House of Commons
Tuesday 6 November 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
More money is going into schools than ever before. Schools will receive over £42 billion of core funding this year and £43.5 billion next year. Our investment in schools is paying off, with 86% of schools now rated good or outstanding compared with 68% in 2010. Schools funding for 2020-21 onwards will be considered along with all areas of non-NHS departmental spending at next year’s spending review.
The Chancellor will already be aware that the £400 million for “little extras” has gone down like a lead balloon with schools that cannot afford the basics, but will he explain why there was not even a penny of additional money for post-16 colleges, most of which are in a desperate financial position and cannot carry out their training functions? Is the further education sector just another “little extra”?
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we have launched a significant initiative for the FE sector with the Government’s new T-level programme, which is being rolled out over the next few years. The programme involves a funding commitment of an additional £500 million a year to increase contact time between learners and teachers or work environments by 50%.
Education at all levels clearly matters for our economy and our country. Financing education properly is important, and I will be taking a keen interest during the spending review. However, does the Chancellor agree that money is not everything and that good teaching and well-managed schools are of equal importance?
Of course. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. They say, don’t they, that no one ever forgets a good teacher. This is about excellence in teaching and in the leadership of our schools, and a well-resourced system led by excellent leaders and staffed by brilliant teachers is the best guarantee of Britain’s bright future.
This is about the adequacy of school funding.
Which I am interested in.
Very well done.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the national funding formula is providing every local authority with more money for every pupil in every school.
I welcome the extra £400 million that the Chancellor found in his Budget for school funding. North East Lincolnshire has two nursery schools that have been particularly badly affected by the current funding regime. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) and I have met the Education Minister responsible, but it would be helpful if the Chancellor could arrange for us to meet one of his ministerial team to pursue the matter.
As my hon. Friend will know, we are putting a record £6 billion into childcare and guaranteeing working parents 30 hours a week of childcare for three and four-year-olds, but I am happy to ask one of my colleagues to meet him. We are always happy to discuss such issues. This aspect of funding, along with all others, can also be considered in the round at the spending review.
What the hon. Gentleman does know, but chooses not to say, is that as a result of the measures announced in the Budget last week, including the huge increase in NHS England funding, Scotland will receive over £2 billion more through the Barnett formula by 2023-24.
Will the Chancellor confirm that public spending on schools has never been higher in the history of our country? Will he also repeat for the benefit of the House the proportion of pupils in good and outstanding schools now, compared with when Labour left office?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on both counts. He might also be interested in the OECD data, which shows that England is the top spender in the G7 on schools and colleges delivering primary and secondary education, as a percentage of GDP. We spend more on primary and secondary education than Germany, France, Japan and Australia, both as a percentage of GDP and on a per pupil basis.
Leaving the EU: Tax Revenues
The Government will be coming forward with a full and appropriate analysis of the impact of the deal we negotiate with the European Union well in time for the meaningful vote.
The Government’s own figures demonstrate between a 2% and 8% hit on the broader economy after Brexit. Is it not the case that there is no form of Brexit that will not have a massive impact on the public finances and, therefore, on public services?
We are in the middle of a negotiation. At the appropriate moment, when we know exactly what the deal is—the deal that is available and that we have negotiated—we will of course come forward with a full and comprehensive analysis of both the fiscal and the economic impacts of that deal.
Is it not important that the public and Parliament are able to scrutinise not just the Treasury assumptions on tax as we leave the European Union but the Treasury assumptions on all aspects of the economy under the Treasury’s CGE—computable general equilibrium—model? Will the Treasury publish that model as soon as possible?
As I say, we will come forward with a full and appropriate analysis. Of course, prior to the meaningful vote, the Government will ensure that there is appropriate time to fully debate all these matters.
Our country already suffers from brutal inequality, so will the Minister say whether that analysis will be broken down by region and sub-region so we can see exactly what the impact of Brexit will be on the communities we represent?
As the hon. Lady will know, under this Government income inequality is far lower than it was under Labour. I am not going to start getting involved in a running commentary on the negotiations and the various impacts thereof, as that would not be helpful, other than to restate that a full and appropriate analysis will be provided to the House prior to the meaningful vote.
Will Ministers consider moving the trigger point for the application of the zero rate of VAT for new build dwellings as defined in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which would end the unintended discrimination, both before and after we leave the EU, against self-build and custom house building projects, while not harming Government revenue?
That is possibly the most ingenious question I have ever heard in this House, and it is indicative of my hon. Friend’s passion for and commitment to this matter. I recognise the issue he raises on the zero-rating of new builds, on which he wishes to extend the scope somewhat. I believe that my office has now arranged a meeting with him, and I look forward to it taking place within the coming days and weeks.
Will the Minister ensure that both he and the Chancellor take steps in advance of the next Budget to ensure that thousands of jobs can be created, particularly in Northern Ireland, by looking at air passenger duty and at VAT in the hospitality sector?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have consulted on APD and VAT on tourism in Northern Ireland, and we have now reported back on that consultation. We are setting up a technical working group to look specifically at the issue of short-haul APD to see whether there is some way in which that could be addressed.
Even before that great day, what reassurance can the Minister give to those of us who hold on to the quaint belief that Budgets should balance?
We take a very balanced approach to the economy, which of course includes ensuring that we stick rigorously to our fiscal rules. We have met the two intermediate rules a full three years early. We continue to bear down on the deficit, and debt as a percentage of GDP will continue to fall throughout every year of this Parliament.
Each additional EU citizen working in Scotland contributes £10,400 to Government revenue. What assessment has the Minister made of the reduction in tax revenue as a result of the ending of free movement?
I am sorry to keep reverting to the same answer, but it is effectively the same question that I keep being asked: “What will the analysis look like when the deal is concluded?” Of course that prompts the question of what exactly the deal will be. In the fullness of time, when the deal is agreed, we will come back to the House with a full analysis.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs can collect customs duties only if it has a working customs system, so how is the roll-out of the customs declaration service going? How is HMRC going to achieve the Government’s commitment in the Red Book to halve the time it takes to apply for customs trusted trader status?
The hon. Lady raises the issue of the CDS system. The current expectation is that that will be fully functioning by the end of March next year, which means we therefore have a robust back-up in the extension of the CHIEF—Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight—system. This is to make sure that that gears up for the huge increase in the number of customs declarations that will need to be made in a no-deal situation. We will of course continue to work hard on that matter.
Further to the answer the Financial Secretary gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), will he publish, when he is publishing the CGE analysis, the assumptions underlying all potential EU exit scenarios, including those on World Trade Organisation terms and with a free trade agreement?
The commitment we have made is that the deal agreed between us and the EU—we are confident we will achieve exactly that—will be fully analysed in an appropriate way and delivered to this House so that during the days in the run-up to the meaningful vote all Members of the House will have an opportunity to properly study that analysis.
Last week’s Budget certainly did not end austerity, but we all heard that things could be even worse in the event that the Government fail to get a good Brexit deal. In the Chancellor’s own words, that would necessitate a new Budget entirely, so may I ask the Financial Secretary an entirely straight question: how will the Government react to the loss of even 10% of our tax revenues from financial services in the now likely event that our market access is diminished?
The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of financial services, and of course he will be aware that recent progress has been made on that issue with our European partners in the negotiation. As for the impact of an actual deal, as I say we do not know exactly what that deal will look like at this stage. When we do, we will come forward to the House with an appropriate announcement.
The reason the Minister keeps having to give the same answer is that the Government’s answer is woefully inadequate. Business needs certainty and the Government have run out of time, so will he at least acknowledge that securing no more than equivalence which is already available to third countries would be insufficient? Is it not the case that if people want a Brexit deal that really protects jobs and tax revenues, and they want to end austerity, the only way they can have both is with a Labour Government?
It was all going so well—not that well, actually, but it got a sight worse towards the end. Government Members know that we are taking the responsible decisions to move forward a very difficult and detailed negotiation. At the appropriate time, when we have a deal—we are confident we will do that—we will present it to the House, and the House will then be able to express its view on it.
Universal Credit: Household Income
Thanks to our universal credit and welfare reforms, we have a record number of families earning wages and a record number of children in houses with work, bringing more income.
Labour Members and my constituents would gladly welcome the end of austerity, but the measures laid out in the Chancellor’s Budget certainly will not bring an end to it. Will the Chief Secretary clarify what proportion of the cuts to UC made by George Osborne in the 2015 Budget have now been reversed?
In the Budget, we announced an additional £630 for every family on UC. The Resolution Foundation has confirmed that this is more generous than the previous benefits system, but it is also better at keeping people in work. The reality is that if the Labour party was in power there would be no money to spend on those families, there would be no money for tax cuts and taxes would be going up for ordinary people.
The Minister knows this, but can she explain to Opposition Members that helping people into work and into higher rates of work, and keeping the credits and benefits they are entitled to matters, and that if Labour’s policy of freezing the roll-out of UC came in many people would not get the support they need to help them have the lives they want?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Under the previous Labour Government, we saw 20% of young people unemployed and we saw families trapped on benefits. What we have done is create a system where it pays to work. There are now a record number of children in houses where parents are out at work. That is good for them and good for the next generation.
The Chancellor announced in the Budget a two-week run-on of legacy benefits for those being migrated to universal credit, but it takes five weeks for a universal credit payment to come through, so what does the Chief Secretary expect families to do in the three-week gap between those two?
We already have an advances system that enables those families to be covered for that period. Universal credit is designed to mirror the world of work to make it easier for people to get into work and that is exactly what it is doing, as opposed to the previous benefits system, which trapped people in poverty and kept people where they are, which is what the Labour party wants to do.
Universal credit comes to my constituency next month. Will the Chief Secretary confirm that the changes made in last week’s Budget mean that there is more support for working families with children, more support for people with disabilities and more support for the self-employed and that, crucially, people will not need to wait five weeks for a payment?
My hon. Friend is right on all those points. What we were also able to do in the Budget is make sure that there is £690 boost for those on the national living wage and a £130 basic rate tax cut. We were able to do that because of the improvement in the public finances, thanks to getting more people into work. The reality is that the reason we had £100 billion extra in our Budget is that this Government have taken responsible decisions.
Leaving the EU: No Deal
The OBR has set out its forecasting assumptions regarding EU exit and will update them when the details of a deal justify a forecast change. Parliament will be presented with the appropriate analysis to make an informed decision ahead of the vote on the final deal. It is in the interests of the EU and the UK to strike a deal, and we remain confident that we are on track to achieve a mutually advantageous deal in the near future.
The Chancellor’s Budget measures were based on OBR assumptions of an orderly withdrawal from the EU and a 21-month continuation in the customs union. In the event of a no deal, will the Minister share with the House the assessment he has made of the potential decline in tax revenues and consequential changes to his tax and spending plans in the Budget?
The Government are fully committed to achieving a good deal with the EU. We will make lots of assessments during that process, but our mind is focused on achieving that deal and the Government will achieve it.
Mr Speaker, through you, may I assure all Members of this House that the Treasury Committee will take very seriously the job of scrutinising the analysis produced by the Treasury on the final deal on behalf of all Members, and will let Members know the conclusions that we draw from that before the meaningful vote?
