House of Commons
Wednesday 22 February 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Middle Level Bill
Second Reading opposed and deferred until Wednesday 1 March (Standing Order No. 20).
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The hon. Lady will be aware that a judicial review into UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia is currently under way, and that we cannot comment on ongoing legal matters. The role of the Department for International Development in the export licence process is to provide advice on criterion 8 of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, which assesses whether a country can afford the export.
Following the recommendation made by the International Development Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee in November, what progress has been made in formally including DFID in cases in which the proposed arms transfer might ultimately be used, as is the case with Yemen and equipment supplied to Saudi Arabia?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Specifically on DFID’s involvement, we engage across government on some of the really significant issues that are associated with Yemen, particularly on the humanitarian aspect. As I mentioned in my opening answer, there is a case under way right now, so I cannot comment on those ongoing legal matters.
The right hon. Lady may be aware that the UK has not just funded the Yemen appeal, but led the way in the UN with our support. We are the fourth largest bilateral donor. DFID and the British Government have been very clear and direct on the matter of working on the ground and of making the case to the Saudi Arabian authorities that they must not impede humanitarian aid and support. We have been working with many of our international partners to monitor the access routes to ensure that supplies can get into Yemen, which, as she knows, is vital at this difficult time.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we do more than make representations, and we do so not just through Government, but directly. I have dealt directly with the authorities in Saudi Arabia and with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia relief fund, and made some very specific requests with regard not just to the situation on the ground and the conflict, but, as I have already said to the right hon. Lady, to getting support to the people who need help in this crisis.
The situation in Syria is devastating and appalling. The UN estimates that 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, and 1.5 million are living in siege-like conditions. There are 4.9 million refugees in the region. The UK, as my hon. Friend will know, has been at the forefront of the international effort in providing support to the region and to Syria directly.
I commend that leading effort. Can the Secretary of State assure me that our aid is reaching Christian refugees who face jeopardy because, sometimes, they avoid the official camps for fear of persecution? Those who end up in those camps face further persecution because of their faith.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that matter. It is a really important issue given the movement of migrants and refugees. Ensuring the safety of refugees and protecting them from persecution is absolutely at the heart of the UK’s involvement, especially with regard to the aid and support that we provide in Syria and the wider region. I can assure him that all the agencies and partners with which we work pay particular attention to monitoring the welfare and safety of minorities, including those of Christians.
I recently had a very helpful meeting with one of the DFID Ministers about the situation in the berm—an area of no man’s land between Jordan and Syria. I am aware of how much the Government are doing with aid, but will the Secretary of State please update us on the humanitarian situation in the berm and what else is being done and could be done to help those refugees?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising the appalling situation in the berm; it is a devastating situation. She asked about what we are doing. Obviously, work has taken place through our agencies and partners, and more directly with the Jordanian Government. We are working with them in a very difficult, hostile terrain and territory in order to ensure that people and children are being protected and that they are getting access to food and water, which, frankly, is a major priority in the berm.
Last week, I met a number of Syrian refugees along with the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan); we were guests of Oxfam in Jordan. The Secretary of State was also in Jordan not that long ago. Will she tell us what plans she and the Government have to continue to support Jordan in its magnificent efforts—a country of 9 million people that has taken in and housed 1.5 million Syrian refugees? What more can we do to help Jordan?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. She has seen at first hand the incredible and remarkable work in Jordan—a host country and a host community. It is under great strain and pressure, particularly economically, but also in providing the vital support that is needed. What more are we going to do? Post the London conference is the Brussels conference. I have been clear—this is exactly why I was in Jordan—about the additional support that we will give to Jordan, not just as the UK but through the international community, with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and through many of the reforms taking place in Jordan itself.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. In besieged areas inside Syria, there are enormous problems of access to humanitarian aid and things of that nature. On drones, we are examining all options for getting aid into besieged areas in Syria. That includes the possibility of using drones to deliver aid directly.
The Government should be congratulated on being the second biggest donor in the area—second only to the United States. We can look after more people closer to home than we can in this country. What is the Secretary of State doing to encourage other European countries to match our level of support for the region?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. We are constantly calling on other donor countries to step up and effectively pull their fingers out by putting more money into the international system. The Government are leading reform of the international system: we are challenging donor countries to be much more efficient and effective in how we distribute aid and get resources directly to people in the country and in the region.
Like the Secretary of State, I met thousands of children in the camps of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who had fled Syria; I saw etched on their faces the fear they had experienced while in Syria. As others have done, I welcome the work in those host countries, but is the Secretary of State not embarrassed that the Government have turned their back on our obligation to take 3,000 unaccompanied children who have fled Syria and are in Europe?
I, too, have met and spoken to hundreds of such children and seen and heard from them directly the trauma that they have experienced in travelling from Syria into the neighbouring countries. The hon. Gentleman cannot justify saying that we are not helping those children: we take the welfare of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children more than seriously. We have made very clear commitments to those children and that is what we are doing. We have committed to resettling 20,000 Syrian nationals through the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and 3,000 of the most vulnerable children. That is on top of being the second largest bilateral donor to Syria and inside the region.
I thank the Secretary of State for all the work she is doing in Syria, but I draw her attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad region, where around 450,000 children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. Can she assure me that the Government’s response to this crisis is purely humanitarian, and does she think the UK is acting in good time?
I thank the hon. Lady for speaking about the humanitarian crises in Syria and in the Lake Chad region; she is right to mention the awful situation there. UK aid is clearly directed and focused on providing food, water and shelter to give protection to the most vulnerable people who need that life-saving support at this very difficult time.
UN Gender Equality Initiative
UN Women is an important organisation and partner in the global fight to deliver gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment. The UK Government provide £12 million a year in core annual funding support for that organisation.
Budget day on 8 March is also International Women’s Day. Given that 93 countries have already made firm commitments to the UN’s Step It Up initiative, will the Minister now set that date as a deadline for the UK to make its formal commitment and show that it is fully engaged in international action to combat gender inequality?
The UK is a world leader in combating gender inequality. Since 2011, more than 5 million girls have been through education thanks to the work of the UK. We have seen 10 million women get access to modern family planning, and have saved more than 100,000 lives in childbirth. We have seen 36 million women given better access to financial services. Women’s empowerment and gender equality are key parts of what we do and of what this Government do, and we intend to continue to deliver on that.
The hon. Lady, of course, expresses her concern for some of the most vulnerable children, including girls, in the world who have suffered such terrible persecution and problems in the countries from which they have fled. The UK is the second largest donor in the region, and we can assist many more by helping where the need is most immediate. We must always be careful to ensure that steps taken by the UK Government do not inadvertently facilitate further trafficking and difficult journeys. We must channel money to where it can have the most impact and help the most people.
The UK is a global leader in the area of family planning. The Secretary of State is bringing together a significant family planning conference, which the UK will host in the coming months. We need to ensure that where we are able to help people to lead better lives, to deliver economic growth, and to empower women and deliver on gender equality, we continue to be a global leader in that space. That is what we will continue to do. Of course, we always have to adapt to decisions made by our international partners.
Despite the leading role that the former Prime Minister played in shaping the sustainable development goals globally, there has been slow progress domestically. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress of implementing the goals across Government Departments?
The global goals are absolutely embedded not just in what the Department for International Development does, but across Government. As I may have mentioned in response to other questions, we are in the process of revising every single departmental plan across Government, and the global goals will be fully recognised in that process.
The humanitarian situation in South Sudan is deeply concerning, with 4.9 million people who do not have enough to eat. Famine has been declared in the Unity State. We are monitoring the situation and working to get direct aid into South Sudan at what is, quite frankly, a devastating time for that country.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Our priority, of course, is emergency aid—food assistance and water. We are also asking others to step up, particularly donors. We are calling on all sides that are involved in the conflict to end the fighting, because we need long-term political solutions if we going to end the current crisis.
The famine declared in South Sudan is the first anywhere in the world for six years. Last night the all-party Sudan and South Sudan group launched its report on the need for peace in the wider region. How is the Secretary of State’s Department responding specifically to these crises? Will she confirm that she will defend the aid budget so that it focuses on those in desperate need and is not subject to smash-and-grab raids by the Foreign Secretary to support diplomatic empowerment funds?
