House of Commons
Wednesday 6 February 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Duchy of Lancaster
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—
Public Services Delivery: Technology
Last month I announced five new public sector challenges, to be funded from the £20 million GovTech innovation fund. In the spring we will publish a strategy for the use of innovation in public services.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that the GovTech fund is being used to identify technologies with the potential to improve medical care and deliver better services at a lower cost?
I am delighted to confirm that to my hon. Friend. There is huge potential here for improvement in public services. So far the GovTech Catalyst has funded two health-related challenges: the first seeks to improve the medication pathway for people entering custody, and the second will assess how machine learning could improve prediction and provision in relation to adult social care.
At the weekend, 70 Labour MPs and Members of the European Parliament signed my letter to the Government asking them to review the operation of the EU settled status app for EU citizens, which is currently available only on Android phones and not on iPhones. What advice does the Cabinet Office gives other Departments to ensure that no digital discrimination is embedded in the new technologies that the Government are rolling out?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the question of the digital verification system. It is perfectly possible to subscribe to it with any phone. The issue relates to the document verification, which can be carried out in respect of Android phones but not, currently, in respect of Apple phones However, the Home Office is working on that as we speak.
I know the Minister will be aware that delivering public services in rural areas is particularly challenging. Will he consider how he could use tech and innovation to facilitate better public services in areas such as those that I represent?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the great aspects of the GovTech challenge fund is that it is often used in rural areas. In rural Scotland, for example, we are looking into how it could be used to help to ensure that the environment is properly managed, and we are working on other similar schemes.
Time and again, Mr Speaker, you have heard me raise the issue of deeply unsatisfactory broadband coverage in my constituency, which greatly impairs the delivery of vital public services. Responding to a question that I asked not long ago, the Prime Minister mentioned the shared prosperity fund. Might that fund be used to tackle the problem of very poor broadband coverage? If the Minister cannot give me an answer now, will he agree to meet me to discuss the issue?
I am always happy to meet all Members, and I have heard the hon. Gentleman’s representation in respect of the shared prosperity fund. Our industrial strategy has already committed us to spending more than £1 billion on digital infrastructure, including £176 million on 5G and £200 million on broadband for local areas. There is, I know, an issue with the Scottish National party Government getting the money to the front line, which is why my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary has announced that in future, money will go directly to councils.
When it comes to the delivery of technology with the use of public money, we know whose side the Government are on: their mates in the megafirms. Their spending on Cloud provision with just one company, Amazon Web Services, has increased by 8,000% since 2015. The next time the Minister signs off another multimillion-pound tech contract, will he perhaps spare a thought for one of the UK’s incredible small and medium-sized enterprises?
The Government are committed to ensuring that SMEs win their fair share of Government contracts. Unlike the Labour Government, this Government have set the target of devoting a third of all spending to SMEs. However, the hon. Lady rightly raised the issue of Amazon Web Services. Let us look at the figures. AWS is a G-Cloud supplier. A total of £3.2 billion has been spent on G-Cloud. How much has been spent on AWS? Just £70 million, which amounts to less than 2.2% of total spending.
Public Sector Procurement
We are determined to deliver value for money for taxpayers through better procurement, and to support a healthy and diverse supply market. We recently announced measures including simplifying procurement processes, taking account of social value when awarding contracts, and excluding large suppliers from Government contracts if they cannot demonstrate prompt payment.
I thank the Minister for his answer. The number of businesses receiving late payments from the Cabinet Office has nearly tripled in the past two years. Does the Minister agree that this makes a mockery of the Government’s plans to crack down on public sector suppliers who pay late?
Prompt payment is important to all businesses, particularly small businesses. That is why we have set a target for 90% of undisputed invoices from small and medium-sized enterprises to be paid within five days. We are making good progress, and six Departments are already exceeding that target. I know that there has been an issue in respect of the Cabinet Office, but I can give the hon. Gentleman the latest figures, from December, which show that 95% of invoices are now meeting the 30-day target and that 82% are meeting the five-day target.
Will the Minister join me in welcoming moves to roll over the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement—the GPA—and in welcoming the access that that would give to UK companies competing abroad and the opening up of our own markets to foreign competitors?
I know that my right hon. Friend has a great deal of experience in this area, and he is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the GPA. I am pleased that we have made progress and reached agreement in principle for the United Kingdom to join the GPA, and I am confident that we will have that in place shortly.
Is not the Minister guilty of a bit of jiggery-pokery? [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] The fact of the matter is that if the Government looked at good examples such as Huddersfield University and Kirklees Council, they would see the way in which they emphasise local and regional procurement, which brings in jobs and wealth and retains them in our communities. Why do this Government not do the same?
We are absolutely committed to ensuring that we get the very best suppliers, which is why we have introduced a balanced scorecard approach. That allows suppliers to take into account a wide range of factors, including environmental factors and factors relating to the quality of produce. Those are the sort of reforms that this Government are committed to introducing.
The Government give a very welcome emphasis to the employing of small and medium-sized enterprises in Government contracts, and that is very good stuff, but does the Minister not agree that in reality, Government procurement processes are so complex, so difficult, so massive and so expensive that it is actually companies such as the defence primes that get the contracts and then hammer down the prices they pay to their subcontractors? How can we find better ways to ensure that the SMEs win some of those valuable contracts?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the issue of SMEs winning contracts. This is why we have abolished complex pre-qualification questionnaires on small-value contracts, for example, and in November I announced that if major strategic suppliers were not paying their small providers on time, they could face being excluded from Government contracts.
I am aware that current statute means that wage rates cannot be mandated, but it is possible to use the procurement process to encourage employers to consider paying the real living wage in the context of fair work policies. Indeed, that is the process undertaken by the Scottish Government. Will the Minister consider following Scotland’s lead and using procurement to ensure that employers pay the real living wage?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I hope that he will acknowledge the progress that this Government have made in introducing a national living wage for the first time. The effect of that national living wage, which will rise by almost 5% this April, is that an average person working full time on the national living wage will be almost £3,000 a year better off—and that is not counting the massive increase in the personal allowance that also cuts their taxes.
Of course, it is not a living wage; it is just a minimum wage re-badged.
The Government have repeatedly insisted that Interserve’s
“current intentions are a matter for the company itself.”
However, it emerged last night that Cabinet Office officials were playing an active role in talks to negotiate a rescue package. It seems that the Government cannot make up their mind whether they have a responsibility to intervene and protect public services and jobs or whether to let the market decide, so which is it?
The Government are absolutely clear that their principal task is to ensure the continued delivery of public services, and that is what we have ensured in respect of our strategic suppliers. The hon. Gentleman raises the case of Interserve. I welcome this morning’s announcement, which I am sure he has seen, which demonstrates that it is making good progress towards refinancing, but we are clear that that is a matter between the lenders to that company and the company itself. The Government are not a party to those negotiations.
The Government are fully committed to transparency and openness across the public sector and have already introduced a range of measures to increase transparency in contracts. That means that we are publishing more data than ever before to the benefit of taxpayers. I am grateful for the Information Commissioner’s report, which we will consider carefully, but we have no plans at present to legislate further in this area.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply but, as the Information Commissioner tells us, the Government spend £284 billion a year on external suppliers that are currently beyond the scope of freedom of information laws. The Information Commissioner tells us that that would have made a difference at both Grenfell and Carillion, so why will the Government not commit to real transparency and adopt the Information Commissioner’s recommendations?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster set out an important package of measures last year to improve transparency in contracting. However, I do not think there is evidence that the collapse of Carillion could have been anticipated by the reforms in the report. Indeed, the relevant Select Committees said that Carillion’s directors were responsible, not the Government.
Public Life: Intimidation
The increasing prevalence of intimidation in public life can seriously damage our democracy, which is why the Government have consulted on a new electoral offence of intimidating candidates and campaigners. We are currently analysing the contributions to the consultation, with a response due to be published soon.
What progress is the Department making with online platform providers to ensure that they develop and implement automated techniques for content removal and address take-down times for offensive material?
My hon. Friend makes a good point that he has made strongly before, which is to his huge credit. We have been clear that much more needs to be done to tackle online harm. Too often, online behaviour fails to meet acceptable standards, with many users powerless to address such issues. A joint Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Home Office White Paper is expected to be published in the near future and will set out legislative and non-legislative measures detailing how we can tackle online harm and set clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe. We want to ensure that we do that in a fair and proper way.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. We are looking at exactly that, because we must ensure that people have a clear view of what is true, fair and appropriate online.
Someone came to my surgery this week and clearly made an implied threat to me, a number of Members of this House and a former Prime Minister. However, if I report any of that, I am breaching the confidentiality of the person who came to see me, so I want to know the Minister’s advice.
I do not think that my hon. Friend would have been breaching confidentiality, because if such conversations are happening, that represents a threat that he would be well within his rights to report to the police.
I have been subjected to online intimidation. Does the Minister agree that we need to drive home the message that the secrecy of the iPhone or keyboard is not protection enough for people to spew vile, intimidatory statements and messages to anybody in public life?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. All of us in public life should call out such things when we see them. We must be clear about what is unacceptable and report it to the authorities where appropriate, so that people feel able to engage online in a proper and fair way without intimidation or abuse.
Tiers of Government: Collaboration
We are committed to working productively with all levels of government, including local authorities, directly elected mayors and devolved Administrations across the UK. We will also work closely with the devolved Administrations to review the formal structure of inter-governmental relations.
People across the Tees Valley are delighted at the devolution model led by Ben Houchen, our excellent Conservative mayor. Ben is delivering on his manifesto promises, which included rescuing Teesside airport and leading the regeneration of the steelworks. Will my right hon. Friend commit the Government to maintaining their excellent record of support for Ben’s work in getting Teesside on the front foot again?
I pay tribute to the leadership that Ben Houchen and his colleagues on the Tees Valley combined authority have shown. They have very ambitious plans, and we look forward to continuing our joint working with them on a local industrial strategy to drive productivity, growth and employment in the Teesside region.
In light of there being no Executive in Northern Ireland, what measures are being taken to ensure services can be delivered for Northern Ireland? Especially within the public sector, we have had difficulty in getting decisions across the line. We need ministerial intervention.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, Parliament agreed to change the law late last year to give Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office greater powers in giving directions to the Northern Ireland civil service, but the answer is for the political parties in Northern Ireland to come together so that we can see the Executive and the Assembly restored. That is the way to give effective representation for effective decisions to be taken.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is no formal machinery for the Parliaments of the United Kingdom to work together and to scrutinise the work of the Joint Ministerial Committee and the Executive functions that work together. The Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit again met in January and called for this. Will he support this Parliament and provide it with the necessary resources so we can institute proper interparliamentary machinery in the United Kingdom?
We are very open to proposals from my hon. Friend’s Committee and from others in this House and the House of Lords. We are working together with the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies. If Parliament will lead, the Government will support it.
Having spoken to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House about this on a number of occasions, I do not think anybody can doubt her determination to ensure that this issue is given proper priority. I expect proposals from that group later this year.
The Smith Commission was clear that the Scottish Government should work with the Scottish Parliament, civic Scotland and local authorities to develop ways in which greater devolution within Scotland could be provided.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Does he agree that local authorities are best placed to deliver local services, rather than taking a centralised approach?
I think that that is right. For example, it will be very important to involve local authorities in my hon. Friend’s constituency and in neighbouring constituencies in taking forward our ambitious proposals for an Ayrshire growth deal.
Voter ID Pilot Schemes
A diverse range of local authorities have confirmed that they will be taking part in the voter ID and postal vote pilots for the 2019 local elections. These pilots will provide further insight into ensuring security of the voting process.
I know different local authorities are using different methods as to what constitutes ID, but does the Minister believe enough progress will be made so that, should this Parliament go the full five years, we will have voter ID available at the next general election?
Yes, I do. I am grateful to the authorities that are piloting voter ID this year. Their experience will help us to formulate the right policy to roll it out nationally.
Let me say to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) that the Cumbrian steak and kidney pie, the merits of which he commended to me, was of the highest quality.
Mr Speaker, I am incredibly grateful to you for those kind words and for coming along to Cumbria Day.
Is the Minister aware that voters in my constituency, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales cannot vote at all on planning and housing issues that affect them? What steps will she take to bring in democracy for those parts of our country that are under the aegis of a national park, which are not directly elected?
I am somewhat familiar with the issue because of my proximity to the Broads Authority in my constituency, but I suspect this question may be for a colleague to answer and I will ask them to do so.
Last week, I announced new measures, as part of the follow-up action to the Government’s racial disparity audit, to improve outcomes for ethnic minority students in higher education; to ensure league tables reflect performance in addressing inequalities; and to encourage higher education providers to make their workforces more diverse.
Some 16% of the adult population of this country has some form of disability, yet when I look around this House, I see very few Members with a disability. When are we going to see an effective Access to Elected Office Fund? We need a Parliament that is representative of the public it serves. When are we going to be like that?
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman raises this issue. He is right to say that we need to raise that level of participation. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is working on a fund that will help that to happen. Furthermore, a statutory instrument will be before the House next Monday that will help with this by addressing election expenses.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point, and it comes down to what the people of Peterborough need: a hard-working and present local MP. Of course we have passed legislation in this place to enable recall. I suspect that may be used in this case, but I hope it will happen promptly, for the sake of the people of Peterborough.
Let us consider these figures: 25,342 and 21,900. Those were the number of voters who cast their votes for me and for the Minister to serve as elected parliamentarians, yet just 100-odd votes secured a win in the most recent hereditary peer by-election in the other place. He was eligible to stand because his great-grandad’s cousin’s dad’s fourth cousin’s dad’s cousin’s great-great-great grandad was made a Lord by Charles I in 1628. What progress is the Minister making on reform of the other place?
May I first welcome the hon. Lady back to the Dispatch Box? It is a pleasure to see her here again. Two points need to be made: first, the legislation she cites was that of her own party; and. secondly, reform of the House of Lords is not a priority for this Government. We have been clear on that matter and I can be so again today.
What conversations is the Department having with local authorities in Scotland and the Scottish Government about relocating civil service jobs north of the border, specifically in areas such as international trade?
The Government have a policy of seeking to relocate government offices and agencies outside London wherever possible. We are keen to work with Scottish local authorities, as well as local authorities from all around the United Kingdom, to secure that objective.
Yes. It is right that different elements of cyber-security report in to different Departments. For example, where this relates to an offensive cyber-capability, as part of our defences, that is rightly part of the Ministry of Defence’s responsibility. The relevant Ministers do co-operate regularly, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that this all reports back to the National Security Council where the relevant Cabinet Ministers take the decisions.
On the inter-ministerial early years working group, which is an excellent initiative, is the Minister aware that the cost of child neglect is estimated at some £15 billion per year? So when negotiating with the Treasury, will he be mindful that funding for this is not only the best way of giving kids the best start in life, but a good way of saving money
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be very glad of my hon. Friend’s support.
What with the £1 billion-plus of Northern Ireland contributions secured by the Democratic Unionist party, the knighthoods for the European Research Group, and now the cash-for-votes inducements that we hear are being offered to MPs, are the Government not a bit worried about sailing dangerously close to the wind of the Labour-introduced Bribery Act 2010? Will the Minister reaffirm that no votes in this place should be for sale? Especially not mine; I have not been offered anything.
I am deeply shocked that the hon. Lady has so little confidence in her own colleagues as to think that they would be capable of that.
Some of my most engaged constituents are expats who currently reside in France or Spain. Does the Minister agree that it is unfair and undemocratic to deny these British citizens the right to vote after an arbitrary 15 years?
Yes, I do, which is why we support the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), which will redress that injustice and deliver votes for life.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support on this matter. We should see such support throughout the House for a set of measures that are reasonable, proportionate and already used in countries around the world and in our own country, the United Kingdom, to help to protect voters and ensure that their vote is theirs alone.
