House of Commons
Wednesday 19 July 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:
Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Act 2017.
Business Before Questions
Avon Fire and Rescue Authority
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of a Paper, entitled Statutory Inspection of Avon Fire and Rescue Authority, dated 19 July 2017.—(Craig Whittaker.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Barnett Formula: Public Sector Pay Cap
1. What assessment he has made of the effect of the removal of the public sector pay cap in Scotland on the Barnett formula if that cap is retained in England. 
Mr Speaker, I am sure you will join me in congratulating Jamie Murray in the mixed doubles and Gordon Reid in the wheelchair doubles for ensuring that we again had Scottish champions at Wimbledon, where your enthusiasm for tennis was in evidence once again.
The Barnett formula applies to changes in UK Government funding and will not be impacted by Scottish Government decisions on public sector pay.
The Secretary of State’s constituents, and mine, have benefited from the Scottish National party Government’s ending of the public sector pay cap for their public sector workers in Scotland. The SNP tried to help public sector workers in England and throughout the UK by voting to end the UK public sector pay cap too. However, Scottish Tory MPs voted against helping workers in England. With the SNP helping workers in his constituency and mine, are he and his colleagues not ashamed of voting against removing the public sector pay cap in England to help workers there? What does he have against English workers?
From that question, Mr Speaker, you would not think that since 2007 the SNP Government in Scotland have been responsible for public sector pay and that a public sector pay cap has applied for most of that time. As far as I am aware, the SNP Government have not lifted the public sector pay freeze in Scotland; they have announced a consultation.
May I put on record the fact that the Scottish women’s football team will play an important European championship match tonight? I wish them all the best in their endeavours.
I do not think the Secretary of State fully appreciates the sense of grievance about the pay cap among hard-working public sector workers in Scotland. The Scottish Government have declared their intention to review and end the pay cap; will he argue in the United Kingdom Government for the same policy?
May I first welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new place? When the new SNP leader at Westminster said that he was reluctant, I did not realise that he was going to be reluctant to do Scottish questions, or that he was going to downgrade them.
I am clear that hard decisions have to be taken on public sector pay. If the Scottish Government, in their responsibilities, are saying that they are going to increase public sector pay, they have to identify where the funds are coming from.
I thank the Secretary of State for his kind words, but he and I will get on a lot better in this process if he does me the courtesy of answering the question. I asked him to state his intention to argue within Cabinet and the British Government to end the pay cap in Scotland so that workers in the public sector there will get the same rate of pay for the job, whether they work for the Scottish Government or for his Government.
I think I did answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. The Government have struck the right balance on pay and ensuring continued employment. We see that in Scotland, where we have the lowest unemployment figures on record. It is better that more people are in work in the public sector than that we had changed the public sector pay cap in previous years.
I, too, send my best wishes to the Scottish women’s football team for tonight. I also congratulate our tennis players on a wonderful tournament.
It is a pity that the SNP has bounced Labour’s proposal on lifting the public sector pay cap in November. Will the Secretary of State tell me what assessment has been made of the effect of the Government’s pay cap on the living standards of public sector employees in Scotland? Does he share the view of the Chancellor, who was recently reported to have said that public sector workers are overpaid?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place and congratulate her on her success in the election. I also send my best wishes to her predecessor, Dave Anderson, who was one of the Members who voluntarily left this Parliament at the last election. Of course, I pass on my best wishes to the Scottish women’s football team as I should have done in answer to the question of the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard). I agree with the Chancellor that we have struck the right balance in public sector pay on the basis that we have ensured that 200,000 public sector jobs were able to be maintained during this period of difficult fiscal conditions.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but it is very clear that the Government are in complete chaos on this issue, which is very much like the SNP Government, who claim that they will abandon the public sector pay cap—[Interruption.]—despite voting it down in a proposal in May. Is it not the case that public sector workers in Scotland are being let down by two weak and wobbly Governments who have the wrong priorities, and that only a Labour Government have the policies and the political will to lift the public sector pay cap, ban austerity, stand up for public sector workers and stand up for Scotland?
Although I might be tempted to agree with the hon. Lady’s comments on the SNP Scottish Government, the position with Labour is absolutely clear in that no funds have been identified to increase public sector pay. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has made it very clear that, if we want to make a real difference on public sector pay, we have to do something that hits everybody—put a penny or two on the rates of income tax or VAT or something such as that. We cannot make a big difference just taxing the rich. The Labour party in Scotland and here in Westminster has the soundbites, but it does not have the policies to deliver what it is promising.
2. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the planned closure of job centres in Scotland on local communities. 
4. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the planned closure of job centres in Scotland on local communities. 
6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the planned closure of job centres in Scotland on local communities. 
15. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the planned closure of job centres in Scotland on local communities. 
We will continue to provide excellent support to those seeking work, or who cannot work, through a network of offices, which are modern, accessible and meet future requirements.
As yet, no equality impact assessment of the closures has been published. Will the Secretary of State tell this House whether the Government plan to publish such an assessment, and, if so, when?
In making these decisions, the Department has fulfilled its duties under the Equality Act 2010 and paid due regard to the impact of the proposals on the staff, and the communities and customers that they serve.
Given that UK Government cuts to social security and new sanctions on low-paid workers are likely to increase demand for jobcentres, do Ministers agree that it is reckless and perverse of the Government to be closing them down, especially in our most deprived communities that have some of the highest rates of unemployment?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that, of course, in looking forward in time to our future needs, we plan for the expected demand on jobcentres and allow for some contingency as well. I also reassure him that the rate of sanctions has been coming down. As we are in Scottish questions, it is particularly relevant to note that the rate of sanctions in Scotland is lower than it is in the rest of the UK.
May I ask the Minister whether he and his colleagues will consider the term in which the excess fares allowance will be paid to Department for Work and Pensions staff across Scotland who are being forced to move office? The Department has refused to use its discretion to pay the EFA for five years, and will cover staff for only three years, which contrasts with previous decisions made by the Department.
We do think that we have a fair and reasonable approach to relocation. Of course we are asking some staff to move offices, and we try to do everything we can to facilitate that. Part of that is providing the excess fares policy that the hon. Gentleman mentions, which is greater in its extent than in many other organisations and we do think it is a reasonable approach.
The Minister says that there is a low level of sanctions in Scotland, but if a substantial number of jobcentres are closed will it not make journey times longer and routes more complicated, leading to an increase in missed appointments and in sanctions? What mitigating measures will he introduce to deal with an increase in sanctions?
The first thing to say is that missing or being late for an appointment does not necessarily result in a sanction. We expect people to make reasonable efforts to make it to appointments and, as I have said, the rate of sanctions has been coming down, but we expect people to have time—the entire working week—available to seek work. That involves going to job interviews and visiting the jobcentre. For an able-bodied person without children, for example, that would be up to 35 hours a week. Obviously, if a person has caring responsibilities, we expect them to have correspondingly less time available.
Can the Minister confirm that reforms to the DWP estate will not lead to a reduction in the number of frontline jobcentre staff?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. In fact in every nation and region of the UK, including Scotland, we are looking to increase the number of frontline staff and work coaches helping people into work.
Mr Clark, you were standing a moment ago. Do you wish to give the House the benefit of your thoughts?
No? Very well. We will move on.
It is quite clear that the Minister has offered no convincing assurance about the maintenance of access to jobcentre facilities in Glasgow and across Scotland. We have seen a commitment to cut the number of jobcentres in Glasgow by six. These are areas where unemployment is twice the national average and where 35% of people cannot access IT facilities to allow them to apply online for support. There is a clear issue with the provision of a footprint and the citizens advice bureaux have offered a solution through the co-location of services in community hubs alongside citizens advice bureaux, housing associations and council services. Has the Minister given any consideration to those mitigating measures so that we can maintain the footprint or is it, as PCS has said, merely a cost-driven effort to abandon unemployed, sick and disabled people, making it harder for them to access these vital services?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important question. Of course we consider opportunities to co-locate our services with other public sector and third sector services, as he mentions. We continue to consider those opportunities. In the specific case of those jobcentres where we are moving operations more than 3 miles or 20 minutes away, we are considering new outreach facilities. I also want to mention that, of course, in the city of Glasgow the unemployment claimant count has come down by 43% since 2010.
I call Deirdre Brock.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—but I was not actually standing at that point.
The hon. Lady was standing. Self-awareness is quite an important quality in the House—
I was standing for the previous question—
If the hon. Lady does not wish to participate in the exchange, that is perfectly all right. It is not compulsory. I call Gerard Killen.
Public Sector Pay Cap
3. What recent discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues on the public sector pay cap. 
5. What recent discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues on the public sector pay cap. 
12. What recent discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues on the public sector pay cap. 
I hold regular discussions with my Cabinet colleagues on a wide range of matters of importance to Scotland. The Scottish Government are responsible for Scottish Government pay.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and I want to give him another opportunity to clarify his view on the reported comments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the weekend. Does he agree that public sector workers are overpaid?
The hon. Gentleman will have seen what the Chancellor said on Sunday: he said that there are areas in the public service where recruitment and retention are becoming an issue and areas of the country where public sector wages and private sector wages are getting out of kilter in the other direction. It is important that we have a discussion on those issues.
Yesterday, in this Chamber, a Treasury Minister declined to answer a question on the grounds that it was way above his pay grade. Should not we be grateful to our public sector workers for not taking that attitude, and is it not high time that they got the pay rise they deserve?
I fully acknowledge the contribution that public sector workers make across the UK, and particularly in Scotland. Of course we will listen carefully when the pay boards make their recommendations.
Sixty-six per cent. of public sector workers in Wales, another devolved country, are women, and I suspect that the figure is a lot higher in Scotland. In the light of that, does the Secretary of State not agree that the public sector pay gap is now fundamentally unsustainable and is not only eroding the living standards of women and families but damaging the economy?
We are all concerned about the gender pay gap. Some figures released within the last hour by a public sector organisation suggest that there are significant gender pay gap issues at the BBC. I set out my position in my previous answer: it is for the Scottish Government to determine pay for Scottish Government employees, and the Government’s position has also been set out.
Leaving the EU: Fishing Policy
7. What discussions he has had with representatives of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation on the Government’s policy on fishing after the UK leaves the EU. 
It is perhaps remiss of me not to welcome new Members from Scotland and elsewhere to this House, in particular when I am answering a question from one of the potential Scottish Fathers of the House.
Since the vote to leave the EU last year, I have spoken regularly with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, which I most recently met in Peterhead on 16 June. In our discussions I emphasised that we will take Scotland out of the failed common fisheries policy and extend control of our waters up to 200 nautical miles or the median line with nearby coastal states.
I hope the Secretary of State will join me in welcoming the news today that the Marine Stewardship Council has again accredited North sea cod as a sustainable species. The cod recovery programme saw some of the best and worst examples of fisheries management. The best were the measures that came from the industry and had credibility with the industry. Will the Government look at the lessons of the cod recovery programme and take the best examples of fishery management to inform future policy?
I, too, absolutely welcome today’s announcement on cod. I confirm that we will look to the industry to help shape its future. One thing is clear: this Government will take Scotland and the UK out of the hated common fisheries policy, but the SNP Scottish Government would take us right back in.
Will the whole Scottish fishing industry, including processors and catchers, have the opportunity to be represented in consultations on the design of the new fisheries policy?
I very much welcome my hon. Friend to this House as the MP for one of the most important fishing constituencies in the United Kingdom, for which he will be a strong advocate. As he knows, when I visited Peterhead I had the opportunity to meet processors, and I take on board fully their importance in shaping the future of the industry after the CFP.
News has reached Westminster that the Secretary of State has a new deputy in the House of Lords. Will he therefore instruct his deputy to procure a copy of the “Brexit: devolution” report that the House of Lords published yesterday, which states
“that, in the event that the UK Government does not secure a UK-wide agreement that adequately reflects Scotland’s specific needs”—
that includes fishing—
“there is a strong political and economic case for making differentiated arrangements for Scotland”?
I hope you, Mr Speaker, will forgive me for laughing when I hear the SNP extol the House of Lords, which on every other occasion it condemns. The reference—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Docherty-Hughes, despite the fact that your shiny pate is secreted behind the face of Mr Cowan, I can tell what you are up to. You are behaving in your usual outlandish manner, from which I hope you will now desist.
There will in any event be no need for the provision to which the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) refers—this United Kingdom Government will deliver a good deal on Brexit for Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom.
8. What recent discussions he has had with Glasgow City Council on the future of job centres in Glasgow. 
DWP officials engage regularly with local authorities, which can of course include exploring opportunities to share accommodation. We are introducing 40 new such arrangements, three in Scotland. These arrangements bring benefits for colleagues, customers and the taxpayer. I am keen that we continue to explore more opportunities into the future.
Given that the hon. Gentleman is going to close quite a number of jobcentres in the city, does he not think he should at least sit down with Glasgow City Council, which is concerned that organisations such as the Scottish Association for Mental Health, the Prince’s Trust and others are going to have to pick up the slack of his closure in supporting people into work? He needs to have a discussion about how that will work and what financial support he will give them.
We will continue to work with local authorities and third sector organisations, but I must remind the hon. Gentleman that before these changes the city of Glasgow had the greatest coverage of jobcentres per head of population of any large city in the UK. After these changes, it will still have the greatest coverage of jobcentres of any large city in the UK.
While the hon. Gentleman is having discussions with Glasgow City Council, will he pick up the phone to the City of Edinburgh Council and explain why he can find £1.5 billion for the Democratic Unionist party, but cannot find a solitary pen to sign the Edinburgh city region deal?
I am told by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that he may have excitement coming soon.
Agreement with the DUP: Funding for Scotland
9. Whether the additional funding provided to Northern Ireland announced in the Government's agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party will have consequences on funding for Scotland. 
11. Whether the additional funding provided to Northern Ireland announced in the Government's agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party will have consequences on funding for Scotland. 
14. Whether the additional funding provided to Northern Ireland announced in the Government’s agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party will have consequences on funding for Scotland. 
Like previous Northern Ireland support packages and city deals in Scotland and Wales, this funding is a targeted intervention to address a specific set of unique challenges. As with those previous interventions, this exceptional funding will be made outside the normal, ongoing Barnett funding system. [Interruption.]
Order. There is excessive noise in the Chamber. To my certain knowledge, at least one retired teacher is in the precincts of the Palace observing our proceedings; she would want there to be a seemly atmosphere.
The running total given by the UK Government to city deals in Scotland since 2014 is already dwarfed by the sums given by local government and the Scottish Government. If £1.5 billion can be found overnight for the DUP deal to hold up this Tory Government, when will the Government find the money for the Tay cities deal, the Ayrshire growth deal and the Perth deal?
I am surprised at the hon. Lady’s tone because the Government have committed to delivering city deals across Scotland. There will imminently be some exciting news about Edinburgh. I would have thought she would welcome that, rather than simply politicking.
