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.
What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact of non-tariff barriers? They would result in customs procedures and technical barriers to trade, meaning delays and costs that would be particularly damaging to the Welsh economy.
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.
Some 12,000 jobs in the Welsh economy rely on steel. Given the crisis in this sector, how will the right hon. Gentleman work with the Business Secretary to get the steel sector deal over the line?
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.
Will my right hon. Friend update the House on any progress that has been made on the mid Wales growth deal?
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.
A number of my constituents have set up companies in Cheshire that actually operate in Wales. What research and development grants have there been that benefit companies operating in Wales?
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.
Much to do and very little time in which to do it.
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.
Oh, very well—Mr Ian C. Lucas.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
How many pensioners in Wales will lose out as a result of the Tory Government’s hospital pass to the BBC to take away pensioners’ TV licences?
The BBC has a strong and good settlement that it actually agreed. When it was last agreed, that settlement included the responsibility for this benefit.
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 into 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 food banks in a Government office—[Interruption.]
Order. I am very, very worried about you, Mr Spencer. You used to be such a calm and measured fellow. You are now behaving in an extraordinarily eccentric manner—almost delinquent. Calm yourself, young man, and your condition will improve.
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?
The only party that wants to sell out the interests of Scotland is the SNP, with its bid for independence.
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.]
Order. The hon. Lady has passed the test with flying colours.
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?
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the point of order, and I am minded to hear that of the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), if it is on a similar subject. I believe it to be.
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. 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 thank the hon. Gentleman for quite rightly raising the role of Ofcom. I have regular meetings with the chief executive of Ofcom, and I will certainly raise the matter the hon. Gentleman has raised with me at my next meeting with her.
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.
I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, and it will have been heard by Members of the House, who may well share his reaction to it. I thank him for taking this opportunity to put the matter on the record.
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
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make a statement on the 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.
This question is similar to the “do not resuscitate” one. I am aware that a number of practitioners use seclusion, segregation and restraint against patients in the system. What is the Minister doing to stop that happening?
This is really important. We have seen an increase in reports of segregation and restraint, but that is partly because we have seen much better recording of the data. That is also very important, because we need to understand where people are being kept in seclusion or restrained inappropriately. The Secretary of State has asked the Care Quality Commission to review the matter and make recommendations about the use of restrictive interventions in settings that provide all sorts of residential care. The first part of that review will be reporting back very shortly.
I welcome the Minister’s clear statement that it is wholly unacceptable that people with learning disabilities continue to experience much shorter life expectancy. It is wholly unacceptable, but the problem is that we have all been saying this for years and nothing ever changes. We do not appear to be capable of learning the lessons that she says are necessary. One problem is that people with learning disabilities are often under the care of people who do not have the training necessary to understand the interaction between physical health conditions and learning disability. That is often the cause of that premature mortality. I brought together a group of clinicians who make the case for a new specialty in learning disability so that we have people who understand those crucial interactions between physical ill health and learning disability. Will the Minister meet me and those clinicians so that we can really understand how we can start to make a difference here rather than continuing to say that it is unacceptable and doing nothing effective about it?
I start by saying that I am always very happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman because he has great expertise, knowledge and understanding of this field and often makes incredibly valuable suggestions. In response his question, that is why the commitment to mandatory training for all health and care staff is absolutely vital. We should not forget that this is not just about medical professionals, but about people such as receptionists. The way that adults with learning disabilities and autism are treated by someone at the front desk of a health and care setting can immeasurably affect their interaction with that provider. That is why this training is so important, why we have consulted so widely on how to deliver it, and why we will set out some really coherent plans later on in the year.
May I for one thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the House of Commons to turn the spotlight on people with learning disabilities? We should never miss an opportunity to talk about a part of our population whose problems are often swept under the carpet. That applies particularly to people with Down’s syndrome. We must proclaim that, in this country, there are no second-class citizens whatever disability a person might have, including Down’s syndrome. There are some countries, for instance Iceland, where there is virtual genocide—there is a 100% abortion rate for Down’s syndrome. Will the Minister proclaim now from the Dispatch Box that, if a person has Down’s syndrome, they are just as valued, just as loved, and just as cared for by society as anybody else?
I do not think I could have said it any better than my right hon. Friend. Mencap has put out a fantastic tweet featuring a particularly special young man who has Down’s syndrome. He is incredibly brilliant in the way that he articulates how very proud he is to live with Down’s syndrome and to be just as useful, just as important and just as special as everybody else, and how that makes him just as much a valued member of society as others—in fact probably more so.
It is six years since Connor Sparrowhawk died, yet these leaks—yes, leaks—indicate that 8% of the cases reviewed showed that people with learning disabilities had been harmed or even killed by the care that they received. What was meant to be helping them was actually harming them. That raises enormous questions, of course, about all the cases that have not been reviewed. The Minister said that action is being taken to deal with the backlog, but she knows that it is enormous. She must also know that the time that elapses after a death really counts for the amount of learning and the amount of change that will follow. Will she tell us exactly what she is doing to speed up the review of these cases, as it is just so important?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the case of Connor Sparrowhawk, which was an absolutely tragic lack of care. I have met his mum, Dr Sara Ryan, and I greatly value her feedback on how we move forward with the LeDeR programme, because she has such an important insight into the matter. As I have said, NHS England is putting in additional funding to clear the backlog, and the NHS planning guidance for 2019-20 is very clear that clinical commissioning groups must have robust plans in place to make sure that LeDeR reviews are undertaken within six months of a notification of death in their local area. The resources are going in and the guidelines are there to ensure that that happens.
I must declare an interest: my sister was born with profound learning disabilities. Later this year, hopefully, she will celebrate her 60th birthday. During my lifetime, I have seen far too many young people with learning disabilities die premature deaths. One of the biggest problems is when they suffer a physical problem and have to go to A&E, or through the primary care system. If a doctor or surgeon diagnoses that individual, part and parcel of the communication is talking to them and getting a response. People with profound learning disabilities cannot do that, so doctors often issue DNRs—I have personal experience of this—on people who are perfectly capable of having a perfectly good quality of life. Can my hon. Friend ensure that individuals who have profound disabilities have a named person from the health service who will give advice before any such decisions are made?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his impassioned plea; he makes an excellent point. We have spoken quite comprehensively today about how important it is that people with learning disabilities are never written off as a “do not resuscitate”, because that is absolutely wrong. I can tell him—I think he will find this useful—that we have introduced annual GP health checks for people with a learning disability to help to recognise these health inequalities, so that some long-term health conditions can be picked up much earlier and diagnosed more quickly, and prevention can be put in place much sooner.
I wonder if the Minister recognises that for many families the review feels like the NHS marking its own homework, and that there needs to be more of an independent body to look at all the cases to give the reassurance that those families want.
I do recognise what the hon. Lady is saying. It is difficult to know how best to analyse something as tragic as a death—how to bring forward all the relevant expertise. That is why NHS England works with the University of Bristol on this programme. It is a very new programme—the report to be published shortly will only be the third one—and we are always open to ways in which it can be improved and seen to be more independent, more thorough and to make more difference.
I welcome the review and understand the Minister’s reluctance to comment on rumours and leaks, but as a point of principle does she agree that access to specialist services and care, as well as early and accurate diagnosis, is really important and should be consistently applied across the country? Will she therefore assure me that people with learning disabilities in Worcestershire will receive the same good service as people elsewhere in the country—in Birmingham or London, for example?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that nobody with a learning disability, autism or any other condition should expect to receive worse care. Everybody should expect the same level of quality care, no matter who they are or where in the country they live. That is what we are working towards, and learning from deaths is a key element of helping to deliver that aim.
