House of Commons
Wednesday 5 June 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Electoral Integrity Consultation
The Government recently announced measures to strengthen and protect our democratic processes, including a consultation on electoral integrity. Before we launch the consultation, we will hold discussions with interested groups and explore the scope for cross-party co-operation. It will be published in due course.
Earlier this year, my constituents were bombarded with Facebook adverts telling them that I was stealing Brexit and ignoring their votes. It has been reported that behind those adverts was hundreds of thousands of pounds of dark money. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that voters know who is funding political adverts on social media?
Part of our announcement was that we will bring in a requirement for digital imprints where candidates or campaigners are involved, and some social media platforms have already implemented that. We are also looking, as part of a wider consultation, at how to have modern and up-to-date electoral rules, but it is about ensuring that we do it well rather than quickly.
The problem is much more widespread. The Guardian reported that American donors have given $5.6 million to US funding bodies, which passed it to, among others, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute and Policy Exchange. Will the consultation look specifically at how think-tanks are funded and by whom, or is the Minister worried that that is a little bit too close to home?
We are clear that the consultation needs to look at a wide range of issues, including the potential for shell companies or organisations to be used to funnel money into media campaigns. As I said in my initial answer, we are keen to get this right and to secure cross-party co-operation, so that we can have a robust system in law, because we know that any loopholes left in a rushed piece of legislation would be exploited.
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of having integrity in the system is ensuring that it is easy for people to understand? Electoral systems are critical to that, so will he bring forward plans to introduce first past the post in all English elections?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is a great advocate of the first-past-the-post system, which has served this country well for many generations, producing stable government. Any changes to introduce first past the post in other elections would have to compete for legislative time with other priorities.
Since we publicly raised concerns just over a year ago, the Conservative party has accepted more than £1 million from donors with links to Russia, including the wife of Vladimir Putin’s former deputy Finance Minister, who has donated £112,500 to the Conservative party in the past three months alone, making a total of up to £626,000. Will the review that the Minister is undertaking look at links between the Conservative party and the biggest kleptocrat of all, President Putin?
The person referred to is actually a British citizen, but I am not going to take lectures on the influence of Russia in British politics from the Opposition, whose leader wanted us to hand over evidence to Russia after the Salisbury attack—rather than believing our intelligence service, he would rather believe Mr Putin’s.
Electoral Registration: Non-UK EU Citizens
The Cabinet Office does not collect or hold information on the number of eligible electors who do not register to vote in any election. The process for EU nationals to register and declare their intention to vote in the UK for these elections was similar to the system used in previous European parliamentary elections.
Many of my constituents were denied a vote in the EU elections. Following yesterday’s urgent question, it is clear that the Government failed to implement the recommendations of the 2014 Electoral Commission review, failed to follow EU law, failed to try to extend the deadline for submitting the UC1 form and failed to uphold the human rights of EU residents in the UK. Was that simply Government incompetence, or did they deliberately deny EU citizens the right to vote?
I am very clear that the Government followed our legal obligations, and on 5 April the Electoral Commission published guidance for electoral registration officers, reminding them to prepare and issue UC1 forms to EU citizens on the register. Again, I reject this; and, again, the system was similar to what we have had in previous European Union elections.
On 23 May, my constituents Joanna Pardoe, Lues Huesca Molina, Paloma Luna, Peter Tait, Pierro Izzolino, Cristiana Bottigella, Sophie Beswick, Yaiza Rivero and dozens more were denied a vote in the EU elections. Yesterday, the Minister failed to apologise to them and the hundreds of other EU citizens who were unable to exercise their democratic right because of the impossible timetable set for Lewisham electoral services by this Government. Will he apologise today?
Two campaign groups, the3million and British in Europe, have raised more than £40 million to fund a legal challenge to the parliamentary election process. What assessment have the Government made of whether they took the necessary steps at the European elections to uphold article 3 of protocol 1 of the European convention on human rights, which protects our right to vote?