It is important that we recognise the state of the world right now. We are seeing four crises—four famines—around the world. We are in an unprecedented time. This is the first time we have seen this situation since the last certified famine in 2000. I do not see it as an issue about how we spend money across Government Departments; it is about how the UK shows global leadership when it comes to times of humanitarian crisis in the world. The British Government are leading the world right now, calling on others to step up, but also saving lives and changing lives at this critical time.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the Church community—the Anglican communion—are present there. We are working with all partners because of the nature of the challenging situation on the ground. Let us be very frank: there is no easy solution in terms of aid access and getting support to people, so we are working with all partners. It is important to recognise that all partners and humanitarian workers are doing very difficult work in very challenging situations. This House should praise them all for what they are doing at this difficult time.
We have been offering assistance for some considerable time in the general area, but given the problems that have been generated in South Sudan in the past six months, can the Secretary of State outline what specific steps have been taken to get assistance to the people there in recent months?
I absolutely can. We have been very specific, not only in terms of UK support through the partner network that I have referred to but through DFID and the UK presence on the ground, in getting direct assistance to people. The situation is challenging. People are being persecuted and violence is driving them out of their homes. People are now in camps. We are working to protect civilians and ensure that within those camps they are protected and safeguarded as well as in receipt of food, shelter and water.
Scottish Government: Meetings
Prompted by the question, I spoke to Alasdair Allan yesterday and we have a date firmly in the diary for a future meeting.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. Does he agree that Scottish international development organisations, while often smaller than their English counterparts, can offer as much or more in terms of value for money and impact, as well as continuing to contribute to the preservation of positive public opinion in relation to international development? What steps can he take to ensure that DFID-funded programmes are made more accessible to smaller funded international non-governmental organisations based in Scotland as well as their counterparts in NIDOS—the Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland?
There are two separate questions there. First, I pay tribute to Scottish charities, ranging from major charities such as the HALO Trust through to smaller charities working with the Scottish Government on the ground in Malawi. Secondly, our Department is very much committed to working with smaller NGOs and civil society organisations which often know more, can do more, and care more than bigger organisations.
The Department is continuing to provide significant support to Montserrat, including budgetary support and work that we are doing to help to develop the economy to make it sustainable into the future.
The Premier of Montserrat, Donaldson Romeo, recently told MPs and peers that he does not want his country to be the recipient of international aid for generations to come. Instead, he is looking for strategic capital investment to develop, for instance, the tourism industry. Will the Minister meet the all-party group on Montserrat to discuss some of his suggestions so that the country can once again become self-sustaining?
As always, DFID Ministers would be delighted to meet parliamentary colleagues. I am sure we would be happy to arrange an appropriate meeting, and I can assure the hon. Lady that we are looking to invest in long-term economic prospects in Montserrat, as elsewhere.
The United Nations assesses that more than 3 million people are currently victims of the ongoing violence in Ukraine. Our particular concern is about the 800,000 people living along the line of contact, suffering continual violence over the past three years.
Russian aggression in the east of Ukraine has resulted in the internal displacement of 1.6 million Ukrainians. Russian aggression is now heightening in the east of Ukraine. Apart from seeking a resumption of the ceasefire in the east of Ukraine, will the Government commit to providing additional support to the Ukrainian Government to deal with such numbers of internally displaced people?
The British Government currently provide support to Ukraine in two ways. First, we provide support directly to the Ukrainian Government and governance programmes. Secondly, through the International Committee of the Red Cross and People in Need, which is a Czech organisation, we provide humanitarian assistance. We must be clear that this conflict in Ukraine was caused and is sustained by Russian aggression.
This year the world faces numerous humanitarian crises, to which I have already referred. Parts of South Sudan are now in famine and there is a credible risk of famine in Yemen, north-east Nigeria and Somalia. That is why today I have announced new packages of support. The UK’s message to the world is clear: we need to act now to help innocent people who are starving to death.
Specifically, our focus right now is on emergency food and water. That is where the need is. We are talking about more than 1 million people in both countries who need urgent support. They are the focus of our attention right now. Obviously, working with our partners, we will make assessments to see what additional support we will need to continue to put in.
The Rohingya are among the most persecuted people in the world today. In recent weeks and months, they have faced new waves of violence perpetrated by the Burmese Government. How much of the £95 million budget for the Burma project will go towards much-needed assistance for the Rohingya, and what steps are the Government taking to ensure that that happens?
We absolutely agree that the situation for the Rohingya is deeply troubling. We are dealing with it in different ways. I raised it personally on my last visit to Burma with the Minister of Home Affairs and Aung San Suu Kyi. DFID staff are accessing the Rohingya areas and we continue to work with Kofi Annan and the UN system, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that it is vital that we get humanitarian access and support to the Rohingya population.
The UK has much to celebrate when it comes to global leadership on gender equality. Of course, International Women’s Day will be another strong example of that. We not only continue to champion the rights of women and girls but, importantly, support them in their own economic development and empowerment prospects.
I did not fully hear the question, but I did hear the most important point, which was that of Africa and economic development. The British Government, through UK aid, are at the forefront of leading the way when it comes to prosperity and economic development. We will continue to do exactly more of that. [Interruption]
My hon. Friend is right to raise this important issue. Education is crucial in the camps but also in the region. In both Jordan and Lebanon we have helped to support more than 200,000 children to have access to education. The UK, once again, is leading the way to enable more and more children to go to school in the region.
This is an issue that the hon. Gentleman and I have discussed on a number of occasions. We remain absolutely clear, as the British Government, that it is necessary both to protect the security of the Government of Israel and to ensure that the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people are protected. We will continue to work carefully to monitor illegal demolitions.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact is a unique body created to scrutinise DFID. What assurances can Ministers give that the forthcoming review of ICAI’s own performance will be conducted independently of the Department that it scrutinises?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the tailored review of ICAI will be carried out in accordance with the guidance that has been set very clearly for the reviews of non-departmental public bodies, including all the relevant and appropriate levels of independence.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the importance and significance of fair trade. This is at the heart of everything that we in DFID stand up for, in terms of principles and values. In our economic development work, that is exactly what we are championing throughout DFID.
My hon. Friend will have heard my earlier response about the persecution of minorities in conflict areas, particularly with regard to the middle east crisis. We are working with all our partners to ensure that the Yazidi people are receiving aid and protection through our partnership-working on the ground.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Yesterday, the campaign group fighting cuts at West Cumberland hospital was due to deliver a 30,000-strong petition to Downing Street. Despite having a slot booked, they were turned away at the gates and told, “Today isn’t a good day. Come back after Thursday.” How can the Prime Minister justify this disgraceful dismissal of the people of Copeland?
A petition was indeed delivered to No. 10. The petition was accepted by No. 10 Downing Street yesterday, so I suggest to the hon. Lady that she considers what she said in her question. I am aware of the issues that have been raised around West Cumberland hospital. I am aware of them because the very good Conservative candidate in Copeland, Trudy Harrison, has raised them with me. She has made it very clear that she wants to see no downgrading of services at West Cumberland hospital. She has made that clear to me and to Health Ministers.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this. The question of schools funding, and the system we have for schools funding, is important. I think the current system is unfair. It is not transparent and it is out of date. That has been the general view for some time now. The problem is that it cannot support the aspiration of all our children to get a great education. We do, indeed, want children to be able to get the education that they deserve and that ensures that they can go as far as their talents and hard work take them. The Labour Government did nothing to address the funding system. We are looking at that funding system. It is a consultation, and I am sure that the comments and the issue my hon. Friend has raised will be noted by the Secretary of State for Education.
Thanks to the medical advances, to the use of technology and to the quality of care, what we see on hospital stays is actually that the average length of time for staying in hospital has virtually halved since the year 2000. Let us look at Labour’s record on this issue. In the last six years of the last Labour Government, 25,000 hospital beds were cut. But we do not even need to go as far back as that. Let us just look at Labour’s policy before the last election, because before the last election, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the former Labour shadow Health Secretary, said the following:
“what I’d cut…are hospital beds”.
Labour policy: cut hospital beds.
In 2010, there was the highest ever level of satisfaction with the national health service, delivered by a Labour Government. The British Medical Association—[Interruption.] It’s doctors. The British Medical Association tells us that 15,000 beds have been cut in the past six years, the equivalent of 24 hospitals, and as a result, we have longer waiting times at A&E, record delayed discharges and more people on waiting lists. The Prime Minister claims the NHS is getting the money it needs, so why is it that one in six A&E units in England are set for closure or downgrading?
