I beg to move,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the May adjournment.
Earlier, I listened to Ministers saying that EU citizens’ rights would be defended robustly after Brexit, but I have also heard this week from Members of the European Parliament representing the north-east of England that EU negotiators are sceptical about such assertions because of what has happened with the Windrush situation.
I am currently dealing with a case of an EU citizen who is being denied benefits, despite the fact that she has been resident in Gateshead for 27 years. Kim Voogel came to the United Kingdom from the Netherlands in 1991. She has never been back to the Netherlands since then, and the Dutch Government have confirmed that they have no record of her ever going back to the Netherlands over the entirety of that period. She has worked on and off over that time, because her ex-husband was the main breadwinner in the family, and she has given birth to and raised three children, all of whom are still resident in Gateshead. Following a head injury after falling from a ladder, which has given her some mild brain damage, she had to reapply for universal credit, having transferred from employment and support allowance. In the transition between benefits, she has been refused universal credit because the Department for Work and Pensions said that she could not prove that she had been resident continuously in the United Kingdom for 27 years.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.
Despite the fact that this lady has three children, only one of whom is now in his 20s; despite the fact that she has been receiving child benefit for those children throughout the entire period; and despite the fact that she also has a work record, having worked in between having her children, she has been refused universal credit. Part of the reason for the refusal is that the online application form asked when her children came to the United Kingdom with her. Of course, they did not come to the United Kingdom; they were born here. Therefore, she has failed the permanent residency test and been refused universal credit, despite living here for 27 years.
With such cases occurring now, the assurances that have been given by Ministers about the rights of EU citizens following Brexit sound really quite hollow. There is a big job of work to be done. It is not just the Home Office that needs to recognise the rights of EU citizens; other Government Departments, such as the Department for Work and Pensions must do so too. This lady’s case needs to be resolved, and resolved quickly and positively. She deserves nothing less than that.
Last Saturday, 28 April, we celebrated Workers Memorial Day. It is an important day for us all to celebrate; I and dozens and dozens of people attended a very moving service in Saltwell park in my constituency. There is a permanent memorial for Workers’ Memorial Day in Saltwell park, and I congratulate not only Gateshead Trades Council, but Gateshead Council, on erecting it.
The whole point of Workers Memorial Day is to help people realise that many workers die, receive injuries, or develop life-threatening illnesses owing to circumstances at work. I am glad to say that the number of people who die owing to injuries at work has dropped dramatically over the years since we have introduced a plethora of health and safety legislation. However, when I hear Members on the Government Benches talking about freeing up the labour market and getting rid of red tape, I do honestly wonder whether that actually means getting rid of vital health and safety regulations that keep our workers safe.
That is a concern. As well as my duties as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee and as a member of the Select Committee on Education, I am a member of several parliamentary trade union groups, including the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, which, with the Health and Safety Executive, has been struggling to get recognition for a condition known as baker’s asthma. I understand entirely the hon. Gentleman’s point. The HSE is working under great pressure to conduct the work that it must do.
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating all those responsible for arranging Workers Memorial Day, including Councillor Tony Gosling in my area, who worked with the Scunthorpe Baptist church and Berkeley Junior School to hold a fantastic celebration of the work of trade unions in improving health and safety with their employers. The young people from Berkeley Junior School will take that message with them through their lives, and that will really transform health and safety in the future.
I entirely concur with my hon. Friend’s comments.
Workers Memorial Day is important, but it comes with a vital message. As we prepare to leave the European Union, when so much power will be handed back to Ministers, the protection of health and safety regulations and law is so much more important now than it has probably been for an awful long time.
I thank my hon. Friend for those kind comments.
In commemorating Workers Memorial Day, we have to do two things. We remember the dead and we fight for the living, and it is so important that that fight continues.
In the last pre-recess debate, I raised the issue of a vexed question that is threatening the provision of a safe environment for adults with learning disabilities. A big problem has occurred because there is a lack of recognition that sleep-in workers who look after people with learning difficulties should be paid the minimum wage. A court case concluded that individuals who look after people with learning difficulties and carry out sleep-in duties should be paid the minimum wage, and that that minimum wage payment should be backdated by about six years. This is making providers—many of which are in the voluntary, not-for-profit and charitable sectors—very worried because the overall bill, which has not been provided for by central Government or through central Government grant by local government, could amount to £400 million.
There is a real danger that some providers will hand back contracts—in fact, this is already happening—and local authorities could end up having to deal with people who are no longer being provided for by the charitable or not-for-profit sectors. This case is really quite worrying. Providers are being told that they will have to pay back the £400 million bill by March next year, but they quite clearly do not have the means to do so. Organisations such as Mencap have expressed severe concern about what will happen to people with learning difficulties should the provision cease.
I also chair the all-party parliamentary group for footballer supporters, which we established because we felt that, although there is a very good all-party parliamentary football group, it mainly looks at the interests of clubs, leagues and football associations across the United Kingdom. The APPG for football supporters has great support from fans around the country and Members of the House. The secretariat is provided by the Football Supporters Federation, which has been campaigning on a number of things with the all-party group. For instance, a couple of years ago we ran a campaign called Twenty’s Plenty, which was about the cost of tickets at away games in the premier league. The premier league came to a deal on that, and the maximum cost is now £30, so the campaign was clearly a success. Having travelled to away games in London against sides like Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur and paid in excess of £50 at some of those grounds, I am glad to say that now, because of the campaign, the maximum that clubs can charge is £30. That is a very welcome change.
A campaign that is coming to prominence at the moment, which has seen 110,000 signatures added to a parliamentary petition, is for safe standing in top-tier football grounds. We all know that after the Hillsborough disaster, the Taylor report brought in all-seater stadiums, and I think we have all welcomed the new safer environment in football grounds because of that. Unfortunately, however—or fortunately for those who like the atmosphere at football grounds—fans regularly stand in all-seater stadiums, particularly in the away end, where there will invariably be people standing in their droves at any championship or premier league ground. We see that week in, week out at over 40 grounds.
Safe standing may well be the solution. Rail seating, for instance, is an engineering-based solution that has been tried and tested north of the border by Celtic in Glasgow. The other night, we had a presentation at the all-party group by the safety officer of Celtic football club, Mr Ronnie Hawthorn. I thank him for coming down from Glasgow to give that presentation, which was really illuminating. The debate in Westminster Hall as a result of the petition is due to happen on 25 June. I hope that the Government take very seriously the suggestions being put forward by football fans up and down the country. You might have seen, Mr Speaker, that the other night I made a brief appearance on “Sky Sports News” talking about this issue. I understand that “Sky Sports News” probably attracts one or two more viewers than Parliament Live TV, so I was happy to get the message out there.
I also chair the all-party parliamentary group on rail in the north. There has been some correspondence between north-east MPs and the Department for Transport following a report produced by the Institute for Public Policy Research about differentials in levels of transport infrastructure investment between London and the regions of England. The report, which looked at forecast expenditure, including the Transport for London budget, shows that up to five times as much is spent on transport for people in London per head of population than it is in places like the north-east of England. That is clearly unfair and unsustainable.
That is also fettering the growth of the economy in places like the north-east of England. I am sad to report that, together with uncertainty around Brexit and some problems in the motor industry, that means unemployment is continuing to rise in my constituency of Gateshead, even though we are constantly told that employment is at an all-time high. Unemployment in my constituency is currently about 6%, and youth unemployment stays stubbornly high. We therefore need those differentials in transport infrastructure investment to be eroded, so that people in the north-east can be held in the same esteem as their counterparts in London in the way in which Government expenditure is handed out for investment purposes.
Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to mention, as we are now in May, the launch of the Great Exhibition of the North on 22 June, which is being hosted in Newcastle and Gateshead. It has an 80-day programme, which will culminate in September with the Great North Run and will show off all that is great and good about the north of England. I am sure the Minister has already said that he is looking forward to coming to Gateshead and Newcastle for that festival. It will be a great festival, celebrating the architecture, culture, industry, innovation and creativity of people all across the three northern regions. So please, from 22 June, get north and come to Newcastle and Gateshead for the Great Exhibition of the North.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, and I wish all staff in the House a very pleasant May day celebration and weekend.
I wish to raise two matters in my short speech. The first is young criminal barristers and their existence, and the second is the advice being given to security personnel at the moment.
