House of Commons
Tuesday 20 March 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Health and Social Care
The Secretary of State was asked—
Life Sciences Industrial Strategy
The UK has a fantastic life sciences industry. As a result of the sector deal announced in December, a further £210 million is being invested in research and £162 million in medical manufacturing.
Patient outcomes can be improved by sharing big datasets and integrating new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, across the NHS. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the NHS’s plans to digitise and adapt to the fourth industrial revolution?
I am looking forward to reading my hon. Friend’s report into this topic in May. We are a bit of a curate’s egg in this country. We have five of the world’s top 10 medical research universities and more than double the number of Nobel prizes of France, so we do incredibly well on the research side, but some of our hospitals are still running on paper, which is totally inappropriate. That is why we are determined to implement the Wachter review.
Co-operation in medical research, science and innovation with our European partners must not be hindered by a bad Brexit deal. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that UK patients are not left behind during the negotiations?
Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman—as a doctor, he is very conscious of such issues—that the absolute need to ensure that we have an uninterrupted supply of the most critical drugs is forefront in our minds. We are confident that we will be able to achieve that, but we also want great collaboration with European universities, which is why we have said that we would be happy to be an associate member of the European Medicines Agency.
Part of the life sciences strategy is about ensuring that we have the skills for the future. May I thank the Secretary of State for the fantastic news about the five new medical schools opening in the country, including in Chelmsford?
I am most grateful for those thanks, and I am looking forward to many more doctors coming from Chelmsford.
The Secretary of State will be aware that one of the factors stifling innovation is the difficulty of rapid-growth companies in crossing the so-called valley of death. Since the establishment in the coalition Government years of the business growth fund, the biosciences fund and the British Business Bank, how far is the sector from crossing the valley of death?
I hope that we are crossing the valley into eternal life because we have a fantastic life sciences industry that is worth £61 billion and employs 250,000 people. The right hon. Gentleman is right—he was involved in this when he was Business Secretary—that part of that is about having close links with the key people who make decisions about where to invest their resources.
With companies such as UltraLinq raving about Belfast’s ability to provide technology support and skills from local universities, will the Secretary of State confirm what steps he is taking to invest departmental moneys in universities to set up life sciences skill centres in co-operation with the Department for Education?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are conscious of the importance of a good outcome to the Brexit talks for universities, including Queen’s University Belfast, for precisely the reason raised by the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams) earlier. There are excellent research links with universities all over the world, but it is particularly important that we carry on working with European universities.
Sports Prostheses for Children
Since 2016, the Government have invested £750,000 to fund the provision of sports and activity prostheses for children and young people on the NHS. We have also invested a further £750,000 in a new National Institute for Health Research child prostheses research collaboration to drive improvements in technology. I can confirm that that funding will continue, and we will announce more details shortly.
I thank the Minister for that reply. The centre at Headley Court provides world-class support for our servicemen who unfortunately lost limbs in Iraq or Afghanistan. It does incredible work. What lessons have we learned from Headley Court that we are able to transfer into the NHS?
My hon. Friend speaks about this with great knowledge. He was an outstanding Defence Minister and understands this subject better than almost anybody. He will be pleased to learn that, following the incredible progress that we have seen with adult prostheses through places such as Headley Court, we are now seeing the same technology in the development of children’s sports and activity prostheses, using the same manufacturers. The research collaboration will also enable us to invest in future studies, including in the development of some exciting technologies, such as myoelectrical bionic upper-limb prostheses for children.
NHS Primary Care: Ageing Population
By 2020, investment in general practice will have risen by £2.4 billion, which is 14% in real terms, including an additional £680 million in infrastructure and premises in the last two years.
The Health Secretary knows how hard staff have worked at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital to ensure that this year—in fact, in January—it was rated 15th out of 137 hospitals for its A&E performance, despite the intensities of the winter. He knows from his recent visit that all staff, and their co-operation with health services, as well as within the A&E, have led to this, but will he also recognise and do all he can to let Public Health England know how important it is that new capital expenditure is available in order to increase beds and to serve the demographics of an ageing population?
I was pleased and privileged to see the brilliant work that staff are doing in Gloucester when I went on that visit. Deborah Lee and her team deserve enormous credit for getting a 10% improvement in performance year on year to February. A capital bid has been put in by my hon. Friend’s sustainability and transformation partnership. It is a promising bid and I hope to be able to give him news on that soon. If it is successful, it will be in no small part thanks to lobbying by him and our colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk).
Research shows that access to GPs is now more difficult than it was five years ago, and in Warrington, we still have fewer GPs than the population would merit, putting more pressure on A&E. What is the Secretary of State doing to attract more GPs to areas such as this and to reduce the burdens on those already in the profession, so that they do not take early retirement, as many are planning to do?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about how important is to increase the number of GPs. The most significant thing is what we announced this morning, which is five new medical colleges that are in parts of the country where it is particularly hard to recruit doctors. Our intention is that half the medical school graduates should be moving into general practice because it is so important.
Thanet enjoys an ageing population and I am pleased to be a part of it. We will be delighted to know that one of the five new medical schools designated by the Secretary of State today is going to be based in east Kent: the bid from the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University was successful. It will not have escaped my right hon. Friend’s notice that the Christ Church campus is in close proximity to an A&E hospital— the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital—and we hope very much to see all the benefits very soon. Thank you.
May I just say to the hon. Gentleman that if memory serves me correctly, he was born on 20 August 1943, and therefore, he is really not very old at all?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on being born five years before the NHS was founded—a very short while ago. Kent is an area that, although it is the garden of England, has some profound challenges in its health economy. One of those challenges is attracting doctors to work in Kent and other more geographically remote areas, so I am very hopeful that this big new announcement for the University of Kent will be a big help.
The GP-patient ratio in my constituency is unacceptably high, meaning that many people cannot get a GP appointment when they need it and they are turning up at the A&E—not only creating additional pressure but costing more in the process. What is the Secretary of State going to do to make sure that outer-London boroughs such as mine get the GP support that they need, because frankly, the assurances that he has already given are not manifesting themselves on the ground in terms of practical results for patients?
I appreciate that there are pressures in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I think most hon. Members would say that there are pressures in their constituency when it comes to general practice, so what have we done so far? Let me put it that way. This year, 3,157 medical school graduates will go on to specialise in general practice, which is the highest ever, but we still have to do more to improve the retention of GPs who are approaching retirement.
Forgive me, Mr Speaker, if first of all, I congratulate you on a marvellous event this morning, celebrating 10 years on from your acclaimed report on young children’s speech and language and calling for a national strategy on that, which directly links into education and health. It was an excellent event, thank you. But of course, on to Taunton Deane. Tomorrow, I shall be very proud in this Chamber to be presenting my petition, which over 6,000 good people from Taunton Deane have signed, calling for a new surgical centre at Musgrove Park Hospital. They are not querying the quality of the healthcare given, but they are querying the facilities. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would agree that this is a very deserving case for a new centre and for funding.
If these cases were decided on the persistence and strength of the lobbying of local Members, for sure my hon. Friend’s would be at the very top of the list. I have been to the hospital and heard about the issues from staff—it was a very good visit. She has campaigned persistently on this and I very much hope that we can give her good news because I am aware of how urgent the need is.
Not only was the hon. Lady present in Speaker’s House this morning, but her sister and distinguished speech and language therapist Rosalind Pow was present as well, so we had two doses of Pow in the course of a breakfast meeting. It was an unforgettable experience for all concerned.
I cannot compete with that, Mr Speaker. Back in November, I wrote to the Secretary of State about the increased service charges on GP practices. Ambleside surgery in my constituency, which serves an increasingly ageing population, faces a huge increase of £25,000—more than double—and the staff there fear they cannot keep the surgery going long term with that kind of increase. A ministerial written response in November did not mention Ambleside once, so will the Secretary of State commit now to intervening directly to guarantee that Ambleside will not have to pay this unjustified additional £25,000 a year?
I will re-look at the issue and the response that the hon. Gentleman was given. The issue is that there is unevenness and unfairness in the rates charged to GPs whose surgeries belong to NHS Property Services. We are trying to make this fair across the country, but we also want to make sure that no GP surgeries close.
With an ageing population, I, too, welcome the aim of integrating health and social care and developing population-based planning, as we have done in Scotland with health and social care partnerships, but the outsourcing of health service contracts to private providers in NHS England has led to more fragmentation rather than integration. Will the Secretary of State agree that we need to repeal section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 so that local commissioners can develop patient-centred services and not fear litigation if they do not put them out to tender?
We want to encourage the NHS to move towards more integrated services, and part of that is about contractual structures, but part of it is about funding, and I gently point out to the hon. Lady that 8% of the NHS budget in England goes to general practice and only 6.6% in Scotland, which is why there is an even bigger problem with GP surgeries closing in Scotland.
The many and varied new integrated care structures developing in NHS England have no statutory basis, yet in the future will control the entire health budget for a population. Does the Secretary of State accept that with another major NHS reorganisation we need debate and legislation in this place to get the structure and governance right?
In my first few years as Health Secretary, the message I heard loud and clear from the NHS was that it did not want a huge structural reorganisation, so we are very cautious about changing statutory structures. We want to encourage integration, but in time, if the NHS says it would like the statutory structure changed, we will of course listen.
NHS Trusts: Wholly Owned Subsidiary Companies
NHS Improvement has informed the Department that 42 foundation trusts have reported consolidated subsidiaries, but there might be a few instances of subsidiaries being too small to be consolidated.
What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on staff morale, retention and recruitment where trusts have set up wholly subsidiary companies and introduced a two-tier system whereby new staff terms and conditions are not part of the NHS “Agenda for Change” or the NHS pension scheme? Is this the back door to privatisation?
Had the hon. Lady been able to attend the recent Westminster Hall debate on this issue, she would have heard that in the trust under discussion the staff survey showed an improvement in responses as a result of the subsidiary because many staff valued the flexibilities in the new contracts that the subsidiary could offer.
The Minister may be in denial about privatisation, but is it not the case that the question-and-answer document from North Tees and Hartlepool Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said that its subsidiary organisation could be taken over by a private company in the future? If the Minister wants to put these privatisation stories to bed, will he rule out the possibility of any of the subsidiary companies’ being taken over by private organisations in the future?
The party that is in denial is the Labour party, which, in 2006, passed the legislation through which subsidiaries could be offered. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe me, perhaps he should listen to NHS Providers, which says:
“It is…inaccurate and misleading to say that the establishment of wholly owned subsidiaries is a new phenomenon or being pursued to avoid VAT, privatise the NHS, or to reduce terms and conditions for NHS staff.”
Labour Members should stop scaremongering over legislation that their party actually passed.
Social Care System
Over the last three years, about 65% of social care service users have been extremely or very satisfied with their care and support in England, and 81% of adult social care providers are rated good or outstanding.
Since 2010, Government funding for Liverpool City Council has been cut by 64%, or £444 million in real terms and, given that 90% of properties are in bands A to C, our ability to raise money locally through council tax is at the bottom end of the UK average. We need integrated health and social care, but a departmental name change will not do it; we need the money locally. When will we see proper reform and proper funding to plug the gap in our most deprived areas?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the integration of health and social care is vital, and I think that the renaming of the Department is a symbol of how seriously the Government take our commitment to it. I am keen to talk to him about funding, given that the figures for Liverpool show that it is raising £7.4 million from the social care precept and has received approximately £21 million in grant from the Government.
I agree that the social care system needs more funds. In recent Budgets, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has found those funds and put them into the system. May I urge my hon. Friend, as she looks at the Government’s proposals in the Green Paper, to ensure that the Dilnot proposals are included? Those proposals, for which we have already legislated, will give us the best chance of a sustainable system in the current Parliament.
