House of Commons
Monday 18 June 2018
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Housing, Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Government believe that one person without a home is one too many, which is why we have committed £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and why we implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 in April. We are producing a cross-Government strategy to tackle rough sleeping, and it is due to be published next month.
In December 2010, there were 22 homeless households in temporary accommodation in Coventry; in December last year, there was a massive 278 homeless households in the city, of which 210 were families with children, with a total of 505 children between them. Why does the Secretary of State think that the number of homeless children has risen so significantly under this Government?
I hope the hon. Lady will recognise the work that the Government have done and are doing with the commitment of £9 billion for affordable housing. This is partly an issue of supply and ensuring that we have the right number of homes, which is why the Government are taking action, investing and seeking to respond to the challenges of homelessness and, indeed, rough sleeping. I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes the Housing First initiative in the west midlands to tackle rough sleeping and ensure that we really respond to this important issue.
A recent Crisis report set out a comprehensive and practical plan for ending homelessness. On top of the excellent plans that the Secretary of State has already announced, I encourage him to work with Crisis so that we can tackle not only homelessness but its underlying causes.
I congratulate Crisis on its work, as it marks its 50th anniversary. Indeed, I spoke at the recent Crisis conference, where I indicated that I will work with the organisation on furthering its rough-sleeping initiatives, about which I have spoken. I note what it has said about homelessness and will continue to work with it and others.
The hon. Lady rightly speaks passionately about rough sleeping. I feel very strongly about it, too, which was why my first visit as Secretary of State was to a homelessness charity in Birmingham that was actively supporting people who were rough sleeping. That is why the Government are committed to eradicating rough sleeping and why, in recent weeks, we have committed a further £30 million to those areas most affected. It is a very serious issue and the hon. Lady is right to be passionate about it, as am I.
I welcome last week’s news that there will be £279,000 extra for tackling homelessness and rough sleeping in Torbay. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that the lessons from the previous pilot, which was carried out with the Torbay End Street Homelessness campaign, will be incorporated into the strategy that he is bringing out next month?
I commend the work that my hon. Friend’s local charities have done, along with all the organisations that are working locally in Torbay on this significant issue. Obviously, additional funding has been identified. Part of the issue is to ensure that that money is used effectively by learning from previous lessons and, indeed, by ensuring that local authorities are held to account for the moneys that have been applied.
High-rise Buildings: Cladding
As of 22 May, remediation had started on 107 buildings over 18 metres in the social sector that were identified to have combinations of aluminium composite material cladding and insulation that failed fire-performance tests. Work has been completed on 10 buildings.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that update, but will he give a timescale for the other tower blocks, in both the private and the public sectors? What is the timescale for the removal of these dangerous panels?
I recognise the clear desire and intent to see to it that these buildings are made safe and that remediation is completed at the earliest possible opportunity. The works are complex and detailed, and they will take time. We continue to monitor and to work with local authorities to make sure that progress is made, recognising the real public safety issues that the hon. Gentleman underlines.
The Secretary of State is rightly consulting on banning all material that is not of limited combustibility from high-rise buildings, and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee hopes that he will bring in such a ban after the consultation. If he concludes that it is right to ban such material from all new buildings, does he accept that it would be completely untenable to leave the same material on existing buildings, and, in such a case, does he accept that the Government will have the responsibility to financially compensate the building owners affected?
The Chair of the Select Committee will know that we have committed £400 million to support the public sector in remediation costs and that, therefore, we are committed to seeing that the work is undertaken well. Obviously, we will reflect carefully on the consultation that will be launched and therefore look at its application. The key message is that we need to make progress and to get on with this, so that buildings that have been identified in need of remediation are dealt with.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, I pay tribute to all of the Grenfell survivors and the people in that area whose dignified commemorations we all witnessed last week. There remains an issue about people in high-rise buildings in the private sector. What response has the Secretary of State made to Kevin Stewart MSP, Scotland’s Housing Minister, on his calls to exempt private buildings from VAT on materials to refurbish these buildings?
Obviously, that is a matter for the Treasury, but there is a need to make progress, and I look forward to continuing discussions with the Scottish Government. Equally, as the hon. Lady has said, I pay tribute to the incredible community of Grenfell for the extraordinary way in which they underlined the strength that they have together and how that has brought the country together as well and how we must very firmly continue to have that in mind.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He will have seen, as we all have, the pictures from Glasgow over the weekend where the Glasgow School of Art also had a devastating fire. Fortunately, there was no loss of life, although local residents are still waiting to get back into their homes. Does he agree that we need to look again at exemptions for sprinkler systems in buildings, so that more public buildings can be encouraged to have them installed, not least in the building that we are in today, because it is built in a similar way to the Glasgow School of Art and could be as dangerous?
I am sure that we were all horrified to see the terrible fire at the Glasgow School of Art. We should think about what that iconic building has meant to so many people over the years. The hon. Lady highlights the issue of sprinklers. May I be clear on that: for existing buildings, it is for the building owner to decide whether to fit sprinklers retrospectively, as part of a fire safety strategy? Obviously, it is for building owners to make those determinations, but, clearly, it can be an effective safety measure, as part of an overarching strategy.
Mr Speaker, you and I and other Members of the House were privileged to be part of the Grenfell silent walk with survivors and supporters last Thursday. They, like this House, want Ministers to take every action necessary to prevent such a fire ever happening again, yet, since Grenfell, 1,319 suspect cladding samples sent to the Government’s testing centre have been refused testing, as Ministers say that they will only test the aluminium composite material the Minister spoke of earlier. Why?
I will happily look into what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The Building Research Establishment’s focus has obviously been on the ACM material that has been at the forefront of concerns to ensure that, in both the public and the private sectors, that can be tested so that where cladding does not meet the necessary standards, it is dealt with and remediation steps take place. I will certainly look in greater detail at the point that he has made.
That simply is not good enough from the Secretary of State. The BRE does what Ministers tell it to do. We know that other cladding and insulation materials have been found unsafe. We know that the Hackitt review has confirmed that the whole building regulation system from end to end is, as she says, not fit for purpose. Since Grenfell, Ministers have been too slow to take responsibility and too slow to act. This Conservative dogma of “hands off” is delaying the Government action necessary to deal with this national disaster. Will he give local authorities powers to demand that testing and recladding are actually done? Will he release the details that he holds on tower block owners who will not do this work, and will he set a deadline, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) says, for all landlords to make their buildings safe or make it clear that Government will step in and then make them?
I firmly recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the urgency of the situation, which is why we have committed an additional £1 million to local authorities to identify the sites. In my time as Secretary of State, we have made an additional commitment of £400 million to the social sector to ensure that we get on with this remediation. I am intent on pursuing that level of action and focus to ensure that a sense of safety and assurance is given. Since the publication of Judith Hackitt’s report, I have announced that we are pursuing a consultation to bring into effect a ban on combustible cladding. The right hon. Gentleman and the House should be in no doubt that this Government gives priority to the issue, and we will continue to pursue that approach.
These are extremely important matters, but may I very gently say to colleagues—on Back Benches and Front Benches alike—that we must speed up?
Homes for Social Rent
Since 2010, we have delivered more than 357,000 new affordable homes, including 128,000 for social rent. We are investing more than £9 billion in the affordable homes programme to support the delivery of new affordable homes.
The Secretary of State fails to point out that only 199 houses have been built in the past six months. Given his failure to build new housing, can we instead look at actions to deal with the 7,235 privately owned empty houses in Stoke-on-Trent?
More affordable homes have been delivered in the past seven years than in the last seven years of the last Labour Government. It is a bit rich to press us when we have delivered 217,000 completed new homes in the past year. This Government have committed £9 billion to affordable homes—the hon. Lady should reflect on that—as this issue is our priority.
The Government have recently announced an extra £2 billion into the affordable homes programme. How many more homes for social rent should this provide by the end of this Parliament?
We have identified additional funding for affordable homes and social rent. I will be making a further announcement regarding what this means outside London. I will return to the House to update Members on the matter, as I recognise its importance.
Mr Speaker, I thank you and Members of all parties who supported the Grenfell community by attending memorial services and the silent walk, by speaking in the House and by wearing the green heart. Will the Secretary of State politely insist that all Members who have shown support by wearing the green heart support my request for a Backbench Business debate, so that we can discuss all these issues in one place and discuss the Grenfell response? We have a list of green heart wearers and will be writing to the Secretary of State today. Will he please show that he cares by supporting my debate?
I commend the hon. Lady for the work that she has done locally, as I commend the strength of her community in the face of this appalling tragedy. I cannot speak about the awarding of Backbench Business debates. If she seeks one, I am sure that it will be considered carefully. We have updated the House regularly on the response to Grenfell, and we will continue to do so.
The Secretary of State is quite right to disavow responsibility for the Backbench Business Committee. The hon. Lady could, however, usefully sidle up to and have a word with the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who chairs that Committee. He is not in his place at the moment, but I dare say that he will be in due course. I am sure that she will find that a most useful conversation.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that North West Leicestershire District Council is building the first new council houses in my constituency in the past 30 years?
I absolutely do. I commend the work of my hon. Friend’s council. We are looking at how we can strengthen the housing revenue account further and see a new generation of council house builds. I commend his local authority for getting on with that.
The Secretary of State has just talked of his affordable homes record, but we all know that this Government’s definition of affordable homes is a joke. It allows an illusion of genuinely affordable house building, which is simply not happening. Many of his own Back Benchers agree, and 10 of them are meeting the Prime Minister on Wednesday to call for more genuinely affordable homes. The number of new social rented homes funded by the Government is at its lowest ever level, with fewer than 1,000 started last year. Will the Secretary of State therefore match Labour’s commitment, in our social housing green paper, to scrap the bogus definition of affordable rent at up to 80% of market rents and to invest in genuinely affordable homes?
I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the fall in housing waiting lists under this Government. I say to her very clearly that steps have been taken under this Government to respond to this challenge. I remind her again of the £9 billion that has been committed to affordable homes, with the change that that will bring to so many people in actually creating the vision of a home and making that a reality. That is this Government’s intent, and it is something that we will deliver.
Housing and Community Integration
On 8 June, the Department announced £1.75 million to help new refugees by funding 35 offices in 19 areas of England with some of the highest numbers of asylum seekers. This will support people granted asylum into housing, learning and work. The Department is very keen to share this learning widely, including with the devolved Administrations.
The Government’s consultation report, “Integrated Communities”, said that the Government will
“work with civil society and others to increase the integration support available to those recognised as refugees after arrival in the UK.”
What specific measures are being taken to ensure that newly recognised refugees get the same support as resettled refugees?
Funding for the pilot programmes is drawn from the controlling migration fund, which has no remit to finance the devolved Administrations, as funding is devolved in this area. The pilot programmes are now recruiting staff and getting their programmes up and running. The pilots will run for two years. They are funded in the first year by my Department and in the second year by the council itself.
Local Authority Funding: North-east
From 2015-16 to 2019-20, north-east councils will have access to £11.3 billion in core spending power. The 2018-19 settlement sees a 1.9% increase in the money available to north-east councils.
The Minister will be aware that north-east councils have had a 50% cut in Government grant since 2010. At the same time, the richest individuals in this country have had a £10 billion tax cut. Does he think it is right that these needless tax cuts are paid for by local government jobs, pay cuts and the loss of local government services?
On the subject of those who can afford it building up savings, I might point out to the hon. Gentleman that his local authority—I remind him, as I am sure he knows, that every seat except one is held by the Labour party—has increased its reserves by £7 million since 2010, so perhaps he should be addressing his questions on redundancies and closures to the local Labour party.
The Minister knows that the slashing of funding for Newcastle City Council can be seen in the increased litter on our streets, increased crime rates as youth services are cut and reduced public services generally. What will he say to my constituents who want to know why central Government care so little for their wellbeing?
On whether central Government care for people in Newcastle, I would say that surely they, like the hon. Lady, should welcome the £600 million of new money provided for the devolution deal; the Great Exhibition of the North, opening this Friday, which is set to boost her local economy by £184 million; the Budget announcement of £337 million for the Tyne and Wear Metro; north-east local enterprise partnerships having £379 million invested in them directly; and the north-east investment fund just announced, with £120 million. This is a golden era of Government investment in the north-east, but it takes the Conservative party to deliver it.
Adult Social Care
As part of the Ministry’s oversight of local government, we consider the financial stability and service delivery of individual authorities, liaising with the Department of Health and Social Care on adult social care. On that basis, we have no immediate concerns about the ability of local authorities to fulfil their statutory duties.
Wow! I am shocked by that response. This year’s precept of 1% raises only 0.8% of our total adult social care budget in the Borough of Rochdale. With nursing home beds being converted into residential beds because of providers’ difficulties in recruiting and retaining nurses, how does the Minister suggest that my local authority provides the nursing home beds that my constituents so desperately need?
