House of Commons
Wednesday 28 June 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I remind Members that the private Members’ Bill ballot book is open in the No Lobby today until the rise of the House, when the ballot for 2017 to 2019 will close. The ballot draw will be held at 9 am tomorrow in Committee Room 10. I also remind Members that the ballot for the election of Deputy Speakers is taking place until 1.30 pm today in Committee Room 8. The result will be announced as soon as the count is complete.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Belfast Agreement: Impartiality
1. What steps the Government are taking to comply with the requirement for rigorous impartiality set out in the Belfast agreement. 
5. What steps the Government are taking to comply with the requirement for rigorous impartiality set out in the Belfast agreement. 
The Government remain steadfast in our commitment to the Belfast agreement and its successors. We will continue to govern in the interests of all parts of the community and to work in partnership with the Irish Government, in accordance with the well-established three-stranded approach, as we have done for the past seven years.
In the past few days, the deal with the Democratic Unionist party has been described as grubby, dangerous and desperate. Obviously, the situation in Northern Ireland is at a very sensitive point. Can the Secretary of State outline in a clear and cohesive way the steps that his Government are taking to ensure impartiality?
I say at the outset that I do not recognise the characterisation that the hon. Lady has given the agreement, which is about providing stability here for the UK Government and governing in the best interests of all parts of the UK. But in response to her important question about the Belfast agreement and its successors, I say to her that the Government remain steadfast in their commitment to those agreements and we continue to work with all parties, as I have done over recent days and will continue to do, so that the Government act in the best interests of all parts of Northern Ireland and continue to listen to the concerns of all parts of the community.
Over the past few days, a lot has been made about the extra money for infrastructure spending. What assurances can the Secretary of State give that that extra funding will be spent across all communities in Northern Ireland, especially the rural communities in the west? What can he do to help make sure that that happens?
The additional funding that has been outlined is for an inclusive Executive to be able to utilise those funds in the best interests of Northern Ireland. That is the most powerful, effective way to deliver on that. That is why I have been using all my time, energy and efforts to see that the Executive are restored. That is absolutely the best way to ensure that the points that the hon. Gentleman rightly makes are seen.
Is it not the case that in September 2015 there was a crisis in the institutions in Northern Ireland—long before any deal between the Conservative party and the DUP was struck? Is it not also the case that this particular crisis started long before any deal between the Conservative party and the DUP was struck?
My hon. Friend highlights the challenges that we have in seeing the Executive restored and the challenges that have emerged over the course of this year. He is right: it is so important that we focus on that task at hand and see that the time available is used so that the Executive are restored and perform in the best interests of Northern Ireland and all communities across Northern Ireland.
Surely the point is that, given the additional funding for Northern Ireland, the imperative will be on the Executive to reform and deliver for all people there, and to kick-start more private industry there to make the people of Northern Ireland less dependent on the state and to get better receipts back to the UK Treasury.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, who makes such an important point about the real opportunity that there is for Northern Ireland. We want to see jobs, growth and prosperity—to see investment in infrastructure and that enterprise-driven economy. There is that opportunity here, and we as a Government want it to be seized and to see Northern Ireland continue to move forward.
I wish the Secretary of State well in his efforts in the coming days to restore the Executive to Northern Ireland. For our part, we are absolutely committed to getting the Executive up and running again. We did not collapse the Executive and we are not setting any red lines or preconditions for a reformation. Will he be assured that our focus is on ensuring that money for infrastructure, health, education and the rest of it is spent equally and fairly across Northern Ireland, as has been our record in office over the past 10 years in the Northern Ireland Executive?
I very much welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s statement of his party’s determination to see an Executive restored and, equally, that funds made available are seen across the whole community. This is about infrastructure, including investment in the digital infrastructure that provides the mechanism for prosperity to continue to grow in Northern Ireland.
On the issue of rigorous impartiality, of course we are committed to the agreements that we have entered into, as are Her Majesty’s Government. I particularly welcome the statement in the policy agreement that
“the Conservative Party will never be neutral in expressing its support for the Union”,
and that it
“will never countenance any constitutional arrangements that are incompatible with the consent principle.”
We are united on the great principle that we want to strengthen the United Kingdom, and the Secretary of State will have our full support in measures to achieve that.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that we will never be neutral in our support for the Union. The Government are proud to take that approach. Equally, we uphold the principles of those agreements, particularly the principle of consent, which has underlined and underpinned the activities of Governments over so many years. It is about the rightful balance between support for the Union and, equally, upholding the principle of consent.
12. I have seen the troubles at first hand, so I know that the peace process has been integral to progress since then. I very much welcome the agreement with our friends in the Democratic Unionist party, but what more can the Government do to reassure all the people of Northern Ireland that the agreement will not jeopardise this process? That is the chief concern at the moment. 
My hon. Friend makes a powerful and important point. This agreement underlines our steadfast commitment to the Belfast agreement and its successors. Indeed, I have been working with all major parties in the Executive in recent days to see the restoration of that Executive—one of the key bodies under the Good Friday agreement. That remains such an important outcome to achieve.
It is clear that other parties in Northern Ireland have serious concerns about the Good Friday agreement as a result of the deal that the UK Government have done with the DUP. What guarantees can the Secretary of State offer that the confidence and supply agreement does not threaten the impartiality of the UK Government? What assurances can he give us that the Prime Minister’s reliance on DUP votes to remain in power does not compromise his position? Finally, given the sword of Damocles clause—offering support on a case-by-case basis— how can any of us be sure that the UK Government will not be compromised when it suits the DUP?
The agreement relates to what happens here at Westminster. I am not part of those discussions or the envisaged committee, but there are important reasons for the role I play in Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady makes various assertions and characterisations. It is worth underlining that I have been working closely with the Irish Government in recent days as part of the restoration of the Executive, and they noted in their response that they welcomed the British Government’s commitment to
“govern in the interests of all parts of the community in Northern Ireland.”
That principle will guide our actions.
Notwithstanding the commitment to parity in the Good Friday agreement, does my right hon. Friend agree that the military covenant needs to be applied throughout the country, regardless of where servicemen and women live?
I do uphold the military covenant. The Conservative party has made great strides in rolling it out across the UK, and the Government remain committed to that. We will work with the Executive and all the parties so that the benefit of the military covenant is felt in all parts of the UK.
May I begin by paying tribute to Northern Ireland Members from all parties who lost their seats at the election? I pay particular tribute to Mark Durkan, who served this Parliament and Northern Irish politics with such distinction for so long. I also welcome all new Members from Northern Ireland to the House.
I do not doubt for a minute the good faith of the Secretary of State, and I wish him well in trying to bring about the power-sharing Executive, but he must acknowledge that his desire to look impartial has been compromised by the arrangements with the DUP. I would like to know what advice he gave the Prime Minister. Did he tell her that she was making his life that much harder?
May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place? I know the role that he has played previously in Northern Ireland, and I welcome his experience on to the Labour Front Bench. I join him in recognising those who served previously in the House. I pay tribute to his predecessor, Dave Anderson, for the very constructive approach that he took. I would also like to recognise my colleague Kris Hopkins, who, as my Minister, played an extraordinary role. I also recognise my colleague Lord Dunlop.
The hon. Gentleman makes the point about Mark Durkan—another colleague who has served in the House—and it is notable that Mark Durkan is reported as saying that there is nothing in the Good Friday agreement that prevents agreements between parties in Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Ireland or the UK Government. It is the principles of those agreements that we continue to uphold in the actions that we take, and we see nothing inconsistent with the agreement that was reached this week in terms of our actions and the role that we play in Northern Ireland.
I acknowledge all the points the Secretary of State has just made, but he knows from his experience and mine that trust is absolutely vital in Northern Ireland, and there is a danger that that trust between parties and in the Governments will be eroded over time if one party is seen as having the ear of the Government. Transparency is the key to avoiding that, so can he commit that, in addition to being transparent in the initial agreement, all subsequent agreements and all the minutes of the DUP-Tory co-ordination committee will be published so we know exactly what is going on?
This issue of impartiality, and the principle of working across all communities and with fairness to all communities, is one that we steadfastly uphold. That is why I will continue to work and engage with all parties and, indeed, community groups and sectors across Northern Ireland in the role that I uphold. I think the hon. Gentleman has seen from the actions that we have taken in publishing the confidence and supply agreement and the financial statement that sits alongside it that that transparency has been provided.
2. What progress has been made on discussions on power sharing in Northern Ireland. 
10. What progress has been made on power-sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland. 
The overriding priority for the UK Government in Northern Ireland remains the restoration of devolved power-sharing government in Stormont. The UK Government are working with the main Northern Ireland parties and, in accordance with the well-established three-stranded approach, the Irish Government to restore a fully functioning inclusive Executive and Assembly. But time is short. I would urge all concerned to use the narrow window that remains to look beyond their differences and to see that an Executive is formed.
Like many Members, I have been assisting constituents who are former members of Her Majesty’s armed forces and who served in Northern Ireland with distinction during the troubles. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House the extent to which disagreement over reforming the unfair legacy case process is a sticking point in restoring power sharing?
I think that there is a growing consensus that the next stage needs to be the publication of a consultation around the Stormont House agreement bodies, which are founded on the principle of fairness and proportionality, and it is that that has come through from the discussions that we have had.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that any return to direct rule in Northern Ireland would be a huge backward step and that devolution is really the only good way forward?
I do agree with the comments of my hon. Friend. An Executive—an inclusive Executive—acting in the best interests of Northern Ireland is profoundly what Northern Ireland needs and what the people voted for, and that is where our focus must lie.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the armed forces covenant has been the subject of talks in Northern Ireland because of the lack of full implementation. Does he agree that the party blocking that implementation talks a lot about rights and respect? It needs to do the right thing and stop being a barrier to the support that the veterans in Northern Ireland need.
May I welcome the hon. Lady to her position? I am sure that the experience she has—over legacy, and over so many parts of Northern Ireland—will enrich the debate in the House.
We obviously stand by our commitments in relation to the military covenant—wanting to see that felt in all parts of the UK—and we look forward to working with all parties and all communities across Northern Ireland and the UK to see that that happens.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the vast majority of the public in Northern Ireland are very interested to see who actually pays and funds the political parties in Northern Ireland? As part of his ongoing discussions, will he therefore have the courage of his convictions and make sure that there is an end to the anonymity of political donations in Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point, which she has made on a number of occasions in the House. I think she will have seen the commitment in my party’s manifesto over the transparency of political donations. I look forward to moving ahead and seeing that that is actually implemented.
13. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the disgraceful treatment of my constituent, Major Dennis Hutchings, and other ex-service personnel will continue to be an important element of his discussions? 
I recognise the way in which my hon. Friend has championed the cause of her constituent. I know she will appreciate that there are legal proceedings outstanding that mean that I cannot comment in detail, but I hope she appreciates the Government’s desire to see fair, balanced and proportionate mechanisms put in place for dealing with the issues of the past.
May I associate myself with the generous comments the Secretary of State made about Kris Hopkins, who is a good and decent man? I welcome the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), my seventh opponent, to the Government Dispatch Box. Unlike all her predecessors, she lacks a little close combat experience, except, of course, from her time in the Whips Office.
We all hope that there is a re-establishment of the Executive tomorrow, but should that not happen, Ministers must obviously be undertaking some contingency planning. What structures would they like to see in place to ensure impartiality in the disbursement of the additional money?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments about Kris Hopkins, who served in the House with distinction, including in the role that he played in the Northern Ireland Office.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that our focus is on seeing that an Executive is restored. I have been clear on not wanting to pre-empt what may happen should that not be the case. Obviously, there would be profound and serious implications in that context. I can assure him that we will work with all parties, and indeed have discussions with his party and others across the House, to see that these issues are considered very carefully, but our focus—
I am very grateful. Mr Ranil Jayawardena.
3. What recent assessment he has made of the security situation in Northern Ireland. 
The terrorist threat level in Northern Ireland remains unchanged at “severe”—namely, an attack is highly likely. The need for vigilance remains, and I pay tribute to the brave men and women who work to keep communities safe. They will always have this Government’s fullest support.
Last December, the Secretary of State assured me in the Chamber that he would be unswerving and unstinting in underlining the huge contribution of our armed forces, so will the Minister join me in welcoming the commitment in our manifesto that the bodies envisaged in the Stormont House agreement will be fair, balanced and proportionate to former soldiers?
Yes, I do reiterate that commitment in our manifesto. We continue to focus on implementing the Stormont House agreement and creating new bodies that will be fair, balanced and proportionate. The next phase, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has outlined, is to consult publicly on the detail of those bodies’ workings.
As the Member of Parliament in the west of the Province who takes his seat, may I ask the Minister whether she is aware of the fact that security has been getting worse in the west of Northern Ireland, particularly the north-west? Will she review the problems associated with the bomb disposal team in getting them to the places where problems have occurred?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s experience in this area and would be more than delighted to meet him to hear more about his specific concerns. As a new Minister, I have endeavoured to be in touch straight away with all the Northern Ireland MPs and those in the House with an interest. We must be vigilant, as I said earlier, and I look forward to further detail from him.
Will the Minister ensure that she and the Secretary of State play a full part in the Government’s forthcoming review of counter-terrorism strategy to reflect the lethal nature of the domestic terrorism threat in Norther Ireland? [Interruption.]
There is far too much noise and too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber. There has been extensive interest in all parts of the House in Northern Ireland in recent weeks; there ought to be interest in these matters being treated of in the Chamber today.
The short answer is yes. Both I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will endeavour to ensure that security is at the forefront of all that we do.
The Minister will know that many terrorists have been brought back to Northern Ireland to face justice under the European arrest warrant. Will she commit today from the Dispatch Box that this Government will keep that arrest warrant post-Brexit?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that all such matters are for negotiation and are in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Brexit Secretary. We enjoy strong working relationships with our counterparts in the Irish Government. We intend to continue that, in the service of all the communities of Northern Ireland.
Leaving the EU: Free Movement of People
4. What assessment he has made of the implications of exiting the EU for the free movement of people between Northern Ireland and the (a) Republic of Ireland and (b) rest of the UK. 
The Government want to protect the ability to move freely between the UK and Ireland, which is an essential part of economic integration and daily community life. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirmed in this House last November, there will be no change, alteration or impediment to movement within the UK.
The simplest way to ensure that free movement continues unimpeded across these islands is to accept that there will in reality be no increased border checks or in-country controls on EU nationals after Brexit—any controls occurring in-country. That is what the Home Secretary has previously suggested. Will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland confirm that that remains the Government’s thinking?
We want to maintain the common travel area, which has served us so well over so many decades. Equally, we want to work with the Irish Government to ensure that the external border is upheld and strengthened. That remains our focus.
Leaving the EU: Border
6. What steps he is taking to ensure that there is no hard border with the Republic of Ireland after the UK leaves the EU. 
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in her letter to Donald Tusk that we want to avoid a return to a hard border—nobody wishes to return to the border of the old days— and to maintain the common travel area. That desire is shared with the Republic of Ireland and the European Union, and we shall work tirelessly to achieve it.
Northern Ireland is as much part of the United Kingdom as Dartford, but does the Minister agree that, given Northern Ireland’s unique situation, it is essential that there is a frictionless border between it and the Republic, without ever compromising the security of the whole of the United Kingdom?
Yes, I do agree. We all want to see people and goods moving as freely as possible across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, in the service of a strong economy for those who need it.
Mindful of the worryingly high levels of radicalisation of people in the Republic of Ireland, what assurances can the Minister give DUP Members that the soft border that is important for trade will not become an unsafe border in terms of security?
I value the strong working relationship between this country and the Republic of Ireland, which will allow us to focus on the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. We need to preserve the common travel area and to maintain tariff-free trade with Europe. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
The Minister has never been more popular.
7. What recent progress has been made on developing Northern Ireland's economy. 
The fundamentals of the Northern Ireland economy are strong, with growth last year at 1.6%. Unemployment has fallen and employment has risen, but there is much more we must do.
I welcome the additional investment in Northern Ireland’s economy, to address structural weaknesses. May I urge the Government to reinforce their efforts to secure private sector and foreign direct investment?
I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to do that, using our relationships across the globe. It is clear that, despite the progress made in recent years, special circumstances still apply to Northern Ireland. We want a strong economy for all communities there.
The industrial strategy and the national shipbuilding strategy give two key opportunities for the Minister and this Government to assist in building and growing the Northern Ireland economy. Will she facilitate discussions with us and Ministry of Defence colleagues so that we can advance those golden opportunities for our Province?
I will be happy to do so.
Under the terms of the Azores agreement and legislation passed through this House, only a devolved Administration can use their powers to reduce corporation tax, which would have an overwhelming beneficial impact on every citizen in Northern Ireland. Can the Minister guarantee that that will be raised in the talks over the next two days?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will do everything he can to ensure that those talks come to a successful conclusion. The point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) simply underlines the need to make the reaching of that agreement a priority.
Confidence and Supply Agreement
8. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the peace process of an agreement on confidence and supply between the Government and the Democratic Unionist party. 
9. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the peace process of an agreement on confidence and supply between the Government and the Democratic Unionist party. 
This agreement provides stability at a vital time for our country and is in the interests of all of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. It in no way changes the UK Government’s commitment to the Belfast agreement and its successors.
We are now in the slightly odd position that each DUP Member is worth more than Ronaldo: I do not know what that says about their footballing skills. Does the Secretary of State agree with Jonathan Powell that it is now impossible for the UK Government to be even-handed in Northern Ireland?
