House of Commons
Thursday 25 April 2019
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Free Trade Agreements: NHS/Public Services
As we leave the European Union, the Government will ensure that all future trade agreements continue to protect the UK’s right to regulate public services, including the NHS. I have been clear on a number of occasions that more trade should not come at the expense of the high levels of quality and protection enjoyed in the UK.
I am pleased that the Secretary of State has made those comments, and I am sure we can all agree that, whatever happens with Brexit, our country must not be held to ransom by multinational corporate interests over the future of the NHS and other public services, so can the Secretary of State give a watertight guarantee that we will not see any trade deals that would drive up the costs of medicines and allow foreign firms to sue the UK over improvements in public health and standards in healthcare generally?
As I have made clear in questions and in debate in this House, if we look at trade agreements that we have already entered into, for example, in chapter 9 of the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement—the cross-border trade and services chapter—article 9.2 makes it very clear that the Government retain the right to regulate in public services. Any changes in the NHS should be a matter for domestic policy debate in the United Kingdom, and not anywhere else.
The UK is a world leader in healthcare provision, founded on the core values of the NHS. What steps is the Department taking to promote British expertise in this sector and sell those skills abroad?
There is not only enormous interest but enormous demand for UK expertise in healthcare, and we are committed to sharing that expertise and knowledge with the rest of the world. Research commissioned by Healthcare UK recently identified £3 billion to £7 billion of potential contracts for UK health organisations annually over the next 10 years. That is a lot of jobs.
Mr Philip Dunne—not here. Where is the fella? I hope he is not indisposed. We will have to proceed.
Free trade agreements are, of course, needed, and the EU has some very good ones, which is why the United Kingdom Government are copying them. But trading on World Trade Organisation terms is very expensive. What is the Secretary of State doing to dispel the notion that is abroad, particularly in his own party, that leaving the EU and trading on WTO terms is a good idea? If it was, every country would be walking out of their trade blocs and every country would be ripping up trade agreements. It is a very silly and very dangerous idea, and I hope he is doing his best to combat it.
I am not quite sure how that relates to the question on healthcare, but it is an important point that the WTO rules provide a baseline, and the way in which countries get preferential treatment beyond that baseline is very often through a free trade agreement. That is why we want to see free trade agreements beyond what we have today.
I welcome the assurances that the Secretary of State has given to the House here today, but can he confirm that the principal protections for public services related to the comprehensive economic and trade agreement are in fact to be found in the joint interpretative instrument, which does not have the same legal force as the treaty? Crucially, it cannot alter or override it. If we are to have confidence in the protections for our public services and the NHS in future trade agreements, these must be written into the text of the treaties. Does he agree?
However we get the assurances, that is what we need to do. In CETA, for example, they are contained in chapters 9 and 28, as well as annex 2 and the additional national reservation in annex 2. It is up to this House how we carry out public policy. For example, in the four years from 2006, Labour outsourced 0.5% of the NHS budget to the private sector each year, which of course fell to only half that level under the coalition Government. If Labour want to increase to their previous levels of outsourcing, they should be able to do so under a policy protection given under the treaties.
Service Businesses: Overseas Markets
The Government support UK services businesses to access foreign markets in a number of ways, including through trade promotion and facilitation. For example, in March 2019, the DIT took a delegation of eight leading UK FinTech companies to exhibit at Money 20/20 in Singapore. The DIT also works with partners overseas to remove access barriers, opening up new opportunities for UK businesses.
My hon. Friend will know that in this rather complex world environment, there is a confusion at times under WTO rules between goods and services. Once we leave the EU, get a clean break and regain our place at the WTO table, will he make it a priority to make clearer definitions of what are goods and what are services?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right; there are a great many complexities at the WTO. In fact, the world is sliding inexorably towards a future of increased protectionism without changes being agreed to at the WTO to address all problems and to cope with new forms of trade that simply did not exist even 10 years ago and that create the confusion he identifies. As a newly independent voice, the UK will be a champion for change, openness and co-operation, because believe me, Mr Speaker, a failure to deal with the problems the WTO faces is not an outcome that anybody should want to contemplate.
In congratulating the hon. Member for Huddersfield upon the magnificence of his tie, I call Mr Barry Sheerman.
Can all those on the Government Front Bench tell me what I should say to my service and manufacturing industries that export overseas? For years, they have been frustrated that the Chinese are stealing their patents and intellectual property, but now this Government are going to open not only the back door but the front door to the Chinese to take their secrets and undercut them.
In the past week, the Chinese have agreed a joint communiqué with the EU about the forced transfer of intellectual property, which gives us some comfort. We work extensively with the Chinese Government through joint trade reviews to examine various areas of the economy, particularly in services, where we can address this. I believe that progress is being made on this front, but I go back to the point I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant): this is a complex area. WTO rules make this very difficult to address, and we need to change it.
Three quarters of our economy is in services, yet over 90% of service firms export nothing. What more can be done to change this underlying culture and systemic issue, so that the majority of service firms export?
As I mentioned in answer to the previous question, we are conducting a number of joint trade reviews with India, China and Brazil—some of the largest economies in the world—to ensure that we address some of these access barriers; to ensure that, for example, Chinese-language contracts are translated into an official English version; to ensure that service providers understand what the rules and regulations are; and to ensure that qualifications are matched across the piece. There is a great deal we can do and more that we will do.
I welcome what the Minister said about trying to open up overseas access to UK service companies. However, is it not hugely disappointing that the continuity agreements with Norway and Switzerland exclude trade in services? Is it not the case that if, post Brexit, we revert to WTO rules trade with the EU, we would see a massive 26% fall in global service trade, with just as bad a fall in the UK’s service trade even if we get that free trade agreement?
As we approach the negotiations with the EU on the future economic partnership, services will play a large part in that. We have signed mutual recognition agreements with Australia and New Zealand, and as for the Norway and Switzerland deals, we should never forget that 35% of pretty much all the goods contracts entered into by the UK is contained within services value. This is not just a matter of pure services, but of goods as well.
Service exporters depend on an international workforce, but arbitrary immigration targets limit their ability to recruit the staff they need. Growing our market share in services is essential to the future success of our economy, so if this Government truly have a global strategy, why are businesses that want to export being denied access to a global pool of talent?
On the whole, the services businesses that are exporting are doing so by establishing overseas, and therefore recruitment in the UK does not particularly concern them, as they are employing people in foreign countries. That said, we know there is an issue with provision of skilled labour in the UK. The immigration Bill, when it comes forward, will provide reassurance on the ability to recruit people with certain skill levels, and I look forward to seeing that.
Free Trade Agreements: Regions and Devolved Administrations
We are committed to ensuring a meaningful role for the regions and devolved Administrations in the development of our trade policy. The DIT has been consulting widely on its approach to potential FTAs with regional representatives from local government and local enterprise partnerships. I can further confirm that we are putting in place a new ministerial forum with the devolved Administrations to cover international trade, as well as continuing to discuss wider future working arrangements on trade policy.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Businesses in Redditch such as Mettis Aerospace, Bee Lighting and Thorlux Lighting are at the heart of global manufacturing and are leading-edge businesses. Will the Minister confirm that he is working closely with representatives of west midlands manufacturing industry to ensure that their interests are represented and our local economy can benefit from future trade agreements?
And with the Mayor.
As my hon. Friend will know, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) is very keen on our keeping up contact with the Mayor of the West Midlands combined authority. We of course do so, and create contacts with businesses that way. The strategic trade advisory group, which will be helping us with FTAs, includes representation from regional business. We will always be there to consult with local business, and I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) to contact the local DIT business office in Birmingham in relation to any businesses in Redditch that need its help.
Does the Minister accept that the devolved Administrations must be fully involved in developing both the negotiation mandate and the negotiations themselves when the international trade negotiations have an impact on devolved competencies?
I have visited the devolved Administrations several times and I talk with the Ministers on a regular basis. I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that the devolved Administrations have a key part to play as we go forward and negotiate our free trade agreements. We are currently in negotiation with the DAs on putting together what is known as a concordat on how they will be implemented. The progress on that, to be quite frank with the House, has been disappointingly slow. From our end, we have not reached an agreed policy position, but we will do so shortly, and I am keen that the devolved Administrations are properly involved.
If all these trade agreements are going to be so glorious, irresistible and beneficial to the economy, why not simply give the devolved Administrations the power to express their consent through legislation for each of them?
The matter of trade policy is a reserved power.
EU Customs Union
The Government’s intention, as provided for in the political declaration, is to secure a tariff-free trading relationship with our European partners, alongside an ambitious independent trade policy with the rest of the world. A customs union would prevent the UK from varying its tariffs and could leave the UK subject, without representation, to the policy of an entity over which MPs had no democratic control.
If we were to be part of the EU customs union after Brexit, the United Kingdom, as the world’s fifth biggest economy, could kiss goodbye to any realistic chance of an independent trade policy. For this very good reason, being a member of the customs union was ruled out in the last Conservative party manifesto. Were this to become Government policy, would not the Secretary of State and his entire ministerial team be honour bound to resign?
It is very clear that we do not want to see a customs union being put in place for one of the reasons that my hon. Friend has already given, which is that, with us as a third country, the EU would be able to negotiate access to the UK market—the world’s fifth biggest market—without any due consideration of the impact on the United Kingdom. We would find ourselves in a totally new trading position in that access to our market would be traded for us.
One of the principal benefits of Brexit is of course the ability to set our own trade policies, and many businesses in my constituency—it includes Immingham, the largest port in the country—want to take advantage of the freedoms that will be forthcoming. What additional support will the Secretary of State’s Department offer those businesses?
I know that my hon. Friend has taken a very close interest in free ports. We are close to finalising a report on their potential benefits, and he will be one of the first with whom I will share that information.
Some 9,000 people work in the Welsh steel industry, so can I ask the Secretary of State to think again, and support a permanent customs union and commit to a common external tariff on steel imports to support steel jobs in south Wales?
No, I will not commit to that. I have set out the reasons why I believe the application of a common external tariff will be limiting on the UK’s ability to carry out an independent trade policy. What I would say is that we already have the Trade Remedies Authority up and running, and that is the best way to deal with any disputes over steel through WTO rules.[Official Report, 30 April 2019, Vol. 659, c. 2MC.]
Does the Secretary of State accept that even outside the European Union, some other countries will seek to restrict their trade? For instance, has not the United States said about its negotiating objectives that it will seek to restrict the trading ability of any country that seeks to trade with China?
The United States is perfectly entitled to set out trade objectives, as are we. We believe that trade is best operated through the rules-based international system based on the WTO. Countries can have their own opinions, but that is still the safest, best and most predictable way to carry out global trade.
We know the benefit of a permanent customs union, particularly for the integrated supply chains on which so much of our manufacturing success is based. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the net economic benefit of an independent trade policy in the short, medium and long term?
We believe it is possible to get the benefits of a customs union—no tariffs, no quotas and no rules of origin checks—through the mechanism set out in the Government’s proposal on our future relationship with the European Union. The ability to access growing markets will depend on our ability to create trade agreements with those markets. A report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development suggested that by 2030 the Asian proportion of trade will be above 50% for the first time since the 19th century, and we must be in a position to take advantage of that.
Intellectual Property Rights
The UK’s intellectual property regime is consistently rated as one of the best in the world. The Government are reviewing their future trade policy as we leave the EU and ensuring that existing trade arrangements with global partners—including provisions on intellectual property—continue uninterrupted on the day the UK leaves the EU.
The Minister will no doubt be aware that tomorrow is World Intellectual Property Day, and this year the theme is sport and intellectual property. A number of United Kingdom-based companies have had their intellectual property stolen by beoutQ, a Saudi Arabian-based pirate broadcaster, including—I know this will interest you, Mr Speaker—last Monday’s Watford against Arsenal match. What steps are we taking to protect the intellectual property rights of UK businesses and sports interests, and will we use our trade policy to hold to account countries such as Saudi Arabia that are allowing the theft of our country’s intellectual property in that way?
I am not familiar with the case raised by the right hon. Gentleman, but if would like to drop me a line, I would be happy to look into it more carefully. We will continue to make representations to Saudi Arabia on that point. The UK intellectual property regime is respected around the world, and our local, European and international commitments produce one of the tightest and most respected regulatory regimes for IP worldwide. We believe that is the right system, and we will insist that it is honoured by others, particularly if we are to do trade deals with them.