I am pleased to hear the Minister condemn “do not resuscitate” instructions based on a person having a learning disability, but surely this situation is not a matter of mild neglect requiring a reminder letter; this is a grave abuse of power perpetrated on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Does it not require disciplinary action?
The hon. Gentleman has partly tapped into my frustration with the fact that I am here today commenting on leaks of a report that has not yet been published, rather than on the full report, which, when it comes out, will provide clear recommendations as to how we can move forward on this matter. As I have said, we are already writing to reinforce the message that should be self-evident—that learning disabilities should never be a reason for a “do not resuscitate”. When the report is finally published, it will include a very well-considered recommendation as to how we tackle this issue in a way that will ensure that this situation will never happen in future.
Thank you for allowing this urgent question, Mr Speaker. We should acknowledge that those with learning disabilities have not had their fair share of parliamentary time, and this review into learning disabilities mortality will be a matter of huge concern to them, their friends and their families. The Minister says that resources are going into the review. Will she confirm that a review will be allocated to everybody who has reported a death, and that the impact on access to care for people with learning disabilities from socioeconomically deprived backgrounds is being specifically considered?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we need to have much more discussions like this in this place because health inequalities need to be addressed and we need to be outspoken about them. The whole point of asking NHS England to commission this review is to think about how we address the most severe of these inequalities, which is when people die early or in a way that might have been preventable. We want to ensure that every single death of a person with a learning disability—whether or not people regard that it was preventable from the outset—is looked at very carefully. People should always have that reassurance, regardless of where they live and what kind of socioeconomic background they come from.
Vaccinations are one of the best ways to protect health and reduce mortality, and I was pleased that the Government pledged to increase the uptake among people with learning disabilities. Will the Minister update the House as to what progress she is making with that Government pledge?
The hon. Lady is right that vaccinations are very important. We have introduced the annual health check for people with learning disabilities because it is an opportunity for them to have a one to one with their GP to check that all things such as vaccinations are up to date, but also to see whether there are any other long-term health issues that have not yet been spotted. I speak about this from an entirely selfish point of view because a dear friend of mine—my self-appointed best friend, who was one of my constituents—very sadly died last year from a form of cancer that would have been curable had her case been picked up earlier. That is why health checks for people with learning disabilities are vital.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday’s news that the Government are drawing up secret contingency plans for a potential British Steel collapse will have come as a shock to thousands of British steelworkers, who have worked against the odds to defend the company’s future, and to many across the industry. Today 4,500 jobs are at risk, as well as thousands more across the supply chain. Mr Speaker, could you please advise me whether the Government have indicated that they will update the House on this urgent matter? If not, what advice can you give me to encourage them to do so?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I have had no indication that a statement is certain, but I have had an indication that a statement is very likely in the near future—that is to say, in a small number of days. It is not inconceivable that that could be tomorrow; I am not expecting or predicting that, but it could be. If not, I have every confidence that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will want to come to the House early next week on the assumption that he is in a position to provide meaningful information to the House.
The Secretary of State has been solicitous in his dealings with the Chair. I have been kept in the picture on this matter and I have judged it right to await a ministerial initiative at this stage. The Secretary of State is well informed about parliamentary processes, and has antennae that are attuned to the will of the House. If, therefore, nothing were forthcoming but the matter were of continuing concern to Members, they would seek to raise it in the House and I would be respectful of that wish. By one means or another, this matter will be aired in the Chamber within a few days. Of that, I am very confident. I hope that is helpful to the hon. Lady and to other colleagues who are interested in this matter.
Trade Union (Access to Workplaces)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to remove certain restrictions on trade unions conducting business in workplaces; and for connected purposes.
Article 11 of the European convention on human rights states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests”,
or her interests. At present, there are almost 6.5 million trade union members in the UK, making trade unions this country’s largest voluntary and democratic organisations. Trade unions are on the frontline every day, fighting poverty, inequality and injustice, and negotiating a better deal for working people. Their role has never been more critical than it is today, as in-work poverty is on the rise and zero-hours contracts are widespread. British workers face an uncertain and exploitative job market, while it is boom time for large multinational companies.
I have spoken to union officials who have been prohibited by companies like McDonald’s from efforts to unionise their workforce. Employees have been banned from visiting other McDonald’s stores. Union members from the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union have recounted stories like that of Mohamed, a worker from north London, who was excited at the prospect of working alongside his colleagues to improve basic things at work, like getting his shifts 10 days in advance so that he can plan his life. Because of these efforts, he was informed by the management that he is banned from every McDonald’s store in the area. Union staff visiting McDonald’s across the UK to speak to workers about the benefits of joining a trade union are being routinely thrown out of stores and having their presence reported to senior regional managers.
Workers at Amazon have reported shift patterns being interrupted and randomised simply to prevent staff from talking to union officials on the way into work. In a members’ survey of workers conducted by the GMB, one Amazon worker described employment there as like “living in a prison”. The strict targets that are imposed on staff mean that 70% feel as though they are given disciplinary points unfairly, while 89% believe that they are being exploited. In its recently published report on InterContinental Hotels Group, Unite documented a culture of fear and bullying, with management pressurising low-paid staff into working for eight to 10 days straight. IHG employees and subcontracted employees have been routinely denied the right to freedom of association and have stood little chance of exercising their right to collective bargaining. Union members are vulnerable and live in fear of reprisals from their employer.
Bupa is one of largest and highest-profile providers of residential social care in the UK and part of an international health group that serves approximately 32 million customers in 190 countries. It consistently refuses to allow Unison officials access to workplaces to speak to staff and members regarding union rights and representation. During 2017 and 2018, Unison North West regional officers were banned from every Bupa work location, despite assurances that visits could be conducted at the employer’s convenience and with due regard to operational and safeguarding concerns and priorities. In a sector where shift work and long hours are prevalent, and where many care workers also have significant caring responsibilities at home, the workplace is often the only place for the union to engage with workers. Bupa’s denial of access in this case is effectively a refusal by the employer to allow workers to organise a union.
I could go on: I have heard countless stories like these from union officials. As long as these practices are widespread, this country’s commitment to the human right to form and to join a trade union is hollow and meaningless. Why are our democratic trade unions being treated in this way, and why is the human right to join and form trade unions being denied? In part, it is because under current legislation there are no rights of workplace access for trade unions. In the words of one IHG union member:
“In order to exercise our basic human right to freedom of association, workers in the UK need our employers to provide facility time and a space within our workplaces for reps and members to meet and discuss work related issues.”
This is not a far-fetched, unrealisable demand—it is achievable, and I hope that my Bill can achieve it.
In New Zealand, under its Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018, unions have far greater access to workplaces. Workers can speak to union reps visiting the sites. The company provides a space for the union and worker to meet and pays the worker for a reasonable amount of time with their union rep. This, in turn, leads to higher union membership, higher wages, and more just and fair workplaces. Trade unions in the workplace are normalised, leading to a less adverse attitude to working people’s right to represent themselves. Under this legislation, all that is required is that the union provides a short period of notice that they will be visiting the site, allowing management to add the extra staff member required for the duration of the visit. This means that there is no disruption to the business while ensuring that workers’ legal and human right to join and form a union is adhered to. New Zealand’s Employment Relations Amendment Act has restored protections for workers, especially vulnerable workers, and strengthened the role of collective bargaining in the workplace.
If we are to transition away from a low-wage, precarious economy, increasing the collective bargaining power of workers is critical. It is a myth that strong trade unions drive down profit—I emphasise that point. A happy, well-respected workforce is also a productive workforce. I know this from my own experience as a union rep at NatWest. Being able to represent and support my colleagues gave me a clear sense of the value of strong union representation in the workplace. My colleagues felt valued and supported, and as a result provided an efficient, professional service. That is what trade unions are all about: bringing people together to work towards a common goal. The stories I have heard from union officials paint the opposite picture: too many British workers feel exploited and dispensable. By expanding trade union access to workplaces, we can restore dignity and respect at work, and put an end to the exploitation and misery we see on the rise today. We need strong trade unions and a better deal for working people.
