House of Commons
Wednesday 15 May 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
We have been clear that ensuring that the police have the right resources and powers is a Government priority, which is why we are providing more than £1 billion of additional funding to the police in 2019-20, including precept, and additional funding for serious violence. Funding to the Welsh forces will increase by more than £43 million in 2019-20 compared with 2018-19.
I welcome the Minister to his place, but I wish he would not just regurgitate Tory twaddle. When the National Audit Office makes it clear that central Government funding to police has fallen by 30% in real terms since 2010-11, and when the cross-party Home Affairs Committee makes it clear that the funding structure is not fit for purpose, can we have some action? Can we have some standing up for Wales instead of the vacuous nonsense we get from this Tory Government?
It has to be said that anyone who wants to hear vacuous nonsense can just listen to those sort of attacks in the Chamber. Let us be clear: in 2015-16, the combined budget for North Wales police was £139.8 million; in 2019-20, it will be £115.8 million. That shows the increase in funding that is going on. Three out of the four forces in Wales are rated good for effectiveness, which is the subject of the main question.[Official Report, 20 May 2019, Vol. 660, c. 5MC.]
South Wales police are dealing with nearly 50% of all crimes reported in Wales in an environment of increased domestic violence, knife crime, serious crime and terrorism. Meanwhile, they face a greatly reduced budget and the loss of nearly 1,000 staff. South Wales police are doing a good job; when will the Government give them the resources and the support they need?
The Government recognise the pressures, for example, in the recent announcement of additional knife crime funding, South Wales police will receive £1.2 million. In 2015-16, South Wales police had a budget of £255.1 million; in 2019-20, its budget will be £290.3 million.
Will the Minister join me in commending Welsh police officers for some of their recent successes in bearing down on county lines drug operations, which increasingly target rural areas? We welcome the additional money that was announced last week for South Wales police, but does the Minister agree that all police forces in Wales, including my own force, Dyfed-Powys police, deserve extra resources to tackle this evil trade?
My right hon. Friend perfectly highlights the fact that crime does not stop at political borders. Criminals and gangs in England target victims in north Wales, south Wales and in his constituency. It is a priority and there has been a focus on tackling county lines. That shows the importance of working together across political boundaries to tackle a crime that all our constituents are concerned about.
Dyfed-Powys police and Gwent police work closely with West Mercia police on county lines issues, drug running and child trafficking. What is the Government’s view of the comments of Lynne Owens, director general of the National Crime Agency, that more funding is required for county lines issues?
I praise West Mercia police for their work to help tackle cross-border crime, particularly around county lines. The Government will always look to provide the powers and resources that the police need to tackle that, but it is also vital that we have joined-up working. It is also right that, as was touched on in the comments, we look to tackle the kingpins of those organisations, not just the street dealers, who we can see most easily.
If Welsh policing was devolved as is the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland, there would be a £20 million windfall for Welsh policing. Does it not show how bad the England and Wales grant system is that we were better off under the Barnett formula? Is it not time that the British Government dropped their ideological obsession against devolving policing to Wales?
I do not recognise the figures that have just been used. As we touched on in answers to two previous questions, crime does not stop at political boundaries. Criminal gangs in the north-west of England target victims in north Wales as much as victims within England. The real political obsession is that of Plaid, which wants to determine things on political boundaries, not on how communities and criminals work.
EU Withdrawal: Welsh Economy
The withdrawal agreement means we can leave the European Union with a deal that honours the referendum result, protects our economy and security and safeguards our Union. The best outcome for Wales and the Welsh economy is for the UK to leave the European Union in a smooth and orderly way.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point that further underlines why the deal we have negotiated with the European Union will work in the interests of Welsh manufacturers, Welsh agriculture and other sectors across the whole UK. The political declaration says “as frictionless as possible,” which is the objective we want to achieve.
The economy of Montgomeryshire is very dependent on the sheepmeat industry. Does the Secretary of State accept that retaining tariff-free access to the EU market is crucial to the future of all of rural Wales where sheepmeat is important? Will he do everything he can, alongside me and many others, to ensure that the withdrawal agreement is passed when it returns to the House?
My hon. Friend speaks with great authority and expertise, and he has been an extremely strong advocate for rural Wales in all the roles he has conducted, be it on the Development Board for Rural Wales, as an Assembly Member or, now, as a Member of Parliament. He is right about the withdrawal agreement and the support it has received both from the Welsh farming unions and from farmers directly because it will give them access to the European market and will allow them the freedoms that being an independent trading nation delivers, as well as stopping freedom of movement.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important point. I spoke to a director of Tata earlier this week and, along with a Minister from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, I will be meeting him next week. This is an important sector of the economy, not only for south Wales but for north Wales and the rest of the UK. The sector is of strategic importance, and we are determined to work to secure a steel sector deal that offers a long-term future.
Given that the Wales Office has no exclusive responsibility for any of the 300-odd work streams associated with Brexit and that we have had 20 years of devolution under a Welsh Government who have legislative and taxation powers, can the Secretary of State give the House a necessarily brief definition of his role and function?
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question. Of course the cross-Government responsibilities in which the Wales Office is active and interested go far and wide. I happily point to the crossings and the Severn toll as one example. Wales is also the only part of the UK to have a city and growth deal in every area.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer but, just for starters: electrification of the railway west of Cardiff, abandoned; electrification of the north Wales line, a pipe dream; the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, cancelled; the post-Brexit shared prosperity fund, handed to an England-only Department; and, as I said, the Wales Office has no exclusive Brexit responsibilities. Is not his function just to nod through Conservative policies, whatever the cost to Wales?
The hon. Gentleman should be practical and realistic in what he calls for. He will be fully aware that electrification of the railway to Swansea offers no tangible benefits to passengers. He will also be aware that the Public Accounts Committee called for re-analysis of each section of the electrification, and it was on that basis that we came to the same outcome by delivering the most modern trains, which happen to be hybrid. Is he seeking to support a tidal lagoon that would be three times the cost of an alternative green provider?
I have been working closely both with Cabinet colleagues and with the Welsh Government to ensure that Wales benefits from the industrial strategy. We have already delivered a number of projects in Wales, with Wales receiving £90 million from the industrial strategy challenge fund.
What is the Secretary of State’s Department doing to ensure that the north Wales growth deal actually happens, that the Heathrow logistics hub goes to Shotton and that more Welsh small and medium-sized enterprises work with our defence companies, such as Raytheon? He needs to get a grip on his Department—we have had more junior Wales Ministers than you could wave a stick at.
There have been countless engagements with local authority leaders across north Wales, and the growth deal is an important project. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, at the last Budget, we committed to funding for that scheme. It is a great example of where the Welsh Government, the UK Government and local authorities are working together. We are optimistic about signing and supporting a number of projects in the near future, but this is of course locally driven, and we are responsive to the demands and the drive of local authorities.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the negative impact that proposed factory closures and the suspension of major projects has had on my constituency and on north-west Wales. Unemployment is already rising in my constituency, so we need an action plan. What positive steps can the industrial strategy put in place now, and what is the role of the Wales Office in delivering that action plan?
The hon. Gentleman points to unemployment data, but I would also point to employment rates. Identifying individual months will clearly offer one picture, but I think he would recognise the record numbers of people in work and the trend in falling unemployment, irrespective of what happened last month.
On the industrial strategy, I would point to the thermal hydraulics facility in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, which will be world leading. That is just one tangible example, in addition to the active investments we are pursuing elsewhere in the marine environment.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the excellent work he is doing in supporting the mid Wales growth deal. The leader of Powys council was in Westminster last week, and I know she has met my hon. Friend. They have been key in co-ordinating and driving some of the themes that are developing from the deal. It is an exciting prospect, and they are working with Ceredigion council and the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), who has shown similar enthusiasm.
My hon. Friend raises an important question. I highlighted earlier the £90 million from the strength in places fund that had been made available to the UK’s industrial strategy, making Wales fourth in the UK for the value of grants it receives. That works, absolutely as my hon. Friend highlights, on a cross-border basis, and the industrial strategy deliberately talks about cross-border growth corridors.
The hon. Gentleman points to prospects that the tidal lagoon may have provided, but when we analyse the data, it shows that demand from the tidal lagoon would lead to less than a month’s output of steel, so I would suggest that he really look closely at the numbers. Was he advocating supporting a project that is three times more expensive than an alternative? The steel producers in his constituency would be extremely excited to get the go-ahead for the M4 relief road around Wales. The money is available and the planning recommendations are in favour—all we need is a decision from the Welsh Government.
The UK steel industry is undoubtedly a key part of the industrial strategy, but what benefit will the strategy bring specifically for Welsh steel making, which is important for my constituency, given that coil from Port Talbot is fundamental to tube production?
