House of Commons
Wednesday 14 November 2018
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Postal Voting System
The British public deserve to have confidence in our democracy, and the Government are committed to ensuring that our electoral system, including postal voting, is fit for the future. Next year, Peterborough and Pendle will pilot improvements to the security of postal voting. The Electoral Commission’s evaluation of some similar 2018 pilots was published in July.
Does the Minister acknowledge that the combination of postal voting on demand in Great Britain, but not in Northern Ireland, and large extended family networks sometimes gives rise to accusations of undue influence? What safeguards can be put in place?
I would condemn any such undue influence, and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I agree on that wholeheartedly. It is really important that postal voters are aware that their vote is theirs alone. That was the subject of a major awareness campaign at past local elections, and we hope to see similar again.
Will my hon. Friend examine what happened at the local elections last year, particularly those in London? Large numbers of voters were added to the register, had postal votes and then disappeared off the electoral register very soon afterwards. There are clearly potentially fraudulent activities at work.
I would certainly expect returning officers to look into that carefully, and I would support them in their efforts to do so. It is difficult for me to make any more detailed comments on that from the Dispatch Box, but in general terms we certainly wish to keep the postal-voting process secure and safe and to ensure that that process contributes to the overall integrity of our elections.
Will the Minister assure the House that if there is an early general election, our postal-vote system is robust enough and able to cope?
Yes, but I do not expect it to have to.
Does the Minister share my view that strengthening the integrity of the postal-voting system will ensure that our electoral system is fit for the future?
Yes, I do, which is why I refer again to the pilots that I mentioned in my first answer. They will be important to give voters reassurance and confidence that our system is doing what we expect it to do and thus that our elections overall are secure.
Does the Minister accept that we must ensure that there is no repeat of what happened in the most recent election in Northern Ireland, where, because the proxy and postal-vote system did not require people to produce photographic ID, there was a 600% increase in such voting in one constituency, resulting in a perversion of democracy?
I am happy to take a closer look at the figure that the hon. Gentleman cites and the specifics of that case. I mention again the pilots that we have tested in 2018 and that will run again in 2019, which are about helping voters to be confident that the whole system—not only postal and proxy voting but the rest of the electoral system—is secure, by means of looking into ways for voters to identify themselves and show that they are who they say they are.
Eric Pickles’s report “Securing the ballot” suggested that postal-ballot applications should have to be made every three years. Is my hon. Friend looking into that suggestion?
I am grateful to Sir Eric Pickles, as was—
Lord Pickles, now.
Indeed. I am grateful to Lord Pickles for his report and his work, and we are looking carefully at the huge majority of his recommendations and taking them forward wherever we can.
Infected Blood Inquiry
The inquiry has now completed its preliminary hearings and plans to start its formal public hearings at the end of April 2019. Between now and then, the inquiry will hold public meetings in 18 places throughout the United Kingdom to enable people who have been affected or infected to express their views to the inquiry team. The inquiry has appointed 1,289 core participants, of whom 1,272 are people who have been either infected or affected by contaminated blood.
What steps will the Minister take to repair the damaged relationship with those infected, whose confidence in the Government has been undermined by the fiasco around their entitlement to legal aid and now by the failure of the Cabinet Office to swiftly notify Departments not to destroy relevant files?
As far as legal aid is concerned, more than £250,000 has been provided to those affected by this scandal to help them pay for their legal representation. As regards the other matter that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, this was an honest mistake caused by an administrative error. We explained that in full in the form of a written statement to the House and apologised to the inquiry as soon as it was discovered. All Departments, other than the Legal Aid Agency and the Courts and Tribunals Service, have now confirmed that no relevant records were destroyed during the relevant period.
Last month, the chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, said that many victims of the infected blood scandal are still living on the breadline today. The inquiry is not due to look at financial support until 2020, so what more now can the Government do to help the people affected?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, different compensation packages have been agreed by the Department of Health and Social Care in the different parts of the United Kingdom. Sir Brian did ask the Government to look at the case for some additional measures, which are being considered by the Secretary of State for Health and his ministerial team, and the Minister responsible for mental health, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), is very willing to talk to the inquiry team about that.[Official Report, 20 November 2018, Vol. 649, c. 7MC.]
The very comprehensive nature of this inquiry is important, and it is also important that it should have a timeframe that is kept to. Is my right hon. Friend able to give us any idea whether the timetable is still robust and when we can expect to see a final report?
As my right hon. and learned Friend will know, it is a matter for the independent chair of the inquiry to determine its duration. In my conversations with Sir Brian, he has always been very clear that he does not want this inquiry to drag out; he wants to get justice and a clear outcome for the survivors and the victims, and he will be striving to secure that objective.
A number of my constituents are affected by this scandal and have waited for decades for answers on how it was allowed to happen. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that Members are updated about where those meetings outside London are held so that we can keep our constituents informed and get the maximum participation?
I do have a list, but rather than read it out now perhaps I can write to my hon. Friend and place a copy of it in the Library so that all Members know where those meetings will be taking place.
May I suggest to the Minister that one measure that he could take quite quickly is to level up all the payments that those who are infected and affected receive? There is a variation around the United Kingdom at the moment because of devolution, and such a move would go a long way to show good faith to this community.
The hon. Lady has always been the most ardent champion of those who have been affected by this scandal, but it is the legal and constitutional position that each part of the United Kingdom is responsible for its own compensation scheme, which reflects the devolution settlement as regards health policy.[Official Report, 20 November 2018, Vol. 649, c. 8MC.]
Will my right hon. Friend say a little bit more about the role that those who have been affected by this tragedy will have in setting the terms and the scope of the inquiry? I particularly raise this because of the issue of access to treatment, which is something that I have regularly raised and that I think should be explored.
That issue is certainly one that I know Sir Brian and the inquiry team want to examine and call evidence on. People who have been directly affected have had opportunities at the preliminary hearings to express their views. More than 1,200 of them have now been appointed as core participants and the forthcoming public meetings will give them a further chance to make sure that their views are indeed heard. Sir Brian is determined that that will be the case.
Our world-leading national cyber-security strategy, supported by £1.9 billion of investment, sets out measures to defend our people, businesses and assets, to deter our adversaries and to develop the skills and capabilities that we need.
I am grateful for that response. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a sovereign capability is very important when it comes to cyber-security and that, when Government contracts are awarded, British companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, should be given preference?
Where national security interests are at stake, exceptions can be made to the normal rules on public procurement, as my hon. Friend knows. The other thing that we need to do is drive up standards among all Government suppliers, large and small, and that is something where we have an active programme of work.
A Wrexham constituent was concerned that a cyber-security breach at his business was being dealt with from central London and was very disappointed with the responsiveness of the authorities when the breach was reported. Will the Minister do more to ensure that people understand where cyber-security breaches are investigated and improve the system?
I am happy to look into the case of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. I encourage all businesses and third sector organisations to look at the materials available on the website of the National Cyber Security Centre, because it includes plenty of evidence about best practice in improving cyber-security for large and small organisations.
Cheltenham is a national centre of cyber-security because of its strength at GCHQ. Does my right hon. Friend agree that T-levels will help us to remain ahead of the curve in ensuring that we have a rich and deep pipeline of talent?
T-levels will indeed be an important contribution to improving this country’s skills in cyber-security, and I am pleased that Education Ministers have identified the digital T-level as one of the first to be rolled out in 2020.
We heard last week that there is an estimated shortage of 50,000 cyber-specialists in the UK—estimated because, unbelievably, the Government have not made any assessment of their own. The Government’s immediate impact fund, designed to quickly increase the number and diversity of cyber-specialists, is helping just 170 people, only 28% of whom are women. Does not this prove that this Government are failing at the first hurdle when it comes to keeping this country safe and bolstering our cyber-resilience?
No. The hon. Lady made a point about women cyber-security specialists. It is true that only about a 10th of cyber-professionals anywhere in the world are women. That is why the Government this year launched the CyberFirst Girls competition, which is getting more teenage girls actively interested and involved. That is the way to help develop further cyber-skills in our workforce.
Departments are responsible for ensuring that adequate staffing levels are met. As part of the national cyber-security strategy, we have newly established a Government security profession unit to support Departments in quantifying and managing their cyber-skills gaps and in building career pathways for specialists.
In July, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy criticised the Government for not properly addressing the cyber-security skills and recruitment gap, which it said is of vital importance to Britain’s defence and economy; but today the Minister still cannot tell how many of these specialist role vacancies exist across the Government. When will the Department tasked with upholding cyber-security standards make this tier 1 national security threat a priority?
The Committee praised what the Government had done, but, as the hon. Gentleman says, it also said that we needed to do more. I do not dissent from that conclusion. Indeed, the Government made that clear in their response to the Committee’s report. It is important that every Department feels ownership of cyber-security; it is not something seen as for the centre only to worry about. The profession framework, which will be outlined in the spring of next year, will run right across the Government and will outline the job families for specialists and the pay, rewards and career progression that they should be able to expect anywhere in the Government. [Interruption.]
The Minister was offering a serious and comprehensive reply to which there was a less than attentive audience, which is perhaps a tad discourteous. Let us have some order in the Chamber so that we can hear Mr Nigel Huddleston.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK is actually already a world leader in cyber-security, and will the Government continue to commit, through education and training, to ensure that we continue to be so?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that commitment. I could list a range of programmes that the Government are undertaking with school-age students and tertiary education students to drive up those standards, as well as working with international partners, who look to us for some of the best practice around the world.
I call the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone). I thought that the hon. Gentleman wanted to come in on this question. No? It is not obligatory. Speak now or forever hold your peace, man.
I am very sorry, Mr Speaker—I could not hear you for the hubbub.
One would think that a cyber-attack against such a lovely country as Scotland would be unthinkable. Does the Minister have any feel about how the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament are getting on with cyber-security?
The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to go into detail, but we do work very seriously and closely with the devolved Governments in both Scotland and Wales and with the Northern Ireland civil service. In my experience, Ministers and senior officials in those Administrations take this challenge very seriously indeed.
Electoral System: Overseas Interference
We have not seen evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes. However, we are not complacent, as the Prime Minister has said, and we will do what is necessary to protect ourselves and work with our allies to do likewise. The Cabinet Office co-ordinates cross-Government work to protect our democracy and to ensure the public’s confidence in our elections.
Does the Secretary of State support the work of the Petitions Committee in looking into cyber-bullying?
I shall speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and I am sure that he will be happy to take a look at that.
Deepfake videos have the potential to do tremendous harm, as they can easily be fabricated to show candidates making inflammatory statements or, God forbid, simply looking inept. Civic discourse will further degrade and public trust will plummet to new depths. This is the new wave of disinformation and election interference coming from overseas. What are the Government doing to prepare?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her very serious question and engagement with this important issue. I share her concern about that as an example of disinformation. The Government are acting to counter disinformation in a number of ways, including following on from our manifesto commitment to ensure that a high-quality news environment can prevail. I look forward to working further with her on this important issue.
Given the activities of the Russians with cyber-attacks, and looking at Florida, what with hanging chads and all the rest of it, will my hon. Friend give the House an assurance that we will not move to an online voting system?
Yes, I can give that assurance, which derives from the Conservative party’s manifesto. I can also say that the system we do use of pen-and-paper voting is, by its nature, rather more secure.
What action are the Government taking to seek a range of views on potential measures to secure our voting system from overseas interference?
We are doing that in a number of ways. I would be very happy to have a longer conversation with my hon. Friend on this subject. Work goes on across the Government to look at these matters, including with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and in the Home Office. We, collectively, will ensure that we seek those views.
In the past week, the police have begun an investigation into whether Arron Banks used foreign money to buy the Brexit referendum. We have also seen Shahmir Sanni victimised for blowing the whistle on electoral crime by Vote Leave. Is it not now time for the Government to admit that the legitimacy of their mandate for the referendum is fatally compromised?
I think that the hon. Gentleman draws the wrong conclusion from his argument. The Government will be delivering the outcome of that referendum, on which, I have no doubt, we will hear more from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in just a minute. What I will say, crucially, about the investigation into Arron Banks is that the Government will not comment on an ongoing criminal investigation.
A lot of the focus on foreign interference, particularly from the Russians, is on technological interference, but there is also a large amount of Russian money swilling around that is finding its way into political parties. What are the Government doing to restrict Russian financial influence on political parties at national and constituency level?
We are fully behind the law as it stands, which is that it is not permissible for parties on campaigns to accept foreign donations. We uphold those laws. We will examine recommendations recently made by, for example, the Electoral Commission, about how more may be done.
The voice of Plymouth, Moor View, extremely briefly—Johnny Mercer.
Government Hubs: Civil Service Efficiency
The hubs programme saves money and creates a better place to work by bringing together Government activity on to single sites. We make extensive use of shared spaces, smarter working and workplace design. This encourages productivity as well as reducing vacant space. Indeed, in total, the programme is saving £2.5 billion over 20 years.
The Minister knows what a capable and deeply talented Minister he is, and there are plenty of people like him in Plymouth, Moor View. Does he agree that Plymouth would be an ideal place for one of these Government hubs?
Flattery will get my hon. Friend everywhere, and may I repay it by saying that I know what a powerful advocate he is for the city of Plymouth? He once again makes his case exceptionally well. While further hub locations cannot be confirmed until commercial negotiations have concluded and Departments have informed staff, future locations are under active consideration.
There is cross-party support for moving Government hubs to Plymouth. What support can the Minister give to local authorities such as Plymouth City Council, which is working to create the buildings and land for these Government hubs to move into?
The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the Government’s One Public Estate programme, and the example he cites in Plymouth is just one of many. Overall we expect to release land for 25,000 new homes and create 44,000 jobs by 2020.
Yesterday I chaired the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations, attended by Scottish and Welsh Government Ministers and civil servants from Northern Ireland. This, the eighth such JMC meeting that I have chaired this year, followed the significant progress made in recent months with the devolved Governments in developing UK-wide frameworks to protect the vital internal market of the United Kingdom.
From policing to education, health and the environment, the approach of the Scottish National party Government is that control from Edinburgh is best, and when in doubt, centralise. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on what he is doing to ensure that the Smith commission promise to ensure decentralisation from Edinburgh is met?
The Smith commission was clear that it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to work with the Scottish Parliament, civic Scotland and local authorities to ensure that power is devolved from Holyrood to local communities. For our part, we are ready to help the Scottish Government to implement the Smith commission in full and will give them our support if and when they choose to do that.
Will the Minister confirm without equivocation that the Government will fully comply with yesterday’s resolution that all information provided to the Cabinet will be made available to the House as soon as the Cabinet finishes, if it ever does?
I set out the Government’s position yesterday in the debate. We will reflect upon the outcome of the vote yesterday, but at the moment, there is no agreed deal. There is a provisional agreement between negotiators, which has yet to be considered by the UK Cabinet or the 27 member states meeting in Council.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is fantastic to see such wide diversity of candidates in Walsall. I remind the House that the Government Equalities Office is providing financial assistance for all MPs, to encourage female constituents to come here on 21 November, and I hope more colleagues will take up that opportunity.
We believe that the legislation is working well, but we would be happy to look into any specific further points that the hon. Gentleman would like to make.
My right hon. Friend and her Committee did indeed make a powerful case. It has needed a lot of cross-departmental discussion, but I hope that in the very near future, we will be in a position to give her a definitive response.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister. Everyone is present and correct, and it is no bad thing to start Prime Minister’s questions precisely on time.
The Prime Minister was asked—
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. The Cabinet will meet this afternoon to consider the draft agreement that the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels, and the Cabinet will decide on the next steps in the national interest. I am confident that it takes us significantly closer to delivering on what the British people voted for in the referendum. We will take back control of our borders, our laws and our money and leave the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy while protecting jobs, security and the integrity of our United Kingdom. I will come back to the House to update it on the outcome.
Yesterday saw the best wage growth figures in a decade and the best employment figures in my lifetime. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that that can only be delivered by the free market economics that unite this side of the House, and not by the bankrupt socialism opposite?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He references yesterday’s figures, which showed more people in work than ever before. They showed the female unemployment rate at a record low and, as he said, the fastest regular wage growth in nearly a decade. However, may I say to my hon. Friend that that is on top of figures last week that showed our economy growing three times faster than the eurozone average, the share of jobs on low hourly pay at a record low and the number of children in workless households at a record low? You only get that through good Conservative management of the economy.
After two years of bungled negotiations, from what we know of the Government’s deal, it is a failure in its own terms. It does not deliver a Brexit for the whole country, it breaches—[Interruption.]
Order. If necessary, I will say it again and again to Members on both sides of the House: voices must be heard. I happen to know that there are visitors from overseas in the Gallery. Let us try to impress them not merely with our liveliness, but with our courtesy.
The Government’s deal breaches the Prime Minister’s own red lines and does not deliver a strong economic deal that supports jobs and industry, and we know that they have not prepared seriously for no deal. Does the Prime Minister still intend to put a false choice to Parliament between her botched deal and no deal?
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong in the description that he has set out. Time and time again, he has stood up in this House and complained and said, “The Government are not making progress. The Government are not anywhere close to a deal.” Now that we are making progress and are close to a deal, he is complaining about that. That clearly shows that he and the Labour party have only one intention, which is to frustrate Brexit and betray the vote of the British people.
After the utter shambles of the last two years of negotiations, the Prime Minister should look to herself in this. She has not managed to convince quite a lot of the Members who are standing behind her. The rail Minister resigned last week, saying:
“To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis”—
and that from a Tory MP. Last night, the EU’s lead Brexit negotiator reportedly told the 27 European ambassadors that the UK
“must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls.”
Is that a fair summary of the Prime Minister’s deal?
As I have said all along, throughout the negotiations, we are negotiating a good deal for the United Kingdom. We are negotiating a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people; that takes back control of our money, law and borders; and that ensures that we leave the common fisheries policy, we leave the customs union and we leave the common agricultural policy, but we protect jobs, we protect security and we protect the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Under the Prime Minister’s deal, we are going to spend years with less say over our laws or how our money is spent. The International Trade Secretary said last week that the decision to withdraw from any backstop agreement could not be contracted to somebody else. Can the Prime Minister confirm whether under her deal, it will be the sovereign right of the UK Parliament to unilaterally withdraw from any backstop?
There needs to be a backstop as an insurance policy, but neither side actually wants us to be in that backstop, because we want to bring the future relationship into place at the end of December 2020. I am aware of the concerns that we do not want to be in a position where the European Union would find it comfortable to keep the United Kingdom in the backstop permanently, and that is why any backstop has to be temporary.
I think that that non-answer has confirmed that Parliament will not have that sovereign right. The International Trade Secretary breezily declared that he would have 40 trade deals ready to be signed the second after midnight when we leave the EU. With four months to go, can the Prime Minister tell us exactly how many of those 40 deals have been negotiated?
We are doing two things. First, we are negotiating to ensure that we maintain the trade deals that currently exist with the European Union when we leave—[Interruption.]
Order. It is not acceptable for Members to shout at the Prime Minister when she is answering questions. We have been talking recently in this Chamber about respect and good behaviour. On both sides, the person who has the floor must be heard, and that is the end of the matter.
