House of Commons
Wednesday 13 September 2017
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
business before questions
New Southgate Cemetery Bill [Lords]
Motion made, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Bill to be read the Third time on Wednesday 11 October.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Northern Ireland remains without a fully functioning, power-sharing devolved Government. Our clear and resolute focus is to re-establish devolved government at Stormont. Together with the Irish Government, we are continuing to support the parties’ efforts to find resolution and form an Executive. However, time is short and I urge the parties to continue to work to reach agreement.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, as I thank him, as I hope would all Members, for his clear determination, commitment and hard work in the cause of seeking a return to the power-sharing devolved Administration we all wish to see. With that in mind, does he share my view that it is vital that all parties in Northern Ireland continue to approach these discussions in a spirit of compromise and co-operation, with our eyes firmly fixed on the need to secure agreement?
I agree with my hon. Friend on the intent that we must have and the approach to be taken. Clearly, we will do all that we can to support the parties in the days ahead. The time for action is now. I stress that we are seeing engagement between the DUP and Sinn Féin. I have been encouraged by the nature of the intensive engagement that they have shown, but agreement has not been reached. A high number of issues remain outstanding and we must focus on finding that resolution and seeing devolved government restored.
The hon. Lady is right; the Prime Minister has been engaged, and she spoke to the party leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin last night and underlined the need to be constructive in discussions and to find that resolution. She will remain closely engaged and will play whatever role is needed to support and find that positive outcome.
While it lacks its 10 political members, the Northern Ireland Policing Board remains severely constrained. Although I hope that my right hon. Friend’s efforts bear fruit, in the event that the Executive are not restored, what contingency plans does he have to enable the Policing Board to function effectively?
I welcome my hon. Friend to his place and to his position as Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. I wish him and members of that Committee positive and fruitful endeavours in their work and I look forward to giving evidence to his Committee soon. He makes an important point about the important role of the Policing Board. I am not going to speculate about other options. He highlights the significance—the importance—of the issues that are at stake, and why it is so very important to see an Executive restored.
The Prime Minister has been in touch with party leaders in Northern Ireland in recent hours and she will have heard from our party leader a total commitment to restoring devolution immediately, with no red lines or preconditions, to get on with the job of dealing with health, education, jobs and investment in Northern Ireland. Can the Secretary of State indicate whether Sinn Féin continues to adhere to the view that these matters are not as important as seeking the fulfilment of partisan political demands, or whether any progress has been made on that front?
I welcome the statement that the right hon. Gentleman has made on behalf of his party, and indeed the comments that Arlene Foster has made about seeing that desire to get back into an Executive. I would also point to the comments of Michelle O’Neill, who has said that she believes that, while there are difficulties, a deal is still doable. I would certainly encourage the right hon. Gentleman and his party to engage in the way that they have, and encourage all parties to have that focus on seeing devolution restored.
I thank the Secretary of State. Certainly we will continue to engage intensively in those political talks. Northern Ireland needs a devolved Government and it needs its Executive, not least to deal, for instance, with one of the issues on the horizon—jobs in the Bombardier plant in Belfast. I thank the Secretary of State and the Government for the work that they are doing on that already, and I urge him to remain fully committed and involved with us to ensure that those jobs are safeguarded.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there are a number of issues that would clearly benefit from having an Executive with local decision making by locally elected politicians. He highlights the issue of Bombardier. While this is a commercial matter, as he knows, the UK Government are working tirelessly to safeguard Bombardier’s operations and its highly skilled workforce in Belfast. I remain in close contact with the Business Secretary. He has had extensive engagement with Boeing, Bombardier and the Canadian and US Governments, and the right hon. Gentleman knows about the Prime Minister’s engagement, too.
The people of Northern Ireland need a fully functioning Executive where strategic decisions can be made in the interests of the whole community. That is clearly in line with what they voted for in the Assembly election in March and that is the appropriate means to ensure local accountability and accessibility for all the people of Northern Ireland.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response. We have Departments that have been rudderless since March, which is six months ago. The accountability that comes with an elected Minister is sadly lacking. If Sinn Féin continues to hold this Government and the people of Northern Ireland to ransom, will the Secretary of State step in to ensure that proper political oversight is provided for each Department, to ensure that accountability and accessibility are back on the cards, and how does he see that taking place?
The hon. Gentleman knows that time is running short. There is the lack of a budget in Northern Ireland and that cannot continue for much longer. The more we head into October the bigger the challenges will be. He makes a point about accountability. Obviously, as the UK Government we have a primary responsibility in respect of political stability in Northern Ireland, but I note the point he makes about responses from Departments within the Northern Ireland civil service and I will certainly raise that with David Sterling.
While backing British farming both on the mainland and in Northern Ireland, may I ask my right hon. Friend, in the absence of the devolved Executive, what steps he and his Department are taking to ensure that the views of local politicians are being conveyed to Bombardier, Boeing and the Government of the United States?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Our priority is to encourage Boeing to drop its case and seek a negotiated settlement. I note that the leaders of both the DUP and Sinn Féin have issued a joint letter to the vice-president underlining the particular circumstances and the real significance of this matter to Northern Ireland, and I would encourage everyone to play their part in seeking a resolution.
While the Secretary of State is trying to square that circle and get the DUP back to work in the Executive, will he acknowledge the opinion of the House of Commons Library that the Brexit Bill is a power-grab from the devolved Administrations? Will the Government he is a part of be asking the DUP Members here to vote to reduce the powers of the Assembly while it is not sitting? Do the other parties elected to Stormont agree with the power-grab?
The hon. Lady fundamentally mischaracterises what the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is about. It is about creating UK-wide frameworks to ensure that we have a smooth transition, and I would have thought that was in the best interests of all of the United Kingdom and that everybody should get behind it.
The UK Government have regular discussions with the Irish Government on a range of issues, including cross-border security. We work closely together to tackle security challenges and keep people on both sides of the border safe.
Yes—in short, I certainly can. Co-operation with the Irish authorities is already strong. We wish to see that continue. If I may, I will take this opportunity to commend the security services and police on both sides of the border for all that they do to keep individuals safe.
The Minister will be aware of the security assessment that the New IRA represents a very real and present threat to security. What discussions have the Government had with their Irish counterparts about that organisation?
Obviously, it is not possible to comment on specific assessments and security matters at this moment, but as I said in my previous response, co-operation is very strong across all security matters. We wish to see it continue that way in order to keep people on both sides of the border safe not only from the scourge of terrorism, but from cross-border crime where that is relevant, too.
I am grateful to the Minister for her response and I am sure she will join my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) and me in welcoming Adrian O’Neill, Ireland’s newly appointed ambassador, to London. Will she also speak to Dublin about how it, as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday agreement, can assist in moving the peace process forward? I very much welcome the spirit of her words.
There has been close co-operation with the Irish Government every step of the way in seeking to re-establish the devolved Government, which is a common and shared priority. As the hon. Gentleman has said, that spirit is shared not only by Members on both sides of the House, but by the Governments. I am clear, however, that the UK Government have the specific responsibility of delivering public services and good governance in Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. We act consistently in accordance with our obligations under the Belfast agreement and we are not looking for any principle that might be inconsistent with that agreement.
Common Travel Area
The Government’s position on Northern Ireland and Ireland affirmed our commitment to maintaining the common travel area. That is supported by the EU, as confirmed in its recent paper on Ireland. I have regular discussions with the Irish Government and know that they, too, are supportive of maintaining the common travel area.
Does the Secretary of State acknowledge the warning from Mary McAleese—the former President of Ireland, who was born in Belfast—that maintaining the common travel area in the long term would be impossible, because it is impossible to distinguish between a UK and Irish or any other citizen who holds a CTA entitlement? Does he acknowledge her view that that would inevitably mean border checks and passport control?
I point the hon. Gentleman to the paper that the EU itself issued, which said:
“The continued operation of the Common Travel Area is fundamental to facilitating the interaction of people in Ireland and the United Kingdom…Continuation of the Common Travel Area arrangements, in conformity with European Union law, should be recognised.”
I encourage the hon. Gentleman to do so.
