House of Commons
Tuesday 7 May 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex our warmest congratulations on the birth of their son.
Oral Answers to Questions
Health and Social Care
The Secretary of State was asked—
Patient Registration: GP Surgeries
We are very clear that GP surgeries cannot refuse to register somebody who is of no fixed abode or has no proof of identification. Where a practice does not properly provide correct access to vulnerable groups, the commissioner will intervene to ensure that it corrects that. Ultimately, the commissioner can issue a remedial notice and can terminate a contract or practice that still does not abide by its obligations.
Has the Minister seen the report by a mystery shopper from Friends, Families and Travellers who attempted to register with 50 GP practices without ID or proof of address? Twenty-four refused to register her or would not register her; all but two of those were rated outstanding by the Care Quality Commission. The Minister says GPs must properly follow the guidance, but does she agree that the CQC needs to ensure that it uses the inspection regime to enforce that guidance?
I totally agree. I have seen the report, which I welcome; I will certainly take it up with the CQC. It is very important that we use all tools to ensure that everyone has access to the healthcare they deserve, because it is all too easy for some groups to remain discriminated against. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for shining a light on this important issue.
We have one of the very few free at point of need health services in the world. Does the Minister agree, however, that checks are important in cracking down on health tourism? Does she have the latest assessment of the cost of health tourism to our NHS?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right—health tourism is a major cost to the taxpayer, so it is important that we establish that people are entitled to care. However, it is important to ensure that people without proof of ID and of residence are still entitled to healthcare. Where someone is not entitled to it, we will, of course, pursue them for payment.
Our radiotherapy modernisation programme has so far delivered 80 upgrades or replacements, with more to come.
One in four people currently receive radiotherapy—a number that will increase if the Government achieve their early diagnosis targets. Ministers dispute that 20,000 people in England annually miss out on appropriate access to life-saving radiotherapy. What is the Secretary of State’s estimate? Will he commit to meeting representatives of the Radiotherapy4Life campaign to discuss how we can improve radiotherapy provision in England?
I am absolutely happy to meet the group. According to the latest figures, about four in 10 of all cancer patients are treated with radiotherapy; it is a critical treatment to tackle cancer. As I say, there has been an investment programme to replace and upgrade radiotherapy equipment, with 80 upgrades or replacements over the past three years, but there is clearly more to do to make sure that people with cancer get the best possible treatment.
Yes, that is exactly right. That is why we have put in place the new LINACs—linear accelerators, the equipment that is being rolled out across the country in a £130 million programme. We are always looking at what more we can do to help people to beat cancer.
Will the Secretary of State agree to look personally at the case for a new satellite radiotherapy unit at Westmorland General Hospital, tied to the Rosemere unit in Preston? I had the privilege last week of driving my constituent Kate Baron to her treatment at Royal Preston Hospital. Wonderful treatment though it is, it is a three-hour round trip that she has had to take on 15 separate occasions—I went with her only the once. Hundreds of people in the south Lakes have to make debilitating, lengthy round trips to get treatment day after day, which is damaging to their long-term health and to their ability to access radiotherapy at all.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. He did not raise the individual case with me in advance, but I can see the point he is making. The public health Minister, who is responsible for cancer policy, will be very happy to meet him.
NHS Workforce Vacancies
The NHS employs more staff than at any time in its 70-year history. Posts may be vacant for a variety of reasons, including maternity and career breaks. The latest data shows that as of December 2018 about 80% of nursing vacancies and 85% of medical vacancies are filled by a combination of bank and agency staff.
Recent data from NHS Digital shows that there are 720 fewer GPs in the east midlands than just two years ago. According to NHS England, each month thousands of people wait more than four weeks for a face-to-face GP appointment in Nottingham. In January, 3,206 people had to wait more than 28 days between making the appointment and seeing their doctor. Ultimately, that is leaving the GPs we do have overwhelmed and overworked. I know myself that it is creating huge pressures on the emergency department at Queen’s Medical Centre. What is the Minister going to do to change that system?
The NHS long-term plan will set out vital strategic frameworks to ensure that the needs for the next 10 years are met. The hon. Lady will know that we are training an extra 5,000 GPs to work in primary care and general practice. If she writes to me about the specifics of the numbers she mentioned in respect of Nottingham, I will be happy to respond.
Those of us who are campaigning to reopen a full obstetric unit at Horton General Hospital know how important the workforce are to safety in our NHS. At an excellent meeting today, Baroness Harding set out some of the things we can do to increase our workforce, one of which was much better leadership and career planning for the staff we are already retaining in the NHS so that they want to stay longer. What is the Department doing about that?
As my hon. Friend has heard, the Secretary of State commissioned Baroness Harding to bring forward the interim workforce plan. One of the workstreams was looking at retention and the staff we currently have. More than 52,000 nurses are in undergraduate training, and it is essential that they stay in the NHS after training. What Baroness Harding outlined today will ensure that that happens.
Can the Minister confirm today’s Daily Mail report that the NHS plans to recruit thousands of overseas nurses over the next five years? How much of that shortage has been caused by the exodus of EU nationals from the NHS, and how much of it by the Government’s disastrous decision to abolish nursing bursaries?
I will not comment on the specifics of a leak from an outdated version of the plan. The NHS has always recruited nurses internationally and there are no plans to change that. The workforce plan will set out how more nurses, doctors and nursing associates will be recruited and retained inside the NHS.
Many surgeries in my constituency augment the work of GPs with nurse practitioners. Will the Minister join me in praising the work of nurse practitioners and say what more the Government could do to grow their number so that they can continue their excellent work in surgeries around the country?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Nurse practitioners do an extraordinarily valuable job across the country. The Government are committed to training more nurses and more nursing practitioners. As I said in an earlier answer, that will be set out in the workforce plan.
The workforce shortfall is not evenly distributed across the NHS either geographically or by specialty. The Minister will know that there are particularly serious nursing shortfalls in learning disability and community services. He will also know of the implications of shortfalls—for example, for the ambition to deliver 75% of cancer diagnoses at stages 1 and 2. Will he look again at the evidence on mature students and the impact of losing bursaries on that section of the workforce? Will he meet me to discuss that?
The Chair of the Select Committee is right: the vacancies are not evenly spread and are of particular concern in learning difficulties and a number of other areas. Of course we want to ensure that mature students come back to and stay within the health service. That is why a number of incentives are being put in place to encourage, recruit and retain mature students. I would, of course, be happy to meet her to discuss this matter in more depth.
I appreciate the Minister’s comments about the need for retention and morale-boosting in the NHS. Does he agree that constantly going around fabricating threats of closures when no such threats exist, or constantly going around talking down the NHS—as some politicians do—does not exactly help recruitment and retention either?
My hon. Friend is completely right. One would have hoped that all Members on both sides of the House celebrate the fact that the number of nurses and the number of doctors in the NHS are now higher than they have ever been in its 70-year history, and that the Government are backing that up with a commitment to invest £33.9 billion.
Cuts in lifetime and annual pension tax allowances are causing senior doctors to retire earlier and younger consultants to avoid working extra hours, as they can end up paying more in tax than they earn from the extra hours of work. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor about the fact that these recent changes are driving doctors from the profession and increasing workforce shortages?
The hon. Lady raises a very important matter. The Government recognise the concerns that have been expressed by NHS doctors, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is engaging in numerous conversations with the Chancellor. I am reluctant to give a running commentary on the nature of those internal discussions, but I can say that we hope to resolve the matter soon.
NHS Mental Health Services (University/College Students)
The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care met the Secretary of State for Education in February to discuss concerns about mental health and the prevalence of self-harm among young people. “The NHS Long Term Plan” states that we will
“extend current service models to create a comprehensive offer for 0-25 year olds”,
and I expect to have regular dialogue with our counterparts in the Department for Education to make that a reality.
The all-party parliamentary university group has heard consistent evidence about the rising number of students presenting with mental health problems. We have been told that it has increased sixfold in the last 10 years, from 9,675 to 57,000. That poses huge challenges to what used to be counselling services but are now becoming a mainstream part of health provision, funded by universities. What are the Government going to do about it?
Young people often fall out of care when they leave their home addresses to go to university. To deal with that transition, we extended the service to nought to 25-year-olds through the forward plan rather than cutting it off at adulthood. That will ensure that we can do more to achieve continuity of care.
I pay tribute to the efforts that universities have made. They have seized on the challenge posed by the increasing prevalence of mental health problems, and I will continue my dialogue with them.
The students union at Anglia Ruskin University—which is based in Chelmsford as well as in that other “C” place, Cambridge—carried out a big study on student mental health. One of its requests was for students to be able to register with two GPs, one at home and one at university, so that they would not be stuck without a GP in the holidays or in term time. Can we look at that again?
I will definitely look at it. As I have said, the transition poses real challenges, because of a process failure rather than any lack of willingness or commitment on anyone’s part. We must ensure that people retain access to services as they move around.
The all-party parliamentary group on psychology, which I chair, heard just last week that young people who have done extremely well with child and adolescent mental health services are being put on waiting lists when they move away from home to colleges and universities, and are having to start again from the beginning. They are falling through the gaps. Will the Minister ensure that that does not happen any more, that there is no longer a postcode lottery, and that people who have done extremely well in getting into university receive all the support they need?
I see that there is a meeting of minds. Not only do I agree with what the hon. Lady has said, but I have met the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) to discuss exactly that issue. There is clearly a systemic weakness in respect of those who move between home and university, and we will continue our dialogue to ensure that it is fixed.
The Minister will be aware of the close and often tragic link between mental illness and suicide, which is now the biggest killer of young people and is at record levels. What specific measures do the Government have to address that issue?
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that we expect all local communities to have suicide prevention plans, part of which will be that they engage in areas of greatest risk, whether issues regarding place or their populations. Suicide is the biggest killer of young people and I expect local authorities to engage with education providers to make sure that sufficient measures are in place. We are in the process of challenging the plans to make sure they are fit for purpose.
Universities UK has warned that it simply cannot keep expanding to fill the gaps left by inadequate funding for NHS services, after university spending on mental health services rose by almost half in five years. Too often other sectors such as education are left to fill the funding gap this Government have left in mental health, so can the Minister tell me today when her Government will match our pledge to ring-fence funding for mental health?
I have always viewed the ring fence as a ceiling rather than a protection. We have the mental health investment standard and NHS England is challenging clinical commissioning groups that are not spending what we would expect.
This is a systemic weakness. We have treated children up to 18 and then considered them as adults, but the reality is that people do not suddenly achieve majority overnight. We intend through the forward plan to have the children and young people service from nought to 25. That should enable transition and stop people falling off the cliff edge at 18.
Over 2 million prescription items are successfully dispensed in England every day, and we have well-established procedures to deal with medicine supply issues should they occur. We work closely with all those involved in the supply chain to help ensure any risks to patients are minimised when supply issues arise.
I welcome the Minister to her place. She will know from written questions I have tabled that my constituents have real concerns about the availability of the epilepsy drug Sabril, which has been in short supply. She told me last month that supplies would be resolved by mid-April; she has now told me in a written answer that supplies will be resolved by mid-May. It seems there is a disconnect between what the Minister is saying and what is actually happening on the ground. When can she guarantee that this drug will be widely available again?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue again. We have expressed our great concern to the suppliers about this problem, and we are working alongside them to ensure that, although there is enough Sabril nationally, we get it in the right place at the right time. We will go back to them and express our concern again.
May I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) on her appointment? I am sure the whole House wishes her well in her important work.
Related to the question of prescription drugs is that of vaccinations, where rates have been falling, partly driven by alarming and inaccurate material posted on social media, including Facebook. Will the Minister join me in calling on Facebook to remove material that deters people from vaccinating their children? If it refuses to do so, does she agree that legislation may be needed?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met Facebook last week.
On the issue of vaccination broadly, in 2017 we met the 95% rate for vaccination. Immunisation for everybody is absolutely crucial, but some children cannot be immunised because they are too young and others because they are immune-suppressed; so everybody who can be immunised should be immunised.
I also welcome the hon. Lady to her place.
Close to 100 commonly prescribed medications are in seriously short supply, including painkillers, antibiotics and antidepressants. Worries about Brexit outcomes have led to the stockpiling of medications, which has undoubtedly exacerbated the problem, but I know from my own experience in community pharmacy that there have been concerns about the supply chain for several years, long before Brexit was ever dreamed of. The Government have, however, consistently turned a blind eye to these problems, which place additional pressures on GPs and pharmacists and are most certainly detrimental to patient care. Can the Minister assure me today that she understands the scale of the problem and outline the steps she is taking to resolve it?
I thank the shadow Minister, my Lancashire neighbour, for her welcome. The Department takes this extremely seriously; we have a whole team working on it. There are about 12,500 prescribed medicines in this country, with only between 50 and 100 being looked at by the medicines supply team at any one time. There is no cause for complacency, though. In January this year, we took further steps to make it mandatory for pharmaceutical companies to report any supply issues to us as soon as possible.
