Wednesday 13 February 2019
[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]
Sunbed Use: Health Implications
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the health implications of sunbed use.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Hosie, and I thank my good friend the Minister for responding to this important debate.
The motion asks the House to consider the health implications of using sunbeds, but I would go as far as calling for a ban. Who needs sunbeds? No one. Many people in the UK believe that they look healthier with a tan, but that could not be further from the truth. Bronzed skin was a trend first popularised by Coco Chanel in 1923, and it has never gone away. From St Tropez to Derbyshire, a suntan continues to be a desired accessory. Over time, people have sought to maintain their tan using artificial means, including the sunbed. In the ’60s, sunbeds were developed for the first time, and in the ’80s they began to be used in large numbers. The industry continued to grow throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. Today, an estimated 3 million Britons use sunbeds to keep themselves tanned.
According to the World Health Organisation, sunbeds are as dangerous as smoking—many people do not realise that—and in 2009 it classified them as carcinogenic to humans. Worryingly, statistics show that people who have used a sunbed at least once, in any stage of their life, have a 20% higher risk of developing melanoma than those who have never used a sunbed. The first use of a sunbed before the age of 35 increases the risk of developing melanoma by 59%.
The hon. Lady is making an important speech. In all honesty, I think of sunbeds as pernicious death machines. They rely on people’s vanity, but we all have elements of vanity in our lives, so let us not decry that. We should be doing far more. One hundred thousand people get a melanoma every year; it is one of the most pernicious forms of cancer, and 10,000 people die. These are death machines, aren’t they?
Yes. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and we must emphasise the fact that sunbeds are killing machines that nobody needs to use. Nobody needs a tan, and as the hon. Gentleman says, this is purely about vanity. We know there is a lot of vanity in the world, but this is a deadly vanity and it is a waste of everybody’s time and money—sunbeds are also expensive.
Dr Andrew Birnie, a consultant dermatologist and dermatological surgeon, supports the World Health Organisation classification of sunbeds as carcinogenic. He notes that
“it has been shown that the biggest cause of melanoma is high-intensity bursts of ultraviolet light on skin not used to being exposed to UV.”
The World Health Organisations has recommended that countries either ban or limit the use of sunbeds. In reality, there is no such thing as a safe tan unless it comes from a bottle or a can. Indeed, one trainee beautician, Kimberley Platt, said:
“I’m a trainee beautician and part of the course is being taught to spray tan. Our course tutors tell us to steer clear of sunbeds, I wonder why. Has anyone ever looked on Instagram at sunbed burn photos? Horrific. It seems as if to burn, either artificially or in the sun, is somehow a funny thing to do. Dealing with skin cancer is not funny though. Think about the cost of treating skin cancer, not to mention the cost of a life.”
Again, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are not built for the sun; otherwise we would be black. That is why people in Africa do not have the problems that we have. We tend to go on holiday for a couple of weeks, burn like mad, come back and think it is great, but it is damaging to the skin. One need only look at people who spend a long time either on sunbeds or in the sun. When they get older they look like dried-up prunes, and nobody wants to look like a dried-up prune. People think that they are making themselves look healthier, but they are not; they are deeply damaging their skin, and we must try to persuade the Minister that a ban on sunbed use is the only thing we can do.
Frighteningly, over the past 30 years cases of malignant melanoma have more than quadrupled in the UK, and the scary truth is that it is now the second most common form of cancer in those aged 15 to 34. A melanoma is not easy to treat unless caught early. There are around 15,400 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every year—42 every single day. Every 24 hours in the UK, six people die from a melanoma, and in 2016, 2,285 people died of the condition.
In the United States of America, Europe and Australia, combined sunbed use is estimated to have been responsible for more than 450,000 non-melanoma skin cancer cases and more than 10,000 melanoma cases every year. It is no coincidence that the rise in that aggressive form of skin cancer aligns with the popular use of sunbeds. The current updated body of scientific evidence strongly suggests that indoor tanning significantly increases the risk of melanoma. A large amount of data from observational studies provides enough information to infer that sunbed use causes melanoma, using all the epidemiological criteria for causality.
Dr Nicole Chiang, a consultant dermatologist who treats skin cancer patients on a regular basis, has noted that the risk of melanoma more than doubles when sunbeds are used at a young age of below 35 years. Sunbeds cause three times more DNA damage than natural sunlight, and it has been estimated that 20 minutes on a sunbed could be equivalent to approximately four hours in the sun. Just one sunbed session can increase someone’s risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer by 67%, and basal cell skin cancer by 29%. Even more important is the increased risk of melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
I was concerned to learn that data from Cancer Research shows that more than 25% of the UK’s 3 million sunbed users are unconcerned about the dangers that sunbeds pose. Indeed, I was on the radio today and I heard some people talking about this issue. They said, “Well, so what? It doesn’t matter. It will be okay.” I believe it is important to dispel the fake news, often used in the marketing of sunbeds, that they provide a “controlled” way of getting a “safer” tan. Sunbeds are no safer than exposure to the sun.
A 2008 study published in the journal “Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research”—that sounds like something from “Have I Got News For You”—came to the conclusion that to achieve a tan, the skin must be exposed to ultraviolet radiation, and therefore “safe tanning” is a physical impossibility. It is also important to dispel the myths perpetrated by the sunbed industry about vitamin D benefits from sunbeds. Due to the carcinogenic risk associated with sunbeds, their use cannot be justified. We can take a tablet in the winter to ward off vitamin D deficiencies. A further myth is the idea of the base tan—the dangerous and fanciful assertion that getting an initial tan from a sunbed will protect the skin from the sun. Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence explain that getting a tan provides little protection against later exposure to sunlight, and the resulting skin damage outweighs any later protective effect.
Throughout my time in Parliament, I have focused on the prevention and treatment of skin cancer as a result of personal experience. I have had the privilege of working with a cancer charity, Melanoma UK, which I thank for its support in gathering evidence for this debate. I know only too well the devastating effect that that cancer can have on people’s lives. What is most insidious about melanoma in particular is that it is impossible to treat in its late stages, and it often results in a drawn-out, very painful death. Last year I had my own personal scare. I found a mole, which was malignant. After a tortured three weeks waiting for the results I found out that, luckily, the tumour had not spread—but it was malignant. The fear was magnified by the fact that my own brother died from a melanoma when he was only 54. I have therefore always taken a close interest in that type of cancer and its causes.
My brother went to his GP three times in a year before the GP eventually said, “There’s nothing wrong with you, but I will refer you”—just to get him out of his surgery, I think. By that time it was far too late, and my brother died from his melanoma a few years later; but he was never able to work again, because muscle and lymph glands had to be taken away, so he could not do his job. Neither I nor my brother used sunbeds, but given my experience of the awful disease of melanoma I cannot comprehend why anyone would want to increase their risk of contracting it. Research shows that many people who contract it probably would not have done, if they had never been able to use a sunbed.
I want to refer to some case studies highlighting the horrific effect that sunbed use can have on individuals and their loved ones. I thank the House of Commons outreach team for helping me to collate a vast and wide-ranging response, obtained thanks to the power of social media. I am so grateful to those who participated in the initiative. There were some interesting and informative discussions. I was taken aback by the significant number of responses from people who said they regularly used sunbeds in their youth and today have, or have had, a melanoma. One such lady, Jade Luelle Cope, said that she used sunbeds often between the ages of 15 and 32, and was diagnosed with malignant melanoma at 38. She stated that she does not think that it was a coincidence.
Beverley Chesters passionately advocated a ban. Describing her experience, she said,
“without a doubt these killing machines”—
as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) called them earlier—
“need to be banned in a heartbeat!”
She used sunbeds in her late teens and early 20s, when
“it was the norm for everyone to walk about with the supposed ‘healthy glow’. How very naive was I. I cannot recall ever any health warnings regarding sunbeds, and yes a pair of goggles given for eye protection and that’s it! Now all these years later I have malignant melanoma, first diagnosed last August…since then I have 2 more separate melanomas, and also waiting for results of 2 further biopsies. I would not wish this horrible disease on anyone. If only I knew then what I know now I would never ever have put myself in that position of risking my life, all for a tan. My body looks like a patchwork quilt.”
Similarly, Vicki Brennan noted that she used sunbeds and now has a malignant melanoma. Tragically, she comments:
“If I knew the statistics back then I would have made an informed decision not to use them, it scares me to think how many people are putting themselves at risk. And as for banality...Tell this to the thousands enduring treatment and those who are dying. You don’t just cut skin cancer out and carry on as normal. Please ban sun beds.”
A lady who came to a meeting that I was chairing had four young children, and was only in her 30s. She knew she was not going to survive, because she had a melanoma. She was going to leave the four young children for her husband to bring up, and they would not know their mother at all because they were so young.
The heartbreaking consequences of melanoma, aligning with sunbed use, were highlighted by Elaine Broadhurst. She said she and her brother used sunbeds as teenagers.
“We had one in our own home. There was no legislation or advice on the dangers. My brother was diagnosed with melanoma and died from it two years ago aged 46, leaving a wife and two young children. I’m convinced that the sunbed use contributed to losing my brother to this deadly disease and that sunbeds should be banned.”
Hundreds of people wrote similar testimonials, which illustrate the huge personal impact that the condition has on people’s lives, and the regret that many feel, having used a sunbed repeatedly and contracted the condition as a consequence. I encourage Members to take the time to read through some of the comments on the House of Commons Facebook page.
It is important to stress that it is clear that the majority of people use sunbeds purely for cosmetic reasons and vanity. The significance and dangers of cosmetic tanning are supported by many case studies and scientific research. It is said that people feel more confident, and sometimes even slimmer, when they are bronzed. However, in reality, over time when people over-use sunbeds their skin can age prematurely, making it look coarse, leathery and wrinkled—prune-like. In the worst-case scenario sunbeds can cause burns, scars and ulcers known as basal cell carcinomas. Dr Birnie observed that there has been rising incidence of the condition in younger people, and especially in women who have used tanning beds in their teens and early 20s. I am sure that that is not the aesthetic that young people craving a tan are trying to achieve.
I am particularly concerned to learn of a trend towards sun tanning addiction, where people use the sunbed for a quick and lasting tan. Some research suggests that as many as one in 50 sunbed users are addicted to them. There are stories of people using a sunbed daily for a long period of time. I was on Radio Sussex this morning and a lady said she had for three years used a sunbed at home for an hour a day. She now has a melanoma. That is excessive use, but lower use is still deadly. Scientists from Germany and the US recently published a study showing that almost 20% of indoor tanning users have addictive symptoms.
I would like high street tanning salons that offer sunbeds to raise awareness of the potential health implications of using sunbeds, as happens with cigarette packets. I understand that the British Association of Dermatologists has explained that many tanning salons fail to provide adequate information. However, I should prefer an outright ban to the use of nasty pictures of people with burns.
There is work to be done outside the legislative reach of Parliament. I would encourage the fashion and beauty industry to take an active role in discouraging the use of sunbeds. I commend initiatives previously adopted by the fashion industry, such as when in 2012 Kate Moss and her then modelling agency, Storm, aimed to raise awareness of the dangers associated with sunbeds, to put heavy tans out of fashion. At the same time directors from 11 UK model agencies including Elite, Premier Model Management, Storm and Next signed up to a zero tolerance policy on sunbed use, to protect new and established models from the health and cosmetic effects of using ultraviolet tanning beds. It would be good to see such work continue and perhaps go further. Perhaps there should be more articles in girls’ and women’s magazines to explain the dangers of tanning in that way. We all know that models are generally young and thin—that is another issue—but they do not need a tan to look beautiful. Twiggy, in the 60s, was pretty beautiful, and she has continued to be. I doubt whether she uses a sunbed.
In 2003 the World Health Organisation responded to the serious public health challenge and published a guidance document on sunbed legislation. Since then, a number of organisations and individuals in the UK have called for an outright ban on the use of commercial sunbeds. We should also look at the practice of selling them privately, because there is then no control over how people use them. The Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010 banned the use of sunbeds by under-18s, but many people feel that the ban did not go far enough. It was a start, but only an all-out ban is acceptable. That idea is being explored by our European partners. France’s health watchdog says that the risk of cancer from sunlamps and sunbeds is proven and authorities should act to stop people being exposed to artificial ultraviolet rays. France is one of a number of countries that have already limited their use.
I know that many members of the public support the banning of sunbeds. I was very pleased that Melanoma UK’s recent petition to ban sunbeds in the UK received in excess of 15,000 signatures. While I received a mixture of responses on both sides of the argument from the parliamentary outreach exercise, I was struck by the support from some people in the beauty industry. I am pleased that some individuals in the industry have recognised the dangers of sunbeds and champion the safe alternative of a spray tan.
One such example is Tonina Healey, a beauty salon owner who took the decision to ban the use of tanning beds in her salon and instead has promoted a spray tan. She said:
“I have always been very uncomfortable at the use of sunbeds. I took the decision to stop the use of tanning beds in my salon, I think one of the things that should be of major concern to all salon owners, is the issue of control. I have seen articles relating to tanning addiction and of clients going from salon to salon in order to achieve ‘double’ sessions. No one in the beauty industry can legislate for that and I for one, do not want to invite a lawsuit my way—does anyone in this industry really need that kind of hassle? I do believe that that will come one day, a salon in the UK will be sued when someone develops melanoma. I don’t want that on my plate and I certainly don’t want the illness of a client on my conscience. We trained in beauty to make our clients feel good, not to watch them die horrific deaths. We support a ban.”
Brazil and Australia have already banned sunbeds commercially. Brazil was the first to ban sunbeds in 2009, the only exception being where doctors prescribed their use for health reasons. In the same year, the World Health Organisation classified exposure to UV sunlamps, sunbeds and tanning booths as carcinogenic to humans. Australia followed Brazil’s ban in 2013. Annual rates of malignant melanoma in Australia were 10 times the rate in Europe for women, and more than 20 times for men. Professor Grant McArthur stresses the success of the ban in Australia, saying:
“The Sunbed ban in Australia has been highly effective. We estimate that one unnecessary death per week has been prevented by the ban. The greatest burden of deaths from Sunbeds falls in people aged 20-40. I plead that the UK save their young people by banning sunbeds”.
To conclude, it is my view that there should be an outright ban on sunbeds, and I hope I will receive the support of colleagues in that. While the temptation to achieve that sun-kissed glow is understandable, risking contracting such a devastating disease is not. The unnecessary exposure to UV is nonsensical, and I implore anyone to get a fake tan through a bottle or can, not the sunbed. It seems wrong that people should have the option of damaging their health so greatly, purely in pursuit of cosmetic gratification.
The evidence is clear: for over three decades, deliberate sunbed exposure to UV for cosmetic purposes through sunbeds has been driving up the incidence of skin cancers and driving down the age of their first appearance. I stress again the shocking figures that people who have ever used a sunbed are 20% more likely to develop melanoma later in life than people who have never used one, and those who started using sunbeds before the age of 35 were 87% more likely to develop melanoma than people who have never used a sunbed.
I also believe that action needs to be taken to further raise awareness of melanomas and what causes them, including over-exposure to UV through sunbeds. That action should include providing stronger and clearer warnings about the consequences of sunbed usage. Being aware of the possible consequences of the sunbed should lead to a cultural and generational shift, with people avoiding exposing themselves to UV unnecessarily. It is vital that people are conscious of the impact that this awful condition can have on one’s health and personal life—something that I myself have experienced through my own personal circumstances. Please may we have a ban on sunbeds?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Hosie. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) for securing this important and emotive debate.
Good health is a precious gift, which most of us will hopefully be able to maintain throughout our life by ensuring that we have a balanced diet, take regular exercise and make appropriate lifestyle choices. However, one lifestyle choice that appears not to be beneficial is the frequent use of sunbeds, which give out potentially harmful ultraviolet, or UV, rays.
According to Cancer Research UK,
“sunbeds are no safer than exposure to the sun itself”.
The damage to the DNA in our skin cells builds up over time, possibly resulting in skin cancer, of which melanoma is the deadliest form. NHS research illustrates that people
“who are frequently exposed to UV rays before the age of 25 are at greater risk of developing skin cancer later in life.”
Over the last decade, the number of people diagnosed with melanoma in the United Kingdom has increased by almost half, and it is the fifth most common cancer in the United Kingdom. However, not only have UV rays been linked to the increased risk of developing melanoma, but they may result in premature ageing of the skin, and eye damage may occur if proper and effective eye protection is not applied.
Sadly, some people continue to put body image before their personal health, perhaps inspired by the media coverage of celebrities and models they seek to emulate. That is despite the fact that the risk of cancer is constantly being highlighted by the NHS throughout the UK, with various charities giving the same advice; indeed, the issue was the subject of a debate in the main Chamber only nine days ago.
In recognition of the potential dangers, it is illegal for people under 18 years to use sunbeds at commercial premises, including beauty salons, leisure centres, gyms and hotels. Use is controlled in England and Wales by the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010, and Northern Ireland has passed delegated legislation in the form of regulations, providing a health warning with information that must be imparted to sunbed users. That information explains that those who use sunbeds for the first time before the age of 35 increase their risk of developing malignant melanoma by around a staggering 75%. Scotland has similar but less specific information in the Public Health etc. (Scotland) Act 2008 (Sunbed) Regulations 2009.
In 2009, the Health and Safety Executive was so concerned that it issued revised guidance on sunbed use in the UK. It is clear about the health risks associated with using UV tanning equipment such as sunbeds, sunlamps and tanning booths. However, any legislation is only as good as the enforcement, and that needs to be extremely robust. I would welcome any measures from the Minister that further protect the public from what is in effect a form of self-harm, emanating from the unnecessary pursuit of that perfect appearance. One measure he may wish to consider is raising the age limit from 18 years or consulting on a ban. Equally importantly, however, I ask those using or considering using sunbeds to weigh up the risk that it might present, not immediately but in later life. I said at the start that good health is a precious gift: why, oh why, would we as individuals put that gift at risk?
In closing, it is worthy of note that, properly utilised by experts in the field, and particularly medical staff in the NHS, light rays and phototherapy have a place in the treatment of skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, but they are not the same as tanning sunbeds.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie.
One of the great pleasures of being in Parliament is that I learn new things on a regular basis. I must confess that, prior to coming to this debate, I had, as a peely-wally, fair-skinned, red-headed Scotsman, always avoided the sun and had no experience of sunlamps. It was fascinating to learn about them, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) for securing this debate and for her informative presentation, taking us through the history and many of the health problems. She presented some fantastic statistics, including the fact that sunbeds are used by 3 million people and that they cause three times the DNA damage of sunlight. Her case studies brought home the very human nature of this problem.
There is no doubt that UV rays from sunbeds can damage DNA in skin cells, which, building up over time, can cause skin cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer—IARC—accepts that there is enough evidence to show that sunbeds cause melanoma skin cancer, and further states that sunbeds provide no health benefits. That is a fundamental point. It also highlights that sunbed use before the age of 35 significantly increases the risk of melanoma; both earlier speakers used statistics, and the statistics I found last night put the range at 59% to 79% more likely. I do not know the actual figure, and I am interested to hear whether the other Front Benchers have a firmer handle on it. Either way, those figures are frightening.
Those figures are, however, hotly contested by the sunbed industry, which points out that, when professional sunbed use is separated from home use, it has no increased melanoma risk. The industry also highlights the benefits of UVB radiation in treating vitamin D deficiency. While I have no doubt that professional sunbed use will be safer than home use, it is no safer than exposure to the sun. The World Health Organisation classifies sunbeds as a group 1 carcinogen. A WHO director, Dr Maria Neira, says:
“There’s no doubt about it: sunbeds are dangerous to our health”.
I certainly take that warning very seriously.
The Scottish National party recognises the potential harmful effects of sunbed use—or misuse—and has taken action. The Public Health etc. (Scotland) Act 2008, implemented under an SNP-led Government, contains provisions to regulate sunbed use, as well as measures that include prohibiting unsupervised use, banning the use of sunbeds by under-18s and banning the sale and hire of sunbeds to under-18s.
