House of Commons
Tuesday 6 February 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Middle Level Bill
Motion made, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.
Bill to be considered on Tuesday 20 February.
Oral Answers to Questions
Health and Social Care
The Secretary of State was asked—
Grenfell Tower: Mental Health
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to pay tribute to the NHS staff who continue to work tirelessly to support the victims of the fire and their families. So far, more than 4,000 contacts have been made. Over 400 adults are currently in treatment and 96 have completed their treatment.
We have heard the Minister’s words and a litany of numbers. I have two further questions. First, is she considering long-term funding for mental health services around Grenfell, which will be needed, and need to be planned for, for possibly up to five years? Secondly, is she addressing the severe shortage of acute beds for those suffering mental health crises, which was mentioned earlier, particularly as there is an entire ward under lock and key at the Gordon Hospital due to lack of staff funding and a huge need for acute beds there?
The hon. Lady is quite right to press me on these issues. Clearly, there is going to be ongoing trauma, and we need to pay attention to that and make sure that there are adequate resources. I can assure her that this is very high on the list of priorities for the ministerial group. We have committed £23.9 million of national Government funds to address survivors’ needs, with additional expenditure on wider support. The autumn Budget committed a further £28 million to help support victims. I can also assure her that I am in regular contact with Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust to make sure that we are doing our bit to address this need.
Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Trust
In the past 12 months, the average waiting time for patients to start consultant-led treatment at hospitals in northern Lincolnshire and Goole was about nine weeks. We recognise that some trusts face particular challenges with their waiting lists due to rising demand. That is why a package of support, including a system-wide improvement board, has been established within the trust.
The statistics that the Minister has given are very interesting. The Library has said that there is an average wait of 32 weeks—far longer than the nine weeks that he mentioned—and that it is six weeks longer in 2017 than it was in 2016. This is happening on his watch. What is he going to do? My constituents do not accept that it is good enough.
I think the hon. Lady prepared her follow-up before hearing the answer. There is an improvement board established within the trust, chaired by NHS Improvement, that is tasked with reducing waiting times and ensuring that the standard is improved. Currently, the average time waited is 11 weeks for out-patients and seven weeks for in-patients.
Will the Minister give an assurance that the support that NHS Improvement is giving to the trust will continue? He will know that this is the second time that the trust has been in special measures, and clearly we need continuing support. Will he also assure us that he will visit the trust—a promise that was made by his predecessor?
My hon. Friend is right to point out the need to give support to this trust. That is why a wider package of £1.6 billion of funding has been given to the NHS to improve accident and emergency and elective care performance. Alongside that, we have specific work through NHS Improvement to address some of the particular issues that he alluded to in his trust.
Order. We might hear from the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) later, but I say to him in all friendly courtesy that while Kingswood no doubt has a great deal to be said for it, as does Congleton, both have one thing in common, and that is that they are a very long way from northern Lincolnshire.
Health and Social Care Services
The fact that the Department has been renamed the Department of Health and Social Care reflects both their interdependence and our commitment to achieve co-ordinated care tailored to individual needs. The better care fund is a national integration programme that helps the NHS and local government to deliver better, more joined-up services.
I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome her to her place. The proposal to build a community health centre in Thornbury and Frenchay is an essential part of joining up health and social care in South Gloucestershire. Will the Minister join me in highlighting the importance of Thornbury health centre and in pressing South Gloucestershire clinical commissioning group to make progress with the project as quickly as possible, after years of unnecessary delays?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue. He is right to do so, and proposals such as those for Thornbury health centre are crucial for ensuring that health and social care are truly integrated and centred around each individual in the community. I am advised that South Gloucestershire CCG remains committed to progressing those plans as soon as possible and that the local NHS expects to be able to provide an update on plans next month.
The Minister will be aware of the situation surrounding pain infusion treatment for patients in Hull and East Riding. Many of the 86 patients who lose that treatment will require increasing levels of social care. Consultants have even written letters to the CCG to say that if that treatment is removed, there is an increased risk of mortality for those patients. Will the Minister meet me urgently to discuss that and write to the CCG to ask it to urgently review its decision in the light of the evidence from consultants?
Of course blanket bans on treatments are unacceptable, and decisions on treatments should always be made locally by doctors, based on clinical assessment. I understand that those patients will be offered an alternative, more rounded service and that the CCGs have arranged for each patient to meet their consultant to discuss their treatment. Where there is evidence of rationing, we expect NHS England to ensure that CCGs are not breaching their duties.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the integration of health and social care is so important to the future success of the NHS that everything needs to be done to speed up the programme to integrate them better? Will she join me in encouraging a speedier approach to that method in Surrey, Sussex and Kent?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The better care fund is already having a fantastic impact in the area. We are developing metrics for assessing progress on integration by local area, particularly at the interface of health and social care. We need to proceed with this as rapidly as possible, and I am sure that with his backing, that will happen in his local area.
It is of course very important that we see integration of the two services, but the fact remains that there is just not enough money. Over a year ago, one of the Minister’s predecessors praised my authority in Halton for the work it was doing in this area, but Halton is now on the brink in terms of the money it has and its ability to deliver its statutory duties. There is simply not enough money, and the Government keep trying to avoid that.
We have provided £2 billion of extra funding over the next three years to help councils commission high-quality services, in addition to giving councils access to up to £9.25 billion of dedicated social care funding by 2019-20.
Will the Minister look at the benefits of independent living schemes such as Priory View, pioneered by Central Bedfordshire Council, which bring reduced hospital admissions and reduced demands on social care through greater socialisation and more use of exercise classes?
Independent living schemes can keep people living healthier, more independent lives for much longer and provide the comradeship and camaraderie that keep people active and healthier. My hon. Friend is right to raise their importance, and the Government very much support them.
With reference to the integration of health and social care, the Minister may be aware that I have two outstanding respite and rehab homes in Eastbourne called Milton Grange and Firwood House. They are both under threat of closure by the county council, which says that central Government are not giving it enough money. Those homes serve a crucial purpose in supporting the local hospital. Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives from the county council to work out a way to find the funds to keep both those vital homes open?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to stand up for the good-quality respite in his local area. The Care Act 2014 requires local authorities to shape local markets and ensure that they give a sustainable, high-quality local offer. I would be more than happy to meet him to discuss that further.
I welcome the Minister to her place. One model of integration that has aroused considerable concern is the so-called accountable care organisation model. Many are concerned that that means greater private sector involvement, and given legitimate worries about Carillion going bust, Capita not being able to support GPs and Virgin suing the NHS, those concerns are well founded. Can the Minister rule out any private sector involvement in ACOs? Will she also delay laying the relevant regulations to establish an ACO until after the two judicial reviews and the NHS England consultation?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this. NHS England is consulting on that at the moment, and I can confirm that no regulations will be laid until that consultation has been completed.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for offering us that clarification. May I therefore ask her about funding? The integration of health and social care needs more funding, yet the NHS is going through the biggest financial squeeze in its history and social care has been cut by billions since 2010. A few moments ago, the Minister said that the funding is adequate, but if the funding is adequate across health and social care, why are delayed discharges of care up 50%, and why did NHS England say on Friday that for the rest of this year the A&E target has in effect been abandoned?
We recognise that there are pressures on our social care as the population ages. In the short term, we have of course made the extra £2 billion of funding available to local authorities; in the medium term, we need to make sure that best practice is observed across all local authorities and NHS trusts; and in the long term, we will be coming forward with a Green Paper on social care later this year.
Routes into Nursing
The NHS needs more nurses, which is why we are making big changes for new entries into the profession, including the new nurse associate role and new nurse degree apprenticeships.
I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State values the degree apprenticeship as a way to provide further routes into nursing, but will he consider working with the Treasury and across the Government to increase the funding that educational establishments receive from the Institute for Apprenticeships for nursing courses, to further incentivise universities and colleges to offer more places on those courses?
I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. It will strengthen my hand with the Department for Education, which decides what levels of funding are made available from the Institute for Apprenticeships. It has actually given us the highest level of funding, at £27,000, but we never say no to more.
But will the Secretary of State admit that he made a basic error by scrapping nurse bursaries, which has led to a 23% fall in the number of people applying to nurse courses? Why does he not look at that if he wants to widen the entrance into nursing?
I am not sure whether the hon. Lady was listening to the answer I just gave, but the truth is—
I always listen to you.
I am most grateful. That is a very rare compliment, so I shall savour it. I would gently say to her that the point about nurse degree apprenticeships is that it is possible to transition into nursing from being a healthcare assistant without any fees being paid at all. That is why it is a huge and highly significant change.
As the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) is sporting what appears to me to be a very fetching suffragette rosette, it is perhaps timely to record that in the great success our national health service has been under successive Governments, I think I am right in saying, as things stand, that well over 70% of the people who make it great are women.
Following the recent inquiry by the Select Committee on Health into the nursing workforce, we absolutely welcome the new routes into nursing, including the new role of nursing associate. However, one of the issues highlighted strongly was the need to retain our existing nursing workforce as well as to recruit into it. Will the Secretary of State comment on that?
My hon. Friend speaks very wisely—we do need to be better at retaining our existing workforce. I think that is why the Treasury has given me extra latitude in negotiations on the pay rise—those discussions are currently happening—but we also need to be much better at flexible working and at recognising the challenges people have in their ordinary working lives.
Unlike in Scotland, where student nurses receive free tuition and a nursing bursary of over £6,500 a year, nurses in England now face debts of £50,000 on graduation. Owing to that, training applications in England have dropped by a third since 2015, and the new nursing apprenticeship attracted only 30 trainees against a target of 1,000. Will the Secretary of State not accept that he got it wrong, and reinstate the nursing bursary?
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that, because we have published a draft of a workforce strategy in this country, but I notice that Audit Scotland says that in Scotland there is a lack of a long-term strategic plan for the workforce. I gently say to him that there are workforce pressures across the United Kingdom. We have a plan to dramatically increase the number of nurses that we employ in the NHS, and I am sure many people in Scotland would like to see the same there.
The Secretary of State has claimed that the removal of the bursary would fund 10,000 extra training places, but the first 5,000 will start only this autumn and the nurses will qualify only in 2021. With more than 36,000 nursing vacancies in England, more nurses leaving than joining and a 90% drop in EU nurses coming to the UK because of Brexit, exactly who does he expect to care for patients in the meantime?
As we discussed earlier, we are broadening the routes into nursing from just traditional higher education courses, including nurse apprenticeships and people being able to train on the job over four years in a hospital. We hope that a whole group of healthcare assistants who currently find it difficult to get into nursing can become nurses. I think that would be very welcome in Scotland as well.
Will the Secretary of State update the House on progress made in reducing the cost of agency nurses so that the money can be reinvested in full-time nursing?
I am happy to do that. It is one of the great successes of NHS Improvement, which should be celebrated, that it has brought down the amount spent on agency nursing by £1 billion in the last couple of years. That is a huge achievement. Every penny of that goes back into frontline care.
The Government cut the number of nurse training places in 2010, and when they scrapped bursaries applications from mature students suffered particularly. What is the point of blaming trusts for hiring agency staff when the Government simply do not train enough nurses to fill the vacancies?
Perhaps I should set the record straight for the hon. Lady. We have 52,000 nurses in training—more than was ever the case under the last Labour Government, who were planning to cut nurse training places by 6%. We are planning to increase them by 25%. That shows our commitment to nursing.
Yesterday, the Royal College of Nursing reported on the total failure of Government policies to increase the nursing workforce. As we have just heard, the Government hoped to recruit 1,000 trainees to the nursing apprenticeship, but ended up with just 30. This year, the number applying to university to study nursing has so far fallen by a staggering 33%. We have a workforce crisis exacerbated by badly thought out policies, so is it not time that the Secretary of State admitted that scrapping the bursary was a mistake?