Urgent Care: Kettering
The Government are committed to transforming the NHS estate. I discussed the urgent care hub with my hon. Friend and other colleagues in January, and as he knows, I enjoyed my visit to Kettering General. He also knows that future levels of capital will be determined at the next spending review, after which our prioritisation process will be determined, to identify the strongest transformation schemes. We welcome initiatives from local leaders to strengthen and better integrate the local health and care landscape in Northamptonshire.
When Kettering’s present A&E was built 25 years ago, it was designed to cope with 45,000 patients a year. It is now coping with 91,000, and it is estimated that in 10 years’ time, 120,000 will use the facility. The whole NHS in Northamptonshire recognises that an urgent care hub at Kettering General Hospital is urgently required. Will the Government get on and fund it?
My hon. Friend is a diligent and consistent representative of his constituents on this matter. He will know that I have heard his request and that, as I have said to him before, the spending review will take place later in the year. Priorities will be decided at that stage.
Patient Experience: Digital Technology
Providing patients with modern digital services that are safe, effective, convenient and personalised is central to our NHS long-term plan.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and for the energy that he brings to this brief. Does he agree that digital health not only improves healthcare systems but also provides a platform for place-based and population-based prevention, better diagnosis, patient empowerment, novel mental health therapies and accelerated access to the innovative treatments that I introduced as a Minister? This is now being pioneered in some parts of the country. Will he meet me and the Birmingham health partners to look at an interesting idea for digital place-based health impact bonds?
Yes, I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about interesting new policy innovations like that. It sounds right up my street. In fact, I met the Mayor of the West Midlands combined authority to discuss this subject only last week. There is a huge amount of enthusiasm and energy in this policy area, which will enable us to improve patients’ lives across Birmingham and, indeed, the whole country.
As the Secretary of State knows, because he is a member, the Babylon Health GP at Hand digital service is based in Hammersmith and Fulham. By the end of this year, it will have run up a deficit of about £35 million for my clinical commissioning group. Given that the clinical commissioning group is cutting GP hours and closing an urgent care centre overnight because it is so short of funds, when are we going to be reimbursed for that £35 million?
I do not recognise number that the hon. Gentleman talks about, but we are changing the way in which the GP contract works to ensure that this new technology can be most effectively harnessed to deliver patient need in a way that also works for the NHS. I am slightly surprised that he has not yet got up to say thank you for our announcement on primary care services in his part of London, which we are going to be expanding while stopping the closure of A&E. A little bit of gratitude for that would also go down well.
We are absolutely resolute in our commitment to improving care and support for autistic people, and we will launch a refreshed autism strategy, which will include children, by the end of the year. We have also launched a national call for evidence, to hear what we are doing that works and where we need to do more, and we have already received more than 2,000 responses.
I welcome the NHS long-term plan and the steps that will go towards helping autistic people in the healthcare system. Does the Minister agree that we will only make a real difference if we improve the recording of autism in local health and care records? Will she therefore commit to requiring the NHS to record autism diagnoses in each area with the aim of improving autistic people’s health?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. Reasonable adjustments are critical for improving the experiences of health and care for autistic people. That is why the long-term plan commits to a digital flag in patient records, which will ensure that staff know whether a patient has a learning disability or autism. At the same time, we are looking at how we record where a diagnosis of autism has been made.
In 2017, more than 100 MPs wrote to the then Health Secretary demanding a national target of a three-month waiting time for autism diagnosis because waits were more than four years in some areas. Stockton clinical commissioning group and Stockton Council have reduced waits, but what do current figures show? Will the Government now set a target in line with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance?
I am pleased the hon. Gentleman has raised this issue, because he is absolutely right that we need to drive up performance nationally on diagnosis for autistic people. It is only with diagnosis that people can get the support and help they need. We are collecting data for the first time. It will be published later this year for the first time. It will mean that each area can be held to account and given the help and support it needs to drive up those figures.
Will the Minister further outline the steps that have been taken to push for a UK-wide, ring-fenced uplift to funding for respite care for those who suffer from autism, bearing in mind that there is a two-year waiting list in some healthcare trusts for families to access overnight respite care?
That is a really good point. We all know that access to respite care can be incredibly valuable, both for autistic people and their carers and their loved ones. That is why we are supporting CCGs that want to invest in respite care, and we are looking more carefully at how we can direct funding to these important services.
Eight years after the Government pledged to move autistic people out of in-patient units following the Winterbourne View scandal, there are still 2,260 people in such units, many of whom are subject to restraint, over-medication, seclusion and even neglect. Rather than reviews and warm words, will the Secretary of State now act to change things by matching Labour’s pledge of £350 million of extra funding to move autistic people and people with learning disabilities back into the community where they belong?
Of the original 2015 cohort that the hon. Lady mentioned, 6,325 people have been discharged and 476 beds have been decommissioned, but the thing is that people are still coming in. The only way we can achieve permanent, long-term cuts is if we invest in community health. That is why the long-term plan commits to an extra £4.5 billion a year for community health. Local providers are expected to use some of that to develop the right specialist services in the community to reduce avoidable admissions.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
Wherever possible, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence aims to publish recommendations on new drugs within a few months of licensing and now publishes draft guidance on cancer drugs even before licensing. Many thousands of patients have benefited from rapid access to effective new drugs as a result.
The Secretary of State will know that Maryam is now nine months old. We have been waiting nine long weeks for NICE to announce a decision that I am told it has already made. Spinal muscular atrophy babies have been waiting 16 months for the care they need, which is longer than many SMA babies live without treatment. There is another closed-door meeting tomorrow. If NICE finally decides to provide Spinraza on the NHS, how long will it be before Maryam and the other babies get their first dose?
The hon. Lady rightly raises an important case, and I have met her about it and followed it closely. As she says, there is work ongoing and happening this week to try to make progress. NICE is currently developing technical appraisal guidance on the use of the drug Spinraza, to which she refers. We are working to ensure that we can get it right.
As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on multiple sclerosis, may I urge my right hon. Friend to ask NICE to expedite its perfectly proper processes on the licensing of cannabis-based drugs, particularly for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease?
Yes. My hon. Friend raises another important area where progress is being made on the ability for people to get access to drugs that could help them. In the case of medicinal cannabis, we now have a programme in place, as we discussed in this Chamber a couple of weeks ago, so that those with acute conditions and with clinical support for using medicinal cannabis can get it. We are also working as rapidly as we reasonably can to normalise the ability to use medicinal cannabis within the NHS.
Kuvan, Orkambi and Spinraza—these are just three life-changing drugs to which thousands of patients are being denied access on the NHS. Patients have waited far too long for the drugs they desperately need, and for some, as we have heard, it is a matter of life and death. Does the Secretary of State agree that the NICE appraisal process for rare diseases is just not fit for purpose?
I do agree it is important that NICE constantly tries to get those decisions made objectively, robustly and as fast as possible. There is cross-party support, and I hope continuing cross-party support, for these judgments being made independently so that they are taken not by Ministers but by clinicians. We can all agree that this has to be done as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
Mental Health Funding
Funding allocations to clinical commissioning groups vary to meet the needs of local populations, including mental health needs. These allocations are determined by a formula managed for the NHS by the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation. For mental health, the formula takes into account patient-level data covering community, out-patient and in-patient mental health services, as well as improving access to psychological therapies activity and hospital episode statistics.
One in three early intervention in psychosis services in the north of England does not meet the standard that NHS England expects. What is NHS England doing to end this postcode lottery and ensure that my constituents can access the same high-quality mental health services as people in other areas of the country?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight this. Good care depends not only on money but on performance, and we expect the Care Quality Commission to be very challenging in inspections so that we can guarantee consistency in the quality of services, rather than experiencing the postcode lottery she mentions. I am disappointed that the CQC rated Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust as requiring improvement following the inspection in May and June last year, but we expect that challenge to continue so that there are obvious improvements.
The additional money for mental health in the NHS long-term plan is very welcome, but does the Minister share my concern that it is essential that that money reaches the frontline and results in improved services and improved access to services? What steps is she taking to ensure this money does result in improved services?
My hon. Friend will know that, in addition to the additional £2.3 billion, we are clear that this money will lead to more rapid treatment. NHS England will also be giving a really direct challenge to clinical commissioning groups and trusts to make sure it actually delivers improved services on the frontline.
Health Education England is leading a national nursing associate programme with a commitment for 7,500 nursing associate apprentices to enter training in 2019. It is also working with health and care providers to develop a talent pipeline of future nursing associates, as well as sharing how providers are deploying currently qualified nursing associates.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I thank the Secretary of State for his welcome announcement last month on “Shaping a Healthier Future” in London, which has gone down very well locally. How many more nurses does the Minister for Health think London will need over the spending review period? What specific measures is he taking to improve London’s offer to would-be nurses?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct that the Secretary of State’s announcement has gone down extremely well. He will know that there are now more nurses in training than ever before—over 50,000—and he will know that London, in particular, will get its share of those nurses. He should be reassured that we are creating routes into nursing via nurse training, nursing recruitment and, indeed, nursing associates, and their recruitment into valuable roles across the health service will benefit his constituents.
Does the Minister know that when I went to a restaurant the other night with my wife there was a hum and a buzz coming mainly from the young women there? I asked, “Who are all these young women?” The maître d’ said, “They are all young Spanish nurses who are going home. This is their last evening in Britain.” Nursing associates will not fill that gap; these are young people coming in at the classroom assistant level of qualification. We need more nurses now, and we want to stop this haemorrhaging of nurses who are going back to the rest of Europe.
The hon. Gentleman will know that nursing and nursing associate training places are being increased; that more funding is going in to increase nurse training places by 25% every year, from last September; and that we are announcing an expansion of nursing associates. He will see tomorrow, when new figures are announced, that more nurses are working in the NHS than there were this time last year.
Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma Awareness
The NHS long-term plan makes it clear that cancer survival is a Government priority, and we wholly support any activity to raise awareness of devastating cancers such as DIPG. The overwhelming message from two powerful debates last year, here and in the other place, spearheaded by the late Baroness Tessa Jowell, was that better outcomes for children and adults with brain tumours lie in better research. That is why we announced £40 million, over five years, to stimulate innovative brain tumour research, working alongside the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Research Mission.
As the Minister will be aware, having DIPG awareness day on 17 May is very important in terms of raising the awareness of this fatal illness, which is often overlooked and where the prognosis has not improved in the past 40 years, despite 40 children in the UK dying from it each year. How will the people suffering from DIPG benefit directly from the funding that she has outlined? Does she commit to keeping the House updated on measures to combat this serious illness?
Let me begin by paying tribute to my constituent Paula Holmes, who made me aware of DIPG, and to all the work she has done in memory of her daughter Katy, who was one of the 40 children who died from it. We rely on researchers to submit high-quality research proposals in this difficult area, and the National Institute for Health Research has put out a highlight notice asking for research teams. We stand ready to translate any new discoveries as quickly as possible into new treatments and diagnostics for patients, and I am happy to keep the House updated.
Flour Fortification: Folic Acid
We have announced our intention to consult on the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid. We are fully committed to this and we will be launching the consultation as soon as possible.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but the Government said in January that the consultation would happen soon. As it was originally announced in October, people are becoming frustrated. Can she say that this will happen before the summer? Can she confirm that it will be about how we go about mandatory fortification, rather than about whether we should do it?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s frustration, and I know that Members have been waiting for this. I am reassured by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that this will happen. I am going to be making it happen before the summer, and I will return to the House to update it.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) says that she is looking into it and that we will report back.
We are absolutely committed to making this the best country in the world in which to live with dementia by 2020. Already, more than two thirds of people with dementia receive a diagnosis; there are 2.85 million dementia friends and 346 areas in England that are dementia friendly; and the £250 million dementia discovery fund is the largest venture fund in the world aimed at discovering and developing therapies for dementia.
I thank the Minister for her reply. I recently met representatives of the Alzheimer’s Society, which is, as the Minister will know, pushing forward with a campaign for more support for those suffering from dementia. Can she assure me that, despite what she has just said, this will be one of the main focuses of her Department during the comprehensive spending review?
We are absolutely committed to ensuring that everybody, including those who live with dementia, has access to the care and support that they need. We have noted the very important contributions of the Alzheimer’s Society and of a number of other reports. We are considering a number of different funding options and are keen to draw on the best practice of what works so that no one ends up spending their life savings on their care.
My friend and constituent, Malcolm Haigh, who is known locally as Mr History because of his forensic knowledge of the history of Batley and Spen, is now living with dementia. We know that social prescribing for dementia sufferers really does work, and I congratulate Kirklees Council for its innovative Community Plus scheme, which uses social prescribing for dementia. Can the Minister tell us what auditing is going on that will look at the community groups that are offering these singing clubs and walking and cycling groups, and how we audit them in order to make the best of social prescribing so that we take the burden off the NHS?