It is imperative that people using sunbeds realise the health implications and risks of doing so, so that they can make an informed decision about their use. The 2008 Act has provisions requiring all sunbed premises to display a health notice visible to anybody entering them and to provide information to customers on the risks, allowing them to make an informed choice.
A Scottish Government leaflet highlights those risks, and reading it earlier in the week gave me my first pieces of information about sunbed use—I have to say that it ticks quite a few of the boxes that would frighten me off ever going on a sunbed, and I encourage the public to have a serious look at it. In addition to the higher risk of skin cancer, it highlights the risk of eye damage—including the higher risk of cataracts if appropriate eye protection is not worn—and of accelerated skin damage, including premature ageing of the skin, which was well covered by the earlier speakers. The leaflet concludes:
“These health risks outweigh any potential benefits in using sunbeds to supplement vitamin D.”
There we have it. There are plenty of warnings about sunbeds, and I will certainly avoid using them. Indeed, I slap factor 50 sun cream on if I walk along Princes Street on a slightly cloudy day. I will leave my remarks at that. I thank hon. Members for an informative debate. I have learned a considerable amount about this issue.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) for her passionate and excellent speech and for so bravely sharing her own experience with melanoma, which makes it all the more delightful that she is with us in such fine health this morning. I am very sorry to hear about her brother, but I am pleased that her diagnosis was found early and was successfully treated. I also thank the hon. Members for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for their excellent contributions.
It is fair to say that the health implications of using sunbeds once dominated public consciousness. Almost 10 years ago, when the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010 was introduced by the former Labour MP for Cardiff North and passed by a Labour Government, the health risks that came with using sunbeds were well known and well talked about. I remember a parliamentary reception with celebrities such as Nicola Roberts from Girls Aloud speaking out loud and clear about the dangers of sunbeds.
Roberts spoke as someone in the public eye who felt compelled to be tanned—despite being of ginger complexion and very fair skinned—and to constantly use tanning products. She bravely said that she was coming to a point in her life where she wanted to be her natural colour. However, that was 10 years ago, and we should have come a lot further, but owing to vanity or whatever, everyone still goes in search of that elusive tan. As the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire says, we do not need a tan; it should not be something that we desire.
The issue has certainly not been talked about in a long time, not least in the House, where between January 2011 and February 2019—more than eight years—the word “sunbeds” has been said only 16 times. It is therefore very welcome that the hon. Lady has brought this issue to the fore once again, because there is a generation of young people who will not really understand the risks of sunbed use. They will not know that the short, high-intensity exposure to UV radiation provided by sunbeds is dangerous and can dramatically increase the risk of skin cancer. Looking tanned might seem desirable when we are young, but I doubt, as the hon. Lady said, that looking aged with skin damage several years along the line will be as desirable. I invoke the dried-up prune analogy once again: we have all seen them on the beaches, haven’t we?
It is important that we get the message about the health risks across to young people, particularly because people frequently exposed to UV rays before the age of 25 are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer later in life. I have to admit that that statistic greatly worries me. I confess that, as a young woman in the 1980s, before we knew what we know now, I used sunbeds, although not as often as some. It was obvious that they could not be that good for me, but I did not realise how bad they were for me. I often used them to get a base tan before going on holiday, because we all believed that we would look after our skin better if we got a base tan before going abroad. As the hon. Lady said, that is a total fallacy. Has the Minister therefore made any assessment of how many young people know the risks of sunbed use, and does he have any plan to address the issue?
All the Government information on sunbed use dates back to 2009 and 2010, despite more relevant information being published since. For example, the WHO published a 2017 report entitled “Artificial Tanning Devices: Public Health Interventions to Manage Sunbeds”. The IARC also assessed UV-emitting tanning devices as “carcinogenic to humans” based on consistent evidence of a positive association between their use and the incidence of melanoma.
As we have heard, melanoma is on the increase in the UK, and it is estimated that the NHS will spend £465 million on treating skin cancer patients by 2025. I pay tribute to charities such as Melanoma UK and MelanomaMe., which was set up in my constituency in 2017 by Kerry Rafferty and Elaine Taylor—I met them in 2017 when opening an awareness event for them in Sunderland—after one of them suffered from melanoma and the devastation it wreaked on her life and body. Charities such as Melanoma UK and MelanomaMe. support patients and their families and raise awareness of skin cancers and the risks of sun exposure and, of course, sunbed use.
The Minister knows how strongly I feel that the Government have an obligation to prevent cancers, and I know he is passionate about doing so. That is why I believe that the Government must look at sunbed regulations again, to assess whether they need to be updated almost 10 years on since they were first published. It must be a priority for the Government to ensure that people know the risks of sunbed use before using them, as well as during and after their use. For example, people are told that smoking is harmful before they take it up, but guidance does not disappear once they have started smoking or even once they have stopped. Even though they may carry on smoking, everyone who smokes will admit to knowing the health risks. We are not at that stage with sunbed use.
It is easy to shrug off health warnings when it comes to sunbed use, because the symptoms of skin damage may not appear for up to 20 years. However, skin damage can have very serious implications, as we have heard, so the warnings must not be shrugged off. The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire called for a ban on sunbeds across the UK, like in Australia and other countries. Although I can see why she calls for a ban, I feel that we must first allow the Government to look at all the most recent evidence and make an assessment. They should definitely update the regulations if necessary and ensure that younger generations are made aware, at the earliest stage, of the risks of sunbed use.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, this issue was very much in the public consciousness almost 10 years ago, and perhaps it is time to ensure that it is again. I am sure the Minister will take on board all that he has heard this morning, and I look forward to his response.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hosie. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) very much. We use the term “hon. Friend” a lot in this place, but she knows that she is my very good friend as well as my hon. Friend. Well done to her for securing the debate.
I was interested to hear the word search statistic from my shadow, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). It was very interesting, but not at all surprising. The hon. Lady and I spend a lot of time in Westminster Hall, but this is not an issue that we have covered before, although we have obviously covered cancer a lot. This issue affects so many people’s lives. We heard from my good and hon. Friend about how it has impacted on her family and, as the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West said, it was very good to hear that she herself has managed to deal with it successfully.
I do not know about other hon. Members, but sunbeds feel very 1980s to me. As someone who was at secondary school in the 1980s, I thought that they had been left behind there, because we do not hear much about them these days, but it occurs to me that there is a large sunbed salon in my constituency of Winchester. There is a reason why the 1980s came into my mind. Hon. Members may remember an episode of “Only Fools and Horses” called “Tea for Three”. The infamous character Trigger has a niece whom Del and Rodney remember from her much younger years and who comes to stay with Trigger for a period. The niece, Lisa, is now 25 and—well, let’s just say that she has matured into a very attractive young lady. Del and Rodney set out to impress her, both thinking that they have a chance. I remember the episode well, and the reason why it is relevant to the debate is that Rodney decides to lie on the sunbed in the flat at Nelson Mandela House to improve his look for young Lisa and falls asleep. Del then turns up the dial, and Rodney spends the rest of the episode with a bright red face—in many ways. It is interesting that tanning was portrayed in that sitcom as a technique to attract the ladies. It backfired, as everything seemed to, on poor Rodney, but it was interesting how it was used and it explains why I connect sunbeds with the 1980s. As we have heard today, however, sunbeds and their impact are very much current phenomena.
As my hon. Friend is keenly aware, there are huge health consequences from exposure to both natural and artificial ultraviolet radiation. The most significant is of course skin cancer, which we have talked about, but there are other impacts, such as sunburn, which is very unpleasant and uncomfortable, accelerated skin ageing—the “prune” factor that we have discussed—eye inflammation, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) mentioned, and temporary immunosuppression. Importantly, though, there are measures that we all know we can take to reduce the impact of exposure to UV radiation from the sun, such as using sunscreen and seeking shade. Equally, there are many precautions that should be taken when using sunbeds, such as only using a staffed facility that provides guidance to users and limiting regular use of a sunbed. I will come on to those two points. Younger people who use sunbeds are at greater risk, which is why in 2011, regulations were introduced banning the use of sunbeds by under-18s in England and Wales, as we have heard.
Melanoma skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK today. About 15,500 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year and more than 2,000 people die every year in the UK from melanoma. In recent years, skin cancer has become much more common in the UK, which is thought to be the result of increased exposure to intense sunlight on holidays abroad. Many people these days can afford foreign holidays, which come with much fun but also many dangers. It is worth noting that more than one quarter of skin cancer cases are diagnosed in people under 50, which is unusually early compared with most other types of cancer. Cancer Research UK estimates that 86% of skin cancers are preventable. I often say in Westminster Hall debates—my shadow will have heard me say this many times—that two thirds of cancers are down to bad luck and one third of cancers are preventable. When we consider the high percentage of skin cancers that are preventable, we realise that this is an area where we can move the dial in the prevention space. That is why I am interested in today’s debate and so grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire for initiating it.
My hon. Friend referred to the many people who would not have skin cancer if they had not used sunbeds. It is difficult to be certain about how many cases of skin cancer are due to sunbed use, as most people will also have had natural exposure to UV from the sun. Obviously, there are a few people who have skin conditions that mean that they must remain 100% covered up or who do not go outside, for other health reasons. It is vital—my hon. Friend made this point very well, as did others—that the public are fully aware of the risk from their overall exposure to UV and how to minimise the risks.
We have not mentioned vitamin D much in this debate. Vitamin D is a hormone that is very important in musculoskeletal health, and vitamin D synthesis is triggered in the skin through exposure to UVB, including from sunbeds. However, we do not advise people to use sunbeds to enhance vitamin D levels, because any beneficial effect of increased vitamin D synthesis is outweighed by the adverse effects that we have heard about in the debate. We recommend alternative sources of vitamin D, such as dietary supplements.
Public Health England, for which I am responsible, discourages the use of sunbeds for cosmetic tanning, and rightly so. Those individuals who have very fair skin, who burn easily in the sun—I think of the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) when I say that, and it certainly applies to me—or who have had skin cancer previously would be at increased risk and obviously are advised not to use a sunbed. This is the point that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made about the race that we are and the part of the world in which we live.
The Be Clear on Cancer campaigns, which Public Health England leads on behalf of the Government, are designed to raise the public’s awareness of specific cancer symptoms, encourage people with those symptoms to go to the doctor, and promote the diagnosis of cancer at an early stage. We are about to roll out the next iteration of the Be Clear on Cancer campaign, about cervical cancer, on which there was a big debate in this Chamber last month, and we have had the campaign on breast cancer in the past. It is fair to say that there is no shortage of applications for the next iteration of Be Clear on Cancer. And often we are limited in what we can do in those campaigns in relation to the impact that people would then be driven into the health service. However, one of the things that I will take away from this debate is that it would be well worth my placing on the radar of the Be Clear on Cancer team melanoma and skin cancers generally for the campaign as we roll it forward. That will hopefully be one positive outcome from the debate.
It is critical—it is important that Health Ministers say this at the Dispatch Box—that people are aware of their skin. They need to be skin aware—in the same way as so many women have, hopefully, been trained to be breast aware—and to seek advice from their GP if they notice any changes, particularly in terms of moles that itch, bleed or change shape. I remember being taught that as a youngster and I wonder whether the younger generation are still as aware of that health message, but Be Clear on Cancer is something that we can look to with hope.
Let me touch on regulation. The Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010 came into force in April 2011 in England and Wales, as has been mentioned, to prohibit under-18s from using sunbeds. Restrictions on sunbed use by under-18s also apply in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. Guidance has been provided to support local authorities’ authorised officers in successfully implementing the Act, by providing information on the duties of businesses and how to carry out inspections. The local environmental health departments in England are responsible for monitoring and inspecting sunbed salons everywhere, except those situated in local authority leisure centres, which are regulated by the Health and Safety Executive. It is worth making that distinction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire talked about banning sunbeds. Should they be banned? A range of options to minimise the adverse effects of sunbeds has been considered. Public Health England has contributed to the most recent World Health Organisation review, published in 2017, on the public health interventions to manage sunbeds. Banning sunbeds was one option under consideration, but the adverse impacts need to be considered carefully to avoid unintended consequences, such as increased use of home machines—like Del and Rodney had—with more harmful impacts.
We have to be aware of the unintended consequences. One of the unintended consequences of banning the use of commercial sunbeds by under-18s was the opening of a market for home hire of second-hand sunbed equipment and sunbed parties—believe it or not. I have been to many parties in my time, but I have yet to be invited to a sunbed party. The mind boggles—it is probably best to leave it there. My swimming trunks have not had an outing for years, but that is probably for the best. It is vital to equip people with the information to avoid the risks of over-exposure to UV radiation. In this way, we empower individuals to protect themselves from UV sources.
Before I address prevention, diagnosis and treatment, I will respond directly to my hon. Friend’s suggestion that sunbeds should be banned. I think we need to look at the regulations again, as the shadow Minister mentioned. They have not been changed for a number of years. My hon. Friend has brought this issue to this Chamber with great force, intelligence and evidence. Now is a good time because we have published the prevention strategy and we are working on a Green Paper on prevention. I am interested in any and every idea that is related to prevention.
As a Minister, I am often given papers by officials, and stuff to look at and sign off. However, in this process of preparing the Green Paper on prevention I can say to my officials, “I want real blue-sky thinking here. I want you to look out into academia, to see where the really interesting and cutting-edge work is going on around prevention and future prevention.” This Green Paper process is really open-minded and based on open-source planning. If we look at the evidence and think that banning the commercial use of sunbeds, while taking into account the possible unintended consequences, could be part of prevention, I will not rule it out. I absolutely do not rule that out.
Wherever possible, the aim is to prevent skin cancer from developing in the first place. I met Melanoma UK at the Britain Against Cancer conference just before Christmas. It has a fantastic team, who I am sure have been very helpful to my hon. Friend ahead of today’s debate. I am proud to say that Public Health England and Melanoma UK have had great success in raising awareness of the risks, and the actions to take to reduce the risk of exposure to the sun and the use of sunbeds. The Health and Safety Executive plays a vital role in raising awareness through leaflets and posters, reflecting its guidance for tanning salons and their customers about the safe operation of sunbeds. My hon. Friend used many quotes from people who are engaged in this issue. One interesting quote was from the lady who runs a salon and said that she wants people to feel good about coming into her business, and that sending people away with a potentially life-threatening condition is not a good look for any business. That was an important point.
A tan may give you a so-called healthy glow. The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock pointed to the magazines and the media image: people always have that healthy glow. However, I have never thought of a good tan as a healthy glow. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance, published in February 2016, is clear that there is no healthy way to tan. The idea that there is such a thing as a healthy tan, as my hon. Friend said in her opening remarks, is a myth. Any tan can increase your risk of developing skin cancer, whether through natural or artificial UV, and getting a tan does very little to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun, which is my hon. Friend’s fundamental point.
NICE, NHS England and cancer charities, including Cancer Research UK and Macmillan, are all clear that if you want browner-looking skin, fake tan is the way to go. It is much safer to use a fake tan product on your skin than to sunbathe or use a sunbed. As the expression goes, “Fake it, don’t bake it”. I think that is what they say in the Department of Health and Social Care these days. I do not know whether you are aware of that, Mr Hosie.
I hope that I have covered a lot of the points that have been raised. I hope that I have demonstrated the Government’s commitment—my commitment—to improving outcomes for people in this country living with skin cancer, and the many more who are at real risk of developing this disease. The Government’s ambitions outlined in the long-term plan for the NHS, the Secretary of State’s prevention strategy, and the Green Paper will ensure that we strive to do even better over the next decade. In conclusion, I agree completely with the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk that, while we learn a lot in this place, there is a lot of repetition in many of the debates, but that this debate has not been one of those.
I thank the Minister for his thoughtful response. I hope that we can get something in the Be Clear on Cancer campaign and the Green Paper, because that would take us to the next stage. If we can prevent melanomas, it will obviously be a good thing. I thank the hon. Member for Rhondda, who talked about killing machines. Unfortunately, he is no longer in his place, as he has had to become a diplomat, educating the Germans to be diplomatic.
I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), and the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who all made thoughtful contributions. This issue does have a very 1980s feel, as the Minister illustrated with the good example from “Only Fools and Horses”. However, it is still happening.
The Minister said that education is very important. I support a campaign for “Sun Safe Schools” in Mid Derbyshire. We had a broadcaster who died in his early 30s from a melanoma—not from sunbeds. A lot of the money raised for him was spent in schools to make them sun-safe schools, where children learn an amazing little song about slipping on a T-shirt, slapping on a hat and slopping on sunscreen. It educates not just the children, but their parents: keep covered up and keep the sun cream on.
That did not happen in my day. When I was a child, there was no sun factor. We just put on Nivea, got burnt and put on camomile lotion after that. Today, there are options for people and it is important that we educate as many children as possible, because they will educate their parents. I actually challenge builders in the street if I see them without a top on, getting burnt, and ask them if they put on sunscreen. They are very polite, usually, about my intervention.
We need to keep talking about this issue, because I passionately feel that nobody should die from a melanoma. There are familial traits, but we need to educate as many people as possible about sunbed use and over-exposure to the sun, whether on the beach, in the countryside or in the back garden. If the Minister could include it in the Green Paper, it would be an excellent step forward.
However, I would still like not only a ban on sunbeds in commercial premises, but a total ban on the sale of sunbeds in this country. I know that is draconian, and I am not a great “banner” of things, but nobody needs a sunbed—they are not necessary to anybody’s life. I thank the Minister for his thoughtful response. I hope that this has moved the debate forward. Since it is 10 years since anything has happened on this issue, let us hope it is not another 10 years before we move forward again on this particular type of cancer.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the health implications of sunbed use.
Education Funding: Cheshire
I beg to move,
That this House has considered education funding in Cheshire.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I am grateful to the Minister for being present to respond to this important debate. I am also grateful to the Secretary of State for agreeing to meet headteachers in my constituency, and I am delighted to be joined by my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), who share my concerns about this important matter—I know that there might not be enough time for my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton to make a full speech, because this is only a short debate. I also notice that friends from across the House are present, including the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson).
I acknowledge the support that has been provided nationally to date, including the £1 billion increase in funding, the extra support for teachers’ pay and pensions and for capital spend, and the increase in overall education funding since 2010. However, increases in costs are outstripping that extra funding, and there are discrepancies and differences in school funding in different parts of the country. The funding of Cheshire’s schools is, and will be, seriously negatively impacted by its geography, rurality and perceived needs, or lack of needs. We will explain some, and hopefully most, of the key issues in the time that we have, so that if the Minister does not have time to go through everything, he will be able to meet us and address those funding shortcomings.
First, Cheshire East Council is considering its three-year budget forecast to 2020-21 and its calculations for its maintained schools, and it says that by March 2021, 50% of maintained schools in the borough will be reporting a deficit in excess of £100,000. The total forecast deficit will equal £9.2 million—that is 10% of those schools’ funding—which will affect 38 schools in the borough. Cheshire’s national funding formula consultation identified cost increases of 8% from 2016-17 to 2019-20, but funding in Cheshire East has only increased by approximately 2%. As the lowest-funded authority, our schools already have lean budget plans, which makes addressing those pressures even more challenging than in other areas. The current national formula is shifting resources away from areas—such as Cheshire East—with relatively low deprivation levels, reducing basic funding levels and not leaving enough to run the schools.
Under those conditions, it is not possible in Cheshire East to meet the headline minimum per pupil levels in all cases. Where school deficits are exceeding £100,000, schools will have to look at reorganising, whether that means creating federations or possibly closing. That will not meet the needs of families and children in Cheshire East, because the money will be diverted into transportation to get children to their schools. The pressures on special educational needs services continue to grow, particularly given the contribution of £6,000 that schools need to make. I have been told that because of that contribution, some schools might refuse to take children with special educational needs, or that schools that are all-inclusive and do accept those pupils will face an extra strain on their budget.
