House of Commons
Wednesday 7 February 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Cross-border Trade
1. What recent discussions she has had with the Irish Government on cross-border trade after the UK leaves the EU. 
2. What recent discussions she has had with the Irish Government on cross-border trade after the UK leaves the EU. 
I have regular conversations with the Irish Government on a range of issues. We both recognise the importance of the trade that takes place across the island of Ireland, which is worth some £4 billion to the Northern Ireland economy. Equally, though, we must not forget the importance of the GB markets to Northern Ireland, where sales are worth some £14.6 billion. We are committed to protecting both these vital markets.
Scottish Government analysis has shown that a no-deal scenario could cost Scotland up to 8.5% of its GDP. Government analysis suggests that Northern Ireland could be cost up to 12% of its GDP. Does she believe any analysis she has seen, and is this too high a price to pay to keep a Tory civil war from breaking out?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has dealt with the issues concerning the leaked report. It is important to state that the UK Government want to achieve a good deal for the whole United Kingdom that protects the economic integrity of the United Kingdom.
If this Government are so determined to take us out of the customs union and the single market, how do they see us avoiding a hard border on the island without having a hard border in the Irish sea?
The United Kingdom Government have been clear that we do not want to see a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The Irish Government have said the same, as has the European Commission. I think it is clear that we will make sure there is no hard border.
The voice of Wales and Scotland is being heard loud and clear in the current Brexit negotiations. That of Northern Ireland most certainly is not, because of the impasse. In answer to Questions 4 and 5, the Secretary of State will no doubt say that the solution is the restoration of the Executive, but if the Executive is not restored, what will she do to make sure the voice of Northern Ireland is heard in the current negotiations in Brussels?
I thank my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. He will know that I have been working extraordinarily hard over the last few weeks on talks, and I will address those matters when I answer Questions 4, 5 and others. The important point is that for Northern Ireland’s voice to be heard in the way the Scottish and Welsh voices are heard, we need a devolved Government in Stormont. That is what we are working towards.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her place and the fact that she is in discussions with the Irish Government. In her discussions, has she reflected with the Irish Government on what would happen to cross-border trade if one part of these islands that was in the common travel area joined Schengen, as the Scottish National party keeps arguing for? That would see a border not just in the Irish sea but across this island.
We are clear that the economic and constitutional unity of the United Kingdom is fundamental to all we are doing, and we are determined to ensure that the UK single market—the most important single market to Scotland and to Northern Ireland—is retained.
Bearing in mind that the United Kingdom is Ireland’s largest trading partner and that 30% of all employment in Ireland is in sectors that are heavily related to UK exports, will the Secretary of State outline what discussions have taken place to ensure that this mutually beneficial partnership continues unhindered by the petty point scoring, statement making, headline grabbing whims of EU leadership?
The hon. Gentleman puts his point more eloquently than I could ever dream of.
Given that the Irish Republic would lose out most if there was not a good deal with the European Union, is the Secretary of State making it clear to all the Irish Ministers she is meeting that they have a role to play with the European Union and that they should be standing up for their country’s attitudes and making sure we get a good deal, which is to their benefit?
The reality is that a good deal is a win-win for everybody—not just Ireland but all the EU27 member states. Not having that is a lose-lose; nobody benefits from not having a good deal.
The Prime Minister has been clear that there will be no continuing customs union between the UK and the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree that that means a divergence of regulations between Ireland and Northern Ireland and that paragraph 49 of December’s agreement must be activated? In that case, will she tell us what
“specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland”
she is proposing?
The hon. Lady makes the point that there are unique circumstances in Northern Ireland—unique anywhere across the whole of Europe—and those unique circumstances have to be reflected. The UK Government’s intention is to resolve the matter of north-south trade—and east-west trade—through the overall UK-EU agreement, but we are absolutely determined to make sure that we respect the integrity of the north-south border and that we respect the agreements that were made in Belfast nearly 20 years ago.
May I welcome the glistening new team to the Front Bench? I am sure the whole House agrees with me in saying how pleased we are—we are absolutely delighted—that the Secretary of State’s predecessor is recovering so well from his surgery. May I particularly welcome the Parliamentary Under-Secretary? He is the eighth Minister that I have had the privilege of shadowing; I do not know whether this attrition is anything to do with my personal behaviour, but I plead not guilty.
Now that the new team have had a chance to find their way around, particularly on the border, and they have studied the issue of the electronic border, do they believe that such a frontier is feasible or is it just a fantasy?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm words. I too pay tribute to my predecessor, who I am pleased to say is recovering well at home. I know the whole House wishes him well, wishes him a speedy recovery and looks forward to welcoming him back to this Chamber.
The hon. Gentleman refers to the matter of the border. We are determined that there will be no new physical infrastructure at the border, and we will maintain things such as the common travel area, which has been in existence since well before the EU.
3. What steps are being taken to increase the number of apprenticeships in Northern Ireland. 
I too thank the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) for his kind words of welcome. He and I have worked together on a number of issues, but this is the first time we have met across the Dispatch Boxes, and I look forward to constructive engagement with him and his team.
On my hon. Friend’s question, this Government are committed to reaching our pledge of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. Through our industrial strategy, we are committed to helping young people across the country to develop the skills they need for the future. My hon. Friend will appreciate, however, that delivering apprenticeships in Northern Ireland is a devolved matter. As such, that is another reason why we need to see a restored Executive up and running.
Employers in Northern Ireland recently told members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that while there is no Northern Ireland Executive in place they are having to pay the apprenticeship levy but have no access to the funds to take on apprentices, because without an Executive the block grant is not being distributed. The apprenticeship levy in Northern Ireland is turning into a stealth tax for businesses. Does the Minister agree that this is another reason why we urgently need a Northern Ireland Executive in place?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and gives an excellent example of why it is so important that we have a devolved Assembly up and running again. Important decisions, such as the one she mentioned, need to be taken, and that is why we need the Assembly up and running as soon as possible.
It is worrying that we hear of the loss of apprenticeships, and yesterday we had an announcement that Williams Industrial Services in my constituency has actually gone into administration. What help will the Minister give us to ensure that we retain manufacturing and the apprenticeships there?
May I say at the outset that I am very sorry to hear about the position of the company in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency? I very much hope that the employers will follow all the legal processes by way of consultation and everything else that needs doing as far as the employees are concerned.
On the promotion of more jobs, it is clearly important that the devolved Assembly is up and running because it has a critical role to play. In the absence of such a devolved Assembly, however, I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are doing all we can. Indeed, only recently we met Invest NI with a view to seeing what is happening in Northern Ireland and what we can do to help.
One of the best apprenticeships programmes is run by Bombardier. Does the Minister agree it is fantastic news for those apprentices that the complaint against Bombardier has been soundly rejected?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments. It is very welcome news that the United States International Trade Commission unanimously agreed with Bombardier, and we very much look forward to working with Bombardier, which plays such a critical role in the UK economy, particularly in Northern Ireland.
4. What progress has been made in talks on the restoration of devolved government. 
5. What steps her Department is taking to facilitate the restoration of devolved government. 
9. What progress has been made on restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland. 
13. What progress has been made on the restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland. 
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the talks, so I ask for your forbearance while I give an answer that is slightly longer than usual. Over the past weeks, the political parties—particularly the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin—have engaged in discussions on the key issues that remain to be resolved. They have done so with the continuous support of the UK Government and, in accordance with the three-strand approach, the Irish Government. Those discussions have built on the progress that was made in previous talks to reduce further the gaps between them. An accommodation between the parties has not yet been reached, but there is no doubt as to their collective commitment towards the restoration of devolution. I firmly believe that an agreement in the coming days, while not certain, is achievable. That remains my focus.
In welcoming the Secretary of State to her new post, may I gently say to her that she should have been making a statement on this today? Every party in Northern Ireland says that it wants a deal, but significant gaps remain. Can she outline what those gaps actually are, and what she is doing to try to resolve them and bring people together?
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman, who is greatly distinguished in this area and knows Northern Ireland politics well, that we are at a very sensitive stage in discussions. I have been committed to making no running commentary on the talks while they are ongoing. There have been very intense and detailed discussions. I believe that we can reach an outcome, but I will do nothing that might jeopardise that.
Will the Secretary of State set a deadline for the talks so that the people of Northern Ireland know when they will have some government back, either in Northern Ireland or via direct rule from here?
I was clear at the outset that the talks would take weeks, not months. We have been in intensive discussions for two weeks now, and I hope to see the matter resolved as soon as possible.
Does the Secretary of State agree that in normal civil society a party that wins an election comes together and forms a Government, and parties that do not win an election and do not want to be in government go into opposition and hold that Government to account. Have we not now reached the stage in Northern Ireland where normal civil society ought to be operating?
I firmly agree that, after almost 12 months without devolved government, we absolutely need to have the Stormont institutions back up and running. The people of Northern Ireland voted for their politicians, and it is incumbent on those politicians to deliver. However, we respect the fact that this is a cross-party and cross-community resolution, as set out in the Belfast agreement. As I have said, I am determined to do everything possible to give this the best chance to succeed and to get devolved government back up and running, and I will do nothing to jeopardise that.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to ensuring that devolved government is restored as soon as possible. Does she agree that one of the stumbling blocks is that certain parties—namely, Sinn Féin—keep coming forward with new demands that were not part of the original aim of forming the Executive?
I apologise; I would very much like to give Members much more explicit and detailed answers, but that would simply not be appropriate at this stage. However, as before, I commit to returning to the House as and when I have something concrete to say on the matter.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State to her new post—and the Under-Secretary of State—and wish her well in her continued efforts to facilitate talks in Northern Ireland. She knows that we are not the stumbling block to the restoration of the Executive. In the meantime, will she give a clear commitment to the people of Northern Ireland, and to this House, that the budget for Northern Ireland will be set as soon as possible, given that the head of the civil service has said
“we cannot go much beyond the beginning of February without clarity about how much departments and various public bodies are going to have to spend next year”
because the lack of a budget is affecting services, including health and social care? The current position is intolerable. We need a budget and we need it now.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments—he and I have discussed this issue. He will know that my predecessor took action on the matter, and obviously I have had discussions with the civil service in Northern Ireland. I have met some very dedicated public servants who are doing their best to deliver, but in the absence of devolved government that is becoming increasingly difficult. That is why we need devolved government, and we need it quickly. I understand the point he makes. My predecessor took action on the matter and I am sure that he will be assured by that.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State, in so far as that goes, and I look forward to her bringing forward proposals, without prejudice to the ongoing negotiations, so that we do not have a situation in which Departments, people and services are suffering. Does she agree that the recent statement by Alex Maskey of Sinn Féin about Northern Ireland being a “putrid little statelet”, justifying IRA murder in order to bring about rights, shows the sheer disgrace, irony and hypocrisy of Sinn Féin preaching rights and equality by justifying murder and disrespecting the state of Northern Ireland? Does she agree that that sort of attitude must stop? If respect is to mean anything, it has to mean Sinn Féin showing respect towards Unionists and those who believe in the Union.
I think this shows that it is incumbent on everyone in public life to think very carefully about the words they use in public and the way they may be interpreted.
I too welcome the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary. I look forward to working with them and of course wish the Secretary of State’s predecessor a speedy recovery.
We understand that the Secretary of State will not want to give a running commentary on the talks, but there is enormous frustration in Northern Ireland after a year in limbo, with successive Secretaries of State telling us exactly the same thing. Can she at least confirm that one of the big sticking points in the talks is rights—not just language rights, but marriage equality rights? Can she tell us whether she will consider taking that issue off the table by legislating for equal marriage rights in Northern Ireland, which are enjoyed in Staffordshire?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. As I said, I do not wish to say anything at this stage—I know it is frustrating for all that I cannot say more, and I am frustrated too—but I will come to this House and make a full statement as and when I am able to. Equal marriage is clearly a devolved issue and quite rightly should be legislated for in Stormont. That is the right place for this legislation to be enacted, and I look forward to a devolved Government being in place that can do that. He will recall that when the matter was debated in this Chamber for our constituents in England and Wales, these Benches were entitled to a free vote and Members of Parliament voted in line with their conscience.
And the right hon. Lady will know that Northern Ireland did have a vote in the Assembly on this issue in November last year. It voted in favour of taking forward marriage equality for Northern Ireland, so she could show leadership on this issue and respect devolution, and potentially bring forward the prospect of devolution being resolved. Will she answer a very simple question that I think many people in Northern Ireland will want me to ask: what is she going to do differently in the weeks and months ahead to show leadership and break the deadlock?
The talks have resumed. They are detailed and intense. The parties are engaged and are working late into the night most nights to reach a resolution. I think that the politicians in Northern Ireland understand the frustration of the people of Northern Ireland and want to deliver for them, but there are differences that need to be overcome. I am doing everything I can to try to get a resolution so that accommodation can be found and devolved government can be restored.
I would like the Secretary of State just to take a few moments to explain to the House and the people in Northern Ireland the level of engagement with the smaller parties in Northern Ireland—the Alliance party, the Social Democratic and Labour party, and the Ulster Unionist party—in the recently resumed talks. I have had it reported to me that they had a cup of tea and a bit of a chat, and said, “Thank you and goodbye, see you on Thursday.” I cannot believe that that was the level of engagement, so would the Secretary of State give some reassurance about the level of engagement with smaller parties, please?
All parties have been included within the talks process since 24 January. I have met all the main party leaders on a number of occasions, including at the roundtable on Monday, and we are due to hold another one later this week. The hon. Lady will understand that unless the two big parties—the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Féin—can reach an agreement, we are not able to achieve devolved Government, so it is right that there is detailed, bilateral discussion between those two parties. Yesterday, for instance, I spoke to or met all the party leaders.
6. What discussions she has had with the Irish Government on maintaining a frictionless border on the island of Ireland. 
11. What assessment she has made of progress on maintaining a seamless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after the UK leaves the EU. 
We speak regularly with our counterparts in the Irish Government on a range of issues. In the joint report agreed with the EU at the December European Council, we reached an agreement that will maintain the common travel area. We also agreed that any future arrangements agreed between the UK and the EU must be compatible with the UK Government’s commitment to avoiding any physical infrastructure on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We will continue working closely with the Commission to agree a legally binding text for the commitments made in December.
If the Government are committed to regulatory alignment on both sides of the Irish border, has it made it easier that the Prime Minister has declared that there will be no membership of the customs union or single market?
Let us be absolutely clear: we have said we will be leaving the customs union and single market. We hope in phase 2 of the negotiations to secure the best possible trade deal with the EU, but we are committed to a frictionless border.
Does the Minister agree that once the UK leaves the EU we will have a duty to protect the rights of Irish citizens under UK law, through the common travel area, which predates Britain’s membership of the EU?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and is right that the reciprocal rights under the common travel area between the UK and Ireland predate either country’s membership of the EU. I can assure him that the joint report from last December contains a commitment to maintaining the common travel area arrangement.
A recently published European Parliament report has indicated that it will be possible to have a frictionless border after we leave the EU, but is the Minister not concerned about the friction in relations between the UK Government and the Irish Republic? Will he comment on the threat issued by the Irish Foreign Minister yesterday that he will block negotiations unless legislation is introduced to force the Northern Ireland Assembly to introduce EU regulations?
All the parties involved recognise that this is a difficult negotiation, but we are all committed to being flexible and coming up with innovative solutions. Our relationship with Ireland goes back centuries: trade, geography, history and so on. We have an excellent working relationship with Ireland. We hope to continue that relationship to secure the best solution possible to the issue of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Will the Minister confirm that whatever arrangements are needed to achieve a frictionless border between north and southern Ireland will apply to the whole UK?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are committed to the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK. That will stay as it is currently.
Leaving the EU: Transitional Arrangements
7. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on negotiating a transitional arrangement with the EU that benefits Northern Ireland after the UK leaves the EU. 
14. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on negotiating a transitional arrangement with the EU that benefits Northern Ireland after the UK leaves the EU. 
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has regular conversations with Cabinet colleagues on a range of EU exit issues, including on an implementation period. We recognise the importance of negotiating an implementation period that benefits the whole UK, including Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] We welcome the EU’s agreement to negotiate an implementation period. The precise terms should be agreed as quickly as possible to provide vital certainty to businesses and citizens. [Interruption.]
Order. It is most unfortunate that neither the Minister’s mellifluous tones nor the content of his answer could properly be heard because of the number of private conversations. I think he deserves a more attentive audience.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I grasped the word “negotiation” in there. Has the Secretary of State agreed a concession in those negotiations with the Brexit Secretary that will allow Northern Ireland to remain part of the single market and customs union, while the UK leaves, to avoid a hard border—yes or no?
I say again that the United Kingdom is committed to leaving the single market and customs union and to the integrity of the constitution and our economy.
I think that we are all a little confused about how the Government intend to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. The Minister’s Cabinet colleagues are falling over themselves to secure the maximum possible separation from the EU and the least possible realignment. Has he ruled out the idea of separate arrangements for Northern Ireland governing trade and commerce, or not?