Let me start with the matter of young criminal Bar barristers. I have become increasingly concerned about the precarious way in which young criminal Bar barristers must exist, and in particular about the very small amount of pay and allowances they receive. Gone are the days when most criminal law barristers came from moneyed backgrounds and could exist on peanuts because they were extremely well supported by their generous families—lucky them.
Forty years ago, I was an impecunious young criminal barrister. Typically, I was sent off to magistrates courts and Crown courts all over outer London and less salubrious parts of London, and I was paid £4 a day, four years in arrears. Life was tough then too. I did not come from a wealthy family. My father was a civil servant, and I had to live at home with my poor parents until I was 32. It has always been very tough for those starting at the criminal Bar.
Indeed. I think this is one of those debates.
Let me get back to the main point, which is that it is a bad omen if young men and young women trying to be criminal law barristers are finding it very difficult. I am making this speech because earlier this week, I met a young barrister from my constituency who has had to leave the criminal Bar because she simply could not afford to live while working within the system. She was originally from the midlands, from a family of farmers, and she and her siblings were the first generation of the family to go to university. Her parents were totally supportive of her wish to be a barrister, a dream she told me she had had since she was 12 years old. She loved lawyer dramas on television, and her mother told her that her urge to be a lawyer had probably come from watching too much of the American law drama “Ally McNeal”, because she had a superb mobile phone.
I stand corrected. It is hard to keep going.
My constituent studied law at Liverpool University and then applied for the Bar exams. Fully supported by her parents, she reluctantly came to London because there were more pupillages here. In 2008 she took the Bar exams, which cost her £15,000 of debt, not including accommodation. I gather that only about a third of people who pass the Bar exam now manage to get pupillages, and it took her three years to get hers.
During that time, my constituent worked for various agencies and did paralegal jobs to get relevant experience to help with her application. For some of that time she was on the minimum wage, but she eventually managed to get a criminal paralegal role in north London that paid about £14,000 a year. She did that to gain experience and advance her chances of getting a pupillage. However, the experience that really managed to get her a pupillage was doing voluntary legal work abroad. She was able to get a scholarship to cover her flights from the Inns of Court—well done them—and she managed to get someone to help her pay the rent on her flat in London while she was abroad. That allowed her to exist on that money while she was out of the country, because she was in free accommodation.
The young lawyer finally started her pupillage in October 2011. Although she had been warned that she would receive very little money, she was ignorant of just how little it would be. She told me that, during her first year, she received £16,285.38, but her travel expenses of well over £5,000 were not covered, so in effect she had to exist in London on about £10,000. In that year she could take only five days of holiday, she could not be sick, and she worked late nights and weekends constantly. For a young person, she had little social life. She travelled all over the country to various courts, and on most days she had to represent two clients, often in different courts, working through her lunch break and preparing for further clients late into the night.
My constituent told me that there were simply no breaks at all, but it was her vocation and the job she really wanted to do in life. However, she found that she could not live at that pace and, with so very little money, it was just not sustainable. She had to look at a different area of law, rather than criminal work. To start with she thought she could use that to subsidise what she really wanted to do, which was working at the criminal Bar. However, when she moved to a different area of law, her salary tripled almost instantly and she had more time for herself. As a result, she now practises in that area, and has largely left criminal law. She never thought she would make such a decision, but it was largely forced on her by circumstances. She wants to have a family life and bring up children, and she honestly felt that there was little chance of that happening for her at the criminal Bar. How sad is that?
My constituent came to me earlier this week because she feels that what has happened to her is wrong both for individuals and for the profession itself. People who try to be criminal law barristers normally have a massive calling. They know it may not pay half as much as other parts of their profession, but they feel that it is where they can do most good and what they should be doing. Being paid £10,000 for working all hours that God sends, and having to worry so much about money, is simply wrong for someone with responsibilities like hers. Despite the fact that my learned friend—my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh)—existed on peanuts when he was a young barrister, if this continues we will simply not have enough criminal law barristers, and we will certainly not have ones of the quality that defending in the public arena deserves. Is it an exaggeration to suggest that the criminal justice system could collapse? It is certainly in crisis if my young constituent is typical.
My constituent asked colleagues to provide her with their financial experiences as they strove to get into the profession, and she gave me the examples of five of her friends. None made more than £20,000 in their first year, and they all had to spend a huge amount of that on travel. They also had considerable debts to repay. Young criminal law barristers often do not even receive the minimum wage. That is wrong for them and most definitely wrong for a profession that we need to be as good as possible. Justice will be best served when those who argue for it are also the best, and we need well-motivated, driven people who care that we get things right in our criminal courts. Someone needs to look closely at what is happening, so that we do something about it before it is too late.
The problem is that compared with their colleagues in other legal work, criminal barristers are massively underpaid, which is all down to cuts in legal aid. The Government have to address that issue: do they want a first-class justice system—what is more important that defending people’s freedom?—or do they not? In order to have a proper justice system we need a proper legal aid system, and that means taking difficult decisions in other areas of Government spending.
I think there will be a debate on these issues next Tuesday, and I might take part. I entirely agree with my honourable and very good Friend, and I thank him for raising that point.
My second topic is something that struck me as I passed by the television monitors this morning. If there is a terrorist incident in our wonderful building, we are told to “run, hide and tell”. I was slightly shocked by that, and I asked a policeman whether that is also the advice they are given. The police officer said, “Yes, but don’t worry, sir, that is the last thing we would do. We would not run, hide and tell.” If that is the way we are telling security personnel to conduct themselves, I am extremely concerned about what the implications might be if someone did not run, hide and tell, but instead ran towards the incident, put themselves in danger and was hurt. Does it mean that the Government might say, “Your advice and instructions were ‘run, hide and tell’ and you did exactly the reverse. Therefore we will not give you compensation”?
This issue concerns me a great deal. I do not believe for a moment that the people responsible for our security would do such a thing as “run, hide and tell”. I spoke with the Chair of the Defence Committee a few minutes ago, and he said that he wanted to comment on that point, so I will sit down.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am frankly surprised that common-sense advice from the point of view of an untrained civilian should be extended—if indeed it is—to those who are professionally engaged in maintaining the security of this place and those who work in it. Of course we expect people to rise to the occasion when they are on duty, and we expect those who are not charged with being on duty to keep out of the way of those who are. How concerned is my hon. Friend at the prospect that people who work in the security field are beginning to think that they might pay some sort of financial penalty if they do what most of us would admire, and tackle the danger rather than hide from it?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, which I forced on him.
That is the worry. We cannot have our security personnel thinking, “If I do this and I am hurt, I might suffer financially.” That would be wrong. Actually, I think the advice is slightly wrong for everyone. If any of us see a situation where someone is in danger, I think we should think, “I’ve got to help.” That is the first thought that should go through our minds.
Mr Deputy Speaker, it is good to see you in the Chair. You are, I believe, an honorary colonel of the Royal Army Medical Corps. It is great that Members of Parliament are honorary colonels of regiments. I hope there will be many more.
I am amazed that people have put up with me here for eight years. [Hon. Members: “Nonsense!”] It is a real privilege to be here, and I think the staff of this place are second to none. I would like to thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker, the Clerks, the cleaners and all the staff here who make this place run.
What a Pooh trap! I would love to give them a big pay rise, but thank goodness that decision is above my pay grade.
My father took me to Sandhurst when I was 17 and three quarters. He said, “Robert, remember that everyone gets a stomach ache.” He meant that I should never be impressed by people. His second point was his most important: “Always look after the people for whom you have responsibility.” We have a responsibility to the staff of this place, and we are very lucky that they are of much higher quality than someone like myself.
Speaking on behalf of the SNP Whips Office, we would never suggest that my hon. Friend is anything but a whinger. Will he join me in paying tribute to the staff in the SNP Whips Office—Anne Harvey, Christopher Mullins-Silverstein and Kieran Reape—for all their hard work?
As we are handing out accolades to those who work in Whips Offices, I cannot remain seated. On behalf of the Opposition Whips Office, I associate myself with the comments made by the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden). But this is not a whingefest—of course not. It is the perfect opportunity for Members to place on record constituency issues before the Adjournment.
I fully agree.
I think that the main reason I was selected, however, was that this is the May day Adjournment and the May day public holiday is of course the workers public holiday—we should not forget that. I fully endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) about international Workers Memorial Day, which I commemorated on Glasgow green last Saturday. Many trade unions are making a clear case that this is not just a male issue and that many women workers have unfortunately died as a result of work-related disease or injury. As someone with a proud tradition in the trade union movement, I have seen a fellow Unison steward pass away as a result of an asbestos-related disease, and so, on international Workers Memorial Day, I remember my colleague and friend Tom Begley.