We have been negotiating on two fronts. We are negotiating on the continuity agreements, which ensure that the trade deals that we have been party to as a member of the European Union can continue when we leave the European Union, and we have also started discussions with other countries about the trade deals that we can forge across the world once we leave the European Union. If the right hon. Gentleman is interested in trade deals, he really needs to sort out the Labour party’s position on this issue. Originally, the Labour party said that it wanted to do trade deals around the rest of the world. Now, he says that he wants to be in the customs union. That would stop him doing trade deals around the rest of the world. We know what is good for this country: an independent trade policy and trade deals—good trade deals—with Europe and with the rest of the world.
The International Trade Secretary is not the only one who does not understand international trade rules, and he is not the only one in the Cabinet who does not understand a few things. The Brexit Secretary said last week:
“I hadn’t quite understood the…extent of this, but…we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing”.
When did the Prime Minister become aware of this absolutely shocking revelation about Britain’s trade routes?
The right hon. Gentleman stands here and reads out something that says that we do not know about trade policy, but we do know about trade policy. That is exactly why we are negotiating the continuity agreements, and it is why we will be taking our place as an independent state in the World Trade Organisation. If he wants to talk about different positions that are being taken, what we are doing is delivering a good deal that will deliver on the vote of the British people. We are delivering Brexit. What have we seen recently from the Labour party? Well, the Labour leader said: “we can’t stop” Brexit, but the shadow Brexit Secretary said that we can stop it. When the right hon. Gentleman stands up, he should make it clear: is it Labour party policy to stop Brexit?
Labour respects the result of the referendum. What we do not respect is the shambolic mess the Government have made of negotiations: the mess they created that they cannot now get themselves out of. We will not let them destroy this country’s economy or the jobs and life chances of so many others.
If the Brexit Secretary is still in office by the time the Cabinet meets this afternoon, could the Prime Minister take him to one side and have a quiet word with him? Will she tell him that 10,000 lorries arrive at Dover every day, handling 17% of the country’s entire trade in goods, estimated to be worth £122 billion last year? This woeful ignorance by a person in high office is disturbing to so many people.
This Government spent two years negotiating a bad deal that will leave the country in an indefinite halfway house without a real say, yet they think they can impose a false choice on Parliament between a half-baked deal and no deal, when a sensible alternative plan could bring together—[Interruption.]
Order. No matter how long it takes, the right hon. Gentleman will not be shouted down in the House of Commons. It is as simple and unarguable as that.
When a sensible alternative plan could bring together Parliament and the country. Even Conservative MPs say the Prime Minister is offering a choice between the worst of all worlds and a catastrophic series of consequences. When will the Prime Minister recognise that neither of those options is acceptable?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about woeful ignorance. I will tell him where the woeful ignorance lies: it lies with those on the Labour party Front Bench who think they can build a better economy by spending £1,000 billion more, putting up taxes and destroying jobs. The real threat to jobs and growth in this country sits on the Labour party Front Bench. I will tell him what we are delivering in relation to Brexit. [Interruption.] He says, “What about Brexit?” I will tell him what we are delivering on Brexit: we will not rerun the referendum, we will not renege on the decision of the British people, we will leave the customs union, we will leave the common fisheries policy, we will leave the common agricultural policy, and we will take back control of our money, laws and borders. We will deliver Brexit and the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019.
Order. Members must calm themselves. I have often advised taking some sort of soothing medicament. People may feel better as a consequence. I want to hear what the Prime Minister has to say and I hope the House has the courtesy to want to do so as well.
I say to my hon. Friend that what we have been negotiating is a deal that does deliver on the vote of the British people. In the list I set out earlier, I left out one of the things that the British people are very keen to see from this deal, which is an end to free movement. We will ensure that we deliver on that, as well as the other elements I set out. What we are doing is a deal that delivers on that vote, and in doing so protects jobs, protects the integrity of our United Kingdom and protects the security of people in this country.
The Scottish National party, with the leaders of other Opposition parties, has written to the Prime Minister, urging her to drop plans to prevent a truly meaningful vote on the Brexit deal. Shamefully, it seems that the Government are seeking to prevent Opposition amendments to the deal, effectively gagging the sovereignty of Parliament by playing dirty tricks with procedures. I ask the Prime Minister: what is she afraid of? Is her Government so weak that the Brexit deal will not succeed when other solutions are still on the table?
We have been very clear that there will be a meaningful vote in this House. We have also been clear that the motion on the deal will be amendable, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if you went out and asked any member of the public, “When the Government bring a deal back from Europe, what do you expect Parliament to vote on?”, I think they would expect Parliament to vote on the deal.
We expect Parliament to take its responsibilities, which are to hold the Government to account and amend the deal. This Prime Minister is hamstrung, divided, desperate and looking defeated. In a total panic, the Prime Minister has been reduced to playing political games rather than playing fair. This is not a game. The SNP will never, ever gamble with Scotland’s future. There is only one lifeline left: to protect jobs in Scotland, we must stay in the single market and the customs union. The Prime Minister will not drag Scotland out against its will. If there is a deal to protect the economy in Northern Ireland, why not Scotland?
The right hon. Gentleman stands up and says that the SNP will not gamble with Scotland’s future. I say to him that the SNP gambles with Scotland’s future every time it stands up and talks about independence.
First of all, it is very good news to see more disabled people getting into the workplace, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the Disability Confident scheme. I praise the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who created and has personally championed the scheme since it started back in 2013. As my hon. Friend obviously knows, it works directly with employers and aims to challenge the perceptions of what it means to employ a disabled person. We will continue to ensure that we are making every possible effort to make sure that more disabled people who want to be in the workplace are able to take their place in it.
As I said earlier, what we are negotiating is a deal that will deliver on the vote, that will actually ensure—under the proposals that we put forward in the summer—that we are able to see that frictionless trade across borders and a free trade area with the European Union, and that gives Parliament a lock on those rules.
I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend’s constituents have raised about this issue and thank her for the hard work that she has undertaken to campaign on this issue on her constituents’ behalf. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is aware of this issue. He is urgently looking into it, and I encourage my hon. Friend to continue to engage with him on this matter to ensure that her constituents get what they were promised.
Obviously we have seen a change to the post office network across the United Kingdom—it has happened as people’s pattern of behaviour in relation to these matters has changed—but I am sure the Post Office is making decisions that it believes are right for local communities and to ensure that services are there where they are needed.
I thank my hon. Friend for referring the House to the fact that we are bringing in those changes to business rates to help local businesses. We are determined to help local businesses, which is why we are also implementing reforms to make the system fairer and more effective, including three-year evaluations, removing the so-called staircase tax and the new check, challenge and appeal system. We also aim to increase the local share of local business rate receipts to 75% from 2020-21. On future taxation, I can assure him that we will of course continue to keep it under review.
The hon. Gentleman raises a terrible and tragic case in his constituency, and, as he says, the thoughts of the whole House will be with the victim’s family and friends. Our deepest condolences go to them following this terrible attack. Crossbows are subject to strict controls, but we keep the legislation under review and will consider the risk that such weapons pose to public safety and whether further measures are needed, and we will of course look at that in the context of the legislation we are bringing before the House.
My hon. Friend highlights the fact that we are delivering the biggest rail investment programme since the Victorian era. He says we are spending millions on our railways, but actually we will be spending nearly £48 billion on modernising and renewing our railways, which will deliver better journeys and fewer disruptions. He is right, however, that it is absolutely vital that Network Rail delivers its projects on time. I am told that Northern’s new rolling stock is currently planned to serve lines from June and July next year, but I know he has been campaigning excellently on this issue, and I encourage him to continue to do so.
If the hon. Lady looks at what we have been doing for education funding overall, she will see that we have been putting extra money into funding—[Interruption.] Members say, “Not in FE”, but we have invested nearly £7 billion in further education this year to ensure that there is an educational training place for every 16 to 19-year-old who wants one. We are also transforming technical education through T-levels, and £500 million will go into those once they are fully rolled out. By 2020, the funding to support adult participation in further education is planned to be higher than at any time in England’s history.
I call the Prime Minister. [Interruption.] Order. I want to hear about the bell ringing situation.
I am very pleased first to wish Dennis Brock a very happy 100th birthday, and secondly to pay tribute to him for his 87 years of bellringing. As my hon. Friend has said, that is a considerable and significant record, and I think the support he has given, the work he has done and his commitment to St Mary’s in Sunbury-on-Thames are truly inspiring.
As the hon. Lady is well aware, we are introducing universal credit because the previous system, the benefits system that we inherited from the Labour party, did not work. It left more than a million people living on benefits, trapped in benefits for up to a decade. What we are doing is ensuring that people are given more encouragement to get into the workplace, and that when they are in the workplace, work always pays. As I have said, we are seeing very good figures showing a significant reduction in the number of children in workless households.
We are currently in the middle of a swirl of rumours about the proposed deal with the European Union, and a torrent of criticism from all the Government’s most ferocious critics. One of the rumours is that if the Cabinet agrees to the deal this afternoon, the Government propose to publish a White Paper setting out all the details later today.
Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that, if and when this deal is published, a statement will be made to this House of Commons when it is produced? It is this Parliament that will have to decide now what to do next, and we do not want Parliament to be consulted only after another 24 hours of rumours and criticism. We want to re-establish parliamentary sovereignty, and I wish the Prime Minister well in obtaining a majority for some course of action in future that is in the national interest.
There are, in fact, two stages—potentially two stages—in this process. As I said earlier today, the Cabinet will be looking at the draft agreements that the negotiating teams have produced, and will consider and determine what the next steps should be in the national interest, as my right hon. and learned Friend requests us to do. I can assure him that we will be looking at this in the national interest.
As I said, I will return to the House to explain the outcome of that, but I should also say to my right hon. and learned Friend that there is then the issue of ensuring—as we will—when a final deal is agreed with the European Union, that proper analysis is available to Members before the meaningful vote takes place, and that briefings on the details of the proposals that are laid are available to Members, so that, as he has said, Members are able to make their decision in the light of an understanding of the details of the deal that has been agreed.
I am sure that we are all concerned across this House about the attacks that have taken place in recent days in London. We are concerned about knife crime and the serious violence we have seen. We heard earlier from the right hon. Lady’s colleague, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), about the use of a crossbow to attack and, sadly, kill an individual. The right hon. Lady talks about police funding. We have protected police funding overall since 2015. We are putting more money into the police. We are making more money available—we have announced that. But this is also about ensuring that the police and the criminal justice system have the powers they need to deal with knife crime, and if she is concerned about knife crime I suggest that she asks her right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition why he voted against increasing the powers to deal with knife crime.
I say to my right hon. Friend that I am not going to be asking about Brexit—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] For now. I was enormously proud of my Government for agreeing to lower the stake on fixed odds betting terminals to £2 because they have caused endless harm and terrible damage to families. It was the right decision. Since then there has been a hiatus about the date on which this will start. Is it a reality that now we have put down an amendment the Government will accede and we will get this process started on 1 April next year?
My right hon. Friend has campaigned on that issue with a passion because, as he says, the question of the maximum stake for FOBTs has an impact on vulnerable people as well as their families and loved ones. I recognise the strength of feeling on the issue. I know that gambling addiction can devastate lives, so our priority is making sure that this change delivers the results we all want to see. We are listening to concerns being raised by colleagues and, if he will have a little patience, I can tell him that the Culture Secretary will set out further details later today.
What we have seen under this Government is absolute poverty reducing to a record low. We have also seen, as I referenced earlier, a significant reduction in the number of children in workless households. When we look at the figures, we see that actually three quarters of children are taken out poverty when their household moves from being a workless household to a household with work, which is why the changes that we are making, to ensure that our benefit and welfare system encourages people into work and makes sure that work pays, are the right changes.
Former New Zealand high commissioner and experienced trade negotiator Sir Lockwood Smith told our International Trade Committee:
“If you remain bound into the EU regulatory system you will not be able to have a significant global trade strategy”.
Will my right hon. Friend advise whether this might be one of the prices to pay for her Brexit deal?
No, it is not one of the prices paid that my hon. Friend refers to. We will still be able to strike those deals around the rest of the world. I am pleased to say that not only are a number of countries expressing an interest in that, but, as we have seen and as I saw two or three weeks ago, countries including Japan, Vietnam and Australia are keen that we should talk to them about joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-pacific partnership. We specifically looked at our ability under the proposals we put forward to strike those trade deals around the world, and we will have an independent trade policy—we will able to strike those trade deals.
It is no secret that the Labour Welsh Government have been somewhat lacklustre in what they demand from the British Government on Brexit, so I will speak on behalf of Wales. When will the devolved Parliaments be given the opportunity to see the withdrawal agreement texts and to see for themselves the devastating effect that leaving the European frameworks will have on each of the devolved nations?
As I have indicated in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), we will ensure that information is available to Members of this House on the withdrawal agreement and on the future relationship that is agreed with the European Union. We will ensure that briefings are available, that documents are available and that the analysis that the Government have previously committed themselves to is available, so that, when Members of this House come to the meaningful vote on a deal, they will be able to have that information and to cast their vote against the background of that information.
Further to the point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), will my right hon. Friend endeavour as soon as practicable following the Cabinet meeting this afternoon to make available to all Members the details of the draft agreement, so that those of us who wish to do so can comment on them on the basis of fact, rather than on the basis of ill-informed speculation?
Obviously the Cabinet is meeting to determine what the next steps are in relation to this issue. If this is a deal that is then taken forward for further debate and negotiation with the European Union, I believe it is the intention to ensure that the details of that deal are made public so that people can look at the facts.
If what is being reported is correct, the Prime Minister is set on ploughing through with a Brexit deal that will be bad for our economy, bad for our jobs and bad for a hard-working people up and down this country. If she honestly believes that she commands the will of the people, will she put her Brexit deal to the people, either through a general election or, failing that, through a new referendum?
First, we are negotiating a deal that will be good for the economy of the United Kingdom. It will be a deal that will ensure that we continue to have a good trading relationship with the European Union but also that we are able to strike independent trade deals around the rest of the world. On the issue of the second referendum, there was a referendum in this country in 2016 in which we asked the British people whether they wanted to remain in the European Union or to leave it. They voted to leave, and that is what this Government will deliver.
This morning, an incredibly well-attended annual general meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on thalidomide took place. May I invite my right hon. Friend—and indeed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—to lend their support, to talk to the German Government to persuade them of the merit of social justice, and to deliver a lasting solution for those who have suffered for too long?
I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which he has been championing this cause. It is significant that, so many years after thalidomide caused the problems and difficulties for people that it did, he and others like him are still having to campaign on this particular cause. I will certainly look into, and ask the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to look into, what he says about the possibility of speaking to the German Government on this issue.
Asia Bibi spent eight years on death row in Pakistan for a crime that she did not commit. Since the High Court quashed her conviction, she has been in hiding. Weekend reports suggested that she had applied for asylum in Britain. Does the Prime Minister agree that Britain should be a beacon for human rights and for those fleeing religious persecution?
Our primary concern is for the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family, and we want to see a swift resolution of the situation. Obviously there is an issue for the Government and courts in Pakistan, and the Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has publicly supported the Supreme Court and promised to uphold the rule of law while providing continued protection for Asia Bibi. A number of countries are in discussion about providing a safe destination for her once the legal process is complete—
But is she welcome here?
I am sure the House will understand, given the sensitivity of this case, that it would not be right to comment on the details of those proposals at this stage, but we remain in close contact with international partners to ensure Asia Bibi’s long-term safety and interests.
The Prime Minister confirmed earlier that we will indeed be leaving the common fisheries policy, which is welcome, but she will be aware that there is still considerable concern within the industry. Can she give an absolute assurance that it will be for the UK, and the UK alone, to determine who fishes in our national waters after a deal is signed?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that we will become an independent coastal state, and it will be the UK negotiating on the UK’s behalf in terms of access to UK waters.
The Prime Minister will know that, back in 1965, there was a neighbourhood agreement between Northern Ireland and the Republic that each could fish in the other’s six-mile waters. Two years ago, the Irish Republic reneged on that. We, of course, taking the moral high ground, did not renege, so now all the Irish fishermen can come into Northern Ireland waters, but Northern Ireland fishermen cannot go into Republic waters. Will the Prime Minister try to speak up sometimes for Northern Ireland fishermen and not feel that she always has to support the Irish Government?
Consistently throughout these negotiations one of the issues that I have had at the forefront of my thinking has been the people of Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady raises a specific issue about fishing, and I am happy to look at the specific issue of the six-mile waters. We will become an independent coastal state, as I have just said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers). We will ensure that it is the United Kingdom that is negotiating on behalf of the UK for access to UK fishing waters, but the people of Northern Ireland are at the forefront of our concerns in relation to the deal that we are negotiating.
The Prime Minister is to be commended for initiating her race disparity audit, which showed, among other facts, that Traveller children have the worst educational, health and employment outcomes of almost any group. Given the acute distress also caused to many settled residents by policy in this area, and given the support yesterday for my ten-minute rule Bill calling for a review of this area across the House, will the Prime Minister please appoint a senior Cabinet Minister to undertake a complete review of this area so that we can have better outcomes for all our constituents?
My hon. Friend raises an issue that I know is of concern for many across the UK in terms of what they see in their constituencies. As he said, there is also a concern about the impact on the educational attainment of Traveller children. As he will know, we published a consultation on tackling unauthorised encampments in April, and we will respond on that in due course. We are committed to strengthening local councils’ and the police’s powers to address these problems and to ensure fair play. We take this issue very seriously, and we are carefully considering the response that we can give to the consultation.
Can the Prime Minister confirm that her deal will leave the United Kingdom a rule taker, not a rule maker —in other words, a vassal state? Is not the best way to get herself out of the mess that she and her colleagues have caused to allow the people a vote in a people’s vote?
I think I have given the right hon. Gentleman the same answer to this question on a number of occasions. This Parliament gave the British people the vote on whether or not to stay in the European Union in 2016. The British people voted—they voted to leave—and it is this Government who will deliver on that vote and deliver Brexit.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following the question from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), can you advise Members whether you have had any indication about when a statement will be made on the apparent withdrawal agreement with the EU? We hear rumours that a statement may be made tomorrow, but many hon. Members may already have commitments. I understand that the House needs to mark the 70th birthday of the Prince of Wales today, but in the remaining six hours we could surely discuss the most important issue facing this country in a generation.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. The candid answer is that I had been given to understand that there would be a statement on this matter, in all likelihood, tomorrow. Factually to respond to her, what I would say is that the Chair would be perfectly amenable to a statement before then. That is not, however, a judgment for me; it is properly a judgment for the Government. I understand what she says about people having commitments tomorrow—[Interruption.] Order. But it does seem to me a reasonable point to make in response that, if Members consider this to be a supremely important matter, they can potentially rearrange their diaries in order to be present. I am always in favour, as she knows, of statements sooner rather than later but, if I may so, I do not think we should have a great row about whether a statement is made today or tomorrow.