The Secretary of State was with Andrew Dilnot yesterday, and we are looking carefully at his proposals. My right hon. Friend is right: although 81% of adult social care providers are registered as good or outstanding, it is unacceptable for levels of care to fall below the standards that we would expect, and in preparing the Green Paper, we will look closely at how we can improve the system.
I do not entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. We provided an extra £2 billion in last year’s Budget to help councils to commission care services that are sustainable, high-quality and diverse. In the Green Paper, which will be published this summer, we will consider how we can future-proof the system.
The Government inspector for Northamptonshire County Council has recommended that, because of misgovernance over the last five years, the council should be abolished. Will my hon. Friend and her colleagues work with the new successor authorities to ensure that a successful social care system is established in the county?
The Secretary of State has already had conversations with councillors about this matter, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise it. The Care Act 2014 placed a duty on local authorities in England to promote diverse, sustainable, high-quality care, and it is important for them to continue to do that.
The National Audit Office says that our care system is not “sustainably funded”, the Care Quality Commission says that one quarter of care facilities are not safe enough, and care providers cherry-pick to whom they will give care places, and even evict people with advanced dementia on cost grounds. What is the Care Minister doing to address those issues and the sharp decline in public satisfaction with the social care system?
We know that the sector is under pressure because of the ageing population, but the Government have given councils access to £9.4 billion more dedicated funding over three years. The hon. Lady is right to emphasise the importance of putting power back in the hands of residents and their families, which is why we published a package of measures to ensure and protect consumer protections in the social care sector, and we will continue to look at that very closely.
Social Care Provision
This afternoon I will make a speech setting out the principles with which we will approach the social care Green Paper, including a focus on the highest standards of care, integration of the health and social care system and developing a long-term sustainable funding solution.
Given that the arithmetic of this place is so tight, it is clear that there will need to be some form of cross-party consensus for any meaningful reform. Given that the Opposition appear to favour a wealth tax and our party has mooted the idea of individuals paying more for their own care, surely cross-party consensus is within reach; what is the Secretary of State’s view on that?
My hon. Friend always speaks very thoughtfully on this matter, and it is important, because social care issues will continue for decades ahead unless we find a solution and both parties will have to deal with this issue in government. In truth, both parties have made things worse by politicking in the past, whether by discussion about a death tax in 2009 or a dementia tax in 2017.
I have received a document from my local authority sent out by Cheshire and Merseyside NHS which tells it that it should be looking at there being a minimum of one choice of place for people coming out of hospital into a care home, and if that cannot be met it should be looking at transitional placements. So it will have to ask people who are frail and elderly to go into transitional placements, and that will cost more money. How are people going to be able to cope with this? At the end of the day, the problem is simply this: there is not enough money; there is not enough money to pay for good quality staff; and there are not enough places. The Government should be ashamed of themselves.
It is the hon. Gentleman’s party that should be ashamed of itself for leaving us with the financial crisis 10 years ago that has created such huge pressure in both the health and social care systems. Yes, in 2010 there were some cuts in the social care system, but that has changed now and over this Parliament the budget is going up, with £9.4 billion of additional resources, which is an 8.6% increase in real terms. We need to go further, however, which is why we have a Green Paper.
May I add my thanks to those of my hon. Friends for the fact that one of the new medical schools will be placed in east Kent, which is an extremely welcome development for the health economy? On social care, the Secretary of State will be aware that the funding issue is one of the big long-term questions that need to be answered. Can he assure the House that the Green Paper will not only address that, however, but will place equal emphasis on the need for rising quality in social care across the board, because in the short run that is what many families feel most anxious about?
I thank my right hon. Friend for doing some incredibly important work when he was responsible for this area; he laid some really important foundations. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: earlier my hon. Friend the Minister for Care talked about the fact that 81% of adult social care providers are good or outstanding, but that means that one in five is not, which means too many people are not getting adequate social care provision. We must put quality at the heart of this, and of course that does link to funding.
I hope the Secretary of State saw last night’s “Panorama”, which highlighted the link between the low pay of careworkers and the gender pay gap. We all know about the amazing work careworkers do, particularly in difficult circumstances such as when there is severe weather or where there are 15-minute appointments, so what is the Secretary of State going to do to ensure they are properly rewarded?
I am pleased that the hon. Lady mentioned that, because today is world social worker day. It is a day on which to celebrate the brilliant work done by people working in the social care system, often at low rates of pay. We should also celebrate the fact that, thanks to the national living wage, 900,000 workers have benefited, including through a raise of up to £2,000 a year in the take-home pay for the lowest paid workers.
NHS Dentists: Children’s Access
Children’s oral health is better than it has ever been, and 72% of five-year-olds in England are now decay free. Of course, that means that 28% are not, which is why our Starting Well programme aims to increase access for young children in 13 high-need areas. NHS England is also looking at making similar approaches available in the areas of greatest genuine local need.
In Kirklees, 29% of under-five-year-olds have experience of tooth decay. Nationally, among five to nine-year-olds, tooth decay is the most common cause of hospital admission. Does the Minister agree that the system of penalising dentists for not hitting targets and not paying them when they exceed targets has led to a situation where there are virtually no NHS dentists available for my young constituents? What steps will he take to make more places available?
We are testing the new prevention-focused dental contract, which the hon. Lady knows about, to improve access and outcomes for NHS dental treatment. We have also made great progress on children’s oral health, as I have said. NHS England in her area is currently finalising arrangements for extra funding to support dentists in offering additional access and places. That funding will be available from 1 April, so she and other Members should stand by their phones.
The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) is absolutely right about this particular issue. The Government have long acknowledged that there is a shortage of dentists in West Yorkshire, and in the Bradford district in particular, where the shortage is pretty chronic. Will the Minister set out what the Government are doing to ensure that there is an acceptable number of NHS dentists in the Bradford district?
I will not pre-empt what the NHS in Yorkshire and the Humber will say to my hon. Friend or to the hon. Lady, because this is a local decision, but I will say that the 13 Starting Well areas—the programme was a manifesto commitment for us—were selected nationally based on overall need and using a wide range of data including access to NHS dental services.
The Minister seems to be in denial. The British Dental Association reports that almost half of all NHS dentists are not accepting new patients—either adults or children. In several regions right across the country, from Yorkshire to Salisbury, patients are having to rely on the third world dental charity, Dentaid, with its now-famous wheelie bin dental surgeries. Does he think that that is an acceptable state of affairs? Will he outline what action he intends to take to improve access to NHS dentists?
It is interesting that the hon. Lady should raise this; it is one of the things that we might be discussing shortly. According to the GP patient survey for January to March last year, whose results were published later last year, 59% of the adults questioned had tried to get an NHS dental appointment in the past two years, and of those, 95% were successful. Those are not bad figures.
Leaving the EU: health and Social Care
All policy teams in my Department have conducted assessments of the implications of Brexit and continue to plan for all scenarios.
Well, I hope to hear some good news then. In my constituency, Dundee University and Ninewells Hospital are recognised centres of biomedical and clinical research, working closely with other European colleagues and institutions. That work is threatened if the UK is outside the European research network and excluded from data-sharing and the new clinical trial system. How does the Secretary of State plan specifically to protect the academic and clinical research excellence of Scottish and UK institutions post-Brexit?
We have made it clear that we want to integrate very closely with European structures when it comes to medicines research. I would gently say to the hon. Gentleman that great universities such as Dundee also collaborate with universities all over the world, and I think that this is a good opportunity for us to ensure that we strengthen our research networks internationally as well as using the tried and tested ones that we have with the EU.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that leaving the EU will be a good opportunity to build links with other countries’ medical systems, particularly those of the Chinese, who have, for instance, integrated Chinese medicine and western medicine to reduce the demand for antibiotics?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to antimicrobial resistance because China is one of the big countries that can make a difference on that, and yes, we have had lots of discussion with Chinese Health Ministers about how we can work together on that.
Hand Gel Usage
Patient safety, and particularly infection prevention, are among the Government’s key priorities. Public Health England has carried out some initial analysis of available data. However, currently the data is incomplete and would not give a true reflection of the usage of hand gel. We are working with Public Health England to explore how we can improve that data.
I am sure the Minister will agree that it is a matter of real importance that all NHS staff wash their hands at all the required five moments of patient contact. Does she agree that it is disappointing that we have not quite got that data published yet, and will she set a date when we will be able to see that data for each trust?
As I have said, we will continue to look at that, but, as my hon. Friend knows, the Department has a really strong track record of tackling infection. Incidents of MRSA are down 54% on 2010. We have published a revised code of practice on hand hygiene and we are working with partners across health and social care to ensure that this remains a focus.
There has been some excellent work on extending hand gel usage throughout the NHS, and the decline in MRSA is, I think, indicative of that. However, there is a glaring prejudice, certainly in my part of the world, amongst people who think that these gels contain alcohol, and will not use them for that reason. Is it possible to instigate some form of signalling or marking to prove and to state that there is no alcohol within these hand gels, because we do not want to see people prevented from using them?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, and it is certainly something that we can look at more closely.
Will the Minister explain the work that the Government are doing with Public Health England to raise awareness of sepsis infections, and do urgent work to tackle that potential killer?
This is a massive priority for the Government, and we are about to start a public information campaign. Sepsis is a killer—one that deserves to be given the utmost importance, and one that we will be seeking to tackle in every way that we can.
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
We estimate that of the approximately 460,000 referrals made to children and young people’s NHS mental health services per year, 200,000 children receive treatment and many are appropriately signposted to other help. Treatment within the NHS is determined by clinical need and it is vital for all to remember that specialist services are not always appropriate for those referred. That said, we are committed to treating 70,000 more children and young people each year by 2020-21.
Around one in 10 children and young people in Redcar and Cleveland has a mental health disorder—a proportion that is higher than for the rest of the north-east and higher than for England. Local services are becoming overwhelmed. Last year, Redcar charity The Link, which provides mental health support for children, experienced an increase in demand of 40%. It has a waiting list of over 140 children and planned waits of 11 weeks, but the charity is still having to make redundancies and staff have had their hours cut due to the funding crisis. Will the Minister commit to increasing and ring-fencing spending for child and adolescent mental health, and will she ensure that the role of third sector charities in delivery of such services is preserved?
Having looked at the performance of the hon. Lady’s local trust, I can say that it is rising to the challenge extremely well, but that brings with it challenges. We are increasing the funding available for children and young people’s mental health services. We are relying on local clinical commissioning groups to purchase those services, but I can tell the hon. Lady that NHS England will be keeping this area under scrutiny, to ensure that we are delivering that help to the frontline.
Does the Minister accept that cuts to mental health services mean that too many young people who have suffered trauma are not getting the support that they desperately need? Has she measured the impact of that on young people, and looked, in particular, at any links to the tragic incidents of youth violence that we are now seeing daily?
I do not accept the allegation that there have been cuts. We have increased expenditure by 20%. We recognise that we need to invest significantly more in improving children and young people’s mental health, and that is exactly what we will be doing.
Mental health problems clearly have a wider societal cost. Does the Minister agree that treating mental health issues in children benefits not only the child, but the future of our society as a whole?
I could not have put it better myself, and this is exactly why we have brought forward the proposals in the Green Paper. We recognise that early intervention is the best way of protecting people’s mental health, so we will be encouraging all schools to appoint a designated mental health lead. We will be rolling out mental health support teams to support schools and we will be trialling a four-week waiting time standard. This will lead to a material improvement in children’s mental health.