As said previously, the Government complied with all legal obligations and followed an almost identical process to what happened for previous European parliamentary elections. The requirement to make this declaration is part of European law, and we have to share such declarations before polling day. Again, while people may not like the outcome of those elections, I suggest they are better engaging with what voters said than trying to argue the process.
Will the Minister confirm that the UC1 form is not some arbitrary requirement, as has been suggested, but a core requirement of European law that is required of all European member states and has not been changed since previous elections?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right to say that this is a requirement that applied in 2009 and 2014, and there is a requirement under European law for us to have a declaration supplied to other member states about their citizens voting in this country to prevent double voting. It is interesting that those who are usually great fans of following European law did not want to follow this particular piece of it.
Yesterday, the Minister told me that he had received official advice that it would not be possible to bring forward a statutory instrument in advance of the European elections to allow more time for EU citizens to declare their intention on where they wished to vote and that that would not be possible because it would contravene European law. How can that be the case given that other European countries do it differently and that EU law sets no time requirements for registration, and will he publish the advice that he received?
EU law makes it clear that we have to supply details of the declarations sufficiently before polling day, which rather conflicts with the Scottish National party idea, suggested a couple of weeks ago, that we could fill in declarations at the polling station. Quite clearly, something cannot be done before polling day if the information is collected on polling day. We were clear that, with the timescales, we followed the legal process that was there from previous European parliamentary elections and complied with all our legal obligations.
On this matter, the Minister appears to be taking his cue from Shaggy, protesting, “It Wasn’t Me”. Six times yesterday, he refused to apologise to these EU citizens who have been disenfranchised. Can I suggest that he change the record and perhaps take his cue from Timbaland, and “Apologize”—apologise to those European citizens who have every right to vote in these elections, but were turned away on polling day?
It does seem like a bit of a broken record from the Labour party, and not an acceptance that this is exactly the same process EU citizens had to follow to vote in European parliamentary elections while the Labour party were in government. The best assessment will be the one done by the Electoral Commission, which will do so independently, following a statutory duty to review major polling events.
The Cornish People
The Government are committed to meeting the requirement of the framework convention for the protection of national minorities in respect of Cornish populations. We work with Cornwall Council to encourage the promotion of Cornish culture, and we have committed £100,000 over two years to the council to support this.
I thank the Minister for his answer. In 2014, when the decision was made by the Council of Europe, the Government welcomed the decision and said that this would give the Cornish the same recognition as the other Celtic parts of the UK. Does the Minister share my view that, to keep this commitment, the Cornish should be allowed to identify in the forthcoming census as Cornish by way of a tick-box, just as the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish will be able to do?
I always welcome the determination shown by my hon. Friend to be a strong Cornish voice for Cornwall in the Chamber and to put the county first on the agenda. The Government will be guided by the recommendation of the Office for National Statistics to the Government and Parliament about the demand for particular questions when we lay the census orders before Parliament later this year.
One of the best ways in which the Department could recognise Cornish minority status is to drop the ludicrous suggestion of having a Cornwall-Devon boundary review. Will the Minister commit to giving the Cornish the same rights as the Welsh and the Scots?
I rise with a degree of uncertainty, because ordinarily I seek to accommodate the hon. Lady, but the question has not been broadened by the character and contents of the answer, and I gently point out that Glasgow Central is a considerable distance from Cornwall. If she is sufficiently dextrous and can shoehorn an inquiry on Cornwall into a question about Cornwall that would be helpful.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your indulgence. Protection of the Cornish language is important, but there is no right, as there is for the Welsh, to write to the UK Government in Cornish, or to write to the UK Government in Gaelic and receive a response in that language. Would the Minister consider a UK language protection Bill that would protect Cornish and Scots Gaelic in the same way that Welsh is protected?