I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but that is not the first time that he has presented a somewhat incomplete picture of what is actually happening. In the last five years, we have 15,700 more nurses, and the reason for those vacancies and for the pressure is that, as he knows very well, under the last Labour Government we had Mid Staffs, which was a crisis of short staffing that this Government are putting right. That is why we want to recruit those extra nurses.
Children and Young People: Mental Health
This week is Children’s Mental Health Week, and still too many children and young people wait too long for their mental health provision in the NHS. That is why, by the end of next year, we will have invested an extra £1.4 billion, meaning that 70,000 extra children and young people are seen every year.
A constituent’s 14-year-old son suffers severe obsessive compulsive disorder, resulting in self-harm. Treatment options have failed and his doctor recommends an intensive residential programme, but as Ministers are aware, places are very limited. He has been waiting seven weeks and counting, with 24-hour parental support and supervision. What more can be done to ensure that that boy and other adolescents who are in desperate need of help get that help before it is too late?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue, and I understand that in that particular case clinicians are meeting this week to resolve those issues. She is right: we need to expand the number of beds available for children and young people. They are at a record level—1,440, and that went up by another 81 last year—but more needs to be done, which is why we published our children and young people’s mental health Green Paper.
I have been approached by a number of my constituents in Leicestershire who are concerned about the wait between a referral to child and adolescent mental health services and the allocation of a named caseworker and formal treatment. Will my right hon. Friend enlarge on how the steps that he is taking, which he has set out, will help to reduce such waits in Leicestershire and across the country?
I am happy to do that. The simple truth is that it is a tragedy for every child who has to wait too long to access mental health care, because half of all mental health conditions become established before the age of 14. If we do not nip them in the bud, they can get a lot worse. What are we doing? We are setting up a whole new service inside schools to spot such problems earlier and we are going to introduce a waiting time target for CAMHS appointments.
In 2016-17, 65% of young people in England with eating disorders started urgent treatment within one week of referral. What has been done to ensure that the target of 95% by 2020 will be reached? Does the Secretary of State share my belief that waiting time targets are a vital tool for improving eating disorder treatment and should be in place in all parts of the United Kingdom?
I absolutely agree with that. I join my hon. Friend in supporting the introduction of waiting time targets in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. How are we doing so far? In terms of the need for urgent treatment for eating disorders, we are hitting 79%, so we are on our way to the 95% target and we want to get there as soon as we can.
I listened very carefully to what the Secretary of State said about the additional funding that is supposed to be reaching the frontline, but the Young Person’s Advisory Service, which is the main service for young people’s mental health in Liverpool, has seen a £757,000 cut—a cut of 43%—in this financial year. There are now 412 children in Liverpool waiting more than 28 weeks for an assessment—not even for treatment. It is absolutely shocking. How can he stand there in young people and children’s mental health week and say that everything is rosy?
I did not; I said the opposite. I said that we need to do a lot more and I told the House what we are doing. If the hon. Lady looks at what is happening in her own clinical commissioning group, she will see that the proportion that is spent on mental health has gone up from 12.3% to 13%. She will see that this Government have done a huge amount on mental health. In 13 years, Labour did not have any waiting time targets for mental health and did not introduce parity of esteem—a whole range of things that are now happening and that she should support.
Will the Government commission more extensive research into the causes of mental ill health among children and young people, both pre and post-natal, with a view to preventing as much ill health as possible?
We are absolutely going to do that. We have a big programme of expansion in perinatal health support, because there is a lot of evidence that pressures on mothers around the time of birth transmit to their children and can leave lasting damage.
Specialist mental health crisis care for young people in south Cumbria is available only between the hours of 9 and 5 from Monday to Friday. Does the Secretary of State agree that in the light of the Care Quality Commission’s recent damning report of the partnership trust, that is not acceptable? Will he join me in asking the Morecambe Bay CCG to ensure that there is out-of-hours and weekend care for all people?
I am happy to look into that issue. The hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), did a huge amount to set up crisis care provision around the country. We need to build on that for the simple reason that, if we are to have parity of esteem, people need to be able to get help in a mental health crisis, just as they are if something goes wrong with their physical health.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as improving the treatment of adolescent ill health, everything possible needs to be done to prevent crisis from occurring in the first place? Does he agree that we need more research into why we are seeing a surge in Cheltenham and elsewhere in the world, so that clinicians can best tailor their response?
This is something that my hon. Friend has thought a lot about. A particular area of concern is the growth in mental health problems in young women between the ages of 18 and 24. We are looking carefully at whether that relates to social media use, which is an additional pressure that many of us did not face when we were that age. I thank him for his campaigning on this issue.
With respect, we are taking action. Last year, spending on mental health went up by £575 million and four out of five CCGs increased their mental health spend by more than their overall spend. This year, all CCGs will do that. That will apply in Lewisham, as it will everywhere else in the country.
Under plans announced by NHS England, child victims of sexual assault in Stoke-on-Trent would have to travel as far as Birmingham to receive the vital support that they need. Will the Secretary of State agree to look urgently into the proposals to remove child sexual assault referral services from the city?
I will happily do so.
Research by the Children’s Commissioner revealed that the spend on children and young people’s mental health services varied by CCG from 0.2% to 9%, resulting in services in some areas being described as “shockingly poor”. Can the Secretary of State therefore explain the reason for the variation, and will he commit today to matching Labour’s pledge to increase the proportion of the mental health budget spend on CAMHS services?
The hon. Lady is right to shine a light on that variation, and that is why this Government have introduced Ofsted ratings for all CCGs—to make sure that we understand. It is not just in children and young people’s mental health, but in all mental health where we see that variation. Specifically when it comes to children and young people’s mental health, she will be pleased to know that last year overall spending went up by 20%, and the Green Paper that we published announced an additional £300 million in investment.
This Government want to see all children and young people get the best start in life. We are implementing a wide range of policies to improve child health, including the most ambitious childhood obesity plan in the world, transformation of children’s mental health and maternity services, improving immunisation rates and tackling child sexual abuse.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health recently praised NHS Scotland’s innovations to improve children’s health. The Scottish initiative Childsmile, which is now 10 years old, has greatly improved children’s dental health, reducing fillings by 24% and cutting annual dental treatment by £5 million. It is good that the UK Government have finally set up trial sites, but with multiple dental extractions under general anaesthetic up by 11%, why is this initiative not being rolled out to all children in England?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that, and we are always keen to respond to any representations made on this very important issue. We are also very keen to learn from the other nations about this area, because it is clear that the more we can do with early intervention in childhood, the better we protect people’s long-term health. I will look more specifically into that.
As a children’s doctor, children’s health is very important to me, and the case of children’s doctor, Dr Bawa-Garba, worries me and doctors up and down the country. In NHS practice, I have seen the adverse effect on reflective practice and the impact that it has on staff morale. Ultimately, that will impact on patient safety. I know that the Secretary of State shares my concerns, and I ask him to tell the House what he is going to do about it.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be addressing that in a little while. The whole issue of reflective learning is important. We should not, through this case, prevent people from being honest about the experiences that they have had.
We are becoming increasingly conscious of drinks with additional unnatural stimulants and their impact on people’s health generally, but obviously that becomes more acute with children’s health, so we will look more closely at it. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has highlighted the initiatives that have been taken by individual retailers, because it is up to them to implement good practice.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to achieve strong health and good mental health for children is at the very earliest stages and through forming a strong attachment between that child and their parent in the first 1,001 days from conception? If so, why is there not more in the mental health Green Paper about perinatal mental health?
The Green Paper very much focuses on what we are doing in schools, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. He highlights the earliest of early intervention, and one reason why we are investing so much more in perinatal mental health is to ensure that the bonds between mother and baby are as strong as they can possibly be.
Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) and the Minister’s answer, may I revisit the issue of energy drinks? She might know that a 500 ml can of energy drink contains 12 teaspoons of sugar and the same amount of caffeine as a double espresso, yet energy drinks are being sold for as little as 25p to children as young as 10, and around one in three young people say they regularly consume them. Given the health risks associated with energy drinks, will she tell me more about what steps she and her Department are taking to reduce energy drink sales to and consumption by children?
The hon. Lady will know that action against sugar is very much part of the childhood obesity plan that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), is taking forward, but there is a lot more we can do to address the concerns about caffeine, which I know is high on his “to do” list. We will no doubt have more exchanges on this subject in due course.
Maternity Transformation Programme
Our ambition was to halve the number of maternal deaths, neonatal deaths, neonatal injuries and stillbirths by 2030, but because of the progress we have made with our maternity safety programme, we have brought that forward to 2025.
I am glad to hear that progress is being made. The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative’s 2016 report highlighted several gaps in access to breastfeeding support, including deficiencies in clinical training and a lack of integration between the NHS and voluntary sector services. What can be done through the maternity transformation programme to ensure that women can access, and health professionals can provide, the best-quality infant feeding advice right across the country?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight that area. It is one of six high-impact areas we are focusing on throughout the country. We are making progress, but we know we could do a lot better.
NHS Trusts: VAT Status
There are no plans to hold discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the VAT status of NHS trusts.
I am grateful for that reply, although I suggest it ought to be reconsidered. NHS trusts desperate to avoid financial difficulties appear to have found a new magic money tree: setting up wholly owned subsidiaries to avoid paying substantial amounts of tax to the Treasury. Rather than encouraging this tax dodging and further fragmenting the NHS, why do the Secretary of State and his friend the Chancellor not either ban this practice or agree to let them all have the VAT exemptions?
The Department wrote to all NHS and foundation trusts in September 2017 to remind them that tax avoidance schemes should not be entered into in any circumstances, but the hon. Lady makes a slightly strange point. She seems to be arguing that NHS hospitals are, in essence, paying too much tax to the Treasury, rather than having that money within the NHS. These subsidiaries are 100% owned by trusts themselves.
The Government have already legislated for but not implemented a proposal to introduce a £95,000 limit on exit payments for public servants in the NHS. Would it not be sensible, in the meantime, to charge NHS trusts VAT on any exit payments in excess of £95,000 to deter this waste of public resources?
I admire how the VAT element of the original question was brought into a discussion of exit payments. As my hon. Friend will be well aware, I visited the issue of exit payments frequently as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, and I am happy to discuss it further with him.
National Food Crime Unit
The Food Standards Agency’s national food crime unit is crucial to protecting consumers from serious criminal activity that impacts on the safety of their food and drink. I understand that the FSA is exploring options for the unit’s future funding, and a decision is expected in late spring.
The FSA is answerable to the Department of Health and Social Care for food safety, but there are a lot of assurance schemes that do not really answer to anybody and which the FSA needs to be able to bring together. That is where the crime unit could do a really good job, so anything the Minister can do to get that money and get the crime unit up and running would be very good.
I thank the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee for his advice. I know that he is keen and astute on this subject. Ensuring that food businesses meet their safety responsibilities is, of course, one of the FSA’s most important roles. It is developing a new regulatory model and actively engaging with third-party assurance scheme owners to determine how information and data can be shared and more effectively used by regulators.
May I send a brief message of congratulation to the Secretary of State for his rapid response to President Trump’s remarks about the values of the NHS?
As chair of the Westminster Commission on Autism, let me now ask the Secretary of State a serious question. We are about to produce a report on the fake medicine that is sold to families with an autistic child. When the report is published, in the next few days, will the Secretary of State act very quickly to stop this dreadful trade?
I am not quite sure that that is altogether related to the main question.
It is related to the Food Standards Agency.
Possibly. Anyway, it was a worthy effort, and I will give the hon. Gentleman the benefit of the doubt. Let us now hear from the Minister.
As the hon. Gentleman was so very charming to the Secretary of State, we will of course look into the issue.
Hospitals in Special Measures
It is five years today since the landmark publication of the Francis report on the Mid Staffordshire Foundation NHS Trust. Since then the NHS has made a huge number of changes, not the least being that 34 trusts have gone into special measures and 19 have come out. I particularly congratulate the West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust on coming out of special measures in January and securing a “good” score for its caring: that was a fantastic achievement by its staff.