I would like to put on the record the best wishes of everyone on the Scottish National party Benches to the Scottish football team. I am wearing their colours; I hope they do not mind. I used to play alongside two of Scotland’s national players at university—their football careers have obviously been better than mine.
Livingston and West Lothian already have a low proportion of public sector jobs in Scotland; the local authority ranks 20 out of 32. The private sector is strong, but with the loss of HMRC jobs, the percentage of public sector jobs is going to fall. Will the right hon. Gentleman come to my constituency and face up to the reality of those job closures and at least receive a delegation, as is his duty as Secretary of State?
I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady.
May I remind the Secretary of State of his own words? He said that he would not
“agree to anything that could be construed as back-door funding to Northern Ireland.”
We expect him, as Scotland’s representative in the Cabinet, to fight for fiscal fairness for Scotland and not to be short-changed by £3 billion. Did he make any representations to the Prime Minister before or after the deal was signed?
I take my responsibility to fight for Scotland’s fiscal priorities very seriously. That is why, two years ago when the hon. Gentleman was walking through the Lobby to deliver full fiscal freedom and a £9 billion black hole to Scotland, I voted to keep the Barnett formula.
Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the benefits to the north-east of Scotland brought about by the UK Government’s Aberdeen city region deal? Does he share my concern at the dither and delay of the SNP Government in improving the rail journey times between Aberdeen and the central belt, which may take until the 2020s? We need urgency from the Scottish Government.
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. As a noted councillor in Aberdeen, he played a significant role in bringing together the Aberdeen city region deal, which has been such a boost to the north-east of Scotland. I am disappointed to hear what he says about the actions of the SNP Government, but, sadly, I am not surprised.
The Secretary of State could not be clearer:
“I’m not going to agree to anything that could be construed as back-door funding to Northern Ireland.”
This is not just back door; it is locked away in secure accommodation. Will he therefore detail in full what representations he made to the Prime Minister and what he did at any time to offer any objections on behalf of Scotland?
On 8 June, the people of Scotland delivered their verdict on which party in this House stands up for Scotland and Scotland’s financial arrangements. Scottish Conservatives—12 additional MPs. The Scottish National party—21 less.
Yes, or even “fewer”.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1. If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 19 July. 
As we approach recess, I am sure that Members from all parties wish to thank the staff of the House for their dedication to our work here in what has been a particularly challenging year. We saw terrorists attack our democracy and our way of life—not just in the Westminster attack, but in the attacks at Manchester, Finsbury Park and London Bridge. It is thanks to the professionalism and bravery of people such as Elizabeth Bryan, an off-duty A&E nurse from Cambridgeshire who ran to help at the scene of the Borough Market attack and who is with us in the Gallery today—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear]—that these attacks will never succeed. We are united in defending the values that define our nation.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Of course the whole House associates itself with the Prime Minister’s words about defending our values. Her schedule does not seem so busy, so could she find time to visit Coventry? I can assure her of a warm welcome from the city’s three Labour MPs, who all doubled their majorities in the recent general election that she called; we were very grateful for that.
On a serious note, is the Prime Minister aware that Coventry is the designated national research and development centre for the controls of driverless vehicles? Would she not consider it an appropriate location to relocate her whole Government to? Then she could see the controls of driverless vehicles in practice.
Well, I am always happy to visit the west midlands. I am particularly pleased to visit the west midlands under its new Mayor, Andy Street, who is doing a very good job. The hon. Gentleman mentioned automated vehicles. This country is a leader in automated vehicles. That is part of building a strong economy and that is what this Government are doing.
Q4. Our national health service was last week judged the best, safest and most affordable healthcare system—better than that of France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. Too often in this House, we focus on the negatives. I have heard the Labour party attempt to weaponise the NHS. Will my right hon. Friend—and, I hope, the Leader of the Opposition when he stands—congratulate NHS staff on their skills and dedication, and on the hard work they have put in to achieve these high standards? 
I am very happy to stand here and congratulate all NHS staff, who are delivering such a fantastic service and who have made the NHS, once again—this is not the first time—the No. 1 health system in the world. We are determined to continue to enable that high level of service to be provided, which is why we will be investing more than half a trillion pounds in our NHS between 2015 and 2020.
I join the Prime Minister in thanking all the staff of this House for all the work they do all the year round. They are fantastic, supportive and inclusive, and they are great with the public who come here. I want to thank them for everything they do.
I also join the Prime Minister in thanking all our emergency services for the way they coped with all the terrible emergencies we have had over the past few months in this country, and I thank those communities, such as my own in Finsbury Park, that have come together to oppose those who try to divide us as a community and as a people. The emergency services were in action again yesterday, protecting the people of Coverack from the flood they suffered. We should always remember that we rely on those services.
The Chancellor said this week that some public servants are “overpaid”. Given that the Prime Minister has had to administer a slapdown to her squabbling Cabinet, does she think the Chancellor was actually talking about her own Ministers?
First, I join the right hon. Gentleman not only in praising the work of our emergency services, but in recognising the way in which after the terrible terrorist attacks, and of course the appalling tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, we have seen communities come together and support those who have been victims of those terrible incidents. I was very pleased, as he knows, to be able to visit Finsbury Park after the attack there and see for myself the work that had been done in that community and the work that he had done that night in working among his constituents to ensure that the community came together after that terrible attack.
On public sector pay, I simply say this to the right hon. Gentleman: I recognise, as I said when I stood on the steps of Downing Street a year ago, that some people in our country are just about managing—they find life a struggle. That covers people who are working in the public sector and some who are working in the private sector, which is why it is important that the Government are taking steps to, for example, help those on the lowest incomes through the national living wage. It is why we have taken millions of people out of paying income tax altogether; and it is why under this Government basic rate taxpayers have seen a tax cut of the equivalent of £1,000. But you only get that with a strong economy, and you only get that with a Conservative Government.
I thank the Prime Minister for what she said about my own community; I am obliged to her for that. However, my question was about whether the Chancellor had said that public service workers are overpaid or not. The reality in this country is simply this: a nurse on a median salary starts on £23,000; police officers start on £22,800; and jobcentre clerks start on £15,000. I had a letter from Sarah who wrote to me this week about her sister-in-law, who is a nurse. Sarah said:
“she has sacrificed her health for the caring of others. She has had a pay freeze for the last five years. Only her dedication and passion for her vocation keeps her going. Why is this happening”.
What does the Prime Minister say to Sarah and those others working in our NHS?
What I say to Sarah and to those working in the national health service is that we recognise the excellent work they are doing. We recognise the sacrifice that they and others have made over the past seven years. That sacrifice has been made because we had to deal with the biggest deficit in our peacetime history—left by a Labour Government. As we look at public sector pay, we balance being fair to public sector workers, protecting jobs and being fair to those who pay for them. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think it is possible to go around promising people more money and promising that nobody is ever going to have to pay for it. He and I both value public sector workers. We both value our public sector services. The difference is that on this side of the House we know that you have to pay for them.
The Prime Minister does not seem to have had any problem finding money to pay for the Democratic Unionist party’s support. The Conservatives have been in office for 84 months, and 52 of those months have seen a real fall in wages and income in our country. In the last Prime Minister’s Question Time before the general election, the Prime Minister said:
“every vote for me is a vote for a strong economy with the benefits felt by everyone across the country.”—[Official Report, 26 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 1104.]
Does she agree you cannot have a strong economy when 6 million people are earning less than the living wage?
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman when you cannot have a strong economy: it is when you adopt Labour party policies of half a trillion pounds of extra borrowing, which will mean more spending, more borrowing, higher prices, higher taxes and fewer jobs. The Labour Government crashed the economy; the Conservative Government have come in—more people in work, more people in jobs, more investment.
May I invite the Prime Minister to take a check with reality on this? One in eight workers in the United Kingdom—that is 3.8 million people in work—are now living in poverty. Some 55% of people in poverty are in working households. The Prime Minister’s lack of touch with reality goes like this. Low pay in Britain is holding people back at a time of rising housing costs, rising food prices and rising transport costs; it threatens people’s living standards, and rising consumer debt and falling savings threaten our economic stability. Why does the Prime Minister not understand that low pay is a threat to an already weakening economy?
The best route out of poverty is through work, and what we now see is hundreds—[Interruption.] Yes, it is.
Order. The question has been asked. The Prime Minister’s answer must—and however long it takes, it will—be heard.
The best route out of poverty is through work. That is why it is so important that, over the last seven years, we have seen 3 million more jobs created in our economy. It is why we now see so many thousands of people in households with work, rather than in workless households, and hundreds of thousands more children being brought up in a household where there is work rather than a failure to have work. That is what is important. But what is important for Government as well is to ensure that we provide support to people. That is why we created the national living wage. That was the biggest pay increase ever for people on the lowest incomes. When did the Labour party ever introduce the national living wage? Never! That was a Conservative Government and a Conservative record.
It was Labour that first introduced the minimum wage—with opposition from the Conservative party.
Wages are lower than they were 10 years ago. The Prime Minister has been in office for just one year, and during that time disposable income has fallen by 2%. The economic consequences of austerity are very clear, and so are the social consequences: life expectancy stalling for the first time in 100 years. Today, the Institute for Fiscal Studies forecasts that income inequality is going to get worse and that child poverty will rise to 5 million by 2022. Does the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]
Order. Members are shouting, and shouting excessively. They must calm themselves. Take some sort of soothing medicament.
I will try to help hon. Members, Mr Speaker. Does the Prime Minister not realise that her talk of a strong economy does not remotely match the reality that millions of people face, with low wages and poverty at home?
The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, wrong in some of the facts that he is putting forward. In fact, inequality is down. Life expectancy is continuing to rise. What we know is that what will not deliver a strong economy for this country is Labour’s policies of more borrowing, more spending, higher taxes and fewer jobs. What the right hon. Gentleman wants is a country that is living beyond its means. That means making future generations pay for his mistakes. That is Labour’s way, and the Conservatives will never do that.
What we want is a country where there are not 4 million children living in poverty and where homelessness does not rise every year. I look along the Front Bench opposite and I see a Cabinet bickering and backbiting while the economy gets weaker and people are pushed further into debt. [Interruption.] Well, they can try talking to each other. The economy is—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) is gesticulating in a distinctly eccentric manner and he must stop doing so. Shakespeare’s county deserves better.
The reality is that wages are falling, the economy is slowing, the construction sector is in recession, the trade deficit is widening, and we face crucial Brexit negotiations. Is not the truth that this divided Government are unable to give this country the leadership it so desperately needs now to deal with these issues?
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman the reality. The reality is that he is always talking Britain down and we are leading Britain forward. Let us look at the record of the Conservatives in government: 3 million more jobs, 4 million people out of paying income tax altogether, over 30 million with a cut in their income tax, record levels of people in employment, record numbers of women in work, the deficit cut by three quarters, inequality down, and record levels of foreign direct investment. That is a record to be proud of, and you only get it with a Conservative Government. [Hon. Members: “More!”]
I call Mike Wood. I do not think the hon. Gentleman knew how popular he was.
Q5. The black country flag has come under attack from Labour Members in recent days. Will the Prime Minister join me in again congratulating Gracie Sheppard, who designed the flag, reflecting our industrial heritage, when she was just 12 years old? Does the Prime Minister agree that the latest figures showing the west midlands as the fastest-growing part of this country show once again that the black country remains a great place to do business? 
As my hon. Friend says—he is absolutely right—the black country remains a great place to do business. I would like to congratulate Gracie on designing that flag at the age of only 12. I am sure that she and others, including the Express & Star, have been surprised at the attitude from the Labour Benches on this particular issue. I commend my hon. Friend and my other hon. Friends in the black country, and indeed the Express & Star, for the work that they are doing to promote the black country as that great place to do business, to live, and to bring up children like Gracie.
Does the Prime Minister believe that her Government have delivered pension fairness for women who, like her, were born in the 1950s?
What the Government are delivering for women is a better state pension for women so that women in future will be better off under the state pension than they have been in the past. We are equalising the state pension age, and I think that everybody across the whole House will recognise that that is the right thing to do.
The Prime Minister has found up to £35 billion for Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, up to £200 billion to replace the Trident missile system, and £1 billion for a deal with the DUP just so she can keep her own job. She seems to be able to shake the magic money tree when she wants to. Will she now end the injustice for those women who are missing out on their pensions before she herself thinks about retiring?
I am a little surprised, given the hon. Gentleman’s background, that he said what he did about Hinkley Point. Hinkley Point is actually privately funded—this is not money that is coming from the Government to develop Hinkley Point—so I find that a little strange. We have put £1 billion extra into the question of the change in the state pension age to ensure that nobody sees their state pension age increase by more than 18 months from that which was previously expected. I must also say to the hon. Gentleman that the Scottish Government of course now have extra powers in the area of welfare. Perhaps it is about time that the Scottish Government got on with the day job and stopped talking endlessly about independence.
Q8. Businesses in Stafford and other constituencies need as much certainty as possible now about what will happen after we leave the EU in March 2019 for investment decisions they are making in the coming weeks and months. As the Government work on the comprehensive future relationship with our European neighbours, will they also negotiate time-bound transitional arrangements that prioritise the jobs of our constituents and the health of our economy? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I have said in this Chamber and elsewhere, we want to avoid a cliff edge for businesses, because people want to know where they stand, and to be able to carry on investing in the UK and creating the jobs that we have seen being created. As I have also said before, once we know—once we have negotiated through this two-year period—what the end-state relationship for the UK and the European Union will be in the future, it will then be necessary to have an implementation period when people can adjust to that new end state that is coming in. There will be some very practical things that need to be done during that period. As part of the negotiations, it will be important for us to agree what that implementation period, or periods, is, and what the arrangements will be during that.
Q2. Since Winnie Ewing’s maiden speech 50 years ago this year, SNP MPs and MSPs have been arguing for the voting age to be lowered. In recent elections, young people have proven themselves to be the most knowledgeable and most engaged that they have ever been. I believe there is a majority in this House in favour of lowering the voting age. Will the Prime Minister support giving votes to 16 and 17-year-olds? 
I would say to the hon. Lady that this is one of those issues on which people will obviously have different views. My view has always been and continues to be that 18 is the right age. We expect people to continue in education or training until the age of 18, and I think that is the right point for the voting age.
Q9. In Harrow and up and down the country, young people will be eagerly anticipating their A-level results to see whether they qualify for a university education. Will my right hon. Friend confirm the dramatic increase in the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university, and can she think of anyone who should apologise for misleading the British public? 
I think it is very important, as people are thinking about going to university, that they are not misled in any way. It is the case that more disadvantaged 18-year-olds are now applying to university than ever before. I believe the Leader of the Opposition said exactly the opposite, and I think he should apologise for that. I think the Labour party should actually go further. At the election, the Leader of the Opposition vowed to deal with student debt, and Labour were going to abolish student debt; now they say it was not a promise at all. Students know Labour cannot be trusted on student fees.
