just past.
Thirdly, I hope that we can all agree that perhaps the best tribute that we here, whatever our party politics, can pay to Jo and her memory is to recommit ourselves, whether as constituency Members or as holders of various offices, to do all that lies within our power to ensure that this country remains a place where people of different ethnic origins and faiths can live together in mutual respect, goodwill and harmony, and celebrate together our common citizenship and our shared institutions, values and traditions. We will also continue unflinchingly to stand for the truth that it is through parliamentary democracy that we can seek to secure change and find a better future for those who sent us here, rather than through violence or extremism.
I thank the Leader of the House for what he has just said. The power and beauty of those words will resonate with all of us.
I thank the Leader of the House for those words. He shows what a great parliamentarian he is, and I associate myself absolutely with everything he said about those who have brought the murderer to justice.
I need to ask the Leader of the House again, because he has not mentioned this, about the dates for the recess after February. The Prime Minister has said that she will trigger article 50 in March, so we need to know whether we will be away in recess and if we will have a debate. What is the mechanism? Will the Prime Minister make an announcement on the steps of Downing Street, or will she make a phone call? She relinquished the presidency of the EU by telephone. May we know what the mechanism is? The British people need to know the framework. The Government might not want to show their position, but according to a Library note, as soon as article 50 is triggered, the European Council will draw up a negotiating mandate—the guidelines—without the UK’s participation.
The Ministry of Justice is a troubled Department. Hardly 24 hours have gone by since the autumn statement and we have the first concession. It turns out that the figures in the Government’s proposals for whiplash reform are out of date and will be updated during the implementation process. The consultation apparently referred to the 12th edition of the judicial guidelines as the basis for the figures instead of the more generous position in the 13th edition, which significantly increases the guideline damages for whiplash. That is what happens when the Government have a policy and then find the evidence for it, rather than implementing evidence-based policy. It takes a riot and a breakdown before money is given to the prison service, despite numerous calls for that.
The Department of Health is a troubled Department. I do not know whether any representations have made by the Health Secretary, but he is nowhere to be seen. Last Friday, every former Health Secretary from the past 20 years signed an open letter to the Government urging them to honour the pledge to ensure that there is parity of esteem for mental health, but there was no money for that in the autumn statement. Will the Leader of the House tell us what the response was to that letter, and could he place it in the Library?
Could we also have a statement on the crisis in cancer diagnosis? According to Cancer Research UK, there are long waits for test results, even though getting an early diagnosis is vital for treatment. There is a shortage of consultants, radiologists and endoscopists. Some Members of the House are undergoing treatment for cancer; we wish all of them and their families well. We wish everyone who is touched by cancer a speedy recovery.
The autumn statement was a statement for the elite. The Chancellor said that the Oxford and Cambridge expressway would become
“a transformational tech corridor, drawing on the world-class research strengths of our two best-known universities.”—[Official Report, 23 November 2016; Vol. 617, c. 904.]
Again, that elitism is not based on evidence, because the 2017 university league tables put Oxford and Cambridge third and fourth. Imperial is first and the London School of Economics is second. Cardiff is fifth, and King’s, Warwick, University College London, Queen Mary and Edinburgh are in the top 10. May we have a statement on what will be available for the other universities that do not have the historic wealth of Oxford and Cambridge?
In a previous outing at the Dispatch Box, I asked for money for local government. Local government is in desperate need, but the money has now gone to unelected local enterprise partnerships rather than elected local authorities. The Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), has said that areas with directly elected mayors will have the “main share of funding”—that is power in the hands of one person. May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to another letter? It is from county councils, mainly of the same party as the Government, which have said that funding should not be made on an
“arbitrary prioritisation of specific governance models”.
Everyone on the Labour Benches agrees that money should flow according to need.
This was not an autumn statement for women, so may we have a debate on its impact on women? Women are not satisfied by a passing reference to Pemberley; we want more. Increasing the personal tax allowance will do nothing to help those earning too little to pay income tax, 65% of whom are women. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has already said that the £3 million for women’s charities is just the balance from the £15 million raised under the tampon tax, £12 million of which has already been given away by the previous Chancellor.
Despite 74 written parliamentary questions on social care in November, there was no extra money for social care—indeed, there was no mention of money for social care—in the autumn statement. Cuts to social care hit women especially hard because the majority of those needing care and of those providing it, paid or unpaid, are women. “Just about managing” is of the Government’s making—it is home-made jam.
Finally, tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I thank MP4 for organising an event and playing in memory of Jo Cox. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and Ian Cawsey, a former Member, spent a lot of time last Thursday recording “A Song for Jo”, which I think is coming out in January. Her love, values and example live on in all of us. Government is not just about fixing the roof; we are about transforming lives. Let us dedicate ourselves to that task in her memory.
I will try to respond fairly briefly to the many questions that the hon. Lady has put to me. I understand the impatience of colleagues on both sides of the House to know recess dates, particularly the Easter recess dates. Although I have not been able to announce them today, I hope to be in a position to do so very soon. She asked about the process for triggering article 50—there has to be a formal notification to the European Council.
The hon. Lady asked about the Ministry of Justice. Frankly, I would have hoped that she welcomed the action that the Government are taking on whiplash, because I thought that it commanded widespread support on both sides of the House. We are now embarking on the consultation with a view to legislation at some stage afterwards. I hope that we can build a formidable cross-party coalition in support of such measures. I thought the hon. Lady was unfairly dismissive of the ambitious vision for the transformation of our prison service in the White Papers on prisons, which was launched by my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary just a fortnight ago.
The hon. Lady asked me about the Department of Health, but the Secretary of State for Health answered oral questions in the House earlier this week. She inquired about mental health in particular. This Government not only have invested more in mental health than any of our predecessors, but have for the first time written into law a requirement for physical health and mental health to be given equal priority. She asked about cancer treatments. Despite the demographic and other pressures that there undoubtedly are on the national health service, since 2010—in part because of the money this Government have put in, but also because of the reforms that we have undertaken—there has been an increase of some 822,000 in the number of people seen by a cancer specialist, and an increase of 49,000 in the number of people who are commencing cancer treatment. Yes, there is more work to be done, but that is not a bad track record to be getting on with.
On the Oxford-to-Cambridge expressway, the hon. Lady fell into the trap of believing the rather stale and antiquated class war rhetoric that she gets from the leadership of her party. The expressway will benefit places such as Milton Keynes and Bedford, where at some stage in the more distant past the Labour party once hoped it might win constituencies or local councils—it is a sign of the times that it appears to have given up on such communities. That expressway corridor offers opportunities for economic growth and the chance to unlock significant new housing development in areas of high demand. The Labour party has been calling for more house building.
Similarly, on infrastructure funds, Labour local authority leaders, particularly in the north, argued for the model of devolution we have precisely so that there could be an allocation of central Government funds to devolved authorities to enable strategic planning and expenditure. If the hon. Lady looks at the detail of the autumn statement, she will find the housing investment infrastructure fund, which is targeted at local authorities that are able to bid for infrastructure funding in areas where that will unlock additional housing supply.
I happily acknowledge, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did yesterday, that there are indeed pressures on social care—we see that in our constituencies. This Government have therefore introduced the better care fund and the social care precept to put extra money into the system to help local authorities to cope with those demands.
I turn finally to what the hon. Lady said about the position of women. More women are now in work in this country than ever before. This Government have increased support to families through childcare more than any of our predecessors. Those things work very much for the benefit of women in all walks of life. If the hon. Lady looks at the distributional analysis published by the Treasury, she will see that the measures the Chancellor announced yesterday provide a modest but positive improvement in the incomes and living standards of all deciles in our society apart from the richest, who will experience a modest loss.
I completely endorse and associate myself with the hon. Lady’s remarks about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, as well as her tributes to our hon. Friends who have played a part in work on that. I hope that, in turn, she will agree that we need to stand firm against violence against women and girls in all its forms, both here and globally. The work initiated by my right hon. Friend Lord Hague as Foreign Secretary to awaken the world’s conscience to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and to try to secure the extirpation of that vile practice continues under this Government. I hope that it will continue under all future British Governments.
May I associate myself with the Leader of the House’s remarks about our colleague Jo Cox? She was indeed a parliamentarian who, in such a short time, made a big impact on our country and our society.
As the Leader of the House will know, the Paralympics started in our county—in Stoke Mandeville in his constituency. We were terribly impressed by the achievements of our Paralympics team at the last games. At the most recent Budget, the then Chancellor announced £1.5 million to be spent on research and issuing running blades to children. I am afraid to report that, eight months on, not a single child has received a running blade. The Leader of the House probably knows that the proposal does not seem to have got out of the starting blocks, so is there anything that he can do to move it into the fast lane? We could then have a debate on how we can equip and inspire the next generation of our Paralympians, which will be to the credit of our country.
I had better declare an interest as a patron of the National Paralympic Heritage Trust, which seeks to maintain the heritage of Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of the Paralympic movement. I am concerned by what my right hon. Friend has said and I will certainly take it up with my colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to see what can be done.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business and fully associate myself and my hon. Friends with his remarks about yesterday’s trial, which finally saw a conviction for this appalling act. As the Leader of the House, he spoke today on behalf of the whole House, and I think everyone will have been moved by his eloquence. I hope that his words will help us all to recover, reset ourselves and move forward.
It is barely 24 hours since the Chancellor sat down following his autumn statement, and already Conservative Members are fighting among themselves over just how big this Brexit disaster is going to be. Today, the Office for Budget Responsibility—the doomy and gloomy OBR—is the villain of the piece, after predicting that we will pay a £60 billion premium for this clueless Brexit. Can we have a full debate about the economic consequences of Brexit, and can the Leader of the House help us out? Whom should we trust—the OBR or the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and his hon. Friends?
Can we have a debate about Ferrero Rocher, or perhaps about how the Government appoint their ambassadorial class? For the life of me, I cannot understand their problem with an Ambassador Farage. For goodness sake, the EU referendum was won on his terms and conditions, and we are practically living in the early days of UKIP UK, so come on! The bad Baron Boot-Them-out-of-Here, his excellency the ambassador to the United States, going to Trump Tower—what could possibly go wrong?