The Prime Minister was asked—
The right hon. Gentleman is a notable celebrity, not only in Aylesbury but here in this House.
I have been asked to reply, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Northern Ireland outlining the Government’s commitment to the people there and our plan to secure a Brexit deal that delivers on the result of the referendum.
I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in welcoming today’s announcement that the next meeting of NATO Heads of State and Government will take place in London in December 2019. This is fitting, as 70 years ago this year, the United Kingdom, led by those Atlanticist champions Clement Attlee and Ernie Bevin, was one of the alliance’s 12 founding members and London was home to the first NATO headquarters. We will continue to play a key role in NATO as it continues its mission of keeping nearly 1 billion people safe.
I have always considered the Leader of the Opposition to be just an unreconstructed Marxist. However, in the light of video footage that has emerged this week, I may well have to change that view. He clearly campaigned vigorously against repeated EU referendums in Ireland, and he declared forcefully that he did not wish to live under a
“European empire of the 21st century”.
In the spirit of cross-party consensus, will my right hon. Friend join the Leader of the Opposition and dismiss once and for all any prospect of a second EU referendum and reaffirm that we are leaving on 29 March?
The Government’s position is clear. We said to the British people in 2016 that we would accept their vote as decisive. The duty of politicians is to implement the result of the referendum and not to suggest that the public got it wrong and, I think, undermine trust in democracy.
The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) is a notable celebrity, not merely in Islington but here in this House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am so glad to renew my acquaintance with the Minister for the Cabinet Office, or, as the newspapers always call him, “effectively the Deputy Prime Minister”—surely the only occasion these days when the words “Prime Minister” and “effective” are used in the same sentence.
Although there are many other important issues that I would like to discuss with the Minister for the Cabinet Office today, sadly none is more vital or urgent than Brexit, so I would like to use our time to have a sensible, grown-up discussion about what the actual plan is between now and 29 March. To that end, I ask him this: if the briefing is correct that there will not be a fresh meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement next week, when will that vote take place?
I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was completely clear on that at this Dispatch Box last week. She said that the meaningful vote itself would be brought back as soon as possible, and if it were not possible to bring it back by the 13th, next Wednesday, the Government would then make a statement and table a motion for debate the next day.
I thank the Minister for his answer. I take from that and from other briefings that the time for a fresh vote will be after the Prime Minister has secured what she called last week
“a significant and legally binding change”—[Official Report, 29 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 679.]
to the withdrawal agreement so that this House has something genuinely different on which to vote. If that is the case, will the Minister simply clarify what will happen if we start to approach 29 March and that significant and legally binding change has not been achieved?
The Prime Minister, as has been announced by No.10, will be in Brussels tomorrow where she will be seeing President Juncker, President Tusk and the President of the European Parliament, Mr Tajani, to discuss the changes that she is seeking following the recent votes in this House both to reject the deal that was on the table and to support the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady). I do think that the right hon. Lady needs not just, perfectly fairly, to question the Government, but to face up to the fact that if, as both she and I wish, we are to leave the EU in an orderly manner with a deal, it requires this House to vote in favour of a deal and not just to declare that it does not want a no-deal scenario.
Again, I thank the Minister. Does the Prime Minister seriously think that she will get anything different from the responses that we have heard from the EU over recent days? None of them has given us any encouragement that the EU is willing to reopen the withdrawal agreement unless the Prime Minister is willing to reconsider the red lines on which the agreement is based. Does he not agree that the sensible, cautious thing to do at this late stage is to seek a temporary extension of article 50 so that we have time to see whether the negotiations succeed, or, if they do not, to pursue a different plan?
The problem with the right hon. Lady’s proposition is that it would simply defer the need for this House, which includes the Opposition Front Bench team, to face up to some difficult decisions. She has criticised the approach that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has taken, but I have to put it to her that, last week, the Leader of the Opposition, having met the Prime Minister, went out in front of the cameras and demanded changes to the backstop as part of the approach that he wanted to see for the future. The right hon. Lady has said that she would be comfortable with the backstop. Does she agree with her leader, or is she sticking to her guns on this?
I hear what the Minister says, but he does not seem to give us any answers. I genuinely appreciate his attempts, but I hope that he will understand the concern that all of us have, not just in this House, but across the country, that we have a Government treading water in the Niagara River while the current is taking us over the falls. [Interruption.]
Order, be quiet. The Whip on duty, the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), has no useful contribution to make other than to nod and shake his head in the appropriate places. No chuntering from a sedentary position from him is required or will persist.
Can we go back to the central issue: there is no way that we can avoid a border in Ireland after Brexit without a full customs union, or a permanent backstop, or some new technological solution. Will the Minister tell us which of those options the Government are currently working towards?
The right hon. Lady again makes this commitment, saying that the Labour party wants to see a permanent customs union, but most people who support a customs union say that they want to ensure that businesses can expect to export to the EU without tariffs, quotas or rules of origin checks. That is precisely what the Prime Minister’s deal does, and it also allows this country to establish trade agreements with other nations around the world, so what part of that deal does the right hon. Lady actually object to?
If the right hon. Gentleman would like me to answer questions, I would be quite happy to hold a seminar for him at another stage regarding what a proper Brexit ought to look like, but let me continue with my job, and perhaps he can continue with his and answer some questions. The technological solution is a non-starter. A permanent backstop will never be acceptable to the European Research Group or the Democratic Unionist party, and the only solution that will actually work is a full customs union. That is what I said at our first encounter here in 2016. It is the answer that is staring the Government in the face. If they backed it, it would command a majority in this House. It would avoid the mayhem and chaos of no deal, and protect the jobs at Nissan, Airbus and elsewhere that are currently at grave risk, so can the Minister explain why the Prime Minister is so dead against it?
Even if we did take the right hon. Lady’s somewhat ill-defined description of a permanent customs union, it would not address issues in respect of Northern Ireland and Ireland regarding regulatory standards for industrial goods or phytosanitary checks for foodstuffs and livestock. Even in her own terms, her answer is inadequate. The right hon. Lady may well then go on to say that she also wants to be part of a single market. Indeed, she has said that she would be happy with the same position as Norway, but that means the continuation of free movement and her party’s manifesto explicitly said that free movement would stop, so is the right hon. Lady supporting a Norway model or is she supporting the Labour party’s manifesto?
Flattered though I am that the Minister feels it necessary to ask me questions, it is important to make it clear that the reason that I have asked these questions today is that the Minister for the Cabinet Office understands Europe, Northern Ireland and Brexit probably better than any of his Cabinet colleagues. If anyone from the Government could give us answers, it would be him. But the truth is that there are no answers. Plan A has been resoundingly rejected by Parliament, plan B was ruled out by the EU months ago, and the Government are in danger of sleepwalking the country towards leaving with no plan and no deal at all. With just over 50 days to go, may I give the Minister a final opportunity to tell us whether there is a better plan than this—or, for goodness’ sake, will they let Parliament take charge instead?
As I said earlier, the Prime Minister will be reporting back to this House next week following her discussions in Brussels and elsewhere. I have to say to the right hon. Lady that the two-year deadline—the 29 March deadline—stems from European law and the wording of article 50, which lays down the two years. As I recall, the right hon. Lady voted in favour of triggering article 50; perhaps it was one of those votes where she was present but not involved. If she and her Front Bench are worried about no deal, they have to vote for a deal. Every time they vote against a deal, the risk of no deal becomes greater. It really is time for the Opposition Front Bench, for once, to put the national interest first, do the right thing and vote for a deal.
My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary was very impressed by what he saw on his visit to Harlow, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) will remain a very ardent champion of the need for renewal of those hospital facilities. He knows that as part of the Government’s long-term plan for the NHS, NHS England will make decisions about its capital investments for the future, and I am sure that he will drive his case home with it.
I welcome the Minister to his place.
While the chaos of the UK Government’s shambolic Brexit negotiations has dominated the headlines, this Government have sneaked through a cut in pension credit that will see some couples up to £7,000 a year worse off. An estimated 300,000 more pensioners are now living in poverty than in 2012. Does the Minister agree that his Government need to change course and, instead of robbing pensioners, start supporting them?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the situation of mixed-age couples with one person over pensionable age and receiving a pension and the other of working age. What the Government have done—indeed, what this House voted for some years ago—is perfectly logical and in line with the intention of the benefits system.
We certainly did not vote for that. What we have seen from this Government is that they continue to put their hands into the pockets of the poorest in our society. In fact, this Tory Government are allowing a proposal to take free TV licences from pensioners. It is this Conservative Government who are denying women born in the 1950s their full rights to state pensions. It is this Tory Government who preside over the lowest state pension in any developed country—quite shameful. Pensioner poverty is not a myth; it is a reality. With Scottish pensioners being short-changed by the UK Government, the Minister must agree that the only way to end pensioner poverty in Scotland is to put fairness back into our pension system and give older people the dignity that they deserve in retirement— for pension reform to be taken on by the Scottish Government in an independent Scotland, where we take our responsibilities seriously.
The right hon. Gentleman has some nerve here. He knows that it is in the power of the Scottish Government, under devolution legislation, to top up social security benefits if they choose to do so. He knows—[Interruption.]
Order. There is a lot of wild gesticulation and very animated expressions, and people looking at me pleadingly. It is very difficult to hear what is being said. I was trying to listen to the erudition of the Minister, but there is too much noise—let’s hear the fella.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that he and his party have voted against this Government’s Budgets even though those Budgets have reduced tax upon the lowest-paid in every part of the United Kingdom. He knows that the budget set by the SNP in the Scottish Parliament last week has led to Scots being more highly taxed than people in any other part of the United Kingdom —and that in a year when the Scottish Government’s block grant as a result of the Chancellor’s Budget decisions was increased by £950 million. The SNP has squandered that Union dividend. The message that we get is that if you have an SNP Government, Scottish people pay more and get less.
I certainly understand, not least from my own constituency, the valuable service that Citizens Advice provides in many parts of the country. As my hon. Friend knows, the funding available through the local government settlement is largely not ring-fenced. These are decisions for elected local authorities to take at their discretion, but I am sure that the local authority in Solihull has heard clearly my hon. Friend’s concerns.
Obviously if there are concerns about a particular case, the relevant Health Minister will be happy to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman. On his more general point, as part of sensible contingency planning, my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary and his Department have been talking to the suppliers of insulin and other key medicines and treatments to ensure that supplies will remain available to patients who need them, whatever the outcome of the current Brexit negotiations.
I completely understand the concerns about that issue of not only my hon. Friend but many parents. Of course, a lot depends upon the location of a school and the circumstances of the roads around it, but I am sure that a Minister from the Department for Transport will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those ideas.
I call the Minister.
Does he agree that parents who voted to leave did not vote to leave their children in greater risk of mental disorder and deserve a final say to protect their future?
Order. If the hon. Gentleman sought my advice, I would have provided it. He was doing extremely well, but he should have cut it off about 25 words earlier.
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about EU health workers, with the end of freedom of movement, we will need to put new arrangements in place. The immigration Bill before the House provides the framework within which those more detailed arrangements can be made for the future. Of course, the health service in Wales is devolved and a matter for the Welsh Government and Assembly, but NHS England’s long-term plan will see the largest expansion of mental health services in a generation.
I listened very carefully to the quiet and earnest exchange between my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Foreign Secretary, on the subject of arrangements for Brexit. I have to say that I formed the impression they were trying to find detailed points on which they could disagree, and that if it was left to them, they would take about five minutes to agree a proposal that would take us smoothly through 29 March into proper negotiations. May I ask my right hon. Friend if he would arrange that, on 14 February, we can finally have some indicative votes in the House so that the sensible majority can express their opinion? We can leave smoothly and start proper negotiations, based on a customs arrangement and some regulatory alignment in the transition period, and stop being so dominated by Corbynistas and the European Research Group?
I have to say that, in the past couple of weeks, one of the things I have been spending my time doing is talking to right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House, including Labour Members, about their views regarding the way forward on Brexit. If the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) wanted to come and see me as well, I would be very happy to talk further to her. I just think it is a pity that the Leader of the Opposition waited a full fortnight before even opening discussions with the Government.
The hon. Gentleman has been a completely open and honourable champion of the second referendum, and I respect that fact. He knows the Government’s concerns that that would lead to an erosion of public trust in our political process, and that it would not actually settle the question because there would then be demands from whoever lost a second referendum to proceed to a third. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that he needs to persuade his own Front Benchers, because I find that opposition to a second referendum is quite deep in both major parties in the House.
I have just come from speaking at the launch of a draft EU-UK free trade agreement. It lays out 300 pages of what such an agreement would look like and invites the Government and businesses to engage, but it depends on our being outside a customs union with the EU. Notwithstanding the earlier exchanges on this very topic, will my right hon. Friend recommit himself today to our manifesto commitment to be outside a customs union with the EU in the future relationship?
My right hon. Friend, perfectly properly, made reference to the 2017 Conservative manifesto, but I could also refer him to many, many statements made from this Dispatch Box and elsewhere by our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the same effect. I would say to him that, for the complex negotiations that would be needed to establish the detail of the future economic partnership between ourselves and the European Union, we need to have the implementation or transitional period that is specified in the withdrawal agreement. That is what businesses of all sizes in all sectors are asking us in this House to do, and that is why the House should come together and support a deal.
Of course, new tests of housing need have recently been introduced. They are designed to reflect the fact that under successive Governments of all political parties, we as a country have been building far fewer new homes than our country and particularly our younger generation now need. I can say to the hon. Gentleman that, representing one part of the country with some of the fastest housebuilding rates anywhere in England, I think this is a social justice challenge that we have to face up to, but the national planning policy contains within it very strong tests to protect against inappropriate development in the green belt, and the Government will stand by that approach.
Last week it was announced that emergency services and women and children’s services are going to be moved out of borough from Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital. I have asked the Health Secretary to call in that decision for review, because the needs and health outcomes of people in both Telford and Wrekin have not been considered. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging the Health Secretary to review the decision and to listen to the concerns of people in Telford and Wrekin?
As I would expect, my hon. Friend is a very strong advocate for the health needs of her local area. I understand that she met the Secretary of State for Health yesterday, and I am sure that he will reflect carefully on the case that she put to him.
The Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that the most vulnerable people get support when they need it most. It is important, obviously, that people are able to keep their homes warm during any cold snaps, and the cold weather payments and winter fuel payment enable them to do that. I will ensure that the relevant Minister looks into the particular constituency issue raised by the hon. Gentleman.
On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who has been in his constituency this morning, I want to thank Staffordshire fire and rescue and Staffordshire police for their efforts in the horrific fire that occurred in Stafford this week. I also want to thank the local schools for the support being given to children who know the family. Will my right hon. Friend join me in expressing our condolences to the family and friends involved?
I do not believe that there is any Member of this House whose reaction to that ghastly news yesterday was other than horror and the most deeply felt sense of sympathy with the family and friends of the children and parents involved. Thinking through what that family have had to live through, and must face living through in the future, it strikes one that it must be almost unendurable. On behalf of the whole House, I hope, I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the emergency services—let us not forget that, for those who were called out to the scene, this would have been a traumatic experience—and to the local schools. The fire and rescue service will lead an investigation into the causes of this tragedy, and obviously we will have to await the outcome of that before deciding whether any further lessons should be drawn.
As the Prime Minister has said, it is not right that grieving parents have to worry about how to meet the funeral costs for a child. We have confirmed that parents will no longer have to meet the costs of burials or cremations, and fees will be waived by all local authorities and paid for instead by Government. We have been working, as I think the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, on the most effective way to deliver the fund, because we need to make sure that we get this right, but I take his point about the need to step up the pace. We will provide an update to Parliament on implementation as soon as possible, and I will certainly draw his comments and the support that he has from other Members right across the House, on a cross-party basis, to the attention of the Ministers concerned.