Let me say again that the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom remains. We are in phase 2 of the negotiations, and these matters are currently being discussed. I am sure that all the parties—Ireland, the United Kingdom and the European Union—recognise the difficulty of the issue and will be as flexible and innovative as possible.
Does the Minister agree that it is about time the Government demonstrated a “no surrender” attitude to the EU bureaucrats who try to blackmail us and bully us over flights, passenger duty and everything else? Stand up to them, man! Stand up to the EU, and let us get on with leaving it. [Interruption.]
Let me just say—[Interruption]—that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will stand up to anyone and everyone when it comes to maintaining the best interests of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.]
Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. Let us hear Thangam Debbonaire.
The Good Friday agreement was one of the greatest legacies of the last Labour Government. Is the Minister content that messing up the border issue could make destroying the Good Friday agreement one of this Government’s legacies?
I assure the hon. Lady that the joint report published in December this year by the European Commission and the United Kingdom makes it absolutely clear that the Belfast agreement remains intact, and all of it will remain intact.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1. If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 7 February. 
I know that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Captain Dean Sprouting, who died in a road traffic accident in Iraq on 31 January. His death was not the result of enemy activity. I know that Members in all parts of the House will want to join me in offering condolences to his family and friends at this difficult time.
One hundred years ago yesterday, women won the right to vote. [Hon. Members: “Some women.”] Indeed: some women. I am pleased to say that universal suffrage did come for women 10 years later, under a Conservative Government. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in marking the heroic and tireless struggle that led to women having the vote, because it forever changed our nation’s future.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
My constituent Natasha Dudarenko suffers from Fanconi anaemia, a debilitating disease that carries a high risk of cancer. Natasha was receiving lifetime disability living allowance, which was removed following an assessment for the personal independent payment. When she appealed, she was told that because she had a degree, she did not need as much support. I am sure the Prime Minister is aware that diseases, including cancer, are no respecters of qualifications. What urgent action will she take to improve the quality and standard of PIP assessments?
Obviously, the Department for Work and Pensions is constantly looking at the standard of the PIP assessments that are being made. I am sorry to hear of the case that the hon. Lady has described. I think that most people will be very concerned after hearing about it, and I am very surprised at the judgment that was made in relation to that individual. I suggest that the hon. Lady sends us the details of the case, and we will ensure that it is looked into.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of UKIP-led Thanet Council’s broken election promise to support the reopening of Manston as an airport. On the basis that the Manston site was to be redesignated as “mixed use”, with thousands of houses, local councillors sensibly rejected the plan, and I salute them for doing so. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that Thanet will now be given as much time as is reasonably necessary—perhaps under a new administration—to get our local plan right?
My hon. Friend is right to raise this matter on behalf of his constituents. I understand that Thanet District Council has not adopted a local plan since 2006, which is why my right hon. Friend the Housing Secretary has written to the district council to begin the formal process of considering intervention. This is a very serious step that shows that the council has not been doing what it should be doing in relation to a local plan. So my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering whether to intervene, and he will make an announcement in due course.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Dean Sprouting from Jarrow on his death and in offering our condolences to his family on the terrible incident that happened.
It is of course the anniversary of women first getting the right to vote in 1918, and I pay tribute to all those who campaigned all over the country to achieve that right. We should understand that our rights come from the activities of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to bring about democracy and justice within our society, and those women who suffered grievously, being force fed in Holloway prison in my constituency, and those who suffered so much need to be remembered for all time. Working-class women as well as many other women fought for that right, and it is one we should all be proud of.
With crime rising, does the Prime Minister regret cutting 21,000 police officers?
May I first say to the right hon. Gentleman that we should be saluting all those who were involved in that struggle to ensure that women could get the right to vote? I was very pleased yesterday to have the opportunity to meet Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, and to see that that memory is being kept going. As I said yesterday in my speech, I heard about the suffragettes’ fight from my late godmother, whose mother was a suffragette and both of whose parents knew the Pankhursts.
The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of police numbers and crime. What we actually have seen from the crime survey is that crime is now down at record low levels. That is what has been achieved, and it has been achieved by a Conservative Government who at the same time have been protecting police budgets.
Recorded crime is up by one fifth since 2010 and violent crime is up by 20%, and during the period when the Prime Minister was Home Secretary £2.3 billion was cut from police budgets. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary warns that neighbourhood policing risks being eroded and the shortage of detectives is a “national crisis”. Does the Prime Minister think the inspectorate is scaremongering?
The right hon. Gentleman mentions the issue about recorded crime, and one of the challenges we have seen in the police in recent years is ensuring we get proper recording particularly of certain types of crime. I am pleased to say that we have seen improvements over the past seven to eight years in the recording by the police of certain types of crime.
The right hon. Gentleman also talks about the issue of police budgets. As I have said, this is a Government who are protecting police budgets, and I might remind him that the Labour party’s former shadow Home Secretary, now the police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, himself said that the police could take an up to 10% cut in their budgets.
The inspectorate also found that the police are failing to properly record tens of thousands of offences, and in addition to cutting 21,000 police officers, the Government have cut 6,700 police community support officers. The chief constable of Bedfordshire says:
“We do not have the resources to keep residents safe... The position is a scandal.”
Too many people do not feel safe, and too many people are not safe. We have just seen the highest rise in recorded crime for a quarter of a century. The chief constable of Lancashire said the Government’s police cuts had made it much more difficult to keep people safe. Is he wrong?
On the issue of recording crime, the right hon. Gentleman mentions HMIC, and when I was Home Secretary, I asked HMIC to look at the recording of crime to ensure that police forces were doing it properly. Indeed, some changes were made as a result, so we now see better recording of crime. We also see £450 million extra being made available to the police. Over the past few years, we have also seen the creation of the National Crime Agency, and our police forces are taking more notice of helping to support vulnerable victims and doing more on modern slavery and domestic violence—taking seriously issues that were not taken seriously before.
If you ask the inspectorate to look at unrecorded crime and it tells you what is going on, the least you could do is act on what it tells you. I want to quote something that may sound familiar to the Prime Minister:
“The first duty of the Government is to protect the public and keep them safe, and I have to say to the Government that they are not putting enough focus on police resources.”—[Official Report, 18 January 2018; Vol. 634, c. 5.]
If she casts her eyes to the far Conservative Back Benches, she will see the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), and that is what he said about her Government and what they are doing. Gun crime has increased by 20% in the past year, and the chief constable of Merseyside recently said:
“So have I got sufficient resources to fight gun crime? No, I haven’t.”
Does the Prime Minister think he is crying wolf?
The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the fact that the Government are protecting police budgets. In fact, we are not just protecting police budgets, but increasing them with an extra £450 million. We are also ensuring that our police have the powers that they need to do the job that we want them to do. I seem to remember that the right hon. Gentleman does not have that good a record when it comes to increasing the powers for the police to do their job.
Since 2015, direct Government funding to the police has fallen by £413 million, and Chief Constable Dave Thompson of West Midlands police said:
“The current flat cash settlement for policing means force budgets will fall in real terms.”
In addition to police cuts, other public service cuts are clearly contributing to the rise in crime: 3,600 youth workers have lost their jobs; 600 youth centres have been closed and boarded up; the probation service has been cut and privatised; and reoffenders are committing more offences. When it comes to tackling crime, prevention and cure are two sides of the same coin, so why are the Government cutting both of them?
We have put in place various pieces of work on anti-knife crime, on serious violence and on issues such as domestic violence. But I come back to the point I made in my last response: the right hon. Gentleman voted against changing the law so that anyone caught carrying a knife for a second time would face a custodial sentence. He has called for much shorter sentences for those who break the law. He might want to reflect on the fact that knife crime fell when there was a Conservative Mayor in London, but knife crime is going up now that there is a Labour Mayor in London.
I am very clear that crime is of course wrong. The way to deal with it is by having an effective probation service, by community service orders and by the rehabilitation of offenders. What the Prime Minister said goes to the heart of her record: she was Home Secretary for six years, but crime is up, violent crime is rising, police numbers are down and chief constables are saying they no longer have the resources to keep communities safe. After seven years of cuts, will the Prime Minister today admit that her Government’s relentless cuts to the police, probation and social services have left us all less safe? The reality is that we cannot have public safety on the cheap.
The right hon. Gentleman really needs to reflect on what Labour would be doing if it was in government. You can only pay for our public services if you have a strong economy. What would we see with the Labour party? We do not need to ask ourselves what we would see, because the shadow Chancellor’s adviser told us at the weekend:
“We need to think about the obvious problems which might face a radical Labour government, such as capital flight or a run on the pound”.
That is what Labour would do: bankrupt Britain. The police would have less money under Labour than under the Conservatives.
Q3. While I have been travelling around the country to meet people from diverse communities, members of the Jewish and the Muslim communities have raised the point that the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 should specifically take into account people’s faith considerations, because in their faiths, loved ones must be buried within 24 hours. Will the Prime Minister join me, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and faith communities in looking at this very important matter? 
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point on behalf of communities across the country, which he does from the unique position of his own experience and understanding of these issues. It is important that we take account of specific requirements of someone’s faith, especially when they have lost a loved one and are grieving. Although, as he will be aware, coroners are independent judicial office holders, I understand that the Ministry of Justice is speaking to the Chief Coroner about this point to see what more can be done. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the issue further.
Yesterday it was announced that 10 Royal Bank of Scotland branches in Scotland that had been earmarked for closure are to be reprieved. I am grateful for that news, which comes on the back of community pressure and the leadership that has been shown on this issue by the Scottish National party.
On three occasions, I have asked the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions to call Ross McEwan into No. 10 Downing Street. Will she accept her responsibilities, given that we own RBS? Now that we have saved 10 branches, will she call in Ross McEwan and join us in calling for all the branches to remain open?
As I have said before, it is of course important that customers, especially those who are vulnerable, can call on the services they need. Obviously I welcome the Royal Bank of Scotland’s decision, which is a commercial decision for the bank. If the right hon. Gentleman is so keen on ensuring that people, including perhaps those in remote communities, have access to the services that they need, he should ask himself why the Scottish Government have been such a failure in ensuring that people in remote communities have broadband access to online banking. The Scottish Government need to get their act together because, quite simply, Scotland under the Nats is getting left behind.
That was pathetic. The Prime Minister has not lifted a finger; we saved the banks.
Yesterday we celebrated the achievements of the suffragette movement, which was about democracy, equality and fairness for women. However, today in the United Kingdom, 3.8 million women are not receiving the pension to which they are entitled. A motion in this House last November, which received unanimous cross-party support—the vote was 288 to zero—called on the Government in London to do the right thing. Will the Prime Minister do her bit for gender equality and end the injustice faced by 1950s women?
As people are living longer, it is important that we equalise the pension age of men and women. We are doing that, and we are doing it faster. We have already acted to give more protection to the women involved. An extra £1 billion has been put in to ensure that nobody will see their pension entitlement changed by more than 18 months. That was a real response to the issue that was being addressed. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about equality, he has to recognise the importance of the equality of the state pension age between men and women.
Q5. I never thought I would see the day when where I lead, the Leader of the Opposition follows—there is clearly hope for him yet. Last year, the Government advertised for the post of disability commissioner. My noble Friend Lord Shinkwin applied for the position and was appointed to it, yet only a few weeks later he was told by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that the post had been abolished altogether. Was the Prime Minister consulted about that decision? Does she agree with the decision to abolish that post? If not, may I ask her to urge the Equality and Human Rights Commission to reinstate the post of disability commissioner and reinstall Lord Shinkwin to his rightful place? 
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this point. I have known Lord Shinkwin for many, many years. He has been a valiant champion of the rights of disabled people over those years. His own experience and his work in public life, particularly in the other place, are a fine example of how disabled people can be standing up, speaking up and ensuring that they take their rightful place in public life.
On the issue of the disability commissioner, the EHRC is an independent body, and it was its decision to abolish the disability commissioner. The question is: what is being done to help disabled people and how can we ensure that we are helping them? That is why we are committed to tackling the injustices that they face. We are spending more than £50 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions—that is a record high. But, of course, we do want to ensure—I urge the commission to do this—that the EHRC pays proper attention to the needs and rights of disabled people, because that is an important part of its remit.
Q4. My constituents’ son was killed by a learner driver who was taking a lesson. With one in four young drivers being involved in an accident within the first two years of starting to drive, and 400 deaths or serious injuries on our roads involving young drivers each year, will the Prime Minister meet me and my constituents to hear their story, and consider introducing a graduated licensing system for the UK, as other countries have done? 
Obviously, the hon. Lady raises an important issue. I will certainly look at her request and I will also ask the Department for Transport to do so. As she says, too many people suffer loss and tragedy at the hands of learner drivers in these circumstances, and we will certainly look at that.
Q7. The Royal Marines are the most adaptable of our elite infantry. They are central to our amphibious capability and provide much of our special forces. Does the Prime Minister agree that reducing them further at this stage would be inconsistent with this Government’s strong record on defence and security? 
The Royal Marines do indeed play a vital role in defending our country and I pay tribute to them for all that they do. Protecting the UK is, of course, our priority. As my hon. Friend will know, we have in place a review—a modernising defence programme—that is about ensuring that our defence capabilities meet the rapidly changing and evolving threats that we face. That is the right thing for us to do. Of course, any comments and suggestions that have been made about cuts to defence are purely speculative, and I remind him and other hon. Members that in fact we are committed to increasing our spending on defence.
In offering him best wishes for his birthday on Sunday, I call Mr Dennis Skinner.
Q6. I didn’t know about that. I don’t celebrate things like that—I don’t think you should celebrate age.Anyway, there is another group of people who need help, and they are the people who work in the national health service. What they told me last week was that the best period they ever experienced was under a Labour Government when they had the money increased from £33 billion in 1997 to £100 billion in 2010. That was a golden period. Why did that Government do it? How did they do it? The then Chancellor of the Exchequer put 1% on national insurance and, in hypothecation terms, that went directly to the health service. It is called long-term stability. Under this Government, people do not know whether they are coming or going. It is high time that this Government did the same as we did between 1997 and 2010—get weaving! 
And happy birthday, Dennis.
The hon. Gentleman asks why the Labour party was in a position of being able to spend more on public services. I will tell him why: because a Conservative Government had left a golden economic legacy.
I call Alberto Costa. [Hon. Members: “More!”] Order. Mr Costa, I do not think you knew how popular you are.
Q9. Conservative-led Harborough District Council has recently refused IDI Gazeley’s proposed expansion of the enormous Magna Park logistics park in my constituency. Given the Prime Minister’s recent welcome remarks about sustainable developments, will she please arrange for me to meet the relevant Ministers to discuss the creation of a national planning framework for the future location of these enormous logistics parks? 
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and this matter is obviously of considerable interest to his constituents. Of course we need to get the right balance between enabling development to take place, and therefore growth, and continuing to protect and enhance our natural environment. The purpose of the planning system is to contribute towards achieving that sustainable development. On the specific issue of logistics parks, I am sure that a Housing, Communities and Local Government Minister—indeed, perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that issue.
Q8. Is the Prime Minister aware that if a universal credit claimant forgets their username or password, they must attend a face-to-face interview at a jobcentre to have it reset? The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions cannot give a date for when that will be fixed, so will the Prime Minister commit to no further jobcentre closures until universal credit claimants can access basic online functions, as are available for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and for banking? 
I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to look carefully at ensuring that a date is identified for when that change will be made.
Q10. According to Library statistics, around 3,400 people in my constituency were diagnosed with cancer last year. Cancer survival rates have meant that 7,000 people are alive today who might not have been if the 2010 survival rates had stayed the same. Does my right hon. Friend see that as a testament to the NHS and the Government’s investment in it, and does she welcome that news while recognising that we need to do more? 
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is very good news that there are 7,000 more cancer sufferers alive today than there would have been had we simply continued with the way we were in 2010. I am very happy to join him in welcoming that news. Cancer survival rates have increased year on year, but of course we want them to increase even further. Last year, there were 7 million more diagnostic tests than in 2010, and 290,000 patients started treatment for cancer—that is 57,000 more than in 2010. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that although we should welcome the improvements that have been made and congratulate and thank the NHS staff for all they have been doing, there is more for us to do. That is why we are backing up our plans for cancer with a further £600 million to implement the cancer strategy for England.
Q12. As we heard earlier, the Prime Minister continues to be in denial about rising crime and falling police numbers. Despite her repeated assurances, budgets have not been protected for my local police force, which has already lost £80 million and 1,000 police officers. Will she meet me and a delegation of Portsmouth small businesses, which do so much for my local economy yet have seen significant rises in break-ins and crime as a result of Tory cuts? 
Obviously I will look at the hon. Gentleman’s request, but those who are concerned about the way in which policing is being undertaken in their area should actually speak to their local police, who make operational decisions about what is happening. We have protected overall police spending and continue to do so. Indeed more money is being put into the police. I remind him that it was a Labour shadow Home Secretary who said that police budgets could be cut by 10%.
Q11. NHS figures show that, in the south-west, the growth in NHS funding is 2.2% less than the national average. It is also true that the situation is more challenging in the south-west because of an ageing demographic and issues due to sparsity. Does my right hon. Friend agree that providers in the south-west, including NHS Kernow, deserve their fair share of NHS funding? Will she take action to address this inequality? 