The Care Quality Commission has reported that young people are waiting up to 18 months to receive vital treatment. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that some health trusts are spending less than £10 per child on mental health services and that spending today is less than it was in 2012. So will the Minister tell us exactly what she is doing to fix what many health professionals say is a broken child and adolescent mental health services system?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her place on the Front Bench. I believe this is the first time we have had exchanges, and I am sure it will not be the last. We invested an additional £100 million last year. We know that more than half of providers have an average waiting time of fewer than 12 weeks and 4% of providers have a waiting time of fewer than four weeks. She is right in that six trusts are outliers and they are receiving significant attention from NHS England. We are having targeted work with them to address what might be the issues there. As I said earlier, as part of the Green Paper we will be trialling a four-week waiting time standard, and we are determined to achieve improvement in this area.
Major Trauma Centres: Youth Intervention Workers
I fully support the role that youth workers play in supporting vulnerable young people. We are working with the Home Office, which supports the charity Redthread to develop its work embedding youth workers in hospital emergency departments to intervene with young victims of violence. Redthread currently operates in London’s four major trauma centres, and will be launching in Nottingham and Birmingham this year. Redthread is also working with academics to assess the impact of its youth violence intervention programme.
Knife crime continues to soar, and Members from across this House believe that we need a new approach. Having youth workers in hospital A&Es is proven to work, and, as the Minister says, Redthread is in some of our hospitals around the country. It would cost as little as £6 million a year to put youth workers into all our major trauma centres, so will she find the funding?
First, I commend the hon. Lady for the work she does on tackling knife crime and I know it is an issue close to her heart. The work with Redthread is being co-ordinated with the Home Office, and I would not want to allocate its expenditure, any more than it should be allocating mine.
Dementia Awareness Week
Dementia Awareness Week runs from 21 to 27 May, and the Department of Health and Social Care is expecting to participate fully in a range of activities that week, working with partner organisations and the voluntary sector.
Alongside the work of Governments of both parties to improve dementia research, care and awareness—Dementia Awareness Week is a key part of that—the role of voluntary organisations and dedicated volunteers around the country is vital. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the fantastic work of specialist dementia care Admiral Nurses and in backing Leicestershire Dementia UK volunteers in their campaign, which is well on track, to raise the £50,000 needed for an Admiral Nurse for our county?
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the sterling work he does as co-chair of the all-party group on dementia. He is absolutely right to say that Admiral Nurses do fantastic work in many parts of the country, helping people with dementia to maintain their independence, and improve their quality of life and that of their families. I very much support all the fundraising activities going on in his local area.
Satellite Radiotherapy Unit in Stevenage
NHS England is working with the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust to determine the best way to deliver radiotherapy services to patients in Stevenage. This is part of a system-wide NHS England review of the way in which radiotherapy services are delivered.
Hertfordshire has more than 1 million people and no radiotherapy provision. My constituents have to travel more than 80 miles for every treatment, which means thousands of miles during the course of their treatment—there is no public transport. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) and I have run this campaign for a number of years, and we have all the agreements from every part of the NHS. We are meeting the board of the trust on Friday, so will the Minister give them a direction to get on with building the facility?
All trusts have been directed to get on with the review. The NHS England specialised commissioning team is in discussions with my hon. Friend’s local trust as it develops its five-year strategic plan for the cancer pathways. It is working with his local cancer alliance, including radiotherapy services. It is recognised that a more radical approach and a broader review of the radiotherapy options may be required in future. As my hon. Friend says, he and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) have that meeting later this week, and I hope the discussions are productive. I feel sure that my hon. Friend will come back to me if they are not.
Let us hear from the neighbour. I call Sir Oliver Heald.
Would my hon. Friend be prepared to highlight to the review team just how dreadful it is for somebody to have to travel day after day, for an hour and a half in each direction, to London for radiotherapy when they are already ill? I hope it might be possible for some action to be taken to resolve this issue in our area.
Obviously my right hon. and learned Friend is right to speak up for services in his area. The review is not about cutting those services, but about making sure that they are in the right places. We have to be mindful that sometimes the services have to be centralised to be in the right place to deliver the right outcomes for cancer patients.
I will take the next question on condition that Members are exceptionally brief, as time is constrained.
We of course recognise the shortages in general practice, which is why we remain committed to delivering an additional 5,000 doctors working in general practice by 2020 compared with 2015.
Like many other places throughout the country, Southampton is struggling to recruit and retain GPs. There are many reasons for that, but perhaps one is the practice of discouraging medical students from going into general practice while encouraging them to become specialist consultants. Is my hon. Friend aware of that and of how widespread is it? What is he doing to encourage more people into general practice?
The Secretary of State has already outlined the plans for the new medical schools and the record 3,157 GP training places that were filled. I am aware of the practice that my hon. Friend mentions, and that is why we are working with the profession on a range of measures to boost recruitment into general practice. The existing professionals also have a role to pay, and the superb chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Helen Stokes-Lampard, is really leading from the front in that respect.
Does the Minister agree that part of the way to address some of the pressures that GPs face is to enhance the role of community pharmacies? Will he update the House on what steps he has taken to support pharmacies and further integrate them with general practice?
We know that there are benefits to be had from the better integration of community pharmacies with sustainability and transformation partnerships. Through the pharmacy integration fund, we are integrating pharmacists into primary care. I hear good reports about how that is going and we will have 2,000 of them in general practice by 2020. Community pharmacies themselves should also be integrated, through STPs, because it is one NHS.
It is great to see that record numbers of medical students are going into general practice this year, but far too many GPs are choosing to retire and leave the NHS when they are in their 50s because of tax penalties on their pension scheme. Does the Minister agree that we need to address that situation so that experienced GPs are not penalised for staying in the NHS?
Along with concerns about workload and, for example, indemnities, pensions are an issue that older GPs often bring up with me. Ultimately, it is a matter for Her Majesty’s Treasury. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) raised a similar issue at Prime Minister’s Question Time last week, and the Chancellor was on the Bench to hear it. I am sure he will read the report of these exchanges, too.
In Stoke-on-Trent we have some fabulous GPs, not least the wife of the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), but too many people present to A&E because their primary carer is not up to dealing with the workload. That means that the A&E is over-logged so fines are levied on the hospital. What is the Secretary of State going to do to make sure that when hospitals pick up the slack from GPs, they are not subsequently fined by clinical commissioning groups for missing targets?
We are going to integrate primary and secondary care properly through the new models of care—for instance, extended access is important in that. The new multidisciplinary teams—for example, I have talked about pharmacists working in primary care—are not only about providing the plaster when the cut happens, but about preventing the cut in the first place. The prevention agenda is very important.
Do we not need more salaried GPs?
We need more GPs, which is why today’s announcement is very important. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes them.
Well, if there are to be more GPs, they will have to be paid.
Patients at Hightown GP surgery were promised that their surgery would stay open, but, out of the blue, they were written to and told that the surgery would close on 8 June. The Government are belatedly taking action on the shortage of GPs, but will the Minister intervene to make sure that Hightown surgery is kept open and that a promise is kept to patients?
I will look at Hightown surgery, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to talk to me about it, he is welcome to do so. Of course it is the responsibility of his clinical commissioning group and NHS England in his area to provide primary care services for the patients who are his constituents, but if wants to talk to me further, I am very happy to do so.
Following the Government’s commitment to expand medical school places by 25%—one of the biggest expansions in the history of the NHS—I am pleased to announce to the House the results of the competition to set up five new medical schools. They were chosen following a rigorous and independent bidding process, which prioritised attracting doctors to harder-to-recruit areas and increasing the number of GPs and psychiatrists. Many congratulations to the winners, which are: the University of Sunderland; Edge Hill University in Lancashire; Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford; the University of Lincoln working in collaboration with Nottingham University; and Canterbury Christ Church University.
With the death of Professor Stephen Hawking in all of our thoughts, can the Minister tell us what steps his Department will take to support research to develop a cure for motor neurone disease?
Professor Hawking was an inspiration not just because of his scientific thinking, but because, to many people with motor neurone disease, he was an absolute exemplar: he was given two years to live at the age of 21 and ended up living until he was 76. This disease is a big area of priority for us. In the last year for which we have full-year figures, £52 million was invested into it, and we are currently recruiting for 24 clinical trials.
Order. I am about to call the shadow Secretary of State, but I say very gently to him that he needs to be brief because there is a lot of pressure on time. He would not want a situation in which those on the Front Bench dominated at the expense of those on the Back Benches, because that would be absolutely wrong, and the hon. Gentleman is always opposed to that which is wrong.
Thank you for your instructions, Mr Speaker. We have heard today more warnings that the winter crisis will stretch beyond Easter. We have seen the worst winter crisis for years. The Secretary of State will blame the flu and the weather, but patients are blaming years of underfunding, blaming years of social care cuts, and blaming years of cuts to acute beds, so will he now apologise for telling us that the NHS was better prepared than ever before this winter?
The NHS did prepare extremely thoroughly for this winter, but the hon. Gentleman is right to talk about funding because of course it matters. He will be interested in these figures, which are for the last five-year period for which we can get all the numbers: in Wales, funding for the NHS went up 7.2%; in Scotland, it went up 11.5%; and in England, it went up 17.3%.
This Government are moving into their eighth year, not their fifth year, and yet, after eight years, life expectancy is going backwards in the poorest parts of the country and infant mortality is rising. New research shows that, in the first 49 days of 2018, an additional person died every seven minutes. That is shameful. Is it not time that we had a full national inquiry into widening health inequalities? In the 70th year of the NHS, will this Government now bring an end to the underfunding, cuts, austerity and privatisation of our health services?
Really, the hon. Gentleman can do better than that. The truth is that the NHS has had its most difficult winter in living memory, which is why last year, in preparation, we invested £1 billion in the social care system; invested £100 million in A&E capital; and gave the flu jab to 1 million more people. He still has not explained why, for every additional pound that we have put in per patient in the NHS in England, the Labour Government in Wales put in only 57p; that is underfunding.
We are already delivering an ambitious plan to address childhood obesity, including taxing sugary drinks and helping children to exercise more, but we need to keep a close watch on this. We have taken the first few steps in a long race, and we are always looking to learn from successful initiatives elsewhere. Last week I was in Amsterdam looking at the system-wide approach there, which has led to very impressive reductions in child obesity. We should be listening and we are.
That is totally unacceptable, which is why we announced a £300 million expansion of CAMHS in the autumn. CAMHS funding went up by 20% last year. We are specifically trying to end precisely the situation that the hon. Lady mentioned, whereby people are told that they are not yet ill enough to get treatment. We have to put a stop to that.
My neighbour is correct that I know the hospital, not least because my son was born there, and he is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the work done at King’s Lynn and of the staff there. In the Budget the Chancellor signalled his additional commitment for the “Agenda for Change” staff, and those discussions are ongoing.
The reality is that the number of places is increasing, even if the number of applications is lower. The Government have signalled their commitment on pay. We have more clinicians, doctors and nurses, and we are treating more people. That is part of the success of the NHS under this Government.
I was very inspired by how hard the staff there are working. My hon. Friend always champions them in this House, but it was a great privilege to see that for myself. There is new leadership coming into that hospital, and I am confident that that leadership will put in place some simple changes that will enable the hospital to get out of special measures, hopefully quickly.
Obviously, everybody in the House is aware of this case, and our thoughts are with Alfie and his family. The policing Minister has met Alfie’s family and discussed options that may assist him. No decisions have been made, and any proposal would need to be led by Alfie’s clinicians using sufficient and rigorous evidence.
Despite not hearing it from Opposition Members, I am sure that all Members in this House welcome the five new medical schools announced today. Will the Minister also welcome the extra medical school places in Brighton and Sussex Universities, supporting my constituents, and the launch last week of the new nursing apprenticeship scheme by the University of Brighton, which will enable more nurses to enter the profession?