As we are heading into workers day, I want to mention some issues that are important to working people in this country and that I believe the Government should consider when we return. The Government’s response to the Taylor review will be an important issue in the next couple of months, but I have real concerns about their direction of travel in rolling back on employment tribunal decisions on the status of workers, as suggested in the Taylor review. I commend to the House the Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill, in my name and supported by every Opposition party in the Chamber. It is important that we address the status of workers in the context of the Taylor review and consider the issue of zero-hours contracts, which, sadly, are still booming in the UK. One of the simplest tests is this: if it were up to me, someone would only be allowed a zero-hours contract if there was a collective signed agreement with a recognised trade union. If there was, I think that we would see their numbers reduce.
Following on from my rather naughty intervention on the hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), it is appropriate to mention not just the pay of the wonderful staff of the House of Commons but public sector pay in general. In response to a question I asked yesterday, the Prime Minister suggested that the public sector pay cap had been abolished, while admitting that every other Department had budgeted 1% for its staff. Either the public sector pay cap has gone or it has not, and I think we heard yesterday that it has not.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very eloquent speech. Does he agree that the workers May day holiday would be an ideal time for the Government to stand up and say, “Yes, we will unfreeze the public sector pay cap and fully fund it across all public services.”?
The key point is funding, but yes it would be a perfect opportunity for the Government to say that they will fully fund a decent pay rise for public sector workers across the board. Let us not forget that these are the workers who are collecting the tax and trying to put right a broken social security system and a broken immigration system—I will come to that later.
I have always argued for the retention of people’s jobs, not just in the public sector but in the private sector, and I want to raise once again an issue I have raised in several debates: the Ministry of Defence’s nonsensical position in procuring three fleet support ships through international competition. From a written parliamentary answer I received last week, which was covered by the Daily Record, we now know that these three fleet support ships will have armaments, sensors and Phalanx guns, which will be used for defence. If that is the case, my contention is that it is a warship and these three fleet support ships should not be procured through international competition. There are enough shipyards in the UK to build these ships—to block-build them in the same way as the Aircraft Carrier Alliance does—and I hope that hon. Members agree that the ships should not be exposed to international competition. They should be built in the United Kingdom.
As I am sure my hon. Friend will remember, in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, a leaflet was distributed in his constituency saying that separation would shut shipyards and spell doom. Does he agree that has proven to be absolutely nonsense and that indeed, under the UK Government, we are seeing threats to shipyards?
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me of my predecessor’s leaflet. He raises an important point. I refer the House to Monday’s Daily Record editorial, which says that the UK Government have bent, cajoled and run away from the commitments that they made on shipbuilding prior to the independence referendum. We are still waiting on the 13 ships that were promised, eight of which we were told would be built on the Clyde and five of which may be, or maybe not—they are, of course, the Type 31e frigates.
In the news in the past few weeks, we have seen how brutal and hostile the immigration system is in the United Kingdom. As someone with a large number of asylum seekers in my constituency—about 40% of my caseload is based on immigration cases—I have very real concerns about how the Home Office handles these cases, but principally, there also seems to be a lack of Home Office staff who are willing when it comes to Members’ inquiries. I hope that the Government and Home Office will address that issue.
Those who seek sanctuary in this country—many of them are women, many of them are fleeing sexual violence, and for many of them, when they see a gentleman in uniform, it means something completely different to them than it does to other people—should not live in fear of trying to become citizens of this country. They want to come here and make a contribution, and it is important that we allow them to do so.
I hope that the Government consider looking at the issues around social enterprises. I have a case in my constituency of a gentleman who wants to join a social enterprise when he gets his status, yet the Home Office is saying that a social enterprise is not enough to help his case. I think that is a complete nonsense. We should be encouraging the creation of social enterprises, and if those who are seeking sanctuary in this country want to help and get involved in that, that is important.
I will end with a key concern raised by the hon. Member for Gateshead: the principal issues of regulation. In our exchange earlier, we talked about the cuts to the Health and Safety Executive, but there have also been job losses in the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is there to regulate human rights and equality. We are now seeing cuts in the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, and we have a ridiculous situation: ACAS staff want to go on strike, but who is going to conciliate the conciliators? That is the position the Government have found themselves in.
For many, tomorrow is happy Star Wars Day, because it is May the fourth—May the fourth be with you, Mr Deputy Speaker—but there are also two important anniversaries tomorrow. When I was at Thales UK on Monday, I was asked, “What happened 25 years ago on 4 May?” I innocently put up my hand and said to the audience, “Well, that will be the 25th anniversary of Partick Thistle football club beating Rangers 3-0 and remaining in the Scottish Premier League at the expense of Falkirk and Airdrieonians”—I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) for reminding him. It will also be the 25th anniversary of Thales UK moving into Linthouse. Thales, of course, formerly traded as Barr and Stroud, where my gran and grandfather met—they were happily married for 61 and a half years —but what I did not realise until Monday was that the current Thales site was the former site of Alexander Stephen and Sons shipbuilders, where my father was an apprentice along with the famous comedian, Billy Connolly.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, I hope that all Members enjoy May day, the workers public holiday.
I am glad that I am following my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). He spoke about pressure on one part of the public service sector and, in particular, about the cuts in legal aid. He made the very fair point that the criminal justice system relies crucially on talented young people wanting to enter it and receiving appropriate remuneration. I want to make a similar point about the whole public sector.
I shall argue that spending is overstressed in large parts of the public sector. I shall talk about defence for a short time, and then about transport and police funding in my own constituency. This will not—I hope—be just one of a series of speeches in which Members ask for more and more public spending, because I am also committed to lower public spending. I am going to take it on the chin and argue that we cannot devote an ever-increasing part of public sector spending to overseas aid, health and social security.
Let me start with defence. I am going to make some political points. They may not be points with which everyone will agree, but I feel that they need to be made. The fact is that the Ministry of Defence is underfunded. During the cold war, we were spending 5% of our national wealth on defence; even after the peace dividend, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, we were still spending 3%; and we continued to do so until the advent of the Labour Government in 1997. We are now hovering around 2%, and there is a general consensus that we must increase that percentage. That will, of course, involve difficult decisions.
We cannot increase spending on defence unless we are prepared not to spend as much as we would like in other areas, such as health. I understand that certain senior people in the Government may well question whether that is politically possible—whether we could argue the case before a general election. I would argue that not only is spending more on defence in an increasingly dangerous world the right thing to do, but it is a politically sensible and popular thing to do.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so courteous with his time. He is making some interesting points, but I ask him to reflect on this. Does he not agree that cutting the spending of the Department for International Development, which he has mentioned, would be counterproductive? Would it not increase the potential reason to spend more on defence? One of the ways in which we reduce our security concerns about other countries is investing in those countries. That is in our interest, as well as being altruistic.
The hon. Lady leapt to her feet too soon. I am not going to argue that DFID’s spending should be cut; I am going to argue that we should spend on DFID what we can afford to spend, and what we need to spend. We should not link the arbitrary aim to spend 0.7% of GNP on aid, which is now enshrined in law, with the very different aim in respect of defence spending.
Is there not another important point to be made about defence spending? It can be kept within the UK, and if there is an increase, money will come back to the Treasury in the form of workers’ income tax and national insurance because of the jobs that will have been created.
There is, of course, a serious argument to be made—and I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said—about the value of defence spending in terms of jobs, particularly in areas such as Lancashire.
As I was saying, some senior people in the Government might argue that, while increasing defence spending was probably the right thing to do because defence was underfunded, it might not be politically sustainable. I am reminded, sitting next to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), that in the early 1980s there seemed to be an unstoppable campaign in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament. We worked very closely with Lord Heseltine, who was then Mr Michael Heseltine, in the Coalition for Peace through Security. He is a first-rate politician and made excellent arguments, calling it one-sided disarmament. That 1983 election hinged very substantially on defence, and the Conservative party won it. Political parties have to major on, and argue on, the areas in which they are strongest, and every public opinion poll suggests that the Conservatives are trusted most on defence, so this is one of our strong areas and it is not an area that we should feel that we are continually criticised because we are not doing enough.