No, I do not.
Can the Secretary of State not see that the UK Government’s credibility with the other constituent parts of the United Kingdom has been destroyed following the £1.5 billion bribe for Northern Ireland, subverting the Barnett rules, as the price of staying in office?
No, I cannot.
14. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the Government’s commitment to use our high commissions and embassies to promote Northern Ireland as a place to do business, to ensure that Northern Ireland is fully included in any UK-wide initiative to boost exports and prosperity? 
I strongly support the point that my hon. Friend makes. Northern Ireland is a great place to do business and as a Government we will continue to support that in all ways that we can—and in all other parts of the UK.
The Prime Minister was asked--
Q1. If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 28 June. 
The House will be aware that today the Crown Prosecution Service announced charging decisions in relation to Hillsborough. I know from working closely with the families when I was Home Secretary that this will be a day of mixed emotions for them. The House will understand that I cannot say anything further on matters that are now subject to criminal prosecution.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I will have further such meetings later today.
Over the past months I have had swastikas carved into posters; social media posts such as “Burn the witch” and “Stab the c***”; people putting Labour party posters on my home, photographing them and pushing them through my letterbox; and even someone urinating on my office door—hardly kinder, gentler politics. Can my right hon. Friend suggest what can be done to stop such intimidation, which may well put off good people from serving in this place?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue and she was not the only person to experience such intimidation during the election campaign. This sort of intimidation was experienced—I am sorry to say—by female candidates in particular. I believe that such behaviour has no place in our democracy. She is right: it could put good people off serving in this House. We want more people to become engaged and to want to stand for election to this House. As I stand here and see the plaque dedicated to the late Jo Cox, I think we should all remember what Jo said, that
“we are far more united and have far more in common”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.]
—with each other than the things that divide us.
I welcome the announcement by the Crown Prosecution Service this morning that it will prosecute six people in relation to Hillsborough. The prosecution, the inquiry and this development happened only because of the incredible work done by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and other colleagues. We should pay tribute to all those who spent a great deal of time trying to ensure justice for those who died at Hillsborough.
Seventy-nine people died in Grenfell Tower. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have died, those still unaccounted for and those who will live with the trauma of this horrific and utterly avoidable tragedy for the rest of their lives. Last Thursday, the Prime Minister said she expected to appoint a judge to chair the inquiry within the next few days. We have not had any further news on that. Will she now update the House on when an appointment will be made, and what will be the timetable for the inquiry?
There have been many years of waiting for the Hillsborough families and the different groups who came together, not just the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. The work done by Margaret Aspinall and others has been absolutely exemplary. As I said, today will be a day of really mixed emotions for them, but we all welcome the fact that charging decisions have been taken. That is an important step forward.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me for an update on Grenfell Tower. If I may, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on a number of aspects. We all know what an unimaginable tragedy this was, and our thoughts will continue to be with all those affected by it. As of this morning, the cladding from 120 tower blocks across the country, in 37 local authority areas, has been tested and has failed the combustibility test. Given the 100% failure rate, we are very clear with local authorities and housing associations that they should not wait for test results; they should get on with the job of the fire safety checks—indeed, they are doing that—and take any action necessary. The Government will support them in doing that. The Communities Secretary has set up an independent expert advisory panel to advise on the measures that need to be taken. The panel is meeting this week.
On the housing offer, 282 good quality temporary properties have been identified, 132 families have had their needs assessed and 65 offers of temporary accommodation have already been made to families. The payments from the discretionary fund we have made available continue. As of this morning, nearly £1.25 million of payments have been made. In addition, we are giving an extra £1 million to the local consortia of charities, trusts and foundations that have been doing such important work.
On the public inquiry, I expect us to be able to name a judge soon. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the process is that the Lord Chief Justice recommends the name of a judge. We want to ensure that, as the process goes forward for that inquiry, the survivors and the families concerned are involved. That is the work we are currently doing.
I thank the Prime Minister for that answer, but I hope she is able to stick to her promise of everyone being rehoused within three weeks. At the moment, it does not look anything like that target will be achieved. I hope she understands the fear that so many people have living in tower blocks at the present time all around the country. In 2014, the all-party fire and safety group wrote to the Department for Communities and Local Government, warning:
“Today’s buildings have a much higher content of readily available combustible material”.
There have been contradictory messages from the Government. Can the Prime Minister give a categorical answer: is cladding with a combustible core, such as polyethylene, legal for use on high-rise buildings, and was the cladding on Grenfell Tower legal?
The building regulations identified the cladding that is compatible with the building regulations and that which is non-compliant. My understanding is that this cladding was not compliant with the building regulations. This raises wider issues, as the House will recognise. It is important that we are careful in how we talk about this. A criminal investigation is taking place, and it is important that we allow the police to conduct that criminal investigation and to take the decisions they need to take.
There is a much wider issue here, as we have seen from the number of buildings where the cladding, from the samples already sent in by local authorities and housing associations, has failed the combustibility test. This is a much wider issue, with cladding having been put into buildings for decades. There are real questions as to how this has happened, why it has happened, and how we can ensure it does not happen in future. That is why I am clear that in addition to the inquiry that needs to identify the specific issues for Grenfell Tower—what happened in relation to Grenfell Tower and who was responsible—we will also need to look much more widely at why it is that over decades, under different Governments and under different councils, material has been put up on tower blocks that is non-compliant with the building regulations. There is a very wide issue here. We need to make sure we get to the bottom of it and that is what we are going to do.
Last Thursday the Prime Minister told my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) that she would make the results of the Grenfell Tower cladding testing public within 48 hours, and I am not sure she has actually done that with her statement today. As of yesterday—the Prime Minister has just confirmed this—120 high-rise blocks across Britain have had fire safety tests and failed them. What timetable has the Prime Minister set for such tests to be completed, including on schools and hospitals, in every part of the country? What plans does she have to compel the testing of high rise buildings such as private sector office blocks and hotels, which may also have combustible cladding material on them?
What I said last week in the statement is that my understanding is that the police were going to make a statement about the cladding material within 48 hours, and I think the police then did make a statement about the position. In relation to the tests, my message is a very simple one. As I said in my answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s first question, what we are saying to people is that this is not a question of waiting for the tests: do not wait until you have a sample in and you know the result of the test; so far, 100% of the samples that have come in have proved to be combustible, so work on the assumption that you should be doing the fire safety checks now. That is what we are telling people to do. We know that parts of the private sector are also doing their work on fire safety checks, but my response to all those who have buildings that are covered by this is: do the fire safety checks with the fire service, take any measures that are necessary to ensure fire safety and the Government will support you in doing that.
Since 2010, only a third of new schools have had sprinkler systems installed, so parents are rightly concerned about the safety of their children. In 2013, the Lakanal House coroner’s letter formally recommended that the Government encourage providers of housing and high-rise residential buildings to consider retrofitting sprinklers. Two years later, Inside Housing reported that only 1% of council tower blocks had sprinklers fitted. Can the Prime Minister let us know what the Government actually did to encourage retrofitting during the past four years?
The Government did indeed ensure that those local authorities were aware of the recommendation that came from the coroner and they did act on that recommendation. However, if we look at what has happened and the identification of the issues in a number of tower blocks so far, there are various issues that lead to concern about fire safety. If we look at what has happened in Camden, for example, where one of the five blocks was considered to be habitable but four were not, that was not just because of the cladding; it was because of other issues, in relation, for example, to the gas riser.
All these issues raise wider questions about the inspections that have taken place and about residents’ complaints and residents’ voices not being heard. That is an issue that has been raised at Grenfell Tower and it has also been raised in Camden. This is a much wider question. A terrible tragedy took place. People lost their lives who should never have lost their lives. We need to look at what has happened over decades in this country that has led to this position, and that is exactly what we will do.
There have been two coroner’s reports. Building regulations have not been overhauled and local authorities, while asked to act on them, have had their budgets cut by 40% during the same period. Under the Prime Minister’s predecessor, fire safety audits and inspections were cut by a quarter and fire authority budgets were cut by a quarter. Can the Prime Minister give an assurance to the House that the further 20% cuts to the fire service planned by 2020 will now be halted?
I think that, in his reference to the building regulations, the right hon. Gentleman missed part of the point. It is not just a question of what laws we have; it is a question of how they are being applied. That is the issue. We have building regulations about compliant materials. The question is, why, despite that, have we seen, in local authority area after local authority area, materials being put up that appear not to comply with those building regulations? That is what we need to get to the bottom of. Why is it that fire inspections and local authority inspections appear to have missed that essential issue?
I think I can help the Prime Minister with that issue. When you cut local authority expenditure by 40%, you end up with fewer building control inspectors—[Interruption.]
Order. It is pretty bad when people shout. For someone sitting right by the Speaker’s Chair to shout displays, let us say, a lack of wisdom, which should not be repeated. [Interruption.] Order. Every Member in the Chamber must and will be heard, however long the session has to run.
I was simply making the point—which seems to have upset a lot of Conservative Members—that when you cut local authority budgets by 40%, we all pay a price in public safety. Fewer inspectors—fewer building control inspectors and fewer planning inspectors—and we all pay a price. Moreover, those cuts in the fire service have meant that there are 11,000 fewer firefighters, and the public sector pay cap is hitting recruitment and retention throughout the public sector.
What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed are the disastrous effects of austerity, a disregard for working-class communities, and the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners. I urge the Prime Minister to come up with the resources that are needed to test and remove cladding, retrofit sprinklers, and properly fund the fire service and police so that all our communities can truly feel safe in their own homes. This disaster must be a wake-up call.
The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this Government. It did not start under the previous coalition Government. The cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair Government.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about local authority resources, and about changes in regulation. In 2005, it was a Labour Government who introduced the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, which transferred the requirement to inspect a building on fire safety grounds from the local fire authority, which was usually the fire brigade, to a “responsible person”. The legislation governing fire safety in tower blocks—and this was commented on in the report on the Lakanal House fire; it criticised that 2005 order, which had been put in place by the Labour Government—[Interruption.]
Order. The Prime Minister’s answer must be heard, and it will be.
Laws that took effect in 2006 ended the practice of routine fire service inspections, passing the responsibility to councils. That is why I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we should recognise, across the House, that this is a matter that has been developing over decades, and has occurred under Governments of both colours and councils of all political persuasions. I hope we will say that we should come together and ensure that we get to the answers to the questions about why this has happened over many years, what has gone wrong, and how we can stop it happening in the future.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Understandably, on this most solemn and sensitive of matters, the Front-Bench exchanges have, perhaps inevitably and perhaps rightly, been very comprehensive. I am now keen that all Back Benchers scheduled to take part should have the opportunity to do so.
Q2. Businesses in my constituency share the Prime Minister’s desire to provide certainty for trade arrangements in the years immediately following our exit from the EU. Can she confirm that any transitional arrangements will be for a strictly limited period and that any suggestion of ever-retreating deadlines or a perpetual status quo would fall short of honouring the decision made by the people of this country to leave the EU? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. For very practical reasons, when we know what the future relationship will be, we may need implementation periods—we made that point in our article 50 letter—to ensure that the practical arrangements can be put in place for that new relationship. But I am very clear that this does not mean an unlimited transitional phase. We are going to leave the European Union. That is what people wanted and that is what we will deliver.
I welcome the announcement of the prosecutions on Hillsborough, and I congratulate the families and all those involved in the many years of campaigning to achieve justice.
The Scottish Secretary insisted that Scotland would see increased funding if the Democratic Unionist party secured money for Northern Ireland as part of a confidence and supply deal. He insisted:
“I’m not going to agree to anything that could be construed as back-door funding to Northern Ireland.”
Did the Prime Minister receive any representations from her Scottish Secretary about the DUP deal, either before or after it was signed?
When we look at what has happened in terms of funding for the rest of the United Kingdom, we see that in the autumn statement last year, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set aside an infrastructure fund of £23 billion. We are putting more money into our NHS and more money into our schools. And of course there is an impact on Scotland as a result of that autumn statement: £800 million extra spending is going to Scotland and, as a result of the Budget, £350 million extra is going to Scotland. I do not remember, when that money for Scotland was announced, the hon. Gentleman complaining that more money should be going to Northern Ireland—but then of course, he is a nationalist and not a Unionist.
The Prime Minister’s failure to give a straight answer to that question speaks volumes—[Interruption.]
Order. Let’s hear the fellow!
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister’s failure to give a straight answer to that question speaks volumes and has succeeded only in piling more pressure on the Scottish Secretary, whose position now looks less secure with every day that passes—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman’s question—I think he is reaching his peroration—must be heard.
I will give the Prime Minister one more opportunity: did she receive any representations about the DUP deal from the Secretary of State for Scotland-yes or no?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I regularly receive representations from the Secretary of State for Scotland about matters relating to Scotland, including regular representations pointing out that if the Scottish nationalists actually had the interests of Scotland at heart, they would want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Q9. Given that rail passengers in my constituency are once again facing rail misery with an overtime ban and strike action looming, does the Prime Minister agree that the only way to end the 18 months of rail misery for my constituents and for all passengers on Southern rail is for the unions to stop their strike and get back round the table to resolve this once and for all? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Southern rail passengers have been experiencing unacceptable delays and disruption to their service. An expert report has found that the main cause of widespread disruption was union action, so I say, “For the sake of the passengers, get around the table and solve this dispute.”
Q3. May I thank the Prime Minister for coming to my constituency during the general election campaign and for making her widely welcomed U-turn on the dementia tax? May I invite her back to Wrexham to make another announcement, reversing her appalling cuts to police budgets, which my constituents want to see the back of? 
We are protecting police budgets—[Interruption.] Yes. But we are of course making reforms to policing. That is why I introduced the National Crime Agency to deal with serious and organised crime, which actually relates to crime on the streets. That is why we have put money into a new national cybercrime unit to ensure that the police can deal with the new sorts of crimes they are having to deal with. Yes, we are reforming policing, but the key thing is not the number of police on the streets; the key thing is what happens to crime, and crime has fallen to a record low.
Q12. The Grenfell Tower tragedy shocked so many of us because we all believe that there is much that should never have happened. However, to claim ahead of any inquiry, as an Opposition Front Bencher did, that residents were “murdered” by politicians is grotesquely inappropriate. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that our Government will get on with helping to rebuild lives and homes and with progressing critical inquiries with urgency and, above all, non-partisan calm? 
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. What all of those affected by Grenfell Tower deserve is an inquiry that gets to the truth and provides them with the truth and with the knowledge of who was responsible. We need to do that in a careful, calm and determined way. We also need to use that same calm determination to ensure that we get to the bottom of the wider issue of why materials that have been used in tower blocks around the country appear to be non-compliant with the building regulations. There are real issues here. We are not going to get to the truth by pointing fingers, but we will by calm determination.
Q4. On the deal that the Prime Minister has done with the DUP, is it true that, on the one hand, she is shelling out all this extra money to secure its support while, on the other hand, she is still giving it taxpayers’ cash in the form of Short money to be in opposition? Is that what we get from this Prime Minister: no pay rise for the nurses, but a double bubble for her friends in the DUP? 
Let us be clear about what the Government have done in the agreement with the Democratic Unionist party. As a result of the election, no party had a majority in this House—[Interruption.] Yes. The party with the largest number of seats and the only party that can form an effective Government is the Conservative party. That is the right thing to do, and that is what we have done.
Q13. Does the Prime Minister share my concern that 50,000 people were stopped at the controls in Calais last year? That is 150 people every single day, which underlines the fact that we should keep the controls in place. Will she consider the case for investing more in state-of-the-art technology and in more border officers, so that we can win the war against the people traffickers and keep our borders safe and secure? 
Our Border Force officers are doing an excellent job at the juxtaposed controls and the work they do in his constituency, in particular the work to stop illegal immigrants and human traffickers. We have been investing in the system capabilities, with £108 million invested in new technology in the past two years and with a further £71 million earmarked for that in this current financial year. Of course, there are particular pressures on Dover, which is why we have also invested more money to maintain security there and to ensure that the Calais camp remains closed. We are also making efforts upstream to ensure that we reduce the number of people who are trying get to the United Kingdom illegally. The Department for International Development is now putting extra focus on the central Mediterranean route, and, as I announced last week, an extra £75 million is going towards humanitarian support there.
Q5. I know the Prime Minister is well aware of the misery and suffering caused by reckless gambling. Following her own recent experience and the turmoil it has caused to her friends and colleagues, will she now commit to legislating on fixed odds betting terminals, the cause of so much hardship across our communities? 
As the hon. Lady knows, a consultation was undertaken on that particular issue, which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is considering. It will announce a response in due course.
In Fareham 63% of voters chose the Conservatives, a share of the vote not seen since 1935. Will my right hon. Friend join me in reminding the Chamber that this side won the election and the other side lost? Will she join me in thanking the good people of Fareham for placing their trust in the Conservatives and reassuring them that she is the best person to deliver a prosperity-led and successful Brexit?
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in thanking the good people of Fareham for re-electing a first-class Member of Parliament to this House to represent them. She is absolutely right, of course, that it was the Conservative party that got the highest percentage share of votes in this election, the Conservative party that got the most seats—56 more seats than the Labour party—and the Conservative party that got more votes. That is why we are an effective Government.
Q6. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, last week, Britain’s four most senior police officers—the commissioner of the Met and the heads of counter-terrorism, the National Crime Agency and the National Police Chiefs Council—all wrote to the Government saying that the counter-terrorism policing and protective security grant is being cut by 7.2%? Does that not show, contrary to what she just told my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), that her promise to protect police budgets is not being kept? 