Q3. The Prime Minister will now know what it is like to have a job but to lack job security. Sometimes it can even bring a tear to the eye. Given her new-found empathy for millions of workers in insecure work, why is she now cutting six Department for Work and Pensions jobcentres in Glasgow and also back-office staff at Springburn in my constituency, where unemployment is twice the national average? 
May I start by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his new job in this House? What is happening in relation to jobcentres in Scotland is that the DWP is ensuring it is using the estate properly and to the best advantage. As a result of what is happening, no services are going to be cut. In fact, services to people using jobcentres will be enhanced in future. I think what matters is actually the service that is provided to people attending those jobcentres.
Q11. The brave men and women of our armed forces put themselves in extremely challenging situations in their efforts to keep us all safe. We therefore owe it to them to do all we can to support them and their families when they have completed their service. I warmly welcome the launch of the “Defence people mental health and wellbeing strategy” yesterday, but will my right hon. Friend tell the House how we can co-ordinate this excellent programme with our international allies? May I also wish her a very well deserved break when she finally decides to take it in the recess? 
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Members across the House recognise the importance of ensuring that we provide that support to those who are in our services and our veterans. The issue of mental health and wellbeing is very important, and I welcome the new strategy for mental health and wellbeing in the armed forces. I also pay tribute to the tireless work of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), particularly on mental health, since he came to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) raises an issue that is important not just for us in the UK; we need to see how we can work internationally on it. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence launched the strategy at an international conference yesterday, with counterparts from the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. We will all campaign against the stigmas around mental health so that members of our armed forces and our veterans can get the help they need.
Q6. In my constituency of Liverpool, Walton, almost 40% of children are growing up in poverty. With schools closing this week and local support services cut to the bone, austerity bites and kids do not get fed. The Prime Minister says that her mission is to make Britain “a country that works for everyone”.What is she doing now to stop kids going hungry this summer in Liverpool, Walton? 
May I first of all welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place in this House? He is right to say that it is important that we look at the provision made in school for children and at the issue of households and poverty, but as I said to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the best way we can deal with poverty—the best route out of poverty—is for people to get into the workplace and then for us to ensure that other, better-paid jobs are provided for people in the workplace in the future.
Q12. A young woman in Telford who gave evidence in a horrific child sexual exploitation case five years ago is living in fear. The perpetrator, who received a 22-year sentence, is about to be released early. CSE victims are too often overlooked and ignored. Does the Prime Minister agree that CSE victims should be properly consulted on the release of perpetrators and that in this case the perpetrator should not be returned to Telford? 
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We all know that child sexual exploitation is an absolutely horrific crime. It is absolutely right that if victims are going to come forward to report this abuse, they need to know that they will be supported so that they can have the confidence to do so and be confident in their future security and safety. The victim contact scheme is supposed to treat victims properly and ensure that consideration is given to victim-related conditions when looking at an offender’s licence on release. If my hon. Friend would like to write with the details of the case to my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, he will look at it very carefully.
Q7. The interim Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to answer the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, so may I try again? It was reported over the weekend, by the temporary Chancellor’s own Cabinet colleagues, that he had said that some public sector workers are “overpaid”. Will the Prime Minister tell the House, the country and those public sector workers which ones she thinks are overpaid, which ones she thinks are underpaid and what she is going to do about it? 
As I said earlier, I recognise that there will be people working in the public sector who do find life a struggle and are just about managing, and there will be people in the private sector who are in the same place. I also say to the hon. Gentleman that, as we have seen in the figures released today, there are some people working in the public sector who are very well paid. We need to ensure that, when we look at public sector pay, we balance being fair to workers, protecting jobs and being fair to those who pay for the public sector, and that we also support people by ensuring that they can keep more of the money they earn. That is why we believe in cutting taxes.
The Government are under predictable pressure on public sector pay and public sector spending, which we would all like to respond to if there were some sensible demands. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that the only way in which a responsible Government can increase public sector pay is if we restore to this country strong economic growth and a sensible Government fiscal balance sheet, and that the biggest threats to our achieving either of those things over the next two years are a bad Brexit deal that puts up barriers to trade and investment, or the return of a hard-left, old-fashioned socialist Government?
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. As a very successful former Chancellor of the Exchequer, he speaks with expertise on this issue. He is right that we need to get a good Brexit deal, but he is also right that the policies of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor, were they ever to get the opportunity to put them into practice, would not lead to more money for nurses, our national health service or our public sector; they would lead, through higher spending and higher borrowing, to jobs going, higher prices, higher taxes for people, less money available for our health service and less money available for our nurses.
Q10. Does the Prime Minister know that her universal credit process is failing my constituents? The Salvation Army and Streetlife report that vulnerable Blackpool people are juggling a month’s money without help, that there are unfair sanctions for people with mental health issues, that a six-week wait for money is causing more stress, and that there is a phone helpline that Citizens Advice says can cost claimants 55p a minute and take 39 minutes to answer. Can she start by getting them a freephone number? 
The importance of the universal credit scheme is that it is ensuring that being in work always pays. With the universal credit scheme, we are seeing more people getting into the workplace. The DWP is constantly looking at the scheme and how it is operating around the country to ensure that any problems that people raise are addressed.
Thousands of my constituents and millions of consumers in this country have to pay surcharges when they use their credit or debit card—a highly unfair practice. Will my right hon. Friend outline the impact of lifting surcharges on consumers in this country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is very important that this issue is being addressed. We believe that rip-off charges have no place in modern Britain. That is why card charging abuse is going to come to an end. This is about fairness and transparency. We do not want people to be surprised, when they come to pay for something, that an extra surcharge is suddenly added because they have used a particular card. The total value of such fees in 2010 was estimated to be £473 million. That money will be put back in the hands of shoppers across the country, so that they have more cash to spend on the things that matter to them.
Q13. In her Lancaster House speech, the Prime Minister said that the UK would be leaving the single market. Will she tell the House whether that red line on the single market also applies to any transitional agreement or implementation period that might be agreed for the period after March 2019? 
We said that we would no longer be a member of the single market because we will no longer be a member of the European Union and, as the European Union says consistently, its four pillars are indivisible. Therefore, the fact that we do not wish to be subject to other issues, like the European Court of Justice and free movement requirements, means that we will no longer be a member of the single market. At the end of the two years, when we have negotiated the end state deal, there will be an implementation period for that deal, but we are very clear that at the point at which we reach the end of the negotiations, we will be out of the European Union.
I welcome the Institute for Fiscal Studies report this week on income inequality in the UK. It clearly shows that, contrary to Labour propaganda that was often repeated during the general election, the income gap between rich and poor in our country has reduced every year since 2010. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that clearly shows that those with the broadest shoulders are bearing the heaviest burden in dealing with the debt we inherited from the last Labour Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The IFS report clearly shows what he has said today. As we know, the top 1% of taxpayers are bearing 27% of the tax burden. That is a higher burden than in any year under the Labour Government.
Q14. NHS England commissions child and adolescent mental health beds at a private hospital in my constituency, which recently received a damning Care Quality Commission report. The CQC found that the hospital was unsafe not least because, on inspection, it found a young woman with MRSA with open wounds on a ward. Does the Prime Minister share my concern that a shortage of mental health beds risks the NHS placing vulnerable young people in unsafe environments, and will she consider giving NHS England the responsibility for, and the resources to investigate, the quality of care before it commissions? 
The hon. Lady has raised a very significant point. On mental health, of course we are boosting the funding that is going into mental health in the national health service and across the picture, across Government, in terms of dealing with mental health. We are taking a number of steps to improve mental health. She has raised a very particular case, which I am sure everyone in the House will have been concerned to hear, and I will ensure that the Secretary of State looks into the case she has raised.
Daesh’s atrocities have failed to deliver a caliph or a fictional caliphate. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our international partners must provide resources and commitment to apply international law and bring prosecutions against Daesh fighters and those who choose to partner with them, making it clear that wherever a death-cult terrorist hides, we will find them and hold them accountable for their barbaric crimes?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this. It is important that those who have committed these horrific crimes are brought to justice. We have done good work as a United Kingdom in helping those in these theatres to see how they can collect evidence that can then be used in prosecutions. We want to do this work internationally through the United Nations and it is an issue that I spoke about to Prime Minister al-Abadi of Iraq yesterday. We want to work with them and others to ensure that we can send the very clear message that my hon. Friend identifies.
Q15. Does the Prime Minister agree that the huge increase in knife crime has tragic consequences for families in constituencies such as mine? What will she do to work with me and other Members on both sides of the House to find solutions to this blight on young lives, including looking again at the budget for policing? 
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place in the House. Her presence has enabled me to appoint a very good chief of staff to my office at No. 10. She raises the very serious issue of knife crime. The Government have been taking a tougher stance on knife crime. We do think this is an issue and we have done this in a variety of ways. Now, if people carry a knife in public they are much more likely to go to prison. But we do recognise that there is more to do in this area. That is why yesterday my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced plans to consult on new offences to toughen up knife crime laws, including restricting the online sale of knives—we have done some of that already, but we think there is more for us to do—and banning possession of dangerous or offensive weapons on private property. The hon. Lady has raised an important issue and the Government have been addressing it. We recognise that we need to do more, and that is what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is doing.
Before the election, the Government committed to removing the faith-based cap for free schools and even included that promise in our election manifesto. Catholic dioceses up and down the country are anxious to open free schools and some have even purchased sites. Will the Prime Minister commit her Government to honouring that solemn pledge in our manifesto?
My hon. Friend will recognise that the reason we put that in our manifesto, and the reason it was in the schools Green Paper that we published before the election, is that we do believe it is important to enable more faith schools to be set up and more faith schools to expand. This is an issue that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is considering and she will publish further details on our overall view in terms of improving school diversity and encouraging the creation of more good school places in the near future.
Last week the Prime Minister refused to make public a report on the foreign funding of extremists in the United Kingdom, despite pressure from Members in all parts of the House and beyond. Last night, survivors of 9/11 also urged her to make the report available. Has she refused to do so simply because the content of the report will embarrass the Government’s friends in Saudi Arabia, or because Ministers care rather more about arms sales to Riyadh than they do about public safety in Britain?
It is absolutely nothing to do with that. There is certain confidential information in the report that means that it would not be appropriate to publish it, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it available, on a Privy Council basis, to Opposition parties.
For signs of the strong economy that the Prime Minister has so eloquently outlined this morning, we need look no further than Taunton Deane. It is a microcosm of the national picture, with record house building, record employment, and record Government investment in road schemes such as the A358 upgrade and the expansion of junction 25. Does the Prime Minister agree that to build on the economic success that this Government have overseen, those key road projects should not just speed up traffic and ease congestion but unlock more jobs, thus further fuelling the rise in productivity?
I am very happy to recognise Taunton Deane as a microcosm of the excellent economy that we see across the country. My hon. Friend has made an important point about the need to invest in infrastructure in order to boost our economy. It is a point that the Government readily understand and accept, which is why, in last year’s autumn statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to announce a £23 billion national productivity investment fund, a considerable portion of which will go into infrastructure. We fully recognise not just the importance of large-scale transport projects such as Crossrail, HS2 and the expansion of Heathrow, but the importance of investing in projects at a more local level if we are to unlock further economic growth in areas like Taunton Deane.
With no legal powers, funds or criteria, and with schools and Parliament not open, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust is once again consulting on the closure of the hospital and the building of a new £400 million hospital in Belmont. There have been five consultations over 18 years, wasting £40 million of taxpayers’ money. Is it not time for the Prime Minister to step in and put a stop to it, and allow this important hospital to get on with the day job?
I understand that Epsom and St Helier Trust is indeed seeking views on future specialist care at the trust, and on how the existing buildings can be improved. I also understand that the discussions are at an early stage, that no final decisions have been made, and that any proposals for major service change will be subject to a full public consultation.
Not only has the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that we have the narrowest income gaps for a decade, but the Office for National Statistics has said that Britain has some of the lowest levels of persistent poverty in Europe. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that this country is governed by the true facts and not by fake news, and that this Government are committed to building a strong economy for all?
Let me start by welcoming my hon. Friend to the Chamber. She is absolutely right: we owe it to our constituents—we owe it to the public—to ensure that when we debate these issues we debate them on the basis of the facts, and not on the basis of the sort of fake news that we hear all too often in the Chamber.
Lakeside children’s centre is a lifeline for often struggling kids and their parents in one of the poorest wards in Britain, giving them the best possible start in life, yet it is one of 26 children’s centres that face closure in Birmingham. Does the Prime Minister understand the consequences of her actions? Does she understand that £700 million of cuts in the city council’s budget are having a devastating impact on the provision of children’s centres? Will she act properly to fund those centres, and to reverse a tidal wave of closures that will otherwise have a devastating impact on the life chances of a whole generation of children?
Obviously, decisions on this issue are being taken by the Birmingham local authority, but it ill behoves any Member of the Labour party to stand up in this House and complain about the issues with public spending that we have had to address, because they are the direct result of the failure of a Labour Government to manage our economy.
The hon. Lady is signalling that she wishes to raise a point of order, but customarily points of order come after urgent questions and statements. If the hon. Lady can hold herself until that point, we look forward with eager anticipation to hearing of what she wishes to unburden herself then.
Prison and Youth Custody Centre Safety
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will make a statement on safety in prisons and the findings of Her Majesty’s chief inspector’s annual report.
Independent scrutiny is an essential part of our prison system, and I thank the chief inspector of prisons and his team for the work they do in delivering this, including through his annual report. His report raises important issues in relation to safety and security in prisons and youth custody. We have been clear that a calm and ordered environment needs to be created to ensure effective rehabilitation, and that achieving this is our priority.
The current levels of violence, self-harm and self-inflicted deaths in the adult estate are unacceptable. The issues in our prisons have deep roots and, while they will not be addressed overnight, we are combining immediate action to stabilise the estate with significant additional investment. For example, we are investing £100 million a year to bring in an additional 2,500 prison officers by the end of 2018. We are already making significant progress, with a net increase of 515 prison officers in post at the end of March compared with the previous quarter.
Turning to youth justice, the annual report highlights particular issues regarding the youth estate. I reassure the hon. Lady that the safety and welfare of every young person in custody is of paramount importance to me and we are clear that more needs to be done to achieve this.
In response to Charlie Taylor’s review of the youth justice system last December, the Government acknowledged the serious issues the youth justice system faces, and that is why we are reforming the system. Let me give three examples of the progress we are making. First, we have created a new youth custody service, with an executive director, for the first time in the Department’s history. Secondly, the development of a new youth justice specialist officer role is ensuring that more staff can be specifically trained to work with young people, boosting the numbers on the operational frontline in youth offender institutions by 20%, and recruiting workers specifically trained to work within the youth sector. Thirdly, there is the introduction of a more individualised approach for young people focused on education and health, enhancing the workforce, improving governance, and developing the secure estate.