My hon. Friend the Minister may well be aware of the OBR discussion paper published last month on Brexit and the OBR’s forecasts. Paragraph 1.27, which talks about the risk of a disorderly Brexit, says that
“while not a direct parallel, it is worth noting that the ‘Three-Day Week’ introduced in early 1974…was associated with a fall in output of…under 3 per cent that quarter.”
The shadow Chancellor might think that the 1970s was a good way to manage the economy, but can my hon. Friend assure us that he does not think that that is the way forward for this country?
That is certainly not the way forward. I can assure my right hon. Friend that we are doing everything we can to plan for all eventualities. That is why I am taking through a large number of statutory instruments to take account of all possibilities next year, but we are working on, and focused on, achieving a good deal.
There is no estimate in the Red Book for the benefits to tax revenues of the measures that we took in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. Is that because Ministers are holding that money in their back pocket in case of a no deal?
What is clear is that we will have greater freedom in terms of how we implement a sanctions and anti-money laundering regime, and that will give us the opportunity to fix measures that are appropriate for this country, and the revenues will flow from that.
Surely the greatest threat to this country is not no deal, but a Labour Government and the tax bombshell that would come with them.
I agree wholeheartedly with that characterisation of the risks associated with the Opposition ever getting into power. The enormous increases in taxes for businesses would hit consumers and be appalling for the state of the economy.
The Budget set out the next steps in our plan to raise productivity and to grow the economy. That included increasing the national productivity investment fund to more than £37 billion to fund the largest sustained investment in our national infrastructure since the 1970s.
With that very increase in infrastructure funding to £37 billion, what opportunities are there in places such as North East Derbyshire to invest in regeneration and communities?
The plans set out in the Budget were designed exactly for parts of the country such as my hon. Friend’s constituency. The £28.8 billion national roads fund will provide the largest ever investment in our strategic roads, and more money for potholes and pinch points. The future high streets fund will enable small towns across the country, including in the midlands, to be transformed and become thriving communities once more.
How does the announcement in the Budget that non-NHS capital funding will actually fall in the coming years help the country’s productivity?
The Budget announced the largest increase in capital spend in our economic infrastructure since the 1970s. Under this Government, investment in our economic infrastructure will be £460 million a week higher than under the last Labour Government.
The Chancellor has announced that he will be improving productivity by stopping inefficient public sector contracting—basically, abolishing the use of the private finance initiative and private finance 2. Can more be done to reduce the £240 billion bill to our country left by the Labour party?
Yes. We are ending the scandal of PFI that was created by the last Labour Government. Eighty-six per cent. of PFI contracts were signed by the last Labour Government—91% by value. In addition to retiring PFI we are creating a crack team, beginning in the Department of Health and Social Care, to look back at some of those old contracts and to clean out the stable left by the last Labour Government.
This Government and their coalition predecessors have overseen the longest slump in wages in living memory. What effect has that had on productivity?
The hon. Gentleman may not be aware of this, but real wages are rising. The Government believe that the best way to support working people across the country is to get them into work. Employment is now at its highest level in my lifetime, with 3 million more jobs created and 1 million fewer people on the dole.
Multinational Digital Businesses: Tax
The Government have announced that we will be introducing a digital services tax on the UK revenues of large social media platforms, search engines and online marketplaces. The tax is expected to raise around £1.5 billion over four years, ensuring that digital businesses make a fair contribution to the public finances.
Members of Market Harborough chamber of commerce and my local Federation of Small Businesses have for some time been calling for the Chancellor to bring in a new tax on the digital giants and to use the proceeds to help small businesses on the high street. First, may I congratulate the Chancellor on taking such sensible economic advice? Secondly, can he tell us how much small businesses will benefit by?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and his constituents for the advice; and, while we are at it, I wish him a happy birthday. The digital services tax aims to improve sustainability and fairness in the tax system. Separately, the Government have announced measures to support small retailers by cutting their business rates by one third for two years. Just to put that in a local context for my hon. Friend, there are 660 retail properties in Harborough local authority area with a rateable value of below £51,000, which means that there are 660 properties that could benefit.
As I said last week, the proposal is to introduce the tax in 2020, but in the meantime we will continue to lead international negotiations on the potential for an internationally agreed tax. Such a tax would in fact be preferable to nationally implemented schemes, but at the moment it is proving very difficult to agree. I hope that, by the time we get to our implementation date in April 2020, we may yet have made progress on an internationally agreed measure.
Support for the High Street
As my hon. Friends will know, in the Budget, we allocated £1.5 billion to supporting our high streets, including £675 million for our future high streets fund, and reduced business rates for smaller retailers by one third for the next two years.
Businesses in my constituency are giddy with excitement at this huge reduction in business rates. Will my right hon. Friend confirm what proportion of businesses on the high street are going to benefit from this?
I am also giddy with excitement about this, and giddy with excitement to be able to inform my hon. Friend that up to 90% of smaller retailers, many of them in our high streets, will benefit from this package. That is in complete contrast to Labour’s policy of putting up taxes on small businesses. That is no way to support our high streets; it is Labour’s way to destroy business and jobs.
On 1 December, I will be visiting retailers in Rugby town centre to support the Federation of Small Businesses’ Small Business Saturday. These businesses are in a tough and fast-changing environment. Does the Minister agree that the business rate incentive that he mentioned will go some way towards levelling the playing field between those retailers and those who operate online?
I certainly agree. These changes will boost our high streets, and the FSB is to be congratulated on Small Business Saturday. I shall be in Ramsgate with my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) speaking to some of his retailers about this. I extend a non-partisan invitation to Labour Members to join us: we will go up our high streets talking to retailers about reducing their rates, and they can talk about the tax increases that they have in store for them.
The very short-term measure to give some businesses relief was announced at the Budget, but why did not the Chancellor announce the real cause of escalating business rates—the investors on our high streets from overseas who are really exploiting the market?
I am slightly disappointed by the approach taken by the hon. Lady, for whom I have great respect, in pouring cold water on a major fiscal move such as this to reduce high street rates by one third, which will benefit approximately 90% of smaller retailers in her constituency. That is a shot in the arm for our high street and a shot in the arm for British business.
In truth, this is very small beans for high street stores. It is correct that some people will benefit, but also correct that many of our town centres and shopping centres have vacancies that this will not even touch, so what more can Government do to address the fundamental unfairness in the system?
The hon. Gentleman is right inasmuch as he points to the fact that high streets need to reinvent themselves—to transition—in order to adjust to the growth in online marketplaces. That is exactly what our future high streets fund is all about, with £675 million going out via local authorities, following competitive bids, to make sure that we reshape those high streets in exactly the way that he would like them to be reshaped, get rid of the shops that are shut down and reinvigorate and rejuvenate the very centres of our communities.
Support for Businesses and Entrepreneurs
This Government are determined to make the UK a great place to do business, so we are keeping taxes low and helping businesses and entrepreneurs to access the support they need. We have cut corporation tax to the lowest rate in the G20, we have made changes to business rates worth over £13 billion by 2023, we have introduced a £1 million annual investment allowance, and we are helping exporters by increasing UK Export Finance’s direct lending capacity by up to £2 billion.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the BEST enterprise growth centre at Hythe in Southend, which provides free advice for businesses to grow and prosper, and has so far helped over 3,000 businesses in Essex, through start-up centres, to increase their profitability?
I am pleased to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the BEST growth hub on its support for Essex businesses. That is a clear example of how England’s 38 growth hubs are helping businesses to start up and grow. Businesses in Essex, like those across England, will benefit from the further measures that I have announced on management training, mentoring and local peer networks, which will help businesses to grow by learning from our leading business schools and companies, as well as from one another.
Shops in Grimsby tell me that the biggest issue they face at the moment is shoplifting and antisocial behaviour, and local residents tell me that they are too scared to go into the town centre. We need to make sure that we have a strong police presence. What assurance can the Chancellor give me that the additional pension costs that Humberside police are facing will be covered by central grant funding, to prevent the loss of 200 additional police officers?
As I have told the House before, the 2016 pension changes were notified to Departments in 2016 in their settlement letters and have been factored into departmental calculations since then. The 2018 increases in public sector pension contributions will be covered in full by the Treasury in 2019-20 and then looked at in the round in the spending review.
The Financial Ombudsman Service can make judgments faster and at a lower cost than a tribunal, and the Government therefore think that that is a better way to go than the creation of a tribunal, but I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter in more detail.
The £150 million investment in the Tay cities deal is welcome, but it short-changes my city and the surrounding area by £50 million—the Scottish Government have committed £200 million. Given the serious news of the proposed closure of Michelin in Dundee, with 850 jobs at risk, will the UK Government urgently commit further funding to the Tay cities deal and work constructively with the Scottish Government to protect those jobs?
My understanding is that, after negotiations, including negotiations involving the Scottish Government, the Tay cities deal is almost agreed, and we hope to see it signed very shortly. Of course, where there are large-scale redundancies in any area, there are other mechanisms by which we can provide support.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said in my Budget speech, after considering representations to scrap entrepreneurs’ relief, I reached the conclusion that, unless we support entrepreneurs, we will not have a dynamic and vibrant economy that can support our first-class public services. Those two things go hand in hand.
Is the Chancellor aware that the businesses and entrepreneurs I speak to look back fondly to the time of the global economic collapse—not a Labour recession, but a world economic collapse—when a man called Alistair Darling, who was a real Chancellor, led us through that crisis? [Interruption.] At a time when everyone is totally depressed about Brexit, our businesses and entrepreneurs want a real statesman and a real Chancellor to lead this country.
The hon. Gentleman’s synthetic anger, which I have been enjoying for the best part of 20 years, is always a spectacle worth observing. I thank him for another episode. If he really thinks that businesses look back fondly to the financial crisis, he needs to get out a bit more.
In his Budget speech, the Chancellor failed to make one single mention of climate change, yet by scrapping enhanced capital allowances for small and medium-sized enterprises, the Government have again cut vital support for energy efficiency and decarbonisation. Given the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate change report and given this Government’s support for fracking and their abysmal failure on tidal, onshore wind and solar, do the Conservatives realise that not only will they fail to meet their climate change targets, but they have breached their quota for hot air on this issue?
The hon. Gentleman might have been too busy preparing his question for today and in the process have missed the industrial energy efficiency fund that we have committed to introduce.
Skills and Training Funding
By 2019-20, we will be spending £2.5 billion on apprenticeships in England every year through the apprenticeship levy. In this Budget, we have given employers more flexibility to deploy it as they see best.
Greater investment in STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—skills is key to boosting employment in our growing digital economy. What support can the Chief Secretary give to ensure more training is available to our next generation of scientists, engineers and tech entrepreneurs?
My hon. Friend is right. We know that people with STEM skills have higher earnings. That is why we put more money into the maths premium last year to encourage more students to study that subject from 16 to 18. This year, we have launched a new programme to enable the better retention of maths and physics teachers in our schools.
If, as the Chief Secretary says, there is now more money for skills funding, why did not the Chancellor announce in his Budget speech an uplifting of the cap on sixth-form and college funding from £4,000, which is causing real problems?
What the Chancellor announced in his Budget speech is the fact that we are giving employers more flexibility over apprenticeships, which they have asked for, and we are seeing more and more people going into high-level apprenticeships under this Government.
