House of Commons
Wednesday 12 September 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Intimidation of People in Public Life
Intimidation can do real damage to our democracy and has no part to play in healthy debate. The Minister with responsibility for the constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), has launched a consultation on a new electoral offence of intimidating candidates and campaigners. I encourage anyone who has experienced this sort of unacceptable intimidation to respond and to take part in that consultation.
Does the Minister agree that more work needs to be done in tackling social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter? Does he think that the Government should not just introduce voluntary charters to govern social media platforms but look at legislation, because too many Members of this House, the devolved institutions and councillors, and indeed candidates and activists, are facing unparalleled levels of abuse through social media platforms? That cannot be allowed to continue.
The hon. Gentleman makes the very good point that this should not be allowed to continue. We must look at all options on how we can ensure that. We have said we want to work with those companies and platforms to ensure they see proper debate but with respect. I encourage the hon. Gentleman’s party to adopt, as the Conservative party has, a respect pledge to behave properly in the social media world.
Earlier this year, all the Conservative councillors on Desborough Town Council resigned in protest at the abuse, harassment and intimidation suffered by the Conservative female chair of the council. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, when he reviews standards of conduct in public life, that applies not just to elections but to serving councillors during their term of office?
My hon. Friend highlights a worrying problem that we are seeing across public life: people are seeing this kind of abuse. It was raised at last week’s Prime Minister’s questions. We all have a duty to stand up against this. The criminal bar on this is in place all year around. We are looking at elections as a separate issue in the consultation, but he is right: we all have a duty to call this out to ensure that people can have proper debate and fulfil their public duty with confidence that it will be respected.
I am determined that the public sector embraces the huge opportunities for better public services at lower cost provided by technology. That is why last week I announced five new public sector challenges from the GovTech innovation fund and why I am also leading the development of a public services innovation strategy to be published next spring.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that she is committed to this issue. We, too, are committed to using emerging technologies to improve the quality of care for patients and to empower staff. Under one of the GovTech challenges last week, we are working with a healthcare trust to ensure prescriptions are not interrupted when people move between care providers and, as Members will have seen, my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is also very much committed to this agenda.
I welcome what my hon. Friend is doing in this area, but what steps are the Government taking to harness the power of technology to help to tackle the problem of loneliness, which the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, the Prime Minister and Members across this House have done so much to highlight?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. Under the GovTech innovation fund, in collaboration with Monmouthshire County Council, we are working to investigate a solution to identify vehicles with spare capacity to tackle loneliness and rural isolation. That is another example of the great potential of technology to help to alleviate loneliness across society and to support people in having meaningful social relationships.
At the weekend, I visited the Clipper, a converted pub on Union Street in Plymouth that is using crowdfunding technology in conjunction with the local authority, Plymouth City Council, to raise money for a refit. What support is the Minister giving to local authorities and communities to use new technologies to raise funds, especially in a time of austerity?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I would be happy to discuss the example that he has raised. Local authorities have frequently bid for these GovTech funds. As I said, Monmouthshire County Council has been successful, as have local authorities in Northern Ireland, and I encourage others to make a bid when the next round opens shortly.
My hon. Friend will be aware that, across the public service, appointments are being missed with experts including general practitioners, consultants, nurses and employment advisers. Is there a role for technology in prompting members of the public to attend these expensive and important appointments?
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely correct, and this is a perfect example of how we can use technology. Indeed, in my experience many GP surgeries already use methods such as text messages to prompt people not to miss their appointments. He will have seen from recent announcements that the Health Secretary is genuinely committed, as are the Government, to investing large sums in the greater use of technology in healthcare.
The Government’s record on technical and digital innovation is appalling. Their flagship Verify system is so flawed that the NHS and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have both rejected it. Having spent six years and £130 million of public money developing the system, the Government cannot even convince their own Departments to register. Judging by this dismal record, does the Minister agree that the only technological innovation this Government can stimulate will be overdue, over budget and under-performing?
Specifically on Verify, I would urge the hon. Lady not to read everything that is being speculated on in the newspapers. The Government are committed to ensuring secure online digital identities, and Verify has already delivered for 2.7 million people. More broadly, let us take the example of gov.uk, which has had 5.1 billion sessions and 15.2 billion page views. That did not happen when the Labour party was in power. Let us also take the example of Notify, which is used by hundreds of organisations. The Government Digital Service is a genuine innovation of this Government, and it is delivering seamless services across Government Departments.
Leaving the EU: Contingency Plans for No Deal
The Cabinet Office has developed contingency plans for exit-related policy areas that are within our remit, such as public procurement, and we also work with other Government Departments on their plans. These preparations are a sensible precaution in case of the unlikely event that the UK should leave the European Union with no deal.
I thank the Minister for that answer. If our country is not ready for a no-deal scenario, we are simply not in a position to credibly negotiate with the EU, so will he ensure that colleagues across Government work as hard as they can to maximise the completeness and credibility of their plans?
Yes. A no-deal scenario is not what we expect, and it would certainly be an unwelcome outcome. It is not what we want, but it is right that we should take these sensible precautions. All Ministers around the Cabinet table and their teams are working hard to ensure that those plans are developed and ready.
As the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover has said, a deal is vital for west midlands, and indeed UK, manufacturing. What plans do the Government have to ensure that the funding currently provided by the European Investment Bank to UK manufacturing businesses and infrastructure projects will continue after we leave the EU?
We are looking at various proposals, including the creation of a UK prosperity fund, to replace those funds that are currently disbursed via the European Union. My hon. Friend reminds us of the importance, in our negotiations, of seeking to achieve frictionless trade so that the just-in-time delivery systems that cross national frontiers can be sustained to the benefit of business here and in the EU.
I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, in voting for the referendum Bill and supporting the article 50 process, the great majority of Members of this House accepted that the decision of the British people in 2016 should be final. However we campaigned, I think that that remains the case.
Does the Minister agree that the difficulties of contingency planning should not be added to by this obsession with a mythical hard border, which no one wants, cannot be implemented and could be circumvented with ease by everybody in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic?
As the Prime Minister has repeatedly said, ensuring that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland is a fundamental principle of this Government’s negotiating strategy, along with ensuring that there is no customs barrier between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
We are continuing intense discussions at official level with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland civil service. It is in the interests of every part of the United Kingdom that those frameworks are ready, so that the benefits of the UK single market can continue to be felt by consumers and businesses in Scotland and everywhere else in our country.
Following on from that question, what are the implications for the proposed common frameworks of not having a deal on exiting the European Union? No matter how complicated and chaotic the discussions become, will the Minister give an assurance that they will not be used as an excuse to force through arrangements without the consent of the devolved Administrations?
On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, it remains our intention to do everything that we can to work with the agreement of the devolved Administrations and not to have to use the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 unless necessary. However, whether there is a deal or no deal, there will still be a need for UK-wide frameworks to ensure that the UK single market is preserved when powers have returned to this country from Brussels.
With just weeks to go until the negotiating deadline, it is clear that the Government are putting more and more focus and effort into planning for a no-deal scenario. Will the Minister therefore tell the House when the Government plan to put the interests of the country ahead of the interests of the Brexit extremists in the European Research Group?
