House of Commons
Tuesday 4 July 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: NHS Workforce
1. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on ensuring that the NHS has the workforce it needs after the UK leaves the EU. 
The 150,000 EU nationals working in our health and care services do a brilliant job and we want them to continue doing it. I am in regular talks with Cabinet colleagues to inform both domestic workforce plans and the Government’s negotiations with the EU.
The Secretary of State will be aware that that figure represents in excess of 5% of the total workforce in the NHS. This matter will have to be addressed, engaging with the recruitment sector, the employment sector and, indeed, the devolved Administrations. Is that how he will handle it?
We absolutely will be taking a UK-wide approach. The numbers for England are actually slightly higher than those the right hon. Gentleman talks about—about 9% of doctors and about 19% of nurses are EU nationals. However, we are still seeing doctors and nurses coming to the UK, and we need to do everything in all parts of this House to reassure them that we see them as having a bright and vital future in the NHS.
If students with four As at A-level continue to find it very difficult to get into a medical degree in this country, is it any wonder that we have to import them from Europe?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. That is precisely why last year we increased the number of medical school places with, I think, the second biggest hike in the history of the NHS—a 25% increase. We absolutely do believe that this country should be training all the doctors and nurses that we need.
The truth is that EU staff no longer want to come here. Doctors and nurses are leaving in their droves, and thanks to the abolition of the NHS bursary, our nurses of tomorrow are going to have to pay to train. When will the Secretary of State understand that this staffing crisis has not materialised out of thin air but is directly attributable to his actions and the actions of his Government over the past seven years?
The hon. Lady may have noticed a little thing called Brexit that happened last year, which is the cause of understandable concern. If she looks at the facts about how many doctors came from the EU to the NHS in the year ending this March, in other words, post-Brexit, she will see that 2,200—[Interruption.] Someone asked about nurses. I happen to have that information here: 4,000 nurses joined the NHS from the EU in the year ending in March.
One of the consequences of free movement in the European Union is that proportionately we take in rather fewer doctors, in particular, and fewer nurses from the Indian subcontinent and other places. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the capacity to revisit the strong relationship we had with those workforces in the immediate post-war years?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We want to attract the brightest and best into the NHS from all over the world, wherever they come from, if there is a need. The only caveat I would make is that we have imported a number of doctors from very, very poor countries that actually need those skills back home. We have to recognise that we have international responsibilities to make sure that we train the number of doctors and nurses we need ourselves.
The Secretary of State should know that staff shortages are not just bad for patients—they are also costing a lot more, in Nottingham and elsewhere, because of locum and agency costs. Is it not clear that if we start restricting access from the EU for staffing purposes, it will cost the NHS an absolute fortune more?
Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is no intention to restrict access to vital professions such as the clinical professions in the NHS post-Brexit. We have said many times that we will have a pragmatic immigration policy. The long-term solution is not to depend on being able to import doctors and nurses from anywhere, because the World Health Organisation says that there is a worldwide shortage of about 2 million clinical professionals; we are not the only people facing the challenge of an ageing population.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s words and his deeds in terms of recruiting more doctors and nurses domestically, but as he said, hospitals such as mine in Basingstoke rely on the best and the brightest from around the world. What can he do to make sure that when we need to recruit nurses, in particular, we have the travel permits and work permits available to enable them to move in swiftly rather than having to wait for long periods of time?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. Nurses are, in fact, on the Home Office’s tier 2 shortage occupation list, and they will remain so for as long as we need them to do so. The bigger issue is that for a long time we have relied on being able to import as many doctors and nurses from the EU as we need to, and that has meant that we have not trained enough people ourselves. That is bad for EU countries and for our own young people.
Doctors and Nurses
2. What steps are being taken to increase the supply of doctors and nurses in the NHS. 
12. What steps his Department is taking to increase the number of doctors and nurses working in the NHS. 
Last year this Government announced one of the biggest expansions of medical training places in the history of the NHS, involving funding 1,500 additional medical school places every year—of which 500 start this September—and reforms that will enable universities to offer up to 10,000 additional nurse training places every year.
Swindon clinical commissioning group secured pilot funding for its successful video campaign to recruit additional GPs to fill vacancies in our local community. Will the Secretary of State commit to exploring further innovative ways to match newly qualified staff to vacancies that they might not have considered?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. In parts of the country, GP shortages have been successfully addressed as the CCG has done in Swindon. An important part of this is persuading people who go into medicine that general practice is one of the most exciting and rapidly changing parts of medicine today. We have seen a 9% increase in the number of medical students choosing to go into general practice since 2015.
Further to my hon. Friend’s question, may I ask the Secretary of State what he is doing to ensure that enough doctors are recruited, developed and retained at my local hospital, Stepping Hill?
I heard a lot about Stepping Hill when I went to visit my hon. Friend; I think it was last year. I had the privilege of visiting the hospital more recently after the horrific terrorist attacks, and I commend the hospital for the brilliant work that it did in the wake of the bomb. The hospital has done a good job of recruiting; I think it has recruited 93 more doctors and nearly 300 more nurses since 2010. A national programme to help all trusts to retain their nursing staff has been launched by NHS Improvement in the last week.
In this country, we are short of approximately 40,000 nurses, and applications for nursing places have gone down by 23%. Can the Secretary of State tell us why he and his Government think that that is the case?
The hon. Lady happens to work in an NHS hospital in which there has been a big increase in the number of nurses. Across the country, there are actually 13,000 more nurses working on our wards than there were in 2010, but she is right: we need more nurses and nursing staff, and that is why we are expanding the number of nurse associates. This year we are, for the first time, opening up an apprenticeship route into nursing, which means that people from non-traditional backgrounds—particularly band 3 healthcare assistants—will find it much easier to get into nursing. That is how we will expand the workforce.
According to the latest NHS indicators published by the House of Commons Library last week, the number of GPs is estimated to have fallen over the past 12 months, and the figures for March 2017 are expected to show a further fall. Why is that?
We have had a big increase in the number of medical students choosing to go into general practice, but we have also had an increase in the number of GPs retiring early. That is a problem that we are urgently addressing.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on serving as Health Secretary for three Parliaments, and say to him that besides doctors and nurses, he should look to increase the use of properly regulated acupuncturists, herbalists, homeopaths, chiropractors and osteopaths, who would reduce the burden on doctors and nurses in the health service.
Over those three Parliaments, I have learned to expect questions from my hon. Friend in a similar vein, and I commend him for his persistence in championing that cause. As he knows, I think the most important thing, with all such issues, is to follow the scientific advice.
When the Government removed the nursing bursary and introduced tuition fees, the Secretary of State said that it was being done, as he has repeated this morning, to fund 10,000 extra student nurse places. The universities are saying that no extra places have been commissioned, however, so when will we see an expansion of student nurse training?
I always welcome the hon. Lady’s forensic interest in matters south of the border, but given that Scotland has just seen its first fall in life expectancy for over 100 years, she might want to think about her own constituents. With respect to the number of nurses, we now have more than 50,000 nurses in training, and we are confident that we will deliver a big increase in the supply of nurses to the NHS.
We still have a nursing bursary and we have no tuition charges, so the Secretary of State may want to explain why universities claim there are no additional places. In addition, we are losing almost half of junior doctors at the end of their foundation years. What action is the Secretary of State taking to find out why?
At the heart of this is the need to open up avenues for more flexible working for both doctors and nurses. If the hon. Lady followed what we have done in England—by successfully pioneering such working, we have reduced agency spend by 19% in a year, whereas it is still going up in Scotland—she might find the NHS in Scotland has more money to spend on her own constituents.
Will the Secretary of State confirm what specific actions he is taking to help trusts, such as the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust that runs the Alex hospital in my constituency of Redditch, which are in special measures? Such trusts face special pressures in recruiting and retaining staff.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s first question to me. I am very aware of the issues faced by the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which I visited during the difficult winter period that it has just come through. It now has a new chief executive and leadership team, who have made a very promising start. From the experience of many other hospitals that have been through difficult patches, we have found that it is usually never about the commitment of staff, but about getting the right leadership in place. I can assure her that I saw outstanding commitment from the staff of the trust.
The number of nurses has fallen for the first time in a decade, which is why we need fair pay now. I read in the newspapers that the Health Secretary now supports the Labour party policy of scrapping the cap, although he did not vote with us last week. Given that he supports our policy, when he soon sets the remit for the NHS Pay Review Body, will he tell it to scrap the cap, and will he publish his instructions before the summer recess?
I did not vote for the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, because—as usual—Labour Members have told us a lot about how they want to spend the money, without having the faintest idea of where it will come from. He is ignoring an elephant in the room: if we had followed the spending plans he campaigned for in 2015, the NHS would have £2.6 billion less this year, which is the equivalent of 85,000 fewer nurses.
I want to talk about the spending plans for 2017, in which the Secretary of State can find £1 billion for Northern Ireland, but nothing for nurses in England. Would it not be fairer not to go ahead with further cuts to corporation tax, and to put that money towards giving our doctors and nurses a fair pay rise?
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what extra money is going into the NHS: three years ago, £1.8 billion, which was not asked for by Labour; two years ago, £3.8 billion, which is nearly £1 billion more than Labour was promising; and this year, £1.3 billion. That is a lot of extra money. Why is it going in? Because, under this Government, we have created nearly 3 million jobs, and that strong economy is funding an improving NHS.
3. What steps he is taking to increase the number of dermatologists in the NHS. 
Health Education England is responsible for meeting the workforce requirements of the NHS in England. The number of dermatologists in the NHS continues to grow, with 18% more consultants and 13% more doctors in training since May 2010. HEE’s latest workforce plan shows a 2% increase in funded training places for dermatologists compared with the previous year. Dermatology remains a popular choice for doctors, and it typically enjoys 100% fill rates.
I am pleased to say that, through a combined approach by the clinical commissioning group and Musgrove Park hospital in my constituency of Taunton Deane, it has been possible to prevent the long-term closure of the dermatology department and to put in place an interim service, with a full service reopening in 2018. Given the seriousness of the conditions of people coming through this department—including an increasing number of cases of skin cancer—will my right hon. Friend give further assurances about how we can ensure there is a sufficient supply of specialists in this area?
I know that my hon. Friend has campaigned actively to ensure that dermatology services at Musgrove Park hospital in her constituency have been retained following a consultant retirement, which prompted the temporary arrangements. I am pleased that, since the beginning of April, Somerset CCG has successfully commissioned regular dermatology clinics at Musgrove Park using specialists from Bristol, with a view to restoring a full service from next April. We recognise the important service that dermatology clinics provide and are committed to encouraging that specialty in Somerset and nationally.
Dermatology is one of the specialisms that is particularly dependent on doctors from other EU countries. Is it not becoming clearer by the day, whether on the staffing crisis in the NHS or the threat to our pharmaceutical industry highlighted by the Health Secretary in his letter today, that the extreme hard Brexit being pursued by the Prime Minister is disastrous for our NHS? What are the Minister and the Secretary of State doing to pull the Prime Minister back from that damaging course?
Order. In relation to dermatologists is, I think, what the right hon. Gentleman had in mind.
I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman precisely how many of the excellent dermatologists come from the EU, but I can tell him that, since the referendum, 562 non-UK EU doctors have come to work in the NHS.
St Helier Hospital
4. When he last discussed the future of St Helier Hospital with the Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust. 
The Secretary of State recently met the chief executive of Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust and was impressed by the fantastic work staff are doing despite the surroundings and facilities, which are clearly in need of improvement, for which the right hon. Gentleman has been campaigning. Any significant service change must be subject to consultation with local people, be based on clinical evidence, consider patient choice and have support from GP commissioners.