West Oxfordshire businesses are thriving, but they are clear that their major challenge is access to people with the right skills. Will the Minister please give an update on the national retraining scheme and how that will help?
We put £20 million into the national retraining scheme, and I am very much looking forward to visiting my hon. Friend in Oxfordshire to see some of those fantastic businesses in situ.
Bearing in mind that two thirds of UK firms have expressed concerns about a skills gap, will the Minister further outline what steps her Department has taken to provide schemes and support to businesses that are willing to take on apprenticeships but have not so far done so?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we want to encourage more small and medium-sized enterprises to take on apprenticeships. That is why we have reduced the level from 10% to 5% for co-investment, which will encourage more small firms to get involved, as well as extending the amount that can be used down the supply chain.
The 9.9% of GDP post-war record deficit that we inherited in 2010 is forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility to fall to 1.2% this year and to 0.8% of GDP in 2023-24, the lowest level since the start of the century. The OBR’s Budget forecast shows that borrowing will be lower in every year than was the case at the spring statement, and that we are now meeting our two fiscal rules three years early. We continue to be committed to our balanced approach—getting debt down, keeping taxes low, investing in Britain’s future and funding our public services, with the spending review to take place next year.
The nature of the economic cycle means that, inevitably, over the next few years there will be a global economic downturn. Can the Chancellor reassure the House that he will always retain sufficient headroom and resilience in the public finances to enable us to respond strongly to such a shock?
Yes, and I remind my right hon. Friend that the fiscal targets are set in cyclically adjusted terms, so that in the event of an economic downturn, fiscal space is automatically created. In addition, I have kept a buffer, over and above any cyclical dividend, of £15.4 billion in 2020-21 to allow us firepower should any unexpected events cause headwinds for the economy.
After the Budget, then, more than 3 million families will still be losing an average of £2,100 a year by transferring to universal credit. With 40% of claimants in debt and 38% in rent arrears, are not the Government simply transferring the nation’s debt into the pockets of the poorest families, and what assessment has the Chancellor made of their ability to move into work?
The hon. Lady should not have spoiled it. She was doing very well before she added a further bit that was not required.
The hon. Lady will have heard the Chief Secretary remind the House earlier that the Resolution Foundation has now identified that, with the additional money we have put into universal credit, the system is now more generous than the legacy system that it replaces. It has a clear incentivisation to work, and those of us on the Government Benches believe that the best way we support and help and families is to help them into work. That is the sustainable route out of poverty.
Parliament passed legislation in 2016 to save hundreds of millions of pounds each year by limiting public sector exit payments to £95,000. As my right hon. Friend is so keen to improve public finances, why has he not yet implemented that legislation, which would have outlawed the £474,000 obscene exit payment recently announced for the chief executive of Dorset County Council, with many similar payouts to follow?
My hon. Friend raises a perfectly legitimate question. This is a complicated area. We are making progress on it and we hope and expect to be able to make an announcement shortly.
Just as the Chancellor’s claims to end austerity already lie in tatters, so do his claims of fiscal prudence, given the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ assessment that the Chancellor took a bit of a gamble with this Budget. Does he agree with the Father of the House that the Budget was based on an
“news about…tax revenues recently may not last”—[Official Report, 1 November 2018; Vol. 648, c. 1099.]?
If so, how worried is he about Standard & Poor’s warnings about the potential for recession if we leave the EU without a deal?
The Opposition try to have it all ways. Look, the truth is that our remarkable record in creating jobs—3.3 million new jobs in this country since 2010—forecast by the OBR to continue over the next four years, has led to a boom in fiscal revenues, that we have been able to deploy. The Budget that I delivered to the House last Monday shows debt falling in every year, the deficit falling in every year, and both of those metrics lower today than they were forecast to be at the spring. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) says, “Inequality up,” but unfortunately for him, he is wrong. Inequality in this country is lower now than it was under the last Labour Government.
Plymouth and the West of England Combined Authority will benefit from the £2.5 billion Transforming Cities fund extended in the Budget. Cornwall will receive £79 million towards the A30 St Austell link road, which my hon. Friend campaigned for.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but Cornwall relies on its only mainline rail link through south Devon, and it is well documented that it is very vulnerable to adverse weather. The Budget Red Book contained a reference to improving that rail link, but some in the south-west have doubted the Government’s commitment to it. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to improving that railway, and that we now need Network Rail to get on with it?
Protecting the line at Dawlish is a national priority. South-west Conservative MPs, including my hon. Friend, pressed that upon the Chancellor and I, and we restated our commitment in the Budget to finding a permanent solution that delivers super-resilience at Dawlish.
One Yorkshire Devolution Deal
I have regular conversations with my counterparts in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, including on the One Yorkshire proposals. We have said that we will respond to any proposals that we receive in good faith, assuming that they are able to provide for economic growth in a clearly defined economic geography.
Does the Minister agree that the detailed economic case for One Yorkshire devolution, presented to the Treasury and to other Ministries by no fewer than 18 Yorkshire councils, many of them Conservative, is worthy of detailed discussion between the Government and local authorities, as specified in the legislation?
The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this matter. I have met stakeholders from the region on a number of occasions, including Councillor Judith Blake from Leeds. We have said that to progress this matter we want to see the Sheffield city region become fully functioning and the Mayor, who is now elected, able to conduct his duties. We think that is a reasonable way forward, so that local people in that area are not let down.
Due to the Government’s support, we have already seen the cost of renewables fall significantly. Offshore wind has halved in price since 2015 and the costs of other technologies are also falling.
It is very surprising that the Chancellor’s Budget did not make any new commitments on renewable energy. Even worse is the fact that that comes with slashed grants for electric vehicles and plans to remove support for small-scale renewables. This was described by RenewableUK as a major blow to the sector. It also comes with the pursuit of fracking at any cost. On one of the greatest challenges we face today—clean, low carbon sustainable energy sources—why are the Government rolling back the clock?
Since 2010, we have reduced carbon dioxide emissions across the economy by 26% and across electricity generation by 47%. We are making sure that those technologies are competitive, so that they work well in the market, and so that we deliver lower prices to customers and lower levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
Tax Avoidance and Evasion
The Government have brought in over 100 measures to clamp down on avoidance, evasion and non-compliance since 2010, protecting and yielding over £200 billion in revenue.
Some 19% of all businesses declared deliberate tax defaulters by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs this year were from the restaurant and takeaway business. Does the Minister agree that companies in this industry that do pay their taxes, such as the Chesterford Group in my constituency, do not have a level playing field?
I cannot comment on a specific taxpayer, but I can say that HMRC does publish quarterly the names of those who deliberately default on taxation, as a method of bringing them forward to settle with HMRC. We have brought in a further 21 measures in the Budget to raise a further £2 billion by 2023-24 by clamping down on avoidance and evasion.
How does a £200 million cut, announced in the Red Book, help with HMRC’s collection of taxes?
HMRC has had an additional investment since 2010 of £2 billion. It has 28,000 full-time equivalent staff engaged in the mission of tax inspection and clamping down on avoidance and evasion. We have one of the lowest tax gaps in the entire world, at 5.7%. That is far lower than was the case under the previous Labour Government. In fact, if we were stuck with the levels of poor tax collection under the Labour party, we would lose revenues equivalent to employing every policeman and policewoman in England and Wales.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is a very lucky boy today.
Topical question number one, sir.
The hon. Gentleman is getting ahead of himself. The reason why he is a lucky boy is that he is going to get two bites of the cherry. What he should now say is—mouth it after me—“Question 19”.
So what are the Government doing to reduce—
No, no. I realise the hon. Gentleman has only been here for, I think, 35 years, but what he has to say is, “Question 19”.
My hon. and gallant Friend always gets there in the end and in my experience he is very good when he does. I can tell him that we do a great deal to support small businesses. We announced our one third reduction in the small business rate. Our tax rate for small business is declining. It is now 19% and it will fall to 17% in the next couple of years.
Can the Minister assure me that by the end of this Parliament small businesses in Gainsborough will be paying less tax than they are now?
I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that the smaller retailers in his constituency will be paying about a third less in rates. He will see a further diminution of the general corporation tax rate. It was 28% in 2010 and it is now coming down to 17%. Of course, they will also benefit from other measures, such as the freezing of fuel duty, which will help many small businesses.
My principal responsibility is to ensure economic stability and the continued prosperity of the British people, and I will do so by building on the plans set out in last week’s Budget. This is a Budget that supports our vital public services, such as the NHS, invests in Britain’s future, keeps taxes low and continues to reduce the nation’s debt. It is a Budget that shows that the hard work of the British people is paying off and that austerity is finally coming to an end. We have turned an important corner in this country and a bright, prosperous future is within our grasp.
As our economy is cyclical and sooner or later there will be another recession, will the Chancellor take this opportunity to deny the claim that by spending an extra £30 billion by 2023, we are going to be taking out of the economy exactly the same proportion as Gordon Brown did at the end of his Chancellorship? Will the Chancellor assure me that we remain as committed as ever to fixing the roof while the sun shines and that he has a firm plan to reduce the debt?
Yes, I have a very firm plan to reduce the debt. My hon. Friend will see from the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast published last week that the debt will fall from over 85% of GDP to below 75% by the end of the forecast period. But my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have decided to take a balanced approach, where reducing the debt has to take place in tandem with keeping taxes low, supporting our public services and, probably most important of all, investing capital in Britain’s future.
There are reports that the Cabinet has been briefed on a possible deal with the EU that includes a customs union that can be ended through a review mechanism at any stage in the future. So after two years of uncertainty, of business holding back investment and of jobs relocated abroad, we are now presented with a fudge that gives no guarantees on a long-term basis of our future trading relationship. Investment in our economy today is the lowest in the G7 and falling. If a customs union with our largest trading partner can be ripped up at any stage, how does the Chancellor expect businesses to have the confidence to bring forward the long-term investment needed to support our economy?
That was a perfectly reasonable—if a little long—question, but unfortunately, it was built on a false premise. The Cabinet has received no such briefing.
Well, it is interesting, because the Chancellor knows then that a free trade agreement without a permanent customs union will not protect our economy from the damage that a hard Brexit would cause, so to guarantee frictionless supply chains, we need a secure, permanent customs union with the EU. Businesses and workers are looking to the Chancellor to fight their corner, so will he join me and MPs across the House in calling on the Prime Minister to do the sensible thing and agree a permanent customs union that protects our economy, and yes, the livelihoods of millions of our people?
The right hon. Gentleman and I do not share very much in common, but we do share the desire to maintain frictionless trade between the UK and the European Union to protect British businesses and British jobs. His preferred way of achieving that is through a customs union; the Prime Minister has set out an alternative plan that will ensure that we can continue to have frictionless trade with the European Union. I prefer the Prime Minister’s plan.
I obviously cannot comment on the specific case of the Sandbach services employees, but I assure my hon. Friend that I have looked extensively at this matter and consulted various Members across both sides of the House. I am satisfied that HMRC in general has conducted itself appropriately over this whole issue, but I am happy to meet her to discuss the specific point that she raised.