Anyone who has worked with this Prime Minister knows that what motivates her every single working day is the interests of the people of every part of the United Kingdom. In publishing the technical notices and the guidance to business on a no-deal scenario, we are doing exactly what the European Commission and other EU Governments have done. It is the responsible course of action to take.
Voter ID Pilots
The Cabinet Office and the independent Electoral Commission published their respective findings in July that the pilots worked well. The overwhelming majority of people were able to cast their vote without a problem, and there was no notable adverse effect on turnout. The success of the pilots proves that the measures are reasonable and proportionate.
Can the Minister confirm that concerns about ethnic minority communities being adversely affected did not come to pass during the pilots? Is that not yet another reason why voter ID should be rolled out across the whole country as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend knows well that elections are expensive to conduct. Sevenoaks District Council and Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council do excellent jobs of conducting elections not just for themselves, but for this place and for the county council. Is she planning to consider ways of speeding up payments to those borough and district councils?
Yes, I am working with the Association of Electoral Administrators to see how the process can be improved. I take this opportunity to thank all the electoral staff in my hon. Friend’s council and elsewhere, who work so hard. The fact is that they have six months in which to submit an account. These things can sometimes be left to the last minute, which creates a bulge in the process, but we want to improve that.
In terms of this so-called success, the Electoral Reform Society’s report says:
“The government must have a strange definition of success.”
It confirms that this is a waste of money and that it disenfranchises voters. When will the Government tackle the real electoral fraud issue, which is the spending breaches by the Labour, Lib Dem and Tory parties?
Out of 45 million votes cast last year, there has been only one conviction for voter fraud, yet the Government seem determined to pursue voter ID, which stopped hundreds of people voting last year. When faced with real threats to our democracy, in the form of violations of campaign rules and finance laws, the misuse of voters’ personal data, and foreign interference in our elections and referendums, the Government have done almost nothing. Will the Minister tell us when the Government will get their priorities right and stop penalising honest voters while turning a blind eye to electoral abuses by the powerful?
There is an incredibly important principle at stake here, which seems to be missing from the Labour party. Either you want to stamp out electoral fraud or you do not. This policy is about that. Regardless of the number and the levels of the crime, we should tackle it and ensure it does not rob people of their votes. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman entirely forgets what his own party did in government by making this policy a fact in Northern Ireland.
The Government are clear that we will do all we can to support our steel industry. The publication of indicative pipelines of Government steel requirements, alongside revised procurement guidance, ensures that United Kingdom steel producers have the best possible chance of competing for major public sector contracts. We will be reporting on our performance later this year.
The UK steel industry continues to face challenges. The Government promised in their 2016 guidance on steel procurement that they would publish individual Departments’ performance on steel procurement. When will they publish that information and be transparent about this?
I am happy to update the hon. Gentleman on that point. I have consulted the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington). He has written to Departments over the summer reminding them of that duty. We are reiterating our commitment to produce that information before the end of the year.
Hereditary Peer By-elections
The Government are clear that comprehensive reform of the House of Lords that requires legislation is not a priority for this Government. We would welcome working with peers on measures that could command consensus, so we welcome the work of the Lord Speaker’s Committee, chaired by Lord Burns.
I am not sure there was a question there that I can answer. I say with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman that he assiduously raises this issue at oral questions time after time. I understand his arguments, but the Government’s position is as I put it.
I respect my hon. Friend’s argument just as much as I respect that of the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), but the answer remains the same: there is an enormous amount of work in front of both Houses of Parliament at this time and this is not a priority.
Over the recess, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who is Minister for the constitution, announced that the Government have been able to save the taxpayer more than £300 million since 2016 through the national fraud initiative—a record amount. This clampdown on fraud and error in the public sector has helped us to divert more money to frontline public services.
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the Scottish Government’s proposed electoral franchise Bill, which will protect the voting rights of EU citizens and refugees for Holyrood and local government? Does he agree that we should protect people’s rights and extend the Westminster franchise for EU citizens and refugees?
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a strong case for his region. The Places for Growth programme demonstrates our commitment to rebalancing the economy by moving Government jobs away from London and the south-east, and the One Public Estate programme is supporting this collaboration. I am pleased to say specifically that the Devon and Torbay partnership expects to deliver 288 jobs and land for 201 homes by 2020.
There was a people’s vote in 2016 that, at the time, both the hon. Lady’s party and mine said would be the decisive moment. It is perfectly right that the civil contingencies secretariat in the Cabinet Office takes an active part in contingency planning for all eventualities.
I know my hon. Friend’s long-standing commitment to this cause. We are committed to delivering value for money for the taxpayer by extending best procurement practice into the wider public sector. The Crown Commercial Service, which manages procurement of common goods and services for both central Government and the wider public sector, including the NHS, has already delivered more than £600 million of savings this year.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The homelessness and rough sleeping implementation taskforce, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and on which I serve, supports the Government’s cross-Government strategy, which was announced earlier this summer. The taskforce is also monitoring the implementation of the new Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the proposals he raises directly.
Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), I am pleased to advise the House that we are joined today by the former Speaker of the Canadian Parliament, the longest serving Speaker in his country’s history, Peter Milliken. Welcome, Peter, to the House of Commons.
Recent figures show that almost £200 million of taxpayers’ money was spent on trade union activists last year. Would not Transport for London, for example, be better advised to spend the £5 million that it spent on trade union activities on transport for London?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Although trade unions of course play an important role in the modern workplace, facility time in the public sector must represent value for money, which is why we have taken a transparent approach to it. We estimate that more than £120 million is being spent on it. Departments and Government agencies must seek to reduce that spending, as I am pleased to say the Cabinet Office has done; we are spending less than 0.01% of our budget on it.
The Government have required all public bodies and large private sector employers to make public their gender pay gap, so that action can then be taken to ensure that that gap is reduced and closed. We are determined that the public sector will set an example.
I am pleased to confirm that the Government and the local trust have reached agreement that the Midland Metropolitan Hospital will be completed by 2022. It will be equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, 15 operating theatres and at least 669 new beds. That is a further demonstration of the Government’s commitment to investment in our national health service.
Since 2010, the central civil service has been cut by 20%, which has severely reduced overall effectiveness and specialist knowledge. In the light of the demands placed on Departments by Brexit, do the Government agree that they are paying the price for that short-sightedness?
The Government remain strongly committed to having an effective civil service. Thanks to funds provided by the Government, we now employ 7,000 more civil servants to deal with Brexit. With the pay settlements that we are reaching on a Department-by-Department basis, we are ensuring that civil servants are properly rewarded.
We are clear that we will do everything that we can to support our precious steel industry. All central Government Departments are now required to evaluate the social and economic benefits of procurement decisions, alongside price. That has meant that the UK’s steel producers are now in the best possible position to compete for Government work, and UK steel suppliers are able to compete effectively with international suppliers.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that Members across the House will wish to join me in congratulating Alastair Cook on his fantastic service to English cricket. As England’s highest-ever-scoring batsman, his incredible career had many highlights, including the magnificent 147 in his last innings, against India. We wish him the very best for his future.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I know that the Prime Minister appreciates the significance of fishing communities around the UK, not least my own constituency of Banff and Buchan. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to support our fishing communities during the implementation period? Will she look into ways to support the expansion of the catching fleet, infrastructure, processing capacity and other businesses that are reliant on the sector?