I am also reminded by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East that these arguments have raged back and forth for many years. In the early 1930s, the Conservative party lost a by-election in Fulham, and there was a peace candidate—a Labour candidate, I think—standing for the Opposition. George Lansbury was leader of the Labour party; he famously in the 1930s wanted to abolish the RAF entirely. There was an understandable, almost universal, desire for peace in the 1930s—part of the Oxford Union debates and many other factors, with people remembering the carnage of the first world war—and rearmament was not considered to be a popular policy, although clearly after 1933 when the Nazis came to power in Germany it was necessary; and I am thinking now of what is going on in Russia.
So it was necessary to rearm but that was perhaps unpopular, and Baldwin, who was a very successful Conservative Prime Minister, gave the “appalling frankness” speech in the late 1930s when he was criticised for not rearming early enough. We only started rearming in 1936 or thereabouts and almost left it too late; we only won the battle of Britain by a whisker. When Baldwin was criticised, he gave the “appalling frankness” speech. He said, “Look at what happened in that Fulham by-election. What would have happened to the Conservative party if we had advocated increased defence spending when it was so unpopular?”
I am not saying we are in as dangerous a position now as we were in the 1930s, but defence spending is an insurance policy. This is all about the value of deterrence, and we cannot know what the threats of the future will be. What we do know, however, is that Russia is increasingly proactive and is probably run by a criminal mafia regime. We know that there is an existential threat to the Baltic states, too, and one lesson of history from the 1930s, particularly from our pledge to Poland in the late 1930s, is that there is no point in giving pledges to defend a country in eastern Europe unless we have the means and will to carry them out.
I would argue in terms of our commitment to the Baltic states that, while admirable in every respect and while underpinned by the NATO alliance—treaties and article 5 and everything else—unless we are prepared now to commit real hardware to their defence, we could be in an extraordinarily dangerous situation in which Russia would believe she could intervene and undermine those states and could even intervene militarily, because by the time she achieved a successful military intervention it would be too late and our only recourse would be to nuclear weapons.
We clearly cannot rely entirely on nuclear weapons, therefore. There must be a whole range of deterrents at all levels. That is why at the moment the armed forces are struggling: the Royal Navy is struggling, and there are threats to various regiments. I will leave it there, but I earnestly implore the Government to take heed when even the former Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), who has just left his post and who was a very careful pair of hands who honestly defended the Government while he was Secretary of State, argues that we need to spend at least 2.5% of our national wealth on defence and we are simply not spending enough.
That is one area where we have to make difficult decisions. We have already talked about legal aid, and we are talking about the difficult decisions we have to make on defence, and now we have to take difficult decisions in our own constituencies. Earlier this week, Lincolnshire Members of Parliament held a meeting with the Policing Minister. Lincolnshire is one of the lowest funded police authorities in the country—it is in the bottom three or four—and for 35 years we have been having meetings with Policing Ministers and begging for more resources. I understand the pressure that the Minister is under. He tells us that, officially, austerity is now finished with regard to policing. All our constituents want more policing, but we have to provide the funds. We have already heard mention of the security threats in London, and it is difficult for a Policing Minister to transfer resources from the capital city to a rural county such as Lincolnshire, even though there is plenty of crime in Lincolnshire that I could talk about. I could even talk about my own personal experience of crime. It is a real issue. We clearly have to increase the resources for police funding.
In traditional Conservative counties, there are other things that people feel are underfunded. When they look at Scotland, at Northern Ireland and even at some of the big urban areas, they see fantastic internet connections, good roads and good police funding in their terms, and they wonder why the rural counties are so underfunded. My plea to those on the Treasury Bench is that they should not forget the rural counties and the real pressures that we face. Yes, there is crime, but also our roads in Lincolnshire are full of potholes. This is an important point, because people are driving at 50 or 60 mph in the middle of the road to avoid potholes, and 500 people are being killed or are injured in some form on our roads locally. These are really important issues, and the Government must address them. They must not forget the pressures that people face in rural counties.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the excellent public services that we have in Scotland. The reality is that if we want good, well-funded public services, we have to take some quite difficult decisions on tax. There is a member of his own party, who cannot be here today for reasons unknown, who regularly rails about the fact that higher earners in Scotland—that includes myself as a Member of Parliament—pay a little more tax, but as a result we get better services. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in saying that it would be sensible for his party to look into increasing tax for those who are much better off?
I will not join the hon. Gentleman in advocating ever-increasing levels of the tartan tax. I remain a strong Conservative, and I believe in the value of deregulation and a low-tax system. Earlier in my speech I made pleas for higher Government spending, both in Lincolnshire and on defence, so—to be fair to Treasury Ministers—how is all that going to be paid for? We cannot increase borrowing, and I would not argue that it is right to increase taxes.
There is another matter that I am really concerned about. I understand that the Government are now looking closely at a significant increase in real-terms spending on the NHS. I am of an age at which the NHS is terribly important to me and my family. I have no private health insurance. Indeed, earlier this week, I had a small procedure on my face under the NHS, which was beautifully carried out. I have no complaints against the staff, but I am very worried about this proposal, which Ministers are apparently considering, to dramatically increase the amount of money spent on the NHS in real terms.
I remember what happened during the period of the Labour Government. Of course such measures are popular in the short term, but the more we increase spending on the NHS in real terms, the lower the productivity becomes. I have spent quite a lot of time talking to consultants and doctors—I am at the age where I do that—and they all, to a man and a woman, bewail the level of bureaucracy and incompetence in the NHS. They are not arguing for more public funding in real terms, although it has to increase by a certain amount in real terms every year because we are an ageing population and we understand all the pressures. They all say that what drives them mad is the level of bureaucracy in the NHS, and it worries me that if we substantially increase NHS spending in real terms, we will simply add to that level of bureaucracy, even though Ministers assure us that that is not their aim.
The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous. I do not have a solution, but I caution him to be careful what he wishes for, because that so-called bureaucracy includes data, IT and back-office functions. We heard from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care only yesterday about what happens when an IT system does not have good scrutiny or governance. We must be careful what we wish for.
It is a question of quality. Is it really necessary to have 30,000 people employed by the NHS, who have never been doctors or nurses and who have never met a single patient, earning over £100,000 a year? We of course need a level of good-quality management, but we must trust the people on the frontline. Whenever we talk to doctors and nurses they say, “Trust us. We are professionals.” They are the people that members of the public want to see. They are the ones with the vocation and the professionalism to look after us.
The hon. Lady makes a fair point and, like all arguments, we could take it to extremes, but in my view there are two models for the NHS. There is the traditional model that I grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s, and there is a newer model with evermore systems, targets, internal markets and the rest. My personal view—this may surprise the hon. Lady—is that the old-fashioned model probably worked better, because it put more competence and more control in the hands of nurses, doctors and consultants.
I am now going to say something that will probably be even more unpopular. I wonder why our Government are not prepared to bite the bullet and consider alternative funding for the NHS. With an ageing population, we must encourage people to put more of their own resources into their health. How are we going to do that? We could do it through general taxation and increase overall spending, but I have argued against that, or we could do what previous Conservative Governments have done. The Major Government and the Thatcher Government—I do not think the Major Government were particularly right wing—gave tax relief for people of pensionable age towards private health insurance. That is anathema to the Labour party, but it would actually put more resources into health. Most people of retirement age simply cannot afford private health insurance, because they pay for it from their taxed income. However, if we gave tax relief for private health insurance, as previous Conservative Governments have done, we would not be saying that we are against the NHS or devaluing it; we would be trying to encourage the people who are going to use healthcare more often to put more of their own resources into healthcare.
I am worried that if this massive real-terms increase in healthcare spending happens, we will be approaching the levels of health spending per head that we see in Germany or France. The fact is—let us be honest about this—that if we are going to be ill, we would much rather be ill in Germany or France. I know that the NHS is a kind of religion for many people, but the health services under the social insurance systems of France and Germany do work better. They cost more, but the people feel that they have real control over their healthcare. They pay large amounts of tax, but they feel that they have some kind of ownership of their healthcare—some kind of right. When something goes wrong, they are not just enmeshed in a vast bureaucratic machine; they believe that they have some right to treatment through social insurance. Indeed, in Germany, they do get that.
My hon. Friend is making an interesting argument, and if I manage to catch Mr Deputy Speaker’s eye, I will talk about that myself. I want to bring to my hon. Friend’s attention a constituent of mine who had a baby in Germany, as a member of the armed forces, and then had one in the UK. She said that the experience in the UK was so much better than that in Germany that she would not recommend that anyone have a baby in Germany rather than the UK.