This Government have increased funding for social care across the country. Rather than talking down the hon. Lady’s constituency and local authority, I point out that Rochdale’s performance in reducing delayed transfers of care is among the best in the country and deserves praise, rather than being talked down.
This weekend we heard the announcement of additional funding for the NHS, but there was no mention of funding to resolve the issues in social care as part of that package. What discussions were there with the Secretary of State about the future funding of social care in advance of that announcement?
This Government want to guarantee the security and dignity of people in old age and are absolutely committed to providing a long-term sustainable settlement on social care, on which the hon. Lady will know the Health Secretary is working. He will bring forward plans in due course.
Some 1.2 million older people in England are living with unmet care needs, according to Age UK. More than 400,000 fewer people are receiving publicly funded social care than in 2010. Council spending on adult social care fell by 10% in real terms between 2010 and 2015. A miserly £150 million in funding was announced for 2018-19 in the local government finance settlement, and now we hear that there is no funding for social care in yesterday’s NHS announcement. With social care in crisis, putting pressure on the NHS and sending councils across England towards bankruptcy, when is this Minister going to do his job and secure the resources that our councils need to give the elderly the dignity they so desperately deserve?
This Government are already responding to the pressures in social care, which is why we announced £2 billion in last year’s Budget for local authorities up and down the country. That represents a real-terms increase every year from last year to next year in social care spending, and we are seeing it translate into action on the ground, with a 40% reduction in social care delayed transfers of care just last month.
We have delivered 357,000 affordable homes since 2010, which is more than in the last seven years of the previous Labour Government, and we will be spending £9 billion on affordable housing, including social housing, until 2022.
Will the Minister join me in thanking housing associations across the country for all the great work they do on social housing, and in particular Rooftop Housing in my constituency, which has built 850 homes in the last six years, including substantial housing for elderly people and those with supportive care needs?
Housing associations played a key role in delivering more than 41,000 homes through the affordable homes programme last year. I certainly welcome the contribution of housing associations in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We are restless to do more, through measures such as long-term rent certainty and raising the housing revenue account borrowing cap.
Does the Minister recognise that for many people on low incomes, paying 80% of market rent is not affordable—it is simply unaffordable? When will the Government ditch this twisted notion of affordability and build more homes for social rent?
We are lifting the HRA borrowing cap. We are giving local authorities and housing associations longer-term certainty with their rents, and we also look forward to the publication of the social housing Green Paper, to address all these issues in the round.
I must say to the Minister that on Saturday at the Buckingham literary festival I met one of his constituents, and I told the constituent that the hon. Gentleman was a clever fellow.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kind words.
Through the changes that we are making to the national planning policy framework, we want to streamline the process to get homes built and, particularly through our emphasis on the housing delivery test, to make sure that homes are built for the next generation.
I certainly welcome the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts, and we have heard such ideas on our side of the House as well. I would be very happy to see any proposals he has, and we would certainly take them very seriously.
To enable developers to build the right proportion of affordable housing, it is essential that they have the money for infrastructure. In that respect, I welcome the £7.6 million we have received for the spine road in Staplegrove. When will we know whether £18 million of funding will be announced following the joint bid by my council and Sedgemoor?
I thank my hon. Friend. The housing infrastructure fund is absolutely vital because people rightly ask local authorities with the ambition to build new homes where the roads, schools and clinics will come from. We are taking forward a whole range of bids for co-development. The business proposals will be analysed by my Department, and we will make further announcements in the autumn.
The Ministry’s own figures show that, at the end of 2014, the number of households in temporary accommodation in Bromley stood at 956, and by December 2017, the figure had risen to 1,501. There are simply not enough affordable homes in London, so when will the Government take real action to make sure that councils such as Bromley get building?
We are raising the HRA cap to give local authorities more flexibility to enable them to deliver the homes. The hon. Lady may also want to have a word with the Mayor of London, because we want the ambition from central Government taken right the way through. She is right to mention local councils, but we must also make sure that city hall is doing its bit.
This Government are continuing to identify ways to ensure that local authorities make full and efficient use of brownfield land, including through changing the national planning policy framework, supporting the reuse of buildings through permitted development rights, and requiring every authority to publish and maintain a register of brownfield land suitable for housing.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but what progress has been made in giving Homes England the powers and resources it needs to acquire sites in fragmented ownership in order to deliver regeneration for our communities?
My hon. Friend is well known for his work in ensuring that brownfield land is prioritised for development. The Government are currently working up the details of a new £1.1 billion land assembly fund to enable Homes England to work alongside private developers to develop strategic sites, including new settlements and urban regeneration schemes. Homes England is also encouraged to use its powers of compulsory purchase, where necessary, to deliver community regeneration.
The Government do not have the ability to force local authorities to build on brownfield sites. I am sure we can write to the hon. Gentleman to get specific details of the needs of his local authority area.
Again, my hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for her local area. It is very important that her local authority continues, with the Government, to identify ways to increase the take-up of these sites, especially for new homes, and to ensure that suitable brownfield land is prioritised for development.
Recent figures from the Campaign to Protect Rural England show that the amount of farmland, forest, gardens and greenfield land lost to development each year has increased by 58% over the past four years. What are the Government going to do to better protect our vital green spaces and redevelop our brownfield sites, which are so urgently in need of regeneration?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. She will no doubt be aware of the protections in the NPPF to ensure that green-belt and greenfield sites are protected. I encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to remind their local authorities that there are protections in that policy framework.
As the Minister will know, I recently wrote to the Secretary of State to make a strong case for calling in a decision made by Labour-controlled Bradford Council to build 500 houses on the green belt in Burley in Wharfedale in my constituency. Given that Bradford’s Telegraph & Argus has reported today that Bradford Council is taking out of the plan a brownfield site in the city centre where more than 600 houses would have been built so that it can be used as a car park until at least 2024, will the Minister confirm that there can clearly not be “exceptional circumstances” to justify building 500 houses on the green belt in Burley in Wharfedale?
I am afraid that I have not read this morning’s Telegraph & Argus and seen that particular news; I shall try to get a copy by the end of today. I am sure that my hon. Friend realises that I cannot comment specifically on such a case. I understand that my colleague the Minister for Housing will be writing to him in very short order.
We are delivering economic growth across the northern powerhouse by devolving more power and investing more than any Government in history in our transport infrastructure. That is why, since the northern powerhouse was launched, we have grown the northern economy by £20 billion.
Cheshire West and Chester Council, Cheshire East Council, Warrington Borough Council, the local enterprise partnership and other stakeholders are determined in their quest to secure a devolution deal, yet increasingly frustrated. Will the Minister update the House on the timetable for the deal?
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, all the councils he mentions and the LEP have brought out what they refer to as the prospectus for growth, which is looking at how they can deliver real economic benefits for the people who live in Warrington and elsewhere in Cheshire. The Government remain open to ground-up locally supported devolution deals. I encourage the hon. Gentleman, the council leaders and the LEP to continue the discussions they have been having with me and my officials.
Last Friday it was announced that Siemens had won the contract for the new Piccadilly line trains and will now invest £200 million in a new train factory in Goole, creating 700 jobs—so not all investment in the south turns out to be all that terrible. However, can we make sure that the Department and the Minister in particular work with Siemens to ensure that the supply chain benefits the north of England in particular?
It takes a former northern powerhouse Minister to remind the current one that those new trains built in my hon. Friend’s constituency in Goole must benefit the entirety of the north of England. I will work with him to make sure that happens.
Should not the Government Front-Bench team learn this truth: that since the departure of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, there has been no vision, no leadership and no result for the northern powerhouse? Can the Minister not provide some real leadership and let us catch up with some of these soft people in the south of England and London who get all the investment?
I am torn: I find myself partially agreeing with the hon. Gentleman, although I certainly do not agree that there has been no vision or leadership on the northern powerhouse. Since I became Minister we have announced a “minded to” deal for a North of Tyne combined authority, we have reaffirmed the commitment to the north Wales growth deal, we have announced that we intend to do a growth deal in the borderlands and the last Budget included £1.8 billion of new money going to the north of England.
We recently launched the £250 million midlands engine investment fund and agreed a second devolution deal with the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street. We have also given £4 million to the midlands engine partnership to support a range of economic activity, including that of our very important ceramics sector.
I thank the Minister for that response. How best can we encourage new businesses into town centres in the midlands, like those in Longton and Fenton in my constituency, so we can see the revival of our high streets?
The future health of our high streets is extremely important, which is why I am pleased to be able to announce today that my Department will launch a call for evidence over the summer looking at the future of our high street. We intend to establish an expert panel to diagnose the issues currently affecting the high street. I will be visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency shortly. I hope Longton and Fenton will make their voices heard.
Local Authorities: Children’s Services
Settlement funding has increased in recognition of pressures, including demand for children’s services. In addition, many local authorities have built up substantial reserves over recent years. It is absolutely right that they use those where necessary to protect high quality services for taxpayers.
Baby P, Victoria Climbié, Shannon Matthews—I am sure the House remembers those names. Child safety is a major concern right across our country, with councils starting no fewer than 500 child protection investigations a day. St Helens Council has almost twice as many looked-after children as the national average and has pulled £5 million from reserves to fund their care. That is unsustainable. Does the Minister really realise what is at stake? What will the Minister do to ensure that councils have the money they need to support our vulnerable children, instead of washing his hands of this?
This Government have ensured that all local authorities have increased resources to deal with all the various services they have to provide, including children’s services, on which, I am pleased to say, over £9 billion will be spent this year. The hon. Lady mentions reserves. She may know that last year reserves in her local authority were actually higher than they were five years ago.
We all want to live in a Britain where young people are safe, well cared for and nurtured, but for too many real life is very different. They rely instead on council safeguarding services to give them the protection they need, the very services that are facing a £2 billion funding gap and that have already overspent by £600 million. The question is simple: when can we see real action, with real money going directly to children’s services?
As I just said, £9 billion is going to children’s services just this year. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are undertaking a fresh review of the relative needs and resources of all local authorities. As part of that work, there is ongoing work with the Department for Education to understand in detail the specific drivers for children’s services up and down the country. I look forward to his contributions to that piece of work.
Local Authorities: Vulnerable Children
Her Majesty’s chief inspector of education, children’s services and skills is responsible for the inspection of local authority children’s services. Last year, spending on the most vulnerable children increased to over £9 billion. I very much welcome the efforts of colleagues in the Department for Education and in local councils, who continually look for ways to improve their services.
Following the murder in Ipswich two weeks ago of a 17-year-old and the critical stabbing of a 16-year-old on Wednesday evening, does the Minister recognise the serious effects that cuts to support for looked-after children and other vulnerable young people are having on their ability to lead safe, productive and law-abiding lives?
I am sure the thoughts of the whole House are with the families of the young children the hon. Gentleman mentions at this difficult time. Matters of policing and crime are for the Home Office, but the Government and local councils agree about the importance of high quality children’s services. He will know that a new inspection framework was introduced earlier this year. I am pleased that Suffolk County Council, his local authority, was rated good in its most recent inspection.
Has the Minister spoken to his counterparts at the Department for Education to discuss ways to improve the educational attainment of looked-after and vulnerable children? If not, why not?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He will be pleased to know that just last week I met the Children’s Minister to discuss exactly the topic that he raised. In particular, one of the topics that we discussed was the care leavers covenant, which the Government are piloting and introducing to improve the educational and employment outcomes for children and young people leaving care.
Property Rental Market
The Tenant Fees Bill will ban unnecessary fees and cap deposits, making rents fairer and easier for tenants.
It is hard to call somewhere home if you might not be living there in three months’ time, and for children, leaving home can also mean leaving school. Will my hon. Friend advise me what he is doing to increase the security of tenancies for people in rental accommodation?
I certainly recognise my hon. Friend’s concerns. In fact, we will shortly be consulting on the barriers to longer-term tenancies to inform our work and assess what further ways landlords can be supported to offer more secure tenancies.
The legal framework and guidance governing the relationship between lodgers and landlords has not been updated since 2006, pre-dating the growth in online lettings platforms and the affordability crisis, which has led many more people to become both landlords and lodgers. In this relationship, both parties can find themselves vulnerable. The current framework of protection is not fit for purpose. Will the Government take action to bring the framework that governs the relationship between landlords and lodgers up to date?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We keep these matters and the regime under constant review. If she would like to write to me on the specific things that she takes issue with, we will of course look at them.
If the Government are serious about tackling rogue landlords, will the Secretary of State today back Labour’s plans to give local authorities the power to crack down on rogue landlords through private sector licensing, without authorities having to seek permission from central Government?