Indeed the Secretary of State did visit the hospital on the first day of the election campaign—nothing suspicious about that timing. The Minister will have heard that 43% of the estate is unsuitable for the delivery of modern healthcare yet, thanks to the hard work of staff, St Helier is one of the few hospitals that manages to keep on top of A&E waiting time targets. Would he like to be the bearer of good news and confirm that the Government will reinstate the £219 million that the Secretary of State cancelled to enable a new hospital to be built?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the south-west London sustainability and transformation plan area is in the process of turning its proposals into plans, with public consultation when appropriate. It has yet to make any recommendations. As he knows, it set up four local transformation boards to consider how best to transform services, including at both Epsom and St Helier hospitals, for the decade beyond 2020. It would therefore be wrong for me to prejudge those conclusions at this stage.
Rather than having empty political campaigns, does my hon. Friend have a sympathetic ear for an alternative, well thought-out plan for healthcare in Sutton which works clinically and financially and listens to all residents in Sutton?
My hon. Friend is right. We need to look to the proposals coming from the clinicians on the ground who are responsible for running acute services for the whole of south-west London. They have made it clear that they intend to consult the public once they have made their recommendations transparent. They intend to retain all five hospitals but to look at the configuration of services among them, and that needs to be led by clinicians.
5. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the number of GPs. 
In answering my first Health question, may I thank the cardiac intensive care unit team at Barts hospital in London, where my father-in-law, the just retired Supreme Court Justice Lord Toulson, sadly passed away last week? They did absolutely everything they could and showed the very best of the NHS.
We have committed to there being an extra 5,000 doctors in general practice by 2020 as part of a wider increase in the total workforce in general practice. NHS England and Health Education England are working together with the profession to increase the GP workforce. We believe that that is an essential part of creating a strong and sustainable general practice, and indeed NHS, for the future.
In recent years, the number of family doctors in Sunderland has plummeted. All the evidence shows that doctors are more likely to stay in the areas where they have trained. Does the Minister accept that new medical school places should be created in areas such as Sunderland, where there is the greatest need to recruit and retain general practitioners?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Since 2016, Sunderland’s GP Career Start scheme has recruited 10 newly qualified GPs. A further five newly qualified GPs will be recruited each year over the next three years. I understand her point about medical school provision. Undergraduate medical education is delivered in the north-east in partnership between Newcastle and Durham universities. There are currently 25 medical schools in England offering just over 6,000 Government-funded medical school places. We are funding 1,500 additional places each year. Five hundred have already been allocated, with 24 of them in Newcastle.
Recruiting more GPs in Cheltenham is vital to share the growing workload they face, but rising indemnity costs, particularly for out-of-hours care, can act as a disincentive. Does my hon. Friend agree that this must be addressed decisively?
Indeed we do. We recognise the role that GPs play in the delivery of NHS care. Following the GP indemnity review, additional money was included in the contract last year to address indemnity inflation. We said in our manifesto that we will ensure appropriate funding for GPs to meet rising costs in the short term and work with the industry to produce a longer term solution.
17. As the number of GPs goes down, there is increasing pressure on the time they have with their patients. One area being missed is that of suicide and self-harm. We now know there is an increased risk of suicidal behaviour for those on unstable and irregular zero-hour contracts, and that those on employment and support allowance are more than two thirds more likely to take their own life. What are we doing to advise GPs on that?
The hon. Lady, who chairs the all-party group on suicide and self-harm prevention, does a huge amount of work in this area. The GP patient survey last year showed that 85% of respondents rated their GP experience as good. We are investing about £30 million of taxpayers’ money in the releasing time for care programme, which we hope will increase the time GPs can spend with patients on issues such as those she raises, but in my new role I am very happy to meet her.
GPs are the first line of defence against antibiotic resistance, which has the potential to be an uncontrollable global new black death. Will the Minister confirm that the UK will retain its position as a world leader on this issue, and will he tell us when the global antimicrobial resistance innovation fund will open for applications and when the pilot reimbursement model for drug development will begin operating?
The Government have committed £50 million of official development assistance towards setting up the global antimicrobial resistance innovation fund. We are one of the world leaders on this subject. I am meeting my hon. Friend and my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) shortly, when we can take this forward.
I spoke to one GP last week who told me that because he has been unable to recruit help he has only been able to take one week’s leave in three years. That is clearly not sustainable. The morale of GPs is at an all-time low, the number of GPs continues to fall, surgeries are closing, and patients are finding it harder and harder to get an appointment. The Secretary of State promised an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020, but given that it takes 10 years to train a GP will the Minister tell the House how exactly he is going to deliver on that promise?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and I look forward to engaging with her on such matters. The “General Practice Forward View” is a landmark document, which was published in April last year. As she knows, it sets out extra investment that GPs have been calling for for years: £2.5 billion a year for GP services. That means investment is rising. The good news, as the Secretary of State said, is that more people are coming into general practice. We want to continue to encourage that, but we also have to take action to prevent early retirements and to bring people back to general practice. We are indeed doing that.
6. What steps are being taken to broaden routes into nursing. 
Developing new routes into nursing is a priority for the Government. That is why we launched, as the Secretary of State set out, both the new nursing associate role and the nursing degree apprenticeship earlier this year. They will open new routes into the registered nursing profession for thousands of people from all backgrounds and allow employers to grow their own workforce from their local communities.
My constituents welcome the manifesto commitment to expand the number of clinical staff for mental health. What more can my hon. Friend say about plans for mental health nurse training and how they will benefit dementia services, in particular, in my constituency?
Health Education England’s “Workforce Plan for England” for 2016-17 indicated an increase of more than 3% in the number of mental health nurse training places. It stated:
“The current level of mental health nurse training is the highest of any nursing branch as a percentage of the workforce it serves”,
which should allow for an increase of some 22% to more than 8,000 full-time equivalent staff members in the mental health workforce by 2020.
The fact is that when the Government chose to charge students record levels of tuition fees and scrap their NHS bursary, the Secretary of State and his Ministers were warned that that would lead to a fall in the number of applications, and what has happened since then? The number of applications for nursing degrees has fallen by 23%. Given that the Secretary of State has already acknowledged that we cannot continue our over-reliance on EU staff following Brexit, when will Ministers understand that the biggest challenge facing nursing recruitment is not our policy on the EU, but the Government’s own health policies?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that we continue to have a surplus of applicants for nursing degree courses in this country. The level of that surplus has fallen somewhat as a result of the change in funding structures. We shall have to see where it ends up, because at present universities are not recruiting directly outside the UCAS system, but we are confident that there will be more applicants than places this year by a ratio of some 2:1.
Does the Minister agree that there are opportunities for more mature students to gain access to courses easily, and that more work must be done with adult learning institutions to provide courses that allow such direct access?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the more mature workforce, particularly people resuming careers later in life—perhaps, in the case of women, after they have had children—is an important source of experienced professionals, and we need to do more than we have been doing to try to encourage such people to return to the workforce.
Accident and Emergency Departments
7. What steps he has to secure the future of accident and emergency departments. 
Last year our A&Es saw 1,800 more people every day within the four-hour target than they did in 2010. We also have nearly 1,500 more emergency care doctors and over 600 more emergency care consultants.
A&E departments and associated acute care services at district hospitals such as Stafford and Burton are a critical part of the regional emergency infrastructure, enabling the large city-based departments to deal with major trauma specialist cases as well as day-to-day emergencies. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that that vital emergency infrastructure is protected, enhanced and funded?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that an emergency care network that works well for his constituents is essential. As he fully understands, that will mean relying on a network of hospitals. I recognise the concern at his own local hospital, for which he campaigns extremely vigorously, and I assure him that I shall be watching very carefully what happens there.
Will the Secretary of State now confirm what the Prime Minister said when she visited west Yorkshire, namely that it was scaremongering to talk of the closure of Huddersfield A&E? Will he also confirm that we should have a real plan with a gold-standard university for a new medical school in Huddersfield, so that we can really attract talent? That would do a great deal for morale, which would lead to the recruitment of good doctors and nurses everywhere.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is time we had more medical schools, given that health and social care will be one of the fastest-expanding areas of the economy in the coming years. I think the Prime Minister was absolutely right to say that there should be no scaremongering about important local plans that will improve services for patients.
Will the Secretary of State reassure my constituents that the component parts of the NHS can communicate with each other sufficiently to ensure that decisions such as the one by a medical dean to remove accreditation for anaesthetic training will not lead to the closure of A&E departments in hospitals such as Houghton general, where my father was treated so well last Friday?
The hon. Lady’s father is a splendid fellow, and he is now in another place. [Laughter.] I was referring to another House of Parliament.
I was concerned about the general laughter following that comment, Mr Speaker.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend’s father was treated so well, and I very much enjoyed my visit to the hospital recently. She is right: where there are changes in the patterns of training, we need to be very careful to ensure that they do not interrupt the delivery of local services in a disadvantageous way.
The boundaries of the sustainability and transformation partnerships are bound to cause concern about the future of A&E and other acute departments given the nature of them. My area, south Cumbria—relatively sparsely populated and rural—is lumped in with Lancashire, which is largely urban. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the voices of rural communities will not be dwarfed by those of the larger urban ones, and in this week, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Westmorland general hospital, will he give guarantees that it will not be closed and will indeed not receive any downgrading as a result of the STP process?
Westmorland general hospital has a very important future in the NHS and I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I do not think he should be concerned about STP footprints covering both rural and urban areas. However, where there is an issue in his constituency, and many others, it is the response times for ambulances in the most remote areas, and we are looking at that.
Another threat to A&E units is the capped expenditure process, which will mean hundreds of millions of pounds cut from NHS budgets. That was sneaked out during the election, but so far we have had nothing but silence from this Government. It is time that we had the truth: when did the Secretary of State sign off these plans and when is he going to publish them?
The capped expenditure process is an NHS England initiative to meet its statutory duty to live within its budget, and I support the principle that in a period where real expenditure on the NHS is going up by £5 billion, those benefits should be spread fairly among patients in all parts of the country.
8. What progress is being made on improving end-of-life care. 
In July 2016 the Government published “Our commitment to you for end of life care”. This set out what everyone should expect from their care at the end of life and the actions we are taking to make high quality and personalisation in care a reality for everyone. By 2020 we want to significantly improve patient choice, including ensuring an increase in the number of people able to die in the place of their choice, including at home.
I thank the Minister for her reply, and it is welcome news that there is such a focus on end-of-life care. Will she meet me to discuss the Access to Palliative Care Bill presented in the other place, to look at how we can improve access to palliative care across the whole of the UK?
I will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend, who is a committed and passionate campaigner in this area. I am keen to explore anything that improves care and choice for all patients at the end of their life.
22. Croydon’s NHS, including end-of-life care, has been funded below the London average every year since the Conservatives first came into government. That is leading to the closure of services in Croydon that are available elsewhere, and to longer waiting times for GPs or the A&E in Croydon. When will Croydon’s funding be brought up to the London average?
The amount of resource that is dedicated locally is a matter for clinical commissioning groups, and we continue to make sure that funding is fair. I suggest the hon. Gentleman takes that up with his CCG.
Healthcare: CCG Guidance
9. What guidance he provides to clinical commissioning groups on decision-making processes to improve healthcare provision. 
Clinical commissioning groups, as statutory organisations, have a duty to deliver the best possible services and outcomes for patients within their financial allocation. NHS England supports them in this by providing several sets of guidance, as do the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and other arm’s length bodies.
I thank the Minister for that answer. He will know that the clinically driven Future Fit process in Shropshire could lead to hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in our local hospital. That is being jeopardised by Telford CCG and Labour-controlled Telford council. When there is this gridlock and impasse between two local CCGs over a long period of time, what more can the Government do to break the deadlock?
I am aware that my hon. Friend has been concerned about this for a long time. An independent review of Future Fit is taking place, and he will know that Professor Simon Brake has been appointed as the independent chair of the joint committee of CCGs, agreed between them both. The review will report in July and be considered by the local CCGs before next steps, including on public consultation, are decided. Clear rules apply to any significant reconfigurations and I expect these to be followed in Shropshire as anywhere else.
Patients at the Manchester Royal infirmary with serious congenital heart problems found out last week that the services will now no longer be provided in Manchester, or in fact anywhere in the north-west, due to a Government review of services which means that staff cannot be retained and recruited. What has the Minister got to say to those patients who now have to go to Leeds or Newcastle to get the lifesaving surgery that they need?