I stand corrected, but I think it is a generally accepted fact. We all know from our friends and relations, and from public debate, that the health system in Germany is superb. I am sure there are glitches and areas where we might outperform it, but generally the system there works well.
The Government have to be honest in addressing how we will meet the needs of an ever-ageing population and the desire of that ageing population for ever-new levels of treatment. We have to devise new systems to encourage people to put more of their own resources into healthcare, as I do not believe we can do that out of general taxation.
Before I sit down, I promised to make a point about DFID. Nobody values the work of DFID more than I do. DFID is doing tremendous work throughout the world, but its budget—I say this as a former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee—is under strain, not from underfunding but from an arbitrary link in legislation to a particular proportion of national wealth. The link simply does not work, and it creates all sorts of stresses and strains.
I am not suggesting to the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) that we cut overseas aid spending; what I am suggesting is that we get rid of this arbitrary link in legislation and have the best, the most high quality, the most free from corruption and the best-targeted overseas aid budget in the world, which I am sure is our aim and what we are achieving in large areas. Imposing such an arbitrary device on spending, which must result in a splurge of spending towards the back end of the year, cannot be right.
The hon. Gentleman, as ever, is being incredibly kind in giving way. I declare an interest, having taken part in a national delegation to Tanzania a couple of months after I was elected.
I disagree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. As a Scottish nationalist, it is not often that I am inspired by seeing the British flag and seeing UK aid, but I remember going to visit a school in a rural part of Tanzania and seeing a child read a book about understanding the dangers of malaria, which was funded by UK aid. What the hon. Gentleman is suggesting would mean fewer books for children like that little boy in Tanzania, so I disagree entirely with him.
We all know about the wonderful work being done on malaria, and we all know about the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is terribly important that we do not have people on one side of this debate arguing that overseas aid is wrong, corrupt and does not work and people on the other side saying, “We believe in it so much, and we are so worried there is some threat to it, that we need an arbitrary device to ensure that the budget increases, sometimes massively, every year.” Equally, if there were a recession, the budget might go down. It simply does not work. Anyway, I have made that point.
My last point is about social security. What worries me about my own Conservative Government is that an ever-increasing share of public spending is taken up by the NHS, social security and overseas aid, which is producing massive distortions and difficulties in other areas of spending that are absolutely vital—we have talked about defence, the police and the criminal justice system, and there are many others. The system is becoming skewed.
As a loyal Conservative and as someone who believes in Conservative values, if the Government are going down this path of giving an ever-larger part of the national cake to those three areas—the NHS, social security and overseas aid—I have to ask how they will pay for it. It is no longer possible to borrow, so they will have to pay for it with higher taxation. If it is indeed true that we will have this massive increase in real-terms NHS spending, we will need an increase in taxation, which would be lethal to the Conservative movement.
People vote Conservative because they want low taxes, and this is why I will be going off in a moment to vote Conservative in Westminster. People are voting for strong defence, strong law and order, low taxes and a pro-business environment. If we continue to increase spending on the NHS, social security and overseas aid, we will simply pave the way for a Corbyn Government. That is what I do not want to do, at all costs. Let us be true to ourselves, let us take the difficult decisions and let us be Conservative.
I am most grateful to follow the speech of my distinguished colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). I very much agree with him on a lot of areas, but I shall start with a point where I might pose a little challenge. I believe we wish, as a country, to be strong on defence. I absolutely agree with him on that and think that what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) has said about a minimum of 2.5%—and possibly even more—is right. I am very proud that Stafford is host to three signals regiments and the tactical supply wing of the Royal Air Force. If we are to be a global Britain, punching above our weight by maintaining a proper diplomatic representation around the world, which is vital as we leave the European Union, and at the same time we are to ensure that our citizens have high-quality public services, be they in respect of law and order, health or social care, we cannot be an absolute low tax economy. The two things do not add up. If we look at the percentage of GDP that we spend on our public services and compare that with what happens in France, which has a similar global profile to the UK, we see that our figure is much, much less.
At this point I wish to raise the issue of our health service. I declare an interest, in that I am married to a doctor, and I am the father of a doctor and the brother of a doctor.
My right hon. Friend may very well ask!
If we look at the World Health Organisation’s report on people’s perceptions of access to good quality healthcare in 2013, under a Conservative-led coalition Government, I am glad to say, we find that 82% of France’s population and 85% of Germany’s felt they had access to good quality healthcare, whereas in the UK the figure was 96%. For all its faults, and there are many, as I know personally from my constituency experience, our system is held in high regard and it provides almost everybody—96% is not 100%—with access to high-quality healthcare.
In my constituency, when an ambulance goes by with its alarms going off, this usually signals a heart attack or a stroke and someone being rushed to a really good hospital. The NHS is the place you want to go if you have a heart attack—private healthcare does not even start to deal with strokes and heart attacks. We are really well served by the people who do this.
My hon. and gallant Friend is right about that. As far as I know, we will not find an accident and emergency department that is privately run in the UK. If there is such a department, we are probably talking about only one or two. It is not possible to do that because of the cost of running A&E departments. Parliamentary colleagues in France will talk about healthcare deserts in parts of rural France, where people cannot get access to the highest quality of healthcare that they want. I am not trying to play us off against France or Germany here; I am just trying to state a few facts, as we tend to run ourselves down sometimes.
I wanted to start by discussing the health service because it is now five years since the Francis report on the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which is in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling). That was a very difficult time for us all in Stafford. I am still very proud of the Stafford people and the Cannock people, who put so much into the work to preserve health services in Stafford and Cannock during that time. I am also proud of the work that has been done since then, and of the people who stood up and pointed out the real problems that were going on at the time, which needed to be corrected. If we consider what has happened since then, we see that patient safety has become an absolute priority for the NHS and for this Government, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for taking that on. If we look at the recommendations in the Francis report, we can see that most of them are now in place. When I talk to colleagues from around the country, they say, “You know, that Francis report made a huge difference for my local hospital”. It made a difference not just for Stafford or Cannock, but for hospitals throughout the country, where patient safety has gone to the top of the agenda.
I pay tribute to the staff of the County Hospital, as Stafford hospital is now known, for what they have done over the past five years. In the past couple of weeks, more than 96% of patients in our A&E have been seen within four hours. That is well above the national target. I am most grateful to the staff for achieving that. Other things must still be done—there are more services that I want to see back in the hospital, or brought to it and the Stafford area for the first time—but I put on record my thanks to everybody who has made that happen over the past five years.
To return to the general point about the health service, it is quite true that they have a different system in Germany and France, and there are merits in that. It is a different system that requires co-payments: people have health insurance, whether it is largely state-funded, as in France, or done through private or co-operative health insurance systems, as in Germany. People still pay often several hundred euros a year on average to access healthcare when they need it. It is a serious issue and a political debate that we need to have. I am not necessarily saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough’s points should be disregarded—not at all; they should be considered very seriously—but we have to look into what is sustainable.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the 96% support for the NHS throughout the country is fantastic, but does he agree that the future challenges for the NHS are the modern killers that are out there now, such as obesity and related diabetes, and the conditions related to old age, such as dementia? The NHS now has to bend itself to deal with these new conditions.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, although I should say that that 96% referred to access to high-quality healthcare, rather than support for the NHS. I thought I should make that distinction. It may well be that the NHS has 96% support, but I was talking about access to high-quality healthcare.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that diabetes, cancer and other conditions are clearly the issues. The health service has to adapt; I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough that it can be far too monolithic. Often, we see really good, inspired leadership that makes a real difference in some places—perhaps it even comes from those paid £100,000 a year—but in other places we see some very uninspiring leadership. It is often very much about who is taking on the challenges at the local level and what their motivations are. We clearly have a great deal more to do on that.
Time is short, so I shall move on from the NHS after one final point. I fully agree with the cross-party report published last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) and other colleagues from the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats. It contains 10 points on how to have a sustainable health system. I have been talking about most of those 10 points in this place for the past five or six years, so I would agree with them, wouldn’t I? Still, there is an awful lot in there for the Government to look at and perhaps take on. I return to the initial point: if we want high-quality services and a strong defence, along with funding for other issues of great importance to our constituents, we will have to pay a little more. The question is whether we pay that through a national health insurance system—a progressive system—through direct taxation or through contributions. Those questions have to be asked. I am in favour of a fully funded system, which may mean that we have to do it through the proposed national health insurance system.