We have learned that, in his latest escapade in trying to evade scrutiny of his clueless Brexit plans, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is not prepared to come before the Select Committees of this House. He has twice refused to come before my Committee, and I understand from its Chair that he has refused to come before even the Treasury Committee. In correspondence with me, the Secretary of State said that he was not prepared to come before any Select Committees other than the Brexit Committee. We have detailed questions for him about Scotland’s place in Europe, so will the Leader of the House convince his right hon. Friend that proper scrutiny must be in place and that he must come before the Select Committees of this House?
First, may I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening words?
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the OBR was deliberately set up as an independent body in order to remove any suggestion that the economic forecasts were being tampered with on political grounds by the Government of the day. The OBR forecasts yesterday are its own, but it is sensible for the Government to work on the basis that they are accurate—and they are not out of kilter with the mainstream of other independent forecasters. The Bank of England’s current predictions are actually a little more pessimistic than the OBR’s.
There are many uncertainties. For example, will the fall in the value of sterling against other currencies be maintained and, even if it is, will importers be able to pass on the price impact through the prices charged to customers? It is perfectly sensible, in the light of the OBR forecast, for the Chancellor to have steered the course he has. He was completely honest with the House and the country yesterday in saying, quite plainly, where the uncertainties and the difficulties lay and in not trying to wish away any of the problems that clearly guided his Budget judgment.
On the question of the accountability of Ministers from the Department for Exiting the European Union, we had another debate yesterday on the impact of exit from the EU—this time on transport policy—and I can give the hon. Gentleman the promise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his entire team will be here next Thursday, 1 December, for oral questions, when he and his colleagues will have the opportunity to interrogate them.
If I can turn to the question of the appointment of ambassadors, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that, if he goes to residencies and embassies now, it will not be Ferrero Rocher, although he will be glad to know that British ambassadors are keen to offer a selection of malt whiskies as the digestif of choice when they are entertaining officially on behalf of the country. We have an excellent ambassador in the United States of America; there is certainly no vacancy there. The last time I checked, Mr Farage had a very well paid job as a Member of the European Parliament, although regrettably he also had one of the worst attendance records at the European Parliament of any Member, which suggests to me that to head up a UK embassy might not be a job for which he is particularly suited.
Yesterday in the autumn statement we had the welcome news of additional finance for the development of housing and £3.5 billion for 90,000 homes in London alone, as well as a doubling of the money to combat rough sleeping in London and the abolition of letting fees for tenants. Can my right hon. Friend therefore find time for a debate on housing? I understand that there will be a White Paper next month, but surely we should have a debate on housing in this House, to ensure that the money is well spent and that much needed housing across the country is provided, and to give all Members the opportunity to have an input, so that we get those ideas and use the money effectively.
There will be questions to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government next Monday, which will provide one opportunity for housing issues to be raised. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tireless work in pressing forward his Homelessness Reduction Bill and for winning Government support for it. I am glad that he paid tribute to the measures on rough sleeping and the scrapping of letting fees for tenants that the Chancellor announced yesterday. Although it is a good idea that we should have a debate on housing policy, that probably ought to await the publication of the White Paper, which will give Members in all parts of the House the opportunity to comment on Government proposals, rather than guessing what they might be.
May I add my thanks for the obviously sincere and deeply heartfelt words that the Leader of the House expressed about our late colleague Jo Cox? I am very grateful to him for that.
The Leader of the House announced that on 8 December we will have two debates, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and on the cancer strategy, one year on. That demonstrates how important it is for Members who wish to make a bid for time-sensitive debates to make their applications to the Backbench Business Committee in a timely fashion, so that we can plan ahead and get the dates slotted into the diary.
May I also make a plea? The Clerk to our Committee tries to get the offers that the Committee wishes to make out to Members as soon as possible, but would also ask that Members respond to them in a timely fashion, so that we can get the business sorted out. A number of Members have been made offers and are sitting on a response, so I would appreciate it if Members could make their feelings known to the Clerk as soon as possible.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s kind words. The Backbench Business Committee is playing an important and constructive part in enabling Members in all parts of the House to raise important issues that matter to our constituents that might not otherwise get an airing, and I would endorse the advice that he gives to colleagues.
This month we have seen another remarkable poppy appeal in Corby and east Northamptonshire. Not only have we seen enormous sums of money raised, but thousands and thousands of people turned out on Remembrance Sunday to pay tribute to our brave armed forces. It was absolutely fantastic to see so many young people involved in the parades. Can we therefore have a debate next week to pay tribute to the Royal British Legion for all the work it does, but also to say a big thank you to all those in our communities who work tirelessly to make our poppy appeal so successful?
Although I am unable to offer my hon. Friend a debate, I wholeheartedly endorse the tribute he has paid to the Royal British Legion and the thousands of volunteers who work to make the poppy appeal a success each year—the appeal in England and Wales and the appeal in Scotland, which is run by the Royal British Legion Scotland. It is important that we all remember that, although in these years it is the veterans of the second world war who tend to be particularly in our minds in November, the revenues from the poppy appeal support ex-servicemen and women and their families from much more recent conflicts. Often, very young people have suffered shocking physical and mental injuries as a result of their service. We should remember that this work is still relevant and important today.
I, too, thank the Leader of the House for his eloquent remarks about Jo and her legacy.
BBC research has reported that investment in infrastructure per head over the next five years will be £6,457 for London, £5,771 for the north-west, but only £1,684 for Yorkshire and the Humber. With last week’s Government decision not to back the electrification of the line to Hull and yesterday’s autumn statement making no reference to the Humber at all, may we have a debate on the northern powerhouse and whether the Government really are serious about rebalancing not only north and south, but east and west?
As hon. Members on both sides of the House examine the detail of the autumn statement, they will find that all parts of the United Kingdom are going to benefit from the infrastructure spending that the Chancellor of the Exchequer identified. I do not blame any Member in any part of the House for making a particular plea on behalf of their own constituency, or the greater area that they represent. From memory, I know that, although it is not actually in Humberside, there is an important slug of funding for a significant motorway junction improvement around the Beverley area, which I think should benefit Hull and the area that the hon. Lady represents. If she looks elsewhere in the statement, I think she will find that Yorkshire and the Humber is going to benefit in a number of different ways.
Shortly before the summer recess, the all-party group for excellence in the built environment, of which I am the chairman, published its report on the quality of new-build housing. In my own Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport seat, there has been a significant amount of new build, but I fear that some of the quality has been a little shoddy. May we have a debate or a statement on that issue, please?
As far as the Government are concerned, we want all new homes to be well designed and built to good-quality standards. Home buyers are entitled to expect nothing less. There needs to be an effective complaints procedure, for example, through the consumer code, where people are dissatisfied with the quality of their home. The particular report that my hon. Friend mentioned raises some important issues. My colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and particularly the Minister for Housing and Planning, are studying this closely and will respond in due course.
I had a small but perfectly formed private Member’s Bill on adding mothers’ names and occupations to marriage certificates, which did not get anywhere. The hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) has taken up the mantle, but he is last on the list tomorrow, so there is not much hope there. Therefore, may we have a statement or a debate in Government time to see where we are going on that issue, so that we can see a bit of action before my daughter Angharad gets married in February 2018?
I know how frustrating it is for hon. Members who are low down in the list on a private Member’s Bill Friday. I will have a word with the relevant Minister and see whether there is anything we can do on this matter.
May I associate myself with what the Leader of the House said about Jo Cox, and pay tribute to the tremendous work that she did on behalf of poor people all over the world?
In May, Lord O’Neill launched a vital report on antimicrobial resistance in which he said that the global cost of no action would be $100 trillion a year, and, more important, the loss of 10 million lives a year. May we have a debate on the issue in Government time, given that the report was commissioned by the previous Prime Minister? I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), as well as many other Members, would be pleased to contribute to such a debate.
My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important point. Since Lord O’Neill’s global review, the Government have been supporting research efforts both in the United Kingdom and abroad. That has included £51 million for research in the UK, £265 million through the Fleming Fund to support surveillance in lower-middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia, and a £50 million British contribution to the Global Innovation Fund. I hope my hon. Friend will also welcome the fact that, in a landmark declaration at the United Nations General Assembly in September, following an intense campaign led by the Health Secretary and the chief medical officer, 193 countries agreed to combat antimicrobial resistance, which was identified as the biggest risk to modern medicine. That international agreement was a vital first step towards the effective action that we all want to see.
May I associate my party with what was said earlier by both the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader? The memory of Jo Cox will indeed endure for years.
Following the tragic death of my 21-year-old constituent Miriam Briddon at the hands of a drink-driver in March 2014, her family committed themselves to campaigning for the reform of drink-driving sentencing guidelines and policy. That recently culminated in the presentation of a 100,000-strong petition to Downing Street. May we have a debate on the need for such reform, in memory of Miriam and the many other people who are afflicted by drink-driving crimes throughout the country?
This is an unspeakably tragic experience for any parent or family to have to go through. The hon. Gentleman may wish to seek an Adjournment or Backbench Business Committee debate on the subject, but the e-petition system that we have introduced provides an additional route by which subjects of this kind can be raised and debated in the House, and he may wish to suggest that to his constituents.
Last night, in my capacity as chairman of the all-party group on retail crime, I attended an event organised by the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. It is evident that those who work in the retail trade are very concerned about the level of not just theft, but violence against them. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time to investigate the matter?
I understand the point that my hon. Friend has made. No employee working for a retail outlet, large or small, should be going to work fearful that he or she may become the victim of violence. I think the trend is partly due to the growth of the gang culture that we have seen in London and some other big cities, and, as my hon. Friend knows, the Government are working with chief constables to try to defeat that threat. I cannot promise a quick, easy answer. Determined work by the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, and local police forces and their chief constables and police and crime commissioners will be necessary to ensure that the response is right and the problem is properly addressed.
Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate or statement on VAT arrangements and Brexit? The announcement in the autumn statement yesterday of an additional £3 million for Comic Relief from the tampon tax fund was, of course, welcome, but we would like to know the total amount to be disbursed this year. We would also like to know what the Chancellor will do to ensure that there is secure, long-term investment in vital services, and to be given a clear date by which the tampon tax will finally come to an end.