Given that York’s local health service is in special measures, the additional funds in the Budget to deal with winter health pressures were very welcome. I am pleased to say that York NHS has already received a tranche of those funds, but the remainder of its share has not been released, although discussions with NHS Improvement are ongoing. Will the Secretary of State undertake to look into the situation, as a matter of urgency?
I will happily do so.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the importance of King’s College Hospital to my constituents. In 2009, it was rated “excellent” and one of the top hospitals in the country; now it is missing its A&E waiting time targets and a key cancer treatment target, there has been a fourfold increase in the number of cancelled operations, and it is in special measures. The Government must take some responsibility for that. They must not wash their hands of it. Will they step up to the plate and help King’s by, for instance, giving it the resources that it needs?
Let me reassure the right hon. and learned Lady that we do not wash our hands of any trusts that go into special measures. The point of the special measures regime is to highlight where Government intervention is necessary. I know the right hon. and learned Lady will agree that a huge amount of very fine treatment happens at King’s every single day, but it is having profound issues in relation to the management of its finances and some of its waiting times, which is why we are doing everything we can to support it.
With a high delayed-discharge rate of 10%, Kettering General Hospital, which is in special measures, has 60 patients on any one day who have completed their treatment and await their transfer into the community. Northamptonshire County Council has been given millions of pounds, via the better care fund, but it is simply not up to the job. What can be done in those circumstances?
I am well aware of the pressures at Kettering. It is a very busy hospital, and it has undergone a number of changes of management. However, I can reassure my hon. Friend that a big improvement package is there to support it and that we want to take it out of special measures as soon as possible.
The previous chair of King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust resigned because he had concluded that the funding provided for King’s had placed the trust in an impossible position. The current interim chair has said that the proportion of GDP spent on health and social care needs to rise to match that in other European countries if our NHS is to be sustainable. When will the Secretary of State heed the warning cries and commit the funding that King’s and, more widely, our NHS need in order to deliver care to our constituents?
We spend 9.9% of our GDP on health. The European Union spends 15%, and the richer EU countries spend 9.6%—slightly less than us, on average. We are able to spend more because this Government put the economy back on its feet.
It is good to be back.
As I have repeatedly said at the Dispatch Box, pharmacies are a vital frontline service for our NHS, with over 1.2 million health-related visits every day. Community pharmacies have again stepped up during this winter period, and I thank them for their hard work. They have vaccinated more than 1 million people against seasonal flu since October. The Government are committed to ensuring that pharmacies and pharmacists are further embedded in the wider health service.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he come to Derby to meet a constituent who has pharmacies that are working very hard to keep patients out of hospital, therefore saving the NHS money through their innovative ideas?
Yes, I will do that. I think we have a provisional date in the diary in early March. We continue to promote the Pharmacy First scheme. Next month, we will launch the £2 million Stay Well pharmacy campaign to continue to promote the idea of community pharmacy as the first port of call for many minor health concerns. I am out and about visiting pharmacies—I was at one last week—and I will be very pleased to come to see my hon. Friend.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are a record number of training places. We know that one of the main reasons why GPs leave general practice is retirement, which is why we have put in place comprehensive measures to ensure that we meet our commitment to deliver an extra 5,000 GPs in the NHS by 2020. GP career plus, the GP retention scheme and the national GP induction and refresher scheme will all help get to valuable experienced GPs back into our NHS, doing the valuable work our constituents so benefit from.
We recognise the acute shortages in general practice, which is why we remain, as I said in my previous answer, committed to delivering the additional doctors in general practice by 2020. Millions of patients have already benefited from being able to access evening and weekend GP appointments. We expect everyone in England to have access to this by March 2019.
I am fortunate to work very closely with the GPs in my constituency. It would be appear that, for a variety of reasons, younger GPs are not as likely to buy into the partnership model as their predecessors. Does the Minister agree that we need a mixed model of both private partnership contractor and direct NHS state provision if we are to get GPs to the places where the public need them?
My hon. Friend works very closely with the GPs and commissioning groups in his constituency and they value him greatly as a local MP. We back the partnership model. As the Secretary of State said last month at the Royal College of General Practitioners, we believe in its many benefits as the cornerstone of primary care. That is why we are embarking on a new piece of work to explore other models with the British Medical Association and the RCGP, which have kindly agreed to work with us on this, and to look at the partnership model in the context of primary care at scale.
Dr Williams, you wanted to speak a moment ago; have you abandoned the idea?
NHS figures continue to show an alarming decline in the number of family doctors working across the north-east, which is why I am supporting the University of Sunderland bid to establish a new medical school. Does the Minister accept that prioritising training places in areas of greatest need is the best long-term solution to the crisis facing general practice?
There are record numbers in training, and I take note of the hon. Lady’s bid for the training school. One reason the Department and my brief have placed such importance on recruiting new GPs into the NHS in England and on making sure that people can stay working in the NHS in England is that we see general practice, rightly, as the cornerstone of the health service.
I do not know whether the right hon. Lady is referring to my age, a proposition on which I think the House would have to divide, or the rosette. [Interruption.] Yes, I thought she meant the rosette.
On the day that we mark the 100th anniversary of giving a voice to women, I want to update the House on concerns in the medical profession that we may not be giving a voice to doctors and other clinicians who want the freedom to be able to learn from mistakes. The House will know that, as a Government Minister, I cannot comment on a court ruling, but it is fair to say that the recent Dr Bawa-Garba case has caused huge concern, so today I can announce that I have asked Professor Sir Norman Williams, former president of the Royal College of Surgeons and my senior clinical adviser, to conduct a rapid review into the application of gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare.
Working with senior lawyers, Sir Norman will review how we ensure the vital role of reflective learning, openness and transparency is protected so that mistakes are learned from and not covered up, how we ensure that there is clarity about where the line is drawn between gross negligence manslaughter and ordinary human error in medical practice so that doctors and other health professionals know where they stand in respect of criminal liability or professional misconduct, and any lessons that need to be learned by the General Medical Council and other professional regulators. I will engage the devolved Administrations, the Justice Secretary and the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care in this vital review, which will report to me before the end of April 2018.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer—or rather, for that statement—and also for the robust tweets that he makes on that and many other issues. Would he be amenable to the idea of following on Twitter the Oliver King Foundation? On the foundation’s advice, I have written to all the schools in Broxtowe urging them to install defibrillators. This is an important project. What assistance is the Department of Health giving to such an admirable charity and such an excellent project?
It is a fantastic charity. The boy concerned would have been 19 very shortly. It is a very sad story. I thank my right hon. Friend for her campaigning on this issue. We do indeed need to ensure that we have atrial fibrillators everywhere necessary to prevent these tragedies.
I welcome the review that the Health and Social Care Secretary has just announced. I also welcome the addition of social care to his role and the Government’s belated realisation that social care should be a Cabinet-level role, as Labour recognised with its shadow Cabinet in 2010. Yesterday, the Alzheimer’s Society reported that care homes were turning away people with advanced dementia—or even evicting them, sadly—because care providers do not get enough money from local authorities to cover the cost of their care. Will the Health and Social Care Secretary now be arguing with Treasury colleagues for the funding that is so badly needed to ensure that people with dementia are not evicted from care homes due to a lack of funding?
The hon. Lady always speaks powerfully about the social care system. One of the key parts of the social care Green Paper that we are currently working through is on market stabilisation. We have seen a number of care homes go under, although the number of beds overall has remained broadly stable, but our particular concern is, as she rightly points out, people in the advanced stages of dementia who might not be able to get the care that they want. This is a key focus of our work.
I have listened carefully to cancer charities, clinicians and patients on the importance of the cancer patient experience survey. I have been clear that, whatever form the CPES takes as a result of the changes to how confidential data is shared, we want the survey to continue with a methodology as close to that of the current survey as possible.
It is interesting, looking at the comparisons, to see that the NHS in Wales appears to have changed a number of them, to make it more difficult to compare performance between England and Wales. The more scrutiny there is of the performance in Wales—where clinicians say that the best performance often equates to the worst performance in England—the more we will see the need for serious changes in the way in which the NHS delivers its services in Wales.
In Sutton, we have hugely exciting plans for a London cancer hub, working with the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research, on a single campus to provide a global centre for cancer innovation that will in turn provide a huge boost for our local economy, including 13,000 new jobs. Will the Minister join me in Sutton to see the opportunity at first hand? Will he also tell us how such a project can help to deliver on our Government’s life sciences strategy?
I am keen to visit my hon. Friend in Sutton, so let us fix a date as soon as we can. Cancer survival rates are at an all-time high, but I like the idea of a one-stop shop, and the hub that he talks about could be very exciting.
The King’s Fund has said that STPs offer the best hope for the NHS and its partners to sustain and transform the delivery of healthcare, so the King’s Fund endorses this recommendation. As the right hon. Lady will know, we announced an additional £325 million of capital funding in the spring Budget to invest in local areas, and in the autumn Budget we committed an additional £10 billion package of capital investment over this Parliament.
Last week, our former colleague Tessa, now Baroness, Jowell gave an inspiring speech about her battle with brain cancer. At this first Health questions after that speech, I am sure that colleagues will join me in paying tribute to her work and will agree that she spoke with courage, grace and the desire to make her suffering prevent others from having to go through the same. Will the Secretary of State assure me that last week’s report from the brain cancer research taskforce, which I set up as a Minister, will be taken seriously in the Department and that everything will be done to ensure that brain cancer, which has been something of a Cinderella for years, receives the support and funding that it deserves so that Tessa’s words were not in vain?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work in this job on this subject. The Secretary of State was in the other place to listen to Baroness Jowell’s speech, and I read it and watched it back. It was a moving and brave piece of work. We take this matter seriously. My colleague Lord O’Shaughnessy has the report, which we are going through line by line, and he and I will jointly chair a roundtable on the subject in the next few weeks.
Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that any accountable care organisations that he establishes will not be able to use commercial confidentiality excuses to evade scrutiny under freedom of information legislation?
Public money is public money, and Members have a right to know how it is being spent, so we will absolutely ensure that those contracts are signed in a fair way.
As the Secretary of State carries out his social care funding review, I urge him to look carefully at whether we should look again at implementing the Dilnot commission’s proposals. Given that we legislated for them, they are the only way that we are going to tackle the issue with the sufficient urgency.
At the heart of the Dilnot proposals was the idea of risk pooling—that there is a randomness in the illnesses that affect us in the later years of our life that we would want, as a society, to do something about. I will confirm what the Prime Minister said in the election campaign: we will consult on a cap on social care costs.
The hon. Lady highlights an important point about the variance in performance between trusts and how we look at some of the lessons from, for example, Lords Carter’s work on efficiency, rotas and how to maximise the value of funding. I am happy to consider her specific point, but she is right that how we manage the patient pathway, in particular the 43% of hospital beds occupied by 5% of patients, is a key challenge.
For the first time ever in Devon and Plymouth, GP practices are struggling to recruit new doctors and new partners in particular and are spending a fortune on locums as a result. The Government have a plan to fix the situation by 2020, but what more can be done in the meantime to ensure that my constituents can access primary care services?
There are two things. First, we have succeeded in increasing the number of medical school graduates who go into general practice—a record 3,157 this year. Secondly—I know this from my conversations with GPs in my hon. Friend’s constituency—we are doing what we can to reinvigorate the partnership model. Since meeting those GPs, I have agreed with the Royal College of General Practitioners and the BMA that we will carry out a formal review of how the partnership model needs to evolve in the modern NHS.
I point the hon. Gentleman to what the King’s Fund says, which is that accountable care organisations and integrated care systems make a “massive difference” in care to patients. The King’s Fund is not a pro-Government organisation; it regularly holds the Government to account at election time and throughout the year. Not just the King’s Fund but Polly Toynbee and many other people are saying that.