The Minister is right to encourage small and medium-sized businesses to do more trade internationally, but those businesses are the most vulnerable to the risk of intellectual property theft. What assurances and support can the Minister give companies such as those in the digital games sector in my constituency, to encourage them to do more abroad?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave a moment ago. We have one of the most robust and respected regimes for IP protection internationally. A specialist group sits in the Department for International Trade and advises on IP matters, and that is very important to this country. We recognise the extent of exports that are driven by games, TV, sports and so on, and that is hugely important to us. SMEs should get in contact with local DIT offices. We can always help and would be delighted to do so.
GREAT is the Government’s most ambitious ever international marketing campaign. [Interruption.] It encourages the world to visit, study and do business in the UK. While Labour Members never lose an opportunity to talk this country down—as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has just done there—we use GREAT to sell Britain abroad. If the chuntering from the potential future Speaker could stop for one second, I will say that GREAT works across 144 countries, and for trade and investment in 2019-20, its priorities are the USA, Germany, China, Japan, Australia, India, Canada, France, Italy and Spain.
Britain’s universities are among our greatest organisations. Some are household names across the world, but some, like Anglia Ruskin University, which is based in Chelmsford as well as Cambridge, are less well known. How is the GREAT campaign supporting our education sector?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I was at the all-party university group yesterday, meeting vice-chancellors and others, to discuss this issue. Just last month, we launched our new international education strategy. As part of that, we are encouraging bids to the GREAT challenge fund to showcase to even more countries the fantastic education offer this country has.
My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy and export promotion. I can announce to the House that UK Export Finance will support an Airbus Defence and Space UK contract worth nearly $500 million to manufacture and deliver two satellites and a ground station for Türksat, Turkey’s communications satellite operator.
May I also, with your indulgence Mr Speaker, thank two civil servants who are leaving my Department? My principal private secretary, Oliver Christian, has been an outstanding civil servant and I congratulate him on his promotion. I also thank Amy Tinley, my outgoing special adviser, who has been a force of nature in my Department and will be widely missed across the whole of the civil service.
I congratulate the civil servants for getting out of Dodge while they can as well.
Scottish Enterprise told the Scottish Affairs Committee that the success of Scotland’s financial industry was based on accessing and servicing all customers in the EU, which it does currently under the free trade non-tariff EU passport system. Does that not highlight once again the vital importance of freedom of movement to Scotland, and that the Secretary of State’s Government simply do not care about Scottish interests or Scotland’s vote to remain?
I will ignore the hon. Gentleman’s lack of grace in his first comment.
What that shows is the importance to Scotland of services and of access to the single market in the United Kingdom. Financial services are one of the country’s greatest and strongest exports, and Scotland benefits hugely from being part of the United Kingdom’s infrastructure.
My hon. Friend, in his usual way, makes an excellent point. It is not just the fact that we have those very important constituent parts of the United Kingdom to celebrate—we also celebrate our commonality and our unity as expressed through the Union.
The world was shocked by the two crashes of Boeing 737 Max 8s that saw the tragic loss of 346 lives. That is, of course, a matter for the European Aviation Safety Agency to investigate, but it is for the Secretary of State to investigate whether the export capacity of Airbus was unfairly affected by Boeing’s failure to be transparent about the pitch instability of the aircraft, or to provide specific safety training on the MCAS system, which was supposed to counter that instability. He will know that in one 12-month period the concealment of those issues helped Boeing to increase its sales against the Airbus A320neo aircraft by 768 planes, while Airbus sales dropped by 748 in the same period. What support, if any, does his Department currently provide to Boeing? Does he consider that its ethical failure has had an adverse impact on Airbus’s sales? What discussions has he had about Boeing with the Directorate-General for Competition and the Directorate-General for Trade in the European Union to protect Airbus’s export capacity from unfair and potentially illegal practices by its competitors?
Let me associate myself immediately with the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments about the loss of lives as a result of the tragic crashes of the 737 Max aircraft. Safety issues are, of course, the responsibility of the Department for Transport but, in the context of international competition, as he is well aware, there have been two recent cases at the World Trade Organisation relating to Washington’s state subsidies for Boeing and European subsidies for Airbus. As far as I am concerned, the issues relating to Airbus have been solved. I think that we would all benefit from a clear set of international rules on aircraft subsidy so that we could be assured that there is a genuine international level playing field, not least because of the rise of the Chinese aircraft industry and its entry into the market.
According to an EY report, foreign direct investment has tended to move out of London into other parts of the United Kingdom, and there has been an increase in manufacturing activity. We are seeking to expand exports from all parts of the country, not least to India, and I am delighted to say that exports to India were up by nearly 20% in 2018. Only last night I attended the Grant Thornton tracker event with Mr Banerjee, the director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, who is a great friend to this country and to our businesses up and down the land.
The entire premise of that question is wrong. There has not been a depression in export activity. In fact, in the first quarter of this year, exports rose by 3.1%, which was an acceleration of the trend in the fourth quarter of 2018.
It is important that we take climate issues seriously. Whether or not individuals accept the current scientific consensus on the causes of climate change, it is sensible for everyone to use finite resources in a responsible way. The United Kingdom was the first country to establish legally binding emission targets, through the Climate Change Act 2008, and we have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 country. We are leaders in clean energy production, and it is estimated that $11.5 trillion is likely to be invested globally in clean energy between now and 2050. That represents an enormous opportunity and the potential for more jobs in the United Kingdom, which, as I have said, is already a global leader in terms of both practice and exports.
There is also the small matter of putting British taxpayers first, and ensuring that they are getting value for money from any contracts that we award. However, I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about Anzac day. In fact, may I take the opportunity to invite colleagues to join me and others at the wreath-laying ceremony that will take place at the Cenotaph at 10.30 this morning, and the service at Westminster Abbey that will follow it?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments earlier on trade agreements and the NHS. As a former clinician, can he confirm categorically that future trade agreements will not impact adversely on the values, standards or funding model of the NHS?
As I said, it is very important that NHS policy and management are decided by British political debate, not from outside. We have had considerable success in utilising the private sector to augment the NHS. As Andy Burnham said, the previous Labour Government worked with the private sector to bring down NHS waiting lists, and they came right down. I would hope that any future Labour Government would have exactly the same freedoms to use the same policies.
Is there any opportunity to further promote UK steel exports through the GREAT campaign in the year ahead, not least because it is the best steel in the world?
We will take every opportunity to support UK steel exports, and of course exports in general, which is why we produced our export strategy last year. With the help of Members such as my hon. Friend, we will champion local businesses and ensure that that message goes right around the world.
The Canadian model offers a useful example of how the devolved Administrations should be involved in trade policy formulation. Does the Secretary of State agree that a substantive role in the strategic trade advisory group is essential for the meaningful involvement of the Welsh Government in UK trade policy?
The strategic trade advisory group is there to provide a broad societal view of what should be achieved in free trade agreements. We are of course talking in depth with the Welsh Government about their views on what we ought and ought not to be doing on trade policy, the industries we should be championing and how. I do not think that the strategic trade advisory group is the right place for that engagement, but there is of course a Welsh business represented on the group.
It is vital for us to encourage low-income countries to participate fairly in world trade, and for that they need inward investment. Will the Minister kindly advise us on what the UK is doing to promote investment into low-income countries so that they can participate fairly and reasonably in world trade, with world-class goods and services?
I thank my hon. Friend for championing lower-income countries around the world. We have made outward direct investment a priority. We are working with the Department for International Development to help developing countries to attract FDI. The Prime Minister has tasked us with making the UK Africa’s biggest G7 investor by 2022. Through our own investment promotion programme, DFID’s Invest Africa programme, and the Africa investment summit, which I am organising with DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we aim to drive mutual prosperity, in Africa and beyond.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Universal Credit: Joint Claimants
We believe that most couples can and want to manage their finances jointly, without state intervention. However, we recognise that there are circumstances in which split payments are appropriate and we will always put that in place when requested.
We understand that the UK Government are carrying out a formal impact assessment of the options put forward by the Scottish Government on delivering split payments, but has the Minister made representations to the Department for Work and Pensions outlining how split payments could help to protect victims of domestic violence?
We are working closely with the Scottish Government to establish the practicalities and nuts and bolts of their proposed pilot. We recognise that domestic abuse, including economic abuse, is a horrific crime that can affect anybody, and we are working across parties and across Government to ensure that it is addressed.
Does the Minister agree that the options put forward by the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People are sensible and deliverable, with the DWP’s assistance, and will he congratulate the Scottish Government on taking forward this fantastic work to make universal credit fairer?
That is not within my specific portfolio, so I cannot comment on the details, but I do know that policy officials in the Scottish Government and in DWP engage on an ongoing basis to determine how workable the Scottish Government’s proposals on split payments are, and that work will continue.
If two people in the same household work for the same employer, they do not receive one wage; they each receive a separate salary at the end of every month. If the point of universal credit is to mimic wages to help people to get back into work, why on earth do the Government insist on not taking forward the idea of split payments for households?
This Government believe, as have every preceding Government, that most couples can and want to manage their finances jointly without state intervention, and it is not this Government’s policy to make split payments by default. However, we are looking at the proposed Scottish pilot and, at the same time, by the end of the summer all jobcentres will have domestic abuse specialists to support work coaches and raise awareness.
Who is impacted more by the introduction of universal credit: women or men?
Women and men have benefited equally from the improvements that universal credit has brought in. There is unquestionable improvement in the outlook for women on a long-term basis as a result of the introduction of universal credit.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the decision to ensure that universal credit is paid to the main carer in the household, so that more women can make sure that their families are well supported?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has highlighted this and is bringing forward proposals to ensure that the main carer is the recipient. In particular, we are looking at the universal credit application form to ensure that the identification of the bank account can be done in an appropriate way.
I am sure that the Minister is aware of the difficulties that Women’s Aid and other domestic abuse charities have highlighted. Will he explain to the House how those difficulties will be addressed?
That is a very broad question, and I will ensure that the Minister writes to the hon. Gentleman specifically on the work that is being done with Women’s Aid on an ongoing basis. There is a wholehearted strategy on domestic abuse and support for women in this context that is being addressed on a multitude of levels.
The Minister has repeatedly said that split payments would be too difficult and that the Government would therefore be unwilling to consider that option at this time. However, the Scottish Government and the Social Security Minister have proved that it is possible to ensure that split payments are the default. Does he accept that, by not doing this, he is simply compounding financial insecurity and leaving women in potentially perilous situations?
Split payments are available on request. No information is needed to get a split payment. However, 60% of payments are already paid into a woman’s bank account. As I outlined to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), main carer recipient work is being done to ensure that this is done on a practical basis.
Women’s Life Expectancy
Preventing health problems is the best way to improve life expectancy. We are taking action on childhood obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and action to reduce smoking rates. Later this year, my Department will produce a prevention Green Paper, which will set out cross-Government plans for prevention in greater detail.
In Newcastle, cervical cancer screening rates are significantly lower in more deprived areas of the city, and the recent Macmillan cancer inequalities report showed that more deprived areas had worse access to cancer treatment. This is because people on lower incomes are more likely to be on zero-hour contracts and juggling childcare and other caring responsibilities with work, and therefore less able to access fixed-time appointments in places outside their local community. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the healthcare system reflects the lives of those in the poorest areas and to raise incomes so that we have fewer cancer and health inequalities?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. We know that we need to make it easier to book appointments and more convenient for women to attend them. That is why Sir Mike Richards is undertaking a comprehensive review of screening programmes. It will look at how we can improve the uptake and set out clear recommendations on how we can make those screening programmes more accessible.
ONS figures published in March 2019 show that the life expectancy of women in the poorest UK regions fell by 98 days between 2012 and 2017. Given that this is the first time that that has happened in peacetime since the Victorian era, what conclusions does the Minister draw from the fact that it has happened only since 2010?
The conclusion I draw is to look at Public Health England’s recent review, which made it clear that it is not possible to attribute the slowdown in the improvement of life expectancy to any single cause. That is why we are not complacent, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah). The Budget saw us fully fund the situation with a big cash boost, and there will be a prevention Green Paper and we have a prevention vision. All that will contribute towards ensuring that life expectancy, which has not been as good as one would have liked, improves.