The national formula, which is the basis for calculating the funding for clinical commissioning groups, takes into account a large number of factors, including rurality and demographics, which are the factors that my hon. Friend suggests need to be considered. NHS Kernow did see an increase in its funding this year and it will see a further increase next year, taking its funding to more than £760 million. That is part of our commitment to ensuring that we put extra funding into the NHS, but of course we continue to look at ensuring that the distribution of that funding takes account of all the factors that it needs to.
Q13. Under the Vagrancy Act 1824, rough sleeping is illegal. The Act was used nearly 2,000 times last year to drag homeless people before the courts. Scotland and Northern Ireland have already repealed it, so will the Prime Minister support my Bill to consign this heartless, Dickensian law to the history books across the whole United Kingdom? 
We recognise that we need to take action in relation to rough sleeping, which is why we are putting more money into projects to reduce rough sleeping. That includes projects such as Housing First, which are being established in a number of places to ensure that we can provide for those who are rough sleeping. None of us wants to see anybody rough sleeping on our streets, which is why the Government are taking action.
Today is the anniversary of the signing of the Maastricht treaty, and we have come a very long way. May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her approach to the customs union? May I also mention the fact that, in the Liaison Committee last December, I warned her about ultimatums from the EU, as I did again in my urgent question only last week? Will she be good enough to be very robust when discussing these matters in the Brexit Committee, as I am sure that she will be, so that we ensure that we repudiate any of these EU threats?
At the time when the Maastricht legislation was going through this House, I suspect that there would not have been many thinking that my hon. Friend would stand up to recognise the anniversary of the signing of the Maastricht treaty. I suspect that he feels able to do so only because we are coming out of the European Union. I assure him that we will be robust in our arguments. As I have said right from the very beginning, we will hear noises off and all sorts of things being said about positions, but what matters is the position that we take in the negotiations as we sit down to negotiate the best deal. We have shown that we can do that; we did it December and we will do it again.
Q14. Kirklees Council, which serves my constituency of Colne Valley, has already had its budget cut by nearly £200 million, with a possible £45 million of cuts still to come. Which of the following things would the Prime Minister recommend that it cuts next: care for an older person with dementia; emptying the bins; providing hot school meals for vulnerable children; libraries, leisure centres and museums; or supporting the 24% of children living in poverty? Your choice, Prime Minister. 
I would have thought that the hon. Lady should be welcoming the improvements that have taken place in her constituency, welcoming the many more children who are in good or outstanding schools as a result of this Government, welcoming the extra health funding, welcoming—[Interruption.]
Order. The Prime Minister is in the middle of giving her answer—perhaps she has concluded it—and Members must not shout at the Prime Minister when she is doing so. The Prime Minister has concluded; I call Chris Philp.
Recent reports have suggested that the European Commission is asking that we enter into certain limited, legally-binding agreements in relation to bits of our exit in isolation. Will the Prime Minister confirm that it remains the Government’s policy that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and that we will therefore only enter into a legally-binding agreement in relation to the entire exit agreement, not just parts of it?
My hon. Friend is right. It was reflected in the joint report published in December that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. The negotiations that are now taking place are to put greater detail into the definition of the implementation period, and we expect to do that by the March European Council. Alongside side that, the negotiations will look at the legal basis of the withdrawal agreement. Of course, both the withdrawal agreement and the implementation Bill will have to come to this Parliament for agreement in due course. At that stage, I would expect to have the future relationship set out in a way that means people are able to look at the whole package when they come to make that decision.
The Prime Minister knows that one of the key objectives of American trade negotiators in any future deal after Brexit is to secure access for American companies to do business in the NHS. Will she give an absolute guarantee that the NHS will be excluded from the scope of those negotiations? Will she also confirm that she has made it absolutely clear to President Trump in her conversations with him that the NHS is not for sale?
We are starting the discussions with the American Administration, first of all looking at what we can already do to increase trade between the US and the United Kingdom—even before the possibility of any free trade agreement. The right hon. Gentleman does not know what the American Administration are going to say about their requirements for that free trade agreement. We will go into those negotiations to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom.
A recent report by Open Doors highlights the top countries where Christians suffer horrific persecution. We need to take action and send a signal to other nations. These countries are often associated with luxury holidays. Will the Prime Minister consider earmarking a specific fixed percentage of international aid to go towards tackling religious persecution?
I know that this is an issue of concern to many Members of the House. I was pleased, a matter of weeks ago, to meet Father Daniel from Nineveh and Idlib, who talked about the very real persecution that his congregation were suffering and had suffered in the past. He presented me with a bible that was burnt; it had been rescued when a church had been set on fire. This is a real issue. All our aid is distributed on the basis of need in order to ensure that civilians are not discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion. We are working with Governments, the international community and the United Nations to support the rights of minorities and to ensure that our aid reaches those in need. We will, of course, further explore what more support we can give to ensure that we address the persecution of religious minorities.
The Prime Minister will be aware that all free trade agreements involve some customs checks and, therefore, infrastructure at frontiers, which would be completely incompatible with maintaining an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. As the Cabinet Sub-Committee will apparently finally get around to discussing this today, will the Prime Minister explain to the House why she is so opposed to the UK remaining in a customs union with the EU? Not only would this be better for the British economy than a vague “deep and special partnership”—whatever that is—but it would help to ensure that that border remains as it is today, which is what we all want.
The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. That means that we are leaving the single market and the customs union. If we were a full member of the customs union, we would not be able to do trade deals around the rest of the world. And we are going to have an independent trade policy and do those deals. The right hon. Gentleman asks about customs arrangements. Well, I suggest that he looks at the paper published by the Government last summer.
The brain injury charity, Headway, says that a family recently had to pay £1,500 over 15 weeks in hospital car parking charges. CLIC Sargent says that families who visit their children who are sick with cancer have to pay hundreds of pounds in parking charges. Despite Government guidelines, 50% of hospitals charge for disabled parking, and staff—from nurses to hospital porters—have to pay hospital car parking charges. Given the unanimous support for the motion in the House of Commons last week, will the Prime Minister address this social injustice and abolish hospital car parking charges once and for all?
I recognise that my hon. Friend has been campaigning on this issue for some time. As he says, we have set strong guidance for hospital trusts on the issue of car parking charges, and we do of course look to ensure that it is being met. Individual hospitals are taking their own decisions on this matter, but it is right that the Government have set very clear guidelines for those hospitals as to how they should approach this.
The Prime Minister has done much to tackle modern slavery. My constituent was trafficked here as a child, sold at least once on the long journey, and then forced to work in the dark in a cannabis factory for years. Now the Home Office is proposing to send him back to Vietnam. Will the Prime Minister intervene not just in this case but in this complex and confused area of the law?
I recognise that, as the hon. Lady says, there are cases that are complex in terms of the legal application. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has heard the case that the hon. Lady has set out and will, I am sure, look at that particular issue—both the individual case and the wider point that she is making. As we know, the best possible solution to this, which we all want to ensure, is for people like her constituent not to be trafficked into the UK the first place to work in these cannabis factories.
Like many, I am delighted to note the good progress in lifting the ban on beef exports to China. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that we are able to export Scotch beef and other Scottish products such as whisky to other parts and all parts of the world?
I was very pleased that when I was in China last week we were able to work with the Chinese Government towards the opening up of the Chinese market, particularly to beef products and dairy products, which are two key issues for the United Kingdom. I am also pleased to say that the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association was on the business delegation with me, and was doing everything that she does, most ably, to promote the interests of Scotch whisky. Of course, the answer to my hon. Friend’s question is that we are making sure that we can have an independent trade policy, developing trade deals around the rest of the world, which means that good Scottish products, and indeed good products from the rest of the UK, can be sold around the world.
Centuries- old GKN, a world-class company and Britain’s third-biggest engineering company, is facing a hostile takeover by Melrose, leading to break-up, sell-off, closures and redundancies. That would make a mockery of industrial strategy. The Government have the power to intervene because of the defence work carried out by GKN. Will the Prime Minister act in the national interest and block this unwanted takeover?
Of course, the Business Department will be looking closely at, and has been following closely, the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I can assure him that I, and the Government as a whole, will always act in the UK national interest.
With one of the largest undeveloped brownfield sites in the country located in my constituency in Stanton, will my right hon. Friend explain to the House how the new housing infrastructure fund will help Erewash residents to buy a new home?
The housing infrastructure fund is a very important development. One of the major complaints that constituents—residents—often have when they see the possibility of development in their area is lack of infrastructure. The housing infrastructure fund enables that infrastructure to be put in place so that it can support developments in a way that helps to support local residents. I am very pleased by the Housing Secretary’s announcement of nearly £900 million last week. We are seeing real interest in the housing infrastructure fund. It is making a difference. It is enabling more homes to be built and more of my hon. Friend’s constituents to buy their own home.
My constituent is 58. She has COPD, four pins in her leg, and a walking frame, and is just out of hospital after having blood clots in her lung. She got a taxi to Bridgeton jobcentre yesterday, only to find the doors locked because the Government closed it on Friday. Will the Prime Minister apologise for not having told my constituents in Bridgeton, or any of the constituents, apparently, whose jobcentres are being closed; will she refund my constituent the £10 she spent on a taxi; and will she apologise for this absolutely ridiculous situation?
I say to the hon. Lady that, yes, we are seeing some jobcentres being closed in Scotland. There is not going to be any decrease in the level of service that is offered to the people of Scotland. We are increasing the number of work coaches across the country. What we are doing is ensuring that we can continue to provide a good service to the people of Scotland.
Intimidation on social media is a growing issue for many people across the country, especially for women standing for election, as yesterday highlighted. Can my right hon. Friend update us on the progress that is being made and does she agree that we should take no lessons from a party whose shadow Chancellor has called for violence against women on this side of the House?
May I say to my hon. Friend that I think this issue is a particularly important one? I said yesterday, as indeed my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said at the weekend, that we are consulting on a new offence of intimidation of election candidates and campaigners. That follows the report from Lord Bew and his committee about the degree to which there was intimidation at the last general election, particularly intimidation of women, BME candidates and LGBT candidates. This is an absolute disgrace and it has no part in our public life. I would urge the shadow Chancellor, once again—he keeps refusing to do this—to apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for saying that she should be lynched.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy if he will make a statement on the Government’s response to the Taylor review.
I am delighted to set out the Government’s response to the review of modern working, which was led by Matthew Taylor. He set out his ambition that the Government should place as much emphasis on creating quality jobs as they do on the number of jobs. Good work and developing better jobs for everyone in the British economy are at the centre of the industrial strategy vision.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that, as we leave the European Union, there will be no roll-back of employment protections, but today we are committing to go further and to seek to enhance rights and protections in the modern workplace for even more people. We will support employers who give individuals their correct employment rights, but we will prevent undercutting by unscrupulous employers who try to game the system, by clearly defining who is employed and who is not. We will extend the right to receive a payslip to all workers, including a statement of the hours that they work. We are requiring employers to clearly set out written terms from day one of the employment relationship, and to extend that to all workers. We are taking forward 52 of the 53 recommendations in the Taylor review, and all but one of the recommendations from the joint report of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee.
For workers on zero-hours contracts, we are creating a right to request a stable contract. For the first time, the state will take responsibility for enforcing a wider set of employment rights, including sick pay and holiday pay, for the most vulnerable of workers. Employers who lose tribunal claims against staff and are found to have had no regard to the law will face fines of up to £20,000, quadrupled from the current £5,000. We will also ensure that employment tribunal awards are paid correctly.
The Government are very grateful to Matthew Taylor and his panel, as well as to the many individuals and organisations who contributed to the review. I would also like to thank the BEIS, Work and Pensions and Scottish Affairs Committees for their contribution to this work. Through our response, we are acting to ensure good work for all, to protect the rights of those on low pay and to ensure that more people get protection, security and certainty in the work they do.
The tragic case of Don Lane, a DPD gig worker, epitomises the precarious and unstable working life many people face and the failure of the Government to protect workers. They needed to do something bold today, but it appears that they are simply papering over the bleak realities with rhetoric. Launching four consultations, merely considering proposals, and tweaking the law here and there is not good enough. How would any of this have actually helped Don Lane? It simply would not—that is the fact of the matter.
So I ask the Minister: which rights will apply to which workers from day one? How will they be quantified for zero-hours workers? Why, despite public support, have the Government not protected agency workers by abolishing undercutting through the Swedish derogation? How does a right to request more stable hours differ from the current position? Without an obligation on the employer to accept such a request, it is meaningless. Why have the Government not brought forward any meaningful proposals to protect gig workers? Defining working time misses the point. We needed clarity on workers being paid when they are logged into apps waiting to receive jobs, as well as clear and urgent direction on the legal status of gig workers. Why was there not even one mention of trade unions? On the genuinely self-employed, we see the creation of a website allowing the self-employed to talk to each other—well, bravo! Why is there no system of support and no recognition of the precariousness of their situation? This is simply window dressing.
What we needed today was radical new architecture of the law at work to protect workers, in which the genuinely self-employed are offered key protections and the involvement of workers through their trade unions is crucial. We saw none of that, and to miss those things out of any recommendations is to miss the ocean and look at the pebbles underneath.
I have to say that I share the hon. Lady’s desire to improve the rights and protections for the workers we represent in our constituencies. It is disappointing that in her long response she was unable to welcome any of the steps we are taking. As a result of the actions set out in our response to this review, millions of workers will have greater rights and access to more protection. Indeed, I argue that we can rightly claim to be leading the world in improving the quality of work for our constituents.
The hon. Lady seems to argue that it is wrong to be consulting on these issues. I hope the House will understand that in addressing the issues she raises—such as employment status in the gig economy, the rights of agency workers and better transparency in the workplace—we are modernising employment law to make it fit for the future world of work. We are seeking expert views on how to do that, which is absolutely right. Our intention is clear, and we are consulting the experts on how we deliver on that promise. Matthew Taylor himself has said that these issues are complex and we must take time to get them right, but the House should be clear that we are consulting on them in order to act. Rather than rolling back employment legislation, which we are sometimes accused of, we are improving the rights of workers and the enforcement of those rights.
The hon. Lady mentions the very regrettable case that has been in the newspapers over the past few days. I extend my sympathies to the family of the individual concerned. I cannot speak about individual cases, but I direct her to page 15 of our response. It clearly sets out what we are going to do to ensure we have the correct definition of workers’ status, so they can have access to the kind of things she is talking about—sick pay, days off and the ability to attend doctor appointments if necessary.
Is competition for workers in a fully employed market not the best engine for driving forward improved conditions?
I thank my right hon. Friend for reminding us that we have record numbers of people in work. Unemployment is at its lowest rate for 40 years. It is true to say that the labour market is tightening, but I see that as an opportunity. Businesses are realising that if they want to retain their best workers they need to offer the best possible arrangements for those workers. We are also clear that whatever the situation, we want to act to protect the most vulnerable workers in our society. That is what we are doing in the Matthew Taylor report: we are giving them the protection they need.
The Government’s response does not address the issue of bogus self-employment, which affects 1.8 million workers. The right to request is different from an actual right enshrined in law. Has the Minister looked at the contents of the Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill, in my name, which addresses many of these issues? Will the Government look at simplifying the definition of a worker to one definition, to eradicate bogus self-employment? Will they look to legislate to ensure that workers have a fixed and regular-hours contract? Will they address the issue of late-notice shift changes and cancellations, which affect those with caring responsibilities? What protections are there for workers under contractor liability where an employer ceases trading or absconds?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. What I would say is that this is addressed in our response to the Matthew Taylor review. What he is talking about is the need for a better definition of workers’ status, be that employed, self-employed or worker. We are consulting to make sure we address those points, and I am very happy for him to be a part of that consultation. I am very happy to talk to him and to talk about his Bill, but we are clear that by having a definitive definition of people’s employment status we can solve some of the problems he highlights.
Having sat on the joint BEIS and Work and Pensions Committee, I am really pleased to hear from the Minister today that the Government will adopt its recommendations. The area of case law on the meaning of “worker” is really complicated, so I understand the need for consultation to understand it. We heard evidence of Uber and Deliveroo not treating their self-employed workers as if they were employees. It is a complex area. I urge the Minister to do this as quickly as possible, because there are other issues to consider, such as national insurance contributions and how the Child Support Agency deals with self-employed earners. This is a big, big area, so getting that clarification quickly would be welcome.
My hon. Friend makes that point very clearly, and I thank her for the contribution that she and her fellow members of the Committee made to our decisions. She is absolutely right that we need to get on with it, and that there is huge complexity in relation to people’s status. If the only possible response, as it is at the moment, is to engage lawyers, go to the courts and undertake expensive litigation, that will not help the people she highlights at Uber, Deliveroo and so on. We are very clear about our intention, and we are getting on with the job to make it a reality.