My answer to the hon. Lady’s point is that that will depend in part on whether there is agreement first at EU level, while we remain members, on changes to EU law on value added tax; secondly, if that has not been dealt with by the time we leave the EU, there is the question of how rapidly we can then make that change of our own volition. I will ask Treasury Ministers to contact the hon. Lady with the particular information she seeks.
When the Leader of the House brings forward the resolutions to approve the spending of billions of pounds on this royal Palace and hundreds of millions of pounds on Buckingham Palace, will he arrange for a special screening of the film “I, Daniel Blake”, so that people can remember those who are being unjustly sanctioned, and those with disability losing £30 a week? I do not care about the reputation of this Government, but as a member of Her Majesty’s Privy Council, I cannot think of anything more damaging to the cause of constitutional monarchy than a “let them eat cake” attitude that prioritises the rebuilding of royal palaces while the people are struggling for bread.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is in danger of going over the top here, not for the first time. Buckingham Palace is a public building that is used by the monarch to exercise her functions as Head of State. It is also a place that thousands of tourists visit and enjoy each year. The reason why the royal household is facing this bill that shocks the right hon. Gentleman is that these decisions have been put off and a backlog of repairs has been allowed to accumulate. I think that what was decided and announced a few days ago is perfectly justifiable. In respect of sanctions, I ask him to bear in mind that fewer than 4%, I think, of recipients of jobseeker’s allowance have received any sort of benefit sanction; for employment and support allowance recipients, the figure is fewer than 1%. Officials can sometimes make mistakes, but we need to recognise that the proportions involved are very small.
My I also associate myself with the Leader of the House’s moving tribute to our late colleague, Jo Cox? She is greatly missed.
Figures released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics show that over the past five years there have been a staggering 152,740 excess winter deaths, and 24,300 people died last winter alone. The rate of excess winter deaths in our country is almost twice that of Norway and Germany. We are experiencing a quiet crisis that is, by its very nature, avoidable, so will the Leader of the House consider granting a debate in which the matter can be more fully discussed?
Any unnecessary death is clearly a tragedy, and everything possible should be done to avoid them. In fairness, I need to point out that, partly due to the NHS’s extensive preparation for winter, excess winter mortality last winter was down on the previous year, and earlier this month NHS England and Public Health England launched their Stay Well This Winter campaign, which last year reached 98% of the over-65s. The NHS is very much alive to these risks, and is taking action to alert elderly people to what they can do to keep themselves warm.
May I also associate myself and my Social Democratic and Labour party colleagues with the comments of the Leader of the House on our late colleague, Jo Cox? We must all respect people with different religions, politics or ethnicities.
Yesterday, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) and I launched the first report of the all-party group for the visitor economy. It was about supporting skills and apprenticeships in the hospitality and tourism industry. Many different types of evidence were submitted to us. The report said that there were core issues affecting apprenticeships in the fourth-largest service industry, involving the school curriculum, lack of proper career guidance, and lack of encouragement to people to go into cheffing and the catering industry. May we have a debate on this significant industry, which is important to tourism in many constituencies, and has a direct relationship with the economy?
I was glad to hear about the report that the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) have prepared, and she has highlighted an important issue. The Government’s commitment to 3 million apprenticeships needs to include tourism as one of the sectors to be assisted. She is right to draw our attention to the need for those apprenticeships to have proper preparation and the right content, so that the young people concerned can be seen to be readily employable. I have talked to directors and senior managers in the hospitality industry, and I find it troubling that they often find it difficult to recruit UK citizens who are properly skilled for the work on offer, which is why they often look to people coming in from other countries. As a country, we need to address that challenge.
You might recall, Mr Speaker, that I raised the question of tax treaties a few weeks ago. This week, another double taxation relief order, covering Turkmenistan, was approved. We are likely to see many more as a result of Brexit. May I again ask the Leader of the House if he will look into how Members can be given better notice of when such treaties are to be considered, and how he might ensure that the House has more opportunity for scrutiny of the UK’s tax arrangements with other countries?
Double tax treaties are a standard form of international agreement, and have been negotiated by British Governments of all political colours. As the hon. Gentleman knows, they are designed to ensure that our citizens and those of the other country concerned cannot be taxed twice on the same income by two separate jurisdictions. I will draw his points about scrutiny and parliamentary process to the attention of Treasury Ministers, and perhaps I can write to him with some thoughts.
I very much hope that there will be a permanent memorial to Jo Cox in this building, whether it is a shield in the Chamber or a bust or some other form of memorial elsewhere in the Palace. Last Friday, this House voted by more than 200 votes to give a Second Reading to the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, but it cannot go into Committee unless the Leader of the House provides the appropriate motions, so when will that happen?
Clearly, on that point, we need to take advice from the Treasury about whether a money resolution is needed. The hon. Gentleman should not forget that the legislation that established the current system for determining electoral boundaries, and the terms of reference of the Boundary Commission, were themselves the subject of legislation passed with a clear majority in this House. That was done through primary legislation, and I do not think that we can shy away from the principle that electorates are grossly unequal at the moment, that they are based on population figures that date back to 2000, and that it is in the interests of basic democratic fairness that we equalise the number of electors, so that every man and woman’s vote has the same value.
Given that the Leader of the House seems to be in an extremely generous mood this morning, particularly in relation to the use of public money, may we have an urgent debate on compensation for the victims of the Concentrix scandal? After a number of written parliamentary questions, I have managed to discover that nine out of 10 of the mandatory reconsiderations that have followed this fishing expedition have been successful—a shocking statistic. The average compensation awarded to victims is a mere £48, which does not even cover the cost of the phone calls, or the postage of documents, to prove their innocence. Will the Government please do the right thing by the people of this country who have been wrongly accused? Let us have a debate to bring this out into the open.
Any citizen who has grounds for claiming that they have suffered loss as a result of maladministration by any part or agency of Government has the right to go, via their Member of Parliament, to the parliamentary ombudsman to seek compensation. I have done that on behalf of my constituents at various times during my time here. One clearly cannot have some sort of blanket scheme that awards public money irrespective of the circumstances of an individual case, but the ombudsman may provide the route that the hon. Lady seeks.
On 7 December 2015, the then presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the US. On 15 November, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary to ask what representations were being made on behalf of the 2.7 million British Muslims, some of whom may want to go to the US. His response was shocking: it basically said that it was a matter for the US Government. I fundamentally disagree. This Government have the responsibility to stand up for the interests of every citizen in this land. When can we have a debate to ensure that the Foreign Secretary is held to account?
On freedom to travel, and with everything else, it is certainly the case that this Government will stand firm on the principle that citizens of the United Kingdom should be treated on an equal basis, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin. It is a truth in law that the United States, like every other nation state, has the responsibility to determine for itself its rules on whether people are allowed to enter its territory. It is important that we work with the elected President and his Administration, and ensure that we have the best possible bilateral relationship that works in the interests of all British citizens.
I thank the Leader of the House for his moving words earlier. Given those words, may we have a debate about whether Britain First should be proscribed as a terrorist organisation and banned from standing in democratic elections?
I cannot offer an immediate debate. As the hon. Lady probably knows, the Home Office brings forwards orders for the proscription of particular organisations, but it must do so on the basis of evidence. There have been cases in which organisations that have been so proscribed have gone to the courts and successfully won a judicial review to say that the evidence on which that action had been taken was not sufficient. I will ensure that her proposal is reported to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but there has to be clear evidence of terrorist involvement for the terrorist proscription to be applied.
Tory Back Benchers rightly lambast the Labour party’s legacy of private finance initiative debt, and Ministers on the Front Bench usually fully agree, so why does paragraph 3.27 of the Green Book outline that a “new pipeline” of PFI projects will be announced? Can we have a statement explaining that, or even better, a debate on the benefits of PFI versus conventional investment?
I will ask Treasury Ministers to write to the hon. Gentleman in more detail on that.
It has already been mentioned that the Government published a northern powerhouse strategy report yesterday, but I cannot see in it any mention of Cumbria or nuclear energy. Given that west Cumbria will physically put the power into the northern powerhouse, I support the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for a debate on the issue, so that the Government can appreciate how much the whole of the north of England has to offer, and why Cumbria must not be an afterthought.
I completely agree that Cumbria must not be an afterthought, and I am confident that the leaders of the northern powerhouse locally would make sure that the decisions that they took worked to the advantage of everybody living in that area. I am aware of the importance of the nuclear industry to the hon. Lady’s constituents, and I would have hoped that there was common ground between her and this Government, because we have taken the difficult and controversial decision to go ahead with a new generation of nuclear power stations, which I think is generally supported by Members on both sides of the House who have experience of nuclear power plants in their constituency.
Every day in the UK about 2,200 babies are born—babies including my new granddaughter, Saoirse Grace, who was born in Glasgow yesterday. May we have a debate in Government time about the impact of the measures announced in the autumn statement on new families, and how we can support all new families at this joyful but often vulnerable time?
First, let me congratulate the hon. Lady—or, more particularly, her daughter or daughter-in-law; I do not know which it is. A new child is a source of joy for any family. I suspect that we will have a number of opportunities to debate the various questions that arise out of yesterday’s autumn statement, as well as to put questions to Ministers in the Departments affected by the Chancellor’s announcements. As I said earlier, if she looks at the distributional analysis of the autumn statement, she will find that it works—modestly, yes—to the benefit of all income groups in society, save for the very richest; it is they who suffer a loss. I hope that she would agree that all families benefit more than anything else from having parents who are in work and able to work. The record number of people in employment is helping to drive the reduction that we have seen in the number of children who are living in workless households, and the introduction of universal credit means that people, including many mothers of young children, who may take on part-time work, will still always find that work makes them better off than staying on benefits.
I thank all Members for their kind words about Jo Cox; her legacy of love lives on. Yesterday, the Chancellor announced additional broadband infrastructure funding. The Government’s current subsidy goes only to rural areas, but this is equally a problem for my constituents in Rotherhithe, and for people who live in former dockyards across the country. Will the Government provide time to debate in detail how they plan to improve broadband access speeds for all areas?