Mr History sounds fabulous. There will be a new academy of social prescribing, which will look at some of the incredibly valuable work done by communities up and down the country and really be able to draw out some of that best-value analysis.
Mental Health Services
Steps to increase awareness of rare conditions in care settings and speciality services, including mental health services, are being taken through the implementation of the UK rare disease strategy. The Department published an update to its implementation plan for achieving the commitments and strategy in England in February this year to coincide with Rare Disease Day.
I thank the Minister for her answer. Specific mental health problems are common symptoms of the genetic and often undiagnosed condition of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and therefore many people with the condition need access to knowledgeable mental health services, but families often report of being unable to get the support that they need. With Mental Health Awareness Week fast approaching, will the Minister meet me to discuss increasing awareness of 22q11.2 among NHS mental health practitioners and ensure that people with the syndrome can access the services that they need in all parts of the United Kingdom?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course I will be happy to meet him. He is right to identify the fact that people with long-term conditions are more likely to suffer from mental ill health. It is very important that we achieve good care co-ordination so that all those issues can be tackled in the round. We will continue to work to ensure that professionals are made aware of these conditions.
I have spent much of the past week supporting the parents of a child who has a very, very rare genetic condition and who now needs the support of child and adolescent mental health services. It has become very clear to me that CAMHS is set up only to deal with mainstream children who can go through perhaps its anxiety counselling courses and who can process information in a certain way. It does not seem at all geared up to help children who have very complex needs and perhaps learning disabilities. What can we do to make sure that those children who are more vulnerable are not left behind?
The hon. Lady is entirely right. I am particularly concerned about the impact on young people going through a period of mental ill health who have neurodiverse conditions and other conditions. It is very important that we tackle the entirety of the individual’s need. Clearly, we need to do more to make sure that all children with whatever conditions can access help when they need it.
My ambition is to reach Question 17 so that the House, Mid Sussex, the nation, the European continent and the world can hear the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames).
Mr Speaker, I share your ambition in reaching Question 17 to be able to say that the long-term plan for the NHS sets out ambitious goals to embed a culture of quality improvement of which my right hon. Friend would be proud.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for getting this far down the list of questions. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a serious ambition to try to drive this plan forward, but it is unacceptable that best practice is not better disseminated throughout the NHS. It is completely unacceptable that there are such wide divergences in standards between hospitals, and it requires the everyday attention of the Secretary of State himself to drive this change through.
I agree entirely and enthusiastically with my right hon. Friend. The need to improve services in the NHS just to bring them up to the best that is in the NHS is vital and urgent. We can lift the quality of care that all our constituents get simply by learning from the best. We have schemes such as the “getting it right first time” programme, which is brilliant at teaching hospitals how to do things the way that the best hospitals do them, and we want to see more.
A recent report in the British Journal of Surgery demonstrates that the introduction of the Scottish patient safety programme resulted in a 36% drop in post-surgical deaths. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating all the surgeons, anaesthetists, theatre teams and ward staff who achieved this, and would he like to visit Scotland and see the programme in action?
I always love visiting Scotland and would love to come and see this programme in action; I have heard and read about it. In improving quality across the NHS, we need to improve the ability of the NHS to look everywhere—outside the NHS in England, as well as at other hospitals—to find and emulate best practice.
This is a general question about best practice in the NHS, into which the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) could legitimately shoehorn his concerns about acupuncture, chiropractic therapies, osteopathy and other non-drug based, non-addictive options for pain management, about which I think he is keen to expatiate.
Mr Speaker, I am glad that you have used your considerable flexibilities to bring this question in, because I wanted to say that NICE is in the process of developing a guideline on the management of chronic pain, which will look at the biological, physiological and social factors, including some treatments mentioned by my hon. Friend. There is progress in this space, and I am glad that we have been able to raise this matter in the House today.
As well as looking at best practice in the NHS, it is vital that we look at best practice in social care. Given that 70,000 people with dementia were admitted to hospital unnecessarily with falls, dehydration and infections just last year, how is the Secretary of State going to put a laser-beam focus on standards in social care?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I am glad that this discussion of improving quality across the NHS and social care has united the House in its enthusiasm to see best practice and ensure that people learn from it. We have seen an awful lot of learning in social care, as most social care is delivered by private sector providers, but there is more to do and there are different levers that we can pull. When social care providers lose their good or outstanding status, they also often lose their contracts, so there is an awful lot of pressure on them to learn from best practice around the country, and I would only emulate that.
Stem Cell Donation
Since 2011, the Department has provided more than £26 million to NHS Blood and Transplant and to Anthony Nolan, to improve stem cell donation, and is now establishing a unified UK stem cell registry. I would also highlight the inspirational work of Team Margot, who are working to increase the number of people on that stem cell register by enrolling themselves in the transatlantic rowing race. I urge all hon. Members to support that campaign.
I hope the Minister will join me in praising my constituent Peter, who has myeloma and set up the “10,000 donors” register. There are now 22,000 donors registered, but Peter has a rare ethnic mix of English, Irish, Chinese and Portuguese. What more can be done to encourage donors from minority communities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have spent a lot of time encouraging donors from minority communities, but the real issue with regard to stem cell donation is that it is about genetic composition. We live in a wonderful society where we all have heritage going back in various, very complex ways, but that makes finding a suitable donor for stem cell donation extremely difficult. It is therefore important that we encourage people to take the test to establish their genetic heritage so that we can have more and more diverse people on the register.
Violence Against Women and Girls
I thank my hon. Friend for her important work on the whole issue of violence against women and girls. Clinical commissioning groups are the primary commissioners of NHS services, and, as such, play the lead role in ensuring that service commissioning guidelines on violence against women and girls are implemented through the NHS, as informed by evidence available and current guidance.
Public Health England is planning to update the public health outcomes framework this summer, but there are no planned outcome measures for victims of domestic abuse or sexual violence. Will my hon. Friend liaise with the Home Office and the clinical commissioning groups to consider measures so that we can all be confident that victims are getting timely access to appropriate services?
My hon. Friend is knocking on an open door, because this issue is very close to my heart. The public outcomes framework does include a measure of reported domestic abuse incidents and crimes that is intended to give an indication of the scale of the issue in each area, and we expect CCGs to commission services as a response to exactly those issues. I have written to CCGs to remind them to commission appropriate sexual violence services, as well as those already commissioned by NHS England so that we have proper support for people who have been victims of these terrible offences.
It is the goal of the Department to support everyone to live longer, healthier lives. I will be working right across the health and social care sector to deliver the goal of five years of extra healthy life for people in the UK. In doing that, I am delighted that we will now have on the ministerial team the enthusiasm and assistance of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy).
In achieving those goals, the Secretary of State will be concerned that while many patients can obtain GP appointments for emergency cases on the same day, quite a lot of people have to wait three or four weeks for non-emergency appointments. Can the Government do anything to improve that situation?
Yes, I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. We are acting to make sure that there is better access. We have a review of access to primary care. But, more than that, the biggest increase of the £39.9 billion of extra taxpayers’ money that we are putting into the NHS is in GP access, primary care and community care to make sure that we get ahead of the curve and help people to stay healthy rather than just treat them in hospital.
Can the Secretary of State explain why 200,000 nurses have left the NHS since 2010 and why today we are short of 40,000 nurses?
The good news is that we have record numbers of nurses in the NHS. We have more staff in the NHS than at any time in its history. While of course in any very large organisation like the NHS there is always turnover, what matters is having the people we need. We are putting more money in, we are going to need more people, and we are developing a plan to make that happen.
We have about 90 nurses a day leaving the NHS, so rather than posing for the newspapers by the stables like a character from a Jilly Cooper novel, why does the Secretary of State not show some actual leadership and reverse the cuts to development, reverse the cuts to training places and reverse the abolition of the training bursary so that we can start to recruit the nurses and midwives our NHS needs today?
What I will not reverse is the increase in the number of people who are helping to improve lives and save lives in our NHS. It is only because of the extra money that we in this Conservative Government have put into the NHS that we can be confident that we are securing its future to deliver better care for every single person who we represent in this House.
My right hon. Friend is right to raise that. That money is already committed. Of the extra £33.9 billion that is going into the NHS, the biggest increase is going into community and primary care, because I understand how important it is for people to get decent access to their GP services in Witham and across England.
No, the NHS is going to be there for us no matter what the outcome of Brexit is. The British people voted for Brexit, and we are going to deliver Brexit, and then we are going to get on to doing all the other things. Even over the last few months, we have been able to put extra money into the NHS to ensure that its future is guaranteed.
My hon. Friend will have heard me say in answer to the earlier question that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Chancellor are in discussions about that matter. It would be unfair of me to comment on the progress of those discussions, but we hope to resolve them soon.
The issue that the hon. Lady raises is very concerning. I would be more than happy to meet her to look at that.
Yes. By 2020, we expect all relevant staff to have received appropriate dementia training.
This is all about getting more money into the system. That is why we have increased spending on adult social care by 9% over the last three years. We are focusing on attracting more people into adult social care, which is why we had the “Every Day is Different” recruitment campaign, to ensure that we get more brilliant-quality staff into adult social care roles.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That role has been introduced to help build the capacity of the nursing workforce and support nurses and wider multidisciplinary teams. As he will have heard me say earlier, I am delighted that Health Education England is leading the national nursing associate training programme, with a commitment to train 7,500 nursing associates this year.
The hon. Gentleman is right. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are not sufficiently widely understood across the NHS. We must ensure that we give support to those who are affected and also raise awareness, not least to encourage people to understand the risks they are taking when they drink alcohol during pregnancy.
Over many years, High Wycombe has established a dramatic way to help tackle obesity. To that end, a week on Saturday, the mayor, a number of councillors and myself will be weighed in public, to check whether we have put weight on at taxpayers’ expense. If the Government wish to extend that programme to other Members of the House, I will be happy to ask to borrow the weighing tripod.
The only thing that is weighty about the hon. Gentleman, in my experience as a county colleague, is his brain.
I would be delighted to encourage that which my hon. Friend encourages. One thing that leads to people putting on weight is high levels of stress, so perhaps we could put some contentious issues behind us to reduce stress levels and allow all of us to lead healthier and happier lives.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) is experiencing no stress. I rather imagine that she is still celebrating that rocket of a goal last night by Vincent Kompany.
It was a magnificent and very important goal, Mr Speaker. I would like to put it on record that my husband is an A&E consultant. The Secretary of State will know that one of the massive factors in gaps in rotas is that A&E doctors and other hospital doctors are facing notional tax rates of 90% or more from taking on extra shifts. It is not a very Tory policy, this. What is he doing about it?
This policy has come up a couple of times in questions today, and rightly so. I am having discussions with the Chancellor. It is a tax policy, and I do not think that my right hon. Friend would be incredibly enthusiastic about me announcing tax changes at the Dispatch Box. It is something that we are talking about and working on. It is the unintended consequence of tax changes that were designed for other parts of the economy.
The appropriate and safe disposal of drugs and medical equipment has recently been raised with me by my constituents in Corby. Will he keep in mind these concerns when reviewing policy in terms of both awareness of what to do and the ease with which it can be done?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The NHS faced the loss of a contract last year, which was then safely put back into place. The point he makes about guidance is absolutely right, and if he wants to come and talk to me about it, I will be happy to discuss it.
It is deeply concerning that in the past 10 years the number of prescriptions for opioid drugs has risen by 9 million. In this time, codeine-related deaths have more than doubled to over 150 a year. While I welcome moves to label opioid medicines, what further measures will the Secretary of State take to protect people from the dangers of opioid addiction?
As the hon. Lady may know, I am very concerned about this. We are working on what we can do to ensure that opioids are prescribed and used only when they are the most appropriate and right treatment. Opioids save people from significant pain and are used every day right across the NHS, but opioid addiction is a very serious problem. Some other countries have got this wrong, and we must get it right.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for coming to County Hospital in Stafford on Saturday. Does he agree that he saw there the importance of small accident and emergency departments sustaining the whole of the regional health economy by giving support to the larger ones?
Yes. It was brilliant to go to County Hospital in Stafford and see the hard work and team work and to be able to thank NHS staff both in Stafford and across the country working over the long weekend. My hon. Friend is a brilliant and diligent voice of Stafford. I have already stopped A&E closures in west London. I do not think that we should be seeing the closure of small A&E units, and I will work with him on the issue.
As the Minister is aware, I have become concerned about the rising number of suicides in my constituency. When I talk to professionals in the area, they tell me that it is not just funding that is causing some of the problems but the lack of staff. What more can the Minister do to ensure that we have the mental health staff that we desperately need?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that. She is right to do so. We are aware of some of the specific issues in her constituency, and I look forward to visiting and taking up some of the discussions directly.