We are introducing the Tenant Fees Bill, which will not just make renting fairer but save tenants an estimated £240 million in its first year. My concern with Labour’s proposals is that Shelter has said that they would hurt some of the most vulnerable in our society.
There are 22,000 properties in Hull with a housing, health and social care rating hazard category of 1, the highest hazard rating that there is, and all these properties are in the private rented sector. The cost of repairing and removing these hazards is £23.5 million. Who does the Minister think should pay for that? Does he think it should be councils or private landlords? If he thinks that it should be private landlords, when will he start making it easier for councils to introduce private landlord licensing?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We absolutely think that the onus should be on the landlords. That is why we introduced civil penalties of up to £30,000 on rogue landlords and, in April, we are introducing banning orders and a database of rogue landlords and agents, so that we make sure that we protect tenants in the real world from that kind of abuse.
I call Toby Perkins—oh dear, where is the fella? The chap is not here, never mind.
With Ramadan ending, I want to wish everyone Eid Mubarak. This week, we remember the Finsbury Park attack and, last week, we marked one year since the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The cladding thought to have been used on Grenfell Tower was unlawful under existing building regulations and should not have been used. To ensure that there is no doubt about which materials can be used on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, today I am publishing a consultation on banning the use of combustible materials. Copies of the consultation are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
This Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush, and I hope colleagues from across the House will welcome the announcement of a national Windrush day to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation.
South Gloucestershire Council is planning to build thousands of homes, which local families need, but a slow build-out rate from developers is putting the whole of the authority’s plans at risk because of a shortage of five-year land supply. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on his strategy to ensure that permissions are built as quickly as possible?
I agree with my hon. Friend on the need to ensure that permissions are built out quickly. We will be taking that into firm consideration as part of the update to the national planning policy framework, which will be published before the summer. I hope he will also be aware of the work that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) is doing to see what the barriers are to prevent those build-outs from happening, and we will reflect on his ultimate recommendations.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Prime Minister recently announced a growth deal for Ayrshire, and I am delighted to tell him that the negotiations, led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, are now under way, but it can only proceed as fast as the slowest actors, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will use his not inconsiderable influence to pressurise the Scottish Government to play their part in the negotiations.
My hon. Friend has been a long-standing advocate for rural funding in his county, and I am pleased to tell him that we will continue to pilot reform of the business rates retention system in the forthcoming year. We will publish details of the new pilot very shortly and would very much welcome Staffordshire’s application to become a pilot.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important topic. She will know that in the past I have spoken about greater provision of Changing Places in this House. Building regulations set the access requirements for new buildings, while the Equality Act requires providers to make reasonable adjustments. If someone feels they have been discriminated against, there are several means of redress, and the Equality Advisory Support Service can provide help and support in that process.
I certainly would encourage residents to take part in the consultation. My hon. Friend has rightly highlighted the challenge and need for the county to come together around this. We will obviously look to the consultation and the proposals as they are forthcoming to provide that long-term stability and solution.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents have had an opportunity to make a submission on the revised national planning policy framework. We want to make sure that we give clear guidance, but ultimately it will be up to local authorities to get the balance right for the communities they serve.
Local authorities can submit their business cases from September and we expect to make the funding decisions later in the autumn. The £4 billion forward funding stream is an essential mechanism to unlock the delivery of 400,000 extra homes and make sure we carry communities with us.
I recently went out early one morning with the outreach workers of St Mungo’s, who help people newly sleeping rough to get into long-term support. Why is the Secretary of State pressing ahead with changes to funding for homeless hostels and other supported housing that charities such as St Mungo’s have said could threaten their hostels?
I, too, have visited St Mungo’s and seen the excellent work it does to provide first-night-out support to people on the streets. I will continue to work with it and other charities as we look towards our strategy for dealing with rough sleeping and at how that will need to reflect on all these important issues.
My right hon. Friend has made a powerful point about design. We have tried to bring people together on round tables to consider such issues, and to think about what the national planning policy framework can do to advance the agenda that he has highlighted.
Why is the Secretary of State pressing ahead with changes in funding for homelessness hostels and other supported housing which charities in my constituency, such as the YMCA, have said could threaten their vital services?
As the hon. Lady will know, the Government have been consulting on that very issue. We are absolutely committed to reducing homelessness, and we will be able to provide further information in due course.
No, it is me. Up and down—you have to be quick.
On 9 May the Secretary of State announced the allocation of funds for the £28 million Housing First pilots, which will be in Greater Manchester, the Liverpool city region and the west midlands. Plans to measure the impact and value for money of the approach are also well under way, and the first beneficiaries of the pilots will be housed in the autumn.
The Government are currently consulting on sites for Traveller families. Rather than simply looking at more enforcement, which police chiefs and others say will not work, what positive solutions is the Minister considering, and will he meet the all-party parliamentary group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma to discuss some of those positive alternatives?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I should certainly be very happy to receive any submissions from her. I think it is right that we increase the trend making authorised sites available and, at the same time, ensure that, through both local authority and police powers, enforcement and the rule of law apply to all members of our communities.
The draft national planning policy framework largely closes the loophole of viability assessments, which developers often use to avoid the requirement for affordable housing. Would the Minister consider introducing stronger compulsory purchase order powers, so that local authorities can step in and purchase sites when developers continue to refuse to meet their obligations?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know how interested my hon. Friend is in this matter. CPO powers certainly have a role to play, although they must be exercised proportionately. The review conducted by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) will enable us to look at the issue in the round.
The discussions about any increase in funds for the NHS have been well publicised, but it is shocking that there is no extra money for social care. Was the Secretary of State aware that those discussions were taking place, and did he make any representations to increase funding for social care?
As I have said, the Government are committed to providing a long-term, sustainable settlement for social care. That work has been ongoing for a while and is continuing. It includes the Secretary of State, along with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and there will be a report in due course.
Corby and East Northamptonshire is at the forefront when it comes to building new homes, but there are currently a number of planning applications in the system that are completely unwanted and on green open space, although we more than exceed our housing targets. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in such instances, when local communities are doing all the right things, local developers should respect their wishes?
I congratulate my hon. Friend and his local authority. We want to see local authorities exercise their ambition, and we want to support them with the homes infrastructure funding that is available. Of course, once authorities have their local plans in place, they should have the protections to ensure that those plans are properly delivered and not abused.
I thank the Secretary of State for the letter that he wrote to me on 7 June about New Ferry. When I meet him, as he has invited me to do, will that invitation extend not just to me and to the Mayor of Liverpool city region, Steve Rotheram, but to residents of New Ferry?
The hon. Lady and I have had an exchange of correspondence and I take the concerns that she has highlighted very seriously. I will certainly liaise with her office in finalising arrangements for that meeting and making it happen.
The music industry, clubgoers, musicians and the Musicians Union all welcome the inclusion of the Agent of Change principle in the Department’s proposed revision of planning regulation. When will the Minister actually introduce that much-welcomed and much-needed change?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the fabulous work he has done, alongside UK Music and others interested in this subject, to bring about this change in policy in what is a very important area. The Government will be responding very shortly.
It is really good to see the northern powerhouse Minister on the Treasury Bench because in recent weeks there was a view that he had gone out of service when we were facing the rail chaos around the new timetabling, so could he tell us exactly what he has been doing to improve connectivity between the east and west of the north?
Apart from doing ITV, Granada, the BBC and local papers, including the Manchester Evening News, I do not know where the hon. Lady has been looking, but we continue to work with Transport for the North to improve transport connections across the north of England. This Government have been absolutely clear that the performance of Northern has been unacceptable, but I offer Labour Members the opportunity to condemn the RMT strike action, which is going to make a bad situation worse, or are they too heavily in hock to the unions to do what is right for the northern powerhouse?
Good public health is the best way of improving the wellbeing of the community, yet York City Council has slashed the public health budget by £1.3 million and we now have the highest level of in-service drug deaths in the country, so what is the Minister doing to protect public health, particularly given the removal of the public health grant?
These are all magnificent questions, but I hope the House will take it in the right spirit if I say that I do not think many hon. and right hon. Members have yet read the textbook on pithy questioning available on general release from the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne). It would be a very useful Christmas present.
The public health grant is not being ended; it is being folded into the business rates retention plan that the local government sector has welcomed and agreed for that process. Also, a new funding formula is being worked out with the Department of Health and Social Care specifically for public health, and I am sure we will welcome the hon. Lady’s contributions to that.
Has the Secretary of State yet personally had the chance to consider the important matter of Yorkshire devolution, and will he agree to meet the Yorkshire leaders from all parties before Yorkshire Day on 1 August—the Secretary of State personally?
We don’t want it.
We are seeing peace and harmony across the House on Yorkshire.
I have been having discussions with the Secretary of State on Yorkshire devolution and with the recently elected Mayor of South Yorkshire. The Government have been absolutely clear that, before “One Yorkshire” can proceed, the South Yorkshire devolution deal must be fully implemented. It is up to the Labour party councils in South Yorkshire to get on with that. Nearly £1 billion in Government funding could flow to South Yorkshire. Why do they not seem to want it?
While the Minister is on his feet, could he tell me when he expects a spade to be in the ground for the North Wales growth deal—any project, any spade, anywhere?
As the right hon. Gentleman is aware—because he, like me, attended a meeting at the Wales Office just before Christmas—the North Wales growth deal is proceeding well, but it can only go as fast as the slowest actors, so I say to him that he has power and influence over the North Wales local authorities. This Government have been clear: we would like to see concrete proposals come forward for the autumn Budget, but we cannot do this without the support of the North Wales authorities.
As I always like to welcome new young Members, I call, for the second time today, Mr Barry Sheerman.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Secretary of State urgently give local authorities new powers and new resources to tackle the tide of plastic and other waste that is engulfing our towns, cities and countryside?
I think the hon. Gentleman will, with all his years in this House, recognise the importance of this issue and that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been taking important steps as well. Of course local government have a responsibility too, and I hope he will welcome the settlement that has seen more resources going to local government under this Government.
The following Member made and subscribed the Affirmation required by law:
Janet Daby, for Lewisham East.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if he will make a statement on the granting of an emergency licence to allow the return of medical cannabis for Billy Caldwell.
Over the weekend, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary issued an emergency licence to allow Billy Caldwell’s medical team to access cannabis-based medicine. This was an emergency procedure, led by a senior clinician with the support of the medical director at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in expressing genuine concern for Billy’s health, and that they will be pleased with the news that he has been discharged from hospital today.
The course of action in this case was unprecedented. I should explain that our guiding principle is that any process in this context must be clinically led and evidence based. To date, Home Office policy has been to permit the production, supply and possession of raw cannabis solely for research purposes under a Home Office licence. The cannabis-based medicine Sativex is currently the only one that can be prescribed in the UK, because there is a proven case for its safety and efficacy. However, this case and that of Alfie Dingley and others have shone a light on the use of cannabis-based medicine in this country and highlighted the need for the Government to explore the issue, and our handling of these issues, further.
I recognise the need to ensure that the approach to licensing works more effectively. As a first step, I can announce today that the Government are establishing an expert panel of clinicians to advise Ministers on any individual applications to prescribe cannabis-based medicines. This is consistent with the principle that a clinician must be at the heart of the process. I have asked Dame Sally Davies to take forward this important work. Let me be clear that both the Home Secretary and I have, as fathers, been profoundly moved by Billy’s story and others like it, along with the rest of the House and the rest of the country. I want to reassure the families and the public that the Home Secretary and I are working together to do all we can to take forward the necessary steps at pace, and that more announcements will be forthcoming.
I would like to thank the Minister for coming to the House today to discuss this urgent question. The Home Secretary has now conceded that cannabis has medicinal benefits by granting the emergency licence for Billy Caldwell on expert advice. When can we expect to see more import licences to make medicinal cannabis available to all who would benefit from it? Moreover, will the Government support the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) on the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes, when it returns on 6 July?
On 20 February, an urgent question was raised by the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) about Alfie Dingley’s case. Billy Caldwell is now in exactly the same situation. At that time, the Minister told the House that he would undertake
“to explore every option within the current regulatory framework.”—[Official Report, 20 February 2018; Vol. 636, c. 25.]
Now, 119 days later, the Government have still not granted Alfie Dingley his medicine. That medicine is available in 37 other countries. The Prime Minister met Alfie in Downing Street on 20 March and he was told that the Government would do all they could to help him. Billy Caldwell was hospitalised last week after his prescribed medical cannabis was taken away by customs officers, so it is excellent news that he left hospital today, but hon. Members will have been alarmed to hear the Health Secretary say this morning that it will be months before a system is in place to get medicinal cannabis to such children, and other patients who require it. Will the Minister give an assurance that Alfie Dingley will have had his medicine by the time he comes to Parliament with his mother on Wednesday?