Question put and agreed to.
That Faisal Rashid, Laura Pidcock, Ian Lavery, Caroline Lucas, Grahame Morris, Chris Matheson, Ruth Smeeth, Justin Madders, Helen Goodman, Danielle Rowley and Angus Brendan MacNeil present the Bill.
Faisal Rashid accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed (Bill 391).
I beg to move,
That the draft Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (Further Implementation etc.) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 29 April, be approved.
It is a pleasure to have the chance to address the House today. I welcome the opportunity to debate these regulations, which are the final planned set related to the implementation of the higher education elements of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. To implement the research elements of the Act, there will be further regulations related to the closure of the research councils and the establishment of UKRI—United Kingdom Research and Innovation.
As I mentioned during last week’s debate in Committee on the Higher Education (Monetary Penalties and Refusal to Renew an Access and Participation Plan) (England) Regulations 2019, we have made great progress since the Higher Education and Research Act, otherwise known as HERA, came into law in 2017.
You may recall, Mr Speaker, that HERA abolished the Higher Education Funding Council for England, otherwise known as HEFCE, and the director of fair access to higher education, more commonly known as the Office for Fair Access, or OFFA. A new regulator was created—the Office for Students, or the OfS—to oversee and monitor the activities, including in relation to fair access and participation, of English higher education providers that register with it. The OfS currently regulates registered HE providers under transitional arrangements, and we hope the new regulatory regime will be fully operational from August this year.
In addition to retaining existing HEFCE and OFFA functions for the transitional period, the OfS has gradually begun to exercise its functions under HERA. HERA gave the Office for Students the power to create a new single register of higher education providers. Registration with the OfS is the only route for providers to access student support funding through charging fees for courses that attract student loans. It is now a requirement for an institution to obtain degree-awarding powers or to obtain the right to call themselves a university. Since the formation of the Office for Students on 1 January 2018, it has registered more than 350 higher education providers—352 as of 13 May, to be precise—to exacting standards, including all English universities.
The HERA reforms to the system of regulating higher education were wide ranging, which means that a number of changes to the statute book are needed to reflect the reforms introduced and ensure the smooth running of existing legislation.
That brings us to why we are here today. The main purpose of the regulations before the House is to make consequential amendments to existing legislation—a standard procedure after any primary legislation has passed.
The majority of those amendments replace references to now defunct bodies or repealed legislation. They also reflect the diversification of HE providers and the wide range of providers that are registered with and regulated by the OfS. Further, they reflect the movement to a formal regulatory system based on registration. Some of the cross-references in other enactments relate to the quasi-regulation of higher education institutions by HEFCE, and others to receipt of or eligibility for funding. The amendments reflect that nuance to preserve the original intention of such provisions.
The OfS assumed responsibility for determining applications for university title on 1 April this year. Before that date, applications were determined by the Privy Council. Transitional regulations were made to allow applications made before 31 March to be dealt with under the old system. Further provision is made in the regulations in relation to university title, to ensure that the consequential amendments they contain do not disturb applications already in process under the old regime.
The regulations also enable registered HE providers that are charities to become exempt from registration with, and direct regulation by, the Charity Commission. If a provider chooses to take advantage of that opportunity, the OfS will act as principal regulator for the provider, enabling it to avoid duplicative regulatory returns to both the Charity Commission and the OfS. HEFCE was formerly principal regulator for HEIs that it funded. A registered charity that does not wish to become exempt will not become exempt against its will; a provider must take action to obtain the exemption. This amendment is intended to create greater flexibility and choice for charitable bodies that are registered HE providers.
I am pleased to say that the regulations make the regulators code applicable to all the OfS’s regulatory functions, under section 24 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, fulfilling a commitment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) in 2017 during the passage of HERA. I know that he and the House will be pleased to see the progress made in that regard.
I thank my trusted ministerial colleagues for the assistance and collaboration of their Departments in establishing the consequential amendments required. In short, the regulations create the opportunity for more charitable bodies to become exempt from direct regulation by the Charity Commission; ensure that key enactments continue to work in the real world, minimising the risk of disruption and chaos; and put OfS compliance with the regulators code on a statutory footing.
I have highlighted the wide-ranging nature of the legislation affected by these amendments. If the amendments are not approved, it could have serious negative consequences for the HE sector. Among other things, it could result in: confusion around whether certain providers have to charge VAT on student fees; the Office for Students not being subject to the public sector equality duty; certain charities being unexpectedly faced with a change to their accounting rules, resulting in confusion and more paperwork and potentially affecting students and their overall experience; and students being denied their full entitlement to state benefits because of outdated references to defunct legislation.
This Government firmly believe that the higher education regulatory system must effectively protect the interests of students in the short, medium and long term. I hope Members will agree that the regulations are of the utmost importance to students and the sector alike and will approve them.
I thank the Minister for his detailed explanation of this statutory instrument. He has stated—we do not intend radically to dispute the point—that the regulations largely make consequential amendments to existing primary legislation, to make it consistent with the objectives and content of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, in addition to the points he made about the Charities Act 2011. However, I am informed that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in the other place decided yesterday to defer consideration of the regulations for one week. Can the Minister shed some light on why his colleagues in the other place have decided to do so? It is rather puzzling.
The Higher Education and Research Act created a new regulatory framework for higher education in England, including a new regulator—the Office for Students—and a new register of higher education institutions, essentially creating a new legal category of “registered higher education provider”. That will now include institutions in the further education sector, and my own college, Blackpool and The Fylde College, will be one of the institutions to benefit from that.
The regulations amend existing primary legislation so that, where appropriate, it refers to registered higher education providers. That is not a contentious decision; it is a legal tidying-up exercise, following the creation of a new regulatory framework. However, as the Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), pointed out on the Floor of the House and several times in Committee, the OfS, to which many of the powers are being transferred from HEFCE, is a very different bird, with a different remit and different powers. It is therefore reasonable that we look carefully at how these changes might have an impact on HE providers.
The regulations ensure that all registered higher education providers can use an existing legal opt-out of certain laws governing charities, so that they will instead be governed by the OfS. We remain concerned about the Government’s continued marketised view of the OfS. We continue to be critical of the wider regulatory regime underpinning the 2017 Act and the way in which it is being applied, in particular the extent to which the Government are forcing the operations of free markets into the higher education system, without any sense of the consequences, in a Bill that was put together before Brexit and takes no account of its consequences. Can the Minister confirm that the OfS will be the sole arbiter in those cases, rather than the Charity Commission?
The explanatory note to the regulations says:
“Part 4 (regulation 43) makes amendments to Schedule 3 to the Charities Act 2011 in relation to exempt charities that are regulated by the OfS as their Principal Regulator. The amendments enable any registered higher education provider that is a charity to become exempt by an Order in Council, and remove exempt charity status from a provider that ceases to be registered with the OfS.”
These are important and powerful instruments. On the final point, about removing exempt charity status from a provider that ceases to be registered with the OfS, how will that be actioned and followed up, and what mechanisms will be in place? How will those decisions thereafter be scrutinised?
Two years on from the Bill receiving Royal Assent, we are still tidying up the legislation that has come from it. The Minister said, no doubt with a sigh of relief, that we are reaching the final set of regulations directly relating to the 2017 Act. However, as the former universities Minister, the hon. Member for Orpington—my opposite number during the Bill’s passage through the House—said in a Delegated Legislation Committee last week:
“It has been almost four years now that we have been at it.”—[Official Report, Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee, 8 May 2019; c.11.]