The additional money that the Chancellor announced yesterday as part of the £23 billion that he is borrowing to provide for strategic infrastructure investment is additional to the current programme of connecting up people to high-speed broadband. That current work will continue, and what was announced yesterday is additional to it.
I, too, thank the Leader of the House for his kind and thoughtful words about our colleague Jo. May I also pay tribute to Jo’s incredible staff, who have shown such strength of character throughout this period? I know that she would be incredibly proud of what they have achieved in her absence.
In 2012, the Government axed funding for careers education, and instead put £2 million into an online jobs website called Plotr. It went into liquidation at the end of October; the chief executive officer said that the website had run up debts that meant it had
“lost control of what it could do”.
May we have an urgent statement from the Government on how this waste of taxpayers’ money was ever allowed to happen?
First, may I associate myself with the hon. Lady’s tribute to Jo Cox’s staff? I know that the hon. Lady had to undertake a number of the constituency duties between the time of Jo’s murder and the recent by-election, so she, more than anybody else in the House, will have personal knowledge of how hard those staff have worked.
On the particular point that the hon. Lady raises, I am not aware of the details of the case. If the situation is as she describes and there has been a serious misuse of public money, she might want to have a word with her hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, as that would probably be the appropriate parliamentary means to investigate the matter further.
May I associate myself with the tributes paid to our friend and colleague, Jo Cox? Yesterday we heard an awful lot from the Chancellor about increasing productivity in this country. May we have a statement, please, on increasing ministerial productivity? I refer in particular to the Government’s review of employment tribunal fees, which has been sitting on the Minister’s desk for over a year and appears not even to have been read, let alone acted upon. Thousands of people are being denied access to justice, yet the report still has not been acted upon. When will something actually happen?
I will have a word with the relevant Minister. I cannot promise that the reply will necessarily be the one that the hon. Gentleman is wishing for, but let us get the relevant Minister to write to him so that he can see what the current thinking is.
May we have a ministerial statement addressing the rare but traumatic issue experienced by my constituent, a transgender woman? She has reached female retirement age and is seeking a Department for Work and Pensions pension. Her case is with the Courts and Tribunals Service. She transitioned 17 years ago and underwent surgery when gender realignment certificates were not available. Both her passport and her driving licence recognise her female status, yet Government Departments are forcing her to undergo excessive and upsetting requirements to prove that she is living as a woman.
As I said earlier, there will be a Backbench Business debate on gender equality that may give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to raise this case. If he is having any problems corresponding with Government Departments, I am always ready to try to help any Member to get a prompt reply.
Yesterday I asked the Prime Minister how she could justify the scrapping of the Navy’s heavy duty surface-to-surface missiles with no replacement. The Prime Minister replied that she did not recognise the situation I described, but it is the case that at the end of 2018 the GWS 60 Harpoon Block C anti-ship missile will be scrapped and there will be no replacement. This is against the very strong advice of the Navy. May we have a debate about naval defence in the Prime Minister’s post-truth era?
Although the Ministry of Defence has a significant budget in Whitehall terms, it still has to take difficult decisions, including decisions at times to phase out and to replace particular weapons systems or weapons platforms. I will make sure that Defence Ministers are aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but this subject may be an appropriate Backbench Business debate or he may wish to raise it on the Adjournment.
On 18 October in our debate in Westminster Hall on the future of shipbuilding, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), who is the Minister responsible for defence procurement, said that
“the national shipbuilding strategy will report by the autumn statement.”—[Official Report, 18 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 318WH.]
The autumn statement was yesterday and we still have not seen the national shipbuilding strategy. Can the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Defence comes to this Chamber and makes a statement on exactly what is happening to the national shipbuilding strategy?
I had noticed that this matter was raised on a point of order yesterday so I checked out the current position with the Ministry of Defence this morning. My understanding is that Sir John Parker has now submitted his independent report. He did so just before the autumn statement. That is being considered by Ministers. Defence Ministers intend to publish Sir John’s report soon, and they will provide a more considered response to the detail of that report at a later date.
The chaotic sustainability and transformation plan in west Cheshire—more commonly known as the slash, trash and privatise programme—is now being compounded by persistent reports that our general hospital, the Countess of Chester, is to be closed, merged and moved. If we cannot have a debate on STPs in the health service in Government time, could we perhaps have a debate on the Health Committee’s report, to demonstrate how the Government are bamboozling the public with false claims of money for the NHS that they are not actually providing?
I simply do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s final comments. The Government have provided £10 billion to the NHS over the period of the current five-year plan plus the preceding financial year. In giving evidence to the Health Committee, the chief executive of the national health service in England said that the Government had provided the up-front funding that he was seeking.
When it comes to the STPs, the important thing is that they are being determined locally; they are not simply being imposed from on high. The hon. Gentleman will also find that the health oversight committee of his local authority has the right to challenge proposals presented under an STP for a significant change in service provision and, if it feels sufficiently strongly, to refer that to the Secretary of State for a second look. However, it is important not just that the Government, as they are doing, spend more money on the national health service, but that the national health service looks at the way in which it is operating, so that it is getting the best possible value for patients out of every penny that is being spent.
A key tenet of the Better Together campaign was that the people of Scotland should vote no to Scottish independence to protect their pensions. Yesterday, the Chancellor suggested that the triple lock may be set to go. May we have a debate in Government time on the future of state pensions to discuss the prospect of future cuts and this potential betrayal of the people of Scotland?
The Chancellor was very clear yesterday that the triple lock is going to remain in place for the duration of this Government’s lifetime. At the next general election, in 2020, it will be for all political parties to put forward whatever proposals they wish on pensions, as on anything else. The biggest threat to the wellbeing of pensioners in Scotland would come from a vote for separation, which would plunge Scotland into the kind of economic instability where pensioners and others relying on fixed incomes would be likely to lose out heavily.
People living close to recreational airfields such as Hibaldstow do not have the same protection from noise and nuisance as people living close to recreational activities that stay on the ground. May we have a statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government on this issue, its impact on local people and what the Department is going to do about it?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to DCLG questions next Monday, and I hope he is lucky in attracting your eye, Mr Speaker.
Dee Valley Water is a valued independent business in north-east Wales, supplying water to Wrexham and Chester. Its independence and the many jobs at the business are threatened by a takeover by Severn Trent. If local decision making is important, what say can local people in my area have about who sells them the water they drink?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wants a statement or a debate on the matter.
Clearly, this is a commercial decision for the two companies concerned. While I can understand the concerns the hon. Gentleman has expressed, there may be a question—I do not know the details—about whether a larger company would be able to provide more capital investment for his area, so that people might be able to benefit. I suggest to him that this is probably a suitable subject for an Adjournment debate.
The new Administration have been quick to jettison just about every aspect of their predecessor’s legacy, so when will they get rid of the farcical English votes for English laws procedures? In the Legislative Grand Committee on Monday night during the debate on the Higher Education and Research Bill, nobody had a clue what was going on. There were no Divisions and no English votes cast for any English laws. Whatever the answer is to the West Lothian question, surely the Leader of the House agrees that it is not the current mess left to him by his predecessor.
I am absolutely confident that the Chair certainly knew exactly what was going on at all times. If Monday’s events raised any concern about the technical operation of the EVEL procedures, then I remind the hon. Gentleman that I am currently carrying out a review of those procedures embodied in our Standing Orders, and he is welcome to submit evidence to me. However, the basic principle remains right that where legislation affects only England and the matter is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, then English Members here should exercise a veto on whether that legislation passes.
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you were watching as avidly as I was last Sunday as Andy Murray won the ATP world tour finals and in so doing retained his position as the world’s No. 1 tennis player in the singles, joining his brother, who is the No. 1 player in the doubles. These brothers are the pride of Dunblane. I wonder whether we could have a debate on the tennis legacy and the wider benefit that sporting excellence can have in getting the next generation of sporting heroes.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I did indeed watch both Andy and Jamie several times last week. He will not be surprised to know that I bellowed on regular occasions in their support, albeit, as he would expect, in an entirely orderly manner.
I am very happy to add my congratulations to Andy and Jamie Murray. While I can see that the people of Dunblane, and people in Scotland more generally, will take an especial pride in their achievement, I think that pride is shared by everybody in all parts of the UK. I hope that the lawn tennis authorities will use this achievement as a springboard to intensify their efforts to improve the opportunities available through grassroots tennis and coaching schemes for the most able players so that we produce a new generation of tennis players, both men and women, to follow in the Murrays’ footsteps.
What is more, if the hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) wants a debate on the matter—
You can’t take part.
I cannot take part, as the hon. Gentleman rightly observes from a sedentary position, but if the hon. Member for Stirling wants an Adjournment debate on the matter, I have a hunch that he might secure it.
Flawed neoclassical theoretical assumptions combined with methodological problems are enshrined within the model of the UK economy that is used by both the Treasury and the Office for Budget Responsibility. I would call into question how independent that makes the OBR. When can we have a debate on this important matter?
It is up to the OBR to decide how it makes its own forecasts and the assumptions on which it makes them. It does, of course, publish with its reports a statement of the various assumptions that it makes. If the hon. Gentleman is not happy with the OBR, there is a plethora of other independent forecasts using methodologies that differ to a greater or lesser extent. I think this is a question of “Let 100 flowers bloom.”
As the last Member to be called, may I join others in ensuring that our thoughts and prayers are with Jo Cox’s family and her former staff members? I thank the Leader of the House for his comments.
As you predicted yesterday following my point of order, Mr Speaker, I do wish to push the Leader of the House a little further on the national shipbuilding strategy. Will he ensure that we have a debate on this strategy and the Government’s response to it, and feed back to Ministers the fact that many of us want that debate? This is an iconic and highly skilled industry, and one that needs to be talked up. Those of us who represent shipyards would be obliged if the Leader of the House were amenable to that.