I fully recognise the importance of the fishing industry to my hon. Friend’s constituency and to other constituencies represented in this House. I reassure him that we want to secure a sustainable and profitable fishing industry that will regenerate coastal communities and support future generations of UK fishermen. Leaving the EU means taking back control of our waters, setting our own fisheries rules and exclusively determining who fishes what in our seas. It is a priority of the Government to make sure that we have an innovative, productive and competitive food supply chain. Work is under way to consider the long-term future of all funding programmes that are currently managed by the EU.
I, too, join the Prime Minister in congratulating Alastair Cook on a fantastic achievement and both teams on what has been an absolutely brilliant series, which I really enjoyed.
The National Farmers Union, the Federation of Small Businesses, the National Audit Office, the National Housing Federation, Gingerbread and the Royal Society of Arts—does the Prime Minister know what these organisations have in common?
Yes, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that what those organisations all have in common is that, across a variety of areas of activity, they give excellent service, they promote the interests of those whom they represent, and they are bodies with which this Government interact and to which this Government listen.
I am truly grateful to the Prime Minister for that answer, the first part of which I wholly agree with. What they also have—[Interruption.] It’s all right. What they also have in common is that they are telling this Government that their flagship benefits policy, universal credit, is flawed and failing hundreds of thousands of people both in work and out of work. In 2010, the Government declared that universal credit would lift 350,000 children out of poverty. Does the Prime Minister stand by that figure?
We introduced universal credit because we needed a system of welfare in this country that encouraged rather than discouraged people into work, that made sure that work always pays and that was a simpler system than the legacy system that we were left by the Labour party—remember the legacy system of the Labour party. It meant that we had individuals being paid £100,000 a year on benefits—all paid for by hard-working taxpayers earning a fraction of that sum.
The Child Poverty Action Group says that, far from taking children out of poverty, universal credit will now increase the number of children in poverty. Since 2010, half a million more children have gone into poverty relative to that time. The Government know that this policy is flawed and failing. Their own survey on universal credit found that many were in debt, a third were in arrears with their rent and half had fallen behind with their bills. Does the Prime Minister dispute her own Government’s survey, or dispute the experience of the claimants?
Let us look at the experience of some of the claimants. Roberta said, “My work coach helped turn my life around. He tailored his support to my situation and thanks to him I have found my dream job.” Ryan said, “I am happy with the new universal credit. My work coach has been great—I didn’t expect to have a job so soon.” Nayim said, “Universal credit gave me the flexibility to take on additional hours without the stress of thinking that this might stop my benefits straight away.” We have gone from a situation under the Labour party where 1.4 million people spent most of a decade trapped on benefits. We are helping to get people into work, which is why, earlier this week, we saw unemployment yet again at a record low.
We are all constituency MPs, and I think that most of us are well aware of the pain that universal credit is causing when people come into our advice bureaux. Some 60% of families facing cuts owing to the two-child policy are in work. Universal credit is not making work pay; it is taking money away from families and putting more children into poverty. The National Audit Office report found that universal credit is creating hardship, forcing people to use food banks and could end up costing the system even more. Does the Prime Minister dispute the National Audit Office findings?
The right hon. Gentleman started his question by talking about constituency cases. I remember the single mother who came to see me as her Member of Parliament when Labour was in government who told me that she wanted to get into the workplace and provide a good example to her child, but the jobcentre had told her that she would be better off on benefits. That is the legacy of the Labour party.
My question was about the National Audit Office. The Trussell Trust backs the NAO. It says that food bank usage in areas where universal credit has been rolled out is four times higher than in areas where it has not been introduced. But, without resolving any of those failings in the next year, the Government propose to inflict this on another 2 million people. As part of that transfer, hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities and on employment and support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance and tax credits will receive a letter telling them that their support will be stopped. They will have to make an application for universal credit. Does the Prime Minister think it is the responsibility of the Government who are changing the system to ensure that people retain the support that they need, or is it down to the individual, many of whom are very vulnerable people who need help and support?
What the Government are doing is delivering a system that does give support to vulnerable people, but encourages people to get into the workplace, because we know that work is the best route out of poverty. However, if the right hon. Gentleman believes that universal credit needed some change, why, when we made changes such as reducing the waiting days for payment and bringing in a housing benefit overlap to help people, did Labour vote against those changes?
The mental health charity Mind says that there is a real possibility
“that many people with mental health problems could see their benefits stopped entirely”.
It is outrageous that vulnerable people risk losing out because of these botched changes.
The Government’s Brexit negotiations are an abject failure. I can see that by the sullen faces behind the Prime Minister—and that is not just the European Research Group; it is the whole lot of them. But everywhere you look, Mr Speaker, this Government are failing— 1 million families using food banks; 1 million workers on zero-hours contracts; 4 million children in poverty; wages lower today than 10 years ago; and on top of that there is the flawed and failing universal credit. Disabled people at risk of losing their homes and vital support; children forced to use food banks—and the Prime Minister wants to put 2 million more people on to this. The Prime Minister is not challenging the burning injustices in our society. She is pouring petrol on the crisis. When will she stop inflicting misery on the people of this country?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about challenging the burning injustices. That is about setting up the race disparity audit, which says what public services do and how people from different communities in our country are treated by them. It means saying that nobody in this country should be stopped and searched on our streets because of the colour of their skin—that was me as Home Secretary, never the Labour party. We are seeing 3.3 million more people in jobs as a result of our balanced approach to the economy.
And what have we seen from Labour over the past few days? Iranian state TV broadcasting no-confidence votes against Labour Members of Parliament; police investigating anonymous and threatening letters about the deselection of Labour MPs sent to Labour offices; and, most shamefully of all, the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) saying that the Labour party is now an institutionally racist party. That is what the Leader of the Opposition has done to Labour—just think what he would do to this country.
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We know that nothing can take away the trauma and distress of being a victim of crime, but we need to ensure that people get the support they need as they rebuild their lives. This is absolutely vital. It is our duty to keep people safe but it is also our duty to ensure that victims are properly protected and listened to. That is why we are taking steps to enshrine their entitlements in law—to strengthen the victims code. This first ever cross-Government victims strategy will ensure that victims of crime receive the care and support they deserve at every stage of their interaction with the justice system. I commend my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, and also the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), for the work they have put into the victims strategy.
A decade on from the financial crisis, the poorest in our society are still paying a price. The bankers were bailed out, but ordinary people paid the bill. Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis shows that real wages are, on average, £800 lower. A decade on and people are poorer: a damning indictment of the UK Government’s leadership. Tell us, Prime Minister: why have you abandoned millions of families—those just about managing?
What we have done is created an economic environment where 3.3 million people are in work. We now see the number of children in workless households at the lowest level ever. We now also see, through what we have done, an increase in the national living wage. We have ensured that we have taken 4 million people out of paying income tax altogether. Over 30 million people have received a tax cut. That is what this Government have been able to do through a balanced approach to the economy, keeping taxes low, putting money into public services, and reducing our debt.