Smoking rates among pregnant women, particularly in poorer regions, remain stubbornly high, so what action is my hon. Friend taking to reduce smoking rates in order to make pregnancy and childbirth easier for young people?
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), the Government have already put in place prevention programmes to ensure a reduction in smoking rates. The prevention vision and the prevention Green Paper will set out the means by which smoking can be reduced further to support people, pregnant or otherwise.
Life expectancy has fallen for the poorest women over the past nine years. What is the Minister’s analysis of why that has happened?
I answered that question just a moment ago. As I said, Public Health England’s recent review made it clear that it is not possible to attribute the slowdown to any one cause. It is therefore important to tackle all the causes of the deterioration in life expectancy, which is why the Government will publish a prevention Green Paper later this year.
Domestic Abuse: Medical Training
Tackling domestic abuse is a key priority for this Government. That is why we have put £2 million into expanding the pilot programme, which will create a model health response for survivors of domestic violence and abuse. Training for frontline medical staff to help identify domestic abuse is included in a wide range of training and education curriculums for health staff.
According to Women’s Aid’s “Survival and Beyond” report, 54% of women experiencing sexual and physical abuse meet the criteria for at least one common mental health disorder. I note what the Minister says about training, but what specific domestic abuse training is the Department considering to ensure that it actually happens?
I commend the hon. Lady’s work on the all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence and abuse. She will know that the Department produced a domestic abuse resource for health professionals that advises them on how best to support adults and young people over 16 who are experiencing domestic abuse, and that training is available now.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the publication of a definition of domestic abuse will help frontline staff to identify victims?
My hon. Friend is right. The definition, which also includes factors such as mental health and economic issues, will make things much clearer for frontline staff and help them to understand and look for incidents of domestic violence and abuse.
The most recent survey done in women’s prisons shows that nearly 65% of prisoners have had a significant acquired brain injury, which often relates directly to their offending behaviour. The vast majority of the 65% have suffered domestic violence, so should we not be screening every woman as she arrives in prison to ensure that they get the neuro- rehabilitation support they need?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and he will know that the Government have committed extra money to ensure women prisoners get the support they need for neuro problems when they enter prison.
Domestic violence can be extremely damaging for the children who witness it. What is the Minister doing to support those children?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, because domestic violence clearly impacts the whole of family life, and there is evidence that children are also affected. We need to ensure that there are no legal barriers to sharing data to protect children or vulnerable adults, and we need to ensure that the £8 million we are spending will help those children recover from domestic violence.
Health-based independent domestic violence advisers can identify victims of domestic violence that other services are unable to detect. SafeLives, the national domestic abuse charity, suggests that domestic violence often goes undetected among elderly and black, Asian and minority ethnic victims. Surely, by placing these professionals in an A&E environment, countless victims could be identified and helped. Will the Minister commit to placing independent domestic violence advisers in all A&E departments?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. We need to ensure that people are properly triaged for all sorts of diseases when they turn up at A&E, including domestic violence. I will reflect on her point and talk to NHS England about it.
Since 2012, 62,949 start-up loans worth £489.5 million have been made to business owners, and 39% of those loans went to female entrepreneurs. In response to the Rose review, an industry-led taskforce will look at driving greater investment in female entrepreneurs by finance providers. The Government are also establishing a new investing in women code, through which financial institutions will take steps to improve the allocation of funding to female entrepreneurs.
It is worrying that the Rose review concluded that only one in three active entrepreneurs is a woman, so will the Minister take action to respond to the recommendations of the Rose review so that more women can turn their great business ideas into great businesses?
I thank my right hon. Friend for highlighting that particular finding. It is our ambition to increase the number of female entrepreneurs by half by 2030. The new investing in women code will drive more funding for women and encourage more women to start businesses. Alison Rose is already taking several recommendations forward with the backing of industry. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is bringing forward the Government’s strategy to address persistent gender economic barriers facing women across the country at every level.
Is the Minister aware that an increasing number of women entrepreneurs are using digital blockchain tools to start and grow their businesses? Will she meet people who can introduce her to blockchain solutions, and will she say something to her colleagues in the Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority to encourage such use?
I would be very happy to meet women who are using all manner of tools. I met eBay yesterday, and it talked about the work it is doing to encourage women to start their own businesses. It particularly talked about how it is working with retail businesses in Wolverhampton. I am always available to speak about anything that will encourage women in business—in fact, not just women but all people.
The Government strongly condemn sexual harassment in the workplace and are committed to seeing it end. Employers are already responsible for preventing sexual harassment in their workplace and can be held legally liable if they do not, but we are consulting this summer to gather evidence on whether reinforcing this with a proactive duty would lead to better prevention of this terrible practice in the workplace.
Women who work in the retail and hospitality sectors in the UK have little protection when they face workplace harassment, which is something that happens far too often. As last year’s Presidents Club scandal shows, employers have no duty to protect their staff. May I encourage the Minister, when she carries out that review, to give serious consideration to reinstating section 40 of the Equality Act 2010 to give women the protection at work they have every right to deserve?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this, because it is important; every woman—indeed, every person—should be able to enjoy their place of work without the threat or risk of sexual harassment. I take issue gently with him on section 40. He may know that it was used only twice when it was in force and it had the three strikes approach, which we believe was one reason why it was not used as often as it should have been. We are very open-minded; we have this consultation, and I encourage everyone to participate in it, so that we can find solutions that suit not just employees, but responsible employers.
Has the Minister thought about looking at the system of protected conversations that was introduced by the coalition Government? Given the nature of such conversations, that system could give a licence to employers to engage in harassment in conversations that then, under statute, cannot be quoted at subsequent hearings.
I am happy to look at that. As I say, we will be consulting in the summer. We want also to understand the scale of sexual harassment in the workplace. By definition, it tends to be activity that is hidden and there is stigma to it. We want absolutely to make the point that it is not right for anyone, of any gender, of any sexuality, to suffer this sort of behaviour in the workplace.
Gender Pay Gap
Gender pay gap reporting provides transparency for everyone in holding employers to account, and many organisations already recognise that closing the gap makes good business sense. I am writing to public sectors employers who are within scope of the regulations to urge them to develop action plans, and meeting influential business leaders to press them to take action in their sectors to make the best of the potential that their female employees can provide to them.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. What early assessment has she made of successful business compliance performance compared with that of last year?
Before I answer that, I feel obliged to wish my hon. Friend good luck in the London marathon this weekend, as I do to all Members of this House who will be running those 26 miles—we hope it will be good weather.
I am sure the whole House joins me in being delighted that we have exceeded last year’s compliance levels, with 95% of all employers believed to be in scope in the regulations having reported their data by the deadlines. We are confident that 100% compliance will be achieved shortly, and we have already seen the reporting rates rise to 98%.
When across 45% of firms the discrepancy in pay increase is in favour of men this year, it is now clear that the Government’ s policy of asking companies simply to report on the gender pay gap is not enough. I welcome the Minister’s response to the question about encouraging people, but will she now heed our advice and make it mandatory for companies also to produce action plans on how they will defeat this inequality against women?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I know she shares my enthusiasm and determination on this point. She will be pleased that already just under 50% of employers within scope are publishing their own action plans—they are doing that because they understand it makes good business sense. We believe that this is the best approach. Interestingly, 56% of employers have reported either reductions in their gender pay gaps or the fact that they are staying the same. There is a great deal of work to do, but we have to bring business with us; businesses have to realise that it makes good business sense to close their gap and to treat their female staff properly. We believe that by encouraging them we will bring about the best result.
I welcome the progress that has been made in closing the gender pay gap and increasing the representation of women on company boards, but what are the Government doing to support low-paid, low-skilled women, who often seem to be left out of the conversation?
My hon. Friend has distilled into his question the important point that the gender pay gap is not just about the heads of companies—directors and so on—important though that aspect is; it is also about helping women at the very lowest ends of the pay scales. We want to encourage them to seek better jobs and have better incomes. That is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities is setting out a strong strategy on economic empowerment for women, so that they are treated fairly in the workplace, no matter their pay level, and ensuring that employers realise that if they are going to get the best of their workforce, they need to pay their female staff properly.
Universal Credit: Effect on Women
Universal credit treats all genders equally, and female employment is at a record high. The changes to the tax threshold and the national living wage and the increases to the universal credit work allowance will specifically assist women more on an ongoing basis.
On behalf of the Go Girls, a group of young parents in Newport, may I raise with the Minister one of the unfairnesses of the universal credit system? Lone parents who are under 25 get paid a lower rate than they would have been paid under tax credits, causing great hardship to young parents and children. Will the Minister help me to lobby the Department for Work and Pensions on the issue?
I note the point, which I have discussed with the hon. Lady previously. I am happy for the Minister with responsibility for this specific matter to sit down with the hon. Lady and her particular constituents to ensure that it is addressed, but I should make the point that this April we brought in the £1,000 increase to the UC work allowance, which should make a difference in the interim, before such a conversation takes place.
It is incredibly important to provide support and a route back to work for people who have taken time out to care for others, and we want to find out the most effective way of doing so. Today, I am announcing that, as part of our returners programme, we are awarding grants to the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation; to One Ark in Liverpool; to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, for projects in Yorkshire and Humber; and to Carer Support Wiltshire. These grants will be used for a number of initiatives to make it easier for people to return to the labour market and to discover how best to keep people economically active.
The housing association Habinteg recently launched a new advisory group for disabled people. The group has highlighted the impact that not having an accessible home has on people’s employment, health and wellbeing. Will the Minister agree to meet representatives of the group to discuss their real concerns?
There is no excuse for new build homes especially not to be accessible. The Global Disability Innovation Hub set a challenge and has demonstrated that accessible homes can be built with no greater footprint and at no greater cost, so there is no excuse for local authorities not to do so. I would be happy to meet those representatives, and will suggest that to the Minister for Disabled People, too.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point, and the Government take these issues very seriously. For example, our apprenticeship diversity champions network is working in partnership with employers to help to overcome gender stereotypes in sectors such as science, technology, engineering and maths and industries such as construction. My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that since 2010 there has been a 26% increase in the number of girls entering STEM A-levels in England, and that in the United Kingdom the number of women accepted on to full-time STEM undergraduate courses since 2010 has increased by 28%.
On 22 April, we marked the very first National Stephen Lawrence Day. It has been 26 years since his tragic racist murder. Sadly, as the Prime Minister acknowledged, racism and racial discrimination are still very prevalent in our society.
In 2018, the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance stated that any measure that directly or indirectly targets and undermines the rights of marginalised groups must be understood as breaking international human rights law. This Government have presided over an immigration enforcement system in which people are being unfairly racially profiled; refused to allow people to bring forward discrimination claims based on more than one aspect of their identity; introduced voter ID, which will disenfranchise marginalised communities; failed to act on the results of their own racial disparity audit; and introduced hostile-environment policies. Will the Minister inform the House whether, as well as breaking the UN’s human rights law, her Government are institutionally racist or just do not care?
The hon. Lady raises some very important issues. I am sorry about the tone of her question, because I do not recognise the attitude that she implies among my colleagues, including the Prime Minister, who has done some groundbreaking work in this area. What I would say to her and other hon. Members who rightly are concerned about these issues is that part of the motivation for moving the Government Equalities Office into the Cabinet Office, so that it can sit alongside the race disparity team, is to look at these things in the round. As well as the issues that she identified, individuals in this country face multiple discrimination. For example, an enormous number of people sleeping on the streets in London are young, gay, black men. Only by working together and looking at the disaggregated data will we really understand how we can improve lives for everyone in this country.
Being part of the LGBT community is not a lifestyle choice and learning about LGBT issues is not what makes someone gay, lesbian or trans. What is being done by the Government to ensure that those outdated views have no place in our future society?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s question. We have been clear in introducing relationships education and relationships and sex education that they are designed to foster respect for others and for difference, and to educate pupils about the different types of healthy relationships. Teaching about the diverse society that we live in can be delivered in a way that respects everyone’s views.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her FBU question. I would suggest that the FBU—[Interruption.] I have said this before, because it concerns me that there are no women on the FBU executive council. If the fire brigades workforce are to be looked after as we want them to be—Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recently published a report looking at facilities for female firefighters across the country and was concerned to see, for example, two services with no designated shower facilities for female firefighters—then these changes must be made from the very top of our fire brigade community, making sure that women’s voices are heard, because they are absolutely essential as part of our firefighting workforce.