Given that neither Ireland nor the UK is a member of the Schengen agreement, and given that security information is already shared whenever members of the public cross the Irish sea, does that not provide a framework for co-operation between north and south?
My hon. Friend highlights the strong co-operation between the Irish and UK Governments in respect of the common travel area. We want that to continue in the future. It has served us well over many decades, which is why our paper highlights its importance. Indeed, I think that the EU itself recognises that too.
The Government have produced a thoughtful, imaginative and innovative position paper on the issues of movement of people and goods across the border on the event of exit. Is the Secretary of State therefore disappointed that Dublin Ministers have taken up Sinn Féin calls for a border along the Irish sea, for special status for Northern Ireland and for staying in the customs union, instead of engaging positively with the Government on the proposals?
The Irish Government recognise the particular challenges. We encourage all those involved to engage positively and proactively with the position paper we published to encourage further discussion. It has workable proposals and we need to get down to having a detailed discussion on them.
In his discussions with the Taoiseach, has the Secretary of State reflected on the fact that the common travel area is based on neither country being in Schengen, and that the real threat to Ireland and the UK would come from a part of mainland UK joining Schengen, for which the Scottish National party keeps arguing?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point about Schengen. Our common framework on the common travel area has operated since the 1920s, and the UK, the Irish Government and the EU recognise its significance. We are determined to find a positive way through, and that can be achieved.
Northern Ireland Powerhouse
This Government fully support business groups and civic leaders collaborating across boundaries to grow local economies. We are committed to doing our part to build prosperity right across the United Kingdom. For example, in Northern Ireland our UK industrial strategy will support business growth, employment and innovation, and boost levels of trade and investment.
The north-east has been part of the northern powerhouse brand for some years now without succeeding in obtaining any significant investment. The Democratic Unionist Party on the other hand seems to have managed the opposite trick of receiving £1 billion of investment without any scrutiny, oversight or branding —or at least not one that it would be orderly of me to cite. Does the Minister agree with me that it is far better to have the money without the branding than the branding without the money?
I would hope that those on both sides of the House would agree that in every part of the United Kingdom we need to see jobs growth, the growth of key industries and people living a secure and prosperous life. I am pleased to note that this morning it was announced that the Northern Ireland unemployment rate for the May to July quarter of this year has decreased again. I hope that the hon. Lady would welcome that kind of growth. I also hope that she would turn her attention to what she could do to support the economy in her own constituency. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am sure the Minister agrees with me that when Northern Ireland achieves the status of 12.5% corporation tax, along and combined with our industrial strategy, our skills base and productivity, we would be ripe for a powerhouse initiative.
There are two things to say. First, we would like to see additional economic co-operation within Northern Ireland—namely, the possibility of there being city deals. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman’s comments about corporation tax clearly remind us that we need to work towards the restoration of an Executive who can take such decisions for the good of the people of Northern Ireland.
Governance and Political Stability
I have pressed the parties on the urgent need to resolve the current impasse in the interests of the entire community and I believe a deal remains possible. Locally accountable government is essential for the delivery of public services, good governance and political stability in Northern Ireland.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and his patience and perseverance in restoring the Executive. How concerned is he about the lack of accountability to locally elected politicians of civil servants who are delivering public services in Northern Ireland?
I am concerned, because it is not right that we do not have locally elected politicians making decisions and, yes, making sure that civil servants who act to deliver those services are held accountable. That is why we need to see the restoration of the Executive at the earliest possible opportunity, serving all communities, and delivering those public services that people need.
Given that we have not had a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly for nine months, why on earth do the 90 Members of the Legislative Assembly continue to receive their full salaries and their full staffing allowance? It is an absolute scandal that that continues to be the case.
I certainly hear that message loud and clear. There is no direct way in which I can intervene; there is no legislation that would authorise me to do so. As I said in a speech in Cambridge on Friday, if we were to be in the situation where the UK Government have to make direct directions, that is certainly an issue that I would have to consider.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. If the Secretary of State is so perturbed by a perceived lack of good governance in the province of Northern Ireland, perhaps he would like to tell his Back Benchers why he and his Government technically gave £1 billion to an unaccountable executive, led by the DUP.
We have recognised the case for the needs of Northern Ireland, where there has been under-investment in infrastructure and mental health issues. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman does not acknowledge and recognise that. We firmly do, and act in the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom.
UK Government Ministers have held a number of meetings with Northern Ireland’s political parties about EU exit. However, our priority remains restoring the Northern Ireland Executive, which will enable direct ministerial engagement on matters relating to the UK’s departure from the EU.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but people still need food and drink. Six million cases of Baileys and other cream liqueurs are made in Ireland every year. In Northern Ireland, production crosses the border several times, as is the case for most products. What is he doing to ensure frictionless borders for our farmers and for food production, and ensure that Baileys and Guinness get here?
I note my hon. Friend’s focus on drinks and her preferred tipple. The agri-foods sector is a key component of the Northern Irish and, indeed, Irish economy. That is why we highlighted it in our position paper on standards with regard to the need for a frictionless border. We have set out those proposals, and we want that engagement with the EU.
The Brexit Secretary borrowed a phrase from the Northern Ireland peace process to describe his approach to Brexit negotiations. He called it generously constructive ambiguity, but on the issue of the Northern Irish border we do not need ambiguity. We need certainty, so will the Secretary of State provide some today. Essentially, he has three options: a hard border in Ireland; a hard border in the Irish sea; or maintaining the UK and Ireland in a customs union through political agreement. Which one does he support?
I encourage the hon. Gentleman to read our position paper, which sets out the proposals. We do not want a border emerging across the Irish sea. We do not want a hard border, which is why we have set out proposals on the movement of people and goods and, yes, proposals in relation to customs arrangements.
It is precisely because I have read the Government’s paper that I ask for clarity. It has to be made plain exactly what the Government are proposing. The Secretary of State knows that a hard border, either in Northern Ireland or in the Irish sea, would be completely damaging to the Good Friday agreement and the economy of Ireland. The only answer is to maintain a customs union, and I urge him to advocate that today.
We have been clear about the maintenance of the common travel area, and we have set out two alternatives for the operation of customs arrangements. On the question of clarity, I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to ask for clarity from the Leader of the Opposition, who has been anything but clear about whether his party supports membership of the single market or not. I encourage him to work on his own side to deliver that clarity.
The threat from Northern Ireland-related terrorism continues to be severe in Northern Ireland, meaning that an attack is highly likely. Our response to terrorism and paramilitary activity is co-ordinated, effective and fully resourced. This Government remain fully committed to keeping people safe and secure and ensuring that terrorism never succeeds.
As part of the security review, will the Minister look at the case of Dennis Hutchings and other veterans, who have been hounded and charged in respect of alleged shootings nearly 50 years ago? There is no new evidence, so surely the time has come to restore humanity and natural justice, and bring in some form of time limitation.
The Government will always give their fullest possible backing to those brave men and women who have done, and continue to do, an outstanding job serving the community. As part of our work to implement the Stormont House agreement, the legacy institutions will be under a duty to behave in a manner that is balanced, proportionate and fair. We also have the aim of taking cases in chronological order. [Interruption.]
This Government have committed £25 million of funding to support the Northern Ireland Executive’s tackling paramilitarism programme. However, I return to the point that this reminds us why we need an Executive back up and running to keep people safe, on this most acute of issues.
The Minister must be absolutely appalled by the report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on the response by the Government to Libyan Semtex being used to murder people in Northern Ireland and here in GB. Will she commit to meet my colleagues and me to discuss this report and get a fresh start on dealing with this crucial issue?
Can the Minister tell us what steps the Government are taking to try to reassure communities that it is safe for them to come forward and work with the police? Surely working with communities is one of the best ways to improve the security situation in the whole of Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the thoughts of Members across the House remain with all those affected by Hurricane Irma, particularly in our overseas territories. I would like to update the House briefly. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has travelled to the overseas territories to see the recovery work at first hand and assess what more is needed. As I told the House last week, we had a Navy ship pre-positioned in the region and humanitarian experts on the ground to co-ordinate the UK response. Since Thursday Cobra has met regularly to co-ordinate the Government’s response, bringing together military, aid and consular effort, and today I am announcing an additional £25 million to support the recovery effort, further to the £32 million of assistance that I announced last week. We have now deployed over 1,000 military personnel to the region, with an additional 200 to arrive in the next few days, along with over 60 police. More than 40 tonnes of aid has now arrived. I am sure that Members across the House would like to join me in paying tribute to the hard work of the many people, military and civilian, who are doing an incredible job in difficult circumstances.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I would like to echo the Prime Minister’s words of sympathy for the families, but especially the children, affected by Hurricane Irma.