That, I am afraid, simply ignores the reality that people are poorer. It has been the worst decade for wage growth in over 200 years. Households are struggling, and it is reported that a no-deal Brexit will increase the annual cost of living for low-income households by hundreds of pounds. Yet this Prime Minister still wants to walk off the Brexit cliff edge. The Prime Minister is unfit to govern. She is incapable of leadership. We know it, her Back Benchers know it, and the country knows it. Ten years after the economic crash, the poorest are still bearing the brunt. It is as simple as this: the Prime Minister should end her austerity programme or admit that her party is unfit for government.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions Brexit. Of course, we are working to get a good Brexit deal for the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland. I suggest that he might listen to the views of the Scottish National Farmers Union, which said this week that the plan the Government have put forward is one that
“certainly the agriculture and food and drinks sectors can work with”,
and that politicians from
“all sorts of parliaments and assemblies”
should get behind it.
I do indeed remember the visit that I made to Clacton in 2014, where I was very pleased to meet Caroline Shearer and hear about the anti-knife crime work she had done and the charity she had set up in memory of her murdered son, Jay Whiston.
On the issue of rail, Greater Anglia will indeed be introducing a whole new fleet of trains, which will be delivered from the middle of next year. They will be state of the art, with much improved acceleration, my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear. Greater Anglia needs to work with Network Rail to ensure that it can deliver those improved journey times. There are infrastructure constraints on the line, but we will engage with Network Rail to understand what plans it has to renew the infrastructure, so that we can see the improvement on the Clacton branch that my hon. Friend wants to see.
The figures show that the proportion of the workforce on low pay is actually at its lowest level. That is a result of the changes we have made in relation to the economy and the balanced approach we have taken. If the hon. Lady if worried about people living in Grimsby, the answer is not a Labour Government, with £500 billion of extra borrowing, fewer jobs, higher taxes and people suffering the cost.
I am sure we all have doubts about the objectivity of the reporting on Russia Today, which remains a tool of propaganda for the Russian state. Decisions about appearing on Russia Today are a matter of judgment for each individual, but they should be clear that they risk being used as propaganda tools by the Russian state. I know that that view is shared by other Members of this House, including the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who has made clear that he does not think people should appear on that station. The same also applies to Press TV, which has had its licence to broadcast revoked in the UK by Ofcom.
We are very clear that we need to have a link between the future relationship and the withdrawal agreement, but we are a country that honours our obligations. We believe in the rule of law, and therefore we believe in abiding by our legal obligations. However, my hon. Friend is right that the specific offer was made in the spirit of our desire to reach a deal with the European Union and on the basis, as the EU itself has said, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Without a deal, the position changes.
I believe that in the provision of energy across the United Kingdom we need to have a diverse range of supplies. That is why, yes, we do support, we have supported and we will continue to support renewable energy, but it is also why we are ensuring, for example, that we have a supply of energy in the future from nuclear and that we look across other forms of energy as well—for example, ensuring that we see an increase in the number of interconnectors with Europe. A diverse supply is what we need in our energy sector.
I have always said to this House that I believe a deal that is right for the UK will be a deal that is right for the European Union. I note not only that President Juncker said what my hon. Friend has commented on, but that he went on to say that
“after 29 March 2019, the United Kingdom will never be an ordinary third country for us…I welcome Prime Minister May’s proposal to develop an ambitious new partnership for the future, after Brexit. We agree with the statement made in Chequers that the starting point for such a partnership should be a free trade area between the United Kingdom and the European Union.”
Let me be very clear: when we leave the European Union, we will be an independent sovereign state—we will have control of our money, our borders and our laws—but I want to say to our closest allies in Europe, “You will also never be an ordinary third party for us.”
Strength of the Economy: West Midlands
I was indeed very pleased to be in the west midlands yesterday at the world’s first zero-emission vehicle summit, where I made clear my determination to put our manufacturers in the west midlands and across the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacture of zero-emission vehicles. The midlands has a very strong automotive industry. The growth of high-tech manufacturing across the region continues to drive investment: it is creating high-skilled jobs; it is boosting economic growth. The latest employment statistics, released yesterday, show there are now over 320,000 more people in work in the west midlands than in 2010.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Also based in the west midlands is silicon canal. Silicon canal is like silicon valley, but without the sunshine. It employs some 40,000 people working in computer science and there are some 6,000 different companies—the second largest cluster of its kind in the whole of Europe. With the announcement last week of 5G being based in the west midlands as a test bed, what more will the Prime Minister do to promote high-tech in the west midlands?
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the silicon canal. I am sure that, like me, he was delighted that the west midlands bid, which was pulled together by the Conservative metro Mayor Andy Street, was chosen as the winning location of the Urban Connected Communities project. As my hon. Friend mentioned, that will see the development of a large-scale 5G pilot across the region.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is also working closely with the West Midlands combined authority to develop and deliver a region-wide digital skills partnership, which will bring together key sectors in the region, working on improving the digital skills of individuals, small businesses and charities. Ensuring strong Government engagement and support for these sectors will be critical to the success of the Government’s industrial strategy.
Back in July, in Prime Minister’s questions, I pressed the Prime Minister on the possible publication of Sir Alex Allan’s report on the Windrush affair and she confirmed that the Home Secretary of the time was considering publication very carefully. Two months later, nothing has come from the Home Secretary or the Home Office. Could she as Prime Minister, in the interests of transparency and accountability, which I know she believes in, now personally authorise the publication of this long-awaited report?
The right hon. Gentleman has raised what was an absolutely devastating case—it was a horrific crime, and devastating for Lisa’s family. I understand that my hon. Friend the prisons Minister has met the family of Lisa Skidmore and apologised for the failings in this case. But as the right hon. Gentleman says, this should not have happened.
I understand that some action has already been taken and that two members of the probation service have been suspended. While nothing can be done to bring back Lisa or minimise the impact that this has had on her family, Dame Glenys Stacey has been asked to conduct an independent review to look at what can be done to prevent such tragedies from happening again—to do as the right hon. Gentleman has said: make sure that this never happens to anybody else.
Cumbria and the Lake district are among the most beautiful parts of the UK, and our farmers play such a unique role in maintaining the landscape. On Back British Farming Day, will my right hon. Friend ensure that our Cumbrian farmers will be able to export their world-class meat after we leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise the beauty of the area she represents, Cumbria and the Lake District, and the important role farmers play in that part of the country, as indeed our farmers do elsewhere. When we leave the European Union, we are looking to ensure we have trade deals that enable our farmers to continue to be able to export their very important product, which is enjoyed by people elsewhere. By leaving the European Union, we are able to do something else: come out of the common agricultural policy and develop a policy for farming in this country that is right for our farmers, not for others’.
The hon. Gentleman will know full well that as Home Secretary I stood at this Dispatch Box and led a debate in which we ensured that when we exercised the powers available under protocol 36 we went back into the European arrest warrant. The European arrest warrant is one of those instruments that we have identified in our Chequers plan as one that we wish to discuss with the European Union, with a view to being able to continue to use it.
Leah Aldridge was killed by her father in 2002. After the coroner and Greater Manchester police finished their investigation, the body was returned to the family for the funeral. Last year, the police discovered that they had retained some of Leah’s body parts, and these were returned to the family for a second funeral. Only a few weeks ago, yet more body parts were discovered by the police and the family had to go through the ordeal of a third funeral. They have no confidence that Greater Manchester police or the police and crime commissioner, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, now have finally allowed the family to lay their daughter Leah to rest. Will the Prime Minister hold an inquiry into this matter for the sake of Leah’s family and for other families across Greater Manchester?