My hon. Friend always, quite rightly, champions the work of nurses. She is also right to signal the importance of the nursing apprenticeships, which offer a new route, particularly for many healthcare assistants, to progress within the NHS. It is right that we increase the number of pathways for nurses in order to deliver the excellent care that they provide.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, these figures cover England and Wales. He will also know that they do not take account of changes in population or changes in demography, so we use the age-standardised mortality rate, which, according to Public Health England, has remained broadly stable over recent years.
Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recognise the strong business case for the merger between Luton and Dunstable University Hospital and Bedford Hospital in terms of delivering value for money for our local health economy?
My hon. Friend has been assiduous, as have his neighbours, in lobbying the case for Luton and Dunstable and Bedford. He will be aware that the ongoing business case is being reviewed as part of that, but ultimately this is about the £3.9 billion of additional capital investment that the Government have funded. That is why these cases are being reviewed.
As I have said, we are concerned about child obesity, which is probably the big public health challenge, not least in the impact that it can have on diabetes, heart disease and cancer. That is why I so welcome Cancer Research UK moving into this space. We have one of the most ambitious plans in the world. We have already said that it is the start of a conversation, not the end, and if we need to go further, we will.
May I welcome today’s announcement on a new medical school for Kent? In an area that struggles to attract doctors, this will make a huge difference: it is genuinely a game changer. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University on their successful bid?
I absolutely congratulate them, but I also congratulate my hon. Friend, because I know that she worked incredibly hard on this bid. Thanks to that, I am sure, they are among the successful bidders today.
I am aware of the issues raised by Kirklees Council, and I understand that local campaigners have referred this to judicial review. Given the imminent legal proceedings, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage. A decision on the referral to me by the local council will be made in due course.
Cheltenham General is a wonderful hospital, but it needs investment in theatres and wards. May I take this opportunity to commend the application for over £30 million of capital funding, which would make a huge difference to my constituents?
I have met the management team for my hon. Friend’s trust and he has talked to me on many, many occasions about that. I hope that he will have a positive answer, and if it is, that will be in no small part thanks to his campaigning.
Bowel cancer remains a major killer in the UK. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recognises the new FIT—faecal immunochemical test—to be a far more effective bowel screening process, but there remains a lack of clarity about when it is going to be rolled out nationally. Will the Minister provide that clarity today so that people can be saved down the line?
The UK National Screening Committee has recommended that FIT be the primary screening test for bowel cancer, and NHS England remains absolutely committed to implementing it in 2018-19. We expect to make a decision very shortly on when that will be.
You wanted short, Mr Speaker. I thank the Secretary of State for our new medical school at Lincoln.
May I thank the Minister for his concern about what is going on at Arrowe Park Hospital? Will he meet Wirral Members shortly so that we can be assured that the existing governance is very short-term and that the issues of bullying and the way the hospital cripples primary care are dealt with effectively?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise that serious issue. There needs to be a culture change in Wirral, and I am happy to continue to meet him and other Wirral Members to discuss that. He will be aware of the NHS Improvement report on that issue on 5 March.
According to Lord O’Neill, diagnostics prior to prescription of antibiotics is the most important of the 10 commandments in the O’Neill review on antimicrobial resistance. Will the Minister update the House on progress towards that very important goal?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are totally committed to the O’Neill recommendations and are working internationally to bring them about.
My local paper, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, has recently launched its “Stop the Rot” campaign, as children in Bradford have some of the worst dental health outcomes of anywhere in the country. Does the Minister agree that prevention is key to improving children’s dental health? Can he tell us what steps the Government are taking to ensure that prevention is a key element of any new dental contract?
I think that would be the brilliant Bradford Telegraph and Argus. As I said, 75 dental practices are continuing to test the preventive focus clinical approach alongside the new remuneration system, which supports an increased focus on prevention through the dental contract. I know it is taking time, but I want to get it right.
We know that early diagnosis of cancer is crucial for successful treatment outcomes, but for many cancers, such as pancreatic and ovarian cancer, early symptoms can be vague and the chance to diagnose early easily missed. What are the Government doing to ensure that hard-to-detect cancers are diagnosed early?
That is an excellent question. We are testing the new Accelerate, Co-ordinate, Evaluate programme—ACE—which I visited recently at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford. Patients with vague symptoms can be referred for multiple tests and often receive a diagnosis or an all-clear on the same day. I do not get excited very easily, but that promises great excitement.
It is a delight to see the Minister in a state of high excitement. We hope to see it repeated on innumerable occasions.
Seventy MPs from across the House in yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate all agreed that we need Orkambi on the NHS now. Can the Minister tell me what he will be doing differently for sufferers of cystic fibrosis and when we will hear news of a breakthrough? Sufferers of cystic fibrosis are slowly drowning in their disease without access to Orkambi.
It was a very good debate, and the hon. Gentleman spoke very well in it on behalf of his constituents. We have made a counter-offer to Vertex. I call on Vertex to be reasonable, and I call on Vertex and NHS England to get back round the table and get this sorted.
Order. In Question Time, as in the health service under all Governments, demand tends invariably to exceed supply. We have time only for two more—we do not really have time, but I am creating it.
I would like to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), for his response to the all-party parliamentary group on blood cancer report. Will he continue to ensure that cancer alliances and GPs are diagnosing early?
That is an easy one—absolutely, yes.
With a significant amount of public money at stake, should not NHS trusts that are proposing to set up subsidiary companies publish their full business cases?
The point is that trusts are 100% owned by the NHS, so any benefit accrued from the subsidiary goes to the NHS, because it is fully owned by the public sector.
Leaving the EU: Fisheries Management
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of negotiations relating to future fisheries management arrangements after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this urgent question and for giving our fishing communities a voice in the Chamber today.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity to update the House. I begin by paying tribute to the hard work of the Ministers and especially the civil servants in our country’s negotiating team, who this weekend concluded an agreement on the nature and length of the implementation period, which will help us to prepare for life after Brexit. Taskforce 50, on behalf of the EU, and our own team of dedicated civil servants secured an agreed text, which will now go to the March Council of the European Union at the end of this week, and after that the Prime Minister will update the House on Monday.
The House will be aware that there are important legal and technical questions relating to fisheries management, which means that it occupies a special position in these negotiations. Both the EU and our own negotiators were always clear that specific arrangements would have to be agreed for fisheries.
Our proposal to the EU was that, during the implementation period, we would sit alongside other coastal states as a third country and equal partner in annual quota negotiations. We made that case after full consultation with the representatives of the fisheries industry. We pressed hard during negotiations to secure this outcome, and we are disappointed that the EU was not willing to move on this.
However, thanks to the hard work of our negotiating team, the text was amended from the original proposal, and the Commission has agreed amendments to the text that provide additional reassurance. The revised text clarifies that the UK’s share of quotas will not change during the implementation period, and that the UK can attend international negotiations. Furthermore, the agreement includes an obligation on both sides to act in good faith throughout the implementation period. Any attempts by the EU to operate in a way that harmed the UK fishing industry would breach that obligation.
These arrangements will of course only apply to negotiations in December 2019. We are at the table as a full member state for negotiations in December 2018 and, critically, in December 2020 we will be negotiating fishing opportunities as a third country and independent coastal state—deciding who can access our waters and on what terms for the first time in over 40 years.
It is important that we use this transition period to ensure that we can negotiate as a third country and independent coastal state in 2020 to maximise the benefits for our coastal communities, ensure that we can control who accesses our waters and on what terms, and ensure that we manage our marine resources sustainably. We are already looking at a range of data to support consideration of future fishing opportunities, including the nature of catches and zonal attachment of stocks in the UK exclusive economic zone.
There is a significant prize at the end of the implementation period, and it is important that all of us in every area accept that the implementation period is a necessary step towards securing that prize. For our coastal communities, it is an opportunity to revive economically. For our marine environment, it is an opportunity to be managed sustainably. It is critical that all of us, in the interests of the whole nation, keep our eyes on that prize.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The problem he has, of course, is that as recently as two weeks ago, the Prime Minister did not see this as a necessary step. I have to tell him—if he does not already know it—that the mood in fishing communities today is one of palpable anger. This is not what they were promised. The basic question that the Secretary of State has to answer today is: if the Government can let us down like this on the deal for the transitional period, how do we know they will not do it again when it comes to the final deal? When it comes to it, will they trade away access to waters for access to markets or anything else?
The House also needs to hear today how this bizarre arrangement is going to work in practice. The EU deal with Norway and the Faroes on mackerel is due to expire at the end of this year. We had thought that it would be rolled over for 12 months. Will that still be the case, and what barrier will there be to the EU Commission agreeing another bad deal for our pelagic fleet? With regard to the operation of a discard ban, the Secretary of State should know that British boats have a particular problem with hake as a choke species. That is a problem for our fleet and for nobody else. Does he really expect that the other 27 member countries are going to come up with a solution to something that is a problem only for us and not for them?
It is reported that the Government Chief Whip told his Back Benchers yesterday that
“it’s not like the fishermen are going to vote Labour”.
If that is true, it betrays a certain attitude. The Secretary of State should not be complacent: he should not take it for granted in the future that they will be voting Tory either.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his very fair and detailed comments. The first thing I will happily acknowledge is that there is disappointment in fishing communities. As someone whose father was a fish merchant and whose grandparents went to sea to fish, I completely understand how fishing communities feel about the situation at the moment, and I share their disappointment.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked about future negotiations and the role that we will play. There is a unique 12-month period, leading up to the December Council at the end of 2019, when the EU will argue on the UK’s behalf, but the UK will be there, as part of the delegation and consulted, in order to ensure that all the legitimate interests that the right hon. Gentleman raises are fairly represented.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the whole question of the discard ban and choke species. The truth is that every single fishing nation is affected by the discard ban and choke species, and that we operate collectively with our neighbours to ensure that we have the correct means of marine conservation, because unless we have a system that involves choke species and a discard ban, we can have the overfishing that in the past has sadly led to an unhappy outcome for fishing communities.
The final point I would make is that of course no one takes anyone’s votes for granted—certainly not the votes of those who work so hard to ensure that we have food on our plates—but I would say one thing. The only party in this House actually committed to leaving the common fisheries policy is the Conservative party—I should say in fairness that our colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party share that position as well. It is critically important that we all ensure that leaving the common fisheries policy at the end of 2020 enables us all to ensure that the communities the right hon. Gentleman represents in Orkney and Shetland, and the communities we all have the honour of representing, benefit from the new freedoms that that will bring.
I know that the Secretary of State knows that 45 years ago the fishermen felt they had a very bad deal. They want their fishing rights back. Can he reassure me that, as we have this interim deal, we can register ourselves as an independent coastal state, so that on 1 January 2021 we have complete control of our waters?
Yes, my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is absolutely right. One of the critical things we can do is make sure, not just from 1 January 2021 but in December 2020, that we are negotiating as an independent coastal state. We will be able to join the regional fisheries management organisations in advance of the December 2020 negotiations—organisations that any independent coastal state has to be part of to secure fishing opportunities and ensure that the marine environment is adequately protected.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for securing this urgent question and to the Secretary of State for his response. However, I am afraid I still have several questions.
The Secretary of State, alongside the Fisheries Minister, has asserted time and time again that the UK would take back absolute control of our waters from day one of leaving both the European Union and the 1964 London fisheries convention. However, following announcements made in the last 48 hours, we now know that the rest of the Government has been having very different conversations with the EU27. The announcement made by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, ahead of formal phase two negotiations, made it clear that the UK would continue to be part of the common fisheries policy for the duration of a 21-month post-Brexit transition period, extending up to 2020.