My hon. Friend is a strong champion of the steel industry. He recognises how the investments in his constituency will also be important to the investments taking place in south Wales. There has been renewal of the blast furnaces in south Wales, and we are working hard to secure a steel sector deal. Those things will support the industry in north Wales and south Wales, as well as in Corby and elsewhere across the UK.
Wales is ideally placed to develop pioneering renewable energy projects, especially in wave, tidal and hydro, and that could make an invaluable contribution to achieving net-zero carbon emissions. Will the Secretary of State assure us that Wales will receive sufficient support from the industrial strategy, and in particular the £2.5 billion clean growth fund, to realise its potential, and that Wales will not be left to rue missed opportunities yet again?
I have already pointed out that Wales is fourth out of any UK nation or region in terms of being successful in gaining grants from the industrial strategy challenge fund. Swansea University’s project for the active home is world-leading, using the latest materials to develop energy-positive properties, and just down the road from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is Pembroke Dock marina. These are exciting areas of policy from which his constituency can develop and take opportunities.
Shared Prosperity Fund
I have regular discussions with the Welsh Government on a range of issues, including the UK shared prosperity fund. Officials have also already held useful preliminary discussions with their Welsh Government counterparts, and they will of course continue.
A lot of people in Wales are worried that the shared prosperity fund is just a sneaky Tory plot to steal back a measure of devolution and cut our funds again. Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that that is not true? Will he start by telling us whether we will get £370 million in the first year of the shared prosperity fund?
Ensuring that all parts of Wales benefit from the UK shared prosperity fund is central to our approach. I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees with stakeholders throughout Wales, be they from businesses or local authorities, that there is a better way to deliver regional support than following the current model, which comes from the European Union. The hon. Gentleman seeks to tempt me to pre-empt the comprehensive spending review, which will of course talk about the quantum of the sum available.
The Secretary of State will be well aware that the £1.3 billion a year from EU structural funds is vital to economies such as those in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the north of England. There is no clarity about what the replacement, the shared prosperity fund, is going to look like, and there has been no consultation whatsoever. Why has there been such a delay in the consultation, which was meant to happen last year?
Similarly, I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that there is a better way of delivering regional support. Wales has received £4 billion over 17 years. We will consult shortly, but even ahead of that formal consultation lots of preliminary work is ongoing. For example, the Welsh Government and the UK Government were recently at St Asaph, where the Welsh Government jointly presented. That demonstrates the joint work that is taking place.
The Government are talking about awarding the money in Wales on the basis of a competition between different local authorities and areas. Can the Secretary of State quash that rumour? All the money will inevitably end up going to middle-class areas rather than to the areas of greatest need, such as the Rhondda. What is wrong with the fundamental principle of “From each according to his or her ability, to each according to his or her need”?
The hon. Gentleman is pre-empting the consultation. We will of course work with local authorities, and there are different views among local authorities throughout Wales on how we deliver the UK shared prosperity fund. The hon. Gentleman’s local authority will have some frustrations as well as some successes in relation to the current European structural funds model, on which we have an opportunity to improve.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the UK shared prosperity fund will mean that Wales will not lose a penny as a result of leaving the European Union? Will he also confirm that the funding could be used for projects such as the much needed Chepstow bypass?
The Chepstow bypass is of course a joint responsibility, but there is no doubt that my hon. Friend has campaigned vociferously for it for some time. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales visited the area within days of becoming a Minister, to work with my hon. Friend. I am determined to do everything necessary to ensure that we can deliver on that, but of course we need the Welsh Government to act as well and highlight it as one of their priorities.
The shared prosperity fund represents a huge opportunity for north Wales. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in designing the fund he will liaise closely with north Wales local authorities, and that he will urge his colleagues in the Treasury to avoid the temptation of simply passing it down to the black hole in Cardiff?
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. We are of course already liaising with stakeholders in Wales, and with local authorities in particular. There is a range of views among local authorities on how we should deliver the UK shared prosperity fund. I do not want to pre-empt the consultation, and we will of course consider all the relevant matters. My right hon. Friend and I will want to deliver a scheme that serves all parts of Wales. That is central to our policy to ensure that every part equally can win some investment.
May I welcome the new Minister, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), to his place and inquire whether he is on a temporary or permanent contract?
Our manifesto for the European elections states:
“Under Labour, no region or nation would lose out on funding, and power over decisions affecting investment will be taken in Scotland, Wales and in English regions.”
Will the Secretary of State tell us what his party’s European election manifesto says about EU funding in Wales post Brexit?
I do not need to read any manifesto because I can repeat what I and the Chancellor have said previously. We have already committed to fund any project that has been agreed before our departure from the European Union, even when the funding date falls beyond that point.
I am still not sure whether the Secretary of State has a manifesto. If he has one, it is incredibly well hidden. I could not find it. It is as well hidden as the UK shared prosperity consultation, which should have started before Christmas—where is it? Will he commit here and now to the principle of not a penny less, not a power lost for the people of Wales, and will he do his job for once and stand up for the people of Wales?
I will ensure that Wales receives its fair share. Let me point to the record of the hon. Lady’s party in government and my party’s record in government. As a result of the new fair funding settlement, Wales receives £120 for every £100 spent in England, far in excess of anything that her party ever did.
The Silk commission’s analysis in 2014 concluded that social security, including welfare, should remain non-devolved. This recommendation had cross-party support when it was considered under the St David’s Day process.
Does not the experience in Scotland, where even a limited devolution of social security powers has allowed the Scottish Government to mitigate the worst excesses of Tory austerity and reduce rates of absolute child poverty, show that devolution works, and is it not time to allow the Welsh Government to design a social security system that fits the character and the aspirations of the people of Wales?
I must say that those who look at the social security system and at devolution in Scotland may draw a different picture from that being presented by our separatist colleagues. The reality is that there were a number of powers devolved in the Scotland Act 2016 that their party in Holyrood has decided not to use. I am afraid that those looking at Scotland will come to a very different conclusion from the one that the hon. Gentleman suggests.
May I start by welcoming my hon. Friend to his place? As and when welfare powers are devolved, does he agree that it is important that we have devolved Administrations continuing to work with the Department for Work and Pensions to benefit those who most need support, rather than political posturing by those interested in breaking up the United Kingdom?
As always, my hon. Friend is right to say that it is time that the SNP-run Government in Holyrood focused more on the job of actually governing than on trying to build constitutional grievances. Yes, it is right that the DWP continues to work with all stakeholders across our United Kingdom to ensure that we provide the support that is needed as part of our welfare system.
I start by welcoming the hon. Lady to her seat and to her first Wales questions. I am sure that she will be as strong an advocate for her constituents as her predecessor, who was a much valued Member of this place.
The Government are committed to ensuring economic security for people at every stage of their life, including when they reach retirement. There were more than 100,000 claimants in Wales in receipt of pension credit in August 2018.
The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has found that £170 million of pension credit went unclaimed in 2016-17. This is a massive amount of money that could make a real difference to some of the poorest people in Wales. We know that pensioners in Wales are not taking up pension credit, but how are the Government monitoring this to note any recognisable trends, and what are they doing to ensure that pensioners in Wales receive the money that is rightfully theirs?
I would be concerned to hear of any person not getting the support that this Parliament has voted for them to have. We are engaging with people who may be eligible for these benefits at pivotal stages, such as when they claim state pension or report a change in their circumstances. We are also looking to work with stakeholders such as Independent Age and Age UK to discuss pension credit take-up across Great Britain. I encourage Members of Parliament to play a role in their constituencies.
Some 120,000 pensioners in Wales live in poverty. Today the Government have worsened their financial position with changes to pension credit for mixed-age couples, which will leave some married pensioners worse off by up to £7,000 a year. Will the Secretary of State meet the shadow Wales team, Citizens Advice Wales and pensioner organisations to listen to the just concerns and grievances of elderly citizens who have paid into the system their entire lives and now feel betrayed and left behind by this Government?
I suppose it is somewhat apt that a question on mixed-age couples comes to me—for those who know my own background. This is about balancing fairness between the taxpayers who pay for the pension system and welfare system, and those who need to benefit from it, and we do not believe that this change is unfair. However, we do need to ensure that those who are entitled to pension credit take it up and receive it. I am always happy to meet people to discuss how we can do that.
Colleagues, today Ms Gladys Kokorwe, the Speaker of the Botswanan Parliament, is visiting the House. Indeed, she is with us for the rest of the week, accompanied by a team of colleagues. Madam Speaker, we warmly welcome you to our Parliament; we value our relations with you and your country.
The Prime Minister was asked—
May I start by thanking the Mental Health Foundation for organising this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week? Having good mental health is vital to us all, which is why we are investing record levels in mental health. We want to ensure that people receive treatment and care when they need it.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I will today be joining world leaders and internet companies for a summit in Paris on tackling terrorist use of the internet.