What I would like to say to Members is that when there is a statement to this House, in conformity with the practice I have applied for nearly nine and a half years from this Chair, there will be a full opportunity for Members in all parts of the House, and potentially expressing or representing all sorts of different points of view, to be heard. That is the way it has always been and, as far as I am concerned, that is the way it will continue to be.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Although you say you have no role in this, do you not agree that, until very recently, it has always been the constitutional convention in this House that, when a Government announce a major policy, they do so, first of all, by a statement here in the House of Commons, usually simultaneously with the publication of a White Paper? With great respect, it is not just a question of Members having other commitments, or of convenience. We are slipping into a practice where Government policies are leaked in advance, then the Government brief the press and a great national debate breaks out, and then Parliament finally gets the opportunity to discuss it a day later. If you have any opportunity to discuss with the usual channels what the proper role of Parliament should be, I think your assistance would be greatly appreciated.
I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that point of order. I am bound to say to him that my attitude has been that we have Cabinet government in this country. The policy is the policy of the Government only when it has been approved by the Cabinet. [Interruption.] Members can take their own view on whether I am right or wrong, but I am simply seeking to explain to the Father of the House that the premise on which I am working is that it will be Government policy if and only if, and only when, it has been approved by the Cabinet.
It therefore does not seem to me to be unreasonable, if the Cabinet is meeting this afternoon, for the House to hear a statement tomorrow. However, if it is possible for that statement to be made today, in the sense that a policy has been agreed, I am at the service of the House and I am in favour of a statement being made at the earliest possible opportunity. That point will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, and I am grateful to the Father of the House for his assistance in this important matter.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you advise me on the courses of action that are available to raise this issue? The Chief Minister of Gibraltar has, I understand, been briefed by the Minister for Europe and the Americas, and I understand that no such courtesy has been afforded to the Scottish Government. How do I bring a Minister here so I can ask why the Scottish Government have not yet seen the final deal but Gibraltar has?
There may be an opportunity for an exchange later in the day. The Minister for the Cabinet Office is perched as though he is about to leap to his feet with alacrity to respond, through me, to the hon. Lady.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. If it will help the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), I had a very constructive meeting with the First Ministers of both Wales and Scotland last Friday morning, when we discussed the progress of negotiations up to that point. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will, when the Cabinet has taken a view and come to a decision about what has been agreed provisionally between negotiators, talk directly to the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, because it is quite right that they should be fully briefed on what the Cabinet has decided.
Oh, very well. I hope it is not vexatious; I hope it is not a point of frustration.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would not be frustrated at all, Mr Speaker, especially not in here.
One year has now passed since my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal was arrested in India. Neither evidence nor a witness has been placed before a court of law, and a report of torture has been placed before the United Nations rapporteur on torture. I have raised the issue with you previously, seeking ministerial responses to letters and to requests for meetings with the Foreign Secretary. A commitment was given, the last time I raised this, on the Floor of the House. Can you assure me, while I am standing here and my constituent’s brother is in the Under Gallery, that the new Foreign Secretary could make that commitment, either through a statement to the House or through my writing to the Minister directly, yet again, as I have done already?
I am sorry that it is necessary for the hon. Gentleman repeatedly to write to Ministers on this matter, and it is obvious that he is dissatisfied with the response or lack thereof. My only advice to the hon. Gentleman is the advice I usually give to Members irritated in these circumstances, which is persist—persist man, persist. He is a dexterous and adroit parliamentary performer, and he will know the instruments available to him. If he believes, as I rather imagine he does, that the matter is urgent, he may wish to deploy a procedure that might give him a chance of raising the matter with a Minister in the Chamber on that basis.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House may well not have seen that another issue has just broken in the news, which is that more than 48,000 women have not received correspondence regarding cervical screening appointments and have gone without correspondence regarding cervical screening results, 500 of which, apparently, were abnormal results. This the latest failing of Capita, and Capita should lose this contract and the service should come in-house. The previous Health and Social Care Secretary, who is now the Foreign Secretary, would routinely update the House on these types of matter. Has the current Health and Social Care Secretary given you an indication that he is going to come to this House to update us, so that we can ask questions on behalf of our constituents?
The short answer to the shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is no, but I would very much expect that the House will be addressed on this matter very soon, certainly within a matter of days. Like the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), the hon. Gentleman is well versed in the instruments available to him. If he does not get a statement, or in lieu of a statement and as a reserve mechanism, he knows that he can seek to raise the matter on an urgent basis. I believe that on 528 occasions over the past nine and a half years the Chair has judged that a matter is urgent, whether the Government think it is or not.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the very clear decision of the House yesterday in relation to the publication of legal advice and the reported very worrying comments of the Attorney General in recent hours, can you ensure that the advice will be brought forward in a timely way and should certainly not be very long delayed after the publication of any White Paper or any statement? These things should happen almost simultaneously if we are to have a proper and informed debate on the statement or whatever comes forward. The House spoke clearly yesterday and that must be acceded to by the Government.
The short answer is that I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman and I could not have put it better myself. I hope that that message has been heard clearly by those on the Treasury Bench. What happened yesterday was not an expression of opinion by the House of Commons; it was an expression of the will of this House. That will must be respected by the Executive branch—it is as simple and incontestable as that.
If there are no further points of order, perhaps we can now proceed.
Clerk of the House
I have received a letter from the Clerk of the House and, as is customary in such circumstances, I propose to read it to the House. The letter is as follows:
“Dear Mr Speaker,
I write to inform you that I have indicated to Her Majesty The Queen that I intend to surrender my Patent as Clerk of the House on 1 March next year. I shall then have served the House for over 43 years, for the last 16 years at the Table. In March 2019 it will be 4 years since I was appointed as the 50th Clerk of the House. You have long known of my plans to retire in the first quarter of 2019, and I am grateful to you and the House of Commons Commission for agreeing in July of this year to all the detailed arrangements for selecting my successor, which can now be activated.
It has been a turbulent 4 years, covering three governments, two general elections and two referendums; the murders of Jo Cox MP and PC Palmer; threats to our physical and cyber-security; and the ebb and flow of launching Restoration and Renewal. It has seen the establishment of the new Parliamentary Digital Service and the Parliamentary Security Department; as well as new governance structures. And it hardly needs saying there may be more turbulence over the next few weeks and months.
The last 12 months have also of course seen the surfacing in various ways of the complex issue of bullying and harassment and sexual misconduct in the parliamentary community. I am confident that we can deal with it if we all acknowledge past failings—as I readily do—and move beyond concerns about process to reach a place where, quite simply, everybody in the community treats everybody else with respect and dignity. And where, if they do not, they are called out and if necessary sanctioned.
It has been a privilege if not always a positive pleasure to do this job and the other 14 jobs I have done here, in all of them sustained by the loyalty and friendship of my colleagues across the House of Commons Service, and in the House of Lords. I could not have been prouder than when I was appointed as the Head of the House of Commons service four years ago. The House of Commons service are a remarkably talented, diverse and dedicated group of public servants and I will miss them.
I will also miss the support and friendship of Members on all sides of the House. I do not think the public appreciate the work of Members, or their staff, as they should; and perhaps they never will.
Members demonstrate the best of public service in so many ways: in scrutiny and debate and inquiry here and in representing their constituents. I have found the House at its best to be a kind and generous place.
I am also glad over the past 4 years to have been able to visit a number of constituency offices around the country and see at first hand the public service provided by Members’ staff. Members and their staff carry out their work in the face of spiteful abuse and threat and vilification. They deserve better.
Finally, I would like to thank you, all the Deputy Speakers with whom I have worked, and the chairs and members of the select committees I have served, for their friendship, collegiality and good humour, especially in times of tension or difficulty.
The ten years since the expenses scandal and the Wright Report have seen the House of Commons come back from a very low place to being as open and vibrant and independent and outward-looking as at any time in modern history. I am proud to have played a small part in that journey. Whatever happens over the next few months the House of Commons will be at the centre of it, and that is how it should be.
I am confident that the House will continue to thrive as the central institution of our parliamentary democracy, cherishing the old while embracing the new, and holding fast to the recognition that parliamentary service is in the truest sense a form of public service.
Hear, hear. [Applause.]
An exceptional occasion justifies an exceptional response.
David, I am extraordinarily grateful to you. You have been an outstanding Clerk of the House. You have given dedicated and brilliant public service. I am grateful to you, and I believe everybody in this place is grateful to you.
Members with experience in this place will know that there is an occasion for tributes to the outgoing Clerk. That occasion is not today, but it will come subsequently, and I feel sure that it will involve a very substantial number of Members wishing to participate and to record both their respect and their appreciation of an exceptional public servant.
European Union Withdrawal (Evaluation of Effects on Health and Social Care Sectors) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Brendan O’Hara, supported by Neil Gray, Stephen Gethins, Joanna Cherry, Martyn Day, Tommy Sheppard, Caroline Lucas, Liz Saville Roberts, Ben Lake, Christine Jardine, Layla Moran, Tom Brake and Ian Murray presented a Bill to make provision for an independent evaluation of the effects of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union on the health and social care sectors; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January 2019, and to be printed (Bill 288).
Freehold Properties (Management Charges and Shared Facilities)
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 make provision for the regulation of fees charged by management companies to freeholders of residential properties; to make provision for self-management of shared facilities by such freeholders; to require management companies to ensure shared facilities are of an adequate standard; and for connected purposes.
A couple of years ago, I had a trickle of complaints about the poor upkeep of new estates and unfair fees being charged to homeowners on them. It then turned into a torrent, and latterly into a flood. Constituents of mine who live at Hazelbank, Burton Woods, Durham Gate and Middridge Vale, and now at Castle Vale and Startforth Park, have all been affected. I am grateful to them for alerting me to what I have now discovered is a national problem. I also wish to thank Cathy Priestley, who is sitting in the Gallery. She has set up the national pressure group the Homeowners Rights Network, fondly known as HorNet. She has been campaigning on behalf of homeowners and really understands the problems.
The first issue is that the public spaces are not made up to a proper standard. One man I met is still living on an unmade road after eight years. Promises of green areas, woodland, play facilities and even street lighting are broken. As it happens, County Durham has miles of unadopted roads of terraced housing that were built by mine owners in the late 19th century. Now, we have property developers with the same exploitative disregard for homeowners. We are building the 21st century blight.
Secondly, fees are high, rising, uncapped and unregulated. One constituent told me that their fee had risen from £60 to £134 in four years. At that rate, in 16 years’ time it will be £3,316 a year. Another constituent faced a 50% rise in one year. On the Middridge Vale estate, the total payments were £27,000—and that was just for grass cutting. There is a total lack of transparency about the way the fees are made up. Management charges usually exceed upkeep costs, with items such as company admin fees, accountancy, dormant account fees and transfers appearing to be plucked from the air. On one small estate, the actual maintenance costs were less than a fifth of the fees charged. On another, the homeowners found a gardener who would do the work for £400, and the agent promptly added a £400 admin fee. Extra sums are charged for installing TV aerials, and residents have been tied to E.ON as their electricity provider. It all looks like just another way for property developers to screw more money out of hard-pressed households. It is really a private new build tax, so the news that Persimmon boss Jeff Fairburn received a £75 million bonus was greeted with outrage.
The third problem is that when challenged by residents about the fees or upkeep, the management companies adopt an ultra-aggressive stance. My constituents have been bullied with threats of High Court action, or even the bailiffs. This is going on throughout the country: we estimate that 1.3 million households are currently affected. The Government’s response to HorNet—that people should take up their issues with developers, or that the Government will legislate at some point in the future to give a right of challenge through the first-tier tribunal—is wholly inadequate. Individual citizens cannot challenge multibillion-pound corporations, because the underlying problem is the legal structure, which my Bill would change.
The large property developers, such as Persimmon, Barratt and Taylor Wimpey, are scamming people from the start. Purchasers are offered solicitors who are not truly independent and appear to be contracted by the developers, which the Law Society surely ought to address. Many people feel that they were mis-sold their homes, and this is increasingly looking like another PPI scandal. People are worried that the situation will make it very difficult for them to sell their houses in future, so they have an asset of uncertain value.
The open spaces are initially owned by the property developers, who sell them and the right to manage them on to agents. The same names crop up over and over again: Greenbelt and Gateway. Indeed, one Antony John Dean is the director of 130 such companies. This monopolistic position gives the managing agents the opportunity to mismanage and overcharge with impunity. Some of my constituents have discovered that the land has been put into trusts or covenanted to avoid liability and control its use. The residents are powerless to appoint new agents or influence their behaviour.
Unlike leaseholders, who have access to a dedicated ombudsman service, freeholders have no legal recourse in the event of a dispute. Using old law—in particular section 121 of the Law of Property Act 1925—the agents can place charges on the property if residents are late with payments. It is an incredibly one-sided contract. Homeowners do not have the power to ask for justification of costs, but the management company can legally send in bailiffs or threaten repossession of the home if a resident does not pay on time. This is why people are coining the terms “fleecehold” and “fake freehold”. Indeed, there is no point in the Government legislating to give leaseholders the right to buy their freeholds unless they strengthen the legal position of freeholders.
My Bill would tackle the problem. To prevent more people from being caught in this trap in future, developers should be required to make up their public spaces to adoptable standards on a reasonable timescale. For existing homeowners, a different approach is obviously needed. First, the Bill would cap and regulate estate maintenance fees to give people the security of knowing that prices cannot increase indefinitely. Secondly, it would introduce measures to ensure that shared facilities are maintained to an adequate standard, to end the “money for nothing” culture of property companies. Finally, it would make provision for the transfer to genuine self-management, to end the stranglehold of managing agents.
The overwhelmingly positive response that I have had from colleagues across all parties demonstrates that this is a national problem. Currently, we estimate that 1.3 million households are affected; given the Government’s ambitions for house building, many more soon will be. We need to grip this problem and act fast.
Question put and agreed to.
That Helen Goodman, Faisal Rashid, Justin Madders, Louise Haigh, Ian Austin, Sir Peter Bottomley, Ian Mearns, Mr William Wragg, Fiona Bruce, Catherine McKinnell, Jim Fitzpatrick and Mary Glindon present the Bill.
Helen Goodman accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January 2019, and to be printed (Bill 289).
I had been given to understand that there would be some points of order now, but I do not see any. If anybody wants to raise a point of order, he or she can do so. [Interruption.] I was told less than five minutes ago that there would be some points of order, but there are not, and that is absolutely fine. I am simply responding to what I have been told.
70th Birthday of the Prince of Wales
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty on the seventieth birthday of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, to assure Her Majesty of the great pleasure felt by this House on so joyful an occasion.
That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by such Members of the House as are of Her Majesty’s most Honourable Privy Council or of Her Majesty’s Household.
That a Message be sent to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, to offer His Royal Highness the warmest good wishes of the House upon the occasion of his seventieth birthday, expressing the gratitude of the nation for his lifetime of service to the country and the Commonwealth and praying that His Royal Highness may long continue in health and happiness.
That Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister, Andrea Leadsom, Jeremy Corbyn and Ian Blackford do wait upon His Royal Highness with the said Message.
Over the past 70 years, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has played many roles in our national life. As a sailor, he commanded a minesweeper in the Royal Navy. As an airman, he gained his wings with the RAF. As the founder of the Prince’s Trust, he has worked tirelessly to help more than 900,000 vulnerable young people turn their lives around. As a farmer and entrepreneur he created and built a successful business, one that turns over more than £200 million a year and whose profits help support charitable causes. And, as heir to the throne, he has unstintingly supported Her Majesty the Queen for many decades, working with and representing our monarch and our country both at home and abroad. Binding those diverse strands together is a common thread; one that is encapsulated in the motto that, for hundreds of years, has adorned the Prince of Wales feathers: “Ich Dien”—I serve.
Throughout the Prince of Wales’s life, his commitment to public service has been total. That is true of his royal duties, which see him performing well over 600 official engagements every year. It is true of his work with the Commonwealth, in which he has played an active role for many years. The esteem in which he is held by the Commonwealth was made clear at the Heads of Government meeting earlier this year, when the member states unanimously chose to name him as the next head of the organisation—another role in which I am sure he will excel. It is also true of his wider work. First and foremost there is the Prince’s Trust and his other charities, of course. There is also his involvement with groups as diverse as the British Red Cross and the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, which has helped to regenerate the historic centre of Kabul—just two of the more than 400 organisations that he serves as patron.
Yet this public work only begins to scratch the surface of the Prince of Wales’s life. He is also an author, an artist, and a sportsman. As a student, when he became the first heir apparent to graduate from university, he also displayed an aptitude for comic acting. I am told that his impression of Peter Sellers’ Bluebottle, from his beloved “Goon Show”, is particularly on point. He is, I believe, the only public figure to have appeared on both “Gardeners’ Question Time” and “MasterChef Australia”, not to mention once delivering the weather forecast on BBC Scotland. He has a great and wide-ranging love of music. Indeed, he remarked in 1974:
“If I hear rhythmic music, I just want to get up and dance.”
That is something, I am sure, that many of us empathise with.
The more one looks at the prince’s life, the more one sees a man who has spent 70 years defying expectations and refusing to be categorised. It is an approach that has seen him delivering a speech in Pidgin to an audience in Nigeria only last week, during an official Commonwealth tour; encouraging his sons to spend childhood holidays collecting litter from the local countryside; and choosing to celebrate his 40th birthday with 1,500 young people from deprived backgrounds. It is an approach that often shows him to be a man ahead of his time.
In one of his first major public speeches, in 1970, the Prince of Wales warned of the
“horrifying effect of pollution in all its forms”,
with particular criticism reserved for the “mountains of refuse” created by plastic bottles that are used once and discarded. Half a century later, the UK and the world have woken up to the plastic threat and are taking action to tackle it.
In his debating debut at the Cambridge Union, the young prince spoke about the potentially dehumanising effects of technology in the workplace—another issue that is now at the front of many minds as we consider the impact of artificial intelligence. The same foresight can be seen in his long-held views on urban regeneration, on sustainable agriculture, on inter-faith dialogue and on improving the quality of the built environment, each of them issues that, after being raised by the prince, have moved to the mainstream, becoming widely embraced and accepted.
We could not pay tribute to His Royal Highness without mentioning perhaps his most important role of all—that of father and, more recently, of grandfather. Regardless of background or resources, raising children is never an easy task. It is made all the more difficult when they suffer a devastating loss at an early age. So today, as Prince William and Prince Harry make their own way in the world and begin to raise their own families, I know that I speak for all of us when I say that they are a true credit to their father. We as a nation are immensely proud of them, and I am sure that he is too.
On behalf of the whole House, it gives me great pleasure to wish His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales a very happy 70th birthday, and to offer him our very best wishes for the years ahead as he continues his remarkable record of service to his Queen, his country and his Commonwealth.
It is a pleasure to support this motion. Many people across the country will be wishing His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales a very happy 70th birthday. It might come as a surprise to many that His Royal Highness and I have something in common—we are both, it seems, leaving it late when it comes to career progression, although he has had a lifetime preparing for this role.
People in this country may have varying opinions about the institution of monarchy, but no one would say that being the heir to the throne of the UK as well as of 15 other nations is an easy job. His Royal Highness has shown a commitment to public service and charity and a passion for several notable causes throughout his life.
People say the past is a different place, and the Britain of 1948—the year the prince was born—was a very different place from the Britain of today. In many ways, it was a time of great optimism. It was the year of the universal declaration of human rights, which aims to give universal rights to everybody across the globe no matter who they are. It was, of course, also the year of the founding of the national health service, which is celebrating its 70th birthday this year. It was also a time of hardship, with the country emerging from the horrors and destruction of world war two. We had beaten fascism, but there was little rest to be had as work had to be done to rebuild Europe in the aftermath of that war.