No. As I said earlier, we have protected counter-terrorism policing. We have also put money into an uplift in armed policing. The commissioner of the Metropolitan police has made the point that the Metropolitan police are well resourced and has a wide diversity of tools that it can use in countering terrorism. That is the point. It is not just about the funding; it is about ensuring they have the powers they need to deal with the terrorists—that is what we are determined to ensure.
As the Member for Aldershot, the home of the British Army, I was deeply alarmed to hear of the Leader of the Opposition’s reported announcement at the Glastonbury festival that, if in power, he would abandon Trident and utterly undermine the security and safety of our country. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that it is only her Government and the Conservative party that can provide the safety and security that our great country needs?
First, I welcome my hon. Friend to his place in this House. I am sure that he is going to be, as was his predecessor, a fine representative of the people of the Aldershot constituency. I join him in saying that I think people were shocked to hear that the Leader of the Opposition, who appears to support Trident in public, in private said that he wanted to scrap it. Only the Conservative party is clear about retaining our nuclear deterrent. In the case of the Leader of the Opposition, it appears that he says one thing to the many and another thing to the few.
Q7. After he was fairly defeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), this Government have nevertheless seen fit to reward the defeated candidate by giving the unelected Ian Duncan a peerage and a job in the Scotland Office. Instead of this affront to democracy, and in the light of the need for a legislative consent motion at Holyrood, does the Prime Minister not think she should stop treating the Scottish people with contempt, do the right thing and give the Scottish Government a seat at the Brexit negotiations table? 
We have, throughout the time we have had so far on the Brexit issue, been working with and talking to the Scottish Government, and indeed other devolved Administrations, and we will continue to do that. I hope and trust that the nature of the hon. Gentleman’s question means that from now on the Scottish nationalists are going to be focused on issues that matter to Scotland other than independence.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the current crisis in Venezuela, and is it an example of how an experiment in socialist revolution can go horribly wrong?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, and I hope the Leader of the Opposition has heard what he had to say. When we are talking about trade deals in the future, I sometimes think that the Leader of the Opposition and his shadow Chancellor think that the only good trade deals are with Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.
Q8. The brave men and women in our emergency services have consistently put the safety of others first, especially in response to the terrible events we have seen in recent months. We all pay tribute to their professionalism, which is why I believe it is important that we give them all the resources they need to do their vital job. It is outrageous that in Scotland the police and fire services are required to pay VAT, which has cost front-line services £35 million— 
Order. Mr Cleverly, you are usually the embodiment of calm repose and potential statesmanship —take some sort of tablet, man! Mrs Fellows must be heard.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall repeat what I said. It is outrageous that our police and fire services should pay VAT, when that has cost the front-line services £35 million last year alone. Now that the Prime Minister has found the magic money tree, will she extend the VAT exemption to Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and—[Interruption.]
Order. We have got the gist of it.
When the Scottish Government took the decision to merge Scottish police forces into a single force, Police Scotland, they were told that it would lead to VAT being paid by Police Scotland. They were advised that that was the position and they chose to go ahead with the merger.
Today is the festival saint’s day of St Alban, and his pilgrimage was celebrated on Saturday. What more can be done to protect all persons of faith who are being persecuted for their faith, particularly our students on campuses who are suffering large amounts of anti-Semitism?
I am happy to recognise St Alban’s day, as my hon. Friend has. She is absolutely right that this is important. Sometimes we talk a lot about people who are being persecuted for their faith in countries abroad, but actually we need to be very clear that, sadly, we do see people here suffering attacks, particularly anti-Semitic ones, on campuses. The Community Security Trust does a lot of work with students to provide support, and I am happy that the Government are supporting them. We are also supporting Muslim communities that are suffering from Islamophobia. There is no place for such hate in our society, and we must all work to stamp it out.
Q10. The current Prime Minister recently visited my constituency. Upon being asked about the precarious situation facing both Dewsbury and District hospital and Huddersfield royal infirmary, she stated that people were “scare-mongering”. Will she therefore use this opportunity today to reassure my constituents that all services will be retained at both hospitals, including full accident and emergency provision? 
Yes, I was asked about Dewsbury A&E, and I can confirm that it is not closing. The service will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the majority of patients will see no change to their service.
The repeated claim that spending ever increasing amounts of money on overseas aid keeps this country safe has been shown by recent events to be utter nonsense. May I tell the Prime Minister that spending more and more money on overseas aid each year makes us look not compassionate to the public, but idiotic when that money is much needed in the United Kingdom? Will she promise to slash the overseas aid budget and spend it on priorities in the UK? I hope that she does not have a strange political aversion to pursuing any policies that might be popular with the public.
I can assure my hon. Friend that I do not have that aversion, but on this issue I do take a different view. It is important that, given the position that we hold and the fact that our economy is one of the largest in the world, we recognise that we can help those around the world. We are seeing millions of people, particularly girls, being educated as a result of the action that we are taking. That is important. I recognise what my hon. Friend has said: we have suffered from terrible terrorist attacks here in the United Kingdom, and our services have also foiled a number of terrorist attacks in recent months and years. It is important that we are able to use our aid money to help ensure good governance in countries so that we do not see the creation of spaces where the terrorists are able to train and incite others.
Q11. I must thank the Prime Minister and most of the Cabinet for visiting Ealing during the election, because my majority went up by 50 times. Some 53,000 EU nationals reside in the London borough of Ealing, and they would now like some clarity on this “fair and generous” offer, such as how much extra their settled status applications will cost them and why they will not be able to vote in local elections, as they can now. 
I am grateful that the hon. Lady has described this as a fair and generous offer, as indeed it is a fair and generous offer, ensuring that people can stay here in the United Kingdom and that they will have rights here in the United Kingdom just as UK citizens do.
A significant number of charities, including those looking after the most vulnerable disabled people in our society, are in fear of imminent closure due to the application of the national living wage to sleep-in shifts and the fact that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is insisting on six years’ back pay despite the advice changing only last year. Will the Prime Minister ask HMRC to suspend any actions until we can find a workable solution?
My hon. Friend has raised a very important issue, and I know that it is one that he particularly cares about. Of course, it is through the national living wage that we are making sure that pay is fair in all sectors, including in social care. On the specific point he has raised, the Department of Health and other relevant Departments are looking at this issue very carefully, because they want to ensure that enforcement protects low-paid workers in a fair and proportionate manner. We have invested more money in social care—as he will know, there was £2 billion extra in the Budget. We do need to look at this issue on a longer-term basis, but I can assure him that Departments are looking carefully at the specific issues that he has raised.
Q14. Does the Prime Minister think, like her Brexit Secretary, that it will be simple to deliver a free trade deal with the European Union? 
The Brexit Secretary and I have both said over the past few months that a comprehensive trade agreement will be not just possible but easier than for other third countries negotiating trade deals, precisely because at the moment we are operating on the same basis as other countries in the European Union. Therefore, we are not negotiating from the same position as Canada and other countries from outside the European Union. So yes, I think we can achieve that comprehensive free trade agreement, and it will be good for the United Kingdom and good for the European Union.
Does the Prime Minister agree that an Opposition leader who claims to be all things to all men and says one thing to remain voters in London and quite the opposite to leave voters in constituencies such as mine is actually no kind of leader at all? Perhaps that might be why voters in my constituency rejected his leadership in the recent election.
First, I welcome my hon. Friend to his place in this House. I was very pleased to visit his constituency during the election campaign, and he is absolutely right: what people want to know is what the position of the parties is on the question of Brexit. We are very clear that we want to see the country coming together, because we want to deliver on the will of the British people, which was that we should leave the European Union. It is precisely what this Government will do.
Q15. I beg the Prime Minister, at this crucial time in our country’s history, to listen to the many friends that we have in Europe and in the rest of the world who fear that we are sleepwalking zombie-like to a disastrous deal with Europe. They have no confidence in the three Ministers in charge of the deal and believe that our country will be deeply damaged, in terms of both our economy and our role in the world, if we do not get our act together. 
Formal Brexit negotiations have now started. There was a very constructive and positive start to those negotiations, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Commission’s appointed negotiator, Michel Barnier. We have set up three working groups dealing with key issues initially, including citizens’ rights—I am pleased about that—and we have also started a dialogue on the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and that relationship, which is important for Northern Ireland but also for the whole of the United Kingdom. We have set out our objectives. We have published our White Papers. We will be bringing the repeal Bill before this House. We know the plan we have got. The party that does not know what its plan is for Brexit is the hon. Gentleman’s party.
The Prime Minister was crystal clear on Monday that the reciprocal agreements we seek on citizenship should include the people of Gibraltar. On Tuesday, the Spanish Foreign Minister sought yet again to suggest that Spain should have a unilateral veto on that. Will she make it quite clear that this posturing and game-playing is pointless and counterproductive, and that our commitment to Gibraltar is absolute, and perhaps send him a hearing aid?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. This Government’s commitment to Gibraltar has not changed and it will remain.
Suicide rates in Northern Ireland, particularly in my constituency, and issues of severe mental health are some of the worst in Europe, and indeed the developed world, and clinicians and others have pointed to the legacy of 30 years of terrorism and violence and the awful effects of that. Part of the money that we are investing this week will go to mental health care—extra investment in the health service. Is it not time that people recognised that this is delivery for all the people of Northern Ireland, across all sections of the community, and that it is going to help some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in Northern Ireland? People should get behind it and welcome it.
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point on this. It is the case, as we said in the agreement, that we recognise the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, which have arisen as a result of Northern Ireland’s history. As he says, there will be mental health issues that arise as a result of that. It is important that we put more into mental health generally across the United Kingdom, which we are doing; yesterday I visited a school in Bristol to see some of the first training that is taking place of teachers in schools to help them identify mental health issues among young people and deal with those. But as he says, that money is for the good of all people in Northern Ireland, across all communities.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister has had an opportunity to see the British attitudes survey published today, which stated that 75% of British people wanted to leave the EU—up 20% from last time. She will, of course, know that more than 80% of the British electorate voted for parties that want to leave the EU. She will also know from her extensive canvassing—and I know personally from mine—that thousands and thousands of people tell us, “The referendum decided the issue. Just get on and leave the EU.” Will she assure the House that she will make that her priority?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What I have seen across the whole of this country is a real unity of purpose of people. For most people, regardless of how they voted in the referendum, their view is, “The decision has been taken—just deliver it,” and that is what this Government will do.
With 9 million people in our country lonely all or most of the time, and given that loneliness is as bad for someone’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, will the Prime Minister join the hon. Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) and me in encouraging Members across the House to attend the event organised by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness in Speaker’s House immediately after Prime Minister’s questions to find out what we can all do in our communities to tackle this blight in our society?
The hon. Lady has raised a very important matter, and I commend her and my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) for the work that they have both done as co-chairs of the Jo Cox commission. I indeed encourage hon. Members to do exactly as she has said. She has raised an important issue. We all increasingly recognise the impact that loneliness has on health. We have been able to put some support into the dementia-friendly communities programme, and the Cabinet Office is doing more by putting money in grant funds, particularly to help to tap the skills of volunteers over 50, to look at the issue of loneliness. It is an important issue, and hon. Members should recognise that and the work of the Jo Cox commission.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not know whether you have been given notice by the Secretary of State for Health of a debate on the introduction of charges for blue badge holders at Chorley and South Ribble hospital, as well as at Royal Preston hospital. That seems to go against everything that we thought—the most vulnerable in society should not be penalised. Have you had any notice of a debate, Mr Speaker?
I have not, but I have a sense that by one means or another I will hear further about this matter, possibly today, but certainly in subsequent days, very likely on the Floor of the House and possibly also in conversations between colleagues, conceivably outside the Chamber. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman —we will leave it there for now.
Debate on the Address
Debate resumed (Order, 27 June).
Question again proposed,
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Health, Social Care and Security
I inform the House that I have selected amendment (i) in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
I beg to move an amendment, at the end of the Question to add:
“but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech fails to end cuts to the police and the fire service; commend the response of the emergency services to the recent terrorist attacks and to the Grenfell Tower fire; call on the Government to recruit more police officers and fire-fighters; and further call on the Government to end the public sector pay cap and give the emergency and public services a fair pay rise.”.
On occasion, much of what we do and say in the Chamber must seem to ordinary members of the public looking on like something approaching an elaborate game, but the Opposition believe that the amendment goes to the heart of public concerns. We wish to commend the response of the emergency services to the recent terrorist attacks and to the Grenfell Tower fire; we wish to call on the Government to recruit more police officers and firefighters; but above all, we call on the Government to end the public sector pay cap and give emergency and public service workers a fair pay rise. As we have seen in recent months, in times of national and personal crisis, it is to public sector workers that the country looks.
We have all seen and read about the firefighters who ran towards danger, into the blaze in Grenfell Tower to save lives. Some of us wondered whether we could have summoned up that courage. We all know about the national health service workers who came in off shift to save lives and help the victims of the terror attacks at Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park. We know of the gallantry and professionalism of the police and the transport police who responded swiftly to the terror attacks. My mother was a nurse, and I know that the dedication and commitment of our public service workers is above price. It is one thing for hon. Members to praise public service workers for their bravery, heroism and effectiveness at times of national emergency, but we need to treat public service workers fairly every other day of the year. That is what the Opposition think, and increasingly that is what the general public think.
Ministers will be aware that the latest British social attitudes survey revealed that eight in 10 people wanted more cash pumped into the NHS; seven in 10 people wanted more investment in schools; and six in 10 wanted higher spending on the police. I will come on to Ministers’ claims to have protected police budgets later, but the question that Ministers have to answer is: how long will they continue to peddle hard-line austerity? Their targets for closing the deficit are receding ever further, raising the question of whether savage cuts are counterproductive to encouraging growth. How long are Ministers going to pursue austerity when any parent who has a child at school, anybody who uses an accident and emergency department, and anyone who has an elderly relative in need of social care can see for themselves that cuts have consequences, and that there is a human price to pay for Tory austerity?
I have much sympathy with the points that the right hon. Lady is making, and my colleagues and I will support the Labour amendment this evening. However, can she explain why in Wales, which is run by the Labour party, the number of firefighters has been cut by 20%?
It is not for me in this—[Interruption.] I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the funding available to the Administration in Wales has been cut.
In her statement to the House last week, the Home Secretary said:
“We have protected the police budget from 2015.”
She went on to say:
“There has been a lot of scaremongering about changes to the budget, and I repeat here, in the House, that it will be protected.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2017; Vol. 626, c. 199.]
The Opposition are aware of the Government claim that the allowed increase in the council tax precept adds funds that will make good any shortfall, but this is a tax increase to provide funds, not Government protection for the budget. I wonder whom the Home Secretary is accusing of scaremongering. Is it Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, who said in March that policing in England and Wales was in a “potentially perilous state”, as Government cuts lead to investigations being shelved, vulnerable victims being let down and tens of thousands of dangerous suspects at large?
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way so quickly. What she is saying relates particularly to bobbies on the beat. Police are doing excellent work on knife and gun crime, particularly in hotspots; taking away bobbies on the beat has an undermining effect on otherwise excellent police work.
The public fully appreciate that community policing and bobbies on the beat are important, not just in respect of knife and gun crime but in providing the first line of connection and communication with the community when it comes to tackling terrorism.
I was wondering who the Home Secretary was accusing of scaremongering. Was it the president of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, who said that
“There are now 34,000 fewer staff working in policing than there were in 2010, including 19,000 fewer police officers”?
On the right hon. Lady’s theme, has she heard Cressida Dick, the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, talk about the need for more resources and say that the Met is stretched? Has she ever heard a Met Commissioner demanding more resources so publicly?
Government Members can mock, but Londoners are very concerned that within the overall levels of crime, there is rising violent, knife and gun crime. No, I have never heard the Metropolitan police talk so clearly about funding problems.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I need to make some progress.
When the Home Secretary accuses people of scaremongering, she should explain why every stakeholder in policing is saying that there is an increasing problem with Government cuts to policing.
Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey), who just got up to complain about police cuts, is related to the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton who was in the coalition Cabinet that reduced the number of police officers by 20,000?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention, and I ask the House to focus on the information he has brought forward.
After seven years of Tory government, there are 20,000 fewer police staff, 10,000 fewer firefighters and 1,000 fewer Border Force guards. When the Conservatives came to office in 2010, they immediately cut Security Service personnel by 650; now they expect plaudits when they pledge an increase.
All ordinary public sector workers have faced pay freezes and pay caps, which have made them worse off. Between the coalition’s coming into office in 2010 and May this year, inflation has seen prices rise by more than 15%. In reality, whatever figures the Government want to throw around, public sector workers have had effective cuts to their pensions and seen large-scale job losses because of inflation. They have been asked to do more with less.
The Opposition say that asking the security services, and public sector workers generally, to do more with less is unfair, unworkable and counter-productive. It has led to low morale, difficulties in recruitment and retention—particularly in parts of the country where house prices are spiralling—staff shortages and gaps in services. Those public services are among the most important that any civilised society offers. In his remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) will highlight the effect of austerity and Government cuts on our NHS. The cuts in vital services—the police, the fire services, the Border Force and the security services—have been serious, and they come in addition to the cuts that have already forced out more than 20,000 police staff.