This is an absolutely terrible case. I am sure, as my hon. Friend will have felt from the reaction of Members across the House when they heard him set out the details, that we all want to express our deepest sympathy to Leah’s family for the prolonged trauma they have had to endure as a result of the way that this has been handled.
I understand that the deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester has been in touch with the Human Tissue Authority about the case. The authority is advising on ensuring that the establishment concerned does the necessary work to evaluate what went wrong in this case and puts in place measures to minimise the chance that this can ever happen again. Officials in the Home Office will meet both the Greater Manchester police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council to further address the issue of historically held human tissue. I will ensure that the relevant Home Office Minister updates my hon. Friend on the outcome of those meetings.
The Home Office, of course, set up a special taskforce to deal with the Windrush cases to provide help and support to the individuals—[Interruption.] Yes, I know the shadow Foreign Secretary is mentioning the DWP. I am coming on to the DWP. What is important for the individuals concerned is that they are able to interact with one Government body that is then able to give them support and take on the issues for them. I believe that the individual concerned should get in touch with the taskforce, and the Home Secretary will make sure that the necessary inquiries are made.
Will the Prime Minister visit my constituency to open Airbus’s new wing integration centre in Filton, which is a £40 million investment that will secure hundreds of jobs and good- quality apprenticeships for the future? Will she join me in thanking and paying tribute to Airbus for its strong and enduring commitment to the UK?
My hon. Friend has issued a very interesting invitation. I cannot give him an instant response from the Dispatch Box, because I will need to look at diary commitments. It is absolutely right that we thank and congratulate Airbus on the commitment it has made to the United Kingdom and the high-quality jobs it provides here. When I went to the Farnborough airshow, I was very pleased to meet Airbus executives to look at and talk about some their latest products.
In a meeting on Monday, the aluminium and steel industry told leaders of Opposition parties—with the exception of the leader of the Labour party, who refused to attend—that thousands of jobs are to be put at risk by the British Government’s Brexit policies and threadbare industrial strategy. Is it not the case that the Prime Minister is prepared to dole out P45s to manufacturing workers simply in order to appease the Brexit extremists in her own party?
The hon. Lady’s portrayal of the situation could not be further from the case. What we have put forward in the Chequers plan is a plan that delivers on the result of the referendum and ensures that we take control of our money, borders and laws, but that does so in a way that protects jobs and livelihoods across the United Kingdom. The Government have given support to the steel industry in a number of ways, and the industrial strategy is about ensuring that we have a healthy manufacturing industry in this country, but also a manufacturing industry for the future, providing the high-skilled jobs and skills for people for the future.
The Prime Minister will be aware of not only my feelings but those of pretty much everyone in this House and the vast majority of this country when it comes to seeing our veterans dragged through the courts in Northern Ireland to appease political differences. What is she as Prime Minister personally doing—how is she personally investing of herself in this process—to bring to an end something that the vast majority of her country find completely abhorrent?
I am well aware of the degree of concern about this issue, which is why I have held a number of discussions about it with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We owe a vast debt of gratitude to the heroism and bravery of the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law and were themselves accountable to it. That is something that has always set them apart from the terrorists, who during the troubles were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of members of the security forces. But as I have made clear, the current system in Northern Ireland is flawed. It is not working; it is not working for soldiers, for police officers or for victims—a group, in fact, that includes many soldiers and police officers as well. Although a number of terrorist murders from the troubles are actively under investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other police forces, under the current mechanism for investigating the past there is a disproportionate focus on former members of the armed forces and the police. We want to ensure that all outstanding deaths in Northern Ireland are investigated in ways that are fair, balanced and proportionate.
Since the life-changing spinal muscular atrophy treatment Spinraza was rejected by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in its first guidance last month, families affected, including that of young Sam Mckie in North Tyneside, have been left heartbroken. Will the Prime Minister meet me and Muscular Dystrophy UK to discuss the urgent need to make progress on the managed access agreement so that patients can access Spinraza as soon as possible?
Police: Financial Sustainability
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the National Audit Office’s report, “Financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales 2018”.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. The NAO does incredibly important work and the Government are very grateful to it for its work on police financial sustainability. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made extremely clear to police superintendents yesterday, we absolutely understand and agree that the police are under pressure, and we are absolutely determined to support them.
I do not recognise the suggestion, however, that Ministers do not understand the pressures on the police. Last year, I spoke personally to all 43 police forces in England and Wales, including frontline officers. I also commissioned analysis to improve our understanding of police demand and resilience, and I explained our findings to the House last year, at the time of the provisional police funding settlement. We recognise the pressures on the police, including from complex crime and the threat of terrorism, and we have provided a funding settlement that is increasing total investment in the police system by more than £460 million in the current financial year. This includes £50 million of additional funding for counter-terrorism, £130 million for national priorities and £280 million in force funding from increases in precept income.
We are not stopping there. I have already indicated that we will afford the police the same precept flexibility in 2019-20 subject to their meeting productivity and efficiency asks. We are also working very closely with the police to jointly build the evidence base on police demand, resilience and capability ahead of the spending review.
The report is, then, valuable in highlighting the pressure on the police, but we do not believe that it gives adequate weight to a number of important issues: first, the strength of the local accountability structure through police and crime commissioners, which were introduced by this Government; secondly, our support to the independent inspectorate in developing force management statements—a key tool in getting better data to identify and manage future demand; thirdly, our public and regular monitoring of service effectiveness through Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services, whose independent authority we have strengthened; and, fourthly, our request to the police that they reform themselves, meaning it is appropriate that the police have their own strategy, which they do, in “Police Vision 2025”.
Having said that, we of course take the report extremely seriously, and our permanent secretary has written to the NAO to accept these points. The House should be under no illusion, however: the Government remain extremely committed to ensuring that forces have the resources they need to do the extremely difficult work that they do on behalf of all of us, which the whole House appreciates.
The House appreciates that the Minister has met the leaders of all the police forces, but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this National Audit Office report is an indictment of successive Conservative Home Secretaries and their handling of police financial sustainability.
Does the Minister now accept what the NAO sets out—that total funding to police forces, which is a combination of central Government funding and council tax, has fallen by 19% in real terms since 2010-11? Does the Minister accept what the NAO further sets out the:
“main way that police forces have managed financial pressure is by reducing the size of their workforces”?
It says that the total workforce across forces fell by 18% between 2010 and March 2018. Does the Minister accept the NAO conclusion that, although crime recorded by the crime survey for England and Wales decreased by 36% between 2011 and 2018, at the same time police forces faced an upsurge in the reporting of low volume and high harm crime—the crimes that alarm the public most?
Most damning of all, the National Audit Office says it has found early indicators that the police are “struggling”—that is the NAO’s word—to deliver an effective service. Is the Minister aware of the NAO’s conclusion that the Home Office simply does not have a clear picture of what individual forces need to meet local and national demands? Why is that, and what are Ministers going to do about it? Yesterday Commissioner Cressida Dick, the head of the Met police, said that she did not want the Government to wait until the police were struggling like the Prison Service. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that that will not happen?