I also support Mental Health Awareness Week.
Instead of a transplant providing my constituent Pauline Hunt with an improved and extended life, she has tragically received a death sentence after receiving a malignant kidney. Pauline rightly needs answers, and comfort that this will not happen to anyone else. Rather than her having to fight the system to get these answers, will the Prime Minister ensure that NHS Blood and Transplant undertakes a case review to identify why this malignancy was not picked up earlier and why red flags were not identified post-operation?
The hon. Gentleman has clearly raised a very concerning case, and has given some details here on the Floor of the House. I will ensure that the relevant Minister looks at the issue, because it is obviously a matter of concern if somebody receives something that they believe is going to give them their life but that is actually a malignant organ, as has happened in the case raised by the hon. Gentleman. I will ensure that the relevant Minister at the Department of Health looks into the matter.
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this issue, because we obviously recognise the importance of supporting young carers. We have published a cross-Government carers action plan that is committing to improve the identification of young carers’ educational opportunities and outcomes, as well as access to support and services. I am very happy to join him in congratulating Annette on this award and thanking her for the amazing work she has done and continues to do to support young carers. I also congratulate Rugby FM on identifying people in the community like Annette who are doing so much help the lives of others.
I join the Prime Minister in acknowledging Mental Health Awareness Week. I want to send my support to all those campaigning all across the country to raise awareness of mental health, and a message that all of us can do something about it by reaching out and talking to people going through a mental health crisis, and also ensuring that there is proper funding for our mental health services.
I would like to pay tribute to the former Labour MP for Birmingham, All Saints, Brian Walden, who passed away this week. He was a very formidable figure in this House and a very strong political interviewer who every politician really loved being interviewed by at the time—but they only said that afterwards.
I think it would also be only right that the House of Commons pays tribute to a leading Hollywood icon and campaigner for animal welfare, Doris Day, who passed away this week. I am tempted to quote some Doris Day songs, but I won’t. [Interruption.] All right—“Whip-Crack-Away!” [Interruption.] No, no, no. [Interruption.] I do apologise, Mr Speaker—I have obviously started a parliamentary singalong here.
Speaking of icons, it would be right to acknowledge that it is 40 years since my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) were both elected to this Parliament for the first time in the 1979 election.
In the last two years, nine of the UK’s richest hedge fund tycoons have donated £2.9 million to the Conservative party. Is this a Government for the many or one in the pockets of an elite few?
Let me first respond to some of the tributes that the right hon. Gentleman paid. I am sure that everybody across the House would wish to recognise the sad passing of somebody who gave many hours of entertainment through her films and career—Doris Day.
I would also like to congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) on having been elected to this House 40 years ago and having spent 40 years in this House. I also note that 40 years ago, of course, it was the election of Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative Government. It was always said that Margaret Thatcher had enjoyed being interviewed by Brian Walden, who did indeed not only have a career in this House but went on to have a very respected career in television journalism as a broadcaster and interviewer.
The right hon. Gentleman raises issues about fairness and equality, and those who are better off in our society. Can I just say to him that income inequality is down since 2010? As Conservatives, we want everyone to be better off, everyone to have good jobs, and everyone to have a better life. But that is always the difference between us and Labour: Labour wants to bring people down; we want to raise people up.
The Nobel prize-winning economist Sir Angus Deaton said that the UK risks having extreme inequality levels of pay, wealth and health. Of the G7 countries, only the United States is more unequal than the UK. Is that something the Prime Minister is proud of?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about income inequality and fairness. As I say, income inequality is down since 2010. The lowest paid have seen their wages grow the fastest since 2015. The top 1% are contributing more income tax than at any point under the last Labour Government, and thanks to the Conservatives, millions of the lowest paid are no longer paying any income tax at all. That is Conservatives delivering for everyone.
Real wages are lower than they were 10 years ago. How can it be fair that we live in a society where the average chief executive of a FTSE 100 company now earns 145 times the annual average salary in this country? Some of the lowest rates of pay are among young workers. That is why at the weekend, I announced that the next Labour Government will abolish the youth rates, because, quite simply, if you are old enough to do the job, you are old enough to be paid the wage to do the job. Does the Prime Minister agree with that principle?
The impact of the policy that the right hon. Gentleman has announced is actually that it will cost young people jobs. That is not just what I am saying. The director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the policy would
“end up having quite a negative effect on young people.”
But we do not need to rely on quotes to know what would happen to young people under a policy like that. We can just look at the record of the last Labour Government on youth employment. Under the last Labour Government, youth unemployment rose by 44%. Under the Conservatives in government, youth unemployment has fallen by 50%.
I seem to recall that it was the Conservative party that opposed the national minimum wage in 1997. I seem to recall that it was the Conservative party that predicted millions of jobs being lost because we wanted decent pay for people.
Why do this Government continue to punish our young people? Since 2010—[Interruption.] Well, since 2010, the Conservative party, with its Liberal Democrat accomplices, has trebled tuition fees, abolished the education maintenance allowance and cut child benefit. While wages remain lower than a decade ago and housing costs have soared, more and more food banks are opening up in Britain. In Great Yarmouth, one has just been opened for pupils at a school, and last week the Department for Business established a food bank for its own staff in its building on Victoria Street. Can the Prime Minister tell us what is going wrong in modern Britain when a Government office in the centre of London has a food bank for some of its very low-paid staff to get something to eat?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I think that the best way to ensure that people have a good, stable income for their families is to ensure that they are in work. This is the fourth question he has asked me, and in none of his questions so far has he welcomed the fact that employment is at record levels, and unemployment is down at a record low. The way he talks, you would think that inequality started in 2010.
One of the Labour Back Benchers shouts from a sedentary position, “It did!” Who was it who said that the last Labour Government
“ensured that the gap between the richest and the poorest in our society”
became “very much bigger?” Those are not my words; they are the words of the right hon. Gentleman, attacking his own Labour Government.
My question was about a food bank in a Government Ministry, which seems to suggest that in-work poverty is the problem in Britain.
The Trussell Trust handed out 1.6 million food parcels last year, half a million of which went to children. A new report out today by the End Child Poverty coalition shows that child poverty has risen by half a million and is becoming the new norm in this country. The End Child Poverty coalition called on Ministers to restore the link between inflation and social security. Will the Prime Minister do that, to try to reduce the disgraceful levels of child poverty in this country?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about helping those who are low paid. It is this Government—it is a Conservative Government—who introduced the national living wage. And what do we see? Under Labour, someone working full time on the national minimum wage would have taken home £9,200 a year. Now they take home over £13,700—£4,500 more under the Conservatives for the lowest paid. That is the Conservatives caring for the low paid in our society.
They may have changed the name, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that child poverty will rise to over 5 million by 2022 at the current rate because of the strategies being followed by the right hon. Lady’s Government.
When the wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain has increased by £50 billion in one year, but there is not enough money to properly feed our children or pay workers a decent wage, we have failed as a society. This country is seeing the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, while the Government are in the pockets of a super-rich elite. More children in poverty, more pensioners in poverty, more people struggling to make ends meet: when are the right hon. Lady and her Government going to reverse the tax giveaways to the super-rich and make sure they pay their fair share of taxes, so we can end the scandal—and it is a scandal—of inequality in modern Britain?
In fact, as I have pointed out, the top 1% are paying more in income tax today than they ever did under a Labour Government. But what have we seen from Labour in just the past week? The Labour party has a plan for a system where everybody in this country would get benefits. That means handouts to hedge fund managers paid for by tax hikes on working people. Labour’s policy—money for the rich, paid by taxes on the poor.
Of course, we are already putting record levels of funding into our schools—£43.5 billion. My hon. Friend is trying to tempt me to talk about the spending review that is upcoming, but I can assure him that we are committed to improving education for every child, because I absolutely passionately believe that we should be making sure that how far a child goes in life depends not on their background, their circumstances or who their parents are, but on their individual talents and their hard work. Everybody in this country should be able to go as far as their talents and their hard work will take them.
I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in welcoming Mental Health Awareness Week.
Mr Speaker, pending your approval, we now know that the Prime Minister’s three-times defeated Brexit deal will return yet again in June. Can the Prime Minister tell us: has a back-room agreement been reached with the Leader of the Opposition to sell out the people of Scotland and to force her shoddy deal through?