The Secretary of State has been kind enough to visit Worcestershire Royal Hospital, which serves people in my constituency. He saw for himself how small the emergency department is there. With £20 billion going into the NHS, does he agree that there is a good opportunity to look again at returning services to Redditch—in particular, the maternity and A&E departments, which have been removed?
It was brilliant to visit Worcester hospital—another medium-sized hospital, but with a small A&E department that was working incredibly hard given the facilities. I pay tribute to all the work of staff there and very much take on board the points that my hon. Friend has made.
Order. We have a lot to get through. I shall take one more Health question, and then we must move on.
Today I met representatives of the Teenage Cancer Trust. As we await the publication of the workforce implementation plan following the publication of the NHS long-term plan, what plans does the Minister have to ensure sustainable funding for the teenage and young adult cancer specialist workforce?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question; I had the pleasure of meeting representatives of the Teenage Cancer Trust recently as well. Cancer is an absolute priority for the Government. Our aim is for 75% of all cancers to be detected at an early stage by 2028. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, the workforce plan will be reporting imminently.
Severe Disability Premium
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State if she will make a statement on support for people formerly receiving severe disability premium who have transferred to universal credit.
Universal credit is the biggest change in the welfare system since it was created. It is a modern, flexible, personalised benefit reflecting the rapidly changing world of work. When designing universal credit, a choice was made not to replicate every aspect of the disability provision in the legacy system.
However, I want to make it very clear that our intention was that no money from this area would be taken out of the system. Universal credit was therefore designed with all the money from the old disability premium recycled to target support on the most severely disabled. Disabled people are some of the biggest beneficiaries of universal credit, with around 1 million disabled households having on average around £100 a month more on universal credit than they would have had on the legacy benefits.
On Friday, the High Court handed down a judgment in relation to universal credit and the severe disability premium. The severe disability premium is an additional premium payable with mean-tested benefits such as employment and support allowance. Universal credit is more targeted, and support is focused on those who need it most. Transitional protection will be available for people who are moved on to universal credit from other benefits, provided that their circumstances stay the same.
We are pleased that the court recognises that it is for Ministers to frame the appropriate transitional arrangements for moving claimants on to UC, and we will consider all our options. The Government are committed to delivering a welfare system that supports disabled people.
On 7 June, the Government pledged that severe disability premium claimants would no longer have to transfer to universal credit until managed migration started. Yet for months afterwards, the claimants were still required to do so—until the Government finally introduced a statutory instrument, which came into force on 16 January.
Severe disability premium does not exist in universal credit so, in transferring, those claimants lost about £180 a month. Often, that was just because they moved home; their postcode changed, but their needs did not. Yet the Government planned to pay them only £80 a month in compensation—far less than they would have received if they were to transfer under managed migration. It is little wonder that the High Court said in its damning judgment on Friday that the Government’s decision had no logical foundation! Payments to former SDP claimants are part of the regulations for the managed migration pilot. The Government have still not scheduled these for debate, so no payments at all have been made; the judgment throws the Government’s plans for the pilot into question, too.
Will the Government ensure that payments to former SDP claimants who have transferred to universal credit fully reflect the loss they have suffered? How many SDP claimants in total transferred to universal credit before 16 January? What assessment have the Government made of the hardship that former SDP claimants who have transferred to universal credit are suffering, and of the impact on children who have had to take on additional care responsibilities as a result of their families’ loss of income? Will the Government publish a clear timeframe to identify and compensate disabled people for the losses that they have incurred? Will the Government separate regulations for the payments to former SDP claimants from those for the pilot for managed migration, so that Members of this House can vote on each separately?
By definition, these people are already having to cope with some of the most severe medical conditions and with disabilities. They should not have to fight through the courts for the support to which they should be entitled. They deserve better.
To reiterate, we have not taken any money out of the system. We are, rightly, targeting support at those who need it the most. For example, under legacy benefits, those on employment and support allowance would have expected to get £160.05 a month, but under universal credit it is significantly higher, in fact more than double, at £336.20 a month. That is why over 1 million households with disabled people will on average be over £100 a month better off. That goes hand in hand with our attempts to simplify the system. We are taking seven disability premiums down to two. The legacy system was difficult to deliver, prone to error and often confusing. Under the legacy system, over £2.4 billion of benefits went unclaimed every year. Some 700,000 of the most vulnerable people were, on average, missing out on £280 a month.
In addition to this support, many claimants will be entitled to support with personal independence payment, disability living allowance, attendance allowance or adult social care. Those going through the managed migration will get full transitional protection. We went further with good intentions by introducing the gateway on 16 January, including for those with changed circumstances. We will be considering all options in the light of the judgment and we will update the House in due course.
I welcomed the introduction of the gateway back in January. Will my hon. Friend confirm that this means that existing recipients of severe disability payments will be moved on to universal credit with transitional protections, so that they are fully protected as they move across?
I pay tribute to the former Minister, who did a huge amount of work in this area to ensure suitable transitional protection for some of the most vulnerable people in the system. It is absolutely the case that those who are part of the managed migration will get full transitional protection.
We welcome the High Court decision and commend the individuals who brought their case for their perseverance. It is absolutely extraordinary that the Department for Work and Pensions thought it could get away with short-changing claimants who had already been made worse off by being moved on to universal credit. Because of the entirely arbitrary cut-off point where the DWP decided to stop naturally migrating SDP claimants, many thousands will miss out on £1,000 a month. That is completely unacceptable.
The ruling acknowledges what the SNP has been arguing since December: the Tories in Westminster are short-changing claimants who are owed back payments as a result of having their severe disability payments stopped. It is not only appalling that the DWP is short-changing claimants; it is appalling that people will now have to wait for those back payments until managed migration regulations are put through. Even then, it might take months to administrate them. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) has twice written to the Secretary of State asking for her to immediately initiate back payments, so that people do not have to wait. Will the Minister tell the House why the payment of that money has been pegged to the managed migration regulations? Now that the ruling has allowed him to take stock, will he sort out this issue once and for all, and immediately put together regulations that legislate for the full back payments as a matter of urgency? There are now not one, not two but three ongoing cases where the DWP needed to investigate and initiate back payments of disability benefits on an enormous scale owing to error or to their policies being deemed unlawful. Will he ensure that no cuts to other areas of Government spending are being made to cover the cost of clearing up his Department’s mess? Does he really believe that, after all this, disabled people who require support can have any confidence whatever that the DWP has their best interests at heart?
I thank the hon. Member for the points she raises. To be absolutely clear, those who are part of the managed migration will get the full transitional support. The whole point of the gateway was to provide additional support for those who had changed circumstances that would not have been entitled to the full transitional protection. I absolutely understand the point about the urgency of bringing forward the regulations, but we want to ensure they are done in the correct manner so we do not replicate the errors of the difficult and complex legacy benefit, which we see in our surgeries as individual constituency MPs, whereby some of the most vulnerable people in society are missing out on the benefits to which we all agree they are entitled.
Of course people with disabilities must be properly served by our benefits system; I know the Minister well, so I know that he will be working extraordinarily hard to ensure that that happens in his Department. Is it not a fact that universal credit is targeted far more effectively at ensuring that help is given to those who most need it?
I know that my hon. Friend works extremely hard in this area; I have made several visits to his constituency, where I have seen him championing local organisations that make a difference to disabled people in his community. Universal credit targets support at those who most need it, which is why, on average, more than a million disabled households will be £100 a month better off.
The severe disability premium does what it says on the tin: it goes to those with the most severe disabilities. Why, then, is the Minister claiming that people who most need support are gaining, when more than 10,000 people entitled to the severe disability premium are now waiting for back payments—like my constituent who is owed nearly £1,000 by the DWP? People are building up rent arrears and are in danger of eviction. Why are the Government not treating them properly by bringing forward this legislation and paying them what they are due?
We are all keen to bring forward those regulations, but I remind the hon. Lady that where under the legacy benefit an ESA claimant would expect £167.05, the equivalent under universal credit will be more than twice that: £336.20 a month.
Hon. Members of all parties have had experience of the problems that our constituents, particularly our disabled constituents, face with the transfer to universal credit. However, we must not lose sight of the successes. Yesterday, the Grimsby Telegraph carried a report in which Mr Mark Coad said that, following the death of his partner,
“I signed up for Universal Credit, and it has been one of the best things that I have ever done, because it not only got me back into work, but provided me with some support mentally, as it forced me to get out of the house and stop wallowing in my grief.”
Does the Minister agree that we must focus on the successes and ensure that all cases have an equally successful result?
My hon. Friend raises an important broad point: universal credit offers personalised, tailored, bespoke support, for the first time. If hon. Members visit their local jobcentre and talk to staff, particularly to experienced staff, they will hear how for the first time they feel empowered to make a real difference to people’s lives.
Does this latest botched attempt not underline that one reason why the Government are having trouble with universal credit is that it was primarily designed as a work-related benefit and that it continually misses out the people who need it most? Will the Government now re-table the managed migration regulations without the hard stop?
I do not recognise that point. As a Government, we are spending £5 billion more a year on supporting people with disabilities and long-term health conditions through the main disability benefits. We are rightly targeting support at those most in need in society. Through universal credit, that is coupled with a personalised, tailored and bespoke service.
The loss of the severe disability premium continues to cause hardship to people in my constituency and throughout the country. In some cases, it has forced people into rent arrears and extreme poverty. What are the Minister and the Department doing specifically to support people in those situations?
Through the universal credit system, for the first time, they will have a named work coach who can help them to navigate not only any individual challenges that they face, but the additional support that they can get. Rightly, we are making sure that the most vulnerable people in society get both the financial support and the time from their named work coach to make sure that they are in their best position.
What steps is the Minister taking to cascade the detail of this policy to advice services so that they can best help and support those who come to them seeking help?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Not only do stakeholders and those with real, genuine frontline experience work closely with us and help to shape our policies, but we recognise that they can play a key part on the frontline. I therefore very much welcome the announcement that Citizens Advice will be present across the jobcentre network to provide additional support for claimants above and beyond what our frontline staff do.
We know that approximately 20,000 people died before the Department was able to review their backdated ESA payments. That must not happen with the severe disability premium payments. Has the Department investigated whether it has happened to claimants who were owed such payments? If so, how many? In the event of death, who will receive the back payments?
The key priority is to make sure that we get money to the most vulnerable in society as quickly as possible. That is why our commitment remains that we will bring forward the regulations at the earliest opportunity.
In March, I raised with the Minister the case of a constituent with a severe brain injury who applied for universal credit in August 2018 and immediately lost his severe disability premium. The Minister requested that I write to him. As yet, I have received no response. My constituent has now been without his severe disability premium for almost nine months. This vulnerable individual needs action. Will the Minister get a grip on this?
I apologise to the hon. Lady that I have not seen the letter yet. I will make sure that I do as a matter of urgency and will respond personally.
My constituent suffered severe trauma and mental illness. When he filled in his form four years ago, some mistakes were made, but those mistakes could and should have been picked up. However, he has had to wait years for money he was owed in back payments.
The problem I want to raise with the Minister is that our local Money Advice Service was not able to get a response from the DWP. It was only when my caseworkers got involved that the £15,000 my constituent was owed was repaid. What will the Minister do to ensure that DWP staff are responding in a timely manner to Money Advice staff?
I am very sorry to hear about that, because what we would like to see—there are many, many cases of best practice—is local support organisations working hand in hand with local jobcentres, so that the most vulnerable claimants in particular get additional support as they go through the system.
Despite the Minister’s words about paying more money, I am afraid it seems to me that he is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Given the weakness of local advice services, particularly in rural areas such as mine, will the Minister provide hon. Members with a breakdown of the geographical distribution of the 10,000 or so cases so that we can reach out properly?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, whom I have worked with closely on other issues. To be absolutely clear, in going from the legacy benefit to universal benefit, we have not taken money out but are targeting it at the most vulnerable people. Overall, our spending on those with disabilities and long-term health conditions has increased by £5 billion per year. The key is that all jobcentres will have the support of Citizens Advice to provide additional support for claimants who want it.
A constituent of mine who was forced on to universal credit with no protections lost a considerable amount of money to help with her living costs when her severe disability premium stopped. Now we learn that she may have to wait six months to see any money, even when the regulations are passed. How on earth are disabled people supposed to cope in the meantime?
The priority in our reforms is make sure that the most vulnerable get the most support within the system. Without knowing all the details of that case, it is difficult to comment, but I am happy to look at the details.
Has the Department contacted all those who have lost out on payments? If not, when will the Department do so? Will the Minister commit to ensuring that absolutely no burden is placed on claimants in applying for back payments of the severe disability premium, and that his Department will take on the burden of gathering the available evidence to ensure that payments are made as soon as possible?