I welcome the response to Matthew Taylor’s review—seven months after he published it. The Minister’s response today seems to be “we are now consulting the experts”, but that is exactly what the Government did when they asked Matthew Taylor and his panel to undertake their review. I am afraid there is very little from the Government’s response today that will do anything to genuinely help the bogus self-employed, including Don Lane, who are crying out for desperately needed reform. The Work and Pensions and BEIS Committees produced a Bill that the Government could take through Parliament, with cross-party support, to sort this out. The country is crying out for change. I urge the Government to be a little bit more ambitious.
I can reassure the hon. Lady that we are hugely ambitious. These proposals will help millions of workers. I pay tribute to the recommendations that her Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee made, and we are accepting all but one of the recommendations contained in that report. She will understand, as I think Matthew Taylor said when he gave evidence to the Committee, that this is hugely complicated, and we need to consult further. We are not consulting about whether we should do this; we are consulting about how we do it. I thank her for her contribution and reassure her that our ambition is strong.
I strongly welcome the measures set out by my hon. Friend. Alongside the living wage, they give the belief that we are the true workers’ party of the United Kingdom. Do the proposals also apply to apprentices, some of whom are not even paid the right apprentice wage?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his response and for the work he does to ensure that the Conservative party is the party of the worker. He is absolutely right: this Government are committed to ensuring that people get fair pay. That is why are putting a record amount—£25 million—into enforcing the living wage and the national minimum wage. As a result of that record commitment, we have seen a record £11 million of wages recovered for some of the most vulnerable and low-paid workers in our society. I assure him that all workers, including apprentices, are on our radar. We are beefing up the enforcement teams, and we are going to make sure that workers get the pay they deserve.
As the Prime Minister established the Taylor review in response to a report written by Andrew Forsey in my office, I thank the Minister for his statement. Previously the Government rejected one of the Taylor recommendations, which was that if workers in the gig economy were required to turn up to work at their employer’s request in times of low demand, they should still be paid the minimum wage. The Government rejected that proposal, thank God. Will the Minister again affirm that that is the Government’s position?
I place on record our thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for his continued work in this area. He is right to say that that continues to be the Government’s position. However, we are consulting. The benefit to the employer is flexibility, but we have asked the Low Pay Commission to look again at whether people on zero-hours contracts should get some a preferential, extra payment to compensate for the inconvenience.
Can the Minister confirm the Government’s plan in relation to employers’ national insurance contributions, to ensure that the tax system is not incentivising unscrupulous businesses to pretend that their employees are self-employed?
Clearly that is very high on the agenda. The work we are doing in relation to status will ensure that people who are genuinely self-employed are classified as such. Employers who are trying to game the system by pretending that someone is self-employed when in fact they are working will be addressed. The reality is that if it looks like work and feels like work, it is work, and people should be paid in the same way.
The Minister will recall the Government’s awkward embarrassment when they tried to align national insurance for the employed and the self-employed. Can he explain how the Government propose to deal with that outstanding anomaly?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. The Chancellor set out our approach to those matters, and I have nothing further to add at the moment.
I welcome the Government’s position on this and urge them to make quick progress, but there is one area in which employment rights are potentially about to be seriously damaged: the right of British citizens to work in 30 other countries in the EU and the European economic area as we leave the EU. What are the Government doing to ensure that young people and others have the opportunity to go and work overseas, bringing great benefits to their own career and, when they return, to their businesses or the companies for which they work, which they have enjoyed for many decades?
I wondered how long it would be before we got on to the “B” word, Brexit. I know that my hon. Friend is hugely concerned about that, as are businesses large and small up and down the country. He will have to wait a little bit longer, I am afraid. That announcement will, I am sure, be made by someone higher up the food chain than I, but I can assure him that the concerns of workers and British business are being heard by Government.
Zero-hours contract carers get paid for face-to-face work, so they get paid for every 15-minute visit, but none of the travelling time in between. They often have fragmented contracts and have to be available for work throughout the seven days of the week, and they do not have proper time off. That is one example. Then we have couriers, who have to deliver more than 100 packages a day for 48p a package. They often have to keep driving 15 hours a day, six days a week, and they are called self-employed. Surely the Minister has got to end that appalling practice by properly defining and enforcing employment law. Nothing he has said today has reassured me that he is going to help the 3.2 million people who are missing out on their basic employment rights.
Allow me to try to reassure the hon. Lady that those issues are being taken care of. She will be aware that a Green Paper on social care is imminent, and those social care issues will be covered within it. She talks about when workers in the gig economy are clocking on and off and what constitutes their working time. If she has read the report, she will know that we recognise that the law should be clearer about when people are being paid and the hours that they work. We will address that within the consultation and come up with firm proposals.
I warmly congratulate the Minister on the positive way he is taking forward the Taylor review and the Government’s ambitions. Back in May 2014, I brought forward a ten-minute rule Bill to ban unpaid internships. In 2016, I introduced a private Member’s Bill to ban unpaid internships—which the Labour party did not support, I hasten to add. When the Minister is dealing with the section of the Taylor review on unpaid internships, I urge him to liaise closely with our noble Friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, whose private Member’s Bill on that issue is in Committee in the other place at the moment.
I thank my hon. Friend for the great effort and the huge amount of work he has put into standing up for the rights of those young people who are being abused in relation to internships. He has raised that issue many times in the House, and I can reassure him that we are cracking down on sectors where unpaid interns are doing the job of a worker. There will be proper enforcement, and young people who feel they are being abused in that way will be covered. The enforcement will be strengthened, and we will ensure that those people get the wage they deserve.
While I of course welcome the publication of the Taylor review, may I press the Minister a little bit further? As my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) said, the Taylor review recommends ending the Swedish derogation that allows agency workers to be employed for extended periods on worse terms and conditions than the person working by their side on a more permanent contract. Is the Minister still considering that recommendation, or is he going to ignore it?
I can be absolutely clear with the hon. Lady that we are very attuned to the impact of the Swedish derogation and how it can be used unfairly on workers.
What are you going to do?
The hon. Lady asks me what we are doing about it: we are specifically consulting. In the report, she will see that there are four consultations, and one specifically comes forward with proposals. [Interruption.] She may sigh, but we have to listen to the experts, and then we will deliver. We recognise the difficulties in relation to the Swedish derogation. We want to extend the support both for agency workers and those who feel that they are being disadvantaged—[Interruption]—on terms and conditions, exactly—and we will be taking this forward with firm proposals.
Is it not the case that the Government asked Matthew Taylor to undertake a report, Matthew Taylor brought forward some recommendations and the Government are getting on with implementing what Matthew Taylor asked the Government to do?
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. We can see from the response of Opposition Members that they realise this Government are bringing forward protections for millions of workers. This Government are providing them with sickness pay and holiday pay, and the enforcement needed to make sure that those vulnerable people on the lowest pay get the pay they deserve.
When Matthew Taylor came before the Scottish Affairs Committee, he spoke of the inspiration he derived from the Scottish Government’s fair work convention. Will the UK Government be implementing something similar?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question, and for the work that the Scottish Affairs Committee have done. We took a great deal of interest in that work, which raised some very interesting points. She raises the issue in relation to Scotland. Our focus is clear: we are delivering on the commitments—the 52 commitments—in the Matthew Taylor report, and we will be doing so as a matter of urgency.
While I am sure that millions of low-paid workers will welcome the fact that the Government are going to issue four consultations, they may well be more concerned that the Government’s own impact assessment on our leaving the European Union included the assumption that employment rights would be deregulated. Will the Minister tell the House which employment rights were included in the assessment, and whether the Government will make an ongoing commitment to maintain at least current employment rights?
I am sorry, but the hon. Lady clearly missed the three times I have said in response to this urgent question that not only are the Government committed to maintaining employment rights as they are currently set out, but we are going further in extending rights and protections to millions more workers. As a result of what we are doing by taking forward the brilliant work of Matthew Taylor, we will have employment protection that is not just as a good as in the rest of Europe, but the best in the world.
Opposition Members have a longer memory than Government Members, because we remember that this Government took away employment tribunal fees support and disallowed people even from accessing justice in the workplace. This is too little too late—four consultations—because we need transformational politics when it comes to employment regulations in this country.
I do have a long memory. I have a memory of the recession brought on by the previous Government, and I have a memory of the millions of people unemployed as a result of their policies. We are talking about memory, but the hon. Gentleman seems to forget that today we have one of the most dynamic economies in the world, record employment, record low unemployment, a minimum national living wage of £7.50 that was introduced by this Government, record numbers of women in work and an economy that is the envy of many.
The general secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, has said that these measures will do nothing to tackle the problem of what she describes as
“the hire and fire culture of zero-hours contracts or sham self-employment.”
I know my constituents in Blaydon, many of whom work in the gig economy, will be disappointed that the Government have not taken a more dynamic and firm approach in tackling such basic rights and are putting this out for a further period of consultation.
I would just remind the hon. Lady that if she actually reads the report, she will see that we are asking the Low Pay Commission to consider higher minimum wages for workers on zero-hours contracts—
The hon. Lady says “Consider”, but I would have thought she was a supporter of the Low Pay Commission and that she would think this was a good idea.
We are creating a right for all workers on zero-hours contracts to request a more stable contract, and the Government want to go further than the Matthew Taylor report to address the issues of exclusivity of agency workers or those on zero-hours contracts. I would have thought that the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) welcomed that; I know many in the trade unions organisation do.
One of the issues not within the scope of the Taylor review was that of unpaid work trials, which is regrettable. However, on 16 March my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) is bringing forward his Bill to end exploitative unpaid work trails. Will the Government be supporting it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am happy to meet his colleague to discuss his Bill.
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Layla Moran, supported by Caroline Lucas, Wera Hobhouse, Christine Jardine and Jo Swinson, presented a Bill to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March, and to be printed (Bill 162).
Homelessness (End of Life Care)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about end of life care and support for homeless people with terminal illnesses, including through the provision of housing for such people; and for connected purposes.
Not having a roof over your head at night and being homeless on the streets must be frightening—cold, lonely, depressing. To be seriously ill, as well as homeless, seems to me to be beyond frightening, with people wondering when they will die, when the pain will stop and whether anyone will care or even notice. Yet homeless people are dying on Britain’s streets, in our parks, in doorways or, if they are lucky, in ill-equipped hostels.
Although it is difficult to give precise figures on how many people are dying like this, the evidence we have from those working on the homeless frontline is that it is happening time and again. Homeless people are dying alone in pain in Britain in 2018. Let us look at some of the figures we do have. The average age at death of a homeless person is about 47 years. Homeless people are attending at A&E departments six times as often as people with a home. They are admitted to hospital four times as often, and they are staying three times as long.
I have spent a fair bit of time since last June’s election finding out more about this horror, thanks to amazing organisations such as Pathway, St Mungo’s, Hospice UK and Shelter, as well as some new work by the Care Quality Commission and some hard evidence and research by a range of academics, especially at University College London and the Faculty for Homeless and Inclusion Health. Listening to these experts and reading their work, including many interviews with homeless people themselves, I have been genuinely shocked about the wave of suffering right under our noses that we continue to ignore.
These same organisations are also doing incredible work to tackle this suffering. There are charities, GP practices, hospices and hostels around our country that are helping seriously ill homeless people, and showing what is possible when groups of professionals, volunteers and researchers come together and resolve to find solutions. Yesterday, I visited the Royal Trinity Hospice by Clapham common to see how one of Britain’s amazing hospices has reached out to homeless hostels in its area to share the excellent palliative care it can provide.
My first message to the House today is a positive one: we can give decent end-of-life care to everyone, including the most marginalised homeless people, if we resolve to do so. We can as a Parliament say that no homeless person in this country, whoever they are and wherever they are from, need die on our streets.
I do not believe that legislation alone can ever deliver the lofty aims that we in this House often seek. The Bill alone will not be a magical cure. To reach the goal of good end-of-life care for society’s most marginalised people, we will need better integration of services and new types of accommodation—most likely including specialist hospice hostels—and we will need to train staff, in the NHS, in homeless hostels and in hospices. But the law can help, not least as a huge catalyst for change.
My starting place is the current housing law that states that somebody has no right to housing if they are “intentionally homeless”. That is a curious legal phrase—cruelly curious—because, in truth, very few people deliberately aim to be on the streets. In my experience as a constituency MP, the vast majority of so-called intentionally homeless people want nothing more than a roof over their heads. However, this intentionality test has survived at the legal centre of most decisions on homelessness for over 20 years. Today, I am saying that the test should disappear for homeless people who are terminally ill. In future, if a doctor diagnoses a homeless person with advanced ill health and certifies that they expect that person to die within the next 12 months, that person would have an automatic legal right to appropriate housing, along with an appropriate package of care and support for their needs.
In discussing the detail for this simple idea with housing lawyers and palliative care experts, we soon focused on what would count as terminally ill, because estimating when someone is going to die is hardly an exact science. Moreover, we hope that good palliative care will extend life. The test we went for therefore comes from the best practice that GPs are being encouraged to adopt for all their patients—namely, that they should set up a palliative care register. GPs add patients’ names to their palliative care register if they expect that they are at high risk of dying within the next 12 months. The trigger I am proposing for these new rights for seriously ill homeless people would therefore use a system that most doctors already have.
In many ways, what I am asking for is only a small change, but I believe that it could have profound effects on the lives and deaths of many homeless people. It would force housing departments in councils across England, and their social services departments, to act without question. I think that the Bill would add to the excellent work of the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who piloted his Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 through the House. His Act will force councils to think harder and longer about preventing homelessness in the first place, and my Bill would force them to prevent people dying without a home.
The original idea for my Bill came from my wife, Emily, who is a housing lawyer specialising in social housing issues. In discussion with Emily and other housing lawyers, it became absolutely clear to me that the existing law does not go far enough. Dying homeless people need a new basic and automatic right to housing and care that their GP can trigger and that the council cannot question. The right that I am proposing is for appropriate housing, so the local authority will not be able to fob the person off with a bed and breakfast miles away. Indeed, under the Bill, the authority’s social services department would have to get involved, too, by liaising with the GP and other parts of the health service to ensure that the right care and support is there.
I do not want to pretend to the House that implementing this will be easy. Homeless people can present with some of the most challenging health issues imaginable: a wide variety of mental health problems, drug and alcohol addictions and severe respiratory conditions. The evidence also suggests that the homeless often lose trust in people—in the hospital doctors who had no choice but to discharge them back on to the streets and in the family members from whom they have become estranged. Their past use of the NHS can make it difficult to patch together a full medical history. They might have self-discharged from hospitals to feed an addiction, or because the institutional setting proved just too much for them. But it is the complex nature of the health and social needs of many homeless people that demands that we act. If we truly want to end health inequality in our country, we have to start with end-of-life care for the homeless, because the people this Bill is trying to help are currently experiencing the worst health care and outcomes of any group in our country.
Homeless people can find it difficult or even impossible to advocate for themselves, but with three quotes I want to let three homeless people speak to the House now:
“Bad death is being lonely...no friends around you when you’re passing away. Well, death is never really good, but at least it’d be better with friends around....you know, someone to hold your hand and whatever.”
“I think when you’re homeless and you’re out on the street so long, you’re surrounded by grief and death and a lot of stuff. It makes you cold. It makes you unfeeling towards people.”
“End of life? What end of life are you talking about? I’m on the street and nobody cares about me.”
Friends, please support the Bill. Let us show that we do care.
Question put and agreed to.
That Sir Edward Davey, Ms Karen Buck, Bob Blackman, Sir Vince Cable, Mr Kenneth Clarke, Caroline Lucas, Norman Lamb, Kate Green, Wera Hobhouse, Geraint Davies, Christine Jardine and Mary Creagh present the Bill.
Sir Edward Davey accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March, and to be printed (Bill 163).
Police Grant Report
I beg to move,
That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) for 2018-19 (HC 745), which was laid before this House on 31 January, be approved.
I would like to start by taking a moment to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of our police officers. Of course, those who work in Parliament must never forget the ultimate sacrifice paid by PC Keith Palmer as he stepped forward to protect us in the line of duty. We also know from our constituencies that on every day and in every force, police officers take risks—sometimes extraordinary ones—to protect the public. They deserve our gratitude and, more importantly, our support.
The background to this debate is one of increased investment in policing since 2015. This year in England and Wales, we will invest £12.6 billion in our police system, compared with £11.9 billion in 2015-16, which represents an increase of around £700 million. Having seen evidence of changed demands on the police, we propose a settlement that increases total funding across the police system by up to £450 million in 2018-19. This will mean that, in 2018-19, we will be investing over £1 billion more in policing than we did in 2015-16, and that is at a time when public spending continues to be constrained due to the high borrowing that we inherited from the Labour party. I think that that is a significant statement of the priority that this Government attach to public safety.
I am listening carefully to my right hon. Friend. I agree completely that he was right to reject the representations from the Opposition that proposed cutting police funding by 10%. Will he tell the House something about the reserves held by forces, because a number of them seem quite substantial?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I will come on to that point later in my remarks, but the fact is that the police system is sitting on reserves of about £1.6 billion, and those reserves have grown by more than a quarter of a billion pounds since 2011. In the interests of the taxpayer, we are pressing for greater accountability and transparency regarding how that public money will be used.