I am not quite sure what that had to do with the question. You might at least try, Prime Minister, to answer the question. The people of Scotland are none the wiser about what is going on in the secret Tory-Labour talks. Scotland’s people, and the will of the Scottish Parliament, are being ignored. Enough is enough. Why is the Prime Minister so afraid of giving the people of Scotland their say? The fact is, at the European elections next week the people of Scotland will make their voices heard, whether Westminster likes it or not. Next Thursday, the people of Scotland can vote SNP to stop Brexit and to send a clear message that Scotland will not be ignored any more.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the people of Scotland not knowing where things stand. Well, the people of Scotland will know where things stand if the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues vote for the withdrawal agreement Bill and ensure that we leave the European Union. If people want to vote for a party that not only is a Brexit party but is a party in government that can deliver Brexit, they should vote Conservative.
I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that we do indeed remain committed, and not just to delivering Brexit and to securing a majority in this House to do just that; I can reassure him on his specific points. In leaving the European Union, we want to—we will—end free movement, restore full control over our immigration policy, open up new trading opportunities around the world and end the days of sending vast payments to the European Union, and we will not pay for market access. He mentions commitments that were made at the last election. He and I both stood on a manifesto promising to deliver the best possible deal for Britain as we leave the European Union, delivered by a smooth, orderly Brexit, as we seek a new deep and special partnership, including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement with the European Union. I am committed to those objectives. I believe that we have negotiated a good deal that delivers on those and I am determined to deliver it.
We are investing in the future and not the past. That is why we have been encouraging issues like electric vehicles—the battery technology that is being developed here in the UK. The hon. Gentleman talks about our interest and our support for what we need to do on climate change. Just look at our record. Our renewable energy capacity has quadrupled since 2010; annual support for renewables will be over £10 billion by 2021; 99% of solar power deployed in the UK has been deployed under the Conservatives in government; and we have been decarbonising at a faster rate than any other country in the G20.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to abide by, and will abide by, the Government’s commitment to publish a Green Paper on adult social care. We want to ensure that, when we do that, we are able to bring forward proposals that deliver the answer, or possible answers, to the question we have to ask ourselves, which is how we can ensure that the social care system is sustainable into the future. We will be publishing it at the earliest opportunity and it will set out those proposals to ensure that the social care system is sustainable in the longer term.
From the hon. Gentleman’s references to those of us across this House, it is obvious that his charm offensive to become the next Speaker has already started. May I also say to him that it is in the interests of Scotland that it remains part of the United Kingdom, and in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom that we deliver on what people voted for in the referendum and deliver Brexit?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments about the increasing number of children in Somerset in good and outstanding schools. It is indeed, as she says, our management of the strong economy that enables us to put more money into our public services, such as education. That is why we are putting a record level of funding into schools this year, giving every local authority more money for every pupil in every school. We have introduced the new funding formula to make distribution fairer across schools across the country. We want to keep on improving education for every child so that, as I said in response to an earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), we have the opportunity to ensure that every child can go on and achieve their full potential.
What is important as children go through their education is that we make sure they are receiving the right education for them and we make sure that schools are providing the right quality of education. Simple tests that enable judgments to be made about where children are in relation to their learning through their school career are, I believe, right. It is right that they were introduced and it is right that they continue.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of mental health in universities. It is important and it is a priority for the Government. NHS England is already working closely with Universities UK, through the Mental Health in Higher Education programme, to build the capability and capacity of universities to improve student welfare services and access to mental health services. However, I am happy to ask both the Health and Education Secretaries to consider options to look at the issue further.
This House voted for the referendum. The Government at the time said they would abide by the decision of the referendum. The people voted, the people made their choice, and it is right that the Government deliver on that choice and deliver Brexit.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned his coming into this House and that he has been serving his constituents for 40 years. He mentioned prosperity. Actually, in 1979 it was a Conservative Government that came in and turned around all the problems of a Labour Government and gave this country prosperity.
On behalf of animal lovers across the country, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on introducing Lucy’s law to stamp out the horrific and barbaric practice of puppy and kitten farming? However, this law applies only to England. With the Welsh consultation closing this week, does my right hon. Friend agree that unless the SNP Government now act to introduce Lucy’s law, there is a real risk of Scotland becoming a hub for unscrupulous puppy farmers? Scotland cannot be left behind.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I congratulate him on the work he did on this issue—he raised it regularly and championed the cause. It is ironic that, as an MP for a Scottish seat, he was able to help to change the law here in England and ensure it was brought in, yet the SNP Government in Scotland are not willing to change the law. It is time the SNP Government got on with the day job and started legislating for things that matter to people in Scotland.
The hon. Lady knows full well my response to the question about going back to the people. The people were given the choice as to whether we should stay in the European Union in the referendum in 2016. They voted, they gave their decision, and it is up to not just this Government but this House to respect the decision taken when we as a Parliament gave people that choice.
At a crucial time, may I take this opportunity to highlight the absolutely vital importance of supporting British Steel and in particular its world-leading special profiles division at Skinningrove in my constituency? It is a profitable business and a jewel in the crown of UK steel making. I urge my right hon. Friend to deliver a productive outcome to the ongoing talks as swiftly as possible.
My hon. Friend raises an important point about British Steel. Obviously, I cannot comment on the speculation about the future of Greybull Capital-owned British Steel. I realise this is a worrying time for those employed there and their families. As everybody across this House would expect, the Business Department is in regular contact with a wide range of sectors and companies. Of course, last month the Government entered into a commercial agreement with British Steel relating to its obligations under the EU emissions trading scheme, which has provided support to that company.
I have not seen the charter yet. I will look carefully at it, but, as I have said in response to a number of questions on this issue, what is important is that we have in this country an economy that enables people to get into good jobs. That is what we are delivering as a Conservative party in government. That is what enables people to have that stability in their income, and that is what enables people to be able to care for their children.
Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the final evaluation of the national bereavement care pathway, which found that nine in 10 parents who had suffered the loss of a child—[Interruption]—felt they were treated sensitively and with respect? [Interruption.]
Not only did the hon. Lady pass the test; so too did the national bereavement care pathway. It also found that eight in 10 healthcare professionals felt supported to deliver good-quality bereavement care. Does the Prime Minister agree that these results are a rallying call to the remaining NHS trusts to adopt the care pathway and ensure that all bereaved parents receive better bereavement care?
I realise that this issue is close to the hearts of many Members across the House, including my hon. Friend’s. She has spoken most movingly on this subject. I thank the all-party group on baby loss for all its work. We recognise that all bereaved parents should be offered the same high standard of care and support in an appropriate environment. These results show the benefit of the national bereavement care pathway. It has already helped to strengthen support for many bereaved families across the country, and I certainly urge all trusts to adopt this approach.
I recognise the important role that trade unions play in our democracy and the work that can be done with them to enhance workers’ rights in this country. That is exactly what the Government are doing. We want to see workers’ rights enhanced and improved and are already on track to do that. I look forward to our continuing to be able to do so in the future.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister about a family in my constituency who desperately needed the life-changing drug Spinraza. This morning we have the wonderful news that it will be made available in England. Will she now press for a managed access agreement to be put in place as soon as possible, because the children who need this drug cannot afford to wait a single day longer?
My hon. Friend raised a very important issue at the time, and I am very pleased that NHS England and Biogen have agreed a deal that enables NICE to recommend this revolutionary new treatment. As he said, it has the potential to transform the lives of young children with spinal muscular atrophy and their families, and I will certainly ensure that the Department of Health and Social Care acts on his request that it be made available as quickly as possible.
The family courts system should never be used to coerce or re-victimise those who have been abused, and the child’s welfare must be the paramount consideration of the court in any proceedings. I am pleased that the president of the family division published new draft guidelines just last week that provided greater clarity on issues around the family courts, such as increasing transparency. The Ministry of Justice has not seen evidence to suggest a public inquiry is necessary, but I will ensure that the new Minister of State meets the hon. Lady to discuss the concerns she has raised.
Will the Prime Minister congratulate the hard-working campaign team in Redditch who secured an increased majority on the borough council in the local elections earlier this month? Will she visit Redditch to find out how they are putting in place plans to unlock Redditch, and will she recommit her Government’s resources to the crucial issue of regenerating towns and high streets up and down the country?
I am very happy to congratulate all those campaigners—those elected councillors—on their success in the Redditch Borough Council election, and I am pleased to see the council moving forward with its plans to improve the town. Certainly we remain committed: we have allocated sums to ensure that we see improvements in towns up and down the country, and we continue our commitment to that. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the invitation. I will ensure that my diary secretary is aware of it, and we will see whether it is possible.
My constituent Gerald Corrigan was shot with a crossbow outside his home on Good Friday. This weekend, he died of those severe injuries. I am sure that the House will join me in sympathising with his family, his partner and his friends. The community is in shock. Will the Prime Minister join me in appealing to the public for any information that they may have, and to give that information to North Wales police in confidence? Will she assure me that, in view of the number of such incidents, the law on crossbows will be reviewed, and will she also ensure that the police have enough resources to conduct what is now a murder inquiry?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very worrying case, and, as he says, the thoughts of the whole House are with the family, friends and partner of his constituent. It is terrible to hear of an incident such as this. The Home Secretary has heard what the hon. Gentleman said about the law on crossbows, and I absolutely join him in encouraging any member of the public who has any information about what happened to get in touch with the police. There is, of course, the anonymous route, which enables people who may be concerned about giving information to the police to ensure that it reaches them without being identified. If anyone knows anything that could help the police to catch those responsible, I urge them to come forward.