It is very positive that Corby clinical commissioning group has announced that core urgent care services will be protected in Corby, along with the announced new GP access and new primary care facilities, but will the Minister join me in keeping a close eye on the CCG as it designs the new access arrangements? People need to be able to access those urgent care services at the right place, at the right time and without delay.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the funding going into Corby, and it is a tribute to his campaigning as a constituency MP that there is such progress on that measure. I am happy to look at the specific issue. It is important that the CCG continues to consult both Members of Parliament and the public as it takes that work forward.
We have been listening to the Royal College of General Practitioners and the BMA, which is why last year funding for GPs went up by £314 million and why it will be going up by £2.4 billion over the five-year period, which is a 14% real-terms increase.
There really is a magnificent array of rosettes on both sides of the Chamber, which today—today only—I will allow to influence me.
This is a very proud day to be a woman in this House. In mid and south Essex there are plans for a hyper-acute stroke unit at Basildon Hospital. Will the Secretary of State or one of the Ministers confirm that that will be an improvement of services for my constituents in Chelmsford, and not a downgrade?
I am very happy to confirm my hon. Friend’s observation. It is absolutely about improving services. This proposal for a new hyper-acute stroke unit in Basildon will ensure there are specialist nurses and doctors available to manage patients at all times, which very much draws on the lessons from London, where we consolidated stroke services and where health outcomes were improved and lives were saved.
The hon. Lady will know that we are currently implementing the findings of the expert working group, and we are continuing our discussions with the all-party group to see how much further we can go in answering people’s questions and in responding to these moving cases, one of which she has just explained to the House. Obviously I would be happy to have further discussions with any hon. Member who wants to discuss it with me further.
In Shropshire, we have had four years of confusion on the future of our two hospitals. Will the Secretary of State tell the people of Shropshire whether there is Government funding for the proposed reconfiguration of the county’s hospitals?
As my hon. Friend will be aware, we announced further funding in the Budget and the autumn statement. On the specifics of Telford, which she has raised on a number of occasions, I am very happy to have further discussions with her.
I am not aware of the specific case the hon. Lady highlights, but I am happy to look at it and to understand why she feels the rents are disproportionately high. This relates to the point I made earlier in response to the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper), which was about the variance in the system and how we ensure that we obtain best value for money. The reality of the debate on health is that the Labour party simply sees it in terms of how much is put in, whereas Conservative Members recognise that we need to both invest more in the NHS and make sure we get the best outcomes. That is the key dividing line between the parties.
For six years, the people of Redditch have endured a painful consultation on their hospital, the Alex, which has dragged on and on. As a result, they have lost maternity and children’s emergency services, even though nobody wanted that when they were consulted. People have taken the pain, but when will they get the gain? When will they see the urgent care centre? When will the £29 million be spent on the Alex?
There are good plans in place for getting Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust and the Alex, specifically, out of special measures. A package of support is in place to enable the trust to improve its quality of care. Delivery of the acute service redesign plan is a key driver to sustaining services in the medium term and £29.6 million of STP funding has been agreed to support that.
At the weekend, NHS England, as my colleagues have pointed out, gave up on the key A&E waiting time target. Does the Minister agree that it is very important that when people go to A&E they do not have to wait longer than four hours, as more than 2.5 million did last year? Whose responsibility is this delivery failure?
I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but he is saying something that is a big exaggeration. What the NHS has committed to is that by the end of the year coming up more than half of the trusts in the country will meet the A&E target and that we will go back to meeting it across the whole country in the following year. So we are absolutely committed to this target. We recognise there are real pressures, which is why it is going to take time to get back to it, but we will get there.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on securing the £10 billion capital commitment in the Budget at the end of the last year to spend on the NHS. May I take advantage of my position on these Benches to urge him for the next allocation of STP funding to adopt the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) and ensure that the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust gets the Future Fit funding it needs?
May I first pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he did in the Department and the high esteem in which he was held by those working in the NHS? On Shrewsbury and Telford, I very much appreciate the importance of the reconfiguration of the trust. We expect a decision shortly on that, although I am not in a position to announce it today.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the huge disruption at the Manchester hospitals this week because of problems with water supplies and a big water leak. He might also be aware that Emmeline Pankhurst’s home is on the site of the Manchester hospitals. What conversations has he had with United Utilities and other water companies to ensure that we have safe, constant supplies of water to our hospitals, so that these disruptions do not happen?
I know that NHS Improvement is aware of that situation and that important conversations are going on to improve the resilience of all our hospitals, including those in Manchester. However, I am happy to write to the hon. Lady on the issue.
I will call the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) if his question is shorter than his tie.
Lipoedema affects 10% of women in this country, many without a diagnosis, so why are an increasing number of my constituents saying they cannot get any therapeutic interventions funded by the CCG? Will the Minister meet a delegation of those people and other hon. Members similarly affected?
Yes, of course I will meet my short-tied hon. Friend with the delegation he requests.
We are well over time, but I do not want the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) to feel isolated or excluded. Let us hear it.
Child suicide calls to Childline are at a record high among girls—it is at 68%. Despite that, the NHS spends only 11% of its budget on mental health issues. Will the Minister indicate what he is going to do to prevent child suicides?
We are very focused on reducing all suicides. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have a plan to reduce suicide rates by 10%, and last week we announced a plan to reduce in-patient suicides to zero, which is a big aspiration to which the NHS in England is certainly committed. We are very committed to this agenda.
Thank you, colleagues.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Order. I think this appertains to the exchanges we have just had and relates to a ministerial answer. If the Secretary of State would be kind enough to wait a moment to hear it, we would be grateful.
I seek your advice, Mr Speaker, on something that is very important to my constituents. In my question earlier, I asked about pain infusions and highlighted a letter from consultants saying that the withdrawal of such treatment would increase the risk of mortality. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), had previously agreed by email to meet me and said that he would answer my question today, if I was called to speak, yet a different Minister answered my question and there was no promise to meet. My office called the Department of Health and Social Care and was told that my case was labelled as “no further action”. What steps are available to me, Mr Speaker, to ensure that the Minister sticks to his word and agrees to meet me?
I think that the explanation of the situation is innocent and that I can probably reassure the hon. Lady. She came in on a question that was being answered by another Minister. On the whole, it is deprecated if Ministers play musical chairs in answer to the same question, even when supplementaries come. It tends to be expected that one Minister will deal with, to put it bluntly or in the vernacular, the whole caboodle. I think that was why the hon. Lady lost out. However, I just asked the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), who is a very agreeable fellow, whether he stood by his commitment to meet, and he gave a nod of assent. He is very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the matter. They may or may not end up agreeing, but of one thing she can rest assured: there is no conspiracy to exclude her. I hope that the hon. Lady will now go about her business with an additional glint in her eye and spring in her step, confident in the knowledge that she shall shortly meet the hon. Member for Winchester.
Public Service Delivery: Northamptonshire
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government what are the implications for public service delivery in Northamptonshire of the issuance by Northamptonshire County Council of a section 114 notice.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question on a topic that he and his Northamptonshire parliamentary colleagues have consistently raised on behalf of their constituents.
As Members will be aware, on Friday 2 February, Northamptonshire County Council’s finance director issued a section 114 notice to stop new spending and put in place a process for the council to meet within a specified time to consider the financial situation. It is important to note that a section 114 notice does not automatically mean that existing services will stop. Northamptonshire’s finance director has confirmed that statutory services to safeguard vulnerable people will continue to be delivered and that council staff will continue to be paid.
Local authorities have a legal duty to balance their budget, and section 114 notices are part of the accountability framework that guards against irresponsible financial management. It is for the council to decide what steps it needs to take to balance its budget. I understand that the full council will meet on 22 February to consider the situation.
Local government is, of course, independent of central Government, but, that said, the Government have been aware of concerns about Northamptonshire County Council’s finances and governance for some time, which was why the Secretary of State appointed an inspector to undertake an independent best-value inspection on 9 January. That independent inspection is due to report on 16 March, and as the Secretary of State made clear in the written ministerial statement of 9 January, it would be inappropriate for the Government to comment while the inspection is under way, specifically to avoid prejudicing its outcome. The Government will address the wider issue of funding for local government in tomorrow’s debate on the local government finance settlement.
Issuing a section 114 notice is a serious step. I understand that this development will be causing some concern in my hon. Friend’s constituency and across the county. However, it is also a sign that the council is taking its responsibility seriously. The Secretary of State and I will take a keen interest in the steps that the council takes to resolve these matters and ensure that it continues to deliver for the communities that it serves.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. May I declare an interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council, and may I welcome other Northamptonshire MPs who are also in the Chamber to ask questions?
It gives me no pleasure to say that, with the issue of this section 114 notice, Northamptonshire County Council becomes the worst-run local authority in the country. There are undoubtedly huge pressures on the social care budget, which are exacerbated by Northamptonshire’s fast-growing elderly population. The Government’s fairer funding review is welcome, but will, I am afraid, come too late for Northamptonshire County Council. This whole situation has been exacerbated by poor leadership by the cabinet at the county council, in which all seven Northamptonshire MPs now have no confidence. We echo the concerns of September’s peer review by the Local Government Association, which concluded that financial information is not presented clearly and transparently and that there is not a sensible budget going forward.
What happens if the county council cannot set a legal budget at its meeting later this month? What will happen to services—statutory or otherwise—to do with adult social services, children’s services, schools and highways? The Government have sent in a best-value inspector, which is good, and he is due to report by 16 March. Can—or will—the Secretary of State request of him an urgent interim assessment with some preliminary findings, because I believe that the Government need to be informed?
What is the total debt of the county council? I understand that it owes more than £700 million. Does the section 114 notice have the implication that lending institutions might foreclose on their lending to the authority? Can the Minister assure me that Northamptonshire’s bad situation with delayed discharges from our two local hospitals will not be made worse by this section 114 notice? We have a 10% delayed discharge rate. On any one day, 100 people are waiting in the two hospitals. They have completed their treatment, but because Northamptonshire County Council is not getting them into care homes quickly enough, they are not leaving the hospitals. May I urge the inspector to look at the opaque accountancy in the local government shared services model at the county council, which is where a lot of the problems may lie?
Will the Government prevent the county council from selling its new, very recently opened Angel Square offices? While that could bring in £50 million, it could leave a 25-year rental liability for any successor authorities. Will the Minister make sure that the transfer of the fire service out of the county council to the police commissioner is not held up by the financial crisis at the county council? I do not want the fire service to go down with the local authority.
It is clear that Northamptonshire County Council is in a huge mess. We look to the Government inspector to report quickly, and, in the view of all seven Northamptonshire MPs, the sooner that Lords Commissioners are sent in to sort out this mess, the better.
I thank my hon. Friend for his questions. I know that this is something that he is thinking about deeply on behalf of his constituents. Let me take in turn the points that he raised. With regard to the fire service, he will hopefully be aware that the Home Office is considering that application and will make its decision in due course. On his points about the financial situation, he is right to say that there are a range of issues that were highlighted in both the independent audit reports and the LGA peer review, which, as he rightly pointed out, cited both culture and governance issues at the council.
On the process from here, Ministers do not have direct contact with the inspector—he is rightly independent—so it is not possible to direct him to report earlier. I would point out that the 16 March deadline means that this inspection will conclude in much less time than was allowed for the Tower Hamlets and Rotherham inspections, which, hopefully, should give my hon. Friend some comfort regarding a rapid resolution.
Finally, if the council meeting is not successful, the finance director has the option of issuing a further section 114 notice. However, it is important to note that he, as the statutory official, has the flexibility today and in the future to authorise any payments that he sees fit and for which there is a sensible case, including, as he has guaranteed, to safeguard vulnerable people. At the point at which the council is ready to make formal representations to my Department for anything that it might require, we stand ready to engage with it.
Mr Speaker, thank you for granting this urgent question. I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box; it is just a pity that it is not the Secretary of State.