The judgment was only given on Friday, but we are urgently considering all the options available to us. Once we are in a position to do so, we absolutely will make sure that we communicate with all claimants.
Has the Minister not got the message that this system is not working? As has been pointed out repeatedly, it is not working. About a fortnight ago, I visited one of the biggest food banks in the west midlands. They are the ones helping people who cannot claim their benefits. Why do the Government not scrap it and start again?
I could not disagree more. Under the legacy benefits—the benefits the hon. Gentleman is seemingly advocating that we go back to—700,000 of the most vulnerable people, many of whom are those using the food banks, are missing out on £2.4 billion of support.
The hon. Gentleman can shake his head, but these are some of the most vulnerable people. We are creating a simpler, clearer system so that those vulnerable people do not miss out on the support they are entitled to.
It is rather frustrating that, yet again with this Government, people have had to go to court before they get some change and acknowledgement. I know and respect the Minister, as he has been very helpful to me on a number of issues. Will he just give a commitment on the Floor of the House that the DWP will ensure that anyone who has missed out on severe disability premium will have retrospective payments so that, ultimately, they get what they are entitled to?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. I have enjoyed working with him on a number of issues. Obviously we only saw the judgment on Friday, and we must consider the options. The issue was additional support through the gateway, and we will have to look at that, but we remain committed to ensuring that those who are part of the full transition will receive the full support.
East Midlands Rail Franchise
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport to update the House on the bidding process for the East Midlands rail franchise.
As has previously been confirmed in a written ministerial statement and at the Dispatch Box on several occasions, Abellio was awarded the contract after presenting the Department with a compliant bid, following a rigorous competition which was consistent with public procurement rules. Our assessment of bids has been comprehensive and fair and I have absolute confidence in the process. It was a fair, open competition and Abellio provided the best bid for passengers, in which it demonstrated that it would not only meet but exceed the Department’s specifications. The Department’s procurement process is absolutely clear: submitting a non-compliant bid which rejected the commercial terms on offer, as Stagecoach chose to do, can lead to disqualification.
We have a winner. Abellio won the competition with a compliant bid. We are currently in the standstill period, which is a standard part of procurement practice. Within that period, the Department is able to answer unsuccessful or disqualified bidders’ questions, enabling them to fully understand the details of the decision that has been made. Towards the end of the standstill period, the Department received a request for further information from one of the bidders and, in view of that, we decided to extend the period until tomorrow, 8 May. After that, we will be looking forward to the mobilisation from the successful bidder, which will lead to improved services for those who use the East Midlands franchise. Abellio will invest more than £600 million in trains and stations between August this year and 2027. Meanwhile, the Government will continue their £1.5 billion upgrade of the midland main line, which is the biggest upgrade since its completion in 1870. That is part of our £48 billion investment to modernise our railways over the next five years.
During Transport questions last Thursday, the shadow rail Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), asked about the non-compliance of bidders for the East Midlands rail franchise. The Transport Secretary, who is not present, dismissed her questions as inaccurate and incorrect. However, according to a formal legal disclosure from the Department for Transport, which was published on 15 April and sent with the full authority of the Secretary of State,
“All bids contained some non-compliances.”
The ministerial code requires Ministers to make truthful and accurate statements to Parliament, so will the Transport Secretary now correct the record and rectify the inaccurate and incorrect statement that he made to the House last week?
Given that all bidders for East Midlands were non-compliant, will the Minister tell us how the non-compliances of the respective bidders were assessed? The Department has mandatory and discretionary levers over non- compliances in franchise bids. Can the Minister explain how the criteria were applied during the evaluation of bids for East Midlands?
The leak of the Stagecoach bid details to Abellio during the bidding casts further doubt on the integrity of the process. Why did it take months for the data-breach investigation to start and why was it so limited? Given last week’s cancellation of the ferry contracts and now this latest debacle, is there not serious doubt about the Transport Secretary’s ability to procure services? Will the Minister’s boss sign off the East Midlands franchise contract this week, in view of the serious concerns about the transparency of the process? Given the appalling record of defending legal challenges to failed procurement decisions—Eurotunnel and P&O being cases in point—what contingency plans are there to defend future legal action against the East Midlands award?
In 2012, rail franchising went into meltdown on the west coast main line. Seven years on, it has never been clearer that it is not working and will never work. It needs to end, and to end now.
Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman’s questions one at a time. In a complex procurement process such as this, or indeed in other complex public sector procurements, it is a matter of course that there may be small technical non-compliances. These could include, for example, incorrect font sizes or submitting bids in the wrong format—in docx rather than in PDF, or vice versa. This does not constitute a material non-compliance, which would affect the compliance of the bid as a whole. What would be a serious issue would be something like the reallocation of risk, or acceptance or non-acceptance of the commercial terms that have been offered. That is where the difference between material and non-material would come in.
We have been clear at the outset that non-compliance risks exclusion and Stagecoach chose to put in a materially non-compliant bid rejecting the commercial terms on offer. In doing so, it is responsible for its own disqualification.
On the bid leak, I am aware that an email was sent incorrectly by Network Rail, which was received by one of the bidders, but that has been investigated and it was proved in that investigation that the email was not opened and none of the information that was possibly within it was accessed, so it has not been material to this award.
The hon. Gentleman said that franchising is dead and buried. I could not disagree more. Franchising has been a significant part of the turnaround of our rail industry. It has led to more entrants into the market. It has led to investment from the private sector. It has led to over £10 billion of investment. It has led to a renewal of focus on customers in the rail sector. It has been an ingredient in the turnaround we have seen, with the more than doubling of passenger journeys on our railways over the past 20 and a bit years. So franchising has been a success. We of course need to evolve it because what we face now is how to take the process on to the next stages. That is the question that the Williams review has been tasked to solve.
Mr Williams is starting to give us some of his thinking. He has made speeches at various rail conferences. We look forward to receiving his report in the early summer, with a view to a White Paper in the autumn.
The comment from the hon. Gentleman was that the Secretary of State had misled the House. The Abellio bid was won in a competitive franchise process and it won with a compliant bid. The comments by the Secretary of State were, therefore, accurate. I am aware of the media story, but it is wrong. He does not need to correct the record. The Abellio bid was compliant and has been won in an open, fair and consistent way. We look forward to seeing the benefits of that for the passengers on the East Midlands network.
Can the rail Minister confirm that under the terms of the new franchise passengers from Kettering will enjoy the reintroduction of two trains an hour going north from Kettering, which had been taken away, extra seat capacity on the Corby to London service and the introduction of electrification to Kettering by 2020?
My hon. Friend makes, as ever, a wise point on behalf of the constituents he serves so well. The point about this franchise, and indeed all our franchises, is that they bring benefits for the travelling public. This franchise will do just that. It will be delivering more trains from Kettering, it will be delivering more seats from Corby, and the Government as a whole through their electrification of a significant part of the midland main line will be delivering the electrification that he specified. So his constituents will be receiving a better service in both quantity and quality as a result of this franchise award.
I trust the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) will go about his business with an additional glint in his eye and spring in his step, buoyed by knowledge of the approbation he has received from the Minister on the Treasury Bench describing him as “wise”; I have a feeling it will be framed and appear in an important and public part of the hon. Gentleman’s home.
There will be concern in Chesterfield that the East Midlands rail service currently provided by Stagecoach will no longer be in place. In terms of what the Minister is able to tell us about the process, how many fully compliant bids were there? In terms of the process going forward, what benefits will constituents in Chesterfield see when we move to Abellio trains?
The Department wants to provide bidding feedback to those who have been unsuccessful or disqualified, but it has never given bidding feedback in public in relation to losing bids. That would not be particularly fair on those who have bid, and there are commercial confidentiality points that could have market implications, so we have never done that. I am aware that some of the bidders have made public statements themselves, but that is up to them. I do not think it is up to me. The people of Chesterfield will be able to look forward to an enhanced service. We have put out an interactive map that details the benefits for all the different areas of the franchise award. It is publicly accessible on the Department for Transport website and the hon. Gentleman might be interested in looking at that. Separately, I will of course write to him with the details of what will happen for the people of Chesterfield as a result of this franchise award.
Can the rail Minister assure me and the House that he will continue to ensure good value for money for taxpayers and for passengers, unlike Labour, which allowed fare rises of 13% during its time in government? I was once a resident of the east of England and therefore used the rails.
I am absolutely clear that we will continue to seek good value for money for fare payers and taxpayers through the franchising process. The amount of money that is being invested in our railways is at a record level, because the Government believe strongly in rail underpinning our economy and our move for clean growth. Fares are obviously a matter of some concern, but I remind my hon. Friend that we are in the sixth year of freezing fares in line with inflation, which is in marked contrast to the fare system that we inherited when we came into government. I think there were fare increases of up to 10% in the previous Government’s last year. We will focus on delivering not only better value but better quality and quantity at that better value.
Never before have I heard a question on East Midlands trains that begin at St Pancras and terminate in Sheffield being asked by someone from north of the border, but the hon. Member for Gordon (Colin Clark) is always welcome to come and enjoy the midland main line.
In any event, this is a serious matter, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) for raising it. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) said, there will be concern about this franchise and the manner in which this has been done. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) and I met Abellio on Friday, and I put that squarely on the table. I have a concern about the level of expectation. The Minister rightly speaks about new trains being introduced, about refurbishment and about bi-mode trains, but none of that will come on stream for at least three years: there are high expectations, but they will not be delivered.
My real question to the Minister is this. It is my understanding that those train doors that have to be slammed—the ones where people have to reach up through the window to turn the handle on the outside when they want to open or close the doors—are rightly going to be made unlawful in order to comply with rules, regulations and laws covering people with mobility difficulties. Can he confirm that, in order to satisfy those laws, there will have to be new trains? Can he also confirm that that cannot be done in time for January next year? In that event, what are the Government going to do?
I am sure that expectations are high; they always are higher at the start of a franchise. We have been talking about the customer benefits that will flow from the £600 million that Abellio is investing in trains and stations along the franchise. I understand the right hon. Lady’s point about how benefits can sometimes be delayed, and there has, on occasion, been a sense of jam tomorrow in the delivery of timely upgrades for our railways, but this is a positive announcement and it should be welcomed as such. I recognise that change can cause challenges for people who are used to dealing with a particular operator. That is inevitable whenever we have a change of franchise operator—[Interruption.] May I just make one more point, Mr Speaker?
Oh, very well. Blurt it out!
Blurt it out I will. In terms of PRM compliance—compliance with regulations covering passengers with reduced mobility—I am extremely keen that all our train operating companies should have trains that are PRM compliant by the end of the year. That is the expectation that we have of them.
East Midlands services that run from Cleethorpes extend to Lincoln and Newark. In the not-too-distant past, we used to have services through to Nottingham, Leicester and even more exotic places. Could the Minister give an assurance that Abellio will look at extending the services out of Cleethorpes? Will he urge it to ensure that they are not provided by a single unit? The services, particularly those to Lincoln, are frequently overcrowded, especially after they stop at Market Rasen in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh).
I am not sure we can describe Leicester as an exotic destination, but I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making. It is a key part of the economy and the central part of this country and its connectivity is therefore very important, as he highlights. I will have to check and have a further conversation with Abellio and then write to my hon. Friend with the answer to his question.
There have been press reports again today regarding who is responsible for pensions, particularly in relation to Virgin contracts and Stagecoach. Can the Minister clear that up? What is he trying to achieve? Who is responsible for paying the pensions?
The responsibility for paying train operator pensions is the responsibility of the train operator. That is the case with the franchises that have just been awarded and are being considered, and it has always been the case since franchising came into form 25 years ago. There are no plans to change that. Train operators have the responsibility and we expect them to fulfil it.
Is the Minister confident that the new contract will deliver positive benefits for rail users in Corby and east Northamptonshire and that the transition from the old contract to the new will be seamless?
There will be significant benefits for the constituents whom my hon. Friend serves so well. Those benefits will be in the form of new trains and significantly increased capacity, particularly with the connectivity into London. There are significant benefits for those he represents. There is obviously operational risk with the handover from one franchise to the next, but many of the staff will TUPE over, as is standard when a franchise changes. I expect all sides to go through the process with good will to ensure that customers are at the centre of their thinking.
I wonder whether there is a way to formalise this slot as an urgent question to the Secretary of State for Transport, because this is clearly a weekly event that could be formalised in the parliamentary calendar.
My question to the Minister is this: what is the Secretary of State’s responsibility when it comes to making market-sensitive information available? Given how leaky the Government are, was it appropriate to leave nine days between disqualifying Stagecoach and announcing its disqualification?
After the decision has been made within the Department for Transport, there has to be a period of communication with other Departments, such as the Cabinet Office and the Treasury. That is entirely standard in public procurement. It is not a question of the Government sitting on their hands within the Department. There was a standard process. That is typical in rail franchises, as it is in other parts of public procurement. I am aware of the press story, but it is simply wrong.