I turn to the counter-terrorism strategy. Labour welcomes the considered approach outlined in the Queen’s Speech; too often, the knee-jerk reaction of Governments has been further legislation. We believe that it is right to review what is happening in relation to the evolving terrorist threat and its many and varied sources and purposes, but the terms of the counter-terrorism review are crucial. Labour believes that the following questions must be addressed. Are there sufficient resources and are they properly directed? Are there gaps in the legislation, or is it catch-all and ineffective? What is the role of community policing in gathering intelligence? Sometimes, Ministers seem to think that community policing has no role in combating terrorism, but we believe that it does.
Is there a danger that communities are being alienated by Prevent, although good work is done under the Prevent badge? Should we review Prevent? How can community engagement be increased, and could we immediately take basic precautionary measures, such as installing barriers to cars and trucks? Should terrorism prevention and investigation measures, or TPIMs, be used more frequently, as Max Hill, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, says? If so, should they be subject to better due process?
We believe that some of the answers to these questions are self-evident. If the Government announced today that they were going to introduce more barriers to trucks and large vehicles along some major thoroughfares, we would support them. Advice could be issued immediately to all elected officials not to remove existing barriers, as the Foreign Secretary did when he was Mayor of London. If the Government announced that they were going to halt and reverse the police budget cuts this year, we would support them.
The Government have announced a commission to tackle extremism. We welcome such a commission in principle, although some have suggested that it is being set up because the Government cannot make good on their repeated promises to introduce anti-extremism legislation. We note that there are already laws against incitement, conspiracy and murder. We are told that some perpetrators were known to the authorities.
I was at the Finsbury Park mosque with the Prime Minister, and more than one of the faith leaders raised the importance of a review of the Prevent strategy. In common with many members of the communities involved, we believe that, despite the good work that has happened under Prevent, the strategy needs to be reviewed. It needs not to run the risk of alienating communities; we have to work with all communities. The terror threat confronts us all, and we must all confront it together. If the Government want to discuss with us how we can help engage all communities in the fight against our common threat of terrorism, we will be only too happy to help.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
I have to make progress.
When I was at the Finsbury Park mosque last week, people there would have been concerned that Government Members do not want to take part seriously in a debate of this nature. I note that there was no promise of further legislation on counter-terrorism. Max Hill has said that the security services already have enough powers. The Opposition concur, and it now seems that the majority of the Cabinet also agree.
Resources remain the key issue in fighting terrorism. The Conservatives have constantly sought to portray Labour as not facing up to the challenges posed by terrorism, but in our communities—in the inner cities and in areas such as London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Manchester—we face up to the day-to-day threat of terrorism and disorder. Nobody takes those issues more seriously than Members on this side of the House. We speak for our communities, and for the parents concerned that their children may be drawn into terrorist activity. We seek to offer practical remedies and support, and to support the Government in strategies that do not run counter to our liberties and community support.
Talking tough on terrorism and antisocial behaviour is cheap. Like all decent services in a civilised society, security costs money. Records show that since 2010, the Tories have proved unwilling to spend what is necessary to keep us safe. We need only look at what has happened to police numbers and Border Force officials, the closures of fire stations and the cuts to fire officers. Labour is prepared to spend the money and commit the resources to keep us safe. In closing—
Several hon. Members rose—
Will the right hon. Lady give way? Does she want to have a debate?
Order. At present, the shadow Home Secretary is manifestly not giving way.
I said at the beginning that from some of what we do in this House, it might appear to members of the public looking at us on their television screens or reading the newspaper that some Members of this House see this as a game. Labour is fully aware of the fear and horror with which the public regard recent terrorist outrages and the fire in Grenfell Tower. We are talking about practical measures, real community involvement and, above all, the resources to keep our communities safe.
I agree with one thing that the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said—that the response from the emergency services to the series of attacks and the tragedy at Grenfell Tower has been truly heroic. The brave men and women of our emergency services were able to suppress their own emotions of fear and anger. As she said, they rushed in to save lives, putting their own thoughts on hold for a while. I had the privilege of meeting the numerous police officers, firefighters and paramedics who were first on the scene in Manchester following the arena bomb, and in London after the Westminster and London Bridge attacks. It is because of their bravery that there are people alive today who might otherwise have perished. The same is true of the Grenfell Tower fire. Lives were saved because of the skills and sacrifice of the brave men and women of our emergency services. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude and we stand behind them.
Nobody thinks of this as a game. We want to engage and debate with the Opposition because there are important subjects to be discussed. We are all serious about what has happened, what could happen in the future and what steps we need to take.
The shadow Home Secretary raised her concerns about cuts to the fire service. Let me remind the House of some facts. The fire crew at Grenfell Tower was on the scene within six minutes, and more than 200 firefighters responded. Can she really suggest that numbers were inexcusably low? We should also remember that the number of fire incidents has halved in the past decade, but the number of firefighters has fallen by less than 20%. They do an incredibly good job.
The Government do not recruit fire or police staff; chief officers do. It is up to each fire and rescue authority to manage their resources, and to decide who to recruit and when. In fact, some fire and rescue services are reporting an increase in the recruitment of full-time firefighters. Public safety is an absolute priority for the Government. Under my watch, fire and rescue services and the police will continue to have the resources they need to do their important work.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will give way in a moment. I just want to address the clear points that the right hon. Lady made about resources.
Let us talk about the police. Since 2015, we have protected the police budget in cash terms. In order to maintain that, it is correct that chief officers have to maximise their access through the precept. To be able to say that we protect it in real terms, I have to draw attention to the police transformation fund. One of the differences between the Conservatives and Labour is that we know that we have to focus on outcomes. That means continuing the business of police reform and continuing to fund it through the police transformation fund. We are most concerned with outcomes—on how to get the best results for victims and communities.
The Secretary of State is of course right to talk about police reform, which is extremely important, but it misrepresents the Labour party to say that we are not interested in police reform. We introduced police community support officers when we were in government, and there was a constant period of reform then. The real point is that the Conservative party have cut budgets not since 2015, but since 2010. There has been a massive cut to the police budget, which is affecting my constituents in Wrexham.
I am delighted to have the hon. Gentleman’s support on police reform, which will continue. He is right that there were cuts between 2010 and 2015 but, as always, we must look at the outcomes. Crime fell by a third during that period.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, the head of counter-terrorism, the head of the National Crime Agency and the chair of the National Police Chiefs Council have written to her saying that the counter-terrorism, policing and protective security grant will fall by 7.2% in cash terms over the next two years?
I have received that letter and I will be speaking to all the individual leaders of those groups. The issue to which they are drawing attention is that they are under tremendous strain because of the events of the past three months. Additional resources are being deployed in order to work on the ongoing investigations into some of the terror events, including the investigation in Manchester. We recognise that and will work with them to see how we can support them.
The Secretary of State mentioned that there were 20% cuts to fire services across the country. On Merseyside, the figure is much higher. Since 2011, we have lost nearly 300 firefighters —that is a loss of 31%—and a third of fire engines. Both of the only two fire stations in my constituency are closing, which will make the situation less safe for my constituents. Will she look again at the funding for Merseyside fire and rescue service as a matter of urgency?
I would ask the hon. Lady: what are the outcomes in her constituency? What is the level of incidents of fire in her constituency? What work are those bodies doing? I would ask her to first look at the outcomes before coming back for more resources.
My right hon. Friend is presumably not wholly taken in by the shadow Home Secretary posturing as a defender of people’s safety, when, in 1989, she—now famously—signed an early-day motion calling for the scrapping of MI5 and the Metropolitan police’s special branch.
My right hon. Friend raises such an important point. It is a sad truth that those on the Opposition Front Bench—not those on the Back Benches, but sometimes those on the Front Bench—have such a poor record on supporting the people who do such great work to keep us safe.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will make some progress first, and then I will come back to some interventions.
The Gracious Speech is about building on the Government’s strong economic record so that we can continue to invest in our priorities, such as the NHS and national security. Conservative Members know that it is only with a strong economy that we can fund our NHS, protect our elderly and back Britain’s defences.
The Gracious Speech we heard last Wednesday set out the Government’s legislative agenda for the next two years. It is a programme that will build on our strong record of achievement under the last Government. Crime has fallen by a third since 2010. Legal highs have been banned. More than 900 bogus colleges have been closed. Police and intelligence agencies have been given more powers and tools to keep the public safe. We have an ambitious programme of police reform, on which I am delighted to hear we may continue to get support from the Opposition. Some £100 million of funding has been provided to tackle violence against women and girls.
We have a proud record on the NHS. NHS spending has been protected. We have more doctors, more nurses, more midwives and more GPs. Last year, the NHS treated more people than ever before. Now we will build on the foundations we have laid, working even harder to create a Britain that works for everyone. Above all else, this is a Government committed to keeping families, communities and our country safe.
I, like the Home Secretary, want to hear about outcomes. Recently, the west midlands chief constable said that one of the outcomes for police there was that, as police officers are pulled away on to anti-terror alerts and more high-alert policing, call-outs on other crimes have to be downgraded. One of the things that was downgraded—this is the outcome of there not being enough police in the west midlands—was call-outs on domestic violence.
The past three months have seen an extraordinary series of attacks, which have put pressure on our police. They have dealt incredibly well with that by having mutual aid coming from different areas to support them. We recognise that there has been a particular surge, but I do not think the hon. Lady’s point—that we need to operate as though there were this level of attacks every three months—holds water. However, I will be engaging with chief police officers to find out whether they have the support we expect them to have, despite the additional work they need to do.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am going to make some progress, and then I will come back to some more interventions.
In the last Parliament, we announced a 30% increase over five years in Government spending on counter-terrorism, increasing spending from £11.7 billion to £15.1 billion. We introduced measures to disrupt the travel of foreign fighters. We passed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which gives the police and intelligence agencies more of the powers and tools they need to keep people safe and secure.
Further to my right hon. Friend’s answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), does it not increase pressures on the police when there are calls for days of rage and other activities on the streets that pull the police into London and take away resources from areas such as mine in Hertfordshire that have to provide mutual aid?
That is a very good point from my hon. Friend. We need to make sure that, at a time when such terrible national events are taking place, everybody gives out the message that we should support our police by having fewer protests of that type.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am going to make some more progress.
We also legislated in the previous Parliament to strengthen our response to terrorist financing with the Criminal Finances Act 2017. We have protected overall police funding in real terms since 2015, and we have funded an uplift in the number of armed police officers.
Last Friday, I and a group of MPs from the west midlands met the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, and they told us that funding for the police in the west midlands has been cut by £145 million, or 27%. That has resulted in the number of officers being reduced by 2,164, which is a quarter, and the number of PCSOs being reduced by half. It has also resulted in the closure of Dudley’s police station. Will the Home Secretary allow me and a group of my colleagues to come to talk to her about the terrible level of cuts her Government have imposed on west midlands police?
The hon. Gentleman puts it so kindly—I am so keen to have a talk on that topic. I assume that the figures he is looking at are from 2010; I have been referring to the figures from 2015, which have been protected in cash terms and in real terms. I would welcome a visit from him—perhaps to my police Minister—so that we can go through the figures and reconcile his thoughts with mine. [Interruption.] I do not think we are going to do that across the House right now.
The Home Secretary has just indicated that there is an uplift in the number of armed police officers. Does she recall that, the day I left office as police Minister in 2010, we had 7,000 armed police on the streets of Britain? We now have 5,500—a 20% drop. Will she reflect on the statement she has just made and correct it for the House?
I am afraid I do not particularly recall the day when the right hon. Gentleman stepped down, but I stand by what I said, which is that we are funding a significant uplift in the number of armed police. These officers are trained at a different level to those he oversaw as police Minister; they are much more effectively trained, to the high level required for counter-terrorism.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the way we now operate police officers means that the old days of a police officer being an accredited firearms officer have completely changed? Now we effectively have squads of crack officers, who are properly trained in all aspects of serious policing, and who, frankly, do a far better job than we have seen for many a long year.
My right hon. Friend is exactly right.
In addition to those armed police officers, we are in the process of recruiting security staff—
Will the Home Secretary give way?
I am going to make some more progress.
We are recruiting over 1,900 additional security and intelligence staff. To combat terrorism, we also work with technology companies to tackle terrorist and extremist use of their platforms. The UK has been leading in driving a global response on this subject. This week, leading communications service providers announced the formation of an industry-led global forum to counter terrorism, which they committed to following a meeting I had with them in March.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the perfect utopian society—as Sir Thomas More would have it—we would have no police at all, so it is clearly not about numbers and vast amounts of cash, but effectiveness?
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House and thank him for his comments about wanting a much more peaceful world—I think that is something we can all endorse.
I have been listening with great interest to the Secretary of State, and she will surely welcome the private Member’s Bill being introduced by my colleague Lord Wigley in the other place, which calls for an independent resource audit for Welsh and English police forces. Will she look at that Bill and offer Government support?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to it, and I will certainly take a look at it.
Will the Home Secretary give way?
I am going to make some progress, but I look forward to coming back to the right hon. Gentleman.
In terms of what else we are doing to combat terrorism, earlier this month the Prime Minister and President Macron announced a joint action plan, which included measures to tackle terrorist use of the internet. We have Prevent, which the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington referred to, and I repeat my invitation to her to come and visit some of the Prevent initiatives. If people see them for themselves, they will find they do a really positive job in engaging with communities. In addition, the Channel programme, which offers voluntary tailored programmes of support to people assessed as being at risk of radicalisation, has supported over 1,000 at-risk individuals since 2012.
However, as we have, sadly, seen with the recent attacks at Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park, the country faces an escalating threat from terrorism—36 innocent people dead, 150 hospitalised, families torn apart, and communities left grieving. The Government must do everything in their power to defeat the scourge of terrorism.
Where we can learn more and improve, we will. That is why, as set out in the Gracious Speech, our counter-terrorism strategy will be reviewed. We will look at our whole counter-terrorism approach across Government, police, local authorities and the security services to ensure that they have what they need to protect our country.
If the review finds that further legislation is needed, the House can be assured that we will put this before Parliament. As I announced last week, there will also be a separate review of the handling of recent terror attacks to look at whether lessons can be learned about our approach to these events. This review will be conducted by the police and MI5, and I have asked David Anderson, the former independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, to provide independent scrutiny.
Will the Home Secretary give way?
I am going to continue for a while.
We will establish a new commission for countering extremism to support the Government in eradicating extremist ideology in all its forms. Britain is a wonderfully diverse, inclusive and open country that many people proudly call home. Time and again, we have seen our communities come together, demonstrating unwavering acts of kindness, compassion and support for one another, but it is no secret that there are those in Britain who do not share our values—who do not share our compassionate outlook, and despise our way of life and wish to do us harm. That is what we saw in Finsbury Park, Westminster, London Bridge and Manchester. Extremism cannot just be ignored, and neither can it be wished or explained away. Extremists need to be confronted, and the narratives they use to weaponise people and breed this horrific violence need to be called out and taken head on, not afforded accommodation.
Does the Home Secretary accept that talk of Islamic extremism, in particular, is in danger of being misinterpreted as meaning “too much Islam” when in fact, of course, “Islam” is the Arabic word for peace; that the problem is those who pervert, distort and blaspheme in the name of Islam; and that the true Islam was shown by Imam Mohammed, who stood in front of the killer and said that life is sacred? Does she not want to pursue a route that says that the Islamic community should work with us to target those who would distort Islam and correct their interpretation, rather than talk about Islamic extremism, the danger of which is making out that Islam is the problem?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. We all need to choose our words carefully, but we also need to call out what we believe this is. We should talk about radical extremist ideology, whether it is Islamic or far right, but we need to make sure that we are clear that we are equally hostile to both, and will take action where either is doing damage to society.
Following up what the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) said about the use of terminology, does the Home Secretary accept that there is a valuable store of experience from the past in the way agencies tackled the doctrines of fascism and Nazism, and subsequently of Marxism-Leninism, and that questions such as the use of vocabulary mean that we need a specialist agency to co-ordinate this effort in the future as we did successfully in those past instances?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his contribution. This may be something that the new commission for counter-extremism will want to look at.
Since 2015, we have had a Government-wide counter-extremism strategy, the first of its kind. At the heart of the strategy is a partnership with communities to make sure that we build on British values. We have published a hate crime action plan and funded additional security measures at more than 50 places of worship. We are also supporting 53 civil society groups that are confronting extremism in their communities.
However, defeating the evil ideology of extremism is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and there is more that we must be able to do. That is why we will have the new commission, which will support the Government to identify and eradicate extremist ideology in all its forms. Across society and online, we will work with communities, and public sector and civil society groups, to promote and defend our pluralistic values of democracy, freedom of belief and expression, the rule of law, mutual respect, and opportunity for all. The commission will advise the Government on what new powers might be needed to tackle the evolving threat. Work is under way on the design of the commission, and we will set out our plans in due course.
Turning to the future immigration system, the Gracious Speech included an immigration Bill that will allow the Government to end the EU’s rules on free movement of EU nationals in the UK, ensuring that we have the flexibility to create a fair and controlled immigration system. It will give us control over the numbers of people who come to the UK from the EU while welcoming those with the skills and expertise to make our nation better. What these rules look like will depend on the needs of the UK, and we are considering all the options of our future system very carefully. It is imperative that we understand what the impact could be on different sectors of the economy and the labour market, and that we make sure that businesses and communities have an opportunity to contribute their views on any future system. As now, new immigration rules will be subject to scrutiny by Parliament.