Finally, in his report the chief inspector expressed disappointment about the implementation rate of his recommendations. I recognise this concern, and to address this, we have created a new unit within Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to help ensure that recommendations are taken forward in a timely manner and to track how they are being implemented by prisons.
The issues within our prisons will not be resolved overnight, but we are determined to make progress as quickly as possible, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support our plans for reform.
Last year, the chief inspector reported that too many of our prisons had become unacceptably violent and dangerous. This year, he reports that the situation has not improved, and that it has got worse. Staff assaults increased by 38% in the 12 months to December 2016. Of the 29 local prisons and training institutes inspected last year, 21 were judged to be poor, or not sufficiently good, in the area of safety.
Only two weeks ago, here in the Chamber, I raised the issues at Feltham young offenders institution, but this devastating report is a cause for even greater concern. The jump in violence in our prisons is a crisis of the Government’s own making. The warning signs have been there. The Government have been warned by MPs, by the staff in our prisons and by charities. Now they are being condemned by this damning report. The budget for prisons has been cut by more than a fifth over the past six years, and those cuts have now been proved to be a false economy. Prison staff numbers have been cut by a quarter and those who remain are being put at risk. The human impact of Tory austerity is now being laid bare in our prison system. Effective prisons should be about rehabilitation, so that people come out less likely to reoffend. Drugs, debt and bullying are contributing to the violence, but this has been found to be compounded by staffing levels described as being simply too low to keep order and run a decent regime.
In the last Parliament, the Government introduced a Bill to address some of these safety concerns. However, the Bill was lost on Dissolution. Despite recognition of prison safety being in the Tory manifesto, no prisons legislation was announced in the 2017 Queen’s Speech. Will the Minister tell the House whether there is any intention of bringing back that legislation? Will he also tell us why a third of prisons have been found not to have implemented the prisons and probation ombudsman’s recommendations on reducing the risk of self-inflicted death? What action is being taken to address governance concerns and the extensive use of force and segregation? Will the Minister also update the House on the implementation of progress on recruitment and the action being taken to keep experienced staff and retain new staff? Our prison system is no longer fit for purpose and the Government must take urgent action.
We fully recognise that there are difficulties in the prison system—we have been honest about that ever since I have been in the Department—and yes, the staffing issue has been indicated as a problem. It has been addressed in the last year and, as I have said, we have appointed more than 500 to March and we are on course to fulfil our target of 2,500 extra prison officers by the end of 2018. I would argue, however, that the unforeseen exacerbant in prisons has been the use of Spice and other drugs. This was not anticipated by any previous Government and it is undeniably causing difficulties in terms of the behaviour of prisoners and the corruption of prisoners and some staff with regard to the trade in those substances.
I also take seriously the issue of mental health in prisons. Only yesterday I had further meetings with the Department of Health, which carries responsibility for that. We recognise that we need to improve mental health services for offenders, including the services relating to substance misuse, both in custody and in the community. We are working hard to make those improvements because we know that those issues are contributing to the problems that the hon. Lady has raised.
In relation to the youth estate, and particularly to Feltham, which is in the hon. Lady’s constituency, the use of segregation is an issue. It has been an issue recently in the case that has been raised, but I cannot comment on that case because there is an appeal. This indicates how difficult it can be to manage young people. Over the past 10 years, the number of young people being held in custody has fallen from 3,000 to 1,000. That is something to celebrate. What we cannot celebrate, however, is the fact that when that target was set, before 2010, no plan was in place to change the infrastructure to meet the demands of dealing with and managing 1,000 extremely difficult young people at any one time. We are seeing problems not just at Feltham but across the youth justice system. I am fully aware of those problems, and that is why we are bringing forward two new secure schools over the next two years.
The Minister is right to be frank, as he always has been, about the dire state of affairs in our prisons, which the Select Committee highlighted in a number of reports during the last Parliament. On a constructive note, does he recognise that although the Queen’s Speech contained no prisons legislation for the current Session, it would none the less be appropriate for the Government to take forward much of the prison reform agenda that does not require legislation? In particular, will he commit to ensuring that data and updates are provided to the House—through the Select Committee or otherwise—on the progress of the implementation of Her Majesty’s inspectorate’s recommendations? We do not need legislation for the Government to be transparent about that, and we need to track the progress that is being made.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his reappointment as Chair of the Justice Committee. We are committed to transparency on this. We recognise that there is a series of challenges and problems within the system, and I would be more than happy to come before his Committee to discuss this further. In regard to legislation, we have not ruled out future legislation on prisons, but I would argue that there is quite a lot we can be getting on with that does not require legislation. We are eager, keen and determined to reform our prison system.
Yesterday’s scathing report by the chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales represents a watershed moment in the national debate on our prisons. Prisons should be places not only of punishment but of rehabilitation. They should be making us all safer in the short run and in the longer term. I believe that the whole House will be alarmed by the chief inspector’s view that
“too many of our prisons had become unacceptably violent and dangerous places.”
Members on both sides of the House are all too well aware that there is a crisis in our prisons, and yesterday’s report revealed that, despite the Government’s warm words, the situation is not under control, and it is getting worse.
In the light of that, I believe that the Minister has some serious questions to answer. Does he agree with the remarks by his former colleague, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and former next Prime Minister, that prisons are approaching an “emergency”? What role does he think the substantial cuts to the prisons budget since 2010 have played in this, and what measures will he undertake to address the situation? The chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales has warned that this crisis
“has all been compounded by staffing levels in many jails that are simply too low”.
Does the Minister agree that prison officers deserve a pay rise, and that that will be necessary if we are going to increase numbers and improve retention?
The chief inspector has also said that he is
“appalled by the conditions in which we hold many prisoners”.
What measures is the Minister taking to address this and to reform our prisons so that prisoners leave prison as less, rather than more, of a danger to society? Most shockingly, the number of self-inflicted deaths has more than doubled since 2013. What strategy will he adopt, and what specific resources will he allocate, to reduce that number? The chief inspector said that he had
“reached the conclusion that there was not a single establishment that we inspected in England and Wales in which it was safe to hold children and young people.”
He added that the speed of decline had been staggering, given that in 2013-14, nine out of 12 institutions were graded as good or reasonably good for safety. What explanation does this Minister have for this? Everyone knows that the Government have created a crisis in our prisons. What yesterday’s report shows is that they are failing to take action to solve it.
I do not accept that the Department has lost control of the prison system. That is nonsense. We have a full grip on the issues that we need to face. I would like to talk about the £1.3 billion that we have invested to transform the estate. By transforming it, we are going to improve the quality of the accommodation for prisoners, which will have a direct impact on the problems that we are encountering among the small volume of people who have mental health and suicide issues. We recognise that parts of our estate are antiquated, and that is why we are investing the money.
As I have already said, we know that there are many difficulties in the youth justice system, where the violence rate is 10 times higher than in the adult prison estate. I give my full support to the staff who continue to work in the youth estate because I have seen it with my own eyes: I have visited the majority of the youth estate and it is extremely difficult. I would argue that the genesis of the problem goes back many years. As I alluded to earlier, the admirable intention to reduce the number of people being locked up in the youth estate has brought us to a point at which we have a very challenging population that is particularly violent and difficult to manage. That is why we have the problems we have.
We are bringing forward plans on secure schools—there are two in the pipeline—and we intend to make them a completely different regime with a completely different curriculum balance, including getting people outside more because I am particularly passionate about the use of sport, so that we can deal with the issues we are confronting. I am under no illusions about how difficult this issue is, but we have a plan and we are going to implement it.
I know the Minister appreciates the fact that people with autism are disproportionately represented in the custodial system. Notwithstanding the issues at YOI Feltham, it was in fact the first prison to receive autism-friendly accreditation, and the governor and staff there report that that contributed to a diminishment in violence levels across the whole estate. Some 20 prisons have indicated interest in such accreditation. Will the Minister look into the programme and consider making its roll-out compulsory throughout the entire prison estate? It would be of benefit to prisoners and prison staff alike.
Yes, I am more than happy to consider rolling out that programme. There are positive schemes, and not only with regard to the diagnosis, treatment and management of autism; various sports clubs, rugby clubs and football clubs are also involved, such as Saracens at Feltham. The work they are doing and the evidence of its outcomes are all positive. That is why I am passionate about this: if we can get the management of autism and mental health right and broaden the curriculum so that more time is spent outside cells, I am convinced that we can change the behaviour and atmosphere in each prison and institution so that staff can feel safe while they are at work.
The combination of rising prisoner numbers and shrinking budgets is a major factor that affects the welfare of prison officers and prisoners. In that context, it is regrettable that the UK Government dropped prison reform from the Queen’s Speech and continue to cut budgets and staff numbers. In contrast, the Scottish National party Government in Scotland have continued to invest in modernising and improving the prison estate. They have also committed to significant penal reform, aimed at reducing reoffending by moving away from custodial sentences in favour of community sentences, which have been proven to be better for rehabilitation. Does the Minister agree that he should follow the Scottish Government’s example and concentrate his efforts on schemes that will reduce prison numbers and overcrowding, thereby reducing pressure on prison officers and prisoners?
Yes, intellectually I agree with the hon. and learned Lady that it would make life a lot easier if we could reduce the prison population, and I know that the Secretary of State agrees with that position. The difficulty is the constant balance with the justice issue: if people have committed crimes, they have to serve the time. The question is where they serve that time. I am responsible for women’s justice, on which a strategy is coming out by the end of the year. I very much want that strategy to concentrate on the provision of community sentences and for us to move to that model of prison—in future years it could be rolled out to the adult male estate, but I am just looking at the female estate. I think that we can learn a lot from where we hold people when they are serving their time. I am going to Scotland in the autumn and am looking forward to seeing a few programmes up there, because I gather that some good work is being done.
Is the Minister satisfied that sufficient remedies are available to deal with violent offenders?
Yes, I am.
The Minister is right to say that legislation will not solve this crisis by itself—many other measures are necessary—but will he tell the House why the Prisons and Courts Bill, which was drafted and had made some progress in the previous Parliament, has been dropped? If the Government are committed to prison reform, why have they dropped a piece of legislation that was ready to be considered by the House?
We can deliver our reform package without any further legislation. We will not rule out further legislation if there is a requirement for it in future, but the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are pressures on parliamentary time and this is something we are having to accommodate. Nevertheless, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot continue with the reform programme we have planned.
Does the Minister agree that although there are challenges, dedicated officers are doing much positive and transformative work in prisons on issues such as mental health, as well as through chaplaincy services and restorative justice programmes? An example is the work I have seen being done at Thorn Cross Prison over many years by Shawn Verhey and Lorraine Turner. Will he join me in thanking them, and the many dedicated officers like them who do such a tremendous job?
Yes. That is another example of how, throughout the system, positive schemes are being followed. People who work in a variety of areas, particularly mental health, are delivering care to the prisoners who need it, so that they can rehabilitate properly before they return to society.
The Minister referred to the advent of drugs such as Spice as an unknown quantity for the Prison Service to have to deal with, but the fact that there are a quarter fewer prison officers than in 2010 hardly helps to address new challenges. Assaults on staff are up by 70% since 2009, and in 2016 alone one in five justice staff members left the sector. Will the Minister confirm that there is a retention crisis, which is being fuelled by the disgraceful rise in the number of assaults on Prison Service staff?
As I hope the right hon. Lady would acknowledge, I am trying to be as candid as possible about the difficulties we face. A year ago, we acknowledged that there was a need for more staff, and we are delivering on that. I must stress, though, that there was no expectation that the drug would cause this problem. There is yet to be proper documentation on how it affects the prisoners who take it and their behaviour, and on the long-term impact that that will have on the prison population. We acknowledge that we need more staff, and that those staff need better training. In the youth justice system, we are introducing a new youth custody role, because we recognise that additional skills are needed. We recognise the problems, and we are working to solve them.
The Minister will share my concern about the impact of contraband, and particularly new psychoactive substances, on prisoners and the violence that it can cause, so will he say what measures the Department is taking to prevent such materials from getting into prisons?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We have improved the seizure of drugs; the figure for the past 12 months is about 225 kg, which is up on the previous year. We have employed dogs to detect psychoactive substances, and we were the first jurisdiction in the world to introduce drug testing for psychoactive substances. We continue to develop that service as the substances evolve.
I hope that the planned new youth custody service works, but will the Minister say how many new prison officers will join the existing service this year?
No, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an exact figure, but I will write to him with it. We are actively seeking to recruit in every single institution area, particularly in south-east England, where there are always challenges in recruiting prison staff. Perhaps more importantly, we are trying to recruit people who have a history of working with young people. Working with troubled young individuals is a difficult business, and we recognise that there may have been recruitment errors in the past. We want to recruit people who have the proper experience.
The Minister will know that I have previously questioned his Department about rehabilitation. As a result of the report, will he prioritise rehabilitation plans for offenders and employment opportunities for ex-offenders?
Yes, that is very much our intention. There are several schemes throughout the country that involve employers. I visited Drake Hall, a women’s prison, where Halfords has a bicycle repair unit, and met an offender who was leaving prison a week or so later to work for Halfords. Such schemes up and down the country are fantastic and we need more of them. We are working hard on getting more.
This is surely an issue of safeguarding. The chief inspector of prisons says that there is not a single establishment that is currently safe to hold children and young people. The Minister did not answer the specific question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) about why there has been such a staggering decline in safety over the past year and, as the chief inspector said, such a “slump in standards”. Can the Minister explain what a “slump in standards” means, and what he is doing to address it?
I do not accept that all institutions fit that description. YOI Werrington received a positive report last week. I would argue that the slump has not happened over the past year. As I keep saying, the problem came about over a number of years. With some institutions, we are wrestling with a legacy of issues. At one institution, for example, a contract that was signed in 2004 is preventing us from making necessary changes. The idea that this problem was created by this Government is simplistic and just not accurate.
This Government are building new prison capacity, including at Wellingborough in north Northamptonshire. What difference does my hon. Friend believe that that will make in terms of improving safety?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As I said earlier, some of our prisons are Victorian. They are antiquated, and the quality of the cells is substandard, which is why we are building new prisons. Cells in which prisoners find it much harder to commit suicide are what is needed, which is why I am pleased that we are investing £1.3 billion in the system.
Let me declare an interest as an outgoing police and crime commissioner. This report is devastating and the Minister must act on it. One way of acting very quickly would be to invest in things such as non-custodial programmes for women offenders and intensive community orders, which have better returns in terms of reoffending rates. Will the Minister commit this Government to putting money where it will make a real difference?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and I welcome him back to the House. It is good to see him here, having had a good relationship with him before. Yes, the women’s justice system is a classic example of where there is scope to devolve responsibility and indeed funds. North-west England, a part of which he used to represent, has had a whole-system approach to funding over the past year or two, so that we can try to build a system in which women can be treated holistically and in which the team understands each woman’s home, situation, partners and relationships, so that it can bear down on the number of people who are locked up. In the strategy that will be delivered before the end of the year, I hope to outline in more detail what I want to do in north-west England.