I understand the importance of the industry to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and to others in all parts of the UK. The position is as I described it earlier. The first thing that the House will want is to see Sir John Parker’s report, on which Members will form views, but I will certainly relay to Defence colleagues the importance that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members attach to the matter.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During business questions, the Leader of the House, in answer to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), seemed to suggest that there was a question mark over whether a money resolution will be tabled to the boundaries Bill, the Second Reading of which was passed overwhelmingly by this House last Friday. Mr Speaker, you are obviously well versed in the proceedings of the House, so you will remember that there was, I think, one example of that happening in the last Parliament—I was not here at the time—due to the incoherence of the coalition Government, who were not able to agree among themselves. Many previous Leaders of the House have been on record many times saying that such a procedural device would not be used as a means of impeding the progress of a Bill such as that which we debated last Friday.
Leaders of the House prosper in their posts by commanding the support of the whole House. The present Leader of the House, in his short tenure, has had that, as exemplified by his magnificent statement earlier, but may I say through you, Mr Speaker, that if a Leader of the House loses support across the Chamber through such procedural shenanigans—if, indeed, that is what he meant—he will not be long for his tenure?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. We all like the Leader of the House and we take him at his word. Only a few weeks ago, he told the House that if not enough Members turn up to vote for a private Member’s Bill—this was in relation to the Alan Turing Bill—it should fall, and that was fair enough. We all turned up last week: large numbers of us took him at his word and the vote was carried by 257 votes—including several Conservative Members—to 35. Surely, by the Leader of the House’s own logic, the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill should now go into Committee. Plenty of Members turned up to vote for it, and those who did not might be those who do not want it.
I intend to ask the Leader of the House if he wants to say anything. He is not obliged to do so, but he might choose to do so, because these are essentially political matters. I have some comments to make to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) in due course, but not before we have heard from Mr Peter Bone.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the issue. By convention, it is a tradition of this House that money resolutions follow Second Reading. The Library tells me that there has been only one example to the contrary, and that has been referred to by the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond). In fact, the majority by which this House passed last Friday’s Bill was the biggest such majority other than that given to the other Bill that did not get a money resolution. I hope that the Leader of the House will make a statement that a money resolution will be tabled as speedily as others have been tabled.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. If it will help matters, I want to make it clear that all I was saying earlier is that there is a process to be followed when a private Member’s Bill receives a Second Reading. First, the Government, particularly the Treasury, have to consider whether a money resolution is needed and what its scope should be, and then it has to be drafted. That is the process that is being gone through at the moment, and I was saying no more than that.
I am very grateful to the Leader of the House. I think it might be helpful, both to the right hon. Member for Gordon, who raised the original point of order, and to all who have subsequently taken part in this brief exchange, if I say the following. Ministers are, of course, responsible for what they say, as are other right hon. and hon. Members. Let me, however, confirm two things. First, the decision as to whether a Bill requires a money resolution is for the Clerk of Legislation, not the Treasury. I understood the meaning of the Leader of the House’s remarks earlier to be to the effect that it was for Treasury Ministers to decide on tabling a money resolution. He may not have said precisely that, but that is what I interpreted as being his meaning, and I confirm that it is, indeed, for them to decide upon the tabling. The question of the requirement is determined, as I have said, by the Clerk of Legislation. I hope that that response helps both distinguished Privy Counsellors in this matter.
In that case, I just wonder whether the Clerk of Legislation has decided yet whether the Bill needs a money resolution.
The short answer is yes. The Clerk of Legislation has so decided.
So it is now just for them to tell us.
Order. We are not going to have an extended conversation on the matter—at least, no more extended than the one we have already had. I think I have made the position clear. People can seek advice from whomsoever they wish, and the Government may choose to seek advice from the Treasury. In my experience, the Treasury is invariably ready to offer its advice, whether its advice is wanted or not. The Treasury may very well offer its advice, and people in the Government may want its advice, but the fact is that it is the Clerk of Legislation who decides whether a money resolution is required. Thereafter, let me go so far as to say that it is overwhelmingly the norm that the tabling then follows. I do not think that the Leader of the House has sought to gainsay that.
The Leader of the House confirms, by a very helpful shaking of the head, that he has not sought to gainsay that. I hope that that will suffice for the purposes of the right hon. Member for Gordon.
If there are no further points of order—if the point of order appetite of hon. and right hon. Members has been duly satisfied, at least for today—we will move on.
Contaminated Blood and Blood Products
I beg to move,
That this House notes the Government’s recent announcement on the reform of the support schemes for people affected by contaminated blood and blood products; recognises that the contaminated blood scandal was one of the biggest treatment disasters in the history of the NHS; believes that those people affected should have a reasonable standard of living and not just be removed from poverty; is concerned that bereaved partners of people who died with HIV/AIDS and those reliant on regular top-up payments will be worse off; is concerned that the new payments for people infected with Hepatitis C are not commensurate with the pain and suffering caused; notes that people who were infected with other viruses, those who did not reach the chronic stage of Hepatitis C and bereaved parents are not mentioned in this announcement; and calls on the Government to use the funds from the sale of Plasma Resources UK to bring forward revised proposals that are properly funded and which provide appropriate support to all affected people.
I thank Members of the Backbench Business Committee, who, since the Committee was established, have always been very generous in recognising the importance of this issue to many of our constituents. This is the third Backbench Business debate that we have had on the subject.
It is more than 45 years since the first people were infected with HIV, hepatitis C and other viruses from NHS-supplied blood products. Their lives, and those of their families, were changed forever by this tragedy. The contaminated blood scandal is now rightly recognised as a grave injustice—the worst treatment disaster in the history of our country’s health service—but those affected are still waiting for a proper financial settlement that recognises the full effect that the scandal has had on them and on their families. This group of people have campaigned for far too many years for justice, at the same time as dealing with illness and disability.
The current financial support for those affected is simply not fit for purpose. That stark fact was laid bare in the inquiry of the all-party group on haemophilia and contaminated blood in January 2015. This quote is on the first page of our report:
“You can’t give us back our health. But you can give us back our dignity. This tortured road has been too long for many of us. But for the rest of us, please let this be the final road to closure.”
Thankfully, we all now agree that the current support arrangements cannot continue, and that we need to create a scheme that gives this community back their dignity.
I welcome the efforts made by the former Prime Minister when he was in office. I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), to her new post and I welcome Lord Prior of Brampton to his new position. I was happy to meet him last week, alongside other APPG members, to discuss the new support arrangements.
Although we are all agreed on the need for a reformed scheme, I cannot agree with the Department of Health that its proposed settlement is sufficient. The purpose of this debate is to highlight the aspects of the new support scheme that will not provide the support that these people need, following the hasty announcement made by the former Prime Minister as he left office in July 2016.
In my speech, I want to stress five key issues that the Department of Health urgently needs to address. The first issue concerns the differences between the country schemes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We need to know what support people in all four countries of the United Kingdom will get. While Scotland and England have set out their own separate support schemes, in Wales and especially in Northern Ireland people desperately need some certainty about the help they will receive.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate along with other right hon. and hon. Members. I have been in touch with the Minister for Health in Northern Ireland and there has been no progress on this matter. I and other hon. Members from Northern Ireland have constituents who have suffered from the ill effects of contaminated blood for over 45 years.
It is very worrying to hear that there has not been any progress on what is happening in Northern Ireland, so the Minister needs to explain to the House what work is going on.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on being one of the leaders of this campaign. It is clear that the Scottish scheme is more generous than the one in England. Does she agree that at the very least the Government should ensure parity, and in particular that nobody should be worse off under the new scheme than they were under the old scheme?
My hon. Friend makes that point very well. Later I will compare and contrast the Scottish scheme, which is more generous.
The difference between the two schemes is important because hon. Members representing constituencies across the UK may have one constituent getting compensation under the English scheme and another getting compensation under the Scottish scheme, involving, as is currently the case, different amounts of money and different levels of compensation.
Yes; the hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. One of the unintended consequences of devolution is that we are ending up with such a mishmash of schemes, and that is of concern for the people affected.
One of my constituents, Mr M, makes exactly that point: it is unfair that the Scottish settlement is so different from the settlement for him in Stratford-on-Avon. Most importantly, one of my constituents, who is in the Public Gallery, wants to remind the House that there are fewer than 300 primary beneficiaries left, and it is vital that they are not forgotten.
Absolutely. That is a very important point. I will come on to the primary beneficiaries in a while, but I will now make some progress.
My first concern was about the different schemes that are available. The second issue, which is also important, is that we know the five existing trusts will be amalgamated into a single body to administer the scheme at some point in 2017. I am deeply troubled by the fact that the administration of the new body looks likely to be done by a profit-making private company. I know that Atos and Capita have attended meetings with Department of Health officials about the new contract. Formal tender submissions will be due soon, with a decision on the contractor set to be made in 2017. No Health Minister has had the courtesy to tell the all-party group of these plans, nor were the beneficiaries asked for their views about this in the survey done in January. Even the Department’s response to the survey, which was published in July, made absolutely no mention of such a prospect. Alongside hon. Members on both sides of the House, I cannot support proposals to contract out provision to Atos or Capita.
Let me remind the House how many in this community were infected in the first place. Many contracted HIV and hepatitis C from American blood products supplied by profit-making private companies. The United States, unlike the UK, has always allowed the commercial purchase of blood products, and those products were often donated by people who desperately needed money and were willing to be less than honest about their chances of infection. This is the reason why so many in the affected community harbour such distrust of private companies.
I want to place on the record that I have been contacted by constituents in Dudley who have told me how grateful they are to my hon. Friend for the lead she has given and for the campaigning she has done on this issue. One constituent has written to me about allegations of impropriety in relation to doctors being encouraged by pharmaceutical companies to use plasma concentrates instead of cryoprecipitate in blood transfusions. Does she agree with my constituents that that should be investigated?
I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend. That should certainly be investigated.