Oxford West and Abingdon has a vibrant local economy, but, reliant on the university, science and car industries, it is set to shrink if we leave the single market and the customs union, risking thousands of local jobs. Is it not time that the Prime Minister was frank with people about the dangers of leaving and allowed them a say when we finally know the full facts?
The hon. Lady’s view of what is going to happen when we leave the European Union is not the right one. If she is telling her constituents that, then she needs to think again. She needs to work with the Government to ensure that as we leave the European Union we get the deal that gives us access to the single market and enables us not just to have that access, but to do trade deals around the world and bring prosperity and jobs here to the UK.
Q2. Many of my constituents feel that Yorkshire has not had its fair share of the transport infrastructure cake over recent years, especially compared with London and the south-east. Will the Prime Minister therefore promise to significantly increase the proportion of transport infrastructure that is spent in the north generally and Yorkshire in particular in this Parliament? Perhaps my right hon. Friend can start as she means to go on by ensuring that we get the much-needed and long-awaited Shipley eastern bypass. (900820)
My hon. Friend never ceases to raise his constituents’ concerns in the House, as he rightly should, and he makes an important point. We are committed to ensuring that the whole country gets the transport infrastructure it needs. I reassure him that that is not about making a choice between north and south. We are carrying out one of the biggest investments in transport in the region for a generation, spending £13 billion—the largest in Government history—on northern transport in this Parliament. On the Shipley eastern relief road, I believe there is a decision to be taken by the local authority. We do want to see such improvements being supported, which is why we have allocated up to £781 million for the West Yorkshire Plus transport fund to deliver local priorities.
I share the Prime Minister’s sympathy for all those affected by Hurricane Irma in whichever part of the Caribbean they have suffered. I hope the Prime Minister will be prepared to look carefully at the speed of our response to Hurricane Irma, and that, if demands are made in the next few days or weeks from any country affected, Britain will respond as generously as we can in helping people at what must be the most catastrophic time of their lives.
The situation facing disabled people in Britain is described by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as “a human catastrophe”. Does the Prime Minister think it was right that while her Government funded tax giveaways to the richest, disabled people have been hit hardest by the cuts her Government have made?
On the UK response to Hurricane Irma, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that it was a speedy one. RFA Mounts Bay was already pre-positioned, as I have said, and it was able to go in immediately to Anguilla to make necessary repairs, such as ensuring that the hospital there could continue to operate. We recognise that the devastation that has taken place means there will be a significant need for reconstruction in those British overseas territories and in other Caribbean member countries and countries in the region that have been hit. There will be a point at which it is right to start the reconstruction work, and we will work with our overseas territories to ensure that those countries and their economies can be brought to life once again, enabling their people to have a good life.
On disabled people, we have seen during our time in government more disabled people get into the workplace, we have focused support to disabled people, crucially, on those who are most in need, and we have increased the overall support being given to disabled people. The picture that the right hon. Gentleman presents is, again, not a fair one.
The United Nations committee says that the Government’s policies have caused “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people. We have seen punitive assessments and sanctions, cuts to disability benefits, and the bedroom tax that has hit disabled people, 4.2 million of whom now live in poverty. At the weekend, we were told that the public sector pay cap had been dropped. On Monday, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said the pay cap would continue as planned, and yesterday we were told it was over, yet later we found out that police and prison officers still face a real-terms pay cut. Will the Prime Minister tell us what the position is at midday today?
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we spend more than £50 billion on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions. As a share of GDP, our public spending on disability and incapacity is the second highest in the G7. I suggest, therefore, that he thinks again on this matter.
On public sector pay, I said to the right hon. Gentleman only last week, I think, when questions were raised on the matter, that two further public sector pay review bodies—for prison officers and for police officers—were to report and the Government had to respond to them. They reported and made their recommendations, and as we have accepted the recommendations of the independent pay review bodies across the public sector, we accepted them for those two groups of workers. We also recognise, as I have said to him previously, that we need to balance out protecting jobs in the public sector, being fair to public sector workers, and being fair to taxpayers who pay for it, many of whom are public sector workers. There is a need for greater flexibility as we look at these issues of public sector pay in the future. We will be working on that in the lead-up to the Budget, and the remits for the pay review bodies for 2018-19 will be published in due course.
Does the Prime Minister understand that inflation is now 2.9%, so anything less than that means that dedicated public servants are worse off again? They have been made worse off every year for the past seven years. Yesterday, the POA was not impressed either with the 1.7% offer, saying,
“it is a pay cut. It is not acceptable.”
As we discovered that prison officers and the police have been offered a slightly smaller real-terms cut in their incomes, there came the news that this would be funded by more service cuts. Can the Prime Minister guarantee that no more police or prison officers will be lost as a result of decisions that she has made this week?
What the right hon. Gentleman fails to remind people is that these pay review bodies that have reported and recommended these sums of pay are independent bodies. They make a recommendation to the Government, and the Government have taken those recommendations. He has also failed to mention one or two other things: he has failed to mention the automatic pay increases over and above the 1% that many public sector workers get. Indeed, a calculation suggests that a new police officer in 2010, thanks to progression pay, annual basic salary increases and the increase in the personal allowance, which is a tax cut for people, has actually seen an increase in their pay of over £9,000 since 2010—a real-terms increase of 32%.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. There are 20,000 fewer police officers and 7,000 fewer prison officers than in 2010, 43% of police stations have closed in the past two years alone, and police budgets have been cut by £300 million, but the Chancellor is absolutely on the money on this one, literally. Last week, at the 1922 committee, he told Conservative MPs:
“look at us, no mortgage, everybody with a pension and never had more money in the current account.”
A Conservative Prime Minister once told Britain it had
“never had it so good.”
Now Tory MPs tell each other, “We’ve never had it so good.” Can the Prime Minister tell us what has happened in the last seven years to the average person’s bank account?
I am very interested; the right hon. Gentleman is talking about ordinary people and the situation that they face, but this is his fourth question and he has not yet mentioned the employment figures today, which show unemployment at its lowest levels since the mid-1970s, and that employment—people in work; people taking home a wage, a salary, to support their family—is at record levels, the highest levels since records began.
The only problem is that more people in work are in poverty than ever before. More are in insecure work, and more rely on tax credits and housing benefit to make ends meet. Consumer debt is rising by 10% as wages are falling. Household savings are lower than at any time in the past 50 years. That is the Conservative legacy.
A young woman called Aisha wrote to me last week. She says:
“I have recently graduated from university, with a hefty amount of debt on my head”.
She goes on—[Interruption.] I really cannot understand why Conservative MPs do not want to listen to this question; however, I will persist. She goes on:
“However I am scared about the futures of other young people. People who have always dreamed of being nurses no longer want to train to become one.”
The Prime Minister’s Government, with the support of the Lib Dems, trebled tuition fees. This afternoon, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to vote against another Tory hike in student fees?
Once again, there are a few things about people’s circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman failed to mention—things that the Government have done, such as giving a tax cut to 30 million people. For a basic rate taxpayer, that means £1,000 more in their pocket. That is what sound management of the economy by a Conservative Government delivers for people.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about delivering for students. Let us talk about delivery and let us talk about promises that are made. He promised—
Order. There is far too much noise on both sides of the Chamber. I say in all candour and friendliness to the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), who is in a very animated state: I don’t know what you had for breakfast, but I think I ought to steer clear of it.
The right hon. Gentleman promised workers that he would protect their rights and on Monday he let them down. He promised students that he would deal with their debt and he has let them down. He promised the British people that he would support Trident and he has let them down. He promised voters that he would deliver on Brexit and he has let them down. What people know is that it is only the Conservatives who deliver a better Britain.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that English graduates have the highest student debts anywhere in the world. The poorest students now graduate with an average debt of £57,000. Who is responsible for that situation but the Prime Minister’s party and the Liberal Democrats?