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what is happening and what has happened since 2010 in A&E: we see 1,500 more emergency care doctors—that includes 600 more A&E consultants—and we have 2,400 more paramedics. We have more people being seen in accident and emergency every single week under this Government. He talks about what the NHS needs: what the NHS needs is more doctors—we are giving it more doctors; what it needs is more funding—we are giving it more funding. What it does not need is a bankrupt economy, which is exactly what Labour would give it.
I asked the Prime Minister why one in six A&E units are currently set for closure or downgrading; she did not answer. One of the problems—she well knows this—is the £4.6 billion cut to social care, which has a knock-on effect. Her friend the Tory chair of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter, has said that
“extra council tax income will not bring in anywhere near enough money to alleviate the growing pressure on social care”.
Two weeks ago, we found out about the sweetheart deal with Tory Surrey. When will the other 151 social services departments in England get the same as the Surrey deal?
Far from my apologising, it is the Prime Minister who ought to be reading her correspondence and answering the letter from 62 council leaders representing social service authorities who want to know if they are going to get the same deal as Surrey. They are grappling with a crisis, which has left over 1 million people not getting the social care they need.
We opposed Tory cuts in the NHS which involved scrapping nurses’ bursaries, because we feared it would discourage people from entering training. The Prime Minister’s Government said that removing funding for nurses’ bursaries would create an extra 10,000 training places in this Parliament. Has this target been met?
There are 10,000 more training places available for nurses in the NHS. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the amount of money being spent on the NHS. It is this Conservative Government who are putting the extra funding into the NHS. I remind him that we are spending £1.3 billion more on the NHS this year than Labour planned to spend if it had won the election.
My questions were about social services funding to pay for social care—no answer. My questions were about the number of training places for nurses being brought in—no answer. In reality, 10,000 fewer places have been filled because there are fewer applications. A problem is building up for the future. In addition, the Royal College of Midwives estimates that there is a shortage of 3,500 midwives in England, and the Royal College of Nursing warns:
“The nursing workforce is in crisis and if fewer nurses graduate in 2020 it will exacerbate what is already an unsustainable situation”.
Will the Prime Minister at least commit herself to reinstating the nurses’ bursary?
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question about nursing training places, which I answered. If he does not like the answer he gets, he cannot just carry on asking the same question if I have answered it previously. He talks about all these issues in relation to what is happening in the NHS, so let us look at what is happening in the NHS: we have 1,800 more midwives in the NHS since 2010; we have more people being seen in accident and emergency since 2010; and we have more operations taking place every week in the NHS. Our NHS staff are working hard. They are providing quality care for patients up and down the country. What they do not need is a Labour party policy that leads to a bankrupt economy. Labour’s policy is to spend money on everything, which means bankrupting the economy and having no money to spend on anything. That does not help doctors and nurses, it does not help patients, it does not help the NHS, and it does not help ordinary working families up and down this country.
Yes, let us look at the national health service and let us thank all those who work so hard in our national health service, but also recognise the pressures they are under. Today, a Marie Curie report finds that nurses are so overstretched they cannot provide the high-quality care needed for patients at the very end of their lives. The lack of care in the community prevents people from having the dignity of dying at home. There is a nursing shortage and something should be done about it, such as reinstating the nurses’ bursary.
The Prime Minister’s Government have put the NHS and social care in a state of emergency. Nine out of 10 NHS trusts are unsafe, 18,000 patients a week are waiting—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, I repeat the figure: 18,000 patients a week are waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors and 1.2 million often very dependent—[Interruption.] It seems to me that some Members are not concerned about the fact that there are 1.2 million elderly people who are not getting the care they need. The legacy of her Government will blight our NHS for decades: fewer hospitals, fewer A&E departments, fewer nurses and fewer people getting the care they need. We need a Government who will put the NHS first and will invest in our NHS.
First, the right hon. Gentleman should consider correcting the record, because 54% of hospital trusts are considered good or outstanding—quite different from the figure he cited. Secondly, I will take no lessons on the NHS from the party—[Interruption.] Oh, the deputy leader of the Labour party says we should take lessons on the NHS, but I will not take any lessons from the party that presided over the failure that happened at Mid Staffs hospital. Labour says we should learn lessons. I will tell the House who should learn lessons: the Labour party, which still fails to recognise that if you are going to fund the NHS—we are putting money in, and there are more doctors, more operations and more nurses—you need a strong economy. We now know, however, that Labour has a different sort of phrase for its approach to these things. Remember when it used to talk about “boom and bust”? Now it is borrow and bankrupt. [Interruption.]
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point, and I am very happy to agree that what is becoming known as the Great Get Together is a fitting and important tribute to our late colleague Jo Cox. I commend her husband, Brendan—I am sure that everyone across the House would wish to do so—for the work that he has done. As my hon. Friend said, it is important to remember that there is more that brings us together than divides us, and this is an important moment of national reflection and celebration of the strength of our communities. As we face the future together—these are momentous times for this country—it is important that we remember that being united makes us strong and recognise the things that unite us, as a country and a people, and the bonds we share together. This is a very fitting tribute to our late colleague.
In recent days, the Prime Minister has said that it is a key personal commitment to transform the way domestic violence is tackled. It is hugely welcome that she has called for ideas about how the treatment of victims could be improved and more convictions against abusers secured. Combatting violence against women and preventing domestic violence is the aim of the Istanbul convention, which the UK is yet to ratify. Does she agree with Members on both sides of the House that the convention should be ratified as a priority?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important subject. As he says, I take it particularly seriously—I worked hard on it as Home Secretary and I continue to do so as Prime Minister. There were still an estimated 1.3 million female victims of domestic abuse in the last year and more than 400,000 victims of sexual violence. He is right that we signed up to the Istanbul convention, and we are fully committed to ratifying it, which was why we supported in principle the private Member’s Bill of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) on Second Reading and in Committee. In many ways, the measures we have in place actually go further than the convention, but I am clear that we need to maintain momentum, which is why I am setting up a ministerial working group to look at the legislation and at how we can provide good support to victims, and to consider the possibility of a domestic violence Act.
This Friday, the House will consider a Bill on the Istanbul convention. We know that Ministers have been working hard with my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), who has cross-party support for her Bill. Given the importance of this issue and the Prime Minister’s personal commitment, which she has outlined again today, will she join me in encouraging Members to support the Bill and discourage any attempts to use parliamentary wrecking tactics to stop it?
I am happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in that. I know that the Minister for Vulnerability, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), has had a number of constructive discussions with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. The Government have tabled some mutually agreed amendments, for which the Government will vote this Friday. I hope that all my hon. Friends who are present on Friday will support these measures. This is an important Bill. The Government have supported it, and I hope it will be supported on both sides of the House.
I am happy to give that commitment to my hon. Friend. The Government are very clear that the green belt must be protected. We are very clear that boundaries should be altered only when local authorities have fully examined all other reasonable options. If they do go down that route, they should compensate by improving the quality or accessibility of the remaining green-belt land so that it can be enjoyed. I know about the particular issue that my hon. Friend raises, and I believe that the Greater Manchester spatial framework led to quite a number of responses. There was a lot of interest in that consultation, which closed last month, and I am sure that all those views will be taken into account.
The right hon. Lady raises an important issue. I know that she recently spoke very movingly about her own experience. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House recognise the devastating impact that addiction can have on individuals and their families, so this is an important issue for her to raise. It is unacceptable that children bear the brunt of their parents’ condition. The Government are committed to working with MPs, health professionals and those affected to reduce the harm of addiction and to get people the support they need. We shall look carefully at the proposals suggested by the right hon. Lady.
Former Military Personnel: Northern Ireland
As I have made clear, I think it is absolutely appalling when people try to make a business out of dragging our brave troops through the courts. In the case of Northern Ireland, 90% of deaths were caused by terrorists, and it is essential that the justice system reflects that. It would be entirely wrong to treat terrorists more favourably than soldiers or police officers. That is why, as part of our work to bring forward the Stormont House agreement Bill, we will ensure that investigative bodies are under a legal duty to be fair, balanced and proportionate so that our veterans are not unfairly treated or disproportionately investigated.
While I welcome that reply, it does not go quite as far as I and many other people would like. There is no prospect of new credible evidence coming forward against our veterans of the troubles up to 40 years after the event, yet people are starting to use the same techniques in Northern Ireland against them as were used against veterans of Iraq. Surely the answer has to be a statute of limitations preventing the prosecution of veterans to do with matters that occurred prior to the date of the Belfast agreement.