The Minister will be aware that the East Midlands service between Derby, Stoke and north Staffordshire, run by East Midlands Trains, is inadequate. It is often only one carriage and overcrowded. Can he assure me that that service will be improved under the new franchise?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the service will be significantly enhanced. That enhancement will take the form of more services, particularly earlier in the day, including on a Sunday—I know he and others along that route have campaigned for that. The trains themselves will be new and much bigger. I am aware that the service is often a single carriage and is absolutely full. That is an indication of the pent-up demand along that line. That is why we will be seeing more services to meet that need.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy if he will make a statement on the decision by Bombardier to sell its operations in Northern Ireland.
Last Thursday, Bombardier Inc. announced its plans to sell its Belfast aerostructures and engineering services operations. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has spoken to Alain Bellemare, Bombardier’s chief executive, and Michael Ryan, the head of its Belfast operations, about this decision.
The decision is a change of strategy for Bombardier, and we have asked the company to explain it. Bombardier has told us it is a strategic decision so that the company can focus on its transportation division, which includes trains and business jets. The company will be consolidating its aerospace assets into a single business unit with core operations in Canada, the USA and Mexico, while selling its Northern Ireland and Morocco units. Bombardier has said it will continue to be committed to rail transportation in the United Kingdom.
I recognise this is unwelcome news for the Northern Irish workforce across the company’s sites in Belfast, Dunmurry, Newtownards and Newtownabbey and for their families. It is deeply regrettable that they face further uncertainty about their future. We have been assured by Bombardier that it is committed to finding the right buyer and will not rush to sell at any price. Bombardier has said it will secure a buyer that will operate responsibly and will help the buyer to achieve its full growth potential.
The Belfast plant, its expertise and its highly skilled and dedicated staff will be highly sought after, and we will be working with potential buyers to take this successful and ambitious business forward. Bombardier has committed to no further job losses at the Short Brothers factory in Belfast and has paused the redundancy process from its November 2018 restructuring announcement. The management team will still continue to drive ongoing transformation initiatives to improve productivity and increase competitiveness.
The Short Brothers factory employs around 3,600 skilled workers, with a large number of them working on the A220 aircraft joint venture programme with Airbus. It also supports a supply chain of hundreds of companies and many more jobs in the UK. Bombardier’s commitment to the Short Brothers factory has transformed the business, changing it to a state-of-the-art wing factory with a healthy order book. The Belfast plant is a vital asset to the UK’s world-leading aerospace sector and is a centre of excellence in advanced composites and in the design and manufacture of some of the most high-value components in aerospace manufacturing.
We are committed to helping ensure that the Belfast facility continues to be successful. Last year, when the A220 aircraft joint venture was launched, both Bombardier and Airbus made a number of important commitments to the Business Secretary, including that wing manufacturing will continue in Belfast, that the treatment of UK sites and suppliers will be equal to that of other Bombardier and Airbus suppliers and that the strategy will be one of building on existing capabilities. I expect those commitments to be respected.
We will continue to work closely with the company, the unions and the Northern Ireland Departments while this process is under way.
I welcome the Minister to the Front Bench. He is right to describe Bombardier as a company of vital importance. The workforce, of course, are both dedicated and highly skilled, but that of itself does not express the importance of Bombardier to the Northern Ireland economy. This is a world-class operation and an icon of Northern Ireland’s capacity to deliver world-class manufacturing and production. The company represents some 10% of Northern Ireland’s manufacturing output, and as he says, it employs some 3,600 people across its different sites in Northern Ireland, but that only partially tells the story of a company with a supply chain that employs many, many more—some in Northern Ireland and some in other parts of the United Kingdom. Bombardier’s decision comes as a genuine shock and will lead to potential dismay. The Minister tells us that Bombardier has made commitments to try to maintain the site’s viability.
I would like to draw the House’s attention to comments made by the Moroccan Industry Minister, because Morocco is in the same position as Northern Ireland in this context. Moulay Hafid Elalamy has confirmed that Bombardier’s Casablanca factory operations will continue after Bombardier sells it plants. We look to the Minister to give the same kind of assurance to the people of Northern Ireland, the UK and beyond that Bombardier will make sure that the current workforce, skills base and production will continue unscathed.
In that context, the Minister has told us that conversations have taken place between the Secretary of State and Bombardier’s management. Will the Minister tell us whether there are plans to meet the representatives of the workforce—the trade unions involved? They are particularly keen—I agree with them on this—that the Secretary of State should hold a summit involving all the key partners, not simply the company and the workforce, but other stakeholders, including Members of this House and others elsewhere. It is important that a combined effort across Northern Ireland is made to ensure that we salvage what is proper from this announcement. Can the Minister, once again, establish that Bombardier will be sold as a total going concern? It matters enormously that we do not see a vulture company coming in, stripping its assets and its workforce and denuding both Northern Ireland and the UK of the Bombardier capacity.
Those with a good memory will recall that when Short Brothers, the predecessor company, was in public ownership, public money went into this site. What is the legacy of that public money? Can the Minister give assurances that Bombardier is committed to making sure that there is proper legacy for its workforce in Northern Ireland? Will consideration be given by his colleagues, probably those in the Treasury, as to whether enhanced funding should be provided for the Belfast city deal? Obviously, this announcement will create pressures on the Belfast city region and the people who live there.
The final point I wish to make to the Minister is a simple one. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland cannot be with us today, for perfectly valid reasons—she is hosting five-party talks in Northern Ireland—but it is important that this Government do everything they can to see the Northern Ireland Executive back in operation. Were the Executive in place today, this would make both the Minister’s task and the future of Bombardier much less complicated.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for the tone of his remarks, and I agree with him completely on the importance of Bombardier. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that it is a jewel in the crown of not only Northern Irish manufacturing, but the whole UK aerospace sector. It is therefore vital that we all work together to do everything we can to ensure the future of this site and its workforce.
The hon. Gentleman posed a range of questions that I wish to touch on. I am more than happy to meet the unions and workers’ representatives to talk about this issue, and to visit Northern Ireland to see what we can do. It is important that we find the right buyer for this company, which has a good order book and is profitable. Like other companies in the aerospace sector, it has huge growth potential in the coming years. I will not rehearse the statistics now, but they show huge growth potential in the aerospace sector, and Bombardier is well positioned to capitalise on it.
The Government continue to work to support the wider Northern Irish economy. A heads of terms agreement for the Belfast city deal was agreed by the UK Government, Northern Irish government and Belfast regional partners in March 2019. The Belfast region city deal will see the UK Government invest £350 million into the Belfast region over the next 15 years. In addition, work is ongoing between the UK Government and local partners on a funding announcement for a Londonderry/Derry regional city deal. As has been said, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is not here—obviously, she is doing good work in Northern Ireland at the moment—but I stand ready to work with her and other Ministers to ensure that all necessary support is given to the workers at this site going forward.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee paid a visit to the Belfast plant of Bombardier last November during which we saw a highly skilled workforce carrying out fantastic work in the manufacture of aircraft wings with a high level of expertise. We also saw the benefits of the £2.7 billion investment that has been made in the plant since 1989. Does the Minister agree that it is important to reassure not only customers of Bombardier, which provides for the families of aircraft that Bombardier itself produces, but external customers such as Airbus with its A220 programme?
I agree that this site is very much a going concern. Bombardier has made it clear that it will look for the right buyer for this site. It does not intend to close it. As part of a strategic overview of its business, it has decided that this site, along with the Morocco site, should go up for sale. The Government have worked consistently with the site, and, since 2017, more than £20 million has been invested in research and development activity at the Belfast plant to develop new products and to improve efficiency.
I had the privilege of visiting Bombardier last year as part of an Industry and Parliament Trust delegation. I was blown away both by the scale of the plant and by the highly specialised processes that were being undertaken there. Three thousand six hundred jobs is a massive figure. To put that in context, that represents 4.5% of the entire workforce in Northern Ireland, and when we take into account the supply chain, the figure becomes even greater.
According to Bombardier, Brexit is not a factor in the decision to sell the business, but when we were there on that visit, concerns were raised about Brexit and the impact of the removal of the UK from the single market and customs union. Whether or not Brexit had a role to play in this decision, the current situation will affect the search for a new owner. Airbus wings are built by Bombardier, and Tom Enders, the chief executive of Airbus, has said that the UK’s aerospace sector now stands at the precipice and that Brexit uncertainty is a disgrace. Is the Minister listening to the message from the site’s key customer and is he doing everything in his power to ensure that the UK does remain within the single market and customs union? Is he aware of any firm willing to purchase the site? Finally, what steps is he taking to protect this highly skilled workforce, and how will he ensure that these skilled workers remain in Northern Ireland?
I have been assured that Bombardier is committed to finding the right buyer for the site. It has said that it will find one that will operate responsibly and help the company to achieve its full growth potential. The Belfast plant, its expertise and highly skilled and dedicated staff will be highly sought after and the Government will work with potential buyers to take this successful and ambitious business forward. Bombardier is a global business that operates in 28 sites across the world and it has made it clear that Brexit was not a factor in this decision.
Given the world-class technical skills of the Northern Ireland workforce, is the Minister optimistic that the right buyer can be found? Given the continued railway expansion in this country and the need for more rolling stock, does he welcome Bombardier’s continued commitment to the railway sector?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. This will be a highly sought after company, and I imagine that there will be a range of people interested in buying the site. Bombardier has made it very clear that, in terms of its other divisions in the UK, particularly in rolling stock, it intends to stay firmly involved in the provision of new rolling stock, and I look forward to visiting Bombardier’s facility on Thursday.
I am co-chair of the all-party manufacturing group and very heavily involved in air safety. Is not the news today about Bombardier a disaster for British industry and British aerospace? This is a prime globally known company and a prime contractor of Airbus, and the news today is a sign of what is happening in high-tech industries and the car industry: they are moving out of Britain and taking out their investment. This is a disaster. Every Minister should be aware that this is not a canary singing, but a canary falling off its perch.
Like other companies in the growing aerospace sector, Bombardier is transforming itself. In 2015—way before Brexit—the company announced a five-year plan to transform the business to reduce costs and to improve profitability and competitiveness, while also launching commercial and business jet programmes. Bombardier has been very clear that the decision to sell off the Northern Irish site and the Morocco site—definitely nothing to do with Brexit—has nothing to do with Brexit.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is an opportunity for UK-owned and UK-based companies to re-enter the major civilian aerospace sector, and that this is not just an opportunity to see it sold to some foreign-based buyer? It is our second biggest manufacturing sector after the automotive sector, and we now have the opportunity to see it come back into British hands.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. This is a golden opportunity for a number of businesses in the sector and for businesses that want to expand into the sector. It is a growing, profitable business that would make a sensible investment for anyone.
I thank the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) for raising this question and pay tribute to Members across the House who have shown support over the last number of years for Bombardier in my constituency and the constituencies of the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) and the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry); I particularly thank them for their commitment over many years. I also thank the Minister for taking an interest in this case. I was very grateful to the Secretary of State for his phone call on Thursday and recognise the commitment that he has shown to this key part of our industry in Northern Ireland—and, indeed, to the UK aviation sector—over the last period. The Minister knows the importance of Bombardier and its significance to our economy. Can he therefore assure us that he will maintain the jobs in Belfast and surrounding areas, the industry, the innovation and the skill that we are benefiting from and that the whole world will?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. He is a huge champion for his constituents and all the workers at the site. My constituency of Pendle is dominated by the aerospace sector and is home to a large Rolls-Royce fan blade factory, so I know the importance of these highly-skilled and well-paid aerospace jobs. I will do everything I can, working with the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, to ensure that we secure all the jobs at the Bombardier Belfast site.
Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the substantial investment that Bombardier has recently made in Biggin Hill, where its new business aircraft service centre is creating many opportunities for young people in the London Borough of Bromley?
My hon. Friend is correct to point out that Bombardier is a growing company that is investing in different sectors; it is just strategically realigning itself. I look forward to visiting a different Bombardier site on Thursday—not the one my hon. Friend mentioned—to talk about other investments within the UK. The decision to sell its operations in Northern Ireland is regrettable, but we will work with the company to ensure that the right buyer is found.
Members will recall that the American Government took legal action against Bombardier about 18 months ago, so how big a part did the United States play in this decision? The hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) said that this affects 4.5% of the workforce in Northern Ireland, but we can multiply that figure by two or three if we include the supply chain as well, so the problem is much bigger than people realise. We had a similar statement on GKN a couple of weeks ago; is the Minister being conned on this?
Bombardier has told us that this is a strategic decision so that the company can focus on its transportation division, which includes trains and business jets. We have been told that it has not been influenced by any other factors. This is a strategic decision by the company so that it can focus on certain key parts of its core operation.