In those days, our country was considerably poorer, both economically and culturally, not having benefited from the richness of multiculturalism that we enjoy today. It was, of course, the year that the Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury, bringing people from Jamaica and the Caribbean to start new lives here in Britain. Many of them and their children and grandchildren now form an integral part of our society, our country and, indeed, this House.
In 1948, British towns and cities were still scarred with bomb craters, rationing for food and clothing remained in place and censorship was enforced on stage and in our theatres. Prince Charles might have regretted the ending of censorship when, at a televised awards ceremony in 1994, the late great Spike Milligan, who was a good friend of the prince, infamously described him in words that I am sure, even today, Mr Speaker, you would not permit me to use in the House. Spike later faxed the prince to apologise, asking, “I suppose a knighthood is out of the question now?” Obviously, Prince Charles accepted the apology, because Spike did indeed later get an honorary knighthood.
Throughout his life, the Prince of Wales has committed himself to public service, as the Prime Minister said. The Prince’s Charities, supported by the Prince’s Charities Foundation, comprises 19 different charities. The charities focus on issues from the arts to the natural world. They include initiatives such as the British Asian Trust, which celebrates our country’s openness to the world and aims to help lift people out of poverty both in south Asia and here in Britain.
The trust picks up on another of the prince’s own passions, which I have regularly talked to him about: giving support to young people from all backgrounds and every part of the country. The trust has done unrivalled work in opening up opportunities for young people, helping them to find employment, education and training, unlocking their talents so they are able to lead the lives that they want and deserve to lead.
One example of the work the trust does is at Dumfries House in Ayrshire, where it supports courses for young people, teaching practical crafts such as stone masonry and carpentry. The work done there reminds me of a quote by the Victorian socialist and promoter of such skilled crafts, William Morris, whose work I believe the prince appreciates. Morris wrote:
“I do not want art for a few, any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.”
Instead of writing people off, as some people are often too willing to do, the Prince’s Trust, its supporters and its hard-working staff have endeavoured to make a real difference to young people’s lives and to provide the support and encouragement that, for whatever reason, had previously been absent from their lives.
The prince has also shown a consistent commitment to our often ignored natural world. As our climate and soils are being destroyed before our very eyes, the prince’s interest in the natural environment has not gone unnoticed. My friend the late great MP Michael Meacher once recalled that when he was an Environment Minister, he and His Royal Highness would “consort” to persuade the Government to do more on green energy. Asked by the press if there was a constitutional problem with a member of the royal family advocating a political opinion, Michael—a committed republican—replied:
“Maybe he was pushing it a bit. I was delighted, of course.”
It is a vital principle that the royal family remains above politics, but Prince Charles is an ambassador for a country that does take seriously the scientific realities of climate destruction. I do wonder whether, if there is anyone on this planet who might be able to get that message through to the President of the United States, it could well be Prince Charles. Indeed, His Royal Highness may be a Knight of the Garter and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, but few accolades can compare to when a brand new species native to Ecuador was discovered in 2012 and named the Prince Charles stream tree frog.
His Royal Highness’s horticultural exploits are well known. As a keen gardener and allotment holder, I can sympathise with the prince’s desire to talk to plants. I have certainly found them better listeners than many Members of this House over the years. It is traditional to give gifts, especially when one reaches a milestone such as a 70th birthday, so I was thinking of giving His Royal Highness a jar of Corbyn Originals jam from my allotment. But I am now suffering from a deep crisis of confidence. Will my jam match up to the standard of the prince’s Duchy Originals jam? I do not know how to deal with this conundrum. If His Royal Highness is listening, perhaps he could offer some advice.
As the Prince of Wales reaches 70, I wish him and his family a very happy birthday on behalf of everyone on the Opposition Benches.
It is a pleasure to follow two incredibly generous speeches. I absolutely endorse and support everything that has been said so far about His Royal Highness, the Prince’s Trust and the other foundations. I have had the privilege and the honour of working closely with His Royal Highness in my capacity as the MP for North West Norfolk, which includes the Sandringham estate. When I was in the Foreign Office, I also had the privilege of accompanying him on two foreign visits, so I had a chance to see for myself his extraordinary personality.
Sandringham is a large and highly diversified estate that employs a significant number of people in my constituency and generates many more jobs through tourism. It is, without doubt, one of the most innovative estates in the country, with a lot of pioneering work going on around organic farming and soil structures, habitat management, forestry, coastline and marshland preservation, and eco-housing for rent. His Royal Highness has played a pivotal role in all this, especially on the housing front. The Sandringham estate has built a number of new developments to be rented out—not just to people working on the estate, but to retired people and local people. In this way, it is setting the highest possible standards, and I applaud and salute that work.
His Royal Highness takes a very close interest in west Norfolk and the wider local community, and his advice and input has always been discreet, tactful and very much aware of the local political constraints. On occasions, I have had the opportunity to deal with him myself alongside the local borough council. When we have gone to him for advice, we have always found him incredibly approachable, but above all else is his convening power—a power to bring together different experts. Depending on what the situation demands, he has the experts to bring together, although he also has the most extraordinary knowledge himself.
I do not want to run through a lot of examples, but I should say that his foundation was absolutely indispensable in the redevelopment of King’s Lynn town centre, ensuring that we moved from what was going to be a very ordinary design to one that was quite exceptional. The Norfolk coastal footpath provides another example. And although recycling policy may sound very prosaic and boring, his input has been crucial at different times. He has also been involved in our work regarding the Construction Industry Training Board, which has a proud history in west Norfolk. We are doing our level best to persuade the board to keep its presence in west Norfolk, to develop the site and, above all, to make sure that when it puts its training contracts out to tender, we have the right people running those contracts so that we can use the organisation to help with skills and the whole apprenticeship agenda.
Behind the scenes, His Royal Highness has always shown so much interest, huge energy and a great sense of humour. Above all, he has an extraordinary ability to inspire, motivate and bring out the best in other people, so I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in saluting Prince Charles on his 70th birthday.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate on the Humble Address. I am pleased to join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in wishing His Royal Highness—the Duke of Rothesay, as he is known in Scotland—a very happy 70th birthday on behalf of the Scottish National party. I would like to take this opportunity to put on the record the appreciation of His Royal Highness by the people of Scotland, with whom he has had a lifetime connection, and to discuss his commitment to our country. His Royal Highness has always shared with us a rich and emotional history with Scotland, as his historical title of the Duke of Rothesay has traditionally been held by the heir to the Scottish throne.
Throughout the decades, His Royal Highness has been a regular visitor across Scotland, in particular visiting Balmoral, where he spent part of his honeymoon with the Duchess of Cornwall. His Royal Highness has a real affection for Scotland. I recall him once expressing:
“I cannot tell you how much I miss Balmoral and the hills and the air—I feel very empty and incomplete without it all.”
His Royal Highness is not only the Duke of Rothesay, but the Lord of the Isles, and he is a very frequent visitor to the islands. I recall that he spent a week on the island of Berneray in 1987, to be immersed in the art of crofting. He engaged in many of the wide variety of activities that crofters often do, such as planting potatoes, lifting peat and engaging in sheep dipping. I understand from the writings of the time that he very much enjoyed his life on an island croft. May I respectfully say to him that if he wishes to return and help me on my croft, particularly over the lambing time in spring, he would be more than welcome as a guest of ours?
His Royal Highness makes a point of attending the annual Braemar Gathering, which is Scotland’s most famous highland games. He was also educated in Scotland, attending Gordonstoun School in the north-east. Today, the Duke of Rothesay remains the Royal Colonel of both the 3rd and the 7th Battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. But His Royal Highness’s connections are not just with our beautiful country, but also with our people. Over the years, his dedication to helping advance the lives of people in Scotland through various projects has been invaluable to our society.
The Prince’s Foundation recently announced a new partnership with the Royal Lochnagar distillery. For those who have not experienced the whisky, I highly recommend it. The foundation has also been involved in building the new Duke of Rothesay Highland Games Pavilion and a visitor centre that charts the history of Scotland’s highland games. Again, I extend a welcome to His Royal Highness; there are many highland games throughout the country, not least in my own constituency, and there is no better way to spend a holiday than by participating in the rich variety of life that happens throughout the highland games season.
His Royal Highness is also a patron of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and he has been hugely supportive of its work in its four gardens at Edinburgh, Benmore, Logan and Dawyck.
The Prince’s Foundation has created workshops in traditional arts and crafts, with educational facilities for many schools. One notable project that stands out is the support from the Prince’s Trust for Dumfries House, saved by the intervention of His Royal Highness, who used £20 million of his own charitable foundation’s money and personally brokered a £45 million deal to secure the house for the future. This has helped to create a sustainable business in an effort to support the regeneration of the local economy in east Ayrshire. Your Royal Highness, we applaud you for work in this regard. The outdoor centre there now supports a variety of residential opportunities. The activities and facilities at the outdoor centre help students to develop leadership skills and encourage personal development. The Get Into programmes at Dumfries are part of an effort to get young people aged 16 to 24 who are not in employment, education or training to a positive destination—a worthwhile project and a credit to His Royal Highness’s work in Scotland.
While there are many of us here who want to see a different future for our nations, we acknowledge the aspects of our shared cultures, our heritage and our history. For me, this is something we must acknowledge when we look at the role that His Royal Highness has across the UK, but of course also in Scotland.
Today, His Royal Highness celebrates his 70th birthday —a remarkable milestone for all who reach it, but particularly for someone who is so dedicated to a lifetime of public service. I thank His Royal Highness for his friendship with Scotland. On behalf of my party and all those we represent, I warmly wish him all the very best on this special day and for many years to come.
It is a great privilege to follow the generous addresses that we have just heard.
For decades, the Prince of Wales has been a champion of the natural environment, and I want to take a moment of the House’s time to comment on that. Some people have pejoratively described it as meddling; I would call it contributing. He has been way ahead of most of us on many of these issues. He was talking about the danger of plastics in our oceans decades ago. His work on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change caused, at times, criticism—but again, he was way ahead of his time. Now he speaks a language that really has a remarkable affinity right across the political divide in this country. He raised these issues when it was unfashionable to do so. There is also his work on promoting the circular economy, which is now being mainstreamed by all parties in this House, moving away from the “extract, use, dump” culture to one that really does deal with how we use our natural resources in this country. In his book “Harmony”, which he co-wrote with Tony Juniper, he connected the environment with related issues such as health and wellbeing in a way that was really prescient for its time.
Let me conclude by mentioning—I think that this has already been commented on—his power as a convenor. There are very few people in this world who have the power to say, “There is a problem, which we need to talk about,” and world leaders, captains of industry and cultural figures will then jump on a plane to go to any corner of the world to engage in that problem. I have seen at first hand how he has been able to do that on issues such as oceans and fisheries and wildlife crime, with the extraordinary work of his International Sustainability Unit.
I am not a constitutional expert, so I cannot say what is or is not possible in the future. However, I want to take this opportunity to thank His Royal Highness for what he has provided and, I hope, will continue to provide—that is, thought, dialogue, reason and challenge.
It is a great privilege to join these tributes to the Prince of Wales. As somebody who crossed the milestone of a 70th birthday some years ago, I suggest that this is very much an opportunity for celebration rather than regret. Let me also add from personal experience that it should not represent a glass ceiling for progression to a bigger job. I have to say that in my five years in the Cabinet, I never received one of those letters in spidery handwriting requesting that I take action. I do not know whether to be offended or relieved that I did not.
I did have an opportunity, however, to see at first hand many of the achievements that stemmed from the prince’s commitment to helping disadvantaged young people—in particular, the role played by the Prince’s Trust, which was absolutely crucial in, for example, making a success of the start-up loans scheme, which operates with the British Business Bank and has launched thousands of young people with an opportunity to begin a life as entrepreneurs.
Several colleagues have already made a point of acknowledging the prince’s contribution to environmental thinking. We need to stress that he showed some courage in doing so—going way, way ahead of his time—while making the important point that we have to think about these issues both globally and locally. He has challenged many of the threats to the planet, but he has also sought to apply his thinking in practice in such gestures as taking his sons litter picking, for example. I add to the Prime Minister’s comment about the contribution he has made by bringing up his sons in this tradition of public service and commitment to tackling some of our difficult contemporary issues. We see this now in the excellent work by the two princes through the Royal Foundation in fields like mental health and early intervention.
Finally, I acknowledge the fact that the prince has been willing to tackle some very sensitive but important issues that directly bear on the royal family, most notably his advocacy of the fact that the role of the monarch should be the defender of faiths rather than the single faith. I wish to add my tribute and wish him and his family every happiness.
It is a great pleasure and a privilege, on behalf of myself and my constituents, to wish His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales—or, indeed, the Duke of Rothesay, as he is better known north of the border—many happy returns on his 70th birthday.
His Royal Highness is a weel-kent and welcome face in Scotland. He has taken a considerable interest in the architectural heritage of this nation, not least in preserving for the community and the nation the beautiful Dumfries House in my constituency. In hosting events such as the annual Boswell book festival, farming conferences and a recent Police Scotland seminar, Dumfries House remains a focal point for the whole community in East Ayrshire. It also stimulates tourism and is an excellent source of employment and training locally, which is vital. His Royal Highness has given hope and opportunity to many, many young people.
The prince has also embraced and supported other projects locally, working in New Cumnock in partnership with the Sir Tom Hunter Foundation and others towards the restoration of the beautiful red sandstone of New Cumnock town hall, as ever utilising good-quality construction and design methods. Also in New Cumnock, he was a driving force for not so much the refurbishment but the rebuilding of the New Cumnock outdoor swimming pool—which will be the best in the United Kingdom, I am sure, and is well worth a visit. The Prince’s Foundation also supports the very popular Cumnock Tryst music festival held there each year, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this very year.
On behalf of the residents of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock—and, indeed, Scotland—I would very much like to wish His Royal Highness many happy returns on his threescore years and ten today. Finally, as a former firefighter, I would ask His Royal Highness to be careful with the candles on his cake.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and the people we represent in Northern Ireland, I am delighted to speak in this Humble Address and to endorse what has already been said by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the other speakers so far. We express our heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on the occasion of his 70th birthday.
His Royal Highness has, over the course of his entire life, shown total devotion to supporting Her Majesty in the discharge of her duties both at home and abroad, and he has made a massive contribution in his own right to the role of the monarchy in our national life and across the globe.
In addition to supporting Her Majesty the Queen, with an almost unrivalled schedule of duties and commitments, he champions many important causes that have helped to transform the lives of countless people across the United Kingdom. His has been a life of duty that has earned His Royal Highness the thanks of a grateful nation. He has had a truly enriching impact upon our country, our precious Union and our Commonwealth, transcending borders, language and generations. His pursuit of the causes of peace, prosperity, the countryside and the environment has touched the lives of so many.
For me, one of the highlights of his work was the founding of the Prince’s Trust, which to this day continues to support those most in need in our society. I have no doubt that Members from all parties can testify to the amazing impact that the Prince’s Trust has had on the lives of their constituents and in many communities. For those facing homelessness, health problems, educational disadvantage or difficult times, the Prince’s Trust has often been there to put their lives back on track.
His Royal Highness holds a special place in the hearts of the people of Northern Ireland, shown by the warmth with which he has been received on his countless visits to Ulster. During the darkest days of our recent past, His Royal Highness continued to visit Northern Ireland very regularly in the face of threats and danger. It is his willingness to support those who suffered so much at the hands of terrorism, combined with his own personal loss, that made him a figure of so much admiration. A particularly poignant quote that has stuck with me came from the families of the victims of the Omagh bombing, who said on His Royal Highness’s visit to the site of the bombing, “It shows he hasn’t forgotten our suffering.” His Royal Highness has exemplified the qualities of duty, sacrifice and service to our country, and for the future may he and his family know God’s richest blessing.
I gently point out that there are a number of Members standing and seeking to catch my eye who did not indicate any intention to take part in these exchanges. It seems rather curious for a Member not to have put in to speak but suddenly to bob. It is simply not in conformity with our procedures, and we have a Second Reading of a Bill. I hope I have made the position clear.
I shall keep my words brief. Windsor is home to the military in the form of the Household Cavalry, which is the presentation regiment for the royal household and the protection unit, and to the monarchy, with Windsor castle being the longest continuously inhabited castle in the country.
It strikes me whenever I meet the prince just how dedicated he is to public life, over so many years and to so many different causes. The Prince’s Trust takes care of disadvantaged youngsters by providing entrepreneurial loans so that they can make their own way in life, which is a fine thing to do. His passions for the environment and architecture are well known.
Prince Charles has a strong heart and a good heart, with a strong voice in convening people around the issues in which he believes. We know in this place just how challenging it can be to speak out on key issues—one is often condemned if one does, and condemned if one does not—and yet the prince has managed to speak out on many issues, without causing offence, and in a way that opens up areas for public debate that we may otherwise not have opened up.
In this place we are volunteers, and yet the prince has taken on his duties and his responsibilities through a sense of commitment to the country. On behalf of the residents of the Windsor constituency, and on behalf of myself and other Members, I wish Prince Charles a very happy birthday.
You may ask, Mr Speaker, why somebody committed to Welsh independence and an elected Head of State would want to take part in this debate on the Humble Address. One of the main lessons I have learned in politics is that it is always wise to be nice to one’s constituents. As Members may know, the Welsh residency of His Royal Highness is situated in the north of my constituency, in the Tywi valley. He is held in huge regard by many of my constituents, and I know that he shares my deep love for the county of Carmarthenshire and the Tywi valley in particular.
I have met the prince on several occasions, and he is a deeply intelligent and humorous person. I will share one short story with the House. I met him for the first time soon after being elected in 2010, at the opening of Frank’s Ice Cream in Carmarthenshire, which makes the best ice cream in Wales, if not the world. In the line-up to meet the prince was my father, who is the local county councillor, Councillor Kevin Madge, the leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, and myself. As the prince worked his way down the line, he got to me; the lord lieutenant whispered in his ear that he had just met my father, and the prince said, quick as a flash, “Ah! Hereditary”.
In all seriousness, whatever anyone thinks of the monarchy as an institution, the prince’s lifetime of commitment to public service is something to be commended, and I am happy to do so on behalf of my party today.
I want to briefly express my admiration for the Prince of Wales and all his work on climate change, the environment and our oceans. In particular, I want to thank him and his wife, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall, for their great patronage of our nation’s armed forces and the ships, regiments and squadrons of which they are colonels.
I have seen at first hand just how close a relationship they have with those regiments and the personal interest they take in not only the lives of the men and women serving in those units, but their families, those who have served in the units previously, those who are bereaved as a result of soldiers, sailors and airmen serving in those units being killed in action and those who have been injured in the course of their duties. On behalf of my constituents and all those soldiers, sailors and airmen who hold both His Royal Highness and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall in such high regard, I wish him a happy birthday.
I rise to pay my respects and to wish His Royal Highness a very happy birthday, as well as to acknowledge all the work he has done on the environment and his interfaith work, sometimes against being popular, to ensure that there is the respect for all faiths that our country needs at every level of our society.