The hon. Gentleman obviously missed the Chancellor’s speech at the Conservative party conference, in which he announced the creation of a special area of economic activity at Toton, just south of Nottingham, which we expect to become one of the UK’s leading areas of economic growth. We also announced in the Budget an increase in the transforming cities fund, which will directly benefit Nottingham.
I recognise the huge amount of work my hon. Friend has put into the issue of revitalising our high streets, and his representations to me and other colleagues. The £675 million future high streets fund will be bid for on a competitive basis through local authorities, so it is very important that all Members encourage their local authorities to come forward with their bids.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the co-operative movement is very important to our economy; we have met to discuss various aspects of its future. I am happy to meet him again to discuss the matters that he wishes to bring forward.
Yes, my hon. Friend is right. The Government have delivered eight straight years of economic growth, over 3.3 million more people in work, and higher employment in every region and nation of the United Kingdom. Wages are growing at their fastest pace in almost a decade, and the deficit is down by well over four fifths. In the Budget, we have gone further, cutting taxes and funding our vital public services.
As the Chancellor pointed out, we have already put an additional £1.3 billion into schools’ budgets, which means that they are rising in real terms, and it is entirely proper for Education Ministers to appear in front of the Select Committee to discuss those issues.
I have heard my hon. Friend’s representations on behalf of self-builders; twice in one sitting is probably a record. I will treat them as representations for the next fiscal event and will look at them accordingly.
That is a matter for the Department of Health and Social Care, and I know that the Health Secretary is in discussion with the pharmaceutical industry. We are supporting the Department with allocations from the £3.5 billion I have allocated for Brexit preparations. We will ensure that adequate supplies of medicines are stockpiled if there is any risk of disruption at the channel ports.
One way both to reduce the deficit and to deliver a reduction in tax rates would be to do something about stamp duty land tax. Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts show over the scorecard period a £4 billion reduction in stamp duty land tax receipts—down a staggering £800 million since the last forecast in March. Can the Chancellor give me an assurance that the Treasury is actively looking at this issue and designing a solution?
What I can do is assure my right hon. Friend that we look actively at all taxes at every fiscal event. He will know that stamp duty land tax has been a subject of some interest and, indeed, controversy. We do look very carefully at the receipts data, but we also have to look at the distributional impact of different taxes. As my right hon. Friend will understand, doing anything about high rates of stamp duty land tax would have a very uneven distributional impact.
As part of the spending review, we will look at the most efficient way in which we can meet our carbon targets. I am working closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in that regard.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcement of £150 million of new money for the Tay cities deal, but may I ask him to direct some of his officials to speak to colleagues in BEIS to establish what support could be given to the devolved Administration and to Michelin, which is to close its tyre factory in Dundee? The closure could mean the loss of 850 jobs, which could not only have an impact on Dundee but cause ripples throughout the region.
I am sure that both BEIS and the Department for Work and Pensions are already aware of that very large job loss, and I will ensure that my colleagues are looking at it.
What role, if any, have the readiness for Brexit and resource levels of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs played in influencing the Prime Minister to consider extending the customs transition period?
HMRC has a central role in ensuring that we are ready for Brexit, specifically in the unlikely event of a no-deal day one scenario. That has included the recruitment of 2,300 additional staff, and we will have an additional 5,000 staff by the end of the year. We are ready, and we will be ready, for wherever this deal lands.
Motorists want to see the earliest possible end to the traffic misery on the A417 caused by the air balloon pinch point. Does my hon. Friend recognise that the Budget, through its extra firepower for roads, provides the best possible platform for such a vital scheme?
I have met my hon. Friend and his Gloucestershire colleagues to discuss this matter. It was with strategic roads and roundabouts, such as the air balloon roundabout, in mind that we made the largest ever investment in our strategic road network. Decisions on specific roads will be made next year.
I welcome HMRC’s rather belated decision to return tax wrongly paid by the Roadchef employees benefit trust. It is clearly now necessary to honour previously made commitments in respect of tax implications for beneficiaries. Did HMRC use its discretion to make that payout, and, if so, on what basis?
The hon. Gentleman and I have had a number of discussions about this issue, both formal and informal, and have engaged in an Adjournment debate on it. I have always been very attentive to his specific questions, but if he would like me to meet him again to discuss the issue further, I should be more than happy to do so.
Previous independent assessments of the impact of air passenger duty have shown that it costs the economy more than it brings into the Exchequer. May I have an assurance that the Treasury will do its own modelling to ensure that this island trading nation can compete better in the future?
Yes. The Treasury regularly receives independent assessments that tell us that taxes cost us more than they deliver to us, and I can assure my hon. Friend that the Treasury always does its own modelling to reach its decisions.
The Chancellor is aware of the sad news about the Michelin plant in my constituency; its potential closure in 2020 would mean the loss of 850 jobs. It is early days, but may I ask the Chancellor for a straightforward commitment to work constructively with the Scottish Government and others—who are meeting representatives of the business today—to do whatever he can to preserve quality manufacturing on the site, and to protect and preserve as many jobs as possible?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Of course we will work constructively with the Scottish Government to ensure that we can mitigate in every way possible the impact on the community of these very large numbers of job losses.
I do not think we have heard from Mr Knight.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
This morning, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association released research demonstrating that all 270 new-generation diesel vehicles tested to date are below the emissions threshold on the road. In the light of this, will the Treasury team meet me and other colleagues to discuss how we can construct a road tax system that promotes clean diesel over old diesel and protects 9,000 jobs in my constituency?
I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend, who I know is a champion for Jaguar Land Rover. I hope it will reassure him to know that I will discuss these issues with the chief executive of that company later today.
If we took every single person who has suffered a major traumatic brain injury—for instance, from a car crash—from needing four people in order to be able to wash, clothe and look after themselves to needing just one, and thereby leading a more independent life, we could save the taxpayers £5 billion a year. May I meet with the Chancellor to explain all this?
With the Chancellor.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have a previous interest in this subject. I commend the excellent work he has done with the all-party group on acquired brain injury, and am happy to meet him to discuss the matters he has raised.
Before we come to the first of the two urgent questions, I remind the House that the sitting will be suspended at 1.45 pm and will resume at 3.15 pm. That is to accommodate the fact that significant numbers of colleagues are going to the commemorative Remembrance service in St Margaret’s church. It might be useful for colleagues to know that both urgent questions will therefore finish by 1.45 pm.
Police Pension Liabilities
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if he will make a statement on police pension liabilities and the National Police Chiefs Council’s threatened legal action against the Government.
I am sure the whole House agrees about the need for our public sector pensions to be properly funded and affordable for the long term. That is why the Government announced changes to the discount rate that applies to those pensions at both Budget 2016 and Budget 2018. These changes, I should stress, are based on the latest independent Office for Budget Responsibility projections for future GDP growth.
This change will lead to increased employer pension contribution costs for all unfunded public sector pensions, including those of police forces. Budget 2018 confirmed that there will be funding from the reserve to pay for part of the increase in costs for public services, including the police in 2019-20. My officials are in discussions with representatives from the NPCC and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners to discuss how this additional funding will be distributed. Funding arrangements for 2020-21 onwards will be discussed as part of the spending review.
As the Chancellor made clear at the Budget, the Government recognise the pressures on the police, including from the changing nature of crime, and we will—Home Office and Treasury Ministers working together—review police spending power ahead of announcing the police funding settlement for 2019-20 in early December.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
In a written ministerial statement in September, the Government thought it reasonable to try to sneak out the proposed changes to public sector pensions. The NPCC has said that this liability, dropped on police chiefs at the last minute, will cost £165 million in the next financial year, rising to £420 million in 2020-21. This could amount to the loss of a further 10,000 police officers. Despite what the Prime Minister has repeatedly, and shamefully, told this House—that the police have known about these changes “for years”—police chiefs issued a public statement rebuking the Prime Minister and saying the first notification they had came in September 2018. So quite apart from the fact that the Prime Minister should apologise to the House, the Government should apologise to the police for such rank incompetence. Is it any wonder that police chiefs are now taking the unprecedented step of taking the Government to court?
Without the Minister giving a firm commitment today that his Government will meet the full cost of these pension changes, it is inevitable that further officers will be lost next year. West Midlands police are preparing an emergency budget that could cost 500 police officers; the figure is £43 million for the Metropolitan police alone. Will the Minister commit today—not in the comprehensive spending review in a year’s time, and not in the police grant next month—to meeting the £165 million cost that the Government have left the police to pick up next year? Police forces need this security urgently. If he will not, does he accept that this will mean officer numbers being cut to the lowest levels on record?
Does the Minister further realise that the pension changes will cancel out the council tax rise that hard-pressed ratepayers have coughed up this year? Is that what he meant when he said that the precept rise would enable forces to spend on their local priorities? Will he confirm whether the Home Office has conducted any analysis of whether the police can afford to meet these changes, given that he has been telling them repeatedly to spend their reserves? How many police forces will go bankrupt as a result of these changes?
The police and our communities are facing twin crises. The surge in violent crime is devastating lives, and the crisis in police finances is leaving the police unable to respond. The Government’s serious violence taskforce has met just four times since its creation. That is a shameful response to the horrifying rise in violence, but the Government are not just complacent; they are actively making it harder for the police to keep us safe. It is time for Ministers to step back from the brink, apologise for the risks they have taken with our safety and give the police the resources they need to fight crime.
It would have been nice to hear from the Labour Front-Bench spokesperson some commitments or some recognition of the need to keep our public sector pensions properly funded and long-term affordable. I am sure that other Labour MPs will want to take the opportunity to make that clear to their constituents. That was one of the most disgraceful pieces of shroud-waving that I have heard, even from Labour Members. The hon. Lady knows the reality, because I am sure that she has studied Budget 2016 in detail. In it, the Treasury made it quite clear that there were likely to be changes to the discount rate that applies to public pensions.
What has changed is the independent Office for Budget Responsibility’s projection for GDP growth, which changes the discount rate that applies. That is a change, and I fully accept—the hon. Lady has heard me say this publicly—that it has resulted in an unbudgeted cost for the police of around £165 million next year. That is a serious issue—she has heard me say that publicly as well. I set that alongside other serious issues facing the police, such as the significant shift in demand and pressure on them, which we have recognised. We are working extremely hard with the police and the Treasury to find a solution.
What I would say to the hon. Lady is that, as a result of the action that this Government have taken on the economy, we are now in much better shape to resume our investment in policing. That is why, in this year, we have taken steps that have resulted in £460 million-worth of additional public money going into our policing system—the police settlement that Labour MPs voted against. We are on track to invest more as a country in our policing than promised under Labour, so she needs to be very careful about what she says about projections in this context.
Finally, as a London MP, I take offence at the hon. Lady’s statement about complacency on serious violence. She knows, because I know how seriously she takes this job, that we are dealing with one of the most serious challenges that this society faces. We have beaten it before, 10 years ago, but we know that it is not simple. We know that it involves complex, long-term work, which is why, under this Home Secretary, our ambition has been increased so that there will be more money for policing and more powers for the police coming through in the Offensive Weapons Bill. There is almost a quarter of a billion pounds of public money being committed to critical work on prevention and early intervention to ensure that we get the right balance between robust policing and really good prevention and intervention work over time. She knows, or should know, that we cannot police our way out of this system. We are addressing a very serious challenge with the right level of ambition and partnership with the police and the police and crime commissioners.