For more than 20 years I have worked with an incredible group of Conservatives in Wellingborough and Rushden. They raise money for the party, they deliver leaflets and they knock on doors, week in, week out. This Saturday, some 40 of us went out campaigning for the European elections.
Unfortunately, Sir, I have here a letter from those Conservatives, addressed to the Prime Minister. They say that her deal is worse than staying in the European Union, and that they want us to come out now on a no-deal basis. More importantly, Sir, they have lost confidence in the Prime Minister, and wish her to resign before the European elections. Prime Minister, what message have you for those dedicated and loyal Conservatives?
First, let me thank all members of the Conservative party across the country who campaign regularly in elections of all sorts. We have just heard about the group in Redditch Borough Council who succeeded in getting excellent results in the council election. I thank all those Conservatives for the time and effort that they put into promoting the Conservative cause.
Secondly, let me say to Conservatives up and down the country who are concerned about delivering Brexit that this is a Government who want to deliver Brexit, and have been working to deliver Brexit. Sadly, so far the House of Commons has not found a majority to do that. If everyone in the House of Commons had voted alongside the Government and the majority of Conservative Members of Parliament, we would already have left the European Union.
The people of Hornsey and Wood Green are completely distraught because a British Council worker, Aras Amiri, has been suddenly imprisoned in Iran. The Foreign Secretary is kindly having a meeting with me and the family on Friday, but will the Prime Minister please condemn this action by Iran, and will she please speak to President Rouhani urgently about this terrible situation?
Obviously, we are concerned. We are always concerned when any individual is sentenced purely on the basis of their employment with an entirely legitimate institution, as has happened in this case. It is utterly shocking, and I am deeply concerned by the turn of events. My thoughts are with the individual and her family at this time.
As the hon. Lady says, the Foreign Secretary is taking the issue up. The Government will press the case and the concerns that have been raised, but sadly the arrest of this individual shows Iran’s attitude to entirely legitimate organisations that are trying to foster better relations and cultural understanding between countries.
The Prime Minister is rightly regarded by Scottish Conservatives as a trenchant champion of the Union—and thank goodness for that. Does she agree that the UK shared prosperity fund is an opportunity to strengthen the Union? Will she confirm that the fund will be led by the needs of communities, and will not be Barnettised?
It is absolutely right that we have an opportunity, with the shared prosperity fund, to ensure that we recognise the ways in which we can reduce disparities between communities and between the nations within the United Kingdom. As my hon. Friend said, it is absolutely right that that should be led by the needs on the ground. We should make sure that the money is spent effectively, and that it delivers for people. That is our intention.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Forty-two years ago, in the early hours of the morning, a brave British soldier from 3 Company 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards was abducted or captured by the IRA. Captain Robert Nairac was my captain. He was a gentleman who, in the boxing ring, broke my nose—the first person to have done so. We still do not know what happened to him. The country owes a debt to our soldiers in Northern Ireland, and particularly to those who have given the utmost for their country. Mr Speaker, is there any way for me to mark 42 years since Captain Robert Nairac gave his life for this country and for the peace of Northern Ireland?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am mindful of the respect that should be shown to the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning). On 31 January, I sought and received an assurance from the Attorney General that any proposal that was brought forward to protect veterans would apply equally across the United Kingdom. In fact, he said it would be plainly wrong should it not apply equally. I am therefore perturbed to read in the press—and not hear in this House—that proposals brought forward to protect veterans from our country will not apply to Northern Ireland. Aside from the discourtesy to this House, it shows scant regard for people the length and breadth of the United Kingdom who stood to protect our interests, our values and our democracy. Mr Speaker, are you aware of any indication from the Defence Secretary that she intends to make an oral statement on the matter?
I will respond to that point of order before coming to others. I have not been advised of any imminent statement by the Secretary of State, or indeed any other Minister, but I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I recognise that this is a matter on which there are very strong feelings indeed. If he is dissatisfied with what he believes to be the Government’s intention, and with the absence of any confirmatory oral statement to clarify the matter, it is open to him to seek to air that further in the Chamber by means that are well known to him.
The nodding of the head in assent to my proposition by his right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds), the leader of his party, is testimony to their recognition of what I am saying. If they want to return to the matter very soon, it is open to them to seek to do so.
I am very sensitive to the point that the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) has raised, but rather than giving an inevitably provisional and possibly unsatisfactory reply off the top of my head, I say to him that I am very open to the idea of recognition in the way that he suggests. It seems to me that that warrants further discussion, and if he wants to come to see me, either alone or accompanied by colleagues—particularly if it is a cross-party delegation—I would be very open to seeing him and to exploring whether, and if so how, recognition might be provided. Meanwhile, I will of course take other points of order.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State for Defence announced overnight that she would introduce a Bill to bring in a 10-year statute of limitations on the kind of cases that we have been hearing about, but excluding those relating to Northern Ireland. Am I right in believing that that Bill would be amendable and that therefore, if the House chose to do so, we could bring Northern Ireland into it?
I have not seen the said Bill; I do not know whether it is yet drafted. I might be taking a modest risk in saying this, but with very few exceptions, Bills are amendable. Indeed, the concept of the unamendable Bill is by no means empirically proven. Sometimes people draft Bills in the hope that they cannot be amended, but their hope is usually dashed. I have no reason to suppose that a Bill of the type that the hon. Gentleman describes would be unamendable, and if it required a fertile mind, that would be no bar to the efforts and perspicacity of the hon. Gentleman.
Further to the point of order made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), Mr Speaker. Captain Nairac was posthumously awarded the George Cross, our highest civilian gallantry award. May I remind the House that he was tortured heinously for several hours, beaten up and hit with a wooden post. Eventually, an IRA terrorist killer came to him and said, “You’ve had it.” Apparently, Robert Nairac then said very little except to ask for God’s grace. He died in an incredibly gallant way, and I agree with you, Mr Speaker, that we should recognise the gallantry of this man.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I was particularly interested to hear him develop his point fully, even though it was not entirely a point of order, out of respect for the track record of not only his political service but his military service, which is well known across the House and which itself has been marked by extraordinary professionalism, resilience and bravery.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I entirely concur with my hon. and gallant Friends, and I welcome your approach to recognising Captain Robert Nairac, who served with such distinction and who died in such appalling circumstances. As I understand it, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is going to make a written statement rather than an oral statement—[Interruption.] She is nodding; perhaps I have got that wrong. I should like to make the point, if I may, that this pursuit of 200 of our armed forces veterans for things that were allegedly done many years ago is totally unacceptable and it must end forthwith.
The hon. Gentleman has made his point with force and alacrity, and it will have been heard on the Treasury Bench. There is certainly no confirmation of the notion of a written statement, and he will have seen dissent from that proposition. I am aware that consideration has been given to a statement, but I think it would be seemly if we were to leave it there and await the development of events. I say in all courtesy to the hon. Gentleman, and I do not expect him to dissent from this, that I do not want to produce a ranking list today, but suffice it to say that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has in my experience been among the most courteous of members of the Government in keeping the Chair informed of her intentions and trying to do the right thing by the House. I have found her absolutely fastidious in that regard. Let us just wait to see how events unfold. I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said, and I respect the sincerity with which he said it, just as I respect his own background as a soldier, which I am sure has motivated him today.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am seeking your advice on an issue relating to my constituent, Sabir Zazai. Mr Zazai is to be honoured by the University of Glasgow for his service to civil society over the past 20 years. He is the chief executive officer of the Scottish Refugee Council. Understandably, he wishes his family to join him on that very special occasion but unfortunately Mr Zazai’s father’s visit visa has been refused. I have written to the Home Secretary about this matter, but his Department has unfortunately declined to intervene and referred my office back to UK Visas and Immigration, which has a 20 working day timeframe. The graduation is on 11 June, and the next opportunity for Home Office questions will not be until 3 June. Can you advise me of any other means or channels that I could use to raise this matter directly with the Home Secretary?
To a considerable extent, the hon. Gentleman has achieved his own salvation. He has aired the matter on the Floor of the House, and I rather imagine that the fact he has done so will quickly be communicated to the Government. If he is in any doubt on that point, he should try to ensure that his words are conveyed to UKVI sooner rather than later, and I would hope that some resolution can be achieved. The idea that the award should have to be deferred to some subsequent date naturally occurs, but it would be regrettable and I very much hope that he can achieve a speedy resolution to this matter. I quite understand why he wants this to happen, as anyone receiving such an award would naturally want to receive it duly accompanied.