I want briefly to mention the prince’s work in supporting teachers and excellence in teaching, particularly through the Prince’s Teaching Institute. That institute and its chief executive, Chris Pope, have been very important and supportive in a project that we have started in Hounslow, Hounslow’s Promise, which supports social mobility, education and employability. The support and interest of the prince and his charity make a huge difference in our local endeavours. It is a mark of the prince that he takes a great interest in how what he does nationally makes a difference locally. For that reason, I wish him a very happy birthday and hope that his family enjoy their celebrations.
I apologise for my error, Mr Speaker—I thought that we did not have to put in to speak in a Humble Address debate. I will be very brief.
I was driven to speak because I grew up on a family farm that belonged to Prince Charles, so we were effectively his tenants; perhaps I should declare an interest. It was a wonderful farm on which to grow up. Prince Charles is such an advocate for farming, and his farms are prevalent in the west country. He should be applauded for the ease and insight with which he engages with the farming community.
I remember when he came to our farm one time. It was all top-secret, but we were invited to lunch with him, and he engaged, with great insight, with everybody on every subject to do with farming. I was also pleased that, of all the puddings on the table, he chose mine to eat.
I want to pay tribute to his wider work in the rural community. Prince Charles really understands why we need our rural communities to remain vibrant. He does a great amount of work on that through his Duchy College and his skills, training and apprenticeship courses. That is very important.
Colleagues have mentioned the prince’s work on the wider environment and nature, biodiversity and wildlife, and he has really helped to get soils on the agenda. All his climate change work has to be applauded. As others have said, he was ahead of the game on that, and many people are now following on the work he began.
The prince has a great interest in horticulture and gardening, and he is a great advocate worldwide. The UK is the home of gardening, and to have somebody in our royal family who is an advocate for it is brilliant for the tourism that it attracts and the wider industry. He has a show garden at Highgrove. I was lucky enough to go there with the Somerset Gardens Trust. It is a tremendous place to visit, if people get the chance. It is a tremendous advert for us worldwide. I share something in common with Prince Charles: he talks to his plants, and so do I. I do not see anything wrong with it. On that note, I wish him a very happy birthday and a blossoming next few decades.
As you are aware, Mr Speaker, I represent a far-flung and far away part of the British Isles. It is on behalf of the people who live there that I want to thank the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Rothesay. For some years, he has been coming to stay in his grandmother’s old home, the castle of Mey in Caithness. He loves that castle as much as one can imagine. He comes in August, and every time he takes the trouble to go on a series of visits to businesses, enterprises and such like right throughout my constituency. The time and trouble he takes on those visits to talk to everyone beggars belief. In fact, I do not think he ever has lunch. One of the things I do is put a Mars bar in my pocket.
The prince’s schedules almost always overrun because he is so busy saying hello to absolutely everyone. I cannot tell you, Mr Speaker, how much that means to my constituents. We are far, far away from London. I think what lies behind it is that he feels at ease in my part of the world. I feel easy with him, and there is a real thread of kindness. The milk of human kindness is there, and that is appreciated by my constituents. On behalf of the good people of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, I wish him many, many happy returns. It is my privilege to do so.
I think that completes the contributions on this important matter.
Question put and agreed to, nemine contradicente.
Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a short Bill, with six clauses, to enable continuity of healthcare for British nationals and EU citizens after Britain leaves the European Union. It is clearly in the interests of the British public to ensure reciprocal healthcare arrangements continue when we leave the EU, whether that happens through an agreement with the EU itself or through individual agreements with EU member states. By enabling us to implement those arrangements, the Bill will help us to help nearly 200,000 British pensioners living in EU countries to continue to access the medical treatment that they need, and it will mean that the hundreds of thousands of British citizens who require medical treatment each year during holidays in Europe can still be covered for medical assistance when they need it.
The Bill will help to ensure that UK nationals who live and work in EU countries can continue to access healthcare on the same basis as local people. It will mean that EU citizens can be covered for reciprocal healthcare here, so that the UK continues to be a place tourists want to visit and vital workers, such as our NHS workforce, want to live in. The Bill will also mean that we can continue to recover healthcare costs from Europe as we do now.
A few years ago, I presented a private Member’s Bill on the recovery of costs under the European health insurance card scheme. More than half of NHS trusts did not record the treating of foreign nationals at all so that they could claim back on those reciprocal arrangements. Can I get an assurance that, under the new arrangements, the NHS will be properly refunded for the care it provides to those from other countries?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Perhaps I should declare that, when I was a Back Bencher, I tabled a number of parliamentary questions on that very issue, relating to my hospitals and to claiming. We pay out around tenfold what we recover. I will come on to that point, but part of the Bill relates to the NHS’s increased focus on the issue, which he is correct to raise.
Reciprocal healthcare agreements benefit people in all regions and nations of the United Kingdom. The Department of Health and Social Care currently funds and arranges EU reciprocal healthcare for people from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Bill will allow us to continue doing that, if agreed with the EU. We have been working for some time now with the devolved Administrations and will of course continue to do so to ensure that we legislate for reciprocal healthcare in a way that fully respects the devolution settlements.
We can all agree that access to healthcare is essential both for British nationals living in European countries and for EU citizens living in the UK. The Bill will also allow us to strengthen existing reciprocal healthcare agreements with non-EU countries and explore new arrangements. As the Prime Minister said last night, the negotiations for our departure are now in the endgame and we are working to reach an agreement. As Members would expect, we are continuing to make the necessary preparations for all scenarios. It is in everyone’s interests to secure a good deal, but it is the job of a responsible Government to prepare for all scenarios, including in the event that we reach March 2019 without agreeing a deal.
In the event of no deal, the powers in the Bill will help to implement deals with EU countries that will seek to provide continuity of care for UK nationals and avoid a cliff edge. The powers will enable the UK to act swiftly to protect existing healthcare cover for British nationals in the EU, the European economic area and Switzerland, whether deals are made with the EU or individual member states. That is in the interests of everyone and, most importantly, will benefit millions of UK nationals who live, study, work or travel in mainland Europe.
British people who have paid their taxes in the UK their whole working lives and have retired to Spain, France or other EU countries should not have to worry about healthcare and how much it is going to cost them. Similarly, the millions of British people who travel to mainland Europe each year should be able to do so with the peace of mind that the European health insurance card scheme brings. These schemes are popular across the UK. There are currently 27 million EHIC cards in circulation in the UK, with 5 million issued each year. Reciprocal healthcare arrangements enable UK nationals to access healthcare whether they live in, work in or visit EU countries.
The current arrangements involve EU member states reimbursing one another for healthcare costs. We support UK nationals in the EU by spending approximately £630 million a year on healthcare for British expats and tourists. At present, we recover £66 million each year from EU member states under the same rules, but that amount is increasing as the NHS gets better at identifying EU visitors and ensuring that the UK is reimbursed for care provided, which speaks to the point that my hon. Friend raised. It is a net spend because many more British pensioners and tourists go to Europe than the other way around.
It is clearly in the interests of the British public to ensure that reciprocal healthcare arrangements similar to those currently in place continue when we leave the EU. The Bill does not affect the UK’s ability to negotiate or enter into international agreements, and the details of any new reciprocal healthcare arrangements will remain subject to negotiation and parliamentary scrutiny.
Until now, the majority of UK-EU reciprocal healthcare has been enabled by EU regulations. Once we leave the European Union, the EU reciprocal healthcare arrangements will no longer apply in the UK in their current form and we will need new legislation to provide for future arrangements. With a deal, the withdrawal agreement will enable the continuation of existing reciprocal healthcare rules during the implementation period, and afterwards for people covered by that withdrawal agreement, but it is not a long-term arrangement for the British public as a whole, does not provide for the event of the withdrawal agreement not being concluded and does not cover healthcare arrangements with countries worldwide.
The UK already has important agreements in place with Australia, New Zealand and many of our Crown dependencies and overseas territories and the Bill will help us to strengthen those, should we wish to, or seek new arrangements with other countries. The Bill underscores the Government’s commitment to reaching a robust reciprocal healthcare agreement with the EU.
This is important and necessary legislation, introduced so that the British public can look to the future with confidence that they will get the healthcare they need, when they need it. I commend the Bill to the House.
Of course, the Opposition welcome any efforts to safeguard healthcare for the estimated 190,000 UK expats living in the EU and the 50 million or so nationals who travel abroad to EEA countries each year. We have concerns about some clauses, which we will address in Committee. It is 874 days since the UK voted to leave the EU, although for many of us it seems a whole lot longer. It is also a year since the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 was introduced, so it is a matter of some concern that this Bill is only now being introduced.
As the Minister rightly said, the Bill gives the Secretary of State wide-ranging powers, including the power to amend primary legislation through a Henry VIII-style clause, but it places no obligation on the Secretary of State to report back to Parliament, even in the event that a reciprocal deal cannot be reached. That, combined with the scope for extensive use of statutory instruments under the negative procedure, represents to us an unacceptable lack of parliamentary oversight of an issue that will impact on the daily lives of millions of people. The Secretary of State ought to have learned from previous attempts that this Parliament does not react kindly when asked to sign a blank cheque. We will, therefore, seek to ensure that any new powers granted are proportionate and that all regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure.
We recognise the need for this Bill, because without a reciprocal agreement, UK citizens living in the EU, and vice versa, could find themselves having to pay for and make complicated arrangements to access healthcare in the country in which they live or that they visit. The biggest impact will be felt by the 190,000 state pensioners living abroad, and by those with long-term health conditions who could be prevented from travelling for business and leisure by prohibitively high insurance costs. There does appear to be some doubt about the figure of 190,000. The DWP website Stat-Xplore, which provides details of UK pensioners across EU and EEA countries, shows the figure for the EU27 as 468,793 in May 2018. I would be grateful if the Minister offered some clarification on that discrepancy.
We support the Government’s aim of retaining the current model of reciprocal healthcare. We are, however, extremely concerned that, with just over four months to go until we leave, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about whether all the hoops can be jumped through. Although the arrangements may continue as part of a withdrawal agreement if it gets through Cabinet, Parliament and the rest of the EU, there is just as much chance that we will need a whole new set of arrangements, which could radically alter the situation.
The Government’s impact assessment seems seriously to underestimate the consequences of a no-deal scenario, and I would welcome clarification from the Minister on that when he sums up. There are a number of reasons why I say that. As one would expect, the impact assessment sets out that the cost of establishing a future reciprocal healthcare arrangement on the same basis as the current one would be around £630 million per year, which is about the same as the cost of the current arrangements. However, the impact assessment goes on to say that, in the event of a no-deal scenario, the costs are expected to be similar or less, depending on the number of schemes that are established. Assuming that we still need and want to have an agreement with every country with which we do now, that would seem to imply that fewer people might need treatment. I doubt that even the biggest advocates of a no-deal Brexit would claim that leaving the EU without a deal will somehow miraculously lead to an upturn in people’s health.
Some clarity from the Minister would be appreciated, because the impact assessment appears completely to underestimate the complexity and cost of implementing what might end up being a diverse array of agreements. When they gave evidence to the House of Lords European Union Committee, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health were clear that should no EU-wide reciprocal agreement be achieved, the significant costs of establishing bilateral reciprocal arrangements with EU and EEA countries would fall on the NHS. The BMA said:
“Managing access to health services by non-EU citizens is bureaucratically more burdensome than managing access for EU nationals currently”
“in the event that the current reciprocal arrangements with the EU were to be discontinued, could have considerable resource and administrative implications for hospitals in both the UK and the EU.”
I therefore ask the Minister why those associated potential administrative costs have not been included in the impact assessment.
Expenditure on UK state pensioners and their dependants accounts for approximately 75% of the total amount that we spend on reciprocal healthcare and supports UK state pensioners and their dependants living in Europe. In 2016-17, that equated to an estimated £468 million. The Department for Health and Social Care has accepted that the system is extremely cost-effective for the UK, not least because treatment overseas is often cheaper than it is in the UK. For example, Spain’s latest average pensioner cost is €4,173, compared with £4,396 in the UK. If we were unable to reach a full agreement, there would be two likely outcomes. In some cases, UK expats would face having to fund private medical insurance. However, in many cases, particularly for those with chronic conditions or complex healthcare needs, such insurance could be prohibitively expensive, if it could be found at all. In those cases, the planning and funding provision for those individuals would fall on the NHS.
Analysis by the Nuffield Trust has found that, if British pensioners lost their healthcare cover in EU states and had to return to the UK to access care, the additional annual cost to the NHS could amount to as much as £1 billion. The trust also predicts significant additional resource implications. It said in a report from 2017:
“Looking at relative hospital demand by age group, we might expect 190,000 people to require 900 more hospital beds and 1,600 nurses, as well as doctors, other health professionals, and support staff such as porters. This number of additional beds would be equivalent to two new hospitals the size of St Mary’s Hospital in London.”
The implications and potential demand on resources if arrangements are not made are huge. Of course, if the higher figure for pensioners in the EU is correct, those demands could more than double.
The European health insurance card benefits everyone who travels from the UK to EEA countries, but it is particularly beneficial for those with long-term conditions. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has set out that the EHIC enables such individuals to do so
“without the need for expensive travel and health insurance.”
One example of that is the 29,000 patients in the UK who receive kidney dialysis, typically three days per week. For those 29,000 patients, who can currently access dialysis across Europe—from Rotterdam to Rome—taking away the EHIC would take away their freedom. Travelling for work, for leisure or to visit family would be prohibitively expensive for them if we were not able to reach a comprehensive reciprocal healthcare agreement. Even if the Government were able to negotiate bilateral agreements, it would be of little comfort to a kidney dialysis patient who wished to attend a family wedding in Italy if they could access treatment only in France, Spain or Ireland.
The BMA and others have set out that patients with disabilities would be among the most affected if there were no reciprocal healthcare agreement. According to the BMA, without the EHIC, people with disabilities could find that travel or health insurance was
“especially expensive and potentially difficult to arrange”.
The Law Society of Scotland has reported that more than a quarter of disabled adults already felt that they were charged more for travel insurance, or simply denied it, because of their conditions. It is a matter of concern that the impact assessment does not explore the consequences of not reaching a deal for disabled people and those with long-term conditions. I therefore call upon the Minister to ensure that such an analysis is undertaken as an early priority.
Another question mark that hangs over the entire process is how dispute resolution will work, in either a deal or a no-deal scenario. Throughout the entire Brexit process, one of the red lines in the negotiations has been the role played by the European Court of Justice. However, I have yet to hear any suggestion about how, if we manage to reach a full reciprocal healthcare agreement with the EU27, disputes could be resolved without some reference, ultimately, back to the ECJ. The same would apply to bilateral agreements. If, for example, we reach an agreement with Spain and there is a disagreement about a payment made or the administration of the scheme—that could happen from time to time—who will determine which side is in the right?
When he gave evidence to the Health Committee, Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, considered this dilemma and said that
“as the two simplest ways”
of resolving dispute resolution
“have been ruled out by the Prime Minister, I do not see how you can do it.”
What kind of dispute resolution procedure does the Minister envisage either in a full agreement scenario, or in the case of bilateral agreements with individual states? Can he confirm whether the Government’s position is still that the ECJ will have no jurisdiction over such issues?
Clause 4 provides a legal basis for processing data to facilitate any agreements after the UK leaves the EU. Although facilitating data processing is a necessary element of any reciprocal agreement to support the making of payments for healthcare outside the UK, I note that appropriate safeguards are referred to in the Bill, and I ask for clarification about what those safeguards are and how they would work in practice. We have concerns that the Bill appears to allow the Secretary of State to hand personal data to private providers and to allow private providers to process that data. We will look to explore that further in Committee if the Minister, in winding up, is not able to satisfy us on the need for those powers, the extent to which they will be used, and what safeguards will be applied.
Another issue we will face, particularly if we are not able to agree a full reciprocal agreement, is cost recovery. Members have already referred to the challenges on that. The BMA set out clearly to the House of Lords Committee that:
“Managing access to health services by non-EU citizens is bureaucratically more burdensome than managing access for EU nationals currently”,
“in the event that the current reciprocal arrangements with the EU were to be discontinued…could have considerable resource and administrative implications for hospitals in both the UK and the EU.”
As I set out before, it is deeply concerning that this potential challenge does not appear to have been considered in the impact assessment. Even under the current arrangements, cost recovery is something that we do not appear to have handled satisfactorily and the fault for that lies with the Government.
In 2012-13, the NHS charged only about 65% of what it could have done to visitors from outside the EEA and Switzerland, and only 16% of what it could have done to visitors from within that area. I accept that things have improved since then, and that the Department set itself a recovery target of £500 million overall and £200 million for EEA and Switzerland patients, which it hoped to achieve by 2017-18, but it still appears to be well behind on those targets. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister could advise us on the latest projections for that. He mentioned a figure of £66 million earlier, but it was not clear which particular period that related to.
The Law Society of Scotland was clear on the importance of this issue when it gave evidence to the Lords Committee. It said:
“as the NHS has never been very effective in reclaiming the fees owed to it by overseas visitors to the UK, the UK may find itself substantially worse off financially when new arrangements for funding cross-national use of health services are put in place.”
Even the Health Minister in the other place admitted that there was a “job to be done” on cost recovery. Irrespective of Brexit, it is deeply concerning that millions of pounds that should be spent on UK patients by the NHS is going to waste because of a failure to get a grip on cost recovery.
Giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, NHS Improvement said that it was going to monitor charging and cost recovery, and intervene where trusts have not met their statutory obligations. Will the Minister advise us on whether it has done so? If there is an additional administrative burden on the NHS in setting up new systems of cost recovery, will the Minister give a commitment that NHS providers will be adequately compensated?
It is a concern that the Bill gives the Secretary of State wide powers with little recourse to Parliament. Where are the checks and balances if the NHS ends up having to police 27-plus different sets of arrangements? What if the deals reached end up costing far more? What if our cost recovery continues to lag well behind what it should be? There needs to be greater parliamentary oversight of all these issues.
The importance of getting a good deal on reciprocal healthcare is more significant in the countries where it is accessed most, none more so than in the case of the island of Ireland. For anyone who has visited some of the more rural areas along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as I did during the summer, it is clear the extent to which crossing the border is a part of day-to-day life for those communities. The border area has a dispersed population of around 2 million people. Currently, this combined population offers the economies of scale necessary to provide health services, which would be completely unsustainable were a hard border to be put in place. Cooperation and Working Together, a partnership of health services from both sides of the border, has set out clearly that there are many examples where patients’ lives have been saved because of free and open access for emergency services across the border. If we do not get the right agreement in place, there is a real danger that we could see a situation where one ambulance drives up to one side of the border and another from the other side meets it to transfer a patient. These are the very practical implications of the Bill we are discussing today.
Reciprocal healthcare arrangements on the island date back to before the UK and the Republic of Ireland joined the EU, but they are now underpinned by EU law. We welcome the commitment by both Governments to ensure that the current arrangements will continue after Brexit, but the UK Government have yet to explain clearly exactly how they will approach these issues in practice. The border issue has clearly been a sticking point in the overall negotiations, so we will have to monitor very closely what the final deal says on that.