I have to confess that I have been at it on this legislation throughout that time, and the Minister may begin to feel that he too is becoming accustomed to being at it, because this is the third week in a row that he and I have debated regulations relating to the Act.
The Minister and I had a lively discussion last week on the Higher Education (Monetary Penalties and Refusal to Renew an Access and Participation Plan) (England) Regulations 2019. It might not sound like the most fruitful possibility for a lively discussion, but we managed it. That gave Members on the Statutory Instrument Committee, including Government Members such as the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) and the hon. Member for Orpington, the ability to raise important questions about access and participation, adult and part-time learning, the status of the Office for Students and, importantly, the current progress of the Augar review, on which we are still waiting for an update from the Government. The Minister is very welcome to update the House today if he chooses to do so.
The week prior to that, we challenged the Government over a number of unanswered questions relating to the Higher Education (Registration Fees) (England) Regulations 2019, about which we and the universities sector have had a number of concerns, including the special arrangements for micro and new providers, the formula used to determine the cost of registration for providers and the alarming nature of how quickly the Government’s proposed contribution to this exercise has fallen. In particular, we were concerned that the Government were making new and extraordinarily bureaucratic and expensive demands on universities at a time when their future is uncertain, and that is why we voted against the regulations.
These naturally reflect on the motion that the Government have chosen to bring forward on the Floor of the House today. It is our belief that, in principle, this statutory instrument is not unduly contentious, and I am led to believe that that opinion is shared by the Government. Why, therefore, do they need to use the time of the full House, rather than a Delegated Legislation Committee, to attempt to rubber-stamp a series of consequential amendments and the other issues pertaining to the Charities Act? The reason really is that the Government are bringing business to the House when they have very little else to debate. It is in sharp contrast to the way in which the Government dealt with the previous two SIs, to which I have referred, both of which were far more contentious and both of which touched on continued concerns about the operation of this Act. In my submission, those would have been far more suitable for debate in this Chamber.
It is a stark reminder that the Government have no domestic agenda to bring to this place at the moment, and that the Prime Minister lacks the power and majority needed to advance those few policies her Government do have. I suggest that the Government should be using this time to bring forward new policies and actual legislation, or matters that, from previous legislation such as HERA, are contentious and continue to give concerns as they are taken forward in detail and that should be debated by the whole House. As these regulations appear to contain no substantive matters of new policy at all, will the Minister tell me why it was felt that they should be debated on the Floor of the House today?
The explanatory note on the regulations also says:
“A full impact assessment has not been produced for this instrument as no, or no significant, impact on the private, voluntary or public sectors is foreseen.”
So what implications do these changes have? We have of course been critical of the wider regulatory regime underpinning the 2017 Act, particularly, as I have said already, the extent to which the Government are forcing the operation of free markets on to the higher education system. As the regulator, the OfS is legally required to promote competition between HE providers, encouraging them to operate as if they are part of a competitive market, rather than a co-operative education system. We have previously committed to removing this duty on the regulator.
We have also expressed our concern about some of the powers designated to the Office for Students on data sharing. In July 2018, the Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), and I debated the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (Cooperation and Information Sharing) Regulations 2018 in another Delegated Legislation Committee relating to this Act. As part of that debate, I referenced the fact that section 63 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, to which the regulations refer, does not place a limitation on the type of information that may be provided, and therefore that it could include personal data. You and I, Mr Speaker, were in this Chamber to hear the urgent question earlier on the issues of WhatsApp and the use of data, so I think it is entirely appropriate that we raise this issue again today.
With these regulations, we are exhibiting potential issues with data sharing, as is attested by a briefing I received in advance of this debate from defenddigitalme. For the assistance of the House, defenddigitalme advocates for children’s privacy in data and digital rights, and in response to concerns from teachers, parents and campaigners about the invasive uses of children’s personal information collected in the course of their education in England. That is one of the issues that I now want to raise further with the Minister. On the effects of the new regulations, it has said to us:
“Over 25 million students, children, and staff across England’s Education sector will be denied control over their digital footprint, in perpetuity. Data will be copied to an indefinite number of data recipients, without clear safeguards for scope creep, of new or onward uses, or users…
There is no meaningful limitation in its existing powers for what purposes OfS may pass on personal data to third parties; nor for which purposes those third-parties in turn may use the data on the face of the Act…or in the 2018 Regulation no 607…
By giving the OfS—and potentially its own prescribed persons (third parties), access to the entire education dataset of the population, past and present, since 2002:
There is no oversight”—
as far as we can see—
“of its data handling or accountability for processing…
There is no published plan to inform each…adult of the change of data controller or new processing purposes by any new body…
There is no route for redress if data are wrongly processed or mistakes made…
There is no route for redress if data are wrongly processed…in any processing of anyone’s records for the purposes of fraud.”
These are important issues. They may be quite technical issues, but they are important issues that bear upon the statutory instrument we are being asked to pass today, and they are issues that we took up during the Committee stage of the Bill.
The regulations bring both the OfS and UKRI on to the list of organisations in schedule 8 to the Digital Economy Act 2017, but there have been widespread concerns about data sharing between higher education providers and private companies. Is the Minister able to tell us today in what circumstances data will be shared and when students will know this has happened? As a point of process regarding part 2, regulation 14, on new powers under the Digital Economy Act 2017, can the Minister confirm whether the regulations have been prepared in line with parts 5.1 and 5.2 of the Cabinet Office debt and fraud information sharing review board code of practice, which was passed by this House in November? There does not appear to have been any publication or preparation of data protection impact assessments in relation to the documents accompanying this SI. Applications to amend the schedule should be made through the secretariat, but as we are told that the Cabinet Office committee does not publish any minutes it is unknown whether this happened. Will the Minister tell us why—in respect of the regulations before us today, which the Minister has signed off—his colleagues in the Cabinet Office do not publish minutes in this way?
Is it the intention of the new regulations that through the new data powers they give OfS to receive data in regulations 28 and 32 they can also enable the distribution by OfS of population-wide personal data? I repeat: that includes the personal, confidential data of every pupil from state education since 1996, past, present and future and in perpetuity—over 25 million people, and growing every year—distribution to its own third-party prescribed persons, including potentially Pearson Education Ltd, among other commercial parties, for such wide-ranging company purposes, through the powers of last year’s regulations, which set out who the OfS could give data to, and for purposes defined only by that company’s memorandum and articles of association, most of which were not even mentioned in the explanatory notes that accompanied that negative statutory instrument?
I would argue that if the Department wishes us to be entirely happy with this SI today, the necessary and proportionate purposes should be made explicit and set on the face of the Act, or corrected in each set of regulations. These are matters on which it would be helpful for the Minister to respond briefly now, or at least for him to put a response in writing for Members of the House, given that they have been raised on the Floor of the House today. We do not, though, propose to divide the House on this statutory instrument today.
I am a trifle confused. The territorial extent of the regulations is described as across the UK, but in fact they contain not a lot, if anything, that affects Scotland. They do refer to UKRI, which is the amalgamation into one body of all the research funding councils across the UK, no work on which has actually been done by this Government since the amalgamation was announced in the 2017 Act. This will have a great and deleterious effect on Scotland and on Scottish universities. There is a worrying spectre facing the Scottish universities in regard to research funding, which will no longer come from Europe. Scotland has had more, some would say, than its fair share in population terms, but certainly not more than its fair share in excellence terms because of the research done in Scottish universities, quite often by EU nationals who have given a great boost to the Scottish university sector and who are welcome, and still welcome, in Scotland.
That will affect not only Scottish universities but English universities, certainly in the midlands and in the Coventry area, where there are two universities. Those universities in Coventry and the midlands do a lot of research and development for Europe, and they sometimes rely on the expertise of employees coming from Europe. We cannot get a guarantee out of the Government that that expenditure will continue at present levels or increase beyond 2020. Does the hon. Lady agree that that is cause of concern for all universities in Scotland and in England?