I am proud to represent Penzance, which is at the start of the rail link to London and elsewhere. Five years after the track was cut off by both coastal erosion and landslides, the planning application has finally gone in to create a resilient rail link for Devon and Cornwall. Will my right hon. Friend assure my constituents and the House that adequate funds will be made available to avoid any further delays?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the critical importance of this stretch of line not just to south Devon but to the whole south-west, in particular people living in Cornwall. I have been told by the Department for Transport that the first phase of work to protect the sea wall at Dawlish began in November last year, with essential repairs to breakwaters. That is part of a £15 million wider investment to make the railway at Dawlish and Teignmouth more resilient to extreme weather. Top-quality engineers have been carrying out detailed ground investigations to develop a long-term solution to protect the railway and to minimise disruption for passengers. We are now talking to Network Rail about the long-term plan.
The hon. Gentleman raises a constituency case. I do not know the details other than those he has just relayed to the House, but I will ask the relevant Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions to talk to him and to look into the details of the case in greater depth.
May I point out to my right hon. Friend that the House has already had some indicative votes? The House did not like the withdrawal agreement as it stands and would prefer not to leave without a withdrawal agreement at all, and the whole Government voted to replace the backstop. What progress is being made in the discussions led by a remarkable alliance of my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg)? They are promoting what is known as the Malthouse compromise, which would replace the backstop with a perfectly viable scheme to secure an open border in Northern Ireland under all circumstances. What is holding it up?
There is no attempt to hold anything up. The Government are very determined that we need to make progress, not least because of the two-year deadline under article 50 and the importance to our businesses of leaving the EU in an orderly manner with a withdrawal agreement. The group to which my hon. Friend refers has been meeting my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Those talks continue.
Two issues were raised there. On the point about access to a Member of Parliament, there is no excuse for any organisation or individual to try to stop a constituent from approaching their Member of Parliament. While this is ultimately a matter for you, Mr Speaker, there have been previous occasions when such attempts have been ruled as a contempt of Parliament, so I hope that message will go back. On the substantive point about the operation of the contracts, clearly the contract would have been let by the relevant part of the NHS, but the Health Secretary has indicated to me that he is very willing to sit down with the hon. Gentleman to talk through the details.
Following on from the excellent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), I remind the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that the House passed the so-called Brady amendment on 29 January. Three hundred and seventeen Members were present and actively involved, as they all voted for it, including my right hon. Friend and the whole Government. The amendment said:
“and requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”.
As the Government voted for it, will he confirm that that is still their policy, and if not, which bit of “replaced” was not clear?
The motion also said, of course, that subject to those changes, those who voted for it would be willing to accept the withdrawal agreement. Talks are continuing with the so-called Malthouse group, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out in Belfast yesterday how she intends to take forward the work following the vote for the amendment in the name of our hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady).
The expressway is part of a strategic plan for the Oxford-Cambridge corridor, which is probably the best opportunity for economic growth, innovation and job creation anywhere in Europe at the moment. Like the hon. Lady, I speak as somebody who has a constituency interest—not just a Government interest—in this. There will be a public consultation on route options later this year. There will then be a public consultation on the preferred route, and communities will be able to comment on all aspects of the expressway during those consultations.
There can be no doubt that the people of Venezuela are really suffering: 40 of them were killed in recent protests, many more have been detained and many are simply voting with their feet and leaving—those who can. What more can we do as a Government to help these people, and does my right hon. Friend agree that sanctions are still a valuable tool?
What is happening in Venezuela is appalling. We have seen the suppression of democratic institutions and traditions, and we have seen 3 million people forced to leave their country and live as refugees. We and our EU partners have been clear that we need to put pressure on those around Maduro. We need to keep that pressure up, and we are looking at what further steps we can take to ensure peace and democracy, including through possible sanctions. It would be a help if, in this House, we spoke with a united voice, rather than having the Leader of the Opposition looking to Maduro’s Venezuela as a role model for this country.
Party matters are not a subject of Government responsibility, but all donations to the Conservative party have been properly accounted for and declared to the Electoral Commission in accordance with the law. There are people of Russian origin who are United Kingdom citizens and as entitled as any other naturalised UK citizen to support and donate to the political party of their choice.
For parents across East Renfrewshire, the safety of their children online is an absolute priority, so I very much welcome the announcements from the Government of more steps in relation to social media companies, but can my right hon. Friend confirm that the online harms White Paper remains on track to be out on time and that, whatever happens with Brexit, this workstream will be a priority for the Government?
Yes, and I actually talked to the Culture Secretary this week about the need to press ahead with urgency on this task. We have heard the calls for an internet regulator and a statutory duty of care, and we are seriously considering these options. Our White Paper will clearly set out how responsibilities should be met and what should happen if they are not.
As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, I am not familiar, as he is, with the details of his constituency case, and I was not certain from how he posed his question whether the problem was with the documentation alone or whether there was a more substantive problem, but the Immigration Minister or another relevant Minister will happily talk to him to try to sort this out.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Brexit provides us with the opportunity to introduce a controlled and fair immigration system that no longer discriminate against the rest of the world outside the EU and that that system should be the least bureaucratic possible?
I agree with my hon. Friend on both those points. It is important that in the future we have a system that is fair, makes it easy for the brightest and best in the world to come and work and study here and judges people not by the country they come from but on the skills they bring to this country and their commitment to this country.
The Minister will recall that my colleagues and I in the coalition introduced the naming and shaming of companies that fail to pay the minimum wage. This practice has ceased since last summer, apparently because civil servants are tied up on Brexit duties. What does this tell us about the Government’s new-found enthusiasm for labour rights, and when will these lists be published?
I would have hoped that the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that the Government have continued to take forward and strengthen further the policies on the national living wage, which we worked together on during the coalition days, but I will look into the point he has made, discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary and perhaps a drop him a note to say what we have concluded.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s questions, I raised the issue of the attack on pensions and pensioners, and I was surprised to hear the Minister for the Cabinet Office claim in response that the Scottish Government had responsibility, if we so chose, to deal with the problems created by the UK Government. He will know that pensions are reserved and that the Scottish Parliament cannot create any new pension or old-age benefit because of the restrictions in section 28 of the Scotland Act 2016, under which we cannot give pensions assistance or assistance for reasons of age. We find it intolerable that time after time the UK Government claim that the Scottish Parliament or Government have powers they patently do not have, and it must stop.
That is not a matter for the Chair, but the right hon. Gentleman has made his point with force and clarity. If the Minister for the Cabinet Office wishes to respond, he can. He is not under an obligation to do so, but if he does not, I suspect, knowing the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) , who is a persistent blighter, that he will not go away. Quite understandably and justifiably, he will want to return to the issue over and over again, so it might be best if the Minister would deploy his considerable intellect and respond.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very clear that the advice I have is that under the Scotland Act 2016 the Scottish Government have the power to top up reserved benefits. It is for the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) to defend the decision of a Scottish Government not to do so.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.
I think the idea of further debate is fermenting in the mind of the leader of the Scottish National party as we speak. I am not sure that there is any “further to”, but I am in a generous mood—[Interruption.] I think that gesture means it will be short, so very well.
I have respect for the Minister, but he needs to reflect on the fact that pensions are reserved, period, under legislation from this Government.
The right hon. Gentleman is a bit like me; he likes to have the last word. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is a precious delicacy in the House, and we should not squander him too early. I will come to him.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has been widely reported that the Secretary of State for International Trade has advised industry representatives that he proposes to introduce measures in the event of a no-deal Brexit to reduce or import tariffs on goods to zero. The impact of that in job losses in our manufacturing and farming industries would be enormous. It would also undermine the Government’s much vaunted ambition to negotiate new trade deals by giving away what other countries would happily bargain access into their own markets to obtain. Have you, Mr Speaker, received any indication from the Government that a Minister is preparing to make a statement to this House on such a far-reaching and important matter?
No, not as yet, but who knows what is to follow. We live in hope. The hon. Gentleman’s grinning countenance suggests that he is satisfied with his efforts for now.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry that I have not given you notice of this, but it was not possible. Since Prime Minister’s questions began, the President of the European Council has said that there is a “special place in hell” reserved for Brexiteers. I do not recall any president insulting Members of this House, members of the Government and the British people in such a way. What means are open to the House or the Government to respond to such a completely outrageous insult?
I am not responsible for the statements of the President of the European Council, and I did not know—I was not hitherto conscious—that the hon. Gentleman was notably sensitive, that he was in any sense a delicate flower, and that he was capable of being a quickly and severely injured soul by virtue of the ad hominem remarks of others. If indeed he has been developing a sensitivity and he feels insulted—[Interruption.] Or even, as the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) chunters from a sedentary position, wounded.
Deeply wounded, apparently. Well, then I am sorry for the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). Whatever views he has and expresses, as far as I am concerned, as he knows, I hold him in the highest esteem because he takes Parliament seriously— he always has done and he always will do. It is not for the Speaker to arbitrate between different political opinions. What the Speaker likes to see and hear is the sight and sound of committed parliamentarians who take their responsibilities seriously. No one does so more obviously than the hon. Gentleman.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.
It seems to be very much a phone-carrying day. Very well.
I shall keep this brief, Mr Speaker. I did not have the chance to advise you of my point order in advance, as it arises from that of the right hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). May I respectfully suggest to you that you respectfully suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he might want to go beyond the headlines of the BBC in future? What the European Council President Donald Tusk actually said was that there is a “special place in hell” for
“those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely”.
So perhaps—[Hon. Members: “Oh!] Well, Mr Speaker, sometimes the truth hurts, doesn’t it?
To be frank, as Speaker I do not really mind what it is that the President of the European Council has said, because it is not a matter that concerns me. I hope that the hon. and learned Lady will forgive me if I note en passant that in the course of making a point that I know was very important to her, she inadvertently elevated the hon. Member for Wellingborough to membership of the Privy Council. Perhaps it is only a matter of time, but the Treasury Bench might wish to take that as a hint; alternatively, they might not. We will leave it there for now, but I am glad that the hon. and learned Lady is in a jocular spirit, and the same seems to be capable of being said of the hon. Gentleman, even if he is deeply wounded.
European Union (Referendum on Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Tom Brake, supported by Sir Vince Cable, Jo Swinson, Wera Hobhouse, Mr Ben Bradshaw, Dr Sarah Wollaston, Stephen Gethins, Jonathan Edwards, Caroline Lucas, Stephen Doughty and Geraint Davies presented a Bill to require the holding of a referendum in which one option is to endorse the agreement between the United Kingdom Government and the European Union on the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and the other option is for the United Kingdom to continue to be a member of the European Union; to require the Prime Minister to seek an extension of the period of two years specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending after that referendum; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 22 March, and to be printed (Bill 331).
Armed Forces Covenant (Duty of Public Authorities)
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 require public authorities to deliver services in accordance with the armed forces covenant; and for connected purposes.
It is a great privilege to present this ten-minute rule Bill. I consider it a huge privilege to serve as Northern Ireland’s only voice on the Defence Committee, following the service of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). We recognise the enormous sacrifice given not only during the Northern Ireland troubles and through Operation Banner, which remains our country’s longest continuous military deployment, but historically and to the present day, and we value the above average contribution that Northern Ireland makes to our country’s overall strength. Collectively, as a nation, we honour that commitment. Collectively, as a Parliament, we progressed the armed forces covenant, which nobly states:
“To those who proudly protect our nation, who do so with honour, courage, and commitment, the Armed Forces Covenant is the nation’s commitment to you.
It is a pledge that together we acknowledge and understand that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, should be treated with fairness and respect in the communities, economy and society they serve with their lives.”
I stand by those laudable and honourable words, but, regrettably, we cannot as parliamentarians say with confidence that the covenant runs smoothly and is always applied equally across the United Kingdom. That is the injustice that I hope my Bill will address. The statutory duty it proposes will extend throughout the United Kingdom. The covenant is intended to be a universal commitment, and the experience, care and compassion veterans receive should be the same, but their experience is far from universal.
For too long, the experience of Northern Ireland-based veterans has been substandard. Yes, we have devolution. Yes, we have particular issues that are alive in Northern Ireland that do not pervade other parts the country. But the covenant was not caveated in any way, and we should not caveat our resolve to ensure its full implementation.
I recall the first occasion when, during scrutiny of the covenant implementation report in the Defence Committee, I laid before the then Minister for Veterans correspondence received from the Health Minister in Northern Ireland at the time, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill. Responding to the needs of an individual veteran, she stated categorically that the armed forces covenant did not apply in Northern Ireland. In fact, she said that it did not apply “here”, because she could not bring herself to say “Northern Ireland”. She was wrong, but she was able to abuse her ministerial role to frustrate the honourable outworking of our nation’s commitment.
Such sectarian intransigence exists, and, depending on the allocation of ministerial office in Northern Ireland, it has the potential to block implementation in all the key operational departments. The shame of that action is matched only by the apparent unwillingness of this Parliament to meet it head-on. The sacrifice offered across our country is the same. The lives lost or injuries sustained do not confine themselves to respective parts of our nation, and nor should we confine ourselves in our response.
For two years, successive covenant implementation reports have highlighted the fact that armed forces champions have been appointed in each of Northern Ireland’s 11 local authorities. On the face of it that is great progress, but when we know that local authorities in Northern Ireland have no role or influence in housing, health—including mental health—or education, it amounts to nothing more than tokenism.
In the most recent covenant report, some space was given to the through-life support offered to our veterans community. I read with interest three pages about the great work being undertaken in England, a further page about the work undertaken in Scotland, and yet another about the work undertaken in Wales. There was not a single line about Northern Ireland. There was nothing: no encouraging progress, no hurdles to be overcome, no aspirations for the future.
When Border Force recruitment in Northern Ireland was suspended because one of the eligibility criteria was service in the armed forces, the tension between the covenant and equality legislation became all too apparent. There is a misguided belief that equality laws in Northern Ireland act as a barrier to providing for our veterans community. It would, of course, be hugely advantageous to amend section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to include veterans as a protected class, in line with the aims and aspirations of the covenant. More pronounced, however, is the embarrassing failure to mount any justification for the reasonable aims of the covenant, which is all that Border Force needed to do.
Rather than justifying the reasons why service in the armed forces was a sterling criterion, demonstrating key skills that would enhance an application from a veteran—which is what the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland sought—Border Force decided that it was better to remove veterans’ opportunity to serve their country once again. How dishonourable that was. Rather than advancing the cause of those applicants, Border Force pulled the rug from under them. They were prepared to defend our country in their armed service careers, and they were prepared to defend it again through service in Border Force, yet we in this Parliament did not manage to defend their future career prospects.
Given all the constraints, and the seemingly intractable unwillingness to overcome them, I must especially praise the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association for Northern Ireland, which seeks valiantly to serve our veteran population. I also pay tribute to the Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Irish Regiment benevolent funds, which continue to support veterans and their families, from Omagh to St Patrick’s in Ballymena and from Thiepval to Palace Barracks in North Down at the edge of my constituency.
With its new veterans support officer, RFCA NI attempts to navigate the system in Northern Ireland and seeks to find subtle workarounds, but in doing so, it is unfolding the circumstances of scores of individuals who, unlike their mainland counterparts, have had no opportunity to avail themselves of the services that they require and expect and that we should provide. It is discovering a lack of resources and a lack of legislative support.
When I say that, I look at the Veterans Minister, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). I know of his personal commitment, and I know how much he has engaged in matters that do not arise solely in Northern Ireland. The issues raised by the fact that the covenant is not running smoothly apply throughout the United Kingdom. In the Defence Committee, we are identifying distinct differences in mental health provision and other support services in Scotland, Wales and England.