As my right hon. Friend knows, we are looking at this issue as part of the Stormont House agreement. What we are doing is ensuring that the investigative bodies responsible for looking at deaths during the troubles will operate in a fair, balanced and proportionate manner. We want cases to be considered in chronological order, and we want these protections enshrined in legislation. We are going to consult fully on these proposals, because we want to make sure that we get this right.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue in that context. The Government take it very seriously. The ability to ensure that we can readily scale up vaccine production in the event of a pandemic is, as she says, vital to our national security. As I am sure she will understand, the precise details are necessarily confidential, but I can assure her that we have provisions in place to ensure that urgently needed vaccines are available in the UK at short notice, including in the event of a pandemic. As an added contingency, we are funding a £10 million competition to establish a world-leading centre for vaccine manufacturing. However, that is only part of the picture, because we are in a strong position: we have one of the most comprehensive and successful vaccination programmes in the world, backed up by £300 million in this year alone.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in offering condolences to the Jones family and in recognising the terrible trauma that they have been through as a result of the killing of their daughter. As I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates, it is not for the British Government to interfere with police investigations that take place in another country, but I understand that the Foreign Office has been providing support and remains ready to do so. Our embassy in Bangkok will continue to raise these issues with the Thai Government, and I am sure that the Foreign Office will keep my hon. Friend updated on any developments.
My hon. Friend has been following this issue closely over recent years. I think he recognises that this is an important and complex area of law, and we want to make sure that proposals are considered properly. That is why the Ministry of Justice is carefully examining the differences in treatment that already exist within marriage law, alongside the humanist proposals, so that the differences can be minimised. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is both right and fair to approach this in that way.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point that is obviously of particular relevance in the case of the constituent to whom he refers. As he says, pancreatic cancer is one of those cancers that it is very difficult to deal with and treat. There has been a lot of attention over the years on certain cancers, such as breast cancer increasingly, as well as bowel cancer and prostate cancer, but it is important that the appropriate attention is given to cancers that are proving more difficult to deal with, such as pancreatic cancer.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in offering condolences to Barry’s family following his death in 2008. I understand that my hon. Friend has discussed this case with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. As I said in reply to an earlier question, it is not for the British Government to interfere in the legal processes of another country, but the Foreign Office has been regularly raising this case with the Ukrainian authorities and will continue to do so. It is my understanding that UK police have assisted the investigation on a number of occasions and all information from the UK coroner’s inquest will be passed on. I am sure that the Foreign Office will keep my hon. Friend updated on any developments.
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue about the way in which these assessments are made and the implications of the decisions taken. He referred, I think, to a review in relation to PIP payments and the Motability element of that. If I may, I will write to him with further details.
It was a year ago this week that the Edward Hain community hospital was temporarily closed due to fire safety concerns. There are now no community beds in the towns of St Ives, Penzance and St Just, or in the rural areas in between. GPs, residents and local campaigners agree with me that this valued community hospital needs to be reopened as an urgent priority. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister apply pressure to NHS Property Services and to Cornwall’s NHS managers to find a way of getting that building work done and reopening those community beds?
This is obviously a concern for my hon. Friend’s constituents—he is right to raise it. I am sure that he recognises that the first priority must be to ensure that patients are treated in a safe and secure environment, and I understand that the local clinical commissioning group and the NHS have been working closely to ensure that community hospital facilities in Cornwall are fit to deliver that expectation. I think that a review has already been undertaken into the repairs and improvements needed to bring the Edward Hain community hospital up to a safe standard, and the CCG will be looking at the infrastructure and facilities that it needs, once a final local plan has been agreed. Obviously my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has heard my hon. Friend’s representations.
The Government’s business rates hike could devastate the local economy in my constituency. Brighton pier is facing a 17% increase, the World’s End pub a 123% increase, and Blanch House hotel a 400% increase. Does the Prime Minister recognise that Brighton will be disproportionately affected? Will she urgently set up a discretionary fund to support small and micro-businesses, and agree to a full review of the whole system?
If we just stand back, we can see that business rates are based on the rental values of properties. Those values change over time—they can go up and down—and it is right that business rates change to recognise that. That is the principle of fairness that underpins the business rates system. However, we also want to support businesses and we recognise that, for some, business rates will go up when the revaluations take place. That is why we have put significant funding in place for transitional relief. I recognise that there has been particular concern that some small businesses will be adversely affected as the result of this revaluation, and that is why I have asked the Chancellor and the Communities Secretary to ensure that there is appropriate relief in those hardest cases.
My right hon. Friend gave a sympathetic answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and I know that she has taken particular interest in the matter that he raised. May I put it to her that, for many of us, there is something profoundly wrong with a criminal justice system that can pursue veterans who have risked their lives for this country 40 years on, long after there is any possibility of new evidence, while it is at the same time capable of paying out £1 million to a terror suspect?
In relation to the issue in Northern Ireland, the legacy bodies were part of the Stormont House agreement and we are working to deliver on that agreement. As I said in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the overwhelming majority of our armed forces in Northern Ireland served with great distinction and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. The situation at the moment is that cases are being pursued against officers who served in Northern Ireland, and we want to see the legacy body set up under the Stormont House agreement taking a proportionate, fair and balanced approach. As I said earlier, we recognise that the majority of individuals who suffered did so at the hands of terrorists.
On the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister pledged to end the “burning injustice” of so few working-class boys going to university. Will she tell me how cutting every single secondary school in Leigh, Wigan, Rochdale, Trafford and Manchester through her new schools funding formula will do anything other than make that injustice even worse?
I want to ensure, through the education system that we provide, that there is a good school place for every child. I am pleased to say that under Conservatives in government, we have seen 1.8 million more children in good or outstanding schools. We are looking at the funding formula for schools and listening to the comments that have been made, but everyone across the House will recognise that it has been said for some time now that the existing formula is not transparent or fair. We are looking at a new formula, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that our education policy is about ensuring that every child has the opportunity to go as far as their talents and their hard work enable them to go.
Mr Speaker, you saw at first hand what a cup run means to a town and a club such as Sutton. With AFC Wimbledon out of the picture, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will join me in congratulating Sutton United on such a spirited performance on Monday, and in wishing Lincoln City well for keeping the non-league spirit alive in the next round of the FA cup. Finally—[Interruption.]
If I may say so, that was a neat reference to pie at the end of the question.
I am happy to congratulate Sutton on their extremely good run in the FA cup. It makes a huge difference to a local area when its football club is able to progress to that extent, to be up there with the big boys, and to do as well as Sutton did. I am also happy to congratulate Lincoln City—I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln is sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully)—on their success. We wish them well for the future.
The UK Green Investment Bank, which is co-located in Edinburgh, is being sold, and recent newspaper reports suggest that the contract could be concluded soon. That is happening despite the UK’s stated focus on research and development, and the fact that no realistic guarantees have yet been given as to the continuation of a proper headquarters and board based in Edinburgh. Will the Prime Minister commit to looking again at why a sale at this time is not in the best interests of Edinburgh, the green agenda or UK taxpayers?
Before I respond to the hon. Lady’s question, I am afraid that I owe a couple of apologies. I am sorry for mixing up my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) and for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney). I was obviously getting carried away with the football fever that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam introduced into the Chamber.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Michelle Thomson) mentioned the Green Investment Bank. If I may, I will write to her with a response to her question.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your guidance on a matter that is hampering my ability to represent my constituents? Other hon. Members may also be suffering from this creeping issue. About a year ago, I had a problem with North Wales police when contacting them on behalf of a constituent. The force refused to deal with me unless I provided written permission from the constituent that I was able to talk to them on his behalf. I pointed out at the time that I had not plucked his name from the electoral register; he had come to see me and had asked me to take on his case. I then had a similar problem with my local hospital, the Countess of Chester, which refused to converse with me about constituents without prior approval. Again, I pointed out that the constituents would have come to see me and that I have a big enough case load without making up cases on behalf of constituents who may or may not exist.