An issue that has been vexing many of my EU constituents who have been here for many years is whether the Government will admit that such people now face an income threshold if they wish to bring a family member here to the UK. Many of them who are on low incomes—for example, nurses who are in band 5 and on below £22,000—will not be able to bring a family member here. Will the Home Secretary confirm that, and is she going to investigate what impact it will have on public services?
The Prime Minister made her statement about the EU nationals earlier this week. I urge the hon. Lady to reassure her constituents who fall into that cohort that they maintain these rights until at least when we leave the EU in 2019, and then after that they will have two years in which to apply. I cannot give her any more detail than that in terms of the other rights, elements of which are subject to the discussions with the EU at the moment. However, I would say to her, and to other Members here, that the Prime Minister was absolutely clear that those 3.2 million or 3.4 million people are going to be allowed to stay. We are yet to have additional discussions with the EU about elements of these rights. I hope that Members here will take that message back to any concerned EU citizens in their constituencies.
Will the Home Secretary clarify whether it is her intention that after Brexit a different set of rules will apply to EU nationals and nationals from outside the EU who are visiting the United Kingdom?
Those discussions have not yet concluded. We have said that people will have this special right depending on from when we negotiate the cut-off date—whether it is when article 50 was invoked or when we actually leave the EU—but there will be existing rights in place for all those who can accumulate the five years and those who can, depending on when the cut-off date is, add to them because they arrived before that.
Will the Home Secretary give way?
Not now, I am afraid. I am going to carry on because I want to cover some of the other Bills that are going to be introduced in the next two years.
We will also bring forward a domestic violence and abuse Bill. It is truly chilling that, every day, women and girls across the UK are being subjected to the most horrific abuse in their own homes. I am incredibly proud of the work that the Conservative Government have done to support victims, bring perpetrators to justice, and prevent those vicious crimes from ever taking place. In the previous Parliament, we published our strategy to end violence against women and girls. We made it clear that everyone needs to play their part—friends, family, employers, health providers, and the police—and to support this we pledged £100 million of funding. We also brought in domestic violence protection orders and the domestic violence disclosure scheme, and introduced a specific offence of controlling or coercive behaviour.
Our focus on this terrible crime has contributed to improvements for women, but the number of people experiencing domestic abuse is still far too high. Despite record numbers of prosecutions and convictions, there are 2 million victims of domestic abuse every year in England and Wales, and that is 2 million too many. All too often, domestic abuse is not properly understood, recognised or dealt with, and that can leave a devastating impact. Our landmark domestic violence and abuse Bill is one part of our programme of work aimed at addressing this insidious crime.
Of course the Bill is very welcome, but what can the Home Secretary say to reassure those who fear that the definition that is now going to be produced might not be strong enough to capture the level of emotional and financial abuse that terrorises too many women in the UK today?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has done a lot of work in this area. I reassure him and stakeholders who are, I hope, interested in what we are trying to do that we will be consulting widely to make sure that we get the Bill right, so that it delivers the strength of purpose he refers to. The fact that it will create a legal definition of domestic abuse to help to ensure that it is properly understood means that we will not have the same situation of isolated pieces of domestic violence not being added up into a pattern of a really grotesque form of domestic violence that some women have been subjected to.
The Bill will also create a new domestic abuse prevention and protection order regime. A new order to specifically tackle domestic abuse will lead to better protection and better prosecutions. It will ensure that if abusive behaviour involves a child, the court can hand down a sentence that reflects the devastating and lifelong impact that abuse can have. In addition, it will establish a domestic violence and abuse commissioner, who will stand up for victims and survivors, raising public awareness and holding local authorities to account.
Will the Home Secretary also include in the commissioner’s remit the ability to look at those victims of domestic violence who are subsequently subject to a new form of abuse, namely being constantly returned to court by ex-partners demanding extra access to the children? That is a way to intimidate, bully and impoverish many of those who have the children in their care.
Absolutely. That is exactly the sort of issue that I would expect us to look at in the domestic violence Bill, to make sure that that sort of abuse does not take place. We want to be a society where domestic abuse is not tolerated, victims feel safe and supported and perpetrators are punished, and we look out for situations such as that raised by the hon. Lady. Victims deserve the best treatment and justice, and we will make sure that they get it. I very much hope that the Opposition will support the Bill.
Turning to health, as the Government continue to strengthen the economy, we can continue to invest in the NHS, supporting that public service on which we all depend. As we set out in our manifesto, we will increase health spending by a minimum of £8 billion a year in real terms by the end of this Parliament. We know, however, that wellbeing is about being strong not just in body, but in mind. This Government recognise that mental health should be given equal priority to physical health. That is why we will consider reform of mental health legislation and ensure that mental health is prioritised in the NHS. We will look at the Mental Health Act 1983 to make sure that the law is working for those who need support, and we will also publish a Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health, to make sure that best practice is being applied and there is sufficient access to support.
In 10 years’ time there will be 2 million more people over the age of 75. It is essential that they are able to live well and get the care that they need. The Government have already invested an additional £2 billion in social care to relieve pressure, but more needs to be done. That is why the Government are committed to listening to people’s views about how to reform the system. Full plans will be consulted on in due course.
This is a Government with purpose, determined to deliver the best Brexit deal to secure a strong future as we leave the EU.
My right hon. Friend will know that there is much concern on both sides of the House about the situation pertaining to women who live in Northern Ireland who seek terminations. They cannot get them in Northern Ireland—it is a devolved matter—and come over to England for them, but find themselves being charged by the NHS. While that is being resolved, will she give an undertaking that access to terminations will not be in any way affected and that women can still come here from Northern Ireland to get them?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are absolutely committed to healthcare for women, and that includes access to terminations.
We are a Government with purpose.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak on health at the end of this debate.
We are determined to deliver the best Brexit deal to secure our future as we leave the EU. We are determined to enhance our standing in the world and bring our United Kingdom closer together, and intent on building a stronger economy and a fairer society, taking action to keep families, communities and our country safe.
I am not going to give way further. The hon. Lady will have a chance to make her own remarks later.
We will be challenging extremism, protecting the vulnerable, giving mental health the attention it deserves and improving social care for the long term, putting ourselves at the service of millions of ordinary working people for whom we will work every day in the national interest, setting out a programme for a Britain that works for everyone.
I rise to address matters arising from the Gracious Speech pertaining to security. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) will address health matters later.
I will speak to the Scottish National party’s amendment (h), which urges the Government to exempt Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service from VAT without further delay. In addition, the Scottish National party will support the Labour party’s amendment (i). The SNP has consistently opposed the Conservative party’s austerity agenda, and the manifesto on which we won the general election in Scotland indicated that, in these times, the pay cap is no longer sustainable and that we would look at it very closely. I am very happy to lend our support to the shadow Home Secretary. On police and fire service cuts, I am very happy to say that the Scottish Government have not imposed the cuts seen south of the border. I will come to that later.
I want to look in particular at the proposals for a counter-extremism commission; the proposals to review whether the police and security services have all the powers they need; and concerns that I and my party hold about the scope of the repeal Bill, particularly for justice and home affairs issues.
I also want to address the potential impact of Brexit on our security arrangements. The European Union enables European nations to come together not just for the common economic and social good, but to tackle crime and terrorism in the interests of all citizens across Europe. Last year Rob Wainwright, the current, British director of Europol, said that in the event of Britain leaving the European Union it would be very difficult to negotiate security pacts from outside the Europol bloc. He said that trying to do so would be a “damage limitation exercise”. We have yet to hear any detail about how the Government propose to address that problem. We need to look at it closely.
The Scottish National party has already welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent change in tone and rhetoric following the attack at Finsbury Park. We were very pleased to hear her equate all forms of extremism. We hope that that signals the beginning of a Government approach that will not single out any particular group in our community for counter-extremism or terrorism measures. We believe that measures to counter extremism are very important, but they must not be allowed to create division among our many diverse communities across the UK.
We continue to be very concerned that, despite the Government’s failed attempts to introduce a counter-extremism Bill in the previous Parliament, they have yet to offer any legally sustainable definition of extremism or British values. We are concerned, as I have said previously, that the new plan in the Gracious Speech to establish a commission to look at those matters risks bypassing parliamentary scrutiny and the need for legal certainty on the nebulous terms of “extremism” and “British values”. I was therefore pleased to hear the Home Secretary say in response to a question I asked last week that any commission recommendations will be fully scrutinised by this Parliament.
We have already heard about the Prevent strategy, which has been controversial, and concerns have repeatedly been raised about its implementation. May I respectfully suggest that the UK Government look at how we have implemented the Prevent strategy in Scotland as a model of how things might be improved? Although counter-terrorism is of course a reserved issue, the implementation of policies to counter extremism is the responsibility of the devolved institutions. In Scotland we have worked very hard to recognise that we have diverse communities and that they must all be allies in ensuring that all our citizens are safe. The delivery of Prevent in Scotland has benefited from positive relationships fostered with all communities in Scotland through years of regular engagement. We recognise that the way in which people are becoming radicalised is constantly evolving and changing. We must therefore remain vigilant and refresh our approach accordingly, but we must also continue to work with our communities, rather than against them, in making sure that terrorist messages will not resonate.
I now turn to the question of whether the police and security services have all the powers they need. The SNP believes that they do have sufficient powers at their disposal and that the real issue that the Government should be looking at is whether the police and security services have sufficient resources to fight terrorism. I am fortified in that view by the quote from Max Hill QC, the official reviewer of terrorism, that has already been referred to today:
“My view coming into the scrutiny which we are told the Prime Minister wants to conduct is that we do have the appropriate laws in place, and that essentially the police and security services, and those whose job it is to keep us safe, do have the powers at their disposal.”
It is already a crime to incite violence. People suspected of terrorist activity can be stopped and searched. People who aid terrorists are imprisoned and those convicted of plotting an attack can be locked up for life—so we have the powers.
During the passage of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 in the last Parliament the Scottish National party repeatedly urged the Government to concentrate resources on robust, targeted surveillance of suspects rather than subjecting the whole population to blanket, suspicionless surveillance. During the election campaign, and after the terrible terrorist atrocities in London and Manchester, the Prime Minister rightly faced difficult questions about the resources she is putting into targeted surveillance. She was Home Secretary for seven years and it is clear that her influence still holds sway at the Home Office—for example, in relation to the unrealistic and unobtainable immigration targets that continue to be set. The Prime Minister must face up to her responsibility for cuts to police budgets and police numbers in England, which have been dictated by her party’s narrow austerity agenda. That is why I am happy that the SNP will support Labour’s amendment.
It does not have to be this way. In Scotland, the Scottish Government have increased police numbers and in particular invested in increasing the number of trained police armed responders, while still balancing our budget. We have been able to do that despite the UK Government’s repeated refusal to remove the burden of VAT from Police Scotland. Police Scotland is the only territorial police authority in the UK unable to recover VAT. My Scottish Government colleagues and I have repeatedly raised this issue with the UK Government. I wrote to the Minister about the issue earlier this year. The SNP has tabled an amendment to the Loyal Address calling on the Government to rectify that anomaly, and today we again call on them to do so. They have recently rectified the anomaly for several other national bodies: it is now time to do it for Police Scotland.
Notwithstanding the Tory Government’s failure to rectify that anomaly, the contrast between Scotland and the UK in policing terms could not be starker: 20,000 police officers have been lost in England, but in Scotland we have maintained 1,000 more than the number we inherited when the SNP came into government in 2007. We have also taken steps to increase the number of police officers who are trained to carry firearms. In the days following the Manchester attack, Police Scotland was able to provide the heightened level of police cover, including armed policing, without having to call on the resources of the military.
We have also protected the police resource budget in Scotland, but in England the Home Office has cut the amount it spends on policing by 20% since 2011. It is time for the Conservatives to stop diverting attention from their under-resourcing of the police and emergency services and to follow the Scottish Government’s lead in giving them the resources they need.
I have already said that international co-operation is essential to keep Scotland and the rest of the UK safe from the threats of organised crime, cybercrime and terrorism. In this Parliament, SNP Members will call for continued co-operation across Europe and we will oppose any moves that would seek to use security co-operation as a bargaining chip in Brexit or trade negotiations with our European friends and neighbours. It is too important for that.
The Gracious Speech promised a new law on the protection of personal data, but we will not be able to continue to co-operate with our EU colleagues unless we abide by EU data protection and privacy protection law. In practice, there will be limits to how closely the UK and the EU27 can work together if the UK is no longer accountable or subject to the oversight and adjudication of supranational institutions, such as—most importantly—the European Court of Justice. We saw at the end of last year that the Court took a dim view of the provisions for data collection and retention in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, as many of us warned would happen when we considered the Act. If the UK does not comply with EU law on data sharing and privacy protection, our former partners will not be able to share information with us under the laws by which they are bound. That would be a disaster for security co-operation and for business, universities and research.
I am concerned that the Gracious Speech does not mention any specific legislation on the many changes to justice and home affairs, even though the Government have confirmed that the repeal Bill will include powers to allow for changes resulting from the negotiations to leave the EU. It is vital that Ministers and civil servants are not handed vast powers to change our legal landscape without proper parliamentary scrutiny, particularly in relation to security matters. Legislative consent motions must also be sought for justice and home affairs matters, and I am delighted that the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Secretary of State for Scotland have all acknowledged that legislative consent will be sought for the repeal Bill.
Finally I turn briefly to the issue of human rights protections. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister spoke of ripping up human rights to fight terrorism. I suspect the attack on human rights was an attempt to distract from her own security failings and the impact of policing cuts in England. So I renew my request to the Home Secretary to confirm that nothing in the Human Rights Act or the European convention on human rights would prevent a robust approach to terrorism. Will she therefore confirm that there are no plans to “tear up” human rights to tackle terrorism? I would remind her that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said:
“Effective counter-terrorism measures and the protection of human rights are complementary and mutually reinforcing objectives which must be pursued together as part of States’ duty to protect individuals within their jurisdiction.”
Terrorism is a fundamental attack on our way of life and of course we must respond robustly and appropriately but it is at such times that human rights must be protected and cherished, not attacked and undermined. With the announcement by the CPS today on Hillsborough, we see the prospect of justice being achieved after many years as a result of the Human Rights Act guaranteeing a proper inquiry into that disaster. If we ripped up human rights, we would undermine the traditions that we all share across the House and play into the terrorists’ plans to undermine our democracy and the rule of law.
I want to start by extending on behalf of all my constituents our most profound sympathy to the victims, and their families, of the horrific events that have recently taken place in Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury, and the appalling Grenfell Tower fire. I think the whole nation was greatly taken by the Queen’s response after the fire that she was
“profoundly struck by the immediate inclination of people throughout the country to offer comfort and support to those in desperate need.”
It is incumbent on us all to measure our language as we deal with these events, and I wish to place on record my deep shock at the words that the shadow Chancellor has recently used—that the fire at Grenfell Tower amounted to murder. That is an inexpressibly appalling thing to say. In a civilised society, there can be no room for such talk. It is not normal, it is not politics as usual, it is disgraceful and it is intolerable. All of us in public life have a duty to measure with care what we say in an era of brutal untruths, and to try to retain the language of reason and proportion.
The Queen’s Speech is a moment for the Government to set out their programme and for the rest of the country to regain its sense of balance. I want, as do my constituents, to see the Government exercise resolution, prudence, integrity and humility at a very difficult time in our affairs. I also want the Government to exercise what Field Marshal Lord Montgomery rightly called “grip”, and to govern effectively and with vigour, determination and energy. I place on record that I think our Prime Minister has all those qualities in abundance and I strongly commend and support her. If the Government manage to do that, my constituents, to whom I am yet again most grateful for their confidence, will be content.
Quite apart from the immense complexities, difficulties and grave uncertainties of the Brexit negotiations, this country has more than its fair share of major issues with which the Government must deal. What is it in our system that seems to mean we cannot arrive at a sane national plan—unlike Denmark, the Netherlands or Japan—that deals efficiently, humanely and decently with care for the elderly in all its complexity? I say to the Government, “Just get on and do it. Work across all the parties, and with all the considerable expertise in this country, to get this done.” Incidentally, I worry very much about the denigration of expertise at all levels when a deeply complicated world demands it more than ever.
There are many issues that can no longer be shirked: reform of care for the elderly; housing policy; prison reform, including the training of prison officers to enable them to do their very difficult job better; skills shortages; and nursing and leadership in the NHS. The Government must exercise their will to see that they are dealt with. The Gracious Speech sets out a good way ahead: promote fairness and transparency in the housing market; tackle unfair practice in the energy market; secure good, properly funded schools, which is a very important issue in Mid Sussex; secure high-wage jobs for the skilled; and get an increasing living wage for those in work. I think our constituents expect us to see to it that that is all done, along with an unrelenting effort for the continued building of a strong economy in the safe hands of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and, more obviously, a return to the Conservative facts of life of enterprise, aspiration, opportunity, wealth creation, sound money, good defence and, above all, the really effective running of our public services.
In my 34 years in this House, I do not think I have ever seen a way ahead that is more complex or difficult for our country, in particular the ongoing, desperately worrying low level of basic educational achievement in too many parts of the country; a separate lack of skills; low wages for too many; geographical economic and wealth inequality; intergenerational inequality; and what I am afraid to say is a very naive approach indeed to international trade relations. Leaving the single market will obviously restrict us from accessing the world’s most skilled peoples. Unless a good way is found to resolve that, it will further negatively influence our productivity. That is relevant to many of our industries, and of course to our universities, which are widely regarded as some of the very best in the world. My views on immigration are well known, but I have to say that in my judgment, persisting with the inclusion of students in the immigration targets makes no economic sense whatever. Surely it is absolute madness to have halved our student intake from dynamic India to the benefit of America and Germany. Whatever happens with Brexit, we should be wanting to attract even more of those talented young people to our country. This is all of a piece with the need for Britain to retain a global view of the world.