Department of Health guidance in Northern Ireland says that Northern Ireland doctors referring women to GEO-funded free abortions in England could be breaking the criminal law. Will the Minister publish her legal advice to enable the Department of Health to change that guidance, which surely is erroneous? Will she update the House on what she is doing to help women in Northern Ireland, such as Sarah Ewart and others, who are being required by law to continue pregnancies where doctors have already told them that their babies will die before they are born or shortly after?
May I start by thanking my right hon. Friend and the Women and Equalities Committee for an incredibly important piece of work? It not only looked at the legal and human rights issues, but got on record public opinion and the opinion of healthcare and legal professionals in Northern Ireland and showed the complete paucity of care being endured by women in Northern Ireland. With specific regard to the legal advice, I clarified in my evidence to her Committee via a letter that the legal advice that we received when the scheme was set up meant that it would not be a crime to refer to those services and that the issue that she raised in her question does not stand.
I have also met with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who looks at health inequalities. She believes that she already has the powers to provide guidance to ensure that no one is deterred from referring someone to a healthcare service that they need, and where their life may be in danger if they do not receive it, because of fear that doing so might be a crime. That is completely bogus, and she has undertaken to do that immediately. However, there is obviously more to do to put right this issue—with apologies for adding to my answer, Mr Speaker—so that every citizen of the United Kingdom can have the healthcare services that they need.
We are running very late. I can live with that because my intention is, as always, to accommodate Back-Bench Members, but they could help each other by now contenting themselves with single-sentence questions.
Order. I am sorry, but I clearly said that Members should be asking single-sentence questions. People have to be able to adjust. It is not difficult.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who has done a great deal of work on this issue in her constituency. We are keeping this matter under review. We are keen that local councils are able to use the powers that they have under the antisocial behaviour laws, if appropriate in their areas.
Recent research shows that the HPV vaccine has led to a dramatic decline in cervical cancer. Having a vaccination saves lives, so can we use this opportunity to urge mums and dads across the UK to ensure that their kids have the measles vaccine?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The evidence is clear that the MMR vaccine is safe and effective. Mums and dads should ensure that their children are vaccinated.
As the hon. Lady will know, we are doing a great deal to support women, and men, who have suffered from domestic violence. The Domestic Abuse Bill is currently being looked at. The Government have pledged an additional £20 million over this Parliament to support victims and organisations combating domestic abuse. Women’s Aid does a fantastic job.
In light of recent objection to the Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that would address the discrimination against daughters when it comes to inheritance, when do the Government intend to end the practice of male primogeniture?
The Daughters’ Rights campaign was started after one new mum was told that her new arrival being a girl must have been a disappointment to her. This matter and the issue of courtesy titles are complex matters, but we do need to look at them in this modern age. My Department is working on that, and I welcome the Daughters’ Rights campaign.
The Northern Ireland Office has the lead on this issue, and it is waiting on a potential declaration of incompatibility. There has never been a case of such a declaration being issued and the Government not taking action. I alluded earlier to the fact that I am focusing on what we can do with the powers that we have to ensure that, within the current restrictions, every woman who needs particular healthcare services has access to them.
Shared parental leave is a good option for families, but take-up remains low. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging the Business Secretary to introduce a standalone period of parental leave just for partners, to give families more choices and help women to balance work and family?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has been doing to campaign on this issue, along with a number of our Conservative colleagues. We are looking at this as part of the women’s economic empowerment strategy. We want parents to have the choice as to how they share caring responsibilities, and we know that there are practical, as well as cultural, barriers to them doing so.
The hon. Lady may have heard my answer to a previous question. We will consult in the summer on sexual harassment in the workplace and I would encourage her and all colleagues across the House to contribute to that consultation.
Against the background of the highest ever level of employment in our country’s history, which employment rate is growing faster—male or female?
Both are growing, but female in particular.
Can the Minister detail what the terms of reference will be for the period poverty taskforce and confirm how many members will be chosen to ensure diverse representation?
I refer the hon. Lady to a written ministerial statement I tabled this week for an update. The first meeting of the taskforce will be in June, and we will be making announcements about who will be on it, but it will have three co-chairs: one from Government, one from the private sector and one from the charity and social sector.
In the response to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004, what consideration is being given to the approach of the International Association of Athletics Federations and its use of testosterone levels to determine whether a trans athlete competes in a women’s or a men’s race?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue, although it is slightly separate from the very narrow remit of the Gender Recognition Act. Every Department is facing all sorts of issues in relation to trans people, so we have brought together a team of Ministers and officials across Government to make sure that policy is where it needs to be. I have also had separate meetings with the Minister for Sport to discuss both elite and community sport. Many of these decisions, particularly at the elite level, are for sporting bodies to lead on, although there are safety issues as well. I can assure her that these will be ongoing meetings across all Departments and that we will make sure that every Department provides services and support and has the right policies in place for modern times.
Will the Minister confirm the Government’s position on whether the automatic parental right of men who have fathered children through rape should be removed?
I know that the hon. Lady is passionate about this, and I am pleased she has taken up this very important campaign. The Ministry of Justice is looking very closely at it. I have mentioned before that the civil procedure rule committee is looking at the issue she has raised in the past about applications to court. It will have a further meeting at the beginning of May, and I will be very happy to update her on that when the meeting has taken place.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Not now. We have three urgent questions and a business statement. There will be points of order in due course.
UK Telecoms: Huawei
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to make a statement on the future role of Huawei in UK telecoms infrastructure.
The security and resilience of the United Kingdom’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. The UK has one of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies, and we welcome open trade and inward investment in our digital sectors, but at the same time the UK’s economy can only prosper when we and our international partners are assured that our critical national infrastructure remains safe and secure.
As part of our plans to provide world-class digital connectivity, including 5G, my Department has been carrying out a cross-Whitehall evidence-based review of the supply chain to ensure a diverse and secure supply base. The review aims to ensure stronger cyber-security across the entire telecommunications sector, greater resilience in telecommunications networks and diversity across the entire 5G supply chain. It has considered the full UK market position, including economic prosperity, corporate and consumer effects and the quality, resilience and security of equipment.
Despite the inevitable focus on Huawei, the review is not solely about one company or even one country. We have to strike a difficult balance between security and prosperity, and recognise the reality of globalised networks and supply chains, although I will make it clear that our security interests are pre-eminent and that has been the focus of this review. That is the way to ensure that the UK fully realises the potential of 5G through its safe and secure deployment.
As would be expected given the importance of the subject, it is a thorough review of a complex area, which has made use of the best available expert advice and evidence, including from the National Cyber Security Centre. It will report with its conclusions once ministerial decisions have been taken. The review is an important step in strengthening the UK’s security framework for telecoms and ensuring the secure roll-out of 5G and full-fibre networks.
I am sure that the House will understand that National Security Council discussions should be confidential, and will understand why that must be the case. However, I know that Members on both side of the House feel strongly on this issue and I will make a statement to the House to communicate final decisions at the appropriate time.
Thank you for granting this urgent question today, Mr Speaker.
What a mess we are in. The only reason we know of the decision to green-light Huawei is from an apparent ministerial leak of a meeting of the National Security Council, which has served only to raise public concern while undermining the integrity of our security agencies. Let me be clear from this side of the House: if a Minister did leak this information, they are not fit to serve in the cabinet and are certainly not fit to be Prime Minister. Indeed, if the leak was for an advantage in a Tory leadership race, that would be truly shocking. Critical issues of national security should be handled with utmost care, not used as political ammunition in a Tory party civil war. A full leak inquiry should be undertaken, and if identified, the individual should immediately resign or be removed from their position.
Turning to the substance of the question, the decision to allow Huawei’s involvement in building our 5G network raises some extremely serious questions that must be answered if we are to provide the public with concrete assurances about the integrity and safety of the network. Huawei is a company known from multiple public reports from our security services to manufacture sub-optimal equipment, often at a lower than average cost. Can the Minister clarify if the equipment described just two weeks ago by the technical director of the NCSC as “very, very shoddy” will be the same equipment green-lit for deployment in our networks?
We heard last month in a report from the Huawei oversight board, chaired by the head of the NCSC, that it still has only limited assurance that the long-term security risks presented by Huawei can be managed, and it is still identifying significant issues. For the benefit of the House, can the Minister confirm that is still the opinion of the security services when the Prime Minister has decided to allow them access to our 5G networks for the decades to come?
We need not listen only to the security services: listen to Huawei itself. In a letter to the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee in February, it said that it will take three to five years to see tangible results from its reform programme. Just weeks after those warnings, why has the company been given the go-ahead to help to build our critical national infrastructure?
Why are we in this situation today? Ultimately, the chronic lack of investment by the Government has meant that we are without thriving digital or manufacturing industries capable of producing this equipment, leaving us reliant on foreign suppliers. To that end, the Government must be called out for their negligence. The only way we will keep Britain safe and secure in the 21st century is by investing in our industries, rebuilding Britain and always placing security ahead of cost. That is exactly what a Labour Government would do.
First, let me repeat what I said a moment or two ago. A final decision has not been made on this subject, so the hon. Lady is wrong to describe matters in the way that she has. However, I entirely agree with what she said about the leak of any discussions in the National Security Council. As she says, there is good reason for such discussions to be confidential, and I hope the House will understand that I do not intend to discuss here, or anywhere other than in the National Security Council, the matters that should be discussed there. The reason we do not is that officials, including the security and intelligence agents she has referred to in her remarks, which I will come back to, need to feel that they can give advice to Ministers that Ministers will treat seriously and keep private. If they do not feel that, they will not give us that advice, and government will be worse as a result. That is why this is serious, and that is why the Government intend to treat it seriously, as she and the whole House would expect.
I shall now respond to the other points that the hon. Lady raised. She made reference, quite properly, to the work of the oversight board. Of course the oversight board is evidence of the fact that we have arrangements in place for the management of Huawei technology that do not exist for the management of equipment supplied by others; there is reason for that. The oversight board’s concerns are, as she says, about the technical deficiencies of the equipment that Huawei is supplying. They are serious concerns; they need to be addressed. They are not, as she will recognise, concerns about the manipulation of that equipment by foreign powers, but they are none the less serious and they will be addressed. The objective of this review is to ensure that the security of the supply network, regardless of who the equipment supplier is, is improved. That is our objective, and it would be wrong to focus entirely on Huawei, or even, as I said, on Chinese equipment.
However, it is worth recognising that Chinese equipment —and, indeed, Huawei equipment—is prevalent across the world, not just in the United Kingdom. There is a good deal of Huawei equipment already in the UK networks, so we are not talking about beginning from a standing start, but it reinforces, in my view, the need to ensure that this review of the supply chain is broadly based—as it is—to ensure that we address the security of the network, regardless of where the equipment comes from.
Finally, on the issue of the security and intelligence agencies, as the hon. Lady would expect, we take full account of what the security and intelligence agencies have advised us on this subject, and she has my reassurance, as does the House, that we will continue to take seriously what they tell us, because it is a key component of the review that is being conducted—and that is being conducted, as I have indicated, with the full input of the National Cyber Security Centre.
My right hon. and learned Friend is quite right to make no comment at all on an apparent leak from an organisation like the National Security Council. But questions must be asked as to why a document such as this, of such huge national and international security importance, was being discussed openly at the National Security Council, and indeed the content of the document itself equally is worthy of much further inquiry across Whitehall and in this place. Would my right hon. and learned Friend perhaps welcome an inquiry by the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, on which I serve, into the document, the way it was handled by the National Security Council, and the way in which the leak occurred?
I think it is entirely appropriate for the Committee on which my hon. Friend serves to make inquiries as it thinks fit. It is not a matter for me or for the Government to indicate what it should or should not do. He will recognise, of course, that these are documents that should be discussed by the National Security Council—it is a way in which the National Security Council can make sensible and properly informed decisions—but as I said a moment or so ago, and as he knows full well from his own experience, that will become less and less likely to happen, and decisions will get less and less properly based, if we cannot trust people to keep private what should be kept private.