First, I should make it clear that I did not speak just to police leaders. Whenever I visit a force I make a point of speaking to frontline officers, and through those conversations I gained a very clear picture of the stretch and pressure that they are experiencing.
The right hon. Lady asked me to confirm that police budgets had been reduced since 2010, and asked whether we had fewer police officers. The numbers do not lie: the numbers are very clear. They are hardly news. What the right hon. Lady omitted to mention, of course, was the underlying driver of the decisions that were made in 2010. The state of the public finances that we inherited from the previous Government led to the radical action that was needed.
It is not desperate. Those are the stark economic facts that the coalition Government faced in 2010. There was a need to take radical action to return the public finances to some sort of order. That is an uncomfortable truth about which the Labour party remains in denial.
It is not rubbish. [Hon. Members: “Yes, it is.”] The state of the public finances is a matter of absolute record.
I welcome the right hon. Lady’s recognition that traditional crime continues to decrease. Of course we are all concerned about the clear increase in serious violent crime, and we have faced up to it in clear statements of our determination to get on top of it, not just with words but with actions through the Serious Violence Strategy, which has been welcomed by the police and which is supported by funding.
The right hon. Lady said that forces were struggling to manage demand. It is absolutely true that some of them are, but we do not need the National Audit Office to tell us that; the HMIC reports on effectiveness make the point very plainly. We are working with those forces. We should reject any groupthink that suggests that this is just an issue of financial resources, although they are clearly important. Police leaders recognise that there is considerable scope for improvement in the way in which police time and demand are managed. HMIC has made that point very clearly, and has taken an initiative that we support in requiring force management statements in which police forces must explain their view of future demand and how they intend to manage it.
The right hon. Lady asked what the Government were going to do. I will tell her exactly what we are doing, and exactly what the Home Secretary said yesterday to the police superintendents. We will continue to support the police, and we have put more money into the police system. The Home Secretary has made it very clear that police funding is a priority for him, and we are working closely with the police in preparing for the comprehensive spending review. There needs to be a strong evidence base in respect of demand and resilience, and it is exactly that work that we are putting together. The Government attach the highest priority to public safety, and to ensuring that our police system has the support that it needs.
The Minister is right to mention the vital role that police and crime commissioners play in budgeting and spending. A good and effective police and crime commissioner such as ours in Kent, Matthew Scott—who can husband resources well enough to ensure that over the coming year Kent people will be blessed with up to 200 more police officers—can work well within a budget, and can provide the extra safety in our streets that people demand.
My right hon. Friend has made an important point. We introduced police and crime commissioners, and Matthew Scott is an outstanding example of the difference that they make, both through local accountability and through stewardship of police budgets. I am delighted, not least for the people of Kent, that as a result of the measures that we have taken—and we could only do so because of the improvements in the economy—more money is going into Kent policing, which Matthew is using to recruit more officers. I am sure that that is very welcome throughout Kent.
England’s most senior police officer, Cressida Dick, said yesterday that the police were now
“taking up the slack of other public services that are struggling to deliver.”
Will the Home Secretary, ahead of the Budget, argue for not just more cash for the police but extra cash for the NHS so that it can collaborate with them, especially when it comes to people with mental health issues?
The right hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely important point. One of the clear messages that I received during my tour of the police system was about the frustration caused by the amount of time that officers spend—in their words—doing other people’s jobs, away from core policing work, and a large part of that frustration relates to the amount of time spent supporting people with mental health issues. We are doing a piece of work on this, because evidence must support the initiatives that we take. We need to understand the problem, and think about how we can make local collaboration work more effectively so that time can be freed up to allow police officers to do what the public expect, and focus on core policing.
Policing should always be a spending priority for a Conservative Government. I have voted against cuts in police grants every year since their introduction in 2010. Our police are overstretched, and that is of increasing concern to many of our constituents. Is it not time that the Government broke the habit of a lifetime and did something popular? [Laughter.] Is it not time that they scrapped some of the huge, ridiculous sums that are going into the overseas aid budget, and passed them to our hard-pressed police forces? That would be popular with our local communities.
Does the Minister agree that calls for increases in the police budget—which I consistently make—are not helped by morons such as the police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire, who seems to think that his force has so much money that it can now start asking people to report non-crimes as well as crimes?
My hon. Friend is a great and long-standing champion of the police, and I have great respect for that. However, he should know—because he is good at numbers—that this year the Government are spending, on behalf of the public and the taxpayer, more than £1 billion more on our police system than we were three years ago. I hope he welcomes that, because, as he fully recognises, the police system is stretched, and it is our responsibility to ensure that it has the resources that it needs.
The most expensive way to fund policing is through the mechanism of overtime, which is now at its highest-ever level. Would it not be sensible for the Government, rather than allowing hard-working police officers to work longer hours and cost the taxpayer more, to revisit the issue of police funding and revert to the figures that obtained in 2009-10, when Labour was in office?
Like most Labour Members, the right hon. Gentleman remains in complete denial of economic reality and the adjustments that have been needed since 2010 to put our public finances back in order. As I have said very publicly for at least a year, I accept the argument that the police system needs more resources, and that is exactly what we have delivered. This year, as a country, we have put an additional £460 million into the system, over £1 billion more than three years ago. However, it is not just about resources—as a former Minister, the right hon. Gentleman knows that—but about more efficient and effective use of police time.
I pay tribute to the hard-working police force of Avon and Somerset, which is making changes in its operating system. I was in touch with the force recently because it has altered its inquiry opening hours, but that is because it is having to adapt to changing demands. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right to adapt to such changes, and will he reassure me that he remains committed to working closely with the police on funding following the delivery of a £460 million increase in the overall police budget for 2018-19?
I do agree, and that £460 million includes an additional £8 million for Avon and Somerset, which I know my hon. Friend will welcome. She is entirely right: Avon and Somerset is a superb example of a force that has adapted and innovated. I consider it to be best in class in respect of its smart use of data to manage demand, which means that it has some of the best response time statistics in the system. It provides an example to the rest of the system of how demand can be managed better through a more intelligent use of data, and I congratulate it on that.
The former permanent secretary at the Home Office has acknowledged that the funding formula for policing is ineffective. However, as there has been a delay, it now looks like we will be waiting until the spending review before the new formula is agreed and comes into force. On my calculation that means it will not come into force or make a difference until 2020-21. Can the Minister give us any comfort on that and explain when the funding formula will be properly revisited?
I say to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, as I have said publicly, that the appropriate point to address this issue—which is very sensitive and which a number of forces and MPs representing forces feel very strongly about—is in the context of the CSR, which is the most important framework for long-term financial planning in the police. I will be very frank: my priority, working with the Home Secretary, is to make an argument to set the size of the total cake. We have made it clear that we will then need to deliver a compelling analysis and plan for how that cake gets divided up in a way that more fairly reflects the demands on the current policing system, which are evolving. We are very serious about that, but we just happen to think that the CSR is the most appropriate framework in which to do this work.
We do; I agree and totally accept the argument that we need more resources for the police, which is exactly what we have delivered. That includes an additional £9.7 million for Hampshire police, whom I meet regularly. Across the country forces are using that money to recruit additional officers: 500 more here in London, 200-odd in Kent, 150-odd in Essex, 150-odd in Nottingham, and 100 in West Mercia. Across the country police forces are using the additional resources we are able to deliver, as a result of our successful stewardship of the economy since 2010, to deliver what the public want, which is more policing. We would not be able to do that under the Labour party’s policies.