Earlier this week, Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions circulated a letter about universal credit—my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) raised this at DWP questions—that, again, required hon. Members to provide written consent from a constituent so that Ministers are able to discuss the constituent’s personal issues with their Member of Parliament. Sir, can you give me some guidance as to whether it is absolutely necessary for hon. Members, every single time we seek to make representations to a public authority on behalf of a constituent, to get that constituent’s written permission? That will add a great burden of admin to our already heavy workload. Or might you be able to say from the Chair that, if we are raising a case, it is because it has been raised with us by a constituent who is desperate for our support and that further administrative burden is most unwelcome?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for advance notice of his point of order, which it is reasonable to assume will be of real concern to Members on both sides of the House. I observe in passing that a similar concern was raised at oral questions to the Department for Work and Pensions on Monday.
What I will say to the hon. Gentleman is this: I will ensure—and I have consulted—that the matter is investigated. I undertake to report back to the House. It is a fundamental constitutional principle that Members of Parliament should be able to act on behalf of their constituents, and there is specific legislation, passed in 2002, to ensure that Members are not unreasonably constrained from doing so by data protection provisions. That does seem to me to be clear, and I am reinforced in that view not only by professional advice but by the healthy nodding of the Leader of the House’s head.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Media reports suggest that the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government have sent some MPs constituency-level data on the impact of the Government’s business rates policy. It appears that that information has not been placed in the public domain or made equally available to all Members of Parliament. I understand today that the House of Commons Library has requested those data but, as of just before Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Department for Communities and Local Government, to which I have given advance notice of this point of order, has simply said that it is looking into it.
Are you aware of any reason why official data not in the public domain may be selectively released in this way? That action appears to breach protocols on impartiality, objectivity and integrity in the UK Statistics Authority’s code of practice for official statistics, as well as the ministerial code. Can you advise me as to what could be done to clear up the confusion and ensure that these, and all official data released, are in future published in line with national statistics protocols so that all MPs can equally scrutinise the likely effect of Government policy on our constituencies?
I thank the hon. Lady for giving notice of her intended point of order. I would certainly be concerned if it were true that Members on one side of the House have been given preferential access to Government statistics by a Government Department. I am not saying that that is so, and I do not know it to be. If it were, it would be a matter of concern.
At this stage, it is not for me to judge whether, if it had occurred, it would itself constitute a breach of the protocols or the code that the hon. Lady mentions. However, she has made her concern clear, and it has been heard by Ministers—I think I can safely say that because a Minister from the relevant Department, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), is on the Treasury Bench.
I feel sure that the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) will find opportunities to pursue this matter, perhaps even later today in the local government finance debate, in dealing with which Ministers from the Department will be present on the Treasury Bench.
Thank you. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that additional comment.
Vehicle Technology and Aviation
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Chris Grayling, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Amber Rudd, Secretary Elizabeth Truss, Secretary Greg Clark and Secretary David Mundell, presented a Bill to make provision about automated vehicles, electric vehicles, vehicle testing and civil aviation; to create an offence of shining or directing a laser at a vehicle; and to make provision about fees for courses offered as an alternative to prosecution for road traffic offences.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 143) with explanatory notes (Bill 143-EN).
Lee Valley Regional Park (Amendment)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend section 48(4) of the Lee Valley Regional Park Act 1966 to remove the power of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority to raise by way of levy on any local authority whose local authority area falls outside the area defined under section 2(2) of the Act; and for connected purposes.
Like so many people in this country, I love our parks and open spaces. I enjoy walking almost every weekend in the stunning parks we enjoy in south-west London. I doubt I can improve on the conclusions of the Communities and Local Government Committee’s excellent recent report on public parks, which said:
“Parks and green spaces are treasured assets and are often central to the lives of their communities. They provide opportunities for leisure, relaxation and exercise, but are also fundamental to community cohesion, physical and mental health and wellbeing, biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and local economic growth.”
I would be pleased to welcome any Member of this House to one of our excellent local parks in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames—to the ancient Fairfield in Kingston, Fishponds park in Surbiton, Tolworth Court Farm fields, Churchfields in Chessington, or Beverly park in New Malden, to name but a few. All those parks are open for the public to enjoy and are maintained with Kingston taxpayers’ money. The same is the case for virtually every park in the country: local taxpayers pay for their local park.
Lee valley regional park is different. It is paid for not only by local ratepayers but by the ratepayers of every single London borough, including my borough, Kingston upon Thames, which is about as far away from the Lee valley as one can get within Greater London. Let me be clear that I have no quarrel with Lee valley regional park; it is an excellent facility, enjoyed by many Londoners. My simple contention is that, at a time when councils are having to reduce their parks budgets, it is no longer justifiable for hefty sums to be levied on London boroughs to maintain a park that is miles away and seldom used by their residents.
The Lee Valley Regional Park Authority was created by an Act of Parliament in 1966, to maintain and administer Lee valley regional park, a 10,000 acre amenity that stretches from Hertfordshire to East India dock. Along with the counties of Essex and Hertfordshire, seven out of London’s 32 boroughs have parts of the park within their local areas. It contains several state-of-the-art Olympic sporting venues, such as the Lee valley white water centre and the velopark. The development of those facilities was partially funded by the Mayor of London’s Olympic precept, for which London taxpayers have footed the bill since 2006.
The funding mechanism for the park is set out in section 48(4) of the 1966 Act, which allows the authority to raise funds for the upkeep of the park by way of a levy on every London borough, as well as on three councils immediately outside London. This unusual funding model might have been appropriate in 1966—the House certainly deemed it so 50 years ago—but, like the England football team’s fortunes, the financial position of local authorities was rather more favourable in 1966 than it is now. Local authorities have had to make significant spending cuts following repeated reductions in their revenue support grant, and will continue to have to do so until the business rates retention model championed by my local council leader, Councillor Kevin Davis, comes into force.
Councils are having to retreat to meeting the increasing demand on statutory services such as adult social care, at the expense of discretionary services, including parks. The Select Committee’s report shows that 92% of local authority parks departments have experienced budget reductions in the past three years. Kingston’s Conservative council has rightly maintained parks funding, but that is a political commitment that the Conservative group made in the 2014 local elections, and comes at the opportunity cost of funding in other discretionary areas that other councils have chosen to prioritise. It is against that backcloth that there is increasing disquiet, particularly south of the Thames, at having to pay the Lee valley park’s massive annual levy.
The opportunity to introduce this ten-minute rule Bill is timely, because local authorities received their demand from the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority just before the recent recess, on 10 February. The 2017-18 levy is £10,186,900. I should point out that that is a small but welcome reduction on last year’s levy, but it is out of step with the reduction in funding for local authorities over the same period. The demand on my local authority of Kingston is £160,730. Over the same period, the council will spend £1.3 million on parks, trees and ground maintenance within the borough. The ratepayers of Kingston, of whom I am one, would rightly ask why, when their services are under pressure, they are being forced to pay a sum equivalent to 10% of the borough’s own parks budget to maintain a park 20 miles away that few of them use and that some of them would never have heard of until I made this speech today. I ask the same question of this House.
A number of arguments will be levied against me. The first is that Lee valley park is there for the enjoyment of all Londoners, so the cost should be shared throughout London. However, as one would expect, there is an uneven distribution of visitors, with the numbers coming from the contiguous boroughs far outstripping the numbers coming from other boroughs, particularly those south of the river. That is borne out by the visitor statistics for last year, which show that 605,000 visits were made by residents from Waltham Forest, in which the park sits, yet only 5,000 visits were made by Kingston residents, and just 4,000 by Sutton residents—the lowest figure other than that for the tiny City of London corporation area.
If we divide the relevant levy by the number of visitors from those boroughs, the cost per visit tells an interesting story. A visit from each Waltham Forest resident costs the local council 32p per visitor, which does not seem unreasonable. A visit from a Kingston resident costs my local council £32.15 per visitor, which I suggest is wholly unreasonable. But we are not the worst affected: a visitor from Sutton costs their council £46.92 per visit. The levy bears no relation to the number of visitors from a borough in the previous year; I suggest that even if my Bill does not proceed, the funding formula is in need of radical review.
Another point that might be made against me is that Lee valley park would suffer from a loss of funding from all London boroughs. Let me be clear: I do not want to see any diminution in the quality of the park. There are, though, many other funding models. The levy on the local authorities proximate to the park could be increased, although clearly that would not be popular with those authorities. The park could be funded by central Government, as royal and national parks are. Alternatively, the park could find ways to reduce its frankly very high outlay—its budget is twice that of the largest park in the country, the Lake District national park, which is 58 times the size of Lee valley regional park—or it could increase its revenue, including through the amazing sports facilities it has been gifted at the taxpayers’ expense. Lord True offered some suggestions to that effect in the other place last March. I do not pretend to have a solution for the park’s future funding model; that will be a matter for future debate and consultation.