Last November, the Department outlined in its White Paper probably the most comprehensive plan for improving our prisons for a generation. Some items—a minority of them—require primary legislation. I would like to see that brought forward in due course, particularly with regard to changing the statutory definition of the purpose of a prison to include rehabilitation and reform. However, the vast majority of items do not require such legislation, so will the Minister confirm that his Department will continue to implement the White Paper in full?
My hon. Friend is very informed on this matter. Yes, he is right: the great majority of the reform package that was announced last year can be delivered without any further legislation. As I have said three times, we have not ruled out primary legislation in this area in the near future.
By what date does the Minister expect the first people to enter the new units that he has announced for the north and the south? Will he update the Justice Committee on the objectives that he has set for improving the situation, and will he agree to look again at the recommendations of Lord Toby Harris, to which the Government did not agree when they were produced early last year?
I think the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the secure schools. We are committed to opening one in September 2019. There is a possibility that it could be earlier, but it depends on finding the appropriate site; as Members can imagine, these sites have to be secure. We are working extremely hard and are in negotiations with various agencies. The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime is particularly interested in assisting us on this. When we know about the locations, we can be a bit clearer about the delivery date.
On the wider question, which I think is about the state of the youth justice system, he can probably tell that I think we need to move towards a different system of how we lock up young people. Sadly, we recognise that some young people will need to be locked up—we have a very small uptick in some serious sexual crimes at the moment—but the environment, the staffing and the manner in which we do so must change. This report confirms what we already knew, and my intention is to work hard to bring forward a plan so that in the future—in the next 10 years—we can get to a situation in which our young people are not only safe and secure, but properly rehabilitated.
I welcome the additional £2 million that this Government have invested in providing handheld mobile detectors and portable detection poles to every prison to root out the mobile phones that facilitate so many problems. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to continue monitoring this issue and to consider what more can be done in this area?
Yes. We have made some real progress; we are stopping thousands of mobile phones getting into our prisons. We are working extremely hard to stop the use of drones and to block the use of mobile phone signals over prisons. Things are not perfect; we have not finished this work, but we are continuing to press hard, because it would be fantastic to have a mobile phone and drone-free prison network.
I look forward to the strategy for women offenders that the Minister said he would introduce later this year. He will know that last year, 30% of women in custody self-harmed, and 12 women killed themselves in prison—the highest level since 2004. In reviewing the estate for women, will he take the opportunity, once and for all, to take on board the recommendations of Baroness Jean Corston? Women who need to be in custody should be placed not in prisons far from their families, but in small, secure community units. There is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do this. Please will the Minister take it?
The Corston report was one of the first things I read when I was appointed to this role in July 2016, and it makes a persuasive case. There is an issue about where some women should be held. I am not completely convinced that we can go down the path of all women being held in community provision, in residential women’s centres. However, I am persuaded that we can reduce the number of women we are locking up. This will be based primarily on the way that we deliver community provision, and on mental health care before, during and after prison.
I have met a number of women in prison, the majority of whom have displayed scars of self-harm. As the hon. Lady might know, I am a doctor and I observe these things, and it is quite distressing to see this. To deal with the problem, we need to change the environment in which these women are held and to get their mental health services improved. Those are my two priorities, and I hope that the hon. Lady will be reassured that the strategy, which will be delivered by the end of this year, will get things right.
Listening to parents of young offenders in my constituency surgeries has been eye-opening, as is listening to those working in Winchester Prison, who have seen what happens to people who have never got out of the prison system. I welcome the focus on dealing with the growing level of violence and youth justice. It is vital that we look at those issues individually and at the outcomes. How will this new unit help to ensure that the recommendations are followed?
The unit to which my hon. Friend refers has been set up by the Department to ensure that the recommendations are followed. I gather that this is the first time that such a unit has been created. With regard to youth justice and to women’s justice, the key is to build a network over time—it will take a long time—that allows people to be held closer to home, so that families, and mothers in particular, can stay in contact with their children. That is our intention. I have mapped out the country with regard to women’s justice and youth justice to ensure that what we bring forward fits the framework, so that we can deliver time in prison closer to home for women and young people.
There is a grave situation in our prisons, and the Minister is being typically frank in acknowledging that. One problem is the large cohort of prisoners languishing on indeterminate sentences for public protection. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to getting that number down as quickly as possible?
That has been a long-running issue in the prison system, and the answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes.
Reoffending rates remain stubbornly high, especially for young offenders, with nearly seven out of 10 who are sent to prison going on to reoffend on release. We know that that is to do with the conditions and the environment in our prisons and young offender institutions, but what more can be done to ensure effective rehabilitation, especially for our young people?
The recidivism rate in the youth estate is not acceptable, nor is the environment in which young people are being held. In some institutions, they are being locked up for too long, which is primarily to do with the safety and security of the institution. That needs to change. There are programmes in place—I have mentioned one already, with Saracens and other sports teams—that are showing evidence of reducing recidivism rates. I am determined to change the curriculum being delivered in the youth estate. People need to spend more time outside, on sport, for example. If we do that, we will achieve what my hon. Friend wants us to achieve. By early next year, I plan on bringing out a review of the criminal justice system and sport, particularly in the youth justice system. Its recommendations will be interesting to see.
Immigration Act 2016: Section 67
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will update the House on the implementation of section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016.
The Government are fully committed to helping and supporting the most vulnerable children, and we are contributing significantly to hosting, supporting and protecting vulnerable children affected by the migration crisis. This is part of our wider response of taking 23,000 people from the region. We have already granted asylum or another form of leave to more than 8,000 children and local authorities across the country are supporting more than 4,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
Children transferred under section 67 are being cared for by local authorities across the country and we and they take our responsibility to those children very seriously. Safeguarding those children is paramount. Following consultation with local authorities, the Government have set the number of children who will be transferred under the scheme at 480. We have invited referrals of eligible children from France, Greece and Italy and our officials at the Home Office have visited those countries in recent months to put in place processes further to identify and transfer eligible children. In the past week I have spoken to my counterparts in Greece and Italy specifically on this issue, and I shall follow that up with face-to-face meetings in both countries next week.
It is important to remember that the processes for transferring children must be implemented in line with each member state’s national laws and all transfers of children to the UK must be carried out safely and with the best interests of the children at the centre of all decisions. The ongoing work to transfer children under section 67 is in addition to our other commitments and we continue to work closely with member states and relevant partners to ensure that children with family in the UK can be transferred quickly and safely.
Our approach continues to be to take refugees directly from conflict regions, providing refugees with a more direct and safe route to our country rather than risking hazardous journeys to Europe. We are committed to resettling 23,000 people from the region and our resettlement schemes are some of the largest and longest-running in the EU. So far, we have resettled more than 7,000 people under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and the vulnerable children resettlement scheme. Our schemes allow children to be resettled with their family members, thereby discouraging them from making perilous journeys to Europe alone.
It is worth noting that families continue to arrive from the region. Just yesterday, 199 individuals arrived and another 80 are due to arrive next week. That is all part of the Government’s approach to helping the most vulnerable.
I thank the Minister for his response, but it seems in the light of fact that those are somewhat hollow words. Before the election, the Government promised they would transfer 480 refugee children from Europe to the UK, but in the other place the Government recently admitted that so far only 200 unaccompanied children have been given sanctuary here. When do the Government expect to fulfil this measly commitment, and will the Minister give us a date today?
I say that it is a measly commitment because the UK should do so much more. Freedom of Information Act requests show that local councils have voluntarily offered to accept 1,572 more children in addition to those they already support. Does the Minister know this? In light of this information, will the Government reopen Dubs and take their fair share?
As summer approaches, more are taking the dangerous crossings across the Mediterranean to reach the safety of European shores. More desperate, refugee children—[Interruption.]
Order. Stop the clock. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman but we cannot have two sets of exchanges taking place. There is a rather unseemly exchange between the hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) and the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who are gesticulating at each other and in obvious dispute. They must calm themselves and listen to the Demosthenian eloquence of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), whose question this is.
That is understandable, Mr Speaker; this subject raises passions, and rightly so.
Summer approaches and more are taking the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to reach European shores. More desperate refugee children without anyone looking after them will arrive in Europe, yet the Government have said that they will not consider taking any child under Dubs who arrived after their arbitrary cut-off date of 20 March 2016. In the light of the delays, which are the Government’s fault, will they extend that cut-off date, which is as heartless as it is pointless?
Finally, I have visited the camps in Greece and elsewhere, which neither the Home Secretary nor the Prime Minister, who is, of course, the previous Home Secretary, have. I cannot forget what I have seen. I have met those children who, through no fault of their own, find their lives on pause as Ministers here choose to ignore them. How many children have been taken from Greece under the Dubs amendment to date? Have the UK Government even signed a memorandum of understanding with Greece to get these transfers under way? I know of two young people who signed a consent form to be transferred under Dubs more than a year ago. They are still stuck in Greece.
The horrific truth is that the longer this goes on the more likely it is that these children will go missing and fall into the evil hands of traffickers. According to Oxfam, 28 children every single day are going missing in Italy alone. Will the Government step up, or continue to ignore the plight of these desperate children?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s comments are based on pretty much a series of false premises. I remind him that, as I have said, we have a range of schemes out there and are working to bring 23,000 people over. While he bandies around numbers I politely ask him to bear in mind that behind every number he talks about—some of which were wrong—there is a child. It is important for us to ensure that those children get the care and support they need in the right time and the right place.
The hon. Gentleman talks about timelines, and he seems to forget that Italy and Greece are nation states, as is France. We must work around the timelines for them, too. He mentioned the FOI request concerning local authorities, which I am afraid is simply wrong. We consulted local authorities, which is what we said we would do when the legislation was in front of the House. That is what has led to the figure of 480, and the FOI request he is talking about does not consider what local authorities can provide. It is about the 0.7%[Official Report, 5 September 2017, Vol. 628, c. 1MC.] threshold, which is an entirely different calculation, so perhaps he should go away and look further at that.
We are very clear that we must ensure that we do not create a pull factor while at the same time doing the right thing, as we have done with the £2.46 billion of support that makes us one of the biggest contributors and covers the biggest humanitarian aid project this country has ever conducted, to look after the people who need our care the most. Instead of playing politics with children’s lives, we should get on with looking after them and I wish the hon. Gentleman would join us in that.
I urge the Minister to keep the deadline in place. It is incredibly important that we do not encourage any more families to send their children on dangerous journeys. We should continue to take children directly from the region—directly from the camps—so that we can ensure they arrive safely. Encouraging the thought that if children get to Europe they will be able to stay is exactly what encourages the dangerous journeys that lead to their dying. I urge the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) to think carefully before he presses that course on the Government.
My right hon. Friend, with his experience, is absolutely right: we must ensure that we do not create a pull factor. It must be remembered that under our schemes we have already brought over some 7,000[Official Report, 5 September 2017, Vol. 628, c. 1MC.] children from the region. I remind the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) that the scheme is not closed. We are still working, and next week I shall go to Italy and Greece to talk to Ministers. The most vulnerable people are those who cannot afford to pay human traffickers—the children in the region, in Lebanon and in Jordan. They should be our focus, to ensure we do not, as my right hon. Friend said, create a pull factor.
The House understands the Government’s preference to take unaccompanied children directly from the region. I have visited the camps in France and Greece. The Minister needs to be reminded that the children are already there, often living in horrible conditions and at the mercy of traffickers and sexual exploitation. How many children in 2017-18 will come into this country under section 67? How many children will come in under Dublin? How long, on average, has each case taken? What is the future of close family reunion once we leave the European Union? Will the Government consider expanding UK immigration rights so that a child’s right to family reunion in the broad sense is in no way diminished, or will the Government simply walk away from their moral obligations?
The right hon. Lady’s final point does not do her, this House or this country justice. We—councils, charity groups and individuals—should be proud of the phenomenal work being done across the country, including the £1 million community sponsorship scheme that the Home Secretary announced last night, to welcome the most vulnerable people. It is right that we look to see who are the most vulnerable—who cannot afford to pay human traffickers, and who need our support in the region—rather than those who are in European countries. We are still bringing people over under the agreements with European countries, but I remind the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale that we must work according to the rules and laws in these countries—they are nation states. Our position on what will happen once we leave the European Union has been clear. The fact that we are running the biggest humanitarian project this country has seen highlights the Government’s determination to do the right thing. We will continue to seek to do so and to fulfil our moral duty to those who need our help most.
The protestations of Opposition Members would have more credibility if they acknowledged the huge effort and huge resources that the Government have put in to date. I too have been to Athens to see the camps and the fantastic work being done there, but there is a criticism: it is taking too long to process and assess children who have a right to be here. Will the Minister acknowledge that post-Brexit, when presumably we will come out of the Dublin III scheme, there will be a problem with children under the family reunion scheme? Can we ensure that they will still be matched with relatives beyond their parents, because many of them will have lost their parents but will have siblings, uncles and others with whom they may be safely and appropriately placed?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I appreciate the time he spent explaining to me what he saw at the camps, which I shall visit next week. He is right: all of us in this country should be proud of the finance and focus we provide, but for every 3,000 people we bring over and help we could be helping 800,000 people in the region. We therefore must be very clear about our focus. As I said, we are clear that post-Brexit we shall want to continue to do the right thing for vulnerable people in the region. I shall be happy to work with him to deliver that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) on securing this question. I make it clear to the Minister that what the hon. Member said was not based on false premises. I am able to say that because last week I attended the launch of a report from the Human Trafficking Foundation, following an independent inquiry into separated and unaccompanied minors in Europe. The inquiry found that UK Ministers have done
“as little as legally possible”
to help unaccompanied children who have fled war and conflict in their home nations; have turned away from a humanitarian crisis that “would not be tolerable” to the British public if they were more aware of it; and that by failing to offer safe passage are “unquestionably” fuelling both people trafficking and smuggling. Those are not my words but the findings of an independent inquiry. What will the Minister do about it? [Interruption.] There is no point in shouting at me because the Minister and his colleagues do not like the independent inquiry’s findings. The British public deserve to know about this. What steps are the Government taking to resolve the blockages in the transfer of Dubs children, which we voted for in the House last year, thinking there would be 3,000 transfers? When do they expect the transfers to begin?
Transfers have been happening, and we are determined to deliver on exactly what we set out. We will continue to do so—it is part of the 23,000 people, and it should be remembered that we have brought over 7,000[Official Report, 5 September 2017, Vol. 628, c. 2MC.] children already. I encourage more people to look at what she refers to as an independent report, one of the co-authors of which is a recently retired Labour Member of Parliament. Fiona Mactaggart’s foreword makes many accusations and statements that have no evidence base whatsoever. I disagree with the report, but my point about the freedom of information request and several of the other statements that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale made being based on false premises still stands.