I understand that this is an independent review of services, and it will report in due course.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, when political activists mislead and misinform my constituents about the future of our Princess Royal hospital, the CCG should communicate directly and clearly with residents so that they can be reassured that our A&E and our women’s and children’s services are safe?
Yes, I do. The CCG should communicate directly with patients, and that should be clinically led when making the clinical case for any service reconfigurations. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), there are clear guidelines that the CCGs must follow. There are now five tests that must be met before any reconfigurations are brought forward, and that should be the same for my hon. Friend’s area as for everywhere else in England.
The Abingdon community hospital is a treasured asset in my constituency, but in trying to find savings of £176 million, the local clinical commissioning group is launching a consultation on its future imminently. May I seek reassurance, on behalf of my constituents, that the hospital will not close and that, as part of the consultation, their voices will be not only heard but acted upon?
Clinical commissioning groups have a statutory responsibility to consult the public, and Members of Parliament have a key role in ensuring that members of the public engage with those consultations, as I do in my area. I will be following the hon. Lady’s case closely, and she is welcome to come and see me about it if she likes.
Tobacco Control Plan
10. When the Government plan to publish a tobacco control plan. 
The UK is a world leader in tobacco control, and we will publish a new tobacco control plan shortly, building on our success. That plan will set out new national ambitions to further reduce smoking prevalence, particularly among disadvantaged groups.
I need to declare an interest as a Suffolk county councillor. Given the health responsibilities of local government, will the Minister tell the House what can be done to deal with the situation in which the actuarial advice from local government and other public sector pension schemes is that they are not at liberty to disinvest from tobacco stocks?
I will have to look into the exact point that the hon. Gentleman raises, but I should like to welcome him to his place. I worked closely with his predecessor, and the hon. Gentleman has a tough act to follow. When we publish the tobacco control plan, there will be clear local tobacco plans as part of it. We in the Government can give the best evidence of what works, but we need to recognise what is needed in each local area. I know that he has specific needs in his local area in relation to tackling this issue.
I welcome the Minister to his place. Does he agree that it is vital that anyone who approaches the national health service with a smoking-related disease should be pointed towards smoking cessation services? Does he also agree that it is vital that local authorities continue to run those services?
Yes, absolutely. Local authorities have an obligation to do that, but as I said to the new hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin), it is important that local plans come forward alongside the new national plan. Local solutions are needed for different areas, and that will be the case in my hon. Friend’s borough just as it is in my area of Hampshire.
Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the smoking ban across the UK, but sadly the celebration was dampened by the fact that we have yet to see the Government’s new tobacco control plan, which was promised in December 2015. The previous two Health Ministers I have shadowed repeatedly said that we would see the plan shortly, but they failed to set out an updated strategy for working towards a smoke-free society. I welcome the Minister to his new post—we have worked well together in the past on the all-party parliamentary group on breast cancer—and I am hoping that, although he has not yet given us a date for the plan, he will be able to give us an indication. Is it going to be published before Christmas?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I think I can call her that; we have worked closely together in the past. I am new to my ministerial post, but I have been through the plan, and it is I who has to stand up and defend it. I want to be sure that it is right and that I am as happy with it as everyone else in the Government. My intention is that it will be published before the summer recess.
Within East Sussex, Wealden has the highest number of smoking-related deaths. I welcome the update on the tobacco control plan, but how will my hon. Friend raise awareness and provide equal access for rural communities?
Rural communities are as important as any other. It is up to East Sussex County Council to come forward with a local tobacco control plan, and I know my hon. Friend will be taking a close interest in that, as she does in all matters when representing her constituents.
Dental Surgery: Children
11. What steps he is taking to reduce the number of children admitted to hospital for dental surgery. 
Public Health England leads a wide-ranging programme to improve children’s oral health. Its oral health strategy, which was published last year, showed a marked improvement across the country in the proportion of children with no obvious tooth decay—it rose from 69% in 2008 to over 75% in 2015. NHS England is finalising plans for the “Starting Well” programme, which will operate in 13 high-needs areas to improve the oral health of under-fives.
Prevention and early intervention are crucial, but no NHS dentists are accepting new patients in Dewsbury, which has the second-worst provision in the country. Children in Dewsbury have five times the national average level of tooth decay. I have asked for help on this for two years, but absolutely nothing has been done. Can you tell me why the dental health of children in Dewsbury is so unimportant to this Government?
I cannot, but I hope that the Minister can—preferably rather briefly.
I will try, Mr Speaker.
NHS England recognises the significant challenges in dentistry in Yorkshire, which was why it ran a pilot scheme from January until the last week of June to improve access to primary care dentistry in the Bradford City, Bradford Districts and North Kirklees CCG areas. The pilot will inform the wider work that the NHS is considering across Yorkshire.
I declare an interest which is probably fairly well known.
The Minister will be aware that the answer is early-years prevention. A huge campaign, which is making progress, is being led by the chief dental officer, for whom I have considerable admiration. Is the Minister prepared to meet me and the chief dental officer to discuss that progress? In advance of that appointment, will he look at the possibility of providing additional funding from the annual dental clawback?
New Members probably will not know that the hon. Gentleman is a dentist.
I believe that my hon. Friend is the only dentist in the House, and he still practises occasionally. I would be delighted to meet my hon. and experienced Friend to discuss the issues about dentistry that he raises.
General Practitioners: Newcastle
13. What assessment he has made of the consistency and quality of GP services in (a) Newcastle and (b) England. 
In 2016, 85% of patients surveyed across England reported a good overall experience of their GP surgery. In the Newcastle Gateshead CCG, patient satisfaction is even higher than the national average at 88%.
Newcastle has fantastic GPs, but many of my poorest and most vulnerable constituents suffer from GP unavailability and a constant change of providers due to the requirement to re-tender every couple of years to a market that, quite frankly, does not want them because they are too poor or too marginalised to make money from. Will the Minister meet me and my local CCG to find out how we can ensure that those people get the quality and consistency of GP services that they deserve?
I am very happy to do that.
Following the closure of their GP surgery, my constituents in Brownsover have had to make do without one over the past few years. Approvals are in place for a new surgery and it is due to open next summer. Will the Minister confirm that the timeline set out by NHS England will be met?
I will ask NHS England, but if that is what it has told my hon. Friend, that is what will happen.
Mental Health Services
14. What plans he has to improve the integration of mental health services for young people and adults. 
We are investing a record £1.4 billion in children’s mental health services. The transition from children’s services to adult services can cause distress, so NHS England has prioritised transitions when offering financial incentives for improvements. We will consider that in the forthcoming Green Paper.
I thank the Minister for that answer. There is a growing crisis in young people’s mental health in Plymouth and the far south-west. Despite 75% of mental health problems starting before the age of 18, only 8% of funding is allocated to young people. Will the Minister consider ring-fencing that young people’s mental health spending so that the funding gets to where it is needed?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We have to balance the need to give CCGs the flexibility to dedicate funding and prioritise in their own way. We have been told by mental health professionals that the targets for physical health are more rigorous than those for mental health. We need to keep that under review, but we have imposed additional targets, which are being met.
I commend the Government for their work on mental health over the past few years, but when the Department of Health publishes its Green Paper, jointly with the Department for Education, may I urge the Minister to focus on the evidence of what works for young people and children, which is rigorous early intervention, often with enduring psychotherapeutic interventions? Can she reassure me that the Green Paper will look at evidence on what actually works for young people?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Indeed, the Care Quality Commission is undertaking a thematic review to see what works. He is right to identify early intervention as key but, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) highlighted, there is a need to consider the transition as well.
The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) is not exactly standing; he is more perched like a panther about to pounce.
Thank you for the encouragement, Mr Speaker.
I have been alerted to an online posting yesterday on the social network Nextdoor by the father of a teenager who suffered awful trauma witnessing the horror at Grenfell Tower. He was after therapy for his daughter. Clearly there is an absolute need to ensure that everyone who may be in need knows how to get such therapy. What are the Government doing to ensure that everyone does know? Also, what are they doing to ensure that there is sufficient funding locally so that mental health services can provide for what will clearly be ongoing needs?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I would be grateful to receive more details so that we can make sure that such support is going where it is needed. I advise him that, certainly in the case of the too-frequent disasters that we have had recently, we have been relying on more intervention on the ground. In our work on mental health first aid we are prioritising exactly those areas.
15. What steps are being taken to ensure that NHS Improvement provides timely and effective support to health communities to deliver consistently high-quality care. 
NHS Improvement offers tailored support to the organisations it oversees, particularly those that have gone into special measures as a result of a Care Quality Commission review. The Department, of course, has responsibility for holding NHS Improvement to account, and it does that through me.
Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust is in special measures for both financial and quality reasons, but the support given to date by NHSI has been neither timely nor effective. What are the Government going to do about that?
We are clearly disappointed that Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust has gone back into special measures. It is one of a very small number of trusts that have emerged from special measures and then reverted, so this is something in which we are taking a lot of interest. NHS Improvement has appointed an improvement director and is in the process of arranging for a nearby buddy trust to provide some support. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Department is receiving weekly updates.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
Yesterday I updated the House on the action that we are taking to address delayed discharges from hospitals in advance of the winter. Since February, there has been a record decrease in delayed discharges, but faster progress is still needed to free up beds for the sickest patients and to reduce pressure on A&Es. Yesterday we therefore set out further measures to support the NHS and local government to reduce delays, including specific reductions required in all local areas, a prospective review of next year’s social care funding for poorly performing local authorities, and immediate CQC reviews in the worst-performing areas.
The latest figures from the British Medical Association show a huge rise in the number of patients with mental health conditions who are being sent hundreds of miles away from home for treatment. Is not any talk of parity of esteem meaningless unless and until patients can access the support they need close to home?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that that is a very important issue. It is particularly important because people with mental health conditions need regular visits from their friends and family to help them to get over a crisis. Indeed, their chances of getting discharged and being able to go home are much higher when they are nearer home. She will be aware that we have a commitment to eliminate all out-of-area placements for children by 2020, and we are making big efforts with adults as well.
T4. Leicester and Leicestershire MPs, irrespective of party and led by the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), are united with local people, patients and medical professionals in opposition to NHS England’s badly thought out and, frankly, wrong proposals to close Glenfield hospital’s children’s heart unit. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that he continues to appreciate the strength of feeling on this issue and that he will ensure that the eventual decision reflects the responses received to the consultation? 
My hon. Friend and other Leicestershire MPs have made their views very clear to me. I hosted a number of them, from both sides of the House, to discuss this issue. He is aware that the public consultation on congenital heart disease services continues until 17 July. Obviously, we will take all the comments made into account when we come to the conclusions from that report.
Today is the sixth anniversary of the publication of the Dilnot commission’s report on the funding of social care. In those six years, Ministers have legislated for a cap and a floor on care costs, and then abandoned those measures. They brought forward disastrous proposals in their manifesto for what became known as the “dementia tax”, and they appear to have abandoned those measures, too. Will the Secretary of State confirm that those policies have indeed been abandoned? Will he tell me, and more than 1 million people with unmet care needs, when he expects to have some new proposals for reform?
I have great respect for the hon. Lady, because she campaigns consistently on this issue, but I do not think that what she says is a fair reflection of what has happened. In the last year of the previous Labour Government, 45,000 people had to sell their home to pay for their care costs, whereas this Government have made it the law that no one has to sell their home. There is more work to do, but we have made important progress and will continue to do so.
T5. Nothing is more important than that people can access a GP when they need one. With that in mind, will the Minister join me in welcoming the move made by South Tees clinical commissioning group to enable 90,000 more appointments a year to be generated for people in Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland by ensuring that appointments are available on evenings, weekends and bank holidays? 
I do indeed welcome that. Improvements to GP access in the NHS in South Tees have been put in place. Patients in Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland can now benefit from accessing GP appointments at a time that is convenient for them, seven days a week—that is exactly as it should be.