I return to people’s concerns about the use of private companies. We know that, over the past six years, there has been a huge sense of mistrust of the disability assessment regime operated by Atos before it walked away from its contract with the Department for Work and Pensions. If there is one thing that could fatally undermine progress towards a better support scheme, it is the plan that the new scheme be administered by a private company. I strongly urge the Government to look again at that plan and show empathy for the people affected.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her dogged and tireless work on this issue. Does she agree that there is a big issue of trust here, in relation not just to the potential new providers but to what happened previously? Some survivors and families who survive victims who have passed away believe that senior health professionals knew about the contamination but decided to continue with their interventions for cost reasons.
Yes. One point I will come to later is the need for some form of inquiry.
To continue my point about why who runs the scheme is so important, a big criticism of the new scheme is the continuation of discretionary payments. Department of Health officials are still not listening to the concerns raised about that. The APPG inquiry uncovered huge issues with the highly conditional and poorly managed discretionary support scheme. One respondent told us:
“The whole system seems designed to make you feel like a beggar”.
I also believe that the trust’s current administrators have not fought hard enough for their beneficiaries, which legally they could have done. Instead, they saw their role as dispassionate managers and conduits to the Department of Health. They left the affected community alone to fight for themselves. If the new support scheme ends up being managed by Atos or Capita it will do nothing to address those fundamental issues, and could even make the situation much worse, adding insult to injury. I call on the Minister to do the right thing and announce that she will scrap plans for a private profit-making scheme administrator, and will replace the current scheme with a more beneficiary run and focused organisation that has no profit motive.
Will the Minister set out exactly what kind of discretionary support the new scheme will provide? It remains unclear whether any or all of the current support will continue. That contrasts starkly with the Scottish scheme, where the financial review group agreed that no one should receive less financial support under the new scheme. Will the Government urgently provide the same guarantee and publish full details of any obligations that the new scheme administrators will be subject to?
There are also issues with the current welfare benefits reassessment regime that many people are having to go through—for example, moving from disability living allowance on to the personal independence payment. Those issues need to be addressed urgently, so that individuals can be passported straightaway on to new benefits. I hope the Minister will agree that that is a sensible way forward for the people affected.
My third concern relates to the families of those affected, who need better support under the scheme. Under the new English proposals, widows and widowers will continue to be eligible for discretionary support—whatever that means; I have raised my concerns about that already—on top of a new £10,000 lump sum, provided their loved ones died at least partially as a result of contracting HIV or hepatitis C. However, many clinicians have already told me that that could mean many people are excluded from assistance simply because their partner’s death certificate does not include mention of HIV or hepatitis C, sometimes at the family’s request. The new proposals could also still be considerably less generous than the support that some widows already receive, because there is a huge question mark hanging over what discretionary help they will get under the reformed scheme.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for leading this debate. Many people around the country are hugely grateful to her, me included. Two of my constituents—Mike Dorricott and Neil Howson—sadly passed away as a consequence of contaminated blood and the diseases that they contracted. Their loved ones have exactly the concern that the hon. Lady indicated: that the dependence on potential discretionary payments is insufficient. The fact that the one-off payment is not backed up by the generosity, regularity and dependability of an annual payment means that such people often have to give up work, lose the ability to have a pension of their own and find themselves in immense hardship.
That leads me to my next point, which is on the Scottish proposals. As we have heard, they offer a better settlement, particularly for the bereaved, who are guaranteed 75% of their partner’s previous entitlement in addition to continued access to the Scottish discretionary scheme. That gives them much-needed security in a way that the proposed English scheme does not. I ask the Minister to look again at adopting the Scottish model and at providing more guarantees on non-discretionary support for widows and widowers.
My fourth point is about support for primary beneficiaries, which was raised in an intervention. The APPG asks the Government to look again at some groups of primary beneficiaries who need better support than is proposed under the English scheme. I received an email this morning from someone who contracted hepatitis B through contaminated blood products. Under the scheme, they are not eligible for any help, but they have obviously suffered and are suffering still. I hope that the Minister is willing to look at a very small group of people who are not covered.
The APPG believes that if more assistance were provided in the form of non-discretionary, ongoing payments, it would reduce the need for discretionary support and allay a great deal of our constituents’ worries. I urge the Department of Health to consider the contrast with the support announced in the Scottish scheme and whether more non-discretionary, ongoing payments could be made.
I applaud the hon. Lady for bringing the debate to the House. Although I recognise that the new payments scheme is an improvement, I want to speak up for one of my constituents, who does not want to be named. He is among the 256 out of the 1,250 haemophiliacs who were infected with multiple viruses—those who were co-infected. Their lives have been devastated—absolutely blighted—and they feel that they are not being fairly treated under the new arrangement. Will she expand on whether we can help those people a little bit more?
I will come on to the ways in which I think the funding that the Government have put together could be used more effectively to assist more people who have been affected by receiving contaminated blood, including the hon. Lady’s constituent.
I will talk a little about the overall funding of the new scheme. There is much that the Government could do to improve the scheme without any additional cost to the public purse. Even if the Scottish proposals, particularly those for widows and primary beneficiaries, were adopted in England, they would fall within the budget that has been allocated for every year save 2016-17. That is set out in an analysis conducted by the Haemophilia Society, which was presented to the Department of Health at last week’s meeting. I hope officials will consider that carefully.
Any need for additional funding could easily be met from two identifiable sources. I think the £230 million from the sale of our 80% stake in Plasma Resources UK should be made available, as should any reserves left in the accounts of the three discretionary charities when they are closed in 2017. Further, I ask the Minister to promise that any money that is not spent on beneficiaries in each year will be rolled over to support beneficiaries in the next year. At last week’s meeting at the Department of Health, it appeared from what officials told us that any unspent money would have to be given back to the Treasury. That would be a gross act of betrayal towards those affected.
In conclusion, unless the Department of Health accepts that its new scheme still has substantial issues that need to be addressed, the new support scheme will not command the full confidence of the people it needs to satisfy. Indeed, in some crucial respects it will be worse than the system it replaces.
The APPG still believes that people should have the option of a lump sum payment as part of any new scheme, to give them the opportunity to decide for themselves what is best for them—either a regular payment or a one-off lump sum payment.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Why cannot lump sum payments be an alternative to regular payments? Why must the Government be grudging on these matters? This and previous Governments owe these people a huge debt of obligation. This should be a properly funded scheme and we should have a proper investigation to get to the truth of this terrible scandal, which is a stain on our country.
My hon. Friend puts the point very well. The APPG and the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) have spoken to people about what they want from the revised scheme, and they have said they want the option of a lump sum payment, if that would be better for them than regular payments. It is important that we give people the ability to make those decisions for themselves.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) just alluded to, the APPG still believes that we need a Hillsborough-style panel inquiry to allow people to tell their stories and to say what happened to them and how it affected them.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am happy to give way to my right hon. Friend, who has great knowledge on this point.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is making a very powerful case, as she always does, and I congratulate her on the way she is doing it. She is right about the potential of a Hillsborough-style inquiry—I note that the Prime Minister is a great fan of that process, and has said so previously—but we need to take care that such an inquiry does not put all the important and urgent issues she has raised into the shade while the process takes place. The two things need to be separate.
I agree with my right hon. Friend, who makes his point very well. We need to make sure that any new support scheme moves quickly. We need to get on with this. The previous Prime Minister, when he apologised on behalf of the nation 18 months ago, also allocated £25 million, but none of that has been spent yet, as I understand it. We need to make sure that a scheme is introduced as quickly as possible, although obviously with our concerns having being addressed. But absolutely the two things can run in parallel, and a Hillsborough-style panel inquiry would give people the opportunity of a truth and reconciliation inquiry. I still think it a key requirement if there is to be any real sense of justice and closure.
Families who have suffered a loss following this terrible scandal have expressed a desire to get hold of certain documents and to find out what happened and who knew what. They really just want a sense of justice.
I will now conclude. I know that in later speeches hon. Members will want to raise the deeply moving stories of their constituents. It is those stories that have led me to campaign on this issue over many years, and I am always mindful of the struggles faced by my constituent Glen Wilkinson. Glen was diagnosed with hepatitis C after a routine tooth operation in the 1980s, when he was just 19. He has had to live with the virus all his life and is still waiting for proper recognition of how it has affected him. I hope that the Minister and the Government will now work to ensure that Glen and others can live the rest of their lives in dignity.
Order. I am going to impose a 10-minute limit to start with, and then we will see how we get on.
I begin by congratulating my friend, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), on her consistency on this issue and the work that she and the all-party group have done over a long time. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to be held. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to the Front Bench. We know that this matter is not among her responsibilities—it belongs to our noble Friend Lord Prior—and I know how difficult it is to deal with something that is not in one’s own portfolio, but I am sure that she will communicate faithfully to the Government the points raised in the debate, although she will not be in a position, I think, to answer all our questions. However, the fact that we are again raising these questions in the Chamber is an important point for her to take back to the Secretary of State and other colleagues.
I want to pick up on a couple of points arising from the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North. I agree with her about who should administer the scheme. This is not an area in which we should be looking to outsource for ideological reasons. There is an important concern at the heart of this issue. Given everything that we have learned from the United States, we know that the profit motive involved in selling the blood in the first place was a primary source of everything that has happened since. It is really important that we recognise that and show some sensitivity to the fact. I actually think that Government can run some things, and it is good to run some things publicly. We have to choose. In our political lives, we have lived through the Government running British Telecom, British Airways and so on. Things have changed, but it is important that some things be publicly owned, run and dealt with, and this is one of them. I therefore join her absolutely in saying that the Government should think again about how the scheme is administered. They should keep it in public hands where there is at least some democratic accountability. Above all, as she said, we need a group that will act on behalf of the beneficiaries, rather than solely in the Government’s interest. It would have to be very carefully put together.
The right hon. Gentleman is making some really important points. Does he agree that one area in which the private sector could and should be playing a part is in contributing to the compensation? Is there not an analogy—an off-the-shelf scheme we could consider—in how the thalidomide victims were supported through a composite of public funding and funding from the drug companies responsible? Like the Scottish scheme, that system has introduced annual payments and allowed people struggling with conditions that they contracted because of thalidomide to have some security throughout their lives. The same could be afforded to the survivors or the loved ones of those who passed away because of contaminated blood.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will develop that point in his own speech. Of course, the thalidomide compensation was based on a clear line of accountability as the company admitted responsibility. The situation has not been quite the same in this case, for reasons that we all know, but perhaps I can come on to financial matters in a second. I will now move on from the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North, the majority of which I supported wholeheartedly.