There have been deeply troubling reports for a number of months that Northamptonshire County Council has been failing in its duty to the people of Northamptonshire and to the public sector workers who provide valuable services to local people. As has been mentioned, the Local Government Association conducted a financial peer review back in September. That report had three key findings. First, it found that time was
“running out for Northamptonshire County Council”.
Secondly, it stated that the council was
“heading towards major financial problems”,
and, thirdly, it said:
“There was a sense that the scale of the financial challenge for the Council was just too great for it to overcome itself and that the government would have to bail it out.”
Since then, we have had more reports that the council was failing in its duty to the people of Northamptonshire, and residents will now pay the price for its negligence.
The failure of this Tory-run council is the result of a perfect storm of chronic underfunding and catastrophic Tory mismanagement, yet when a Government have taken £5.8 billion out of local government finance, when everyone is saying that social care is on its knees and when children’s services need another £2 billion, not only does the Secretary of State not turn up to reply to an urgent question, but he sticks his head in the sand and fails to give local government the money it needs to provide safe, decent, quality services. This situation shows, yet again, that we cannot push the cost of local government on to council tax payers, because that just does not raise enough money locally. The Secretary of State knows that, the Minister knows that, the Treasury knows that and the local government sector knows that, so when will Ministers stand up to the Chancellor and demand the money that local government needs?
The Local Government Chronicle suggests that at least 10 other local authorities are preparing to issue section 114 notices. The sector will look very closely at how the Minister treats Northamptonshire, so what contingency arrangements does he have in place should other authorities fall over the cliff edge? What guarantees can he give from the Dispatch Box that services in Northamptonshire and across the country will be protected by his Department? Will he join Sally Keeble, Gareth Eales and Beth Miller—Labour’s candidates in Northamptonshire—in calling for the appointment of commissioners to fix this mess?
It was announced last night on Twitter that the Secretary of State was in the process of politically fixing the financial mess he has made for his Tory Back-Bench friends. Two years ago, the transitional grant scheme gave out an additional £3 million of funding, but 80% of that went to Conservative-controlled councils, 70% of which were county councils. By contrast, metropolitan districts got only an extra 2%, despite being the hardest hit. In the light of that, we will be watching the Minister and his Department very carefully, because all councils are financially stretched and all councils deserve fairness.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me—albeit lukewarmly—to the Dispatch Box. He talks about the Secretary of State, but it is this Secretary of State who has taken action with regard to Northamptonshire. It was this Secretary of State who, in response to the negative opinions of the external auditors and the LGA peer review, decided to commission an independent inspection at the end of last year. That is exactly what responsible government looks like, and the Secretary of State should be commended for taking swift action.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to prejudge the outcome of the inspection, but it would be absolutely inappropriate and unfair to the council for me to do so. When the Government receive the results of the independent inspection, we will of course carefully consider its findings, but it would be wrong to draw conclusions about those findings today, as he suggests we do.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned finances. We will, of course, be discussing finances tomorrow. This Government have backed local authorities with an historic four-year funding deal that provides more than £200 billion and a real-terms increase in spending for next year and the year after. Everything is always about money for the Labour party, but the hon. Gentleman would do well to listen to the words of the chief executive officer of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, who said:
“Whilst Northamptonshire has had a difficult context within which to balance its budget…other councils in a similar situation have successfully managed their budgets”.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) pointed out, the issue is one of governance and culture. Those are the points that were highlighted and that the inspector will be considering.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this very important urgent question. As he said, all seven Northamptonshire MPs have lost confidence in the leadership of the county council. There is no question that this is about money; it is about the governance of the county council. Its cabinet has to go, and it has to go now. The vast bulk of county councillors of all political parties on Northamptonshire County Council are impeccable, but there has been a clique running that cabinet, and that is the cause of the problem. If there had been a committee system, this could not have happened. I am not saying that a cabinet system does not work elsewhere, but we need to ensure that Northamptonshire County Council has a committee system in future. Does the Minister agree?
My hon. Friend makes some intelligent points, and I know that he has represented his constituents well on this issue. I am sure he will understand that I cannot comment on the particular governance arrangements that should be in place at Northamptonshire, but he is right to highlight that governance is important to the conduct of the authority. I am sure that the independent inspector will consider that during his deliberations.
Yesterday, the Communities and Local Government Committee was looking at business rates and local government finance, and we heard from witnesses from the LGA, CIPFA and the County Councils Network. When we asked whether any other councils were in a similar position to Northamptonshire, the answer we got was not this year, but that many councils are on a cliff edge. With the coming pressures on not just adult social care but children’s services, some councils could fall over that edge next year without additional resources. These comments were made by Conservatives as well as Labour representatives. Is the Minister aware of other councils that will be in this position next year? If so, what action is he going to take to prevent them from getting into that position?
My Department is in constant dialogue with individual councils and the LGA. It funds the LGA with £21 million to conduct peer reviews, so that we can build up a detailed picture of what is happening across local authorities. When there are issues in which we need to be involved, we will of course be involved. We will keep the situation under review.
I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and an author of other LGA peer reviews. As a former leader of Derbyshire County Council, I believe that local mismanagement has led to this situation, but I also believe that there are Northamptonshire and sector-wide fairer funding issues to be addressed. Prominent among the funding problems is the huge and growing cost of adult care. Will the Minister consider establishing a royal commission on health and social care, as well as making changes to the funding formula?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the importance of social care. It was in response to the pressure on social care budgets that this Government announced in last year’s spring Budget £2 billion of new funding for social care. We will be discussing that more broadly tomorrow. My hon. Friend is also right to highlight the importance of fair funding. The fair funding consultation opened in December, and I urge all councils to make submissions to the consultation, so that we can start to put in place a new funding formula for local government and ensure that it captures all the cost drivers that councils think are relevant.
I was in Northampton yesterday for an event celebrating 100 years since some women first got the vote. The Conservative county council’s appalling mismanagement of services and finances has left local residents deeply concerned. They want and deserve answers. So what specific guarantees can the Minister give that local services will be protected, particularly for children in need, the elderly, and vulnerable adults?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight constituents’ concerns. Of course they are concerned about what they are seeing. That is why I am glad to be able to reassure them that the statutory financial officer at Northamptonshire County Council has said that he will maintain all funding for statutory safeguarding of vulnerable children and adults, and that he has the flexibility to take any steps and approve any payment that he sees fit to deliver exactly that objective.
As ever, I could not have put it better than my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), not least because all seven Northamptonshire MPs were told by cabinet members before Christmas that Northamptonshire County Council would be able to balance its books. May I press my hon. Friend again on the point about the inspector being invited to make an interim recommendation? That would be very welcome because it would help to give some much-needed reassurance to my constituents.
I appreciate where my hon. Friend is coming from, but I have to remind him that the inspector is independent of the Government and does not communicate directly with Ministers during this process. He has been asked to report back by 16 March, which is a considerably shorter timeframe than previous inspections, and he has the option to report back as soon as he feels that he has been able to complete his work properly and objectively.
It is of course completely untrue that councils are independent. Most council funding comes from central Government, as we all know. Has the Minister considered the potential merit of creating new council tax bands, especially on high-value properties, as that would make council tax fairer and create extra revenue? Again, however, this is not a decision that councils can take unilaterally—it has to be taken by central Government.
That is not something I am actively considering, having only been in the job for a couple of weeks. On the hon. Lady’s broader point about council tax, the Government have increased the council tax referendum limit by 1% for the forthcoming years to allow councils to raise additional funds should they see fit.
Northamptonshire has very close links with Oxfordshire at a whole number of different local government levels. Can the Minister reassure me that this crisis in Northamptonshire will not affect the deals that Northamptonshire has with Oxfordshire and the people of Oxfordshire?
My hon. Friend, as a former councillor himself, will be very familiar with these issues. Obviously, the details of individual contracts will be a matter for the individual officer concerned, but nothing in the inspection process itself should change any of those contracts as of today.
The Minister boasts of a settlement given to local government. Northamptonshire’s accounts show that in the next five years it will owe £240 million to private finance initiative schemes, of which £77 million is interest alone, paid to shareholders. Does he therefore agree that it is time for a windfall tax on the excessive profits of these companies, so that we can put the money where it is needed—in our public services, not in the pockets of these legal loan sharks?
The hon. Lady talks about funding for Northamptonshire. Let me tell the House the numbers. Northamptonshire will be receiving a £30 million increase in core spending power for the forthcoming year. That represents an over-3% increase in its total budget, comparing favourably with the national average of 1.5%. On top of that, Northamptonshire will have access to its business rates retention, which on its current trajectory will include another £4 million of additional resources available.
Since 2010, there have been multiple requests from Liverpool’s leader and MPs inviting Ministers to come and look at our local authority finances. We have even sent train tickets to a previous Secretary of State that have gone to waste. Will the Minister now accept the request and come to see for himself the severe financial strain that Liverpool is experiencing, along with many other councils across the country?
In particular, Northamptonshire.
I would be delighted to visit Liverpool on the hon. Lady’s invitation. I was just being briefed by my officials on the good work that her council is doing on the troubled families programme, particularly with vulnerable children. I would be delighted to accept her invitation and meet people in Liverpool in due course.
Northamptonshire County Council has completely failed its citizens and its staff. Northamptonshire MPs have consistently voted for huge cuts to local government funding, and Ministers have refused to listen when Labour Members described the impacts of rising demand for services and even deeper cuts to our councils. When will the Minister listen and respond to the budget crisis facing all councils, including my own City of Nottingham Council?
The hon. Lady asks “When?” The answer is tomorrow, when we will be debating the local government finance settlement, where councils will see a real-terms increase in their core spending power this year. As I have said, Northamptonshire itself will be receiving at least a 3% increase in its core spending power next year.
The Minister did not answer the question from the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). How many local authorities is he talking to that have concerns about their funding next year?
It would be wholly inappropriate for me to give a running commentary on councils that we might have a conversation with. As I told the Chair of the Select Committee, my Department consistently monitors all councils and is in dialogue with all of them—as well as the LGA’s peer review process, which we fund—to ensure that we have a good, consistent picture across local government of what is happening on the ground.
On 19 December, I extracted a commitment from the Secretary of State, who is not in his place, that the transition grant was finished. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) said, that grant overwhelmingly went to better-off communities and those with Conservative administrations. Can the Minister assure me that in the light of the calls overnight, following the section 114 notice, for the transition grant to be reinstated, it will not be reinstated?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the written statement will be laid later today. We will be debating these issues tomorrow, and he will have the answers to all his questions then.
Women’s Suffrage Centenary
I ask you, Mr Speaker, and right hon. and hon. Members to look up—to look up and remember that before 1834, women could only watch proceedings in this House through a ventilation shaft right in the middle of the ceiling.
Not this ceiling!
Thank you. It is so useful to be corrected by helpful gentlemen here.
After this palace was rebuilt because of the great fire of 1834, things improved, but not much. There was now a Ladies Gallery above the Speaker’s Chair, but it was high up and there was a row of heavy grilles covering the glass. That was deliberate: it was there to stop the MPs from seeing the women because it was thought that they might distract them. In the Ladies Gallery, you could not see properly, you could not hear properly, and it was hot and uncomfortable. Leading suffragist Millicent Fawcett described the Ladies Gallery as
“a grand place for getting headaches”
and said that it was like wearing a giant pair of spectacles that were not designed properly because it was so difficult to see through the grilles. The grilles were both a physical and metaphorical symbol of women’s absolute exclusion from Parliament in the 19th century, so it was no surprise that they became a target during the suffragette movement, with women tying themselves to them in protest.
All around Parliament, we can see the marks of the long and arduous struggle for women to win the right to vote and to be heard in Parliament. There is the plate in the crypt chapel that marks the place where suffragette Emily Wilding Davison hid on census night; there is the damaged statue of Viscount Falkland—damaged because a suffragette handcuffed herself to it and was forcibly removed; and the hated grilles are still preserved in Central Lobby.