The Minister described the strategic realignment that Bombardier has spoken about, but he has also no doubt spoken to ADS—on behalf of the aerospace industry—and heard about the huge concern that exists in aerospace manufacturing about the fact that the Government are unable to come up with a permanent customs arrangement or even to get a deal through this Parliament. Given all the discussions he has had, will he tell us what impact the Government’s current Brexit position will have on the likelihood of these Bombardier jobs being secured and a new buyer being found?
The large aerospace businesses I have talked to—including Rolls-Royce, which has a plant in my constituency—have been very clear that MPs should vote for the deal, and I am proud that I voted for it three times.
I accept that there is not very much the Government can do, but will the Minister set out what it might be possible to do in terms of identifying or facilitating the identification of any new buyer? On retraining, although hopefully that will not be necessary, what sort of package might the Government be willing to put in place if it does prove necessary in future?
At the current time, we are going to be focused on finding the right buyer. We will work across government to ensure that the right buyer is found. If there are already existing purchasers involved, that is commercially sensitive and something for the company.
I very much hope that we never get into a situation where we have to look at any sort of retraining package for the site. Obviously, if we did end up in that situation, I would come back to the House on it. However, this is a growing, profitable business—one of the jewels in the crown of UK aerospace—and I would imagine that buyers for this site would be lining up to invest in the jobs and skills in Northern Ireland.
One of the finest visits I had the honour of making when I was a business Minister was to this remarkable factory in Belfast. I went with the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson). They are indeed a highly skilled workforce making a world-class product. It was remarkable to see those wings being made. Does the Minister not agree, though, that British aerospace has basically been built on the fact that we are a member of the European Union, that any potential buyer will surely not be attracted even to the brilliant workforce with this outstanding product when we leave—if we leave—the European Union, and that the truth and reality is now dawning on many people that the best deal with the European Union is the deal that we currently have?
No, I would respectfully disagree. I think we need to provide certainty for all sectors of our economy. We have seen a range of recent investments in the aerospace sector across the United Kingdom, but we have also seen businesses restructure, as in this business with huge growth potential, as the sector looks to realign itself for the growth potentials in future.
What a difficult choice—Strangford against East Antrim. I call Jim Shannon.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I thank the Minister for his reply to these questions. I represent Strangford, as Mr Speaker said and others here will know as well. The factory in Newtownards is part of the Bombardier business, and I want to speak on its behalf. Last year, I had an opportunity to visit the Belfast site in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), and to understand its importance and the experience of its skilled workforce. It seems that there are three companies interested in Bombardier. Has the Minister had time to discuss the possibility of a partnership with Airbus, with Airbus owning 50.1% of the shares, thereby cementing the wing technology in the United Kingdom, and 49.9% owned by Bombardier, with voting shares retained by Bombardier? That is very similar to the partnership in the Airbus C Series, now the Airbus A320.
I do hope that the hon. Gentleman now feels that he has fully ventilated his concerns, at least for now.
Any discussions that are ongoing between Bombardier and potential buyers are of course commercially sensitive. However, one would imagine that a company like Airbus, which is so reliant on this excellent company providing so many components to it, would be taking an active interest in the company and how it goes forward.
I bet you wish you had chosen me the first time, Mr Speaker.
The people of Northern Ireland appreciate the political and financial commitments that Governments of all shades in this House have given over the years to keeping aircraft manufacturing alive in Northern Ireland. Bombardier’s lease was due to be renewed this year. When it was privatised, a peppercorn rent was made available for the site—it is a very land-intensive industry—which is a fraction of a per cent of what the commercial rent would be. That could be a deal breaker when it comes to the sale of the site. What discussions has the Minister had, or will he have, with the Belfast Harbour Commissioners about setting a level of rent which ensures that operations can continue on the site?
The right hon. Gentleman was not to be outdone by his hon. Friend.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. Three weeks into the job, I have not had any conversations with them yet, but I look forward to doing so because, as he says, that could be very worthwhile as we look to secure the future of this company and all those whose livelihoods depend on it.
Places of Worship: Security Funding
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about security in our places of worship. Yesterday marked the start of Ramadan, a peaceful time of prayer and reflection. Throughout the holy month, Muslims will come together in mosques to celebrate. The tragic events in Christchurch, New Zealand, will never be far from their minds, and the 51 innocent souls who were slaughtered in March will be remembered in many prayers. A terrorist gunned down these Muslim men, women and children as they prayed. A few weeks later, Christians were massacred by terrorists in Sri Lankan churches as they observed their faith on Easter Sunday. More victims were targeted in hotels, with a total of over 250 lives lost. Just days ago, a gunman stormed a synagogue near San Diego, killing an innocent woman on the last day of Passover. Each one of those atrocities was heartbreaking and tragic, and my thoughts are with every single person who has been affected. I know that the House will join me in condemning these hate-fuelled attacks on our freedom and values.
This slaughter has sent shockwaves through our religious communities. People are understandably worried. Many members of my own family contacted me after Christchurch to seek reassurance. They asked, “Just what are you doing to stop this happening here?” With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to answer that and provide some much-needed reassurance.
There can be no doubt that people have been targeted because of their religion in terrorist attacks around the world, but also in vile hate crimes on the streets of this country—sledgehammer attacks on mosques, a Christian preacher spat at in the street, and a brick thrown through the glass door of a synagogue. I condemn all these attacks with every fibre of my being. No one should be targeted because of what they believe. Everyone, of every faith, deserves the right to observe their religion without fear, and we are doing all we can to ensure that this remains the case in the UK and that our fundamental values are preserved.
Mr Speaker, allow me to update the House on some of the work that is under way to protect our religious freedom. First, I have increased the places of worship protective security fund to £1.6 million for 2019-20—double the amount awarded last year. Expressions of interest are now open for the next round of the fund, which will open in July. Since the scheme launched in 2016, more than £1.5 million has been awarded, with 63 grants to churches, 49 to mosques, five to Hindu temples and 16 to gurdwaras. They have paid for security equipment such as CCTV, security lighting, new locks or fences. Many more places of worship will now benefit after we made it even easier to apply this year, by removing the need to find multiple quotes and contractors. A separate £14 million grant also provides security for Jewish schools and synagogues against terror attacks.
Secondly, a new £5 million fund will provide security training for places of worship across England and Wales. This funding will support the physical security measures provided by the places of worship fund. It will share best practice and help faith organisations to understand how best to protect their worshippers.
Thirdly, we are consulting religious communities on what more can and should be done to help them. We will shortly announce a programme of engagement, to help us understand what they need and how to make it work in a faith setting. This listening exercise will inform how the £5 million security training fund is spent to ensure that it is effective and will help ascertain how we can best protect worshippers.
Fourthly, we are providing immediate help with a Ramadan package of support for mosques. We know that Muslims are anxious for their safety after the atrocity in Christchurch, and that tensions are heightened during religious festivals. So we are supporting Faith Associates to provide security training and advice for the Islamic holy month. Support is being given in 12 workshops around England and Wales, and guidance is being distributed to over 2,000 mosques, community centres and madrassahs.
Finally, our world-class police provide a vital protection role to all places of worship. Patrols near mosques were stepped up following the Christchurch attack to provide much-needed reassurance and the police have increased activity around religious festivals and holy days, including the Ramadan period. Our security services work tirelessly to disrupt all terror threats known to this country. This includes tackling the growing threat from the far right, with more than four such terrorist plots disrupted since the beginning of 2017. We are also using a range of other powers to tackle the threat of terrorism and extremism in this country. Our robust hate crime legislation has seen far-right influencers jailed for a range of offences, including religiously aggravated harassment. As Home Secretary, I can exclude foreign nationals from entering the UK if I believe that their presence would not be conducive to the public good—a power that I can and do use to stop hate preachers stirring up tension here. I have used that power eight times since I became Home Secretary.
Our Prevent and Building a Stronger Britain Together programmes work with and through local communities to challenge terrorist or extremist ideologies from Islamist to the far right.
Together, this comprehensive package of support provides protection for all our places of worship. We know that there are deep and genuine concerns in religious communities; we know that people are feeling vulnerable and scared, but have no doubt that I am listening to these concerns and we are responding. The diversity of this country and our shared values of tolerance and respect are what make us truly great. We will never allow those who seek to divide us to win. The freedom to practise any religion or none is a cornerstone of our democratic society. People must have the peace of mind to worship without fear, and I am doing everything within my power to make this possible. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for prior sight of his statement. The Opposition welcome his statement in principle, particularly the Ramadan package. We are aware that there is particular fear in some of our communities as we enter the period of Ramadan. However, we reserve the right to return to the subject as the detail of implementation becomes clear.
Across the world we are seeing a rise in terror attacks especially on people in their place of worship. The House should contemplate what it means to be gathered together to pray to your God and find yourself a victim of murder and terrorism. In Sri Lanka we saw more than 200 people die, including hundreds of people at Easter services in Christian churches. We all saw the images of the terrorist entering the church with the rucksack on his back, patting a small child on the head and then proceeding to blow up the innocent worshippers.
This followed the terror attacks in Christchurch on Muslim worshippers, which claimed the lives of 50 people and injured 40 more. The attack was livestreamed on Facebook. Most recently, a gunman stormed a synagogue, killing an innocent woman on the last day of Passover. The concern must be that, in this era of online, when someone can literally livestream their terror, there is a danger of copycat incidents. That is one of the things that has inspired fear in different communities.
On this side of the House, we want to make it clear that these terror attacks are murderous and vile, whether they come from admirers of al-Qaeda or ISIS or from admirers of tinpot Adolf Hitlers. As we move towards the European elections, sadly, we may well see a rise in far right activity, which may seek to mirror some of the terrorist attacks that we have seen. That is why we believe that this statement is timely and to be welcomed.
These terror attacks spread ripples of violence throughout communities and countries. The Metropolitan police report that racist and religious hate crimes in London hit their highest levels in a year immediately following the Christchurch mosque shootings. Tell MAMA, the Muslim community organisation, said that there was an almost sixfold increase in reports to its monitoring service immediately after the Christchurch attack. Separately, the Community Security Trust also reports rising incidents. My own Haredi Jewish community in Stamford Hill have seen a steep rise in attacks; sadly, they do not always report them to the police, although I am working with them to encourage them to go to the authorities after all such incidents. There have been similar reports from police forces and monitoring community organisations across the country.
The proposals that the Home Secretary has announced are both timely and appropriate, but we will follow up some of the measures. For instance, the Opposition will wish to know where the worship protection security fund is being allocated, and which organisations have applied for and been awarded the funding. My experience is that sometimes those who obtain Government funding are better at putting in applications, rather than necessarily being the organisations in most need.
We will want to know about where the £5 million fund to provide security training for places of worship is allocated—that the money is going to the appropriate communities in appropriate parts of the country. We will be interested to hear from Ministers about their consultations with religious communities and will want to know who is able to access and benefit from the Ramadan package of support for mosques. We are not accusing Ministers of bad faith, but we are saying that all too often, when it comes to allocating such funding, the people who know about it and are skilled at making applications benefit, although they may not necessarily be the most vulnerable and needy communities.
We welcome the fact that the police are providing vital protection to all places of worship, although I say gently to the Home Secretary that the situation is not helped by the cuts in police numbers since 2010. Our main point is that nobody should have to go to their place of worship and feel fear. Nobody should feel that horrible incidents such as we have seen internationally may be reflected in their mosque, church or gurdwara. We also say that some Muslim community centres are next to mosques; we hope that they can get some help, support and protection also.
The terrorist incidents that we have been seeing are both frightening and tragic. We as a House must assure vulnerable communities of our intent to support them, whether financially or in other ways. I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but he can be assured that we will be following up how it actually unfolds in practice.
I thank the right hon. Lady for the tone of her remarks and for her support. I think it is reassuring for members of the public watching or listening to know that everyone in this House is united in the determination to protect people in all places of worship, whatever their faith, in every way we can. I very much welcome her comments.
The right hon. Lady rightly started by condemning the recent terrorist attacks around the world—in Christchurch, Sri Lanka and San Diego. She was also right to make a link between those attacks and what she called the ripple effect—the rise in recorded hate crime that we have sadly seen here in our own country. I know she shares our absolute determination to ensure we do everything we can where hate crime is reported. People must always feel that they can go ahead and report that crime. Letting the police know enables them to investigate it and take action.
The right hon. Lady said she would follow up on the package, and I hope she does. That is exactly what I would expect of her and I very much welcome it. She is very good at following up on things. That will help us, working together, to ensure we are doing all we can to support our communities. She was right to raise the issue of how we can ensure the fund is allocated as quickly and as efficiently as possible. That is why I referred in my statement to changes I am making to the application rules. In the past the fund has, I think, required at least three estimates for putting up CCTV from different certified contractors. I think we can simplify the rules. We are doing that and it will help to make it more straightforward.