Britain seriously lacks key skills. There is a grave shortage of graduates in engineering and science, which is made all the more acute by the clampdown on immigration. I have to tell my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that that is already dissuading important young talent from coming to these shores, as any employer of PhDs will confirm. I have a suggestion in this regard: the Government should scrap tuition fees for the core STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths, all of which are critical for our survival as our transition from the industrial to the digital world goes on apace, a fact that hardly seems to have appeared on the Government’s radar.
Finally, may I make a respectful suggestion to the House and to the Government? I think pretty much all of us in this House are deeply concerned about the question of trust in public life. The Government have some very difficult tasks ahead of them. They need to remember that competence generates trust and respect. I want that to be their aim: to secure competent and effective government, and thus the trust of the people who did and did not elect us.
It is good to follow the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who always makes a thought-provoking speech. I join the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary in paying tribute to our police force and emergency services, who have dealt with so many difficult incidents in the past few weeks, and in expressing sympathy with the victims of both the terror attacks and the Grenfell fire.
The Queen’s Speech suggests that the Government are carrying on as if, in the words of the Prime Minister, “nothing has changed, nothing has changed.” In fact, very much has changed. The Prime Minister called the election wanting a landslide. Instead, she has a hung Parliament. That means that this hung Parliament has to work differently, and that the Queen’s Speech has to respond differently too. Many Members wish to speak in the debate today, so I will keep my remarks short and concentrate on two areas where the Government need to change course as a result of the hung Parliament delivered to us by the electorate: public services and the approach to the Brexit negotiations.
This week, the Government recognised the importance of investing more in public services in Northern Ireland. They have rightly supported additional investment in schools and hospitals in Belfast, but what about those in Birmingham, Bristol and many other parts of the country? I support the Democratic Unionist party’s request for more investment to stop school cuts in Portadown, but I want to stop the school cuts in Pontefract as well. The DUP is right to request more support for jobs in County Down but what about in Castleford and in other places across the rest of the country?
The Government cannot say to parents, patients and people who need the support of police officers right across the country that, as a result of this hung Parliament, they cannot have more support for their public services—that they will have to face further cuts to their public services, with teachers lost from our schools and services squeezed from our national health service—but those in Northern Ireland can have additional funding. They cannot say to Mark Rowley, Cressida Dick and the other police chiefs doing such a magnificent job in difficult circumstances despite being overstretched that the Government can somehow find £1 billion to support Northern Ireland and to support those in the Government keeping their own jobs, but they cannot provide the additional resources the police and emergency services need to support their jobs at this difficult time.
That is why the Government have to rethink. It would be easy to rethink the police cuts and to decide not to go ahead with the cuts to capital gains tax that the Chancellor has pledged. It would be easy to cancel those cuts and put the investment into additional police officers on our streets. It would be easy for the Government to recognise that if we care about recruitment and retention in our public services—in particular in our national health service, which in many parts of the country is struggling to recruit the nurses and doctors it needs—then continuing with the public sector pay cap will make it harder and harder for our NHS and all our public services to get the talented staff they need. In the end, that will cost all of us, including the Government, more in the long run.
The second area in which the Government need to change course is their approach to the Brexit negotiations. Britain voted for Brexit in the referendum and Parliament has voted to trigger article 50, but the Prime Minister did not win the free hand that she wanted for the Brexit negotiations. She asked for it, but voters said no. That means that the Government need to change their approach to the Brexit negotiations. If we are to get a deal that is not only the best for our country but is also sustainable—one that does not unravel in a year or two years’ time and does not end up undermined because there is so much disagreement, not just in this House but across the country—then there must be an effort to build a consensus around that deal as well, not just to get agreement in Europe but to build that consensus across Britain.
That is why I urge the Government not to keep pursuing the negotiations through a narrow cabal but instead to open up the process—to set up a cross-party commission to hold the Brexit negotiations or to find other ways to include more voices and more transparency, and to strengthen the powers of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, so that this House can properly have its say as well. I know that that means difficult ways of working and will be a challenge to those on both Front Benches, but they, and the whole House and the whole country, will benefit if we find a different way to do this.
The right hon. Lady is making a powerful and persuasive speech as usual. I agree with what she has just said. Would she extend that to giving the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government a place and a say in the negotiations to leave the EU?
I certainly think that the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government, and Northern Ireland too, need to be involved in this commission and this process, because it has got to work for the whole of the United Kingdom. I think that is possible, but only if all parts of the House and those on both Front Benches behave in a different way and recognise the responsibility that has been placed on us by the hung Parliament that we have been given. That means, too, that the great repeal Bill that the Government want to put forward can no longer be a Bill that simply accrues powers to the Government through Henry VIII powers, because in a hung Parliament the legislature simply cannot hand over huge power to the Executive. The legislature itself must be involved in those decisions, step by step along the way.
The right hon. Member for Mid Sussex was right when he said that the course before us is more complex than anything he or I can remember at any time. With a hung Parliament we will have to work differently, but that has to start with the Government. I urge them to start today by changing course on public services and, as the amendment before us asks, on public sector pay and supporting our public sector workers, but also by changing course in the approach to Brexit, in a way that can build consensus, not division. That ought to be the spirit of what the Prime Minister has said.
It is a pleasure to follow the eloquence of the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), and an honour to be re-elected once again to represent the lovely New Forest East constituency.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I should have announced that there is now a time limit of six minutes, which I think he was aware of, in order to accommodate as many people who want to speak as possible. Dr Lewis, your six minutes start now.
I have at least benefited from a few extra seconds as a result.
There is plenty to welcome in this Queen’s Speech, from the prioritisation of mental health to the forthcoming visit of Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain, which will give us all a chance to show that our friendship with that great country is as enduring and immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar. I will touch, however, on two other aspects of the Queen’s Speech, and they will not come as a surprise to colleagues who know of my areas of speciality.
The first is the reiteration of the Government’s pledge to continue to meet the NATO commitment to spend at least 2% of national income on defence. I am sorry to say that it is not enough. One of the things that the Select Committee on Defence managed to establish, through a great deal of hard work and original research by its professional and dedicated staff, was a comparison over the decades of what happened to defence with a graph showing something very different for other high-spending subjects. We found that in the early 1960s we spent similar sums—about 6% of GDP—on welfare and defence. Now we spend six times as much on welfare as we do on defence. In the mid-1980s we spent similar sums—about 5% of GDP—on education, health and defence. Now we spend two and a half times as much on education and nearly four times as much on health as we do on defence. In every year from 1981 until 1987, at the height of east-west confrontation, we spent between 4.3% and 5.1% of GDP on defence, yet even after the cold war had finished, even as late as the financial year 1995-96, we were spending 3% of GDP on defence—a total that does not include things such as war pensions and Ministry of Defence civil service pensions.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will happily give way to my fellow former member of the Defence Committee.
I thank the former Chairman of the Select Committee for giving way. He, like me, was at a dinner last night at which it was pointed out that at 2%, without pensions and all the other bizarre add-ons that the Government add to get this country to 2%, France will be spending €56 billion on defence; Germany, when it gets to 2%, will be at €70 billion. We are at £36 billion. How can we hold our heads up high and say that we can defend ourselves with sums like that?
The hon. Lady is a staunch defender of everything to do with the defence of this country, and she is absolutely right. It is a measure of the management downwards of our expectations that we are supposed to ring the church bells in triumph at our not falling below the bare minimum that NATO members are supposed to achieve. We really have to rethink this. We really should be looking at 3% of GDP, and not this bare minimum of 2%.
I want to turn mainly to what is said in the Queen’s Speech about the creation of a commission for countering extremism,
“to support the government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms, both across society and on the internet, so it is denied a safe space to spread.”
That implies, although it is not explicit, that the new body will be some form of executive agency. I want to hear from the Front Bench that that will be the case, because we are approaching a key point: it looks likely that the territory seized by ISIL/Daesh will be retaken from it. That will rightly be hailed as a considerable achievement, but we need to remember that only a few years ago no one had heard about ISIL/Daesh, and everybody was overwhelmingly concerned with al-Qaeda. It was unusual for a terrorist organisation to seize territory, because by doing that, ISIL/Daesh gave up the advantage of invisibility, which is what most terrorist organisations make maximum use of. However, I venture to suggest that when it has been removed from its territory and its moment has passed, there will be other groups that take its place, perhaps fighting in different areas and perhaps not trying to seize territory. This will go on and on, as long as there is no effective response to the underlying ideology.
This is not the first time that there has been talk of commissions of this sort. Back in 2013, David Cameron had a taskforce on tackling radicalisation and extremism. On that occasion, too, evidence was taken, but I believe that any future successful plan needs to draw on the similar threats that we faced and overcame in the past.
As I said in an earlier intervention, huge agencies were called into existence to counter other totalitarian ideologies. This rather massive book was never really meant to be published. It is called “The Secret History of PWE”. PWE was the Political Warfare Executive, and the book is a classified history of all the work that it did to counter fascist and Nazi ideology. It was published as recently as 2002. Another organisation, the Information Research Department at the Foreign Office, worked on a grand scale to counter the poisonous ideology of Marxism-Leninism.
What we need today is an organisation that is equally wide-ranging, equally proficient, and equally capable of answering the thoughtful interjection of the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on the subject of the vocabulary that we should use—whether we should use the terms “Islamic”, “un-Islamic”, or simply “violent extremism”. We need an agency to do that. Until we have such an agency, and until it operates to scale, groups will continue to crop up to implement the ideology, and we do not want that to happen.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). He mentioned the new commission for countering terrorism. I look forward to debating the issues surrounding the commission with him and with many other Members, and to listening to what the Government have to say. This is a very important initiative, and we need to get it right.
As the House debates any issue relating to security and home affairs, not just today but in the coming weeks and months, we must recognise what has happened in the last few weeks. There have been the terrorist outrages in Manchester, at London Bridge and at the Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park, and, of course, there has been the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. Those issues, and how the House responds to them, will be a measure of whether Parliament is serving the British people properly.
Having read the Queen’s Speech, I want to address some of those issues, and others that will occupy this Parliament. I intend to concentrate on three themes: sovereignty, security and regulation. Let me begin with sovereignty. As we debate the issues surrounding Brexit, we must bear in mind that criminals, terrorists and organised crime do not recognise borders. They love borders: they can hide from justice, and seek succour. How we as a country keep our people safe and secure will be partly determined by how we work with other countries. In the European Union we developed, over time, a set of organisations, policies and systems that was keeping our people safe: Europol, Eurojust, ECRIS—the European Criminal Records Information System—the Schengen information system, and the European arrest warrant. Those systems and policies help our people. They catch terrorists, they catch rapists, they catch murderers. As we debate our relationship with those very important crime-fighting systems, we have to get it right.
During the Brexit debate, some have said, “We will still be part of those organisations: do not worry.” Well, I do worry. I visited Europol in 2009, and met Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol, a Brit and a former MI5 agent. He led, and leads, the organisation very well, but after Brexit, it will not be a Brit who is leading it. Over a period during the setting up of those institutions—those crime-fighting mechanisms—the British Government, and parties of all colours, were at the centre of the development of rules for them. We will not be, after Brexit. I worry greatly about how those mechanisms will evolve. These are very important discussions. I also worry about the Government’s position on the European Court of Justice, which manages issues relating to the European crime-fighting institutions. I think that the rejection of the Court is a serious mistake on the Government’s part, and that they will come to rue it.
When it comes to security, yes, those European co-operation systems are fundamental, but so is the need for more police. We heard from the shadow Home Secretary about the mess that the current Government have made in the police. We have heard from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, that the situation is serious. The Government can quote figure after figure, but if they look at what is happening in our constituencies, they will know that cuts are affecting police on the ground. Since May 2015, my constituency has lost nearly 10% of our police officers, which is having a big impact: crime is going up in my area. The Government must stop these police cuts.
As we heard from the right hon. Member for New Forest East, the proposal for a commission for countering extremism prompts many questions. Will the commission be independent? Will it be accountable to the House? Will it reach out to all groups who want to help the Government fight extremism, and will it look at all causes of extremism? Common sense suggests that extremism must have multiple causes, including terrorist groups recruiting and the activities of hate preachers, but there is one cause on which I want to focus briefly, and that is Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is rife in our country, and we do not speak out against it enough. British Muslims play an incredibly important and positive role in our society, but that is rarely recognised, in the media above all. The reporting of some newspapers makes it appear that British Muslims are the enemy within, and the House should speak out against the press barons who allow such reporting. Just a few months ago, a headline in The Sun read “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”. The press regulator said that that was “significantly misleading”, but the headlines still come. “British Muslims are killing our troops”, according to one newspaper. Other headlines read “Britain goes halal” and “Muslims tell us how to run our schools”. Those are outrageous headlines, and they are irresponsible. I hope that when the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary meet newspaper editors, that issue will be No. 1 on their list, because if we are not countering Islamophobia, we are not working against one of the issues that are creating extremism.
My last point concerns regulation. We must challenge the way in which we debate regulation. Regulations are not always bad; many are superb. I am afraid that Conservatives have an ideological block about some regulations. I was once told by the former Member of Parliament for Brentwood and Ongar that regulations were communist. I told him that “Thou shalt not kill” was a good regulation—and it was introduced before the time of Marx or Lenin.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey).
When the national health service was launched in July 1948, it was launched on the basis of three core principles: that it should meet the needs of everyone, that it should be free at the point of delivery, and that it should be based on clinical need and not the ability to pay. Those principles continue to serve us very well; they are supported across the House, and they have been reinforced by the NHS constitution.
The extraordinary success of the NHS and public health provision lies in its delivery of increased life expectancy. Many people who now survive into adulthood would not have done so when I qualified as a doctor, some years ago. However, that extraordinary success hands us the key responsibility and challenge of ensuring that we can continue to provide and to meet the needs of everyone in the coming decades. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) spoke of the importance of joint working across the House. Given that we now have a different parliamentary arithmetic, I agree with her, and I would extend that to the way we talk about funding of health and social care.
Last week I was told by Pauline that her mum, 79-year-old Sheila, who has dementia and heart failure, suffers from seizures and is unable to eat, go to the toilet or dress on her own, has been denied a funded place in a care home. Does the hon. Lady agree that that is a scandal that needs to be resolved?
The hon. Lady has made a very important point. We will all see similar cases in our surgeries. However, we will not resolve the problem by having constant arguments about how we are going to do so. What we must do is agree, across the House, on how we are to provide long-term sustainable funding. I commend the House of Lords Select Committee on the Long-term Sustainability of the NHS for its work on the provision of long-term sustainable funding for health and social care. I welcome the commitment from Ministers in the Gracious Speech to seek sustainable social care solutions, but I call on the Government to extend that to health, because if we continue to view the two systems in isolation, we will fail exactly the patients, and others, to whom the hon. Lady has just referred.
The parliamentary arithmetic is such that there is an additional responsibility on all of us to ask what we can achieve by the end of this Parliament and what we can achieve when the NHS reaches its 70th birthday next year. I would say that by working together we could achieve something really remarkable, and I call on all Members from all parties to work to make that happen.
I also very much welcome the proposals in the draft patient safety Bill, but I put it to the Secretary of State that we need to get to grips with the impact of the workforce challenge across health and social care on patient safety. I agree with others that it is time for us to think again about the impact of the public sector pay cap. There is no doubt in my mind that seven years of the cap are now having a significant impact on morale in the health service and across our wider public sector. Again, I think that the change in the parliamentary arithmetic following the message that we have had from the electorate is very clear. People value our public services and they want to see this matter addressed.
One way in which we can address the issues of recruitment, retention and morale is to deliver a fair pay settlement, and I hope that we can make further progress on that. Again, however, we will achieve the funding that is required for that through realistic cross-party working. During the election campaign, and in the manifesto, we tried to address the issues of intergenerational fairness in funding these services, and it might be that, as we look realistically at how we are going to fund our public services, we need to take ideas from all parties in order to achieve our aims, so that we can do something about public sector pay and improve the retention rates in our health and social care workforce.
Another area of the Queen’s Speech that I want to touch on is mental health, and I should declare a personal interest, in that I am married to an NHS consultant psychiatrist who is also the registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. I very much welcome the fact that we are the party that legislated for parity of esteem, but we now need to translate that into practice. It needs to be translated into ensuring that the welcome extra funding for mental health actually reaches the frontline and delivers.
I am pleased to see the proposals in the Gracious Speech for a Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health, and I hope that the Secretary of State will look at the joint work of the Select Committees on Health and Education in that area and take note of our proposals and suggestions. I also hope that he will look again at the work done by the Health Committee on suicide prevention. Suicide remains the single biggest cause of death in men under the age of 50 and in young people of both sexes. This is a core challenge, and one of the issues that we identified is now in the Government’s proposals—namely, how we involve the families of those with serious mental health challenges in their care and treatment. That does not involve riding roughshod over the important principles of confidentiality. Often, it can involve simple things such as ensuring that mental health professionals are aware of the consensus statement on how to achieve consent.