It is my contention that the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority should have its statutory power to levy charges on local authorities outside the area in which it sits removed. That is also the contention of colleagues on the Government Benches who have kindly lent their support to the Bill, as well as of London’s Conservative council leaders and the Greater London Authority Conservative group in the London Assembly. Judging by reports on the “No To Lee Valley Tax” campaign run by the Newsquest and News Shopper titles throughout south London, a number of representatives from across the political divide agree, too.
The Lee Valley Regional Park Act passed through the House more than 50 years ago, when the financial position of local authorities was very different. In straitened times, when local authorities are being required to cut their parks budgets, it is simply not right that, year on year, vast sums are being levied by the Lee valley authority on boroughs such as Kingston, to pay for the upkeep of a park many miles away that is seldom used by the residents of those boroughs. I hope that Lee valley regional park has a long future, but not at the expense of taxpayers in Kingston or throughout London.
I rise to oppose this legislation—[Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) will give me the opportunity to explain why. Let me declare straight away that, as a proud Member of Parliament for Waltham Forest, I am a regular user of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority spaces. I have been to the ice rink, but I have not been on the horses. I certainly walk through the wetlands, and I look forward to enjoying the Walthamstow wetlands. As a young child with grandparents in Surbiton, I also enjoyed the parks of Kingston.
The legislation that the hon. Gentleman proposes is fundamentally misguided, because he misses the point about the value of regional parks for London and other areas. I am talking about the benefits of maintaining and developing beautiful spaces for recreation, nature and enjoyment for all our constituents. I hope that, in the time available, I can set out the five reasons why I believe that, although he might think that he is standing up for the residents of Kingston, he may be selling them short.
First, the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority was set up to be a regional facility. It was established in the 1960s, before, I wager, both he and I were even born, to represent and reflect the fact that London needed green spaces. We refer to the Lee valley regional park as London’s lung; it is a beautiful park, providing 10,000 acres of green land that benefits every resident of London. Sir Patrick Abercrombie who argued the case for this park never saw it as simply benefiting those who lived nearby, but recognised that the investment in the park from all the regions would benefit every constituent. When the hon. Gentleman talks about visitor numbers, I share his concern that not as many of his residents regularly use the park, but I urge him to encourage them to come to the park and benefit from that green lung.
The hon. Gentleman says that there are residents in Kingston who have not even heard of the Lee valley regional park. I suggest to him that that is simply not true. Many of them will have watched, or indeed have visited, the Olympics, in which the Lee valley regional park played a key role. I wager that many of his constituents cheered on Joe Clarke as he won Britain’s first gold medal in the London Olympics at the Lee valley canoeing centre. The hon. Gentleman thinks that he is speaking up for his constituents, but what he may be doing is misunderstanding their pride in what the Lee valley regional park was able to deliver in the Olympics and what it continues to deliver today.
Certainly, when the hon. Gentleman talks about visitor numbers, he is missing out on the fact that we have seen a 50% increase in the number of people visiting the Lee valley regional park. I suspect that that is directly because people saw the benefit of having these wonderful Olympic recreational facilities on their doorstep in London. But this is not just about whether people are visiting, but about this concept of a green lung. The quality of air in our city has never been worse. I am sure that, like me, he has constituents who are deeply concerned about air quality in London. The value of our green space therefore becomes paramount not just to those who live in the area—[Interruption.] I see the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) jumping up and down. The same argument applies to her constituency, too. The value of such spaces is greater now as we face this crisis—I am talking about the quality of our air and of our natural environment in our city.
We have 14 sites of special scientific interest in the Lee valley regional park. Rather than not visiting the area, I invite the hon. Gentleman to join me when we open the Walthamstow wetlands to see for himself the benefit of the site. It will be a national site of significance. [Interruption.] Forgive me, I would like to invite all the Members on the Government Benches to visit the Walthamstow wetlands. They should come and see the herons and cormorants in London. [Interruption.] Members may chunter, but this is the point: sometimes we invest together because we benefit together. Lee Valley Regional Park Authority offers us exactly that opportunity. It was set up in the 1960s to recognise the mutual benefit of investing in green and recreational spaces in London, and in 2017, the case for those spaces grows ever bigger.
The hon. Gentleman’s proposed legislation would have more merit if he was expressing an equally forensic concern about the visits by the residents of Kingston to, say, the royal parks and asking about their funding. [Interruption.] I did listen to what he said, but I have looked at his legislation and he is not suggesting a similar cut in the royal parks’ funding to reflect his concern about whether residents from Kingston actually visit those parks. That is the point: we invest in these regional organisations for our mutual benefit. [Interruption.] I recognise the point that he made about local government cuts. I gently suggest to him that perhaps he should talk to his Front-Bench team about how they are funding local government, rather than trying to scrimp and save on such valuable regional assets. If we go down the route of only ever seeing parks as valuable to those people who live directly next to them—of whom I am one—we miss the point about how these amenities can benefit us all. I gently suggest to him that, rather than trying to cut corners, he make the case to his Front-Bench team about proper investment and funding in local government. He should not try to cut the funding for this green lung to London from which his constituents can benefit. Rather than suggesting to his constituents that there is nothing of interest in Lee valley park, he should encourage them to come and use the facilities that they are paying for. They will certainly receive a warm welcome from us all in the north-east corner of London.
In conclusion, although I recognise that the hon. Gentleman thinks that he is making the case for the residents of Kingston, he should consider that the residents of London, who include the residents of Kingston and Surbiton, deserve better from us all. They deserve some strategic thinking, so that we invest in regional parks such as Lee valley. We should see London as an urban green park in the future. We need to invest in our green spaces and, for the small amount of funding that that entails, recognise the benefits that exist for us all. We should also make a decent case for the funding of local government. As his Bill would do neither of those things, I do not believe that it should proceed further in the House, and I suspect that there others from different parts of London, and indeed from across the country, who will benefit from the Walthamstow wetlands, who would agree with me.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.
That James Berry, Bob Blackman, Paul Scully, Bob Stewart, Dr Tania Mathias, Stephen Hammond, Robert Neill, Chris Philp, Mike Freer, Victoria Borwick and Mrs Theresa Villiers present the Bill.
James Berry accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 144).
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2017–18 (HC 944), which was laid before this House on 1 February, be approved.
In addition to seeking approval of the police grant report, I think it is right to outline the context in which we find it, as it covers the continuation of our work of seeing through police reform and of working with the sector. This funding settlement provides fair and stable funding for the police and enables essential policing reform and transformation to go further and faster, so that we ensure that we help the vulnerable, cut crime and support our communities.
In December, I proposed a stable and fair funding settlement for the police in 2017-18. Today, I am seeking this House’s approval for the settlement. Last year, we protected police spending when precept is taken into account, and I am pleased to say that the 2017-18 police funding settlement maintains that protection for police spending.
Overall Government funding allocated to the police is £8.497 billion—exactly as announced in the 2015 spending review. On 15 December, I laid before the House the provisional police grant report for 2017-18, along with a written ministerial statement that set out the Government’s proposed allocations to local policing bodies in England and Wales and opened a consultation. After careful consideration of the consultation responses, we have decided that force-level allocations will remain as announced in December. I still believe that providing stable funding, including local precept, is the right approach.
I am concerned that the Minister may have inadvertently misled the House. He said that he has been able to protect police budgets in real terms once the precept is taken into account, but that is not the case with Greater Manchester police. They still had to cut frontline policing even though they used the full precept power. Will the Minister now correct the record?
The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that Greater Manchester is a good example of a force that has managed to increase its reserves. We should be clear that, across the sector, the police—including Greater Manchester police—have increased their reserves by more than £400 million. The reality is that for policing, when precept is taken into account, we are delivering on the spending review statement that the police funding settlement maintains protection for police spending. I reiterate that statement.
Our police forces do a great job and need funding to support their vital work. So-called traditional crimes have fallen by a third since 2010 to a record low. Families and communities are safer as a result. The police have helped to deliver radical changes, including direct democratic accountability and transparency through the introduction of police and crime commissioners; the introduction of the College of Policing as the professional body for everyone in policing; cutting through bureaucracy and stripping away national targets; and increased collaboration among police leaders up and down the country to make savings, pool resources and provide a better service to the public.