Some Members across the House are hoping that December’s police funding settlement may bring good news about dealing with unfair damping, which affects 19 police forces. However, if there is good news about damping, there would be concern that that may be counteracted by pension costs. Is my hon. Friend able to say anything about that?
My hon. Friend has been tireless in making the case for more funding for Bedfordshire police, and I am working hard with my colleagues at the Treasury and with officials to look again at the 2019-20 funding settlement as an opportunity to find a solution to the pensions issue. However, the path that we set this time last year has meant that almost every police force in the country is now recruiting additional officers, which is what we and the public we serve want.
The Home Affairs Committee’s recent report pointed out that recorded crime has gone up by around a third, but the number of charges and arrests is down by a quarter, which reflects the real challenges that the police face. The Budget provided no additional money for mainstream policing across the country, and police chiefs are warning about a potential reduction in the number of police officers of 10,000 if additional money for pensions is not provided. What does the Minister have to say, not to MPs, but to those chief constables about their warnings? Will he provide extra pension money in the settlement before Christmas?
I hope that the right hon. Lady welcomed the news in the Budget about additional money for counter-terrorism policing and, crucially, for mental health. Through the work of the Home Affairs Committee and the many conversations that we have had with the police, she will know about the mental health demand on our police system, and that additional money must work to reduce demand on our police.
Given the right hon. Lady’s experience as a former Secretary of State, she will also know that the Budget is not where local police money is allocated. It is settled in the police funding settlement, and as the Chancellor and I have made clear, that deal is not settled. Work is ongoing between the Home Office and the Treasury to look again at what I indicated last year, and I will come to the House in early in December with the results of that work.
I give my hon. Friend every support in his negotiations with the Treasury. In addition to using reserves, funds must be found for pension liability above and beyond an increase to the police grant in December so that frontline officer numbers can rise.
I thank my hon. Friend for that constructive intervention. We share a desire to continue down the path we set, and as a result of the action that we have taken, almost every single police force in the country is now recruiting additional officers. We do not want to go backwards. We must solve the pension issue, and we are working closely with our Treasury colleagues to do just that.
The Minister will be aware that the pension issue comes at a time that is not without problems that already exist. My constituency has seen an alarming rise in gun and knife crime, and a bus service was withdrawn last week after hooligans threw bricks at buses. The Minister needs to resolve the situation quickly; otherwise we run the risk of losing control of the streets.
I will resist any such scaremongering on this issue, but I do not need any lectures about the demand and pressures on the police following my conversations with all ranks of police leadership and with Members from both sides of the House. We are all in the same place, and even the Chancellor recognised here at the Dispatch Box the pressures on the police. We are trying to structure the right response to those pressures, and we are doing so from a position of growing economic confidence, which is in stark contrast to what the situation would be if Labour was in power.
Order. Let us see whether we can get everyone in by 1.15 pm, which is when we need to move on.
I fully support the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg). Will the Minister assure us that he will look carefully to ensure that the promised increases in police officers in Staffordshire and elsewhere are taken forward, because council taxpayers were promised that back in April?
I fully understand my hon. Friend’s point. If elected representatives have made commitments to their public, I quite understand the need to stand by them—we all do. As I said, the steps that I took last year, both in the 2018-19 funding settlement and what I indicated for 2019-20, have resulted in exactly what I wanted, which is that police and crime commissioners up and down the country are starting to recruit again. I want that to continue.
Humberside’s police and crime commissioner has delved into reserves to mitigate the loss of 440 police officers over the past eight years. He has just recruited an extra 250 police officers. To how many of those should he hand a P45?
To be honest, I am delighted that reserves are being put to good use because, in March 2018, Humberside was sitting on £28.9 million of public money, almost 17% of its annual budget. One of the things the Government have done is to force PCCs to be more transparent about their use of reserves, and I do not resile from that at all. I stress again that we recognise the problem, and there is determination and extremely hard work between the Treasury and the Home Office to find a solution in the police funding settlement in early December.
Police finances are incredibly stretched. Dumping £165 million of pension liabilities will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I offer the Minister my 100% support in getting the Treasury to think again.
I am grateful, as always, for my hon. Friend’s support. He knows from our previous exchanges that the Government recognise there is a problem in how stretched the police system is, and we took steps last year that led to more money going into the system, which is welcome, even though it was opposed by Labour. He knows my determination to find a solution not just for the pensions issue but for the stretch on the police. There is a need to increase police capacity.
In my constituency, a 15-year-old child, Jay Hughes, was murdered on Thursday, another tragic victim of knife crime. Then, on Sunday, another young man was stabbed to death in Anerley, just metres from where teenager Michael Jonas was killed last year. This is a crisis. When so many lives are being lost on the streets of London, surely we should be funding the Met properly, not cutting its budget. When will the Government put in place a proper plan to protect our communities? I listened to the Minister’s answer to the urgent question with dismay. What does he have to say to the families affected by these senseless killings?
What I have to say to the families, and I speak as a London MP, is that the whole country and the whole Government are absolutely appalled and shocked by what is happening on the streets of London. It is not just a London issue, as the hon. Lady well knows; it is a national challenge. We are absolutely serious about getting on top of this, and she will know that we have been here before, 10 years ago, at a time when the public finances were in a completely different place and when people were not asking, “Where are the police?” This is long-term, complex work, and we have to bear down on it.
The hon. Lady asked about funding for the Met police, and there is an additional £100 million going into the Met this year as a result of actions that we and the Mayor are taking. London has over one and a half times the national average for funding per head of population and for police officers per head of population.
As he is a distinguished former broadcaster, I am sure the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) can demonstrate his mastery of the one-short-sentence question.
It is reasonable to make extra provision, but can something also be done about the Labour West Midlands police and crime commissioner sitting on £100 million in reserves?
My hon. Friend makes a serious point. Across the police system, reserves have grown by hundreds of millions of pounds since 2011, at a time when all the public were hearing from the police system was, “We need more money.” One of the things we have done is to say, “Yes, you need reserves, but you need to account for how big those reserves are and what you intend to do with them.” That goes for the West Midlands police and crime commissioner, who has, I think, increased reserves by £20 million.
Police chiefs say that filling this pension deficit could cost up to 10,000 police officers. Does the Minister agree?
No, I do not. I think the number is exaggerated, which is not unusual for the police. I recognise that there is an unbudgeted cost, and I have given an undertaking to work very closely with the Treasury and with the Home Secretary to find a solution to both this and the additional resources and capacity needed to meet the very real demand pressures on the police.
With Sussex police having welcomed 150 extra staff at the end of October, funded by council tax increases, will my right hon. Friend work with me and Katy Bourne to ensure that the police force has all the resources at its disposal to carry on increasing police numbers?
The public’s safety is the priority of this Government. We have made clear the priority we attach to police funding, and the Home Secretary has made his priority clear personally. We are absolutely determined to make sure the police have the resources they need. As we heard the Chancellor say in answer to questions before this, we are in an increasingly strong position because of the recovery of the economy, and austerity is ending, which means that the Conservatives, uniquely as a party, can take these steps—that is in stark contrast to the fiscally incredible Labour party.
The Government Red Book says there will be £10.8 billion for the Home Office this year and £10.7 billion for it next year—that is £100 million less. Is the Minister going to revise that figure, or is he going to take that money from somewhere else?
As I have made clear, the next step in Parliament debating and discussing police funding is the 2019-20 funding settlement. As I did last year, I intend to come the House in early December to set out this Government’s proposals, which are being worked through with our Treasury colleagues as we speak.
The Minister will be aware that not all the demand on the police is based on crime. What work will he be doing with police and crime commissioners, including Devon and Cornwall’s, to look at how that can be used to help release more resources for fighting crime?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Anyone who speaks to the police finds a consistent message from across the system: a growing frustration about the amount of time our police are spending supporting people on mental health issues—the estimate across the system is at least 25%. Some of that I would class as core policing but some of it is not, so we are working with PCCs to get the evidence base and establish what is good practice in terms of triaging some of this demand. Part of what I welcome in the Budget is the additional investment that this Government can now make in local mental health, and I am determined to ensure that one dividend from that investment is reduced demand on policing.
In the past five weeks, three youths were stabbed, two fatally, and one 20-year-old man was shot dead in Bedford. Will the Minister support the bid from Bedfordshire’s police chief constable and the PCC for emergency extra funding from the police special grant before another young person is killed on our streets?
I was delighted to see the hon. Gentleman take part in the cross-sector summit we had on serious violence in Bedfordshire. What I said then was clear: we have received an application for exceptional funding and we expect to take a decision on that by the middle of the month. Our ability to meet that comes from the fact that we increased the contingency pot available in the Home Office for those situations, in a funding settlement that he and other Labour MPs voted against.
Just last Friday, I was out and about with the police in Long Eaton in my constituency, along with the Minister. Will he reassure me that resources will be provided to continue the vital work we saw at first hand being carried out in my constituency?
I know my hon. Friend thoroughly enjoyed her visit, and I repeat what I have said to other colleagues: we are taking steps in the right direction. The right direction is providing the resources for our police forces to increase their capacity and continue the process of recruiting the additional officers that we and the public want to see. We can do that because we are in a stronger economic position. My intention is to come to the House with the funding settlement in early December to update the House on our plans for next year.
The House will have noticed that the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) has perambulated. He was over there!
I am trying to get your attention, Mr Speaker. What does the Minister suggest Gwent police do: cut 100 police officer jobs or make local precept payers make up the difference?
Gwent was the first police force I visited, and I am well aware of some of the pressures on the force and some of the excellent work it is doing, not least in pursuing exploiters of children. I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that Gwent is absolutely the outlier in the reserves it holds; it sits on £56 million-worth of public money as reserves, which is a stunning 46.3% of its funding. I think the people of Gwent deserve a clear explanation of how that public money is going to be used to support their local police service.
The Minister will be aware that Humberside police have recruited more than 200 officers over the past couple of years. A threat to further recruitment or to our police community support officers due to increased pension contributions is now a real possibility. Will he assure me that he will work with me and other colleagues in the force area to ensure that that recruitment is not threatened?
I do not want to do anything that jeopardises the recruitment of police officers and the progress that we are making in that context—I have made that very clear. I have also made it clear that it is my intention to work very closely with colleagues from all parts of the House to make sure that we have a proper understanding of what is going on force by force. My main point is that we are able to make progress because of the progress that we are making on the economy, and that is progress that would be jeopardised by the Labour party.
The number of police officers in Durham has been cut by 400 since 2010. That is not an exaggeration; that is a fact. These changes to the pension mean that another 30 officers will have to go and that there will have to be an increase in the precept by £12 for homes in band D. Will that not be perceived as a local tax for the Treasury and as incompetence by the Treasury?
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention gives me the opportunity again to place on the record the admiration of the Government for the performance of Durham police, which is an outstanding force. Against the context of reduced resources, they show what it is possible to achieve. I understand the point he is making and I return to what I was saying, which is that we are working through the issue and I will come back to the House in early December with what I hope will be a solution.
In Essex, 150 additional officers are making a real difference in the fight against crime. Will the Minister work with the Treasury and reassure our excellent police, crime and fire commissioner, Roger Hirst, that this actuarial change to pension liabilities will not hit our frontline policing?