I welcome the progress that we have made on reducing the use of cells as a place of safety for those with serious mental health problems. Their use is wholly inappropriate and I hope that we can make further progress on that. There is much more that we can do to improve mental health care, but we have some excellent proposals in the five-year forward view. This is all about implementation, and I urge the Secretary of State to do everything he can to ensure that the money reaches the frontline, that there is transparency about that and that we make further progress on improving the mental health of young people and adults alike.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who chaired the Health Select Committee in the last Parliament.
It is now widely accepted that the adult social care sector in the UK is in a state of crisis. Over recent years, funding has fallen and demand has risen, and the sector has not kept pace. The Queen’s Speech has failed to address the long-term funding issues behind this crisis that are currently overwhelming not only the social care sector but the NHS. Our hospitals and surgeries are full, social care is on its knees and staff are working under impossible conditions in a system struggling to cope. The Government’s choice to provide less funding than the health service needs is compromising safe staffing levels. They talk about providing extra funding, but this is set against the backdrop of enforced savings in the NHS that are far in excess of the extra money that they tell us, in every debate, that the NHS is going to get.
It is wrong and counterproductive to look at social care simply as care for the elderly. Nearly 33% of all the people receiving long-term social care in 2015-16 were under 65 years of age. They account for almost 50% of the expenditure on social care, at approximately £6.6 billion a year. Working-age adults with a learning disability accounted for 33% of the total expenditure, at almost £4.6 billion a year. We need to recognise the full cost of social care in this country and decide how those costs are going to be met. In the fading final few months of the last Labour Government, tripartite talks took place between Labour Ministers, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats about how to meet those costs. Two Members who have spoken today—the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) and the hon. Member for Totnes—have emphasised that we need, as a nation, to take control of this. If any example is needed, it is the shambolic mess that the Conservatives got into during the general election campaign. Was there going to be a cap? Was there not going to be a cap? We need to take national action on this, and the sooner the better.
As a past officer of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, I urge the Government to publish the new tobacco control plan. We have been waiting some 18 months for it now. A great deal was achieved under the previous plan: progressive tobacco control legislation was introduced; smoking rates among adults and children have fallen below the target levels; and rates of smoking during pregnancy are very nearly below 10%, which is a huge improvement on a decade ago. This is why Britain is a world leader in tobacco control, with the UK coming top in a European survey measuring the implementation of key tobacco control policies and passing legislation that goes further than the requirements set out in European Union directives.
Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern that those improvements might start to tail off, now that the EU tobacco directives include vaping, because it is becoming more and more difficult for people to take up vaping and get themselves off cigarettes?
As I was saying, we have gone much further than the European directives have told us to do. My understanding is that the new tobacco control plan will have vaping in it. NHS England has told us that vaping is 95% safer than using cigarettes, and it is not a way to get into cigarettes. Some 2.8 million smokers have voluntarily gone on to vaping, which is 95% safer, and we need to ensure that the action plan for tobacco recognises that fact. More will need to be done to support vaping, perhaps in public places as well.
I will give way, for the last time.
I declare an interest, as a vaper. Vaping is healthier and safer, but is this not also an issue of social justice? It is far cheaper to vape than to buy cigarettes and, as we know, it is poorer people who are most likely to smoke.
Yes, indeed it is. Some people say that they do not like vaping because the products are produced by tobacco companies, but that is wholly wrong. I have had a running battle with the tobacco companies for decades in this place, and it is wholly wrong to use attitudes to vaping in that way.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I just wondered whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware that the European tobacco products directive, which makes things more difficult for vapers, was introduced by a British Labour Member of the European Parliament. At the time, the Conservatives in the European Parliament made the exact point that it would restrict vaping.
I am very aware of that. I am also very aware that vaping is good for the public health, and I support it.
Moving on, one area where the NHS has contributed to smoking cessation is through the huge network of community pharmacies across the UK, which was treated shoddily by the previous Government. In January this year, the all-party parliamentary health group, which I chair, launched an investigation into the Government’s community pharmacy reforms, and the report showed that the reforms have dented confidence in the sector and raised questions about the Government’s commitment to developing community pharmacy services. The APPG heard, however, that community pharmacy remains well placed to address some of the NHS’s biggest challenges, and we made recommendations that will hopefully strengthen the sector’s ability to serve its patients and mitigate some of the negative impacts of the reforms. The overriding priority, though, is for the community pharmacy sector and the Government to come together again to develop and realise a shared vision of clinical services in community pharmacies. I hope the Government will take heed of the report and work constructively with the sector.
The reforms have been made and, as we all know, there has been a massive decrease in the money going into NHS pharmacies, and we need to take stock of that. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 gave the Government—Governments of all sorts—responsibility for reducing health inequality in this country and to promote public health and population health. Running down our pharmacy sector and community pharmacies is not the way to do that. Those health professionals should be helping to improve population health to keep pressure off the NHS, but we are not doing that very well at the moment.
I see that I just have a minute left, so I want to say that nearly all of that work is performed by our superb staff in the NHS, but we are all aware that staff morale across the NHS remains low. The situation has been worsened by real-term cuts in pay through this Government’s public sector pay cap. Current estimates state that over £4.3 billion was cut from NHS staff salaries between 2010 and 2016. These are the people who treated the victims of terror attacks and the dreadful fire in London just a few weeks ago. I think the electorate said in the general election, “No more of this.” The Government should remove the pay cap in order to retain and attract staff, resolve the workforce shortage and ensure safe patient care. I will be supporting the amendment if it is put to the House tonight.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron), who made some extraordinarily sensible points. May I take this opportunity to associate myself, on behalf of my constituents in East Devon, with the earlier tributes paid to the victims of Grenfell Tower and the terrorist attacks? I also pay tribute to the extraordinary work of the emergency services and to NHS staff for their incredible efforts.
In the 2017 Gracious Speech, the only mention of social care, to which I will dedicate my speech, was:
“My Ministers will work to improve social care and will bring forward proposals for consultation.”
That is in line with the revised section of the 2017 Conservative manifesto, but no more details have been announced about the Green Paper or when it will be published. When it is published and goes out to consultation, it is vital that elderly people, who do not always have access to the internet, are given fair chance to respond and to put their views forward. I, too, believe that the recent election showed how worried people are about their future healthcare needs. While the system needs to be fixed, it is incumbent on the Government to have a frank and honest consultation on how we fund and provide social care for the most vulnerable in our society. The issue has been kicked into the long grass for too long, so I have two offers to make to the Government this afternoon.
Over 850,000 people in the United Kingdom are living with dementia—equivalent to the entire population of Devon—and that number is expected to double in the next 20 years. Over 12,000 people in Devon are living with dementia, 4,500 of whom are in East Devon. The number of over-65s in Devon will increase from 195,000 in 2015 to 264,400 in 2030—an increase of 35.5%. Seventeen per cent. of the UK population is over the age of 65, compared with 24% of the Devon population. Some 2.38% of the population is over the age of 85, compared with 6.25% of the population of Budleigh Salterton in my constituency. In other words, with those ageing demographics, the rest of England will look like Budleigh Salterton in 2050. East Devon has over 6,500 people over the age of 85 and about 40,000 over the age of 65, so my offer to the Government is this: if we want to get long-term social care right nationally, look at what the country will look like in 2050, which is what towns such as Budleigh Salterton look like now. If we get it right in Devon, we will get it right across the country. As a Devon MP, I am offering— I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) will also agree—to act as the guinea pig for getting social care right in this country. That is offer No. 1.
Offer No. 2 builds on what some of us tried to do with the Prime Minister some months before the general election when a cross-party group of us went to see her to talk about long-term care. We thought that the issue should be apolitical and that we should finally build on early reports to get things right. Our efforts were not taken up at the time, but in the new spirit of things following the election I believe that we would all be prepared to work together to make the offer again. Where better to start than to build on the “Fairer Care Funding” report—the Dilnot report—of July 2011, which contains many good things, not least a cap, but it also omitted other things, such as some form of insurance to cover the cap. We should leave nothing off the table, but a cross-party group should steer the Government forwards on this matter.
Those are my two offers. As a humble Back Bencher, I will work with other Back Benchers to get social care right in this country, and I offer up Devon, particularly East Devon, as the guinea pig or template for trying to get a social care system that is properly integrated with the rest of the NHS. If we get it right there, we will get it right across the nation, and everyone, including our electorates, will be enormously grateful to us.
I primarily want to talk about the state of GP services, with particular reference to a temporarily closed surgery in Trimdon village in my constituency, to try to make a point about the crisis in GP services. While the closure is only temporary, the surgery will open again next month with limited services.
I want to start with a few words about the national picture. One in four patients now wait a week or more to see a GP or do not get an appointment at all. We are 10,000 GPs, 3,500 midwives and 40,000 nurses short of the number we need. Against a target 3,250 GP training places for 2016-17, Health Education England said that only 3,000 were filled. The number of GPs in this country dropped by nearly 100 in the year to September 2016, and in three years’ time the NHS will have 1,200 fewer family doctors than predicted because there is a struggle to fill training places. There has been a huge drop in the number of GPs in training. In 2016, 92 GP practices closed and 34 were merged with other practices. A survey of 2,000 GPs found that two in five plan to quit in the next two years. Since 2014, there has been a 150% rise in patients being forced to move practices due to record levels of closures—that is 265,000 people. Although the Government want to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020, one in three GPs are considering retirement in the next five years—about 10,000 doctors.
That is part of the background that has led to the temporary closure of the GP surgery in Trimdon village. The surgery is one of four operated by Skerne Medical Group—the other three are in Sedgefield village, Fishburn and Trimdon Colliery. The surgeries are very busy and service some of the most deprived areas not just of the county but of the country. In a letter to the registered patients who use the surgery in Trimdon village, Skerne Medical Group announced that the surgery would need to close on 21 June 2017 due to
“unprecedented circumstances with our clinical team and the continued difficulties in recruitment”.
Eighty-eight per cent. of residents in the area are registered with Skerne Medical Group, and the GP group has told me that the building housing the surgery in Trimdon village is not fit for purpose, which for me is a reason not for closing but for upgrading the premises.
I also understand that the GPs are preparing to expand their facilities in Sedgefield village, which is good news for the residents of Sedgefield, but I do not see why, if investment is due in Sedgefield, it cannot be due in surgeries such as in Trimdon village, especially when, considering the indices of health deprivation, Trimdon is one of the 10% most deprived areas of England and Wales—Sedgefield village is not. There is still a great need for Skerne Medical Group to keep the surgery open in Trimdon.
The House of Commons Library has provided me with figures on the amount and kinds of prescriptions issued to the residents of Trimdon. More prescriptions are distributed in Trimdon than in 95% of areas of England. Furthermore, prescriptions for gastrointestinal drugs—issued for ulcers, for example—are 48% above the national average. Prescriptions for drugs for cardiovascular issues are 50% above the national average. Prescriptions for drugs for breathing difficulties, including asthma, are 55% above the national average. Prescriptions for antidepressants, some of which are issued for chronic pain, are 51% above the national average, and prescriptions for painkillers themselves are double the national average. More than 40% of Trimdon’s population are over the age of 50, which is well above the average for the rest of the UK. Trimdon has an ageing population with chronic health problems.
I say this to Skerne Medical Group: “I know the issues, and I know you offer the best service you can, but I do not believe the closure of the surgery in Trimdon, be it temporary or not, will help the situation. Especially when there are expansion plans for the surgery in Sedgefield, surely the needs of Trimdon are also great.”
If the surgery in Trimdon is not fit for purpose, it must be made so. I can understand the problem with the shortage of GPs, because that is an issue not just for this practice but is happening all over the region and the nation. I know that the closure of the Trimdon surgery is temporary and that it is to reopen in July, offering only a limited service, but Skerne Medical Group came to see me about a year ago to say that it wanted to close the surgery permanently, which I said I would oppose all the way.
How can a village that is in the 10% most deprived areas of the country be left without a GP surgery physically situated in the heart of the community? Of course the medical group has other surgeries, but forcing an ageing population with high levels of chronic illness to use those other facilities will put pressure on those surgeries, extending waiting times even further. The crisis in GP provision must be looked at nationally, because it is now starting to affect people who really need that support and help.
I wish to speak briefly on the Gracious Speech as my first modest contribution to the proceedings of this House. Before I go on, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Peter Lilley, who served in this House and served his nation for 34 years. Most hon. Members on both sides of the House will be aware of his distinction in high office, serving under the premierships of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, of his huge intellect and of his knowledge on a range of subjects. But they may be less aware of the genuine affection in which he is held by the people of Hitchin and Harpenden, which I know from every single day of the general election campaign, and of how effective he was as a local constituency MP, in addition to all the offices he held. I am inspired by his example.
I thank the people of Hitchin and Harpenden for sending me to this House. Hitchin and Harpenden, and all of our villages in between, are not just physically beautiful and historic, with a landscape and character unique not just in Hertfordshire but in England and this great nation as a whole; the people are what really make a place special, and my constituents are special, in a very good way. They are kind, open, tolerant and sometimes challenging—they do like writing letters—and it is a great honour to represent them here in this House.
I come to this House with no gilded lineage but as a child of immigrants. My mother, born in Britain but growing up in Nigeria, became a pharmacist. My father, born and bred in Nigeria, is now an NHS doctor. Both came to this country in the 1980s in search of a better life. In particular, they believe that a good-quality education is key, not just for giving a child—an individual—a decent start in life but as the foundation of the future health and prosperity of our society as a whole. They worked incredibly hard and sacrificed a lot—some might say too much—to pay for the best education that Britain could offer, and I was immensely fortunate in that. It was, indeed, an amazing start in life.
And it is education that I believe to be at the heart of everything. I believe we can do better. During the election campaign there was a lot of debate in my constituency, and I know in many others, about whether school funding is adequate and about the excessive bureaucracy that teachers still have to put up with. I happen to think that we need more of the former and less of the latter, but the debate on education needs to be bigger than that, more fundamental.
Are we truly preparing our children for the second industrial revolution we are living through, in which we do not know what jobs will be like in 10 years, let alone 20? Some hon. Members, on both sides of the House, obsess about the type of school, whether it be comprehensive, grammar or private, but should we not focus more on outcomes than on the form? How do we significantly raise both the morale and the standards of teachers everywhere in every school? I promised my constituents that I will bring a relentless focus to that area, and I intend to do so every single day I am in this House, and it starts with fairer funding for every school. In many areas, yes, that will mean more resources.
I enter this House at a time when we face serious challenges as a nation—not just Brexit or, indeed, health and social care but the challenge of creating the most dynamic, productive and technologically advanced economy in the world. Education is central to that challenge because it is our future. The world-class human capital produced by our education system needs to be combined with financial capital investment, with better infrastructure and with a more competitive, simpler tax system for individuals and businesses. That is what a 21st-century, new economy looks like.
Although all Conservatives believe in world-class education and a dynamic, forward-thinking free market economy, we must also consider the type of society we are building together—a just society that, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, works for everyone. That means zero tolerance of discrimination. That means making sure that our increasingly diverse society of all creeds and races is more cohesive. That means that the poorest among us deserve the right to live not just in decent and, yes, safe social housing but that they also have the right to aspire to own a home of their own. These are the challenges of our age. These are the challenges that we need to meet. I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the House on meeting those challenges in our time.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I very warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) on a maiden speech that was both eloquent and self-assured. It was a contribution of the highest quality, and the reaction of colleagues bears testimony to the truth of what I have just said. In welcoming the hon. Gentleman to the House, I wish him every success in the course of his parliamentary career.
Colleagues, before we continue the debate I have a short announcement to make. The House will know that the election of Deputy Speakers took place today and that the ballot was closed at 1.30 pm. The counting has now finished. Before I announce the results, let me thank, and thank effusively, I hope on behalf of all colleagues, the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) for public-spiritedly serving as temporary Deputy Speakers during the debates on the Queen’s Speech. They excelled themselves in that role, they are great public servants and I think the House is extremely appreciative of what they have done. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
Let me also take this opportunity to pay a warm personal tribute to Natascha Engel. Natascha unfortunately lost her seat at the general election, but she served with real commitment and effectiveness as a Deputy Speaker in the last Parliament. That, of course, was service coming on top of a period of great distinction as the first Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. In all, Natascha served in this place for 12 years, and we thank her for the quality and commitment of her service. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
I shall now announce the result of the ballot that was held today for the election of Deputy Speakers. Mr Lindsay Hoyle was elected as Chairman of Ways and Means. Mrs Eleanor Laing was elected as First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. Dame Rosie Winterton was elected as Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. I congratulate all three colleagues who have been elected, and I greatly look forward to working with them. I also want to thank the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) for contesting the election, and for all that she has done and continues to do in this House, not least in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association work which she enthusiastically, and to great effect, undertakes. I am sure we are going to hear a great deal more from her in the years to come in this Chamber. The results of the count will be made available as soon as possible in the Vote Office and will be published on the internet. I hope that we can have one last expression of congratulations, with a suitable, “Hear, hear” to victorious colleagues and thanks to the hon. Member for City of Durham, after which I am keen to proceed with the debate. Well done! [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
May I begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, James Wharton, who showed a strong commitment to international development and worked hard for his constituents? I also wish to thank the Member of Parliament before him, Dari Taylor, who served Stockton South tirelessly for 13 years and was a formidable advocate for our community.
Some of my colleagues have been excited to see another doctor in the House. Members have told me about their bad backs and other problems that confidentiality and common decency prevent me from divulging, but I am afraid I have bad news for them: I have left my prescription pad at home. However, they can join me in keeping fit at my 6 am boot camp if they want. I am a big physical activity enthusiast, and I hope to encourage colleagues to lead active and healthy lifestyles. So Mr Speaker, I invite you and other hon. Members to set your alarms for tomorrow morning.