I want to say a few words about devolution. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have clearly and robustly articulated their support for a continuation of reciprocal healthcare agreements. I would be grateful if the Minister could set out the extent to which he has engaged with the devolved Administrations as part of that process. The House of Lords Committee was clear in its recommendations that there should be active participation of the devolved Administrations in setting the UK’s position on future arrangements, but I am not aware that anything has taken place to date. The Bill gives wide-ranging powers to the Secretary of State, but places no obligation on him to consult or engage with the devolved Administrations before making regulations. What assurances can the Minister give us that that will take place, particularly well ahead of any new arrangements being put in place?
In conclusion, this is a very short Bill, but one that will have far-reaching implications. The Secretary of State is asking for powers, which will have a direct influence on the day-to-day lives of hundreds of thousands of people without providing us with clarity on how he will use them. The Bill has been two years in the making and yet the impact assessment provided is totally insufficient, if not inaccurate, and there seems to have been little appreciation of the complexity of the task at hand or the implications if things go wrong. All of that is amidst the deal or no deal circus we have at the moment. The Government are asking for the powers to make agreements with other countries, but they cannot get an agreement around the Cabinet table. We will see, possibly by the end of the debate, whether that turns out to be correct.
We are in no doubt that the continuation of reciprocal healthcare is absolutely essential. We will not oppose the progress of the Bill today, but we will press for the safeguards needed to ensure that proper regulations and oversight are put in place, and that the interests of patients are protected.
I welcome this paving measure, which I think will give significant comfort to many thousands of mainly elderly and often very frightened United Kingdom expat citizens mainly in Europe, but also around the world. For reasons I will not bore the House with, I have a very extended network of contacts with the expat community mainly within European Union countries but also worldwide. I want to concentrate for a few minutes mostly on those people.
The people I want to talk about are expat United Kingdom citizens who by and large have spent their working lives paying taxes and national insurance here in Britain, and who, for reasons of family, health or sun, have moved to France or Spain. There is also a significant community living throughout the rest of the European Union and one should most certainly not overlook the needs of those who are resident in the EU for professional purposes. Those include all manner of circumstances, for example people working for companies or on Her Majesty’s service in one form or another. The degree of uncertainty that has surrounded their healthcare futures has been considerable and very worrying. I do not think we can over-egg that.
I want to raise one specific concern, which relates to the emphasis on reciprocity. I say that because I happen to chair the all-party group on frozen British pensions. A frozen pensioner is one who is living in any country other than the United Kingdom and is entitled to a UK pension, but who receives that pension frozen at the point of departure unless there is reciprocity. For example, a pensioner living on one side of the Niagara Falls in Canada has their pension frozen, whereas a pensioner living on the other side in the United States has their pension uprated in line with inflation. What I do not want to see is that situation replicated in this deal, so that we get a second class healthcare system whereby people in some countries within the European Union get healthcare while others do not. I hope very much it will be possible to strike a deal with the remaining 27 European Union countries, rather than cherry-picking each country and then having to work out who is entitled to “free” healthcare and who is not. That would be a nightmare. If we are going to get this right, and we must get it right, we have to make sure that everybody is covered.
Tourists fall under a slightly different category. Tourists who go right around the world expect to take out health insurance for their travel. I see no reason why they should not do so and why they should not do so in the European Union countries once we have left.
For those who choose to live in countries such as France, Spain, Greece and Italy in the European Union, we have to make very special provision. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to ask my hon. Friend the Minister to make sure that we do not allow this measure, which is very valuable indeed, to become subject to the law of unintended consequences. We must roll as smoothly as possible from EHIC to a new system that is fair to the taxpayer. I take entirely the point that this cannot be a blank cheque, but we must make sure that the elderly and vulnerable, who have chosen to live overseas having paid their taxes here, are well, truly and properly covered.
Clearly, Brexit threatens the loss of reciprocal healthcare arrangements for millions in Scotland and across the UK. As a bottom line, the Scottish National party believes that all current reciprocal health agreements must remain intact, regardless of what form Brexit takes. The Bill is yet another rushed job on the part of the Government. In their panic, they have woken up to the fact that millions across the UK and thousands of expats abroad, particularly pensioners, could face having either no access to healthcare within the EU or paying exorbitant costs for treatment. It is another example whereby no contingency planning was done prior to the Brexit referendum.
With an estimated 900,000 to 1.2 million UK citizens living in the European economic area and 3.2 million EEA citizens residing in the UK, Brexit will potentially have severe ramifications for them and the NHS. Approximately 27 million active EHIC cards are in circulation as of September 2017. They are used to pay for around 250,000 medical treatments each year. Ensuring that all current reciprocal health agreements remain intact and in place must be the bottom line regardless of what form Brexit takes.
The consequences of a no-deal Brexit on healthcare are yet one more example of why this extreme Tory Brexit is not worth the cost. In evidence to the House of Lords EU Committee, a representative from the Association of British Insurers gave a rough estimate that in a no-deal scenario, travel insurance premiums for EU travel could increase by 10% to 20%. A no-deal scenario will end up restricting the travel arrangements of those with underlying health conditions and disabilities. In such a scenario, the British Medical Association said that the insurance issue will be
“a particular concern for those with disabilities or long-term conditions, as the cost of health and travel insurance for those with pre-existing conditions could be prohibitively high.”
The Bill’s impact assessment concludes that in a no-deal scenario:
“If UK citizens in the EU are treated as 3rd country nationals (i.e. they cease to have rights of movement and access to services in EU Member States, and are treated like citizens coming from non-EU countries) some may face additional financial costs or difficulties accessing healthcare services, with potential implications for their health and wellbeing.”
That is something none of us wants to see.
Reciprocal healthcare arrangements must not be viewed as affecting only those who live or travel abroad. The impact of a no-deal Brexit would have a devastating effect on our NHS services at home. The agreement in the joint report does not provide long-term assurances regarding the future of the EHIC. As things stand, health insurance will stop for millions of UK citizens post-Brexit.
While the UK Government have stated their commitment to securing ongoing access to the EHIC, the EU has been unwilling to agree to that due to the Government’s stance on freedom of movement post-Brexit. The UK would also be a significant outlier were it to retain access to reciprocal schemes while ending freedom of movement. The SNP position on single market and customs union membership would, of course, remove all such obstacles.
If these healthcare schemes were removed, it would inevitably lead to massive pressures on the NHS, as UK citizens return home to receive treatment. Those pressures are compounded by the impact of the health workforce reduction, which has seen England and Scotland lose 19% and 14% of EU doctors respectively and a 90% drop in EU nurses registering to work in the UK.
As we have heard, the UK contributes around £630 million annually towards UK citizens’ care and receives £50 million—I think the Minister mentioned £60 million—for care provided to EU nationals in the UK. The BMA and the Nuffield Trust has estimated that if the UK did not conclude a withdrawal agreement with the EU, and were all these pensioners to return to the UK, the NHS would need some 900 additional beds and 1,600 nurses to ensure sufficient capacity. All in all, providing this additional healthcare would amount to somewhere in the region of £1 billion.
Current EU nationals living in the UK could face losing access to health facilities. First, their residency was threatened and now their healthcare rights are in danger; we must give them peace of mind and security. Were the UK to lose access to existing reciprocal arrangements and no alternative be established, EEA citizens living in or visiting the UK would also face a significant change in their access to care. Depending on the deal secured between the UK and the EU on citizens’ rights, this could mean that EEA residents might face the same costs and terms of access to the NHS as other non-EEA visitors and migrants do currently.
The Scottish Government have never been opposed to common frameworks, but these must be agreed in discussion and with the consent of the devolved Administrations. I was grateful to hear the Minister’s commitment to working with the devolved nations in this regard. We all understand the desperate need for all these reciprocal healthcare agreements to continue and the Scottish Government will work with the UK Government to ensure that they do.
Through the Joint Ministerial Committee, we believe that a common framework system can be achieved that ensures these specific health agreements can be administered through common agreement between the UK Government and the Scottish Government. Many issues need to be resolved for this to happen effectively, particularly if we are forced to deal with a no-deal Brexit. For instance, in Scotland, unlike in England, certain categories of resident non-EU overseas patients are exempted from healthcare charges, including the self-employed, volunteers and students. In Wales and Northern Ireland, regulations provide similar exemptions, and in Northern Ireland, they clarify that entitlements are applicable both to primary and secondary care.
As Professor Jean McHale told the Lords inquiry on this very issue, post-Brexit
“if there are no reciprocal agreements on healthcare made with other EU member states and treatment is sought other than in an emergency situation then certain EU citizens could be exempt from NHS charges for secondary care…if they are living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland whereas this would not be the case in relation to those resident in England.”
In conclusion, I am not opposing the Bill, as it basically just gives powers to the Secretary of State to agree reciprocal deals, and I look forward to the Bill Committee where we can progress those further. However, I point out that today’s business is another example of otherwise unnecessary work related to Brexit coming before us. This prompts the question of just how much time and effort is being put into such work that could have been used for other things, had we not been going through the Brexit fiasco. I believe that we will not get a better reciprocal arrangement deal than we currently have.
I welcome the Government bringing forward the Bill. This is clearly part of a suite of legislation to prepare for the changes that Brexit will bring about. It is also pretty critical that at the end of the day, a deal is done to allow this to work in a smooth and effective fashion.
Brits like to travel; over 50 million go abroad. Most of them go with family members, and many retire abroad. Those who do not come to Poole may go to the Costa Blanca or elsewhere, and health for older residents is one of the big concerns. The European health insurance card system has worked pretty well. There is no point, just because we object to some aspects of European integration, objecting to other aspects that may be beneficial to our citizens and those of the EU, so the Government’s intent to try to replicate the system—whatever happens with Brexit—is very sensible and good. The fact that a quarter of a million people used the EHIC card last year indicates how important that is for many people.
I welcome what the Government are doing. It is a necessary precaution. I do not begrudge spending a bit of time in this House dealing with the concerns of older people retired abroad or of Brits who want to travel, so it is important to get the Bill through today. This measure will only be for two or three years and then there will be further legislation. Some Opposition Members talk about the Secretary of State being given powers, but we are living in slightly extraordinary times, and I suspect that we will come back to legislation in this area in a couple of years.
The Government are doing a very sensible thing. I hope that it is part of an overall agreement, because that would be the easiest way to do it. Clearly, if we have to do this on a bilateral basis, that will take longer and there may well be cliff edges that cause problems for some pensioners. Therefore, when Members sometimes say that there must be a deal when they are already somewhat committed to voting against a deal, I wonder whether they ought to look at the detail of what will happen if we have no deal. This is one of the areas that will cause problems for Brits who live abroad and travel abroad and for some EU people who come to the UK as tourists. We should understand that this country benefits greatly from the tourist trade. We have only to walk around London—around Leicester Square and other areas not far from here—to see the many thousands of people who travel. They, too, need peace of mind.
This is a good piece of legislation, then, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) that the ethos of the NHS is such that it does not like taking money off people, even when it should. I once stood in A&E and watched an American take out a credit card, only to be told, “You don’t need to do that here.” Sometimes people are busy and want to get on with their jobs and deal with backlogs, but there is an issue with us getting proper recompense. The former Health Secretary made a good point: it is a national health service, not an international health service.
Some years ago, when I was serving on the Health Select Committee, we interviewed chief executives of trusts, and they said there was a problem sometimes with the disproportionate cost of pursuing fees and that some people actually come to London on holiday who happen to be pregnant and who end up in London hospitals at a cost to the British taxpayer, so the health service does sometimes attract people who try to take advantage of the system as well.
The figures from the Library are stark. We pay out 10 times more than we claim back from the EU and the other states in the scheme. Although some of that is because there are older people abroad and Poles tend to have six jobs and be younger, some of the figures are still quite remarkable.
Does my hon. Friend accept, though, that the majority of the difference is due to the disproportionate number of British pensioners living abroad compared to the number of EEA foreign nationals living here as pensioners?
That is a factor, but I still think that a 10:1 ratio is quite high. London has the second-largest French population, behind only Paris, yet we claim back only £5.3 million from France. That is quite a stark figure, and one wonders why we are not claiming back rather more. I gently make that point. I know the Minister is aware of it. When we redo this, we have to emphasise to trusts the requirement to recoup money, because that means more money for British people using the service and for other services, but sometimes it falls down the priority list. I am not sure there is a magic bullet. It probably requires drilling lots of people in A&Es up and down the land to focus on whether people should be paying or getting free treatment.
In conclusion, I welcome the Bill. It is a good step forward. It will help to reassure those concerned about what the future will bring, and I look forward to seeing what the Government bring back on Third Reading.
We have heard many comforting words from the Government today, but there is nothing comforting in the proposals in the Bill. If we Brexit, UK citizens here and abroad will lose their rights to automatic healthcare in other EU countries. The automatic right to healthcare in Europe has been one of the visible successes of the single market—a peaceful continent and EU countries working together. If we Brexit, new healthcare arrangements will need to be negotiated with the EU or EU countries individually, and the Bill is intended to make it possible for the Government to negotiate those new arrangements.
The Government intend to do this by using Henry VIII powers. Today could be the last time this Parliament discusses how 70 million UK citizens can go abroad and receive, or not receive, healthcare while there, not to mention the non-UK EU citizens who live in or travel to the UK. We have been through this debate before. Henry VIII powers are the preferred route for a Government who want to bypass parliament and get Brexit through at any price, including the price of democracy. This debate comes at a time when the Government are proposing a deal with the EU. There were only ever three possible outcomes for the UK in this negotiation: no deal, Brexit in name only, or staying in the EU. It looks like the Prime Minister has gone for Brexit in name only, although of course she will not call it that.
Brexit in name only means staying in the customs union and the single market, and it could mean retaining healthcare within the EU. That would be good news. The bad news is that no UK Minister or bureaucrat will be around the table with the EU27. We will be receiving our instructions, and that is it. When the EU decides changes, we will be notified and have to implement the changes. Henry VIII powers will be a way to hide our national humiliation.
The political question is why anybody would vote for Brexit in name only. It is not just a fudge; it is the worst of all possible worlds. It will, perversely, do the opposite of taking back control; it will keep us in complete dependency but without any say. Many parliamentarians have woken up to the fact, or have known for a long time, that our only secure economic future and the only way to guarantee all the rights we have negotiated, including free healthcare, lies in being a member of the EU. As we have heard today, rather than getting a Brexit dividend from the NHS, the new arrangement might end up being extremely costly for this country.
Why do we not dare to say it loud and clear? Not saying it loud and clear is dishonest; Brexit in name only is dishonest. To do something dishonest and call it the will of the people is a travesty. Only the people themselves should decide what is done in the name of the people. Let us ask the people. Let us give the people a say on whether they really had all this in mind when they voted in 2016. Let us give people a chance to decide that when all is said and done they want to stay in the EU. And of course that would make the Bill completely unnecessary.
I will be supporting the Bill today. I am only sorry it is necessary. There is no version of Brexit that will benefit people who rely on the NHS, social care, scientific research or public health; there are only varying degrees of harm. The Bill seeks to address one of those harms, and that is around our reciprocal healthcare arrangements, which have made such a difference to people’s lives both here and across the EU. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) pointed out, 190,000 UK expats live in the EU and 27 million people hold an active European health insurance card, which covers about a quarter of a million treatments every year, but we are also talking about British citizens who travel or live in the EU to work and the 1,300 people who benefit from planned medical treatments in the EU under the S2 route.
I will turn first to the 190,000 British expatriates, mostly pensioners, living in the EU. Incidentally, 90% of them live in Ireland, Spain, France and Cyprus. They face a desperately worrying future. In the event of a deal, they will be covered by transitional arrangements until 2020, but in the event of a chaotic exit, with no deal and no transition, in just 135 days, they could be left stranded, many of them with access only to very basic medical care. Some of them will be uninsurable and many will have no easy path to return to the UK.
The Minister will know that, as I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Sir Robert Syms), 75%—£468 million of the total £630 million in 2016-17—of the cost of our reciprocal healthcare arrangement relates to pensioners. When he sums up, will the Minister please respond to the updated estimated cost of those pensioners having to return to the UK and the net effect on the NHS? The Health and Social Care Select Committee heard that the current average cost of treating a UK pensioner in Spain was €3,500, but the average cost of treating pensioners in the UK was £4,500, and again the discrepancy between the pounds and euros makes that even greater.
In the future, the costs associated with EHIC— £156 million—and the S2 route for planned medical treatments will be borne directly by the 50 million UK nationals who visit the EU every year, but those costs will not be distributed evenly. The costs will fall disproportionately on those with pre-existing medical conditions. They will be exceptionally hard hit. As we heard from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), many individuals will be effectively uninsurable and unable to travel. Will the Minister tell us what clear advice the Government are giving to people with pre-existing medical conditions who are thinking of making travel arrangements after 29 March? Is he being explicit with them, and telling them that they need to check now whether they may find themselves left stranded without medical insurance in the event of our crashing out in a chaotic exit with no deal whatsoever?
I recognise and welcome the fact that the Bill gives the Minister power to put in place an equivalent scheme, but that scheme will have to involve a dispute resolution process. In the deal that is about to be published, has the Minister seen what that process would be? Another thing that he needs to be very clear about when he sums up the debate is that if we crash out with no deal and no transition, we will not be making these reciprocal arrangements with a single body; we will be making them with 27 different European states, three European economic area states, and Switzerland. Is it even conceivable that we could complete negotiations on that scale with 135 days to go? We need to be really clear with Members throughout the House, and to the public, about what that means, so that people can make plans accordingly. May I also ask whether the Minister is setting aside, within the contingency fund, a sum of money that we could use to assist British nationals who find themselves in difficulties on the wrong side of the channel in the event of no deal and no transition? Those are all important points about which we must be very clear with people.
Does the Minister agree that during the referendum campaign there were very many different versions of Brexit? The Brexit reality with which we are about to be presented is very different from the fantasy version that was presented during the campaign. People will remember the “easiest deal in history” and the “financial bonanza” for the NHS, but the Brexit reality is that there will be a significant Brexit penalty, from the most damaging form of Brexit in particular. We are looking at effects across the entire health, care and research system. Yesterday I met representatives of the Royal College of Nursing to discuss their grave concern about the future workforce. While the overall number of registrants has increased, there has been a very worrying decrease in the number of joiners in the past year. The number of joiners from EEA countries has dropped by nearly 20%.
The Royal College of Nursing has been on to me as well, expressing serious concern about what will happen after we leave the European Union. The hon. Lady should add to her earlier question, “What will happen after 2022 in relation to medical care for expats in Europe in particular?”
That is, indeed, a question that I have been addressing. What will happen to expats in Europe? What we absolutely must focus on, however, is what will happen 135 days from now if we do not have a deal and people are left high and dry. It is a very worrying situation.
The issue of the workforce does not just affect nursing staff. We should bear in mind that 5% of members of the regulated nursing profession, 16% of dentists, 5% of allied health professionals and 9% of doctors are EEA nationals. We cannot afford to lose any more of that workforce, or to demoralise them further. I think it shames us all that the Health and Social Care Committee heard from nursing staff from across the European Union some of whom were in tears when reporting that they no longer felt welcome here. That is a terrible Brexit penalty, and no one voted for it when they went to the polls.