Moreover, I also have two children in my constituency—the only two in Wales and two of just 15 in the United Kingdom—who have the rare genetic disorder NKH, which is a serious, life limiting condition. Charlie Jones, who is six, and Jace Newton-Sealey, who is just one, both suffer from frequent debilitating cluster seizures. According to their consultant neurologist, to whom I spoke earlier, both would benefit hugely from using medical cannabis. Charlie’s grandad, Ian Gilmore, has been in contact with the Home Office since 2014, when he learned of the benefits of cannabis for Charlie, but he has been given conflicting advice, pushed from pillar to post and fobbed off.
Will the Minister say when his Department will get a grip on the situation? Why the delay until now? Why is an announcement not being made today that this medicine will be available now to all who need it? Many patients—this is what I have a problem with—are illegally accessing cannabis, which opens them up to using the wrong form of the drug. The Government have a duty to protect patients and sufferers, so when will the Minister act? Why—
Order. I granted this question because it is urgent, but the hon. Lady has already exceeded her time by 50%. I assume that she is drawing towards a conclusion.
I will conclude right now. Why are the Government stuck in the dark ages? What will the Home Secretary do to speed up the process? In response to, “When?” the answers, “Next week,” “Next month,” or “In due course,” are simply not good enough.
I thank the hon. Lady for that long list of questions, and I will do my best to answer them. She asked about the recognition of the medical benefits of some cannabis-based medicine but, as I said in my response, they are already recognised by the fact that, for example, Sativex can be prescribed in the UK. Its safety and efficacy have been proven, and it has been rigorously tested. She will know the responsibility of the Government and everyone involved in the process to ensure that medicines are safe, but the system allows for medicines to be licensed once they are established and tested.
The hon. Lady mentioned the case of Alfie Dingley, with which I am familiar, and I made it clear that, however we may feel about the current rules, I undertook to try to find a solution for Alfie within the existing rules. Again, it is an unprecedented situation, because this is the first time that we are considering a personal licence, so this is new ground for everyone. I can confirm to her, as I confirmed to the family, that the process of applying for a licence to find a long-term sustainable legal solution for Alfie is well under way. It is clinically led, and I have given assurances that we will drive the process as hard as possible. Indeed, a date has been set for a compliance visit, which is a necessary part of the process. We are pushing things as hard as possible, and I want to place on the record my thanks, appreciation and respect for the dignity and patience of Alfie’s family in this difficult situation.
The hon. Lady challenges the Government to change fast, and I think I have made it clear that, as the Prime Minister said this morning, we have to look hard at our processes for handling such situations. We must ensure, as the Health Secretary made clear today, that our policy is fully up to date with the best possible understanding of the most recent and relevant evidence. As I am sure the hon. Lady will appreciate, the Government have to take a bit of time to think things through. We have to get the detail right. We do not have the luxury of opposition; we have to work through the detail to get this right. My statement recognises not only that we are taking immediate steps to improve our processes so that they become more clinically led, with the introduction of a new clinically-led panel of experts to advise Ministers, but that we are taking a wider look at policy processes and will be making a forthcoming announcement.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I am by no means a supporter of recreational cannabis use. However, a woman I know, Amelia Powers, was given two weeks to live with a diagnosis of a tumour of the brain. There was nothing more they could do, and she took to using a form of this and, for the last seven or eight years, has not just reduced the tumour but has got rid of it. She now runs her own company, which she started.
The point I would make is somewhat wider. The biggest problem the Minister faces is that in the Department of Health and Social Care it is still not considered a good thing to investigate the medicinal properties of this particular drug. I urge him, if at all possible, to try to get a coalition on getting this investigated, because clearly there are medicinal preparations that could be used. It would be helpful if he drove that.
I suspect that every Member has personal knowledge, directly or indirectly, of people who swear by the benefits of cannabis-based medicine that has helped them in very difficult circumstances. I completely understand that.
My right hon. Friend talked about building a coalition across Government on updating the evidence, and I signalled in my statement that that is exactly what is happening. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), is sitting alongside me, and I refer my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) to this morning’s comments by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, which make it clear that the Government are seriously looking again at our processes and how we handle these cases.
Is the Minister aware that the public are increasingly dismayed by the Government’s handling of the question of cannabis oil for medical use? I remind him that the concentration of the relevant compounds in cannabis oil is so small that nobody could possibly get any recreational use from it.
I accept that the Home Secretary moved swiftly to allow a short-term supply for Billy Caldwell but, overall, the Government’s management of the current system of issuing licences for cannabis oil has been lamentable. It has left people in pain and suffering, and it has left families anxious and distraught. It seems to Opposition Members that the current system, even with the expert panel to which he refers, is simply not fit for purpose.
That is why a Labour Government, mindful that this oil is legal in many other jurisdictions, will move towards a legal framework that allows the prescription of cannabis oil for medical use. We believe that such a move, taken with all due care, tests and so forth, would have support on both sides of the House and would be welcomed by the British public, who are weary of the chaos, confusion and personal tragedies caused by the Government’s current management of the system.
I thank the right hon. Lady for recognising the speed of movement by the Home Office this week in response to an emergency request from clinical leads at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. The Home Secretary overruled nothing in this process. We worked together very closely this week and responded, as I said, very decisively to an emergency request for a limited licence in a direct call from the senior clinician and the medical director at the Chelsea and Westminster.
I understand the right hon. Lady’s point about public sentiment on this. People are unsettled by what they have seen, and we totally understand that. What I regret is that she is trying to make a party political point. Of course, she was in power and Labour was in power for a long time, and they did the square root of very little in this context. The system we are now trying to work with is basically the rules we inherited from the last Labour Government.
I do not think anyone in politics is in a position to take a high moral stand on this issue. We need to give an undertaking that the policies and processes will be informed by the most up-to-date evidence, and we challenge ourselves harder to make sure these processes are more clinically led than they have been in the past.
I refer Members to my declaration of interest, as a consultant paediatrician. Some compounds within cannabis have anticonvulsive properties. Cannabidiol has been shown in animal studies to have an active anticonvulsant compound, but THC, the one that is illegal in certain concentrations, has been found to have both anticonvulsant and proconvulsant properties in animal studies, and there are concerns that it may also be responsible for causing significant psychological problems, such as psychosis, if used over a longer period. Epidiolex is a pharmaceutical grade, quality-assured product that contains cannabidiol but less than 0.1% THC, and it is both legal and used in clinical trials in this country, including with children. The oils available on the internet or at health food shops are not subject to that sort of scrutiny, do not have the same level of quality assurance and have variable levels of concentrations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a huge difference between these two products—the quality-assured one and the not quality-assured one—and that we need to investigate the best possible scientific evidence on the usage and benefits of cannabis-based medicines, so that they can be used safely and properly to the best effect for our patients?
I defer to my hon. Friend’s medical knowledge, and her intervention just reinforces the point I am trying to make about the need for this process to be clinically led, as far as is possible. She is making the point about there being certain cannabis medicines and certain conditions, and the evidence is at best mixed on this. She makes the fundamental point about our responsibility, as regulators, being to make sure that people are accessing and using products that are tried and tested, and as safe as possible. Let us imagine the consequences of prescribing an unregulated medicine that goes wrong—imagine the scene in this House at that point. In our, understandably, emotional response to recent events, we must also make sure that we do policy right and get it right. That is why we require a little more time to come back to this House with more detailed plans.
The Scottish National party is in favour of the decriminalisation of cannabis for medicinal use, given the evidence of the benefits it has in alleviating some serious conditions, such as that suffered by young Billy Caldwell and young Alfie Dingley. We would like the Government to look seriously at the evidence for decriminalising the use of cannabis for medicinal use. If they are not prepared to do that, we would like them to devolve the power to Scotland to do it, so that the Scottish Government could take steps. However, I stress that we would like to see this done for everybody in the UK. I therefore have two questions for the Minister. First, when can we expect the Government to look seriously at the evidence and to bring forward these matters for proper debate in this House? Secondly, if that is not going to happen, when will he allow the Scottish Government to take the appropriate steps for people in Scotland?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for that question; she is right to insist on the importance of an evidence-based approach. Of course, the Home Office regularly keeps the evidence under review. As I have said at this Dispatch Box before, one key milestone in this process is to review what the World Health Organisation feels about this issue, because it is conducting a major review of it. We are actively considering whether there is an argument for taking a more urgent step in terms of reviewing the evidence, the processes and the way we handle these cases, and I will keep the House informed on that.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is nothing new, and no inherent contradiction, in having available for medicinal use addictive drugs that one would not allow for recreational use? May I illustrate that by describing my personal experience of 32 years ago? When recovering from severe back surgery, I was given a rather pleasant drug and I asked for a repeat prescription, only to be told that as morphia is related to heroin, there were limits on how much they were going to give me. So why can common sense not prevail in the case of marijuana, as occurred in that case?
I thank my right hon. Friend for sharing his personal experience and bringing back what were clearly some happy memories for him. I understand the point he makes and come back to what I was saying: we are absolutely serious about reviewing urgently our processes and policy in this area, to make sure that we are as consistent and up-to-date as possible. I have signalled today that we recognise, as did the Prime Minister this morning, that we need to make some changes to the way we handle these cases, which is why I have introduced the first step that we have taken today.
Is it not utterly shameful that in this country we continue to criminalise people who use cannabis in various forms for medicinal purposes, including the relief of pain, thereby pushing people into the hands of criminals who have no interest at all in their welfare? And what on earth is a Home Office Minister doing responding to an urgent question on a health issue? Surely it should be the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Care.
The right hon. Gentleman and I go back a long way and I have a great deal of respect for his position and experience. I simply make two points. First, the rules are as they are and, as a former Minister, the right hon. Gentleman knows that Ministers are bound by the rules. We can debate and challenge in this place—as we are beginning to do—whether the rules are fit for purpose, and that is the right thing to do in a representative Parliament. Secondly, in respect of my role, I have today signalled clearly that we are looking again at our processes and how these cases are handled. I have signalled clearly that we believe strongly that the handling of such cases needs to be more clinically led, hence the appointment of a panel. As to which Ministers decide and where the decision sits inside the system, that will be part of our consideration of how we handle these cases more effectively than we have done in the past.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, with the Government having taken this important initiative, other similar cases will now be treated with similar leniency and that we will not have to wait for the wheels of Government to grind along slowly?
I do not think that the wheels of Government moved slowly this week at all—far from it. In response to an emergency request, we issued an emergency and limited licence very quickly, in recognition of the very difficult situation that we were in. I assure my hon. Friend that we will always seek to treat cases as consistently as possible, and that goes for Alfie Dingley and Sophia Gibson and the others. It is important that we are consistent, but in this case we were dealing with an emergency request for an emergency licence.
Alfie met the Prime Minister eight weeks ago and she instructed the Home Office to act; on Saturday, he had 30 seizures. Will the Home Office give the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning)—who is seeking to catch your eye, Mr Speaker—Lady Meacher and me the authority to go through border control with the drugs that Alfie needs? If the Minister will not act, may we?
I do not think that that will be necessary. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he is a lawmaker and should not be a lawbreaker. On the Alfie Dingley case, we have made it quite clear that we will do everything that we can, within the existing law, to find a solution. We have had a bit of a stop-start process because this is new ground and it is very complicated. It has to be clinically led. The right hon. Gentleman possibly does not know the underlying details, but I assure him that I am assured that the process is now firmly on track. I hope that we will be in a position to make a positive decision as soon as possible.
My constituent’s two-and-a-half-year-old son was having 300 seizures a day. He described each one as resetting his son’s brain like a computer hard drive being wiped. Following the use of CBD, the seizures have been reduced to between 30 and 50 a day. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this case, and will he perhaps meet my constituent, because he has an outstanding application for a medical licence for his son?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I will of course offer to meet her constituent, as I have met every single family who have come forward, because we are absolutely serious about trying to help, as far as we can, because these cases are deeply difficult. I come back, though, to the point that I am sure my hon. Friend will absolutely respect, which is that it should not really be down to politicians to make these decisions; it has to be a clinically led process. When the clinicians came forward this week on Billy’s behalf, we were able to respond to the request for emergency help, but it has to be a clinically led process.
The fact is that, had Billy Caldwell’s family not taken this to the limits at the weekend, the Government would still be sitting on their hands. The good news is that, for the first time, the Government have acknowledged the therapeutic value of medicinal cannabis. I ask the Government to expand this to people suffering from multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and certain cancers. It is happening in 30 American states, and 12-plus countries in Europe are already doing this. I ask this Government to legislate to bring forward medicinal cannabis under prescription in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman is expressing the view, which is held in many places across the House, that legislation needs to be revisited and that this is the right place in which to debate that. I refute what he was saying about the Government sitting on their hands in relation to the Billy Caldwell case. We worked very hard during the week to try to find solutions to a very difficult situation. The Government will always be bound by the rules of the day whatever people think about them. I am just very glad that we could find a temporary solution for Billy and I hope that it is a step towards the long-term solution that he deserves.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that this process, even if clinically led, is not administered by a bureaucrat, but is electrified by a politician alive to the need to be re-elected?