As I see it, there are two major considerations. In the UK we are lagging behind China, the USA and South Korea. The fact that we are even talking about this issue is a strong indication that there has been a lack of a realistic UK Government-backed strategy, and that has allowed us to fall behind, and we are now facing tough decisions, which could and should have been avoided. There is the threat of espionage, which is obviously denied by China. There have been persistent rumours since 2012 of an elite cyber-warfare unit using either Huawei’s software or flaws in it. Why it should go to such lengths when the NSC leaks like a sieve is beyond me, but if we do not know, how we can possibly take that risk?
I have two brief questions for the Secretary of State. Can he define the “core” and the “edge” of a 5G network and assure me that it cannot be compromised from either side? As EE is building 4G to carry emergency services, with its planned 5G piggybacking on that, will Huawei’s 5G plan disrupt that service?
First, there is no lack of UK strategy. We have a clear intent to make maximum use of 5G technology. That is important because, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, in order for our economic development to be as successful as we all want it to be, this country will need to embrace this technology and make use of it in a variety of ways. The option of simply saying we will not engage in 5G technology is not available to us, nor should it be, and I know he does not argue for that.
If we need to provide for 5G networks, I repeat that it is important to be realistic and to recognise that Huawei is a significant player in this market. There are few others—and, by the way, the others that exist use Chinese equipment or assemble their components in China. The idea that any option available to us could completely exclude Chinese equipment or involvement of any kind is, I am afraid, not realistic.
It is also worth saying, for the reassurance of the hon. Gentleman and others, that we already take action to, for example, exclude Huawei from sensitive networks. There is no Huawei equipment in defence or intelligence networks. The division between core and access networks—which, as he says, is technically complex—is something we will need to address in the review, but I would much prefer that we discuss that review in the round when it has been properly developed, rather than attempt to do it piecemeal on the back of incomplete leaks.
The Secretary of State talks about coming to the House with a final decision. Is this not an opportunity to have a wide-ranging debate about this issue? There are many technical, political and security considerations. If the US and Australia can block Huawei without damaging their trading relationships with China, it raises the question of why the United Kingdom could not do the same.
I recognise my hon. Friend’s considerable interest and expertise in this field. I will say two things to him. First, he is entirely right that Australia has decided to exclude Huawei completely from these systems. The United States has not yet made such a decision. It does so from federal networks, but it has not yet decided what its approach will be in the areas we are considering.
As my hon. Friend knows, I always welcome wide-ranging debate and am happy to come to the House for it. The difficulty is that, in order to have such debate, we need to have access to material that is very hard to share with the House. That is why these discussions are had at the National Security Council and why decisions must, in the end, be reached there. It is then the responsibility of Ministers—I take this responsibility seriously—to come to the House and explain those decisions to the greatest extent possible, with those caveats. I always intended to do so and still intend to do so.
Why does the Secretary of State think that Australia has taken that decision?
I do not answer for the Australian Government; the hon. Lady would have to ask them. We are all—this applies particularly to Five Eyes partners—wrestling with these complex questions, and we may reach differing conclusions. There is good sense in having those conversations as extensively and often as we can. In fact, the Government will be doing so shortly with security and intelligence partners, and I have no doubt that this subject will be high on the agenda.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that partners—in fact, our closest intelligence partners—have been very clear in their views on this decision? Indeed, the Australian Signals Directorate made a very clear statement only a number of months ago in which it said that there was no such division between core and non-core, because the nature of 5G includes the whole gamut of the technology in one, and therefore the distinction possible in 3G and 4G is no longer feasible.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend also agree that this is not simply a technical issue—arguing about whether we would be vulnerable to espionage in a broad sense or whether Huawei would be able to hoover up the digital exhaust that is in fact the gold mine for so many businesses today—but a diplomatic one, undermining the trust that has built the 70-year relationship we know as the Five Eyes community, which keeps threats away from our shores and ensures the security of our citizens around the world? Does he not therefore see that this is fundamentally a diplomatic and political question, just as much as a technical one, and that respecting our Five Eyes partners is an essential part of the decision?
On my hon. Friend’s last point, I entirely agree. It is important that we do not just discuss these matters with our partners, but have rather more complex and detailed technical discussions about the precise restrictions we may all seek to impose, and there is no lack of respect for what they say in this. Of course, many of our Five Eyes partners are operating under some difficulty, as Members of this House are, in that they do not know all of the decision making because some of it is not yet complete.
It is worth recognising that my hon. Friend is right that the concerns our partners have expressed are legitimate concerns. We listen very carefully to what they say, and we listen very carefully too to what our own security and intelligence agencies say. For reasons he will appreciate perhaps better than almost anyone else in this House, I do not intend to go into any detail about that, but I repeat my reassurance that we will act in full consideration of what they say, because it is an important and fundamental part of this review.
This leak is not only embarrassing, but, I am afraid, symptomatic of a wider breakdown of discipline and collective responsibility in the Government. This decision should be taking into account both our national security needs and our technological requirements for the future. Those should be the only two things under consideration by Ministers, not their own political share price or anything else. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that, in our altered post-Brexit geopolitical position, there is no question of future trade requirements or the urgency of a trade deal with China influencing national security judgments?
I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the importance of this decision and the considerations that legitimately play a part. This is a decision that will be taken by the Government as a whole, but the recommendations of this review have been produced by my Department in collaboration with the intelligence agencies, particularly the National Cyber Security Centre, as I have said. We have done that with the country’s security considerations pre-eminent among the issues that are discussed and will be put forward at that review. That will remain the case for as long as I lead this Department and have anything to say about it.
We are only here today because there has been a leak. That is incredibly regrettable for the whole of the House—I have heard that opinion from both sides of the House—and national security could not be a more important topic for all of us to be discussing. I am a little concerned that the leak may be trivialised by saying that it is as a result of someone’s leadership campaign. I am more concerned that it may be as a result of whistleblowing, because the process is so concerning to someone that they have felt the need to break the bond of trust that has existed for so long.
I accept that the review is going on at the moment in great secrecy, but since this has now been brought out into the open, can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that absolutely every consideration will be given to all the concerns that have been raised by hon. Members here today about both our relationship with countries such as Australia and our cyber-security and national security? Importantly, will he make sure that some concept of future deals with China is not colouring what we must now have absolutely at the forefront of our mind—the safety of the British public?
Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. That will indeed be the focus of this review, as she has just heard me say. I do not think that the motivation for this leak matters in the slightest. This was unacceptable, and it is corrosive of the ability to deliver good government, which is something for which we must all take responsibility. In discussions of this kind, people are entitled to express whatever views they wish—and they do—but once the discussion has been held, collective responsibility requires that people do not repeat their views publicly, and they certainly should not discuss matters that have a security implication of this kind. I think that is clear, and the majority of Members of the House will agree. We will return to the substance of this issue when I have the opportunity to speak rather more freely than I can at the moment, and I will of course give the House as much detail as I can.
Protecting this country’s national security must be non-negotiable, but there have also been reports, including in The Daily Telegraph, that Chinese technology companies have been complicit in the internal repression of ethnic Muslims in western China. That involves the internment of hundreds of thousands of people in “re-education” camps, and the creation of a surveillance state, and it is possible that that includes Huawei. Is the Secretary of State aware of any allegations that specifically involve Huawei, and if so, should we be doing business with a company that engages in that sort of activity?
As the right hon. Gentleman says, our concerns about Huawei are at least in part due to the potential interlocking nature of what it does and what the Chinese state does. That lies at the heart of our concerns, hence the oversight mechanisms with which he is familiar. We will, of course, take full account not just of what he has said, but of all our other information when making our judgment. He will understand that the involvement of the intelligence and security agencies in that process is fundamental and integral, and it means that we can get a good sense of the sort of information he describes.
I am not encouraging my right hon. and learned Friend to comment on the substance of leak, but while that leak might become the subject of a criminal investigation, does he agree it is important that people both in and outside this House choose their words carefully when talking about what happened yesterday?
I agree with my hon. Friend, as she would expect, and she speaks with experience on this matter. We cannot exclude the possibility of a criminal investigation, and everybody will want to take that suggestion seriously. We are all entitled to say what many of us have already said about the undesirability of this kind of leak, and it is perfectly proper for the House to express its concern in such a way.
The Secretary of State is being very open and reasonable, but does he agree that fundamentally this is all about trust? When I was a very young MP, one of my first parliamentary jobs was to go to Hong Kong as part of a parliamentary delegation, to assess the agreement that this country reached with China on the future of Hong Kong. This very week have we seen how China has shredded that agreement by taking those democracy protesters and giving them long prison sentences. The Secretary of State says that we want a broad-ranging inquiry, but Syngenta in my constituency has been taken over by ChemChina. That is not on the stock exchange; that is the Chinese Government buying into our economy. We must look at that seriously as it is a question of trust.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and as I have said, the approach that we take to Huawei is different in nature to the approach we already take to other suppliers of similar equipment. He will recognise that the problem is not specific to the United Kingdom, and neither is it easy to resolve by simply saying, “We’ll have nothing to do with the Chinese”. As I have set out, a considerable amount of Chinese equipment is already in the system both here and elsewhere, and a considerable amount of Chinese components are in the supplies that we get from anywhere. This is not straightforward, hence the need for the type of review that we have engaged in, to discuss the issue sensibly and reach considered conclusions. The hon. Gentleman knows me well enough to know that that is my preferred approach, and that is what I intend to do.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the UK relies on many international tech companies for its digital and telecoms infrastructure? All have different levels of risk, but all have contributed to enabling the UK to have the largest digital economy as a percentage of GDP in the G20. Can he assure me that the British Government would not take undue and unnecessary risk with citizens’ data or national security, whether our partners be Chinese or the US, international or domestic?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a good point. As I said, the purpose of the review process is not simply to answer questions about Huawei or even to answer questions about China; it is to ensure that our telecoms supply chain is secure for the future regardless of where the equipment comes from. That is our objective and that is the sensible approach.
Since it was leaked that the Prime Minister has given the green light to Huawei’s involvement with 5G, what representations has the Secretary of State had from Huawei’s competitors?
Again, I think the way in which the hon. Gentleman has phrased what has happened is incorrect. I have made clear what the position is. Of course, we will listen to those in the sector, as we listen to others. In the end, however, the judgment that the UK Government have to make is how we ensure that our telecoms system is secure, safe and provides the kind of 5G network that will be the foundation of our economic success in the future. That is the objective here and that is what we will pursue.
Will the Secretary of State set out what steps the Government are taking to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of the development of new technologies like 5G? In particular, what are the Government doing to ensure that rural areas, like those in my own constituency in the Scottish borders, are not left behind as the 5G network is rolled out?
My hon. Friend is right. It is important that we recognise the need to ensure this technology serves our whole population and that its potential is properly developed. As he will know, the Government, in conjunction with others, are attempting to develop this technology in test beds, particularly, as he will know, in rural applications, which I hope will be of benefit to him and his constituents. I believe that that can transform how our citizens connect to the essential services we now all use.
I should declare an interest, having spent 20 years building out mobile and fixed networks around the world, working with a variety of vendors including Huawei and latterly for the regulator Ofcom.
Mobile networks are an increasingly critical part of our national infrastructure, but the regulatory framework has not kept pace since 2010. For example, it has not matched the resilience and security requirements of fixed networks. 5G makes mobile networks part of the everyday infrastructure of our lives, but it will be built out using existing components and network parts where, in many cases, Huawei is already present—it is based on 4G, for example. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need a transparent principles-based and standards-based resilience and security regulatory framework? Will he comment on why Ofcom has not provided that under the duties set out in section 105 of the Communications Act 2003? Will he ensure that in the future Ofcom has the resources and the powers to ensure it does?
The hon. Lady is right. The importance of the review is that it deals with the need to ensure security is in place for the mobile network, as it is elsewhere. That becomes increasingly important as we move towards extensive applications of 5G. That is the logic for the review. That is why it is important and that is why it is happening now. Ofcom will have its part to play in that process. She will understand why I do not talk now about the conclusions of the review, but I will discuss them when they are available. I have no doubt that she will wish to participate in that conversation.