The announcement that Britain’s share of the total allowable catch will remain unchanged during the transition period contradicts all other previous Government statements in relation to post-Brexit fisheries, and it is understandable that many coastal MPs and fishing communities feel so angry and let down. The Government’s failure to meet their previously stated aims through negotiations is one that now requires greater explanation and examination on the Floor of the House. The Government must be absolutely clear about who is leading the negotiations on fishing and what their position is. Have the Government failed to secure their desired position, as advocated by the Secretary of State and the Fisheries Minister, or was that never the position of our negotiating team and the rest of the Cabinet? If that red line has moved, can the Secretary of State tell the House whether there has been an exchange, and if so, what was secured instead?
Less than a month ago, in a Westminster Hall debate on the UK’s fisheries policy secured by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), I asked the Fisheries Minister whether he had seen the draft proposals from the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries—the PECH Committee—and what the Government’s response was. He informed me that
“at the end of the day, it does not really matter what the European Union asks for, but what we are prepared to grant it.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 314WH.]
With that in mind, can the Secretary of State now be explicit in outlining what the Government are prepared to grant the EU in relation to fisheries? Can he also inform the House what the transition arrangement with the EU will mean for the London convention?
The Secretary of State will have seen the comments from the less-than-satisfied representative fishing organisations and the bold statements—and actions—of his own Back Benchers. Any post-Brexit fisheries policy must be rebalanced to work for our coastal communities and have a sustainable approach at its very core. What we need now from the Government is a move away from the chaotic approach we have seen this week and, instead, honesty and clarity about their negotiating position and exactly what that means for the fishing industry.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions. The first thing to make clear is that we are leaving the London fisheries convention, and we will be fully out of the convention, as we will be out of the common fisheries policy, by the time the implementation period ends.
However, it is also important to recognise, as the hon. Lady mentioned, that our share of the total allowable catch during the implementation period, including 2019, will not be altered. That is a protection for all those who want to make sure that we have the stability required to prepare for the additional opportunities that will come at the end of the implementation period.
The critical point remains that the dividing line—I hesitate to say it is a red line—between the Government and their supporters and the Government’s critics is that we believe that, when we leave the European Union, we should leave the common fisheries policy. It is not the position of any other political party in this House that we should leave the common fisheries policy and take advantage of the opportunities that accrue. In that regard, the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the capacity of the UK to say what it will and will not accept refer clearly and unambiguously to what will occur after the implementation period ends and we are an independent coastal state outside the European Union.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, which is in a very similar vein to the one I submitted. That shows the level of interest in this subject on both sides of the House.
The Secretary of State will understand that there is no way I can sell this deal in the transitional period as anything like a success to fishing communities in Moray, Scotland or the UK. However, will he confirm that, when we leave the common fisheries policy in 2020, we will have full control over fish stocks and vessel access, because fishing communities that feel let down and angered by the Government at the moment need that guarantee?
I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s point. I think people not just in Buckie and Portsoy but across the north-east of Scotland—indeed, across the United Kingdom—will be disappointed that the proposal we sought to ensure would apply for 2019 does not apply for that year. However, it is important to recognise that this is a 12-month additional extension to the maintenance of the EU acquis and that we accept that the greater prize, which my hon. Friend is quite right to remind the House of, is available only if we ensure that we leave the common fisheries policy, take back control and make it absolutely clear to other countries that access and quotas will be in our hands.
It is a big concern with the Conservatives that it is always somebody else’s fault. When the Conservatives took us into the common fisheries policy, Scotland’s fishermen were described as expendable, so they are used to Scottish Tory sell-outs. But, given the matter of days involved here, even Scotland’s fishermen will be surprised at how quickly this one was turned around.
Will the Minister tell me at what point our fishermen became a bargaining chip, or has that been the case all along? Does he agree that we are now in the worst of all worlds, because we are in the common fisheries policy but we have no say? Will he tell me why, over the years, when the SNP has proposed changes to bring greater control over fishing policies, those have been rejected? Does he agree that that is because fishing is a big industry in Scotland and important to the Scottish Government, but it means nothing at Westminster?
Psychologists have a phenomenon called projection. It means that when someone describes someone else, they are really talking about themselves. It is very interesting that the Scottish National party spokesman should talk about people always blaming somebody else and things always being somebody else’s fault. As members of a party that has raised grievance to an art form, SNP Members have a damn cheek making that case. They have a particular cheek in this case, because it is the stated policy of the Scottish National party to stay in the European Union, to stay in the single market, to stay in the customs union and to stay in the common fisheries policy. The ones who are committed to giving Scottish fishermen, and indeed all fishermen across the United Kingdom, a brighter future by leaving the CFP are the Conservative party and this Government. I think that the 90 seconds of concentrated—I do not know what the word is, but it is probably unparliamentary, Mr Speaker—cant that we have just heard from the hon. Gentleman will be met with the derision it deserves.
In fact, I think it was 56 seconds. The right hon. Gentleman has indulged in a bit of statistical rounding.
Will the Government go to the Council this week and say that this deal from the EU is unacceptable and that we voted to take back control of our fish, our money, our borders and our laws? We have accepted a two-year, nine-month transitional period, so will the Government just get on with this?
I completely understand my right hon. Friend’s feelings on this matter. I just want to reassure him that our negotiating team negotiated hard, in good faith and armed with the support of our fisheries industry to try to get the best possible deal. We did not get everything we wanted, but it is the view of this Government and, I think, the majority of people in this House that we need to make sure that this implementation period succeeds so that we can grab the greater prize that Brexit provides at the end of it.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing this urgent question, on the same subject I also submitted one this morning.
The truth is that the Tories are treating this industry as expendable. The Secretary of State talked about revival, but the industry cannot revive based on the status quo that the Government have delivered on the CFP. Does he understand why my constituents will see this as a total sell-out, with us not even having a say at the negotiating table for the next two years?
It is certainly not the case that anyone on the Government side of the House regards fishing communities or the fishing industry as expendable. That is why we are investing more in the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science—our top-level marine scientific advisory body. It is why we are investing more in the Marine Management Organisation, which will be responsible for making sure that our fisheries industry is effective. It is why we are investing more in fisheries protection vessels to ensure that the sea of opportunity that comes outside the CFP can be properly taken advantage of.
The idea that we do not care about fisheries and that we are not investing in their future is, I am afraid, simply not true. The hon. Lady may express disappointment, and I express disappointment that we did not secure everything we wanted in these negotiations, but it is vital that we all focus on the bigger prize ahead of us. I completely understand why some people in the House —I exempt the hon. Lady—want to make partisan points, but, honestly, the future of our fishing industry is bigger than that.
Why will my right hon. Friend not specifically answer the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross)? Why can he not give a guarantee that, in 2020, we will actually take back control over our fishing and our waters?
I believed—and I must apologise to the House if I did not make this clear—that I had made it clear in my original statement that, even before the transition period ends in December 2020, we will be negotiating as an independent coastal state. I hope that is a sufficient guarantee and reassurance to my hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross).
Given that we export such a large proportion of our prawns and other shellfish to Europe, should we not have the freest possible trade with Europe?
I am slightly concerned by my right hon. Friend’s tone in relation to the negotiations, which suggests that the European Commission would not allow us something. In a negotiation, it is surely a question of what importance we put on something as to whether we get it. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend, what did we get in return?
The big prize that we have secured is an implementation period that allows us as a country to prepare for all the benefits that Brexit will bring. I campaigned with my hon. Friend to ensure that Britain can leave the European Union, and it is important that we do so in good order. This transition period allows us the time and space to do just that.
As the Secretary of State well knows, meetings of the Fisheries Council tend to go on into the early hours, when they reach decisions on quota and catch. Will he clarify whether, under the terms of the transitional agreement, Britain will have the possibility of being in the room when those decisions are made, or does article 125 of the draft agreement mean that we will only be able to provide comments? If we can only provide comments, what impact does he expect those comments to have when final decisions are taken in the meeting itself?
It is clear that we will be consulted, and not just in a perfunctory way. The scientific advice and evidence that our top-level marine scientists generate will shape and frame the negotiations. I should say that it is only for one year—in December 2019—that we will be in that position. The principle of the European Union operating in good faith towards the UK is one that I take seriously, because if the European Union were to act in a way in that one year that demonstrated bad faith, then, apart from the mechanisms that police the withdrawal agreement and the implementation period, it would also be the case that Britain, having taken back control of its waters, might be in a position to be less generous than the EU would want us to be.
The economies of Cleethorpes and the adjoining town of Great Grimsby have never fully recovered from what local people see as a betrayal in the original negotiations to enter the EU. Since then, successive Governments have not given sufficient attention to coastal communities. Will the Secretary of State assure me that his and other Departments will give greater support to such communities, particularly now that they have to wait that little bit longer before the benefits of leaving the CFP become fully evident?
My hon. Friend is exactly right in two areas. First, we are waiting a little longer before we can properly take advantage of being outside the common fisheries policy. Secondly, there has been an historical neglect not just of the fishing industry, but of coastal communities. This Government have sought to reverse that trend through the coastal communities fund and the investment that I mentioned earlier. It is vital that we recognise that the challenges that coastal communities face—the decline of fishing has been one of them—require intervention from all Departments to ensure that the people whom my hon. Friend represents so well have a brighter future.
I must declare an interest. My daughter, Lisa Roberts, and her partner, Shaun Williams, bought a fishing vessel last year, and they are ambitious and excited at the start of their business venture. However, what the Minister proposes means that they now face a maelstrom of perishable foodstuffs held up at customs, continued pressure on seafood species and no say over quotas for alternative catches. In what way has he not used the fishermen and women of Wales as Brexit bait?
I wish the hon. Lady’s family all the very best in taking to sea. Coming from a family with a fishing heritage, as I mentioned earlier, I know both the risks and the rewards that come from pursuing fishing opportunities. In her admittedly eloquent question, she conflated a variety of issues relating to customs, total allowable catch, quotas and trading opportunities. Let me make it clear that when it comes to the future negotiations, negotiations over trade should be entirely separate from negotiations over fishing access and opportunities.
It is just as well that the implementation period is shorter than was sought, isn’t it?
As ever, my right hon. Friend sums up my thoughts with more pith and elegance than I can ever aspire to.
The Minister is sometimes so able that he beguiles the House and we are unsure of what he believes. Following the example that he has just given, will he offer two yesses to these questions? First, when we leave, will we totally control our fishing waters? Secondly, will he please offer every fishing port free port status?
I can say yes to the first question, but the second question is above my pay grade. As for knowing what I believe, the best guide has always been the right hon. Gentleman’s capacity to get to the heart of the matter, as he does so effectively on this issue.
Brixham in my constituency lands the most valuable catch in England. Will the Secretary of State visit Brixham to meet all parts of the sector to discuss their serious concerns that the terms of the transition could end up being reflected in the final deal?
My hon. Friend has privately been a persistent, effective lobbyist on the behalf of the fishermen of Brixham and all those associated with the industry, and I thank her for her work. The industry in Brixham has a highly effective and able advocate, and I will of course visit the fishermen in her constituency to explain to them how we intend to ensure that the opportunities available to them will be theirs to enjoy after the implementation period.
When will the Secretary of State explain article 157 of the draft agreement that was discussed between the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and Michel Barnier? It sets out a new joint committee between the EU and the UK for deciding all matters relating to the transition period, including fisheries and citizens’ rights—absolutely everything—but gives Parliament no power whatsoever to have any say on any of those issues. Having heard about the Secretary of State’s decision today, how can Parliament have a voice during the transition period?