Will the Minister confirm that the central Government grant is flat for this year, and that in the millions of pounds he is talking about, the only increase will be picked from the pockets of taxpayers throughout the country?
The Labour party continues to peddle the lie that someone else will always pay. Each police force will get a flat-real increase—that is drawn up through flat cash from the centre and an increased precept from local taxation. That is the balance of the proposal in its entirety. There is no such thing as Government money; it is either tax or borrowing. Someone has to pay, so let us nail the delusion of the Labour party that someone else will always pay.
Is it not a fact that between 2010 and 2015, the police budget from central Government was reduced by 5% every single year? The Minister makes the point that this is all taxpayers’ money, but is it not the case that he is continuing to move the burden of taxation away from central Government and on to local ratepayers?
This is a false argument from the Labour party. The fact remains that when one looks at police funding, on average something like 70% of local police force funding across the system still comes from the centre. The settlement barely changes that. We are responding to calls from many police and crime commissioners for greater flexibility in their local precept. That is what we are delivering but, in the face of continued Labour smoke around police cuts, we cannot get away from the fact that as a result of the settlement, we will invest over £1 billion more in our police system in 2018-19 than we did in 2015-16.
If everything is so rosy, why do we hear about a very different picture from chief constables and police and crime commissioners in their regular sessions before the Home Affairs Committee? I want to ask the Minister a specific question about funding for capital cities. I have repeatedly asked, as has the South Wales police and crime commissioner, for Cardiff to get additional resources, given its responsibilities as a capital city. Why are the Minister and the Government refusing to do that? Cardiff gets less funding per capita than the west midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester. Given our responsibilities as a capital city, surely that is not right.
I am happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman personally to discuss that in more detail. I am not suggesting that everything is rosy in the world of policing, as the police face a very challenging set of circumstances, but I am announcing how we will increase investment in our police.
I wonder whether the Minister will accept this point. He tells us that there is a flat-cash settlement, which in effect is a cut from central Government at a time of massively increasing demand on our policing due many different reasons, such as terrorism and organised crime. How can he possibly square the Government cut with that increase in demand and the fact that the public feel less secure?
The numbers cannot lie. As a result of the settlement, if PCCs do everything that we are empowering them to do, we, as a society, will be investing over £1 billion a year more in our police system than was the case in 2015-16. The Labour party can continue to talk the language of cuts, but the numbers tell a different story. There will be £1 billion a year of additional public money in our policing system next year compared with the position in 2015-16.
Will the Minister give way?
I will give the right hon. Gentleman a bit more time to recover from presenting his excellent ten-minute rule Bill, so I will proceed with my argument.
When shaping the settlement, I spoke personally to every PCC and chief constable in England and Wales. The Home Office collaborated closely with the police’s own demand and resilience review. I am incredibly grateful to frontline officers across the country who gave me their time and very candid opinions during my visits. I also thank Members from all parties who engaged with me on behalf of their local forces.
We heard three messages from that engagement. First, it is very clear that demand on the police has risen, and it has done so in areas of greater complexity and resource intensity. That does not mean that the British public are experiencing more crime. Indeed, the independent crime survey for England and Wales, which our independent statisticians confirm as being the most authoritative data on long-term crime trends, shows that the public’s experience of crime has continued to fall. It is down by almost 40% since 2010. However, police-recorded crime, which is a different thing, has risen significantly since 2015. Again, the independent statisticians are clear that the drivers of that growth include improved police recording of crime, and the fact that more victims of high-harm hidden crimes, such as domestic abuse, modern slavery and child sexual exploitation, are coming forward—
I am sure that the hon. Lady will welcome that.
When police cuts are made, it is our poorest communities that suffer most. Lone parents and the unemployed are twice as likely to be burgled as the average person, and the deprived and unemployed are twice as likely to be the victims of violent crime. Do not the police cuts show what side of the argument Conservative Members are on and who they stick up for? It is not the poor, who need the police more.
I could not agree more that the impact of crime falls hardest on the poorest communities. That is not in doubt, but I hope that, as a Derbyshire MP—
I beg the hon. Lady’s pardon, but even if I have to shift my geography, I do not think that my argument will change. I hope that she welcomes the fact that Nottinghamshire police will receive £4.5 million more cash in 2017-18 and the statement from her PCC, Paddy Tipping, that he will use that money to recruit more police officers.
I thank the Minister for giving way and for allowing me time to recover. He keeps making a point about police reserves, but for the benefit of good public debate, will he tell the House—either today or in a letter—what the recommended level of reserves is? What do the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary set out? Will he tell us the right level of reserves so that we may judge the comments that he keeps making?
As a Liberal Democrat who worked tirelessly in government to promote more open and transparent government, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have no problem with the principle of greater accountability and transparency around the use of public money, which is the kernel of the debate. The guidelines are not mandated. The advice that police treasurers get from the body he mentioned indicates that they should be thinking of about 3% to 5% of revenue as basic contingency reserves. The £1.6 billion that I cited in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) represents around 15% of annual revenue, so the reserves that the police hold clearly go above what might be reasonably expected for pure contingency funding. That is absolutely fine, as long as the people whose money that is get a good explanation of what the money will be used for.
My right hon. Friend says that the right level for reserves is about 5% of revenue, but Gwent police’s figure is 42% and that for North Wales police is about 24%. Does he know any reason why the reserves of those police forces are quite so high?
To clarify, the advice for treasurers, in terms of pure contingency funding, is that prudent levels would be about 3% to 5%. It might be entirely appropriate for police forces to hold significantly more than that, as Gwent does—it sits at the extreme end of the spectrum—but my point is: what will the money be used for? It is public money and we are entitled to know. There might be very good plans for how the money will be used, and those plans might significantly enhance the effectiveness of the police force, but to my eyes, there is insufficient transparency and accountability regarding how that money is used. At a time when the Labour party keeps talking about cuts to the police service, it remains an awkward fact that the police have increased their reserves by over a quarter of a billion pounds since 2010. That is public money that has not been used.
I remind the Minister and the House that a reserve can only be spent once, and it is simply unsustainable to plan a police budget on the basis of one-off spending. If police authorities have plans to spend their reserves, what will the Minister’s answer be when we set next year’s police grant and those reserves are no longer there? We cannot keep spending reserves.
I accept that point, and I will address it in my remarks, but it does not undermine my central argument, which is not necessarily to criticise the level of reserves, but simply to say, “Tell us what you’re going to spend it on,” because it is the public’s money.
Several hon. Members rose—
I need to move on to make sure that colleagues—
I want to ask about the reserves.
There will be another opportunity to talk about the reserves later.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
As a courtesy to my colleague, I will give way.
I am most grateful. My right hon. Friend is doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances—[Hon. Members: “You created them.”] I remind Members that the Labour party virtually bankrupted this country. We are dealing with the consequences of living within our means, and this—sadly—is one of them. May I put the record straight? The hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) cited a connection between of a lack of officers and the poor, and asked which side of the argument we were on. Members on both sides of the House believe in law and order whether you are rich or poor. I just wanted to put the record straight.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, which is part of the reason why we are making this commitment of additional investment in our police system.
Will the Minister give way?
Out of courtesy to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, I give way.
The Minister will know that the Select Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the changing pressures on policing, and part of that will involve our looking at resources. Of course, the additional funding for counter-terrorism is welcome and extremely important, but the real-terms squeeze on police forces’ core funding from central Government is a real concern for forces throughout the country. Given the changing patterns of crime, including the rise of not just violent crime, but online fraud—forces have told us that 95% of online fraud cases are not being investigated at all—as well as the pressures on support for vulnerable people, is he not worried in his heart of hearts that he is simply not providing forces with enough money to keep people safe?
No, I am not, and I will address that. I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for welcoming the increased investment in counter-terrorism policing, although I understand that her Whips will send her through the Lobby to vote against it. It will be interesting to see how she explains that to her constituents.
On the right hon. Lady’s more general point, I am arguing that given our very constrained public finances, which I think everyone understands, the settlement is fair and comprehensive. It represents an increase of £1 billion in annual investment in our police system compared with 2016. There is a recognition that the pattern of demand on the police has changed significantly. They are doing more work in areas of greater complexity and resource intensiveness, and they are having to build the capability to tackle modern crime, not least cyber and online crime. The Minister for Security and Economic Crime, who is sitting next to me, is working hard to build those capabilities, with a significant budget.
May I press the Minister further on counter-terrorism? A number of local forces are saying that the so-called new money for counter-terrorism is not new money, but has been financed by backfilling from neighbourhood policing. We all know that neighbourhood policing is vital to any long-term counter-terrorism strategy.
I need to correct that, because it is fake news. The money for counter-terrorism is ring-fenced—this is new money. I note the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but I also note that, as I understand it, he will be voting against this money today.
I was talking about the serious changes in the nature of demand on police as a result of the increase in recorded crime. I was at pains to point out that some of the drivers of this growth in recorded crime are welcome, as they reflect improvements in the police recording of crime, following substantial criticisms from the inspectorate back in 2014. They also reflect the fact that more victims of high-harm hidden crimes are coming forward, which I am sure the whole House welcomes. We are also clear, however, that there is genuine growth in low-volume, high-impact violent crime, which concerns us all. That will be the focus of the Government’s upcoming serious violence strategy.
When will the Government publish that strategy?
We said that we would publish it in the spring. It comes on top of regulations to ban the sale of zombie knives, and a consultation on a range of new offences around the sale and possession of dangerous weapons.
In addition to the changes in demand I have outlined, there is the escalation and evolution of the terrorist risk. In the context of police resources, the point is that demand on the police has risen, which has put more pressure on our police—there is no doubt about that.
The second message we got from many PCCs and chiefs across England and Wales was a request for greater flexibility regarding the precept. PCCs are, of course, elected by their local populations, and many want a greater ability to determine how much local funding they can raise to deliver for their communities. The third message was a request for greater certainty over future funding so that PCCs are able to plan more effectively and free up reserves for investment. I am pleased to confirm that the Government have proposed a funding settlement that responds positively to all three messages.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will give me a nice answer, because I will be voting tonight as well. He knows that Lincolnshire police force has been historically very badly underfunded, and we are grateful to him for visiting Lincolnshire and taking an interest. What steps is he taking to improve the situation in Lincolnshire and support our excellent police and crime commissioner, Marc Jones, who is having to use funding flexibility to protect police numbers and effectively put up council tax. What is the Minister doing to help us in Lincolnshire?
My hon. Friend has been a tireless advocate for more resources for Lincolnshire policing. It is a stretched police force, but the PCC, Marc Jones, is doing an excellent job. I hope that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that Lincolnshire will receive another £3.3 million next year, and if all goes well it will get something similar in 2020. He will know that the independent inspectorate notes that Lincolnshire is one of the forces that still needs to make efficiency improvements, but I undertake to work closely with that force to monitor the situation. As I said in the written statement accompanying the provisional grant, we have not lost sight of the fair funding review; we just feel that the comprehensive spending review, which will shape police funding for the next five years, is the most appropriate context for that work. I hope that the combination of those things will assure him of the sustainability and effectiveness of Lincolnshire policing.
The Minister said that he had received three messages—let me give him a fourth one, from the people of St Helens: antisocial behaviour—up; robbery, theft and burglary—up; violent and sexual crime—up; police funding—down; police numbers—down. What is he going to do about it?
On one level, I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but increased funding is going into his police system, and if he actually tells an honest story to his constituents about crime, he will refer them to the national crime survey, which shows that crime, in the experience of his constituents, continues to fall, alongside the national trend.
In terms of the shape of the settlement, I want to be clear that there will be no reductions in the amount of core grant paid to any PCC.
Yes, there will be.
No, there won’t. There will be no reduction in the amount of core grant paid to any PCC. This means that PCCs will keep all the benefits of tax-based growth in their area. That is a change, and one that West Midlands police, for example, were particularly keen on. That is a change: there will be no reduction in the amount of core grant paid to any PCC. We are also giving PCCs and Mayors more flexibility on their precepts. The settlement empowers them to ask their local residents to make a bigger contribution to support local policing. We want this to be affordable, at a time when money remains tight, so we have limited increases in local police precepts to an additional £1 a month—or 25p a week—for a typical band D household. If all PCCs use these powers, they will be able to invest, collectively, a further £270 million in 2018-19. Since 2016-17 local force funding has been protected in cash terms, including police precepts, but this settlement goes further. The combination of flat grant and rising precept in 2018-19 means that all PCCs can maintain their funding in real terms next year if they use the new council tax flexibility.
I am sorry, but the Minister is completely wrong. Flat cash is a cut when inflation and other pressures on PCCs are taken into account. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) asked what the Minister could do to help the Lincolnshire force. What the Minister is doing is pushing the increase on to local taxpayers. Why did he not say that to the hon. Gentleman?
I will make two points to the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who, as ever, is thoughtful on these matters. The combination of flat-cash grant from the centre and an increase in precepts means overall net-net “flat real” for local police forces. [Interruption.] That is what I said, and that is what is true. Labour Members continue to ignore the second part of that combination, which is the increase in precepts. [Interruption.] I know that Labour Members have a problem with this, because they continue to pretend that someone else will pay. What we said in response to PCCs who wanted increased flexibility on precepts was that they should go to the people in their locality and say, “I should like to ask for an extra 25p a week as an additional contribution to local policing; would you accept that?” Where surveys have been carried out, PCCs have met with approval rates of between 75% and 80%, which suggests that that was the right question and the right answer.
The Minister has just been caught red-handed trying to use smoke and mirrors to kid people that the flat-cash settlement that he is announcing today means that any increase in the precept will be wholly spent on additional resources for the police. That is simply not true. The truth is that the Government are cutting the resources that they are giving to every police force in the country, and are asking residents to foot the bill for a poorer service. That is a total disgrace, and the Minister should stop attempting to misdirect people who are following the debate.
I will take no lessons on distorting the truth from Labour Members who continue to peddle the lie that there is such a thing as free Government money, or that someone else will always pay. The response from people on the ground who were asked, “Are you prepared to put a bit more money in to support your local police?” was a resounding “Yes”. I am not misleading the House. The combination of flat cash from the centre and increases in precepts—the ability to maintain growth in council tax precepts—means that we have moved, at local level, from flat cash to “flat real”, before we come to the additional investment from the centre. That means that next year the Government will invest over £1 billion a year more in local policing than we invested in 2015-16.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Excuse my ignorance, but is it in order for an hon. Member to accuse a Minister of the Crown of misdirecting the House?
I think the spirit of the debate is that feelings are running high. I have not yet heard anything that I considered to be disorderly, but Members will obviously bear in mind that they should be careful about they say.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I appreciate the sentiments of my colleagues on the Back Benches.
I was talking about the additional investment that we are making from the centre. So far I have talked about what we are doing to enable PCCs to increase their investment as a result of increases in the local precepts, but we are also providing an extra £130 million for additional investment in national priorities such as digital technology and the police special grant. This is not somehow disconnected from the earlier conversation; it is about how we invest, as a country, in the police system.
The police special grant is an essential tool to help forces who face exceptional events, and it is right for us to do that. This year we are using it to help Greater Manchester and the Metropolitan police respond to the horrific terrorist attacks, as well as helping forces such as South Yorkshire to pay for very large investigations of child sexual exploitation. We are increasing special grant funding by more than £40 million next year to ensure that, for example, we can support the Met in providing security for the commonwealth summit in April.
We are also increasing our crucial investment in police technology. If we are to fully realise the potential benefits of mobile technology and ensure that officers spend as much time as possible on the frontline to protect the public, we must deliver modern 4G communications for the police service and key databases that can be accessed on the move, and must give the police the tools that they need to track down suspects as quickly as possible. That requires investment from the centre. We are, for example, creating a single national automatic number plate recognition system with a greatly enhanced ability to track vehicles and link different vehicles, locations and crimes in order to detect and prevent crime and safeguard vulnerable people.
Will the Minister give way?
I have already taken a great many interventions from Labour Members, and I need to make some progress to allow the debate to flow.
Of course, the No. 1 responsibility of Governments is the safety of our citizens. The tragedy of five terrorist attacks in London and Manchester in 2017 has sadly reinforced the threat that we face from terrorism. It is therefore right that we are increasing funding for counter-terrorism policing both this year and next¸ and it is disappointing that Labour Members will vote against that tonight. In September we announced £24 million of new money this year, which would go to forces throughout the country to meet the costs relating to the tragic terror attacks. I am also pleased to confirm that the Government have agreed to provide a further £4 million this year to meet the costs arising from the attack at Parsons Green. We are significantly increasing the counter-terrorism policing budget for 2018-19 to £757 million. That is £70 million more than was scheduled, and reflects the priority that we attach to the incredibly important task of protecting the public.
As well as increasing funding by around £450 million in 2018-19, we have signalled—and I think this is the first time we have done so in the context of police grants—that we are prepared to protect Government grant and repeat the additional precept flexibility in 2019-20. That is a response to the calls from many PCCs and budget-holders for more forward visibility to help them to plan more effectively. We have made it clear that the 2019-20 local police settlement will depend on progress made by forces this year in three critical areas: productivity, financial efficiency and transparency about financial reserves, which we discussed earlier. All those need to be improved.