T2. With the Scottish Government now committed to a soft opt-out system for organ donation similar to that implemented in Wales in 2015, is it not time that the UK Government followed the lead of the Welsh and Scottish Governments by introducing a similar system south of the border? 
There is a lot of merit in the opt-out system that has been developed in Wales for some time and is now happening in Scotland. We are looking closely at the evidence, but we have a lot of sympathy with this. If the system does lead to an increase in organ donations, it is certainly something we would want to pursue here.
T6. One-year cancer survival rates are now at a record high of 70%, but does the Minister agree that we should and can go further by improving early diagnosis and screening? 
Yes. Progress is really encouraging, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will have been encouraged to see today’s press coverage about the chief medical officer’s independent report on genomics—the age of precision medicine is truly here. The NHS has always been at the forefront of new technologies, and so it must be with this; we are determined that it will be.
T3. Would a Minister be willing to meet the all-party group on blood donation after it has been reconvened next week and would they be able to provide an update on the work of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs in respect of lifting or easing the deferral period for gay men who want to donate blood? 
I would be happy to agree to such a meeting, and I know this issue has support on both sides of the House.
T8. Last week I met doctors and nurses at the Friarage, an excellent small hospital serving a rural population spread over 1,000 square miles. Will my right hon. Friend urge South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to do everything it can to ensure the continued provision of emergency care clinicians and anaesthetists at this vital local hospital? 
I am aware that my hon. Friend has taken a strong interest in the number of consultants and anaesthetists available at the Friarage hospital. I will be happy to meet him to discuss his concerns in person.
T7. At the height of the recent election campaign, NHS England took forward plans to merge, in effect, six south London CCGs, including Greenwich CCG, under one single chief officer. Does the Minister agree that that would be a retrograde step, not only in terms of local accountability, but at a time when primary care has been devolved downwards and all the emphasis is on collaboration and integration at a local borough level? 
I think the answer is that this varies from area to area. The CCGs grew up organically following the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Some parts of the country are discovering that the groups can be more effective if they combine forces, but these things have to be decided locally.
In addition to the Government’s welcome focus on mental health first aid, may we have equal focus on mental health keep fit, looking particularly at the Mental Health Foundation’s 10 pointers, so that we can all keep our mental health in good condition?
As ever, my hon. Friend makes an important point. I think that every child should leave school as knowledgeable about how to remain mentally resilient as about how to be physically healthy.
T9. What recent assessment has the Secretary of State made of the financial sustainability of Coventry and Rugby clinical commissioning group? 
Like all clinical commissioning groups, Coventry and Rugby CCG is under a great deal of pressure, but our view is that, given the recent funding increases, it should be entirely possible for it to be sustainable.
May I return the Minister’s attention to the issues facing Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust? My constituents are worried that both Grimsby and Scunthorpe hospitals are in special measures for the second time in as many years. Will he meet me and neighbouring MPs to discuss the situation?
I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend, but he should be confident that we have put in place a substantial support package, including a buddy relationship with another trust and special teams from NHS Improvement, to turn the situation around.
T10. What action does the Secretary of State intend to take to address the link between suicide and socioeconomic deprivation highlighted in the Samaritans’ “Dying from inequality” report as he seeks to reduce the suicide rate by 10% by 2020? 
We will look carefully at the Samaritans’ report, as we always do with what the Samaritans say. I think the signs are that our policies are having an impact and reducing suicide rates significantly, but suicide remains the biggest cause of death among men under 50.
Funding our national health service to meet the needs of UK residents is one proposition; funding an international health service open to the world is another proposition entirely. Are there any indications that advance charging for non-emergency treatment for overseas patients is putting more money into our NHS?
My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for ensuring that non-resident visitors to this country contribute for healthcare received here. We put in place a number of measures to enhance the appropriate charging structures and increased the funding received by the NHS from £89 million to £289 million in 2015-16. We expect similar action to result in a further increase.
NHS Property Services has just signed a £1 million lease on a central London location. May I suggest that other properties were available? Would the Secretary of State like me to inquire in my constituency, where NHS Property Services increased Knowle West Health Park’s rent threefold? Better value for the taxpayer is available.
I will be happy to look into the matter if the hon. Lady sends me the details.
I know that Ministers share my passion for ensuring that a bereavement suite is attached to every maternity unit in the country. What steps can the Government take to make that a reality?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his dedicated work. The Government understand the importance of bereaved parents having a dedicated place where they can be cared for and not hear other babies crying. We have funded better bereavement spaces in nearly 40 hospitals and continue to work with Sands—the stillbirth and neonatal death charity—to see what more we can do to improve provision.
It is always quite interesting to study the habits of colleagues. The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) has perambulated from one side of the Chamber to the other; nevertheless, she is here and I suppose we should hear her. No? The hon. Lady had a question on the Order Paper. Your opportunity is now—get in there!
During the election campaign, a lady in my constituency told me that she had had to wait nearly four hours for an ambulance to arrive at her home to help her off the floor. Does the Secretary of State have confidence in the ambulance service in London and other regions where targets have been consistently missed? Will he now look at extra resources for the ambulance service across the country, which is so urgently needed by all of our constituents?
If I may say so, that was a brilliant recovery. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to focus her attention on the performance of ambulance services. They are under pressure. They are hitting around 71% for their category A calls, and the target is to hit 75%. However, there are some bigger issues with the way those targets work, which we are looking at. Her ambulance service has just had a Care Quality Commission inspection.
As a result of the capped expenditure process, the wider Devon sustainability and transformation plan is being asked to make £78 million of savings at short notice—within the next nine months. Does the Secretary of State share my concern about the impact on patients, the short timeframe and the undermining of savings already agreed by the STP? Will he meet me to discuss this matter and the wider CEP?
I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend. The principle behind the capped expenditure process is that we should have fairness between patients in different parts of the country. We should not see patients in one part of the country disadvantaged because the NHS has overspent in their neighbouring area, but the way in which we implement the process must be sensitive and fair. We must ensure that we get it right.
What advice would the Secretary of State give to my constituents who receive their urgent care from Virgin Care, and are told that wounds should be dressed only once and that, in the event that they need to re-attend, they should purchase further dressings from the local chemist? Free at the point of delivery?
I suggest that the hon. Lady gets in touch with the details. What I would say is that when care is not satisfactory—whether it is delivered by the public sector or the independent sector—we have an independent inspection regime to root out the problems.
I was delighted to hear that, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), the Minister was positive about the progress of genome screening. On a recent visit to Nottingham University, I saw similar techniques applied to Alzheimer’s research. Will he back using the process for that, as well as for cancer diagnosis and treatment?
The chief medical officer’s report—I am sure that my hon. Friend will read it in due course—is clear that this is an exciting new innovation in medicine. We will tackle cancer first, but there is real potential for applying it to rare diseases and the other disease that she mentioned.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. We must now move on.
Education: Public Funding
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State if she will make a statement on the Government’s plans for the public funding of education.
This Government are determined to ensure that all pupils regardless of where they live receive a world-class education. Over the past seven years, we have made significant progress. There are now 1.8 million more children in schools that are rated good or outstanding than there were in 2010. Today, we saw an eight percentage point rise in key stage 2 results, as pupils and teachers rise to meet the challenge of the new, more demanding, curriculum and assessments.
Looking beyond schools, the Government have prioritised funding for all phases of education. At the spending review, we announced that we will be investing an additional £1 billion a year in early education entitlements, including funding for the new 30-hours’ entitlement and funding to increase the per child rate that providers receive. We protected the national base rate per pupil for 16 to 19-year-olds in sixth forms, sixth form colleges and further education colleges in England. In the spring Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced new investment in technical education for 16 to 19-year-olds, rising to an additional £500 million per year.
We have maintained funding for the adult education budget, which supports adult skills participation, in cash terms at £1.5 billion per year. We have implemented reforms to higher education to drive greater competition and teaching standards. Together that adds up to a comprehensive package of support for education at all stages of life.
We want to ensure that every school has the resources it needs, which is why we have protected the schools budget in real terms since 2010. We set out in our manifesto our intention to increase funding further as well as to continue to protect the pupil premium to support the most disadvantaged pupils. We recognise that schools face cost pressures beyond the total amount of funding going in and we know that there are two crucial questions. First, we know that how schools use their money is important in delivering the best outcomes for pupils, and we will continue to provide support to help schools to use their funding effectively. Secondly, we know that how funding is distributed across the country is anachronistic and unfair and that the current system is in desperate need of urgent reform.
We have gone further than any previous Government in reforming school funding. The second stage of our consultation on a national funding formula for schools closed in March and I am grateful to the 25,000 people who responded, as well as to hon. Members who contributed during the more than 10 hours of parliamentary debates on school funding and during many face-to-face meetings over that period. It is important that we consider carefully how to proceed and, as outlined in our manifesto, we will make sure that no school has its budget cut as a result of the new formula. We remain committed to working with Parliament and introducing proposals that will command consensus. We will set out our plans shortly.
I thank the Minister, but there is no sign of the Education Secretary. And where is the Prime Minister? She isn’t running her party any more, Mr Speaker —she is running away from her party. The Education Secretary put in a bid for extra money for schools this weekend, not at Cabinet but on the front page of the Torygraph, and no wonder when Arlene Foster got £1 billion—she must be the most expensive right winger since Cristiano Ronaldo. Will the Minister confirm that that was an increase in school funding of £150 per pupil in Northern Ireland? And is there any extra Treasury funding for education in the rest of the country, or not?
The Minister has said that the new funding formula will avoid cash cuts, so where is the funding for that coming from? New money, or just cuts elsewhere? When he says that no school will lose out, can he confirm that that is in cash terms, not real terms? The Conservatives promised an extra £4 billion for schools in their manifesto. Is that now Government policy, and how much of that is for each year? They were going to raise the money by scrapping infant school meals. Is that still policy? Will the Minister provide universal free breakfasts in primary schools, and does he finally have proper costings for that? Is he still planning to fund new and expanded grammar schools, or has that now been abandoned as well?
The Education Secretary was not the only one haggling with the Chancellor in the Sunday papers. Her predecessor, now the Environment Secretary, said that he always listened to public sector pay bodies. He must have forgotten that he actually abolished the school support staff negotiating body. Will the Minister now look at reinstating a pay body for support staff, and does he support lifting the 1% pay cap in education?
The First Secretary of State also called for a national debate on tuition fees, so will the Minister give us one on the Floor of the House on the Government’s latest fee hike, which they sneaked through during the election campaign? Finally, will he centrally fund any safety measures for school buildings, and update the House before the recess, as well as looking at student halls? Just two years ago, the Government were elected on a manifesto that promised no cuts to the funding of any school or any pupil. Will they finally meet that promise?
We are spending record amounts on school funding: £41 billion this year, rising to £42 billion in 2019-20 with increasing pupil numbers. We will respond to the consultation shortly, but the public can be confident that what we promise in our response will be deliverable and will be delivered.
Most economic commentators know that the wild promises made by Labour during the general election to spend billions of pounds a year of taxpayers’ money nationalising the energy industry, the water industry and the rail industry, and billions of pounds on promises across a range of spending areas, will simply add more than £50 billion a year to our annual deficit, leading to a crisis of confidence among those who Labour expects to lend the Government that money. That in turn would lead to catastrophic damage to our economy, an economy that today, under this Government, has produced strong economic growth, record numbers of jobs and the lowest level of unemployment for more than 40 years. A strong economy funds public services; economic chaos leads straight to the International Monetary Fund and to emergency cuts.
The hon. Lady asked a number of questions. The School Teachers Review Body has submitted its 27th report to the Secretary of State, and it makes recommendations for the 2017 pay award for teachers and school leaders. We continue to consider the report carefully, and we will publish it, together with our response and a draft revised schoolteachers pay and conditions document, as soon as possible. The hon. Lady asked about universal infant free school meals. We have listened carefully to the sector’s views on the proposal to remove infant free school meals, and we have decided that it is right to retain the existing provision. Universal infant free school meals ensure that children receive a nutritious meal during the day, which saves hard-working families hundreds of pounds a year and boosts educational achievement, especially among children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
The hon. Lady also asked about fire safety in schools. We are conducting a survey of all schools to find out what cladding they have on their buildings. For schools over four storeys or 18 metres that have cladding we are asking fire inspectors to conduct an urgent inspection of fire safety.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. In view of the level of interest and the other business that I have to accommodate, I appeal to colleagues to ask brief, preferably single-sentence questions. I call Tim Loughton.