The hon. Gentleman takes his duties as a scrutineer of the Executive very seriously. The one thing that I would say is that the draft agreement covers a wide variety of issues, and he alludes to an important one. Obviously, I am here to answer questions relating specifically to fishing. I hope that the draft agreement will be agreed at the March Council, and with your permission, Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister will be here on Monday to make a statement. The hon. Gentleman will have the chance to get his question fully answered then.
Like many fishermen across Scotland, I feel badly let down by this deal, because we are not going to be taking control of our waters as quickly as we had hoped. Will my right hon. Friend give me the guarantee that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation seeks, which is that we will take control of our vessels and waters after we finally come out of the transition period as we leave the European Union?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the role of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation. Its chief executive, Bertie Armstrong, has been an extremely effective advocate on the industry’s behalf, and his response today, balancing the disappointment felt by many with the determination to ensure that we get absolutely the right deal at the end of the process, was constructive. That approach was reflected in my hon. Friend’s question, and it is absolutely the case that we will seek to secure the opportunities that the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and other bodies want to secure.
What a load of codswallop from a Secretary of State who is all out at sea on this issue. The Government will never, ever again be trusted by Scottish fishermen. He drew a red line with the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, but that red line has gone—hook, line and sinker. Will he save us some time and tell us about the next betrayal that Scottish fishermen can expect from his Government?
I have enormous respect and affection for the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] The fact that he is not right honourable does not diminish the respect or affection that I have for him. My point is that it is the Scottish National party’s policy to remain in the single market and the common fisheries policy. As a result, his capacity to criticise any other party in this House for seeking to secure additional opportunities for fishermen in Scotland or elsewhere is undermined by the fact that he does not believe in giving those opportunities to anyone.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, but he will remember his visit to Newlyn, where he heard of significant multimillion-pound plans to invest in the harbour to make it ready for this new dawn of fishing. I hate to prolong the point, but will he categorically confirm that who fishes in UK waters from 2021 will be our decision? Will he confirm that we will regain that control? Will the Government announce a fund to improve and enhance our vessels, our ports and our processing plants to prepare for that day?
I enjoyed my visit to Newlyn, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his work on the behalf of his constituents—he is untiring. The first paragraph of article 125 of the draft agreement makes it clear that we will fix fishing opportunities for the duration of the implementation period. Given that the implementation period ends in December 2020, the December 2020 Council and negotiations that fix fishing opportunities for 2021 and beyond are not covered by the agreement, so I can give him the reassurance that I hope he and his constituents seek.
Unlike some of those who have been trying to work themselves into a lather about this decision, the Secretary of State and I canvassed support to leave the common fisheries policy and the EU in its totality. I remember the promises that were made when we visited Aberdeen, and many people will be alarmed and concerned about the draft agreement. He has said that the EU will act in good faith during the transition period and not seek to undermine existing fishing communities. Given its record to date in the negotiations, how can he be sure that legislation, directives and rules will not be put in place further to undermine the fishing industry, leaving nothing to negotiate for at the end of the transition period?
My right hon. Friend has been a consistent campaigner to leave the EU and the CFP. The role that he plays on the Exiting the European Union Committee, as a champion for those who have always argued for that, is exemplary. I strongly sympathise with the concerns that people express about the past record of Governments on the fishing industry. What I would say is that the opportunities that will exist after we leave are considerable, and it is only one year—December 2019—when we will rely on that good faith provision with respect to fisheries. As I mentioned in response to questions from Labour colleagues, if the EU were to choose to act in a way in that year that was against our interests, the consequences that would follow for all would not be happy.
For decades, EU trawlers have plundered our waters and fished in ways that have caused damage to our marine environment. It seems that the Scottish Government are prepared to accept that situation in perpetuity—[Interruption.] Indeed, we have heard comments that they do not trust the EU for a year; I am afraid I have not trusted the EU in its negotiation strategies over the fisheries policy for a very long time. Can the Secretary of State confirm that we will have greater control not only of our fisheries, but of our fishing processes, which have been so damaging to the marine environment and which a lot of us would be very glad to see an end of?
My hon. Friend makes two very important points. Yes, it is not just the case that the fishing industry benefits by being outside the CFP; our marine environment also benefits. She also makes a very important point about the Scottish Government. They want to keep us in the common fisheries policy and deny Scottish fishermen the opportunities of leaving the CFP. In that position, their protestations ring hollow this afternoon.
The paradox is that Conservative Fisheries Ministers have been very successful in the common fisheries policy in negotiating more sustainable catches. In the Secretary of State’s 25-year environment plan, he talks about all fish stocks being recovered to and maintained at levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield, which is an exact replica of the EU common fisheries policy. However, in that plan, he neglects to mention the linked application of the precautionary principle to fisheries management. Can he reassure the House that in the future fisheries Bill, there will be no return to the bad old days of days at sea or fishing effort?
A number of very important points were raised in that question. First, yes, previous Fisheries Ministers in this Government—in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon)—have done an outstanding job on improving the common fisheries policy and in making a bad situation better. Secondly, the hon. Lady is absolutely right that in the 25-year environment plan, there is an absolute commitment to ensuring that we follow the science, so that we have the best approach towards making sure that fish stocks are healthy and sustainable in future.
On the broader point about the precautionary principle, it is clear that during the time that we have been in the European Union, although a number of things have worked against the environmental interests of this country and our marine environment, the precautionary principle properly applied can be a very powerful tool to ensure that our environment is protected and enhanced. We will be saying more in due course about the environmental principles that have evolved during our time in the EU and the means by which we will hold the Government to account to keep in line with those principles.
Order. Colleagues, I granted this urgent question because I was very clear in my mind that the matter warranted the attention of the House of Commons today. I think the judgment has been vindicated by the level of interest in participating. I am keen to accommodate the inquisitorial appetite of the House, but given that there are two statements to follow, there is now a premium on a degree of brevity. That is normally demonstrated by the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), but he has already asked his question. May I exhort colleagues to follow his excellent example?
I will keep this short. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we owe a debt to our fishing communities and that we must not guarantee to the EU, at the end of this implementation period, any level of access in favour of a longer-term trade deal?
Today is St Cuthbert’s day, so it is right to celebrate the wonderful seafood of Northumberland, from Craster kippers to Lindisfarne oysters, which are enjoyed by my constituents and exported all over the world. However, should the coastal communities that depend on them ever have believed that a Tory party funded by the City would prioritise a deal on fishing as highly as a deal on finance?
It is St Cuthbert’s day, and I believe that on this day, St Cuthbert was given a gift of fish to sustain him, so it is a day that is resonant for a number of reasons. One thing I would say is that it is a Conservative Government who have been investing in the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the Marine Management Organisation and all the steps required to ensure that we can take advantage of the opportunities that arise when we leave the CFP. It is also a Conservative Government who have been investing in fisheries protection vessels to ensure that the hon. Lady’s constituents and others are properly protected when their fishing interests are engaged.
Of course, Jeeves always used to encourage Wooster to eat more fish on the grounds that it was good for the brain.
As the British fishing industry has been hammered over decades with our membership of the common fisheries policy, the Secretary of State has now given a guarantee that we will be leaving towards the end of the implementation period. Will he use his good offices to ensure that we find imaginative ways to support the fishing industry as we embark into this new era?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right and, indeed, that point was made very well by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas). We will be saying more with the publication of the fisheries White Paper about additional steps that we want to take to support the fishing industry in preparing for life after the transition period.
When will we know the detail about the great prize and bright future that the Secretary of State refers to—before or after 29 March 2019?
I share the disappointment of north-east fishermen that the transition deal falls short of what they had hoped for. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that on 1 January 2021, we will leave the common fisheries policy, take back control of our waters and set our own fisheries management policies and our quotas? Will he look at including that in the fisheries Bill, and does he share the concern that I and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation have that the Scottish National party Scottish Government would keep us in the common fisheries policy in perpetuity and that that would sell Scotland’s fishermen out in perpetuity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely every right in every particular. It was instructive that when the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation was interviewed on the radio earlier today, he made it clear how disappointed he was by the Scottish Government’s determination to keep us in the common fisheries policy.
Given the assurances that I and others were given over the past year right from the Prime Minister down that we would leave the common fisheries policy at the end of March 2019, who was actually negotiating this and did they really care about fishing? I would like the Secretary of State to answer this: did the officials actually argue that we could be left out right away and that it would be nothing to do with the implementation period?
The hon. Lady asks a very direct question. That absolutely was the case. We had an immensely hard-working team of officials who negotiated incredibly hard on our behalf. They were in constant touch with Ministers every step of the way, and they encountered intransigence on the part of the EU, which was disappointing—I make no bones about it—but one thing that cannot be faulted is the hard work, mastery of detail and determination of the civil servants in DExEU and DEFRA to get the very best deal for Britain, and I will not hear a word said against them.
Going forward, what confidence or guarantee can my right hon. Friend give that control of our seas will not be sacrificed on the altar of Brexit?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that one of the great prizes of Britain leaving the European Union is taking back control of our territorial waters. That is why we must maintain our eyes on that great prize at the end of this process.
I am the daughter of a man who was a member of the Grimsby deep-sea fishing fleet in the late 1950s, so I know that it is one of the hardest jobs in the world. That does not stop me understanding, however, that the processing side of the industry is incredibly important to coastal communities such as Grimsby and Peterhead. On that basis, will the Secretary of State guarantee that the processing side of the fishing industry will not be sacrificed to other priorities in trade deal negotiations?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I have had productive talks with representatives of fish processing organisations, and we absolutely appreciate that they have specific demands on both access to other markets and labour. We respect their demands and will do everything possible to help them achieve them.
The SNP has admitted that it would hand powers over fisheries not to Edinburgh or London but back to Brussels. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that that will not happen?
I can give an absolute guarantee that under no circumstances will I ever adopt the craven and abject surrender that the Scottish Government would offer the EU by accepting that the CFP should persist ad infinitum.
The future of the fishing industry is a politically sensitive issue in Hull—UKIP has talked about a fishing fleet being re-established there—but was not one of the main promises made to the people of Hull that we would retain our territorial rights around fishing from day one, and has that promise not been broken?
No, we will. When the implementation period ends, the exclusive economic zone that is ours to police and control will be ours to police and control.
If during the implementation period, the EU cannot cut our quota, what is to stop it increasing its quota? That said, those of us who are bitterly disappointed at this outcome will take no lectures from those who never want to take back control.
I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s position. I explained earlier the good faith provisions and the other guarantees that are there. The outcome is not what we wanted, but it does afford our fishermen protection during the implementation period.
Fishermen in Plymouth feel utterly betrayed by the decision announced yesterday. What does it mean for the reform of the unworkable discards ban that was promised next year and which is especially important for mixed fisheries in the far south-west?
The discards ban is necessary to ensure responsible management of all species, but we are working on how to apply it in a way that ensures that the legitimate concerns the hon. Gentleman raises on behalf of his constituents are properly addressed.
The Secretary of State will not be surprised to learn that fishermen in mid-Cornwall feel very disappointed, and in some cases angry, at yesterday’s announcement. When he visits Devon, will he come that little bit further and meet the fishermen of Cornwall as well, and in doing so will he lay out very clearly that the implementation period will affect only one year’s quota negotiations, that their quotas will be protected during that time and that at the end of the transition period we will take back control of our fishing waters?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head, and I look forward to meeting him in Mevagissey later this year.
In defence of this negotiating debacle, the Secretary of State says the Government always knew there would be important legal and technical questions to be resolved. If so, why less than 10 days ago did he and Ruth Davidson promise fishermen across the UK that we would be leaving the CFP in March 2019?
It is the case that important questions need to be resolved, but the one thing the SNP is promising is that we will never leave the CFP. It is instructive that in so many of their questions SNP Members talk about Ruth Davidson but never about a single fisherman, species or community; they only attack the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Why? They’re feart.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that under yesterday’s transition agreement we can continue to market fish and fish products seamlessly and frictionlessly into the EU, and that that is his aim for the time after the transition period has ended?