This does not just affect the workforce either. The Brexit penalty applies to the entire supply chain of medicines and medical devices, from research and development to clinical trials, to the safety testing of batches of medicines, and right through to the pharmacy shelf and the hospital. There are many unanswered questions about the issue of stockpiling, and about contingency plans for products that may require refrigeration, or products with very short shelf lives that cannot be stockpiled. There may also be brand-switching issues: for people who suffer from conditions such as epilepsy, switching brands is not easy.
I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will bring my remarks to a close shortly. [Interruption.] I understand that you were merely coughing, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will continue.
Refrigerated warehousing and special air freight do not come cheap. The companies whom we met, represented by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, made it clear that they were already having to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on contingency planning. The Government have said that they intend to reimburse companies, but the smaller companies need to know how quickly they will be reimbursed, because they may have cash-flow issues. They need to know the details of how the scheme will work, but they simply do not have the information that would enable them to make plans for the future. I hope that the Minister will be very mindful of that.
As I said earlier, the simple truth is that the many versions of Brexit have very different implications for the NHS, for social care, for public health and for research. Once this deal is published, we will have an opportunity to set out what this means, but, most important, to set all the risks and benefits of the deal that is on offer for the NHS and social care. The Minister will be aware of the important principle of informed consent in healthcare. No one would dream of going into an operating theatre and having an operation without someone telling them what is involved and setting out the risks and benefits so that they could weigh them up for themselves. That is called informed consent, and without informed consent, there is no valid consent.
Let me say to the Minister that we are all being wheeled into the operating theatre for major constitutional, economic and social surgery without informed consent, and let me ask him please to consider how things will be 136 days from now, after we crash out with no deal and when the serious consequences of that start to unfold and unravel and hit real people’s lives. What will he be saying to his constituents and the House if we have proceeded without informed consent?
I have now to announce the result of today’s deferred Division. In respect of the question relating to electricity and gas, the Ayes were 285 and the Noes were 223, so the Question was agreed to.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
It is, as always, a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). She speaks with incredible knowledge and expertise in this area, which I will not even attempt to match.
It is nice, on a day of significant Brexit chattering and uncertainty, to be talking about something to do with Brexit which generally seems pretty consensual. The Bill is, of course, necessary to ensure the smooth transition from our current relationship with the EU to our future relationship. The Government have been very clear about their willingness to consider the continuation of the UK’s participation in reciprocal healthcare. As we have already heard today, there are 32 participating countries in that framework, the other EU member states and all four nations in the European Free Trade Association. It is a mechanism to provide for the co-ordination—not, of course, the alignment—of separate national health systems, which means that provision under the scheme can differ from country to country.
There are four main routes for EU and EEA citizens to access healthcare in member states other than those in which they are ordinarily resident: the European health insurance card—EHIC,—the S1 system for state pensioners, the S2 system for planned treatment, and the patients’ rights directive. UK nationals living, working, studying or visiting EU or EEA countries and Switzerland will have continued access to healthcare after 29 March 2019. That is a vital commitment.
The Government’s position is to seek a wider agreement with the EU that covers state pensioners retiring to the EU, with continued participation in the EHIC scheme and co-operation on planned medical treatment. The Bill would allow for the implementation of such an agreement. My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) when talking about ex-pats summed up clearly why that is such an important issue for individuals who have lived here and paid their taxes here and moved abroad; they need to know this system will continue to be available to them.
There were approximately 27 million active UK EHIC cards in circulation in September 2017, including the one in my pocket. Of the 53 million visits made to the EU from the UK each year, and the 25 million visits from the EU to the UK, only around 1% result in an EHIC claim. I am glad this Bill establishes the basis for a new arrangement allowing the scheme to continue after 2020, subject, of course, to an agreement with the EU. There are 250,000 medical treatments each year and when abroad, regardless of how well we know the country in question, it can be quite frightening to find ourselves in need of medical treatment; there is enough to be thinking about without not knowing what our access to healthcare will be.
I had experience of that myself in Portugal on my stag-do. I will not go into the story as to why we ended up in a Portuguese hospital, but it involved a roof and a shoe—we will go no further. It is good to know with some confidence that we are going to be able to access healthcare; we should always make sure we are covered by insurance and so forth, but having that extra bit of comfort is extremely important. It would be hugely damaging for us as a country going forward post Brexit not to have that level of assurance for our citizens.
The Minister set out in detail what the Bill will do, so I will not run through that, but he confirmed why this is a necessary agreement, particularly because the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 does not provide all the powers and mechanisms needed to do this. The Bill provides the Secretary of State with the powers that are necessary to arrange for the provision of healthcare overseas, and, crucially to fund that, which is important. This is needed regardless of whether we are in a deal or no-deal situation. It is also important to note that, as the Minister said, we have arrangements with other countries, and making sure we have the power not only to continue what we have at the moment but to add to or improve arrangements with other countries is significant.
Fundamentally, this Bill means that UK nationals residing in another state may obtain treatment as a resident of that country. The range of medical services in some EU countries may be less than under the NHS, and in some cases patients might need to make a contribution towards the costs of their care, but through this Bill we can ensure access to healthcare at reduced cost, and in most cases for free.
I want to pick up briefly on the points about devolution made by the Labour shadow Minister and the SNP spokesperson. They were fair comments. While this is a reserved mechanism, the provision of these services is devolved and it is the devolved Administrations that have to provide structure and fund the services for EU nationals who rely on them, so it is not a massive step to ensure that they are appropriately involved. I would be interested to hear about how we are working with the devolved Administrations and the healthcare providers in the devolved nations to ensure seamless continuity of this going forward.
I want to make a brief but enthusiastic speech in support of the Bill. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), although I have to admit to being mildly distracted by the tales of his stag-do in Portugal. I look forward to concluding my speech and finding out more details about that later.
An odd place to start would be my constituency, where 20% of constituents do not have a passport, and therefore do not get the opportunity to travel and have any concerns about reciprocal healthcare arrangements. However, they do need to worry about the healthcare arrangements that are provided in this country. Any country that might wish to engage in reciprocal arrangements with us will no doubt be looking jealously at our health service, which I understand employs 1.5 million people, making it one of the five biggest organisations on the planet. Clearly, it is an incredible organisation. We are spending over £100 billion a year on it, so why would other countries not want to enter a reciprocal arrangement with us? We have a lot to offer.
There has been some question about what the Brexit deal will be and what the future might look like next year, when we leave the EU. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) has made this point a number of times: if you were to sit down with your iPad now with nothing better to do and try to book a flight for next year to Europe, you would have no difficulty doing so at all. We do not know what the arrangements are for international travel yet. We have not seen the detail of that, in terms of what has been signed and agreed, but we know planes will take off and will land in Europe and I think we are fairly confident that people will be able to get healthcare when they go to Europe and that there will be no unusual situation where ambulances drive up to one end of the border and hand a patient over. That is not likely to be the case, so let us bring a degree of practicality to the debate. That is what the Bill does: it is a practical Bill in order for us to make the necessary preparations because we are, of course, leaving the EU. It is necessary partly because 25% of Brits who travel abroad do not have holiday insurance. Perhaps they are taking a bit of a flyer and hoping that those reciprocal arrangements will be the safety net that protects them.
I have a particular concern because that 25% figure rises to 40% for 18 to 24-year-olds and 38% for those aged between 18 and 30. I am the father of two kids, aged 22 and 27. I think it is very unlikely that if they were travelling to Europe they would have the common sense to book travel insurance, despite protestations by their father. So I am hoping that we achieve those reciprocal arrangements, not least because my understanding is that nine of the 10 top holiday destinations abroad for Brits are in Europe—if it were not for New York, the top 10 would be entirely in Europe. So we are leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe.
Does my hon. Friend accept that at the moment people do not need to have health insurance as they are covered by the EHIC? The fact is that they will need to have such insurance if we do not have a deal. People who travel thinking and believing that they are insured next year may find, if they have a serious medical emergency abroad, that they are completely wiped out by the medical costs. We need to be clear about that with people.
I completely understand, and to a degree accept, that point, except that I perhaps have more faith than my hon. Friend in the ability of our ministerial team and Government to negotiate an agreement with Europe that will mean that those worries are allayed. I confidently believe that the arrangements will be very similar.
I intervene on an extremely important point. The EHIC does give reciprocal care, but it is not the equivalent of health insurance. If someone has a very serious accident, it does not pay for the travel costs, for example, of coming back to the UK, which other health insurance policies would do. So while this is fantastic and I will be voting in favour of it, it is not the equivalent of having traditional health insurance.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I want to conclude my speech by saying that I am optimistic not only that we will get a good deal and these fears will be allayed, but that post Brexit people will look further afield than Europe for their travel destinations. Not only will we be getting trade deals across the globe, but we will be travelling more widely.
It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes). Like him, I am optimistic about securing a Brexit deal and continuing our international healthcare arrangements. Since the 1950s, the UK and its European neighbours have had reciprocal healthcare and social security arrangements, and I have personally made use of many of them, having spent years living and working in European countries. Good reciprocal healthcare arrangements give peace of mind to all of us, and they will be important as we continue. Current arrangements give all UK nationals a sense of security and the knowledge that they can access the healthcare they need when they live, study, work or travel across Europe. The same applies to EU citizens when they are in the UK. Healthcare co-operation is therefore actively supporting business and tourism by removing a barrier to people’s life choices. Arguably the greatest beneficiaries of these arrangements are our citizens who live on the continent, many of whom are enjoying their golden years in the sun.
The framework put in place by the Bill will ensure that the Secretary of State has the necessary power to maintain or negotiate arrangements in any Brexit eventuality. One of my constituents recently emphasised the importance of having these arrangements. His grandmother, who is now over 80, lives alone in France. A few years ago, she had a car accident that left her seriously injured. She required an operation and spent over a month in hospital. That was followed up by time in a convalescent home. All that care would have cost a small fortune but, luckily for her, she enjoys healthcare under the European health insurance card S1 route. Access to that is fundamental to her and to the other 190,000 pensioners like her, particularly as their health needs may increase over time. The Bill should calm the anxieties of our citizens abroad. It will also save the taxpayer money. The Nuffield Trust has calculated that, if those pensioners had to return home for their treatment, it would cost the NHS between £500 million and £1 billion a year.
Similarly, continuing the European health insurance card scheme is crucial as it safeguards the 50 million UK nationals who travel throughout the European economic area every year. It is worth mentioning that this is not about the number of people who carry EHICs; it is about the stories behind them, because 250,000 medical incidents affecting UK tourists are resolved via the EHIC scheme and they include one of my constituents, who experienced at first hand the value of the cards when on a family holiday in Germany. Her husband was left seriously injured after being flung from a toboggan, leaving his shoulder quite literally in pieces. To her amazement, and despite the severity of the injuries, her husband was allowed on to the ambulance only once she had presented his EHIC. These sorts of accidents are quite common with many Brits choosing to travel to Europe to ski, which often leaves people—myself included, twice in recent years—in need of medical attention.
I welcome the Bill, as we have a long history of reciprocal healthcare arrangements in our country. UK and Irish citizens have been able to access healthcare in each other’s countries for the past 100 years—a long time before the European Union was established. The UK also has reciprocal healthcare arrangements with other parts of the world, including Greenland, the Faroes, the Balkans, Australia, New Zealand and many of our overseas territories. The Bill will allow the Secretary of State to continue to grow this network, and I hope that it will eventually lead to the global availability of free healthcare for British citizens, and to removing barriers to people looking to travel, work, study and live around the world.
I want to speak briefly in support of the Bill. There are 190,000 UK expats living in other parts of the EU, many of whom are retired, as well as 50 million British citizens who travel to the EU on their holidays and on business every year, and they all need access to healthcare. Since 2004, they have been able to benefit from the European health insurance card, which has made it much easier for them to access medical care when travelling through the EU, and it is extremely important that we do all we can to ensure that our citizens can continue to benefit from easy access to healthcare, whether they are at home or overseas. I therefore welcome the Bill, and the fact that it gives us the ability to extend these provisions to other third countries.
Last year, I led a Westminster Hall debate on the wide array of consumer issues that would need to be dealt with in the Brexit negotiations. At that time, I felt that a lot of the focus was on the impact on business, and that not enough consideration was being given to the impact on consumers. I have been rereading the speech that I gave in that debate more than 12 months ago, and I am extremely pleased that the issues that I raised in it were then addressed by the Government’s White Paper before the summer. I believe that those points will now have made their way into the 500-page text that the Cabinet are looking at today. I am not going to comment on those 500 pages of text until I have seen them, because unlike some colleagues, I do not have magic reading glasses that allow me to read text that is not even available or to comment on it before I have even seen it. However, I will be looking out for the elements that affect individuals, consumers and patients, to ensure that they are covered in the deal. I believe that they will be, and the EHIC is just one of those issues.
It is important that we do not go over the top and promise that the EHIC can do things that it cannot do. For example, it does not cover repatriation, so anyone who has a crash on their skiing holiday would get emergency care under the scheme but they would not be covered for getting back to their home base. In my previous role as a Member of the European Parliament, I remember that we issued a press release every summer telling people not to forget their EHIC but also to think about whether they needed travel insurance as well. Members are completely right to say that, in a no-deal scenario, many other issues would face patients and that the most vulnerable people risk being the most exposed. If the cost of travel insurance does go up, it could be most challenging for them, but I am glad that Ministers are looking at that issue.
While the Health Ministers are in the Chamber, I should like to give them a big shout-out and thank them for certain other things. Somebody talked earlier about nurses. Nurse training is happening in my constituency. I know that the Minister for Health has previously talked about ensuring that there is additional funding for those entering the nursing profession after they have finished their qualification to ensure we recognise those in nursing areas where we need nurses most. I am glad that he has done that. I also want to say a big thank you today for the announcement from the NHS about diabetes monitors. That has been a major issue for some of my constituents. We must ensure that constant monitors, such as the one our Prime Minister wears, are available across the country. I was really pleased by today’s announcement. I want to say thank you very much to the NHS and to our Ministers and thank you for getting the devil that is in the detail of the Bill correct today.
I am grateful for this opportunity to close the debate on behalf of Labour. It is clear that Members on both sides of the House understand the importance of the Bill. The UK currently enjoys reciprocal agreements for the provision of healthcare with all the nations of the European Union. Under existing arrangements, the healthcare of 190,000 UK state pensioners living abroad—principally in Ireland, Spain, France and Cyprus—and their dependent relatives is protected. In addition, UK residents who visit the EU or the European Economic Area on holiday or to study may use the European health insurance card to access healthcare for emergency treatment and healthcare needs that arise during their stay. Anyone who is ordinarily resident in the UK qualifies for an EHIC and 250,000 claims for medical treatment are made each year under this scheme. By the same token, EU nationals visiting the UK can use their EHIC to receive free care from the NHS for any emergency healthcare needs and for healthcare needs that arise during their stay. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) for reminding the House that the card does not cover repatriation and other associated expenses, but visitors to the EU can currently be reassured that their immediate emergency costs will be met. That is something that we would seek to protect.
By means of the S1 form and the EHIC, current arrangements also provide for the healthcare of employees of UK companies and organisations working in the EU and the EEA, as well as for that of frontier workers living there, and vice versa. Importantly, the agreement also provides funding for UK residents to travel overseas to receive planned treatment in other countries—for example, for procedures unavailable in the UK within a medically justifiable timescale, or to return home to give birth.
Providing for pensioners, visitors, students and workers to live, work, study and travel in EU member states with complete peace of mind with regard to the provision of healthcare is a priority for Labour. We therefore support this Bill in principle, although we are quite shocked that we have had to wait so long for it, given that there are only 135 days left until the UK exits the EU. It is essential that we seek to safeguard, through agreement with EU member states, the healthcare of the 190,000 expats and the 50 million who travel abroad every year. I do not for one moment think that anyone here would want to contemplate the consequences if an agreement were not possible when the UK exits the European Union. We therefore welcome the Government’s intention, as outlined in the White Paper on the future relationship with the EU, to continue a reciprocal healthcare arrangement by means of an agreement with the EU, the EEA and Switzerland.
We are concerned, though, about the scope of the Bill. It includes no detail of specific reciprocal arrangements, although at this stage we understand why it is not possible, in the absence of any certainty, to outline such details. We will not seek to block the Bill, because we want to ensure the seamless continuation of reciprocal healthcare arrangements, but we are not prepared to give the Government carte blanche to secure any agreement at any price. We are not prepared to hand them a blank cheque.
We are concerned that the Bill includes no requirement for the Secretary of State to report back to Parliament. Nor does it incorporate any facility for parliamentary scrutiny, even in the event that a member state decides not to reciprocate. The British Medical Association shares our concerns on this point. It rightly maintains that the discretionary powers granted to the Secretary of State in the Bill should be proportionate and subject to thorough scrutiny, and that all regulations should be subject to the affirmative procedure in Parliament. We also have concerns about the protection of patient data, and we wish to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place in the Bill. We will look to address those concerns in Committee.
The Health Secretary is on record as saying with confidence that this is one part of the Brexit deal that is resolved. I welcome his confidence and that of the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) on this—I wish I had their confidence. However, the Secretary of State does offer the proviso that that is
“so long as we land a good deal.”
That is surely the crux of the issue, given the current uncertainty about whether we will get a deal at all.
I hope the Minister is able to give some reassurances on this issue, because the failure to facilitate a reciprocal arrangement for healthcare would be catastrophic for UK citizens seeking healthcare routinely within the nations of the EU. The thought of 190,000 expats losing their right to free healthcare is unthinkable. As the Minister rightly said, UK citizens have paid their taxes all their lives, and they need and deserve the certainty of the right to free healthcare and of knowing that it is protected. That is something the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) was keen to support, and we agree with him. It is unthinkable that expats living in the EU should be reduced to the status of third country nationals in a queue for healthcare. Similarly, the 50 million visitors to the EU each year will need certainty, as the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) pointed out—I am sure the whole House is interested to hear more about his stag trip. Without a reciprocal agreement in place, costs for citizens overseas may well be prohibitive, and there are obvious implications for health insurance premiums.
We are also concerned about the impact on our NHS in the UK if expats need to return here for treatment. Our system is already having to cope with unprecedented demand, and the thought of adding to that is something we are concerned about. I reiterate the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) that the issue is not covered in the impact assessment. We also know that no assessment has been made of the impact on disabled citizens and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Importantly, neither is there any mention, as the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, of how any future disputes will be adjudicated. The Prime Minister has ruled out the future involvement of the European Court of Justice, so we are concerned about this issue going forward. Perhaps the Minister can advise us today which body he envisages being used to adjudicate in any such event. We also hope that the Bill can be used to outline processes for the efficient collection of moneys owed to the UK under any future arrangements for reciprocal healthcare.
We look forward to addressing these concerns in Committee. We want to see this Bill go further and be used as an opportunity to strengthen reciprocal arrangements further and to provide for enhanced arrangements with other nations worldwide, in line with the UK’s ambition to extend its range of trading partners.
With the leave of the House, I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate. This is a short and sensible Bill, which will ensure that the Government have the appropriate legal framework to give effect to a deal in relation to reciprocal healthcare arrangements, which so many of us, both here and abroad, enjoy. I am grateful for the support in principle for the Bill from both sides of the House, including from the Opposition Benches.