The second thing I wish to talk about is General Electric, which is the largest private sector employer in my constituency. At the end of last year, it announced several hundred job losses, and the consultation on that is currently ongoing. It is a very serious situation. I praise General Electric and its predecessor, Alstom, for their investment in Stafford. They have built two new, modern, state-of-the-art factories, which will provide security for many people in my constituency.
For those facing the prospect of redundancy, it is vital both for them and their families, and indeed for the country, that we see how we can ensure that their skills—often very high skills—are best employed elsewhere. In that context, I want to raise again the matter of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, which I and other colleagues have been pushing for. If we are to have a power manufacturing sector in this country, we must be at the forefront of modern technologies, and that is one of them. I urge the Government to come forward with a positive decision on that as soon as possible.
My third point is a local matter. I am very glad to see two of my Staffordshire colleagues—my hon. Friends the Members for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and for Cannock Chase—on the Front Bench at the moment. I know that they will probably agree with me on most, if not all, of these issues. We have already heard about potholes. Being a rural county, we have the same problems in Staffordshire. Potholes are not just an inconvenience; they are a menace. When cyclists go into potholes that are filled with water, they can suffer very serious injuries, as some of my constituents have. Cars suffers great damage, which brings loss either to the county if there is a claim or to the individual whose car has been damaged. We need to see more money put into that area, both at a local and a national level. After the winter that we have just had, it is a priority. I would like to see the Secretary of State for Transport coming forward with some supplementary funding for potholes for local authorities as soon as possible, because, as we already know, a stitch in time saves nine.
Bus services in rural areas are suffering. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough did not mention this issue, but he has probably been affected by it as well. Clearly, we do not want buses running around empty and wasting a lot of money, but there must be ways of ensuring that our villages and small towns, which are becoming ever less connected with the major centres of population, see a reversal in the situation. We need innovative thinking. Perhaps we should go back to a situation in which councils, as in Nottingham, which runs a very fine public transport service, say, “We will have to step in and fill the gap to ensure that our communities are connected.”
Finally as far as local councils are concerned, I wish to raise the issue of breaks for carers. Carers across the country, and certainly in Staffordshire, perform an absolutely magnificent job. We need to ensure that they can have the breaks that they need, especially those who cannot afford them. They need to be able to get away from time to time. I welcome the fact that Staffordshire has supported such breaks and continues to do so, but the funding is too little. We need to see greater funding in this area and more innovative solutions to ensure that money is wisely spent and available to as many of our carers as need help.
Clearly, on the national scene, the debate is dominated by our leaving the European Union. I will not go into the principles on either side, but I will make points on four areas. Frictionless trade for the manufacturing industry in Stafford and the west midlands is essential. I was recently at the Honda factory in Swindon, and heard very clearly how important it is for us to have seamless trade, in and out, for components. The factory operates, as does almost all manufacturing industry in the automotive sector and others, a just-in-time policy. Such firms cannot have delays at borders.
Another critical area is data, as the Exiting the European Union Committee heard when we took evidence in the City of London. With the EU’s understandable fixation on data protection—we are, of course, putting that into our own law—the City is very concerned that we ensure that data issues are sorted out well in advance of our finally leaving at the end of 2020. It is vital that this is done, because data is at the core of not just financial services but every business.
Financial services companies have a concern about contracts that go beyond the end date of our membership of the European Union. That is a serious issue, because if we do not have the rules on contracts in place, there is a risk that contracts will not be able to be fulfilled and that people will not be paid such things as life assurance or pensions.
My hon. Friend and I fought the last general election on a Conservative manifesto that stated in clear terms that we should leave the customs union. I hope that he shares my view that it is absolutely essential that we fully support the Government’s desire to leave the customs union, and that we have the right and the ability to make free trade deals with other countries.
I absolutely agree that we need to be able to make free trade deals with other countries. The corollary to that is that we cannot be in the customs union, as my hon. Friend said. At the same time it is vital, as the Prime Minster has made clear, that we have frictionless trade and that our industries—not only manufacturing, but agriculture and many other industries—across the country can continue to operate without the hindrance and costs that might be caused by certain arrangements. I have every confidence that the Prime Minister and the Government will come up with the correct decision and conclusion, which may not be one that my hon. Friend and I are currently thinking of.
The manufacturing industry in the north-east of England relies heavily on frictionless trade, because so many components for Nissan vehicles, for example, come in or go out to other plants partly assembled. There are 7,000 or so people working at Nissan, but 35,000 people in the supply chain. Without frictionless trade, many of those jobs will be in real jeopardy.
The hon. Gentleman makes my point exactly. My first job after university was working in the motor industry in Bridgend for Ford, which the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) mentioned earlier today in the House. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is vital that the interests of those workers and millions of other workers across the country in similar positions are taken into account.
My final point is about access to the high-quality staff that this country needs at all levels. It is quite right that we will be taking back control, but taking back control does not necessarily mean having a highly restrictive immigration policy. It means having an immigration policy that is suitable for the needs of our country, but one over which we have control. Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you very much for your forbearance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) is one of the most decent and good-hearted Members in any part of this House. It is therefore a pleasure, as well as a privilege, to follow him in this short debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and I are acquaintances and friends probably going back longer in our political association with one another than either of us does with any other Member of the House. We began to work together politically in 1981 and, as he said in the somewhat reflective part of his contribution, the issue on which we were working was to counter the dangerous and widespread movement for one-sided nuclear disarmament that was in its heyday at that time at the height of the second phase of the cold war. He rightly paid tribute to the work of Lord Heseltine, as he now is, and others who fought and won that battle. They not only won the argument but won the election on the basis of the strength of the argument, because of the commitment of the British people never to leave this country wide open to aggression from undemocratic and, indeed, dictatorial states.
At the time when my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and I were waging that political campaign, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) was engaged in somewhat more dangerous activities, fighting to defend the integrity of the United Kingdom and the security of its citizens in Northern Ireland. Some time ago, he and my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) raised the question of the legal persecution of soldiers who had fought in Northern Ireland in an attempt to mount a successful security operation against enemies who were bound by no accepted rules, norms or laws of conflict. In that counter-terrorist campaign up to 40 years ago, they had to make sometimes life and death decisions in fractions of a second in a form of conflict for which, for the most part, they were entirely untrained. Now, up to 40 years later, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham and my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke have made clear, they find themselves in peril of being brought before the courts in relation to actions that have often been investigated over and over again without there being enough evidence available for any proper prosecution to be brought forward.
I thank my right hon. Friend and you, Mr Deputy Speaker—a colonel of the Royal Army Medical Corps, of course—for allowing me to intervene.
I was involved in fatality shootings in Northern Ireland in my time, but every single time there was a fatality, it was investigated. If it was considered right by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, it would send in an investigation team to check that we had acted legally. I tell fellow Members this: we were so constrained by the yellow card—the rules for opening fire—that we almost thought about it as we went to sleep. It weighed heavily on us in those milliseconds before we opened fire. So it is very hard on us, all these years later, to face the prospect of revisiting these incidents when they were properly investigated at the time and we were told that there was no case to answer.
Everything I have heard about the conduct of my hon. and gallant Friend, not only in Northern Ireland but in Bosnia and in other dangerous parts of the world, testifies to one single unanimous assessment: that he was an inspiration to the troops he led and that they would follow him anywhere. It is quite right that he has done so much in his time in this House to repay that admiration and to honour the trust that they rightly put in him. What concerns me is that we are not repaying the debt that we owe to servicemen, who in those days were very young who were put in an invidious position in a counter-terrorist environment in circumstances for which they had received no special training.
The Select Committee on Defence has looked into this matter in some depth, and we had an extensive debate on the subject on 25 January in Westminster Hall. I do not propose to rehearse the arguments made there. I just wish to remind the House of something that I have pledged constantly to keep reminding it of—that there will be no end to this process until the Government have the determination to bring in a statute of limitations for all terrorist-related incidents up to and including the date of the Belfast agreement. I have had many conversations with many people about this, including Sinn Féin MPs, who had their own concerns that also have some power and force to them. For them, there is the issue of many unresolved deaths for which inquests have not yet been held.