While appreciating the fact that the Government have done more to address the fair funding formula, the Minister knows from his own county, which is the worst-funded shire county in the country, that heads face urgent decisions. In view of the fact that the consultation has been put back a year, can we have an urgent steer on whether the formula is going to be resolved before the recess, because these challenges face heads now?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s question, because it was precisely to deal with historical underfunding of counties such as West Sussex and other f40 counties across the country that we went ahead and consulted on a national funding formula. Other Governments who were in office before us should have done that. I accept his concerns. We have made announcements about 2017-18, and we will respond to the second phase of the consultation shortly. We will have a response to that in the normal course of events.
The Queen’s Speech has seen U-turn after U-turn, with flagship policies ditched, including the policy on grammar schools, to appease Back Benchers. Those U-turns make an absolute mockery of the Prime Minister’s “strong and stable” mantra. We welcome the U-turn on the decision to scrap free school lunches but, again, we regret that the decision was made not with the interests of pupils at heart but to protect a fragile Queen’s Speech from a weakened Government.
In their manifesto, the Tories planned to save £650 million from ending free school meals and use it in the schools budget. It is now incumbent on the Government to provide an urgent explanation of how they will stand by their manifesto pledge to make sure that no school has its budget cut. Where will the £650 million come from, or have they decided to scrap that additional funding?
I have already responded to that point. We have made a commitment that no school will lose funding as a consequence of moving to the national fair funding formula. We will respond in due course to the consultation, and then the hon. Lady will find the answers to all her questions. I would tell her, however, that today we have published key stage 2 results that show an eight percentage point increase, based on a new, more demanding curriculum that is on a par with the best curricula for primary schools in the world. I urge her to look at where the Scottish education system is compared with what is happening in England.
The solution to this is fairer funding. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who argue for greater funding must be honest about where it is coming from? Every five minutes that our proceedings continue, national debt, already at £1.7 trillion, increases by £400,000. People who argue for more funding are arguing for more debt being loaded on to children in our schools.
When we came to office in 2010, we inherited an annual budget deficit of £150 billion— we were spending £150 billion more in that year than we were receiving in income, and that £150 billion is equal to about 9.9% of the total income of the country. Due to the hard work of the Government and the people of this country, and the sacrifices people have made, we have reduced that deficit to about 2.5% of GDP—about £50 billion a year. Notwithstanding those efforts, we have managed to protect core school funding in real terms, and we are spending record amounts on schools—£41 billion this year.
I invite the Minister to come to Huddersfield to look at per pupil funding and to hear what teachers, headteachers and support staff think of what he has said today. Morale is very low indeed in the teaching profession, and that is largely down to him and his Government.
As I said, we are spending record amounts on our schools—£41 billion this year. We do understand that schools are having to face cost pressures, with higher employers’ national insurance contributions and higher employer contributions to teacher pensions, as well as having to fund the 1% pay rise. But we would not have had to make those sacrifices and deal with those efficiencies if we had not inherited a record budget deficit in 2010. If we had not dealt with that record budget deficit, we would not have the strong economy we have today, with record levels of employment and the lowest unemployment in 40 years.
Will the Minister of State confirm what this means for Tatton schools in particular and Cheshire schools in general? Will there be no cuts in their funding?
It is good to see my right hon. Friend back in her place, and I am happy to confirm that no school will see a cut in funding as a consequence of the reforms to our national funding formula.
Will the Minister protect the budgets of schools such as Helsby High, in my constituency, in real terms? Helsby High faces a £700,000 shortfall because of his so-called fair funding formula. It is not fair, and we need increases in real terms.
The new national funding formula comes in in 2018-19. As I said in my opening comments, no school will see a cut in funding as a consequence of moving to the national funding formula. What the hon. Gentleman is alluding to is the cost pressures on schools that occurred between 2016 and 2017 and that will occur over the next four years. We have already incurred about 3% of those cost pressures, and we will incur between 1.5% and 1.6% of them over the next three years—those are figures from Institute for Fiscal Studies. We are helping schools to tackle those cost pressures, but there would not be those pressures if we did not have to deal with the historic budget deficit we inherited in 2010. Those cost pressures are being borne right across the public sector, but because we are prudent with our public finances, we have record employment numbers and record opportunities for young people when they leave our school system.
The Minister is rapidly becoming my favourite Minister. At the beginning of the consultation period, every school in Southend was going to lose out, but he listened, and that is no longer the case—there is more funding overall. However, will he look specifically at bulge funding where there is a need in the medium term but not the long term to provide extra places?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind comments. I hope the same response will come from Opposition Members. [Interruption.] Perhaps in due course. He is right that we have to deal with growth in pupil numbers, and there are provisions in the new funding formula for growth, but we will take his views into account when we respond to the national funding formula.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) on tabling this urgent question. Once again, we are seeing delusion from Ministers and Conservative Members. This discussion, and the warnings from headteachers this morning, are not about the way in which the cake is being cut, but about the size of the cake per pupil. The size of the cake is being reduced year on year because of increased costs. When will Ministers actually meet the shortfall from the real-terms cuts in schools so that headteachers do not have to cut back on teachers and teacher support staff?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, because she has said something we have been trying to make clear for a long time—that there is a distinction between the national funding formula and the overall level of school funding. She was being honest and making that distinction very clearly. The national funding formula is a way of distributing our funding across the school system in a fairer way, based on the first-stage consultation, which allocates significant funding on a per pupil basis for deprivation and low prior attainment—all principles that were universally agreed on when we consulted on the first measure. I have accepted that there are cost pressures facing our school system, arising from things such as increased pension contributions, general inflation and higher employers’ national insurance contributions. We have already said that no school will lose funding as a consequence of introducing the national fair funding formula, and we will respond to the consultation in due course.
I thank the Minister for recognising that the current system is flawed, and funding should be focused on where the need is. Will he assure me that funding will also go to places such as Medway, which will need further school places because it has been charged with delivering an historic number of new homes over the next 15 years?
My hon. Friend takes a great interest in education, and she is very experienced in the field. She is right that, as pupil numbers increase, so we are increasing the number of school places. Over the last Parliament, we created over 500,000 new school places to deal with the increasing population of primary school pupils. We intend to create another 600,000 school places over this Parliament. That is in direct contrast to the last Labour Government, who cut 200,000 primary school places at a time when we knew there was an increase in the birth rate.
May I take the Minister back to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), because it is absolutely the crux of this? If we introduce fair funding at a time when there are greater cost pressures on schools, those that lose under the funding formula will lose doubly because of the cost pressures. May I urge the Minister to lobby the Treasury to get the extra money to grow the cake? He will have the support of the Opposition if he does.
I hope we will have the hon. Gentleman’s support for the new funding formula, because we have said that no school now will lose under it. Hon. Members should not forget that we were very clear and transparent: we showed the effects of the national funding formula on every school’s budget, based on 2016-17, to show people how it would affect them. It was axiomatic that there had to be losers and winners when we applied the formula to that current year. But now we are saying that no school will lose funding under the formula, even if they did when we produced the spreadsheet showing how the formula would apply. The hon. Gentleman is right that we could have decided not to introduce the new funding formula at a time when schools were facing cost pressures, but we took the view that it was more important to address the unfairness in the way school funding was distributed at a time of fiscal constraint than at a time of more ample school funding.
The Minister knows that Bradford district has some of the lowest outcomes in the education system, yet the Government planned to cut funding for the district in their original proposals. That included funding to every school in my constituency, leading Cottingley Village Primary School to say a week before the general election that it was considering closing on Friday afternoons—I am sure the timing was entirely coincidental. Will the Minister therefore confirm that no school in my constituency or the Bradford district will lose out on funding and that there is no need for any school to close on a Friday afternoon? That proposal is causing a great deal of angst and concern among the parents at Cottingley school.
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that confirmation. As we said in the manifesto, and as I have confirmed today, no school will lose funding as a consequence of moving to the new fairer national funding system. We are helping schools to tackle the cost pressures they face. We are helping them with how to manage their budgets. We are introducing national buying schemes to help schools to spend their non-staff spend in a more efficient way. We expect to save about £1 billion across the school system as a consequence of the national buying schemes we are introducing.
No doubt the Minister agrees that given the financial pressures, all policy decisions should represent clear-cut value for money, and I therefore welcome the reported U-turn on grammar schools. Given that the financial case for free schools is iffy, at best, will the Government put a stop to their expansion, especially in areas with surplus places?
The free schools programme has been hugely successful, with 29% of those inspected rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. Of the mainstream free schools approved since 2014, 86% have been in areas where there was a need for more schools, and the remaining 14% in places where parents are unhappy with the quality of the school places.
The independent PISA––programme for international student assessment—results show that England has the best educational outcomes in the United Kingdom, and Wales, which has been run by Labour for nearly 20 years, has the worst. Is it not about time that Labour Members started to celebrate our policies, which are working, and look rather more critically at their own?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I have said, the key stage 2 results published today show an increase of eight percentage points in standards of reading, writing and maths. We have also seen an increase in the proportion of children passing the age-six phonics check, with 58% passing it in 2012 and 81% passing it last year. That means that as of last year 147,000 more six-year-olds are on track to becoming fluent readers than would have been the case had we not introduced our phonics policy.
Will the Minister please answer a direct question with a direct answer, because this is incredibly frustrating for Opposition Back Benchers? Will he say whether schools in Hull West and Hessle will actually see a cut in per pupil funding?
No school in the hon. Lady’s constituency will see a cut in per pupil funding as a consequence of the move to the new, fairer national funding formula.
My right hon. Friend will recall, probably with gloom, my question to him two or three weeks before the general election, but, as Arnie Schwarzenegger would say, “I’m back,” and I want to ask him the same question. He told me that in Staffordshire the new funding formula would mean that two thirds of my schools would benefit but one third would receive a cut. Is he now saying that that is not the case and that all schools in Staffordshire will benefit?
I am very happy to see my hon. Friend back in his place. He is absolutely right that no school in his constituency will see a cut in funding.
Could the Minister stop playing games? What schools care about is the total amount of money they have to invest in their pupils, so will he just level with the public and admit that he has not protected per pupil funding? It is insulting to constituents to pretend otherwise. What will he say to children in my constituency who are facing a 10% cut in their funding by 2021?
They are not receiving a cut in funding. That is the whole essence of this debate, which, in my view, has not been fairly conducted. As we have said, we are spending record amounts of money on school funding—£41 billion this year rising to £42 billion next year—and we are moving to a fairer way of distributing that funding. We said in our manifesto that even where the new fairer funding system would have resulted in a cut in funding to some schools, that will no longer be the case, so no school will see a cut in per pupil funding under this Government.
It must be wrong, historically, that children in Gloucestershire receive almost half what the highest-spending London authority receives. Will the Minister therefore tell us, so that I can reassure my local parents and governors, when we are likely to see the fair funding formula announced?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are moving to the national fair funding formula in 2018-19. The consultation, which closed on 22 March, had over 25,000 responses, and we will be responding to it very shortly.
Erdington is rich in talent but one of the poorest constituencies in the country, and yet under the Government’s own conservative figures, 32 out of 33 schools will suffer a per pupil funding cut of £115. What does the Minister have to say to despairing headteachers facing desperately difficult decisions as to which teachers and which teaching assistants they sack, holding back the life chances of children who deserve the best possible start in life?