It is a matter of some despair that we are here again. I remember those friends who came to the public meetings in the House of Commons a couple of years ago saying they were actually sick of coming here as they had done so so often over the years. I would be grateful if the Minister could relay to the Government—I have not been able to get this point across—that this drip, drip approach over the years is just not working. The Government can find money at various times for some big affairs. If there is a natural disaster, a dramatic crisis or a banking collapse, vast sums suddenly appear. We have not been able to give this issue the same priority, but it cries out for it. That we are here again is proof that these concerns are not going away and cannot be dealt with drip by drip. Somebody has still not grasped the fact that, for the many reasons that I know colleagues will raise, a settlement is of the highest importance.
I will not rehearse the history, because colleagues indulged me when I raised it in a Back-Bench debate a couple of years ago, so I will not go into it at such great length again. Neither will I cite the accounts of individuals who have come to us because, frankly, I find it too difficult to read them into the record. I have done that before, but I am not able to do so again. Instead, I want to make a couple of personal points and three comments about where we might go from here.
I campaigned on this issue for many years—in government and in opposition; and when I was a Minister and not a Minister. I was pleased that the hon. Lady mentioned David Cameron, because his response to my contribution at Prime Minister’s questions in October 2013 began the current chain of events and continued the progress made over many years. I was grateful that he met me, a constituent and a dear friend of ours. He seemed to understand where we were going, and more money has come into the scheme, which I appreciate.
In June 2015, I was re-invited by the then Prime Minister to join the Government in the Department of Health, at which point I went quiet on campaigning as far as the public were concerned. I know that some people misinterpreted that. My position in the Department of Health was not conditional on the fact that I had been involved with contaminated blood, and neither was my positon in the Foreign Office or my decision to leave the Department of Health of my own accord earlier this year. However, the ministerial convention is clear: Ministers say only what the Government’s position is. We cannot have two colleagues firing away on the same issues, so I did indeed go quiet publicly for a period. Inside the Department, I made my representations to the then responsible Minister, and I want to put on record my appreciation for what my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) sought to do with the scheme. She worked extremely hard, saw a lot of people and tried to do her best.
I think that I made a mistake when the original proposals that the current scheme is based on came forward in January this year. I sat beside my hon. Friend on the Front Bench and while I understood the general thrust, I had not fully grasped the detail, which became clear only in the consultation. My mistake was to think at that time that we had solved the problem—we clearly had not. I got that wrong, but I hope that I have tried to contribute to the debate since, both inside and now outside the Department, as we try to deal with the present proposals. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North said, they move us on from where we were, but we are not yet there, so perhaps I could say a couple of things about where I think we might go.
First, we got the issue of discretionary payments wrong in the original proposals. A number of discretionary payments have effectively become fixed and people have become dependent on them. That should have been known to the Department, but clearly it was not known in enough detail, which has accordingly led to uncertainty and to people feeling that they might not be financially compensated to the extent that they are at present. That cannot be the case, and I am certainly not prepared to support anything that will make my constituents worse off than they are at present. That was not the intention, so we must make sure that those discretionary payments are included in the new scheme.
I thank my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for the work that they have done. One of my constituents is co-infected with many conditions as a result of receiving contaminated blood. It has affected literally every part of his body and his life. He worries that he may lose up to £6,000 in discretionary payments and that the cost of his many treatments may count against him in the settlement. We know that our hon. Friend the Minister is listening carefully, so will my right hon. Friend join me in urging her to look carefully at those concerns so that the Government can do the right thing?
Yes, I will. I will turn to those who are co-infected, but staying on discretionary payments for a moment, I just think that the position was not clear enough. As the trusts were administered separately and not by the Department, I do not think that there was full awareness that the discretionary payments had become a fixed part of people’s income. There is much more awareness of that now, and dealing with this is essential because people are extremely worried as they do not see such payments specifically included in the scheme, and I hope that they will be part of it.
I would also like a small amount of money to be made available for some of the things thrown up through the system that are not recognised. I am thinking in particular of a family in which two young boys lost their father and two uncles, and were taken into care. Their lives were changed hugely because of that. There is no part of the scheme that fits the agonies that they went through, so I wonder whether there could be some recognition of that, with a small part of the fund kept for unusual circumstances.
I must reiterate my determination that there should be some form of inquiry into what has happened. We know—it is on record—the sense of scandal about this. We have heard from former Ministers, including Lord Owen, who made a speech relatively recently in which he was very clear about what happened. He spoke about ministerial documents being “scrapped” and said:
“I have become convinced that there has been a cleaning-up of documents”,
“there was a decision to clean up all the files and stop some of the incriminating evidence”.
Given that this major issue has led to so many deaths and so much misery, and that people know that something went wrong, it cannot be right that there is still not a public space so that the people affected can know what happened.
The inquiry process worked well for Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday, although we know that the position is currently clouded by what is happening with the child abuse inquiry. I do not think that a full public inquiry is necessarily the only vehicle to deal with this, but there needs to be some way for the Department to answer in a way that it has not done up to now, which it cannot do through the mere revealing of documents. It remains essential that we press for such a process.
I will not give way, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me. I have taken two interventions and will not get any more time.
I now want to raise specifically the issue of those who were co-infected. The majority of those infected by contaminated blood were infected with hep C. Some 1,200 people were co-infected with HIV and hep C, and perhaps only 250 of them are left alive. The suffering experienced by those who were co-infected is different from that of those who were mono-infected. There is now the possibility of treatment for hepatitis C, which we all welcome. Such treatment has considerably changed the outlook for many people, but it is not available for the co-infected.
This discrete group cannot grow any larger; it is diminishing all the time. Those who are co-infected have experienced things in their lives that have not affected others, such as being told their length of life right at the beginning. I know of those who were told when they were very young that they might have only five or six years left. They thought that the education they were going through was of no consequence—what was the point?—and nor was looking after any sum of money they were given, because they might as well spend it if they were not going to live. Their outlook is now different, because medical treatments have allowed them to stay alive, but their condition is still extremely serious and varies almost from day to day.
For that diminishing number, a lump sum, which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and others have mentioned, might be a possibility. They do not want to be dependent on the system; they want recognition of what they have lost, including their opportunities, and a lump sum might be the answer for them. I would be very grateful if there is now some consideration for the co-infected, because much of the debate has tended to be about the majority. I do not think that that is necessarily wrong, because what is provided for the majority is very important, but the co-infected matter.
We have been here too often. I doubt, sadly, that my hon. Friend the Minister will be the last Minister to talk about this issue, but we will not go away and the House will not leave this. This is a collective shame, because Government after Government have not grasped that this just needs a final settlement. We can find the money for other things. This issue cries out for that sort of settlement and we will not stop.
I am pleased to speak in this debate on behalf of children who lost their father, a mother who lost her son, and a spouse who lost her husband, as well as the many people who still suffer an injustice.
I want to focus on transparency in the public sphere. As the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) said, it has become obvious that there is evidence that there was knowledge long before there was action, as we saw, for example, from Lord Owen’s testimony to the Archer inquiry. It was stated that when he went to the Department of Health as a Minister and saw boxes of notes on the subject, that raised questions in his mind. He decided he needed a team to deal with the matter, but when he returned a week later, all the paperwork had been shredded. I therefore wonder whether, through this debate—perhaps the Minister will reply to us in writing—we could give permission to others who might know more to come forward. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it might not be right to hold a full-scale, lengthy inquiry, but there must be some way of holding to account the individuals who knew more.
That covers the justice point; the other linked point is the question of trust in health providers. Madam Deputy Speaker, as I am sure that you are aware from listening to this debate, there was wide knowledge at the time, even among health professionals. I therefore wonder whether health professionals who were working in the national health service at the time might be able to shed some light on how it could be that individuals knew about the contamination, yet decided to continue with the use of contaminated products, both for reasons of cost and because it was said that there was no alternative. Years later, we are in a position of trying to find the truth. Now is the time to look at these two questions of trust and justice.
I add my voice to those who have said that bringing in Atos and other private providers could redouble the sense of a lack of trust about resolving this matter. Could we not look at this as just an NHS-led process, which would underline honesty and a sense of communicating well with those who have suffered so many years of trauma due to this terrible situation?
I put on record my recognition of the excellent work of the all-party group and of members of the haemophilia community, who have helped MPs to research this matter so diligently and have called for a proper investigation for so many years. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for bringing forward the debate.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on securing this debate and on all the fine work she has done on the all-party group in keeping this issue in the public eye and in the ministerial eye. I associate myself with many of the points and comments she made. She set out clearly what needs to happen now to resolve the problem, so I shall not repeat what she said.
I would like to highlight the cases of a couple of my constituents who have suffered from the terrible effects of this scandal. I spoke again this week to one of my constituents, Helen Wilcox, who contracted hepatitis C following a blood transfusion at the age of 17, 40 years ago. She told me that she had received some terribly bad news—that her illness had progressed to cirrhosis of the liver. She is currently undergoing tests and biopsies to find out how long she has left to live. I ask Members to imagine the sort of strain her family has had to live with all these years, knowing that her condition would probably get worse, yet hoping that it would not.
Mrs Wilcox has had four strokes and suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. She takes 35 tablets a day and can barely get out of bed. Understandably, she says she has no life. She does not go out and she cannot make plans. She barely has the energy to bring up her children, and she had to give up her job 10 years ago. I am sure that the Minister will agree that she and her family deserve the certainty and clarity of a decent settlement in keeping with the pain and suffering she has endured.
Mrs Wilcox is not on her own. Many other Members will have similar stories from their constituencies. Another victim in my own constituency is Richard Warwick, who was multiply infected with HIV and hepatitis C as well as hep B by the NHS. His life has been ruined through no fault of his own. Of the 30 pupils in his class in the special school he attended, only four remain alive today. In fact, of the 1,200 victims who are co-infected, only 280 are still alive. Richard has campaigned long and hard for a fair deal for victims such as himself. One of the most heart-breaking and emotional meetings I have ever had as a Member of Parliament was when I spoke to Mr and Mrs Warwick, who told me about the impacts that has had on their lives and their terribly difficult decision not to have a family because of the health implications that would potentially have for their children.