I believe that there is a basis for a comprehensive solution to that problem. People would be best able to get to the root of what happened to their loved ones if other people, on any side of this multifaceted and horrible conflict, could come forward to explain to the best of their ability what they remember of those circumstances so long ago, without fear of finding themselves in a state of self-incrimination. We have the example of what happened in South Africa and the lesson taught to us by Nelson Mandela.
In the course of the Defence Committee’s inquiry into these matters, we took evidence from eminent professors of law. They said that we could not have a statute of limitations that favours only one side in a conflict, because that could be interpreted as the state legislating for its own impunity, but they emphasised that if we were to combine a statute of limitations with what they call a “truth recovery process” for everybody, that could indeed be entirely legitimate in the face of any form of international legal regime.
The reason for my raising this issue yet again today is my concern about one particular point. The previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), whom we all welcome back into the Cabinet in another capacity following his successful surgery, initiated a consultation exercise that is supposed to be going ahead. He specifically said that the option of introducing a statute of limitations on the basis I have described would be included in that consultation exercise. I do not expect the Deputy Leader of the House to be able to respond today, but I do expect him to take away my concern about the suggestions that that option may not now be included in the consultation when it eventually happens. That would be a retrograde step.
As we have seen with Brexit, we cannot always have our cake and eat it. Sometimes we have to decide whether we are going to have—in other words, keep—our cake or eat it, and we cannot put off the point of making that direct choice forever. If that is true of Brexit, it is also true of the ongoing problem of the vulnerability of our armed forces to one-sided prosecution. The Government need to grip this matter. They have an opportunity to, and I hope that they will.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who made a serious and important contribution.
We are here just before the recess, while our colleagues are across the country for the local elections. In the spirit of us all being here together, I would like to wish them all good luck in those elections. I am pleased to be joining my colleagues slightly earlier than I anticipated here in London before returning to Bristol, where we do not have elections this time round.
As hon. Members have mentioned, today is May day. It is also Workers Day, or Labour Day—indeed, may it be a very good Labour weekend. I draw the House’s attention to the fact that a former Tory-led Government tried to get the day moved to October, but fortunately that was thwarted, and we are hopefully all going to enjoy some sunshine. May Day means one thing for Labour, but it currently means something quite different for the Conservatives, as “mayday” is often a cry for help. In the three weeks since Easter, the Government have managed to have two national scandals and a resignation, so we look forward to a more peaceful time following the recess.
We have perhaps not had the quantity of debate today that we thought we might, but we have certainly had some good quality. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) talked movingly about his constituent, Kim Voogel, from the Netherlands. He highlighted that the issue we have been talking about recently with regard to the Home Office is not confined to the Windrush generation, and I am sure the Government have listened to that. The work that is affecting people now is undertaken by several Departments, including the Department for Work and Pensions, and that is certainly something I have experienced.
My hon. Friend also talked about Workers Memorial Day. It is a very important day and we do not pay enough attention to it. One of my earliest memories as a child is of returning from the Christmas holidays and learning that a family friend had been killed by a collapsing trench on a building site, leaving a very small family and devastating the community. We have moved a long way since those days, largely thanks to the work of the trade union movement, but this is a good day on which to commemorate the people who, sadly, have died on building sites in particular.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) talked about criminal barristers. I have a number of friends of middling years or younger who are barristers, and I think he made an extremely important point about what really amounts to a crisis at the criminal Bar. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) intervened to speak about legal aid, and I agree that the legal aid changes have not helped the situation. The legal aid system does a very important job and is much undervalued and under-resourced. I wish him good luck in continuing to raise that issue.
The hon. Member for Beckenham also mentioned “run, hide and tell”. I am a former emergency planner for the NHS—I will come on to my career as a lifelong bureaucrat in a moment—and I am concerned that Members are not always as cognisant as we should be about the role that emergency planning plays in this place or about our duty to ourselves, and our staff and visitors, when it comes to understanding what we should do in a crisis. That is a really important point.
The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) also spoke about Workers Memorial Day, and he mentioned the Taylor review. I highlight the fact that he is quite right to raise the confusion about the public sector pay cap, and the Government really have been dancing on the head of a pin about whether there is a cap any longer. This is about the wages of real people with families to feed, and it is important for them to have clarity about what they are to expect from their employment in the coming years.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough talked about defence and its importance as an insurance policy. He mentioned the 1983 election, which is not one that Labour Members remember very fondly, although it was my first election as an activist. He also made a serious point about learning lessons from the 1930s.
I was not going to speak about my lifelong career as an NHS bureaucrat before entering Parliament—I joined the service in the late 1980s—but I cannot resist doing so. It is a service, not a religion, but I recognise that it has not always performed in the way it should have done. I praise my colleagues, particularly in NHS management, who have actually done an excellent job over many years. We have one of the least managed systems in the world, in proportion to the size of the service, as has been proven in many studies over the years. I am very happy to discuss that with the hon. Gentleman, who I know is a very eminent former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
Not everything is always done well, of course, but the NHS has made massive strides in productivity in recent years. We are now concerned about the level of funding, including in relation to safety, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). We have come a long way, and we must now be very careful that we do not go backwards with some of that work. I want formally to praise the marvellous work done by NHS managers across the country.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough may not know this, but there is a new all-party group on clinical leadership and management. I am very proud to be a part of it, along with the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison). I do not know whether the hon. Member for Gainsborough is interested, but we are having an interesting meeting with the lead from NHS England after the recess, and if he wants to come along, I am sure he would be most welcome. As I have said, the hon. Member for Stafford reminded us about the importance of the Francis report. Making sure that those changes happened required clinical support, but also very dedicated senior and superior management support.
I very much look forward to coming back after the recess, when, as Members may not have noticed, we will debate the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill.
Before my hon. Friend moves on, may I congratulate her on her important work as an emergency planner in our national health service? Does she agree that it was our public health workers who supported our military personnel in Salisbury after the recent nerve agent attack?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, one of the joys of travelling from Bristol each week is that I meet so many of my former colleagues on the train. [Interruption.] Other Members have perhaps had the same experience. Indeed, I met one of my former colleagues who now works for Public Health England, and we discussed the way that it had to respond to that incident. People had just come out of a severe weather crisis in the south-west, and Public Health England is not currently well-resourced. It then had to respond quickly to an unprecedented international attack and deal with the interplay between local and national when managing that serious incident. I think that we will consider that issue in future. Public Health England now has a huge area to cover on the ground, and I know that my hon. Friend takes a particular interest in that. We could be here until 5 o’clock this evening if I were to talk about the NHS more generally, but we have elections to fight, so I will move on.
I have been working on the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill with colleagues in the Lords and the Minister, including work on trailer registration for light trailers following the tragic death of a young boy, Freddie Hussey, in my constituency in 2014. I look forward to the debates on that important Bill.
We are all looking forward to a couple of days off once we have knocked on those doors. Let me tell anyone who is coming to the west country that there are a number of festivals going on in Bristol, and I understand that a big festival is on in Exeter. I will be trudging down the M5 from Bristol with my family to enjoy a lovely weekend in Cornwall. I wish all hon. Members and staff of the House a happy May Day bank holiday weekend.
You have promoted me inopportunely, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can claim no such role, but I shall do my best.
I was struck with surprise when I learned that there was yet another pre-recess Adjournment debate so soon after the last one. We are only having one day off—how can we deserve this treat? I do not think we do. As the debate wore on, however, I noted that demand always grows to meet supply, and Members willing to speak kept creeping out of the oddest corners.
We have had a fascinating debate. It reminded me of my childhood trips to Woolworths, surveying the pick ‘n’ mix selection and not knowing quite where to begin. However, I have to start with the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, and I pay tribute to his 27 years in local government. I cannot believe that the Conservative party ever had the temerity to oppose him on the ballot paper. Surely we gave him a free ride—I hope we did.
The hon. Gentleman raised an important case that I hope he has shared with the Department for Work and Pensions. It concerns the important matter of how we treat EU citizens in the future. We have always said that we want to provide certainty for individuals and businesses. We have been clear in our statement about EU citizens who arrive in the UK during the implementation period, and there has to be reciprocity. UK nationals who move to the EU must be treated similarly, and we are clear about that and have reached a firm agreement with the EU.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the importance of clarity regarding any application for any form of benefits. As a former member of the Work and Pensions Committee, I know all too well that we need a constant process of review, and the DWP must never let up reviewing its application forms. Those forms must be clear, and I know that when they are 80 pages long, their very length can put some people off applying, particularly if they lack the functional skills required to fill them in adequately. That in itself is not acceptable, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern to ensure that those forms are clear.