Presumably, the right hon. Lady was sitting at the Cabinet table in July when the latest school funding formula was discussed. I do not know whether she made representations to the Chancellor at the time, or even pressed the Cabinet for a vote, as there are well-documented claims that she did in the case of Brexit. We share some of her analysis of school funding cuts, but this matters when it comes to the Division Lobby, and in the right hon. Lady’s case, when it comes to her collective responsibility as a member of the Cabinet.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the fact that the extra £1 billion was put in place was particularly due to the pressure applied by my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton and for Eddisbury. As I only returned to the House at the 2017 election, I too applied pressure, because I think it is vital that schools get the money they need for education. For me, education is one of the key building blocks of social mobility that every child needs, so I did indeed make sure that we pressed for further funding. I would like that to be on the record.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the pressure that was put on by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton and myself, and indeed by other hon. Members who met with the Minister to ensure that a minimum level of funding was applied, resulted from the particular problems in Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester? Does she also agree that those problems are linked to the formula by which rurality is calculated, which is as the crow flies, rather than as the car or bus travels?
If the hon. Lady does not mind, I will continue a little bit further, because I do not have much time. This is only a 30-minute debate, and I know the Minister has to respond, so I want to raise a couple of key points about Cheshire West and Chester. However, I know that the hon. Lady has done a lot in this area, and has a lot of knowledge about it.
The key challenge in Cheshire West and Chester is that it is funded below the average of all local authorities, due to the emphasis in the national funding formula on funding areas of deprivation and areas with higher living costs. Under that formula, Cheshire West and Chester is funded at the minimal level of funding for all local authorities for early years provision, meaning provision for three and four-year-olds. In 2018-19 and 2019-20, Cheshire West and Chester has received the minimum 0.5% increase in school core funding, but in the same period, local government officers’ payment bills have increased by 5.6% and teachers’ pay costs have increased above the anticipated public sector pay cap. Spending is outstripping the funding that is going into that area, and as a result, Cheshire’s primary schools are now 44% less funded than London’s primary schools and its secondary schools are 49% less funded than in London.
My key questions to the Minister are as follows. Will he commit to look again at rural funding and address the discrepancy? Does he accept that the increase in costs is outstripping the increase in funding? Will he provide support when local authorities have to use independent schools to meet specific needs? Will he support Cheshire in creating additional special educational needs places, and provide capital investment to enable that to happen? Will he also look at the apprenticeship levy and whether it needs to be applied to schools, and if that is the case, make sure that the levy can be used in a wider context—maybe training, rather than just apprenticeships? Will he ensure that in the forthcoming spending review, he applies for more funds for the Cheshire area, now that he understands the discrepancies in funding in that area?
As I said, although we appreciate the money that has come in, when we look at how that money is filtering through, we see that there are still needs. Additionally, given the increase in housing and development in the Cheshire area that we all know about, considerably more pupils will be wanting to go to school. There are more children with needs in that area, including complex needs, and more demands are being placed on the local authorities of Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester. I appreciate that the Minister might not be able to give a full response to those questions today, but will he agree to a subsequent meeting, so that we can all work together to make sure that our area gets the right funding for its children?
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey) for allowing me to contribute to the debate, which we applied for jointly.
Before the debate, I wrote to every primary and high school headteacher in my constituency. All seven senior school headteachers, whether in free schools, academies or multi-academy trusts, sent a collective response stating that they cannot remember morale being so low, the main reason being the lack of funding into schools, and that standards—high in Cheshire East—will be adversely affected.
The heads asked me to bring four key messages to Parliament. I will quote their words, which are strong:
“The Government must stop misleading the country by stating that record amounts are being spent on education when”,
according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, since 2010, in Cheshire East
“the amount spent per child has fallen in real terms by 8%.”
Secondly, they say:
“The Government must commit to an index linked approach to the national formula so that all schools are able to deal with changes that are outside of their control, such as increased employer NI and pension contributions”,
as well as underfunded pay awards and other cost pressures. They say that there has been a 10% rise in staff costs in our schools since 2017 alone. Their third and fourth points are:
“The Government must demonstrate that every school in the country will gain enough funding via the Age Weighted Pupil Unit to run a school regardless of the characteristics of its pupils.
The Government should provide a long-term commitment to educational funding in a similar manner to the National Health Service.”
A major issue, say the heads, is that schools go from year to year with no annual Government statements or decisions about school funding, so there is no long-term planning. That makes it impossible for heads to plan or budget for the future. I have known most of them for many years and, dedicated as they are, it is remarkable that they carry on under the relentless pressure they experience year on year. One says:
“the role of the Head Teacher is becoming an impossible responsibility to fulfil, due to significant constraints on the financial viability of schools.”
To quote the seven heads again,
“school finances in Cheshire East are in a terrible state, despite the NFF promises made in July 2017.”
The Schools Minister knows that that was when funding of £4,800 per secondary school pupil was announced as a result, as we have heard, of a sustained campaign by headteachers, including those in my constituency. In Cheshire East, however, the heads tell me that they are not receiving £4,800. Instead, they receive: £4,018 for every key stage 3 child, £4,804 for every key stage 4 child and £3,971 for every key stage 5 child. That represents a reduction of 1% each year since 2014. Overall expenditure on school sixth forms has fallen in real terms by 16.3% since 2014. Funding for 16 to 19-year-olds is now 21% lower than funding for 11 to 16-year-olds, which makes it very difficult to run a broad sixth-form curriculum.
What is the impact of such figures on our schools? The heads state:
“Pastoral support…cut or removed at a time when the need is greater than ever…Class sizes have increased to unmanageable numbers and teacher contact ratios have been increased…over what is acceptable. SEN needs of pupils are not being met as they should. Courses have been cut, especially at KS5…denying many young people the opportunity to study what they want to. The…potential closure of multiple post-16 institutions across Cheshire East…Schools are having to continually restructure at all levels…to save money”,
reducing support for young people and staff year after year. Many schools have recently undergone ICFP—integrated curriculum financial planning—reviews, as recommended by the Government. The independent advisers said they cannot see where any savings can be made without the impacts I have just listed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) also continues to work hard to support schools in his constituency. As a Minister, he is not able to participate in the debate, but I am grateful to him for having organised a meeting, as a local MP, with the Secretary of State. Before his ministerial appointment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton, my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and I were able to discuss with him the important issue of school funding.
I turn now to primary schools. Many heads wrote to me—too many to quote them all, so I will quote just some:
“Finding it impossible to balance our budget.”
“Costs continue to escalate outside of our control from NI increases, regrading for Living Wage, national pay rises for teachers and non-teaching staff, local government pension increases, cost of energy and utilities, and general inflationary pressures.”
“If a child starts my school after the first week in October, I will receive no funding for them until 22 months later.”
“SEND Funding...is made up of a number of proxy factors, but 25% of this is deprivation. Just because you may have special needs, it doesn’t mean you’re deprived and...just because you’re deprived doesn’t mean you’re special needs...The current formula makes a postcode lottery out of special needs funding.”
“In 2019-20 in Cheshire East...39 out of 124 primaries will get less than last year. 31% of primaries will lose an average of 3-4%...The very small schools, such as rural schools, suffer further loses: 8 out of 16 small schools will get less than last year, with an average loss of over 8%”.
“The whole NFF formula needs to be revised...and…in Cheshire East schools actually receive just £2,928 for every primary aged child”—
not the £3,500 that they should get. Another head said:
“Funding for SEN is now at crisis point in Cheshire East.”
I want to finish with the comments of a new head, which moved me deeply:
“As a new Head, I have been overwhelmed by the constraints of our budget...We are particularly struggling with support for pupils with additional needs...support from the SEND Team at County has been limited because they are overspent and cannot afford to meet children’s needs...Services such as Special Needs, Safeguarding and Looked After are overspent and cannot offer the support and guidance that school and families need...The lack of funding in education in Cheshire is causing great hardship...It is heartbreaking to be supporting a child who needs alternative provision and to have to explain to their parents that there is nothing more you can do...If we don’t support our more complex children, we risk pupils being hurt, property being broken, and learning disrupted...We have a number of children suffering with mental health issues, and are witnessing self-harm”—
this is at primary-school age. They continued:
“We frequently find Health and Safety issues, but are unable to correct them because we don’t have the funds...I am also concerned that talented staff will leave the profession.”
I note that the petition for a longer debate on fairer funding had been signed by 1,424 of my constituents as of this morning. That is 1.5% of them. I will of course speak again in that debate on 4 March, because I have much more to relate from my teachers, but time does not permit today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, I think for the first time.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey) on securing the debate. I pay tribute to her and to my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) for the way in which they have, over the past few years, brought the issue of school funding in their area to the Department, to me personally and to the Secretary of State. If I may say so, they have had a significant influence on the way in which the national funding formula has been implemented—
I will not give way, because of time, but I was about to say that Opposition Members have also brought the issues to the Department’s attention. I pay tribute to them, too, and to other hon. Friends who are not present at the debate.
This Government are determined to create a world-class education system that allows every child to achieve their potential, regardless of who they are or where they live. As well as improving standards and supporting teachers, we are investing money in our schools and helping them to make the most out of every pound they receive. We are also delivering on our promise to make funding fairer. The introduction of the national funding formula, the biggest reform of the school funding system for a decade, means that we are now directing money where it is most needed, based on schools’ and pupils’ needs and characteristics.
I want to start by emphasising the significant progress we are already making towards creating a world-class education system, thanks in part to our reforms: the attainment gap between rich and poor is shrinking; the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools has increased from 66% in 2010 to 84% now; and our primary school children have achieved their highest ever score on international reading tests. We have also launched 12 opportunity areas to drive improvement in parts of the country that we know can do better.
The Minister mentioned the improvement in standards. One example is the Sound and District Primary School, which improved the proportion of pupils achieving at key stage 2 from 70% in 2017 to 83% in 2018. Will the Minster deal with the suggestions about the index-linked approach and the age-weighted pupil unit funding that is the core of funding for every school, regardless of its particular characteristics, which my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton raised?
I will come to that point. I am sure other hon. Members would like to raise that as well.
To support the improvements in standards, and because children get only one chance of a great education, the Government have prioritised school spending, even while having to make difficult decisions on public spending in other areas. We have invested an extra £1.3 billion across 2018-19 and 2019-20, as referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton, over and above existing plans set out in the previous spending review, so core funding for schools and high needs will rise from almost £41 billion in 2017 to £43.5 billion in 2019-20. Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that real terms per pupil funding for five to 16-year-olds in 2020 will be more than 50% higher than it was in 2000.
We can compare ourselves favourably with other countries. The UK spends as much per pupil on primary and secondary state education as any major economy in the world, apart from the United States of America. Although there is more money going into our schools than ever before, we absolutely recognise the budgeting challenges that schools face, and we acknowledge that we are asking schools to do more. That makes it all the more important that we do everything to ensure that we get the best out of every pound that we provide. One aspect of that is ensuring that that money is directed where it is most needed.
For the first time last April, funding was distributed to local authorities based on the individual needs and characteristics of every school in the country, not accidents of geography or history, as had been the case in the previous system, when schools with similar characteristics received very different levels of funding with little or no justification. Those disparities had persisted and grown for nearly a decade and left some schools and areas unable to get the resources they needed. That is why our commitment to reform the unfair, opaque and outdated schools and high needs funding systems was so important. I am very pleased to say that our introduction of the national funding formula delivers on that commitment.
Schools are already benefiting from the gains delivered by the national funding formula. Since 2017, we have given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school, while allocating the biggest increases to the schools that have been most underfunded. By 2019-20, all schools will attract an increase of at least 1% per pupil compared with their 2017-18 baselines, and the most underfunded schools will attract up to 6% more per pupil by 2019-20, compared with 2017-18. On average, schools in Cheshire East, including in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton, will receive gains of 2.4% per pupil by next year, compared with 2017-18. That will mean an extra £10.4 million in total when rising pupil numbers are also factored in. On high needs, last December we announced that we will provide £250 million of additional funding across England over this financial year and the next. In Cheshire East, it means the local authority will receive an additional £1.6 million across this year and next, on top of the increases that were already promised.
We recognise, as I have said, the challenges faced by the lowest funded schools. We heard throughout the consultation, particularly from stakeholders in Cheshire East—I remember meeting headteachers that Members brought to the office—that we could do more to support schools that attract the lowest pupil funding. We listened carefully and have included minimum per pupil funding levels in the formula to guarantee that every school attracts a minimum amount of funding for every pupil, regardless of whether they have children with additional needs.
I am pleased that the council representing Cheshire East has chosen to use the transitional minimum of £3,300 for primary and £4,600 for secondary schools in its local formula in 2018-19. In 2019-20, the formula will provide for at least £4,800 per pupil in every secondary school and £3,500 for every primary. In Cheshire East, secondary schools in particular benefit from this measure with around half of secondary schools attracting extra funding as a result. We have not limited gains for schools benefiting from those minimum funding levels.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton also raised the issue of rural schools. The national funding formula includes support for small schools, especially those in rural areas. It provides a lump sum of £110,000 for every school as a contribution to the costs that do not vary with pupil numbers, and that gives schools certainty that they will attract a fixed amount each year. The sparsity factor in the formula allocates additional funding of £25 million specifically to schools that are both small and remote. This year, seven schools in my right hon. Friend’s constituency attracted a combined total of £133,000 in sparsity funding.[Official Report, 19 February 2019, Vol. 654, c. 13MC.]
As for schools in Cheshire East that do not attract such funding either because they are not among the smallest schools nationally or they are not far enough apart to meet the distance threshold—something my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury raised—we have been clear that we want all schools to operate as efficiently as possible, and there is scope for rural schools in close proximity to work together to get the best value from their resources. None the less—this will please my hon. Friend—we keep the formula design under consideration and will consider feedback on specific factors when developing the formula. In particular, we appreciate that the straight-line distances used to determine eligibility for sparsity funding might not always be appropriate, given local geography, and we are considering how to refine the methodology for calculating sparsity eligibility in future. In the meantime, local authorities can submit a request to vary how distance is measured for sparsity funding allocations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton also raised sixth-form funding. We recognise the pressure that post-16 funding has been under and we have protected the base rate of funding for all 16 to 19-year-old students until 2020. Our commitment to the 16 to 19 sector has contributed to the current record high proportions of 16 to 17-year-olds who are participating in education or apprenticeships. We are also providing additional funding to support institutions to grow participation in level 3 maths. Institutions will receive an extra £600 for every additional student from next year.
I also recognise that protecting the base rate in cash terms means that funding per student has not kept pace with inflation, and we will look carefully at 16 to 19 funding in preparation for the next spending review. I hope that gives some assurance to my hon. Friends.
I appreciate what the Minister is saying, but the issue is not only about pupils coming to the end of their time at school. Primary school heads have told me that the base figure of £3,500, which they do not receive, will simply not cover their costs. They say the base cost to run a primary school and serve their pupils is £4,060, so they make the point that the base figure is now insufficient.
I understand the representation that my hon. Friend makes. She is, as always, assiduous, as are my other hon. Friends and Opposition Members. We have to make difficult decisions. We introduced that minimum amount to tackle particular problems highlighted by headteachers from Cheshire, and we keep the issues under review.
We understand that the national funding formula represents a big change to the funding system and that schools need stability. To ensure that there is a smooth transition, we have confirmed that, for the next two years, local authorities will continue to be responsible for setting school budgets at a local level, in consultation with their schools. This flexibility will help to ensure that the transition to the formula takes place in a way that best meets the needs of local schools and pupils. Many local authorities are moving closer and closer to the national funding formula, and 112 authorities, including authorities in Cheshire, have introduced a minimum per pupil funding level factor in their local formula. I am very pleased that so many authorities across the country are showing such strong support for the national funding formula.
I thank all Members in this debating Chamber today for their contributions to this very important debate.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Human Rights in the UK
[Mike Gapes in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered human rights in the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes, I think for the first time. I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce today’s debate.
Over the last few years, particularly since we began our Brexit journey, we have discussed human rights in the United Kingdom and the potential consequences for them were this country to leave the European Union. A number of colleagues, most notably my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), have sought assurances from Ministers that human rights protection in the United Kingdom would not be in any way diminished as a result of that process. By and large, those assurances have been given.
Why, therefore, is it appropriate to discuss this matter again? There are three reasons. First, we have moved on in the Brexit process. We now have a draft political declaration that seeks to define the relationship this country would wish to have with the other 27 members after it leaves the European Union—if, indeed, it does. A number of us noticed a slight change of language in that declaration regarding human rights. No longer is there a clear-cut commitment to embody in domestic legislation the European convention on human rights; instead, there is talk of respect for the framework that the ECHR provides. The other 27 signatories to the political declaration are quite clear in their commitment to the ECHR. That suggests the possibility of some divergence between the United Kingdom and EU member states regarding implementation of the convention.
Secondly, the Government are led by someone who could hardly be described as absolute in her commitment to the current human rights legislative framework in this country. When the Prime Minister was Home Secretary, she sought to undermine the Human Rights Act 1998 by suggesting that it was in some way soft on terrorists. It is also worth noting that when she stood to be leader of the Conservative party, she ruled out repealing the HRA, not as a matter of principle, but because there was, in her words, no majority in Parliament for doing so. One wonders what her position might be were the majority in Parliament to change.
Thirdly, the Conservative party was elected on a manifesto that pledged that the HRA would not be repealed
“while the process of Brexit is underway”.
Who am I to guess whether the Brexit process is nearing the endgame or not? It certainly looks likely that, in 2019, it will get to the final stages, and we may or may not leave the European Union. The question therefore arises: what would the governing party’s policy be on repeal of the HRA once the Brexit process has been completed or at least got to the position of being implemented? For all those reasons, the central purpose of today’s debate is to seek an assurance from the Minister that there will be no attempt to repeal, undermine, weaken or amend the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998.
I often feel that our discussions on human rights can become somewhat abstract and go over the heads of the ordinary man or woman in the street. It is important that we state clearly why human rights are so central to everything we believe in. In essence, human rights are an expression of what we mean by civilisation. They define how individuals should act towards one another. They confer respect and dignity on the individual. Crucially, as well as setting standards for the behaviour that we expect from others, they set obligations on how we ought to behave towards others. I would argue that the existence of human rights is central to our wellbeing as a healthy and dynamic society.
It has been rightly suggested that few people ever think about their human rights; they certainly do not feel the need to go to court to have them upheld. I doubt if more than a tiny percentage of the population even know of someone who has gone to court on a human rights matter. That in itself suggests how powerful and useful the legislative framework is. The central point of human rights legislation is not to allow people to seek redress if their rights are infringed, but to protect people in the first place from others doing bad things to them. The fact that there is so little court activity in this field vindicates the view that the system is working.
Of course, there are cases where the system does not work and people feel the need to have their rights upheld. It is interesting to refer to a few of those, so that we, and the public, can understand how central these matters are. Celia Peachey did not think that the Human Rights Act related to her at all. Her mother was killed at the hands of a violent partner. She tried for years to get the police to do something about it, but could not persuade them to intervene. After her mother died, she was able to use the Human Rights Act to secure an inquest, which returned a verdict of unlawful killing and criticised the police for refusing to take action despite her representations.
The Driscolls were an elderly couple who depended on each other for care and support to go about their daily lives. When Mr Driscoll was rehoused in a residential care home, his wife was not allowed to live with him. They used the article in the Human Rights Act on the right to a family life to argue that they should be rehoused together, and they won and were rehoused as a couple. That was of benefit not only to them; they set a precedent, and in such cases it is now normal to consider rehousing elderly couples together.
Members will know of the case of Gary McKinnon, a young man with Asperger’s who allegedly hacked into a National Aeronautics and Space Administration computer database and who was wanted by the United States of America. They tried to have him extradited, which would have led to 60 years’ imprisonment had he been found guilty. He tried to resist that extradition. To her credit, the then Home Secretary said in 2012 that she would not allow his extradition, because, under the Human Rights Act, his rights would be breached were he extradited to stand trial in the US.