The fight for women to have a voice and a vote was long and hard, both inside and outside Parliament. Suffragettes were brutally force-fed with tubes: a process so painful that it could cause lifelong injuries and make even the prison wardens cry in horror. Those who dared march in favour of women’s rights were pelted with rotting vegetables, dead rats, rocks and cowpats.
But the struggle was worth it, because on this day 100 years ago an important law was passed that changed the UK forever. On this day a century ago, the Representation of the People Act was passed in Parliament, allowing some women—those over the age of 30, with property—to vote for the very first time. In fact, it was the Home Secretary at the time, Sir George Cave, who was the main sponsor of the Representation of the People Bill, which became the famous 1918 Act. It was also the Home Secretary who moved the crucial clause, clause 4, on franchises for women.
Although women did not get full voting rights until 1928, when a Conservative Government passed the Equal Franchise Act, what happened in 1918 was a major step in the right direction. That February vote paved the way for women to make huge strides forward in politics and in many other spheres of life. That is why it is so important that the determination of the women who fought for our democratic rights is never forgotten.
To help do that, the Government are celebrating this milestone with a special £5 million fund. In November, we announced that £1.2 million of that money is going directly to seven centenary cities and towns in England with a strong suffrage history. Bolton, Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, London, Manchester and Nottingham will use that money to strengthen the reach and legacy of the centenary and help inspire a new generation with this story. Leicester unveiled the statue of its local suffragette hero, Alice Hawkins, on Sunday.
In December, we opened the small grant scheme so that local groups could bid for money to pay for local events to celebrate the anniversary. Today, I am pleased to announce that the large grant scheme is now open, so that local community groups can bid for even bigger projects worth up to £125,000. The rest of the £5 million fund will be used to pay for activities to raise awareness of the importance of democracy for young people, as well as to erect a statue of leading suffragist Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. Money will also go to projects specifically designed to increase the number of women in political office, including piloting a programme to inspire young women with opportunities to be leaders in their communities.
The centenary is also a great opportunity to take stock and celebrate all that we have achieved as women. I am proud to be part of the most diverse House of Commons in British history. We have our second female Prime Minister. A third of those attending Cabinet are women, and we have the highest ever number of female MPs. Outside politics, we have seen so much progress since 1918. More women are in a more diverse range of jobs than ever before and are increasingly at the top of their fields.
But let us not fool ourselves that true equality is a done deal. It is something we must all continue to work for. We know that women still face barriers. The gender pay gap and sexual harassment must be addressed. Women are still more likely to take on the bulk of childcare responsibilities. Only 4% of chief executives of FTSE companies are women, and I am certain that we are more likely to be sitting next to a man than a woman on these Benches—perhaps not during this statement, but generally.
Those of us who have our place here face vile sexist abuse. We have seen a concerted effort both online and offline to destroy the confidence of women who want to be involved in political life. Just last week, we learnt that the Labour leader of Haringey Council had quit over what she called “bullying” and “sexism” by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) receives endless horrible abuse. In fact, she has disgracefully received over half of all the online abuse sent to female politicians. As she has said, it is the sheer volume of hatred that makes it so debilitating, so corrosive and so upsetting. In my constituency of Hastings and Rye, I am often asked by people who come up to me, “How can you bear it—the hate?” I bear it, like other women in this Chamber do, because I know that female voices matter in politics and in life.
But we should not have to bear it. We need to call this sort of behaviour out and make it clear that enough is enough. I know, like the suffragettes and suffragists did, that this House is for everybody, and I hope we can welcome even more women here in the future. I commend this statement to the House.
I would like to thank the Minister for sight of her statement. Unfortunately, I have not really had time to read it as it was given to me so late—not very sisterly, but never mind.
I was hoping that the Minister was going to make an announcement today that the Government were going to issue an official apology to the women of the suffragette movement or maybe a pardon for those who were wrongly imprisoned and sexually assaulted in their battle to get women the vote. Instead, all we have is another announcement—how utterly disappointing.
The Minister is right: 2018 marks the landmark centenary of when some women received the right to vote. That was also the day when men, wanting to cement their authority and majority, decided to give working-class men the vote, so the men in my office are also celebrating today. Working-class women, socialists, trade unionists and black, Asian and minority ethnic women were still denied a voice.
Labour is the party of equality, with a proud record of advancing women’s rights. We are so proud of our achievements and ashamed of the Tory party’s determination to undo and remove safeguards for women. [Hon. Members: “What?”] Let me explain. Section 40 of the Equality Act 2010 had a safeguard for women and employees who might be sexually harassed or abused by third parties, as we saw in the Presidents Club, but unfortunately the coalition Government removed that section in 2013. I hope the Government will reinstate it. Almost every piece of legislation that has improved the lives of women has been introduced by a Labour Government.
That is not true.
I am afraid it is true. I do not want to get into, “Our one’s bigger than your one,” but Labour has more female MPs than all the political parties put together. This Government talk about their commitment to equality, but in reality, the only thing they are committed to is making announcements without action.
It is true that the entire process of the grants has been shambolic. The Government announced a women’s centenary fund. They took nine months to officially launch it and gave women’s groups just four days to submit an online application for funding if they wanted to be in time to celebrate today’s date. The Government talk about their commitment to equality, but as I said, they are just making another announcement.
This was supposed to be a momentous opportunity for the country to come together and celebrate the achievements made over the last 100 years of some women gaining the vote, but instead, the Government have outsourced yet another contract that has fallen woefully short of achieving its intended purpose. Labour will be pressing the Government for answers on the allocation of these funds. I am glad that the Minister gave some details today about where the funds have gone, but only 4% of them have been allocated.
This year must be the year that women’s voices are fully heard in politics. This year, the Labour party will be celebrating the centenary for the whole year. I am really pleased that the House authorities have named the exhibition in the Houses of Parliament after me—“New Dawn”—so my name will live forever in this place.
I urge—[Interruption.] I urge the Minister and all the Members heckling me from a sedentary position to take a moment on this day and in this year, marking the centenary and the 10 years until all women received the right to vote, to take a moment to think about the Government’s policies and the damage they are doing to women, with 86% of the cuts falling on the shoulders of women. Please take a moment to think about the structural barriers and the privilege that we have to undo. Please take that moment in this year.
May I start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for the work that has been done throughout Parliament on the Vote 100 celebrations?
I know that this is something that involves everybody, and I must say I am slightly disappointed at the tone of the hon. Lady’s approach. I think it is great to see so many women active in Parliament, and I wish she could perhaps be a little bit more celebratory about that today. In fact, this Government are committed to making sure that we deliver for women, such as the highest level of employment for women and the tax cuts to the personal allowance, which have been so helpful to women.
Instead of making a great list, I just want to challenge the hon. Lady on one element of my statement that she did not engage with, but which I think was the most important element: what are we going to do about stopping the hate towards women? If we want more women to enter politics—we want more women councillors, more women MPs—we must take action to stop the level of hate coming at women. A lot of it comes from Momentum. We have seen that—[Interruption.] I am not saying that it only comes to Conservatives. I say to the hon. Lady that I know it comes to Labour MPs as much as it does to Conservative MPs. Momentum is not selective in who it abuses.
It is incredibly important that we all call this out. If we listened to Claire Kober’s comments over the weekend, she was explicit about where the abuse had come from and about the sexism that had come to her. It is incredibly important that we work together on this to make sure that it does not happen. Today, let us look ahead to this year of celebrations and to all the work we can do to encourage more women to come forward and not be put off by the hate directed to them.
It is a privilege to have served in this House for nearly 26 years now. Every day, as I take my seat on this Bench, I look across at the memorial to Jo Cox on the other side of the Chamber, and I remember that there is a huge capacity in this House to work cross-party and to bring about positive change, which we all want to do. I am therefore very pleased that the Minister has come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement on such an auspicious day, particularly to pay tribute to the people who gave us the equal suffrage that we now enjoy.
As we take stock, however, we must not forget that women are still under-represented in this place and in other fields—such as science and engineering, and the top levels of business—and that women still do not get equal pay for equal work. Much of the stereotyping of male and female roles begins in the classroom. What message will my right hon. Friend send to teachers today to ensure real equality of opportunity and aspiration for all our students in the future, irrespective of gender?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments. She is herself such an inspiration for many women coming into Parliament, who can see her extraordinary achievements. In answer to her question, a pack is going to be made available for teachers in schools to build on the celebrations that we are having here and to make girls in schools aware of the changes that have taken place over the 100 years.
I also say to teachers in schools that I know they want what we want, which is more equality of opportunity for girls as they go into the workplace. One thing we need to be better at is encouraging more girls to go into STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths. At the moment, only 30% of STEM subjects at A-level are taken by women. We need to do better at that and encourage them to get more involved in STEM subjects, so that they have more opportunities in adult life.
I am very proud to be able to respond to the statement on behalf of my party, the Scottish National party, following in the footsteps of inspirational women such as Winnie Ewing, Margo MacDonald and our own First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. She has shown her commitment with a 50:50 gender-balanced Cabinet, and she has today made a commitment to encourage more women to come in behind us, as women in politics, with a £500,000 fund to encourage women into public life at all levels in Scotland, where they are so desperately needed.
In this House that man built, suffragists and suffragettes gave us our place. We have a voice, but we do not yet have equality. A woman called Carolyn in Glasgow reflected on Twitter today:
“No right will persist if it is not protected.”
We have a duty to protect the rights of women in the work we do.
I do not wish to be party political, but I would be doing a disservice to suffragettes who stood up for their causes, which were about more than just winning the vote for women, if I did not say that we still have a Government who pursue policies such as the rape clause and social security cuts that hit women’s budgets— 85% of the cuts have come out of women’s pockets—and that we have yet to see justice for the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaigners. We also have yet to see the work on the Istanbul convention begun by my colleague Eilidh Whiteford, the first SNP woman to get legislation passed in this place, brought fully into force.
Across the country today and in this building, children are learning about the work of the suffragettes, and primary 4/5 of St Albert’s Primary School are learning why women fought to get their rights. May I ask the Minister to encourage other schools right across the country to take up opportunities to learn more about that battle, including by going to organisations such as the Glasgow women’s library and the Mitchell library in Glasgow, which holds the mugshots of suffragettes arrested and jailed in Glasgow? Today, the suffragette flag is flying over the former Calton jail in Edinburgh, where women were held and force-fed.
We reflect today on how far we have come, yet we also reflect on how far we have to travel. I see many people in the suffragette colours, which are purple for dignity, white for purity and green for hope—and I am wearing green for hope.
I thank the hon. Lady for her response. We share a view about wanting to make sure that the history of the suffrage movement is well understood. The new generation of girls needs to understand why it was so hard-fought and why it is therefore so important for them to participate in the vote.
The hon. Lady asked specifically about the legislation we are bringing forward to do more to protect women. I gently say to her that the Government are very focused on making sure that we continue to do so both in the positive—making sure that we have a better approach to the gender pay gap—and in protecting women. That is why we are bringing forward this year a domestic abuse Bill, which will address the issue of the Istanbul convention.
It is right that we celebrate today, and most of us would want to recognise what we have achieved working together, often cross-party, to improve the lot of women in this country. I particularly want to pay tribute to all the people who have served on the Women and Equalities Committee for the incredible work we have done together to try to improve things for women in our country.
It is our role in the Commons to scrutinise laws and to make sure that we have a healthy democracy. Allowing women the right to stand for election to this place and giving them the vote gave us a healthier democracy 100 years ago, and we need to make sure we build on that in the future to have more women in this place and ensure a healthier democracy in years to come.
My right hon. Friend was right not to forget the abuse and intimidation that the suffragettes endured from their opposition 100 years ago. It is the sort of abuse that too many women who stand for public office still have to endure today. What can my right hon. Friend tell us about the work the Government will be doing to tackle the online abuse that is so clearly putting women off standing for election and, in doing so, to make sure that in the future we can have a 50:50 Parliament that properly represents this country?