Following on from the question from the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), does the Secretary of State recognise that there are legitimate human rights concerns about reports of the use of technology by Chinese authorities to monitor its own citizens—for example, the recent reports of the extensive use of facial recognition technology by Chinese law enforcement agencies to characterise people by social groups, race or ethnicity and to monitor the movements of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of minority Uighur Muslims simply going about their daily business?
Those are legitimate concerns, and they are the reason why we have to consider companies that are closely connected with, or potentially influenced by, the Chinese state in a different category. As I have said, however, there is a practical problem, which is that if our objective were to exclude all Chinese equipment from these systems, we would find that exceptionally difficult to do. There is a balance to be struck. The purpose of this exercise is to ensure that we do not expose our systems and our citizens to risks that we can sensibly and prudently avoid. That is what the review is designed to do, and I believe that it will succeed.
When the Foreign Affairs Committee was in Beijing recently, every single person whom we spoke to made it absolutely clear that the Chinese Communist party would stop at nothing to gain whatever economic or political advantage it could possibly achieve, whether through espionage, massive data gathering or the abuse of intellectual property rights. The people whom we met will be enormously sceptical about direct engagement with Huawei, a company that operates directly under Chinese law and is likely at any one moment suddenly to be seized by the Chinese state to perform its duties under that law rather than the law of this country.
The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right about those concerns, which are legitimately held. Let me repeat, however—I know that he understands this—that we are not at a standing start. There is already considerable engagement with Huawei, not just in this country but around the world, and we seek to manage that process in the ways that he knows about. The long-term aspiration of broadening the market and diversifying suppliers is absolutely the right one, and I hope very much that the review will address those issues, too, but that in itself will not be a quick fix. We will seek to do it, but it will take some time to broaden the market beyond what are now essentially three suppliers in this space and three only.
If the National Security Council is not secure, what is the point of it?
The point of the National Security Council is to enable us to discuss matters of national security, and we will continue to need to do that. I suspect that my hon. Friend will have detected in what I have said my view of the importance of those conversations remaining confidential.
Today’s Financial Times quotes Rob Joyce, a senior cyber-security adviser to the US National Security Agency, as saying:
“We are not going to give them the loaded gun.”
He said of the oversight board:
“For eight years they have had the cyber security centre there and the last several years there have been some really horrific reports about the quality of that activity and what’s being produced.”
How seriously should we take those comments?
Of course we take comments of that kind seriously, but it is important when people reach a judgment on these matters that they are in possession of all the facts, all the evidence and all the advice that we receive from many sources, including the security and intelligence agencies. It is difficult for anyone who does not sit around the National Security Council table to have access to all those different materials, but, as I have said, what is important is that we produce a secure system that will deliver safely a 5G from which all our constituents will benefit—including, importantly, those in Warwickshire. That is what we seek to do, and that is what the review is for.
I, too, must declare an interest: I spent 31 years in the telecoms and high-tech industry before coming to this place.
My right hon. Friend has indicated that Huawei’s technology, while niche, is not unique and that there are alternatives. The lesson of 3G and 4G procurement is that technological solutions came along quite quickly during the process. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, whatever decision is made, this process will be subject to open competition and companies will be able to compete freely for our business?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose experience is valuable in this discussion. He is right that we must also consider the competition aspects, not just from an economic point of view, but from a security point of view. It is obviously better to have a number of different suppliers, not just because it helps with the economics, but because it makes the network more secure. The difficulty, as he will recognise, is that essentially there are only three suppliers in this space: Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson. There are difficulties, on a number of levels, with the assumption that were we to exclude Huawei and rely entirely on the other two suppliers, we would have a safe network as a result. That is not the right assumption to make. That is why the review process is more complex than it might initially appear to be.
As well as the current controversy over safety and security, there is another aspect to this: the safety of human health. Will the Secretary of State assure me that whatever company he chooses as the main contractor will have to take full account of the impact on human health and ensure that any infrastructure minimises any possible danger to human health?
Of course that is important, and the hon. Gentleman will know that colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care are working on this. Whatever use we make of this technology and whoever supplies it, it is important that human health considerations are taken into account.
Over the past few years, many serious questions have been raised over Huawei, so it seems reckless even to consider it for the 5G network. The Secretary of State said earlier that Huawei is not operating in sensitive or defence areas, but as we become ever more reliant on the internet of things the ability to shut down a network poses a serious threat to our national security. If he is so confident about Huawei’s integrity, why is it not operating in sensitive areas?
We of course recognise that there is a material distinction between Huawei and other suppliers, and that is its potential interconnection with the Chinese state. It is therefore sensible for the UK to ensure that when we are dealing with particularly sensitive networks, Huawei is not involved. That process is well understood by both sides. Of course, the Chinese would apply a very similar principle to non-Chinese companies in China. But that is not what we are talking about in relation to the entire telecommunications network. The hon. Lady is entirely right that we must have the greatest possible security on our 5G systems, because as we do more and more with those systems, the consequences of someone being able to influence them at a fundamental level become more and more severe. That is exactly why the review is needed.
In the 1980s, Britain was a world leader in the development of fibre-optic broadband, but we have since lost that capability as a result of the privatisation and fragmentation of Britain Telecom and GEC-Marconi. We are now reliant on Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei, as the Minister has said. Is it not clear that, with the development of the internet of things, which has huge industrial potential, the opportunity now is for Britain to build a national champion in this space, perhaps working with Five Eyes partners and other close allies, that could deliver an internationally competitive capability in its own right?
I know that it is tempting for Opposition Members to blame everything on privatisation, but I do not think that is fair in this context. The point about a potential alternative contender, whether a national champion or something developed in concert with others, is something we should of course consider. However, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, that will not happen overnight, even if we and others are determined to achieve it. The more pressing problem for us to address is this: if we need to get our 5G systems up and running —I suggest that we do, in order not to fall behind in all these important economic areas—we need a system in place that enables us to develop those networks with the existing technology coming from existing suppliers. I repeat that we have a very limited choice available to us. The purpose of the review is to find a way to navigate that marketplace without sacrificing our security.
Our security services say that this is the first ever leak from the National Security Council. May I press the Secretary of State to tell us whether there will be a criminal investigation?
As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, that is not a matter for me. What I have said this morning —[Interruption.] What I said when I spoke 10 minutes ago was that I cannot rule that out, and nor can anyone else. It is a matter for the investigating and then prosecuting authorities to consider. It is not a matter for me. However, the leak can be condemned by us all, whether or not it is proceeded against in a criminal way.
Huawei has been banned from the core of 5G, but it is to be allowed to operate at the edge. The edge includes masts and antennas, which are also very sensitive. Canada and New Zealand have expressed concern, and Australia and the United States of America have said there is no relevant distinction between the core and the edge of 5G networks. What discussions has the Minister had with those four countries, and has their determination had any influence on our decision?
The hon. Gentleman will know from our discussions this morning that these are important conversations with our Five Eyes partners, and they are continuing, as he would expect. I repeat the point that, as yet, the final decisions on this matter have not been taken, so we should not characterise it in that sense. However, it is vital that when we come to make the decisions, we consider all relevant matters. I repeat my reassurance to him that the priority in all those considerations will be security. That is why this review was commenced in the first place. That is its purpose, and that is what we seek to achieve with it.
Electoral Registration: EU Citizens
(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will please make a statement on the electoral registration process for EU citizens for the 2019 European elections.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. It is important that we ensure that everyone is aware of what they can do to ensure they are able to exercise their right to vote, should that opportunity arise. We have been clear on our intention as a Government that we want to leave the EU as soon as possible and not have to hold these elections.
Electoral registration officers have a statutory duty to ensure that people who are eligible to vote in relevant elections have the opportunity to do so. With regard to the potential European parliamentary elections, that includes ensuring that EU citizens from other member states who are resident in the UK and registered to vote are aware that they need to complete a declaration, commonly referred to as a UC1 or EC6 form, in order to do so. I will place a copy of that form in the Library of the House today. To vote in the UK, citizens of other EU member states need to be registered to vote, and to complete the declaration form stating their wish to vote in the UK, by Tuesday 7 May 2019. This form is accessible on the Electoral Commission website and on local authority websites. This is to ensure that EU citizens do not vote twice—here and in their member state of origin—because it is obviously illegal to vote twice in the same election.
The Electoral Commission has issued advice on what action to take on this, and it was circulated to all local authority electoral officers on 4 April. The Electoral Commission’s guidance advises that, while the law does not require electoral registration officers to send the form out to all EU citizens, it has in previous years advised that EROs should identify those local government electors who are EU citizens and send them a UC1 form, to help to ensure that they understand their options and are able to exercise their right to vote, should they wish to do so. It further advises that, if the date of the poll is confirmed, electoral registration officers be encouraged to take other steps to raise awareness, such as through social media channels and elsewhere. The Electoral Commission said that it was also looking to support EROs in this and to work with partners to spread the message more widely. The commission’s advice is that EROs
“should think about how you can make EU citizens clear of the options available to them: the information on the UC1 form should help you to do this”.
While the Government support the work to encourage electoral registration, the legal process of registration is obviously the responsibility of electoral registration officers rather than the Government. Prior to the extension of article 50, we had already encouraged EU citizens to vote in their home countries in the 2019 European parliamentary elections. We expect that most EU citizens in the UK will have followed previous advice to ensure that they can vote in their member state of citizenship.
I am concerned that EU citizens living in the UK have to undergo a two-stage process to vote in the European elections. Even if they are already registered to vote in the local elections next Thursday, they are separately required, unlike UK nationals, to complete an additional form to vote in the European elections three weeks later. That added layer of administration is rightly designed to prevent EU citizens from voting twice. However, the Cabinet Office has also inferred that preferential status must not be conferred to EU citizens in the process. That scenario only really applies when the EU registers are open, but there is no uniformity among EU member states. Indeed, the majority of EU registers have now closed.
Under normal circumstances, had the Brexit shambles not taken over, councils would have written to EU citizens in January, when all EU registers were open, to confirm the UK register in good time. They would have sent out reminders and issued polling cards to electors who are already on the register for the local elections, but we are not in normal circumstances. Our participation in the European elections was confirmed by the Prime Minister very late in the day, and the additional EC6 process is largely superfluous given that the majority of EU registers have already closed.
Far from giving preference to EU citizens, these unusual circumstances and the Government’s lack of action have helped to create an artificial barrier to the enfranchisement of EU citizens. Indeed, we are already hearing reports of a formal legal challenge to the Government. This is yet another Brexit mistake. In July 2018, the integrity of our democracy was questioned when Vote Leave was found guilty of breaking electoral law. Today, our democracy faces another threat: Government- sanctioned barriers that could prevent EU citizens from registering to vote.
There are now 13 days until the voter registration deadline. Given the shortness of time, and the late hour at which local authorities were informed of this major U-turn in Government policy on participation in the European elections, can the Minister answer one clear question? Will he confirm that local authorities will be permitted to register automatically EU citizens who are already registered to vote in next week’s local elections, on 2 May, so that they can participate in the European elections a mere 21 days later?
I have a couple of things to say to the hon. Lady. First, we obviously would not be in this position if she and more of her colleagues had voted for the deal on 29 March, because we would not be holding these elections, and there still may be an opportunity not to hold them. Secondly, local elections are different, because residents can vote more than once, in different places where they pay council tax. The structure is very different—[Interruption.] I can see the hon. Lady gesticulating, but people can vote more than once in local elections, as Members of Parliament often do. Things are different in European elections, and it is right that we do what we can to ensure that people vote only once.
As for the process, if colleagues look at the UC1 form—as I said, I will lay a copy in the Library today for colleagues who have not seen it—they will see that it probably takes 30 seconds to a minute to complete. The same process was used in the 2014 European elections, and it dates back to the European Parliamentary Elections (Franchise of Relevant Citizens of the Union) Regulations 2001, so some Labour Members will have supported it when they were in government.
Given that today marks the nomination deadline for the European elections and that many local authorities will be considering sending out postal votes early in the process, will my right hon. Friend confirm what guidance has been given to electoral registration officers about postal votes, particularly for European citizens who choose to vote in these elections?