I am sure that my hon. Friend will share the determination of the Government to do the right thing by public pensions and to make sure that they are properly funded. What the Treasury is doing is as a result of independent advice, and its approach is the right one, but there is a recognition of the difficulty that this causes the police at a time when things are already difficult and demanding. I made some comments earlier about possible exaggeration on their part of the problem. I should be more cautious, because there is a very real issue of stretch on police; I just do not happen to believe that there is the loss of officer numbers that they have indicated, not least because I am working very closely to find a solution to that. My hon. Friend can be assured that we at the Home Office, working closely with the Treasury, are determined to find a solution to this and to come to the House in early December with a police funding settlement that allows us to continue on the track of making sure that our police have the resources that they need in Essex and elsewhere.
I am quite frankly amazed by the language that the Minister is using and by the fact that he told my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) to be careful about what she says. No one in my constituency is telling me to be careful about what I say about knife, gun and gang crime being on the rise. Will he accept that with Liverpool and Merseyside police there are special cases with problems of organised and gang crime, and agree that they will not lose any more money through this Government’s incompetence?
I absolutely recognise the spike in serious violence that we are dealing with; it is an unbelievably serious problem that applies not just to London but nationally, and the Government are responding to it. I have one note of caution. It is not my business to give lectures to the Opposition, but the reality is that I have sat here with Labour MPs who, session after session, pop up and down demanding more and more money for policing, but actually, in the Labour manifesto, the shadow Front-Bench team committed £300 million additional funding to the police, which has been increased by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley to £780 million over this Parliament, whereas this Government have taken steps to put £460 million into the system in this year alone.
From my discussions with frontline police, I know that the one thing they value above all else is the protection of their pensions. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that, in discussions about funding, the pension for frontline police officers is fully protected?
Yes, and that is absolutely the underlying motivation of what the Treasury has announced.
The police pension deficit is in no small part due to this Government’s policies of forcing experienced officers into early retirement and reducing the number of current serving officers by 21,000. Should the Government not shoulder the responsibility for the impact on the contributions that are required?
No, the proposed adjustments to the discount rates are independent advice based on adjustments to projected growth rates of the economy—growth rates that I would hope will be significantly higher than they would under a Labour Government.
This is an issue that I have discussed with both my police and crime commissioner and my chief constable. Understandably, there is some concern. Will the Minister reassure them that he will work closely with police forces to fully understand the impact that this change will have and take any action necessary to protect vital frontline services?
I fully give that undertaking. We are working very closely with the chiefs and the police and crime commissioners to understand the implications, force by force, so that we get a real sense of the impact, rather than the one dominating the headlines. I can also give the assurance, as I have repeatedly today, that we are working closely with colleagues in the Treasury to find a solution. I look forward to coming to the House in early December with the result of that work.
Owing to Government cuts, in West Yorkshire we have nearly 1,000 fewer uniformed police officers on our streets. As a former police employee for a decade, I know at first hand the impact that this is having on our communities. Will the Minister reassure me that there will be no further cuts to police numbers in Dewsbury and West Yorkshire?
I have been very clear that what I set out last year enabled police forces up and down the country to start recruiting officers again, and I want that to continue. I ask the hon. Lady to support us in holding the PCC to account for holding £72.7 million of public money—almost 18% of funding—in reserves. I am sure that her constituents will want to know how that money is going to be spent to benefit the local force.
West Midlands police estimate that, if these changes go ahead in their current form, they will cost the force more than £22 million over the next two years, and the loss of hundreds of officers on top of the 2,000 who have already gone since 2010. The reserves that have been mentioned are already being used to fund current spending and will disappear by 2020. Does the Minister agree that it would be intolerable for the public to have to put up with the loss of hundreds more officers?
I have engaged closely with the West Midlands police and crime commissioner and the chief constable about some of the challenges facing the force, and these are real. They know that it is my intention to work through the issue and come to the House in early December with a funding settlement that works. We are working very closely with the police to build the evidence base for the Treasury’s comprehensive spending review, which the right hon. Gentleman knows is a major event in shaping police budgets for the next few years.
Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves), I want to share a local teacher’s perspective on the losses:
“Last night I got that call that no one prepares you for…I’d just got home…it was just after seven and my own children were in the bath, ‘Sorry to bother you at home but can you talk?’ my headteacher on the other end of the line, her voice breaking in that way a person’s voice breaks slightly when they are trying their very best to remain strong even though all they want to do is cry. All I heard was ‘multiple...stabbing...murder scene...and the name Jai.’ This was a boy who I had known from the age of 8 and was now 15 and fighting for his life. An hour and a half later I heard the words ‘I’m really sorry but he’s gone.’ I broke down and cried. All I thought was how could this have happened?”
When can we talk about addressing knife crime and the Government’s public health approach?
These are terrible losses; each represents a young life cut terribly short. The hon. Lady knows as well as anyone in this House the devastating impact of these losses on friends, families and the broader community. This issue is one of the biggest challenges that we face as a Government and as a society, and everyone has a role to play in addressing it, not least teachers.
I salute the hon. Lady’s work and leadership on this matter. She will know from that work that there is no straightforward solution. This is long-term, complex work that requires robust policing and proactive, persistent investment in prevention and early intervention work to steer young people away from that life, those choices and the devastating consequences. I hope that she knows that whatever happens, the Government are absolutely committed to working with partners from both sides of the House and all parts of society to bear down on this problem. We have to end this terrible cycle of violence, but it will be long-term work.
Right across Merseyside, we have similar stories to those of my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) and for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft). Some 1,600 police staff have gone through Government cuts since 2010. If not funded, this proposal will cost another 300 police officers. Our PCC, Jane Kennedy, talks of these cuts swinging a “wrecking ball” through her budget. She is right to say so, isn’t she?
I spoke to Jane about this yesterday, when she and other PCCs were in the Home Office talking about the serious violence strategy. She was very clear, as she always is, about the pressures on Merseyside police. It is a consistent refrain across the system. I am very, very aware of it. That is why I took the steps I took last year. They were small steps but they were steps in the right direction. I intend to come to the House again in early December with the next stage in this journey, which is the 2019-20 funding settlement.
Will the Minister confirm that, alongside the cuts that will fall on police, our fire services are also liable for costs in the region of hundreds of millions of pounds? What is he going to do about that?
As I said in my statement, this issue affects all public services. We are in conversations with the fire services, as we are with the police. Their funding settlement is in a different cycle from the police, and we will address it in the next CSR.
Despite our having lost 1,000 police officers already, the Home Secretary’s plan means that another 350 jobs are under threat in Hampshire. Did the Minister really think that we would not notice this cut in disguise? How many more police officers will be cut in Portsmouth?
There is a suggestion from Labour Members that there is some sort of stealth arrangement around this position from the Treasury. That could not be further from the truth. It was signalled very explicitly in the 2016 Budget. What has changed is the discount rate applied, and that is the result of independent advice. I repeat what I have said. I have been to Portsmouth, at the hon. Gentleman’s request, and had many conversations with Hampshire police. They are doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances, and I am determined to do what I can to make sure that they have the resources available for them to continue to recruit more officers.
Northumbria police have already had budget cuts of over £140 million and lost 1,000 staff. If this goes through, the cost of £11 million over two years could equate to 220 officers lost. Can the Minister assure me and other Members that a way will be found to ensure that this cost is met?
Labour MPs, for reasons I understand, keeping popping up talking about cuts. They always ignore the fact that additional money has gone into the police system this year, with millions of pounds more going to Northumbria police—voted against, for reasons I continue not to understand, by the hon. Lady and others. The Government are extremely aware of the pressures on the police system. Another £460 million has gone into that system this year. I will come back to the House in a few weeks’ time with our proposals for next year. Meanwhile, we work very closely with the police to make a case at the next spending review for the next stages of resources that our police system needs.
In the west midlands, murders are up by 33% in the last year and violent crime is up by 20%. Only last week, I went out on patrol with police in the west midlands, and I found that dedicated, devoted public servants are getting desperate because of the lack of support and resources. These cuts will make their position even worse and more demoralising. Will the Minister impress on the Treasury that the cost to the community and, in the long term, to the Treasury, will be far greater if it does not meet these costs?
Again, the hon. Gentleman talks about cuts when his force has received additional investment of £9.9 million in a settlement that he voted against. I repeat what I said. I am aware of the demand on the West Midlands police. I am aware that this is an unfunded cost. I am aware that we have to find a solution for it, and that is what I am doing, together with my colleagues at the Treasury.
The Minister knows that violent crime is up in our borough and police numbers are substantially down. When does he expect those trends to reverse?
As I have already signalled, the battle against violent crime and the determination we have to bear down on it is long-term work. We were in a similar place 10 years ago, and it took time to bear down on it then, but we know what works, and that is what we are applying.
In relation to the Met police, there is, as I said, an additional £100 million going into the Met this year. They are recruiting hundreds more officers at the moment, and the Met has over one and a half times the national average in terms of police officers per head. It is a stretched force, and a force that we ask to do a great deal. But, again, I hope to come back to the House in early December with our plans for next year.
Assessment and Treatment Units: Vulnerable People
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make a statement on the long-term seclusion and deaths of autistic people and people with learning disabilities in assessment and treatment units.
I want to address the care that the NHS and social care system gives to some of the most vulnerable in our society. The millions of people who work in the NHS and social care do so every day with compassion and commitment to care for us all, but sometimes the system gets in the way, and when we see that, it is our task and our duty to change it. That is the case with the care given to people with some of the most significant and complex needs, such as those with learning disabilities and autism who are in-patients in assessment and treatment units and other mental health in-patient settings across the country. The care received by some of the people with the most significant needs quite simply is unacceptable.
With respect to in-patient care in assessment and treatment units and other in-patient settings, I absolutely share Members’ concerns about reported deaths, and I want to restate my Department’s commitment to reducing the number of preventable deaths among people with a learning disability. NHS England is ensuring that relevant investigatory processes have been followed in respect of each and every one of the cases it has responsibility for, and it is seeking assurance from all relevant clinical commissioning groups that they too have ensured appropriate investigation. As it stands, there is no indication that any of the deaths were untoward or that due process was not followed in every single case, but we are double-checking each and every one.
The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) mentioned seclusion. Like everyone in the House, I have been incredibly moved by reports of the care for Bethany and by the dignity of her dad, Jeremy, who has described the daily battle he has fought to get her the best possible care. It is completely unacceptable for seclusion to be used in this way. Restrictive practices must only ever be used as a last resort, and we must strive to totally eliminate them. With that in mind, the Secretary of State has instituted a serious incident review in Bethany’s case, and we will act to ensure that she gets the best possible care for her.
However, this is not just about individual cases; it is about the system. Three years ago, the Government committed to reducing the number of people with learning disabilities or autism detained in mental health hospitals by at least a third. The latest information we have shows that the number is down by around 20%, but that is not nearly enough. Today, 2,315 people with a learning disability and/or autism in England are held in mental health hospitals. I want to see that number drastically reduced, and in the first instance I want us to meet the target of reduction by a third. I want to see everyone who can be cared for with their family living as normal a life as possible.