There is also the celebrated case of the black cab rapist, John Worboys. Two of his early victims, in 2003 and 2007, went to the police to complain about what had happened to them, and their complaints were not investigated at the time. After the case came to prominence, they used the Human Rights Act to get an inquiry into how the police had dealt with their complaints. It found that they had not done so correctly. The police were reprimanded, and the victims received compensation as a result of that use of the Human Rights Act.
Many people will know of the continuing campaign of the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster to seek justice for their loved ones. They have repeatedly used the Human Rights Act over the last 20 years to move their cases forward.
The final example I will give is that of people trying to get redress against public authorities—particularly health authorities, such as the Mid Staffordshire NHS hospital trust. I do not want to go into detail about the sad state of affairs in that institution; suffice it to say that 119 families have used the Human Rights Act to seek redress for the treatment they received from that hospital. Those are all important uses of the Act. Often, they quite literally make the difference between life and death, and are central to the quality of life of our citizens.
Let me turn to the implications of Brexit for the protections in the Human Rights Act. I have already discussed the wording of the political declaration with respect to the European convention on human rights, but in a sense I have to wonder why it is even an issue. The ECHR is the creature not of the European Union, but of the Council of Europe—an organisation to which this country subscribes and that involves 47 European countries, 40% of which are not members of the European Union—so one wonders why this is even being talked about in the context of Brexit.
It has been suggested that a commitment to the ECHR, if taken seriously, is in some ways a hindrance to the process of government and that it prevents the Government from acting freely. Some people on the extreme wings of the Brexit movement would suggest that it means foreign interference with the ability of an independent United Kingdom to do whatever it wants. Well, it is a good hindrance, because it obliges us to conform to international norms of civilisation to which most people throughout the world subscribe.
In terms of complaints under the ECHR and judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, the United Kingdom actually has a very good record: it is right down at the bottom of the list of countries having cases lodged against them. Our association with the Court and with the processes upholding the convention should not be seen as some sort of hindrance; it is a vindication of the fact that this country is actually quite good at upholding human rights when it comes to how things are governed.
There is a concern that one reason behind the debate on revisiting human rights legislation may be a desire to free up the United Kingdom for international trading arrangements post Brexit—the International Trade Secretary is not doing that well at signing us up to them, but I am sure more will come on the agenda in time. It is important that we say at the outset that we are not prepared to accept any trade-off in human rights standards from third-party countries as part of securing trade agreements. Surely we need to be seen as a country that not only upholds its own human rights standards, but uses its power and authority to ensure that such standards are upheld internationally. I therefore ask the Minister, first, to confirm that there is no intention to diminish current protections, and, secondly, to explore how in a post-Brexit scenario—if indeed that comes about—human rights will be protected not just in this country but around the world.
One problem is that we are talking about something that, to some extent, has already happened. Last summer, in debates on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the Government were keen to ensure that the EU charter of fundamental rights would not be included in British legislation, despite opposition from my party and many others. Their case was that including the charter would be unnecessary duplication, since all the individual rights in it were replicated elsewhere. That was not quite true—some rights in the charter are not in the ECHR—but, in any case, it missed the main point: the charter’s purpose was not just to define people’s rights, but to create obligations on EU member states regarding how those rights would be upheld and, in particular, to assert their primacy over other legislation.
Jason Coppel QC’s advice to the Equality and Human Rights Commission cites a 2017 case of cleaners in the Sudanese embassy who had tried to go to court to uphold their employment rights but had been told that, under the State Immunity Act 1978, foreign embassies were exempt from employment claims. They used the charter to go to court and to argue and win their case that their employment rights and human rights at work are more important that the 1978 Act, which should be set aside to ensure their rights. The tragedy is that if we exit the European Union at 11 pm on 29 March, the charter will be gone, so those cleaners would not be able to bring such a case. That is a diminution of people’s rights.
It is important not to be complacent about this, so we need to look at ways of strengthening and developing the application of human rights in our country. To that end, I want to say something about the situation in Scotland, because developments there can provide some leadership to the United Kingdom and the other nations in it. The Human Rights Act is a reserved matter, but the European convention on human rights, which the Act enshrines, is fundamental to the devolution settlement in Scotland and Wales and to the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland. Scottish Ministers are required to comply with the ECHR in everything they do. For that reason—and for the simple reason that upholding most people’s human rights has an awful lot to do with the day-to-day processes of government—the Scottish Government are keen to look at how human rights can be developed and incorporated into Scots law.
Just before Christmas, the First Minister’s advisory group on human rights leadership, chaired by Professor Alan Miller, published a very good report, which I commend to colleagues. It sets an agenda for taking things forward over the next five years and sets out three central principles in the context of Brexit. The first, which I have already mentioned, is that there should be no regression in human rights protections as a result of Brexit. The second, which we do not often talk about, is that we need to keep pace with any improvements in human rights protections in the European Union. That is a matter of having policies to ensure that this country does not lag behind the EU27, or indeed the Council of Europe 46. The third is how to make it real—how to integrate human rights protections into the very processes of government.
The report splits human rights into categories, of which the most familiar is civil and political rights such as the right to life, the right to vote or the right to free expression. Those rights are central to the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, but there is a whole other dimension of human rights that is essential to defining the nature of our society: social and economic rights, such as the right to health, the right to shelter or the right to work. The report is instructive in how it takes forward the debate; rather than describing those rights as abstract principles or objectives to attain, it examines how to shape Government policy towards their delivery.
I am happy to debate the point, because colleagues from the libertarian right may be able to put an alternative point of view, but, to my mind, delivering social and economic rights has to address the question of regulating resources in society. Essentially, such rights are about a fair allocation and sharing of resources between people. That does not mean that it is the Government’s responsibility to provide everybody with the keys to a three-bedroom house, but it does mean that the Government ought to be responsible for ensuring that there is a housing public policy framework with the objective that everyone should be adequately housed. In cases where regulation or the market fail to achieve that objective, the Government should also be responsible for ensuring safety-net provision of basic shelter. To test whether Government policy is delivering those rights, we need to ensure that the notion of human rights is integrated into Government at all levels.
There is much that can be learned from the debate in Scotland, so perhaps the Minister could comment on it, and on whether such a debate could happen in the United Kingdom as a whole. Human rights cannot be seen as an add-on or afterthought to Government policy; they need to be central to it at all levels. In future debates on the subject, rather than having a reply from a Justice Minister, perhaps it would be more fitting to have one from a Cabinet Office Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister or even the Prime Minister, because human rights need to be driven into every aspect of Government policy. They should not be seen as the concern only of lawyers or legal departments; they should be central to how we do the business of Government.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes, and a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), who is a fellow member of the Council of Europe. I understand and agree with a lot of what he said.
The European convention on human rights has been around since the early 1950s, and it is worth remembering that it was 1965 when we agreed to abide by the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in the UK. We have had almost 60 years of a relationship with the European Court of Human Rights and its decisions.
I start by making the point that the convention is not the same as the Human Rights Act, and the European Union is not the same as the Council of Europe. The two are very different and we should take them as such. I have a lot of time for the convention, and I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said about it. I was particularly irritated during the referendum campaign that a lot of people got the ECHR confused with the European Court of Justice. The two are completely separate. One is owned by the European Union and the other by the Council of Europe.
I would go on to say that the single biggest contribution to peace in Europe since the end of the second world war has come from the European convention on human rights, together with the work that NATO has done. We should state that, and we should be proud of it, because we have been very much involved in it from the beginning. As the hon. Gentleman and I know only too well, the European Court of Human Rights comes with a democratic mandate. I imagine the hon. Gentleman spends a lot of time, as I do, voting for the judges who are nominated to sit on the European Court of Human Rights. That gives democratic control and is also a means of reflecting, to some extent, the mixture of politics, competence and a whole number of other matters that give the European Court of Human Rights its character.
I am not as enamoured of the EU’s involvement with human rights, which I think has created a very mixed picture. If I am not using the term wrongly, I think that the European Union has tried to steal the mandate of the Council of Europe, which applies to almost twice the number of countries as the EU does—that is where a large part of its strength lies. The relationship between the EU and the European Court of Human Rights is something that we are still debating at the Council of Europe.
UK involvement with the European Court of Human Rights has been a huge success story. It has been a very good illustration of how human rights overall are doing quite well in this country. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on the need to extend those human rights to matters such as housing. That is a route to socialist involvement in the running of this country that I do not agree with, and would steer clear of.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there are countries across the world, such as South Africa with its new constitution and some Nordic countries, that have a right to adequate housing in their constitutions? Does he consider those to be socialist countries?
The European convention on human rights was opened for signature in November 1950 in Rome, and the Government in this country was a Labour Government from 1945 to 1951. Will the hon. Gentleman praise the socialist Government under which the ECHR was originally conceived?
The hon. Gentleman plays politics with human rights, which is unworthy of him and of this Chamber.
To return to the issue I was discussing—the success of the British Government with the European Court of Human Rights—about 90% of applications that come before the European Court of Human Rights are deemed unacceptable and are not taken forward. Of those that are taken forward, since 1975, the Court has found no violation in a quarter. Our track record is particularly successful.
I want to bring up two cases that illustrate the extremes. The first is that of the Gurkhas. Members may remember that a few years ago we moved their headquarters back to the UK and their pensions on to the same basis as UK soldiers. They took their case to the European Court of Human Rights, which decided that there had been no real discrimination against them, and found for the British Government.
In a slightly different case on the UK’s mass surveillance regime, which it uses as part of security operations, the Court found that the UK had violated the convention and it asked for some changes. That brings us on to the very tricky issue of the role of human rights versus legislation regarding dealing with terrorism. I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh East that this should be looked at in the context of what makes a better world to live in—I am not one of those who believes that tearing up the European convention on human rights is the best way to protect us against terrorism—but, having said that, and as the hon. Gentleman will know, at the last Council of Europe meeting, when the issue came up of whether we deprive those who have gone to fight with ISIS of their passports, I enthusiastically supported that motion. We should not have them back. The role of human rights in this plays out at different levels and in different ways.
In terms of how the ECHR works, people should understand that they have to exhaust all domestic remedies first, before they have recourse to the European Court of Human Rights. They cannot go straight to the European Court of Human Rights. There has to be an alleged violation of the convention, and significant disadvantage from that.
The response I would like to hear from the Minister is along the lines of what has already been said—indeed, it was this Minister who said:
“The UK will remain a party to the ECHR after it has left the European Union. The decision to leave the European Union does not change our strong commitment to recognising and respecting human rights.”
I am not sure whether he remembers making that statement, but it was in response to a question from the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake).
I agree with the Minister wholeheartedly: human rights are too important to be used as a political football in this game of Brexit or, indeed, in anything else. We have a long and successful track record of using our involvement with the European Court of Human Rights and our long relationship with the Council of Europe, which oversees the Court, and of protecting the interests of British citizens.
I am grateful that we have you in the Chair, Mr Gapes, and it is a pleasure to serve under you. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) on securing the debate. I certainly have concerns about the loss of the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union, including article 25, on the rights of older people. I have been campaigning for a commission for the rights of older people; they are very much voiceless in our institutions, and we need serious reparation.
Today, I will take a different perspective. People will be glad to know that I am going to talk not about Brexit but about my city of York, which became the UK’s first human rights city on 24 April 2017. Currently, there are 41 human rights cities across the world, including nine in Europe, which are networked together. That is something we are incredibly proud of, and it builds on a strong legacy. In setting out what a human rights city is, I hope hon. Members will be encouraged to take that message back to their own cities to develop a case like the one Swansea is currently developing.
York is a human rights city built on a legacy. We became a city of sanctuary in 2016. York Travellers Trust has done incredible work representing Travellers and Gypsies in our city. The York LGBT Forum has welcomed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers and refugees, bringing them together in a safe space. The University of York has a global reputation, and its Centre for Applied Human Rights is famous for its protective fellowship scheme, which brings human rights defenders from across the world to the university not only to have some thinking space to make sure their human rights activity is sustainable globally, but to have some intellectual rigour in looking at best practice in terms of human rights defenders across the globe.
I ask the Minister to ensure that we do not face real challenges in getting visas for these individuals when they come to the UK, so that they can have that space. We are humbled to hear of the work they are doing, whether they are journalists, human rights defenders or people working in court systems. They come to the UK not only to have some respite, but to advance their human rights practice, yet visas are blocked time and again because these people do not have the resources, although they have people here who are willing to sponsor them. It seems a shame that doors are shut when we should be extolling the incredible work these people do.
As a human rights city, York has signed up to a charter to work on the domestic human rights agenda. I disagree with the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) on the importance of these issues, because human rights must also apply at home in the UK. The five areas that York has chosen—they are not circumscribed—are equality and non-discrimination, education, decent standards of living, housing, and health and social care. In becoming a human rights city, York embraces a vision of a vibrant, diverse, fair and safe community built on the foundation of universal human rights. It is a vision that is shared by all citizens and institutions in our city, including the council, the police, the voluntary sector and the faith communities. It puts fundamental rights at the heart of policies that are passed by these authorities, and builds on hopes and dreams.
People who know the history of York will know that this follows a strong legacy. On housing, human rights is such an important issue to our city, where the Rowntree family built our country’s first garden village in New Earswick. That stimulated the Housing Act 1919, which was the foundation of social housing in our country, and the model was then taken forward into Tang Hall, further into the city.
As a city, we have had pioneering mental health services—first at Bootham Park Hospital, which was established in 1777. When a patient tragically died there, the Quaker movement said, “We can do better” and set up a retreat. To this day, there has been competition to advance the human rights of people with mental health challenges in our city.
We then had Seebohm Rowntree, and many people will know that he wrote three incredibly powerful reports on the issue of poverty—the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has followed that through until today. Even in the 1899 report “Poverty, A Study of Town Life”, the authors talked to over 46,500 residents of York to look at the serious poverty in our city. What an incredible study that was, taking the stories as well as the statistics to try to advance our city.
Then we had Joseph Rowntree himself—yes, he of chocolate fame—who outlined what good-practice work should look like in our city. He provided not only jobs with decent pay, but pensions, healthcare, education, housing, a park, theatres, access to the arts, a swimming pool and decent conditions. He and his family understood the real importance of that holistic agenda for advancing individual rights, and he sewed that legacy into our city. That is why we are proud to be the UK’s first human rights city.
However, we are on a journey, and it is fair to say that there is a lot that we need to achieve. As we map our way forward, we are looking at statistics and stories to tackle challenges where, quite frankly, our city needs to improve. Over the last year, we have seen wages fall in York by £65, causing greater economic inequality when we are already the most inequitable city outside London. By using the human rights framework to look at economic disadvantage, we will be advancing opportunities for people in our city. We have a gender pay gap of £117, which has to be addressed—it is above the national average. We have also looked at the issue of food bank use, which is up 25% in the last year—over 4,000 residents needed to use a food bank. How can that be ignored when we look at a human rights framework? These are fundamental issues facing our society today.
There is an eight-year gap in life expectancy in York. In the wards of Clifton, Westfield and Tang Hall, men die eight years earlier than their counterparts elsewhere—they are disadvantaged both economically and in terms of health.
On education, using the human rights framework we have established, we have already seen the number of NEETs—people who are not in education, employment or training—fall. That is a really positive outcome, which is due to our tracking through the causation and then introducing the restorative means to get more people into work. However, York has received the worst school funding in the country from the Government. In areas where we have the lowest attainment—we have the biggest attainment gap in the country—we are not building a legacy for the future. I urge the Government to look at the data and make the link between funding and attainment, which our human rights framework clearly does.
Cuts to social care have had a real impact. To go back to the fundamental rights I mentioned, we know that contact with social care services has fallen in our city. On the important issue of housing, although we are a low-wage economy, we have people with high skills and therefore under-employment. That makes it harder to access housing, because we have a very high cost of living. Purchasing a property in York requires 10 times the average annual income, and it is incredibly expensive to rent. We have poor access to housing, and greater inequality is therefore being created between the haves and have-nots in our city. We therefore use the human rights framework to advance opportunity and map a way forward for people in our city.
Since 2017, we have established a human rights and equalities board and developed community voices, ensuring that those who never engage in our democracy, and whose voices are silent, are at last being heard. We reach out particularly to the homeless, disabled people, women and young people. We also support others who hope to develop the framework to advance rights in their own city. York has been built on its history and social traditions, and we want its legacy to move forward. The Labour party in the city has a vision of building a fair city for the future and re-enacting and repeating the work that Seebohm Rowntree did.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Mr Gapes. I am a little perturbed that my time has been cut, but that is by the way. I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) for securing this debate. Although we champion human rights in this country, there are certainly cases that show we are not where we should be. Next year is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s journey. In September 1620, a group of 102 people and 30 crew members sailed across the Atlantic to seek opportunity and to escape religious persecution in the UK. Some 400 years later, we still have some problems.
There are also cases that show us that one person’s human rights should not be laid on the altar of someone else’s perceived rights. An example was the case of Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland, when the question was raised as to whether we still have the right to refuse to serve based on a message that directly contradicts a sincerely and dearly held faith. After much legal wrangling, the case upheld the right to refuse a message, but not a customer. The idea that you cannot be forced to advocate something that you do not believe in is fundamental, and the decision was very important. The case was taken to the UK Supreme Court and in a unanimous decision five of the UK’s most senior judges upheld Ashers’ appeal against claims of discrimination. They agreed:
“The objection was to being required to promote the message on the cake. The less favourable treatment was afforded to the message not to the man...Nobody should be forced to have or express a political opinion in which he does not believe.”
That is what the court said, and it is very important to have that decision when it comes to human rights in the United Kingdom.
Although the case was ostensibly about a message on a cake, a section of Christian people were fearful that it was also about an impact on their right to hold their belief and to live their belief out. We are so good at protecting the rights of everyone to live their beliefs inasmuch as they are not harmful or destructive, and yet increasingly we have a section of the UK beginning to fear what can be said or not said when it comes to their Christian beliefs.
A 78-year-old preacher in Northern Ireland was questioned and tried for preaching from his pulpit regarding a biblical story and hell and the fact that if someone does not have faith in Jesus Christ they cannot go to heaven. He was found not guilty. That is another example of human rights. We have registrars who have lost their jobs as they cannot oversee the marriage ceremony of same-sex couples, which is against their held beliefs. Other people are happy to do it, and yet registrars have lost their employment. It is little wonder that Christians question their human rights when all seem to say, “Believe anything you want, tolerate everything possible, except for something based on the word of God and personal and heartfelt beliefs.” The court cases have proven that that is not the case. We must question how such cases get to court. There is a real fear within Christian circles at this time.
I have heard more than one Christian preacher warn his congregation that a time is coming when all will be persecuted for their faith, and many people believe that will happen in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I want a message sent today, very clearly and specifically, that that will not happen in this country while we are still a democracy—that we will allow people to hold on to their belief and live by it as long as there is no harm to others around them. This nation was founded on biblical principles from the time of Alfred the Great, and it is time that we reminded people that, whether we personally believe or not, Christians will not be persecuted for living their faith, in the same way as we do not allow the persecution of other religions. It goes without saying, and yet a growing section of our community need to hear it said in this debate today as we talk about human rights. We also must speak up for those who have been persecuted because of their religious and heartfelt views. It is very important that these matters are put on the record.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) for leading this debate.
I want to say a few words about the European convention on human rights, which I very much support. It is important to emphasise that the values that we see in the European convention are British values. Let us look, for example, at some of the rights contained within it: the right to life, which sounds fairly British to me; the right to avoid torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, article 3—we could probably sign up to that; the right not to be subject to slavery, article 4; the right to liberty and security, article 5; and the right to a fair trial and so on. All too often this debate has been tainted by a misunderstanding of what the actual rights are, as though they are a foreign import that do not reflect some of the cultural norms in our country, but nothing could be further from the truth. That is emphasised by the fact that, certainly in my experience in court, and I dare say in the experience of plenty of the other distinguished practitioners in this room today, it is overwhelmingly the case that any submission that is supported by, for the sake of argument, article 6 is often buttressed by domestic legislation as well.