I welcome the point made by the Haemophilia Society that the new payment scheme is an improvement on proposals in the original January consultation. I think it makes complete sense to have one single scheme rather than multiple schemes, and I am pleased that more money has been identified to pay the victims. On behalf of my constituents and others like them, however, I ask the Minister to ensure that no one is worse off under the new system, including those who are in receipt of discretionary payments. I ask, too, for greater clarity about payments made to the families of victims after they have passed away.
My hon. Friend is giving an emotional speech, and it is hard to listen to these cases. I am not going to go into the details of the constituent I speak for, but I will speak up for the idea of the lump sum payment for the co-infected, because they have even more strains than others. As my hon. Friend says, there are fewer and fewer of them and it is up to us to try to make their lives as good as we possibly can.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, echoing the comment of the chair of the all-party group that there should be an option to take an ongoing payment or a lump sum.
Of course, the victims have lived with their illnesses for decades and now they want to ensure that their families are compensated for the losses they endured because of that. Mr Warwick also had to give up his job many years ago. When his employers discovered that he was infected with HIV, he was asked to leave. That meant his wife became the main breadwinner, although she could only work part-time as the rest of her time was devoted to his care. Given that she may be near to or at retirement age, it may be difficult for her to find a full-time job. Mr Warwick tells me that more than anything he wants to be able to put his mind at rest by knowing that Mrs Warwick will continue to receive monthly payments throughout her lifetime.
I urge the Minister to think about the terrible impact this injustice has had on Helen Wilcox, Richard Warwick and their families—and many others like them—and to offer them greater clarity and a fair settlement, so that they can have peace of mind this Christmas.
I commence in the same vein as others by paying tribute to the leadership and work of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on this issue. I see other Members across the Chamber today who have also played a part, including the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who has been in meetings with the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). This is not a party political issue. The core of it is simply about doing the right thing, and it shows all-party groups and Parliament at their best. Members have come together on the basis of the difficult personal stories of our constituents, such as the one we have just heard from the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake).
I have two constituents who have provided me with an inspirational lead in tackling the problem. My constituent Debra has HIV. She received it from a partner who had received contaminated blood products. In fact, he did not tell her at the time, and it took her several years to work out that all her health problems derived from that infection. He obviously became her ex-partner, and that person later died of his illness. Debra has never been able to hold down a job because of the continuing, persistent nature of the illness. In common with the constituent described by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, Debra was asked to leave her job, and her career has been badly threatened.
My constituent Neil has hepatitis C, which he contracted as a haemophilia patient as a child. Again, he is unable to hold down a job, which means he cannot hold on to decent housing. Another aspect of the problem is that Neil’s body retains water, and he has to go regularly to hospital to have his body drained of excess fluid. He can work, but he suffers from fatigue and his whole life has been dominated by these problems.
The only mistake these constituents of mine and of other Members have committed is to be unlucky. That is the only thing they have done. They were unlucky when they received these contaminated blood products or, in the case of Debra, were infected by a partner, without being told the circumstances. They are the victims of what could be considered, as we have said, a crime. We cannot get away from the fact that we still need to do more for people whose basic problem is that they were unlucky at a difficult time in their lives.
The current system is chaotic. We are simplifying it, although I fear that when we simplify systems of this kind, they may also become less valuable. As other Members have said, when it has been simplified and the various schemes have been brought together, no recipient should be any worse off. I approve of such an amalgamation, but I cannot help feeling that so far there has been almost a policy of divide and rule—perhaps unwitting, perhaps deliberate—with different types of scheme for different types of sufferer. There are also different schemes, and different levels of schemes, in the different countries of the United Kingdom. The situation is absurd: someone living in England might qualify for a Scottish scheme because it relates to the country that the recipient was in when he or she was infected.
We need some consistency and fairness. People who, rightly, feel angry and let down are being forced to compare their circumstances with those of other victims rather than looking to the real culprits: the private companies, described so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, which put profit before patients’ safety all those years ago and have never been brought to account. For that reason, I support the calls for a proper inquiry. I tabled some questions to the Department of Health recently, and it transpires that those corporations have never paid any compensation and no compensation has ever been sought from them. Someone said earlier that it might be difficult to pin down exactly who was responsible and when, but there should at least be an effort to track down those who are responsible and force them to pay for their misdemeanours.
I asked Debra and Neil for their comments. There is no doubt that Debra will lose money under the current proposals. The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, said in the House:
“Today I am proud to provide them with the support that they deserve.”—[Official Report, 13 July 2016; Vol. 613, c. 291.]
Debra found those words rather distasteful. Her response was angry, and she had every right to be angry. She gleaned from what the Prime Minister had said that she, as an HIV-infected partner, deserved to be worse off. She knows that her support will be reduced, but she wants to know what will happen to the money that Macfarlane Trust beneficiaries are losing. Will the amounts be the same? Victims of this scandal who are losing money are being asked to turn in on themselves rather than directing their fire at the real culprits. The Minister can deal with that by ensuring that no one loses out.
Debra believes that the schemes will take financial support from HIV and co-infected victims: those whose condition has no cure, who are forced to take toxic medication that helps to keep them alive, who struggle with mental illnesses as a result of living with stigma and discrimination, and who every day face the reality that, despite medication, people are still dying from HIV and AIDS. Debra has the impression that moving the schemes around is robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Neil supports the idea of a Hillsborough-style inquiry, but says it is important to ensure that the level of support payments is maintained. He says:
“£15,500 is far too low and does not take into account how much expense being ill and travelling to and from hospitals across the country is!”
He also says that the payments should be linked to inflation, because otherwise they will grow ever smaller.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a Hillsborough-style inquiry. Like the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), I should like the Government to consider that. I took up the case of Ms Sullivan-Weeks’s stepfather, who received unheated Scottish blood products in England after they had been withdrawn in Scotland because there was a time lag in England. We do not know how many people were affected in that way, but he ended up dying. That prompts a particular sense of injustice. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is another reason why a Hillsborough-style inquiry is necessary?
Absolutely. We need to get to the truth. The victims and the surviving members of their families deserve the truth, and the culprits must be held to account as well. As has already been pointed out, it seems that there was knowledge of what was going on at the time.
The right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) rightly said that this matter is not going to go away. The longer it goes on, and the greater the sense of injustice felt by the victims and their families, the stronger will be the calls for a final resolution. I am glad that the Minister is present, because the Government have an opportunity to do the right thing: to lift the black cloud of uncertainty, and to end what was eloquently described by the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire as a “drip, drip” approach. We need a final answer to this question, which will provide the certainty that has been missing for so long.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). Without them, we would not have come as far as we have. With them, we have come a long way, although there is still more to do. I do not want to repeat what they have said, but what I will say is that the House of Commons Library has produced a very useful debate pack which I recommend to Members. The reference is CDP-2016-0227. I also commend the Tainted Blood website, whose timeline and chronology remind us that the first known case of a haemophiliac being infected with hepatitis C was discovered in 1961. We know that the development of blood products was designed to help haemophiliacs, but it actually harmed them.
I know a bit about this subject indirectly. On the day of the State Opening of Parliament in 1975, my wife received eight pints of blood, and went on to join us in the House of Commons. That was before Factor VIII had been spread around. The first member of my family knowingly to take an AIDS or HIV test was my mother. She had had a pancreatic operation and received a lot of blood, and later, when she heard what was going on, she said that she was going to get herself tested.
When I was a Northern Ireland Minister in 1989-90, I got in touch with the then director of the Haemophilia Society, because a friend of mine had been infected with HIV and AIDS after his haemophilia had been treated. I spent a long time doing the best I properly could, in my role as a Minister in a different Department, to give advice on how to try to bring the issues into the open. I pay tribute to my constituents and friends who are living with hepatitis C, HIV or AIDS and who have given me an insight into their circumstances.
I want to make a couple of points which will be obvious to those who think about them. First, is it not possible for something to be written in the medical notes of all the people who have been infected to prevent every hospital, clinician or care giver they encounter from going through questions such as “What is your drinking habit?” , “Why have you got this liver problem?”, and X and Y and Z? It seems to me that one of the first things to which people should be entitled is an understanding that their circumstances do not require them to tell strangers, several times a year, what has caused them to be in need of care and help.
Secondly, while I welcome the advances in dealing with hepatitis C, some specialist treatment requires people who live some distance from London to come to specialist hospitals here, and to arrive reasonably early. Travel and accommodation costs—including those of the person who is accompanying them, to whom they are married or who is caring for them—will need to be met. We need to find some way of ensuring that when members of this group in particular require specialist treatment, they are not put to abnormal difficulties in finding accommodation or paying for their needs. I think we can be more sympathetic than that.
Some of these people are very young, or were very young when they were infected. They are not people of my age, approaching their retirement years—not that I am hoping to retire soon. They may have felt lonely because they did not feel they could have an active social life. Some probably had no particular interest in pursuing higher education given the degree to which they could work and, as well as physical health issues, they probably needed other therapy. People should go out of their way to put arms around them—act not just like a two-armed human being, but like an octopus and get right around them and try to meet all their needs in a way that they find acceptable.
I wish colleagues in the Department of Health well. These are not easy issues to tackle. I know perfectly well that the Treasury has a job to do in trying to oversee every little change in departmental spending, but I hope the Prime Minister will do what her predecessor did, and, after a few months of letting the debate settle down, meet my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and representatives of the Haemophilia Society and ask, “Are we getting it right? Is there more that we should do?” The Prime Minister is able to bring together the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury and ask, “What more can we properly do to get rid of most of the problems?”
I have a question for my hon. Friend the Minister that I hope she will be able to answer today or in writing. Are the Government still giving help to the Haemophilia Society? The load on that society has been increased by this work. Its briefings and involvement have been important to Government and those affected, and to those of us trying to represent both. I hope that if the society is being put to extra costs, the Go