South Wales police are already doing all those things. We have reduced the reserves to the minimum level allowed. We have collaborated hugely on bringing services together. Seven contact and control rooms have been reduced to one, and 18 custody facilities have been reduced to four. Our command unit structure has been streamlined, we have reduced the estate by a third, and we have reduced the fleet by 20%. The bottom line is that, with demand going up, we have reduced the reserves and made all those efficiency savings. Now the Minister is offering a flat-terms settlement, which is a cut. Where else do we go?
What I am actually offering is £6.7 million of additional cash investment in South Wales policing next year. I have taken on board everything that the hon. Gentleman has said, and I congratulate the leadership of South Wales police on what it has done to improve efficiency. The level of the reserves is not extravagant. Where I take umbrage with the hon. Gentleman is on the amount of investment, which, as I have said, will rise by £6.7 million next year. I hope he will welcome that.
Improved productivity means making better use of the most important asset in the police system, which is police officers’ time. In 2018, in the modern age, that means making the most of the opportunity presented by digital and big data technology. For example, a growing number of forces—not least Lincolnshire, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh)—now embrace mobile working. If all forces took advantage of mobile working like the best forces, that would mean that the average officer could spend an hour a day extra on the frontline, where hard-working officers want to be. It has the potential to free up the equivalent of 11,000 extra officers in England and Wales. That is the implication if best practice is extrapolated across the system.
More mobile working, better use of data and better connected systems are all critical to modern policing. That is why the Home Office is working closely with PCCs, chiefs and experts to shape a credible roadmap that can properly harness the power of digital technology to promote more effective policing. To give further support to that process of reform, we have ensured that police forces will benefit from the £175 million police transformation fund in 2018-2019. The fund, led by police, is delivering real results and enabling forces to invest in transformation and digitisation for the future.
When budgets are tight, we have to keep challenging inefficiency, so the Home Office is also working with the police leadership to develop plans to unlock an estimated £120 million-worth of efficiency savings from more collaborative procurement and shared systems. Finally, on behalf of the taxpayer we are pressing PCCs to provide much better information on how they are using their £1.6 billion of financial reserves to improve services to the public. These reserves have risen by over £250 million since 2011. It is public money and the public deserve a proper explanation for how it is going to be used. That is why last week we published comparable national data on police reserves and new tougher guidance on the information PCCs must publish on their planned use of reserves. This is the shape of our proposed police funding settlement out to 2020.
What has been the reaction on the ground? Many PCCs have welcomed the funding settlement we set out in December. I am pleased to say that almost all PCCs in England have chosen to use this new council tax flexibility to determine how much local funding they can raise to deliver for their communities, and local people have shown their support. In Cumbria, 1,500 people responded to the consultation and over 70% of them indicated that they support the proposed precept increase. In Leicestershire, nearly three quarters of respondents voted for a £12 increase, and in Lancashire 78% supported increasing the police precept there by £12.
PCCs have been explaining to their communities why they have opted to make use of this ability to raise the extra funding. Most PCCs are intending to use this funding to protect or strengthen frontline policing in their force next year. For example, Matthew Scott, the PCC for Kent, announced that he will recruit up to 200 additional police officers next year, taking the total number of officers in Kent to its highest level since 2012. In Surrey, the PCC, David Munro, has proposed to increase the precept by £12 to protect local policing teams and respond to increasing threats such as cyber-crime and child abuse, while investing in efficiency programmes to give Surrey a police force fit for the future. In Humberside, PCC Keith Hunter has stated that by increasing the precept by £12 a month the force’s recruitment plans will take them from the planned 1,867 police officers next year up to 1,925 officers by 2020.
I am not going to take any more interventions.
In Nottinghamshire, PCC Paddy Tipping plans to increase police officer numbers up to 1,940, do more to tackle knife crime, and invest in a new custody facility capable of meeting current and future demands. These are just a few examples of how both Conservative and Labour PCCs are using this opportunity to improve the effectiveness of their service to the public.
We have listened to the police. We believe that, through the combination of the increased investment from this settlement, the scope for further efficiencies and productivity and the high level of reserves in the police system, the police have the resources they need to do the job. At the same time we are working with the police to lay the groundwork for the next spending review, which will include a final view on the fair funding formula. As I have said, we believe that the spending review is the right context for those decisions.
We are also supporting the police in other ways. We are ensuring that police have the full protection of the law when carrying out their duties. We are supporting the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill, which will increase the penalties available to those who attack emergency service workers. We are also helping frontline officers to tackle crime by making sure that officers feel able to pursue suspected criminals where it is appropriate to do so by reviewing the legislation, guidance and practice around police pursuits.
The safety of the public is of course our first priority and we will continue to ensure that the police have the resource they need to cut crime, protect the public, and help victims to get justice quickly. I believe that what I am presenting today is a fair and comprehensive settlement within the constraints of the fiscal position we are in. It will see us raise our investment in policing to over £13 billion next year in England and Wales, an increase of over £1 billion since 2015-16.
I wish to end where I began: by recognising once more the exceptional attitude, hard work and determination of our brave police forces. I commend this motion to the House.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Many colleagues wish to contribute, so after I have called the shadow Minister I will impose a time limit of 10 minutes.
I want to start, as the Minister did, by paying tribute to the men and women who serve in our police service. The counterpart to this debate took place a little under a year ago, and no one could have imagined the unspeakable series of attacks that would follow in 2017. Throughout, our police service officers have risen to the highest standards of bravery, dedication and duty, truly honouring the founding principles of policing in the process. Chief among that covenant is that our police service depends ultimately on public support. After a year in which we have seen officers run into danger to keep the public safe, the police can rarely have counted on such strong public support as they enjoy today.
But I know from speaking to those officers that they are tired of warm words, backed up with no action from politicians. Today they are under sustained pressure the like of which the service has rarely, if ever, encountered, and today we have heard that there is not to be a single extra penny from central Government for local police forces.
Before I go into the detail of the funding settlement before us, I want to deal with the demand that the Minister says he recognises the police are under. Between 2010 and 2017 the average number of 101 and 999 calls has rocketed; in South Yorkshire it has tripled. Just last year 999 calls increased by 15%. Forces such as the West Midlands police are receiving the number of calls on one day in June that they used to receive only on new year’s eve. In the last year overall crime has risen by 15%, the largest increase since records began, violent crime is up by 20%, robberies by 29% and sexual offences by 23%. Last year over 1.4 million more people than the year before experienced antisocial behaviour, while the number of orders handed out fell by a quarter. Yet those are only a tiny proportion of the issues our police have to deal with.
On becoming Home Secretary, the now Prime Minister told the police their only “mission” was
“to cut crime. No more, and no less”,
but 83% of calls to command and control centres are non-crime-related. They are calls associated with mental health—last year the Met took an average of one mental health call every five minutes—or with missing persons, a demand that has tripled for some forces over the last seven years. They are associated with a raft of vulnerabilities, because, as other services buckle, the police are relied upon more than ever as the social service of last resort.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, contrary to what the Minister has alleged, what Labour Members are doing today is standing up for their constituents and voting against cuts that are unsafe and putting our constituents at risk?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Today we will be voting against a completely inappropriate police funding settlement that leaves our communities exposed and the public at risk.
On top of all the demand I have listed, there is the unprecedented terrorist threat our country now faces. It is frankly unbelievable that, as the National Police Chiefs’ Council has recognised, the report before us fails to meet those growing needs and exposes gaps in the protection of the public.
So we have no choice but to vote against the motion tonight. We do so for three key reasons. First, the report prescribes an eighth consecutive year of real-terms cuts in Home Office funding. Secondly, it pushes the burden on to hard-pressed local taxpayers, and the very areas that have seen the most substantial cuts will get the least, inevitably creating a lottery of winners and losers that has no place for public safety. Thirdly, it fails to meet the needs identified by police chiefs, first and foremost in the area of counter-terrorism but also in local policing.
I am sure the hon. Lady has done a lot of homework before today’s debate, as we all have. Therefore, given the backdrop to what she has just said, can she advise us how much money—how many pounds, shillings and pence—her party would be adding to the police grant this year?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, our manifesto spelled out very clearly that we would dedicate 10,000 additional neighbourhood policing officers. The settlement before us today does not dedicate any additional funding to local policing and in fact, as I will come on to, would be swallowed up almost completely by inflationary and cost pressures.
One of the chief jobs of Parliament is to hold the Government accountable for the promises they make to the public and for their record of action in office, so I want to briefly focus on the context for this year’s police settlement. In 2015, the current Prime Minister promised the public that after a period in which £2.3 billion had been taken from police budgets, the Conservatives would now “protect police funding”. On many occasions that promise has been repeated to the public and to this House. Indeed, it was repeated by the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions just today. In fact, the House of Commons Library has shown that real-terms central Government funding to local forces has fallen by £400 million since 2015—the equivalent of more than 7,000 officers.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when the Conservatives say we are inventing the cuts, they are not taking into account the cuts to police officer numbers? Between 2010 and 2017, Suffolk has seen 150 fewer officers, 100 fewer specials, 86 fewer PCSOs—50% of the group—and 200 fewer support staff. That represents a 25% cut in personnel across the board, so it is not surprising that we have seen a concomitant increase in crime.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Despite what the Government like to say, every single Member of this House will have seen frontline cuts to police forces. Two weeks ago, the Leader of the House insisted in this Chamber that
“frontline policing throughout the country as a whole has not changed—it has, in fact, slightly increased since 2010.”—[Official Report, 25 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 421.]
This has been a familiar refrain throughout the Government’s time in office: “Yes, we are making cuts, but they are having no real impact.”
More than 36,000 101 calls went unanswered or were abandoned in Nottinghamshire last year, which is a 201% increase year on year. Those people needed genuine help, but they did not get it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The number of abandoned calls has increased as the number of calls to 101 and 999 has increased. We now have 21,000 fewer police officers on our streets than there were when Labour left office in 2010, 17,000 fewer police staff, who perform vital functions in investigations, and 6,000 fewer PCSOs. Neighbourhood policing—the absolute bedrock of our model of policing—has been decimated, which is an appalling legacy of this Government. Neighbourhood policing is not just a “nice to have”; it is vital to our policing system and underpins the police’s ability to police by consent. It is almost wholly responsible for building and maintaining relationships with communities, and if we reduce our police to nothing more than a blue light that arrives only when the absolute worst has happened, we risk rolling back all the progress that has been made in police accountability and trust over the last generation.
My hon. Friend is making a compelling speech. Does she agree that the cuts to police numbers in areas such as mine mean that there simply are not enough police officers to attend crimes as they happen, such as burglaries that are in progress? Vans are continually broken into and people have their tools stolen time and again, but the resources to help those people simply are not there.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Minister has heard time and again from Opposition Members that the police do not have the resources to respond to serious crimes, with burglaries being a particular problem, but the Government seem happy to sit back and allow that to happen. They are the only Executive in modern times to have presided over consecutive falls in police numbers in every single year of their time in office.
Will the hon. Lady join me in welcoming the policy of Katy Bourne, the Sussex police and crime commissioner, who is recruiting an extra 100 officers?
If that is the case, I am delighted for Sussex police that it is recruiting additional officers, but that comes in the context of severe cuts and a fall in police officer numbers over the past seven years.
Does my hon. Friend agree that any current recruiting follows year-on-year consecutive cuts to police numbers? Southwark has lost 200 police officers and PCSOs despite having the highest volume of 999 calls in London, experiencing a terror attack last year, and seeing high rates of moped and knife crime.
My hon. Friend is right that the context is seven years of prolonged, deep cuts from this Conservative Government that have led to police officer numbers falling and crime rising. Looking across Europe for international comparisons, we see that only Lithuania and Iceland, both of which are suffering deep depressions, chose to cut frontline policing by proportionally more than we did over the past 10 years. These choices have not been made out of necessity; they have been made out of ideology. Promises to the British public have been broken time and again. That is why we were right to treat the Policing Minister’s statement before the Christmas recess with a heavy serving of scepticism. He told us the settlement would give the police “the resources they need.” When Opposition Members doubted him, he told us to go away and read the detail so that we might feel more positive. Well, we have, but we are not.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council has also read the detail and said that it did not meet the level of investment required. It is not hard to see why. The council’s funding document, which was submitted to the Home Office ahead of the settlement, requested £450 million for local policing alone, not for the entire service, as the Minister has sought to claim. It estimates that inflationary pressures on local forces add up to £209 million—not to mention cost pressures of £38 million and the additional pressure of the unfunded pay rise announced last year. Taken together, all of that will almost entirely wipe out the funding raised from precepts, meaning that local people will be paying more and getting less. As has been said, that will happen on top of an eighth year of real-terms cuts in the support the Government give to local forces. The flat cash settlement this year will equate to a cut of £100 million over the next year, so it is not difficult to see why commissioners across the country are calling the settlement “smoke and mirrors.”
I turn to the precept, because it is not additional money from Government, as the Minister tried to claim. Any additional money will come if PCCs take the decision to increase their policing precept. Once again, the Government display the worst type of localism: passing all the blame on to local decision makers while refusing to fund the tough decisions that they have to make.
What is more, this method of funding the police is fundamentally unfair. The areas that have taken the biggest hit from funding cuts since 2010 stand to gain the least from the maximisation of the precept. For example, the west midlands, which has lost a staggering 2,000 officers since 2010, will raise a little over 2% from the precept. By contrast, Surrey, which has half the population, will raise almost the same in cash terms as the west midlands, but by maximising the precept it will be able to raise 7.5% of its budget. When it comes to public safety, the settlement creates winners and losers based on postcode. The police funding formula at least made an attempt to fund forces based on need, but it seems to have been kicked into the long grass yet again. The alternative—funding the police through the precept—means that community safety depends on the ability of the local community to pay.
Before I conclude, I want to discuss reserves, which the Minister was keen to dwell on and which have been published with greater transparency this month. When the unfunded pay settlement was announced last year, police forces were lectured over their levels of reserves and were advised to use them for the 2% unconsolidated increase. The figure bandied about for the total amount of reserves is £1.6 billion, but the Minister knows full well that the vast majority of that figure is earmarked for capital projects or for known future spending. The real figure of usable reserves is £378 million, as the Minister’s own publication shows. Much of that is routinely being used for day-to-day policing as a result of cuts, and there is a danger that some forces will be put in the vulnerable position of not being able to respond to an emergency. In fact, the last available HMIC analysis revealed that only nine forces out of the 43 have more than the 5% level of reserves recommended by the Audit Commission, so the attempt to continue to distract us with the reserves is transparent, and the public and police leaders across the country will see right through it.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly given the horrific events of the last year, I want to turn to counter-terrorism. Nobody who has read the report of David Anderson, QC’s review into the four fatal attacks in the spring and summer of 2017 can be in any doubt about the strain on counter-terror policing. In one chilling excerpt, he notes:
“On 21 March 2017, prior to the Westminster attack on the following day, investigation of Khuram Butt”—
one of the London Bridge attackers—
“was suspended. Investigation of the other SOIs”—
subjects of interest—
“investigated under the operation had been suspended the previous week, due to resourcing constraints brought on by a large number of P1 investigations”—
that is, priority one investigations.
Mark Rowley, the national lead for counter-terrorism policing, told the Home Affairs Committee in October that counter-terror policing was dealing with a 30% uptick in operations. He warned that
“dealing with this uplift in work at the moment is a real stretch”,
and that counter-terrorism had been put on an “emergency footing”. He continued:
“Given that we now have a growing number of subjects of interests we are investigating and a very big growth in the number of investigations…we have a bigger proportion of our investigations that are at the bottom of the pile and getting little or no work at the moment.”
I am certain that will horrify the public, as it horrifies me. I am equally certain that the public will wish the Government to give counter-terror policing the resources it needs to counter that threat. It is therefore staggering that Ministers have chosen, through this settlement, to give counter-terror policing just half of the resources it requested to keep the country safe.
Police chiefs are now openly warning, in an unprecedented way, of tough choices as a result of Ministers’ failure properly to resource their efforts in a threat climate described as “stratospheric.” If the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens, the responsibility of the Opposition is to make sure the Government keep to that promise. The failure properly to resource the counter-terror effort alone would be justification enough for the Labour party to vote against the police grant today, but in fact this settlement fails to meet not only our security needs but the needs of local policing and of the communities that are most in need.
The Minister has said time and again that he will ensure the police have the resources they need to do the job. There will not be a single chief constable in this country who can tell him that he or she has the resources needed to fully protect the public and provide a professional service in the current climate. Under the Government’s watch, crime is soaring and the public are exposed. The Government must urgently think again.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to listen to both the Minister, for whom I have a huge amount of respect, and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), who is rightly holding the Government to account. I take all her points on board.
We all know that there are clearly issues with police funding, but, if I may be so bold, not once did the shadow Minister suggest how the Labour party would deal with the huge hole in our public expenditure that, as I said in my earlier intervention, was to a large extent—along with the banking crisis—created by the Labour party before the coalition Government came into power. We inherited this terrible financial conundrum. We are trying to provide money for our public services, and when our economy improves, we will generate the income to pay for all the public services that so desperately need our money.