In the criminal courts, if someone seeks to exclude evidence that is relied upon by the prosecution on the grounds that it would deny their client the right to a fair trial, it might be that, in tandem with invoking article 6, they will rely on section 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Although the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was absolutely right to highlight individual cases where rights had been asserted in order to achieve a remedy, in the overwhelming majority of cases in our country the domestic legislation does perfectly well and may be supported to some extent. As I say, it is rare that the right itself would found the claim or application for a remedy.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right in his assessment of the criminal law. The one area where the Human Rights Act, in the sense of the incorporation of the ECHR into UK law, has made a big difference is in family law, particularly in rights to see children.
That is right, and there are areas where there has been a greater role for it. However, I want to slay the myth that people are routinely invoking Human Rights Act points to seek remedies that are not otherwise available in the legislation. There are examples of that, but they are by no means the norm. The convention is important because it provides an important safety net at a time particularly of national stress and crisis. We know that in the case of a terrorist atrocity, the cry immediately goes up that the state must act ever more robustly, often impinging upon individual liberties. Sometimes that is the right judgment to make, but equally it is critically important that any measures that the state proposes are viewed through the prism of what we see as keenly won liberties. It is not just a British phenomenon.
If one thinks of the United States in the second world war, one of the episodes of which it has now the most shame was the internment of Japanese Americans at a time of national stress. But our country is not immune to it. In the aftermath of September 11, there was legislation in the UK that people will remember: part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which was used by the then Government to effectively hold people without charge. That ultimately was challenged in the European Court of Human Rights and the Court ruled that that was unlawful because it breached article 5. Again, it seems that that provides a useful safety net.
In my lifetime, members of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland were interned without trial, with quite some impact on family life. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is something that the ECHR has made a big difference to in the United Kingdom? As a result of our membership and its applicability through the Human Rights Act, it now would not be possible to intern without trial in the UK.
It is an important point and we must recognise that because—as is necessary in a democracy—we listen to our constituents and reflect their concerns, this House will always have a tendency to react in a very public way to what is perceived as a public need; but it is not wrong that there should be a check to that and a requirement for us sometimes to pause for thought.
In so far as we give great power to the courts—and to the European Court of Human Rights, through the convention—it is also right that they should exercise necessary discretion, and I respectfully suggest that there have been examples of their straying beyond their natural area of competence. The most obvious example is Hirst, when article 3, which of course prohibits torture and “inhuman or degrading treatment”, was relied on to rule that the British Government were in error in saying that prisoners could not vote. A number of people might think that that had gone too far, and that there had not been appropriate respect for the principles of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation. I will not go into that now, but there is certainly a case for saying that the Court should tread carefully—and I invite it to do so. I say that because what the Court does, and the rulings that it provides, overwhelmingly contribute to human rights in this country and to the quality of our public discourse and democracy. It would be a crying shame if unfortunate judicial activism were to put that at risk.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) for bringing this important issue to the House.
I am deeply concerned by the huge hole that will be left in human rights protection after Brexit, especially in the event of a no-deal Brexit. However, even while the UK remains a member of the European Union, human rights have been considerably worn down as a result of austerity policies.
No, but only because there is not a lot of time.
Only last year, the UK, according to Professor Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, was found in breach of four UN human rights agreements: those relating to women, children, disabled people and economic and social rights. The critiquing report drew on work by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to highlight predictions that child poverty could rise by 7% by 2022, possibly up to a rate of 40%. Professor Alston declared that such actual and projected levels of child poverty were
“not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”.
Such reports agree with the experience of my constituents. Enfield Council has already made £178 million-worth of savings since 2010 because of funding cuts from central Government. However, further cuts mean that the council currently has to find another £18 million to draw out of essential services by 2020. That amount of £18 million is more than Enfield’s current net spend on housing services, leisure, culture, libraries, parks and open spaces combined. The impact of cuts on young people is tragic. Youth services have been decimated and young people are abandoned, as essential staff have had to be shed, and what is simply a skeleton service is provided. Austerity in education in Edmonton has created an £8.5 million annual funding shortfall. Every school in my constituency has had funding cuts since 2015. That means, in an already struggling community, that the education of every single pupil in Edmonton has been undermined.
All that and much more has been done while the UK still has the protection of the EU charter of fundamental rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 is woefully insufficient on its own, and I dread what could be done to our communities without the limited protection that the EU charter provides. Does the Minister recognise the limitations of the Human Rights Act without the protections of the EU charter of fundamental rights, and can he explain how his party’s Government are preserving those rights before the UK leaves the EU?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) on securing the debate. We have had diverse contributions, from the hon. Members for Henley (John Howell), for York Central (Rachael Maskell), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and for Edmonton (Kate Osamor). I was particularly interested in the concept of the human rights city, which I was not aware of. I shall look at that as something that Edinburgh might think about. I was also pleased that the hon. Member for Edmonton mentioned the report and findings of the UN rapporteur on poverty. We should bear that in mind carefully as we proceed to look at how we run our economy and society.
The debate is timely, because Parliament is convulsed in a state of indecision at the moment about whether to go for the Prime Minister’s deal, no deal or no Brexit. Everyone is talking about the backstop. It is important in that context not to lose sight of the clear risk posed by Brexit of regression in terms of human rights, across the United Kingdom. It is also important to remember the threat that it poses to human rights in Northern Ireland. At least one speaker today has pointed out how integral the recognition of human rights is to the Good Friday agreement. For anyone interested in that, I highly recommend the briefing paper “The Good Friday Agreement, Brexit, and Rights” by Professor Christopher McCrudden, who is the professor of human rights and equality law at Queen’s University Belfast. The paper was published by the British Academy and the Royal Irish Academy, and makes interesting reading.
I believe that human rights are in a precarious position in the UK at the moment, because despite a clear commitment from the Prime Minister that Brexit would not result in a diminution of rights protections, the UK Government have not to date lived up to that commitment either in the context of Brexit or more widely, as we can see from the UN rapporteur’s report and the huge concern caused by the Windrush scandal and other aspects of the hostile environment policy. Many of us feel that the Government have refused to engage with people’s concerns about the impact of Brexit on human rights. It is concerning that while the Human Rights Act is said to be safe for the duration of the Brexit process, recent events have made it clear that the current UK Government have not lost sight of a long-standing desire on the part of some in the Conservative and Unionist party to repeal and replace the Act.
In the meantime, we know for certain that if Brexit happens we shall lose the charter of fundamental rights. That charter protected a wide-ranging list of fundamental rights and principles, covering certain social and citizens’ rights, and going considerably further than the ECHR. The UK Government have tried to argue that the charter did not add anything to the corpus of UK law, but that is demonstrably false, even going by the UK Government’s own right-by-right analysis from 2017. That highlights how limited UK domestic protections are in certain key areas. That is not just my view; it was echoed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member.
The Scottish Parliament tried to preserve the benefit of the charter of fundamental rights on or after exit day, in so far as it applied to retained EU law in Scotland. It did that in a Scottish Parliament Bill called the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill. Most regrettably, British Law Officers objected to the Bill and held it up until the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 was passed. That retrospectively changed the powers of the Scottish Parliament so that the continuity Bill, in so far as it attempted to preserve the charter in Scotland, was ultra vires. That was a retrograde step. To anyone who says that Brexit has not been used as a power grab on the Scottish Parliament I point out that the UK Supreme Court has clearly said otherwise.
The Brexit process threatens human rights protections across the UK, not just by repealing the charter but because of the wide range of delegated powers afforded to the Executive in the Brexit process. As the withdrawal Act stands, it would allow the amendment of important domestic rights legislation such as the Equality Act 2010, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the Data Protection Act 2018 with little or no parliamentary oversight. That is so because, despite the efforts of many of us to amend it, the Act contains no clear prohibition on the use of delegated powers to erode rights protections.
The repeal of the charter, the risks of delegated legislation, and Government obfuscation on these issues—that is also a result of Brexit—all threaten human rights in the United Kingdom. Hon. Members should not just take my word for that, because the Joint Committee on Human Rights criticised the Government over their report on human rights and the implications of Brexit, and stated back in 2016 that it was “regrettable” that the Government had not set out “any clear vision” for how they expected Brexit to impact on the UK’s human rights framework.
In the same report, the Committee found that the Government seemed “unacceptably reluctant” to discuss human rights after Brexit. The then Minister responsible for human rights, the right hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), was either
“unwilling or unable to tell us what the Government saw as the most significant human rights issues that would arise when the UK exits the EU.”
Such reluctance to commit is of particular concern when we consider future trade deals with third countries because many of us fear, as the JCHR hinted, that an unwillingness to discuss such issues in detail is suggestive of a Government who wish to prioritise trade deals over human rights. That is important not only because of the message that it sends out to the UK, but because of the message that is sent out across the world if the United Kingdom does not prioritise human rights.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East said, concern has recently raised its head again about the Government’s long-term intentions regarding the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998. It is difficult to remember what we all talked about in those dim and distant days before Brexit, but in 2015 and 2016 the current Prime Minister’s avowed desire to get rid of the Human Rights Act was a huge issue, and the big question mark that she raised over whether Britain would continue to observe the ECHR involved us all in a lot of debate. It seems that that issue has merely been put on the back burner, which is concerning.
As my hon. Friend said, in Scotland under devolution two pillars guarantee human rights—membership of the European Union and membership of the ECHR. Scotland now faces being taken out of the European Union against the will of the majority of Scots, and there is a big question mark over the depth of this Government’s commitment to the ECHR. The majority of Scottish voters did not seek or support those threats to human rights, and it is good to know that the Scottish Government are showing the way forward. Scotland’s national action plan for human rights has existed for a number of years, and just before Christmas the advisory group on human rights leadership to the Scottish Government published a report that suggested a new human rights framework for Scotland in the future. That advisory group was asked by the Scottish Government not only to make recommendations about civil and political rights, but to consider social, cultural and environmental rights, as well as if and how to incorporate rights found in United Nations treaties into Scots law and governance.
As my hon. Friend said, in recommending the next steps on Scotland’s human rights journey, the report of the advisory group set out three guiding principles—first, that Scotland should not regress from the rights currently guaranteed by membership of the European Union; secondly, that Scotland should keep pace with future rights developments within the European Union; and thirdly, that Scotland should continue to demonstrate leadership in human rights.
Will the Minister consider each of those principles and say whether the UK Government will sign up to them for the whole of the UK? Will the Government agree that the whole UK should not regress from the rights currently guaranteed by membership of the European Union? Will they agree that the whole UK should keep pace with future rights developments in the European Union, and that the UK should continue to demonstrate leadership in human rights? That is the sort of clarity that the Joint Committee on Human Rights and others have been calling for. I would like to hear such clarity from the Minister today, and if the UK Government cannot sign up to those principles, will the Minister tell us why not?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes, and I am grateful to all hon. Members who have contributed to what has been, on the whole, a very fine debate on human rights. I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) on securing it, and on his speech. He powerfully highlighted why this debate is so timely, given the worry that there will be a roll-back of rights, and that the EU27 will move ahead and enhance rights while we in this country fall behind. He also spoke well about the Prime Minister’s ambiguity on this matter, to say the least—I will return to that in a moment—and he picked out some strong examples of practical cases where the Human Rights Act and the incorporation of the ECHR into UK law has made a difference to those seeking justice in this country over the past two decades.
It was great to hear about the human rights city initiative in York, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and all those involved in that. We must spread information about the human rights and equalities board, and all the other work going on around the country. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), and the report of the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights should wake us up to the endemic problems of poverty in this country. She spoke about human rights agreements being breached, and that involves the economic and social rights of women, children, and disabled people. That is a stark reminder that although rights are critical, they are paper rights if people do not have the means to enforce them. It says everything we need to know about economic policy over the past nine years when an outgoing Lord Chief Justice can say that our justice system is “unaffordable to most”, and that should be a matter of great alarm.
The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) spoke about his experience on the Council of Europe, and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke movingly about religious persecution, about which we should all be vigilant. I did not agree with all the arguments made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk)—he is no longer in his place—but I certainly agreed with his support for the European convention on human rights.
We must return to first principles when discussing the European convention on human rights, which grew after world war two out of the desire and noble objective to ensure that what had happened could not happen again. As I said to the hon. Member for Henley, the convention was part of many different initiatives by the post-war Government to put that “never again” spirit into practice. I am always even-handed when dealing with the history of this initiative, so let us consider who supervised the drafting of the original ECHR. One of the people who took part in that, David Maxwell Fyfe, was a Tory MP and lawyer, and I wonder what on earth he would make of some of the modern-day Conservative party’s ambiguity towards that initiative.
What does the ECHR actually protect? I think the hon. Member for Cheltenham touched on that. It protects respect for life and is against torture and servitude. It protects liberty and security, and the right to a fair trial and not to have legislation applied retroactively. It protects the right to privacy, freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of expression and association. It protects the right to get married if one wishes to, and provides effective remedies and protection against discrimination. Who could disagree with any of that? My challenge to those who say that we should have a British Bill of Rights is to ask which of those rights they would take out and not include in that Bill. I remember asking Ministers that question when I first came to Parliament in 2015, but answer came there none.
I am happy to find some agreement with the hon. Gentleman because, yes, all those things still apply today. That is precisely my point—why would anyone want to change any of those time-honoured principles? Of course we can debate how some of them are applied and so on, but those principles are as important and relevant in 2019 as they were in late 1950 when the convention was opened for signature.
The Human Rights Act 1998 is also seminal—it is important to understand precisely what the situation was before its passage. The hon. Member for Henley said that our courts started following the judgments in 1965, but of course the problem was that between the early 1950s and October 2000, when the 1998 Act came into force, if one wished to enforce any of those rights, one had to go to Strasbourg in the first place. The big change that came about in 2000 was the ability to go to our local courts to enforce those rights, which meant that it was cheaper, easier and more efficient to enforce the rights that our citizens had held for so long. That was a seminal change.
I parted company with the hon. Member for Cheltenham because, although in one sense he is right to say that those rights buttressed existing UK common law rights, there are numerous examples—the hon. Member for Edinburgh East referred to some of them, and I also point out the example of family law to the hon. Member for Henley—where the incorporation of the 1998 Act into UK law has made a significant difference.
The Labour party is very committed and passionate about the ECHR and the UK’s signatory status, and about its incorporation into our domestic law. However, there is real concern about the governing party’s position, particularly that of the Prime Minister, on the ECHR. In 2011, the Prime Minister—when she was Home Secretary—said:
“I’d personally like to see the Human Rights Act go because I think we have had some problems with it.”
Her first view appeared to be that she wanted it gone.
In April 2016, she said:
“So regardless of the EU referendum, my view is this: if we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave, but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court ”.
That is the Conservative party’s position in its 2017 manifesto, which states:
“We will not repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway but we will consider our human rights legal framework when the process of leaving the EU concludes. We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament.”
In his response, the Minister has an opportunity to explain, because although we know what the position is for this Parliament, we do not know what it will be for the next Parliament. The hon. Member for Henley said, quite rightly, that these are time-honoured principles. Why, according to the Conservative party, are they only good enough for this Parliament? Why are they not good enough for the next Parliament, the next 10 Parliaments or the next 20 Parliaments?
I can say for certain that the Labour party will always be fundamentally committed to human rights, to the ECHR and to the Human Rights Act 1998. Can the Minister say the same for his party?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) on securing this debate on human rights in the UK. I have listened with great interest to the views expressed. We have a multiplicity of not only hon. Members, but hon. and learned Members, who have offered the benefit of their legal expertise.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh East set out not only his case, but the broader importance of human rights as a concept, highlighting a number of specific cases and examples. That is, quite rightly, a subject of real importance to all Members, and one in which I have taken a very close interest within my portfolio. It is not only intellectually fascinating but, as hon. Members have said, it permeates our national life.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of where responsibility for human rights should sit. I will not take personally his suggestion that it be moved. The reason that it currently sits with the Ministry of Justice and with me is that, although he is absolutely right to say that it is a cross-cutting issue, the Ministry of Justice is a key defender of the rule of law, and this issue goes to the heart of that. I am sure, however, that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Ministers in the Cabinet Office will have noted his points.
As many hon. Members have said, human rights in the UK are not new. The UK has a reputation for setting the highest standards, both domestically and internationally. As has been set out, that did not begin with the ECHR, the Human Rights Act 1998 or our membership of the EU—nor will it end with our exit from the EU. “Human rights” as a distinct term may have entered common usage in this country in the 20th century and developed through international treaties and organisations, but the concept of rights—and, I might add, responsibilities—in our country goes all the way back to Magna Carta in 1215, the Petition of Right in 1628, the Bill of Rights in 1689 in England and the Claim of Right in 1689 in Scotland. The concept has evolved over many centuries.
Common law developed alongside statutes and set out rules developed by the courts to govern relationships between people and Government, which we would recognise today as “rights”. We have a strong and proud track record on that. As the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) highlighted when talking about her city and its university, in many of our communities, the issue is rooted more locally. I was particularly interested in her comments about the work that the university and her city are doing in that respect.
Winston Churchill, no less, was one of the main advocates for a new regional organisation that was to become the Council of Europe. In 1942, he called for the “enthronement of human rights” and in 1948, he called for a charter of human rights that would be
“guarded by freedom and sustained by law.”
The European convention on human rights, as many hon. Members have mentioned, was drafted in 1950 by the Council of Europe, to safeguard basic political and civil rights.
I am always educated, not only in matters of the law, but in matters of history, by the shadow Minister, although in this case, it is a coincidence that I read David Maxwell Fyfe’s memoirs over Christmas. I suspect I am one of only a very small number of people in the House, or indeed in the country, to have done so.
As has been said, the UK was one of the first to sign up to the ECHR in 1951, before it came into force in 1953. It has been strengthened over the years by protocols, and the 1998 Act was a huge step forward in putting those rights on a footing whereby they could be enforced in the UK’s domestic courts. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) set out, the ECHR reflects—not in totality, but in large parts—domestic laws both passed by Parliament and in previous common law. My hon. Friend’s views on the matter are always thoughtful and considered.
How are we doing in relation to the rights that we now recognise as forming our human rights framework? Let us not judge ourselves; let us see how others judge us. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East and my hon. Friend the Member for Henley remarked that we have a proud track record. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg considered 354 applications against the UK, which equates to 5.34 applications per million inhabitants—the lowest of all 47 states parties, and one tenth of the European average. Only 21 cases were considered by the Court to be potentially of merit and were sent to the UK for a response, with just two judgments against the UK. That touches on a point that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made about the need to strike a sensible and appropriate balance when considering such issues in a domestic context, which I think the UK generally does.
After the UK has left the EU, it will continue to afford its citizens access to well-established domestic and international mechanisms to bring their case and obtain appropriate remedies.
I am pleased to hear that the Minister has read the biography of David Maxwell Fyfe. On our future commitment to the ECHR, at the moment there is real concern that the Conservative party’s positon is to remain a signatory for the duration of this Parliament only. Can the Minister give a guarantee for the next Parliament and beyond?
If the shadow Minister is patient, I will turn to what our ongoing position is—a number of Members have made that point. He may or may not be satisfied, but I will seek to answer him.
As I was saying, individuals will be able to obtain appropriate remedies when they consider their rights to have been breached. That will remain under our common law, the devolution statutes and, of course, the Human Rights Act 1998.
At the beginning of this month, the shadow Justice Secretary, the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon), asked my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, to
“give a reassurance...that the Government will not repeal or reform the Human Rights Act in the aftermath of our departure from the European Union”.
The Secretary of State answered:
“We certainly have no plans to do so”.—[Official Report, 5 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 163.]
I believe that that offers reassurance—perhaps not as specific as my shadow might wish, but it offers reassurance.