I am not sure whether people in London will recognise the rosy picture that the Minister is painting. The Government are making £1 billion of savings. Does the Minister intend to shift more money away from London, as was planned in 2015—up to another £700 million? Will he fund the national and international capital city grant properly? That is £172 million short. With the Mayor, the Home Secretary is appointing a new commissioner. The Minister must realise that there are special responsibilities in London, which the Government should engage with.
This statement is as per the written ministerial statement in December; I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to our review of the police funding formula. That work is ongoing and the Metropolitan police is involved in it. I was with the Mayor this morning, and I do not recognise the figure of £700 million just mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I have spent quite a lot of time with the Mayor in the past couple of days, addressing the issue of the new commissioner, and he has not yet outlined that figure to me. I look forward to hearing more about where the hon. Gentleman has come across that figure.
The 2017-18 police funding settlement provides stable and fair funding for PCCs to spend locally.
The Minister is making a lot of sense on this issue. As he will know, Bedfordshire, from a financial point of view, is one of the most structurally challenged police authorities. However, Kathryn Holloway, the police and crime commissioner, has found enough resources to put 100 new police officers on the frontline, so we can do very good things to increase frontline policing within this settlement. However, will the Minister tell us a little more about the timing of the review of the funding formula? That will make a big difference for Bedfordshire.
As my hon. Friend will appreciate, I am not in a position at the moment to outline what the new funding formula will look like—that work is still ongoing—but I am happy to give him a flavour of where we are on timing. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Police forces around the country have done really good and interesting work on reform, which is why the number of officers spending more time on the frontline has gone up by a few per cent. in the past few years. That is a good thing because we are using our resources properly in ensuring that our uniformed police officers are on the frontline working with and for their communities.
Some really good work is going on. As well as meeting the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, I have met the Bedfordshire PCC and chief constable to talk about some of the changes that they face, particularly as a county that has rural work as well as the focus of an urban centre in Luton. There are really good examples in Bedfordshire and elsewhere of how police forces work with other forces, as Bedfordshire does as part of the seven, and other agencies—the fire brigade, ambulance services and other public sector bodies—to bring about operational benefits that can bring savings and a better service for local communities.
I thank the Minister for his engagement with the North Yorkshire PCC on exactly these issues and the challenges of rural policing. May I urge him to consider the recommendations of his Department’s technical reference group, which has concluded that population is the best predictor of police demand and should therefore be a key part of any future funding formula for rural areas?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. I am happy to be engaging with the excellent PCCs in both Bedfordshire and North Yorkshire—the latter’s being Julia Mulligan, whom I saw earlier this week. She is another good example of a PCC working to deliver for the frontline and looking for savings to make sure that even better and wider services can be delivered for local communities.
I come back to the timeline, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), and will cover the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) about the technical reference group. Two groups are working through the issue. Academics, police and crime commissioners, and chief constables are working on it.
I am grateful to all the PCCs and chief constables who have taken time to be involved, feed into the work and come to see me. I have an open-door policy for anyone who wants to put forward ideas for the group. On the timeline, I have been clear from the beginning: this is a big, important piece of work and it is important that we get it right. Rather than setting timelines, I want to let the groups do their work and report to us. We will then have to make decisions on how to take things forward. I am keen for the work to get done, but I do not want to pressure the groups with a specific timeframe. Hon. Members will have to bear with us on that. It is important that we take the time to get this right, rather than rushing to get it implemented.
Although it is said that sparsity and rurality will be taken into account, may I push the Minister once again? He has been kind with his time when we have discussed the issue, but this is important for our area. If the allocation is made just on the basis of population, Suffolk will get £3 million less than Norfolk, although they are very similar counties that the Minister knows very well.
The Suffolk PCC and chief constable have lobbied me on that issue—in fact, the Suffolk PCC came in the past week or two to make that very point. There is a piece of work to do at the moment. The technical reference group and senior group will work through the issues and make those recommendations to us. I will not prejudge the outcome; it is right to let them and the experts do their work on what the fundamentals should be.
The settlement also includes extra resources for national programmes including the transformation fund, which enables forces to undertake essential policing reform. Last year, we provided a planning assumption to the House to help PCCs. We are meeting our planning assumption for stable force-level funding. That means that every PCC who maximises their local precept income this year and in 2017-18 will receive at least the same direct resource funding in cash that they received in 2015-16.
I can also report to the House that local council tax precept income has increased faster than expected. That means that we can not only meet our planning assumption on stable local funding for PCCs but increase our national investment in police reform and transformation faster than expected. That will ensure that police leaders are given the tools to support reform, and the capability to respond to the changing nature of crime and to protect the vulnerable.
I hope that the Minister agrees that Durham has an outstanding Labour PCC in Ron Hogg and a first-rate chief constable, who is working hard not only to drive up standards but to make the force more efficient. Does the Minister recognise that forces such as Durham’s are hindered when it comes to raising the precept? Some 55% of properties in Durham are in band A, so an increase there would not generate a great deal of cash compared with what Surrey or somewhere else would receive.
I recognise that Durham has a very good police force with an excellent chief constable. I met the chief constable and PCC pretty recently when they came to outline some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has just made. There are differences around the country and we must recognise that different areas will have different abilities to raise money locally according to the precept and their council tax base. The hon. Gentleman is right. I represent a constituency in which about 80% of properties fall into the lower council tax bands, so I fully appreciate his point. But the funding settlement is not the only source of money for police forces.
The Minister is making sensible observations about the changing profile of crime and rural considerations, but will he think about the nature of crime and how it is different in rural areas? In agricultural areas outside Salisbury, there are crimes such as hare coursing. Difficult policing jobs that require police presence cannot be offset with technology. That must be understood in this review.
My hon. Friend, as always, makes a very good point that outlines one of the realities of the way in which policing is changing. That is why it is important to have local decision making in policing, with locally accountable police and crime commissioners who understand the needs of their local areas and are able to direct their resources where they need them based on the demands of their area.
I want to make some more progress.
This year, we created the police transformation fund—the grant settlement is not the only source of money for policing—which has already provided investment to develop specialist capabilities to tackle cybercrime and other emerging crimes, and has provided a major uplift in firearms capability and capacity. The fund will increase by £40 million next year to £175 million. We will continue to allocate additional specific funding for counter-terrorism to ensure that critical national counter-terrorism capabilities are maintained. Counter-terrorism police funding continues to be protected and, in fact, will increase to £675 million in 2017-18. That reinforces our commitment to protect the public from the threat of terrorism. The House and the public can be in no doubt that the police will have the resources they need to do their crucial work, and will be given the investment necessary to provide a more modern and efficient police service.
I think my right hon. Friend will agree that we have the most professional armed police officers in the world. The statistics on fatalities bear that out. Does he agree that forces outside London must upscale their armed capacity to match the level that we have in London in view of the terror threat that affects the whole country?
This comes back to the point that it is important that local police and crime commissioners, working with their chief constables, are able to assess the operational needs for their area and to work across policing. The National Police Chiefs Council is doing very well in ensuring that police forces are working across areas, and that chief constables are working together for the benefit of the country. The Metropolitan police has a big part to play in that, being such a large part of policing in this country.
No, I want to make some progress.
There is a lot for the police to be proud of. However, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy report this year raised a concern that some forces may have eased up on the pace of reform in the past year. The clear challenge from us to police leaders is to ensure that this is not the case in 2017-18 and, after talking to them, I think it is a challenge that they will relish. Maintaining funding should not mean that police leaders take their foot off the gas.
I assure the House that the Government will play their part to support forces to transform and become more efficient. I will update the House on the steps we are taking to give the police the tools they need to transform themselves. As I mentioned earlier, we are increasing the size of the transformation fund by more than £40 million, which will enable additional investment in cross-force specialist capabilities, exploiting new technology, driving efficiency and improving how we respond to changing threats.
The first year of the fund has demonstrated that it is supporting and incentivising policing to meet future challenges by being more efficient and effective, and building capability and capacity to respond to a changing mix in crime, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) outlined. The key to the success of this work is that it is sector led, through the Police Reform and Transformation Board; this is the police service transforming itself to meet the demands of the future, using tools provided by this Government.
Not at the moment.
With the foundations of the police-led process firmly in place, more can now be done to develop compelling investment proposals at scale. The fund should continue to allow the best ideas from across policing for transformational change to be developed and delivered.