I have enjoyed visiting schools in Erdington with the hon. Gentleman. I have seen some very good practice in the schools that he took me to. As I have said, under the new national funding formula no school will lose funding on a per pupil basis. I have given that commitment in response to this question and I will give it every time an hon. Member asks me. I have acknowledged that there are cost pressures facing schools. Those cost pressures start in about 2016-17—the year that has just gone. That was about 3% of cost pressures, and the figure will be roughly between 1.5% and 1.6% per year for this year and the next two years. We are helping schools to deal with those cost pressures, which apply right across the public sector, in terms of how to manage staff budgets but also how to manage non-staff spend. That is why we are introducing national buying schemes and school hubs to purchase products and services such as energy and water together to help them deliver efficiency.
I am immensely grateful to the Minister. I am minded to move on at approximately 1.15 pm, which ought to allow for another 10 questions and answers, assuming that both the question and the answer are moderately brief.
Can the Minister confirm that the many primary schools in Amber Valley that are set to gain under the fairer funding formula will get the full gain in year 1, or will it be spread over several years after that?
When we consulted on the national fair funding formula, we said that we would limit gains to 3% in order to ensure that any schools that were losing funding did not lose more than 1.5% per pupil per year, so I cannot give my hon. Friend that reassurance, but we will respond to the consultation shortly.
Is the Minister aware of the impact that increased national insurance contributions and pension contributions are having on schools in Enfield, Southgate, resulting in cuts in the classroom and impacts on learning and on assisting children with behavioural issues?
As I have said, we are spending record amounts of money on school funding, but there are cost pressures. One of those cost pressures, which the hon. Gentleman has identified, is the increased employer contribution to the teachers’ pension scheme. That is part of a range of measures that are helping to tackle our historic budget deficit, which we have reduced from 9.9% of national income to 2.5% of national income, and which we have to eliminate if we are to keep the economy strong. We are determined to continue with that.
Will the Minister work with colleagues across Whitehall to persuade councils to prioritise house building in parishes and towns where schools are facing falling rolls and a resultant shortage in funds?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We need more house building across the country to help young people get on to the housing ladder, and we are ensuring that as funding follows the pupil, as pupil numbers rise, so the funding to those schools rises.
I represent Crewe and Nantwich, where Cheshire East Council is the worst-funded in Cheshire. My concern is that a primary school in Crewe is cutting six teaching assistants, including the only teaching assistant who can speak Polish. We have a new reception class starting in September with 23 EAL—English as an additional language—children who will have no support. I would like to invite you to come to Crewe and Nantwich and speak to headteachers, because they really are very, very concerned.
I do not think the hon. Lady wants me to visit the school, but I am sure she wants the Minister to do so, which might be more beneficial.
You can come too.
Well, perhaps I can come on a subsequent occasion, if the hon. Lady is so generous as to invite me.
I would be delighted to visit the school with the hon. Lady, and you are very welcome to join us, Mr Speaker. It was precisely to tackle underfunding in schools in areas such as her constituency that we introduced, and consulted on, a national fair funding formula. For too long, too many areas have been underfunded. That is what the new national funding formula is designed to tackle. Now, on top of that, we have said that even where schools in other parts of the country would lose under that formula, they no longer will.
A fair funding formula is needed for our schools in Dorset and Poole, which are, respectively, the eleventh-worst and second-worst funded local education authorities. The principle should be uncontroversial, but can the Minister reassure my schools, parents and teachers that the formula is on track and tell us when it will be introduced?
We are determined to press ahead with the national funding formula. There has been widespread support for the principles underlying the operation of the new funding formula. Deprivation and low prior attainment are key factors, and a large element of per-pupil funding is the same right across the system. We want to go ahead with the new formula, and we think that it attracts widespread support. We have announced that no school will lose funding under the new formula, and it is being introduced precisely to help historically underfunded areas.
Will the Minister stop using this Orwellian double-speak about an increase in the budget? We know what we are talking about. In real terms, and per pupil, the budget has not increased in the last seven years, teachers have had a £3-per-hour cut in their wages and morale is at rock bottom. Will the Minister at least admit that we need urgent action to increase funding and reverse the cuts that have already taken place?
It is Orwellian to say that there has been a cut in funding when there has not. All along, I have acknowledged that there are cost pressures affecting schools over the four-year period.
What are you doing about it?
What we are doing is helping schools to manage those cost pressures, which exist because we are having to tackle an historic budget deficit. That is imperative if we are to maintain a strong economy that delivers record numbers of jobs. We have maintained school funding overall in real terms, and it has continued to rise as pupil numbers rise.
Half of schools in Basingstoke have been losing out for years as a result of the current funding formula, and that has compounded the problem of increased costs that schools face. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that as a result of his proposed changes, this unfairness will stop not only in Basingstoke, but throughout Hampshire?
Yes, I can give my right hon. Friend that assurance. Certain local authorities, from up and down the country, have suffered from underfunding for more than 12 years, and their funding formula is based on out-of-date data. That is unfair, and we are determined to tackle that unfairness. On top of that, we have announced that no school will lose funding under the new formula.
The schools funding formula is a total red herring. Before it has even come in, schools are having to lay off staff, increase class sizes, cut back on the curriculum and cut back on enrichment opportunities; and headteachers are struggling to recruit and retain good staff. Instead of talking about a formula that is yet to come in, when will the Minister tell us what he is going to do about the cuts that are already being made, and when will he recognise that education is the best economic policy that there is?
We do believe that education is the best economic policy that there is. That is why we are improving standards in our primary schools. We have improved the curriculum and the teaching of reading and mathematics. We have revised, reformed and improved GCSEs, so that children leave our schools with qualifications and an education on a par with the best in the world.
Whatever the hon. Gentleman likes to say, we have protected school funding in real terms. I do acknowledge that schools face cost pressures over a four-year period from 2016-17, and we are helping schools to deal with those cost pressures. Those pressures are being faced right across the public sector, and they are there because we have to deal with the economic mess left by the last Labour Government.
Given that during the general election campaign, headteachers from all over the country wrote to parents to say that per pupil funding would be cut quite dramatically, what will my right hon. Friend do to make sure that parents receive the good news that there will be no reductions in per pupil funding?
We will do our best to convey the message that no school will lose funding under the new national funding formula, and I will rely on my hon. Friend to do the same in his constituency.
Yesterday, parents of pupils at the Kingsway Academy received a text message referring them to the website of the Northern Schools Trust, where they were told that their school would be closing. The Northern Schools Trust says that the school is not financially viable. Its sudden closure leaves a black hole of a quarter of a million pounds in the local authority’s financing, and there is great disruption across the area. Is that any way to run a school system?
I will look into the specific case that the hon. Lady has raised. Schools have to consult before any closure occurs, and there is a process that schools have to go through. I will look at the matter, and I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss it.
It is not just about money, though, is it? The Labour party thinks that it can throw money at the problem, but that did not work when they were in government, when the number of pupils studying the core subjects necessary to get a good job fell by half. Have this Government got more good news on that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When we came into office in 2010, only one in five pupils took the EBacc combination of core academic GCSEs. The figure is now two in five, and we want it to rise further.
Eighty-nine per cent. of my primary schools and all my secondary schools have told me that they are planning for real-terms cuts over the next five years. In one school the nurture unit, where children who are under pressure can take some time out, is threatened with closure. How will that help children’s mental health in schools?
We take mental health in our school system extremely seriously, and we will publish a Green Paper on young people’s mental health before the end of the year. We want to ensure that every child is taught about mental wellbeing and the mental health risks posed by things such as the internet. We take the matter very seriously, but, as I have said repeatedly in my response to this urgent question, no school will lose funding under the national funding formula.
It was notable that the shadow Education Secretary did not mention standards in schools once. In the county of Nottinghamshire, which is one of the worst funded in the country, standards are rising and 90% of my young people now go to good or outstanding schools; that figure is 30% higher than it was in 2010. Thousands of young people come out of the city of Nottingham, where pupils receive 25% more funding, to go to school in the county, because standards there are higher despite schools receiving less money. Will the Government continue to focus relentlessly on standards in education?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Academic standards are key in our schools, and standards of behaviour are hugely important in underpinning a rise in academic standards. That is why we have focused on improving the curriculum in both the primary and secondary sectors.
The Government’s current plans mean cuts of over £600 per head for students in Liverpool’s schools. Is the Minister now saying that schools will face no cuts at all, in real terms, in any aspect of Government funding?
What we have said is that there will be no cut in per-pupil funding as a consequence of moving to the national fair funding formula. I have acknowledged that cost pressures—equivalent to 3.1% of the total schools budget in 2016-17, and to between 1.5% and 1.6% of that budget over this year and the subsequent two years—will affect schools in the hon. Lady’s area and in other parts of the country over a four-year period, as a result of higher employers’ national insurance contributions and teacher pension contributions. Those cost pressures, which are replicated across the public sector, exist because we are having to deal with the budget deficit. It is imperative that we do so if we are to continue to have a strong economy. [Interruption.] The shadow Education Secretary suggests from a sedentary position that we have had seven years to deal with that deficit. It was an historic deficit, and it will take as many years as it takes to get it down to zero.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. We must now move on. I know that there is extensive interest in this subject, but these matters will be treated of on subsequent occasions.
In a moment, I shall call Seema Malhotra to make an application for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24. The hon. Lady has up to three minutes in which to make such an application.
Feltham Young Offender Institution
Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I rise to propose that the House debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the report on the inspection by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons on Feltham young offenders institution.
The report, published on 30 June, follows an unannounced inspection earlier this year. The reports on both Feltham A, which holds children and young people, and Feltham B, which holds young adults, make for shocking reading. That is particularly true of the report on Feltham A, which houses boys aged 15 to 18. Both reports raise numerous concerns about safety and education and purposeful activities in each.
The report on Feltham A has found that the prison is extremely unsafe for staff and for the boys and young people in it, and that it has become more dangerous even since the inspections in 2014 and 2015. The increased violence, combined with staffing shortages, has meant that 15 to 18-year-olds are on restricted regimes that, according to the chief inspector, have done
“little or nothing to contribute to their education, socialisation or, clearly, their safety.”
This is in marked contrast to the more optimistic report of the last inspection in 2015. Indeed, this report suggests that things have got markedly worse in the past two years, and a serious crisis point has now been reached.
The youth justice system is there to prevent children and young people under 18 from offending or reoffending. What is happening now is a dereliction of duty: 15 to 18-year-olds are receiving, on average, 7.5 hours of education a week; and 19,000 hours of schooling per year have been lost through non-attendance and the cancellation of classes. The regime has been described as
“quite simply, not safe for either staff or boys.”
Some of the young men are being locked up for 22 hours every day. During the inspection, it was found that a third of prisoners were locked up during the school day and were therefore not receiving training or education. Indeed, the media is reporting today a High Court ruling that a 16-year-old boy’s human rights were breached by his being kept in solitary confinement at Feltham young offenders institution and that he was unlawfully denied access to education and the ability to mix with other inmates.
There is an urgent need for a response from the Government on these issues and a clear plan to address them, including on whether the cuts have now led to an unsafe level of resources. Other issues include statutory duties; contracts for the provision of education in prison; staffing levels, staff recruitment, staff experience and staff retention; and factors contributing to increased violence. Another issue is whether now is not the time for an urgent rethink of Feltham’s future.
Young people will be coming out of our youth justice institutions more traumatised than when they went in and with reduced life chances. This is our next generation, and we are supposed to be an advanced society. These are children and their future and their welfare should be a matter for urgent debate in this House.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for asking for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely, the report of the inspection by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons on Feltham young offenders institution. I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady’s application, but I am not persuaded that it should be debated under the terms of Standing Order No. 24.