As we made clear in the Chequers White Paper, and as is clear in the political declaration, the UK is committed to membership of the European convention on human rights and will remain a party to it after we have left the European Union. The Lord Chancellor, and in this Chamber, the shadow Minister and others, read out the wording of our manifesto commitment on the matter. Our future relationship with the EU should be underpinned by our shared values of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. As reflected in my opening comments, the UK is committed to human rights. Our exit from the EU does not change that or signal a desire to reduce human rights protections.
I reiterate that most of those protections stem from work by the Council of Europe and under the ECHR, rather than from the EU, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley set out eloquently in his speech. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of all those hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, who serve on the Council of Europe. It is an organisation that, though not spoken about as often as it perhaps should be, continues to do very good work quietly and persistently. With that in mind, while I recognise the courtesy with which the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) made her point, I simply do not share her view that Brexit will leave any deep hole in human rights protections in this country.
More broadly, I too enjoyed reading Professor Miller’s recent report, which the hon. Member for Edinburgh East cited, and the work undertaken for the Scottish Government by the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership, which proposed new ways to draw further international commitments to which the UK is party into Scotland’s legislative framework. To underpin seven recommendations in the report, Professor Miller engaged in the broader debate about human rights in the context of socio-economic considerations and whether those should sit in a revised framework. That is part of a broader political and philosophical debate, with different views, as we have seen in the Chamber today. I suspect it is a debate that will continue. The hon. Gentleman asked whether it would continue in this place, and I have no doubt that if it does not, he will seek a debate on exactly that subject.
The SNP spokesperson, the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), asked that I read and consider the report and its contents. I will do so; I am happy to read it again and to consider it carefully. I cannot give a commitment about whether I will agree with everything in it, but I will certainly reflect on it carefully, as I do with anything she suggests that I should read.
UN human rights treaties have not been incorporated into UK domestic law, and they do not require states parties to do that. The UK has instead put in place a combination of policies and legislation to give effect to the UN human rights treaties that it has ratified. We have a long-standing tradition of not only ensuring that rights and liberties are protected domestically, but fulfilling our international human rights obligations. That aspect should not be neglected.
Some hon. Members touched on the report of the UN special rapporteur. As other Ministers have made clear, the Government will consider carefully the rapporteur’s interim findings, but they disagree with the conclusions reached by the rapporteur, highlighting that, compared with 2010, for example, income inequality has fallen, the number of children in workless households is at a record low, and 1 million fewer people are in absolute poverty. I suspect, however, that that is a debate for another day—it could take at least another hour and a half, if not more.
I am the Minister responsible for overseeing the UK’s obligations under the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and its optional protocol, and under the UN covenants on economic, social and cultural rights and on civil and political rights, not forgetting the UN human rights peer review process, the universal periodic review. I take those responsibilities seriously, and last year I went in person to Geneva to discuss the UK’s role in relation to the convention against torture with officials. Broadly, in my conversation with them, I was clear—as were they—that the UK has a continuing role in leading the way on human rights in the world.
The title of this debate is “Human Rights in the UK’, so let me sum up by reflecting on the fact that the UK has a rich tapestry of rights running throughout our history, for hundreds of years, and reaching out across the globe. They neither began nor will end with the EU, and many of the key rights stem from the Council of Europe. I appreciate entirely that, during times of change, voices will rightly be raised to question protections and the future, challenging Government. It is absolutely right for that debate to take place.
Let us focus on the commitments given, the protections in place and our historical role—we should be judged on those and on this country’s proud commitment to human rights. Many have suggested that human rights matter; I go further, echoing the words of my noble Friend Lord Keen of Elie: human rights are central to the way we live now and to the way we wish to live in the future. They are an integral part of the society of which we wish to be a part, and a reflection of our identity as individuals and as a country.
I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, and you, Mr Gapes, for chairing it. In particular, although we might not agree on everything, I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh East. I suspect that we will return to the subject in future—quite rightly so.
I know we are nearly out of time, so I will be brief. I thank everyone who has participated in the debate. I am slightly concerned that a few more Members did not turn up, particularly because we do not seem to have that big a distraction in the main Chamber at the moment—unlike with many debates in the Westminster Hall Chamber in the past. Perhaps as the months go on, we will encourage more of our colleagues to take part.
I have a couple of quick points to make. I will have to check the transcript, but I did not get from the Minister quite the unequivocal and categorical assurances that I sought on commitment to the existing Human Rights Act and the protections that it affords, or—several Members requested this—on no falling behind after Brexit, if rights improve in other European countries. I hope that we get such assurances in future, but that ambiguity—if no other reason—ensures that we will return to this debate in the months ahead.
Finally, I invite my Council of Europe colleague, the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), to reconsider his attitude on whether social and economic rights should be accorded the same status as civil and political rights. After all, in this country we have a body of legislation that already gives people the right to education and to housing in some circumstances. As time goes on, we will want to incorporate such rights into the body of what we know as human rights. It is cold comfort, is it not, to know that we have the right to free expression if we are starving on the streets and have neither an income nor a home to live in. I am sure that we will return to the subject in the months to come.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered human rights in the UK.
NHS Funding: Essex
[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered NHS funding in Essex.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I have raised the pressing need for a new hospital in Harlow on more than 20 separate occasions in the House of Commons, and this is my fourth debate on this subject. I thank my fellow Essex and Hertfordshire MPs, many of whom have kindly joined me this afternoon, for their support in the House and in our sustained campaigning efforts to secure capital funding for an all-encompassing health campus.
In May last year, I wrote to the former Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), to urge the Government to support the capital funding bid at the time for a new hospital. In that respect, I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker); my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), who is a stalwart supporter and works closely with me in campaigning for our new hospital; my hon. Friends the Members for Saffron Walden (Mrs Badenoch), for Braintree (James Cleverly), for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) and for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford); the Deputy Speaker, the right hon. Member for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing), who is another neighbour who works with me to ensure we have a first-rate hospital for the 21st century; and my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel). They all joined me in signing the letter, and they pledged their support for a new hospital to serve our constituents.
I hope the Minister will take away my right hon. Friend’s point that healthcare in Harlow is important, certainly to the people of Harlow and Essex, but also to people in Hertfordshire. People in Bishop’s Stortford, Sawbridgeworth, Hertford and Ware are all looking for this investment, and we hope the Minister will listen carefully.
My hon. Friend has been an incredible supporter; his constituents will know the work he has done to lobby the Government for our new health campus. He makes an incredibly important point: this is about not just a Harlow hospital, but a hospital for the surrounding area that will serve the people of Hertfordshire and Essex, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) is also here.
May I take the opportunity to add my support and that of colleagues in south Essex for the excellent campaign work on the additional provision in Harlow? I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will touch more broadly on the sustainability and transformation plans, particularly in south Essex. If we encourage the Secretary of State to press ahead with those plans, although there are some reservations, that will release capital expenditure in the south and further release pressure. That will not alleviate the problem completely, but it will help the issue across the county.
My hon. Friend makes the funding case for south Essex. As he says, the whole of Essex needs support, and I know he is supportive of a new hospital in Harlow.
The MPs in the surrounding area who wrote to the former Health Secretary said:
“The creation of a health campus…is fundamental to vitality of community and also to the economy of the entire region.”
To provide some context, the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow was built more than 50 years ago, having been completed in 1966. There is a lot to be celebrated about our hospital, but special mention must be made of the maternity unit, which was deemed outstanding in the Care Quality Commission report. It has been selected to feature for a second series of “Delivering Babies”, featuring “The Voice UK” host Emma Willis.
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point about the maternity ward at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, where my 26-year-old daughters were born. Although we are concentrating on Harlow, I want to make the point that £15 million of investment has been made in Clacton Hospital, which is very welcome. However, we are still having trouble recruiting GPs to coastal areas, and I would like the Minister to bear that in mind.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend’s daughters were born in the Princess Alexandra Hospital—not a fact I knew until today. Knowing their father, I am sure he was very proud that they were born in Harlow. I thank him for his support for our new hospital, and I am sure the Minister has heard the point about the need for more health investment in his part of Essex.
As one would expect, the natural ageing of the building means the estate is no longer fit for purpose, nor does it allow for service improvement. The structural materials are crumbling and the fabric of the hospital is outdated, making compliance with regulatory health and safety standards more and more challenging. Not only that, but demand for health services in Harlow has changed considerably since 1966. The population has grown by over 30,000, diagnosed physical and mental health illnesses are on the rise, and, more recently, NHS hospitals in neighbouring constituencies have closed, meaning that the Princess Alexandra Hospital now serves over 350,000 people—well beyond its envisaged capacity.
The impact of these pressures is fronted by both patients and staff. Waiting times in the A&E department are among the highest in the UK, and crowded wards are hampering patient experience. The dilapidated working environment, temperamental equipment and pressurised conditions are taking their toll on staff morale, with any hopes of enhancing performance dashed by factors beyond their control. Does the Minister not agree that we should do all we can to support our hard-working NHS staff and to champion their admirable aim to improve patient care at the Princess Alexandra Hospital?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate, and I absolutely support and welcome his case for investment in the Princess Alexandra. In terms of getting the improvements my right hon. Friend seeks in his hospital, as well as across our county of Essex and in neighbouring areas, it would be good to hear from the Government what plans there are in the 10-year plan to secure funding for the facilities we need.
My right hon. Friend has always been a champion for Essex—there is not an Essex issue that she is not on top of. She has been very supportive of the need for a new hospital in Harlow, and I welcome her signing and supporting the letter we wrote to the Health Secretary. She is right that we need to know how the 10-year plan will help our beautiful county—how it is going to help in west Essex, across the south and right up to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling).
In spite of the difficulties, the staff have proved they can implement changes. In March 2018, the hospital was brought out of special measures thanks to the incredible efforts of every employee, from the board members right through to the nurses, doctors, porters, cleaners and catering staff. Given the working conditions, it is no wonder that attracting and retaining well-qualified staff is so difficult. In December, the hospital operated at a 13.8% vacancy rate, and the board cited particular difficulty in filling critical nursing roles.
That issue is exacerbated by the promise of higher salaries and competitive training programmes at Barts and University College Hospital, just 30 miles from Harlow, in London. Further, Essex County Council notes the higher wages available in the privately funded social care sector as another magnet attracting staff away from our NHS hospitals. Many of those factors were never envisaged during the hospital’s construction in the 1950s, but we have the opportunity now to build a brand-new health campus that will bring healthcare services in Essex into the 21st century, as well as creating the space and training facilities for longevity.
At the start of this month, the hospital and I were delighted to welcome the Health Secretary; he saw for himself the state of affairs at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. I am incredibly grateful to him for taking the time to speak so meaningfully with the NHS staff, particularly those on the frontline—the doctors, nurses and support staff—to allow him to gauge the realities of the day-to-day operations at the hospital. I take this opportunity to ask whether the Minister will commit to visiting the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, to continue the Health Secretary’s work. Does he recognise how useful it may be to inform future decisions about capital funding?
The Health Secretary concluded that Harlow has a strong case for capital funding. He stated how impressed he was with what the staff were managing to do in the tight working spaces, and acknowledged that a longer-term solution was essential. The board is doing all it can to set progress in motion. The trust is currently developing a pre-consultation business case and refreshing its 2017 strategic outline case, which will be submitted for approval in June. An event will be held tomorrow with stakeholders to assess the preferred way forward, including for the location of the new health campus, with a final decision to be made next month.
I understand from discussions between the Health Secretary and the trust’s executive board that the Department of Health and Social Care has spent its current capital allocation, and that major capital projects will be considered following the upcoming spending review. Will the Minister provide an assurance that, when the time comes, he will take all the necessary steps and work with the Treasury to release the capital funding for the new hospital we desperately need? Will he also set out a timeframe for that decision?
The trust’s executive board estimates that the health campus would cost £400 million. It is one of the seven new hospital projects seeking more than £100 million. I assure the Minister that that investment would provide a long-term solution, ultimately saving the Government, the hospital and the taxpayer millions of pounds. Princess Alexandra Hospital has been fortunate to receive pockets of Government funding, for which we are incredibly appreciative. In December, it received £9.5 million to provide additional bed capacity, on top of a £2 million investment in September ahead of the busy winter period. Successful capital funding bids led to the four-month turnaround of the £3.3 million new Charnley ward in January and the addition of a second maternity theatre last year.
I acknowledge that the Government are supporting the hospital, but those stop-gap investments were quick fixes when the need became urgent. Surely it is now time to look at the bigger picture. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that we must be wise with taxpayers’ money, and that to do so, we must address the root causes of the problems—the reasons why we need additional space for beds and extra funding for our A&E department, which is one of the busiest in the country?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that those problems are not always merely a question of funding but are frequently to do with hospital management, which sometimes fails? We politicians, and the Government, should stand by to offer support and hold management to account.
My hon. Friend is right. We are very lucky that the management of Princess Alexandra Hospital are second to none. We were in significant difficulties, but they turned the hospital around and are doing a remarkable job. They are doing their side of the equation; we need the Government to do the other side.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way to me a second time. Does he agree that the issue, and the reason we need long-term funding, is that both our constituencies face significant pressures for additional housing? Simply coping with what we have now is difficult enough. We need long-term funding to provide healthcare to the new communities that will be built.
My hon. Friend again hits the nail on the head. We have a problem at the moment, but we will have thousands and thousands of new houses in our area. It will be impossible to maintain the hospital as is with that population influx.
A new health campus would provide the additional space we desperately need and make a huge difference to patient and staff satisfaction. Patient flow would improve with greater bed capacity. Reduced pressure on staff to turn over beds quickly would allow them to spend more time with patients, delivering the quality of care they are eager to provide. What is more—I know this will please the Minister—the Government would no longer need to fork out millions of pounds for temporary add-on structures to create space for more beds. We have a ward that was literally built on stilts above a car park.
The health campus would take into account the anticipated population growth in Harlow and provide the flexibility that is currently lacking. Working conditions for staff would greatly improve, the attractive state-of-the-art facilities would allow the hospital to recruit from the very best, and of course the skills and training opportunities would be limitless. I am heading up an inquiry on the fourth industrial revolution in my capacity as Chair of the Education Committee, so I am well aware of the skills deficit we face in this country, which is set only to widen in the age of automation.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
The health campus would work closely with Public Health England, whose timely move to Harlow in 2022 would allow for unrivalled research and training partnerships.
The hospital is already working with the award-winning Harlow College to provide apprenticeships, and with the University of Essex on training, but we could go further. High-class nursing degree apprenticeships could be delivered at an education centre on site, rather than sending staff away on courses that cost valuable time and money. These career development opportunities would go a long way to improve staff retention, and the board would no longer be forced to pay expensive agency providers to fill vacancies.
In line with the NHS 10-year plan, this digitally enabled, purpose-built health campus would provide the flexibility to adapt and take advantage of technological advances in medicine and science. Harlow would become the health science capital of England if the Department would allow it to have that future.
In summary, we have a hospital that has outstanding staff and is improving daily, yet it has an ageing infrastructure that is not fit for purpose, and it is currently spending millions on repairs that could be spent on the frontline. A new Harlow health campus for the 21st century would save the Treasury money in the long run, because it would mean an end to this constant need for capital refurbishments, hugely cut down on agency staff and help to cut the cost of healthcare in west Essex more generally, providing an enormous number of modern services under one roof.
The hospital, its staff and the MPs who represent them all have grand aims for the future of healthcare in Essex. I urge the Minister and the Government to pick up the baton, to champion our hard-working NHS staff and to dip into the £20.5 billion of additional NHS funding announced in the Budget to deliver the health campus that we desperately need.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on securing this debate and on being—I hope he will not mind me referring to him in this way—a warrior for Harlow. There is no doubt that he has made a strong and welcome case for investment in the Princess Alexandra. It is clear that Harlow needs a new hospital, and that a new campus can meet the long-term health objectives of both Harlow and neighbouring areas.
That brings me to the question of the health challenge across the whole of Essex when it comes to funding and investment in the NHS and the delivery of better healthcare services, especially given the significant levels of housing and population growth. There is an irony here: central Government provide money to local authorities for housing, looking at capacity studies, new growth and things of that nature, but we are not joined up enough across Government to release some of those funds back into the health economy.
Importantly—I hope the Minister will recognise this—the comprehensive spending review presents an opportunity for the Government to look at how the funding formulas can be connected to long-term economic and population growth. Of course, to ease pressures on hospitals and the health and social care systems, we also need investment in my constituency in a new multi-purpose healthcare centre that brings GPs and other health practitioners together at a local level. I am grateful to the Department of Health and Social Care, because I recently met the Secretary of State, who endorsed and gave his personal support to a new health centre in Witham and has also put pressure on the clinical commissioning group to work on the delivery of that, as the Minister is aware.
Returning to the point that I made in my intervention earlier, the new 10-year plan for health and the NHS is a perfect opportunity and window to consider how the Department can join up the whole system, make it much more integrated and look at delivery. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) mentioned GPs; in our part of Essex and in rural parts of Essex we struggle to recruit them. We have the excellent Anglia Ruskin University training the next generation of GPs at a rate of 100 per year, thanks to its new medical school, and we want to benefit from that; I think the whole of Essex will benefit from it.
I hope the Minister, in his remarks, will look at the whole health economy in Essex and take on board the case that has been made today that we need not just investment, but a long-term vision from the Department.
Sir Christopher, it is good to see you in your place and to take part in this important debate. I start, as I should, by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) on securing another debate—his fourth—on this matter. He is well known for his tireless work on matters of healthcare in Harlow and across the whole of Essex. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) described him a moment ago as a “warrior for Harlow”; I think that was in response to the compliment he paid her of being a “champion for Essex”. I listened to her speech and her earlier intervention, and I will say that, should she wish to, I would be delighted if she joined me in a debate next Tuesday on the 10-year plan.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham is of course right that this is an opportunity. We have set out a comprehensive plan, full of ambitions to link up healthcare, backed up by an implementation plan. I am hopeful, because this is the first time that has been seen. Layer on to that the integration of health and social care in the Green Paper, and I hope she will agree that those are steps forward.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow has not only secured debates, but has had a number of meetings with my predecessor on a number of issues relating to the Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust. I notice that today he welcomed the visit of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who visited the trust two weeks ago. I know the Secretary of State was hugely impressed by the outstanding staff and the good work they do, and I have noted the kind invitation extended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow to come to Harlow, which I accept; I look forward to coming later in the year.
On a number of occasions, my right hon. Friend has raised the proposal to build a new hospital, which demonstrates his commitment to what he and I both recognise as the most important issue in his constituency. The Government recognise that a number of trusts face estates challenges; that is why there is a commitment to upgrade the NHS estate, with £3.9 billion in capital investment for buildings and facilities by 2022-23. I will come on to the comprehensive spending review in a second.
I noted, of course, the interventions from other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) made the point about Harlow’s importance to the wider health economy in Hertford and Stortford, and my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) reminded me that we must have the staff in the hospitals. The workforce section of the 10-year plan sets that out.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow knows that the NHS’s buildings and services are being modernised and transformed through the sustainability and transformation fund investment. That money is going toward a range of programmes. I recognise that in July 2018 the trust put forward a revised bid for around £330 million, with potential for that to be funded through sustainability and transformation partnerships funding, private finance contributions and some land disposals.
I know that the bid was well supported and attracted a lot of careful attention but, as my right hon. Friend will recognise, there was strong competition from a range of schemes across the country; the fund was heavily over-subscribed and there was some rigorous prioritisation. I hope he will recognise that officials from both NHS England and NHS Improvement are working closely with the trust. They are supportive of the capital bid that has been put forward and are working with the trust on the programme to look at that bid for the future. They continue to develop the options to tackle the challenges that the people of Harlow and the wider economy face, and to secure that best outcome. I guarantee him that that work will continue, and that I will ensure that I take an interest in his scheme.