In 2017-18, we will invest a further £32 million to continue a major uplift in firearms capability and capacity so that we can respond quickly and forcefully to any firearms attack. I expect to see ambitious proposals, endorsed by the National Crime Agency, to go further and increase our capability to tackle serious and organised crime, which is a growing, dynamic and diverse national security threat that costs the United Kingdom at least £24 billion a year. It leads to loss of life, preys on the vulnerable, creates negative role models in our communities and can deprive people of their security and prosperity. But we cannot simply rely on extra funding to drive police reform. We need to ensure that police forces have the right legislative tools to do the job and improve efficiency.
I thank the Minister for finally giving way. I am sure that he is aware that Durham is the most outstanding police force in the UK for efficiency. Why has that not been rewarded in the settlement? For example, changes to the funding formula this year mean that the force in Durham will have £700,000 less in its budget than it had last year.
I am slightly surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s opening comment because I have already accepted an intervention from him, along with many other interventions. He has actually made a good case for exactly why it is important that we do this police funding formula review—to ensure that we get a formula that is not based on the one that has been in place for decades and that many police forces are very unhappy with. We will deliver on our manifesto pledge to deliver a fair funding formula for police.
The public all over the country are noticing a reduction in visibility of neighbourhood policing and in responsiveness by the police. They will struggle to match what they see on the ground with the complacent statements that have been made in the House today. Let me remind the Minister—we need accuracy on this because police officers on the front line deserve it—that the promise of the 2015 spending review was “real-terms protection” for the police throughout this Parliament. Has he met that promise, yes or no?
As I have already outlined twice to the right hon. Gentleman, we have met the promise of the spending review. Police and crime commissioners who maximise their precept are in the same position. No matter how many times he asks the same question, he will get the same answer. I give way to the hon. Member for Preston (Mr Hendrick).
Order. I did not hear anything said that was out of order. If I did not hear it, I cannot act on it. At this point, the hon. Member for Preston (Mr Hendrick) is intervening, so we will hear that. If somebody wants to raise a point of order or whatever, he or she is free to do so, but I cannot comment on something that I did not hear.
When the Chancellor announced in 2016 that police budgets would continue to be protected in cash terms assuming council tax was maximised, I—like many others—welcomed the news. Last year’s cuts to grant funding were a uniform 0.6% and this year’s provisional settlement outlined a further 1.3% cut to direct resource funding. How does that square with what the Minister said?
I can only repeat what I said earlier: last year, we protected police spending when the precept is taken into account. The overall level of government funding allocated to police is exactly as announced in the 2015 spending review at £8.497 billion.
I am delighted that the Policing and Crime Act 2017 received Royal Assent on 31 January because it allows us to ensure that we are working towards implementing many provisions that will further help policing to reform and deliver in the future. The Act ensures that collaboration between police forces and with other public services to better tackle emerging threats can go further and faster, providing efficiencies to ensure that money is spent on the frontline delivering for the communities in which the police work. There is substantial evidence showing that closer collaboration between the emergency services can improve public safety, secure more efficient services and deliver better value for money for taxpayers.
My right hon. Friend knows that I strongly support his efforts to get collaboration and more efficiency. Does he accept, however, that these reviews of formulae very often do not take into account the capacity of different kinds of forces to make changes? Large urban authorities have huge capacity to make changes, but it is much more difficult for small rural police forces. Will he ensure that that is taken into account in the review?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. I assure him that we are looking at all those factors as we work through the process. It is so important that the police chief constables, the police and crime commissioners and other parties are doing solid work on the ground to ensure that the process is fully informed. I have no doubt that we will be debating that in the House in due course.
Police and crime commissioners and chief constables are already collaborating to make savings and pool resources to improve effectiveness, without sacrificing local accountability and identity. That is a credit to them.
My right hon. Friend is making a cogent case, as he usually does. I encourage him to proceed in the way in which he has outlined because my local constabulary, Cambridgeshire, is working on things such as firearms, forensics, dogs and homicide, and it has become much more efficient. For example, the tragic Joanna Dennehy murders of two or three years ago would not have been solved as expeditiously as they were without cross-county collaboration between several police forces.
My hon. Friend is right. I met his chief constable and police and crime commissioner only this week and they showed me some of the excellent work being done there. It is one of the forces that is really driving forward and working to make sure that it delivers on the opportunities that the Act gives it to bring together the fire service and police force to create even further efficiencies and, importantly, better outcomes for residents in future.
Efficiency has increased, but that can take us only so far. My borough is paying for an extra 50 police officers. Londoners are paying £61 in their council tax every year just to make up for the shortfall in the money that should be given to cover national events such as the planned visit of the President of the United States. Will the Minister guarantee that, when he looks further at funding, he will consider what local and regional authorities are contributing at the moment?
I agree that it is important that as we go through the review work we look at the functions in a capital city that are different from those in other parts of the country. We do pay extra money into London, but we also have to bear in mind that London’s Metropolitan police is by far the best funded force in the country, accounting for just over 25% of all police funding. It is a very, very well-funded police force.
Not at the moment—I will make some progress.
We are making sure, through the Act, that we support greater collaboration. To do this, the Act contains provisions to enable police and crime commissioners to take on responsibility for local fire and rescue services, where the local case is made. This means that we can maximise the benefits of joint working between policing and fire services at a local level, drive innovative reform, and bring the same direct accountability to fire as exists for policing.
The police funding settlement for 2017-18 is not impacted by the ongoing police core grant distribution review, as the settlement retains the approach to distribution that we have used in recent years.
Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the situation will be different in different places? Wiltshire and Dorset recently went through a consolidation of the fire service into one entity. Another organisational change would not be welcome, because that would mean more money being spent on that reorganisation when we have just had one in the fire service. This needs to be done carefully, county by county.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point that highlights why it is important that this is driven locally. The Act is an enabling power, not a mandatory one. He is absolutely right that his own local PCC and the adjoining PCC are looking at how they can be more involved in the governance of fire without necessarily changing the excellent work that was done to find savings in the past year or so.
Some hon. Members have mentioned the core distribution review. While I am talking about police funding on the current formula for this year, it would be remiss of me not to outline that review a bit further and answer a few of the questions about it, as there is clearly widespread interest. We are continuing the process of detailed engagement. Under an open door policy, I am meeting all PCCs and forces who wish to discuss this issue. I can also assure the House that no new funding arrangements will be put in place without a full, proper public consultation.
I want to re-emphasise that the 2017-18 police funding settlement provides fair and stable funding for police forces. It increases funding for the police transformation fund to ensure that police leaders have been given the tools to support reform and the capabilities that they need to be able to respond to the changing nature of crime. We are protecting police spending and meeting our commitment to finish the job of police reform so that we are able to make sure that we, and the police, are helping the vulnerable, cutting crime and supporting our communities. I commend this motion to the House.
Labour Members deplore the approach that this Government have taken to police funding. They have broken their promise to Parliament that they would protect frontline policing. They have left police forces across the country without the money they need to keep our citizens safe from crime. With funding cut every single year, there are now 21,000 fewer police officers than there were in 2010. That is what this Government have done for policing.
Moreover, the Government have persistently failed to introduce a funding formula that is linked in any meaningful way to the needs of different areas. When they did try to do so, it literally did not add up and had to be withdrawn. Now we see in today’s motion that for another year they are simply salami-slicing the police budget again, with real-terms cuts of 2.7% across the force, regardless of need. They decided they could not run their own funding model because, they said, it was broken, but they have not been able to build a new one despite trying for four years.
This is incompetence. It is the action of a panicked and out-of-touch Government forced to make bad decisions that bear little relation to community needs because of the lack of capacity that is a problem of their own creation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the 4.9% real-terms cut in Gwent police and 5.3% real-terms cut in South Wales police will put frontline policing at risk in those areas? I have spent some time with frontline police as part of the police service parliamentary scheme, and the frontline officers I have met certainly do not recognise the rosy picture painted by the Minister.
I certainly do agree with my hon. Friend. I appreciate the work that he has done with the police service parliamentary scheme and know that he understands what real policing is really all about.
No wonder that only last week the outgoing head of the Metropolitan police said:
“It’s getting difficult…The bottom line is that there will be less cops. I can’t see any other way…There’s only so much you can cut and make efficiencies and then you’ve got to have less police…I’m not sure that's wise”.
We do not believe it is wise either.