I certainly do, but as the hon. Gentleman is aware, I have a particular interest in Scottish universities.
I thank the Minister—it was a bit bad of me not to thank him immediately—for his detailed explanation of the regulations and for the promise that more regulations will be brought forward on research. I gave him—I am sure he remembers it well—a 101 on Scottish universities education when he came to the Education Committee this morning. It was a pleasure to meet him and to listen to what he had to say, and I believe he has the interests of universities at large at heart. I hope he will take up my offer for him to look closely at what is being done in Scotland about funding and widening access, which we discussed this morning. However, I am going off the point and I do not wish to speak for long.
I share the puzzlement of the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden). No one is against these regulations; they are technical and they will help to ensure that the 2017 Act makes sense after we leave—if we do—the European Union. My preferred option is to stay, of course. The regulations are really just technical, and I am baffled about why they have been brought to the Floor of the House but the Minister has not published the information on research funding that universities need now; that is almost teasing the whole university sector. Universities UK was very pleased because a successor to Horizon 2020 is moving forward, and we may, as a United Kingdom, be a third party and involved with that. Some of the best research done across the UK and across Europe has been the best precisely because it has been pan-European, not confined to the UK.
As has been mentioned in this place before, the Government’s proposals for tier 4 visas for students after three years in the UK will have a much greater impact in Scotland, where a standard degree is generally a four-year degree. That must be dealt with. It also affects those students who carry on, who want to do real and lasting research and want to stay in Scotland. The whole premise of tier 4 visas is to put off—it has already put off—researchers coming to the UK, to Scotland as well, and to make it much more difficult for universities to attract the right kind of research that they can build on and keep the UK in the forefront of research worldwide.
I strongly agree with the hon. Lady. Does she agree that the policy affects not only Scotland, where four-year courses are a norm, but courses such as engineering throughout the UK, where four-year courses are standard, and other courses where the master’s degree is required as the first degree that people get, because it is a four-year course, and because of the level of learning that is needed to reach that standard?
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have been a bit remiss. Medicine is affected as well; many degrees in England, as well as in Scotland, last longer than four years. The Government must take that issue seriously.
Can the Minister say when he will introduce further regulations under the 2017 Act? That is crucial to universities the length and breadth of the UK.
I thank hon. Members for participating in this debate. I shall try to respond briefly to the points that have been raised.
I thank the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) for her remarks on the Scottish system. I will be heading to Scotland in early June and will endeavour to focus also on some of the issues of widening participation. I have regular meetings with the Scottish Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Richard Lochhead. On the points that the hon. Lady raised about research, I know that we are going a bit off piste in relation to the statutory instrument before us, but I reiterate my commitment to ensuring that we maintain our common research links with our European partners. When I was in Berlin, speaking at the “Going Global” conference hosted by the British Council, I met Minister Karliczek, Federal Minister of Educational Research, and had meetings with the Fraunhofer and Max Planck research organisations to make that commitment.
Regarding our association with such future programmes as Horizon Europe, yesterday the Government published our international research and innovation strategy, making clear our commitment to being outward-facing and ensuring that we continue to endeavour to have strong global research links.
On tier 4 visas—the hon. Lady will be aware that the Home Secretary is sitting beside me—we must remember that researchers from international countries are still able to come to the United Kingdom. We recently launched the first Future Leaders Fellowships programme, £900 million of investment in 550 international fellowships, which has seen people from Japan to Canada coming to the UK. We recognise there are issues relating to visas that need to be looked at as part of the consultation for the immigration White Paper, but issues around tier 4 visas have not prevented existing international researchers from being able to participate in UK research life.
Turning to the points made by the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), on the amendment to schedule 3 of the Charities Act 2011, which sets out that charities are exempt from registration with and direct regulation by the Charity Commission for England and Wales, HEFCE was the principal regulator for HE providers that were exempt charities under the existing schedule 3 of the 2011 Act, and the OfS was made principal regulator for higher education under the earlier consequential and transitional regulation which came into force on 1 April 2018. The amendments to schedule 3 require that currently exempt HE charities remain registered with the OfS to continue to hold exempt status and provide the opportunity for any provider registered with the OfS to be exempt by applying to the Privy Council. That will mean that exempt charities registered with HE providers will not have to register with or make returns with the Charity Commission, but will instead report to the OfS as principal regulator.
The amendments have been made with the intention to reduce the administrative and regulatory burden on charities and ensure that the OfS has a sufficient regulatory relationship with the relevant exempt charities to be an effective principal regulator. The amendment to the Charities Act made the removal of exempt status automatic upon deregistration, so no action is actually required by the OfS. The OfS can deregister a provider only if certain conditions are met. That covers both conditions on registration, and consideration of the denial of an access and participation plan.[Official Report, 4 June 2019, Vol. 661, c. 1MC.]
On the impact assessment, the regulations contain two sets of saving provisions. The first deal with the applications made for university title that were made before 1 April 2019. The second type of saving provisions relate to the repeal of a particular statutory provision under which so-called designation orders were made. Those orders designated certain providers as higher education institutions. There are a number of references and regulations governing teachers’ pension schemes and local government schemes to designated institutions. If we do not preserve the orders for those very narrow purposes, future staff’s eligibility for the schemes will be lost, so there are benefits in ensuring that staff have access to those pension schemes.
The entire purpose of the consequential saving provisions is to preserve the intention and scope of the underlying legislation in the context of the changes brought about by HERA. We therefore do not anticipate any additional regulatory burden as a result of the regulations. As I said in my opening speech, the main purpose of the consequential amendments is to minimise the risk of chaos and disruption to students, staff and providers. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the SLSC asking for clarity on a few of the provisions in the regulations. I understand that it often does so as part of the scrutiny process and we will respond in due course.
The hon. Gentleman focused on the risks around data sharing in relation to regulation 14 and schedule 8 to the Digital Economy Act 2017. Schedule 8 allows bodies named in it to disclose information to each other for the purposes of taking action in connection with fraud perpetrated against a public authority. The amendments replace Innovate UK and existing research councils with references to UKRI, HEFCE and the OfS, because HEFCE has been abolished, and Innovate UK and the research councils have been incorporated into UKRI. If we do not make the amendment, the OfS will not be able to make or receive fraud-related disclosures envisaged under the Act. There would also be ambiguity as to whether disclosures could be made or received by relevant constituent parts of UKRI.
Separately, regulations 28 and 32 amend the Education (Information About Children in Alternative Provision) (England) Regulations 2007 and the Education (Individual Pupil Information) (Prescribed Persons) (England) Regulations 2009. The provision requires institutions that are not schools in receipt of funding from the Department for Education to provide certain pupil information to the Secretary of State and other bodies, including HEFCE. The amendment will substitute OfS for HEFCE, as HEFCE no longer exists. That is the same for regulation 32.[Official Report, 4 June 2019, Vol. 661, c. 2MC.]
It is important to state on record that we need data sharing to track pupils to ensure, when it comes to improving the position of disadvantaged students and students in widening participation categories, the data is available.
I appreciate the detailed explanation of the technical reasons for the changes and I have no wish to prolong the debate unduly, but the thrust of my remarks was to express our continued concerns about the inadequacy of the protections in this area. Will the Minister give the House an assurance today that he is confident the status quo in terms of the safeguards will in fact do the business, given that we and other bodies have raised substantial concerns about the current procedures?
The section 3 regulations the hon. Gentleman mentioned in his earlier contribution were debated at the time of the regulations. The consequential provisions substitute the OfS for HEFCE. I will put on record that the Department takes its obligations under data protection laws very seriously. There is a panel that assesses each sharing request for public benefit, proportionality, the legal underpinning, and strict information security standards. I reiterate that no data sharing will take place without the Department ensuring that those measures are taken into account.