As well as accepting refugees into this country the United Kingdom is the second largest donor to the crisis following the United States and has given more than the rest of the European Union combined. I support the Government having a holistic, comprehensive approach. Will my right hon. Friend continue to commit the Government to providing the right help in the right places?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is important that we focus our help on the most vulnerable in the places that most need that support, while doing what we can as part of our work with our European partners to support those whom we have agreed to support.
The Minister knows that helping children in the region and those in Europe and already here is not an either/or. Parliament told the Government to help lone child refugees in Europe when it passed the Dubs amendment last year. I know the Government did not want to agree to it, but it was passed. The way in which they have narrowed the criteria, dragged their feet, and failed even to count councils’ offers properly is shameful. Will he confirm that they have helped only 200 children under the Dubs amendment, despite the fact that councils have offered nearly 500 places, and that there are tens of thousands of child refugees still alone in Europe? Italy and Greece cannot cope with what they are having to deal with. It is shameful that all he has managed to do is send a few officials to Italy and Greece to try to arrange a few procedures for the future, when this has been going on for years. Stop the warm words about helping the most vulnerable children and actually get on with it, as Parliament said the Government should.
We are clear about wanting to give children the right support and ensuring they have the support network to be an important and valued part of our community. It is important that we do so within what local authorities can provide, bearing in mind the restrictions and capacity they have. In 2016 we granted asylum or some form of leave to over 8,000 children, and since 2010 we have done so for some 42,000 children. We are doing our bit. We want to continue to do that work. Other countries have their own rules and regulations. I am sure the right hon. Lady will appreciate from her previous role that we have to work with them and with what works with the laws. We shall continue to do so, which is why I will visit Italy and Greece to meet my counterparts next week.
I know that everybody is incredibly passionate about this issue, but I hope that we can collectively be proud of what the country as a whole has contributed to help with the refugee crisis in Syria, because it is tremendous. I am glad that the Minister is going to visit the camps; that does rather shift someone’s perception about how the picture forms overall. The Government and I have different views on Dubs, and I still maintain that more capacity is available in our councils and country to help.
Further to what my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, I am particularly concerned about what will happen to Dublin III as we move towards this brave new Brexit world. How many children have come to the UK this year under Dublin III already? How will we make sure that the legislation is embedded in our own laws when we leave the EU?
I take my hon. Friend’s point about local authorities. We will continue to work with them; our numbers are based on the information that they have given us through roadshows and conversations we have had directly. We will continue to look at the numbers that they feed in, as we deal with children and bring them over within our schemes and commitments.
On Dublin going forward, as I said earlier I can give an assurance that we are determined to fulfil our commitments. Obviously, as we go through the negotiations on leaving the European Union, it is too soon to say exactly what technical format that will take. However, we are determined to stick with our moral and ethical duty as we continue to provide support to the people who need it most, through the Dublin agreement.
The Minister gets the message: the whole House wants the process to be enacted as speedily as possible. May I take him back to one of the points made by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) about the Mediterranean summer crisis that will unfold? What additional help is being given to enable those with some responsibility in Libya to prevent boats from setting off on the Mediterranean? Those journeys will result only in people—children, especially—dying before they reach the mainland.
The right hon. Gentleman has vast experience in this area and he makes an important point. It is very important that in this discussion we do not lose sight of what continues to happen in the Mediterranean. We are working closely with member state authorities and all our partners, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other non-governmental organisations, to agree what more we can do in that region.
The Prime Minister made a statement and announcement after the last EU Council meeting. We will continue to deliver on that, to make sure that we do two things: that we do not create a pull factor and that we give a clear message that people should not make that treacherous journey. That is why it is so important that we continue our phenomenal work with the £2.46 billion spend, along with the £10 million from the Department for International Development, to work with people in the region and make sure that things there are as safe and flexible as possible.
As my right hon. Friend has set out, tackling this problem at source and dealing with the trafficking are crucial. Will he outline what the British security services and police are doing with European counterparts to track down, arrest and prosecute people traffickers who wish to profit directly by exploiting the situation?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that we continue to give a clear message about the atrocious and completely unacceptable behaviour of the disgraceful traffickers out there who continue to ply their despicable trade. The European Migrant Smuggling Centre was formed in February this year in response to the increase in the number of irregular migrants. We continue to work with our partners, along with Europol and our National Crime Agency, to focus on and drive out that form of trafficking, as well as the organised crime that thrives around it. There has to be a clear message at every stage. That despicable behaviour is not acceptable and it needs to end.
As the Minister will know from the response of the High Court to the judicial review of the consultation on the places available for children in the UK, section 67 is explicitly about families in Europe. May I ask him about a specific case that I wrote to his office about more than a week ago, involving an incredibly vulnerable Syrian family in Lille who have been wrongly refused the right to come to the UK under the Dublin regulations? I have not yet had even an acknowledgment from his office of receipt of that correspondence. Will the Minister meet me to urgently review this case of a suicidal mother and her young children and discuss how we can improve how people claim asylum and come to the UK, so that it is not only the smugglers who meet them in Calais?
As the hon. Lady will appreciate, I am not going to comment on a particular case today, but as soon as I leave the Dispatch Box I will chase up the case she mentions and why she has not had a response. I will make sure that she gets one as soon as possible.
Last year, I visited the Zaatari refugee camp on the Syrian border in Jordan. It was clear from conversations with parents that although they did not want to risk their children’s lives across the sea, they would if there were no jobs or education for them. Does the Minister agree that thanks to the UK Government’s 0.7% aid contribution, we are able to keep people well and safe in their own region rather than risking squalor in the European camps?
My hon. Friend’s excellent point highlights why it is so important for us to continue to do that work in the region. We should be proud of the time, effort and money being spent out there and of the work of the charities as well as the Government in making sure that we do everything we can to help people in the region and deal with the challenges at source. In that way, we can prevent people not only from taking the chance to come to places that are not appropriate for them but from making that treacherous journey and giving profit to human traffickers in the first place.
I draw the House’s attention to the fact that I am to be an unpaid director of the Human Trafficking Foundation; that will appear shortly in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
What would the Minister say to Tory-controlled Nottinghamshire County Council, which on Monday suspended support for unaccompanied children despite having places available? One of the senior councillors said that it was because the children come here of their own volition. Is that not simply a disgrace? Is it not also a disgrace that they have turned around and blamed the Government? Is it not about time that the Minister got his act together with his Tory colleagues and stopped unaccompanied children fleeing war and persecution taking the consequences of this disastrous Government policy?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the role that he is about to take up, and I look forward to working with him to do something about what we agree on: driving out human trafficking completely.
I am pleased that a Conservative authority took control of Nottinghamshire County Council a few weeks ago in local elections. I learned many years ago at this Dispatch Box to make sure that I understood the full details and both sides of any particular case before I comment on it. I will look into what the hon. Gentleman said and talk to Nottinghamshire County Council before I comment any further.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) talked of “hollow words”; in fact, the Government’s response has been generous—it is, if I may say so, a typically British generous response to this crisis. Will my right hon. Friend confirm the number of refugees that this country is helping and compare it with the equivalent figures for other EU states?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Just this week, the Home Secretary and I launched and put extra funding into the community support project. We have seen phenomenal work, which people should be proud of, in charities and communities, developing and learning from colleagues from countries around the world such as Canada. I appreciate the time that the Canadian Minister gave us to discuss the issues. My hon. Friend is right: last year alone, we took in more than any other country in Europe. We should be proud of that, but we are clear that we want to build on that. We should be very proud of the fact that we are looking to bring over 23,000 people, to make sure that we are helping the most vulnerable—including the many thousands of children who have already come over and others who will continue to come.
The Minister will have on his desk petitions from children at St Matthew’s Primary School and Moss Park Infants School in my constituency asking him to respect the rights of all refugee children under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child—their right to an education, in particular. What assessment is he really making of the quality and experience of education that children are getting in camps? Is it not time that we brought children here to settle them and ensure that they have the chance to develop a happy and successful childhood?
The hon. Lady is effectively agreeing with the point I made earlier. We are working with local authorities to make sure that when children come over, they are given the right support and the home that they deserve, to help them be an important part of the community and give them a fruitful and fulfilling life.
Is the Minister aware that unaccompanied minors are again congregating in and around Calais? But without the camps, there are now even fewer resources. Safe Passage UK and Refugees Welcome are organising a cross-party group of MPs to go there next month. If the Minister is listening, perhaps he would also like to go there to explain what he and his French counterpart are doing to ensure that children with rights under Dublin or Dubs come to this country for safety, rather than stay on the streets of Calais?
Not only have I met Safe Passage UK and explained the slightly different view that I saw when I was in Calais about 10 days ago, but I am discussing the matter with French authorities and the operators out there.
Many of us do not understand why the Government chose to put a limit on the Dubs scheme based on a rather half-baked consultation with local authorities at one particular time. Why do the Government not continue to engage with local authorities and take proactive steps to increase their capacity to take unaccompanied children, including by implementing fully funded places?
First, that is what the amendment and the legislation said we should do. Secondly, I come back to a point I have made a few times. When we bring people—including families and, most importantly, vulnerable children—over, it is important that we have the facilities and capacity to give them the best start in life. I come back to the point I made earlier. Yes, people will want to play politics with numbers, as some Opposition Members unfortunately do, but the reality is that there is a child behind every number. We need to ensure that if we are bringing children over, we can give them the best possible start. The hon. Gentleman should be proud, as I outlined to the Scottish Minister when I met her last week, that we have already granted asylum or some other form of leave to more than 8,000 children. We have to remember that.
Europol has estimated that more than 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared in Europe over the past two years. What steps are the Government taking to address that and to support our EU partners in improving protection for unaccompanied children at risk of trafficking or exploitation?
There are two sides to this. First, we must ensure that we do not create a pull factor that encourages more children and other individuals to take that treacherous journey, which simply helps the profits of the traffickers we all hope to see driven out. It is also about working with our partners and the National Crime Agency, which is working with Europol, to ensure that we track down and catch the people who commit these awful crimes.
Organisations such as Refuweegee are doing a great deal to welcome asylum seekers and refugees to Glasgow. What can the Minister do to ensure that there is adequate funding for local authorities so that those who arrive with nothing get all the support they require to lead a life with dignity?
I fully agree that there is some really good work in Glasgow. I had that conversation with the Scottish Minister last week. A number of local authorities around the country are doing such work. It comes back to the point I have been making: it is very important that we work with local authorities to ensure that they have the capacity, resources, ability and properties to give people who come over the right start in life and the protection, security and safety they deserve.
As the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) prepares to step down from the leadership of his party, I thank him not only for his question today, but for his unfailing courtesy and his personal support for the Chair over a very long period, for which I have reason to be very grateful.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will know that page 448 of “Erskine May” states:
“It is not in order to refer to persons in the galleries”.
This is a very old tradition of the House that goes back to clearing the Galleries by saying, “I spy strangers.” The ruling has been strictly enforced in our time, but in recent years lots of Members have referred to people in the Gallery. It was particularly nice the other day when my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) referred to her mother in the Gallery as she paid tribute to her during her maiden speech. The Prime Minister referred to people in the Gallery today, and sometimes we refer to international guests. Is not now the time to completely and utterly get rid of this rather silly and old-fashioned rule?
The hon. Gentleman is, not for the first time, spot on. The prohibition on reference to those attending our proceedings—let me say it candidly—no longer applies. It dates back to a time when the act of noticing such attendance led to the Galleries being cleared, since public attendance was not, in formal terms, allowed for at all. For some time, I have not sought to enforce the rule, nor—to the best of my knowledge and understanding—has it been enforced in Westminster Hall. I hope that Members are adapting gently to this new regime. Reference to visitors must be brief and directly related to proceedings. Such references should not be phrased so as to be in any way intimidating or to seek to influence debate. The House’s guidance, including “Erskine May”, will be gradually updated to reflect this change. I hope that is helpful.
I know that other Members have a desire to raise points of order. I would rather not take further points of order now. We ordinarily take points of order after statements and I see no good reason to change that practice today. I took this particular point of order because I thought it best that I should be here in the Chair, and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was here. I am about to leave and the Chairman of Ways and Means will chair the pensions statement, towards the end of which I will return. Members who are poised and perched, ready to raise their points of order on other matters, can do so at that time.
With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on pensions.
Last year, the Government commissioned the Government Actuary and John Cridland CBE to produce independent reports to inform the first review of the state pension age required under the Pensions Act 2014. I am grateful to Mr Cridland for his contribution in producing a thorough and comprehensive review. Over the course of his review, evidence was put forward by a wide range of people and organisations. I am grateful to everyone who took the time to engage. Today I am publishing the Government’s report on this review.
The Government are determined to deliver dignity and security in retirement, fairness across the generations, and the certainty that people need to plan for old age. In the report, I set out how we will achieve these things. As part of this publication, we have set out a coherent strategy targeted at strengthening and sustaining the UK’s pensions system for many decades to come. This is about the Government taking responsible action in response to growing demographic and fiscal pressures. That is why I am today announcing the Government’s intention to accept the key recommendation of the Cridland review and increase the state pension age from 67 to 68 over two years from 2037. This brings forward the increase by seven years from its legislated date of 2044 to 2046, in line with the recommendation made by John Cridland, and following careful consideration of the evidence on life expectancy, fairness and public finances.
When the modern state pension was introduced in 1948, a 65-year-old could expect to live for a further 13½ years. By 2007, when further legislation was introduced to increase state pension age, this had risen to around 21 years, and it is expected to be nearly 25 years in 2037. As the Cridland review makes clear, the increases in life expectancy are to be celebrated. I also want to make it clear that, even under the timetable for the rise I am announcing today, future pensioners can still expect to spend on average more than 22 years in receipt of the state pension. But increasing longevity also presents challenges for the Government. There is a balance to be struck between the funding of the state pension in years to come while also ensuring fairness for future generations of taxpayers.
The approach I am setting out today is the responsible and fair course of action. Failing to act now in the light of compelling evidence of demographic pressures would be irresponsible, and place an extremely unfair burden on younger generations. Although an ageing population means that state pension spending will rise under any of the possible timetables we have considered, the action we are taking reduces this rise by 0.4% of GDP in 2039-40. That is equivalent to a saving of around £400 per household, based on the number of households today.
Our proposed timetable will save £74 billion to 2045-46 when compared with current plans, and more than £250 billion to 2045-46 when compared with capping the rise in state pension age at 66 in 2020, as the Labour party has advocated. It is the duty of a responsible Government to keep the state pension sustainable and maintain fairness between generations. That is why the Government are aiming for the proportion of adult life spent in receipt of state pension to be “up to 32%”. This is a fair deal for current and future pensioners.