The hon. Lady is an experienced and versatile Member of the House, and she will know that there are other opportunities to secure attention to the issue. She will know what those opportunities are in both question and debate forms, and I have a feeling that she will probably be beetling towards the Table Office ere long to try one of those other options.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In his final speech in the House, the former right hon. Member for Leigh made the very compelling case that there was evidence for criminal acts having taken place during the contaminated blood scandal, which was of course the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS. Given that the criminal acts that, allegedly, took place are set out on the front page of today’s Daily Mail, is it appropriate for the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House and say what action he intends to take? The former right hon. Member for Leigh asked the Secretary of State to indicate whether he was minded to set up a public inquiry into what happened, and said that if that did not take place, he would notify the police of the evidence he had in his possession. Mr Speaker, have you had any indication from the Secretary of State for Health about whether he intends to come to the House to make such a statement?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I have seen the Secretary of State for Health a couple of times today—recently, in the Chamber, and much earlier this morning, when I was returning from my health-giving swim and he was arriving at the House on his bicycle; as the hon. Lady would expect, we exchanged the courtesies of wishing each other good morning. The right hon. Gentleman did not give me any indication that he planned to make a statement on this matter on that occasion; nor has he since done so.
I have to admit that I was not familiar with the headline to which the hon. Lady referred, not least because the organ in question is not part of my daily reading matter. I am sure she will readily understand that it is not ordinarily a paper of any interest to me. However, I must admit that the headline is obviously a very important one relating to a very important story.
I am not aware of any plans by Ministers to make a statement, as I have said, but clearly the issue will not go away. I well remember the final intervention of the then right hon. Member for Leigh, and very powerful it was too. I rather suspect that the hon. Lady will return to this matter, especially if she judges it to be urgent, and she will know what opportunities are open to her to raise matters that she thinks are urgent.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 8 February, I asked the then Minister of State, Department for Exiting the European Union, the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), about allegations that it was the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice that had led the Government to issue a notice to withdraw from Euratom alongside the notice to withdraw from the EU. In response, the Minister told the House that that was not the case, and that
“it would not be possible for the UK to leave the EU and continue its current membership of Euratom.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2017; Vol. 621, c. 523.]
The former chief of staff to the Secretary of State has now contradicted that statement. He has said that it was in fact the role of the European Court of Justice that lay behind the Government’s decision. Mr Speaker, can you advise me how we can find out the truth of the matter: why are the Government leading us out of the important treaty on Euratom?
I do not think it is for me to seek to penetrate the inner recesses of ministerial minds to ascertain their precise motivation in the pursuit of policy. When the hon. Gentleman asks how he should take forward this matter, my short answer is by the tabling of questions, which will probably need to be very precise and focused if he is to elicit the information he seeks. That is my guidance because, although I have indulged him on this occasion—because I could not know precisely what he was going to ask until he had asked it—what he has asked does not constitute a point of order, although it is no doubt of enormous interest and relevance to him and many other Members.
I must advise the House that it is not the responsibility of the Chair to ensure consistency of statements from any Government, or indeed from persons previously connected with a Government. If that were one of the responsibilities of the Chair, a wholly disproportionate amount of his or her time would have to be devoted to keeping up with such matters. The hon. Gentleman has made his concern clear, and that concern has no doubt been heard by those on the Treasury Bench. If a Minister felt that he or she had been inaccurate in statements to the House, that Minister would have a responsibility to set the record straight.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. With your permission, I would like to raise the motion for the 2017-18 estimates on the Order Paper today. I have notified the Government of my intention to raise a point of order. The calling of a general election only two years into a fixed-term Parliament, the resultant hung Parliament, the delay in the elections of Chairs of Select Committees and the fact that no Opposition day debates have been scheduled with only days to go before recess have combined to create an unprecedented situation in terms of the scrutiny of Government finances.
Opposition Members are deeply concerned that the Government are asking Parliament to approve, on a motion tonight, the appropriation of £586 billion without debate, so avoiding what many of us believe to be the proper and correct parliamentary scrutiny of public finances. Such scrutiny is of particular interest to the thousands of public sector workers who are currently receiving mixed messages on pay from the Government. Presumably these estimates, which were published in April, still reflect the public sector pay cap, and this is also where the money for the Northern Ireland settlement will come from.
Mr Speaker, as custodian of the House and of its long tradition of transparent scrutiny of Government spending since the Bill of Rights in 1689—not you personally since 1689—will you advise me what course may be taken to ensure the appropriate consideration of the estimates?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s recognition that I am not quite that old—that is, it has to be said, heartening. As for his passing reference to the election of Chairs of Select Committees, the House is due to treat of that matter today. It may well be that I will have something to say on that matter today. I share the concern of the hon. Gentleman, and indeed of Members on both sides of the House, that the Chairs of Select Committees should be elected sooner rather than later, and that the Committees should be constituted as quickly as possible, so that they can undertake their important task of scrutiny. Parliament and parliamentarians will always be served by such an approach.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern that the House should be asked to authorise the expenditure of very large amounts of public money without an opportunity for debate, but I can assure him that there is nothing underhand or disorderly about this. It is in accordance with the Standing Orders and the House’s agreed estimates procedure. This is not one of those estimates days on which the House is invited to debate matters recommended by the Liaison Committee before agreeing to the estimates.
That said, it is always open to the House to reconsider its procedures. I am aware that the Procedure Committee recently published a report on estimates procedure—a report to which a Government response is awaited—so there may be an opportunity for the House to look at these matters before too long. I hope that is helpful both to the hon. Gentleman and indeed to the House.
TELECOMMUNICATIONS INFRASTRUCTURE (RELIEF FROM NON-DOMESTIC RATES) BILL
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Sajid Javid, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary Karen Bradley, presented a Bill to make provision enabling relief from non-domestic rates in England and Wales to be conferred in respect of hereditaments used for the purposes of facilitating the transmission of communications by any means involving the use of electrical or electromagnetic energy; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 3) with explanatory notes (Bill 3-EN).
European Union (Approvals) Bill
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to approve four draft decisions of the Council of the European Union. All four draft decisions rely on article 352 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which allows the EU to take action to attain the objectives set out in the EU treaties, for which there is no specific power given. That can be done only with the approval of the European Parliament and the unanimous support of all member states. Before the UK can agree those draft decisions at the Council, Parliament must first give its approval. Section 8 of the European Union Act 2011 provides that a Minister may vote in favour of an article 352 decision only where the draft decision is approved by an Act of Parliament. I am pleased that Members of both Houses will have the opportunity to scrutinise and decide whether to approve such measures.
The UK is leaving the EU. Until that process has concluded, the UK remains a full member of the EU, and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. That includes exercising the UK’s vote in the Council of the European Union on these four draft decisions. Whether or not those EU decisions involve the UK directly, they may make a difference to the context of the negotiations. While we are leaving the EU and its institutions, we will continue to maintain a resolute friendship and alliance with all the European countries. We have been working in peaceful partnership with EU member states for decades to build a prosperous and stable Europe.
Will the Minister give way?
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Yes, I will give way.
Order. It is quite important to be clear to whom the Minister is giving way. The hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) was perfectly convinced that it was he that she had in mind, but the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) looks similarly confident that it was he. Take us out of our misery, Minister.
I apologise for the confusion. I was referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger).
Thank you very much for that clarification, Mr Speaker.
My hon. Friend is fully aware that I am the president of the European Conservatives in the Council of Europe. We have had support from the Government and from colleagues in both Houses, and I am sure she would like to make it clear that the Council of Europe is still an important part of what we do here. It was set up by the British in 1948 under Sir Winston Churchill and continues to play an important part through the European Court of Human Rights. I hope she will confirm that it will continue to play that important role.
I commend my hon. Friend for all his work within the Council of Europe, and confirm that that will continue long after we have successfully concluded our Brexit negotiations.
The Prime Minister set out a bold and ambitious vision for the UK. She outlined our key negotiating objectives as we move to establish a comprehensive new partnership with the EU.
I will make a little progress and then give way.
That vision for a partnership in the best interests of the United Kingdom means that we will also continue to work with the EU on tackling areas of common interest.
I am much encouraged not only by the fact that the Minister is giving way but by what my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) said. It may be that we are no longer brothers and sisters in Europe, but we are cousins. Therefore to that extent we will continue to seek to maintain good relations with the EU, despite the fact that we are absolutely going to leave.
I heartily agree with my hon. Friend that we will continue to foster good relations with our EU friends long after we leave the European Union. Keeping that in mind, we are content that all four decisions that the Bill addresses are reasonable, proportionate and in keeping with our best interests, and will not result in any additional financial burdens on the UK.
As I have said, article 352 decisions must be agreed by all EU member states unanimously. When all member states are in a position to vote on the decision, the European Council will schedule a meeting of the Council of the European Union. If all member states vote to approve the draft decisions at that meeting, the European Parliament will be asked in turn to approve the draft decisions. If it does so, the decisions are adopted into EU law. All member states apart from the UK have agreed the EU-Canada decisions, and all member states except the UK and Germany have agreed the Fundamental Rights Agency decisions. We do not believe that any of the draft decisions should be considered contentious in any way.
It has been suggested that, as we negotiate our exit from the European Union, the United Kingdom should abstain in decisions in the Council. Will the Minister explain what the impact of a British abstention would be on those decisions?
I assure my hon. Friend that, were we not to pass the Bill this afternoon, the draft decisions would not proceed. We are still full members of the European Union and therefore our consent is required for the draft decisions to take effect.
The Minister is being generous with her time. She indicated one other country that has yet to ratify or vote on this—namely, Germany. Does she have, or has she been given, an indication as to when support may come from Germany?
Any such comment from me would be speculation, which I intend to avoid, but I point out that Germany, like the United Kingdom, needs the consent of its national Parliament before its Ministers can vote on such draft decisions.
As I said, all member states apart from Germany and ourselves have agreed the Fundamental Rights Agency decisions, and we do not believe that any of the draft decisions are contentious. The Government are committed to being constructive in the UK’s ongoing engagement with the EU. Holding up progress on business that is simple and uncontroversial would undermine that approach and the principle of sincere co-operation that lies behind it. It is therefore clearly in the UK’s interests to approve these draft decisions. Delaying the decisions could have a negative impact on the UK’s exit negotiations with the EU, including discussion on any future framework. There will, of course, be further opportunities to examine more fundamental aspects of the work of the EU in other debates. However, I am sure hon. Members will recognise that, whatever their views on EU exit, it is in the UK’s interests to approve these draft decisions.
Will the Minister confirm that, as part of our ongoing relationship with the European Union until we achieve our freedom, the provisions of the trade agreement secured with Canada will be implemented fully in the United Kingdom, and that we will continue to play a proactive role within the EU and beyond in encouraging further free trade with Canada?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention. I remember his excellent work when he was a trade representative to Canada and I assure him that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement negotiations, completed between the EU and Canada, will cover the United Kingdom for as long as we are members of the EU. After that point, it will be up to us to decide the terms of any future trading relationship with Canada, bearing in mind the—I won’t go any further on that.
Will the Minister give way?
Will the Minister give way?
I will make a bit of progress. I am concluding my remarks on Canada and trade. I will give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) when I have made further progress.
It is therefore clearly in the UK’s interests to approve the draft decisions. Delaying the decisions could have a negative impact on the UK’s exit negotiations, including discussions on any future framework. There will, of course, be further opportunities to examine more fundamental aspects.
Surely the Minister would confirm that the Canadian trade agreement, along with all the others the EU will have in place when we leave, will novate to us, assuming that both we and Canada wish it to do so? That will clearly be the case, so it will carry on.
I accept the first part of what my right hon. Friend says, but I do not wish to predict what the UK and Canada may find it important to discuss in their trade relationship in the years to come.
Will the Minister give way?
I will make a bit more progress and then I will give way.
The first two decisions will enable two countries, the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Serbia, to be granted observer status in the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency. Before I go any further on that point, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I was not going to raise a point on CETA this afternoon, but as it has been raised by her colleagues I just wondered what estimate the UK Government have given to renegotiating a CETA-type Canada deal following Brexit.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I remind him of the scope of the Bill. It does not include much detailed discussion about our future trade relationship with Canada. For the avoidance of doubt, the Canadian decisions are about competition law, not trade.