That takes us to the wider issue of the OfS being part of the regulators code and the application of that code meeting the commitment the Government made during the passage of the Act. In addition to the matters the OfS must have to regard to under HERA are the five principles of good regulation under the regulators code. It is worth putting them on record: the regulator should carry out activities in a way that supports those it regulates to comply and grow; regulators should provide simple and straightforward ways to engage with those they regulate and hear their views; regulators should base their regulatory activities on risk; regulators should share information about compliance and risk; and regulators should ensure clear information, guidance and advice is available to help those they regulate to meet their responsibilities to comply. The opportunity for the OfS to be a part of the regulators code is an additional indication of the responsibilities that the OfS takes its new role very seriously.
If I had longer I would go through the importance of why we are debating the regulations. As Universities Minister, I am delighted they have reached the Floor of the House rather than Committee Corridor. I believe this marks a significant moment in the reforms that began way back with the first Green Paper in 2015, all the way through to the final provisions of the Act being put in place. We have seen a shift from a provider-focused system to a student-focused system. We have seen a system that will now move to focusing on how we can best ensure we have value for money for students and deliver the best student experience. We can ensure that new providers, including FE providers, are able to enter the market.
When addressing the Education Committee this morning, we spoke at length about how we can ensure that FE and HE providers have greater opportunities to work together. One important part of the regulations is ensuring that FE providers will be able to have degree-awarding powers and apply to a much more streamlined system through the OfS. My ambition and long-term hope is that it will allow FE providers to have degree-awarding powers, rather than going through the rather complex and nuanced current franchising route. That will ensure we create a single system for a post-18 education world that benefits students, so they understand their role in the education system.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (Further Implementation etc.) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 29 April, be approved.
House of Commons Commission
That Pete Wishart be appointed to the House of Commons Commission in place of Stewart Hosie in pursuance of the House of Commons Administration Act 1978, as amended.—(Jo Churchill.)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of serious violence.
Serious violence is a national emergency that we are tackling head on. It is all too common to wake up to the heartbreaking story of slaughter on our streets. Like many parents, I fear for my children. I lie awake worrying when they go out, waiting to hear the key turn in the door, desperate to know that they are safe and back home. Tragically, for some, that moment of relief never comes. They never hear that welcome jangling of keys. Their children never come home. Many are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. We are seeing an epidemic of senseless violence to which anyone can fall victim.
Since becoming Home Secretary, I have done everything in my power to help end the bloodshed. It has been my top priority, and we have responded to the crisis with urgent investment and additional powers, but, while lives are still being lost, it is clear that more must be done.
Has my right hon. Friend watched any of Channel 5’s “Police Code Zero”? If he were to do so, he would share the frustration of so many of our constituents who write to us complaining about the leniency of sentences even for violent attacks on the police, notwithstanding the powers we have given to the courts to deal with that. Why will they not use them?
I have not yet had the opportunity to watch the programme to which my right hon. Friend referred, but I absolutely understand the issue he raised. It is important that we do everything we can to support our brave police officers. I and the Policing Minister have made a number of announcements in the past 12 months to do just that. We continue to work with police officers and their leaders across the country, including talking to frontline officers about what more we can do.
Serious violence is often—not always—caused by organised criminal groups. Does the Home Secretary share the head of the National Crime Agency’s assessment that, without more resources, we are in danger of losing the fight against organised crime?
I share the concerns around serious organised crime. I welcome the National Crime Agency’s national strategic assessment, which says that the cost of such crime to society is at least £37 billion a year. Clearly the work the NCA is doing with police forces around the country is vital. It is important that we continue to work together with the NCA and the police. It was welcome that this year we increased resources to the NCA to fight serious organised crime. We will certainly look at longer term resource need in the spending review.
I have discussed this with the Policing Minister before: despite the increase in funds to recruit more policemen, funding is not sufficient. That is the message my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) referred to just a moment ago. Violent crime is increasing, particularly in places such as Coventry and other parts of the west midlands. The police have been reduced to firefighting in an area for two or three months, before the resource goes to another area. The vacuum is then filled by more crime. Can the Home Secretary not do a bit more about that?
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will come to resourcing: both general police resourcing for all activities and resourcing dedicated to serious violence. He will also welcome that it is not just about resourcing; it is also about powers. I will talk about that in a moment, too.
The Home Secretary will realise that, in the £2.1 billion ask, Lynne Owens also raised the role of the Border Force. As the Home Secretary and I have discussed, of the young offenders I have met who have been involved in a gang or who have used or carried a knife, many have no idea where Colombia is or about the trafficking of cocaine and where it comes from. It comes because there are adult gangsters organising that traffic through Amsterdam and Spain. Will he say a little more about the role of the Border Force, which he knows has also been subject to cuts during the austerity period?
Let me first take this opportunity to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the work he has done and continues to do to help fight serious violence, particularly that done on the Serious Violence Taskforce. From that, he will know that a number of issues have been and continue to be looked at. He is right to raise the issue about Border Force and drugs coming into the country. I understand that last year Border Force had a record haul of class A drugs. There is still more to do, but it is good to see that it is stopping more and more drugs reaching our shores.
The Home Secretary is being generous with his time. This week at Killingholme docks a truck with £3 million-worth of cocaine hidden in it was stopped and prevented from coming into the local area. I wonder how many trucks with that amount of drugs get through. He will be well aware that Grimsby suffers from a significant county lines issue. This week, a man was stabbed after drawing out money in the evening, presumably by people wanting drug money. So much in this area is scaring people in smaller towns such as Grimsby; it is not just in the big cities. Is he giving all the attention he could to areas such as Grimsby?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of county lines, which I will talk a bit more about in a moment. In the last few years, many towns like Grimsby across the UK have been seriously impacted by the growing county lines problem. The NCA has published more information on it. We estimate that there are probably at least 2,000 county lines. She is right to mention the problems that that is causing Grimsby and elsewhere. When I talk about these issues later, I hope she will see some of the action we are taking and the results coming about because of that.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way yet again; he is being most generous in giving way to both sides of the House. Does he agree that we also need to look at the oversight of police and crime commissioners and how they are spending and managing their money? For instance, in the west midlands the PCC has managed to accumulate £106 million in reserves, and there has been a record rise in the precept, yet he is closing and flogging off Solihull police station. Now we have real uncertainty about whether 160,000 people will have a police station that they can call local.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Whatever resources are available to police, the public expect them to be spent efficiently and used in a way that will ultimately help. He talks about the west midlands, which has one of the forces that is most affected by serious violence. I have met the force’s leaders a number of times. He is right to question whether funding is being spent properly and appropriately.
My eyes are open to the scale of the challenge. Last year, we saw the highest number of knife murders since records began. Already this year we have seen 30 fatal stabbings on the streets of London alone. These are stark figures, yes, of course, but to truly understand what they mean we must look beyond the statistics to the lives they represent. Over the last year I have made it my mission to understand the real impact of the rise in serious violence. I have met with the families of victims and heard their harrowing stories; I have spoken to the doctors and nurses who fight to save lives; I have talked to youth workers, who try to turn people away from violence; and I have consulted our police, who are at the frontline of the battle against knife crime.
The Home Secretary mentioned the 30 murders in the capital so far this year. Last autumn, two young men—one a 15-year-old child—lost their lives through stabbings in my constituency. Just a few weeks ago, a 15-year-old was seriously stabbed on their way home from school. He talks about meeting various people to discuss this problem, but the reality on the ground is that locally our youth services have been cut, our school budgets have been cut and our local government budgets have been cut, so the resources going in to tackle this serious violence are being diminished all the time. What does he have to say about that?