WhatsApp Data Breach
(Urgent Question): After that significant and important point of order from the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), I would like to ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to make a statement on the WhatsApp data breach.
I am responding to this question from the shadow Secretary of State because the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is in Paris for the G7 Digital Ministers meeting. He is meeting political and digital leaders from across the world, including senior representatives of Facebook, which owns Whatsapp, to ensure that the technology that is an increasing part of our daily lives is developed and managed in a safe and ethical manner.
I share the concern of all Members of the House about WhatsApp’s announcement of this vulnerability and the steps that it is taking to address it. In this instance, the National Cyber Security Centre has acted quickly to assess the risk to UK users and to publish guidance for our user base here in the UK. The NCSC has recommended that users protect their devices by installing updates as soon as they become available, and I would encourage any users with concerns to check the NCSC website. It is right that people should have confidence that their personal data will be protected and used fairly and lawfully.
The Data Protection Act 2018, which the Government passed last year, imposes strict obligations on organisations to ensure that UK citizens’ data is processed safely, securely and transparently. Organisations that fail to comply with the legislation may be investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which received extra resources and more powers last year during the passage of that Bill. WhatsApp has designated the Irish Data Protection Commission as its European national regulator, and the ICO will work with and support its Irish counterpart so that the data of UK citizens is protected.
Cyber-security is of paramount importance to this Government, and our cyber-security strategy, which is supported by £1.9 billion of investment, sets out ambitious policies to protect UK citizens and businesses in cyber-space. Trust is the foundation of our digital economy. Cyber-security is absolutely vital in providing the stability and certainty that businesses need to thrive, and the public must have confidence in it.
Here we are again: another day, another major data breach from a Mark Zuckerberg company. I am glad that the Secretary of State is with Facebook today, because we can suggest a number of questions for him to put to Facebook.
First, what has happened? Spyware called Pegasus, created by the Israeli security company NSO Group, has been used to hack the phones of lawyers and human rights activists. The news reports read like a nightmare: a dystopian world of tech-enabled total surveillance. The spyware transits malicious code via a WhatsApp call. The target does not even need to answer the call for the phone to be infected. According to The New York Times, once the spyware is installed, it can extract everything: messages, contacts, GPS location, email and browser history. It can even use the phone’s camera and microphone to record the user’s surroundings. That is terrifying.
About 1.5 billion people worldwide use WhatsApp and millions are here in the UK. Many of them will have been drawn to the service for its unique selling point: end-to-end encryption that ensures user privacy. Now we find that a gap in WhatsApp’s defences has enabled complete violation of that privacy. What is the Minister doing to work with GCHQ, the National Cyber Security Centre and tech industry players to protect the UK’s digital communications and privacy?
Media reports say that WhatsApp contacted the US Department of Justice earlier this month when it found out about the hack, but when was the Minister notified about it? When was the Information Commissioner informed? How many users in the UK are affected? Have those affected been notified? If the Minister does not know the answers, will she commit to updating the House when she does?
The spyware was licensed for export by the Israeli Government. What assurances can the Minister provide to social media companies that any digital surveillance products that the UK exports will not be misused to track and monitor human rights defenders? The particular vulnerability of WhatsApp was the voice over internet protocol—the process for receiving calls over the internet. As telecoms companies modernise, they are all moving away from calls over copper lines and phasing in calling via the internet. What is the Minister doing to ensure that those companies do not have vulnerabilities such as those we are discussing today?
The attack looks as if it was carried out by malicious actors, possibly other state actors, trying to close down journalists, dissidents, human rights activists and lawyers seeking justice, but exactly that kind of surveillance was given legal basis in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and I fought in the courts and won concessions on. The Government want tech companies to build back doors into their services, but this is an example of what happens if malicious actors find those doors: those who are fighting for justice and what is right come under attack. The Government must not allow that to happen.
I share the shadow Secretary of State’s outrage and shock at this latest development and I agree that such transgressions happen far too frequently. At the Paris summit, the Secretary of State has already raised his deep concern about the latest report with Nick Clegg, the head of global affairs and communications for Facebook—[Laughter.] I am sorry that hon. Members find that amusing, but he is the senior head of global affairs for Facebook. He sits on the main board and is therefore the appropriate person for my Secretary of State to raise this matter with at the outset.
Of course, I share the shadow Secretary of State’s particular concern. WhatsApp is an encrypted service and therefore users are entitled to have even greater confidence in their privacy when they use it than when they use other social media platforms. The hon. Gentleman asked me what we are doing about it and when I was informed. I was informed of the breach, along with everybody else, earlier this week. I will have to find out from my Secretary of State later today exactly when he was informed.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern that the spyware was placed seemingly so easily on the WhatsApp service through using the phone contact part of it merely to call another number. That call, whether it was answered or not, meant that the spyware was installed directly on the user’s device. It is extremely worrying.
We are fortunate in Britain to have the National Cyber Security Centre and GCHQ, which are across those matters daily. We recently published the third cyber-security strategy, which includes several cyber-defence measures that are taken routinely and constantly, and updated. They are designed to deter and disrupt adversaries, to develop critical capabilities in the UK and to address systemic vulnerabilities as soon as they are identified. I meet the NCSC executive reasonably regularly and I take my responsibilities for cyber-security from the Department’s perspective extremely seriously.
I share the concern that a state could use this kind of attack to monitor human rights activists. That is deeply worrying. I am assured by the NCSC that we should all follow its current advice and that it is investigating the likelihood of any UK users being victims of the latest attack. As yet, I have no further information on that point to give to the House.
Does the Minister agree that the incident reveals the evolving nature of the threat from cyber-space, and that the Government need to redouble their efforts across Government to work on the national cyber-security strategy, as well as to develop co-operative relationships with businesses, large and small, so that the threats can be robustly combated?
My hon. Friend is right that the threat is evolving all the time and morphing from one aspect to another. It is therefore important that we keep business and citizens informed of what they can best do to protect themselves against the threats. As part of the national cyber-security strategy, we provide advice: the Cyber Essentials guide for businesses of all sizes and a small business guide on the NCSC website. The NCSC can provide tailored advice to companies when they are under a particular threat.
This massive cyber-security breach underlines why we need to be part of the European institutions designed to tackle those issues. For example, leaving the European Defence Agency and its policies will make the UK substantially more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
The Minister was asked about the timing of the information. The hack was discovered a month ago, so when exactly did the company alert the Government and the security services? Have the Government taken any action? The US Justice Department was apparently told last week. Have the security services ever used the Pegasus malware or similar spyware software? Do the Government have any contracts with the NSO Group, which in 2018 had revenues of $251 million, or indeed with WhatsApp?
In relation to our membership of the European Union and impending Brexit, as long as Britain leaves with a deal, preferably the deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated, we will have continued access on a smooth basis to much of that vital information.
The hon. Gentleman asks when the Government were informed. I answered that question in my reply to the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson). I was informed earlier this week, and I will find out from the Secretary of State when he was informed; I suspect he was informed earlier than I was.
On Pegasus and other types of malware, I can assure the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) that GCHQ and the NCSC ensure that this country has excellent, state-of-the-art malware detection systems in play at all times.
People largely believed that as WhatsApp is encrypted, it is a safe app. Now we suddenly discover that perhaps it is not safe after all. This is deeply worrying and has caused deep unease in society. What is the Minister doing to restore public confidence in data protection? We have various Acts in place, but we have to restore that confidence. Can she give assurances that Mr Zuckerberg has fixed the flaw and will be brought to task?
I will answer the questions that I can answer. I cannot speak for what Facebook and WhatsApp are doing, but I can assure my hon. Friend that, as part of the general data protection regulation across Europe, the Data Protection Act has put in place the strongest privacy standards, rules and laws anywhere in the world. In our Information Commissioner’s Office we have the best resourced ICO in Europe, and we gave the commissioner enhanced powers last year. The ICO has shown itself to be superb in utilising those powers.
This WhatsApp scandal demonstrates again that the Government’s online harms White Paper is too little, too late, as it deals only with harms arising from user-generated content. What we need is a robust regulatory framework that assigns rights and responsibilities.
When a vulnerability is identified, as the Minister has said, it is essential to install an update as quickly as possible. Too many of our citizens still do not have access to fixed wireless broadband and will be obliged to install the update over a mobile network, incurring significant charges. Who should pay those charges?
I reassure the hon. Lady that we already have robust legislation in place through the introduction of GDPR. We also have competition law and a number of agencies. Indeed, Opposition Members usually complain that we have too many regulatory bodies in this space. We have the Competition and Markets Authority, Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office, and we will be setting up a powerful regulator on the back of our online harms White Paper. People should be taking more responsibility for the security of their devices, and the NCSC has very good user advice on its website.