We will carry out a further review before legislating to bring forward the rise in state pension age to 68, to enable consideration of the latest life expectancy projections and to allow us to evaluate the effects of rises in state pension age already under way. This Government have a proven track record on helping people plan for their retirement. Alongside our automatic enrolment scheme, which has already brought the benefits of private pensions to nearly 10 million people since its inception, we have also set out plans to enhance the availability of impartial consumer advice through schemes such as the single financial guidance body and the pensions dashboard. Today, people have a much better idea of what their pension will be, bringing more certainty and clarity. That is something the Government will build on; making it easier for people to seek advice and make effective financial decisions.
I want Britain to be the best country in the world in which to grow old, where everyone enjoys the dignity and security they deserve in retirement. At the same time, we need to ensure that the costs of an ageing population are shared out fairly, without placing an unfair tax burden on future generations. To deliver that, we need to make responsible choices on the state pension age, and that is what the Government are doing today.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and for arranging to let me have sight of it 30 minutes ago.
Yesterday, the renowned expert on life expectancy, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, described how a century-long rise in life expectancy was
“pretty close to having ground to a halt”
since 2010, when this Government began their failing austerity programme. Last week, evidence from Public Health England showed how deep inequalities in healthy life expectancy remain, both regionally and between different groups in our society, including women, disabled people and black and minority ethnic groups. It is therefore astonishing that today this Government choose to implement their plans to speed up the state pension age increase to 68.
Most pensioners will now spend their retirement battling a toxic cocktail of ill health, with men expecting to drift into ill health at 63, five years earlier than this proposed quickened state pension age of 68, and women expecting to see signs of ill health at 64. This national picture masks even worse regional inequalities. Men who live in Nottingham are likely to suffer ill health from the age of 57, a full 11 years earlier, under this Government’s shortened plans, than a state pension age of 68. The Government talk about making Britain fairer, but their pensions policy, whether on the injustice that 1950s-born women are facing or on today’s proposal to increase the state pension age to 68, is anything but fair.
The Government claim that it is young people who will have to bear the burden of the state pension, but in fact it is the young who have to bear the burden of the cuts that they are facing already—cuts to education, housing and working age social security—as well as the Government’s endless extensions of the state pension age. Sadly, like much of the Conservatives’ policy platform, their approach to this matter appears to have changed little since their election manifesto. At that time, they promised to
“ensure that the state pension age reflects increases in life expectancy, while protecting each generation fairly.”
How does today’s statement meet the promise made in the manifesto, given the evidence on life expectancy that we have seen in the past week? What conversations has the Minister had with his new friends in the Democratic Unionist party, whose manifesto promised advocating
“for the interests of our older people”?
Perhaps, as the Pensions Minister astonishingly suggested in a debate earlier this month, the Government will force people in their mid-60s to seek out an apprenticeship. A constituent of mine, hearing that suggestion, visited our local jobcentre in Oldham, only to find that the adviser had no idea of any apprenticeship support or Government employment support available to a woman of her age. The Pensions Minister’s position was not one shared by Mr Cridland, who suggested that the social security system must be able to support those who find themselves unable to work. Perhaps Mr Cridland was unaware of the seven years of slash-and-burn policy on our social security system; the so-called “safety net” is increasingly inadequate, driving up pensioner poverty by 300,000.
Labour wants a different approach. In our manifesto, we committed to leaving the state pension age at 66 while we undertake a review into healthy life expectancy, arduous work and the potential of a flexible state pension age. We want an evidence-based approach to build a state pensions system that brings security for the many, not just the privileged few, so that we can all enjoy a healthy retirement.
Even by the standards of the Labour party, its approach to the state pension age is reckless, short-sighted and irresponsible. When the evidence in front of us shows that life expectancy will continue to increase by a little over one year every eight years that pass, fixing the state pension age at 66, as advocated by the Labour party, demonstrates a complete failure to appreciate the situation in front of us. Compared with the timetable set out by this Government, Labour’s approach will add £250 billion to national debt. Let us put that in context: it is almost twice as much as was disbursed into the financial sector following the financial crisis. Let us put it another way: spending in 2040 on the state pension would be £20 billion a year higher under Labour’s plans than under the plans we are setting out—that is almost twice the Home Office budget. Where on earth is this money coming from? Even the—[Interruption.]
Order. In fairness, I want to hear both sides so that we can make a judgment, and I am finding it very hard to hear the Minister. This is in a reply to the shadow Minister, so we all ought to be able to hear the answer.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Even the last Labour Government, who were not known for their fiscal rectitude, legislated to increase the state pension age to 68. Yet on top of a long list of unaffordable spending pledges, the Labour party now happily makes pledges on the state pension that it must know will cause unsustainable damage to the public finances.
The facts are, based on the most up-to-date evidence, and clearly set out in the Government Actuary’s report and John Cridland’s report, that life expectancy is going up. Healthy life expectancy at the age of 65 is also going up. The Government have to face up to this long-term challenge and not pretend that it does not exist. We should celebrate increased life expectancy, but it has consequences for fiscal sustainability that cannot be ignored. The Cridland review is a serious piece of work with a clear recommendation on the pension age. In contrast with the Labour party, we will act responsibly and accept that recommendation.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement. The Labour party used to work on a consensual basis, given the facts, but it has now departed from that. He is aware that we have a proud track record in reform, for example, in respect of automatic enrolment and the single tier. We also got rid of the default retirement age, where people were forced to retire when they did not want to do so. It is the Conservatives who have a proud record. The single figure that stands out starkly from this review is that if we do nothing about this, it will cost £250 billion more. That is not just a figure, as it will be borne by future generations, as they will have to pay excessive moneys. Given that the Labour party at the last election promised to get rid of the student debt and now reneges on that, does my right hon. Friend think that Labour will be doing the same very shortly on this one?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He makes some good points about the work the Government have done over the past seven years in terms of fuller working lives and helping more people to work longer, and he has a proud personal record in what he did on that as Secretary of State. He is absolutely right to highlight the irresponsibility of the position Labour Members had at the last election. Just as they have walked away from a deeply irresponsible position on student debt, I hope they will walk away from a deeply irresponsible position on the state pension age.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of the statement. I can see why the Department for Work and Pensions did not want to publish this report by the date it was supposed to have been published by—7 May—because it would undoubtedly have lost the Conservatives more seats than they did lose.
The SNP opposes plans to raise the state pension age above 66. We also have concerns about the fact that the Government have chosen the 32% rather than the 33.3%, which was the more gentle of the scenarios presented in the Cridland review. I am lucky enough to be a few days inside the 69 group, so I will get to retire at 69 rather than 70, which people a couple of weeks younger than me will retire at if the full extent of the 32% in the Cridland review is implemented.
The SNP continues to call for the establishment of an independent savings and pensions commission. The Government are not doing enough to recognise demographic differences across the United Kingdom, and an independent review would look at those and take them into full account.
John Cridland looked at exactly those issues and concluded that the divergence within the regions and nations on this matter was greater than the divergence between them. However, if the Scottish Government believe that there should be more support from the state for those approaching retirement age, they will have the power to provide it. If they wish to provide that support in Scotland—effectively, providing support a year or two years earlier than in the rest of the United Kingdom—they have the power to do that. I would not particularly advise them to do it, but that is their decision, and I really do not think there is a complaint to be raised with the UK Government on that front.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement. He is right to be tackling the issues of intergenerational fairness, but retirement is not about the state alone. What other measures, alongside this one on intergenerational fairness, will he propose to ensure that younger people can save for their retirement alongside state provision?
One thing I would highlight, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) did a moment ago, is what we have done on auto-enrolment. That means 10 million more people saving for retirement, which is a huge step forward. I am delighted with the success of auto-enrolment—the very low opt-out rates—and that is one example of how the Government are ensuring that people will have a dignified retirement, but we must remember that the public finances need to be in good order as well.
Bearing in mind regional health inequalities, what steps will the Government introduce in terms of social security to support those who will not be able to work until this later age?
As a country we spend very large sums—something like £50 billion a year—on support for people with health and disability issues, and we will obviously continue to do that. That is the best way of supporting people who have health difficulties, rather than by having a lower state pension age, which would be unaffordable.
I thank the Secretary of State, although perhaps with not too much enthusiasm, for delaying my retirement by a year. I think I am in exactly the range of people whose retirement has just been delayed. What plans does he have to learn from the issues that arose from previous increases in the retirement age about communicating to people that this change will affect them?
First, I should say that the longer we can delay my hon. Friend’s retirement, the better that will be all round.
In terms of communicating with those affected, we are giving something like 20 years’ notice today, but as we legislate in due course, it will of course be necessary to communicate properly with those who are affected. [Interruption.] It will be done properly. It is proper that we communicate with those people, and we will do so.
What steps is the Secretary of State’s Department taking to ensure that older people are not subject to the Government’s punitive sanctions regime?
The number of sanctions is down by about half in the last year. We have a welfare system that has at its heart the principle of conditionality for many benefits, and to enforce conditions it is necessary to have a sanctions regime. However, the vast majority—something like 98%—of benefit claimants are not sanctioned.
With respect to the statement, my right hon. Friend will be aware that 300 people reached the age of 100 in 1952, when Her Majesty the Queen came to the throne; last year, it was over 13,000. Is he surprised, as I am, at the irresponsibility and recklessness of the Labour party in resisting some of these measures?
I do not know whether I am surprised any more by anything that the Labour party does, but it is disappointing. The reality is that we have an ageing population, just as every similar country does. We all have to respond to the facts, and the facts are that, as the population ages, and as life expectancy—and indeed healthy life expectancy—improves, it is necessary for the state pension age to reflect that. To deny that is just to deny common sense.
I had hoped that the Minister was coming here today because he had seen the light; that he had realised that the women from the 1950s have been dealt a terrible set of cards by this Government; that he was going to compensate them; that he was going to make good on the injustice that has been done to them; that he was going to make sure that every single person who was not even notified by the Government that they would be caught by the proposed measures would be compensated; and that he was finally going to acknowledge that women in my constituency who are in their 60s, who say to me that they are completely clapped out because they have had tough, laborious jobs all their lives, are the very people one of his Ministers said should now take up an apprenticeship. How dull are Ministers?
I am not sure I would want to call my constituents clapped out, but there we go. The position when it comes to those born in the 1950s, just as with this announcement on those born in the 1970s, is that we have to balance the need and the desire to provide a dignified retirement with the fact that state pensions have to be paid for, and it is unfair on taxpayers if we do not have a state pension age that reflects life expectancy. That is all we are saying, and it seems to me to be very hard to argue against.
The Secretary of State is absolutely right to go ahead with the main recommendation in the Cridland report, which, critically, gives advance notice of more than 20 years to those who will be affected, thereby distinguishing this Government’s record from that of the previous Labour Government, who failed to communicate adequately their changes to women’s state pension provision. Will my right hon. Friend confirm, first, that there will be a comprehensive communication programme to make sure everybody knows about these changes in advance and, secondly, whether the Government accept the Cridland report’s other recommendations, on means-tested benefits, working past the state pension age and the auto-enrolment review?
We are looking carefully at the other Cridland recommendations. Obviously, there are issues that have an impact across Government, but it is right to move swiftly on the key recommendation—on the state pension age—to give people as much advance notice as possible. However, my hon. Friend makes a good point about the communication process and so on, and those things will need to be determined nearer the time. As I said, we are 20 years away from the point at which this change takes effect, but we are determined to ensure that it is brought to the attention of all those who are affected.
On the issue of the WASPI women raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the essence of their complaint, in some respects, is the fact that some of them were not even notified of the change that had occurred. Some were notified late, some were notified after it happened, and some received no notification at all. This point has been put time and again to the Government, and it is about time they came up with an answer to it. Instead of driving the WASPI women to take court action, why do not the Government give them a fair deal?
Some 5 million letters were sent out to the addresses that the Government had. As I say, the changes made in the 1995 Act were many, many years in advance of when they took effect. None of those women born in the 1950s had had their state pension age put back by more than 18 months by the Pensions Act 2011.
Demographic pressures are felt acutely across East Sussex, where we have the most 85-year-olds, most of whom live in my constituency. With life expectancy increasing at birth and at older ages, can my right hon. Friend confirm that, looking ahead, people, including those who live in my constituency, can expect to receive more state pension over their lifetimes than generations before?
That is absolutely right. Looking ahead, every generation will spend more years, on average, receiving a state pension than the previous generation. That is a very good thing, but it is right that we get the balance right. If Governments do not address this issue, we end up with a crisis, end up having to move quickly, and end up with sharp increases in the state pension age. That is what we are avoiding through the responsible approach we are taking today.
I am the father of three young daughters. Office for National Statistics figures say that one of them will live to be 100, and that by the time they retire, there will be only two workers in this country for every retired person. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is blindingly obvious that we need to take the steps that he has outlined today? It should not be a cause of regret—it should be a cause of celebration that our children and grandchildren are going to live to such a grand old age—and it should be treated on a cross-party basis as the perfectly responsible action that any Government should be taking.
My hon. Friend puts it very well. It is a cause of celebration that life expectancy is improving, but along with changes in life expectancy, inevitably, there are changes in the state pension age, as the change announced today demonstrates.
Does the Secretary of State agree that thanks to the financial responsibility shown hitherto, we have managed in the past seven years to increase state pensions quite generously by £1,250 a year, and that is why pensioner poverty has gone down?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In order to do that, we need to take responsible decisions on the public finances as a whole, including on the state pension age. That is what we will continue to do, even if we will not get Labour’s support.
As someone who had their state pension age increased to 68 back in 2007, along with everyone slightly older than me and everyone younger than me, I have listened with incredulity to some of the comments made this afternoon. How does this compare with the situation in other countries—for example, the Republic of Ireland? Presumably it is not just a challenge unique to the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are seeing increases in the state pension age in the Republic of Ireland, in the Netherlands, and in Denmark. It is what responsible Governments do and what responsible parties support. Unfortunately we have only one responsible party in this country.
I pay tribute to the Cridland report, which is, in part, as excellent as it is because John Cridland was educated at Boston Grammar School in my constituency. Does the Secretary of State agree that by taking responsible, brave decisions, and having reviews such as the Cridland review, we avoid the situation that countries such as Italy find themselves in, where the pension age has to be increased, in one go, by four and a half years? This is the responsible thing to do and the fair thing to do.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We could have put this off, failed to address it, or kicked it into the long grass, but it is important for the future of this country that we have a Government who are prepared to take these long-term decisions, securing intergenerational fairness and ensuring that we provide more certainty to pensioners that there will not be the need for the sudden changes that may be seen elsewhere.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday’s Order Paper said that the debate on drugs could continue until 7 o’clock. The final speaker sat down four minutes early. The normal practice in this House is then to use that time for other speakers to contribute. It was particularly interesting that the final speaker, the Minister, had denied interventions on the grounds that she did not have enough time to finish. The Standing Orders are not clear on this point. Is it not right that we get some definition of past practice in relation to cases where speakers do not have anything else left to say and other Members can contribute to what would then be a full debate?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice somewhat earlier of his intention to raise it. I am loth to quibble with the hon. Gentleman, who is a considerable authority on matters parliamentary, as evidence by the well-thumbed tome on how to be a Back Bencher of which he is the distinguished author. That said, I am inclined slightly to quibble with him on his proposition that it is normal or commonplace, if a ministerial wind-up concludes early, for other Members to be invited to contribute. In my experience, that is not commonplace. I would not say that it never happens, because you can almost always find an example of something if you try hard enough, but certainly when I am in the Chair I tend to work on the assumption that the ministerial wind-up is indeed the conclusion of the debate.