I thank my right hon. Friend, who has done so much herself to promote the cause of equality in Parliament as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. I share her view that we need to do more to stop the online abuse that is really damaging the self-confidence of so many women and reducing the likelihood that they will get involved in politics.
One of the things we have announced is that we have asked the Law Commission to look at the legislation to ensure that what we constantly say here is actually the case—namely, that things that are illegal offline are also illegal online. Is that being taken forward, and is the legislation in place to deliver on that? We are going to make sure that that is the case, and if necessary we will come back to the Chamber with proposals.
Order. Thirty-five years, three months and nine days after the Peckham by-election, which sent her to this place, I call Harriet Harman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I commend the right hon. Lady for her assertion that although as women, inside and outside the House, we have made tremendous progress, we still have so much further to go?
May I also say that I fully support the Government’s move to ask the Law Commission to consider the case for making it an offence to threaten and abuse parliamentary candidates? This is about misogynists seeking to silence women who dare to speak out—it is particularly virulent against younger women and black women. Voters have the right to choose whoever they want, man or woman, to represent them, and once that representative is elected to Parliament it is their right and duty to be able to get on with the job without being subjected to intimidation, threats or violence. This is about our democracy, so I hope Members in all parts of the House will give it their full support.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her comments, and I am full of admiration for the work that she did in government to promote the role and the importance of women’s working lives. That goes absolutely to the core of the argument for wanting more women MPs and more women in government, because only then do we get government’s application to and attention on the improvements that need to take place. I thank her for her support in this area and I completely share her view—this is an attack on women; it is a sexist attack. We have seen an escalation of it over the past few years. It is not good enough for people to say, as some do, “You’re in politics. You must accept it.” We do not accept it. We will take action to stop it, and we will push for cultural change.
I think we all want to celebrate how important this day is. It is 100 years since women first got the vote. My message to any young woman or girl watching this is, “Go for it!” This is an amazing place to be able to speak up for your community, and we want a Parliament that is hugely diverse.
Does my right hon. Friend agree not only that we should pay huge tribute to wonderful organisations such as the Girl Guides, which play their role in inspiring a brand new generation of girls to get involved, but that there is work to be done, which we all need to do, in inspiring men and boys to become part of a campaign on gender equality in the next 100 years, when perhaps they did not play as much of a role during the past 100 years?
Yes, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I share her approach to encouraging young women to get involved. They should indeed go for it. And yes, third-party organisations such as the Girl Guides and the Scouts play an important role in giving women the confidence to be able to find their own voices. Of course, men play an important part as well in helping us change the law and helping change attitudes, so that the sort of abuse that women have received, often from men, becomes culturally unacceptable. We need their help for that.
Today, the Home Affairs Committee will take evidence from the Fawcett Society on how we tackle misogyny and hate crime today. Does the right hon. Lady agree that, given that we all stand on the shoulders of our mothers, our grandmothers and our great-grandmothers who fought for so many women to have their voices heard, the best tribute that we can pay to all those women who fought for us is to fight ourselves for women’s equality for our daughters and for our granddaughters in future, and to make sure that our sons and grandsons count themselves as feminists, too?
I agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. Lady. We must not sit back on our laurels and think that it has all been achieved. We need to keep on making the point and ensure, as she rightly says, that the next generation understands that and that equality matters to men as much as it matters to women.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement and answer her call that men should join the fight to secure women’s rights? May I ask her to do one small thing? I draw her attention to early-day motion 866, which has been signed by many right hon. and hon. Members, not least men from this side of the House. It asks the Government to implement section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, which would require political parties to publish the gender balance of their candidate lists. It might not be very conducive for this party to publish its lists, but that would encourage us to select more women as candidates to take their role in public life.
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. He, of course, has played an important role in encouraging women to get involved in Parliament. We are always grateful for the additional support of men, which is such an important part of this. I will take a careful look at what he suggests.
A hundred years on from the first women winning the chance to vote, power in our society is still predominantly and disproportionately in the hands of men. We are a long way from equal power. Government and legislation have an important role to play, but there is also a wider task for all of us to unpick the sexism and the gendered assumptions that are woven right through our culture. Does the Minister agree that the best way to honour the spirit of the suffragettes is for everyone, regardless of gender, to take action in their everyday life to promote gender equality?
I wholly agree with the hon. Lady. It is interesting where one can see sexism, which can surprise one. I sometimes go to meetings and find that there are not any women there. All of us should have a responsibility for calling that out and saying to people who might be hosting a meeting or chairing an event, “That’s not good enough. Where are the women?” Of course, that gives one an opportunity to step up and take a role, but most importantly, it makes sure that there are fewer all-male events. We need to call it out wherever we see it.
My young constituent Grace Tucker, aged 6, is in the Gallery today. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must all take responsibility for bringing on and inspiring the next generation?
I certainly do. We need to ensure that all girls and young women realise that they, too, have the opportunity to sit here and represent their constituency. What an honour it is when we get that opportunity.
May I join the Minister in calling out controlling and misogynistic language—trying to shout women down in public life? We must learn the lesson that the suffragettes taught all of us: it is deeds, not words, that we are here to give. Will she join those of us calling out the Sierra Leonean politicians using female genital mutilation as an election pledge and standing with the women whose voices can no longer be heard, such as Michelle Samaraweera, whose rapist and murderer still sits free in India despite the Government asking for his extradition eight years ago? Madeleine Albright told us that there was a special place in hell for women who do not help other women. Let us use our platform to speak for women who cannot yet speak out and show the difference it makes.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point, and I completely share her view. This Government, with cross-party support, have done much to ensure that we address female genital mutilation in this country and that, where we think girls are being taken abroad, the Border Force is trained to make sure that it looks after this issue. But there is no room to stop on that sort of action and I share her view. The idea of using female genital mutilation as an election pledge is just disgusting and disgraceful.
May I add my support to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) in urging the Minister to look at section 106 of the Equality Act? When the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) was taking the Act through the House, she drafted that clause in a cross-party manner; I worked with her when I was the shadow Minister. There is nothing in the clause that we should be afraid of. We have seen from the BBC that transparency and publishing information help to make change, and although we have made progress on this side of the House, we know we can go further. I urge my right hon. Friend to look seriously at the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the point, which he makes so eloquently. I also congratulate him on his new role as co-chair of Women2Win. I know he will play an important part in ensuring that we get more women into Parliament. As I have said, I will certainly take a look at the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin).
Order. I should just note for colleagues that the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), when he was Government Chief Whip, responded favourably and quickly to a request from me and others to establish the Women and Equalities Committee. His role in that matter ought to be acknowledged and respected.
He’s a feminist.
I was honoured in Leicester on Sunday to help unveil the statue to the suffragette Alice Hawkins. Alice was a shoe factory worker who fought all her life for equality and liberty, including infamously digging up Leicester golf club with the message,
“No votes for women, no golf for men.”
On a more serious note, Alice knew, as we all know, that the fight for equality never ends. Does the Home Secretary agree that one of the next big battles is to ensure that the increasing number of women who care for elderly relatives are treated fairly in work and get the support they need, because this will happen to all of us as we live for longer? For those women to have equality, we need better support, better social care and more flexibility in the workplace.
The hon. Lady is right that the main carer for elderly people—often it is our parents—tends to be a woman, just as it does for children. One thing that we hope to achieve culturally, rather than through legislation, is to share that responsibility more equally. Certainly she is right that the Government need to give considerable support to the women who do so much of the caring.
Emily Davison was a child of Northumberland and is buried in Morpeth, 6 miles from where I live. The town is in full bunting celebration this week to remember her and her bravery in stepping out, because she felt she had no other way to be heard, to try to reach the King on Epsom racecourse, where she lost her life.
The challenge is that bravery is still required to stand as a female politician. Too many people say to me, “Gosh, you’re very brave to be in politics.” I do not feel brave. Mostly, I feel very loud and noisy: I have stuff to say, I want to say it and I have this extraordinary place in which to share my beliefs. Can the Home Secretary give us confidence that we will get the police force and the Crown Prosecution Service to work more effectively to protect us and all those who follow us in politics from attacks? I have received personal attacks that have not been followed up, whereas colleagues have found police forces in other parts of the country more effective.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I hope it is taken as a central theme of the message I am putting out today that we will do more to ensure that women who participate in elections are protected. The Law Commission is reviewing whether there is a parity of approach to offline and online offences, as we believe should be the case. If an additional piece of law is needed to ensure that electoral candidates get additional protection, we will put one in place. I will review what my hon. Friend has said to see if there is any additional help I can give her.
Even in this Brexit-free week, the Government have chosen to bring forward Bills about smart meters and space technology, while the gender-based violence legislation has been postponed time and again. A century ago, Parliament managed to cope with a world war and the women’s suffrage legislation at one and the same time. When will the Government stop procrastinating and deliver on their duty to improve women’s lives?
I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s criticism. We are bringing forward a domestic abuse Bill this year and will embark on a consultation shortly. We want to engage, as I have been doing, with stakeholders and Members of Parliament, including Opposition Members, to ensure that we include what really matters to them. Protecting women and their lives is central to what we do.
My youngest daughter recently asked her father, “Daddy, can men become Members of Parliament too?” but I suspect that she is a little bit unusual. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must use the opportunity of the centenary to encourage more women to stand for election and to overcome their fears of being in the public eye, because of the good they could do as an MP or a local councillor? In almost any elected role, one has the opportunity to give people a voice and make lives better.
I reassure my hon. Friend that as part of the celebrations this year, we are focused on encouraging more young women to get involved in politics and, potentially, to become Members of Parliament. The Cabinet Office has an education pack that it will be putting out to schools. As I said in my statement, we are also commissioning organisations to engage across the country with young women to make them aware of the opportunities they have to represent their constituency in this place.
There is nobody more partisan than I am, but today is no time to be partisan. It is a time to be proud that we are all lucky enough to be in this place on such an auspicious day, when we welcome and celebrate 100 years of women’s enfranchisement. When I first came here, there were only 60 women MPs and today we celebrate comprising nearly a third of all Members, but it is still not enough.
While we do not have the representation we want here, there is also an issue outside this place for the women who form 51% of the population: enforcement of the laws to protect them is very bad, particularly in the employment sphere. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to say how we can improve the enforcement of employment law to ensure that all women in every workplace up and down this country are properly protected?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising not only women in Parliament, which is central to what we are discussing today, but the additional subject of women outside Parliament and ensuring that they have the access to top jobs and the full opportunities that men have. The Taylor review contained many recommendations, the vast majority of which we are taking forward. We now have a director of labour market enforcement to co-ordinate the different groups and ensure that there is no abuse of the labour market. We will always take working lives very seriously to ensure that there is no breach of the legislation.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that Sussex is leading the way in having great women in politics, with our wonderful Home Secretary, our first female Muslim Minister who spoke at the Dispatch Box a few weeks ago, a female chief executive officer of East Sussex County Council, a female leader of West Sussex County Council and Katy Bourne, the Sussex police and crime commissioner. Does she agree that to replicate that success across the country, we need to work together across the parties not just to celebrate our achievements so far, but to make sure that we are doing more for women in politics?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. She is an extraordinary woman in her own right. Not only is she a Member of Parliament; she is one of those wonderful Macmillan night nurses that we all know so well. She is an extraordinary role model and I hope that her presence here will encourage other women to come forward.
I am pleased to see that the constituent of the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), the six-year-old Grace Tucker, has very sensibly promoted herself from the third row to the front row. That, I think, will be widely welcomed.
Just over 20 years ago when I was first elected to this place, I was only the 209th woman ever to be elected to the House of Commons. We have 208 women in this Parliament, so that is an advance, but we do not have 325. We have more to do. In that regard, will the Home Secretary commend the efforts of our trade unions, which spend their time enabling women to organise, improve their confidence and take part in public life, in a way that makes them much more likely to go on to seek to represent others in their communities in our councils and in this place?