I believe we must say that no longer should our veteran population in Northern Ireland—and in other parts of this United Kingdom—remain with one hand tied behind their back. We owe them more than that. I have focused my remarks on Northern Ireland, but I know only too well that the principle applies across our nation. We have the chance to change that. At the very least, let this parliamentary process—through my quest for a statutory duty to implement the covenant—honour those who so gallantly honoured us.
Question put and agreed to.
That Gavin Robinson, Nigel Dodds, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Emma Little Pengelly, Dr Julian Lewis, Mrs Madeleine Moon, John Spellar, Leo Docherty, Mr Kevan Jones, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Ruth Smeeth and Jamie Stone present the Bill.
Gavin Robinson accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 March and to be printed (Bill 332).
With the leave of the House, we will debate motions 2 and 3 together.
I beg to move,
That the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following motion:
That the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.
These two statutory instruments will increase the value of lump sum awards payable under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 and the diffuse mesothelioma scheme, which was set up by the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008. Those schemes stand apart from the main social security benefits uprating procedure, and there is no legislative requirement to review the level of payments each year. None the less, I am happy to increase the amounts payable from 1 April this year by September’s consumer prices index of 2.4%.
The Government recognise the very great suffering of individuals and their families caused by the serious and often fatal diseases resulting from exposure to asbestos, coal dust and other forms of dust. The individuals affected may be unable to bring a successful claim for damages, often owing to the long latency period of their condition, but they can still claim compensation through these schemes.
I will briefly summarise the specific purpose of the two compensation schemes. The Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, which for simplicity I will refer to as the 1979 Act scheme, provides a lump sum compensation payment to those who have one of five dust-related respiratory diseases covered by the scheme, who are unable to claim damages from employers because they have gone out of business and who have not brought any action against others for damages. The five diseases covered by the 1979 Act scheme are diffuse mesothelioma, bilateral diffuse pleural thickening, pneumoconiosis and byssinosis, as well as primary carcinoma of the lung if accompanied by asbestosis or bilateral diffuse pleural thickening. The 2008 mesothelioma lump sum payment scheme widens the criteria for compensation to those who have contracted diffuse mesothelioma but who are unable to claim compensation for that disease under the 1979 Act scheme—for example, those people who were self-employed or whose exposure to asbestos was not due to work.
Payments under the 1979 Act scheme are based on the age of the person with the disease and their level of disablement at the time of their diagnosis. All payments for diffuse mesothelioma are made at the 100% rate. All payments under the 2008 scheme are also made at the 100% disablement rate and based on age, with the highest payments going to the youngest people with the disease. In the last full year, from April 2017 to March 2018, 3,680 people received payments under both schemes, totalling £49.2 million.
I am aware that the prevalence of diffuse mesothelioma is a particular concern of Members, given the number of deaths from this disease in Great Britain. It is at a historically high level. The life expectancy of those diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma is poor, with many people dying within 12 months of diagnosis. The disease has a strong association with exposure to asbestos, and current evidence suggests that around 85% of all mesotheliomas diagnosed in men are attributable to asbestos exposures that occurred through work. Our latest available information suggests that there will continue to be around 2,500 diffuse mesothelioma deaths per year before the number of cases begins to fall during the next decade, reflecting a reduction in asbestos exposures after 1980.
The Minister will be aware that Barrow and Furness has the highest number of asbestos-related cancer deaths in the whole of England and Wales. Is she aware of how many sufferers who were previously compensated under the scheme covering pleural plaques are now falling victim to terminal asbestosis and finding themselves ineligible for any compensation under these schemes? Does she not feel that that is unjust? Will she meet me and representatives of my community to discuss that?
I am always happy to meet colleagues from across the House if they have particular constituency issues or if people who really need support are falling between the cracks. There are three different schemes available to support people, and we are talking about two of them today. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to explore those issues and to discuss the three compensation programmes to see whether there is more that we can do. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that people get the support to which they are entitled.
We expect to see a decline in the number of people being diagnosed with diffuse mesothelioma in the coming years, but many people will continue to develop the condition and the other respiratory diseases, based on their exposure, for some time to come. That is why the Government are committed to working in partnership with their arm’s length bodies and agencies to improve the lives of those with respiratory diseases. I want to give the House an example of that commitment.
Last summer, I hosted a lung health summit, bringing together the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, my hon. Friends the Members for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) and for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and representatives from the British Lung Association and the NHS. This was an opportunity to discuss the important work that the Government and our partners are doing and to listen to the first-hand experiences and problems, brought to my attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood, that miners are encountering today as they try to get an appropriate diagnosis and therefore the financial support that we want them to receive.
A huge amount of work has been done as a result of that lung health summit, and I was delighted—as I hope everyone will be—to see that the recently published NHS long-term plan recognises the objective of improving outcomes for people with respiratory disease. The long-term plan sets out how the NHS will take action in a number of areas. This includes expanding programmes that support earlier diagnosis of respiratory diseases—including the pioneering lung health checks trialled in Manchester and Liverpool—and increasing access to proven treatments such as pulmonary rehabilitation. As part of the engagement process for the Government’s long-term plan, an NHS England respiratory oversight group has been created, which includes membership of the British Lung Foundation. In addition, NHS England has been working closely with the taskforce for lung health, which has also recently published its own five-year plan to improve lung health.
I want to take a few moments to talk about the work of the Health and Safety Executive in this regard. It does excellent work, the length and breadth of the country, but we seldom have an opportunity to reflect on that in this House. As a nation, we should be really proud of our long history of trying to prevent illness and injury at work. The very first factory inspectors were appointed under the Factory Act 1833 to prevent injury and overworking among child textile workers, and we have come a long way since then. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act came into force in October 1974 and the Health and Safety Executive was formed in January 1975. The HSE is now well established as a mature regulator with a mission to prevent work-related death, injury and ill health. This is borne out by the most recent published HSE statistics, which show a long-term downward trend in the rate of self-reported non-fatal accidents and fatal accidents to workers. Indeed, the UK consistently has one of the lowest standardised rates of fatal injury when compared with any other large economy.
Turning back to the importance of these regulations, I am sure we all agree that, while no amount of money can ever compensate individuals or their families for the suffering and loss caused by the diffuse mesothelioma and pneumoconiosis covered by the 1979 Act scheme, those who have those diseases rightly deserve some form of monetary compensation. Finally, I am required to confirm to the House that these provisions are compatible with the European convention on human rights, and I am happy so to do.
The Child Maintenance and other Payments Act 2008 made provisions for lump sum compensation payments to be made for those suffering from diffuse mesothelioma. It also made provisions for their dependants. The mesothelioma lump sum payments regulations laid before the House have uprated the lump sum payments for sufferers and their dependants by 2.4%. We welcome the fact that the Government have reviewed the rates in line with inflation, and we recognise that, as the Minister said, they are under no obligation to do so under the 2008 Act.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that covers the lining of the body’s organs. It is also almost exclusively caused by asbestos, when fibres have entered the lungs of sufferers and caused damage over time. The greater the exposure to asbestos, the more likely it is that someone will be at risk of mesothelioma. It can also affect those who have been indirectly exposed to asbestos. The victims of indirect asbestos exposure have been seeking justice through access to the diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme for some time, and the Government must seriously consider that matter.
It can take up to 40 years after the original exposure for mesothelioma symptoms to develop, and it is likely that the increase in the numbers of mesothelioma sufferers’ deaths in recent years is due to exposure that took place before the introduction of asbestos regulations in the 1970s. Mesothelioma has devastating effects on sufferers, as the Minister rightly said. For most victims, a diagnosis brings with it the inevitability of death, and one such death was that of my good friend, Brian Jamieson, who passed away in December. He was an active trade unionist who worked on Trafford Park, where he unfortunately acquired the disease. Tragically, only five in 100 people survive the cancer for more than five years after diagnosis.
The damage caused by asbestos is widely seen as one of the biggest public health crises in this country, ruining the lives not just of sufferers themselves, but of their families, friends and communities. The Department for Work and Pensions suggested that 53,000 people will die from mesothelioma between 2030 and 2037, and it is estimated that 2,500 people die every year as a result of the disease. The 2008 scheme provides a one-off payment to sufferers who have no occupational link to the disease or who are self-employed, including, for example, sufferers who live in close proximity to a workplace containing asbestos.
While Labour welcomes the regulations and the uprating of the lump sum payments, several serious issues remain. Alongside many campaigners, we are concerned about the disparity between lump sum payments made to dependants and those made to sufferers. It is unclear why dependants, who are themselves usually impacted by the effects of mesothelioma, receive so much less than sufferers. The difference in the amounts is stark. A mesothelioma sufferer aged 70 will receive £17,961 under the draft regulations. However, if the sufferer dies at aged 67 or over, their dependants receive just £8,000 as a lump sum payment. In 2010, the then Minister, Lord McKenzie of Luton, rightfully pledged to equalise payments, noting the unfair nature of the regulations. The Government have faced repeated calls to honour that commitment, but they have failed to do so. This is also an equality issue. The difference in payments is likely to affect mainly women whose husbands were directly exposed to asbestos at work. How can the Government continue to justify the difference between lump sum payments? Will the Minister tell us the most recent estimated cost of providing equal payments for sufferers and their dependants?
Communities are still being affected by asbestos exposure to this day, and exposure results in an estimated 5,000 deaths every year. The all-party group on occupational safety and health estimated that, shockingly, 75% of the 29,000 schools in Britain contain asbestos, so it is vital that we continue to raise awareness. What additional funding will be made available this year to ensure that we continue to make people aware of the dangers of exposure to asbestos? What campaigns are being run by the Health and Safety Executive about asbestos exposure?
As the Minister noted, the HSE plays a vital role in ending harmful exposure to asbestos, but this Government are responsible for a 40% cut to its budget. By this year, it is estimated that the HSE will receive £100 million less in Government funding than it did in 2009, and that comes despite estimates that 12,000 people are dying each year as a result of occupational cancers or lung diseases. Will the Minister conduct an impact assessment of the cuts to HSE funding on occupational health? Will she end the devastating cuts to the HSE? When will the HSE get the “austerity is over” cheque that the Prime Minister promised?
Labour also welcomes the regulations to increase lump sum payments to pneumoconiosis sufferers in line with inflation. We have further noted that the Government are under no statutory obligation to do so. The pneumoconiosis regulations refer to the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, which provided lump sum payments to people disabled by dust-related diseases, including as a result of asbestos exposure and coal mining. Statistics show that there are an average of 140 deaths a year as a result of the disease. While we welcome the uprating under the regulations, the Government have failed to ensure that there is parity between the amounts offered to sufferers and to their dependants. Will the Minister finally act to ensure that there is parity between the two groups?
Sufferers of pneumoconiosis and their families have to go through onerous and often expensive hurdles in order to receive payments from the Department for Work and Pensions. A number of problems prevent people from receiving the support they deserve, including a lack of specialist knowledge about work-related diseases and issues with the DWP assessments. Will the Minister meet my colleagues and the National Union of Mine- workers to discuss changes to ensure that sufferers and their families are not prevented from receiving vital support for this incurable disease? Information about the disease is not widespread, and the disease is hard to diagnose because it does not show up on two-dimensional X-rays. Will the Minister tell us how much funding is going into promoting awareness of the disease?
The lump sum payment is a form of industrial injuries disablement benefit. Under universal credit, IIDB counts as unearned income, reducing the UC award. Under tax credits, the lump sum payment is disregarded completely. Sufferers and dependants on tax credits therefore stand to lose out if they naturally migrate on to universal credit. Will the Minister act immediately to ensure that no sufferer will lose out in this way? No impact assessment has been made of the effectiveness of either scheme, and nor have the Government consulted trade unions about how best to compensate those who have lost out. Will the Minister act immediately to do so and provide an equality impact assessment on this most vital area of support?
My hon. Friend is making some important points—I am sorry that more Members are not in the Chamber to hear them. There is real anger in former coal mining constituencies such as mine about the failure to pay out. People fought hard to get compensation in the first place—it took years and years of effort. Were it not for the previous Labour Government, we would have a lesser scheme than the present one. I support what my hon. Friend says, and we must give proper answers to the sufferers of pneumoconiosis and their families.
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I have family members who were miners until they were put out of work, so I completely agree.
Labour welcomes the support available to sufferers and the uprating of the provisions, but it is clear that issues remain. I urge the Minister not only to ensure that equal treatment of sufferers and dependants is achieved, but to consider the implications of Government cuts and the introduction of universal credit for sufferers throughout the UK.
I welcome the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 and the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2019. I understand that both schemes, which will ensure fair and timely payments to those with asbestos-related diseases, fall outside the general benefits uprating process and that, as such, no review mechanism is formally built into legislation to uprate the payments each year.
The Government’s 2.4% increase in the payments is very welcome and rightly demonstrates an ongoing commitment to supporting those suffering from asbestos-related diseases, many of whom contracted the disease through no fault of their own, and their families. For reasons that will become apparent, I wonder whether a future statutory instrument will include a table of occupations or professions—the regulations include a helpful breakdown of the ages of those with mesothelioma at first diagnosis—as that would help to identify those at risk and could perhaps be cross-referenced with other areas of support for those suffering from mesothelioma, where necessary.
Five years and one month ago, our former colleague from Wythenshawe and Sale East, Paul Goggins, tragically and suddenly passed away. Paul and I had tabled several cross-party amendments to the Bill that became the Mesothelioma Act 2014, and colleagues on both sides of the House will agree that his expertise and compassion have been and continue to be a great loss. He was the driving force behind much of the work on mesothelioma, and the ongoing success of the scheme is testament to his commitment to the issue and a fitting legacy for him as a parliamentarian.
I was the Minister responsible for taking the Mesothelioma Act through Parliament and, despite the restrictions I was under, Paul was an enormously useful knowledge base. At times I went back to my civil servants and said, “No, I have facts from people who were involved in this.” That was very useful, and the House should recognise the work of Paul Goggins.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s intervention. I still have the Christmas card that Paul gave to me just before we rose for Christmas in 2013, in which he started, “Dear fellow meso warrior”. He was passionate about this, and it was a real privilege to have tabled amendments in his name—obviously, he was unable to be here to push them through.
We were successful during the passage of the Mesothelioma Act—with the support of colleagues on both sides of the House and in the other place, led by Lord Alton of Liverpool—in aligning payments with the 100% average civil damages. I am therefore sure that, like me, Paul would have welcomed the Minister’s written ministerial statement of 23 January on the diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme which confirmed, thanks to the excellent work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), that the levy to be charged for 2018-19, payable by the insurance industry to fund the scheme, will be just short of £40 million.
Since the launch of the scheme in 2014, £130 million has been paid in compensation to almost 1,000 sufferers—that is £130 million that was not previously available to those suffering from mesothelioma who are not covered by the alternative schemes and unable to trace their employer’s liability insurance. I am grateful to the efforts of everyone in the House, including the late Paul Goggins and my right hon. Friend, who was the Minister at the time, in helping to provide such compensation for those who would not have had it previously.
Having worked with long-suffering officials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for three and a half years as a Minister, I will take a second to praise the oversight committee’s annual report on the scheme. The report is well set out and tells us everything we need to know in a clear and transparent way, so I thank the officials who worked hard on it.
One amendment that Paul and I were sadly unsuccessful in adding to the legislation would have introduced an additional levy on the insurance industry to fund research into mesothelioma. It remains the case, as it has for decades, that mesothelioma is poorly understood and underfunded. We know it has a long latency period and is an incredibly aggressive form of lung cancer, and we also anticipate a future spike in diagnoses, with Medway a particular hotspot for the disease given its rich shipbuilding and industrial heritage. I am pleased that Medway clinical commissioning group is working with the local hospital to review its respiratory pathways, including the care of lung cancer patients, and the CCG is keen to be in the next round of lung health checks because of the higher incidence of mesothelioma in the area.