With 2,000 police officers cut in West Midlands police, crime is soaring, violent crime by 59%. Communities increasingly live in fear, as Ministers are in denial as to the consequences of their actions. Does the Minister not accept that the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens, and that it is absolutely wrong that under the existing formula the West Midlands cut is in excess of twice that of Surrey?
The hon. Gentleman and I have had many exchanges over the year about West Midlands police and I hope he welcomes—although he voted against it—the funding settlement that will see an additional £9.9 million go into West Midlands policing. David Thompson, the chief, has made many representations to me about fair funding and I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier remarks: substantive work needs to be done around fairer funding of the police system and the CSR is the right place to do that.
My right hon. Friend has already mentioned the 100 new police officers for West Mercia that John-Paul Campion, our excellent police and crime commissioner, is about to recruit. I would like to see these new officers fighting rural crime, so will my right hon. Friend look again at road traffic offences, especially speeding? Speed awareness courses help the safety of all of us on the roads, but they can only happen once every three years. May we have them on an annual basis, please?
I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the initiative of West Mercia’s police and crime commissioner to use the additional £4.6 million made available to him to recruit additional officers. I wholly understand the weight my hon. Friend attaches to rural crime, as I have heard that very clearly from other Members representing rural constituencies. It is obviously for the local PCC in his local plan to establish his local priorities, but I will take my hon. Friend’s point about road traffic away and come back to him.
Opposition Members all know the impact of this Government’s cuts on police officers—they are having an impact locally—but we also all acknowledge the hard work police officers are doing. Does the Minister agree with Cressida Dick that the pay award offered was like a “punch on the nose”?
I wholly agree about the hard work police officers do—[Interruption.] They are extremely stretched, and I will go further: I completely understand, as does the Home Secretary, as he said yesterday at the police superintendents’ conference, why police officers feel extremely disappointed by the Government’s decision. The reality is that, as the Home Secretary said yesterday, the Government have to balance fairness and affordability. We continue to operate in a very constrained environment in terms of the public finances as a direct consequence of the actions of the last Labour Government, and we are still navigating our way through those difficulties. The Government took a collective decision based on fairness and affordability and looking at public pay in the round. We completely recognise that police officers are disappointed by that, and our priority going forward is to make the argument to the Treasury about the resources the police need in the future.
Tomorrow evening there will be a public meeting in Glastonbury at which residents from across the community will air their concerns about antisocial behaviour in the town. Avon and Somerset police hitherto has been limited in the way it has been able to respond to that because of the challenges of delivering policing across a large rural county such as Somerset. Will the Minister of State ensure that, in all future decisions on police funding, the cost of rurality is factored in and that rural areas are therefore well provided for?
I thank my hon. Friend for that insight. I completely understand this point as I have had many representations from Members representing rural forces making exactly that point. In our work planning for the CSR, and the application of a fairer funding formula, that is one of the factors that we take fully into account.
The appalling murder of Nicholas Churton last year in my constituency highlighted deficiencies in both policing and the probation service; at Prime Minister’s questions today we heard about deficiencies in Wolverhampton, too. There is a widespread increase in violent crime, which is having a direct impact on the lives of our constituents. Will the Minister ensure that that message is conveyed to the whole Government so that when he secures funding in the CSR, priority is given to policing, which is a massive issue in our constituencies up and down the land?
I understand exactly the point the hon. Gentleman makes and I hope he can take some assurance—they are words at this stage; I fully accept that—from the statements by the Home Secretary about the personal priority he attaches to police funding; he states it is clearly his priority. The hon. Gentleman mentions serious violent crime. I think the whole House is united in a determination to bear down on that horrific problem. He talks about policing being at the core of this. He is right, but what is required is a cross-Government response because this is not just about robust law enforcement, although that is essential; it is also about much more effective work on prevention and early intervention, which requires other Departments and the whole system at national and local levels to work more effectively to steer young people away from crime and violence and the devastating consequences it has for them, their families, friends and communities.
It is pointless having an independent pay panel if its findings are ignored. This summer, I had the pleasure of spending a day with Greater Manchester police in its give a day to policing scheme, as I know many other Members did. Will my right hon. Friend take back the firm message to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring forward additional resources for policing in the autumn Budget?
I understand the point my hon. Friend makes about the police remuneration board. It is hard not to. I have made very clear—more importantly the Home Secretary has made very clear—the personal priority we attach to police funding. We recognise, in a way the NAO report underestimates, and understand the pressures on the police system. Demand on the police is rising. Crime is changing and becoming more complex. We must respond because public safety is the No. 1 priority of any Government.
My local police force, Suffolk constabulary, is the third lowest funded police force in England per head of population. About 300 officers have been lost in the last eight years, which is a large proportion for a small force, and about a third of support staff have also been lost. Violent crime, and especially drug-related violent crime, in my constituency of Ipswich has mushroomed and we have seen multiple gang stabbings in the last year. Can the Minister see that there is a connection and will he speak to the Chancellor to secure the funds that the service he is responsible for needs?
The hon. Gentleman and I have had a number of exchanges over the last year about Suffolk policing, and I have had many conversations with the Suffolk PCC, which reinforces the point that we feel the NAO report attaches insufficient weight to the local accountability mechanisms that we have in place. There are very few PCCs who have not made representations to me about the pressure on their system and the argument for more resources or fairer allocation of resources, and the Suffolk PCC would be pre-eminent in that. I have made it clear, and the Home Secretary has made it clear, that we are determined and—more than words—that the Home Office, in a way we have never done before, is working closely with the police to build the evidence base that is going to be needed in a very competitive CSR to ensure that our police system has the resources it needs, because public safety is the No. 1 priority of any Government.
My right hon. Friend is aware of the excellent work being done by Lincolnshire police to keep us safe. I regularly meet our excellent police and crime commissioner, Marc Jones, to discuss the challenges involved in policing such a large rural area. Lincolnshire police has 5,500 miles of road and 2,500 square miles to police. What more can the Minister do to ensure that our dedicated police force has the funds it needs to police this rural area?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to all those who have been absolutely assiduous in making representations on behalf of Lincolnshire police, which is a stretched force that is facing financial challenges. Marc Jones has also been assiduous as a PCC in making these points, and we have worked closely with him to understand the pressures on that police force. It has received an additional £3.3 million this year, which I hope my hon. Friend welcomes. It has also been the recipient of some special grants through the special grant programme. We will work closely with Marc and other PCCs to make the case in the next CSR for increased resources for our police system, which I hope Lincolnshire will benefit from. I would add that Lincolnshire is another example of a force that has worked superbly to adapt and harness technology to make more productive use of police time. It is a leader in the use of mobile working technology and I congratulate it on that.
The Minister talks a lot about seeking evidence, and he has rightly praised Avon and Somerset police for its data and for being best in class, but I am afraid that those words will not serve my constituents properly by protecting them from crime. When will we be getting the money to meet the demand that we have evidenced?