I know that my right hon. Friend will have recognised and welcomed a number of tranche 4 bids that did secure some money for the trust for additional bed capacity, improving emergency department performance and patient flow and reducing bed occupancy. That scheme represents a key part of the NHS trust’s plan to dramatically improve and transform the emergency care pathways. I acknowledge that that was not the scheme he wanted, but I hope he will recognise that it has been extremely helpful, and that the trust has made excellent use of that capital.
I know that my right hon. Friend will wish to acknowledge that there has also been wider recognition of bids from across Essex; there was money for Hertfordshire and West Essex in Luton, in the Hertfordshire and West Essex vascular surgery network and in West Hertfordshire hospitals. I hope he will agree that there is continued commitment from the Government to the NHS and to the patients in the wider region.
I will directly address the point that my right hon. Friend raised with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. There will be further opportunities to access capital. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham pointed out, there will be a comprehensive spending review this year, in which we clearly have the chance to link up those things she mentioned; I entirely take her point on board. My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow will recognise that the CSR will be when decisions on future capital allocations will be made for the next five years. The 2015 CSR first did that, and that has continued, and we expect it to happen in the next CSR. I assure my right hon. Friend that I have no doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury will listen to his financial appeals for his constituents.
I hope that my right hon. Friend recognises the wave 1 and 2 capital funding secured during 2017-18 to support the redesign of the emergency department at the hospital. That was targeted very much at improving those facilities. I hope that he also recognises that that was on top of what I referred to earlier. I am sure he will support, as I do, the fact that that has gone into championing excellence in the paediatric emergency department.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the Harlow science hub and campus programme. Partly owing to his campaigning, there will be a new public health campus in Harlow, and I pay tribute to his efforts. I am pleased to say to him—as I am sure he knows—that that is still on schedule. A phased opening from 2021 will ultimately see approximately 2,700 people based there from 2024. Public Health England and the Princess Alexandra Hospital have discussed what other opportunities for Harlow’s wider health economy might arise from basing the campus there. I hope to be able to share with him more details on that in the near future.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s work in raising support for the Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust’s bigger capital bid. I reassure him that there will be opportunities to access that capital in the spending review process in the latter part of this year. He challenged me on the timeline of that. As someone once closely associated with the former Chancellor, he will know that the Treasury does not easily give out its timelines. “Soon” or “this autumn” are probably appropriate answers to his inquiry.
On numerous occasions, my right hon. Friend has raised the estate issues facing the trust, in the House, in meetings with my predecessors and with the current Secretary of State. I look forward to accepting his invitation to continue working with him on this issue for the people of Harlow and for the NHS in Essex.
Question put and agreed to.
Primary Schools: Nurture and Alternative Provision
I beg to move,
That this House has considered nurture and alternative provision in primary schools.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this issue. I am also grateful to colleagues who have come along. On what is a standard Brexit day in the House, an education debate might be nice light relief for us all.
I got into politics to talk about education. As somebody who always wanted to be a teacher before accidentally finding myself here, I have the privilege of working on the Education Committee, which has undertaken—before my time on it—interesting inquiries on both alternative provision and the benefit of early intervention for the life chances of young people. It is important that we get the foundation of our education system right. In my view, education should always be our priority; without it, nothing else works. Without the right support early in children’s lives, the challenges and costs only grow over time.
This debate covers two specific areas: “nurture care”—I am grateful to nurtureuk for the information it shared with me on that—and alternative provision, each of which I will address in turn. Nurture care begins at home but is a crucial aspect in the early years of schooling, especially in deprived areas and for troubled families. Across my constituency, there are relatively high levels of family breakdown, mental health issues and deprivation, which is a perfect storm of challenges for both parents and children.
Those challenges have an impact on educational attainment. In Mansfield, 27% of children start primary school without the core abilities needed to succeed, including speech and language skills. I have seen this at first hand. Barely a week goes by when I do not visit a local school. I have seen five-year-olds still in nappies, unable to communicate properly, not knowing what a book is or how to hold one and unable to settle in primary school. The Government introduced free childcare, starting for two-year-olds, aimed at supporting such children sooner, but inevitably it seems that those most in need are the ones who do not take it up.
Children who have a good start in life tend to do better at school, attend lessons regularly and form meaningful friendships, and they are significantly less likely to offend or experience mental health problems in later life. Nurture care in schools ensures that children engage with more supportive experiences, giving them the necessary social and emotional skills to succeed and to develop resilience.
The hon. Gentleman is making an incredible speech. I am proud to serve with him on the Education Committee. On the importance of nurture groups, does he agree that schools across our constituencies could be encouraged to introduce them if their extra efforts to be inclusive by doing so could be somehow acknowledged in Ofsted reports?
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind comments. I absolutely agree. Recent Ofsted proposals to look more at the holistic support within schools, and not only at academic results, are positive. However, that could certainly go further, and this kind of provision could be included in that.
Mansfield has some great examples of schools that work to provide nurture care for their pupils. I particularly mention Forest Town Primary School, which supports its most vulnerable pupils through a nurture group. That group is almost a school within a school, providing holistic care to help children engage with education early.
Last year, I went round several Coventry schools. Some were particularly short of resources to employ what we might call specialist teachers, for kids who have special needs. We found the same thing in nursery provision in some of the most deprived areas in Coventry. I do not want to get too political, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should try to address that somewhere down the line?
I agree. There is certainly a case to be made for specialist training and for changes to the way we train teachers, which I know from discussions with Education Ministers that the Government have touched on.
That Forest Town centre is a separate building on the school site, allowing young people who find mainstream education challenging in those early years to be in a quieter, more personal and supportive environment, and to slowly build up to the full experience. Some have special educational needs or challenging situations at home, but all are able to grow at their own pace with extra support. It is a bit like alternative provision, but it is on site and is therefore more flexible, allowing the children to move in and out of that mainstream setting and to have a space to call their own within the school. Equally, they are not excluded from their social networks in the same way as if they were sent to off-site provision. The teachers at Forest Town do a fantastic job, and their hard work and supportive care makes a huge difference to those children’s lives.
The different curricula offered to children in nurture care are more bespoke and suitable for those children. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the progress of those children should therefore not be judged by the same measures as their peers? They are getting a bespoke and individualised experience.
I agree; there has to be some leeway. We often talk in this place about people’s aspirations for the future. For some people, that means undertaking A-levels and going to university, but for others it just means being able to live a relatively normal life, to get on in school and get into employment; the simpler things. There should be an acceptance of that in the way that we judge schools more broadly.
I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the Education Committee. I note that several Committee members are here. On his point about on-site organisation within a school, he will know that the Committee’s alternative provision report suggested that, whether it is learning support units or other organisations within schools, it is important for teachers to be properly trained to deal with children who have difficulties. At the moment, there are often supply teachers or temporary teachers in those organisations, who do not necessarily have those skills, which can make a world of difference. As he describes, it is so much better for a child to stay within the main school and to move between the mainstream unit and the separate unit, depending on his or her difficulties.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention and particularly thank him and the other members of the Select Committee for coming along today. I absolutely agree—I will touch on this later—that it is important that this is not exclusion from the classroom; it is a nurturing and supporting environment to help the children to succeed.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on initiating the debate. The fact that so many hon. Members have intervened indicates our interest. Like the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), I believe that there is a real need for the short-term, focused intervention that is found in nurture groups for children with particular social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Does he agree that we need to increase the availability of nurture groups, which will allow individual children to reach their potential, but also ensure that teachers are able to better spread their time and energy throughout classes in which children who are unable to learn in a typical classroom set-up are being taught in a dedicated way that benefits everyone?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Later I will touch on some statistics from Northern Ireland that I hope he will find interesting. I agree with him. The reason why the provision at Forest Town, in particular, works is that although it is in a separate building and environment, it is included within the school. That allows the teachers to engage with it and children to dip in and out, and allows the integrated and supported approach that the hon. Gentleman describes. It is incredibly beneficial.
The earlier we can get children and families engaged with nurture care, the better. Children learn best when they have strong self-esteem, a sense of belonging, and resilience. Nurture groups were first developed in London in 1969 by educational psychologist Marjorie Boxall. Large numbers of young children were entering primary school in inner London with severe emotional and behavioural difficulties, which led to high demand on special school places in particular. Marjorie Boxall understood that these children had not received early support and were not ready to meet the demands of primary school. As a response, nurture care was developed, and it has consistently proved to be an effective way of helping disadvantaged children.
Nurture groups tend to offer short-term, inclusive and focused intervention. The groups are classes of between six and 12 children, supported by the whole school—not just by specialist staff for that particular site, but by teachers from across the school and by parents, who are often included in the provision. Each group is run by a couple of members of staff. They assess learning, communication and emotional needs and try to break down the barriers to learning in the mainstream environment.
Crucially, the children who attend nurture groups remain an active part of their main class and their school. They are not excluded; they are not taken off site into alternative provision. They are able to engage in the classroom with their peers wherever that is possible and wherever they are comfortable. I will touch on this again later, but I strongly support programmes that allow children to remain in mainstream schooling to engage with their peers. That is better for the child and for the taxpayer wherever it is possible.
The relationship between staff and pupils in nurture groups provides a consistent and supportive example that children can base their own behaviour on. For so many children, role models are simply vital, and this caring approach can be hugely successful. It engages children with education, giving them a positive and enjoyable learning experience, and it can help where children do not get the same support at home.
Nurture groups have been working successfully for more than 40 years right across the UK. That statement is supported by a number of studies. Last year, in my constituency, I was pleased to meet nurtureuk, which is the national charity supporting this whole-school intervention. Its figures show that this provision works. One school in Kent running a nurture programme saw exclusions drop by 84%, which I am sure that hon. Members will agree is a remarkable figure.
A 2016 Queen’s University Belfast study also supports the effectiveness of nurture groups. It evaluated the impact of 30 such groups in Northern Ireland and found them to be cost-effective. In addition, although 77% of children who entered nurture groups exhibited difficult behaviour, that had reduced to just 20% at the end of the programme.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Does he share my concern in this respect? Nurture groups sound absolutely fantastic and definitely suitable for the children. I wonder whether we would find nurture groups and the approach of looking at the causes of that behaviour in schools that have zero-tolerance behaviour policies.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. The point that she raises may not be one for discussion now, but it is certainly interesting. There absolutely does have to be a balance. I am a firm believer—having been to a variety of schools, with different atmospheres—in discipline and teaching children the value of that, but equally in respecting the needs particularly of vulnerable children in cases such as these. I do not think that nurture care has to be a formal thing, but I do think that there has to be that flexibility of approach to give a more bespoke experience to children who need it.
The hon. Gentleman is very kind; he has been most gracious to us all in taking our interventions. He mentioned Queen’s University. I made a contribution in a debate last year and used the statistics to which he referred. When it comes to summing up and integrating all the information from across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, there are many examples of good practice—the hon. Gentleman has used one from Belfast—and perhaps the Minister could take them on board.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister will do that. It is important to weigh up all this evidence when we are deciding where to put our time and energy in education. I certainly think that primary school and the early years environment should be a key priority.
Over the last three years, school exclusions have risen by more than 40%. If there is ever a time to invest in early intervention and nurture care, it is now. This early support, if properly managed, can set children up for their whole lives at school. Some will continue to need help, and it is especially important that those children who have needed this low-level, ongoing support throughout their time at primary school do not then lose all this help when they go to secondary school; that transition is vital. We can be more inclusive, support children to stay in school, and reduce exclusions, but we have to invest in that both financially and with the time and training for teachers.
The links between school exclusion and social exclusion are well known. Children who are excluded from school are far more likely than their peers to have grown up in the care of the state or in poverty, and they go on to have much higher rates of mental illness and are more likely to end up in prison. That cycle needs to be broken somewhere. These children are the most vulnerable in our society and need greater support. We need to do more to provide a supportive environment and to ensure that our education system provides a positive, safe and reliable space for the most vulnerable children.
Nurture care can turn around a child’s life and help secure a stable future in adulthood. This is not a debate about financial efficiency, but I would like to highlight a 2017 Institute for Public Policy Research report, which argued that every cohort of permanently excluded pupils will go on to cost the state an extra £2.1 billion. The Government should support nurture programmes because that is the right thing to do, but I also argue that spending on nurture care is one of the best-value options for education expenditure. It is proactive, preventive support. Just as we are looking at prevention in the NHS long-term plan, so we should be looking at it in education.
The hon. Gentleman is making an absolutely excellent speech. It is quite surprising for me to find myself agreeing so wholeheartedly with a Government Member, but the point that I would like to make is that there is not just a financial consideration, but an accountability consideration. Even if schools have the money that is needed to provide nurture care and even if, as the hon. Gentleman rightly suggests, they would have the money that would be used for exclusions to provide this early intervention and care, schools still might not want to do it unless the accountability system is changed to recognise this as good, worthwhile work.
I absolutely agree. We mentioned briefly the changes in Ofsted’s approach that I think are positive. We could do more to highlight some of the good practice nationally and to incentivise schools to do this. We talk a lot in the Select Committee about special educational needs and disability provision. I think that schools would love to have more independence in relation to how they provide this kind of support. I think that, if it came with the right accountability and the right financial support, teachers would embrace it.
At this point, I would like to mention the Select Committee’s recent report entitled “Tackling disadvantage in the early years”, which notes that there is currently not enough of a clear strategic direction in early years education. The report argues that the Government have to remove barriers to progression for early years teachers to encourage the recruitment and retention of a skilled early years workforce. We need experienced teachers who can provide effective nurture care and help with the transition from nursery to primary school. I welcome the recent announcements on recruitment and retention from Government, which have also been welcomed by the schools that I have visited since. Similar incentives and support in relation to early years could be equally helpful.
The report praises maintained nursery schools for ensuring excellent outcomes for disadvantaged children and argues that we need to fully fund maintained nursery schools by the end of the financial year. This is a debate about primary education, but the earlier we can start support programmes for vulnerable children, the more effective that intervention will be. As one of my constituents working in the nursery sector recently said to me:
“The early years of life are the most important of life, the building blocks for their future, miss these bricks and it all comes tumbling down.”
I thought that that was quite a poetic way of describing it.
The report discusses the importance of a strong home learning environment and of reviewing the evidence in relation to interventions that support parents and families in creating a positive home learning environment. It is important that we continue to review best practice and share information about the forms of nurture care that are the most effective, and that they engage with parents to help to provide that.
Let me turn to alternative provision more broadly. It is often seen as somewhere only the worst behaved pupils should go, but alternative provision is much more than that and, done properly, can provide excellent education. It is important to remember that alternative provision also covers education for pupils who cannot attend mainstream education for a variety of reasons, including health reasons, and is not only for those who have been excluded from school. It includes pupil referral units, alternative provision academies, free schools and other settings, and there are some excellent examples of settings that provide tailored education to the pupils who have struggled the most in mainstream education. The alternative school in Accrington, for example, offers a holistic and flexible full-time school experience, designed to respond to the needs of young people who are unable to remain in mainstream school. It caters for up to 90 pupils a year spread across three campuses in the north-west. It specialises in a curriculum designed specifically for people aged eight to 18 who require that smaller, more personalised and individual approach to their education. I think that is a positive path and example to follow.
Alternative provision, when done right, works well, but too often it is seen as a dumping ground for difficult children—a way to get them out of a school. We need that narrative to change. As I noted earlier, I believe that schools should try to keep children in a mainstream setting where possible. The correlation between exclusions and problems in later life is significant. I have raised concerns previously with the Secretary of State in the Education Committee about interventions such as isolation.
I know the hon. Lady feels strongly about that. I will come to her in a second. When done right, such interventions can be helpful, but too many reports suggest that children are taken out of a classroom not to be supported, but to be kept out of the way.
I was going to intervene just before the hon. Gentleman mentioned isolation rooms. One of the points in our Education Committee report was about buddying a mainstream school with an alternative provision school, so that teachers can share knowledge and expertise. I know that some initiatives are now happening, whereby mainstream teachers can teach in special schools for a while, and vice versa, so that they have that shared knowledge.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about isolation rooms. There is a world of difference between nurture and an isolation room, where children get no education whatsoever, but are made to sit there with a sheet to occupy them, not educate them, yet we wonder why the children have not made any progress at the end of that period.
I agree with the hon. Lady, and the Government have promoted partnership working between schools in some ways. We see that work between schools in the independent sector and comprehensives. I welcome that and I think teachers would welcome the opportunity to get a broader experience, and the training and development that comes with that.
Providing proper support to children, by not isolating but helping them, would be more effective and cheaper in the long-run than exclusion, but schools need investment to be able to do that. I would like to see alternative provision run more along the lines of a nurture care programme, where possible. Obviously, I acknowledge that separate settings can be the most appropriate option for some pupils. However, where possible, it would be good to do more to include, rather than exclude, pupils who are struggling in mainstream education. I would also like to see a focus on reintegration. Just as nurture groups tend to work as a short-term approach to alternative provision, rather than being a final, permanent destination for pupils, there should be a way of tailoring support with a view to bringing that child into mainstream education, at least for part of the time, further down the line.
The figures show that more than 77% of pupils in AP settings have special educational needs, so it is important to look at special educational needs and disability provision, and how it can effectively help pupils at risk of dropping out of mainstream education.
My hon. Friend mentioned children with special educational needs. Does he agree that there is a significant problem when something like 4,000 children with special educational needs are excluded each school week? Unfortunately, they often go into a postcode lottery of poor alternative provision, if they get any at all.
I absolutely recognise that challenge. Our existing inquiry on SEND in the Education Committee highlights the postcode lottery element and the confrontational experience that many parents face in trying to get the support that they need. While it seems that a lot of those involved have recognised the will of the legislation and the ideas behind it to be right, there is a practical barrier, which causes problems so that it does not always offer the support that it should.
The Government’s vision for alternative provision, outlined last spring, was largely positive, with a commitment to ensuring that it becomes an integral part of the education system, with high-quality outcomes for pupils. It is positive that the Government increased funding for higher needs and alternative provision in Nottinghamshire. The budget has risen from just shy of £60 million in 2017 to £64 million this year. That is welcome and it will have a positive impact on pupils in my constituency. However, there is still far more to do. The SEND challenge is probably the biggest problem we face in our education system. It is not simple to solve, and it affects mainstream schooling and budgets across the board.
I visited a school in my constituency, St Anne’s Infants School, which won the Marjorie Boxall Quality Mark Award for its nurture group in 2016. I appreciate the really good work it does. Yesterday, I was in a Westminster Hall debate on special educational needs. There are real concerns around the country about the lack of funding for that. The hon. Gentleman just mentioned integrating this into the education service. It should not just be excellent groups that are getting excellent provision in some schools. We need to ensure that children—whether they have emotional or physical needs, or just need a decent education—get support in a joined-up way.
Absolutely. I welcome some of the things that the Government have done in recent pilots for mental health support in schools, and some of the positive things that are happening there, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right that that needs to happen across the board. Every child who has that need should be able to access the support, rather than its being a postcode lottery, as has been described.
The quality of alternative provision is too variable across the country. While some settings have brilliant teachers trying to turn around lives, others do not have that focus, and the most vulnerable pupils often do not get the education that others do. Both in SEND and behaviour management, one size does not fit all, so schools need to find and offer the right intervention.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to look at ways in which the Government can do more to support nurture provision in primary schools, with a view to offering early support, particularly in deprived areas that are most in need, helping more children to stay on in mainstream education and cutting the number of exclusions, thereby giving children in my constituency better life chances, as well as saving the taxpayer money in the long-term. I would like to see more of that supportive focus within alternative provision, too: support for schools to have more in-school alternatives to exclusion or outside provision. I believe that that approach is one of the most effective ways to support vulnerable pupils.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) on securing this important debate. It is good to see so many fellow colleagues from the Education Committee in attendance.
Nurture groups are recognised as the best way forward for children, especially those from a disadvantaged background. In Scotland, we have a system that we call “Getting it right for every child”, which is the basis of how children are put at the centre of any educational initiative. Having been a member of the local education committee when I was a councillor, I can tell hon. Members that this GIRFEC policy is well thought of, well established and well used across Scotland.