Stockton South is a diverse place with a proud history, a strong community and vast potential. It includes a large part of the town of Stockton, a vanguard of the industrial revolution and the birthplace of some of the finest ships to set sail. Innovation and industry have been a cornerstone in Stockton since the first tracks were laid for the Stockton to Darlington railway, and that is still evident in many of the businesses across the constituency. Today, Stockton shows strong leadership in regional arts; we are proud to provide sanctuary to refugees; and we have a vibrant voluntary sector and good-quality schools.
Stockton South also includes Yarm, which has a healthy small business community; Eaglescliffe, which has the leading manufacturing business, Nifco; Ingleby Barwick, which is home to many public servants, among others; and Thornaby, which has a proud history as an RAF base, protecting Teesside’s industry during the second world war. Thornaby was the place where Margaret Thatcher walked over the rubble that was once the Head Wrightson steel foundry—her infamous “walk in the wilderness”. The people of Stockton South have asked me to dispatch Thatcherism into the wilderness.
The diversity and tolerance among people of all faiths, beliefs and backgrounds in Stockton South is to be cherished, but, sadly, there is also diversity in terms of wide health and socioeconomic inequalities that cannot be tolerated. The life expectancy for people in some parts of my constituency is 10 years less than for those in others—10 years’ difference in life expectancy at birth. As a family doctor, every day I have seen too many people who have been left behind: people battling mental health problems, besieged by loneliness, and people with learning disabilities who have preventable illness. This holds people back and drains their potential. Not only is it unjust, but it is damaging to all of us. When a person’s health becomes so poor that they cannot work or someone’s father dies a premature death, we all lose.
Sadly, the people who have the most to gain from preventive healthcare are the people least likely to have their cancer screen or their diabetes check. We must challenge this so-called “inverse care law”, whereby those most in need are least likely to access healthcare. We need the most effort to be made to improve the health of the most vulnerable. We should invest in making pregnancy and the first 1,000 days of life from conception safer and better for people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. That is where the evidence tells us the greatest gains can be made. We should remodel our healthcare system so that prevention is given the status and resource now afforded to our treatment services. Prevention really is better than cure.
This Queen’s Speech did not have anything to say about health inequalities or about our lack of investment in public health. Every single person who cast a vote in this election wanted so much more from this Queen’s Speech, and they have been let down. The parents who told me they will have to wait three years for their child to get an assessment for autism—they wanted improvements. The families of people with dementia, worrying about the cost of care—they wanted clarity. The hard-working nurses facing 10 years of pay caps—they wanted fairness. An inspired and rejuvenated electorate have sent us here to create change. What an opportunity we have to listen to their voices. From many ordinary mouths came one extraordinary message: we must listen and we must act.
It is a pleasure to speak in response to the Gracious Speech, and to follow both the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami)—two new Members. I have to tell the hon. Member for Stockton South that, having ruptured my Achilles twice in the last two years, I will be probably be looking at a pass note for the 6 am boot camp, but it is always reassuring, particularly for me, to have another doctor in the House.
May I also praise my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden for his contribution? His constituents will be reassured by his words today, including none other than Dora Scott, a constituent in Kimpton who is in her 90s and who also happens to be my aunt. We will both be keeping an eye out for him.
In the time that I have, I wish to focus on social care and its impact on health. Bexhill and Battle perhaps has a higher proportion of retired people than many other constituencies, and that requires me to speak up on their behalf. All politicians tend to do this when they sit on the Government Benches, but I urge us to get some form of consensus on this pressing issue for all our retired constituents.
It causes me great concern that despite the extra money that the Government put into the social care system, radical reform is absolutely required. I absolutely welcome the £2 billion that the Government put in earlier this year, but that remains unfunded, due to the failure to get the tax system to pay that extra amount. I also welcome the 3% levy on council tax bills, but in my constituency, where there is a smaller proportion of council tax receipts, it falls to people to pay even more. That concerns me for another reason that was prominent in the election campaign: intergenerational fairness. Is it right, for example, that my younger constituents, who do not have a home of their own, are saving as hard as they can, are paying private rent and cannot afford a deposit, are paying more and more on their council tax bills, which means that a home of their own is even further out of sight? We must look at not just funding, but radical reform, which brings me to the manifesto on which we stood.
The hon. Gentleman mentions funding. Does he think that England should see a change in the Barnett consequentials as a result of the Northern Ireland deal—the grubby deal or the protection money that has been offered to the Democratic Unionist party? I am talking about £30 billion to £40 billion for England, which would help greatly in the case that he mentions.
When I looked at the winter fuel allowance and the amount of money that we would put back into health as a result of the changes, I was concerned that, under Barnett, some of that money could end up funding Scotland, when Scotland already has the ability to make those decisions about funding. My concern is that as we devolve ever more powers to Scotland, we are not also asked to devolve ever more finance as well.
Let me come back to my main thread. With respect to social care, consensus and intergenerational fairness, I think that we should consider the ideas in my party’s manifesto. Those ideas were worthy of more thought than was afforded to them by the Opposition parties. I also found it incredibly distressing that our vulnerable constituents were receiving election literature through their letterboxes saying, “Under the Conservatives, you will be forced to sell your home in order to go into residential care.” That was put out by the Liberal Democrats, when, in fact, our manifesto was changing that current practice. They were completely misinterpreting the position—and, worse, to a group in our communities who are particularly vulnerable to that type of scare tactics.
Let me turn to pensions. Representing a constituency such as mine, I absolutely agree that we need to look after those on pensions, especially those who have been on fixed incomes and have not had much of a return over the past few years. It is true to say that the triple lock has ensured a 22% increase in pensions, whereas earnings have only risen by just over 7% and prices by only 12%. Again, we must look at intergenerational fairness and ask ourselves how we can ensure that, as well as equipping our elderly and retired constituents to ensure that they can continue with good means, we also look after those who will ultimately fund them.
I am absolutely delighted that this Government are pushing ahead with the consultation exercise. When it comes to contributions to social care, we should ask those who can afford it to take some form of individual responsibility. They should make those payments themselves; otherwise we will effectively see the taxpayer subordinated to those who end up inheriting under the system. Yes, I agree that those people have worked hard all their lives to create their nest egg and for their house, but ultimately I want to ensure that people have the best-quality social care, and that will not happen unless we reform it.
I ask all Opposition Members to think about intergenerational fairness, and to ask those people who can afford it to make more of a contribution, which means that those people starting off on the ladder, who have to think not only about buying a property but saving for their advanced age, have that opportunity as well. Without taking that type of adult decision, we will never get any further in reforming social care.
In my last 30 seconds, Madam Deputy Speaker—congratulations on your return—I make a plea on behalf of my schools. At a school hustings, at which there were candidates from all three parties, I told pupils that there was no point in getting something today, because they, more than any other generation, would have to pay for it tomorrow. Despite what has been said about our party’s popularity with the young, more people in that school voted for the Conservative candidate than any of the others, because they recognised that we have the policies to deliver for them, as well as for those who are retired.
I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker—and my right hon. Friends the Members for Chorley (Mr Hoyle), and for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton)—on your election to a fantastic role in which you will support the Speaker. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) on a confident maiden speech. He made a good impression on the House today, and I am sure that he will do so again in the future. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) and congratulate him on his maiden speech. He will bring great knowledge to this House. As his seat was a Labour gain in this election, I am particularly pleased to see him in his place.
This was the eighth election that I have fought in Delyn constituency, and the seventh that I have won, so I am certainly pleased to be back. I have never gone into an election knowing that I would win, and this one was particularly tough. It is important that, having returned to this House, I represent all the people of my constituency and ensure that the issues that are important to them are raised.
The Prime Minister called this election on Brexit. The Queen’s Speech is largely about Brexit, but the issues that my constituents brought up on the doorstep were anything but Brexit, most of the time. They were arguing about jobs, security, public spending, austerity and, particularly, security and policing. I wish to focus on the latter, not least because in the middle of this general election campaign we had the horrific events in Manchester, Borough Market and, latterly, Finsbury Park. We also remember the incident in this House earlier this year, when a brave police officer lost his life defending our liberties.
It is important that we focus on security and policing, and I will touch on four areas. I want to know how the Government intend to increase police numbers and change their policy—an issue also raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). Our focus on policing has changed following those incidents and the acceptance that austerity has been a difficult challenge for the community. I want to know what progress is being made in improving the number of armed police. I want to know what happens in relation to Eurojust, the European arrest warrant and Europol, to which the Government have not made any commitment in discussions to date. I want to know what plans they have to look at terrorism legislation as a matter of course. Policing has changed dramatically over the past seven years of this Government.
We know the figures, but they are worth repeating: we had 144,235 police officers on the streets of Britain in 2010. We have lost 21,376 officers since then. We had a reduction of over 6,000 police community support officers in that period. The number of firearms officers, which the Home Secretary seemed to trumpet in her contribution today, has reduced by over 1,337 in that period.
Those reductions are important because we need to focus on how we re-embed the police in this country. Police on the ground help reassure communities, help strengthen neighbourhood policing, and help with the big challenges of terrorism. Police embedded in the community pick up intelligence and recognise some of the challenges of vulnerable adults—challenges posed by both the fascist right and, at the other end of the spectrum, extremist Islamist terrorist potential. That policing on the ground makes a difference. Looking at the current challenges, we should never forget that police officers, in their reduced numbers, are significantly stretched.
My right hon. Friend, having served as a Minister with responsibility for policing, will remember the inputs of the Ministry of Defence police in providing security and stability for much of our most important national infrastructure. Is he aware that there is to be a £12.5 million cut in Ministry of Defence policing in this year, which means that fewer armed police officers will be available to support Home Office police?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I want to challenge the Government, in the winding-up speeches, to say what the Government mean when they talk about an uplift in the number of armed police officers. We have a downlift of more than 1,500 armed police officers.
I praise the speed and effectiveness of the response in London, and indeed in Manchester, but the events in London happened within one mile of a significant concentration of armed police, here in central London. If those events had happened in some parts of the country, there would have been great difficulty in effectively getting an armed police response at the speed that we would expect, and that was delivered by brave police officers here in London.
More police officers are now reporting sick because of stress. The number of police officers who have taken sick leave each year has increased by about 1,500 since 2010. That is because they are under pressure, because they do not have the numbers that there were in the past. It should also be remembered that police officers do not do 24-hour shifts. Police officers take holidays. Police officers sleep. Police officers have time off. Those police officers whom we have are very thinly stretched.
We should also recall that the police officer cohort is ageing; nearly 50% of officers are now in the higher age range. Unless we recruit effectively and speedily, we will not have the level of policing that we would wish to see in our community at large.
I mentioned the European arrest warrant and the European matters that we face as part of Brexit. On Monday, in answer to a question that I asked her, the Prime Minister said,
“As regards Eurojust, Europol and the European arrest warrant, those will be matters for…negotiations”—[Official Report, 26 June 2017; Vol. 626, c. 321.]
I am very sorry; they should not be matters for negotiation. They should be things that we, as a United Kingdom Government, are committed to participating in in the future. We need the European arrest warrant, Eurojust and Europol to ensure that we tackle crime, stop terrorism, bring back to this country people who have committed heinous offences here, and export to other countries people who have committed heinous offences there. I want a commitment from the Government as soon as possible that they will commit to the European arrest warrant, Eurojust and the European security co-operation measures that make so much difference to our lives and our security. We shall be voting against the Queen’s Speech tonight, and we are right to do so until we get clarification on those key issues.
All Members will have their own examples of mental health casework. Often, those constituents will have attended an advice surgery or sent an email for help about a different problem entirely. It could be housing; it could be employment or welfare; it could even be a problem involving the criminal justice system. But it soon becomes clear, after a few questions and a little bit of probing, that the underlying problem is one of undiagnosed—or unsupported—mental illness.
Poor mental health weakens people’s life chances, and many of the effects of deprivation further aggravate the impact of mental illness. Sadly, an increasing proportion of cases from our surgeries involve children suffering from poor mental health. I welcome the Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health, and I am pleased that the Government have committed £1.4 billion for child and adolescent mental health services by 2020. That is absolutely the right thing to do. It will transform mental health treatment for children and young people. We all need to ensure that it is properly directed and spent in those areas where it was intended to be spent, because it is a shocking fact that one in 10 children in this country have a diagnosable mental health condition.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister launched the expansion of the mental health first aid training scheme in secondary schools yesterday. It is essential that we do more to deliver early intervention to support people’s mental health, rather than relying so heavily on acute mental health services once conditions have deteriorated, sometimes to the point of psychosis. It is the difference between treating an illness and just tackling the immediate symptoms—a distinction that would be so obvious for physical health that surely nobody would argue against its existence. That means ensuring that training for GPs allows them to identify mental health conditions in patients who present with a completely different illness, and ensuring that continuing professional development allows GPs to keep up so that more senior GPs also have the necessary understanding of mental health. It means securing access to successful programmes such as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies—introduced by the previous Government and continued by this one—and other talking therapies, where alternatives to drug-based treatments are appropriate.
I am pleased that the Mental Health Act 1983 is to be reformed. It was doubtless introduced with the very best of intentions and has certainly had many beneficial effects, but in too many cases the starting point seems to be that it treats people with mental illness as threats that need to be contained, rather than as patients who need treatment and support. Of course, there are times when people need to be detained, for their own protection or that of those around them, but then the focus must be on medical treatment rather than, effectively, imprisonment.
In terms of providing that support in the right environment, would my hon. Friend like to show some appreciation of the Government for the mental health hospital that recently opened just down the road from my constituency? It is a £40 million investment, and will go a long way to providing that kind of support in the local community.
I absolutely agree. As part of the increased capital investment that the Prime Minister announced earlier this year, the £10 billion capital investment for the national health service will mean not only that new buildings such as the one to which my hon. Friend referred—the new hospital in Sandwell in the west midlands is an example—become more common, but infrastructure such as the new urgent care centre at my own local hospital in Russells Hall is provided so that our NHS can become more effective.
The Secretary of State should take great pride in the changes that he has introduced to guidance on section 135 and l36 powers, which mean that a safe place should usually be a place where patients can receive medical help, rather than the default position of a police cell. It is time for those changes to be given a statutory footing, and I hope that the new Bill will deliver that. There should be parity of esteem so that people with mental health conditions receive the same respect and equivalent status, and are treated with the same dignity, as people with physical health conditions. It is a positive step that that has been legislated for, and I hope that we will see more and more efforts to make sure that that commitment becomes a reality for constituents who receive treatment for mental health conditions.
If I may briefly speak of my own experience of the health service. As some hon. Friends know, I received rather more direct and personal experience of our hospitals, GPs and outpatient clinics than I had planned at the beginning of the year. I should like to place on record my thanks to the doctors, consultants, nurses and support staff who were all absolutely fantastic in keeping me alive so that I am here now. It has also given me the chance to work with the UK Sepsis Trust and the formidable Ron Daniels. I hope that during this Parliament the Secretary of State will have a chance to look at calls from the trust for simple measures that it is estimated would save perhaps a quarter of the 44,000 lives that are lost as a result of sepsis every year in the UK. They include instigating a national registry to record accurately the true burden of sepsis, raising awareness nationally, and looking at commissioning levers to deliver best practice and reinforce that.
I call Dr Philippa Whitford.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, and my congratulations, too, on your re-election.
I echo what the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said when highlighting the fact that across all four NHS services the biggest challenge is the increased demand from an ageing population, with huge and growing workforce challenges. That has been aggravated by Brexit. There has been a 95% drop in nursing applications from the EU, along with a prolonged 1% pay cap. Members have rightly paid tribute to the emergency services after the terrorist attacks and the appalling Grenfell fire. It is now time that we met the rhetoric with a decent salary.
It is a bit strange to combine a debate on security with a debate on health, but when I made my maiden speech two years ago during a Queen’s Speech debate I highlighted to the Government the fact that their first priority was the security of their citizens, not by replacing weapons of mass destruction but by providing the security that comes from knowing that there is a roof over your head and food on the table. It also matters what kind of roof it is. The people of Grenfell were failed by local government scrimping and saving on cladding and sprinklers, and by successive UK Governments, who did not act on previous warnings. The issue of cladding and sprinklers was first raised as a result of a fatal fire in my constituency in 1999, when a disabled man lost his life. That was 18 years ago.
Does the hon. Lady not agree that it is absolutely imperative in the wake of this terrible tragedy that we wait to establish the facts? One fact that we know is that the local authority had almost a quarter of a billion pounds in reserves, which is a good indication that it was not about scrimping and scraping. There may well have been other serious failures, but we await the full public inquiry, and we will then establish all the facts.
I am not saying that the local authority was scrimping and saving because it did not have money; it was because it was not spending the money. It used cheap panels and it did not put in sprinklers. Some 600-plus buildings across London and England are covered in panels that clearly contain flammable materials. We hear from Camden that fire doors were missing, despite millions of pounds having been spent. As Ben Okri says in his poem, there has been a focus on surface and appearance rather than on the substance of such buildings and the protection of people who live in them.
I always listen to the hon. Lady with care and respect, but I appeal to her to look at the evidence base before making the remarks that she has. Words are important. We have established an inquiry that will establish the facts and make recommendations. Until then, with the greatest respect, I think that her remarks are premature.