The hon. Lady ignores the fact that Avon and Somerset is receiving an additional £8 million this year through the settlement that I think she voted against. I have made it clear that, for 2019-20, we expect to do something similar, and I have also made it clear that, as a ministerial team led by the Home Secretary, we are doing a great deal of work to develop the evidence base and to make the argument about the resources that the police need for the next five years. That includes Avon and Somerset, which does outstanding work on behalf of its residents, not least, as we have agreed, in terms of best practice in demand management.
I know that the Minister cares deeply about these issues. The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee is right when she draws attention to the unfairness of the formula, which has been unfair since damping was brought in in 2004. Four hundred people turned up to a meeting with the police in my constituency just a couple of weeks ago. That should give my right hon. Friend an indication of the level of concern about this issue. We in Bedfordshire cannot wait until the next comprehensive spending review. Because of the unfairness in funding, we do not get what the national formula says we should get, and we have not done so since 2004. That needs action now.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on being absolutely assiduous in making representations to me about Bedfordshire policing, about which I know he cares deeply. His passion is shared by Kathryn Holloway, the police and crime commissioner, who is in regular contact with me about these matters. He knows that Bedfordshire has had another £3.2 million this year, and I am sure he knows that the force has put in applications to the special grant programme. He will also know that the long-term solution is through the CSR and the application of a fairer funding formula. He knows from the conversations that we have had that I am personally absolutely committed to this, but I undertake to work closely with him, the PCC and Bedfordshire police over the next two years as they work through the challenges that they face. I completely understand the concern that he has expressed so well on behalf of his constituents.
Over the summer, I spent a day with officers at Stretford police station, and I have to tell the Minister that I was quite shocked when I saw the extent of the pressure they are under. This is arising in part because of new demands on the police, including those relating to radical extremism, to child criminal exploitation and to additional requirements relating to disclosure. Will the Minister ensure not only that the police are funded adequately to meet their current needs but that there is a real understanding of these new and growing pressures?
As ever, the hon. Lady makes an extremely good point. She is absolutely right, and the shadow Home Secretary also understands that demand on the police is changing. Traditional crime rates continue to fall, but demand on the system is coming from new and increasingly complex resource-intensive areas. We understand that, and we have responded to it, but there is more that we need to do in terms of ensuring that the police have the support that they need. We completely get that.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to ensuring that the police have the powers they need. We debated the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill on the Floor of the House yesterday, and the Offensive Weapons Bill will soon come to the House for our consideration. Can he reassure me and my constituents that he understands the pressures being faced by the police, not least those being caused by the use of drugs such as Spice?
My hon. Friend has been assiduous in registering his concerns to the House and the Government about the effect of Spice, which I have seen for myself. We have had exchanges on that point, and those concerns are shared by many colleagues. I also thank him for making the point about police powers. For reasons that we all understand, conversations about the police tend to focus on resources and money, but in terms of what the Government can do to support the police, it is not just about money. It is also about new powers such as those in the Offensive Weapons Bill that is going through the House. We are constantly reviewing how we can support the police with the powers they need to counter the changing demands on the system, and how we can work with them to anticipate demand. The one thing we do know about the policing environment at the moment is that it is one of constant change, and we need to work closely with the police to ensure that they are fit for purpose in terms of managing existing demand and getting on top of future demand.
Further to the answer that the Minister gave to the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey), and acknowledging the need for the funding formula to appreciate the specific needs that rurality creates for forces such as Dyfed-Powys, will the Minister also consider in any forthcoming review the fact that the population in many rural areas increases significantly during the summer months and as such places additional pressures on the local force?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. It is a prime responsibility of the Government to look at how these limited, stretched public resources, which come from the taxpayer, are raised and spent, and it is obviously one of our responsibilities to ensure that decisions are taken that fully reflect and understand the shifts and changes in society and in how this country works. That is our responsibility, and it is a serious bit of work, which is why I think that it is best done in the context of the CSR.
I am grateful to the Minister for the engagement that he has shown with Lincolnshire police and for the praise that he has given to the force for doing more with less, but does he agree that, however big the funding cake is for the police, Lincolnshire deserves a larger slice of it?
I have received assiduous representations on that point from Lincolnshire MPs, the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner. Some work has been done on fair funding and more work needs to be done. I recognise that the Lincolnshire police force is stretched and challenged. We have done what we can to help in the short term. I give my commitment that I will continue to do what I can there, if that is what the evidence shows, but in the context of the CSR, which is the most important event in terms of framing the future of police funding for the next five years, I undertake that we will look again at the fair funding.
The chief constable of Bedfordshire, Jon Boutcher, told me this morning that in his 35 years as a police officer he had never seen such a high demand on his force, yet he has to deal with this with fewer police officers than he had in 2010 and a £47 million budget cut. He simply cannot find enough officers to attend all the 999 calls. Our police force is at breaking point. When will the Minister’s Government admit that their funding formula is broken, understand what forces such as Bedfordshire are dealing with and give them the funding they need to protect the public?
I am in regular contact with Bedfordshire’s chief constable and the police and crime commissioner. I am extremely aware of their concerns, and we are doing more than listening. We have put an additional £3.2 million into Bedfordshire policing this year, and I have already signalled that we intend again to give PCCs flexibility over precepts in 2019-20. We are engaging with Bedfordshire about applications to the special grant pot, which we increased in the funding settlement that the hon. Gentleman voted against. We are serious about the work that needs to be done for the CSR, both in terms of increasing the resources available to the police and the fair allocation of the cake once it has been established.
The Minister will know that Derbyshire’s police are particularly unfairly treated by the formula, but the force has a practical suggestion relating to the amount of policing it does involving Black Mamba that it says will help it to manage its scarce resources. The force says that it would greatly help if the drug could be reclassified to class A to provide a far better sentencing deterrent to the use of that drug. Is that something that the Minister could do quickly to help forces to manage the issue?
I thank Derbyshire for its pragmatic, constructive approach to some of the challenges we face. My hon. Friend will know, not least from sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), that the Government keep the classification of Spice and other synthetic drugs under regular review. We rely on advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and its position is unchanged, but we are extremely aware of the public concern, and I expect that that advice will be kept under regular scrutiny and refreshment.
May I pay tribute to the bravery of the police officers in Humberside who ran towards a serious incident in Hull city centre yesterday? Despite the best efforts of our excellent police and crime commissioner, Keith Hunter, to refocus resources to the frontline, we still have fewer officers than in 2010. We have lost equipment, including the force’s helicopter, and powers for police officers on antisocial behaviour were weakened under the coalition Government. With rising levels of crime—antisocial behaviour is rising in particular in my constituency—what is the Minister going to do about that?
The hon. Lady talks about financial resources. I have already taken steps that have led to an additional £4 million of public money going into Humberside policing. I hope that she will welcome that, although she voted against it, and we intend to do something similar this year. We will work closely with the police, including Humberside, to make the case for additional investment in policing.
The hon. Lady and other Labour MPs continue to talk about the cuts since 2010, but they are in complete denial of the economic reality. The budget reductions were taken for two good reasons. First, we had to take radical action to control the deficit that we inherited from a Government that she sometimes supported. Secondly, everyone agreed at the time that demand on the police was flat. Even the shadow Home Secretary at the time agreed that the police could deliver efficiencies, which is exactly what they have done. However, demand has changed since 2014 and we have to respond to that.