Yes, it is absolutely the case that we want as friction free a trade arrangement as possible with the EU, and indeed with other nations.
In my constituency on Friday, the talk of the day was: let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate. In ’74, when we joined the Common Market, Edward Heath sold the fishing sector for a bowl of pottage. In 2018, can the Secretary of State give an absolute guarantee that the fishing sector in Portavogie, in my constituency, and also at Ardglass and Kilkeel, has not been and will not be sold out by a transitional arrangement that leaves the EU in control of fishing policy?
I appreciate the issues the hon. Gentleman raises, and I will do everything possible to address the concerns of fishermen not just on the Ards peninsula but in Kilkeel and elsewhere. I look forward to working with him and colleagues across the political divide in Northern Ireland to provide that reassurance.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the prize of agreeing an implementation period. How will the UK’s voice be heard and respected in the annual quota allocation for 2020?
I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured to know that in 2020 the UK will be negotiating as an independent coastal state. [Interruption.] The negotiations in 2019 will take place on the basis that we will be consulted and that our science will be part of the process by which arrangements are reached, and of course the good faith provisions and other arrangements and guarantees I discussed earlier will be there to safeguard UK interests for that limited 12-month period.
The quotas for 2020 will now be set by the EU after some consultation with the British Government. Now that the ball has been handed back to the EU, what guarantees can the Secretary of State give to the industry that he will get the ball back?
My hon. Friend reasserts the vital point that were the EU for any reason in 2019 to behave contrary to our long-term interests, it would also be contrary to its long-term interests. I agree that the opportunities available to us after the transition deal are critical and that we must secure them. That has meant accepting a sub-optimal outcome in the deal, but it is only for an additional 12 months, and we must keep our eyes on the prize.
Far from providing “a sea of opportunity”—to use the Secretary of State’s own words—all this deal does is underline, as the Heath, Thatcher and Major Governments did before, that the Tories are happy to throw Scotland’s fishing industry over the side. Is it not time that he and his Scottish Tory sprats were also discarded?
Again, I note that questions from the Scottish nationalist Benches have contained more mentions of the Scottish Tory leader and bad puns than adherence to either science or economics. The SNP will have to do better than name calling and joke making if it is ever to be taken seriously as a defender of the interests of Scottish fishermen.
All fishing communities up and down the nation will have hanging their heads in shame at this disgraceful discussion so far. The list of Tory sell-outs is endless: in the 1970s, Ted Heath said that fishermen were expendable; in the ’80s, Margaret Thatcher signed up to the original doomed common fisheries policy and consigned our fishermen to decades of mismanagement; while John Major signed up to a revised CFP that had scrapping vessels and destroying livelihoods at its very heart. Given this continual betrayal, can the Secretary of State honestly say that things will be any different post-Brexit?
Absolutely. I have enormous respect and affection for the hon. Gentleman, who I think is a great campaigner, but I must respectfully point out that, although I do not doubt his passion and commitment, the platform on which his party stands would keep us imprisoned in the CFP, as opposed to opening us up to the opportunities that exist outside, which we and our friends in the Democratic Unionist party support.
I make it five Conservative Scottish MPs who have asked for the same promise from the Secretary of State, but he has been so obsessed with his #SNP line that he has not given that guarantee. Is this not the Secretary of State who promised that Scotland could have devolved power over immigration if we left the EU, and was that promise not worthless? Is this not the same Secretary of State who promised, barely a week ago, that we would definitely leave the CFP in March 2019, and was that promise not worthless? Is it not the case that any promise he makes in the future to the people of Scotland will be just as worthless as his promises in the past?
It was the promise the SNP made to keep us in the CFP and the EU that was comprehensively rejected at the ballot box by the votes of people in north-east Scotland and in fishing communities. I am afraid that Scotland faces a simple choice: does it remain within the EU and CFP under the SNP, or will it be liberated, as will be the case if this Government have their way? On that choice so much hangs, including the future of the SNP.
Again, it just goes to show that at any negotiating table we want someone who will stand up for the issues that matter. Be it Brexit or the CFP, Scotland and Scotland’s fishing community are expendable once again in the eyes of the UK Government. At what stage did the Secretary of State know that fisheries would be a bargaining chip, and what did the Government secure in return?
Both sides—both the UK and the EU—made it clear that fisheries would have to be handled separately from many of the other issues that would be addressed during the implementation period, and it was always clear that we would have to have specific arrangements. One of the things that are different about fisheries is that even before the implementation period ends, we will be operating independently outside the constraints of the European Union. It is also the case that, having secured the capacity to operate independently in December 2020, we will be in a position to secure the larger prize of life outside the common fisheries policy, a prize that the SNP rejects.
We know that Heath was the one who said that Scottish fishermen were expendable, and Thatcher was the one who took us into the CFP. We talk about fish quotas. Just this morning, on Radio Scotland, Niels Wichmann, the head of the Danish Fishermen’s Association, said:
“Britain has never ever challenged the quota shares that we have used every year in the annual negotiations”.
It does not matter whether we are in the CFP or not; the UK Government cannot be trusted. Does the Secretary of State agree with that?
I enjoyed hearing again a quotation that I had heard a few minutes ago. Repeats from the SNP are quite something. More particularly, however, the hon. Gentleman’s question betrayed a misunderstanding of the principle of relative stability which underpins quota negotiations.
I have suggested several times over the years, including in the Chamber, that only when all the fishing waters of Europe have been returned to their own countries will the fish stocks and fishing industries of Europe be saved, and that the UK must lead the way in that process. Will the Government now publicly urge the complete abolition of the common fisheries policy, which has been such an unmitigated disaster?
My admiration for the hon. Gentleman knows almost no bounds. He is right: the common fisheries policy has been bad not just for Britain, but for fish throughout the European Union. My only hope is that he will not only have an opportunity to see our shared ambition for a Britain outside the European Union fulfilled, but will be able to persuade socialist and progressive colleagues across the European continent to reform their own governance in a way that is genuinely liberating, as he has long advocated.
As I look across at the faces of the Scottish Tories who are once again witnessing the United Kingdom Government betraying Scottish fishing communities, never has the phrase “done up like a kipper” seemed more appropriate. Can the Secretary of State explain to the bewildered fishing communities in my constituency why he has signed them up to what he described nine months ago as the “disastrous” common fisheries policy for a further two years, on worse terms than they are currently experiencing?
Listening to yet another Scottish National party spokesman denying the reality of the SNP’s adherence to the common fisheries policy and attempting to cover it up with a weak pun, I felt that I was witnessing yet another audition for someone to appear on Alex Salmond’s rt.com talk show. It is the combination of bad taste and poor humour that has been exhibited by so many on those Benches.
Business of the House
With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a short statement about the business for tomorrow. It will now be consideration of a business of the House motion, followed by proceedings on the Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Bill. The House will then be asked to consider a further business of the House motion, before moving on to proceedings on the Northern Ireland Assembly Members (Pay) Bill. Thursday’s business will remain as previously announced: a general debate on the economy. I shall make my usual statement announcing further business on Thursday.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House. That was probably the shortest statement, and the shortest response thereto, in the recent history of the House.
We now come to a statement from the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility. The fellow must beetle into the Chamber. Well done! Minister Andrew Griffiths.
Corporate Governance and Insolvency
I am pleased to announce that the Government have today published a consultation paper on corporate governance and insolvency. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House.
The United Kingdom is recognised as having a leading international reputation for corporate governance. That gives us an international competitive advantage, and is an important factor in making the UK the best place in the world in which to invest and do business. The Government are determined to ensure that our corporate governance regime remains the envy of the world.
Large corporate failures rarely happen, but when they do, their effect on stakeholders such as employees and smaller suppliers can be very damaging. In those circumstances, it is important to ensure that those in charge of the company concerned act properly and fully discharge their responsibilities. The Government are determined to ensure that our corporate governance framework clarifies those responsibilities, protects the economy and enhances public confidence, while continuing to foster conditions for business to thrive.
Last year we announced a number of reforms to strengthen the corporate governance framework in relation to executive pay, the voice of employees and wider stakeholders in the boardroom, and corporate governance in large privately held businesses. Those are now being delivered, and all of them will contribute to more robust and well-founded decision making in our large companies. We are determined to learn the lessons from corporate failures such as Carillion. We believe that we can do more to strengthen the corporate governance framework as it applies in insolvency situations. We intend to reduce the risk of major company failures occurring through shortcomings of governance or stewardship, and to strengthen the responsibilities of directors of firms when they are in or approaching insolvency.
The consultation will focus on three specific measures. Considerable public concern arises when owners of a distressed business, including a business within a group of companies, sell it on without proper regard for its future prospects or the interests of its creditors and employees. We propose to require directors, including directors of holding companies in respect of sales of subsidiaries, to have a greater regard to any future consequences of the sale of an insolvent or near-insolvent company for which they are responsible. In doing so, however, we will ensure that we do not put barriers in the way of credible business rescue efforts. We do not want to make it impossible to rescue businesses in distress.
Considerable public concern has also been raised when a company in financial difficulty has been rescued by new investment, only to find when it subsequently fails that the new investors have set up a series of complex financial schemes to protect their investment or minimise their losses, at the expense of other creditors. The Government will consult on measures to give insolvency practitioners the additional necessary powers to claw back, for the benefit of creditors, money that has been siphoned off through complex financing arrangements.
Concerns have also been raised—by, among others, a number of hon. Members—about the difficulties that arise when a company has been dissolved, but it is then found that it has outstanding debts or there have been allegations of director misconduct. Those dissolved companies often reappear, phoenix-like, in a slightly different form and with a slightly different name, and start operating again. At present, the Insolvency Service does not have the necessary powers to investigate such cases, and we are determined to ensure that it does.
These measures will complement those published yesterday by the Department for Work and Pensions in a White Paper entitled “Protecting defined benefit pension schemes”, which provides for stronger powers for the Pensions Regulator to prevent and punish those who would deliberately endanger a defined benefit pension scheme.
Corporate failures such as Carillion have raised concerns about some other aspects of our corporate governance framework. I do not wish to anticipate the current investigations of the circumstances leading up to Carillion’s failure, but I intend to use the consultation to seek views on a number of areas in which we may be able to do more to strengthen the rules within which UK companies operate. Those areas include the questions of whether steps should be taken to improve governance, accountability and internal controls within complex company group structures, and whether there are further opportunities to strengthen the role of shareholders in stewarding the companies in which they have investments. While the payment of dividends should remain for the directors to decide, having regard to their obligations and guidance, there is the question of whether the legal and technical framework within which these decisions are made could be improved and made more transparent and fairer. There are also questions about whether the commissioning and use of professional advice by directors is done with a proper awareness of directors’ duties, and how the supply chain and other creditors can be better protected in the event of major insolvency while preserving the interests of shareholders.
The reforms we propose will help prevent corporate failure and will strengthen the UK’s business environment, contributing to the success of our industrial strategy, and will cement our reputation as one of the best places to work, invest and do business. I commend the statement to the House.
Order. May I gently point out that Members who were not present for the statement cannot suddenly beetle into the Chamber and expect to be called to ask a question? I am sorry, but that is not on.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement and for making it in good time.
There are two substantive proposals: on clawback and on disqualification of directors. There is, however, already provision in insolvency law for clawback of assets, for example assets sold at an undervalue. There is also provision in company law for disqualification of directors due to incompetence or recklessness. The proposals set out by the Minister on clawback are extremely unclear. Can he explain how these provisions add to existing rights, rather than repeat them?