We are in the middle of an economic slowdown. The Office for Budget Responsibility says that there is a growing risk of recession on the Prime Minister’s watch. Growth is slowing, productivity is worsening, wages are falling, jobs are becoming more insecure, personal debt is increasing, saving levels are falling, and homelessness is rising all over the country. It is forecast that by the end of this Parliament, 5 million children in this country—the fifth richest country in the world—will be living in poverty. Is it not true that not only is our economy at breaking point, but for many people it is already broken, as they face up to the poverty imposed by this Government?
I just say to the right hon. Gentleman that, yet again, he failed to mention something on student fees. Who was it who introduced tuition fees? It was not the Conservative party; it was the Labour party that introduced tuition fees.
Let us look at what has happened in our economy. What do we see? We see record levels of direct investment in the British economy—firms investing in this country because they believe in the future of this country. We also see from today’s employment figures that there are more people in work than ever before. We see more women in work and more 16 to 24-year-olds in work or full-time education than we have seen before. That is what we get with a strong economy.
What do we know and what do the people know? That the Labour party, with its high debt, high taxes and fewer jobs, would only destroy our economy, as it did last time. We had to sort it out. The only people who pay the price for the Labour party are ordinary working families.
Q4. Britain’s countryside—and, I would argue, Charnwood’s countryside —is the most spectacular in the world, because it is cared for by our farmers. Given that today is the National Farmers Union’s Back British Farming Day, will my right hon. Friend join me in recognising the huge contribution that farming makes to our economy and our country? In her clear determination to deliver a Brexit that works for Britain, will she ensure that Brexit works for Britain’s farmers as well? (900822)
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in marking Back British Farming Day and recognising the enormous and important contribution that is made to our economy by the food and farming industry. As he implies in his question, leaving the EU does give us a new opportunity for UK agriculture. We will be able to design policies for our agriculture industry, and our food and farming industry, that suit the United Kingdom, our countryside and our environment, and that can provide better value for the taxpayer. Yes, I am happy to back Back British Farming Day, and, yes, we will make a success of leaving the European Union for our food and farming industry.
Order. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) should not yell from a sedentary position. I have been doing my best to nurture the hon. Gentleman’s rise to statesmanship, but he thwarts me at every turn. Calm; repose—the statesmanlike behaviour of the Father of the House would be more appropriate.
The hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) should look at what is happening to the economy in Scotland under an SNP Government. An SNP Government are failing the people of Scotland, but the people of Scotland now have a strong voice in this House through our 13 Conservative Members of Parliament.
I was under the impression that this was questions to the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister wants to question the Scottish Government, perhaps she can get Ruth Davidson to ask her question.
The UK’s record on earnings has been significantly worse than that of almost any other developed country. In fact, real wages in the UK have fallen by 2.6% since 2007. Wages are not growing, the cost of living is rising and household budgets are stretched. The Government can find the money for quantitative easing—£435 billion since 2009—but they cannot find the money for fiscal measures to grow the economy. This is a Government who do not understand how to use economic levers, and our people are paying the price. Will the Prime Minister take responsibility for the Government’s gross mismanagement of the UK economy?
I notice that in the hon. Gentleman’s rather lengthy question never once did he record the increase in employment that has taken place across the United Kingdom, as shown by today’s figures.
The hon. Gentleman started off by standing up and complaining that I had referenced the acts of the Scottish Government. He believes in independence; he believes that Scotland should be run only by the Scottish Government. So I think that the Scottish people deserve to look at, and we in this House deserve to talk about, what the Scottish Government are or are not doing for the people of Scotland. The one thing that I can tell him and others is that the Scottish economy and the livelihoods of the people of Scotland are better off in the United Kingdom.
Q5. Residents in communities across the Wells constituency have been angered this summer by a seemingly endless stream of illegal Traveller encampments. Will the Prime Minister look at what more the Government could do to help local authorities to close these illegal encampments more quickly and at less cost to local taxpayers? (900823)
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and it is not unique to his constituency; it is felt by many Members across the House. We are concerned about unauthorised encampments and the effect when they leave communities. A wide range of powers is available to local authorities and the police, and we want to see them working together and with local landowners. We do keep these matters under review, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss them.
Q3. Four years ago, after the death of her mother, my constituent Elissa became the sole carer for her three siblings. Now her eldest sister has gone to university and Elissa has had a child of her own, but despite saving the state hundreds of thousands of pounds in care costs, she is ineligible for the Sure Start grant and for child tax credit. This is an anomaly for kinship carers. Will the Prime Minister today commit to reviewing this ahead of the autumn Budget? (900821)
West Midlands Economy
I am very encouraged to hear it. Last week, in the face of stiff competition, Birmingham defeated Liverpool’s brilliant submission and won the Commonwealth games bid for the west midlands, which is excellent news for the economy not only in Birmingham but in the greater west midlands, including Lichfield. Will my right hon. Friend speak to the Chancellor—I see that she is sitting next to him—to ensure that he backs the bid as well, and then bat for Britain to ensure that Birmingham wins the Commonwealth games over Kuala Lumpur?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I have noticed that he is apparently shortly to appear on a Channel 4 programme called “Celebrity First Dates”. What I am not sure about is whether he is the celebrity or the first date—maybe he can tell us about that.
My hon. Friend raises the issue of the Commonwealth games. Obviously their being hosted in the UK in 2022, in Birmingham, would present a unique opportunity for the west midlands, and it would of course promote global Britain across the Commonwealth. The next step is for Birmingham to demonstrate value for money in its bid, but subject to that, I have no doubt that Birmingham will continue the UK’s rich history of hosting successful sporting events.
Q6. Crime involving mopeds and bikes has soared across the country in recent years. Given that yesterday’s unfunded real-terms pay cut to the police will actually cost us more frontline officers, may I suggest to the Prime Minister that the very least she can do is to change the law to protect police officers if they are driving according to their training and experience when pursuing people and responding to blue-light situations, and send a message from this House that no force should be operating a blanket no-pursuit policy? The police protect us every day. Is it not high time that the Prime Minister protected them? (900824)
First, I agree that there should not be blanket no-pursuit policies in place, but obviously each chief constable will make operational decisions for their own force.
The first issue that the hon. Lady raised—crimes relating to mopeds in particular—has been recognised. She says that this is an issue of funding. It is not an issue of funding; it is an issue of how we respond to those crimes. I am pleased to say that my hon. Friend the Policing Minister held a roundtable on exactly this issue yesterday to look at how we can ensure that the police are responding fully to it.
Q15. I would like to thank the Prime Minister, because she put me in touch with her powerhouse Minister and we are now looking at getting an enterprise zone in Heysham in my constituency. Ever having a big wishlist, however, may I ask the Prime Minister whether she can help me in any way possible with my ongoing campaign to get the third nuclear power station in Heysham—the tentatively named Heysham 3—built more quickly? (900833)
Once again, my hon. Friend is campaigning tirelessly for his constituency. I welcome his efforts across a number of issues which he referred to. We do need affordable, clean energy to keep the lights on in the decades ahead, and he is absolutely right that nuclear energy is an important part of our energy mix. In regard to the particular site, I believe there is land next to the existing Heysham nuclear power station, which is one of the eight sites in the UK that has been designated for new nuclear build.
Q7. The House and the Prime Minister will remember the case of my constituent, Lola Ilesamni, whose daughter is under threat of female genital mutilation from Lola’s abusive ex-partner. I want to thank “Channel 4 News” and Cathy Newman for breaking the story, and the Prime Minister for intervening and granting an 18-month reprieve. Lola now has a temporary right to work, but no recourse to public funds if she cannot find a job. That wee girl and her family need long-term certainty. Will the Prime Minister look again at that case and allow Lola and her family to stay in Livingston in the long term? (900825)
The hon. Lady is right. She has raised that case before, and I understand that the Immigration Minister was in touch with her. I can confirm that, following a comprehensive and rigorous review, Ms Ilesamni has now been granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom, as the hon. Lady set out.