The advice from the Electoral Commission to EROs is that they should follow the same processes. Everything will be exactly the same as it was in 2014, so there will be no difference in how postal vote notices go out. This is about ensuring that European residents who want to vote here and have not already registered to vote in their home member state, which we have been recommending for a year that they do, are able to register should they wish to do so.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) for bringing this important question to the House.
It has never been the desire of the Labour party to take part in the upcoming European parliamentary elections. However, it is now becoming a reality following the Government’s failure to reach a satisfactory Brexit deal. The uncertainty caused by the Government’s shambolic Brexit negotiations is causing havoc on this country, particularly for electoral administrators who are now tasked with delivering a national poll at extremely short notice.
Some 2 million EU citizens who are already registered to vote in this country have until 7 May to complete and return a declaration form to take part in the European elections. In normal circumstances, returning officers would have started writing to registered EU citizens in January to ensure that they have completed the necessary paperwork, which cannot be done electronically. Prior to the 2016 EU referendum, the Electoral Commission began the process of identifying proposals for streamlining this administrative two-step process. However, because this Government repeatedly stated that European elections would not take place, the Electoral Commission decided not to continue working out this area of reform.
Because the Government maintained their positon on EU elections at the eleventh hour, even when it was clear that their botched Brexit deal would not pass, returning officers have only just started the process of contacting registered European citizens. There are now only 13 days left until the deadline and, so far, fewer than 300 forms have been returned, which equates to 0.015% of registered EU citizens.
Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) raised our concerns that thousands of EU citizens will be casting their vote in local elections but will be denied that same right in the European elections, and that many are considering legal action. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), failed to provide proper assurances that this issue is being taken seriously.
Given the shortness of time and the late hour at which local authorities were informed of this major U-turn, we have four demands of the Government. Will they give EU citizens more time to return their declaration forms by extending the deadline from 7 May to 15 May? Will they provide EU citizens with more chances to be aware of their options by ensuring electors are handed a copy of the declaration form when they vote in local elections? Will they pay for all costs associated with maximising participation in the European elections by EU citizens, given the short notice and therefore the higher cost of getting people to sign up? And will they make the registration process easier by confirming that scanned or photographed forms are acceptable?
It is unacceptable that European citizens living here risk being denied their right to vote because of the Government’s incompetent approach to Brexit. This chaos must end.
On one of the hon. Lady’s last points—I invite her to look at the form later in the Library—I am not sure how the form could be simplified any further. It literally takes 30 seconds to fill it in; it is a very simple, direct form. On the wider issues, the Electoral Commission is the body responsible for ensuring that these processes are followed through legally, and I am sure it will be listening and looking at what she has outlined.
We have been very clear about advising EU citizens over the last year to make sure that, for the European elections, those who wish to vote are registered in their home member state. As I said in my opening remarks, we expect that many will have done that, but there is the opportunity, if they wish to vote in the UK should we hold these potential elections, for them to do so by filling in a UC1 form.
The hon. Lady spoke about the deal, and I gently remind her that we are potentially fighting these elections because, when Labour Members had the chance to vote for a withdrawal agreement that fits their own party policy, they decided to play politics rather than deliver on the referendum.
I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council.
When voters in Kettering voted 61% to leave the European Union in the referendum three years ago, they did not expect to be asked to vote in European elections this year, and they find it ridiculous that they are being asked to do so. Fortunately, we have an excellent electoral services team at Kettering Borough Council. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will reimburse all the extra costs that councils will bear in arranging these elections?
Obviously, I share my hon. Friend’s view that nobody who voted in 2016, on either side of the debate, ever expected to vote in a European election again once they saw that result. I still hope there is an opportunity for them not to have to do so. As I say, I am disappointed that we are in this position at all, but these elections will follow the process that has been used previously—as they did in 2014; all the same processes will apply.
I am delighted to confirm that the Scottish National party is looking forward to the upcoming European elections, as an opportunity to demonstrate Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and our commitment to the visions and ideals of the European Union, particularly the protection of the rights of its citizens. It is therefore concerning to hear that a lack of Government planning means that many EU citizens may be unable to register to vote in these elections. Of course there was quite a mix-up back in 2014 in this regard, meaning that up to half a million EU citizens were prevented from voting, and the Electoral Commission was supposed to have had that sorted out in advance of any further European elections. Given what EU citizens have been put through in the past few years, it is particularly concerning that their voice may not be heard in these elections. It is all very well for the Minister to suggest that they should go home to vote, but, as has been pointed by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), whom I congratulate on securing this urgent question, many of the registers are already closed in other European Union countries, because, unlike ours, their Governments were organised. May I therefore echo some of the requests made by others and ask, in particular, that the deadline for registration be extended? May I also ask the Minister not to shuffle responsibility off on to the Electoral Commission, but to take Government responsibility for what has happened here and to make sure that the Electoral Commission is indeed writing to all local electoral registration officers and monitoring their compliance with the reminder to send out these forms? Finally, given that we are in this mess because of the way the Government have handled the Brexit process, will the Minister take some Government responsibility for an information campaign aimed at EU citizens to make sure that they are registered to vote—or are the Government afraid of what these people will vote for if they are registered?
I must say to the hon. and learned Lady that I do not accept the premise of some of her points—in fact, I think they are based on an entirely false premise. First, what she said I said is not what I said. In answer to her final point, which links to that, let me say that over the past year the Government, and indeed the Electoral Commission, have been advising EU residents to register in their member state. That is not the same thing as saying, “Go home and vote.” However, it does fulfil her last request, as we have been advising EU citizens—understandably, as we did not expect to be fighting these elections—that if they wish to exercise their vote, they should register in their home member state, because that is where there would be a European election. Of course, if she looks back in Hansard later, she will see that in my opening remarks I outlined that the Electoral Commission is in contact, and has been in consistent contact, with electoral registration officers about the processes to make sure that things are in place.
There is of course a really easy solution to all this, isn’t there, Minister? Let’s just stop mucking about and call the whole thing off.
As my hon. Friend knows well, I often agree with and enjoy his direct, cutting-through remarks, which he has just demonstrated again on the Floor of the House, getting to the core point in such a simple way. I entirely agree with what he said, and I hope that we have a chance for this House to express the will it should have expressed on 29 March, which is to approve the withdrawal agreement, leave the EU and deliver on the referendum result.
The Government have a responsibility to encourage the widest possible participation in the European Parliament elections, but the impression they are giving to EU citizens, “Please do not vote here, vote back home.” Is doing the opposite and is, frankly, insulting to many of them who regard the UK as their home. The Minister will be aware that some electoral registration officers have sent out reminder letters and UC1 forms to EU citizens. Is it the Government’s policy that all EROs should do so, and should do so immediately?
Let me correct something that the right hon. Gentleman said. I have huge respect for him and for his role. The point I have been making about EU citizens voting in their home member states is that because we were not looking to fight European elections as we wanted to leave the EU, the Government’s advice over the past year for people who wished to use their vote had been to register in their home state, because that would be the only place where there would be a European election in which they could vote. There is obviously now the potential that we will fight European elections, which is why, as I outlined in my opening remarks, the Electoral Commission has advised the electoral registration officers to identify all EU citizens who have the right to vote and notify them that they can vote in this country. If they complete a UC1, they will be able to register to vote and then vote in the European elections, should we hold them, although obviously as a Government we would rather not hold them.
I am fortunate to represent a constituency with at least 7,000 EU citizens, so this issue is particularly important for me. We should continue to communicate on the process. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the registration process is exactly the same as it was last time and that to suggest that there has been some kind of change is more likely to cause confusion than clarity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I give credit to Opposition Members and am absolutely sure that they are not trying purposely to confuse people, but the processes are exactly the same as they were in 2014 and, as I said, go back to the 2001 regulations.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) on securing this urgent question.
I am bound to place on the record the fact that I have profound concerns about the elections, which I hope do take place, and suspect strongly that there will be many legal challenges. I say gently to the Minister that the reason why we are holding them is that the Government have failed to deliver on the referendum result, and I remind him that it is a good job the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) is not present, because if he were here, he might want to remind the Minister about his elderly parents, who were born in Italy and have lived and contributed here, like many hundreds of thousands of EU citizens. This is their home, and the idea that to exercise their democratic right they should go back to Italy is absolutely outrageous.
I am worried about the rights of European citizens to vote, but I am also worried about their rights to stand. I was going to raise this issue as a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, on the day that the nominations closed in the south-west and Gibraltar—for the rest of the United Kingdom the deadline is 4 o’clock today—I discovered that the Electoral Commission had failed to supply to the returning officers the necessary information for them to provide to an EU citizen who wishes to stand, as they lawfully can, as a candidate in the elections. I am grateful to the returning officers in Kettering, who were so helpful; to the Spanish and Romanian ambassadors, who intervened directly; and to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who intervened directly to provide the material, guidance and advice to the returning officers directly from the Cabinet Office, because the Electoral Commission had failed to do it.
As I stand here today, I cannot say whether two Change UK candidates, one Spanish born and one Romanian born, will be able to stand in the elections, through no fault of their own. Will the Minister please assure the House that any EU citizen who wishes to stand and who satisfies the legal requirements will not be and has not been prevented from standing in the elections?
Let me deal with a couple of the points raised by the right hon. Lady. I reiterate that I personally believe in democracy and think that everybody who is in this country at any election, be it local, European or parliamentary, should look to exercise their right to vote. Many people have given a great deal over decades to have that right to vote, which is why it is important that we are clear with people that, should they complete that UC1 form, they will be able to vote, exactly as in 2014 and previous European elections. My point about people voting in their home member state is that that is what many EU citizens will have already arranged to do, on the understanding that there were not going to be elections in this country.
Where I disagree with the right hon. Lady quite dramatically is that I think this House should be supporting the decision made in the 2016 referendum, voting for the withdrawal agreement and not holding the elections—
Answer my question.
I am answering the right hon. Lady’s questions. She asked several and I have just covered some of them.
On her final question about EU citizens who wish to stand as candidates in the elections, the rules concerning EU citizens who wish to stand in this country in the European elections in May are the same as they were for the previous election in 2014. There are no changes. The Electoral Commission has provided guidance for candidates on this matter—
No it has not.
My understanding from the Electoral Commission is that it has. I hear the right hon. Lady saying that it has not; I will look into that straight after this urgent question and make sure that somebody in the Cabinet Office, or myself, comes back to her directly during the course of today.
My constituency is home to thousands of EU citizens. They deserve the right to vote here and every effort should be made to ensure that they can do so. Given the Government’s Brexit shambles, will the Minister now commit to doing one of several things: extending the deadline, but also ensuring that photocopied or scanned documentation will be accepted when people register?
As I have said at the Dispatch Box a few times, I agree that everybody who is entitled to vote should be encouraged to exercise their vote, which is a treasured and valued thing. I have put a copy of the UC1 form in the Library today, as I have outlined, so Members can see it. It is a very short and simple form to fill in, people have plenty of time to do just that, and I am sure that the Electoral Commission will look at the options that the hon. Lady has outlined.
The Minister’s answers this morning can hardly be seen as a reassurance that the Government value EU citizens living in this country or respect their rights. The Government should do their utmost to make good on their promises to respect EU citizens’ rights, so will the Minister please confirm that, for every EU citizen registered to vote in UK local elections, the obligation to send out the additional form for EU elections rests with the Government? This mess lies clearly at the Government’s door, not that of local government officials.
As I said earlier, the UC1 form is there for anybody to complete and send in. It is on the website, it takes about 30 seconds to complete—or maybe a minute, for anybody whose handwriting is as slow as mine—and I hope that as many EU citizens as possible who are able to vote in this country take advantage of that opportunity and use their vote, if we have the elections.
European Union citizens make a huge contribution to our public services, our economy, our communities and our country, and to my city of Newcastle. I hope that the Minister recognises that and recognises that they have suffered immensely through the Brexit process, not being able to vote in the first place and facing a rise in hate crime and continued uncertainty about their status and that of loved ones. Does he not think that he should go the extra mile to facilitate their voting and that not doing so adds insult to injury and reflects a lack of flexibility of responsiveness, which is the reason why we are in this mess in the first place?