As the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) said, we urgently need better to understand the disease. We need to work towards a meaningful treatment, and perhaps even a cure. Although I accept that this does not fall wholly within the remit of the Department for Work and Pensions, it is notable that the annual review shows that the levy scheme had a £3.45 million surplus last year. Following agreement with the insurance industry, the surplus was divided equally into the levy for the next three years. It might have been better to put that money into research, as while £3 million is small change in the insurance world, it is a lottery win for research. Again, that might be worth considering for next year. I would be grateful if, on the back of this debate, the Minister would write to me to elaborate on what work her Department is undertaking to engage the Department of Health and Social Care in better understanding the disease and improving outcomes for sufferers.
Asbestos in schools is an important topic. Although, again, this does not fall wholly within the remit of the DWP, it does have important implications for the various schemes the DWP administers for sufferers. In a 2015 Adjournment debate on asbestos in schools, I mentioned that the issue needed a cross-departmental effort led by the Department for Education through the Priority School Building programme. I would be grateful if the Minister could update us on any discussions she has had with DFE colleagues on the potential impact of asbestos in schools. For example, is any data shared on the profession of applicants to the asbestos-related schemes whose benefits are administered by her Department?
There is a huge amount to commend in the Government’s ongoing commitment to supporting those who suffer from mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases. I miss my meso partner in crime, Paul Goggins, enormously. Although he would agree that the progress should be celebrated, he would continue to say that there is always much more that can be done further to improve the outcomes for sufferers of this terrible disease.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate. The Whips Office asked me whether I would like to contribute because my constituency historically had a strong mining tradition, and I am particularly pleased to take part because 3,000 or so people lose their life to mesothelioma each year.
In August 2008 one of those who lost their life to the disease was John MacDougall, then the Member of Parliament for the constituency I have the privilege to represent. John was only 60 years old, and he should have had years and years of active life ahead of him. He had given 26 years of service to the people as a councillor and as a Member of Parliament, and for many years before that he had been a trade unionist. It is a tragic irony that while John, through his trade union activities, was working for safer working conditions for his colleagues at the Rosyth dockyard and, later, at the Methil oil rig yard he was working in an environment that led to his tragic early death, denying him and his family the active retirement he had a right to expect.
The last time I remember seeing John—as far as I know, it was the last public activity he was able to carry out—was at an event organised by a stalwart of Fife Council, Willie Clarke, as part of a campaign to get proper recognition and proper compensation for former miners and others whose lives were blighted by pneumoconiosis. It seems appropriate to mark both John and Willie today. Willie gave 43 years’ service as a councillor in Fife, and he retired in 2016.
I think the reason for these regulations today and for why there is a statutory compensation scheme for miners, plumbers and others who suffer from these terrible diseases, is the determination of people like Willie Clarke. As a councillor and as a National Union of Mineworkers official, he worked with other officials in the NUM and in other trade unions. Without them, I do not think we would have a statutory scheme today, so I pay tribute to Willie, the late John MacDougall and others who have gone before us. They deserve the credit for our having this scheme.
The scheme is not perfect, and it can be criticised, but it has to be better than what we had before. Until we had a statutory compensation scheme, people had to take their employer through the courts. As the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) mentioned, the compensation to a family for the loss of a loved one is often much, much less than the compensation paid to a patient who has to live with the consequences of their illness. That fact has been abused mercilessly by employers and others for decades. Often the reason for delays and so-called “complications” in compensation cases was purely down to the fact that the employer knew that if they could keep the case going until the claimant died, the size of any compensation payment would be significantly reduced. This was an insidious, vile and evil way to treat people, when they had often given years of service to companies, but that was what the business interests of employers often dictated. Again, I pay tribute to those who have helped to make sure that such a situation has been significantly improved. It has not been entirely sorted out, but things are better than they were in years gone by.
My grandad, Peter Quinn, whose name I am proud to bear, died when I was 10. I only remember him as an old man, one who was usually sick. He had to get a downstairs bathroom installed in his house and convert a front room into a bedroom because he could not get up and down the stairs. He could hardly walk the length of his garden—that is what I remember of him—but he was not much older than I am today. He had been a plumber all his days, which is clearly what caused the damage to his lungs and ended his life prematurely, as it ended the lives of tens of thousands, and possibly millions, of hard-working people the length and breadth of these islands. Those who are left behind and still have to live with the consequences of these appalling diseases deserve all the help we can give them, as do their families and loved ones.
I certainly support the proposal being put forward today. I was not surprised, because I already knew this, but it was disappointing that the Minister said there is not a statutory entitlement for these payments to be increased by the rate of inflation every year. Why is there not? Surely it is time to say to these people, “We think that the compensation that people like you will get in five years’ time should be worth the same in real terms as the money you are getting just now.” It should not need a decision of Parliament to accept—or, in theory, to reject—that increase. This is not money given to people to let them live in luxury. It is given to people as inadequate compensation for the loss of many years of their life and, very often, for the loss of quality life during the years they have left. We are talking about the people who made this collection of nations what it is. We would not have the economy we have today were it not for the shipyards in places such as Burntisland, which John MacDougall represented for so long, and for the mines, which produced massive wealth for so few, but which also destroyed the lives and livelihoods of so many. It is therefore appropriate that we continue to operate this compensation scheme and give, as an absolute minimum, an increase that allows people to keep pace with inflation.
However, I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to amending the legislation so that in future these increases in benefits can be made automatically. There should not be any option for this House to impose what would, in effect, be a reduction in real terms. I support the inflationary increase now, but I hope that by this time next year this increase, and perhaps a wee bit more, will be given automatically as a matter of right and not at the discretion of this House.
I rise in support of both these statutory instruments, which are sensibly being taken together, not least because we can now talk about the need to compensate people because of two basic products: coal and coal dust; and asbestos. This country got its wealth from coal, as men went down the mines to bring the coal out. For centuries, the wealth it provided put this country where it was. Asbestos was the great invention post-war, the insulating product that saved many lives, not least in fire prevention and insulation. Subsequently, however, it has destroyed millions of lives in this country today.
I am supporting the Minister today. I sat on the Bench where she is, taking these original measures through. I will make some more arguments in a moment, but at that time I made exactly the argument that the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) just made: why is this increase not automatically put through? I do not think there is an answer to that; I think this is just about bureaucracy and red tape. When the Bill was introduced all those years ago it was not perfect, as Bills often are not. There was so much happiness that that compensation Bill was brought through by the Labour party that things were missed or, as was my experience when I brought through the Bill that became the Mesothelioma Act 2014, people said, “It is too difficult. We don’t have the information at the moment. It can’t quite be done in that way.” I will touch on that in a moment. Such a measure would need primary legislation, but it could be tagged on to the many, many social security Bills that this House sees regularly—if we get the long title right, that can be done.
I know that the Minister will be listening, not only to me, but to Members from across the House, as, rightly, that is how she is as a Minister. So, first, I ask her to say to her officials, “This should be the last time that this is done this way.” This House can find time, if it really wants to, to right a wrong. There is no way in the world this House will say no to the uprating, so let us be pragmatic and sensible about it. I know that the officials in the Box will be sitting there thinking, “That Penning is going on again, just like he did when he was a Minister”, but what I am saying is right.
I wish to touch on a trivial point that the shadow Minister made: it is not “fibres” that cause mesothelioma, but fibre; something so small it would sit on the end of my finger will, 40 years from now, almost certainly kill people if it develops. No one understands why, and I will address that in moment. The public need to understand that this could affect people working in a school, a shipyard or myriad other occupations, including my former occupation of fireman. We were completely unprotected when we were going in to pull ceilings down, and turn things over and damp things down so that they did not reignite. Often there would be asbestos there, and we knew that. But we were the lucky ones, I think, because we were protected by the Fire Brigades Union, the union I was a member and branch secretary of; I recall being thrown out of the Labour party for a few years because we were too militant at the time. For me, as a trade unionist, this issue was very important, as firemen have died from asbestos-related diseases.
We have talked about the mines. Miners, often generation after generation after generation, put their lives at risk to go down the mines. Should we have learnt from the dangers? I agree that in some cases we should have done, but in other cases we did not really know. I used to live just down the road from a coal merchants, and as lads we often used to go to earn a bit of pocket money by filling the sacks. The coal dust there was not that much different from that in a mine, although the work was not as arduous as working down a mine. Did we realise, and did they realise, that this could seriously damage our lungs in the future? Of course not. So we need to learn from the past, and we have rightly done so.
I was enormously proud to bring through this House, as the Minister, the 2014 Act, which compensates people in cases where we cannot find their insurer and their employer, and where they were the missing few. I was lobbied heavily by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and by Paul Goggins and others to make it 100% rather than the 80% that was initially proposed, and to include third parties. Let us just think for a minute about what “third party” means. It often means the partner. It often means the wife of someone who worked in a shipyard and came home in his overalls covered in asbestos, which she then washed and hung out on the line. Is it right that we do not make sure that she has just as much, and that those families and those kids have just as much? The kids playing in the yard where those overalls were hanging could have been affected, but let us hope that has not happened. Could we, as was suggested in the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, have written into the legislation that research should be part of the funding? I was told by my officials that we could not guarantee the money and we must not jeopardise the Bill, but that we could come back to that later. Well, here we are now, later. I stood at that Dispatch Box and said that if there was money there from the levy, that would be used for compensation. I said that on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, on the Treasury Bench, as the Minister, with full authority from the Government. That should be now be happening. There was clearly enough for the 100% compensation based on the average for those who had found an employer or insurer, and we now have a golden opportunity to say that the money is there. The insurers will say, “We can’t guarantee this,” but they said that before, and it is based on a levy.
We are not even talking about taxpayers’ money; it is a fund, and we could use it to do two things. First, if possible, we could find a cure and work out exactly what is going to go on. In retrospect, that will save lives and stop people needing money from the levy fund in the first place. I am no longer confident—hindsight is a wonderful thing—about the figures that were put in front of me and that this will taper off in the way predicted. I am not convinced about that because it involves too many industries and professions that are completely different from what we thought in the first place. We were looking at shipyards and plumbing, where asbestos was used extensively as insulation, but, as the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) mentioned, there are currently teachers in schools who are not allowed to put a drawing pin into the wall for fear of moving the asbestos fibres. When it is in place, asbestos is perfectly safe; the issue is when it is moved. There are also hospitals to consider. There is one in Watford that looks after my constituency and dates back to before Victorian times. I am told that rather than build a new hospital, they are going to plough loads of money into that one to regenerate and refurbish it. We know that the asbestos in that hospital is a major problem. Why are we treating people in hospitals where we know that asbestos and dilapidation are issues? We need to protect the public as much as possible and make sure that the compensation schemes are there.
Before I finish, let me touch on the Health and Safety Executive, for which I was responsible as a Minister back in 2014, and which does a remarkable job. At the time, we looked carefully at how it was funded, and almost all its funding came from the central departmental funding stream. It is relatively different now: the Health and Safety Executive is a world leader in health and safety and brings a huge amount of money into the country’s economy, because we have freed it up to be able to do that. That does not mean that outside money should pay for everything. I am absolutely sure that the Health and Safety Executive needs to do the best possible job.
In 2005, my constituency was blown up by the Buncefield explosions—the largest fire and explosion in this country since the second world war. The Health and Safety Executive was absolutely brilliant. We were very lucky that no one died, and that meant that the Health and Safety Executive was responsible for the inquiry. As the constituency MP, I gave the Health and Safety Executive a pretty rough time, as everybody would expect me to have done, to get answers. In many ways, the Health and Safety Executive got those answers, and it was a privilege to be the Minister responsible for it some five years later.
I want to tell the Minister and the House a little about the life of Jack Hordon, who was until recently one of my constituents. Sadly, Mr Hordon died in December last year after a life in which he had worked in Barrow shipyard and in the merchant navy on behalf of the New Zealand Shipping Company. He was similar to many thousands of my constituents over the years, and similar to many people in shipbuilding areas and coalmining towns who served their families and their communities. They provided for themselves and their families, but in Barrow shipyard they also did a service for the nation by building vessels that went to war and the submarine fleets that have kept our nation safe for many years. Sometimes because of a lack of knowledge and often because of employers’ lack of care for their employees at the time, those people were exposed and unwittingly exposed their families—including their children, as the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) rightly described—to this deadly killer that sometimes lay quiet for decades until it struck and took away their lives in the most cruel and painful circumstances.
I raise Mr Hordon’s case partly because his life is representative of so many, but also because of the particular gap and injustice exposed by his recent experience. I am very proud to be the successor of Lord Hutton of Furness. He now sits in the other place but was the previous Members of Parliament for Barrow and Furness. He was the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in the previous Labour Government, when I was privileged to serve as his special adviser, and he was determined to speed up access to justice for mesothelioma sufferers and to stop the terrible situation in which there were delays in many sufferers getting their compensation payments, as previous speakers have described.
While Lord Hutton was serving in government, there was also a debate about pleural plaques. After he left the post, he privately lobbied his successor in the Department not to close the scheme and to remain alive to the potential pitfalls of the Government’s approach to pleural plaques. The window for claiming pleural plaques compensation was closed in 2007, and there was a debate about that at the time. Mr Hordon fell ill in 2017 and was diagnosed in August that year as a sufferer of malignant mesothelioma. For 20 years, he had been the full-time carer of his wife of 65 years. Throughout their life—all the time that she suffered from severely debilitating disabilities—they had never claimed. He had always worked assiduously to provide for the family so that they could stand on their own feet. When he fell ill, there was severe distress in the family at his no longer being able to perform that role. Mrs Hordon was forced to go into emergency care, which became permanent, at great distress to her and to the family.
The financial burden and the uncertainty meant there was a real imperative to seek mesothelioma compensation. The initial contact with solicitors was positive. As was the experience of many Members’ constituents, the solicitors said that the case could be taken forward at the greatest possible speed. However, they soon came back with the discovery that Mr Hordon had previously made a claim for pleural plaques, and it turned out that he had signed that, on the strong advice of his solicitors at the time, as a full and final settlement. The family were left unable to claim. They went back over their experience, and Mr Hordon could remember that the advice he was given was that there was only a 1% chance of the pleural plaques worsening into a terminal condition. The solicitors advised him, in the words of the family, “to bite off the hand” of those offering it.
I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to a meeting because, clearly, this will not be an isolated case. Two issues arise from Mr Hordon’s tragic death and the circumstances around it: one is the injustice of him being denied the compensation that he needed every bit as much as anyone else who falls victim to such a condition; and secondly, there is a case for an inquiry into the practices around pleural plaques at the time. Mr Hordon’s family is clear that he cannot have been given proper advice by the solicitors and by those who were estimating the chances of his condition developing into something that was terminal. The fact is there was a financial incentive for some firms to use sharp practices: they wanted to seize the chance of cash without proper analysis of what the real risks were to people and what their circumstances might be in the future.
Mr Hordon and his family were clear that the risks were not properly spelled out to him. He cannot be alone in that. I speak on behalf of my own constituent and, as I said in my intervention on the Minister, of a constituency that has the highest number of asbestosis-related lung cancer deaths in the whole of England and Wales. I am sure that, potentially, the condition will affect many thousands more people across the country. Will the Government please agree to examine this issue so that there is the prospect of justice for people who find themselves in this situation?
I never thought that I would be involved in this debate at such a late stage in my life. I remember making my maiden speech. I had worked down the pits. There were 700 pits and 700,000 miners at the time. Those miners were very much responsible for assisting the nation both during the second world war and after. Those were very hard days in the mines, yet I finished up in this place, mainly because they wanted me to stop another Labour candidate from getting the seat. [Interruption.] That is the truth. I finished up in the palace of varieties, and here we are, many years later, discussing the very thing that I spoke about way back in 1970. It is almost like the Common Market coming back all over again—which it is.