I want to say something about the issue of female genital mutilation, which the hon. Lady raised. She talked about her concern about the threat that Lola’s daughter might be facing. FGM is an absolutely abhorrent crime. The Government have done a lot to deal with it, but we cannot tolerate that practice. Our work to tackle FGM is an integral part of our strategy on violence against women and girls, which we published in March last year. We all accept that we need to do more to ensure that young girls are not subject to this horrific abuse.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Labour party’s cynical attempt to block the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on Monday shows that it is still interested only in playing party politics, rather than delivering the best deal for our future, which is what my constituents and the majority of this country want to see?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Most people in this country want to see the Government doing what we are doing, which is getting on with the job of delivering the best deal for Britain from Brexit. There was a certain amount of noise from the Opposition when I said earlier that the Leader of the Opposition let workers down by failing to protect their rights on Monday, but that is exactly one of the issues in the Bill. It is about bringing workers’ rights that are contained in EU legislation into the UK, and he voted against it.
Q9. As the Prime Minister was visiting survivors of the Manchester terror attack, families who were heartbroken to have lost their children were also in the vicinity, but the Prime Minister did not visit them. Chloe Rutherford and Liam Curry from South Shields tragically lost their lives, and their parents feel ignored by the Prime Minister. I wrote to her seven weeks ago with their concerns, but she has failed to respond. When will she properly acknowledge their loss? (900827)
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I am not aware of her letter, so I will of course look today to see why she has not received a response. I can only apologise to her for the fact that she has not yet received a response.
I acknowledged at the time, and I continue to acknowledge, that the attack in Manchester damaged lives in many ways. There are those who were injured and are living with the consequences of their injuries, those who lost loved ones—relatives or friends—and are affected by that, and those whose lives were sadly cut short at all too young an age. We must all ensure that we are providing support for the victims and that our authorities—police authorities and agencies—have the power to prevent attacks in the future. I will look into the issue of the letter because, as I said, the hon. Lady should have had a response already. I am sorry that seven weeks have gone by without her receiving one.
Following our successful Offshore Europe exhibition last week in Aberdeen, can the Prime Minister assure me and my constituents that support for the oil and gas industry will be at the heart of the industrial strategy so that we can maximise economic recovery in the North sea? Does she agree that the biggest threat to the industry would be the instability of a second, divisive independence referendum?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have already given significant support to the oil and gas industry. I was pleased, some months ago, to visit Aberdeen and to visit the technology centre for the oil and gas industry. It is doing really interesting work looking not just at existing fields but at decommissioning work and how it can export its knowledge and expertise across the world. He is absolutely right that what people and businesses want is the certainty of knowing that Scotland will remain in the United Kingdom and that there will not be a second independence referendum.
Q10. Cambridge parents tell me that when young people returned to schools and colleges last week, in some cases they found that almost half the cooks and cleaners had gone. Cambridge News reports that pubs in the area will not be able to serve food, because they cannot find the skilled staff to do it. Is it not ironic that taking back control is a further blow to the great British pub? Will the Prime Minister tell us what plans she has put in place to help institutions deal with this chronic and acute sudden shortage of labour? (900828)
The hon. Gentleman talks as if there is no longer net migration into this country, whereas, of course, there is net migration into this country. People are coming here to take on work. The wider issue, which the Government are dealing with, as we have seen from some of the announcements made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, is making sure that young people in the United Kingdom get the training, skills and technical education they need to be able to take on the skilled jobs of the future.
Today is World Sepsis Day. Sepsis claims at least 44,000 lives a year in the UK and earlier this year I almost became part of that tragic statistic. Will the Prime Minister look at what more the Government could be doing to support awareness-raising programmes, so that we can catch sepsis more quickly, treat it more effectively and save more lives?
I am sure I echo the feelings of everybody across the whole House in saying that we are pleased my hon. Friend managed to battle sepsis, come through and win that particular fight. I commend him for his recovery. I commend all those who supported him in that fight and in that battle, including the excellent medical staff who provided him with the care he needed. He is absolutely right. The estimate is that 10,000 deaths a year could be prevented by better and earlier diagnosis of sepsis. We need to get better at spotting it and at raising awareness. We will be publishing a new sepsis action plan for the NHS. A NICE quality standard is due to be published this week. NHS England will also publish guidance to further support frontline staff.
Q11. At the last census, there were 3,000 Aberdonians who said that they were born in Nigeria. Recently, the UN human rights office reported concerns about threats to the Igbo people in northern Nigeria. The Foreign Secretary recently visited the country. Will the Prime Minister tell me what her Government are doing to encourage the communities there to live in peace? (900829)
We make efforts across a number of fronts and we are providing support to Nigeria in a variety of ways. As the hon. Lady says, there is a significant diaspora with Nigerian connections and heritage in the United Kingdom. She is right that the Foreign Secretary visited Nigeria. We continue to work with Nigeria. It is important to work with Nigeria on the state of its economy to ensure that communities across Nigeria can feel stability and security for the future.
Yesterday, the shadow Justice Secretary refused four times to condemn illegal strike action. Labour’s biggest union paymaster seems to agree. Such illegal action would cause misery for millions of people across the country. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning illegal action? Does she agree that it is the Conservatives who understand that this great country was built on the principles of democracy and the rule of law?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is absolutely right. I was struck to see this week that Len McCluskey—or perhaps Mahatma, as his friends call him—had said that if they need to act outside the law, so be it. I have to say that I join my hon. Friend. On the Conservative Benches we are very clear: we condemn illegal strikes. We condemn action outside the law. The people who suffer from illegal strikes are the ordinary working families who cannot get their children to school, who cannot access the public services they need, and who cannot get to work. Once again, the price of Labour is pain for ordinary working families.
Q12. Owing to recent changes to maternity services in my constituency, a vastly increased number of pregnant mothers are having to make a more than 200-mile return trip to give birth. One can imagine how dangerous that is in the depths of a highland winter. While I recognise that this is a devolved matter, may I nevertheless ask the Prime Minister for advice about how I can help to sort out this desperate situation? (900830)
The hon. Gentleman, who is obviously right to speak up on behalf of his constituents in the highlands, points out that health matters are devolved to Scotland, so of course it is for the Scottish Government to make full use of their powers to deliver the healthcare services that people in Scotland deserve. People in Scotland will be sorry that their SNP Government are failing to deliver for them in relation to health services. This week we marked the 20th anniversary of the vote to create the Scottish Parliament, so it is particularly notable. I welcome him to his place in the House, however, and wish him the best in his efforts. Standing up and mentioning in this House the failure of the Scottish Government is part of the answer to his question.
The widow of our murdered colleague Ian Gow has expressed dismay and disgust that hundreds of former soldiers face reinvestigation—yet again—over incidents that occurred 40 years ago, while her husband’s suspected killers walk free. Will the Prime Minister now introduce legislation for a statute of limitations, coupled with a truth recovery process, finally to put an end to this grotesque situation, as she is perfectly able to do?
I say first to my hon. Friend that the overwhelming majority of our armed forces in Northern Ireland served with great distinction, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for what they did. As part of our work to implement the Stormont House agreement, we will obviously ensure that the new legacy bodies are under legal obligations to be fair, balanced and proportionate. This will make sure that our veterans are not unfairly treated and will recognise the fact that 90% of the deaths in the troubles were caused by terrorists, and we should never forget that. Our focus, however, is on ensuring that the investigative bodies responsible for looking at deaths during the troubles operate in a fair, balanced and proportionate manner.
Q13. Today is also Back Welsh Farming day, and National Farmers Union Cymru estimates that agriculture contributes 60,000 jobs in Wales and £500 million a year. How will farming be able to continue that contribution once the International Trade Secretary opens up domestic markets to lower-standard food while simultaneously losing unrestricted access to our main export market? (900831)
As I have said, I support Back British Farming day, and obviously I back farmers in Wales as well—I was pleased in recent months to sit down and talk to farmers in Wales. We are looking to leave the EU with a good trade deal that enables trade to continue on as friction-free and tariff-free basis as possible, and that will be good for Welsh farmers. There are opportunities, however, for Welsh farmers to export to the rest of the world, and we want to ensure those opportunities through our trade deals with the rest of the world.