Of course this process must be driven at pace, as it was this weekend by the team at the Home Office. I wish to place on record my thanks to the officials who worked extremely hard to find a solution and respond to this emergency. I come back to the point that this needs to be clinically led. In asking Dame Sally Davies to take forward the important work of setting up this panel, I am not talking to a plodding bureaucrat.
Further to the question from the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is unfathomable that medicinal opiates, which are the same family as heroin, can be prescribed for medical reasons—usually for pain relief—yet medicinal cannabis cannot be despite the strong evidence base that it should be? Crucially, can the Minister give us the evidence base that is informing the Government’s position?
The evidence base comes from the official advice from the advisory council and others and it has been set for some time. The rules that we are having to work with have been around for a while under successive Governments. If this is the moment to revisit and challenge those rules, that is the role of a parliamentary democracy. What I am saying is that the Government have reflected deeply on the events of the past few weeks. They are constantly updating the evidence from the World Health Organisation and others, and are actively discussing changes to the way in which we handle these cases. I have made one announcement today and expect others to follow.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the way in which he personally intervened on Friday afternoon as the deterioration in Billy Caldwell’s condition became clear, and the Home Secretary for his response within hours of his becoming aware of the situation. My right hon. Friend knows that he has received advice from me, as co-chair of the all-party group for drug policy reform, about how the Government should navigate their way out of this. I offer to assist in the review that is going on. Will he also take advice from Charlotte Caldwell, whom I have met a number of times before this week? She is a redoubtable campaigner and, of necessity, an expert in this field. I hope that he will take up her offer of engaging with her in this process.
Finally, I do have an anxiety that the framework of this review, if it is within the current law, could end up with the wrong answer. The problem is that the current law is based on the wrong premise, which is that there is no value in this medicine.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and his extremely constructive approach to a very difficult situation. He will get a reply to his helpful letter. I fully undertake to engage with him and with anyone who has strong views, opinions, and particularly expertise in this area. As I have said, we must make sure that policy and process are up to date and informed by the best and most up-to-date evidence, and that is what we undertake to do.
The Minister has referred to the role played by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and he announced an expert body to look at the matter. Will he tell us what the advisory council is currently saying to the Government about this issue?
The advisory council’s advice on the lack of evidence around the medicinal benefits of cannabis and cannabis-based medicines has not changed, but the process needs to be reviewed constantly in the light of the evidence, and that is what we do. I should clarify that the clinical panel that I have announced today will advise Ministers on specific claims and applications that come to us.
The Minister knows that I was at No. 10 with him and the Prime Minister, Alfie and his family. I cannot see why there should be a difference between the wonderful news that Billy has been given his drugs on clinical advice, and the advice in the cases of Alfie and others. The reason for the difference is that these medications come under schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. That is why the issue is being dealt with by the Home Office, but it should not be in the Home Office; it should be in the Department of Health and Social Care. I am sure that Alfie will get his drugs very soon, but it is not soon enough for many others.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s point. He has been a tireless and persistent campaigner for Alfie and others in this situation. I share his hope that we can process Alfie’s application as quickly as possible; it is now on a much better track. This is complicated and it is new ground for everyone, not least the clinical and medical community, but we are finding our way towards a legal, sustainable, long-term solution, as well as reviewing our processes in the handling of such cases, as I have outlined today.
Is it not the case that it is becoming policy by public outcry? It should not take such desperate cases for the Government to revisit and relook at their policy. A constituent of mine has relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, and suffers serious pain every day. Her specialist thinks that medicinal cannabis is the way forward for her pain relief. Will the Minister look at her case if I write to him, and will he look seriously at expediting provisions as quickly as possible for all our constituents?
I hope that I can do better than that by inviting the clinical panel, once it is set up, to look at the case raised by the hon. Lady. The point is that, within the rules at the moment—as we are trying to demonstrate through the Alfie Dingley application—we are prepared to look at individual licences in exceptional cases. Will it be as quick as I, or anyone, would like? No, but this is new and difficult. We need to get it absolutely right, not least to ensure that these licences stand up to scrutiny and legal challenge. I hope that we are going to get there very soon. I have given the family my absolute assurance that we are going to drive this process as hard as possible, as we will with other applications in the new system that we are setting up.
As the former Minister for medicines regulation, may I welcome the intervention of the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister this week? When I tried to look at this issue as a Minister, the message that I got was that it was the Home Office that was so tough on cannabis law that it would not countenance changes. I welcome the fact that Ministers are looking at this issue and, more importantly, the Prime Minister’s announcement today that she is supporting a review. I urge the Minister not to overcomplicate this. Patients around the country are suffering from acute conditions. It should not be beyond the wit of Ministers to put together a simple licensing and registration scheme so that those people are able to possess appropriate cannabis oil in a way that does not open up the market for recreational use.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and recognise his passion and leadership on the subject. I come back to this point: it is all very well for politicians to express their passionately held views on this subject but, at the end of the day, the people we have to hear from are the clinicians.
I welcome this first step from the Government, but the Minister has just said that the Government recognise the medical benefits of cannabis, so the question is: why on earth is cannabis still a controlled drug under schedule 1, which is for drugs with no medical benefit? It is time for an urgent rescheduling of cannabis, which would make life easier for the Government and for patients.
As I was at pains to point out in my opening remarks, cannabis-based Sativex is prescribed in the UK because there is a proven case for its safety and efficacy. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me, will not want to have the market full of unregulated or untested products if we do not know their long-term impact. We have to proceed with some sense of responsibility and get the detail right. We have shown at the Home Office that we are prepared to be flexible on these issues out of compassion for exceptional cases.
When will the commission start work, how will it operate, and how will it speed up the process of delivering these drugs?
We have only announced it today. I have only just asked Dame Sally Davies to take forward this important work. There is a lot of detail to be filled in, in consultation with her and others. We will return to the House to fill in some of the detail that my hon. Friend asks for.
I thank the Minister for his help so far. I thank him, in particular, for the meeting that we had with my constituent Danielle Gibson about her daughter, Sophia. The Minister will know, and the House needs to know, that Darren and Danielle Gibson took their daughter Sophia to Holland to receive cannabis oil, under prescription and controlled. During the three weeks they were there, she had only one seizure instead of the dozens that she has every day. In the past 48 hours, she has not eaten or slept. At this moment in time, there is six months of cannabis oil available for her, paid for, sitting in Holland for her to collect. What will I tell my constituents? How long will the process take?
As the hon. Gentleman and I have discussed before, and in the presence of Danielle, there is a mechanism—a process—that can lead to a legal, sustainable solution to this through a licensing process that needs to be clinically led. In this case, it is devolved to the Northern Ireland Administration, as he well knows. There is a process. We are feeling our way. We all want to drive this fast, but it does need to be done properly. In the situation that we had this week with Billy, we were responding to an emergency situation where clinical leads inside an institution came to us and said, “We need this on an emergency, limited-duration basis.” The long-term solution for Billy now has to be clinically led, but we were responding to an emergency situation.
I am sure that many will agree that the great British public are very much behind the emergency decision taken by the Minister to secure the cannabis oil for Billy Caldwell. Will the Minister now look at whether other children like Billy should, with clinical support, be allowed to legally access cannabis oil?
As I have said in my previous answers, there is an active discussion about a review of how we handle these types of situations. Again, the core principle, as it was this week in the case of Billy Caldwell, is that this must be clinically led.
Does the Minister accept that the UK is behind the curve on public opinion on the matter of medicinal cannabis? How does he explain the fact that Ireland introduced a purpose-designed special licence for little Ava Barry back in December 2017, yet the UK Government appear to be dragging their heels?
I do not necessarily agree that we are behind the curve on public opinion. We moved very fast this week under extremely difficult circumstances. I wholly agreed with the Health Secretary this morning that we need to make sure that our policy is up to date in terms of the medical evidence and the best interests of patients. That is why, as I said, there is an active discussion within Parliament about changes in process and policy. The first announcement in that process was made today. I am sure that as those discussions are finalised, there will be more announcements to follow.
This is a personal licence that has been issued. What liability, if any, is there for a clinician who believes that this is the right treatment to be provided, given that this drug has not been authorised in the UK?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As part of the licensing process for the exceptional, limited-duration licence for Billy, the paediatric consultant at the hospital specifically stated that decision making about Billy’s long-term care with regard to medication and supervision of his treatment should be undertaken by the paediatric neurologist. We agree with that.
It seems to some of us that the biggest problem with the legalisation of this drug is the fact that it is called “cannabis”. Some of us share the Government’s view that cannabis should not be legalised for recreational use, but this is a totally different situation. While there is delay, children and adults are in serious suffering and, in some cases, may die. Given that organisations such as the MS Society are fully in favour of this legalisation, how long will it take the Government to act?
I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but I want to reassure her that the Government are very clear that this is a discussion about access to cannabis-based medicine and nothing else.
There is clearly a consensus in the House for a review of policy in this area, but neither this House nor public opinion is expert, so can the Minister assure me that we will always proceed on the basis of clinical evidence? Will he look particularly closely at the good, the bad and the ugly examples from North America, where medicinal cannabis has been legalised?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I come back to the point that we have to proceed on the basis of good evidence and the most up-to-date information. Some of the evidence in this area is mixed, and therefore we need to be very careful about how we proceed. That sounds bureaucratic and a bit plodding, and I apologise to anyone who feels that way, but it is the responsibility of Government to think things through and get things right, and we will proceed on the basis of evidence and introduce more clinical leadership to this process.
The many constituents who have contacted me who have MS, seizures and chronic pain will no doubt welcome the moves that the Government have made, albeit not as fast as they would like. Can the Minister confirm whether this is a change in approach from the Government, to stop treating drugs as a criminal issue and start treating them as a medical issue? He mentioned that he is taking advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The ACMD also supports supervised drug consumption rooms, which help to make this a medical, not a criminal, issue. Is he willing to meet me to discuss that?
I am happy to meet all Members with an interest in this subject. I should say that the Government have not formally changed their position on medicinal cannabis. We have responded to an exceptional case and issued a licence to ensure that emergency treatment can be accessed, but I have signalled that we are looking again at the way in which we handle these cases.
I support the legalisation of cannabis for medical use and understand the need for a clinical lead on this issue, but given that a large number of countries have already legalised this drug, there must be a mountain of internationally accredited research already being undertaken that clinicians in the United Kingdom could access.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I thank him for the emphasis he places on the need to move ahead on an evidenced, clinically-led basis. He talks about international evidence, and he is absolutely right. That is why we are taking great interest in the WHO’s updating of its research, evidence and guidance on this extremely important, complicated and difficult subject.
Given that the Minister has said that clinicians must take the lead on this, when will he reschedule cannabis to allow clinicians to use their professional judgment in the provision of medicinal cannabis to children such as my constituent Murray Gray, who suffers from a very similar condition to Alfie Dingley? Will he meet me to discuss that?
I have met all the families I know about who are going through these incredibly difficult situations. Everyone understands that parents would do absolutely anything for their children in these circumstances, and I have huge respect for that, so of course I will meet the hon. Lady. The straight answer to her question is that we have demonstrated today—it is not yet completed with Alfie Dingley—that we are prepared to look at licences in a new way, but it needs to be clinically led, and that is the fundamental point.
An advisory vote in the Senedd in support of legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes was hailed as a victory for common sense and compassion by Arfon Jones, the police and crime commissioner for north Wales. Only two AMs voted against it. Considering the political support in Wales and the fact that health is a devolved issue, why will the British Government not allow the National Assembly to make decisions on this issue on behalf of Welsh patients?
It is not a devolved matter at the moment. I am more than happy to have those conversations, but we deal with the system as it is.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Points of order do not really come now—
Well, you can try!
The right hon. Gentleman can try and—I will even be helpful to him, because my generous spirit is getting the better of me—if his point of order relates to the matter with which we have just been dealing, I feel that we can on this occasion indulge him.
If you do not try, you never know, do you?
During the urgent question, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) asked whether it would be okay if Members went abroad and brought back such a prescribed product, and the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service quite rightly said that we are lawmakers not lawbreakers. However, we are also here to protect our population and our constituents. I say this with an open heart and a genuine understanding of what the Minister is going through, because I tried to deal with this when I was in his position, but if Alfie Dingley does not get his drugs by Wednesday, a delegation from this House will go abroad to get them for him.