No Government would find it easy to cope with the rapidly changing character of technology and its associated protocols, and I congratulate the Minister on both her diligence and commitment. I am pleased that, as the former Minister responsible, I put in place the means and methods to deal with this issue in the form of the strategy and the NCSC. However, would she acknowledge that, for too long, we assumed that these big tech companies could be asked, not told; and requested, not obliged? We cannot be too tough in dealing with these matters, for at risk is the welfare of our citizenry and our nation.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his previous work. I strongly agree with his thesis that a voluntary approach of asking companies for their co-operation has not produced the needed change in a timely manner, which is exactly why in the White Paper we published last month we concluded that statutory regulation that places on companies a duty of care for their users, backed up by a powerful regulator, is the answer to these problems.
I am sure the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) is absolutely delighted to have been congratulated by the Minister on the delivery of his thesis, as he is of a notable academic and, some would say, even philosophical bent.
Following this very serious WhatsApp security breach, what assurances can the Minister provide that social media companies in the UK will ensure that the products they export cannot be misused to track or monitor human rights activists and others who might themselves subsequently face human rights abuses? Can she also inform the House specifically whether any MP has been targeted?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, but I can say that the early investigations point to this being a highly targeted attack. As I said earlier, the NCSC is investigating whether UK citizens, including Members of this House, might have been the butt of the attack. We await further information on that.
It is somewhat ironic that the former Home Secretary tried to get WhatsApp to overcome its security so that, for national security purposes, we could access messages.
What messages have been given to British aid workers working overseas and to people working in human rights environments who may be vulnerable to attack if WhatsApp messages are leaked? Surely they should be given a very strong message not only to upgrade but to be very cautious about their use of WhatsApp until this problem is fixed.
I agree with my hon. Friend that such attacks undermine the confidence of users, which is why it is in the interests of manufacturers to make sure that security is much more heavily designed into their software products and devices before they are released to the consumer.
The 1.5 billion WhatsApp users worldwide—millions of them here in the UK—have been attracted by its end-to-end encryption and the guarantee that their messages are secure, but they are relying on old-fashioned media to find out about this breach and to be told to update devices. What conversations has the Minister or the Secretary of State had with WhatsApp to prompt it to alert users to update the app? At the moment, I fear that many of the millions of WhatsApp users here in the UK will not have updated their app, and they should do so urgently.
I agree with the hon. Lady that on hearing about this—it is ironic that people have to hear about it through traditional print media and television—they really should update WhatsApp. People should get into the habit of installing security updates whenever they are prompted to do so by an app, and they should do it proactively. It is easy to visit the app store and select all updates, which is a routine security precaution that users should take.
This is obviously a very serious data breach, as acknowledged on both sides of the Chamber. Of course, the recent Data Protection Act enhances the powers of the Information Commissioner’s Office, which could implement a fine of up to 4% of global revenue. Facebook’s revenue last quarter was over £16 billion, which could go quite a long way to helping cover the costs of our security services in countering the challenges in the digital space. Does the Minister believe that a fine would be appropriate in these circumstances?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of the significant powers that the ICO now has. Of course, the powers are there to enforce and protect the privacy of UK users. It remains to be seen whether UK users have been affected by this breach but, if they have, I am sure the ICO will make further inquiries.
I declare my interest, as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I am sure the Minister will want to encourage the increasing number of her colleagues who have their own budding leadership WhatsApp groups to update their app. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) made an important point that this is not only about encryption but about the connection between devices and the transition from the old copper cables to the VoIP system of broadband connectivity. This is a question for Ofcom, not the ICO, so what conversations is the Minister having with Ofcom about the security standards for connections over the internet-based communications network?
I am afraid the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) was less than convincing. The reality is that WhatsApp is a critical app that is used in everyday life by millions of people across the UK. It is therefore of national importance that its resilience is protected, and the state has an interest in making sure that that happens. Why is the Minister not compelling WhatsApp to ensure that all users in the United Kingdom are alerted to the potential data breach and are obliged to upgrade the software accordingly?
I think that that is precisely the content of the discussion my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had with Facebook just this morning. I agree with the hon. Gentleman: WhatsApp and any other platform where there has been a serious breach of this kind should take responsibility for informing its entire user base immediately. I completely concur with that.
There will be millions of people with a serious concern that their data—their conversations with loved ones and business contacts—has been stolen by this spyware, and they will want to know that someone is being held accountable. Does the Minister now agree that it is time to add Government pressure to the pressure from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee to have Mark Zuckerberg come to Parliament to explain what has gone wrong with Facebook and WhatsApp, and to make sure we can restore some public trust in him and his company?
It is vital that we hold platforms—in this case, WhatsApp—to account for breaches that have occurred. If these breaches have resulted in UK users’ data being compromised, the ICO has the powers to investigate them thoroughly. It also has a sanctions regime, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) pointed out includes a potential fine of up to 4% of global turnover. The ICO has proved itself to be a forceful regulator, and I am sure it will be watching this space with great interest.
Although we know that data breaches have happened previously, the difficulty is that we have had no adequate response from Facebook since evidence of those data breaches came through. Is not the reality that we have to have legislation in place? We are now in an election period, with WhatsApp and closed Facebook groups being used, as we speak, in electoral campaigning, but the law has not changed since the DCMS Committee, on which I serve, raised these issues. We have yet another instance of shutting the door after the horse has bolted. We have to act, and the Cabinet Office and the Select Committee need, as a matter of urgency, to take forward steps relating to the electoral position, which is so vulnerable and about which we will learn nothing before polling day next Thursday.
The hon. Gentleman raises a subject that is top of my priority list at the moment. My Department works with the Cabinet Office on making our electoral laws fit for the internet age. As he made clear, there is a huge requirement in terms of updating, and I have read the Select Committee report, which is extremely alarming. The ICO is undertaking a number of investigations into matters of concern around our democracy and the security of our democracy. I advise all Members to have a good look at the ICO website, where they should find a draft political code of practice—which the ICO has developed under the powers handed to it under the Data Protection Act last year—with advice to political parties on how they use social media platforms and the data available to them from those platforms. It is a very serious matter.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have just looked at the version history of the WhatsApp advice on what to update. There is no mention whatever of security breaches or the need to update WhatsApp because of security. The advice talks about having stickers in full size, entering phone numbers and seeing who is on WhatsApp. There is nothing about security.
Before we come to the next urgent question, I must inform the House that Dr Andrew Murrison has written to me giving notice of his wish to resign from the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. I therefore declare the Chair vacant. In doing so, I hope the whole House will want to join me in appreciation of the work of Dr Murrison in chairing the Select Committee with great commitment and skill. Moreover, colleagues will be aware that he has left the Chair of the Committee because he has returned to the service of the Executive. He has become a Minister again, and he was performing from the Treasury Bench yesterday at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions. We wish him well in the execution of his important new responsibilities and congratulate him on his success.
The following will be the arrangements for electing a new Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Nominations should be submitted in the Lower Table Office or the procedural hub by 5 pm on Monday 10 June. Following the House’s decision of 4 July 2017, only members of the Conservative party may be candidates in this election. Colleagues will understand why that is so, but for the benefit of those attending our proceedings who are not Members of the House, that is because of the distribution of Chairs between the parties. This particular Committee has been designated for a Conservative Chair in this Parliament. If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will take place on Wednesday 12 June from 10 am to 1.30 pm in Committee Room 16. A briefing note with more details about this election will be made available to Members.
Learning Disabilities Mortality Review
I would like to start by restating our commitment to reducing the number of preventable deaths among those of our population with a learning disability and to addressing the persistent health inequalities that they experience. It is completely unacceptable that people in our country with a learning disability, and indeed autism, can expect a shorter life than the population as a whole.
Each and every death that might have been prevented is an absolute tragedy, and we must not compound that tragedy by failing to learn any lessons we can that might improve the care that is provided in the future. That is why the Government asked NHS England in the first place to commission the learning disabilities mortality review programme, known as LeDeR. The principle behind it is a relentless determination to learn from these deaths and to put in place changes to the way care is organised, provided and experienced, to make a real difference locally and nationally. It means challenging often deep-rooted, systematic or cultural issues that have existed for decades. It is driven by the fact that we are clear that the quality of care offered to people with a learning disability sometimes falls very short of the standards we expect, and that is simply not good enough. The existence of the LeDeR programme testifies to our commitment to address this issue so that people with a learning disability can access the best possible care and support. The annual reports published by the LeDeR programme and the recommendations it makes are all part of this.