Secondly, there are a number of much vaguer promises. What do these mean? On giving the Insolvency Service new powers to investigate directors of dissolved companies, what will these new powers be and how would they militate against reckless behaviour? There is also the consideration of the legal and technical frameworks within which decisions are made on payment of dividends and how that can be improved and made more transparent. What does that mean? How can it be made more transparent, and how would greater transparency protect against greed and excessive payment of dividends, as we saw with Carillion? Then there is the strengthening of the role and responsibilities of shareholders in stewarding the companies in which they have investments, and, again, that is vague. What does it mean? Frankly, these are meaningless platitudes.
Thirdly, the Government again appear to be consulting, rather than acting. Do the Government agree that it is time for action, not consultation? They are also consulting on the Taylor review, which in itself was a consultation. What good are these consultations to people currently working in companies providing public services at risk of collapse?
Fourthly, the Government are certainly not known for being proactive; rather, they are always mopping up after the event. None of these problems is new. Companies going insolvent and leaving pension deficits and asset-stripping is not novel; we need only look at the case of BHS. These are problems that the Government should already have anticipated. Why has it taken the Government until now to begin to act, and why do they take only tentative steps?
Fifthly, we must have a bolder and more imaginative approach to corporate governance. Large companies are not the toys of directors and shareholders. They do not exist merely to make a small group of people excessively wealthy. They are the product of the hard work and effort of their workforce and suppliers, and they provide services that the public use. Short-termism is often at the heart of shareholder decisions. How do today’s proposals safeguard the long-term interests of companies, for the workforce and for the public good?
Sixthly, have the Government made any assessment of the viability of Interserve and any companies with public sector contracts? What steps are the Government taking to ensure these companies do not collapse? Will the Government institute project bank accounts for major public construction projects, mandate and enforce payment of public sector contractors within 30 days and set up a new model that allows them to step in when construction companies collapse, all of which Labour has called on the Government to do?
Lastly, how would any of these proposals meaningfully have helped the workers, pensioners and suppliers of Carillion? The amount paid in dividends at Carillion was the same as the pension deficit over the same period. Have the Government done any assessment of what more the workers, pensioners and suppliers would have received under these new plans, and if not, why not?
A little like a machine gun, those questions came thick and fast, and I thank the hon. Lady for them, but I am somewhat surprised. When Carillion went into insolvency the hon. Lady and her partner the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) demanded that we learn the lessons from the Carillion failure. Today, just a few weeks later, we have come forward with proposals to prevent something similar from happening, yet she criticises us for a failure. Her colleague the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles criticised us in Labour’s press release today for yet another consultation, and then said that Labour has
“launched our own review into corporate governance”.
The Government’s measures will make a massive difference to prospects and the way in which our companies are regulated, to ensure a more robust and accountable regime within the boardroom. The hon. Lady fails to mention the fact that yesterday the Department for Work and Pensions brought forward a White Paper that introduces a huge number of extra regulations and gives powers to the Pensions Regulator to impose punitive fines, civil fines, criminal sanctions, and director disqualification. The hon. Lady asks what we have been doing during our time in office: we brought in pay ratio reporting, a new register of companies for significant shareholder opposition, and we have strengthened the voice of the employees and representatives in the boardroom.
The hon. Lady talks about Interserve. It would be inappropriate for me to give a case-by-case running commentary on the financial probity of private businesses, particularly as that could impact on their share price. I am sure somebody of the hon. Lady’s experience will understand that.
The hon. Lady talks about project bank accounts. As she will be well aware, in January, the Government consultation on project bank accounts closed, and we will be making our proposals in the coming weeks. She talks about payment in the public sector, and I can inform her that the special manager in relation to PwC has already agreed that companies providing services to Carillion will be paid within 30 days, and that is a requirement for all contractors who accept Government contracts. We will make further proposals about how we can improve that and make it robust.
The hon. Lady talks about disqualification. Directors can be disqualified for up to 15 years, and that prevents them from acting as a director, and taking part directly or indirectly. Anyone contravening a disqualification is committing a criminal offence, so these are real punitive powers.
The hon. Lady talked about dividends. There is nothing wrong with healthy companies paying dividends. In fact many of our pension schemes rely on the profits paid from dividends. The hon. Lady talks about dividends as if they are a dirty word, but in a healthy business they are something to be applauded.
The House can be reassured that this is just the next step in a robust, detailed, full review of our corporate governance regime to make sure that we protect the taxpayer, the pensioners and the workers in all those companies who do such a good job.
What is the Minister’s ambition for when his excellent proposals will be implemented?
As my right hon. Friend will know, we have not hung about in relation to improvements within the corporate governance structure. We will soon lay a further statutory instrument which will enhance even further the corporate governance measures we have introduced. The consultation will take place within the normal rules of a consultation, and we hope to bring forward proposals as a matter of urgency.
I thank the Minister for giving me advance sight of his statement. On engagement, will the Government consider proposals to force chief executives and company directors to engage directly with small business owners or groups of affected individuals? In the recent instances involving the Global Restructuring Group and the Royal Bank of Scotland branch closures, there has been a refusal on the part of directors to meet those affected. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) pointed out, a lot of the problems that this consultation seeks to address could have been avoided simply through early engagement with those in charge.
With prohibitive costs often preventing individuals from pursuing legal options after being affected by insolvency, will the Government’s strategy look at ways of ensuring that legal recourse is available to those who will already be in financial difficulties as a result of insolvency? On contract and pensions protections, small businesses should not be the ones to suffer when a failed large company goes bust, and it should not only be in high-profile cases that the Government step in to protect pensions. What measures will this strategy take to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises are protected when contracts or payments are halted due to a large company collapsing, and that any protection for creditors is mirrored by protection for workers and pension holders? These proposals are aimed at improving the range of options available following a company becoming insolvent. However, a proactive approach could help to prevent that from happening in the first place. Does the Minister agree that one way to ensure this would be for organisations to take profit warnings seriously and not to continue to hand out contracts to firms that issue them?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his detailed and important questions, many of which related to small businesses. As the Minister with responsibility for small businesses, I take those questions extremely seriously. It is not just large corporate collapses, such as that of Carillion, that affect the thousands of small businesses in the supply chain. The collapse of a small business can affect other small businesses as well. We have all seen cases in our constituencies of small businesses losing money because of phoenix businesses that go into liquidation, change their name and reappear. It is the same people selling the same products, fleecing people time and again. We are giving the Insolvency Service the ability in this consultation to investigate companies that have already been dissolved, and that will go a long way towards sending the clear message to directors who think they can get away with fleecing small businesses in that way that the Insolvency Service will come and get them.
The hon. Gentleman talked about pensions. It is important that directors should clearly understand, through this White Paper and through the consultation, as well as through the Department for Work and Pensions White Paper, that there will be consequences if they fleece their pension fund, that there will be fines and penalties and that they could spend time in prison if they have been found to be fleecing their pension fund in an unacceptable way.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about the need for small businesses to be treated in an ethical way. In the spring statement last week, the Chancellor demonstrated a clear recognition and understanding that small businesses were being fleeced, particularly in relation to late payments. He said that he would consult on how we could end the “scourge of late payments”. If we could do that, we would see £14 billion taken from the pockets of big businesses and put into the pockets of small businesses. Also, when insolvencies such as that of Carillion do happen, payments will stay in the bank accounts of the company that had gone bust not for 128 days but for only 30 days.
I welcome this announcement. As a former business owner myself, I have seen the impact, particularly on small businesses, of large companies becoming insolvent. Does the Minister agree that it is crucial that we protect the small businesses and employees in the supply chain?
I agree with my hon. Friend. This is why we are specifically consulting, in this document, about what more we can do to protect small businesses. In lots of these failures, we have seen clever directors with clever advisers, clever lawyers and clever tax accountants putting in place a regime that allows them to walk away scot-free while hard-working businessmen and women in our constituencies pay the price. This consultation looks at how we can put an end to that and be on the side of the small guy, not the big guy.
In the consultation, will the Minister consider extending the 30-day limit for late payments to other non-governmental contracts, to create a new way of doing business? Also, what will he do to protect apprentices who are often caught in the subcontracting chain and who lose their apprenticeships with SMEs, which are the lifeblood of our economy?
The hon. Lady asks two important questions. The Government have a role to play in this as a customer. We give billions of pounds of contracts and we have the power in our own hands to demand that the supply chain is treated properly. I can assure her that, in the very near future, we will be coming forward with a clearer set of principles and tools to ensure that the supply chain is treated properly and paid fairly, using the 30-day terms. That is what we expect of our suppliers. I agree with her point about apprentices. Unfortunately, we have to accept that there will always be businesses that go bust. That is one of the realities—[Interruption.] That is the way in which the business environment works. We are putting the employees at the heart of this consultation and at the heart of the decisions we make.
I congratulate the Minister on his statement and on launching this much-needed consultation. As a member of the Select Committee that is inquiring into the collapse of Carillion, I should like to share with him the fact that one of the startling things we discovered was that the company could not even give the Insolvency Service the names of all the directors of all companies in the group. Does he agree that steps should be taken to improve governance and accountability in groups of companies with complex structures?
My hon. Friend has hit the nail well and truly on the head. I commend the work that his Select Committee has been doing in shining a light on the realities of the way in which Carillion operated. In the very early days of the Carillion collapse, when the Government were looking to protect those vital services that were being delivered and to protect the 18,500 people employed by the company, it became clear that it was a hellishly complicated business with a hellishly over-complicated structure. It is still proving a difficult job to untangle the web of the Carillion business structure. If it is difficult for the Insolvency Agency to do that, so many weeks on, how much more difficult must it have been to run the business? We need clear, accountable business structures in our businesses today.
I welcome this sensible set of proposals, particularly those relating to value extraction through complex arrangements. What can the Minister currently do, and what will he be able to do in the future, in respect of companies such as Toys R Us? It had a management team, led by a man called Frank Muzika, which was able to loot the company over a long period of time and load it up with debt using complex instruments and tax havens, leaving behind a legacy of a £580 million pension fund and 3,000 redundancies. What can the Minister do?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He clearly has a vast amount of experience as a former Secretary of State in our Department. He is right to identify the value extraction element in this document. When a business is taken over, we often see the directors of the purchasing company put in place complicated measures to protect their own backs, to ensure that, whatever happens to the business, they will not be impacted. The powers proposed in this consultation would allow us to recoup and recover the amount of money involved, not just for shareholders and directors but for contractors and creditors in the supply chain. In relation to Toys R Us, he will recognise that some businesses will always fail. However, the Government are clear that this set of measures will put an emphasis on the responsibilities not just of directors but of shareholders. It is an important point that shareholders—particularly institutional shareholders—should have a voice in the way in which these businesses are run.
I commend my hon. Friend for his statement, for this consultation, and for standing up for small businesses. Will he extend the consultation—or perhaps have a future consultation—to look at the forced liquidations of often small and sometimes slightly vulnerable businesses by banks and other secured creditors, which are totally unnecessary, and could be resolved by other means, thereby maintaining jobs, employment and prosperity in our constituencies, as opposed to leaving bust businesses that should be thriving?
In recent weeks, we have seen the impact that the banks can have on small businesses when they act inappropriately. I have been meeting the all-party parliamentary group on small and micro business recently to see how we can get more accountability; I know that my hon. Friend is a member of that group. My concern is that small businesses are shying away from finance—shying away from taking credit from the banks because of the way they have been treated. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to talk about his ideas.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask for some clarification, please? Is it usual, when an MP visits a constituency other than their own, for them to let that Member know? Within the past 10 days, two Conservative MPs have visited my constituency and I have had no notice or communication, before, during or after—and you never know; we might have another visit coming up shortly.