I am very grateful—or at least I think I am very grateful—to the right hon. Gentleman. Manifestly, that was not even an imitation of or an approximation to a point of order. Nevertheless, I am sure it was extremely important. He has unburdened himself of his opinions, and they are on the record for the people of Hemel Hempstead, the nation and possibly even the world to study.
Before we proceed to the second urgent question, I will take this opportunity to inform the House that Gina Martin, who was herself a victim of the loathsome practice of upskirting and has subsequently led the campaign to outlaw the practice, has joined us in the Gallery today. Gina, we welcome you here and we thank you for coming.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will make a statement on the Government plan to legislate on making upskirting a specific sexual offence.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to respond to the urgent question asked by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) because she and Gina Martin have campaigned tirelessly for upskirting to become a criminal offence. I am delighted to have met both of them on a number of occasions to discuss how we can progress this important legislation, and to have worked with them to support the hon. Lady’s private Member’s Bill—the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill. I welcome Gina Martin to the House today. We will continue to build on their efforts to ensure that this activity becomes a criminal offence because upskirting is an invasion of privacy, and a humiliating and distressing experience. The Lord Chancellor and I were disappointed when the private Member’s Bill did not make progress on Friday.
Although there are existing offences that can be used to punish upskirting in some circumstances, there is a gap in the law. The offences of outraging public decency or voyeurism may be used to capture upskirting. However, the public order offence is limited, as the offence needs to take place in a public place and two people need to be present. Conversely, the voyeurism offence needs to be a private act and must take place in a place where one would expect privacy. There may be activities, such as photographs taken in schools, that are not caught by either provision. This law will close that loophole, and ensure there is no doubt that this activity is criminal and will not be tolerated. For the most serious sexual offences, we will ensure that the offender is also placed on the sex offenders register.
Upskirting is an invasion of privacy that leaves victims feeling humiliated, so we will bring legislation before the House in Government time to ensure that this practice becomes an offence. We will introduce the Bill in the House of Commons on Thursday, with a Second Reading before the recess. The leadership of the hon. Member for Bath and the outstanding campaign of Gina Martin have shown how it is possible for individuals to make a difference. I am looking forward to working with colleagues from across the House to progress this matter and make upskirting an offence.
I thank the Minister for her response and for the fantastic teamwork on this issue so far. Does she share my appreciation of the Prime Minister saying on “The Andrew Marr Show” yesterday that the practice of upskirting is “invasive”, “degrading” and “offensive”, and that she will take the Bill that was blocked and put it through in Government time? Will the Minister join me in congratulating Gina Martin and her lawyer, Ryan Whelan, on their fantastic work in bringing the issue to the point we have reached today?
My Bill remains on the books and will be reached again on Friday 6 July. Will the Minister provide me with a full timetable of the Government’s planned programme for their proposed Bill? The Bill must, of course, travel through the Commons and the Lords to become law. If the Government do not introduce the legislation until the end of July, the changes will not be in place soon enough for the summer and further potential victims will be left vulnerable to this vile practice.
It is a shame that we have to be here today because of the objection of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) to the Bill on Friday. The private Member’s Bill system must be modernised, but that is a matter for a different day. The Government must bring about this important change to the law, making upskirting a specific offence as soon as possible. Will they ensure that the Bill has the full support of all their Members?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and I agree with the Prime Minister that upskirting should be an offence and should be prosecuted; having spoken to Gina, I understand the humiliation it causes. Our priority is that it should become an offence as soon as possible. We will introduce the Bill on Thursday. I understand that it has considerable support across the House, and I welcome that cross-party support.
I very much welcome my hon. and learned Friend the Minister’s announcement today; she is to be commended for the rapid and collegiate way in which she has dealt with this issue. I encourage her to look more widely at some of the other offences that particularly affect women, such as the posting of explicit images online, commonly known as revenge pornography. Many of us have campaigned for a long time for such activities also to be recognised as sexual offences and be dealt with accordingly.
My right hon. Friend makes some important points and I know that the Women and Equalities Committee, which she chairs, does an immense amount of work ensuring that women can take their place in society and are protected. A number of issues could be raised. There is clearly a gap in the law when it comes to one of them, but it can be put on the statute book quickly and easily. We are ensuring that that is done as soon as possible.
I begin by congratulating the campaigners, especially Gina Martin, who has shone a spotlight on this important issue, as has the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse). I welcome the Government’s decision finally to bring forward the legislation, but I must put it on the record that the delays in getting to this point were totally unnecessary and have caused needless suffering. The Government should not have waited to act until almost a year after Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary first wrote demanding this new legislation. They should not have been relying on a private Member’s Bill that was likely to be scuppered by the disgusting behaviour of their own MPs. But better late than never.
Although we welcome the Government’s decision to introduce this legislation, I would like the Minister to clarify a number of issues. Given the broad parliamentary consensus on this matter, can it not be addressed within a day or a week—before the summer, at least? That is when women will most go to festivals, where this disgraceful practice is far too common. What will the Minister do to ensure that her own MPs vote in favour, given the disgraceful opposition from the Tory Back Benches last Friday?
Will the law cover the act of distribution as well as the taking of the image? Will the legislation guarantee that the victims of upskirting will be granted automatic anonymity in any criminal cases? Finally, given that we must do all we can to prevent the suffering and harassment of women online, will the Government now reconsider last week’s disappointing decision to refuse to extend anonymity to the victims of so-called revenge porn?
The Government have a priority: to ensure that this legislation gets on to the statute book as soon as possible. On the Government side of the House, we are not bothered about the vehicle for that; the public are not concerned about that. The priority is to ensure that the legislation goes on to the statute book. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) recognised, the Government have made a commitment to introducing a Bill as swiftly as possible and we will be doing so on Thursday.
The Government have taken a number of measures to ensure that women are protected. On domestic violence, we have ensured that coercive control is recognised as a matter of domestic violence and we have increased the penalties for stalking. Members on the Government Benches do want to protect women.
I assure the Minister that from the multiple conversations I have had, every single Back Bencher on the Government Benches, bar an unfortunate very small minority, support the Government bringing this forward as a criminal offence. We welcome it almost unanimously. Does she believe that making this a criminal offence is an extremely welcome step forward in tackling some of the sexist attitudes remaining in our society that underpin violence against women and girls?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I have not heard one Government Member say that they think that as a matter of principle this measure should not become law. I agree that this very important proposed legislation needs to be put through Parliament.
The Scottish National party deplores what happened on Friday in this House. It illustrates how the archaic rules of the House can sometimes be used to prevent the proper debate of important private Members’ Bills. Something needs to be done about it.
I welcome today’s announcement, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and Gina Martin on their campaigning on this issue. Upskirting is already a criminal offence in Scotland and has been since 2010. Will the Minister, in framing the new law for England and Wales, look at sections 9(4)(a) and 9(4)(b) of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, which in 2010 were brought in to make upskirting an offence in Scotland; and will she consult the expertise of my former colleagues in the sexual offences special prosecution unit at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland, given that they have some seven or eight years’ experience of prosecuting this crime?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her comments. We have looked very closely at the Scottish legislation. There is a slight difference between the legislation in Scotland and in England. There is no public order offence in Scotland, so there was a bigger gap in Scotland than there was here. We have, however, looked very closely at that legislation. Our proposed legislation is not identical, but it is modelled very closely on the Scottish legislation.
I am delighted to welcome Gina and Ryan as guests today in the Gallery. Does the Minister agree that the upskirting campaign led by the extraordinary Gina Martin, supported by her lawyer and fellow Aberdonian Ryan Whelan, is worthy of the praise of this House? We owe Gina so much for her courage in raising this issue and fighting for change. That should be put on the record, because we need to make sure that this practice is truly and well outlawed.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Gina Martin and her lawyer Ryan are both in the House today. They should be commended for the work they have done to ensure that this becomes law. They have done an immense job in highlighting the issue and ensuring the legislation is put on the statute book.
The hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) has succeeded in uniting the nation where the Procedure Committee has failed for two years: namely, on the need to update the private Members’ Bill process. Has the Minister spoken to the Leader of the House about when we might do that as well?
There was an issue in relation to Friday, but I would like to remind hon. Members across the House of the important role private Members’ Bills play in our parliamentary system. A number of private Members’ Bills have passed or are passing through the House at the moment that will improve the lives of the public considerably: the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill from the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed). Such Bills play an important role and we should recognise that.
I very much support the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill—commonly known as the upskirting Bill—introduced by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), not least because I have been helping a very brave woman called Emily Hunt to get justice. Emily was the victim of a very serious voyeurism abuse, and I have already been in discussions with the Solicitor General about how we can ensure that the upskirting Bill helps Emily, too. If the Government are bringing forward a Bill, will the Minister look at Emily’s case to make sure that the legislation also covers the serious voyeurism abuse that she suffered?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I am aware of the issue in relation to Emily Hunt’s case. I have discussed that matter with the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, who responded recently to an Adjournment debate on this secured by an Opposition Member. The issue is an important one. What this Bill does is tackle a specific issue, which we should get on to the statute book as soon as possible.
Has the Minister given some thought to how this potential Bill and then Act will be enforced? With the newspapers saying that only 5% of burglaries and robberies are being tackled by police, how does one expect that the law on these sorts of acts will be enforced by the police, who are so stretched? Will she have a resource implication chapter in her Bill?
It is comforting to know, as I mentioned, that there are already offences on the statute book whereby it is possible sometimes for this offence to be caught. Indeed, there have been prosecutions in recent years under the public order offences legislation; people have been prosecuted for this type of activity.
I attended several constituency events on Saturday and a number of people came up to me and expressed their utter concern and disappointment at what happened to the Bill of the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on Friday. I welcome what my hon. and learned Friend has said at the Dispatch Box today about bringing the legislation forward quickly. The need for the legislation is a product of what has happened with technology in recent years. Will she continue to look at what is going on with technology to make sure that we keep ahead of these types of offences in future?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) did. We are looking at a very broad area in relation to sexual offences, technology, the internet and the use of photography. These are all important issues that we are currently looking at, but this is a specific offence that we would like to get on the statute book as soon as possible.
I thank the Minister for her direct engagement with me on this issue and commend her for the very swift action. This is a devolved issue, but it is one that should unite all parties in Northern Ireland. Will she commit to meeting me, so that the work being undertaken can be shared and we are then able to bring that forward in the Northern Ireland Assembly as soon as possible?
I thank the hon. Lady and I would be delighted to meet her to discuss the legislation, so that we can work together to ensure that as many women as possible are protected.
On Friday evening, I was at a constituency event, and Councillor Guy Jackson of Blaby District Council was aghast at how an arcane procedure of this House stopped what would have been a very important piece of legislation. Can I say on behalf of Councillor Guy Jackson and my constituents in South Leicestershire how welcome it is to have the Minister at the Dispatch Box today making the proposals that she is?
I thank my hon. Friend very much. I am pleased that we are able to bring in this legislation as soon as possible.
If this whole sorry episode has highlighted one thing, it is that we need to urgently rethink the way we deal with private Members’ Bills, so will the Minister support an urgent debate on the procedures used over private Members’ Bills?
As I mentioned, private Members’ Bills play an important role in this House. That is not a matter for the Ministry of Justice, but the hon. Lady’s points have been heard.
In the meantime and until my hon. and learned Friend’s Bill becomes law, will she vigorously exploit every opportunity afforded by the common law to see that these offences are prosecuted?
My right hon. Friend, as always, makes an interesting and important point, but I assure him that the CPS is already prosecuting these offences under the legislation that exists. What we are doing is ensuring that there is not a gap in the law so that some cases do not fall through a loophole.
I thank Gina Martin for the campaign and the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), whose private Member’s Bill should have gone through on Friday, and I welcome today’s announcement. I know from having worked as a psychologist in forensic services that individuals who perpetrate this type of crime are sexually perverted and often go on to commit contact offences. It is extremely important, therefore, that there is legislation to ensure that the appropriate risk assessments and multi-agency protection arrangements are in place right at the start of their cases.
I reiterate the point made at the beginning about the importance of cross-party working; this is a cross-party issue that I hope has the support of the House. The hon. Lady raises a specific and important point. The way the Government have expanded the private Member’s Bill will ensure that perpetrators of the most serious sex offences will go on the sex offenders register. This will further protect women and ensure that others are not victims in the future.
Having attended the Chamber on Friday and having been prepared to back the Bill, I was disappointed that it was not put forward. I want to correct any assertion that there is a party political divide on this. Many people on the Government Benches would have supported the Bill and intend to do so. May I congratulate the Minister, therefore, on her announcement today and on bringing this forward? The sooner this is on the statute book, the sooner women will be protected from this vile practice.
I thank my hon. Friend for coming on Friday to support the Bill and for her support going forward.