I thank Dorset police force and all its officers for doing an outstanding, courageous and dedicated job, and I am eternally grateful, as we all are in South Dorset—indeed, in the whole of Dorset, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) is here, too. I particularly praise our chief constable, Debbie Simpson, who is retiring after 35 years. She has been exemplary in her career, which proves how much can be achieved by a female officer. She has got to the very top, and all credit to her. I thank her for all the hard work she has done, and I look forward to many other female officers achieving the same rank.
I thank the Minister, for whom I have huge respect, for the extra £4.2 million. I also thank him for seeing me privately to go through my concerns. I am very grateful to him and to his Department.
I will quickly touch on three issues, and I will not take up much of the House’s time. First, I am grateful for the £12 precept flexibility, but there is still an outstanding deficit of £1.5 million. Dorset is considering a merger with Devon and Cornwall, which will aid the deficit. Work is under way on perhaps having one police force, and savings are being made. Unfortunately, that will optimise what we have, rather than growing the workforce, which in my humble opinion, and in the humble opinion of many others in Dorset, is what we should do.
Members on both sides of the House have mentioned reserves, and in 2017 Dorset’s reserves were 11% of our overall budget, compared with the national average of 15%. Dorset police force has managed to reduce its reserves by 26% since 2011, compared with all forces, which on average have increased their reserves by 19%.
Secondly, we need wholesale investment in policing. I totally accept that new crimes, such as modern slavery, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and cyber-crime, are now taking far more precedence and far more of our police officers’ time. What I regret is not the effort being made to combat those crimes but the fact that it is taking officers off the beat. I am a former soldier, and holding the land—or dominating it, in the case of Northern Ireland—and patrolling very troubled spots is where we gained information and intelligence. The deterrence was formed on the streets.
While we investigate all these other crimes—I give all credit to police officers—we must not lose sight of the fact that, in my humble opinion, we need more officers on the ground. Crimes are still being committed. A jewellery shop in Corfe Castle has now been hit three or four times. I believe the gangsters responsible come down from the midlands. They crash in, crash out and take their ill-gotten gains back to where they came from. Those crimes would not be committed if there were a police presence on the ground. I urge the Minister and the Government to think carefully about that point.
Finally, as the Minister has mentioned—I mentioned it to him in private, and I now do so in public—the grant is set in December and the police and crime commissioners then have until February to set their budgets. That is unlike local authorities, which have a four-year budget period that gives them much more time to plan ahead. I ask the Government to look at that.
What can be done to help Dorset police? I urge the Government to go back to the funding formula, which treats us unfairly for all kinds of reasons that I do not have time to go into now. This is an emotive subject for many, but I believe the overseas aid budget will balloon to some £20 billion in 2020. Do not get me wrong, because I have absolutely no objection to money going to overseas aid, but I object when at home—and charity starts at home—we are unable to provide enough money for all our public resources, not just the police service. I urge the Government and any right-minded person to consider the 0.7% overseas aid target. Yes, we should give money where it is needed and where we can afford it, but not before we look after all the needs of our own country.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax). I feel very strongly about policing, law and order. We make the laws in this House, and we ask the police to enforce those laws out there. Between us, we make up the before and after of the legislative process. The fabric of a functioning society is based on collectively agreeing the laws that govern our country and then upholding those laws by deciding what happens to those who do not respect them. That is the essence of democracy, and those principles cut right across the different political parties, which is why I find it so difficult to comprehend what this Government are doing to policing and to policing budgets.
West Yorkshire police force has had a 35% reduction in funding since 2010, resulting in almost 2,000 fewer officers and members of staff—a 20% reduction of the force. The force has risen to the challenge set by this Government and has rationalised its estate, modernised to deliver efficiencies and reformed by investing in digital policing. The force has delivered £140 million in savings to get to where we are now. However, I am afraid to say that those deceptive words simply mask the fact that West Yorkshire police are now able to do less with less.
West Yorkshire has the fourth-largest force in the country and, to set the context, it takes in the busy cities of Wakefield, Leeds and Bradford, yet it also covers many Pennine towns extending up to the Lancashire border. We have diverse communities, with black and minority ethnic populations making up more than 50% of 14 of our wards. Although that is a welcome part of our diverse heritage, the House will appreciate that it also presents challenges. International events, terrorist incidents and extremist acts can all undermine community cohesion.
On any one day in West Yorkshire, one police officer is on duty for every 2,097 members of the public. On average, the force makes 136 arrests a day, with a staggering 43 of those arrests related to domestic abuse. The force will attend 38 house burglaries, 44 thefts from vehicles, 16 thefts of vehicles, four serious violent crimes, seven robberies, 57 assaults, 17 sexual offences and 159 incidents of anti-social behaviour, and it will deal with 141 incidents of domestic abuse in total.
We keep being told that crime is falling, that it is changing and that new crimes are emerging, but the lion’s share of criminal activity within this mix is all thefts and violence—there is nothing new in this at all. Yet layered on top of all that are these new and emerging types of crime. Non-recent child sexual exploitation and abuse investigations now account for 33% of all West Yorkshire police investigations—33% of that investigative capacity is taken up by non-recent CSE cases. There were 184 offences relating to modern-day slavery in 2016, which compares with just 19 three years ago. Technology is enabling types of crime such as the grooming of young people for sexual exploitation, human trafficking or radicalisation, and people are most likely to be the victim of fraud than any other crime, with this often being enabled by online activity.
There has been a particularly disturbing increase in firearms discharges in West Yorkshire over the past two years, with firearms predominantly used by organised criminal gangs as a means of resolving disputes. Hon. Members will not need me to remind them that the highest-profile discharge of a firearm in West Yorkshire resulted from the extreme actions of Thomas Mair, who, motivated by right-wing ideology, took the life of our friend and colleague Jo Cox. Sadly, we are no strangers to extremism in West Yorkshire, with several Prevent priority areas presenting a continually evolving threat for the police to assess and manage.
In addition, I want to raise the issue of mission creep within policing, especially in relation to safeguarding and mental health, a point excellently made by the shadow Minister. Some 20% of all incidents reported to West Yorkshire police now relate to safeguarding. More than 20,000 missing people investigations were recorded in 2016, an increase of 258% compared with the 2013 figure. Of those, 2,500 were people who have gone missing on more than one occasion within the past 12 months. The percentage of children reported missing who have gone missing on more than one occasion was 37%. Every day, on average, West Yorkshire police will investigate 65 missing people, with 53 of these cases being graded as “high risk” or “medium risk”, where we are into “drop everything else” territory. The police will also be called to 43 separate incidents associated with mental health.
I have spent time with the out-of-hours mental health team in Halifax and seen the massive challenge that falls to the police outside the normal working hours of other agencies. I was horrified to see that although concerted efforts have been made to keep people detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 out of police cells, there is a crippling lack of alternative and more suitable assessment space. So people in the midst of a mental health crisis are being bounced from pillar to post, until an assessment suite or bed becomes available, often in the back of a police vehicle, but they are predominantly the responsibility of the police for as long as that takes, because of the shortcomings of mental health services to really meet the demand.
I witnessed four officers tied up with mental health cases on Halloween weekend in Halifax for most of the night. That involved two double-crewed units, which probably represented about a quarter of the officers on shift that evening. So I ask the Minister: have we ever really taken a decision about the role of the police in relation to mental health, vulnerability and safeguarding and said that we want to them take on these additional responsibilities? I am not sure that we have, and we have allowed this mission creep to occur.
There will always be a role for the police in these matters, but given that the budget for West Yorkshire police has been cut by 35% since 2010, that the police are not the best agency to take a lead on some of these challenges where there is no criminality, just vulnerability, and that resources are as stretched as they are, we have drastically expanded the responsibilities of the police at the time when our forces can least cope with this. How can we look to empower the right people within social services, care homes, hospitals and the mental health profession, so that they take the lead on addressing these societal problems, rather than have it falling to the police by default, rather than by design, and certainly not motivated by any sense of best practice? Bearing in mind that safeguarding alone accounts for 20% of the workload of West Yorkshire police, the resources that would be released back into neighbourhood policing and back on to the frontline by making this shift could be significant.
I heard the Minister’s opening remarks and the Prime Minister’s comments about funding at Prime Minister’s questions earlier. West Yorkshire’s PCC, Mark Burns-Williamson will be increasing the precept, which is anticipated to generate in the region of £4.5 million. To give that some context, I should say that the 1% pay bonus, which is long overdue for officers but has to be found from existing budgets, will cost about £4 million. To be crystal clear, the pay bonus almost cancels out the precept, leaving a flat cash settlement without inflationary increases, so the settlement pays for less and less year on year and only further cuts within West Yorkshire police will square that circle. That is the reality of the budget before us, which is why we are so concerned about it.
To balance the books, West Yorkshire police will need to find another nearly £13 million over the next four years. This Government have made a lot a about reserves, which we have heard again today. Beyond the force’s legal obligation to hold contingency moneys, this year alone the PCC has had to find £11 million from reserves to fund everyday frontline policing. By 2022, most of West Yorkshire’s reserves will have been spent or committed to existing obligations, including capital build programmes and further technology investment. The reserves are being spent year on year just to keep officers on the streets. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) articulated earlier, this money can be spent only once.
Before closing, I want to extend my thanks to Sabina Yasbin of the Met police, as well as to Assistant Chief Constable Angela Williams and Police Sergeant Alex Macleod of West Yorkshire police, who have been co-ordinating my participation in the police parliamentary scheme. It has been brilliant and I recommend it to all colleagues. Every MP will no doubt have a good working relationship with local officers, but having the chance to get a real overview of the local force in detail and to spend time with specialist units that we would not otherwise come into contact with has been an eye-opening and incredibly useful experience, not least because it has helped me to feed into the Protect the Protectors campaign and the related work on the safety of emergency service workers.
With that in mind, I wonder whether the Minister can update the House about when we might see the “Protect the Protectors” Bill return to the Chamber on Report and Third Reading. Its return is eagerly anticipated by colleagues. Can he respond to the inquiries made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on the vision of the Bill always having been about having a tough deterrent, so that people reflect on the seriousness of these actions and do not assault emergency services workers in the first place? Although we are incredibly pleased and grateful that the Government have worked with us on extending the six-month sentence for assaulting a police officer to 12 months, we are continually receiving representations from people who are concerned that that will not be the ultimate deterrent that we had hoped for with the Bill. Can the Minister update the House and respond to the letter from my hon. Friend about the Government’s appetite for pushing the sentence to 24 months? I would be grateful if he updated us on that.
It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), who has spoken this afternoon, as she has done on a number of occasions, with great passion and clarity on the type of policing we want to see in our country and how it is delivered. Conservative Members are clear that there is a widening gulf in the Labour party on this issue. I am convinced that the vast majority of Labour Members, like all Conservative Members, support our police and policing. We follow up our speeches and words with our actions in that sort of support.
I am not sure I will take lessons from some Labour Front Benchers—I exclude the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) from that, because she spoke with great force and passion. We have a shadow Chancellor who believes that MI5 should be disbanded and the police should be disarmed. We have a shadow Home Secretary who has just left her place but who has, over the years, with her party leader, supported and revelled in IRA terrorism. We have also had the police berated by some for policing, quite properly, industrial action. When I asked the question, which again got no answer, about what the Labour party would do differently on this grant, we were reminded of the manifesto pledge of 10,000 extra police, yet even with all the months that have elapsed since that general election, Labour still has no idea how they would be funded and how much it would cost.
I will, though, take some lessons from my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister. Until the most recent reshuffle, it was my pleasure and honour to serve both him and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Economic Crime as their Parliamentary Private Secretary. Both are men of complete integrity and are dedicated to combating crime in this country. They are, one might say, the Batman and Robin of the Home Office. I will not say which is which; I shall leave that to my right hon. Friends to fight out.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) did earlier, I pay tribute to the work of the Dorset constabulary under the leadership of Debbie Simpson, our chief constable, who is leaving office having served five years as chief and 35 years as a copper. I also pay tribute to Martyn Underhill, Dorset’s police and crime commissioner. Martyn and I do not agree on everything, but what is beyond doubt is his commitment to trying to ensure the very best deal for my residents in North Dorset and for those throughout the county. He has just finished his consultation, in which 79% supported an additional £12 on the precept for band D council tax to deliver the sort of policing that people in the county quite rightly want to see. He is a good example, in a county that splits broadly 50:50 between rural and urban—certainly in population terms—of what can be done with imagination and fixity of purpose.
I pay huge tribute to PC Claire Dinsdale’s work leading Dorset’s rural crime team, which was the result of our commissioner responding to an issue and to which he has provided manpower and resources to combat rural crime, including wildlife crime and crime on farms. That is an illustration of how fixity of purpose and determination to clamp down on waste can ensure that money is best focused on the delivery of services. I recommend that model to other authorities.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, the nature of crime in this country is changing, so the nature of policing has to change, too. The idealised picture of Dixon of Dock Green wandering around the beat, knowing every little old lady and little old man and clipping schoolchildren around the ear for scrumping apples is a rather nostalgic picture that brings a lump to many people’s throats. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) laughs; perhaps there are no apples to scrump in Liverpool—I do not know—but there are certainly plenty in North Dorset. We do not run through wheat fields in North Dorset; we are frightfully well behaved because we know of the rural police team.
I am absolutely convinced that, in difficult circumstances, this year’s grant will continue to deliver the requirement of a changing policing response to the type of crimes people face, so the Government will have my support on the motion.
On terrorism and the threat that we face, does the hon. Gentleman know why the Government have not yet taken up the opportunity to close the loophole on terrorism insurance? That would help the police to do their job and to protect businesses from terror attacks. While I am on my feet, may I suggest that, whatever he believes the shadow Home Secretary to have done, it is deeply offensive to suggest that she has ever revelled in IRA attacks on this country?
On the latter point, I direct the hon. Gentleman to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). She said that every activity moved one step closer to a united Ireland and should be celebrated. I will leave it up to the hon. Gentleman to decide whether to use the word celebrated or revelled, but I think that we know where her sentiment was at that time.
I was privileged to serve on the Investigatory Powers Bill Committee. My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General and the then Security Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), performed a balancing act with the often competing and rather tense environment of the civil libertarians on one side and the civil lawyers on the other, and a political imperative to keep the country safe. That is always kept under review. We all know the figures—I am not going to bombard the House with the statistics—but I do not think that anybody could seriously question the commitment of Conservative Members and the Government to combating terrorism in all its forms and to ensuring that our law enforcement agencies and the laws under which they prosecute are always fit for purpose, with an element of flexibility to meet new challenges.
I urge my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister to look favourably on the proposal to merge Devon and Cornwall police with the Dorset constabulary. They are collaborating hugely well at the moment and that is clearly the next stage. It will deliver savings that can be focused on frontline policing in the great county of Dorset, to the benefit and safety of my constituents.
I should say at the outset that I might have to leave before the end of the debate as I have to take the Chair in Westminster Hall.
As the Minister would not do so, let me begin by acknowledging that the cash freeze in this settlement is, when we take inflation into account, actually a real-terms cut for West Midlands police. That is what the Government are doing to policing in the west midlands. It is in addition to the 2,091 officers we have already lost and the £145 million that has been cut from the budget since this lot came to power.
The West Midlands police and crime panel has agreed to the commissioner’s request to add an extra £12 to the precept paid by already hard-pressed council tax payers—had it not, the situation would be even worse—but given the high number of band A and B properties in our area, the west midlands simply does not have the same revenue-raising capacity as places such as Surrey or Hampshire, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) said. Hampshire’s population is almost 1 million smaller than that of the west midlands, but Hampshire will raise more through its precept, meaning it will experience budget growth as a result of the settlement, whereas even after a £12 council tax increase, West Midlands police will still be £12.5 million short of the money needed just to stand still.
Today’s settlement is a ministerial announcement of a further cut to policing for the people of the west midlands. It will mean fewer officers, even less neighbourhood policing, slower response times and the closure of 28 police stations. We have heard a lot of talk about reserves, so let me be clear: other than the basic requirements for insurance and emergencies, West Midland police’s reserves will be exhausted by 2020. We spent what was in the kitty on making up for the earlier cuts; there is no secret hoard at Lloyd House. Of course, the Government are quick to argue that they have given extra money for counter-terrorism, but the Minister needs to recognise that £47 million of the £50 million received by West Midlands police has already been spent. Such policing costs £100,000 a day when the threat level is critical, and neighbourhood policing, which is already virtually non-existent in many of the communities that I represent, ceases to function altogether.
Our chief constable says that given the challenges his force faces, he cannot understand why, as the largest force in the country apart from the Met, we are spending below the national average per capita on policing. Basically, there is not enough money to provide a properly resourced police service in the west midlands. The public can no longer expect police protection when they need it. The 101 phone service is a joke, routine burglaries do not get a response, the clear-up rate is falling and public confidence is at an all-time low.