When I met the hon. Lady, we had the opportunity to discuss these issues, and I hope she will allow me to progress through my remarks and answer precisely that question.
Members of the Youth Parliament representing Central Bedfordshire are campaigning to make young people aware that a person is in much more danger if they carry a knife. It does not protect them. How can the Government help these excellent Members of the Youth Parliament get the message out to other people that they are much less safe if they stupidly carry a knife?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One way the Government are trying to get that message out is through the #knifefree campaign, which I will come to in a moment.
From having all these conversations and meeting people, including the families of victims of knife crime, one message is loud and clear: there is no one single solution to stopping serious violence. To tackle it properly will require action on many fronts and joined-up action across Government. With our serious violence strategy, we are fighting on all fronts with all partners to try to stop this senseless violence. Our united approach is starting to see some progress. National crime statistics for the last year show that the rate of rise in knife crime is starting to slow. The most recent figures from the Metropolitan police show a fall in the number of homicides in the past 12 months, and the number of knife injuries among under-25s fell by 15% in the capital, with over 300 fewer young people being stabbed, but still far too many lives are being lost and I remain resolute in my mission to help end the bloodshed.
Mr Speaker, allow me to update the House on some of the work that is already under way. First, we are empowering police to respond to serious violence. I have joined anti-knife crime patrols and met senior officers from the worst-affected areas. They are the experts, so I have listened to what they say they need. They told me they needed more resources, so we have increased police funding by almost £1 billion this year, including council tax. As a result, police and crime commissioners are already planning to recruit about 3,500 extra officers and police staff.
The Prime Minister told me at Prime Minister’s Question Time last week that £1 billion was going back in, after she had cut 21,000 officers. In Ealing, Acton and Chiswick, where the number of aggravated burglaries and muggings has rocketed, how many officers will we have at the end of this year, compared with the number now? If they like, the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister would be welcome to visit; senior officers in Ealing and Acton would be happy to host them. We have lost both our police counters, but we would be happy to sit down and thrash this out. Our door is always open.
My understanding is that this year the Met plan to hire at least 300 additional officers. I cannot tell her how many there will be in Ealing, because that will be an operational decision for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, but that increase can take place because of the rise in funding—the largest cash increase since 2010.
In my constituency, we are seeing stabbings on a weekly basis. It is difficult to find exact numbers, but both boroughs that I cover—Redbridge and Waltham Forest—have lost about 200 officers each. How will the increase the Home Secretary is talking about plug the gap left by so many officers leaving the service?
One thing that will certainly help in our capital is the violent crime taskforce, which is dedicated to fighting violent crime in London, as well as other measures that I will come to in a moment—for example, the resourcing specifically for fighting serious violence, in the Metropolitan region and elsewhere, including new police officers specifically dedicated to that fight.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for what he has just said, but I would like some clarification. He said the increase was the biggest since 2010. Will he confirm that it is the only increase since 2010 and that the figure has otherwise been cut each year since I was Policing Minister in 2010?
It is not the only increase. In the previous year, I think it was around £460 million—something over £400 million, anyway—and this is double what it was the previous year, so I cannot confirm that because it is not correct.
The police also told me they needed more powers, so we are changing the law through the Offensive Weapons Bill, which is expected to gain Royal Assent tomorrow. The Bill will make it harder for young people to buy knives or acid and will introduce the knife crime protection orders that police asked for. They also told me they needed urgent support to deal with the immediate challenge. They asked for £50 million, but I doubled it to £100 million, with two thirds going straight to the police. Last week, I announced that £63.4 million of that had been allocated to the 18 worst-affected forces. It will pay for surge activity and additional patrols. A further £1.6 million will help to improve the quality of data to support planning and operations, with the remaining £35 million being used to support the creation of violence reduction units.
The police also told me they wanted targeted stop-and-search—because it works. The Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has linked its increased use in hotspot areas to the fall in youth stabbings. For that reason, I have made it simpler for the police to use these powers by relaxing the rules on section 60 searches in seven of the worst-hit areas. At least 3,000 more officers can now authorise searches in areas where violence is anticipated, which will help to take more weapons off our streets.
Last year alone, police in England and Wales made nearly 8,000 arrests for possession of weapons and firearms following a stop-and-search, so it undoubtedly works, but we will continue to work with the police and communities to ensure its use remains targeted and intelligence-led. Of course, officers should never search people based on their race or ethnicity. This is not about any specific community; it is about protecting those most at risk. A black person is four times more likely to be a victim of homicide than a white person. In London, 53% of knife crime victims are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. If the targeted use of stop-and-search can save any one of these victims, it can only be a good thing.
I am concerned about the impact on the community of the police’s increased ability to use section 60 and how innocent black young boys will be affected. I worry whether young people will feel encouraged to go to the police for protection and support if they feel victimised by them because of a blanket section 60 stop-and-search.
I understand why the hon. Lady raises this point, but she might be interested to know that the increase in stop-and-search in London in the last year has resulted in very few complaints, and one reason is the increased use of body-worn cameras. Police forces across the country are telling me that thanks to digital technology and evidence gathering they are seeing very few complaints about stop-and-search, especially compared with the levels of the past. She was right to mention innocent young black men—I think that was the phrase she used—but the increase is saving their lives. No innocent young person, no matter who they are or what their colour or background, should be faced with serious violence on our streets. Stop-and-search saves lives. That is why it is being used.
Secondly, we are investing in our young people’s future. Yes, a tough law enforcement response is essential, but by the time the police are called the damage is often already done. To save more lives, we must stop the violence before it starts by helping young people to avoid a life of crime. Giving teenagers more opportunities can transform their lives. I saw that at first hand last week—just a few days ago—when I visited a new OnSide youth zone in Dagenham. That is why we are investing £220 million in early intervention work, the largest investment of this type that we have ever made. Last month I announced that our £200 million youth endowment fund would be run by a charity called Impetus. The 10-year programme will deliver long-term help to those who are most in need, and young people will soon start to benefit, as the first funding round is expected to be launched shortly. The £22 million early youth intervention fund has already supported 29 projects.
I would like to thank the Victims Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins). She is unable to join us at the moment, because she is chairing a roundtable on migrant workers and domestic abuse, but she will be here later.
An analysis of the Government’s funding programmes, produced for the Home Affairs Committee, points out that the programmes for youth investment are spread over 10 years. If the Home Secretary looks at the annual funding and adds together the early intervention fund, the trusted relationships fund, the youth endowment fund and the communities and local government fund, he will see that—according to my calculation—the total is only £35 million a year, and that is set against a £760 million cut in youth services. Can he tell me whether those figures are correct?
A number of providers of those programmes with whom we have already worked have said that one thing they value deeply is certainty of funding. If the funding is not confirmed and people have to wait year by year, an endowment fund that provides security for up to 10 years can make a big difference to the delivery of services.
I have talked about intervention programmes in the Home Office, but cross-Government work, about which I shall say more shortly, means that there are a number of programmes that aim for similar outcomes resulting from early intervention and efforts to prevent young people from turning to a life of crime in the first place. For example, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has a troubled families programme, and has focused on knife-related crime. Work has also been done by, for instance, the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice.
I appreciate what the Home Secretary has said about certainty. However, I included many of those other cross-Government programmes in my calculation, and I came up with the figure of £35 million a year—and that is only 5% of the scale of the cuts in youth services. Can the Home Secretary tell me how many young people will be reached by the programmes that he has announced, and how many placements have been lost as a result of the cuts in the youth service? Knowing those basic facts about how many young people we are reaching and how many we are not reaching is crucial to our ability to assess whether his strategy will work.