Nurtureuk has pointed out that there are more nurture groups in Scotland, especially in Glasgow, Angus and West Lothian, than in the rest of the UK, which sends a signal that education in Scotland is setting about things in the best way possible. Indeed, the First Minister has made the closing of the attainment gap—the gap between children from the poorest and richest households in Scotland—the cause célèbre of this particular term of office.
All children and young people deserve to get the support they need to reach their full learning potential. The evidence for the use of nurture groups to do that is long-established. Children and young people should learn in the environment that best suits their needs, whether that is in a mainstream or special school setting. Ninety-seven per cent. of children with additional support needs are educated in mainstream schools in Scotland. The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 places duties on education authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils.
In my time on the Education Committee, in particular in this Session, as my colleague the hon. Member for Mansfield said, there has been a lot of focus on SEND issues. We are still taking in evidence. I do not think that there is any debate or difference across the Chamber about the need to focus on giving all our young children the best possible start in their educational life, even if they come from a background that does not lead them to know what education should be like.
The phenomenon is not new. I remember many years ago talking to a teacher who could not believe that young children were coming into school unable to hold a book. If that was 40 years ago and that experience is replicated across the UK, it must be even worse now. Children might well be able to use a tablet, but many of them do not understand the value of books.
Nurture groups help to give children, teachers and the support-for-learning assistants in schools a real insight into pupils and how they can best develop. They also help to develop resilience in children. Nurture UK defines the outcomes from nurture groups as greater academic attainment and improved behaviour. As we all know, if children are to learn, they need to be in the right state to behave and to sit and listen. A large mainstream classroom is not necessarily the best place for that to happen; nurture groups are typically much smaller. As my friend and colleague on the Education Committee, the hon. Member for Mansfield, has said, nurture groups can be on site. It is important that children feel part of the main school, because that helps them to improve their behaviour.
Nurture groups also help to improve attendance and reduce exclusions, which is an important point, and they can help to provide a whole-school ethos. It should not simply be about those children in a small group in one area of the school. Where nurture groups work well, the whole-school ethos is affected and improved. I can give a simple example. My granddaughter, who is educated in Perth, comes home and says things such as, “I can’t do this yet,” which is a huge improvement on “I cannae dae that”—full stop—which I used to hear from students who came to me in further education in West Lothian. When people start to nurture young children by saying simple things like that, it really improves their life chances.
On school ethos, is the hon. Lady as concerned and deeply disturbed as I am by recent comments in the press about “flattening the grass” policies? The CEO of one academy trust advocates going into assemblies and bullying and humiliating a child until they are in tears as a way to intimidate the rest of the children into silence. Does she agree that that is not the kind of ethos that we want to promote in our schools—one where children are bullied or shamed until they cry if they do not behave themselves?
I totally agree that that is not the way that children should be helped to learn.
I do not want to stray too far from the point, but I did not know much about the English education system until I joined the Education Committee in 2015. It was a steep learning curve and I still struggle with the idea that schools are not run by local authorities, that different types of schools can be run differently, and that some schools are seen as “good” by Ofsted because there are not many exclusions and because they get high academic results. I agree with other hon. Members that it is better for everyone in the community, and for society at large, to have children who come out of school as better people, more enriched, curious and ready to learn in different ways, rather than simply being able to pass a standard exam.
In my experience of teaching in further education colleges, I saw many children who were damaged by a school system that did not suit them. I am not saying that the Scottish ethos and the Scottish way are perfect, because no education system can be, but putting children at the heart of the education system and committing to getting it right for every child is the best way forward. I would like to hear the Minister’s views on that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for securing the debate, and the other hon. Members who have contributed.
We would welcome any proposal that supported children struggling with social, emotional or behavioural difficulties, especially when that approach is backed up by more than two decades of research and more than 60 academic studies that show its positive effects. Inclusion is at the heart of the nurture model and there is a wealth of evidence that it works.
In the early days of the coalition, the then Secretary of State for Education set the continued direction of travel when he stated that he wanted to remove the “bias towards inclusion”. Yesterday, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, the right hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton), said:
“Inclusion is…not always the right answer for children or their families.”—[Official Report, 12 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 310WH.]
Today, however, a member of the Minister’s party has brought forward this debate about the virtues of an inclusive policy. I hope that this Minister can clear up the confusion and clarify the Government’s policy on inclusion.
Nurture groups that are delivered in schools and supported by a teacher and teaching assistant cost about £10,000 to 12,000 per student and in excess of £120,000 per year. In the current climate, with cuts to schools’ budgets of £1.7 billion, coupled with a continually falling rate in real terms of pupil premium moneys since 2015, it is hard to see how the groups can be sustained, let alone expanded.
In fact, since 2011 at least 100 nurture groups have had to close as a result of a lack of funding. In a recent survey by the National Education Union, more than three quarters of teachers confirmed that there were now fewer support assistants and teaching assistant posts.
I was going to mention teaching assistants in my last intervention, because they are so important. For a child who needs extra attention and one-to-one support, whether because of SEND or emotional difficulties, they can often be the difference between their being able to stay in the class or needing to go to a nurture group. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a false economy to slash schools’ funding so that they cannot employ teaching assistants any more?
One thing that we would perhaps all agree on is that the pupil premium has been effective in providing additional money and giving teachers additional support. Does my hon. Friend share my significant concern that some multi-academy trusts are operating their own funding formula and giving a school less core funding? They are saying to that school, “You get lots of funding through your pupil premium, so you don’t need as much core funding.” Within each multi-academy trust, the bulk of the money is not going where it should—to the school with the high pupil premium—but being reallocated. Does she agree that that is wrong?
It will come as no surprise to my hon. Friend that I agree that it is wrong. There is a lot of mystery surrounding exactly where some of the pupil premium money is going. Perhaps the Minister can shed some light on that when he sums up.
Early intervention works. In the past, Ofsted has praised nurture groups as having “highly significant and far-reaching” positive impacts on young children and their families. Nurture groups have the potential to be part of a wider holistic framework that supports children with additional difficulties, but their value is not being met with investment or support from the Government, who do not see the value of early help. That is evidenced by the fact that in the past five years, local authority early intervention budgets have been slashed by more than £740 million, 1,200 Sure Start centres have gone and budgets for children’s centres across England have decreased by 42%.
As I know from my previous career, for nurture groups to succeed there needs to be an acknowledgment that the work being completed in the school environment needs to be supported at home, and that often the children who need the support of a nurture group are also having a difficult time at home. Historically, those children would have received help at home to support the help that they were receiving in school from statutory children’s services in the shape of child in need plans, but savage local government cuts under the misguided mantra of austerity have led to such services being beyond breaking point, with more than 400,000 children now classed as in need. Furthermore, another 1,700 children are being referred for extra help every single day and there is a looming £3.1 billion funding gap for local authorities by 2025. As this situation is coupled with extensive year-long waiting lists for child and adolescent mental health services, it is easy to see why so many children are slipping through the net.
The Education Committee’s recent report, “Forgotten children”, criticised the Government for their
“strong focus on school standards”,
“has led to school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded”,
putting pressure on an already struggling alternative provider sector, where the number of children with SEND has increased by more than 50% in recent years. Pupils who are claiming free school meals remain over-represented in exclusion figures. Over 140,000 of them faced fixed-period exclusions during 2016 and 2017.
Nurture groups and other initiatives can prevent exclusions. As has already been stated, one primary school has said that its nurture group reduced its exclusion rate by 84%. With all of that in mind, can the Minister let us know when the delayed findings of the Timpson review will be revealed?
It really is time that the Government looked more holistically at children’s needs, at early intervention and at models that actually work. Last year, more than 120 national organisations wrote to the Prime Minister, stating unequivocally that this Government are ignoring children right across the board. I hope that the Minister can offer some assurances in his response today that those organisations will not have to repeat that exercise this year.
It is a pleasure, Sir Christopher, to serve under your chairmanship—again, I think. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), on not only securing the debate but opening it so effectively and with such an interesting speech.
All schools, including primary schools, should be safe environments, with good behaviour, where pupils are respectful of one another and able to fulfil their potential. An effective whole-school culture should set high expectations and standards for all pupils, while providing support for the most vulnerable children, including those with mental health issues, those in care and those with special educational needs and disabilities.
As the Secretary of State set out in his speech to the Resolution Foundation last July, one of our Department’s top priorities is to create a system that helps the most disadvantaged children to reach their full potential. So the question is: how do we ensure that we give children the best start in life?
I acknowledge my hon. Friend’s argument that too many children still fall behind with their communication and language skills early on. We also know that it is hard to close the gaps that emerge. Some 28% of children finish their reception year still without the early communication, language and literacy skills that they need to succeed. The Secretary of State has therefore set out his ambition to halve that figure by 2028. To support that ambition, we are investing more than £100 million in our social mobility programme, which includes £20 million for high-quality, evidence-based training and professional development for pre-reception early years staff in disadvantaged areas; £26 million for a network of English hubs, to promote effective early language and effective reading; and £10 million to understand what works, which will be deployed in partnership with the Education Endowment Foundation.
Unfortunately, the Minister has failed to address the other point that the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) made, which was about children with social and emotional problems. The Minister briefly mentioned children with SEND and children starting from a delayed academic standpoint, but what support will this Government give to children with social and emotional problems? Is it using initiatives, pilots or anything?
I will come to that point in a moment; if the hon. Lady will be a little patient, I will address that and the issue of mental health, in particular.
Of course, what happens in early years settings is only part of the story; what happens in the home is central to children’s outcomes. We can do more to ensure that all parents have access to the best advice, tools and resources to support their children in the earliest years. That is why we are inviting a broad range of organisations to come together as part of a coalition to explore innovative ways to boost early language development and reading in the home. Following the successful home learning environment summit in November, we are developing a campaign that will be launched later this year.
It is clear that early education—from the age of two—has long-lasting benefits for children, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield intimated in his speech. It helps to promote a child’s physical, emotional, cognitive and social development. However, as he suggested, evidence shows that, on average, disadvantaged families are less likely to make use of formal childcare provision than more advantaged families.
That is why, in September 2013, the Government introduced 15 hours of funded early education for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds. Eligibility was expanded in September 2014 to include children from low-income working families, children with a disability or special educational need, and children who have left care. This early education programme for two-year-olds is popular with parents. In January 2018, local authorities reported that 72% of eligible parents nationally had taken up their entitlement to a place, which was up by 1% from January 2017, and take-up of the free entitlement for two-year-olds in Nottinghamshire is in line with the national average.
However, there is still more work to do, which is why we have commissioned our national delivery contractor, Childcare Works, to support local authorities to increase take-up of the offer for two-year-olds among disadvantaged parents, in particular. We have also commissioned Coram Family and Childcare to support the take-up of the free entitlements through their Parent Champions programme.
Of course, nursery schools also have an important part to play in ensuring excellent outcomes for disadvantaged children. I realise that there is uncertainty over the future of funding for maintained nursery schools. The current arrangements that protect maintained nursery schools’ funding provide nearly £60 million of additional funding a year, but they are due to end in March 2020, which is of course the end of the spending review period. This supplementary funding was a temporary arrangement, to ensure that maintained nursery schools did not miss out when we introduced the early years national funding formula, and we need to decide what should happen when that supplementary funding ends. As preparation for the forthcoming spending review, we are considering how best to handle transitional arrangements for a number of areas, including maintained nursery schools.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield talked about supporting children with special educational needs. The SEND reforms introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014, which came into effect in September 2014, brought in a new approach to supporting children and young people with SEND from birth to the age of 25 across education, health and social care. Our vision for children with SEND is the same as that for all children and young people: that they achieve well in their early years, at school and in college, that they find employment, that they lead happy and fulfilled lives, and that they exercise choice and control in their lives.
Those reforms represented the biggest change to SEND provision in a generation, and they are intended to improve the support available to children and young people with SEND by more effectively joining up services for children from birth to the age of 25 across education, health and social care, and by focusing on positive outcomes for education, employment, housing, health and community participation.
I thank the Minister for his comments so far. I think I mentioned in my speech the positive intentions of the 2014 Act, which has been broadly well received—including in the evidence that the Education Committee received—in terms of the reasons behind it and its aspirations. When he talks about working together across different sectors and bringing different services together, does he recognise the element that is often raised as the problem, which is the challenge that local authorities face in getting the health sector genuinely to engage and to fulfil its commitments in education, health and care plans and in relation to the 2014 Act? How can we work to get those health bodies involved and more actively engaged in supporting children within SEND provision?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Those are the challenges that local authorities face, and we are continually working with them to improve the quality of the provision in their areas. As for SEND budgets, which I will come on to, we are concerned about the high needs budget for schools. That is why the Secretary of State recently announced an extra £250 million of funding—£125 million in this financial year and £125 million in the next financial year—to help local authorities with their high needs budget. I think that has been welcomed by local authorities.
I agree with hon. Members that the 2014 Act raised aspirations, but there were a few issues with it. First, it raised the entitlement to the age of 25, without any additional funding between the ages of 18 and 25 to meet that aspiration. It also hugely raised parents’ aspirations about what they are entitled to, without the ability to provide that entitlement. That is why parents are now taking local authorities to court, with huge, burgeoning costs in tribunal and lawyer fees. When we see the tip of the iceberg—those parents who have the social capital and knowledge to fight this—we know that there are thousands of parents underneath whose children’s needs are just not being met. I say to the Minister that this is more than just a small issue: a huge, fundamental rethink is needed in SEND.
Those issues, of course, are not new. They have existed for as long as I have taken a specialist interest in education; they were certainly key issues during the last Labour Government. One reason why we introduced the 2014 Act was to try to address the disputes that were taking place in tribunals, and to ensure much more co-ordination between the different services. We have increased funding for high needs education from £5 billion in 2013 to £6 billion this year, with the additional £250 million bringing the total up to £6.3 billion by next year.
We understand the pressures on high needs budgets, and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) is absolutely right that one of the reasons for those pressures is the extension of the entitlement to the age of 25 for children with special educational needs and disabilities. However, we do not apologise for that, because those young people need that support. [Interruption.]
I understand the hon. Lady’s passion about these issues, but she should not underestimate the passion that also exists on the Government Benches, or the action that we have taken since being in office to address those difficult issues and provide the funding to deal with them.
We understand that at the moment, local authorities feel under pressure in their high needs budget; the extra payment of £250 million aims to address that pressure, but we accept that it will not deal with the issue fully. We are trying to provide more capital for local authorities, to enable them to restructure their special educational needs provision. For example, as well as the age extension, which has been a pressure on local authorities’ budgets, there is the issue of the costs for some children with very severe educational needs. Independent school provision can be very expensive, and it is sometimes more cost-effective for local authorities to provide special educational needs schools or units of maintained schools in their own borough. We have allocated significant capital to enable that to happen.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield said, much of the support work for pupils will take place within the school setting. For instance, when a school identifies a pupil who has special educational needs, they should take action to remove the barriers that stand in the way of that child’s education, and put effective special educational provision in place. That SEN support will often take the form of a cycle through which decisions and actions are revisited, refined and revised with a growing understanding of the pupil’s needs and of what supports the pupil in making good progress. That is known as a graduated approach.
One of the types of intervention that some schools choose in order to support pupils with social, emotional or behavioural needs, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield has talked about in detail—I said to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle that I would come to this issue—is the use of nurture groups. As my hon. Friend has said, nurture groups offer an in-school, short-term, focused intervention strategy that is aimed at addressing barriers to education arising from behavioural, social or emotional difficulties, and doing so in a supportive manner. It is for individual schools to decide which interventions to offer, and the best and most cost-effective potential for providing support for an individual pupil’s needs.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield mentioned, the Forest Town Primary School in his constituency is rated “good” by Ofsted. It is an example of a school that uses nurture groups to support its pupils. In its March 2017 inspection report, Ofsted praised that school’s positive culture and its determination that all its pupils succeed. Ofsted also highlighted Forest Town’s work to promote high levels of attendance, its timely adoption of interventions for different pupils, and its support for vulnerable pupils with complex needs. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the teachers at Forest Town and elsewhere for the important work that they do for those children.
All children have the right to a school environment that is safe, and conducive to effective teaching. Sometimes that will mean headteachers taking the difficult decision to exclude a pupil, and I fully support headteachers using exclusion where that is warranted. However, exclusion from school must not mean exclusion from education: when a child is excluded, suitable full-time education must be arranged from the sixth school day of exclusion. The Timpson review is considering how schools use exclusion and how that impacts on all pupils, but in particular why some groups of children, such as those with special needs, are more likely to be excluded from school.
Alternative provision is the system that is in place to educate those pupils who are unable to attend mainstream school. It is vital that those pupils who enter alternative provision following exclusion have access to a high-quality education, to help every child to achieve their potential. Local authorities or schools as commissioners must have regard to our statutory guidance, which states:
“Good alternative provision is that which appropriately meets the needs of pupils”
who require its use,
“and enables them to achieve good educational attainment on par with their mainstream peers.”
That guidance also sets out that the personal and social needs of pupils should be properly identified and met in order to help them overcome any barriers to attainment, and that AP should aim to improve pupil motivation, self-confidence, attendance, and engagement with education.
There are some excellent examples of AP settings that not only have high standards for behaviour, progress and attainment, but have strong therapeutic interventions in place to support pupils of primary school age. Ofsted’s report on the Hawkswood Primary pupil referral unit noted:
“Pupils understand the need to manage their own behaviour, and they are able to reflect on the choices they make. This is because boundaries are consistently applied and expectations are very high.”
One parent was moved to tell inspectors that the school had “made my son respectable.”
Another example is the Family School, an AP free school that opened in September 2014. Its ethos is built around supporting pupils to cultivate a productive lifestyle, personal resilience, and the values required to become responsible members of society. An innovative aspect of that programme is that it requires a parent or significant adult family member to participate in the classroom with their child. The focus is on families helping themselves and each other to create the conditions and changes necessary, so that children can resolve their problems and be better equipped to return to school, which I know is something that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield is concerned about.
In both the schools that I have cited, a high proportion of pupils are successfully reintegrated into mainstream schools. We are determined to ensure that every AP setting is as good as the good examples that I have cited, and that their best practice is shared. As I set out in the AP vision document that we published last March, we want to make sure that the right children are placed in the right AP, and that they receive a high-quality education and achieve meaningful outcomes after leaving alternative provision. That is supported by a £4 million innovation fund, which includes projects that have a focus on reintegration.
In closing, I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield and other hon. Members who have participated in today’s debate that this Government are determined to do all that we can to support young people in achieving their potential, whether by providing continued support for early years services, supporting mental health services, reforming the special educational needs system or providing highly effective alternative provision where necessary.
I am grateful to hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, particularly those from the Education Committee. They show a clear passion for the subject and for supporting young people. That is particularly so in the case of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), who spoke with her usual passion for supporting the most vulnerable people in our society.
I was pleased to hear the Minister’s response, which made it clear that supporting disadvantaged people and a commitment to social mobility are key priorities for Government. He highlighted investment in many different areas, which is welcome. I would like to see that investment going directly to schools, and for schools to be given the ability to make independent decisions more often about personalised interventions for our children. I recognise the positive aspirations of the SEND reforms that the Minister talked about and the 2014 Act, and I look forward to the outcomes of the Timpson review.
I also thank the Minister for his kind words about Forest Town Primary School, which I am sure will make those there very happy. It is an excellent provision and there are a number of such schools across my constituency. I hope we can meet the Minister’s expectations with positive alternative provision examples. They should be encouraged, matched and talked about across the rest of the country.
I recognise the work that the Minister does behind the scenes making the case for education with the Treasury in terms of the forthcoming spending review. That is difficult in the current climate, and I hope he continues to make that case. If I can help him in any way with making the case for education’s being a huge priority for the rest of this Parliament, I certainly will. It would be very welcome. I thank everyone for their contributions. In particular, I thank the Minister for his time and you, Sir Christopher. It has been a pleasure.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered nurture and alternative provision in primary schools.