Upskirting is not caused by technology; it is caused by sexist and misogynistic attitudes, which need to be driven out. Will the Minister please encourage her colleagues to bring forward compulsory personal, social and health education and sex and relationships education as soon as possible?
The hon. Lady is right that this technology facilitates and increases the opportunities for people to harm women. She raises an important issue that is not in my portfolio, but I thank her for bringing it to the House’s attention.
I, too, was in Parliament on Friday—one of the few actually in the Chamber when the Bill was objected to—and, as others have said, the view of the House on both sides of the Chamber was made perfectly plain at the time. I warmly welcome the Minister’s personal assurance that the Bill will be brought through as quickly as possible, but will she confirm that there will be sufficient time not only on Second Reading but in Committee to ensure that the Bill is debated thoroughly and on the statute book as quickly as possible?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is something that I would wish to see.
Upskirting is an example of digital technology and criminality moving faster than the law. Legislation to tackle the criminal misuse of digital technologies and services includes at least 30 statutes and measures. Does not the Minister agree that a review of the sheer complexity of the legislation on digital crime is urgently required?
The hon. Lady points out that technology leads to more sexual acts being disseminated, and there are economic issues relating to digital technology. As I said earlier about the matters that fall within my portfolio, the Ministry of Justice is looking at this matter as it relates to sex and criminal offences, but I reiterate that the Bill deals with a specific issue that we think needs to be tackled and can be tackled immediately.
As one of the Members present in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) objected, I shared the fury that many, including me, expressed vocally at the time, so I was pleased to hear the Minister announce that a Government Bill will come forward and that the CPS will still be encouraged to authorise charges under the existing law. Can she reassure me that the Bill, while rightly plugging this hole in the law, will still provide for those who commit offences against children to be charged with the more serious offence of making an indecent image of a child—the correct charge—which brings with it a higher prison sentence?
There is already a panoply of offences on the statute book to protect children and women. The Bill will add to the portfolio available to the CPS to bring the most appropriate punishment for offenders. As I mentioned earlier, there is also the ability to put people on the sex offenders register when that is appropriate.
One of my constituents, Leah, summed it up best when she said that this abhorrent act could happen to any woman, regardless of age, class, race or sexual orientation. Will the Minister please ensure that the new legislation on upskirting will grant anonymity in any criminal case to protect the women who suffer from this disgusting practice?
I should point out that, while the legislation will largely protect women, it is not solely about women. It is about photographing up people’s clothes, and it will apply to men as well as women. It will also protect children.
Residents of Kettering back the legislation, and I will gladly support it. Does the Minister agree that legislation is improved when it is given parliamentary time, and that the advantage of the Government’s introducing the Bill is that a full debate on the issue will be guaranteed on Second Reading?
I think that there is a role for private Members’ Bills and for the procedure, but I am pleased that the House will have an opportunity to scrutinise this legislation fully.
I think that today, at least, the whole House is in agreement that the upskirting offence should be on the statute book. It is a shame that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) does not deign to be among us today as we discuss it. Does the Minister agree that the blocking of important legislation to protect women by a long-serving knight of the realm does nothing to enhance the reputation of this Parliament or its procedures?
As I have mentioned—
Order. I would just say very gently to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) that I understand the anger in the House about this matter, but I must ask him whether he gave the hon. Member for Christchurch notice of what was a personal attack. Did he do so?
I am sorry, but Members really must observe the courtesies in this place, whatever the strength of feeling. To make a personal attack on another Member without giving prior notification, and to do it in the guise of putting a question to a Minister who is not responsible for that matter, is not the right thing to do. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s sincerity, and the circumstances, but we really must try to observe proper procedures. I hope the Minister will not mind if I say that she is answering the questions very fully and we are grateful to her for that, but this is not one that she needs to answer.
I welcome the Minister’s response. I also welcome her statement that she will look very carefully at the experience we have had in Scotland in relation to the law that we have had since 2010. Does she agree that the overwhelming reaction to Friday’s business sends a clear message from this place that such behaviour will not be tolerated, and that perpetrators will be properly punished by facing up to two years in prison?
My hon. Friend has made an important point. I should mention again Gina Martin’s tremendous campaign, which brought this matter to the attention of the public. It is not just laws that are passed that dictate how people act; it is also people’s knowledge of the laws and sending a signal about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. This behaviour is not acceptable and should not be tolerated.
Part of the reason why the Bill was blocked last Friday was that the House had not had an opportunity to debate it fully. Following her welcome announcement, will the Minister tell us how many hours of debate she thinks will be required for Members to arrive at the conclusion that the taking of photographs underneath, mainly, women’s clothes by perverts is a bad thing?
As I have mentioned, we will introduce the legislation on Thursday, and Second Reading will take place before the summer recess. The allocation of time will be dealt with in the usual way.
I welcome the Government’s response to this issue because it has caused an outcry among people throughout the United Kingdom, and many of my constituents have written asking me to support the Bill. However, notwithstanding the actions of one Member—and others who have acted similarly—the fact that private Members’ Bills are stymied by means of objection is not a new issue. Does the Minister agree that we need to review the procedures of the House, so that the will of the majority of the House, who support good legislation and measures to stop the abuse of women, is recognised and they can see their legislation passed, against the wishes of some people who wish to stop that?
What I am pleased about is that the Government have ensured that this legislation can be brought forward in Government time so that it can be passed and upskirting becomes a criminal offence.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you have heard, I very much support the upskirting Bill, not least because of the work I have been doing with Emily Hunt.
Mr Speaker, you have always tried to ensure people outside this place better understand our procedures inside here and I ask you to do so again today. It has been stated in a number of places that my speech on the first Bill on Friday in some way blocked the progress of the upskirting Bill, which was the eighth Bill for consideration on Friday. Given that the Government on Friday had made it clear that they were going to talk out the second Bill for consideration, that of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter)—a Bill which, incidentally, I also support—and given that, to the best of my knowledge, in the history of the House of Commons the eighth Bill for consideration has never been reached for debate on a Friday, can you confirm to people, with the authority and independence of your position, that it is a matter of fact, not opinion, that my actions on Friday had no impact on the upskirting Bill in any way, shape or form, that even if I had not spoken at all on Friday that particular Bill would not have been reached for debate before 2.30 pm anyway, and that it was always going to be reliant on being nodded through at the end of the day, something that I certainly did not oppose? I hope you can set the record straight, Mr Speaker, and help those people outside the House to better understand the facts of what happens inside the House.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it. As a matter of fact, I can confirm that if the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill had completed its passage on Friday afternoon before 2.30 pm, the next business would have been the second Bill on the Order Paper, the Freedom of Information (Extension) Bill of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). Moreover, I can confirm that the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill was the eighth Bill on the Order Paper. For clarification and wider understanding outside the House, it is perhaps worth me emphasising that it was the eighth Bill because other Bills were put down over recent months by other Members, quite properly, before the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) brought her important Bill forward. I am advised—I have consulted specialist advisers who have in turn consulted their scholarly craniums—that nobody can recall an instance of the eighth Bill on a private Members’ Bill Friday being reached for debate.
People feel very strongly about what happened on Friday, and I completely understand that and have every respect, as I sought to indicate earlier, for the person who has brought forward the upskirting Bill, and the public-spirited Gina Martin who has campaigned so strongly for it.
Needless to say, the Chair is absolutely no obstacle to such a progressive measure. It is important, however, in public debate to distinguish between fact and opinion, and simply as a matter of fact—incontrovertible fact—the hon. Gentleman is in no way whatsoever responsible for the failure of the eighth Bill to be debated.
I should say to colleagues that the process whereby after the moment of interruption—2.30 pm on Friday—the objection of a single Member is enough to block for the time being a Bill being read a Second time may well not please many people inside and outside the House, and it is certainly not my role to defend the Standing Orders of the House from criticism that people may wish to express of them.
The Procedure Committee, under the outstanding chairmanship of the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), has indeed devoted much effort in recent years to suggested improvements to the private Members’ Bill regime, but its proposals have not been put to the House. I myself have spoken regularly around the country of my personal belief that the private Members’ Bill procedure should be changed, and I treated of the matter in a lecture in Speaker’s House in October last year. The fact is, however, that proposals for change have not been put to the House, and it is not within the power of the Speaker to put them to the House.
I should point out, in fairness and for accuracy, so that no one is misled, that the rule about a single objection applies similarly to any other business before the House after the moment of interruption. Under Standing Order No. 9(6),
“no opposed business shall be taken”
after the moment of interruption.
I hope that colleagues will accept that I have said what I have said in a very low-key way simply because I think it is quite important, in a highly charged atmosphere, to put the facts on the record. The House can then proceed in relation to the procedure or in relation to a particular Bill as it thinks fit. Thank you—[Interruption.] Well, that is very good of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), who has chuntered his enthusiasm from a sedentary position. I am extremely grateful to him; I mean that genuinely.
NHS Long-Term Plan
With permission Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday of a new long-term funding plan for the NHS. The NHS was built on the principle that good healthcare should be available for everyone, whatever their background and whatever their needs. Seventy years on, it remains this country’s most valued public service: an institution that is there for every family, everywhere, at the best of times and at the worst, so no one in this House underestimates the importance of putting the NHS on a steady financial footing, not just for the sake of their constituents but also for their own families and loved ones. That is why I am proud today that this Government have announced their commitment to a long-term funding settlement for the NHS.
From vaccinations to IVF, to radiotherapy and to next-generation immunotherapies, the NHS has always been at the forefront of excellence in medicine, but as only the sixth universal healthcare system in the world, it has also come to symbolise equity both at home and abroad. Despite pressures in recent years, the Commonwealth Fund rates the NHS as the best healthcare system in the world, cancer survival rates are at a record high, stroke mortality is improving faster than almost anywhere else in the OECD and heart disease mortality rates continue to fall. All this is thanks to NHS staff who continue to work tirelessly, day in, day out to make it the world-class service it truly is.
But alongside advances in medicine, demographic pressures pose a potentially existential threat to the NHS as we know it. With the number of over-75s expected to increase by 1.5 million in the next 10 years, these pressures, far from reducing, will intensify. So in March the Prime Minister made the bold decision to commit to a 10-year plan for the NHS backed up by a multi-year funding settlement. Since then I have been working closely with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, and I can today announce that the NHS will receive an increase of £20.5 billion a year in real terms by 2023-24—an average of 3.4% per year growth over the next five years. The funding will be front-loaded with increases of 3.6% in the first two years, which means £4 billion extra next year in real terms, with an additional £1.25 billion cash to cope with specific pension pressures. Others talk about their commitment to the NHS, but this settlement makes it clear that it is this Government that delivers, and the details will shortly be placed in the Library of the House.
This intervention is only possible due to difficult decisions taken by the Government—opposed by many—to get our nation’s finances back in order and our national debt falling. Some of the new investment in the NHS will be paid for by our no longer having to send annual membership subscriptions to the EU after we have left, but the commitment that the Government are making goes further, and we will all need to make a greater contribution through the tax system in a way that is fair and balanced. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we will listen to views about how we do that and, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will set out the detail in due course. I want to pay particular tribute to the Chancellor, whose careful stewardship of the economy—alongside that of George Osborne before him—is what makes today’s announcement possible.
The British public also, rightly, want to know that every pound in the NHS budget is spent wisely. It is therefore critical to the success of the plan that the whole NHS improves productivity and efficiency, eliminates provider deficits, reduces unwarranted variation in the system so that people get the consistently high standards of care wherever they live, gets better at managing demand effectively, and makes more effective use of capital investment. We have set the NHS five key financial tests to show how it will play its part in putting the service onto a more sustainable footing, and I will expect the NHS to give this work the utmost priority. The tests will be a key part of the long-term plan.
However, this is more than just a plan to get finances back on track. In its 70th year, we also want our NHS to make strides towards being the safest, highest-quality healthcare system in the world. That means making a number of improvements to the treatment and care currently offered, including getting back on track to delivering agreed performance standards, locking in and further building on the recent progress made in the safety and quality of care, and transforming the care offered to our most frail and vulnerable patients, so that we prioritise prevention as much as cure. It also means transforming our cancer care, where we still lag behind France and Germany despite record survival rates. There is no family in this country that has not been touched by cancer, so the whole House will want to know how the NHS intends to make our cancer treatment and care among the best in Europe.
Many of our constituents worry about the mental health of their loved ones, families and friends. Again, I am proud of this Government’s record here: investing more in mental health than ever before and legislating for true parity as part of one of the biggest expansions in mental health provision in Europe. A critical part of the plan will be to decide what next steps will enable us to claim not just that we aspire to parity of provision with mental health, but that we are actually delivering it.