Yes, I will. Any route that helps women to get involved is incredibly important. One does not have to agree with another woman to admire how she engages and succeeds in her role. I think, in particular, of Frances O’Grady.
Chelmsford was the birthplace of Anne Knight, who wrote the first ever pamphlet on women’s suffrage. I wonder what she would think of how easy it is today to publish our views online. I think that she would congratulate everyone who has spoken today about the need to be more careful about what we say on social media and online.
I am incredibly proud to be here after 100 years of women having the vote. The Government have designated this year the year of engineering, and next year is the 100th birthday of the Women’s Engineering Society. Do the Home Secretary and all the women here agree that the fusion of all those anniversaries presents an excellent opportunity to encourage more women into engineering, as well as politics, and for everyone to step up to that challenge?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need to make sure that more women get involved in engineering as part of widening their opportunities. While she is thinking of additional landmark anniversaries or celebrations, I point out that today is Safer Internet Day, which is a reminder of how important it is for positive things to be published and circulated online, and of how we have to be so vigilant to make sure that we are not put off coming into Parliament by the online negativity that sometimes takes place.
I am delighted that we are celebrating 100 years since some women first got the vote, but now is the time to go further and ensure that all votes count equally by introducing a fairer voting system. It is not an accident that every democracy with more than 40% women legislators uses some form of proportional representation. Does the Home Secretary agree that a fitting tribute to the suffragettes would be to replace our archaic and undemocratic electoral system with one that ensures that every vote genuinely counts equally?
I thank the hon. Lady, but I cannot share her view. We had a referendum on that not so long ago, and my view is that the public have had enough of referendums for now.
I make the very simple point that with one third of women and one third of men not voting at general elections, and two thirds of women and two thirds of men—perhaps more—not voting in local elections, the best and easiest way to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage is for everyone to go out and vote whenever an election is called.
My hon. Friend makes a characteristically logical point. We can all do more to champion the cause of voting when it comes around, and like most Members of Parliament, I am out there, up and down the streets in my constituency, encouraging people to do so.
It is my belief that every one of us women MPs was encouraged by other women who wanted us to make this place look and feel more like the world we live in. I was particularly encouraged by my grandmother, Florence Parker, a stalwart of the Co-operative Women’s Guild, who campaigned so hard for women’s suffrage. I thank the Home Secretary for mentioning Bristol’s role in the suffrage campaign. Will she join me in congratulating the Co-operative Women’s Guild on its role in achieving women’s suffrage?
Yes, I am delighted to join the hon. Lady in adding my congratulations to the Co-operative Women’s Guild.
One hundred years on from gaining the vote, too many girls and women still have to struggle too hard to reach their potential and for equality. What the change showed 100 years ago is that sometimes the law is required for real equality. Will the Minister follow the example of Iceland and make it illegal to pay men more than women?
Under the Equal Pay Act 1970, it is illegal to pay men more than women for the same work. We are focused now on making sure that we make more progress on the gender pay gap, which is why we have introduced legislation requiring all companies with more 250 employees to publish their gender gap by 4 April. After that, we will work with them to make sure that they take action to close it.
I am proud to be one of those making what the Home Secretary described as the most diverse Parliament ever. I am not only one of the one third who are women, but one of the 7.8% who are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. My maternal grandmother was illiterate; her passport had a thumbprint in it because she could not write her own name. Does the Home Secretary agree that on a day like today, it is not enough simply to pat ourselves on the back? We could do better not only on women, but on BME, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, disability, and all those things—some people may even inhabit more than one of those categories at once.
Yes, I agree with the hon. Lady. We can talk today, as we should, about making sure that we encourage more women into Parliament and ensuring that there is more opportunity for women, but there is a wider issue of equality. I hope that thinking about women in this way today will encourage us all to think about it more diversely as well.
It is a delight to be able to celebrate the 100 years today, but would it not be a terrible mistake if we showed any sense of complacency? After all, so often in the history of these matters, we took one step forward and two steps back. In 1739, women could vote for sextons and local government officials. In 1843, Grace Brown—she was a butcher in Lichfield, by the way—and 30 women voted in an election. In 1867, Lily Maxwell voted in a parliamentary by-election, but then in 1871, the men said, “No, you can’t vote anymore,” and expressly refused to allow them the vote, until it came in properly in the 20th century. Do we not need to make sure that every single man in Parliament is a proper honorary sister?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is such an outstanding advocate for equality. That was a great history lesson on the forwards and backwards of women’s rights. I wholly agree with the central principle of his point. This is no time for complacency. I particularly feel—I sense that the rest of right hon. and hon. Members here share this feeling—that we all need to do more to stop the attacks on women who stand for election; and yes, we need the men in this Parliament to stand beside us and call it out.
I am sorry that I was a little late, Mr Speaker, but I had something else that I could not avoid. However, I am so delighted to be able to celebrate this centenary. As some may know, men also played a major part in ensuring that the vote was given to women. In the late 1860s, Jacob Bright, with Richard Pankhurst, brought forward the first Bill to give women total female suffrage, and I believe that that tradition can be continued. For example, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) for her help in getting my Bill, which is now the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014, through to protect women. We men are behind everything that you have said.
I was not intending to draw attention to the fact that the hon. Gentleman was three quarters of an hour late, but unfortunately, he has done so for me.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. He brought forward that Bill on gender equality internationally. It was a very important Bill internationally for helping women, and he is right: we need men to participate to ensure that we not only protect women’s rights, but make progress with them.
An exceptional occasion can allow for exceptional measures.
I echo the many calls to encourage more women to enter politics. Until we have council chambers and a Parliament that truly reflect the rich diversity of British society, including gender balance, we will be doing a disservice to the next generation. Will the Home Secretary join me in commending the excellent work of the Labour Women’s Network and the Fabian Women’s Network, whose sisterly support, training and mentoring schemes have led, and are leading, to many women entering public life?
It is interesting that we have cross-party initiatives to encourage women and also ones in our own parties. We have Women2Win and, as the hon. Lady said, Labour has the Labour Women’s Network. Of course, I commend them and encourage them; we need more women on both sides.
With no working Northern Ireland Assembly, we have no outlet for celebrations for this great event. Would the Minister undertake to contact the permanent secretary in the Department for Communities of the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that Northern Ireland has a part to play in this wonderful and incredibly important celebration?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that to my attention. I will certainly take up his proposal and ensure that there is an appropriate celebration this year in Northern Ireland as well.
I welcome the funding that Nottingham has received for its centenary city celebrations. People may learn not only about Edith Annie Lees and Helen Watts, but about the Nottingham suffragettes who burned down the men-only Nottingham boat club in 1913—there is obviously a bit of an east midlands theme. They may be astonished that the club did not accept women into membership for another 57 years. As the Home Secretary acknowledged, it is some 48 years since the House passed the Equal Pay Act, and yet women still face a gender pay gap of more than 18%. When does she think that we will eliminate it?
Gosh, it has been an interesting day of stories, what with boat clubs and golf clubs and the militant march of women. I hope that that will happen soon. That is why we are taking action on the gender pay gap and insisting that companies report by April this year. In my conversations with companies that are putting reporting in place, it is clear that they are surprised at the revelation of a gender pay gap and they are then proposing action. In one example, after a company discovered that many more men than women were in higher-paid jobs, it put in place training programmes. Those concrete actions will help to eradicate the gender pay gap.
I thank the Minister for her statement about the grant programme to celebrate women’s suffrage. Will she confirm that the programme will celebrate the sacrifices of the suffragettes and the work of the thousands of women and men across the country who campaigned painstakingly for decades for women to be given the vote? Will she also confirm that the scheme will look not only backwards to celebrate but forward at the work that still needs to be done and which many Members have mentioned today?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that this funding and these projects must be about looking forward. We want to celebrate the past and the achievements to date, but we also want to keep up the pressure and the change and to work with the new generation to ensure that they have the opportunities to come forward. The purpose of these grants is to encourage local organisations to bid, so that they can make such proposals. I hope that organisations from Brentford and Isleworth will do just that.
Today is a very important day. It is right that we celebrate. I think particularly of my daughter and of what society her generation will inherit—will theirs finally be the generation that sees equality across all areas of public life? To assist with that, when my daughter and other young women visit Parliament, I want them to see more female role models immortalised in this place. I think particularly of Winnie Ewing and my late friend Margo MacDonald. Will the Minister work with the Vote 100 campaign and the House authorities, through you, Mr Speaker, to ensure that that enduring inequality in this place is finally ended?
Yes. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is delightful to hear that he took his daughter around to see the great opportunity and stature of this place. I hope it gave her some inspiration. He has put his finger on it. It is all about ensuring equality for women, but there is still so much to do and I hope that he will support some of our plans this year.
I welcome the Minister’s statement about encouraging more women into Parliament and I am immensely proud to be here today representing my home seat 100 years after women first got the vote. Does she agree that sitting well beyond 10 pm, as we did numerous times in December, is hardly family friendly and hardly encourages women to enter Parliament? Does she further agree that a lot more still needs to be done, including introducing baby leave, as proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), to make this place more welcoming and open to future female MPs?
I agree in principle with the hon. Lady. This House has come a long way, as Members who have been here a lot longer than me would point out. There are occasionally longer sittings, but I think that they are pretty unpopular with many Members of Parliament. I urge the Chief Whip and shadow Chief Whip to engage in more constructive discussions. It takes both parties to agree not to sit past 10 pm.
We obviously need more women to be elected to this House, but may I draw the Minister’s attention to local government? In the not-too-distant past, only males were elected to some local councils. When young female councillors are elected, the problem is not so much the abuse they might get during the election process, but the treatment they receive from council officers: they are spoken down to, mainly by male officers; told they do not know what they are doing when they are elected; often are not offered appropriate training; and often either leave office early or do not seek re-election—all because of the treatment they receive inside local government.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Council election is often the first step women take before becoming a parliamentary candidate. The number of women in local government is shockingly low. We all need to do more to ensure that we find women in our constituencies willing to stand for the local council. The example he describes is very unsatisfactory. We need to be vigilant to make sure that women who do take the step are not talked down to.
I am proud to be Croydon’s first female MP and I have been learning this week about the suffragette Dorinda Neligan, who, as well as being arrested outside this place, was the first headteacher of an all-girls school in Croydon, despite complaints about strong-minded women encouraging girls to be dissatisfied with life at home. I am proud to be surrounded by many strong-minded women today. What can the Government do to promote more strong women in our school curriculum, from English literature to history, where we remain woefully under-represented?
The hon. Lady has highlighted the issue of girls in schools and the need to be vigilant to make sure that there is no sexism at that level. Women who have written great works or are great historians need to be ably represented in school. I suggest that her question is more specifically for the Department for Education, but I will certainly have a word with the Secretary of State to ensure that that is the case.
I thank the Minister for her statement. Will she join me in paying tribute to the group of women in Durham who this year are not only helping to organise the Durham miners’ gala but are reinstating the women’s gala on 30 June to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage?
I am delighted to join the hon. Lady in commending those women and welcoming their participation. Participation in public life can start with some small civic act and lead, as it did for many women here, to becoming a councillor and then a Member of Parliament. That first stage of activism in civic life is so important in encouraging women eventually into Parliament.
Chesterfield is very proud today of Winifred Jones, a suffragette who was jailed twice during the suffragette struggle. I am sure that Winifred would be delighted to know that Chesterfield Borough Council now has a woman leader and a woman deputy leader and that the chair, the secretary and the treasurer of Chesterfield Labour party are all women. The Minister is absolutely right that this is no time for partisanship, so it was disappointing that she reflected purely on the misogynistic abuse from the left. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) faced appalling abuse from people on the right. Would it not be best today to recognise that across the political spectrum there are people who engage in misogynistic abuse and that we all have to work collectively to get rid of them from our political discourse?