Some 92% of my constituents who responded to my recent crime survey said that the Government’s reduction in the number of police officers had proved to be a false economy. Why will the Government not admit that they have got it wrong? How long will we have to put up with the “emperor’s new clothes” farce we witnessed at Prime Minister’s questions today? The Prime Minister must be the only person in this country who thinks that crime is falling, just as she was the only one who thought that stop-and-search powers were a bad idea. Well, try telling that to the parents of a knife crime victim.
The simple truth is that we cannot rely on the Government to keep dangerous rapists and violent criminals in prison after they are caught. We cannot rely on them to provide a properly resourced probation service to supervise criminals on the outside, and now we cannot rely on them to provide enough money to police our towns and cities. Their record is one of total failure. The Minister should be apologising; he should be ashamed of himself.
Setting police budgets for 2018-19 has been a real challenge both for the Government and for local forces such as Suffolk constabulary. I recognise the significant amount of background work that my right hon. Friend the Minister carried out ahead of presenting his provisional proposals before Christmas. He visited and spoke to every police force in England and Wales so that he could obtain a better understanding of the demands that they face and how those can be best managed. I am grateful to him for the time that he spent with Suffolk colleagues, the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk, Tim Passmore, and me so that we could provide him with a full insight into the challenges faced by Suffolk police.
I understand that the Government, in arriving at their funding proposals, have identified national challenges to which it is important to give some priority, including complex and hidden crimes such as child exploitation and slavery, and the terrorism threat. It is right that additional funding has been allocated to address those national issues. That said, both the history and the future of good policing is local and community-based. It is important that the Government recognise the significant pressures that preparing a budget has presented to the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk.
Suffolk constabulary is the force with the highest caseload per officer in the country, at 150 per year, yet it receives one of the lowest funding settlements. A disproportionately high percentage of the county’s funding is received through the council tax precept. At 42.6%, its figure is one of the highest in the country, and that compares with the national average for England of 32%.
While Suffolk constabulary is a well-run and efficient force, it has to contend with a significant number of modern-day pressures. To meet them, the police and crime commissioner is increasing the precept by 6.8%. The budget of the office of the commissioner, out of which important support services such as domestic violence support have been funded, has been reduced from £1.3 million to £936,000.
Suffolk is an efficient force that has produced a higher proportion of savings compared with its overall budget than any other constabulary in England and Wales. A collaboration with Norfolk is generating internal savings of £26 million a year. Eight buildings are now being shared with the fire service, and five more such arrangements are proposed. The PCC is starting work to refinance the private finance initiative contract that he inherited, which was agreed before 2010 at an original interest rate of a punitive 13%.
Suffolk constabulary is under significant pressure. It faces a significant increase in demand: emergency incidents are up 14%; domestic abuse is up 40% against a three-year average; serious sexual offences are up 50% on the same basis; cyber-crime is up, with 943 online crimes reported last year; and the number of missing people is up 12%. Against that backdrop, there is an urgent need to review the police funding formula. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to do so, but I urge him to come up with a timetable for starting the review as soon as practicable.
The current system, in which a disproportionately high level of funding is derived from the council tax precept, is unsustainable. Suffolk has to contend with a wide variety of modern pressures, including the county lines drugs and organised crime challenge, and a significant increase in its elderly population. Some 13,000 Suffolk citizens have been diagnosed with dementia, and that figure is predicted to rise by a further 40% by 2025. That places additional demands on police officers.
Police budgeting is a very difficult science, as events that can never be predicted will take place. One of those is the tragic case of Airman Corrie McKeague, who disappeared after a night out in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill). Quite rightly, Suffolk constabulary has carried out an extensive search for Corrie, but very sadly it has not yet shed any light on his disappearance. The search has cost £2.15 million so far. An application has been made to the Home Office for the repayment of those costs, and I urge the Minister to process that application and to reimburse Suffolk constabulary as soon as practically possible.
A further unforeseen cost that Suffolk constabulary might have to bear arises out of its court case with Ipswich Town Football Club regarding the policing of roads around the ground on match days. Madam Deputy Speaker, I should declare that I am a lifetime supporter of Ipswich Town and a season ticket holder. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that Suffolk police could not appeal the case and that it should cover the costs of such policing. That could well result in significant back payments to the football club for the period between 2008 to 2013. Personally, I do not agree with the decision, and I believe that it was wrong of the football club to pursue the case. On match days, the two roads—Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way—that surround the stadium are closed to traffic, and in my opinion they then become part of the stadium. I question whether it is morally right for the public and the taxpayer ultimately to pay for the policing of sporting and leisure events, which can generate significant revenues for the clubs or organisations involved. We are all aware of the enormous salaries paid to footballers, particularly those in the Premier League.
Last month, additional tickets were sold to away supporters for the match against Leeds United, for which Ipswich Town no doubt received additional revenue. There were some incidents, and an additional police presence was required close to the junction of Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way. It is wrong that the taxpayer has to pick up the bill. The Court’s decision could have ramifications for police forces across the country, and I urge the Home Office to introduce legislation to address the problem as quickly as possible.
Producing police budgets for 2018-19 has been a major challenge for both the Government and Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner. I recognise the pressures that the Government are under, but the system is very nearly at breaking point. Suffolk is traditionally a well-run rural force, but it is now having to deal with a wide variety of 21st century metropolitan challenges on an increasingly stretched budget. The unique nature of Suffolk, with the challenge of county lines and the demographics of an ageing population, means that policing in the county is under increased pressure. It is no longer reasonable for such a high percentage of the policing budget to come from Suffolk council tax payers. The situation needs to change as soon as possible, so I urge the Government to instigate the funding review without further delay and as quickly as possible.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. The debate has already touched on several very wide-ranging challenges that our police forces must face, but I will confine my remarks to three main issues. First, I wish to speak about how the settlement does little to address the struggles faced by the already underfunded and stretched police forces in Wales. I will then briefly reiterate the case for devolving policing to the Welsh Parliament in Cardiff. Finally, I want to raise an issue of which the Minister is, I hope, already aware: the complications that the apprenticeship levy is causing for Welsh police forces.
Members of the Government seem to have a problem with figures, whether that is £350 million for the NHS or £440 million extra for our police forces. Neither figure quite adds up, as the irrepressible North Wales police and crime commissioner, Arfon Jones, has made quite clear. This has already been discussed this afternoon, but it is worth reiterating that around £270 million of the £450 million supposed increase is accounted for by the Government allowing forces to levy higher precepts on council tax payers. The remaining £180 million is accounted for by the Home Office increasing central allocations. For North Wales police, the settlement means a real-terms cut of about £2 million. The police now face hard decisions on whether to implement further—and perhaps dangerous—budget reductions, or to increase the council tax precept, which hits constituents who are already feeling the pressure on their finances.
The police and crime commissioner for Dyfed-Powys police, Dafydd Llywelyn, has done an excellent job of retaining the number of police officers in his force in recent years, despite budgetary pressures and the growing demands that the police now face. We have already heard a lot about the new and changing challenges that our police forces must address, and he has employed an innovative approach in an attempt to cater for those new challenges. He has invested in such things as body cameras and better mobile technology, and established one of the best cyber-crime teams in the United Kingdom. However, I am told that keeping his budget in the black and maintaining the number of officers on the beat is becoming an impossible task.
The settlement subtly shifts the burden of funding from central Government to the local taxpayer, forcing PCCs to make an unenviable choice of cutting police numbers and putting their constituents at risk, or increasing council tax in already hard-pressed communities. It is patently clear that this is not a sustainable or fair settlement.
Of course, the police forces of Wales have been underfunded for years. There are now 750 fewer police officers in Wales than there were in 2010, which represents a drop of about 10% since the Conservatives took office. I would be hard pressed to find residents or communities across Wales, particularly in rural Wales, who have not witnessed the closure of either a local police station or the station desk. Central Wales, and particularly my area of Ceredigion, suffers the unique challenges of rural policing.
Responsibility for our policing policy is still retained here in Westminster, hundreds of miles away from the police forces that are carrying out their duties. Unlike in Scotland or Northern Ireland, our underpowered Welsh Parliament does not even have a semblance of the control required to deliver the policing that our communities need. It is not just those powers that would be boosted by the devolution of policing. Figures provided by Welsh police forces indicate that if policing was devolved and funded on a population basis, as is the case for other services, police forces in Wales would be better off to the tune of around £25 million a year.
The failure to comprehend the current devolution settlement is exemplified by my final point. My hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) has exposed a potentially devastating funding dispute that is born of confusion surrounding Welsh devolution and the apprenticeship levy. The apprenticeship levy, which Welsh police forces are of course subject to, is one of the main sources of funding to train the next generation of police officers, but despite having to pay millions into the levy, Welsh police forces are yet to receive a penny from it. This is down to a dispute between the Welsh and UK Governments. The Government at this end of the M4 claim that as training is devolved, the Welsh Government are responsible for the funding of training and apprenticeships. The Welsh Government, on the other hand, claim that the funding of officers’ training and apprenticeships is a matter for Westminster because policing is a reserved matter.
As I have noted, Welsh police forces are already under significant financial pressure. Whether this impasse is a product of incompetence or error, or a consequence of some political gamesmanship, it will mean fewer police officers on Welsh streets. We desperately need to overcome this impasse, so I would be most grateful if the Minister would update the House on the matter, particularly regarding what progress has been made to overcome this problem.
PCCs of all political colours have expressed their dismay with the police grant. Westminster’s apathy for Wales has never been more evident than when it comes to our police forces. My final request is that the Minister again considers the case for devolving policing to the Welsh Parliament and giving Wales the power to address its own policing needs. With our Welsh Parliament powerless to change things and central funding falling short of a level that could reasonably be considered fair, Welsh police forces face a difficult future indeed.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate.
It goes without saying that the work of the police in keeping us all safe and secure is so incredibly important. They deserve our thanks for all their work. One of the cornerstones of our way of life and our society is that our police forces are independent, professional and do their job in line with their duties. We should all be proud of what they do. I support the work of the police in dealing with the threats that face the nation, including their counter-terrorism work. We should support and praise the work of special branch and MI5. It is important, on occasion, that some of our officers are armed and able to protect us from the most serious and grave threats. I hope that the whole House will unite in thanking all arms of the police for their important work. Having been under attack here ourselves, we know very well the importance of their work.
I will particularly talk about the work of Kent police and Kent’s police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott. He has been in office since the last police and crime commissioner elections, and has been successful in increasing the number of police officers. Since his election in May 2016, he has worked hard with the funding available to get 80 extra police officers and has protected PCSO numbers at 300, when other police forces have sadly seen fit to reduce them. And he has managed to do this despite having only 12% in reserves.
Now, when I was listening to the discussion about reserves, I thought of a parable. I do not know whether anyone else in this place went to Sunday school, but I did, and that is where I heard the parable of the talents. In that story, the master goes away and leaves his servants with some talents. One of the servants spends the talents wisely and uses them productively to further the important work of the master. Another buries them in the ground and leaves them there to do nothing. The discussion about reserves is a bit like that; reserves do not exist just to sit there for a rainy day, on the off chance that something happens. Reserves are to be used. They ensure that we have the money to spend to help keep us safe and secure. Kent’s PCC has been assiduous in doing that. Kent police only have about 10% in reserves, but he has been spending money to get more officers on the beat and on the frontline to keep our towns, villages and communities safe and secure. Money should be spent on the frontline of policing, not just left to rot in a bank.
It is important that we celebrate the ambitions of the police and crime commissioner of Kent to get a further 200 officers on the beat. He is not unrealistic. He told me that this cannot go on forever, saying, “We can’t keep digging into our reserves because we basically don’t have any left.” He knows that the police will need further funding in the future, but for now the settlement is a good one that he is happy to support. I take his advice because he knows best how to spend money efficiently, wisely and well, he knows how to get the best out of the frontline, and he has ambitions to improve the safety and security of Kent. In our discussions, I have told him how important it is that we have more police on the frontline in Dover and Deal, especially when it comes to these 200 officers who he has the ambition to recruit. I have made a particularly strong case that we should have more police officers in the town of Deal.
At various points in this debate we have heard about the accessibility of the police. We had an unfortunate situation in the past, which came into being under the independent police and crime commissioner that we had for a while in Kent. At that point, there were just two hours of desk time for the residents of Deal to be able to see the police in the local police station. I have been making the case that the funding the commissioner will have should be used to increase the amount of desk time from two hours to four or five hours each day, and ideally for six days a week, rather than five. People would then be able to discuss their concerns with police personnel and would feel that the police were much more in the heart of the community and more accessible— face to face, not just over a telephone. I have been making this case to the commissioner and I hope he will take heed.
I am pleased that Kent has seen an increase in its allocation from £279.3 million to £288 million, which is a £8.7 million increase. And I am pleased that Kent police are not like the wasteful servants that we hear about so much—pleaded for by the Opposition, who like to bury their reserves. Kent’s police and crime commissioner spends his reserves to ensure that we are doing things on the frontline.
I will finish in a moment, but I will first give way to the hon. Gentleman. I cannot resist giving way in order to listen to the points he makes.
The recommended level is 5%. The hon. Gentleman has already told us that his own authority has 10%, so what is he doing with his 5% buried away somewhere?
I am, as ever, very tempted by the hon. Gentleman. I think that 10% is pretty much at the bottom of the table. [Hon. Members: “No, it’s not.”] It pretty much is. Places like Gwent, at about 42%, are very high up. Indeed, Durham is at 12%.
I will not take a further intervention, but I will say that Kent has been dealing with its reserves and is minded to continue to be very efficient in that way.
I will take an intervention from the hon. Gentleman.
I have difficulty in following the logic of the hon. Gentleman’s argument. Having praised his local police authority and said that police authorities should be spending their reserves, can he explain how his authority is keeping 10%, which is double what the National Audit Office says is the appropriate recommended level?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I gently point out to him that the average reserve level is 15% overall, so Kent is well below the average. The PCC is saying that he can continue to manage as things are for the next year, but that in due course this opportunity is going to be exhausted and there will need to be greater scope—and of course there will. That is important, but it is also important that we do not just bury our talents in the soil but use them effectively, wisely, and well.
The Minister and the Government were right to reject representations from Labour Members at various points that the police budget should be cut by 10%, and right to reject unfunded spending commitments. We hear about how 10,000 police people can just be magicked out of the ground with no basis on which to fund that spending. There are two important elements. First, we must have a sense of reality. Secondly, we must make sure that we support the police in what they do: give them adequate resources; do not just have reserves mouldering away in the bank; and concentrate resources on the frontline, with more officers on the beat in Dover, Deal, across Kent, and across the nation.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), although I found it hard to understand how he could be praising his police authority for not practising what he was preaching.
I will try to take a consensual approach.
Well, in common with other Members on both sides of the House, I have taken part in the police service parliamentary scheme, and, having done that, I would have thought that we would all be united in our admiration for the sheer professionalism, dedication, commitment, skill and expertise of our police forces.
Having started on that consensual note, I will move on. I make no apologies whatsoever for standing up, in line with other west midlands Members of Parliament, to criticise this settlement in the context of what West Midlands police are going to get and what their needs are going to be. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) outlined some of the key statistics, and I will not repeat them. What it amounts to is that, following this cash-plus precept settlement, there will be a £12.5 million gap in what is needed to sustain the current level of service. It could lead to the closure of 18 police stations. West Midlands police force has lost over 2,000 officers, and it is difficult to see how it could go on without losing more.
The key issue is the funding model that the Government are developing for the police in areas such as the west midlands. If there is an annual flat grant, which effectively means that we lose the real value of that grant by a certain percentage every year, allied with a maximum on the precept, then the areas with the lowest-value property profiles—nearly always urban areas with lower-income people and often higher crime rates—will become disproportionately disadvantaged year on year. That is the situation that is developing in the west midlands. A rise in council tax in the west midlands will raise £3.35 per person. In Surrey, it raises £6.42 per person. That is why we see other anomalies such as Hampshire, which, with almost 1 million fewer residents, has a larger increase in its settlement arising from the precept than areas such as the west midlands.
I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that a reserve can be spent only once. More importantly, all the West Midlands police divisions have gone now, including in Coventry, so nobody really knows who to point the finger at. I have had meetings with the police on this. The public in Coventry, and in the rest of the west midlands, are becoming very concerned about the fact that there is a lack of policemen, but, more importantly, that the funding formula is grossly unfair to the west midlands.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend says. Indeed, he leads me on to my next point.
We can bandy statistics around, but what matters in the end is the perception of the people who work in the police force and the perception of the public who experience the service it provides. Find me an area in the west midlands policing zone where local people will not complain of a reduction in the frontline neighbourhood policing in their area. Find me an area in the west midlands that has not seen an increase in crime rates and a lowering in satisfaction with the service.
For me, that was reinforced when, six months ago, a middle-ranking policeman asked to come and see me. He explained that he had joined the force over 10 years ago, risen in the ranks, and found it incredibly satisfying, but was going to have to leave. The strains on him, the public expectations of what he could deliver, and how demoralised he was feeling because he knew that he could not deliver were such that he could face it no more. That may be a one-off, but I am worried by the fact that the chief constable and the police commissioner reiterate to me everything that officer cited as his reasons for leaving when they describe the overall funding statistics for their service.