The Secretary of State has instituted a wide-ranging review into the inappropriate use of prolonged seclusion and long-term segregation as restrictive practices. He has asked the Care Quality Commission to initiate that review immediately, and it will be undertaken in two stages. Furthermore, he has asked the NHS to address this issue in the long-term plan that it is writing for the future of the NHS, and I know that NHS leadership shares our passion to get this right. We will also address the role of local authorities in the social care Green Paper, and both of those will be published before Christmas.
Order. I remind the House that this question must finish no later than 1.45 pm, and if people have not got in by then, I am afraid that it is too bad.
I want to put on record my disappointment that the Secretary of State tried to shoehorn an issue of this severity into an NHS policy announcement yesterday, and my thanks to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this urgent question.
The treatment of people with autism and learning disabilities in assessment and treatment units is nothing short of a national scandal. Six years ago, these units were described by the then chief executive of NHS England and the chief executive of the Care Quality Commission as a model of care that has
“no place in the 21st century”.
Seven years after the Winterbourne View scandal, the Government have not rid the country of these units or substantially cut their use. Indeed, as the Minister said, there are still 2,315 people in assessment and treatment units, including 230 children, and the number of under-18s has been increasing.
A Sky News investigation last week revealed that, since 2015, at least 40 people with a learning disability or autism have died while in assessment and treatment units, and nine of those who died were aged 35 or under. Some of the country’s most vulnerable people are being exposed to physical abuse in institutions that the chief inspector of mental health services described as being
“in danger of developing the same characteristics that Winterbourne View did.”
Can the Minister tell us why the NHS is still sanctioning the use of settings that expose thousands of vulnerable people to abuse, at a cost of half a billion pounds, despite the Government pledging to close them?
The transforming care programme has manifestly failed. What are the Government going to do to ensure funding is available for cash-strapped local councils to pay for community placements with care support for autistic people and people with a learning disability? The Times has revealed that the private companies running these units are making millions of pounds out of detaining vulnerable people in unsafe facilities, in one case funnelling £25 million into a secret bank account in Belize. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to immediately stop private companies that have a vested interest in keeping people with learning disabilities in these Bedlam-like conditions from doing that?
On Saturday, as the Minister has outlined, the Secretary of State ordered the Care Quality Commission to undertake a thematic review of assessment and treatment units, and he has ordered a serious incident review in the case of one young autistic woman, Bethany. Reviews are not urgent action, there are very many Bethanys trapped in seclusion, and 40 people have died in these units. Will the Minister tell us the timetable for the completion and publication of the CQC review and what urgent action can be taken to free all the young people and adults trapped in these appalling conditions?
Hon. Members will be very aware of and concerned about the report published this week by University College London. As the hon. Lady said, the report, which was commissioned by the NHS, draws attention to how people with learning disabilities die on average 15 to 20 years sooner than the general population, often for reasons that are not an inevitable consequence of any underlying medical condition. I was reassured that this report shows that programmes and opportunities that Government are putting in place to improve outcomes for people with learning disabilities and autism are addressing some of the concerns. However, I share very strongly her views and the views of this report that there is still much further to go and that now is the time to take action.
As hon. Members will know, the LeDeR report—the learning disabilities mortality review—is looking into the deaths of all people with a learning disability. It published its second annual report in May and in their response in September the Government accepted all the recommendations and included detailed actions for implementing them. NHS England has also committed that the long-term plan for the NHS will include learning disability and autism as one of the four clinical priorities. The long-term plan will also set out the future of the transforming care programme, which the hon. Lady raised.
Government policy on restrictive practices, including seclusion, is to reduce their use. Where such interventions have to be used, they must be a last resort and the intervention should always be represented as the least restrictive option to meet immediate needs. Incidents of restrictive intervention are recorded in the mental health services dataset and this data is published. The Mental Health Act code of practice highlights the particularly adverse impact of seclusion on children and young people. It advises careful assessment and periodic reviews.
I want to turn to the Care Quality Commission review into the inappropriate use of prolonged seclusion and long-term segregation. The first stage of the review will focus on settings that relate most closely to Bethany’s circumstances, focusing on people of all ages receiving care on NHS and independent sector wards for people with learning disabilities and/or autism and on child and adolescent mental health wards. That will start immediately and this stage will report in May next year. It is very important that service users, their families and people with lived experience are able to contribute to that. The second stage will report in the winter and will examine other settings in which segregation and prolonged seclusion are used. That stage will include NHS and independent sector mental health rehabilitation wards and low secure mental health wards for people of all ages, as well as residential care homes designated for the care of people with learning difficulties and/or autism. As I have said, individuals who have been subject to segregation and/or long-term seclusion and their families and carers will be invited to provide evidence, including through interviews. The Care Quality Commission will make recommendations at the end of both stages, which will seek to eliminate system-wide inappropriate use of prolonged seclusion and long-term segregation, and ensure that vulnerable adults and children supported by health and social care are accorded the best possible care.
I should point out that not all the numbers that the hon. Lady spoke about are in separately identified assessment and treatment units. The data reports there being 2,315 in-patients with a learning disability and/or autism in mental health in-patient settings as of September, but some 360 of them were in in-patient settings described as for people with acute learning disabilities
It is important that commissioners should be able to access very high-quality, value-for-money care in their local area, whichever organisation provides it. We recognise the concern that people have expressed about what happens in the transforming care process, but I see it very much as a process and not as an event that will continue. The NHS has transferred more than £50 million to ensure that the right care is put in place in respect of community support, so that people are better cared for when they are out in the community.
Does the Minister accept that, fundamentally, far too many people are ending up in terrible conditions in secure settings because of the inadequacy of social care? Will she commit to include in the Green Paper, which is to be brought forward before Christmas, the Green Paper for young adults as well as for older people? Will she absolutely commit to that coming forward before Christmas?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise that the cases in which people end up in a long-term residential setting often reveal a failure of joint working—of the wraparound services that people need to keep them in the community. We are looking at working-age adults as part of the social care Green Paper, and it will be published before Christmas.
The Minister will know that I chair the autism commission, which has been looking at health and fake medicine—some serious reports. Will she expand her vision? There is obviously something seriously wrong in the justice system and the fact that police are not trained to recognise and understand someone on the autism spectrum. We need Health and Justice to look into the issue thoroughly, because something is going wrong. We need to train people, and to train them now.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point: training is fundamental. We have already accepted the LeDeR review’s recommendation that all health and social care staff should have mandatory training on how to care for people with learning disabilities and autism. I would very much like to see that sort of training spread more widely out into society.
Why has the number of children detained in assessment and treatment units more than doubled in the past three years, from 110 to 230?
That is a really good question. We are looking carefully at how we can support children much better so that they do not go into these sorts of units at all. As I say, it is about the wraparound services that can identify much earlier somebody who might be at a crisis point, and making sure that the care and support is put in place to prevent people from having to be admitted to units of this kind.
Does the Minister agree that the Care Quality Commission needs to look into the endemic use of force in these institutions, as well as at the use of exclusion? Does she agree that unless and until we find a mechanism to transfer money from spending in these institutions to support in the community, we will never solve this problem?
The right hon. Gentleman has done so much work on this issue and cares about it intensely. NHS England has transferred more than £50 million, up front, so that clinical commissioning groups that are planning to close beds can start to provide the community provision that is crucial to keeping people well in the community and out of residential settings.
And use of force?
We are absolutely clear that force should not be used at all.
Learning disabilities and autism are no respecters of “devolved” or “reserved”, so will the Minister join me in calling for NHS Scotland and NHS England to work more closely together, pooling resources and expertise, so that all patients needing in-patient care across the United Kingdom can receive the best possible care?
Yes. I think this speaks to the whole theme of people working together, communicating, collaborating, and putting the care that is needed in place for people when they need it. The ability to work across borders is fundamental to that.
It was over seven years ago that we came to this House to reflect on the incredibly disturbing “Panorama” footage of what happened at Winterbourne View. We have had countless statements in this House. I obtained an urgent question about this two years ago. We have seen data about the deaths that have occurred, and the fact that the numbers have not reduced. I would echo the question asked by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone). The number of children in these units has doubled in the period in which the Government told us they would reduce the number by 50%. It is, frankly, a dereliction of duty, and the Ministers should be apologising to the people outside this House, in this country, who are detained in those assessment and treatment units.
Can the Minister tell us categorically, and actually answer the question—why has the number of children in these units doubled, and what exactly are she and her Government going to do to ensure that she meets their target of reducing it by 50% by next March?
I do not see this as a dereliction of duty. I think of the fact that the Secretary of State has triggered a serious incident review into Bethany’s case, that more broadly there is this thematic review, and that we are building the right support by means of the ongoing transforming care process. There is a meeting today, which I have not been able to attend because I had to be here, between all stakeholders in this area, but also with the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care, so that we can work together to ensure that children, above all, are protected.
I welcomed the Secretary of State’s words yesterday, when he made it very clear that he understands that the situation now needs urgent action. My constituent’s daughter died at the age of 25, having been sectioned, living in a padded cell; her weight rose to 26 stone when she was apparently being cared for. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just about money and how we can better spend it; it is about the involvement of families, and a profound cultural change as well?
Yes. I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. I think that the setting she describes that her constituent was in has now been shut, but the point is well made, and actually it is not just about keeping people safe; it is about treating them with dignity and respect, and providing care that is compassionate.
Several months ago, the Minister met my constituent Isabelle Garnett, whose son Matthew became seriously unwell as a consequence of the treatment he received at St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, where Bethany is also receiving such appalling treatment. Matthew’s parents were so worried about his health in St Andrew’s that they thought he would die there. He suffered a broken arm, bruises and other injuries and lost a catastrophic amount of weight.
Matthew is now, thankfully, thriving in a community setting, at significantly less cost than the £12,000 a week that the NHS was spending on completely inappropriate care at St Andrew’s. St Andrew’s is not a fit for purpose location for young people with autism and learning disability. Despite the testimony of Isabelle and many parents like her, why have hospitals like St Andrew’s been allowed to expand, while there has been no expansion of the type of entirely appropriate community provision that is needed?
The hon. Lady brought Matthew’s mum to meet me and I was very disturbed by the photographs she showed me of how poorly he looked when he was in the St Andrew’s setting, and how much happier and so much better he looks now that he is in the right kind of community provision. It speaks volumes about exactly what we are trying to achieve—to get people out of such settings into the right kind of community provision. That is what this is about, but people can only be moved out of settings like St Andrew’s—which is a place that does require improvement—about which the Care Quality Commission is concerned, when the right provision is available in the community. That is why we are putting the money through NHS England into local provision.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s recent request to the CQC for an immediate review; it is very timely. Can the Minister assure the House, however, that the Government and the NHS are prepared to hear the uncomfortable truth, and change to find the right and compassionate care for those with autism and those with learning difficulties?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, which gets to the root of the issue. It is not enough to ask people what they think and set up commissions and reviews; we have to listen to what people are saying but then we have to act. The thematic review the CQC is starting straight away is reporting back in two phases. That is important as it means that, as soon as the first phase comes back, we can start action straight away.
Can the Minister say what resources will be made available to local councils to enable people with learning disabilities and autism to move out of the units as a matter of urgency and into community placements?