The Fundamental Rights Agency was set up to support EU institutions and EU member states by improving the knowledge and awareness of fundamental rights issues in the EU, with a view to ensuring respect for fundamental rights. The agency does this through the collection and analysis of information and data. It can also formulate opinions on specific topics, either on its own initiative or at the request of EU institutions. It also has a role in communicating and raising awareness of fundamental rights, but it cannot hear individual complaints. EU accession candidate countries can be given observer status at the agency. This allows the agency to collect and analyse fundamental rights data from those countries, but it does not allow them the right to vote in decisions as part of the agency’s management board.
How does the agency differ from the Council of Europe? The Council of Europe looks after democracy and the rule of law within Europe, and it carries out exactly the same activities as the agency.
The goal of the agency is to provide expertise on fundamental rights to EU institutions, member states and countries seeking accession when implementing EU law. The specific tasks of the agency are: to analyse and share information on fundamental rights in the European Union; to carry out scientific research and surveys on fundamental rights issues; to formulate opinions on specific topics, either on its own initiative or as requested by EU institutions; and to increase awareness on fundamental rights in the EU.
Albania was granted EU candidate status in June 2014. The UK supported the awarding of EU candidate status on the condition that Albania redoubled its reform efforts, with particular focus on justice and home affairs, especially tackling organised crime, corruption and illegal migration. The UK welcomed Albania’s progress in adopting legislation towards a judicial reform package in July 2016. Albania must now fully implement the judicial reform package as soon as possible, so that it can underpin other reforms.
Serbia was granted EU candidate status in 2012 and accession negotiations were launched in January 2014, with the first four negotiating chapters opened during 2016. The UK continues to support Serbia on its reform path, including through funding projects in Serbia.
Will the Minister comment on whether Serbia’s membership of the agency would have any impact on the pursuit of war crimes in Serbia, as part of its effort to increase human rights?
I cannot comment specifically on the likely impact on the treatment of war crimes in Serbia, a subject about which the Foreign Office is extremely concerned—as, I presume, is my hon. Friend—but I think it can only be a mark of progress for Serbia to be admitted in the way that this decision enables it to be.
The Minister says that this is a mark of progress, but I cannot accept that. This sounds like motherhood-and-apple-pie Eurospeak. Exactly the same words were used during the accession of Croatia, but has Croatia handed over its war criminals and does it have the rule of law yet? Both were promised. It has one of the longest borders in the EU, which is used for sex trafficking and human trafficking. We heard exactly the same then, but there have been no improvements. Why does the Minister believe there will be improvements with Albania and Serbia?
To correct the hon. Gentleman, I do not think I said that I thought there would be improvements; I said that I thought it would be a mark of progress. I was trying to limit my enthusiasm to that degree, mindful of what he says about Croatia. However, I would say that it is early days and we can only go down the path of progress. The UK continues to support Serbia on its reform path, including through funding projects in Serbia.
Serbia has more work to do on anti-discrimination policies, improving the situation for vulnerable people and ensuring freedom of expression. Observer status at the Fundamental Rights Agency should help Albania and Serbia to reform in the areas we are discussing. Albania and Serbia should also be allowed to benefit from instances of good practice and evidence from other EU member states in relation to human rights. The Government are therefore satisfied of the need to support these two decisions.
The third and fourth decisions are necessary to implement a co-operation agreement between the EU and Canada on competition enforcement. The decisions will allow the agreement to be signed and allow conclusion of the agreement after it has been approved by the European Parliament. This competition co-operation agreement will replace an existing agreement that has been in place since 1999. It replicates and builds on the provisions in the earlier agreement by allowing the European Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau to exchange evidence obtained during investigations, including confidential information and personal data.
The existing co-operation agreement with Canada dates from June 1999, and at that time the exchange of evidence between the parties was not regarded as needed. In the meantime, the bilateral co-operation between the European Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau has become more frequent and deeper in terms of substance.
The Government have already told the Exiting the European Union Committee, on which I served during the last Parliament, that following our withdrawal from the EU we will no longer benefit from, for instance, the information exchange agreements between our competition regulator and the Canadian Competition Bureau. That renders much of the Bill rather pointless, does it not? Can the Minister explain how pulling us out of global deals such as the one that we are discussing will be helpful?
I have explained that the purpose of the decision is primarily to support our role as a continuing member of the EU until the negotiations are complete, in two years’ time. Until then we will be covered by it, but after that date we shall have to see what has been agreed during the negotiations. The existing competition agreement with Canada does not allow the sharing of confidential information, but the new one does. I shall return to that point in a few minutes.
The absence of the possibility of exchanging information with the Canadian Competition Bureau is regarded as a major impediment to effective co-operation. The proposed changes in the existing agreement will allow the European Commission and the Competition Bureau to exchange evidence that both sides have obtained in their investigations. That will be particularly useful in all cases in which the alleged anti-competitive behaviour affects transatlantic or world markets. Many worldwide or transatlantic cartels include Canada and, via Canada, the Commission will gain a good opportunity to have access to additional information concerning those cartels.
Co-operation with third-country competition authorities is now standard practice in international competition investigations. In addition to the agreement with Canada, the EU has concluded dedicated co-operation agreements with the United States, Japan, Korea and Switzerland.
I now return to the intervention by the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards). I omitted to say that even after the Brexit negotiations have been completed, the competition agreement with Canada will continue to apply to British companies if they are trading with the single market of the European Union.
The most advanced agreement is the one with Switzerland, which already contains provisions on the exchange of evidence, and the proposed update would bring the agreement with Canada to the same level as the one concluded with Switzerland.
I am sure Members will agree that the ability to share information is increasingly important for effective and efficient international competition enforcement. Access to information from other jurisdictions can be important to the reaching of a robust enforcement decision. Co-operation and information sharing between jurisdictions can help to ensure that enforcement bodies do not reach different decisions based on different sets of information.
The agreement contains general safeguards for the transfer of information, and additional safeguards for the transfer of personal data. Personal data can be shared only with the express written consent of the person or company to whom they relate. In the absence of consent, such data can be shared only when both competition authorities are investigating the same related conduct or transaction. Furthermore, the transfer of the data will be subject to independent oversight. The agreement also contains safeguards for information provided by a company under the EU cartel immunity or leniency programme. Such information cannot be shared without the express written consent of the individual or company that provided it.
As I have noted, the decisions will have no financial implications for the UK. I confirm that I do not consider that any of the Bill’s provisions interfere with the rights set out in the European convention on human rights, so no issues arise in connection with its compatibility with those rights.
I wonder why there is no cost. Surely, if there is to be an added layer of complexity in the sharing of information—which may be a good thing—there must be a cost in respect of the time of the officials involved.
I am assured that no costs are associated with these decisions, other than those that arise in the normal course of Government business.
It is intended that the Bill will come into force on the day of Royal Assent. For the reasons that I have outlined, I commend it to the House.
The Bill was included in the Queen’s Speech. The background notes refer to helping to grant Serbia and Albania observer status at the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, and an agreement for enhanced co-operation between competition regulators in the EU and Canada. However, I will not be the only one who was somewhat surprised that it was chosen as the second Bill to be given a Second Reading in the new Parliament. Why was it given such a high priority, given what might have happened, and given what was, at one point, in the Conservative party manifesto?
We could have suggested some alternatives. For instance, the Government could have addressed the pay cap. Members of the Cabinet and members of the Conservative party are now doing that, and quite an argument seems to be going on, but we could have been debating the subject in the House today.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the civil war in Yugoslavia was an horrific, scarring experience for our whole continent. We should not belittle it by underestimating the importance of those nations’ reaching our level in terms of human rights and so on.
Of course the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, which was why it was right for the Bill to be in the Queen’s Speech. I was merely questioning why it had been given such prominence. Given that it consists of only two lines, why was something weightier not presented first?
I have mentioned the pay cap, the turmoil in the Conservative party, and the agonising over whether public servants should be given a pay rise. There is also the debate about tuition fees, the debate about whether there should be more police and firefighters—
I will give way again.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I fear that he may be being a little bit churlish. He has the opportunity now to set out the Labour party’s position in relation to the Bill. He is, of course entitled to go on speculating about what might or could not or should have been debated at this time—as long as you allow him to do so, Mr Speaker—but he has the opportunity to debate this subject now. What does he have to say about it?
Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his inquiry. I could not know what the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) would say until he had said it, but now that he has said it, I can tell him that he should not have said it.
It would be advisable now for the hon. Gentleman to return to the subject of the European Union (Approvals) Bill. I very gently remind the hon. Gentleman, who is quite a seasoned parliamentarian, that it consists of two clauses, of which—and I say this not least for the benefit of those who are attending to our proceedings elsewhere—the second is “Extent, commencement and short title”. The only substantive clause is clause 1. The question of the pay cap is a matter of enormous interest, but it is wholly irrelevant to the question of clause 1 and consideration of the Republic of Albania, the Republic of Serbia, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and the relationship between the European Union and the Government of Canada in respect of competition law.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. You may even have stolen parts of my speech.
Anyway, we have the European Union (Approvals) Bill, with its four draft decisions and two clauses, the second of which—as you pointed out, Mr Speaker—consists of the name of the Bill. Members will be pleased to learn that Labour will not oppose the Bill at this stage. We on the Labour Benches are committed to ensuring that the UK fulfils its responsibilities as a member state of the EU, not least in the very important matter of the progress made by the former member states of Yugoslavia. We will do so until the time of withdrawal from the EU; we will continue to scrutinise EU matters that come before Parliament.
This Bill is the enactment of provisions under the European Union Act 2011 and addresses draft decisions of the Council of the European Union. The first of those relates to the participation of the republics of Albania and Serbia as observers in the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and the second to the signing and conclusion of an agreement between the EU and the Government of Canada regarding the application of their competition laws, which includes the exchange of information between the EU and the Canadian Competition Bureau.
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights replaced the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in 2007. As set out on the Europa website:
“It advises EU institutions and national Governments on fundamental rights, particularly in the areas of: discrimination; access to justice; racism and xenophobia; data protection; victims’ rights; children’s rights.”
The agency’s areas of work have been determined through a five-year framework. The main priority areas include the fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerance.
EU candidate countries can participate in the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights as observers. This Bill approves two draft decisions on the participation of the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Serbia as observers in the work of the agency. The decision will not in itself confer observer status on Albania and Serbia, but it will establish that the Stabilisation and Association Councils for Albania and Serbia can determine the conditions of the two countries becoming observers.
As the House of Commons Library explains, under the draft Council decisions, Albania and Serbia would both appoint an observer and alternate observer in the work of the agency’s management board, on an equal footing with the member and alternate members appointed by EU member states, but without a right to vote. They would also participate in initiatives undertaken by the agency and make a financial contribution to it.
In an explanatory memorandum to the European Scrutiny Committee on 22 March 2016, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), who was then and is now a Ministry of Justice Minister, said that the Government support Serbia and Albania becoming observers in the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, agreeing that it would assist their accession to the EU which the UK also supports subject to “firm but fair conditionality”.
Albania and Serbia will both make a contribution to the EU budget in order to participate, ranging from €160,000 to €183,000 a year. The draft decisions have been cleared by the European Scrutiny Committee and the Lords European Union Select Committee. The Minister said that this is an opportunity for us to support the progress being made on human rights in the two countries in question, and I completely agree on that.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, Labour and Conservative Members and other Members of this House work through the Council of Europe with Albania and the Balkan states to make sure they are monitored and understood. An enormous amount of work is done by this place with parliamentarians across Europe to continue the efforts the hon. Gentleman is talking about. I commend the hon. Gentleman and our Front-Bench team, and I know he will praise the fact that there are MPs here doing the work already.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to make that point, and I thank him for it; I join him in praising colleagues across the House for their work on these important matters.
However, I have a particular question for the Minister, which also came up in some of the interventions: what would be the nature of our involvement in the agency both immediately after Brexit in handling transitional arrangements and in the longer term? A similar question would apply to a number of other agencies. Perhaps the Minister can address that in her concluding remarks.
There is already an agreement between the EU and Canada on competition. This decision extends the powers so that both sides will be able to exchange evidence collected in the course of their investigations.