I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the conclusion of this debate taking place earlier than listed on the Order Paper, although I am sure that he will readily accept that the Official Report—that is to say, the verbatim account of what was said; there is no question of misleading anybody—will show that the debate concluded a little early. The Chair does not normally allow a further Back-Bench speech, and—this is not directed at the hon. Gentleman; it is just a wider point—certainly not from a Member who had already made a substantial speech in the debate.
As for interventions, the hon. Gentleman, as the author of “How To Be An MP”—available in all good bookshops, and of which I am myself a noted admirer, as he knows—he will appreciate that a Member is free to take interventions or not. I note what he tells me—that the Minister said, “No, I can’t take interventions because I haven’t time”—but that is not something on which the Chair can rule. Sometimes Ministers can be a tad neurotic in these circumstances, it is true, as can sometimes, perhaps, shadow Ministers, but that is not a matter for the Chair. Whether the Member seeking to intervene likes it or not, the situation is as I have described.
Let me take this opportunity, in a positive spirit, to encourage all new Members—I am not sure the Whips would agree about this—to read the hon. Gentleman’s books on being a good parliamentarian. [Interruption.] “No!” says a Government Whip, chuntering from a sedentary position, in evident horror at what bad habits new members of the flock might pick up. I think that they are fine tomes. The hon. Gentleman has used his position as a Back-Bench Member to stand up for his constituents and to fight for the principles in which he believes. That has sometimes pleased his party and sometimes not, but that is what we are supposed to get here—Members of Parliament who speak to their principles and their consciences. That is a good thing, and, as he knows, I like to encourage it. In fact, when I was a Back Bencher, I had a relationship with my Whips characterised by trust and understanding—I didn’t trust them and they didn’t understand me.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, the Department of Health accounts were finally laid before the House, after a week of to-ing and fro-ing that prompted no actual changes, as I understand it, to them. The Comptroller and Auditor General has raised some concerns about the accounts. I seek your guidance on two points, Mr Speaker. First, the accounts have again been laid late. Last year, they were laid on the final day on which Parliament sat; this time, they were laid only a couple of days before the final day. Secondly, what can we do to ensure that a Minister turns up to the House to explain the Department of Health accounts and address the financial concerns that many Members of the House, and not least the Public Accounts Committee, have about the Government’s handling of health finances?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, who has put her concern on the record. It will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench, and I suspect that the contents of her point of order will wing their way to Health Ministers ere long. The truth of the matter is that there is no resolution of her grievance available from the Chair. The Select Committee on Health may wish to return to this matter if it is dissatisfied, and the Public Accounts Committee, of which the hon. Lady is herself the distinguished Chair, may wish to pursue this matter further. Realistically, I fear that that will have to wait until September, although if the hon. Lady—she is of course a London Member, and a very assiduous attender—is present in her place tomorrow for the summer Adjournment debate and wishes to expatiate further on her concerns, she may well find she is able to catch the eye of the Chair.
If there are no further points of order—I think that there are none—we come now to the presentation of Bills.
Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Chris Bryant, supported by Holly Lynch, Stephen Crabb, Mr Graham Brady, Ms Harriet Harman, Mr Dominic Grieve, Jo Stevens, Diana Johnson, Tulip Siddiq, Lilian Greenwood, Carolyn Harris and Philip Davies, presented a Bill to make provision about offences when perpetrated against emergency workers, and persons assisting such workers; to make certain offences aggravated when perpetrated against such workers in the exercise of their duty; to require persons suspected of certain assaults against such workers which may pose a health risk to provide intimate samples and to make it an offence, without reasonable excuse, to refuse to provide such samples; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed (Bill 7).
Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr Steve Reed, supported by Norman Lamb, Mr Charles Walker, Jim Shannon, Keith Vaz, Sarah Jones, Mr David Lammy, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Marsha De Cordova, Caroline Lucas, Clive Lewis and Heidi Allen, presented a Bill to make provision about the oversight and management of the appropriate use of force in relation to people in mental health units and similar institutions; to make provision about the use of body cameras by police officers in the course of duties in relation to people in mental health units; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 3 November, and to be printed (Bill 8).
Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Afzal Khan, supported by Joanna Cherry, Hannah Bardell, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Liz Saville Roberts, Lady Hermon and Caroline Lucas, presented a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 to make provision about the number and size of parliamentary constituencies in the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 1 December, and to be printed (Bill 9).
Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Ms Karen Buck, supported by Luciana Berger, Jess Phillips, Matthew Pennycook, Shabana Mahmood, Heidi Allen, Marsha De Cordova, Andy Slaughter, Alex Sobel, Kate Green, Diana Johnson and Clive Efford, presented a Bill to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to require that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation; to amend the Building Act 1984 to make provision about the liability for works on residential accommodation that do not comply with Building Regulations; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 19 January 2018, and to be printed (Bill 10).
Friday 19 January is a splendid day—it is my birthday.
Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Tim Loughton, supported by Mr Graham Brady, Dame Caroline Spelman, Mrs Anne Main, Frank Field, Heidi Allen, Caroline Lucas and Antoinette Sandbach, presented a Bill to provide that opposite sex couples may enter a civil partnership; to make provision about the registration of the names of the mother of each party to a marriage or civil partnership; to make provision about the registration of stillborn deaths; to give coroners the power to investigate stillborn deaths; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 2 February 2018, and to be printed (Bill 11).
Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr Geoffrey Robinson, supported by Paul Flynn, Sir Vince Cable, Caroline Lucas, Michael Fabricant, Liz Saville Roberts, Dr Philippa Whitford, Kate Green, Sir Oliver Letwin, Jim Shannon, Angela Rayner and Crispin Blunt, presented a Bill to enable persons in England to withhold consent for organ donation and transplantation; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 February 2018, and to be printed (Bill 12).
Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Angus Brendan MacNeil, supported by Stephen Twigg, Robert Neill, Stuart C. McDonald, Tulip Siddiq, Tim Farron, Jim Shannon, Caroline Lucas, Anna Soubry, Ian Blackford, Stella Creasy and Hywel Williams, presented a Bill to make provision for leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom to be granted to the family members of refugees and of people granted humanitarian protection; to provide for legal aid to be made available for such family reunion cases; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March 2018, and to be printed (Bill 13).
Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Kevin Hollinrake, supported by Will Quince, Sir Nicholas Soames, Craig Tracey, Carolyn Harris, Antoinette Sandbach, Jeremy Quin, Huw Merriman, Victoria Prentis, Diana Johnson and Rebecca Pow, presented a Bill to make provision about leave and pay for employees whose children have died.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed (Bill 14).
Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement and Education) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Vicky Foxcroft, on behalf of Jim McMahon, supported by Jeremy Corbyn, Tom Watson, Peter Kyle, Diana Johnson, Lucy Powell, Sir Peter Bottomley, Stephen Gethins, Jo Swinson, Jonathan Edwards and Caroline Lucas, presented a Bill to reduce the voting age to 16 in parliamentary and other elections; to make provision about young people’s education in citizenship and the constitution; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 3 November, and to be printed (Bill 15).
Overseas Electors Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Glyn Davies presented a Bill to make provision extending the basis on which British citizens outside the UK qualify to participate in parliamentary elections; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 February 2018, and to be printed (Bill 16).
Parking (Code of Practice) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Sir Greg Knight, supported by Kevin Brennan, Pete Wishart, Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, Daniel Zeichner and Graham Jones, presented a Bill to make provision for and in connection with a code of practice containing guidance about the operation and management of private parking facilities; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 2 February 2018, and to be printed (Bill 17).
I think the nation should be aware that, perhaps because the right hon. Gentleman’s Bill relates to parking, he is sporting a notably colourful tie, which features a very large number of cars. Knowing his penchant, I assume that they are classic cars.
They are, indeed.
Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Stewart Malcolm McDonald, supported by Ian Murray, Lady Hermon, Caroline Lucas, Christine Jardine, Patricia Gibson, David Linden, Alison Thewliss, Chris Stephens, Patrick Grady, Carol Monaghan and Martin Whitfield, presented a Bill to prohibit unpaid trial work periods in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March 2018, and to be printed (Bill 18).
Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Esther McVey, supported by Andrew Selous, David T. C. Davies, Kirstene Hair, Trudy Harrison, Philip Davies, Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, Mr Christopher Chope, Paul Farrelly, Mr Kevan Jones, Mr Stephen Hepburn and Sir Edward Davey, presented a Bill to make provision about interference with wireless telegraphy in prisons and similar institutions.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 1 December, and to be printed (Bill 19).
Stalking Protection Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Dr Sarah Wollaston, supported by Mrs Cheryl Gillan, Ms Harriet Harman, Alex Chalk, Antoinette Sandbach, Luciana Berger, Richard Graham, Victoria Prentis, Maria Caulfield, Mims Davies, Jess Phillips and Vicky Ford, presented a Bill to make provision for protecting persons from risks associated with stalking; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 19 January 2018, and to be printed (Bill 20).
Friday 19 January—I do hope I am here.
Employment and Workers’ Rights Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Stephanie Peacock, supported by Louise Haigh, Rachel Reeves, Dan Jarvis, Ellie Reeves, Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy, Jo Stevens, Ian Mearns, Mike Amesbury, Laura Smith and Chris Stephens, presented a Bill to make provision about employment conditions and workers’ rights; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 April 2018, and to be printed (Bill 21).
Licensing of Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Daniel Zeichner presented a Bill to make provision about the exercise of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing functions in relation to persons about whom there are safeguarding or road safety concerns; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 2 February 2018, and to be printed (Bill 22).
Freedom of Information (Extension) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Andy Slaughter, supported by Dan Jarvis, Jo Stevens, David Hanson, Ian C. Lucas, Ruth Cadbury, Christian Matheson, Clive Efford, Stephen Timms, Ms Karen Buck, Louise Haigh and Kate Green, presented a Bill to make providers of social housing, local safeguarding children boards, Electoral Registration Officers, Returning Officers and the Housing Ombudsman public authorities for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000; to make information held by persons contracting with public authorities subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000; to extend the powers of the Information Commissioner; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 June 2018, and to be printed (Bill 23).
Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Peter Kyle, supported by Nicky Morgan, Norman Lamb, Sir Peter Bottomley, Rachel Reeves, Ruth Smeeth, Wes Streeting, Anna Turley, Holly Lynch, Conor McGinn, Caroline Lucas and Jim McMahon, presented a Bill to reduce the voting age to 16 in parliamentary and other elections; to make provision for auto-enrolment onto the electoral register for people aged 16 to 24; to make provision about the use of educational establishments as polling stations; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 May 2018, and to be printed (Bill 24).
Physician Associates (Regulation) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Anne Marie Morris presented a Bill to make provision for the regulation of physician associates; to make physician associate a protected title; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October 2018, and to be printed (Bill 25).
National Living Wage (Extension to Young People) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Holly Lynch, supported by Chris Bryant, Jo Stevens, Anna Turley, Wes Streeting, Jess Phillips, Tulip Siddiq, Ruth Smeeth, Gareth Snell, Conor McGinn, Naz Shah and Graham Jones, presented a Bill to extend the National Living Wage to people aged 18 to 24.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 July 2018, and to be printed (Bill 26).
I thank colleagues for their patience.
Emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Government’s decision to increase tuition fees implemented by the Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations 2016 (S.I., 2016, No. 1205) and the Higher Education (Higher Amount) (England) Regulations 2016 (S.I., 2016, No. 1206).
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this emergency debate. It is a shame that it has been necessary when we have a First Secretary of State who called for a national debate on tuition fees, a Brexit Secretary who says that this House always votes on statutory instruments and a Justice Secretary who, when Leader of the House, actually accepted the need for a debate and a vote. Of course, that was before the election; 100 days later, this weak and wobbly Government do not even trust their own Back Benchers with a vote on their own policies.
The Higher Education and Research Act 2017, which the Education Secretary and the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation took through this House, is very clear on the matter. Paragraph 5 of schedule 2 states that the upper limit of fees can rise only when
“each House of Parliament has passed a resolution that, with effect from a date specified in the resolution, the higher amount should be increased”.
Will the Minister guarantee that no students will have to pay the higher fees until both Houses have passed such a resolution allowing it, and will he tell us when the votes on these resolutions will take place?
The Minister seems to be one member of the Government who does not want this vote, judging from his Twitter feed last night. He said that plans to raise fees were first outlined in July 2016, and that we have since had extensive debate. Perhaps he forgot that the plans were announced on the last day before summer recess last year, and were snuck out as one of 30 written statements on that day. The statutory instrument was then put before the House just before Christmas last year. Not long after that, the Opposition prayed against the measures, yet despite repeatedly pushing for it we were not given a debate. As the Minister said, the regulations came into force on 6 January.
On the subject of being weak and wobbly, will the hon. Lady confirm whether it is still Labour policy to pay off all £100 billion of the outstanding student debt—yes or no?
I do not know how many times I have to explain this to Conservative Members before they finally understand. A cynic might say that they are wilfully misrepresenting my party’s policy. We have never said that we would simply write off all existing debt. Conservative Members refer to comments made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and I remind them that he said we would look at steps to reduce or ameliorate the debt burden. Perhaps that confused Conservative Members, because their Front Benchers have not done that in seven years. For instance—
Several hon. Members rose—
Conservative Members may want to listen to this before they intervene. For instance, we would look again at the repayment threshold for student debts; the Government have frozen it at £21,000, which will cost lower-earning graduates the most. We would look at the interest rates on debt, which the Government have allowed to reach an extortionate, unacceptable 6.1% for the year to come. I have said it once and I will say it again: we have no plans to write off existing student debt and we never promised to do so. Unlike the Conservative party, we made sure that all our plans were fully costed and outlined in our manifesto. Perhaps it could learn something from that.
In 2010 the Government tripled tuition fees and then slashed the education maintenance allowance. In 2015 they took grants from students and now they are raising fees again. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is no surprise whatsoever that young people are turning away in their droves from this Government?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. Conservative Members have a sour-grapes attitude because they clearly understand that, unlike them, we have connected with the young people of this country.
I wonder if the hon. Lady could put to one side the script she was given seconds before she got up and answer this very simple question. During the election, her party made it categorically clear to endless numbers of students that it would abolish the student debt. Will she now get up and apologise for using them as election fodder?
As I said to the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), that was not—[Interruption.]