I want to say from the outset that I agree with the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) and the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) who talked about the yearly increase. We do that for a lot of things in Parliament; we increase things automatically. When I think about this subject, I can say that there is no better reason for having an uprate in September, or whenever it is, in accordance with the increases that have taken place in inflation, in pensions and in quite a lot of other things. It would be excellent if, in these 90 minutes, we were able to get that message across. If we get the right kind of people at the Dispatch Box later, perhaps they will be able to give a nod and a wink in this direction. I have seized on this issue today mainly because it was raised by the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead from the Tory party and the hon. Member for Glenrothes from the Scottish National party.
I remember the time when mesothelioma was first raised in the House; it was raised by Mick Clapham, one of my colleagues from Barnsley. Unlike Lord Hutton, he is not in the House of Lords. I suppose that he should be—in a way. He was the one who came here with this funny sounding word that is very difficult for people to remember—mesothelioma. I remember thinking, “How does he manage to get it out of his mouth?” I had to practise saying the word at night. Yes, it is very important to remember Mick Clapham and the fact that he seized on this very important subject.
I remember Mick Clapham because for my sins—for which I have repented through my rebellions over the Mesothelioma Act 2014—I worked for the insurance industry. Mick was the bane of our lives, particularly around the subject of compensation not just for mesothelioma—for those who could not find their employers—but for pleural plaques. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to recognise the sterling work that he did to change hearts and minds among not just Labour Members but Conservative Members for the plight of those who suffer from asbestos-related diseases.
Yes, I will get on the phone to Mick and let him know about today’s events. Seriously, if I can tell him that there will be an automatic yearly increase, it will be a token to him and to all those who took part in that exercise at the time. I am very pleased to be here, and very pleased to be taking—
Yes, I will give way.
I just thought that it would be important to the House to put this on the record: I am sure that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) never thought that he would agree with me.
He has not said that he has yet.
Well, he has actually.
This is why this House is so important. We can come together and say what is right, what is wrong and what can be done. If we come together to put a little bit of pressure on the Minister—not so much at the Dispatch Box today because she will be dragged over the coals—the Secretary of State and the Treasury, we can simply say, “This must be easier for you as a Government, and rather than bringing this forward, we can unite on this.”
I could not agree more. The fact is that it would be a breath of fresh air away from Brexit. That is my selling point. This is something that the Government will be remembered for. I will tell Mick Clapham on the phone that it is on its way and all the rest of it. It is an exercise away from the torment of Brexit, which even I never thought would reach this stage of argument. I have been voting for about 10 or 15 years—almost on my own—against every treaty. When I used to walk into the Lobby, I would sometimes bump into our leader, and I would say, “What are you doing here?” I used to think that I should have been on my own. However, we are not arguing about that today, because we want to concentrate on this issue.
I want to commend my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) on the Front Bench who has put the case very well indeed. With all my experience of representing people in the pits, I know how difficult that can be. I want to ensure that we make something out of this, and that yearly increase would be marvellous.
I thank everybody who has taken part in this important mini debate. When we think about the problem of mesothelioma and asbestos, we realise just how lucky we are to escape from it. Many of us go through life never realising that we are so close to all these things. My father was the same; he worked for 50 years in the pit, and when he went for the pneumoconiosis tests, he was told that he had it but he did not qualify for the scheme because the level was less than 10%. I have found countless others who fell into the same trap. I ask the Minister to look at the question of pneumoconiosis, because although it would not make any difference to my father—he went a long time ago—the truth is that a lot of people need a helping hand in that regard. I was speaking to one today.
I thank everybody for taking part in this important debate. It means that people suffering from mesothelioma will be regarded in a different light than they were before. People will understand that they are not the forgotten few who have been left on the shelf. There are still thousands of people with pneumoconiosis, particularly in the mining areas and especially in Wales. I found out about the levels in Wales through my own experience working in the pits. It may have been because of the anthracite—I am not sure. It is pretty clear that miners in Wales mined a lot of anthracite, and pneumoconiosis levels there were sky-high compared with some other areas’ mining districts. That is something to remember.
I compliment everybody who has taken part in this debate. It is very important and it means a lot to the people who are suffering and hanging on, especially those with mesothelioma and those who have been affected by asbestos, with pleural plaques and everything else. Believe me, this condition is almost like a death sentence the moment that people get it. Pneumoconiosis is slightly different from a medical point of view.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way near the end of his speech. I just want to echo his thanks. It is 30 years and one month exactly to the day when my father died of mesothelioma, having served his apprenticeship at the docks in Glasgow and in Burma before then. He was not able to claim and my mother was not able to claim at the time because she did not know how to go about it, so I thank everybody for the work that has been done.
Well, the story goes on and if I can stay on my feet long enough, there will be some more. There is no doubt that mesothelioma has affected a lot of people, whereas pneumoconiosis was almost entirely connected to the mining districts. The truth is that this a killer disease, and we have to keep our eye on the issue and assist in all the ways that we possibly can, today and in the future. We shall all be on the phone to tell our friends that we managed to get this issue discussed and debated in a way that means it is not a static thing—that a lot of us have decided it would be a good idea to always remember them.
It is an absolute pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). He probably does not realise how much we have in common. It was wonderful to hear him talk about when he came into the House back in 1970, when the subject of his maiden speech was mining in his constituency. When I had the privilege of being elected to represent my home in Cornwall in 2010, the subject of my maiden speech was very much my community and my ancestors, who were Cornish miners. They were mining different things—minerals, tin in particular—but of course suffered the same risks of exposure to dust. In our case it is silica dust rather than coal dust. I have always had the passion, as the hon. Gentleman does, to speak up for those people in my constituency and for my ancestors. My grandfather worked in the docks in Falmouth and was exposed to the very risks that so many hon. Members have spoken about this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Bolsover and others have asked why we are not automatically uprating these particular compensation schemes. Well, let me gently say that this debate makes a powerful case for why it is important that we do have an annual debate. I will absolutely think about what has been said about automatic uprating, but if we had automatically uprated the schemes this year and the provisions had gone through on a motion along with every other social security payment, would we have had the benefit of this debate? We have had the benefit of the hon. Gentleman reminding the House of the huge contribution of Mick Clapham. As he said, it is really important that we do not forget these things and that we do not forget the hard work that has been undertaken by colleagues from all over the House over many years. These are hard-won successes, so it is important that we take these opportunities to remember.
This really is about doing the right thing and working together. Obviously we have heard very powerful historical stories from Members right across the Chamber, but automatic uprating is the right thing to do.
Of course we want to do the right thing, which is why we are here today, uprating the scheme. However, we should pause to reflect on the fact that this debate has enabled us to look at this dynamic situation; the hon. Member for Bolsover was absolutely right to describe it as such. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) said that he has doubts about some of the forecasts around the schemes. We have also heard from other Members who want us to look at research and at what more we can do. If we did not have the opportunity of this debate, how would hon. Members have been able to raise those matters? I will seriously look at the question of an automatic uprating, but today has also proved the importance of giving hope to so many constituents through such a debate.
The Minister is being very generous and the House is listening very carefully because this is such an important debate. This House is not going to turn down the uprating—never would. But we could actually have a proper debate on this subject through the Backbench Business Committee or in Government time. Actually, half the things that we have been talking about today are nothing to do with what is actually on the Order Paper, with all due respect, Mr Deputy Speaker; we have been having a more general discussion. That is probably the answer. I accept that the Minister has to take this question away, but this is a golden opportunity to say that this House accepts that the scheme should be automatically uprated. We should then have a general debate on the issues, but that should not be a reason not to uprate the schemes.
My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. I have already committed to taking this matter away, but this debate has been very valuable. As we have seen from the quality and range of contributions, this debate has allowed the time for Members to raise a lot of important matters. Quite rightly, we have roamed far and wide, but this was an important debate none the less.
Following on from the comments of the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), with respect I do not think that the opportunity for us to talk to ourselves—and possibly to people watching—for an hour or so justifies the potential uncertainty for sufferers. Just now, they do not know how much they are going to get next year or the year after. I would quite happily forgo the chance to listen to my own voice for 10 minutes if I knew that my constituents could be certain for the rest of their lives that their payments would always keep up with inflation. This is the fourth time in three weeks that businesses has collapsed hours early, so there are plenty of other opportunities—through the Backbench Business Committee and elsewhere—to have these debates if Members so wish. I appreciate that the Minister cannot give a definite answer from the Dispatch Box just now, but I really hope that she will take this point back to her colleagues and come back with a positive answer at some point in the future.
I am happy to confirm what I have already confirmed to other hon. Members across the House—that I am absolutely happy to take that away and look at it.
I thank the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) for his support for these upratings. He asked me a number of questions that I would of course very much like to answer. Before doing so, I join him in paying respect to his constituent Brian Jamieson. One of the things the hon. Gentleman asked me about was engaging with unions. Of course, trade unions play a really vital role in our society. I have already had a meeting with the National Union of Mineworkers, together with the hon. Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock), where we talked about a range of issues that the hon. Gentleman raised today. I will continue that dialogue, as well as meeting the Union of Democratic Mineworkers too.
This debate reminds me of my own grandfather, George Winter, who suffered from pneumoconiosis. I cannot remember the exact percentage he had, but it was high, as was true of many miners in Tredegar in south Wales, where I am from. He was crushed in a pit fall in the Ty Trist colliery in Tredegar in his thirties. He had a broken femur and a crushed ribcage, and he was hospitalised for nine months. He always taught me, as I am sure that many Labour Members have been taught, that the trade unions were the most important vehicle for promoting good health and safety to make sure that people were respected and looked after at work.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for sharing with us the tragic case of his grandfather. That reminds us, as so many colleagues have done today, of the sacrifices that people have made in these essential industries. So much of what we look around at has been created by people who made the sacrifice of working in these very, very physically demanding and dangerous industries. He is right to remind us of the sacrifices that the families have made.
The hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) recognised—I join him in this—the work of Willie Clarke and John McDougall, and other NUM officials, in creating the schemes that we have before us today. He also talked about Peter Quinn, his grandfather, and his premature death as a result of exposure to asbestos. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) about his father, who died 30 years ago. That really shows how the exposure to these dusts has had such a catastrophic effect on so many people’s lives, not only in this House but across our country.
I am absolutely delighted that the former Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead, was able to join us today and speak so passionately, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). I recognise the really important contributions that they both made, as well as the former Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, in bringing in the 2014 diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme. As was so rightly pointed out, that filled the gaps in the schemes we are talking about today, meaning that many, many more people are getting financial support.
I want to add my own tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford—our meso warrior. This really shows the difference that individual Members of Parliament can make in this House by banding together with other colleagues to make such important changes to people’s lives. I take on board her very sensible suggestion that we look at the age of people when they are diagnosed as well as their occupation. We need to be constantly looking for new trends to make sure that we are aware of people working in new or different occupations who had hitherto been thought not to be so directly affected and who might benefit from these schemes. I know that she takes a particular interest in teachers and teaching.
I perhaps ought to put it on the record that, because of my passionate speech on Second Reading of the Mesothelioma Bill, when it was quite clear that I wanted to make changes to the legislation, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), as the Minister at the time, made sure that I was not put on the Bill Committee. Newer Members of the House looking to make a difference in this place should perhaps make a more anodyne contribution on Second Reading and then do their bit in Committee.
My hon. Friend is a doughty parliamentary campaigner, and she shares a very interesting tip with newer Members of the House.
I am very happy to take away my hon. Friend’s suggestion, which was powerfully backed up by the former Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead, that we should look at the surplus within the scheme, which is funded by a levy on the industry. Those surpluses could well be used for further research. I will take that away and look at it. It was rightly pointed out that we need to be very mindful of future projections about the numbers of people who might be affected to make sure that the scheme has adequate funding to meet any future unanticipated needs. I will look at that again to determine whether there is more that we could do on that.
I want to reassure the House on the two points raised about what more the Health and Safety Executive is doing to raise awareness of the risks of asbestosis, especially in schools. The Department for Education and the HSE have been working for long periods on what more can be done to be raise awareness of the good management of asbestos, whether in hospitals or in schools. The Department for Education has taken a real interest in this. There is now a new assurance scheme that started last March, and funding is made available through the Department for the upgrading of school facilities. We are making a lot of progress in assessing the risk and skilling people up to manage asbestos when they find it and then ultimately replace it. The Health and Safety Executive is always informing all the different workplaces of the risks of asbestos and what can be done to reduce them.
It is absolutely fair to say that the Health and Safety Executive has had to make efficiency savings in its budgets over the past few years. However, in no way, shape or form can one say that that is leading it not to be able to do its job well. When I meet the chief executive and the chairman, as I do regularly, they tell me that they have the resources that they need to keep people safe at work. We have only to look at the evidence of what is happening in workplaces to see that the HSE has been innovative and creative, working in partnership with others. As I said in my opening speech, there are far fewer people acquiring injuries, and having fatal injuries, at work. That is to the great credit of the Health and Safety Executive, as I think a lot of Members across the House have recognised.
Finally, there is the question of the equalisation of the sums that are paid out between the people who are directly affected by the conditions and their loved ones. The same issue is raised each time this debate is held. The Government’s view is that it is most important that the funding is given to the people with the condition who would most benefit from it. Of course, I fully understand that families can be devastated and very badly affected, but there is still the recognition that they are able to get compensation, even if it is not at the same level. When we have to make decisions about how we use our precious resources—the taxpayers’ money that is available—it is only right that we target that money by giving it to the people to whom it can make the biggest difference.
We have had a really excellent debate in which we have managed to raise a lot of issues around the health service, education, the Health and Safety Executive, and research. I am very grateful for Members’ contributions and for the support across the House for these very important schemes that are having a very positive impact on people’s lives. I look forward to working with Members who have asked to meet me on how we can work even more closely together and make an even more positive contribution.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.
That the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.—(Sarah Newton.)
Business without Debate
With the leave of the House, we shall take motions 4 to 8 together.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),
Exiting the European Union (Private International Law)
That the draft Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 12 December 2018, be approved.
Exiting the European Union (Financial Services)
That the draft Financial Markets and Insolvency (Amendment and Transitional Provision) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 13 December 2018, be approved.
Exiting the European Union (Diamond trading)
That the draft Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 20 December 2018, be approved.
Exiting the European Union (Road Traffic)
That the draft Drivers’ Hours and Tachographs (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 14 January, be approved.
That the draft Buckinghamshire (Structural Changes) (Modification of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 14 January, be approved.—(Michelle Donelan.)
Question agreed to.
The future of maintained nursery schools
I am always proud to represent my constituency of Haslingden and Hyndburn, and I certainly am this evening, in presenting this petition for Fairfield Nursery in Accrington West. I visit Fairfield quite regularly. It is an outstanding nursery within a deprived community, and it provides high-quality provision to a very high standard. Like most Members who are presenting petitions on this issue, the nurseries in my constituency are excellent or outstanding and often cater for the most vulnerable children and children with needs—children who require the highest quality of support, which may be withdrawn from them. Fairfield faces numerous other problems. I want the Government to understand that this is about not just the unfair funding formula, but numerous other issues. I present this petition on behalf of the parents, careers, staff and governors of Fairfield maintained nursery school in Accrington, and there are 89 signatories to it.
Following is the full text of the petition:
[The petition of the parents, careers, staff and governors of Fairfield maintained nursery school in Accrington
Declares that we are concerned about the future of maintained nursery schools in England after March 2020 as no guarantee has been given by government that adequate funding will continue when supplementary funding ends.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons to urge the government to take action to ensure nursery schools are financially sustainable for the future.
And the petitioners remain, etc.]