The level of interest and the contributions to the debate demonstrate that it is clearly in the interests of the British public to ensure that reciprocal healthcare arrangements similar to those currently in place continue when we leave the EU. A number of questions have been raised in the debate, which I will endeavour to answer in my closing remarks. However, as my opposite number, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) pointed out, we will have an opportunity in Committee to scrutinise those questions in more detail. He raised a number of very pertinent points, which I will be keen to explore with him.
I would like to reiterate the offer I made in a recent letter to all Members of the House to have meetings with me and the team of officials working on the Bill if they want to explore the Bill in more detail. I recognise—this point was picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale)—that this issue genuinely concerns constituents of Members on both sides of the House. I am keen to engage with Opposition Members, the Chair of the Health Committee and other colleagues on the detailed issues they may wish to raise on behalf of constituents.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I would like to take advantage of his offer, but I would also like to highlight another issue. I do not wish to extend the competence of the Bill unduly, but it is an opportunity for us to look at the reciprocal health agreements we have with the overseas territories, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), and particularly with United Kingdom dependent territories—I am thinking here of the Channel Islands. Under the previous Labour Government, the reciprocal health agreement with Jersey was ripped up and terminated in 2009. Under the coalition agreement in 2011, it was reinstated. However, at present, there is no reciprocal health agreement with Guernsey, which is also responsible for Alderney and Sark. I ask the Minister to consider that during the passage of the Bill.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. Understandably, much of the debate today has focused on the EU element of the Bill, but he is quite right to recognise that the reciprocal element extends beyond the EU and particularly to Crown dependencies, overseas territories and countries such as Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. I am very happy to have those discussions with him.
My opposite number, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, raised a number of points, one of which was on the impact on people with long-term conditions. I agree that, without reciprocal healthcare, people with long-term conditions, including those who need dialysis, may find it harder to travel, which is the very essence of why the Bill is necessary, so that we can implement a reciprocal arrangement with the EU or, failing that, with individual member states to support the travel arrangements of those with long-term conditions.
The hon. Gentleman also questioned the £66 million figure that I referenced in my speech, and I am happy to point out that that was in relation to the 2016-17 value of claims made by the UK to EU member states. He also asked about cost recovery more generally and, since 2015, we have increased identified income for the NHS under reciprocal arrangements by 40%, and directly charged income has increased by 86% over the same period. I mentioned the increased focus on that to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), which I hope gives a signal of intent as to the direction of travel on cost recovery.
The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston also mentioned the role of NHS Improvement, and I am happy to clarify that it is now working with more than 50 NHS trusts to improve their practices further, with a bespoke improvement team in place to provide on-the-ground support and challenge in identifying and sharing best practice.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned an important point, and one that we will probably go into in more detail in Committee, on data. Again, the policy intent is continuity, rather than a change in our approach to data. Clause 4 expressly contains a safeguard for personal data, which can be processed only where necessary for limited purposes or funding arrangements. That covers, for example, where someone is injured while abroad, where personal data of a medical nature often needs to be shared to allow treatment to take place. At the same time, there are safeguards in the Bill, which I am sure we will explore.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet expressed concern about cherry-picking, and I recognise his point. That is why we are looking for the reciprocal arrangements to continue, although even in the event of no deal and no bilateral deal, local arrangements often apply for healthcare, such as on the basis of long-term residency or previous employment. Those would be local factors, but obviously the policy intent is to have an arrangement with countries across the EU.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) spoke about the work of the devolved Assemblies and how we liaise with them. Indeed, I spoke with my Welsh counterpart just yesterday. In the other place, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health has been working closely with the devolved Assemblies, as have colleagues and officials in our Department. How we work with the devolved Assemblies is a pertinent point, and we are keen to continue that active dialogue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Sir Robert Syms) correctly identified the importance of the EHIC card and of inward tourism to the UK. The point about continuity was reinforced by my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) and for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) in their thoughtful contributions. It was also echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) when he highlighted the importance of taking a practical approach to how these arrangements apply.
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) raised a number of detailed points, and I am happy to have continued dialogue with her on them, although I hope she will draw some comfort from recent quotes and legislative developments in a number of EU27 states. For example, the French Minister for European Affairs said, “France will do as much for British citizens in France as the British authorities do for our citizens.” France has legislation under way. The Spanish Prime Minister said, “I appreciate, and thank very much, Prime Minister May’s commitment to safeguarding those rights. We will do the same with the 300,000 Britons who are in Spain.”
Again, I hope the fact that we actually pay out more to the EU than we currently receive, and the fact that both nations benefit from a reciprocal arrangement, gives an idea of the starting point of the discussions. Like my hon. Friend, I would welcome it if that were done across the EU27 as a whole.
My hon. Friend also raised the issue of dispute resolution, and the current arrangements between the UK and other member states require states to resolve differences, in the first instance, between themselves. That is the existing position that applies, but clearly it would be a matter for negotiation as to how a future UK-EU agreement might be governed. That is a cross-cutting issue; it is not one pertaining solely to this Bill.
It is clearly in the interests of the British public to ensure reciprocal healthcare, arrangements, similar to those currently in place, continue when we leave the EU, whether that happens through an agreement with the EU itself, as we very much want, or through individual arrangements with EU member states.
Just for clarification, is the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice still a red line in the sand?
The issue in terms of the ECJ will be dealt with in other areas of the withdrawal agreement discussions. In the event of a deal, and in the event of no deal, it will be governed by the bilateral arrangements.
I commend this Second Reading to the House, and I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the House in Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 4 December.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Mike Freer.)
Question agreed to.
Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State.—(Mike Freer.)
Question agreed to.
Business without Debate
With the leave of the House, I will take motions 6 and 7 together.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
Exiting the European Union (Financial Services)
That the draft Credit Transfers and Direct Debits in Euro (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018, which were laid before this House on 9 October, be approved.
Exiting the European Union (Financial Services and Markets)
That the draft Electronic Money, Payment Services and Payment Systems (Amendment and Transitional Provisions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018, which were laid before this House on 9 October, be approved.—(Mike Freer.)
Question agreed to.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Have you or Mr Speaker received any notification from the Government that they intend to make a statement here on the outcome of the talks with the European Union? Rumours are widely circulating that the Prime Minister intends to hold a press conference at 9 o’clock this evening but not to address the House. Have you had any indication that the Government will actually address the democratic heart of the country?
I have received no indication that the Prime Minister is coming to the House later today. I understand that there is expected to be a statement from the Prime Minister tomorrow. As Mr Speaker said earlier, he would have stood ready to allow a statement if one were requested.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Clearly, the business has finished early and there is plenty of time for the Prime Minister to come back to make a statement. Given that the press conference will be a 9 pm, the House could be suspended and then the statement could be made—this could even be up until 7 pm. Have you had any indication that the House could be suspended and we could have a statement from the Prime Minister on the matter of most importance to this country?
As I understand it, the House could be suspended if there is an indication that a statement was expected. However, as we said earlier, the Speaker made it clear that he would have allowed time for a statement but no request has been made, and, as I understand it, there will be a statement from the Prime Minister tomorrow.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Prime Minister is obviously pretty caught up with the Cabinet at the moment; the rumours are that she has got on to only the third of the Cabinet Ministers to speak, so this could go on for a little time. However, we do have all the time up to 7 pm, which would give her time to come to the House and get the constitutional proprieties right on the most important thing to happen in this House for the future of this country in a long time. She would then be able to come to this House, because we would not have adjourned; we would have suspended to give her that opportunity to do the right thing by this House, which is to come to the House before she does the press conference and make a statement. So would it be in order for us to have a vote to suspend the House, thereby giving her that opportunity to do the right thing by our constitution?
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I entirely endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend, but may I also raise a concern with you? I just asked a question of the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), and it still appears the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government have not been informed about the status of these negotiations and these papers. So it is not just this House and this Parliament that the Government are trying to circumvent, but the other democratically elected Parliaments of the United Kingdom. Do you not agree that this is an extraordinary situation, which gives us another reason why this House should be suspended? The Prime Minister should come here and explain herself.
Let me just address what I think the gist of these points of order is. First, there are no grounds for suspension unless a request has been received and a statement is being asked for later. However, the Adjournment debate can run until 7 pm and it can be up to the Government—[Interruption.] Order. I am trying to be helpful. It is possible for the Government at any time up to that point to say that they wish to make a statement. I hope that is helpful in informing the House of the current position.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the remarks you have just made. We need to convey to the Government our extreme unhappiness about what is going on. [Interruption.] I can hear comments about there always being unhappiness, but this is most serious. We have been made aware that the Government of Gibraltar have been briefed on what is in the withdrawal agreement. We hear from the UK Government about the respect that must be shown to the devolved institutions and about how they are partners together with the UK Government, but I can tell the House that, as I speak, the Administration in Edinburgh, the Scottish Government, have not been informed about what is in the arrangement between the UK and the EU. The Cabinet is due to reach agreement this afternoon and the Prime Minister is not taking the opportunity afforded to her to update the House, and this is being disrespectful in the extreme to this place and to the people of the United Kingdom.
That was not really a point of order; it was more a point of frustration. I have given the House the maximum information about the options that are open. Those on the Treasury Bench will have heard the anxiety of the House about the current situation, and I am sure that will be conveyed. It is not my job to convey it, but obviously those on the Treasury Bench have heard it. As I said, Mr Speaker made it clear earlier that he was very happy to take a statement at any time. The Adjournment can run until 7 pm. The Government can make a statement at any point up until then.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. No Prime Minister has spent so many hours at the Dispatch Box answering questions from this House on this subject. We have a Cabinet meeting—[Interruption.]
Order. It is important that we listen with respect to other people’s points of order.
The current Government are run by a Cabinet who actually discuss things, unlike that of previous Governments. I think we should wait; if the Government have done us the courtesy of allowing this House to know that they will come here with a statement tomorrow, we should respect that, and we will have a much better exchange in this House based on information, rather than supposition and rumour.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not sure whether you were in the Chamber earlier today when Mr Speaker made his statement very clearly indeed, and I do not know how many colleagues were, but it was made abundantly plain that if there were to be a statement today, then yes, Mr Speaker would take it, but more importantly that he had been notified that a statement would be made tomorrow and that he was prepared to sit for as long as it took to make sure that every Opposition or Government Member was heard. Surely, that is preferable to a half-baked statement in short order at 7 o’clock tonight.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I was merely saying what the options were, and the option does remain for a statement to be made if the Adjournment went on until 7 o’clock.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You helpfully clarified that the Adjournment could continue until 7 o’clock tonight, should the Government wish to come and make a statement. It may be that not everyone present has prepared a speech that is relevant to the Adjournment debate on police employer pension contributions that will take place, so would you allow some leniency, scope and flexibility in the contributions that Members might wish to make to that debate?
Members can speak, but they have to speak to the subject of the debate. Their remarks must obviously be related to police employer pension contributions.
I really think that we need to move on. I shall take two more points of order, and that is it.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I really appreciate the clarity you have given about the issues going up to the Adjournment debate at 7 pm and then 7.30 pm, but perhaps you could help me to understand what would happen should the House vote down the Adjournment motion? What would be the procedural consequence? Would it allow the House to continue its discussions after that point?
If the Adjournment is voted down after 7 o’clock, it will still adjourn. The House adjourns at 7.30 pm.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given the statement that Mr Speaker rightly made that the Cabinet will meet, that the Prime Minister will then inform the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, that that parliamentary precedent, which is generally agreed on across the House, moves forward and that a statement then comes to the House before any press conference, I wonder whether you could advise me, in your office as Deputy Speaker, whether that is fundamentally undermined by the fact that the Government of Gibraltar has been informed of the deliberations before the Cabinet has met and made a decision, contrary to the opinion given by the Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
What the Government choose to tell the Government of Gibraltar is not a matter for me. As I have said, the concerns of the House have been expressed through these points of order and they have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench. I say again that the Prime Minister will come to the House tomorrow to make a statement and there are still options open today.
I shall take a final point of order.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think the bit that upsets quite a lot of Members is not that the Cabinet may go on for many hours—that is fully understood; it is the Cabinet’s job to govern—but that after that point it is important that the first next people to hear should surely be the Members of Parliament who will have to make a decision. It is the phase between the Cabinet and House, with the Government going to talk to the press, that is the problem for us. I fully understand that were the Cabinet to continue meeting till midnight tonight, it would probably be impossible for us to have a statement from the Prime Minister today, but as the Adjournment can go on until half-past 7 this evening, what is the last moment at which the Prime Minister could make herself available and at which we could be given notice that a statement could happen?
At 7 o’clock.
The Boundary Commission and Heywood’s Identity
I rise to present this petition, with 767 signatures, about retaining the proud name of Heywood in any redrawing of constituency boundaries.
The Boundary Commission review proposes to remove the name of Heywood from its new parliamentary constituency. This is an insult to a proud town, which has given us Julie Goodyear, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill), not to mention its most famous son, Peter Heywood, for if he had not snatched the lighted torch from the hands of Guy Fawkes in 1605, none of us would be standing in this place today.
The petition states:
The Petition of residents of Heywood and Middleton,
Declares that Heywood is a proud town with a proud history, which has had a clear identity as a parliamentary constituency since 1185; further that the Boundary Commission proposes to remove the name of Heywood from the new parliamentary constituency.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Boundary Commission to restore the name of Heywood to the proposed title for the new constituency in which it will be located.
And the petitioners remain, etc.
Access to Flash Glucose Monitoring in England
May I begin by declaring my interest as a type 2 diabetes sufferer? Today is World Diabetes Day, and I am presenting a petition on behalf of 1,418 citizens of Leicester. I come not just to present the petition, but to thank the Government who announced today that they were allowing everyone in England and Wales with type 1 diabetes to be able to have access to the FreeStyle Libre flash glucose monitoring machine, which is similar to the one that the Prime Minister wears.
While warmly welcoming that decision, I still present this petition because it also affects those with type 2 diabetes. We do not have access to this particular form of monitoring and it is very important that everyone with type 2 diabetes—4.5 million people in the United Kingdom—should also be able to have this unit, rather than having to prick their fingers and to have their test done by removing blood.
A total of 1,480 people have signed the petition in Leicester, and 1,689 have signed in the rest of the country. I am glad that the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) is here to present his petition on behalf of his constituents. What the petition says is that the postcode lottery that did operate and that will continue to operate until April 2019 prevents people in Leicester and in 25% of the country from having access to this monitor. I hope that the Government will allow this access immediately, rather than waiting until April 2019.
Following is the full text of the petition:
[The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,
Declares that the unfair postcode lottery created by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) for access to Flash Glucose Monitoring (FreeStyle Libre) is detrimental to the health and emotional wellbeing of people with diabetes and those that care for people with diabetes; further notes that technology has been proved to be cost effective for many who are on intensive insulin therapy; further that it has been made available on prescription by the NHS and there is evidence to support its positive impacts; further that half of the country have now given access, but the other half have not; further that there is no reason why CCGs across the country should not make this life changing technology available to people with diabetes who could benefit in England.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons to urge the government to take immediate action with NHS England to make Flash Glucose Technology available on prescription for people with diabetes regardless of their address.
And the petitioners remain, etc.]
I am here today on behalf of Crawley residents with type 1 and type 2 diabetes and all those who signed my petition calling on the Crawley clinical commissioning group to provide flash glucose monitoring technology, such as FreeStyle Libre, on the NHS. Diabetes UK estimates that 6.9% of adults in Crawley have diabetes—a figure slightly higher than the English national average—but less than a fifth of clinical commissioning groups have opted to make flash glucose monitoring available.
As the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has said, I very much welcome the Government stating this morning—on World Diabetes Day—that for patients with type 1 diabetes, they are
“announcing action to end the current variation patients in some parts of the country are facing to access Freestyle Libre.”
People in Crawley who deal with diabetes every day and I urge Crawley CCG and NHS England to ensure provision of this technology for people living with type 2 diabetes as well.
The petition states:
The Petition of residents of Crawley,
Declares that the unfair postcode lottery created by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) for access to Flash Glucose Monitoring (FreeStyle Libre) is detrimental to the health and emotional wellbeing of people with diabetes and those that care for people with diabetes; further notes that technology has been proved to be cost effective for many who are on intensive insulin therapy; further that it has been made available on prescription by the NHS and there is evidence to support its positive impacts; further that half of the country have now given access, but the other half have not; further that there is no reason why CCGs across the country should not make this life changing technology available to people with diabetes who could benefit in England.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons to urge the government to take immediate action with NHS England to make Flash Glucose Technology available on prescription for people with diabetes regardless of their address.
And the petitioners remain, etc.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The point has been made that there are huge concerns about the Prime Minister going to the press in advance of coming to this House, as is right and proper; Prime Ministers should come to this House to make any announcements after Cabinet. In 1971, when the UK debated joining the European Economic Community, the House was allowed to run for an additional nine hours through the course of the evening after the moment of interruption at 10 pm, in order for the proper debate to take place. It was important then for the House to be allowed to have that additional time, because it was really important for the people to see that the debate was taking place.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I understand that it is your role and the role of Mr Speaker to protect the reputation of this House, and to ensure that the people out there are not laughing at us and are not concerned that the procedures of this House are stifling debate. Will you please let me know that you have considered this today?
There is a lot of sympathy in the House for the hon. Lady’s point. I am sure that the Prime Minister would want to come to the House when there is something to say. The hon. Lady mentioned the year that the House was debating Britain going into Europe, but on that occasion it was already tabled that the House would sit later; nothing has been tabled today. Like everyone else, I am bound by the rules of the House and it is Members who vote on the rules of the House. All I can do is work with the rules as they are. I cannot create new rules, no matter how important the situation. The hon. Lady’s point has been taken on board and I am sure that people have listened. It is something to bear in mind for the future.
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Given that you are guided by the rules, are there any procedures whereby the House could be suspended while we wait for the Prime Minister to come back and make a statement, given that a press conference has already been set for 9 o’clock? We are not a vassal state, but a sovereign Parliament, and we would like the Prime Minister to come here as soon as she has concluded her discussions with the Cabinet.
Unfortunately, the straightforward answer is no. I do not want to take more points of order on the same issue.
If other points of order are on the same matter, we have already made a ruling. The decision has been taken, so I hope that this is about something different.
I am sure it will be, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] Yes, it will have to be now. I just wanted to be clear—it is just a point of information, Sir. [Interruption.] Oh, all right, let’s do a point of order—that would be better, wouldn’t it? On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it correct that the Government must not make a major policy announcement to the media first but have to make it to the House first?
That is absolutely right. I would expect the convention that this House comes first. That is what I would always say. I will never shy away from that, and neither would anybody else who occupies this Chair. This House should always know first.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Notwithstanding this very important issue—I wholeheartedly support my colleagues in pushing for the Prime Minister to come to the House—I am obviously concerned, as you will appreciate, being a north-west MP yourself, that if the House were to rise early, Members might inadvertently miss the opportunity to come to the reception in Strangers Dining Room to mark the 50th anniversary of the continuous at-sea deterrent. I wonder if there is a way by which, perhaps through your good offices, I might be able to inform Members here in the House, and some who might be watching on the TV screens, that they can come down to Strangers Dining Room—