I also agree with the hon. Gentleman about Workers Memorial Day. In my time as a Rail Minister, I was conscious that Network Rail and the wider rail industry had gone for many years without any casualties on the network. The importance of maintaining that was not just a matter for those working on the railways; it had to go to the top of Network Rail and be a priority for its chief executive and for me as Rail Minister. Indeed, we always discussed that issue, because the moment we do not pay attention to health and safety is the moment when problems can start to emerge several years down the line. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s points on that issue.
I have also been briefed on sleep-in workers, and I know that the Government are working closely with social care providers to try to find a solution to the problem. They are also working with the EU Commission, which is currently placing limitations on what the solution might eventually look like. Work is ongoing, but I hear the hon. Gentleman’s point.
I was glad to hear about the all-party group for football supporters. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Blackpool Supporters Trust is perhaps one of the more active groups, given our own travails at Blackpool football club. I know he has had a good season as a Newcastle United fan. I hear the point about safe standing. If I may raise a point with him, I was perturbed to read earlier in the week that the obligation to produce match day programmes might be dropped by the Football League. That would be a great tragedy for the many of us who treasure those items.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned rail in the north. He tempts me into a full hour’s response. It might help the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) to not go canvassing if I were to embark upon that. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Institute for Public Policy Research figures, which come up every year. They are what they are, but they do not capture schemes that are centrally funded but delivered locally. Another aspect is how to capture spending in one region that benefits another region. I am reliant on the west coast main line. How should spending on Euston be reported? It benefits those from the north-west who seek to go to London on business, but it does not appear as investment in the north-west.
I hear the hon. Gentleman’s point about the north-east. I can assure him that it is not overlooked. I took great personal care to make sure it got the money for the new Metro trains.
I am very grateful for the funding for the Tyne and Wear Metro, but I just remind the Minister of a presentation that was given to the all-party group for rail in the north by Network Rail about two or three years ago, which showed its plans for the next five-year control period investment plan. It showed a scheme in Preston and the northern hub in Manchester. On the east side of the map there was an arrow next to York which said “To Scotland”, but there was nothing at all for the north-east of England.
I have always been very clear that northern powerhouse rail has to include Newcastle. The north does not stop at York any more than it stops at Manchester—Liverpool needs to be included, too. I look forward to visiting Gateshead for the Great Exhibition of the North.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) was his characteristic self. He made a number of important points on issues he has encountered in his surgery. I know the relevant Minister is working with the Bar Council on how to resolve some of those very difficult issues, and I listened with interest to the comments my hon. Friend had to make on that. He may be aware that the Adjournment debate—if we ever get to it; the Minister has been here patiently waiting for several hours now—is about the exclusion of the under-25s from the national minimum wage, so some of the comments in that debate may well appertain to that. He also made a point about the security briefings that are circulated and the issue of run, hide and tell. It is best if I personally refrain from commenting on those issues, but I think we would all want to pay tribute to those members of staff who do all they can to make us safe and keep us safe. They put their lives on the line at times, as we have seen in recent years.
The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and I renew our acquaintance, which I am most pleased about. I would never call him a whinger! I cannot believe his Whips Office could be so rude—he is anything but.
I think the hon. Gentleman might find that we are adding to our numbers across the country as a whole. We are going to see a growth in Conservatism. He mentioned the Taylor review. Great progress is being made on implementing many of its recommendations and I am sure it is a case of “Watch this space”. He rightly spoke out on behalf of the Clyde shipbuilders who do such a fantastic job as part of our shipbuilding industry, building our Type 26 frigates and guaranteeing thousands of jobs. He also mentioned the importance of getting immigration controls right, a theme over the past week at least. My only observation is that humanity and dignity should be at the heart of everything we do as a Government. We overlook at our peril the fact that we are dealing with individuals and their lives. We do not have to be harsh to be tough. We need to make sure we apply the rules, but that we do so with the understanding that we are dealing with people’s lives and the lives of their families.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) made a characteristically thoughtful contribution. He will join me, I am sure, in recognising the importance of meeting our NATO commitments at the very basic level, as well as ensuring that we assess the changing threat scenario. He mentioned the range of emerging scenarios. It is important that the Government keep abreast of the developing and changing scenarios and of the correct response, which might not always now be heavy artillery or heavy armour but might be in the field of IT or some other such field. He will also note the many NATO forces on the eastern flank, which many in the all-party group on the armed forces visited in Estonia back in January. I am sure also that the Policing Minister heard his powerful case when they met last week. I know there is a strong rural lobby looking to rebalance spending, and that argument will continue.
I was surprised that my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) were the only two Members to mention potholes. Those who have been on doorsteps across the country will have heard about little else, given the winter we have had. They were right to demand extra spending, which is why the Government have put forward a further £296 million in this Parliament, but it is also for local councils to think carefully about how they go about filling in the potholes. The quality of the work has to be right. I get frustrated when I see potholes filled in and then drive along a week later and find they have reverted to potholes again because the quality of the material was not good enough. I recognise the great danger they pose to cyclists as well. I will draw on the example of Lancashire, which I know most about. When the council sees a particular level of pothole work, it goes back and adds it to the following year’s resurfacing schedule to make sure the problems are solved for the long term.
I pay tribute to everything my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford has done on the NHS in his time here. He is truly a champion for his constituents—and I do not just say that because I am standing at the Dispatch Box. He will have heard from the Prime Minister herself before the Liaison Committee a commitment to developing a longer-term funding settlement for the NHS. It is right that we do that and in a way that, I hope, can draw on cross-party support. The most effective and important social changes in our country are always underpinned by cross-party support, and I hope that that will be the case here. I know he is working hard with General Electric to deal with its issues in Stafford, and he might also be aware that we passed the Bus Services Act 2017 shortly before the last election. That Act is designed to help local councils apply greater granularity to local bus services.
My hon. Friend also mentioned carers’ breaks, which is an issue close to my heart for two reasons: first, because the first Delegated Legislation Committee I ever sat on was about putting in place those provisions—of course, they were not ring-fenced at the time, hence it is at the discretion of local councils—and secondly, because I know how important it is from the work done in my own constituency by Blackpool carers centre. Avid fans of “DIY SOS” might have seen that centre being renovated on a special a few months ago. The importance of carers’ breaks is underestimated. These people do what they do out of love, not a desire for financial recompense, and they need a respite break now and again to recharge their batteries. The importance of carers’ breaks cannot be overestimated.
My hon. Friend mentioned frictionless trade and the Prime Minister’s commitments. I have no doubt that he will have many more opportunities to discuss such matters in the weeks and months to come. As a former Rail Minister, I dealt with Brexit in relation to the channel tunnel, and that demonstrated to me the importance of our “just in time” delivery network to keeping our automotive sector running, to which the channel tunnel is critical, so his point was well made.
The final colleague to participate was my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). I pay tribute to his noble campaigning down the years on nuclear defence—he is truly a legend.
My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that we have always been clear that as part of our work to implement the Stormont House agreement, we will seek to ensure that the new legacy bodies are under legal obligations to be fair, balanced and proportionate. The current process is not working for anyone, including victims and survivors. We want to reform it so that there is no prioritising of deaths caused by the security forces. At the same time, we want to ensure that our veterans, the overwhelming majority of whom served with great distinction in Northern Ireland, including my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham, are not unfairly treated or disproportionately investigated. I have noted my right hon. Friend’s specific query and will make sure that my officials bring it to the attention of the relevant Department.
Finally, I thank the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), the shadow Deputy Leader of the House. It must be an odd position to hold, given that there is no one to shadow; none the less, she performs her role with great distinction as she chases shadows around the Chamber. I pay tribute to her involvement in the NHS, and I am sure that that brings great insight into what occurs. From a personal point of view, I have great fondness for all our four Bristol MPs for different reasons, and I think the Public Accounts Committee is much poorer for not having her on it. She is almost wasted in her non-role of shadowing no one at all, but she brings distinction wherever she goes.
The hon. Lady thinks that May day might be a distress signal—far from it, I think that May day should be a celebration for all around the country and a well-deserved day off. On that note, I observe more widely to colleagues that while the south-west may be one alternative, where else would someone go on a May Day bank holiday than the prom at Blackpool? I would be appalled if anyone went anywhere else.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the May adjournment.