What I am talking about specifically is targeted youth intervention to stop young people turning to crime, in this instance serious violence. The right hon. Lady was, I think, referring to youth services more broadly, perhaps those provided by local councils, which are more universal in nature. My focus is much more targeted. As I said a moment ago, I went to see the OnSide youth zone project in Dagenham, which is supported by the local authority and others. That is a much more universal project. I welcome that kind of work as well, but I am not sure that we are comparing like with like when we talk about universal versus targeted services.
If we do not engage with young people in the first place, how can we target them? I have seen the amazing work that youth services do in my constituency. I have particular praise for Llanrumney Phoenix boxing club and Tiger Bay boxing club, which are doing brilliant work with youth services and partners across the piece. They are also working with South Wales police, helping hundreds of young people in my constituency.
However, the facts are exactly as they were presented by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). Between 2012 and 2016, 600 youth centres have been closed, 139,000 places have been lost, and £760 million has been cut from youth service budgets. Half the youth service in London has been lost under the Home Secretary’s governance. How on earth will the little pot of money that he has announced offset that huge cut, and that huge lack of engagement with young people?
I do not think that this is a small pot of funding. I have referred to the £200 million that is targeted at early intervention, and I think that will make a difference. For example, I am supporting Redthread, whose work in trauma units in hospitals will be extended to London, Birmingham and other places.
We have lost 3,600 youth workers, along with the places mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty). We have also lost nearly 7,000 of the community support officers who play such an important role in preventing crime. Is the Home Secretary aware that the National Citizen Service, a flagship Government-funded programme initiated by the former Prime Minister, sucks up most of the youth service budget? I am not denigrating its work—it does good work—but some of its spending is deeply concerning, such as the £10 million spent on a rebranding exercise, which could have been spent on tackling youth crime.
The National Citizen Service does some very important work. We should recognise the way in which it helps young people by giving them activities, bringing them together and, potentially, turning them away from what could be a difficult life involving crime. As I said earlier, the early intervention youth fund is already supporting 29 projects across England and Wales, and it is estimated that by the end of March 2020 it will have helped at least 60,000 children and young people. I think that demonstrates its reach.
I appreciate the efforts the Home Secretary is making in describing the wonderful work that a very few limited projects are doing, but I would suggest that they benefit—and I am sure that they do benefit—a relatively small number of young people.
When I was lead member for children and youth services in Hounslow about 12 years ago, I was told by young people, including so-called vulnerable young people, that they appreciated the good, specialist work that youth workers and others were doing with them, but they did not want to go into a facility with other young people and be labelled vulnerable. They wanted to participate in a universal youth facility, to be seen as part of the crowd, and perhaps to do some specific work, as and when, with those specialist workers. Effectively, the only youth work that is currently being done is for those so-called vulnerable young people. They feel labelled and separated from others, because the universal provision has all but disappeared in most of our local authorities.
I am afraid it is simply not the case that the only funding that is being provided is for—to use the hon. Lady’s words—vulnerable young people. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) mentioned the National Citizen Service. That is open to everyone. A moment ago, I referred to the onside youth zones, including the £5 million youth centre that has just opened in Dagenham and is supported partly by taxpayers’ money. It too is open to everyone, and I suggest that the hon. Lady go and take a look. I think that she will see all types of young people there.
OnSide is setting up 100 youth zones. They are not youth centres, because they are trying to do something different, and to be a bit more welcoming to younger people rather than using the traditional and somewhat tired format. It is interesting to note that where those zones have been opened, youth-related crime has fallen by 50%. Does that not also demonstrate that there is a role for those who look at things differently?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. The first OnSide youth zone was in Bolton. He is right about the fall in crime and the positive impact that that has had on the community. The new youth zone I mentioned in Dagenham is just opening, but I was incredibly impressed by what I saw last week, because it is open to all young people from the age of 11 to 18, and because it can make a difference with the hours that it is open and the facilities that are there. Again, it is a universal youth service available to everyone, with all sorts of activities, so I agree with his comments.
I have come slightly late to the debate. I opened several OnSide youth centres, but I also think it is a shame that we have lost some good youth facilities. The trouble was that the youth service was too much of a nine-to-five service for the convenience of people who worked in it, rather than of the kids whom we desperately needed to engage. OnSide makes a difference because it is a partnership between local authority youth services, children’s charities and business, and because it provides a variety of services at a variety of times to a large variety of children. It is a great model and we need more such models.
Let me take the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for his work as a children’s Minister. He speaks with experience. He is absolutely right to talk about the model that OnSide represents. It is a vital partnership between local authorities, and therefore taxpayers, and people in the local community, including local businesses and local benefactors. In many cases, they have come from that community and have a stake in it, so they want improvements to be made. It is exactly the kind of model that has a strong future.
I appreciate the effectiveness of the work of universal youth services, such as OnSide, but unfortunately they are few and far between. OnSide presented its proposal for Hammersmith, and I asked whether my constituents would be able to attend. It said, “Ah, no—it’ll only be for young people who live in Hammersmith.” Surely the Home Secretary is saying that we need something of the scale of OnSide in every community so that every young person can go to one nearby. Is that not about reinserting the funding for universal youth provision in every community, which has been cut by such devastating amounts, as the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee said?
I agree with the hon. Lady that I want more of those types of youth facilities in more communities. The action we are taking by working with our partners will certainly allow that to happen.
Will the Home Secretary give way one more time?
I must make some progress.
We also continue to refresh our national media campaign, which I referred to earlier. The #knifefree campaign warns young people about the dangers of carrying a knife.
I want to highlight a third action, which is the multi-agency public health approach, and how it can help to tackle violent crime. It involves all parts of the public sector working together to stop serious violence. To make that happen, we are consulting on a new legal duty to ensure that every agency plays its part. Our teachers, nurses and social workers already work tirelessly to protect our children. It is not about asking them to do any more, because they already do so much; it is about giving them the support and the confidence they need to report their concerns, safe in the knowledge that everyone will close ranks to protect that child. It is also about ensuring that all agencies share information to ensure that no one slips through the cracks. To support the multi-agency approach, we are investing £35 million in new violence reduction units to bring local partners together in hotspots. Work is under way to finalise those plans; I hope to provide an update on the proposals in the coming weeks.
Finally, we are investigating the root causes of violence so we can tackle the problem at source. We know that social media plays a part, with gangs trading weapons and taunting each other online. Our new “Online Harms White Paper” sets out our expectations for internet companies to do more. Later this month, the Met will launch a new social media hub to enhance our response.
The changing drugs market and the growth of county lines gangs is another key factor. The National Crime Agency estimates that there are about 2,000 active county lines fuelling serious violence. Last September, we set up the national county lines co-ordination centre. It is already showing results, with more than 1,100 people arrested and more than 1,300 people safeguarded following national intensification weeks.
Does the Home Secretary agree that one way to gain intelligence and to detect county lines, gangs or vulnerable people and children is to have school police officers? Why, therefore, do only half the secondary schools in my constituency have a school police officer? They are not regarded as the priority, because the Met cannot recruit enough officers for the numbers leaving or the numbers it is being reduced by.
As I mentioned earlier, the number of officers in the Met and in most other forces is increasing; it is not being reduced. How those officers are deployed is clearly an operational decision. It is for the police to decide how best to use those officers. While I absolutely see the benefit of school police officers, it is right that that decision is not made by Ministers or by Parliament, but is based on the operational needs in the area. I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes the increase in police officer numbers, including in the Metropolitan area.
To understand the issue of drugs further, I have appointed Dame Carol Black to conduct an independent review of drugs misuse. She will examine what the market looks like, the harms it causes and what more we might do to combat drugs.
Will the Home Secretary clarify whether in the terms of reference for Dame Carol Black he has specifically ruled out decriminalisation or legalisation from the scope of the review?