Over the weekend, the media reported on the findings of a draft of the third annual LeDeR report, which is due to be published shortly. In making this statement, I would like to record my deep regret at this apparent leak. It is also a regret that Her Majesty’s Opposition should table an urgent question based on leaks and, indeed, that the Speaker’s Office should see fit to grant it. More generally, the House—
Order. The Minister will resume her seat. Forgive me, but I was being approached by the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes).
I have the highest regard for the Minister, who is always a person of the utmost courtesy. She can have an opinion about the decision of a Member to apply for an urgent question; it is not for a Member on the Treasury Bench to seek to offer a judgment on the way in which the Speaker discharges his responsibilities as Speaker. I have made a judgment that this matter warrants the attention of the House, and that judgment is not to be argued with or contradicted by a Member of the House. The Minister’s duty is to come to the House and answer the question, but do not argue the toss with the Chair. That is the wrong way to behave.
Thank you for clarifying that, Mr Speaker. I do not dispute that this is absolutely the right place and time to discuss this very important issue, but more broadly I think that Members across the House need to take a clearer view on how we discuss and view leaks, and to take a more consistent approach to that, because in recent weeks we have seen leaked information discussed in a very different way in the House.
I understand. I hope I heard the hon. Lady correctly and I think I heard her correctly. She said what she said, and I am happy that she has offered that clarification or explanation of her thinking. I have no desire to have any argument with her about the matter. The issue is what needs to be aired, rather than the procedural question, but she has said what she has said on that, and I am sure she will now want to attend to the specifics of the inquiry.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
With regard to the LeDeR programme, I have committed in the past and will commit once again to bringing the final report before Parliament on the day of publication, which we are told by NHS England will be in the next few weeks. Members will feel as concerned as I do about some of the things in the report that have been leaked, and I will be happy to discuss the more detailed information when the report is fully published.
Well, this is a mess, isn’t it? Last year, the first report from this important review was sneaked out on a Friday, in the middle of the local election results, and this year we have read about it through leaks to The Sunday Times and the Health Service Journal. The Minister says that it is a draft that is going to be published shortly; I understand that the authors handed it over on 1 March. How long does it take the Department to turn round a draft? Clearly, somebody somewhere thinks it should be out there, because somebody somewhere is leaking it. Will the Minister take responsibility for this process and ensure that future reports are published in a timely manner? I am not happy with “shortly” or “in a few weeks”; will she tell us when the full copy of the report—not just what was leaked, first in the Sunday papers and now in the Health Service Journal—will be available?
It appears from the leak that the review has been able to consider only a quarter of the premature deaths reported to it, leaving more than 3,000 families waiting for closure—it is those 3,000 families on whom we should be focusing—and that well over a third of cases do not even have a reviewer assigned to them. That shows that, as we suspected last year, the LeDeR programme is significantly under-resourced, so will the Minister pledge now to ensure that the review has the resources it needs in future?
Last year, the Government made 24 specific commitments relating to the annual report, and 15 of them were due to be completed by now. Will the Minister update the House on the progress on those commitments?
The leak tells us that the review found that in 8% of cases the care given
“fell so short of good practice that it significantly impacted on their wellbeing or directly contributed to their cause of death”.
What is the Minister doing now to ensure that no more people with learning disabilities die early because of poor care?
Lastly, and most disgracefully—I am certainly going to mention this from the leaked report—the report says that over a period of two years, at least 19 people with learning disabilities who died had “learning disabilities” or “Down’s syndrome” given as the reason not to resuscitate them. A patient having a learning disability or Down’s syndrome is not a reason to put a “do not resuscitate” order on their care. Does the Minister agree that such an approach, if it exists, smacks of eugenics and is completely unacceptable? What action will she take to ensure that it does not continue?
This is not a mess; the Department of Health and Social Care requested that NHS England commission the whole LeDeR programme. The report is an independent document, which is very important because we are talking about people’s lives and about deaths that could have been prevented. It is really important that the work is done by an independent group and that it is carefully scrutinised, and that that scrutiny and work to look at the recommendations—[Interruption.] If the shadow Minister would like to bob up and ask some questions, I will happily answer them, but if she is going to keep murmuring from a sedentary position, I will not be able to address anything that she says.
It is so important to do this process in an independent way, because we are talking about people’s lives. NHS England says that the LeDeR report has not been published yet because it contains some serious recommendations, as have other such reports, and NHS England needs to make sure that the correct people will be responsible for implementing those recommendations and that the document can be scrutinised in the correct way before it is published. I understand that the shadow Minister is always keen to get things published as quickly as possible, and not always with the benefit of their being done as thoroughly as possible, but in this case we will not be pushed. This is an independent document and I cannot control when it will be published, but the shadow Minister can rest assured that when it is published, I will be happy to answer any questions that arise from it.
Members will feel, as I do, that recent press reports are a clear indication that we need to do more on this, and I assure the House that we recognise that. The LeDeR programme confirms how seriously we take the issue of premature mortality and differences in life expectancy. We will continue to work with partners across Government and throughout the health and social care system to consider any recommendations that improve care for people with learning disabilities and autism and address the shameful inequalities that they experience. Everybody has a right to expect effective, compassionate and dignified care. If someone has a learning disability, their expectations should be no different.
I have already stated that I do not intend to comment on the specifics of the leaked bits of the document, which is independent and has not yet been published. However, like other Members, I am particularly concerned about any suggestion that doctors have recorded learning disability or Down’s syndrome as the reason for a “do not attempt cardio-pulmonary resuscitation” order—a DNACPR, as they call it. People with a learning disability have exactly the same right to enjoy a meaningful life as everyone else, and their disability should never, ever be used as an acceptable reason for a “do not resuscitate” order. We are taking immediate steps to ensure that doctors are reminded of their responsibilities and avoid any form of discrimination. [Interruption.] The shadow Minister says from a sedentary position that doctors should not need reminding. That is the whole point of commissioning the LeDeR review. Sometimes there are systematic or cultural ways of going about things in everyday life, whether in the medical profession or anywhere else, that mean people are not treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. The whole point of the LeDeR review is to learn from every single preventable death and to make sure that no one else suffers in the same way.
The LeDeR programme published its second annual report in May 2018, and the Government’s response, which we published in September 2018, set out a range of actions for the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and other national partners to help to reduce premature mortality and improve outcomes for people with learning disabilities. Many of those actions have now been completed—for example, we recently closed our consultation exercise on plans to introduce mandatory training in learning disability and autism awareness for health and care staff, and we will set out plans to move forward on that later in the year.
The latest report will no doubt reinforce what we already know: that the Government and our health and care system need to do more to ensure that people with a learning disability receive good-quality, informed and safe care. There has been a significant improvement—there has been a tenfold increase in the number of LeDeR review cases that have been covered, the backlog has improved, and in 2018-19 NHS England invested an additional £1.4 million to support the local teams to accelerate the process, as well as to train 2,100 experts to carry out reviews. The process is new, but we are pushing forward and putting in the necessary resources to make sure that we deliver on time. The LeDeR programme is there to help to achieve what we have set out, which is to make sure that those with a learning disability should never expect to receive worse health outcomes. We will respond to the full version of the report as soon as it is published.
I share the concern of the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and the Minister about the fact that it appears that at least 19 patients had “do not resuscitate” orders specifically because of their learning disabilities. I welcome the fact that the Minister has made it clear that there will be an immediate notice to remind clinicians that that should never be a reason to not resuscitate a patient. May I ask her to go further, though? My understanding is that doctors should make “do not resuscitate” decisions only after a full discussion with their patient. It appears that, in these cases—without wishing to prejudge them—a doctor has made that decision without having had that discussion. Will the Minister also make it clear in her communication that the assumption should be that someone with a learning disability is just as capable of making these difficult decisions as everyone else? Their lives are worth as much as everyone else’s. That should be the assumption of everybody working in the national health service.
My right hon. Friend makes a perfect point. As I have said, I will not go into the details of the report—the independent report—that have been leaked and that have not yet been published. However, we are very clear that treatment decisions must be based on objective information and should never, ever be based on assumptions about a person’s quality of life. We are very clear that a learning disability should never be used as a reason for a “do not resuscitate” notice. We will take steps to remind doctors of their responsibilities to ensure that they provide the same level of care for people with a learning disability as they do for others. He is absolutely right to point out that family members’ and personal opinion should always be taken into consideration and that no one’s life should ever be undervalued in this way.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) on securing this urgent question and you, Mr Speaker, on granting it. This is a mess. The Minister talked about the training that is expected to happen. Will she set out when the autism and learning disability training, on which this Government have recently consulted, will come into effect?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. This very thorough consultation has received more than 5,000 responses. It has very recently concluded, and we are now going through those consultation responses, some of which are quite detailed. We hope to respond in the next two or three months to set out how we would like to move forward on this.