NHS England transferred over £50 million up front to CCGs that are closing beds over the course of the financial year, so that they can invest in community alternatives. In addition, between 2015 and March 2019 it will invest another £50 million in transforming funding to put in place things such as the much needed crisis prevention teams, which are focused on supporting children in the community.
The number of people with learning disabilities and autism in secure mental health hospitals is unacceptable and I welcome the commitment to reduce it. Can the Minister confirm exactly how she will monitor that and keep the House updated on progress?
That is the thrust of the whole transforming care and building the right support programme. We know that in some cases during the course of the programme people who have left residential units and gone into the community have gone back in to the units again. We have to keep a very close eye on the figures and ensure that the right package of support and care is provided so that once people leave a secure unit and go into the community, they are able to stay there.
Order. The sitting is suspended until 3.15 pm, so that Members can attend the Remembrance service in St Margaret’s Church.
Sitting suspended for the Armistice centenary commemoration.
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to remove certain fees for child maintenance services; to make provision about the calculation of child maintenance payments; and for connected purposes.
I thank the co-sponsors of the Bill for their support. I also thank a number of Members who have introduced their own Private Members’ Bills to reform and improve the Child Maintenance Service, including the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen), who is to be commended on the work that she is doing to improve the CMS system.
I have been approached by numerous constituents asking for help with their CMS cases, as many other Members will have been. I have been approached both by parents with care and by non-resident parents. It is clear that the CMS does not function properly in its current form. In other words, it is letting down the children who should be at the heart of what it does. We have a duty to provide a system that respects the rights and obligations of both parents, but, ultimately, the rights and interests of children are paramount, and, sadly, I do not believe that the CMS meets that fundamental goal.
There are four specific ways in which the CMS could be improved in order to fulfil its intended purpose, and the aim of my Bill is to enact them. The 4% maintenance levy on parents requiring the collect-and-pay service should be abolished, as should the £20 application fee. There should be a reduction from 25% to 10% in the change-in-income threshold that must be breached for maintenance payments to be recalculated. Finally, the value of any equity in the non-resident parent’s primary residence should be included in maintenance calculations when it exceeds £500,000.
The Child Maintenance Service is there to help when parents cannot agree on child maintenance. It is supposed to be a public service that ensures that parents meet their responsibilities to their children, especially when they may not want to. I do not think anyone here thinks that a parent should not pay for their child, but believe me, there are parents out there who do not believe that they should—parents who attempt to duck and dive their way out of paying a single penny towards their child, because they perceive every payment as a payment towards their ex-partner.
Whatever reason a non-resident parent has for not paying, they should not be allowed to renege on their responsibilities, but most of all, their child should not pay the price. Currently, if a non-resident parent fails to make full and timely maintenance payments that the CMS has calculated on their behalf, the case will move to collect and pay. The CMS will then chase down the non-paying non-resident parent and collect maintenance on the receiving parent’s behalf. Parents with care—and therefore their children—then incur a maintenance tax of 4% on all payments collected. They are penalised for requiring the help of the CMS. They are charged because their ex-partner refuses to support their child. They are taxed through no fault of their own.
Using figures from the Department for Work and Pensions, the Library has estimated that in 2015-16 and 2016-17, £3.3 million was taken from families through the 4% maintenance tax. As a punishment, the non-paying non-resident parent will incur an additional 20% penalty and, potentially, other fines based on action such as a deduction from earnings order. How can it be justified that a child loses out because one of their parents will not meet the obligation to provide for them? The maintenance levy is not a tax on parents; it is a tax on children. It takes food from their table, clothes from their back, and money from their pockets that would allow them to enjoy the upbringing that every child should have.
The UK Government said in answer to a written question that the maintenance levy exists to encourage
“parents to make Direct Pay work where they can.”
The point of collect and pay is that all attempts have failed; parents have no choice but to turn to the CMS to collect the maintenance that their child is owed. It often feels as though the CMS is more intent on collecting payments to maintain itself than on maintaining the children whom it is supposed to serve. In the grand scheme of things, the collection of 4% charges is a pittance to the UK Government, but it could make a massive difference to children’s lives.
Likewise, the £20 application fee takes more money from families. It is most likely to be a parent with care who starts an application with the CMS because they have not been able to reach an agreement with their ex-partner. Again, they are being penalised for needing help in securing for their children the support they have a right to.
The Library estimates that in the past three years alone, the CMS has collected £4.8 million in application fees. That is money that could be spent on heating and eating, materials or clothes for school, or sports activities. Sadly, these are simple but common things that many families today struggle to afford. Single-parent families are more likely to be in poverty than couples. A £20 application fee is another barrier that blocks low-income families from accessing vital support, and it can deter them from applying. The CMS should be free at the point of use to meet a need. It should not use parents and children as clients, and as a source of income.
I do not want to paint all non-resident parents as negligent—most want to do well by their child—but the CMS is unfair not only to parents with care, but to non-resident parents. A paying parent can amend their income, and therefore their calculations, only if their income changes by more than 25%. That is a huge threshold to meet. It can disproportionately affect parents on low incomes if their income decreases, while disproportionately benefiting those on higher incomes.
A constituent of mine had a low income that decreased by 24.9% exactly; he was struggling to make ends meet, as the maintenance that he has to pay is still based on the higher income he previously earned. For many parents, this could be an income that they earned up to six years ago. My constituent still wanted to support his child, but at a rate he could afford. Likewise, parents with care have approached me for help as they know that their ex-partner earns far more than they did when they disclosed their earnings to the CMS, but because their change in income did not exceed the 25% threshold, those parents with care were left receiving a lower rate.
Ultimately, a lower threshold of 10% would ensure that maintenance payments more accurately reflected what a parent earned; maintenance calculations would therefore be more accurate, which would benefit parents and children. That would still be in keeping with the Government’s aim of ensuring both minimal administration and financial stability for the parent with care.
I welcome many of the steps that the UK Government are only beginning to take to ensure that parents pay their maintenance on time and in full. What was needed was not necessarily more powers, but rather a greater willingness for the CMS to use the powers it had. It is also important, however, that maintenance calculations be a true reflection of parents’ incomes. The private Member’s Bill tabled by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire goes to great lengths to ensure that a person’s real worth is used in calculating their maintenance. The Government are introducing regulations that will take assets such as gold bullion into account, but we need to go further and take into account a person’s primary residence where there is equity in it of £500,000 or more. I do not know many people who have gold bullion lying about, but I do know people who own their home and have no mortgage or loan on it.
Homes are a major way in which a non-resident parent can increase their net worth, if their home increases in value. A £500,000 threshold will ensure that those who live in smaller homes do not face unreasonable additions to maintenance that may require them to sell their home. Only those who live in more expensive homes who can afford to pay will pay. The Conservative Government make a big deal about personal responsibility and families being self-reliant; now is their opportunity to show that they mean it with action, and to ensure that parents meet their responsibilities to their children.
The CMS is a public service, and it seems strange that parents are deterred from, and even charged for, accessing it when the cost to the public purse is so small and the benefits to children so large. With every pound collected under collect and pay, the UK Government are taking money that is rightfully the child’s. There has been recent progress on improving the CMS. I believe that the steps in my Bill will make a discernible difference to people’s lives—the life of the paying parent, the receiving parent and, ultimately, the child—and ensure that children have their rights respected and get the start in life that their parents owe them.
Question put and agreed to.
That Marion Fellows, Neil Gray, Angela Crawley, Mhairi Black, Antoinette Sandbach, Liz Saville Roberts, Jim Shannon, Caroline Lucas, Alison Thewliss, Carol Monaghan, Sarah Champion and Carolyn Harris present the Bill.
Marion Fellows accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 284).
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), who unfortunately cannot be here today, is a member of the shadow Work and Pensions team and she has been urgently seeking an accessible copy of the managed migration regulations that the Secretary of State for Working Pensions announced yesterday. After numerous calls to the Department, my hon. Friend has finally been promised a copy on Friday. Mr Speaker, I am sure you would agree that that is unacceptable, and that a copy should have been made available in an accessible format immediately, from the moment of publication. It is vital that we should be representative of society as a whole, which means that such important Government publications should be provided in an accessible form on publication, rather than taking the best part of a working week to be provided. Can you advise me on how we can ensure that this document is made available immediately?
This is of course a matter for the occupants of the Treasury Bench, but my sense is that the hon. Lady has probably achieved, or will shortly achieve, her objective. She has aired the matter in the House, it has been heard by Ministers and it is on the record. The resources available to the Government are very considerable, and it is simply not acceptable that a Member of Parliament with a known additional need should not have that need, as near as possible, immediately satisfied. This was an entirely predictable request, and I hope that it will not be necessary for this matter to be aired again. I appreciate the fact that Ministers are nodding from a sedentary position on the Front Bench and I hope that the matter has been settled. I would be loth to have to pronounce on it again, and I rather imagine that the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) would not want that either. She should be able to just get on with her job, suitably supported.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Over the past few days, residents in my constituency, and particularly in Pollokshields, have been plagued by fireworks being set off and used as weapons. I understand that injury has been caused to a child, and that fireworks have been aimed at police officers, as well as members of the public. Have you been given any indication, perhaps by Ministers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who have responsibility for fireworks, that they might make a statement or issue any guidance on this matter?
As of now, I have received no indication of any intention on the part of a Minister to make a statement to the House on this subject, or indeed to provide guidance. The former is something of which I would have expected to be notified; the latter, probably not. My advice to the hon. Lady, who is most dexterous and adroit in the use of parliamentary devices, is that if her wish remains unmet by the time the House returns next Monday, she should seek to draw the matter to the attention of the House then.
Centenary of the Armistice
Before I call the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to move the motion, I should advise the House that no fewer than 34 Back-Bench Members wish to contribute. I know that the Secretary of State and his shadow, with their usual and customary sensitivity, will wish to tailor their own contributions to take account of colleagues’ interest.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the centenary of the Armistice.
In May 1915, my grandfather arrived in France to fight for his country. Three years later, he came back. Millions of others did not or, if they did, came back terribly damaged, visibly or invisibly. They went to fight in what they knew as the great war: four years of blood, mud and misery in which humanity found new ways to kill and injure on a previously unimagined scale. When the cost and enormity of it could be better grasped, they came to call it, in shock, horror and, sadly, unrealistic optimism, the war to end all wars.
On Sunday, the nation will come together as one to pause and remember all those who died during this conflict and all those that have happened since. This year’s act of remembrance will be particularly special and poignant, however, as we mark the centenary of the end of the first world war. We have sought to commemorate the war in many ways over the past four years. For everyone, different events will stand out, but I will always remember the commemoration of the battle of Amiens at Amiens cathedral, which I was fortunate enough to attend. I sat in that magnificent cathedral with representatives of many countries that fought on both sides of the battles that marked the beginning of the end of the war, and I listened to the words of those who experienced them. Their emotions were deeply felt by those in the cathedral and, I am sure, by the millions watching on television and online.
I remember that I prepared a scrapbook of cuttings at the 50th anniversary for my grandfather who had fought in the first world war, but I was rather embarrassed in front of him because the coverage in the 1960s was relentlessly negative. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that historiography has now changed? Most people realise that it was a sacrifice worth making, that the alternative would have been militarism and that the soldiers were actually well led in 1918.