Tomorrow, I will have the great honour and privilege of hosting in this place a celebratory event marking the 50th anniversary of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. We will welcome partners from across the world who have come together over that half century to tackle and defeat that pernicious condition. May I invite my right hon. Friend, as Prime Minister, to send her good wishes to the MS Society internationally as we celebrate this important milestone and to commit the Government, as they have done over the past few years, to work across Departments to ensure that those with MS have the maximum support and encouragement to get back into work, which so many of them wish to do?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue, and I am happy to join him in sending our best wishes to the MS Society. I know from my own family of the impact that multiple sclerosis can have. Society campaigns tirelessly for people with MS, and I am very pleased that my hon. Friend is hosting a reception to mark this important milestone.
We have seen progress over the past 15 years. The Department of Health has made funds available for neurological research, which, of course, includes research on MS. As my hon. Friend says, however, it is not an issue just for the Department of Health. It is important to try to help people with MS back into the workplace—which we are doing in the Department for Work and Pensions—because many of them want to continue to be in the workplace and to provide for themselves and their families.
Q14. Four years after teenager Christina Edkins was tragically killed by Philip Simelane, a man who was acutely ill with psychosis and had only recently been released from prison, the chair of the independent panel has expressed extreme concern about the fact that vulnerable prisoners are still being released without adequate support. Will the Prime Minister make it an urgent priority to ensure that we guarantee that there is proper support, proper continuity of care, and the sharing of information between prisons and mental health services to reduce the risk of another tragedy taking place? (900832)
The right hon. Gentleman has raised a very important matter. He has campaigned long and hard on mental health issues, and has made a huge contribution in doing so.
The issue of the relationship between health services and prisons is long-standing. Efforts have been made, and there has been some progress in improving that relationship—in the context of the responsibilities of the Department of Health and the national health service in prisons—to ensure that cross-cutting action of exactly that sort can be taken; but we will, of course, continue to look at the issue.
It is an honour every day to work alongside some incredibly talented female Members of Parliament on both sides of the Chamber. This afternoon there will be a Westminster Hall debate on women in Parliament. What does the second female Prime Minister believe should be done to bring even more talented women into Parliament?
I think that my hon. Friend is playing his own role in supporting Women2Win, the organisation in the Conservative party that encourages women to see Parliament as a career and to gain the expertise and the skills that will ensure that they sit on these Benches. I am very pleased to see the increased number of Conservative MPs who are women. As a party, we will continue to support women coming into Parliament, and, through the excellent role models that we have of Conservative Members of Parliament, encourage more of them to come forward.
Can the Prime Minister explain the logic behind treating European fruit-pickers and cleaners as an economic threat, while at the same time being completely relaxed about European ownership and control of the railways, the water system and the electricity companies, and, indeed, about last week’s takeover of one of Britain’s few remaining technology companies, Aveva? Is this not a case of being biddable to big business, but paranoid about people?
We are very clear, in relation to immigration, that we want to welcome the brightest and best who wish to come to the United Kingdom. We have rules for people from outside the EU, and we will be able to have our own rules for people coming from inside the EU.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his election to the leadership of his party. He and I, of course, worked together during the years of the coalition, although we did not always agree on absolutely everything. However, in raising the issue of our relationship with Europe, he said something with which I did agree: that a second EU referendum would be
“seriously disrespectful and politically utterly counterproductive”.
I was therefore rather disappointed to hear that he has now reversed his position and backs a second referendum; but perhaps it is not unusual for a Liberal Democrat to say one thing before an election and another after it.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the earlier remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), I seek your advice on how to elicit a response from the Government on the question of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its report of 31 August. I wrote to the Secretary of State on 5 September, calling on him to come to this House to debate the UN report, but to date have not received any response from him. Obviously, the House rises tomorrow and I am again concerned that the Government have not been held to account on this very important issue. As you know from the earlier remarks, Mr Speaker, the UN describes this as “a human catastrophe”. Have the Government given you any indication as to when they might report to the House? May I also seek your guidance on how to ensure that this House is the first place to hear of how the Government intend to take forward the Committee’s detailed recommendations?
I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. The short answer to her particular inquiry is that I have received no indication from any Minister of an intention to make a statement on this matter. However, I note what the hon. Lady has told me, and I am conscious of, and sensitive to, the fact that the House will cease to sit tomorrow for the period of the conference recess, and therefore I understand the rationale behind the hon. Lady raising the matter with some sense of urgency today. My response to her is to say, first, that an attempt could usefully be made at business questions tomorrow to elicit from the Government their thinking as to whether, and, if so, when, they intend to broach this matter in the House. My secondary suggestion is that if that does not bear fruit, it is open to the hon. Lady as soon as we return from the conference recess to seek to raise the matter, and if she thinks she can justify doing so, to do so on the basis that it is by then demonstrably urgent.
Carbon Monoxide (Detection and Safety)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about requirements for carbon monoxide detectors; to make provision about carbon monoxide safety; and for connected purposes.
Carbon monoxide is a killer. In recent years, more than 25 people have been killed each year in carbon monoxide-related incidents and hundreds of people have been hospitalised—264 last year—and the figures I have seen show that approximately 4,000 people go to A&E each year with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. We have a problem, and it is a serious problem; in fact, it is a fatal problem. That should not be the case in the 21st century, because it is almost entirely preventable. We should make this “silent killer” history.
Nearly three months ago, on 14 June, at least 80 people tragically lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire. I believe the first hearing of the public inquiry into the fire will be held tomorrow, with an interim report expected by Easter 2018. I am sure there will be many opportunities in future for Members to contribute to the debate and the subsequent changes in legislation that will no doubt follow. But Grenfell serves as a reminder that we need to improve safety across the board for all residents across both the public and private housing sectors, and to design out any weaknesses. That is why I took this early opportunity to secure one of the ten-minute rule Bill slots at the start of this Parliament.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is predominately a matter of housing safety, and I have no doubt that the improvements to current legislation proposed by my motion will contribute to a reduction in the number of unnecessary deaths each year due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The stories associated with these deaths are heart-rending.
For example, I have been contacted by Avril Samuel of the Katie Haines Memorial Trust. On 12 December 2009 Avril’s daughter Katie had the happiest day of her life when she married Richard Haines at the church of St Mary the Virgin in Gloucestershire. Katie had planned the day down to the minute and everything went to plan. They honeymooned in Brazil and Argentina before returning to settle into a happy married life. But Katie’s life was tragically cut short just a few months later on the evening of 18 February 2010 when she died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Her husband Richard and father-in-law Gordon were also poisoned, but, thankfully, survived. The Katie Haines Memorial Trust was founded by Katie’s husband Richard and her family to promote awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide, and in time to support other charities that would have been close to Katie’s heart.
I have also spoken to Project SHOUT, which was created following the death of Dominic Rogers, whose mother Stacey bravely tells Dominic’s story on the Project SHOUT website. On a night like any other, Stacey kissed her 10-year-old son goodnight, told him she loved him and went to bed. The next morning when she went into his bedroom, she found him cold and face down. Following an investigation, it was announced that he had died from carbon monoxide poisoning, that the carbon monoxide had seeped through the brickwork from the neighbouring property, and that Dominic would have been overcome by the poisonous fumes within five minutes.
Even one of my staff has shared with me a story of a friend of theirs who moved into a brand-new home just a couple of years ago: brand-new boiler, up-to-date building standards, and ticked all the building reg boxes, but there was a problem, and no one spotted it, because carbon monoxide is undetectable to human senses. A young mother and her child started to get headaches and to feel unwell, and ended up in their local A&E department. It turns out there was a fault with the boiler and they had carbon monoxide poisoning. That would have been completely detectable and preventable if a carbon monoxide detector costing less than 15 quid had been installed.
I firmly believe that not only should carbon monoxide detectors be mandatory in new-build properties, but they should be installed in all rented properties, including social housing and those in the private rented sector. We should be designing this problem out.