The reason we are in this position is that on 29 March too many Members of Parliament did not vote to leave the European Union. However, I agree with the hon. Lady that EU citizens play a hugely important part in our economy, culture and society. That is why it is important that the Government and the Prime Minister have been clear from the very beginning that we want to protect and secure the rights of EU citizens in the UK. They are a hugely important part of our economy and I hope that as many as possible who wish to do so take advantage of the opportunity to vote in the elections, should we hold them. However, I still hold to the point that my main aim is to ensure that we do not have those elections in the first place and that we honour the referendum result.
It is deeply depressing to have to reassure EU nationals who come to my surgeries that they are welcome here and that we want to keep them here. It should not be my job to do that, and it is really depressing that people feel so unwelcome, having lived here, worked here and contributed so much for years. The rhetoric sounds reassuring, but the bureaucratic restrictions that the Minister is imposing on EU nationals paint a different picture, so why do we not dispense with this trifling inconvenience and just reassure people that they can vote through the normal process that other British citizens use?
The hon. Gentleman talks about the normal process. I would point out again that the process is exactly the same as in 2014 and flows from the 2001 regulations. That is how European elections are run, as I outlined in my opening remarks. I hope that European citizens will take the opportunity to look at a UC1 form and, if we hold these elections, register to vote.
The SNP has an EU citizen standing for the European Parliament, Christian Allard, who I am pretty sure considers this place to be his home. He will be voting in the elections, I will be voting for him and I look forward to him taking his seat in the European Parliament. The Minister keeps saying that if this House had voted for the withdrawal agreement, the elections would not be taking place. If EU nationals had had a vote in a referendum, perhaps they would still be taking place. In the contingency planning that the Cabinet ought to be doing for a second EU referendum, will the Government be considering extending the right to vote to EU nationals?
The Government’s focus is on doing all we can to ensure that we deliver on and respect the EU referendum—the referendum that we have already had. Parliamentarians should respect and deliver on that before they start talking about any others.
Will the Minister actually answer the question posed by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone)—that is, if local authorities have to spend more money because of the late notice of the elections going ahead due to the shambles on the Conservative side of this Parliament, will they receive that money back from central Government?
I thought that I had answered the question by making the point that local elections, European elections and general elections follow the same process of financing. Of course, at this stage, we do not actually even know what the full cost of those elections will be; we will not know until afterwards. At this stage, we do not even know exactly how many nominations there will be. We will be liaising with electoral returning officers through the Electoral Commission, as we always do with elections. Given the hon. Lady’s remarks, let me say again that we are in this place because she and too many colleagues did not vote to leave the EU and avoid these elections on 29 March.
Telling EU citizens to go home and vote is an absolute insult. This is their home and none of this shambles is any of their making. Will the Minister give an assurance that no EU citizens who turns up to vote will be turned away as a result of this shambles? Why can these forms and paperwork not be available at the point where they vote?
Nobody is saying to EU citizens what the hon. Lady has just said we are saying. What we are saying is that EU citizens, as per 2014, should follow the process to register to vote so that they can use their vote if we hold these elections. It is about ensuring that people vote once in the European parliamentary elections, if they are held.
Will the Minister ensure that non-digital platforms are also utilised as part of any publicity drive, which he referred to in his opening remarks, to ensure that voters who do not have access to the internet or adequate broadband are fully informed of the process they need to complete ahead of the deadline?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. The Electoral Commission looks at all these things, but I will ensure that it is specifically aware of that matter.
Government Mandate for the NHS
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care if he will make a statement on the Government’s failure to lay before Parliament the NHS mandate for the current financial year.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to set out the Government’s approach to setting a mandate for NHS England for 2019-20. The Government’s annual mandate to NHS England for 2019-20 will, for the first time, be a joint document with the annual NHS Improvement remit letter, called an accountability framework. This signals the importance of these two arm’s-length bodies working increasingly closely to maximise their collective impact. It will set one-year transitional objectives to allow the NHS time to implement the long-term plan, and it has been developed to meet the needs of patients, families and staff.
We are committed to the NHS and are funding its long-term plan to ensure that it is fit for the future for patients, their families and NHS staff. The accountability framework sets the expectations that will make that long-term plan a reality. The Government have continued to prioritise funding the NHS, with a five-year budget settlement for the NHS announced in summer 2018 that will see the NHS budget rise by £33.9 billion a year by 2023-24.
The funding settlement and the implementation of the long-term plan are not affected in any way by the short delay in the publication of the accountability framework. We are all engaged to ensure that the accountability framework is published and laid as soon as possible, and I and my ministerial colleagues and officials are working closely with NHS England and Healthwatch England, as statutory consultees, to ensure accountability, improvement and progress to deliver world- class care for patients.
It is a pleasure to see the Minister of State, as always, but the Secretary of State should be here to defend his failure to produce the NHS mandate. In every previous year, in accordance with section 23 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012—an Act that he supported and voted for despite everyone telling the Government not to support it—the Government have published the NHS mandate before the beginning of the financial year. This mandate outlines the Secretary of State’s priorities for the NHS given the financial settlement, yet this is the first time a Secretary of State has failed to lay before Parliament the Government’s mandate to the NHS for the forthcoming financial year. Is this a failure of leadership or the latest piece of stealth dismantling of the Health and Social Care Act? If it is the latter, why not just take our advice and bin the whole thing and so end the wasteful contracting, tendering and marketisation it ushered in?
The Minister talks of the 10-year long-term plan, but it is no good his telling us he endorses Simon Steven’s vision of the NHS in a decade’s time, when Ministers cannot even tell us what they expect the NHS to achieve in a year’s time. He boasts of the new revenue funding settlement for the NHS but seemingly has not got a clue what he wants the NHS to spend it on in the next 12 months, and at the same time he does not talk about the cuts to public health budgets, training budgets and capital investment.
Will the new accountability framework deliver for patients in the next 12 months? Last year’s mandate pledged that A&E aggregate performance in England would hit 95% in 2018. That pledge was broken, so can the Minister tell us whether, for those A&E departments not trialling the new access standard, the four-hour A&E standard will be met this year, or will the target not be met for the fourth year running?
Or how about the 18-week referral to treatment target? More than half a million people are now waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment. The target that 92% of people on the waiting list should be waiting less than 18 weeks has not been met since 2016. Will that target be met in the next 12 months, or has it also been abandoned? What about cancer waits? Some 28,000 patients are now waiting beyond two months for treatment. The target for 85% of cancer patients to be seen within two months for their first cancer treatment after an urgent referral has been missed in every month but one since April 2014. Will that target be met this year, or will cancer patients be expected to wait longer and longer?
On staffing and pay, will funding be made available in the next 12 months, as it was last year, for a pay rise for health staff employed on agenda for change terms and conditions working in the public health sector for local authorities and social enterprises?
We have no NHS mandate, even though it is mandatory. We have no social care Green Paper, even though it has been promised five times. The big issue has been ducked again. We have no workforce plan, even though we have 100,000 vacancies across the NHS, and the interim plan, which should have been published today, has been delayed again. The Secretary of State parades his leadership credentials around right-wing think-tanks, yet on this record he could not run a whelk stall, never mind the Tory party. It is clearer than ever that only Labour will fully fund our NHS and deliver the quality of care patients deserve.
Anyone listening to that will have realised that the hon. Gentleman is more concerned with political points scoring and process than with the substance and funding of the NHS. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) shouts at me, but she will want to remember that the shadow Secretary of State welcomed the long-term plan—or much of it—back in January.
It is absolutely clear—evidence was provided to the Public Accounts Select Committee yesterday by the permanent secretary and the chief executive of NHS England—that while obviously it would be better to publish by the deadline, it is more important that the mandate be right than published on a particular day. It is more important that we get this document on the long-term strategy of the NHS correct. As Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS, said, there is no problem with this short delay to the mandate. It is an important document, but it is causing him no problems. It is causing no problems.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned access to treatment and treatment times. This winter, more than 7 million patients were seen in under four hours. That is an increase of nearly 6% in attendances. I would have hoped that the Opposition Front Bench might have praised the NHS and its hard-working staff—
Always do. I worked in it for 17 years.
—rather than shouting political points across the Dispatch Box.
The hon. Gentleman says there are no targets. He is of course wrong.
I said you weren’t meeting them.
No, the hon. Gentleman said there were no targets likely to be set for the NHS this year. The accountability framework will include detailed and specific annual deliverables and set out in detail a process for delivering future implementation as well as some of the early delivery goals for 2019-20. He is wrong therefore to say that the framework will not have deliverables attached to it. It will. He also mentioned the Green Paper—
Where is it?
I have said, as the hon. Gentleman has heard many times, that we are finalising that. Again, it is more important to get it right. On the long-term plan for workforce implementation, a draft plan is being produced and I expect that plan to be published in the very near future—[Interruption.]
Order. The shadow Secretary of State exceeded his time on his feet. He must not now chunter in borderline delinquent fashion from his seat.
He’s too old to be a delinquent.
No one is ever too old to behave in a delinquent fashion.
There are all sorts of lines I could follow that with, Mr Speaker.
It is clear that it is this side of the House that is putting in the funding to make sure that the NHS can deliver for the patients, staff and families.
Most of us will remember that the NHS Confederation said four years ago that it wanted
“a manageable number of objectives, which…focus on long-term outcomes for patients and populations rather than measures of how services are delivered”—
“encourage collective responsibility for patient outcomes rather than silo working – particularly the expected outcomes from integrated care”.
Most people in the NHS will welcome the short delay if the result is that it makes it more possible for them to achieve the objective of the NHS, which is serving patients together.
My hon. Friend will have noted, as I said in my opening remarks, that this is an accountability framework because it brings together both the mandate for NHS England and the remit letter to NHS Improvement. It is a sign of more collaborative working which, as he says, almost everybody in the NHS and the healthcare arena would welcome.
The Minister will know the funding pressures that the NHS has been under, despite the 10-year plan: we still await the actual money being delivered, even though it has been announced. In the Wirral, a great deal of inefficiency is caused by the chronic underfunding of social care, for which the Government are responsible, which puts enormous pressure on health services. When it finally arrives, will the plan for the next year offer some proper relief in that area?
The hon. Lady will know that the Government have committed £33.9 billion up to 2023-24, and the first element of that has arrived this year. There will be, as I said earlier, publication of a Green Paper on social care and, combined with the comprehensive spending review, that will ensure that the Government will provide for the social care funding that is necessary.
Will the Minister recognise that the commitment under the long-term plan to ambulatory care, which is supported by the Royal College of Physicians, is helping patients receive the best form of care service in their own homes?
My hon. Friend is right. At the heart of the long-term plan is the emphasis on primary care and prevention. Providing care for people in their own homes undoubtedly achieves better outcomes for patients and he is right to welcome it.
The Minister will know that NHS England is currently consulting on proposals to change the law to remove mandatory competition, but billions of pounds’-worth of NHS services are currently out to tender. Has he considered, as part of the mandate, issuing clear guidance to CCGs that while the consultation is taking place they do not need to put many services out to the market? Or is he happy for that privatisation to continue on his watch?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that a consultation is being undertaken on various aspects of the long-term plan and the legal framework that needs to be put in place. It is entirely up to local CCGs to make decisions on their procurement policy.
Record investment is going into Kettering General Hospital and a record number of patients are being treated, but the best way that the Minister can deliver the NHS mandate and long-term plan for the people of Kettering is by providing the funding for a new urgent care hub, the site of which he has visited at Kettering General Hospital, and by working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to take advantage of local government reorganisation in Northamptonshire to create a health and social care pilot. Will he commit to both?
My hon. Friend and I have sometimes disagreed on certain things, but one thing we agree on is his advocacy for his constituents, and he is right that I have been to see for myself the issues in Kettering in terms of the current configuration of the accident and emergency department. He is right to press for that urgent care centre, and he knows that he has impressed the case on my mind.
Everybody in Kettering must be aware of the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone). It is beyond my vivid imagination to suppose that there is any resident of the area who is not aware of him.
The truth is that it is very difficult for the NHS to make plans without knowing what the Government’s plans are for social care. We know, following a response to a question in yesterday’s debate, that the Green Paper has actually been written. There is simply no excuse for the continued delay in its publication which would allow the House to scrutinise it and the NHS to be able to provide a truly integrated approach to health and social care. Just saying that it will be published soon is no longer acceptable. Will the Minister set out when we can expect to see this vital document, so that we can scrutinise the Government’s plans?