The right hon. Lady raised the £5 million that I announced for training. I think we have a collective desire to ensure it is utilised quickly, properly and efficiently, and that all communities and all faith groups feel they have access and support. That is exactly why we have already started the consultation with faith groups, community representatives and others to make sure we are listening to them about the best way to use the £5 million.
All of us in this House share a determination to ensure that people in our country can worship without fear. We will do everything we can to make that a reality.
I very much welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the action he has taken on this very important matter. This issue is not just about buildings. People of faith live out their faith day in, day out in their homes and in their communities, so will he confirm that he will continue to do all he can to ensure we remain an open and tolerant society, and that the principles of freedom of faith, freedom of worship and freedom of speech will continue to be upheld for people of every faith?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He is right to highlight that this is not just about buildings—bricks and mortar—but the environment that people feel exists for them to practise and talk about their faith. The Prevent programme is there to safeguard young people against being drawn into extremism. There are a number of groups that both my Department and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government work with to try to create the all-important environment that gives people the freedom and security to practise their faith, no matter what that faith is.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of his statement. I join him and the shadow Home Secretary in condemning the hate-filled attacks he referred to. I echo what they both said about the sanctity of places of worship. Everybody should be able to practise and observe their religion without fear. Any sensible measure that will help to make that happen is to be welcomed. Listening to what our religious communities need is paramount, so I welcome in particular what he said about consultation. It is a tragedy that we are having to have this discussion on how to protect places of worship in 2019. One reason we are having to do so is that online space has been ruthlessly exploited by those who would peddle hate and encourage such attacks.
The SNP welcomes the fact that the Government have published a White Paper on online harms, but we cannot wait for legislative reform. It seems that we are still struggling to come up with a complete and co-ordinated response that addresses how to police online hate. It is a question partly of resourcing, partly of improving co-ordination—both internationally and among the police forces of the United Kingdom—and partly of drawing on expertise. Does the Home Secretary accept that we need more of all those things?
The ongoing review of the Prevent strategy is much needed. Some of what happens through the strategy is effective, but more can be done to build community trust and increase the strategy’s effectiveness. One criticism that has been made is that the strategy has never been fully tailored to addressing the dangers posed by the far right. Can the Home Secretary assure me that all the expertise and knowledge available are being fully exploited so that strategies to tackle the far right are having the maximum possible impact?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of online space and how to ensure that we do all we can to stop online platforms being used to preach hate. I am glad that he welcomes our White Paper, which I think it is fair to say is groundbreaking among all countries with respect to taking action—many countries are looking at how we are planning to handle the issue. The duty of care will make a difference.
The hon. Gentleman is also right to make the point that we cannot wait. Naturally, the consultation and legislation will take time, but it is good to see that some social media companies are already responding. I met several of them with fellow G7 Interior Ministers just last month, and they have pledged to take further action after the attack in Christchurch. That is good to see; I encourage them to do all they can now instead of waiting for legislation.
We are pleased to be having a review of the Prevent programme, because such independent reviews can help to build community confidence. It is also important for the review to look at how to stop far-right extremism; I can tell the hon. Gentleman that last year almost a quarter of Prevent programme referrals related to far-right extremism.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for his commitment to the security of places of worship. Will he join me in thanking our police and security services? They are the ones who work day in, day out to prevent attacks and we owe them a great deal. In other countries, police and security services are often used to clamp down on religious freedom; in our country, they are there to uphold it—and they do.
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in commending our police and security services for their invaluable work. We must remember just how many lives they have saved. It is already public knowledge that since the beginning of 2017, they have prevented or foiled 17 terrorist attacks, including four by the far right, that would almost certainly have led to loss of life. We owe a great debt to our security services and police.
I thank the Home Secretary for his statement and for his reassurance at the time of Ramadan and at a time when we have seen such awful attacks on churches, mosques and synagogues around the world. He is right to be very clear that no one should ever be in fear as a result of following their faith.
Will the Home Secretary clarify whether the funding that he announced today is a further development from the announcements in March? Will he say what is being done to address online radicalisation and online religious hate crimes? The Select Committee on Home Affairs has heard some very concerning evidence about those matters, both in our private session this afternoon and in public sessions over previous weeks. In particular, what action is he aware of to tackle the closed Facebook groups that still have huge numbers of members and about which there are real concerns that religious hate crimes are being pursued?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments. She asks whether the funding is new, further to what was announced soon after the atrocity in Christchurch. The £1.6 million for places of worship is not new, although there is more detail available on it today; I also announced the £5 million for training at the time. What is new today is the Ramadan package.
Like other colleagues, the right hon. Lady expressed her concern about how online platforms are being used. In particular, she mentioned Facebook. When legislation is in place, it will naturally be easier to take action. However, as I have said, there is action that online platforms can take today, including on closed groups. There has been a welcome increase in engagement, but I do not feel that it has been enough. I think more can be achieved by working with our international partners who are taking this matter seriously.
I welcome the statement. The Home Secretary will be unsurprised to learn that I welcome the Ramadan package, as I was one of over 90 colleagues who wrote on behalf of our mosques to ask for extra protection during the holy month. I very much appreciate the announcement.
As the Secretary of State for Education is on the Treasury Bench, may I also raise the concerns that my constituents have expressed about safety around schools? In particular, Muslim mothers in traditional dress are highly visible as they collect or drop off children and are often vulnerable to abuse and hate attacks. Will the Home Secretary work with his colleague to advise and support schools to ensure that children and parents are safe whenever they attend school premises?
I support what the hon. Lady said about the Ramadan package and the work that she has done with her community and others to raise the issue. She is also right to raise the issue of schools. I mentioned in my statement that there is £14 million of support for the Jewish community, as there should be. Most of that is for Jewish schools. It is right that we take a fresh look at other schools and religious establishments where people of certain faiths gather. Schools and community centres would be included in that. I have asked my officials for further advice to make sure that we look at this issue again in the light of the recent terrorist attacks that we have seen internationally. I know that the Secretary of State for Education shares my determination to make sure that we are doing all that we can by working together.
I thank the Home Secretary strongly for his statement, especially in the light of the horrific attacks on mosques in Christchurch, churches across Sri Lanka and the synagogue in San Diego. I strongly welcome his words on hate crime, on which we need to take more action. Will he confirm for the House that all faith communities across the UK will be eligible to apply for this package of funding and support? Will account be taken of specific threats against particular communities, such as the Jewish community or the Ahmadi Muslim community, when applications are made?
Yes, I can confirm all those points for the right hon. Gentleman. On the places of worship scheme, the £5 million for security training is available to all faiths. I encourage any faith group or organisation that feels that that could help to apply. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned different parts of the Muslim community. We want to make sure that we consult all different viewpoints in each faith and take their concerns into account.
I too welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. I align myself with his words and those of the shadow Home Secretary against the murderous, vile, horrific, cowardly attacks against our faith communities. The thoughts and prayers of Members of this House continue to be with those who tragically lost their lives—men, women and children.
I want clarity on the Ramadan package in particular. As the Home Secretary knows, the holy month of Ramadan has begun. Many Muslims watching this statement will naturally be very anxious about the security of their mosques and other places during this holy month. Given that we only have a matter of days, how will the Ramadan package work in practice? How quickly will the money and security be available to those faith places?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments. On the Ramadan package in particular, we are working with an organisation called Faith Associates, which has experience in this area. It is planning to hold a series of workshops across England and Wales with firms and in the community, and is also working on guidance that will be issued to the 2,000 mosques, Muslim schools and community groups. That is the first part of the package, but we want to align it with the other parts of what I have announced today. If as a result of that engagement an organisation feels that it needs to apply for enhanced security, we will consider it as part of the places of worship scheme, and if it feels that it could benefit from the training package, we will consider that as well.
There is huge religious diversity in my constituency. Concern has been expressed not only about local incidents but, obviously, about the global terror incidents that we have seen. There has been some concern about the length of time between March and the availability of the new funding in July. Given what the Home Secretary has just said about the Ramadan package and given that we are already in the month of Ramadan, will he tell us whether any of those workshops have taken place yet, and whether, to his knowledge, that guidance has been distributed?
I remain deeply concerned about the neo-Nazi, extreme-right organisations that are targeting communities throughout the United Kingdom, especially Muslim and Jewish communities. Can the Home Secretary update me on the organisation System Resistance Network, which has been active in my south Wales constituency? It is simply an offshoot of National Action, and I have called for it to be proscribed.
The hon. Gentleman has asked me specifically about the workshops in the Ramadan package, and about the guidance. If he will allow me, I will write to him, because I do not have the information to hand. As for the proscription of groups, whatever type of terrorism or extremism they preach, we take that incredibly seriously. The hon. Gentleman will know that ours was the first Government to proscribe a far-right organisation, National Action. If any proscribed organisation comes up with aliases or tries to get around the rules, we take that very seriously as well.
I thank the Home Secretary for what he has said this afternoon.
I encourage all places of worship in my constituency, including churches and mosques, to access this money, but on Saturday we will have our third Big Iftar in the town square in Batley. What training would there be for a public event like that, and how swiftly could someone who applied for it gain access to it?
The £5 million training fund was announced in the week after the atrocity in Christchurch, and we are trying to make it available as soon as possible. During our early discussions with some members of the community, we talked about what would be the best way to use that fund, and how it should be focused. The hon. Lady asked me about a specific event that will take place very soon. I gathered that she would attend that event, or had been invited. I think it is great that Members of Parliament are supporting iftars around the country. I will check on whether the training will be available in time for the event in the hon. Lady’s constituency, and if she will allow me, I will write to her.
The Home Secretary’s package is welcome, but he will know that the best way to prevent attacks is to ensure that we have strong, intelligence-led policing. What is his view of the capacity of police forces to engage further in the assessment of potential far-right and terrorist activity? In particular, will he look at the issue of closed Facebook groups, which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)? In those groups, people continue to communicate with each other but the content cannot be seen by the police or the outside world, which can potentially lead to attacks.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the issue of closed groups on social media—the more private groups—is being taken seriously, and is being looked at. He also asked about intelligence. As he will know, the gathering of intelligence on potential terrorist activities is led by Counter Terrorism Policing, a national policing command working with police forces across the country, together with the domestic Security Service. Its budget has been increased significantly over the last three to four years, and it remains an absolute priority to ensure that it has all the resources that it needs to gather that intelligence.
The London Borough of Redbridge has one of the most diverse communities in the country, with gurdwaras, Hindu temples, mosques, Buddhist viharas and churches of all kinds. We also have a very active faith forum. Will the Home Secretary encourage his officials to do more to pursue a policy of interfaith dialogue and co-operation because, ultimately, it is through understanding and co-operation that we will deal with these problems?
I strongly agree. It is important to point out the work the hon. Gentleman does as the representative of the local community through the faith forum, and the work of organisations that both my Department and my former Department, the Communities Department, have supported. In my Department, the Building a Stronger Britain Together programme supports over 50 different projects across the country, many of which focus on promoting interfaith dialogue, which is incredibly important to stop hate crimes in future.
How effective does the Home Secretary feel the Prevent strategy and the counter-terrorist strategy are?
The Prevent strategy is incredibly important for our counter-terrorism and counter-extremism work, but it is right that we periodically review it. The review of Prevent that is taking place now is important to learn lessons to see if improvements can be made. But it also helps to build confidence in the whole strategy.
On a practical, basic level, one of the most important ways of ensuring security is to make sure that places of worship are adequately staffed with people in positions of authority who can be alert to threats, so will the Secretary of State urgently review his decision to prevent ministers of religion from applying for tier 5 religious worker visas, which is already putting huge pressure on Christian churches and other faith communities ensuring that they have an adequate supply of cover for ministers over the summer?
We are absolutely right to have a visa route for religious workers, which as the hon. Gentleman has identified is the tier 5 route, and it is important for us to make sure that at all times it is working appropriately. I think it is. If the hon. Gentleman thinks improvements can be made, I will be happy to hear them.
Four Members whose surnames begin with an S. I call Mr Barry Sheerman.
I listened carefully to what the Home Secretary said. I am a former parliamentary church warden at St Margaret’s and a lay canon at Wakefield cathedral, and of course I know from recent reports that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world at the moment. I spoke to fellow worshippers at my church on Sunday. They were very concerned about security of religion and security of churches and meetings. Does the Secretary of State agree that we have a tradition of open churches and open mosques, with people wandering in and perhaps saying quiet prayers during the day, and open access? Can we make sure we get the balance right? When there was terrorism that pinpointed aircraft, there was an immediate reaction, and a great deal of money flowed into security and protection. I do not see the urgency in the Home Secretary’s message to the House today that there is a real, imminent threat to religious worship in this country.
First, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issue of Christians who are being persecuted worldwide. That is why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was right to appoint the Bishop of Truro to look into this and report bac