However, we also need to ensure that people are fully aware of the risks associated with a gas that people cannot see, smell or taste, because any fuel-burning appliance that is not properly maintained has the potential to be a source of carbon monoxide. This is why I am also proposing that fire authorities have an explicit duty to promote carbon monoxide safety. That would not be an additional strain on the public purse, but would make current best practice by many forces enshrined in law.
The timing of the presentation of this motion is fortunate given that today sees the launch of gas safety week. The promotional material for this event includes an assertion that we should check gas appliances for warning signs that they are not working properly. These include a lazy yellow flame instead of a crisp blue one, black marks or stains around the appliance, and too much condensation in the room. The material also reminds people of the six signs of carbon monoxide poisoning: headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, collapse and loss of consciousness. People can see a short video of one survivor’s account of her symptoms on the website of the Carbon Monoxide and Gas Safety Society. I am very grateful to Stephanie Trotter OBE, the president and director of that organisation, for the help and support she has given me. In fact, I welcome all of the work done in promoting this seventh annual gas safety week, and I hope that many Members from all parties will promote the event enthusiastically across all media platforms.
But it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the work that has already been done recently to improve legislation relating to gas safety. Prior to 2015 there was no statutory requirement on private landlords to install either smoke detector alarms or carbon monoxide detector alarms in their properties. The Government have addressed that, following consultation, via the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015, which came into force on 1 October 2015. These regulations require that smoke alarms be installed on every storey of a rented property and that carbon monoxide detectors be installed in any room housing a solid fuel combustion appliance. These changes are of course welcome, but they do not go far enough in helping to prevent unnecessary deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning.
To mark the start of carbon monoxide awareness week in 2011, Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said:
“Carbon monoxide is a silent killer which leads to many deaths every year…We can all prevent these avoidable tragedies by making sure gas and fuel appliances are properly installed and maintained and fitting an audible carbon monoxide alarm that meets European Standard EN 50291.”
Six years later, this advice is still valid. Some devolved nations have already changed legislation to ensure that residents are protected by the presence of carbon monoxide detectors. In Northern Ireland, carbon monoxide alarms are a mandatory requirement for all new homes built since 31 October 2012, after a change to the building regulations there. In Scotland, landlords have been required to install a carbon monoxide detector in every space containing a fixed combustion appliance since 2015. We should embrace some of this best practice. Big international cities such as New York also have similar carbon monoxide laws. Now is the time to enshrine that protection in English law.
I understand that many prefer to leave such matters to individuals, so that people can make choices for themselves rather than being compelled to action by an overbearing state. In general, I would wholeheartedly agree, but this will not involve loads of new red tape or piles of regulation that will end up becoming an annoyance. It involves three simple things we can do as a society to prevent needless deaths and raise awareness. If we intend to ensure that the lives lost in Grenfell Tower serve to prevent others from losing their lives in the future, we need to carefully consider all options for keeping people safe in their homes—the place where they have a right to feel most safe and secure. This should include protection from carbon monoxide. In a hung Parliament, it is even more important that MPs work cross-party to get things done, and I hope we can all unite in trying to stop deaths from this silent killer. Thousands visit A&E every year with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, hundreds are hospitalised and many die. Let us take this opportunity to do something about that.
Question put and agreed to.
That Eddie Hughes, Michael Tomlinson and Mr Barry Sheerman present the Bill.
Eddie Hughes accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 19 January 2018, and to be printed (Bill 107).
[1st Allotted Day]
I beg to move,
That this House notes that in 2017-18 NHS pay rises have been capped at one per cent and that this represents another below-inflation pay settlement; further notes that applications for nursing degrees have fallen 23 per cent this year; notes that the number of nurses and midwives joining the Nursing and Midwifery Council register has been in decline since March 2016 and that in 2016-17 45 per cent more UK registrants left the register than joined it; and calls on the Government to end the public sector pay cap in the NHS and give NHS workers a fair pay rise.
This is the first Opposition Supply day for six months, and it is my pleasure to bring a motion to the House on lifting the public sector pay cap. In the past 24 hours, the Government have been briefing that the pay cap has ended. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has said that Ministers now have “flexibility” when setting pay above 1%. If—and it is a big “if”—that flexibility means lifting the cap for the whole public sector and giving public sector workers a fair pay rise above inflation, which stood at 2.9% yesterday, that will be a victory for the Labour party, for the Leader of the Opposition, for the Royal Colleges, for the trade union movement, for the MPs of all parties who signed the early-day motion and, above all, for the millions of public sector workers who have campaigned for fair pay. That flexibility that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has talked about must mean giving NHS staff fair pay as well.
What a climbdown this represents for the Prime Minister! The House will recall that, in the general election campaign, she showed the deftness of touch that has come to characterise her dismal, beleaguered premiership by dismissing the heartfelt concerns of a nurse, saying that there was no “magic money tree”. It is funny that the money was there when the Conservatives needed the votes, though.
My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. It is not just, which is why the Labour party has consistently campaigned to get rid of the cap. The Conservatives have voted against getting rid of it when we have brought motions on this issue to the House.
Given that the Government are now briefing that the cap is being abandoned, I trust that they will accept the motion in the name of the Leader of Opposition and myself and not divide the House later today. If they are indeed abandoning the cap, let us put them on notice that it must apply to the whole public sector, including the 55% of workers not covered by pay review bodies. We also put them on warning that we will not accept a divide-and-rule approach that plays one set of public workers off against another. Nor will we let Ministers get away with presenting below-inflation pay offers as amounting to a fair pay rise when that is still, in effect, a pay cut.
Does my hon. Friend share the shock of GPs and NHS staff when they learned that, while frontline staff were limited to a 1% pay rise, the governing body of the Liverpool clinical commissioning group gave themselves rises of between 15% and 81%? None of the regulators noticed this, including NHS England and NHS Improvement, and it all took place under the nose of the Government. This shows that there is one rule for the bosses and another for the workers.
I will make a little progress now, if I may. I promise I will take more interventions later.
I say directly to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who will be responding to the debate later, that if Ministers are given flexibility to set pay rates, and if the pay cap has indeed been abandoned, she also needs to grant the NHS the funding that it needs. The NHS is underfunded and it is going through the biggest financial squeeze in its history. On the published figures, head-for-head NHS spending will fall in the next year. Hospitals are in deficit, waiting lists are at 4 million, the A&E target is never met and the 18-week target has been abandoned. Hospital bosses are warning that there will not be enough beds this winter. Last winter, hospitals were overcrowded, ambulances were backed up and social care was at a tipping point. Some even characterised it as a humanitarian crisis. It is not good enough for the Chief Secretary to the Treasury just to grant “flexibility” and expect hospitals to fund a staff pay increase from existing budgets.
None of us would want anyone to be paid any less, but it has been difficult but necessary, in order to control the overspending by Government and put right the financial mess that the country was left in after the last time the hon. Gentleman’s party was in government.
I agreed with the hon. Lady’s comments at the time of the debate on the Gracious Speech, when she said:
“I’m of the view we need to look at public sector pay in the light of increasing inflation.”
If those were her comments then, she should be joining us in the Division Lobby this afternoon.
I will let the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey) in because he has been very persistent, but first let me make some progress.
It is not good enough for the Chief Secretary to grant the Secretary of State flexibility and not grant him the funding that the NHS needs. Overcrowded, overstretched hospital trusts cannot be expected to absorb pay rises from existing budgets. We need extra investment now to give the staff the fair pay they deserve.
Let me make a little bit of progress, and then I will give way.
Over the past seven years, a public sector worker on the median public sector wage has seen the value of their wage drop by £3,875. That is more than the cost of feeding the average family for a year. Given what we know about inflation, on the figures published yesterday and on the Treasury’s own inflation forecast, if this cap was to remain in place until the end of the Parliament, a public sector worker on the median wage since 2016 will have seen their pay drop by at least another £2,200.
The shadow Minister has been very generous in giving way. May I be helpful and invite him perhaps to revise his earlier statement that the pay rise should be universal across the public sector? Surely that would advantage those in more senior, management positions, who would disproportionately benefit from such a pay rise, and perhaps actually the Government’s position of offering Ministers flexibility to increase pay where there is a clear need is a much better proposal than the universal pay rise that would only benefit fat cat managers.