For our most vulnerable citizens with both health and care needs, we also recognise that NHS and social care provision are two sides of the same coin. It is not possible to have a plan for one sector without having a plan for the other. Indeed, we have been clear with the NHS that a key plank of its plan must be the full integration of the two services. As part of the NHS plan, we will review the current functioning and structure of the Better Care Fund to make sure that it supports that. While the long-term funding profile of the social care system will not be settled until the spending review, we will publish the social care Green Paper ahead of that. However, because we want to integrate plans for social care with the new NHS plan, it does not make sense to publish it before the NHS plan has even been drafted, so we now intend to publish the social care Green Paper in the autumn around the same time as the NHS plan.
Finally, there are two further elements crucial to putting the NHS on a sustainable footing. Alongside the 10-year plan, we will also publish a long-term workforce plan recognising that there can be no transformation without the right number of staff, in the right settings and with the right skills. This applies to both new and existing staff. As part of this, we will consider a multi-year funding plan for clinical training to support this aim. Similarly, we know that capital funding is critical for building the NHS services of the future and, again, we will consider proposals from the NHS for a multi-year capital plan to support the transformation plans outlined in the long-term plan.
Given the national economic situation, yesterday’s announcement is bold and ambitious. For the first time, national leaders of the NHS will develop a plan for the next decade that is clinically led, that listens to the views of patients and the public and that is backed by five years of core funding. We want to give the NHS the space, the certainty and the funds to deliver a comprehensive long-term plan to transform health and care and to ensure that our children and grandchildren benefit from the same groundbreaking health service in the next 70 years as we all have done in the first 70.
That is the Government’s commitment to our NHS, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement.
Today’s announcement is the clearest admission that eight years of cuts, of the tightest financial squeeze in its history and of privatisation have pushed the NHS to the brink. Is not the announcement of new potential legislation the clearest admission that the Health and Social Care Act 2012 has been a wasteful mess and should never have been introduced in the first place?
With waiting lists at 4 million, with winters in our NHS so severe that they were branded a “humanitarian crisis” and with 26,000 cancer patients waiting more than 60 days for treatment, Tory MPs should not be boasting today but should be apologising for what they have done to the NHS.
We have long called for a sustainable funding plan for the NHS, and I note that the Secretary of State did not use the words “Brexit dividend.” Is that because he knows—I say this for the benefit of his own Back Benchers—there is no such thing as a Brexit dividend? That is why the Institute for Fiscal Studies said with respect to the Brexit dividend that
“over the period, there is literally zero available”.
If the Secretary of State disagrees with the IFS, will he confirm the Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that there is no Brexit dividend initially for the public finances? Is it not the truth that this package will be paid for by extra borrowing and higher taxation? The Prime Minister should level with the British public and not take them for fools.
The Secretary of State is graceful enough to concede that higher taxation is on the way, but do the British public not deserve to know how much extra tax they will be paying? Will VAT go up under the Tories? Will the basic rate of income tax go up under the Tories? It is not good enough for him to say that these are matters for the Chancellor, because they are matters for the Cabinet of which he is a member.
Given that the Secretary of State is putting up tax and borrowing, and of course every £1 should be spent wisely, can he guarantee that not a further penny piece will be siphoned off into poor-quality, poor-value privatisation? Three years ago, he told us that the NHS would find £22 billion-worth of efficiency savings. How much of those efficiency savings came to fruition?
How much will the NHS be spending on agency workers and locums in the coming years? The NHS already spends £3 billion a year. Staffing gaps have led to clinical negligence claims of £1.7 billion a year, twice the rate of 2010. How much of this new money will go to further claims? The NHS spends £389 million a year on consultancy costs. Will consultancy costs increase, or will the Secretary of State cap them? With hospital trusts in deficit by £1 billion, can he guarantee that trusts will break even next year?
Is it not the truth, as expert after expert has said, that this settlement is not good enough to deliver the needed improvements in care? Indeed that is why the Prime Minister could not even confirm, when asked a basic question today, whether this funding will deliver the NHS’s constitutional standards on treatment waits, A&E waits and cancer waits.
Can the Secretary of State tell us whether, this time next year, the waiting list for NHS treatment will be higher or lower than the 4 million it is today? This time next year, will there be more or fewer patients waiting more than 60 days for cancer treatment? This time next year, will there be more than 2.5 million people waiting beyond four hours in accident and emergency or fewer? If he cannot give us basic answers to these fundamental performance target questions, that exposes the inadequacy of this settlement.
Why does the Secretary of State not tell us what was left out of this settlement? We have a childhood obesity crisis; we have seen cuts to sexual health services and to addiction services; and health visitor numbers are falling. Yet there is no new money for public health in this announcement—instead we are told to wait until next year. We have a £5 billion repair bill facing the NHS and outdated equipment, yet there is no new money for capital in this settlement—instead we are told to wait until next year.
On social care, we have had £7 billion in cuts and we have had 400,000 people losing care support. The social care Green Paper is delayed again. Is it not a total abdication of responsibility to have left social care out of this settlement? This is not a credible long-term funding plan for our NHS; it is a standstill settlement for the NHS. The reality is that under this plan the NHS will remain understaffed, under-equipped and underfunded—it needs to be under new management.
It was a valiant effort, but the hon. Gentleman could not get away from the truth in British politics: when it comes to the NHS, Labour writes the speeches, Conservatives write the cheques. He gamely managed to avoid smiling when he said that this settlement was not enough. He said the same thing on “Sunday Politics” yesterday. Let me remind him that at the last election his party was promising not the 3.4% annual increases that we are offering today, but 2.2%. What today he says was not enough he said in the election was enough to
“'restore the NHS to be the envy of the world”.
His leader said that it would
“give our NHS the resources it needs”.
What we are offering today is not 10% or 20% more than that, but 50% more. In five years’ time this Conservative Government will be giving the NHS £7 billion more every year than Labour was prepared to give. [Interruption.] It is funny, isn’t it, that Labour Members talk about funding the NHS but when we talk about it they try to talk it down? They do not want to hear the fact that under a Conservative Government there will be £7 billion more funding every year—that is 225,000 more nurses’ salaries under a Conservative Government. [Interruption.]
Order. There is far too much noise in this Chamber. As is my usual practice, I was addressing Education Centre students via Skype this morning. They were from a primary school from Wythenshawe and Sale East. One of the youngsters said to me, “Is it not the case, Mr Speaker, that often Members speak very rudely to and at each other?” I could not dissent from that proposition. I think it would be helpful if Members calmed themselves. The Secretary of State is accustomed to delivering statements and responding to urgent questions in this place, and he knows, and will expect, that there will be plenty of opportunity for people to question him. As he gives his answers, it is only right that he be heard, as I want then to hear every Member.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman said just now that there is
“no such thing as a Brexit dividend”.
I have heard lots of other people say that from a sedentary position. But what did their leader say on 26 February? These were his exact words:
“and we will use the funds returned from Brussels after Brexit to invest in our public services and the jobs of the future”.
So who is right: is it the hon. Gentleman or his leader?
After paying the Brexit divorce bill this Conservative Government will use the contributions that would have gone to Brussels to fund our NHS—that is what the British people voted for. But the main reason we are able to announce today’s rise, one of the biggest ever single rises in the history of the NHS, is not the Brexit dividend but the deficit reduction dividend, the jobs dividend, the “putting the economy back on its feet” dividend, after the wreck left behind by the Labour party. Every measure we have taken to put the economy back on its feet has been opposed by the Labour party, but without those measures there would be no NHS dividend today; with the Conservatives you don’t just get a strong NHS, you get the strong economy to pay for it.
In the next few weeks, as Labour scrabbles around to raise its offer on the NHS, we will no doubt hear that it is offering more for the NHS, but when the Labour party comes forward with that offer, the British people will know that the only reason it has done so is that a Conservative Government shamed it into doing so with an offer far more generous than anything Labour was prepared to contemplate.
Another thing I have heard said about NHS funding is, “Whatever the Conservatives offer, we’ll match and do more,” but the trouble is that the opposite is true, because under this Government NHS spending in England is up 20% in the past five-year period, but in Wales it is up just 14%. That is to say that for every extra pound per head invested in England, in Wales it is just 84p, which is why people are 70% more likely to wait too long in A&Es in Wales. The right response to this statement would be for Labour to say that every additional penny though the Barnett formula will go into the NHS in Wales, but we did not hear that pledge.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about social care, and this matters. I fully agree with him that we need to have a strong plan for social care and that it needs to go side by side with the NHS plan, and we have made some important commitments to the social care sector today. But if he is going to criticise social care cuts, he might at least ask why austerity happened. It was not, as he continually suggests, because of an ideological mission to shrink the state, but to save our economy and create jobs so that we could reinvest in public services. The evidence for that is shown today, with the first ever five-year NHS funding plan, to go alongside a 10-year plan. This is a Conservative Government putting the NHS first and shooting to pieces his phoney arguments about Conservative values.
I recognise and thank the Secretary of State for his tireless efforts in making the case for this funding uplift and for a long-term plan. Will he now go further and set out whether, as a result of the extra funding, we will see an end to capital-to-revenue transfers? Will he also set out the role of transformation funding, because we all know that that is essential to get the best from the resources that we are going to add?
My hon. Friend asks two important questions. As she knows, we have committed to phase out capital-to-revenue funding, because if we are to make the NHS sustainable in the long run, we urgently need to make capital investment in estates, technology and a whole range of new machinery, including cancer-diagnostic machinery and so on, and we will not be able to do that if we continually have to raid capital funds for day-to-day running costs. That was one of the main reasons why we decided that we had to put revenue funding on a more sustainable footing. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that.
Transformation funding is also important, because when the five year forward view was published, pressures in secondary care and the acute sector meant that a lot of transformation funding was sucked into the hospital sector and we were not able to focus on the really important prevention work that can transform services in the long run. I am very sympathetic to the idea that we need, if not a formal ring fence, a pretty strong ring fence for transformation funding, so that the really exciting progress that we see in some parts of the country can start to spread everywhere.
I echo the comments made about the approach of the NHS’s 70-year anniversary across the four countries of the UK, having myself spent a fair chunk of those 70 years—perhaps slightly longer than I care to admit—working in the NHS.
Like most people present, I imagine, I absolutely welcome the additional funding, which has been described as bringing the UK to the same level of spending as France by 2023. In that description is, though, the admission that we do not spend the equivalent of what France spends right now. Indeed, we saw a deficit of almost £1 billion in 2017-18, despite transformation funding being sucked in to try to clear that deficit.
I echo what the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said: is transformation funding on top of this funding? If it is just revenue funding, will there be a separate announcement about transformation funding? The Secretary of State also mentioned the need for prevention, yet we do not see any mention of money for public health. That is where we need to be doing prevention.
It is said that we need a 3.9% increase in social care spending, but that is not identified in the statement. If the Green Paper is to come only in the autumn, social care may not get real funding until next year. With the demographic challenge that the Secretary of State mentioned, that is just too far away. The NHS has faced, on average, an uplift of 1.2% over the past eight years, according to the King’s Fund. Taking it up to 3.4% brings it more in line with the traditional uplifts that we have seen, and yet, in actual fact, with an ageing population, the pressure is even higher. Hopefully, this will stop the slide of the NHS, but the NHS Confederation says that it is not possible to transform on this kind of money. It is, therefore, important that these other projects are looked at separately and are funded separately.
As for where that money is to come from, I do not know how the Prime Minister kept a straight face when she talked about the Brexit dividend. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that there will not be a dividend. The Office for Budget Responsibility talks about a £15 billion drop in public service and finances. I want to know how the rise will be funded. Will it all be just borrowing and tax rises? The Government should be honest about how they will fund this rise.
First, may I thank the hon. Lady for doing something that the shadow Health Secretary did not do, which is to welcome this £20 billion annual rise in the NHS budget? I completely agree with her about the importance of prevention, the importance of social care and the importance of making sure that we sustainably invest in transformation funding. The think tanks do disagree on what level of rise is necessary. Lord Darzi and the Institute for Public Policy Research said 3.5%; we are on 3.4%, which is not far off that. The IPPR went a little higher, but, like the hon. Lady, Paul Johnson said that this will stop the NHS going backwards.
With respect to overall funding levels for the NHS, the United Kingdom currently funds the NHS at the western European average as a percentage of GDP. That is not as high as France or Germany and it is true that, by the end of this five-year period, our funding will end up at broadly similar levels to those of France today, although of course it may change them over the five-year period.
I gently say to the hon. Lady that if that is a worry for her, she needs to explain to NHS users in Scotland why, when NHS spending has increased by 20% in England over the past five years, it has increased by only 14% in Scotland because of choices made by the Scottish National party. For every additional pound per head invested in the NHS in England only 85p has been invested in the NHS in Scotland. I hope that she makes a pledge, as I hope Labour does with its responsibility for Wales, that every extra penny that she gets through the Barnett formula will go to the NHS, because that is what the voters in Scotland want.