I rise to present this petition relating to the future secure funding of state-maintained nurseries on behalf of Great Coates Village Nursery School, which is one of two outstanding nurseries in my constituency. This is the second time in my two-year campaign to save those nurseries that I have presented a petition to Government. I have had meetings with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Ministers to discuss funding for state-maintained nurseries. Children, former students, parents, staff and the local communities in Scartho and Great Coates place great value in these welcoming and cherished early years providers, which are sometimes the only settings that will take physically and learning disabled children and provide them with a high level of education in a suitable environment, where all children play and learn together, regardless of their background, ability or disability. I urge the Government to recognise that there is no time to waste when it comes to the funding of state-maintained nurseries. I present this petition, to which there are 81 signatories, on behalf of parents, carers, staff and governors of Great Coates Village maintained nursery school in Grimsby.
Following is the full text of the petition:
[The petition of the parents, carers, staff and governors of Great Coates Village maintained nursery school in Grimsby.
Declares that we are concerned about the future of maintained nursery schools in England after March 2020 as no guarantee has been given by the Government that adequate funding will continue when supplementary funding ends.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons to urge the Government to take action to ensure nursery schools are financially sustainable for the future.
And the petitioners remain, etc]
The delivery of Brexit
I would like to present a petition on behalf of my constituents about delivering a
“Brexit which people voted for.”
The petition is so heavy and so many people—thousands—have signed it, that the Doorkeeper kindly brought it into the Chamber and took it out. It is the first time that a petition has had such a large number of signatures that I have had to do that.
The lead names on the petition are Andy Mercer, chairman of Wellingborough Conservative Association; Helen Harrison, chair of Corby and East Northamptonshire Conservative Association; and John Vickers, president of Wellingborough Conservative Association. They are all not only long-standing Conservatives but devoted to the local community. If I read the petition, Members will see why my residents are so enraged.
The petition, to the honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, states:
The Humble Petition of the residents of Wellingborough, Northamptonshire and the surrounding areas,
That the Petitioners believe that the Brexit that they voted for should be adhered to by Her Majesty’s Government. This includes, ending the free-movement of people from the EU and control immigration, stop sending billions and billions of £s each year to Brussels, make our own laws in our own country, judges by our own judges.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges the Prime Minister to take in account the concerns of petitioners and deliver a Brexit which people voted for.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.
The future of maintained nursery schools
As the former long-standing chair of the Campaign for Real Nursery Education, I am pleased to present a petition on behalf of parents and staff at the Portman nursery in Church Street, which is one of the most deprived communities in the whole country, with a long history of providing superb and integrated nursery education for children. The Portman, the Mary Paterson and the Dorothy Gardner nurseries in my constituency were prototypes for the original model of children’s centres, but they are now sadly again struggling with an undermining of their funding. That is doing so much to diminish the excellent quality of early years experience, which we should be cherishing, rather than diluting. I am pleased to support the parents, as I have done for a great many years, and to urge the Government to ensure that we cherish our centres of excellence and do not diminish the quality of education they provide.
Following is the full text of the petition:
[The parents, carers, staff and governors of Portman Early Childhood Centre maintained nursery school in London
Declares that we are concerned about the future of maintained nursery schools in England after March 2020 as no guarantee has been given by the Government that adequate funding will continue when supplementary funding ends.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons to urge the Government to take action to ensure nursery schools are financially sustainable for the future.
And the petitioners remain, etc]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Michelle Donelan.)
I rise to open this five-hour Adjournment debate—that was a joke, Mr Deputy Speaker. This debate is certainly timely, given that on Monday this week we celebrated the 20th anniversary of World Cancer Day, and many Members will have attended the event held by Cancer Research UK in Portcullis House this morning. It is timely given the more than welcome announcement by the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care of record investment coming into the national health service. It is timely because we have the Government’s welcome and focused cancer strategy. It is timely because at no other time in our history have Government and health campaigners and providers had a greater communication platform to reach out to members of the public and explain, inform and educate. Finally, this debate is also timely because this week, under the auspices of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who has considerable nursing experience, we have seen the launch of the all-party parliamentary group on male cancers, including prostate cancer.
We need to recognise that cancer is still feared in this country. Terms such as “battle, “fight” and “lost the crusade” against cancer are used in countless obituaries, which testifies to that fear. I hope that we all take heart from the commitment in this important health area shown by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine). That should provide us with a reservoir of optimism about the seriousness and determination of the Department on these issues.
It may just be something to do with my sex—I am not sure—but all the statistics and all the anecdotes tell us that men appear to have a greater aversion to going to the doctor and asking questions about their health than our female counterparts, and certainly anything below the waist is to be avoided at all costs because it is going to be painful, embarrassing and undignified.
I pause for a moment to reflect on the absolute honesty that we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), and indeed the clarity of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box during a recent Prime Minister’s questions, about cervical cancer testing—admitting some of the inhibitions, but, given the importance, exhorting people to take those tests. I do not think that I hear such exhortations and frank honesty from men about this health issue.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for his leadership and for securing this important debate. I have been along to the World Cancer Day event today, where I was told that more than a third of cancer cases can be prevented, and another third can be cured if detected early and treated properly. The message he is sending out today is really important for us to share across the whole country.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I will turn to diagnosis in a moment.
Let me return to the point I made a moment or so ago about fear. We will all have had family and close friends experience being given a diagnosis of prostate cancer or, indeed, other cancers, and the first thing is always to face that in a very black mood and think that there is absolutely no cure. However, we know that there are scientists—clever men and women—striving every day to find such cures. Indeed, life expectancy post an early diagnosis is of course getting better and better. Rightly, we place huge emphasis on breast and cervical cancers, but I suggest to the Minister that, in the shape of male cancers, we need to up the game in communication and education as well.
Some statistics on prostate cancer, provided by Prostate Cancer UK, may be of help to the House. Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in our country: 47,000 men are diagnosed each year. One in eight men will get prostate cancer, and every 45 minutes one man dies of it in our country. Men over 50—I turned 50 this year, so I do not know whether—[Hon. Members: “No.”] I know; it is almost impossible to believe. I am not sure whether I should therefore declare an interest, but men over 50 are more prone to it, particularly if they have a family history.
A statistic I have learned—I am yet to find any particular reason for it—is that black men are far more at risk of contracting prostate cancer: one in four will get it. Someone’s risk of prostate cancer is heightened—again, this was a new fact to me—if their mother or their sister has had breast cancer. I wonder how many people recognise that and see that, if a female in the family is diagnosed with breast cancer, that should act as a spur for them to go and have a test. In 2016, 11,631 men died of prostate cancer in the UK alone.
At our party conference last year, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:
“The key to boosting your chance of surviving cancer is early diagnosis… Through our Cancer Strategy, we will increase the early detection rate… We will do it by…investing in the very latest scanners.”
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important Adjournment debate. As well as early diagnosis, this is about people’s awareness that they themselves may possibly have the symptoms. When my husband was diagnosed, he just thought he had a chill. Unfortunately, his is incurable, but he thought no more about it than that he had a chill. An even more important issue than having screening is that we should be aware of our bodies.
The hon. Lady makes an incredibly telling point, because unless people know what the full range of symptoms are, they do not really know what they should be thinking and whether one of those symptoms or a combination of them should actually trigger a visit to their doctor in the first instance. I think she is absolutely right that we need a better understanding.
This goes back to a point I made a moment or two ago. Because this is a below-the-waist issue and we men get frightfully embarrassed about those sorts of things, we are inclined to say that it might just be something else or that it will pass, and so on. However, for too many people, it is left too late to have any meaningful, beneficial outcome as and when they eventually go to see their GP and then trigger the referral process.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we can concentrate on all the negatives, but we have to get across that people are surviving and, more than surviving, actually living well? We have to present that because, with some cancers, there is still the idea that if someone gets it, “Well, that’s it then”.
Order. May I just read out the deferred Division result?
We wait with bated breath.
I have now to announce the result of today’s deferred Division. In respect of the question relating to long- term investment funds, the Ayes were 302 and the Noes were 262, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
I must inform the House that there were errors in calculating the number of votes of Members for English and Welsh constituencies and for English constituencies in Divisions yesterday on the police grant and the local government finance report. On the police grant, the figures for the England and Wales-only vote should not have been announced as 289 for the Ayes and 242 for the Noes; they should have been announced as— Ayes 289 and Noes 244. On the local government finance report, the figures for the England-only vote should not have been announced as 270 for the Ayes and 208 for the Noes; they should have been announced as— Ayes 270 and Noes 206. The results are unaffected.
A restless nation will sit easier in their armchairs knowing that, and we are grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for your public service announcement.
To respond to the intervention from the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), I think he is absolutely right that we—not just Ministers, but health practitioners and all of us in our communities—need to stress again and again the widening range of treatments, the recovery rates and the extra lifespan one can have after early diagnosis and treatment. I suppose it is a perfectly legitimate historical response to have to such a diagnosis, but we need to end once and for all people saying, “Well, that’s it. I’ve had my chips.” To say, “You know, let’s see what we can do with the rest of it”, and in effect give up, is absolutely the worst thing that one could do.
May I raise the subject of diagnosis with the Minister? To pause there, I am not saying this to ingratiate myself with my hon. Friend, but the understanding and sensitivity that he brings to these issues and, indeed, to his wider portfolio commands respect across the House. I think we are very lucky to have him, and I am particularly pleased that my hon. Friend is the Minister replying to this debate.
On that point, I had the privilege of attending an event that the Minister addressed a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck by the passion with which he spoke about this subject. I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend has said about the Minister’s commitment. In passing, I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important Adjournment debate, and may I assure him that, when it comes to fighting prostate cancer, this is something on which he and I see absolutely eye to eye?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I think we both stand at roughly 5 feet 6 or 7 inches, although I might be slightly taller than him when he is in his stocking feet. I get his reference and it is delightful to see eye to eye with him.
I wonder what you two want out of the Minister, given that you are giving him so much praise. Having said that, I am sure the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) will agree that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has sometimes been slow in making progress on treatments, as we have seen with other health problems. I echo his words that, simply put, men just do not like to tell anybody when they are not well. When people tell me that they have an illness like prostate cancer, they often say, “But don’t tell anybody.” The big problem is getting men to realise that they have to do something early, and the person who finds the answer to that very difficult issue will have done a great service.
I agree. In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, which I presume was rhetorical, I just want the Minister to carry on with the excellent work he is doing. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to blow away the cloak of secrecy and, sometimes, shame and embarrassment. No family represented in this House will not have heard an aunt or an uncle say, in slightly hushed tones and that silent mouthed way, best exemplified by Les Dawson, that they have the big C. It is as though they cannot quite bring themselves to annunciate the word, in case it brings a plague upon their house. We have to brush all that away.
I am absolutely determined to get on to the issue that I want the Minister to address, which is what I was trying to do about 16 interventions ago. I urge him to grasp the opportunity—provided not least by the additional funding—for efficient, cost-effective and easier diagnosis. I appreciate that there is a whole range of things in the marketplace, but during my research I have been particularly struck by the opportunities presented by the pre-biopsy multiparametric MRI scan. We have a problem, because while demand for MRI scans rose by 30% between 2013 and 2016, this country still has fewer MRI scanners per head of the population than other countries with comparable populations. The additional moneys available provide a golden opportunity to do something about that.
Of course, it is never just a question of cash and kit, so allied with that are the people who can use the kit. The workforce are key. In addressing the issue of money and the benefits it can provide, we should note that we will not realise its full potential if we are short on workforce. The 10% vacancy rate in the national health service cannot be allowed to become the norm. Prostate cancer patients need and would like more clinical nurse specialists, who have the empathy and expertise to provide comfort, hope and a guiding hand. It is difficult to recruit in any specialist nurse area, but that should not put us off the endeavour.
Likewise, we need a recruitment drive for more radiologists. Prostate Cancer UK estimates that an additional 23 to 31 radiologists are needed in the UK. The Royal College of Radiologists estimates that in the financial year 2016-17, a whopping £116 million was spent on the outsourcing and insourcing of radiological skills additional to core contracted hours. To put that in perspective, £116 million would buy about 1,300 full-time consultant radiologists.
As I have said, raising public awareness of prostate cancer—its signs, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment—is pivotal, but so too is the reinforcement of messages from the Department, NHS England and others to our general practitioners. We all know that there is a growing problem of finding people who are interested in and prepared to enter general practice. The myriad drugs that come on to market and myriad other conditions make the already demanding life of a GP ever more so.
I recently met Jim Davis, the chairman of the Dorset branch of the Prostate Cancer Support Organisation, a charity that covers Hampshire, Dorset and Sussex. It is run for men diagnosed with prostate cancer, by patients with prostate cancer. Last year, they held 23 free prostate-specific antigen testing events, which delivered those tests for 4,813 men. They have found that people are more inclined to go into that sort of environment than to their GP surgery. Their work involves—as a Hampshire Member of Parliament, the Minister may already know this—raising money, advertising the tests and hiring village halls and other places. Men then come and have the test, which is sent—in effect, the work is subcontracted—to the local hospital, which analyses it and sends back the results. I will not detain the Minister, but I could read out a whole legion of extracts from letters from grateful men who availed themselves of that opportunity and found their life chances and health much improved.
Although the national health service says that any man over 50 is entitled to a free PSA test, evidence suggests that some GPs—I stress the word “some”, but one is too many—are either unaware of that entitlement or express and demonstrate an unwillingness to refer. Last May, David Radbourne, the director of commissioning operations at NHS England South East, wrote in response to a letter from Jim, who had produced a list of affected patients:
“If there are individuals who feel they are being refused legitimate access to this test…please ask them to file a complaint through the appropriate NHS complaints process.”
I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that in those circumstances, people should not be forced to go through an NHS complaints process. Like other campaigners, I see a lacuna, or an information gap—call it what you will—among certain GPs, and I urge the Department to consider ways in which to plug it. That issue needs to be addressed quickly. The official in the Box is waving a piece of paper and the Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), is up on her feet with alacrity, as always.
The Public Health England advisory note, “Advising well men aged 50 and over about the PSA test for prostate cancer”, needs to be reviewed and updated. It states:
“GPs should use their clinical judgement”.
That is a pejorative term—it is an open term—so perhaps that language should be revisited. The approach needs to be a little more robust.
The hon. Gentleman is making a really important point. I am over 50, but I did not know about the test. Does he know how many men over 50 as a proportion of the population have had the test?
I am sure that I have come across that figure in my research, but I do not have it to hand. However, as I mentioned in my introductory remarks, the platforms to inform, encourage and educate us all as health citizens, for want of a better phrase, that we seem to avail ourselves of very much relate to—this is not a criticism; it is perfectly correct—cervical cancer, breast cancer and other cancers. The opportunity presented by additional funding and by the very welcome cancer strategy should now allow us all to give—I do not know whether this is quite the right phrase—parity of esteem between male and female cancers. Cancer has a devastating effect on family irrespective of which member has it. I am afraid I cannot answer that query, but the Minister may have that figure. As it is an entitlement, I urge as many men over 50 as possible to see it as routine and regular as going to the optician or the dentist.
In conclusion, with the cancer strategy, fantastic levels of funding and the active commitment, energy and understanding shown by Ministers in the Department, now is the time to make positive progress.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. Here we are again and for once we are not in a rush. It will be dark outside before we finish. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) on securing today’s important debate. He entertained us and educated us, and he set out his stall very well.
Let us start with a positive: cancer survival in this country has never been better. Survival rates are at their best ever, having improved every year since 2010. That is a hard-fought success, and we should celebrate it. Among men, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and the second most common cause of cancer deaths. However, prostate cancer survival has tripled in the past 40 years, with 85% of men surviving for five or more years.
It is worth stating at the outset—some people who are watching may not be familiar with this subject—that the prostate is found only in men. It produces some of the fluid in semen and is found below the bladder. It is about the size of a walnut and surrounds the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. The causes of prostate cancer are not that well known. The strongest risk factor is age, but about 5% to 10% of prostate cancer is thought to be due to family history. Black men, whether of black African or black Caribbean origin, are more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men. One in four will get the disease, as opposed to one in eight of all men. Asian and oriental men have the lowest chance of developing prostate cancer, which is interesting—we should always look at this sort of data when looking at prevention. I will come on to that point.