In my constituency, NHS staff are having to rely on food banks in order to be able to eat. A constituent, an ambulance technician who transports critically ill children across the country, told me that she does not have nearly enough money to live on. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a disgrace?
It is a shocking disgrace, which is why the Labour party has consistently campaigned to get rid of the pay cap; it is why, in our manifesto, which we took to the British people a few months ago, we said we would get rid of the pay cap, and why it is absolutely disgraceful that Conservative Members stood on a manifesto to keep the pay cap.
Mandy McKeown’s son Liam died seven times. He survived, thanks to the dedicated work of neonatal intensive care nurses. Tracey, who came to Parliament last week, spoke of having suffered a 14% cut in pay, two-thirds of her fellow nurses taking second jobs and a haemorrhage of nurses from the profession that they love. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is utterly shameful to treat those to whom we owe the difference between the life and death of sick babies in this way?
It is generous of the hon. Gentleman to give way. As he says, I support the lifting of the pay cap and I am pleased that the Government are moving on this. My concern about supporting this motion is that Labour do not seem to have learned the lessons from crashing the economy in the first place. Could he outline what level of pay rise the Labour party is proposing for public sector workers—1.5%, 2% or 3%—and how it will be paid for? That is crucial to influencing the voting intentions of Members like me.
I have a huge amount of respect for the hon. Lady; we have had conversations outside the rough and tumble of this Chamber, and I know she takes these matters extremely seriously. I would ever so gently say to her that she has been telling newspapers that she supports getting rid of the cap; she has been hosting nurses in Parliament, saying that she would get rid of the cap; well, this evening she has an opportunity to take a stance, ignore the Tory Whips and vote for getting rid of the cap.
In this debate, we must be honest with the British public about how we are going pay for the lifting of the pay cap. If Labour wants to lift the pay cap, can the hon. Gentleman explain how the Labour party will pay for it? Will it be through increased taxation or more public borrowing, or will Labour shift spending priorities? We need to know the detail in order to be able to support this policy.
I hope the hon. Lady made those points at the rally last week, when she was talking to nurses. But I would say to her that the Government have found an extra £1 billion or so for Northern Ireland. We do not begrudge Northern Ireland that, but the Government have found more money for Northern Ireland. Also, the Government are giving away billions and billions in corporation tax cuts. They have given away £1 billion in inheritance tax cuts. Government is indeed about making choices. We would make a different set of choices, but if the hon. Lady is genuine, as I believe she is, and sincere, as I believe she is, in wanting to get rid of this cap, she needs to send a message to the Chancellor, not the Tory Whips, and vote for our motion.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way on this very important issue, and I must say that I and my colleagues are minded to support the motion that he has put before the House. But it would be appropriate if true sincerity was shown by all Members of this House—if they stopped attacking the Government for giving Northern Ireland that £1 billion, so that we can alleviate the costs that would allow us to make that pay gap narrow.
I did say I did not begrudge Northern Ireland the money; I was just making the point that the Government have found the money, when they keep telling us that there is no money for anything else. But we are grateful that the Democratic Unionist party has signed the early-day motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), and we are aware that the DUP has said consistently that it supports getting rid of the pay cap for public sector workers. We would be very happy for the party to join us in the Division Lobby this evening.
I am really pleased to hear what the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) has said today, but I want to put it on the record that DUP Members did have an earlier opportunity to support the removal of the pay cap but actually voted against that—all 10 of them—in the debate on the Queen’s Speech. An amendment was tabled by the colleagues of the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), and the DUP voted it down, but we always welcome repentance.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady and I am grateful that she also signed the early-day motion. This issue may be debated further as hon. Members make their speeches today.
As we know, according to the Office for National Statistics, many public sector workers regularly work an average of 7.8 hours’ unpaid overtime a week, worth £11 billion to the economy. With the pay cap, the Government have effectively been asking them to do more and more on less and less. That is unfair.
I will make progress, if I may.
MPs on both sides of the House have spoken out against this pay cap. We would hope that they will join us in the Division Lobby, including the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North for tabling early-day motion 132, which calls for an end to the NHS pay cap, and which we have picked up and adopted as our motion today.
I know there are many who have sympathy for getting rid of the pay cap. The reason that many in the House have sympathy for getting rid of the pay cap is that in all our constituencies we have met nurses, very directly at our advice surgeries, or indeed in lobbies at Parliament, who have told us that the cap has meant they have seen a 40% real-terms drop in their earnings since 2011.
I want to make progress; but I will try to let in as many hon. Members as possible.
We have all read reports of nurses on their way home from a shift stopping off at food banks. The Royal College of Nursing tells us that two-thirds of its members are forced to undertake bank and agency work to help make ends meet. Is that not an example of how self-defeating the pay cap is, because it is driving an agency bill of £3.7 billion in the NHS?
We have all read surveys showing that more and more NHS staff are turning to payday loan companies and pawning their possessions, and we will have heard from the RCN lobby recently of the huge hardship that our nurses are facing. Many nurses have been in touch with us.
Let me give the House the story of Rebecca, who got in touch with my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams). Her story brings into sharp focus the impact of the pay cap, particularly when it is combined with the severe social security cuts that the Government are pushing through. Rebecca is a single parent. She was originally on working tax credit, but she was transferred to universal credit last year, with her payments falling as a result. As a consequence of that reduction and of the ongoing cap on her wages, which have lost their value, she has accrued rent arrears of over £800. Her landlord has now issued her with an eviction notice. There we have it: nurses are turning to food banks, pawning their possessions, and even being issued with eviction notices. Is that not shameful in 21st-century Britain? What a depressing human consequence of Tory economics.
I am a nurse and I believe in fairness. This is not just about paying nurses properly; it is about the porters, the housekeepers, the cooks, the cleaners and the admin staff, because they all do a good job. This is about not just healthcare workers but the whole public sector, because if the Government can find £1 billion for the DUP, they can pay the public sector properly.
It is kind of the shadow Minister to give way. Of course our hearts go out to the people in the stories he is relaying to the House, but we need to consider the whole picture. In its March report, the NHS Pay Review Body said:
“We do not see significant short-term nationwide recruitment and retention issues that are linked to pay.”
The pay review body itself says that pay is not causing retention issues, so should the House not take account of that?
Perhaps we really should, but I think the hon. Gentleman, who is an enthusiastic supporter of his Front-Bench team, is quoting selectively from the report, which I will move on to in a few moments.
Today’s motion is not just about doing what is right for NHS staff; it is about doing what is right for patients, too. I remind the House that we are significantly short of GPs and that we are short of 3,500 midwives. According to the Royal College of Nursing, we are also short of 40,000 nurses, with one in 10 nursing posts remaining vacant. Nearly 40% of the full-time vacancies advertised on NHS Jobs earlier this year were in nursing, and the Opposition know that Brexit is having an impact through nurses leaving the UK. The Nursing and Midwifery Council shows an increase in the numbers of nurses and midwives leaving its register. The average midwife has seen the value of their pay drop by over £6,000 since 2010, and we are significantly short of numbers, with 80% of midwives intending to leave the profession in the next two years as a result of the pay cap.
May I make a little progress?
The hon. Member for Croydon South said that pay does not affect retention and recruitment, but the Opposition say that the pay cap is at the heart of the retention and recruitment crisis. Earlier this year, NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, warned that low pay is causing staff to leave the NHS to stack shelves in supermarkets. Chris Hopson said:
“Years of pay restraint and stressful working conditions are taking their toll. Pay is becoming uncompetitive. Significant numbers of trusts say lower paid staff are leaving to stack shelves in supermarkets rather than carry on working in the NHS.”
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that anybody listening to his speech would take away from it a story of gloom and doom about our NHS? While there are difficulties and challenges, every day millions of people overwhelmingly enjoy one of the finest health services anywhere in the world, and I and many others are sick and tired of Labour talking it down.
The right hon. Lady says that we are talking the NHS down. We are not talking it down; this Tory Government are running it down. She seemed concerned about public sector pay in the NHS a few months ago when she tweeted:
“The important retention & recruitment of public sector workers is about working conditions (esp in NHS) as well as pay”.
If she stands by that tweet, she should join us in the Lobby this evening.