The way that prostate cancer develops is not fully understood. It is not a single disease, but a spectrum of diseases ranging from slow-growing tumours that may not cause any symptoms and may not shorten life at all to very aggressive tumours that can kill. We should remember that. As I said, the strongest risk factor is age, but younger people get it, too. I have a school friend who has recently contracted and beaten—I will come on to the use of language in a moment—prostate cancer. He may even be watching today’s debate; he may be mowing the lawn, who knows? We wish him well.
My hon. Friend raised some very good points in his speech, and I should be able to touch on them all. This is a timely debate for all the reasons he set out, but also because it was World Cancer Day on Monday. It was great to see Cancer Research UK light up the Palace of Westminster in pink and blue.
My hon. Friend’s point about language was very interesting. He may have seen a poll by Macmillan that came out last month. It showed how many people with cancer are fed up with the language of war. We often say “cancer stricken” or “victim”. We often call a person’s cancer diagnosis a “war” or a “battle”. We say that they “lost their battle” or “lost their fight” when they pass away. It is no surprise that articles in the media and posts on social networks were found to be the worst offenders. My advice is to be real and honest. Macmillan has launched the “Right there with you” campaign to highlight the challenges posed by a cancer diagnosis and the support that is available. As we all know, Macmillan does fantastic work, including in this House. I urge people to take a look at its campaign.
My hon. Friend also touched on the all-party group on male cancers, formed by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) who is a former nurse. It had one of its first gatherings this week. Orchid, the male cancer charity, will provide the secretariat for the group. It is not that well known as a charity, but it is growing fast. I met the charity at Britain against Cancer a couple of years ago, and it is now part of my cancer roundtable work here in the House every quarter. I pay tribute to its works and to the all-party group. I had a good conversation in the Lobby with my hon. Friend last night. We are going to do an awful lot together. The group is very important. If it did not exist, it would need to be invented, and I congratulate her on inventing it.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset raised early diagnosis, so let us deal with that. The biggest weapon we have in successfully treating cancer is early diagnosis. I have said many times, as did the former chair of the all-party group on cancer, that it is the magic key or magic bullet. That is true, but there are many cancers where early diagnosis is all but impossible. We do not see presentation of symptoms until it is very late and then it becomes incredibly difficult. They will be a big challenge for the cancer ambition that I will come on to talk about in a moment.
As my hon. Friend and others said, we men are notorious for not visiting the doctor at the first sign of a concerning symptom. I think that that is changing, but anything that can raise awareness of prostate cancer, where early diagnosis is indeed the magic key, is to be welcomed. I pay tribute to public figures such as Stephen Fry and Bill Turnbull from “BBC News” for speaking out so honestly about their own prostate cancer diagnosis. They provided an invaluable public service in raising the profile and awareness of the disease, giving some men the vital nudge they need to see their GP if they think something is not right. For some men, it can be a quick burst of symptoms that come on very quickly. They can go to a doctor, are seen and treated and have surgery in a very short space of time. For others, it can be a very slow burn.
I hope that the work that Stephen Fry, Bill Turnbull and others have done will have an impact similar to 10 years ago when the TV personality Jade Goody, following her cervical cancer diagnosis from which tragically she died, spoke out about how vital it was for women to attend their smear tests. We had an excellent debate in Westminster Hall last week on Natasha’s Army—there is that word again. Natasha was a 31-year-old mother from Newton Abbott who died of cervical cancer, leaving four young children just before Christmas. Natasha’s Army are her friends and family who campaign on awareness and smear tests. That is so important. The work Jade Goody did led to a huge uptake in screening, enabling the NHS to detect and treat more cancers early. I hope that, as more people talk about prostate cancer, something similar can happen.
I join the Minister in congratulating people like Stephen Fry and the grassroots movements on doing such a good job in talking about the importance of early diagnosis. The hon. Member for North Dorset talked about the important PSA test. The Minister may not have the figures available, but if he does could he let us know the proportion of men over 50 who have had the test? That would be an interesting indicator as to what is going on.
I do not have that figure with me today, but I will write to Members attending the debate and I will tweet it @BrineMinister—but enough of the advert.
Early diagnosis and the NHS long-term plan is where I want to turn next. Straight after the Christmas recess, we launched the NHS long-term plan, which is a seismic piece of work. I would be the first to say, along with many other people working clinically in the field, that we cannot rely solely on the celebrity cases that I mentioned to improve early diagnosis. The long-term plan included a comprehensive package of measures that will be rolled out across the country, with the aim of securing the Prime Minister’s promise, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset spoke about, from party conference back in the autumn: that three quarters of all cancers will be detected at an early stage—stage 1 and stage 2, when they are most beatable—by 2028. The plan will provide new investment in state-of-the-art technology to transform the process of diagnosis and boost research and innovation, with the aim of ensuring that 55,000 more people are surviving cancer for five years in England every year from 2028.
That ambition refers to all cancers, including prostate. When we came out with that ambition, a number of people, in the breast cancer community, for instance, said, “But what about us? We are already above 75%”, and some said, in relation to the rarer and less survivable cancers, “What about us?” It is very important for me to restate at the Dispatch Box that this ambition does refer to all cancers—not just those that afflict men or women, old or young, or that are easily treatable or more difficult and less survivable. We are clear that to achieve the five-year survival ambition, we have to improve outcomes for all cancers, and we will.
As I said, early diagnosis is key. Early diagnosis of prostate cancer is challenging, in truth, because the symptoms are similar to those of an enlarged prostate and very often, there can be no symptoms at all. As has been said, the most common method of identifying an increased risk of localised prostate cancer is the prostate specific antigen test. However, that is not perfect. The House will have seen press reports a year or so ago stating that a raised PSA level is not necessarily a sign of prostate cancer, and that a low PSA level is not necessarily a sign of it not being there either. That is not entirely helpful, but we must always remember in these debates—and I am not a doctor, as is clear—that medicine is not an exact science. I thought that story was a good example of that.
A raised PSA level can indicate prostate cancer, but in some cases it can miss indicating a cancer. It can also suggest a cancer when there is not one, or identify slow-growing tumours that may never cause any symptoms for a man or shorten his natural lifespan. This can all be very difficult in primary care. My hon. Friend talked about GPs, and there is a clue in the name. I sometimes get a lot of flak for saying this, but general practitioners are so-called for a reason—they are general practitioners—and we should remember the devilish job that general practitioners have, given the huge variety in what comes through their door.
The prostate cancer risk management programme—the PCRMP; we love our acronyms in the health service—was established so that men considering a PSA test are given information about the benefits, limitations, which I have touched on, and associated risks. It supports GPs in giving and discussing information with their male patients. A pack of materials is available for primary care to help men to make an informed choice about the PSA test, which includes a leaflet that they can take away to discuss with partners. There is also an evidence booklet and summary sheet for GPs. These are all widely available online.
As I said, there are pros and cons of having a PSA test, but it is so important that men arm themselves with as much information as they can and speak to their GP or practice nurse, including when they go for their NHS health checks—I will be going for one of those at the end of this month. I know that it is hard to believe that I am old enough to be called for one, but they phoned me yesterday, so I have been booked in.
As has been said, men over 50 have the right to be given a PSA test free on the NHS once they have discussed the advantages and disadvantages with their GP. The PCRMP makes that very clear to GPs, and, having discussed the pros and cons, no one over 50 should be told “No”, as we have heard today. I will find those figures—I agree that they will be very interesting.
I am very grateful that the Minister is setting this out in his customary detail. In a circumstance in which all those conversations have taken place, if the patient says, “Thank you doctor, I hear what you say, but I am entitled to have this test, and I want to have this test done,” will the Minister confirm that GPs are obliged to make the referral, rather than saying, “Well, I’ve heard what you said, but I am your doctor and I am not going to let you have it done”?
We do not often use the term, “No decision about me, without me” any more, but I always remember the former Health Secretary—now Lord Lansley—using that a lot, and that is still very true. A patient over that age has every right to request a PSA test, and certainly even more so if they believe that they have symptoms. I would be very concerned about a GP refusing it—I think it would be extremely unlikely for one to do so in such instances—but any patient has the right of travel. Every patient has the right to change GP if they are not satisfied with the relationship that they have. If my hon. Friend did know of an instance of that, I would be very interested to hear about it—as, I suspect, would the Royal College of General Practitioners —but I would be very surprised.
I want to touch on screening, which we talk about a lot at the moment, and I will come on to why. Because of the limitations of the PSA test, there is currently no national screening programme for prostate cancer. In 2016, Prostate Cancer UK, which has been rightly lauded this afternoon, began work to help to develop tests that could form part of a national screening programme. This would potentially involve better blood tests, which are currently in development, combined with more advanced scanning. It is hoping to make that happen in the next five years—nothing happens quickly in this space unfortunately—and I am sure that we all welcome their efforts.
Members will be aware—I have spoken about this quite a lot in the House recently; we have had a number of cancer debates since Christmas—that Sir Mike Richards is leading a review for the Secretary of State of our current screening programmes. As part of that—I met Sir Mike last month—we will consider how we can make screening smarter, targeting those most at risk. We expect that Sir Mike’s work will have positive implications for future programmes. He is an incredibly experienced and respected figure in this space, and I hope that his work will enable us to roll screening out faster when the evidence base is there to support it. I am very hopeful and ambitious about that work, as I know Sir Mike is.
Let us talk about public awareness campaigns, which my hon. Friend mentioned in opening the debate. The Government have to do all that they can to raise awareness of prostate cancer and target high-risk groups, while recognising that there are limitations on how much the public will listen to public health messages from Ministers at the Dispatch Box—I know that it is hard to believe that people do not take this all to heart, but they do not, so we work with our partners.
In 2014, along with Public Health England, we worked on the phenomenally successful “Be Clear on Cancer” campaign, which has had a number of iterations, on prostate cancer in black men. The campaign messaging included:
“1 in 4 black men will get prostate cancer”,
which was one of its tag lines. It urged black men over 45 who were concerned about their risk of prostate cancer to visit their GPs. The campaign evaluation showed that it had stimulated new conversations about prostate cancer among families and the black community. Public Health England has made all the materials developed for the campaign available online, so that groups and other organisations can use them locally if they wish. They are very striking and powerful, and we believe that they were very successful.
We also welcome the work that Prostate Cancer UK is doing with the Football Association to raise awareness through their “relegate prostate cancer” campaign. It is fronted by high-profile celebrity football figures, including the England football manager, Gareth Southgate, and includes the slogan:
“One man dies every 45 minutes of prostate cancer”.
Anyone who can stay awake for “Match of the Day” on a Saturday night—thank goodness for the repeat on a Sunday morning—will see very many people, including the pundits and the managers interviewed afterwards, wearing the badge that I am wearing today. Members will be very familiar with that badge, which demonstrates the widespread support that Prostate Cancer UK has in continuing to raise awareness of this disease.
Let me turn to research, as I come to a conclusion. Research has played a crucial part in the advances that we have made in cancer survival over the past four decades. More than 15 years ago, the Department identified the need for further research into prostate cancer, and we have since worked closely with Cancer Research UK—it was here this morning; I was pleased to pop into its drop-in—Prostate Cancer UK, the Medical Research Council and others, through the National Cancer Research Institute, which is a strategic partnership of the major UK funders of cancer research. NCRI spend specifically on prostate cancer research increased from £17.1million in 2011-12 to £26.5 million in 2015-16.
On research, does the Minister think that those who are diagnosed with cancer should be encouraged to take part in clinical trials that aid research and help us to find ways to halt or even cure these horrendous diseases? I think this is underplayed and that we should encourage as many people as possible to help with research by themselves getting involved in trials.
I am happy to agree with the hon. Lady. In her work on brain cancer, the late Baroness Jowell made the point about stimulating new research projects, and that work has been incredibly successful, including subsequent to her death. She also spoke a lot about clinical trials. Anybody diagnosed with a cancer for which there is no significant treatment would want to load the gun with the trial bullet, but there are challenges there. There is only so much that one can do, and there is a toxicity issue with moving from trial to trial that patients do not always fully appreciate, but in consultation with one’s oncologist and physician absolutely it has a critical role to play. Without trials, we would not have any of the treatments we have today, so I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset said that women’s cancers, such as breast cancer and the gynaecological cancers, perhaps get more Government attention. I have to disagree. Last April, the Prime Minister pledged £75 million towards clinical trials for prostate cancer, which will focus on improving early diagnosis and survival rates as well as exploring options for different treatments for men affected by the disease. We expect 40,000 men to be recruited to new research projects with this cash boost. I hope this demonstrates our ongoing commitment to male cancers as well as female cancers.
I am the first guy to hold the post of Public Health Minister in a long time, possibly ever, and it is true that there is a lot of focus on female cancers, but I am determined to raise the bar for men’s health generally, but for male cancers in particular, which is why I was pleased to mention the all-party group earlier.
Alongside the £75 million for research, in 2016-17 the NIHR clinical research network recruited patients to over 90 trials—the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) raised the point about trials—and other studies on prostate cancer, so there are a lot of trials in this area. The NIHR biomedical research centre at The Royal Marsden here in London and the Institute of Cancer Research also have a five-year £3.1 million prostate cancer research theme.
I started by saying that we do not know everything about prostate cancer. We hope to see these projects deliver more personalised diagnosis, treatment and care of men with prostate cancer through better understanding of the molecular and genetic pathways that determine the non-uniform nature of prostate cancer. The prostate testing for cancer and treatment—ProtecT—trial was the largest publicly funded clinical trial ever to take place in the UK. NIHR funding to date is £40million, which is quite a significant sum.
I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the workforce. The NHS is nothing without the 1.3 million staff on whom patients depend day and night, and for no group is that more true than for cancer patients. We will not achieve our cancer ambitions without an increased cancer workforce, which is why the Secretary of State has commissioned Baroness Dido Harding, working closely with Sir David Behan, who used to lead the Care Quality Commission, to lead a number of programmes to engage with key NHS stakeholders to develop a detailed workforce implementation plan. Baroness Harding and Sir David will present initial recommendations to the Department in March, and these will consider detailed proposals for growing the workforce rapidly alongside the implementation of the NHS long-term plan, including that early diagnosis of cancer target I mentioned.
In connection with that, my hon. Friend mentioned cancer nurse specialists. Health Education England is working to expand the number of cancer nurse specialists and to develop their competencies and routes into training. This will mean every cancer patient having access to a CNS or other support worker by 2021, which I think he will agree is a very good thing.
I have covered today just some of the many initiatives the Government are undertaking in our significant efforts to tackle prostate cancer for many of our constituents, including my friend. I hope I have given the House some information today and a promise of some more. The Government remain totally committed to maintaining and improving cancer survival rates. Prostate cancer is the second-biggest cancer killer among men and is right at the top of our list of priorities.
Finally, I could not close without paying tribute to Prostate Cancer UK, led by Angela Culhane, and the work it does on research and early diagnosis and in supporting men with prostate cancer and reassuring them that they are not alone and that there is often a way out. As cancer Minister, I have been told many times by cancer patients that the cliff edge of an all clear is every bit as bad as the original diagnosis. Owing to our successes, people are living much longer and perfectly normal and full lives after cancer, but we need to support them better, so I pay tribute to the work of Prostate Cancer UK. Its work is invaluable, as is that of all those members of staff who make the NHS what it is. I thank everybody for taking part in today’s debate.
Question put and agreed to.
Exiting The European Union (Financial Services)
6 February 2019
That the draft Long-term Investment Funds (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 17 December 2018, be approved.
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details