We can see that Celtic roots are strong, both in Cornwall and in Scotland, and that there is a link between them. We are always keen to help to promote the culture of these isles, and the different languages that are spoken across them are part of our vibrant United Kingdom. The Cabinet is always open to suggestions about how we can better do that, as the Department is keen to promote our Union.
Voter ID Pilots
The Government are delivering a programme of work to strengthen the integrity of our electoral system and ensure that elections are secure and fit for the 21st century. Validated figures will be published as part of the evaluations undertaken both by the Cabinet Office and by the independent Electoral Commission of the 2019 pilots.
According to interim figures for the pilot areas in May, 800 people were denied a vote because of ID requirements, yet last year there were only eight reported cases of personation fraud across the whole country. Is not the reality that this is not about protecting our electoral system—it is about voter suppression?
If it was so bad, why did the Labour party introduce a system of voter ID in Northern Ireland that has had no noticeable impact on voter turnout? To be clear, this is about securing the ballot, and we look forward to the Electoral Commission’s conclusions on the pilots.
It is always a pleasure to be asked a question by the hon. Gentleman. We are taking a range of measures to secure the protection of our electoral system, and I do not think that an ID check that originated in the 19th century and that was based on a small percentage of the community—and I must say, men—voting, where everyone was known, is still fit in the 21st century.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. A range of work was done locally, supported by the Electoral Commission and the Cabinet Office with councils’ consent, to ensure that voters were aware of the requirements. The indications so far are that that has been successful, but of course we will look at the Electoral Commission’s independent review before making further decisions on the process.
Candidates with Disabilities
The Government are working with disability organisations to help political parties better support disabled candidates. In December 2018, we launched the £250,000 EnAble fund, providing grants that cover disability-related expenses that people might face when seeking elected office.
I have met many talented students with disabilities in Cheltenham from the National Star College, so I commend my right hon. Friend for removing disability expenses from the electoral spending limits. Surely, that should apply across the United Kingdom. Does he not agree that it should be rolled out to Wales, too?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That is, of course, a matter for the Welsh Labour party in the Welsh Assembly. We have taken the view here that excluding disability-related expenses is vital to closing the gap between candidates with disabilities and candidates without disabilities, therefore enhancing equality of opportunity.
In supporting candidates with disabilities to stand in elections, does the Minister not agree that there could be a further benefit? It could result in the voting population of those with disabilities coming to the voting booths in person to vote for disabled or able-bodied candidates.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. It is good for us to ensure we have candidates from all backgrounds and all abilities, with candidates with disabilities having the opportunity to stand. There is a duty on all of us in political parties to do that. I am very proud that the Conservative party has a fund to support candidates who need extra help.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments in answer to this question. Does he agree that we all want to encourage maximum participation to ensure we get the very best candidates to stand and participate in all elections?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. That is absolutely right, and as I say, it is why I am very proud to be the chairman of a party that has a fund, through the Conservative Foundation, that puts money into supporting candidates in that way. It is for all of us in all political parties to support candidates of all types and abilities to come forward, stand and represent their constituents.
May I encourage the Minister to look at hidden disabilities, such as fibromyalgia and ME, as well as physical disabilities, to ensure that people with hidden disabilities, which might not be instantly recognisable, are included in the democratic process?
The National Cyber Security Centre provides expert technical advice to Departments and Government contractors, but also to the wider private and public sectors, on how to prevent, detect and recover from cyber-attacks.
Providing national insurance data can be at the root of the difficulties that young people face when registering to vote. Will the Minister identify how Departments can better share data with local councils to help more people exercise their democratic right and still ensure cyber-security?
We are looking at the potential reform of the canvassing operation by local authorities to compile the electoral register. As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, there is a fine balance to be struck between the benefits one gets from data sharing between different Government agencies and the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of very sensitive private data.
Today, the Public Accounts Committee found that, incredibly, a third of the funding for the Government’s cyber-security strategy has been transferred or loaned to other Government projects and that £69 million of cyber-funding has been taken from the strategy completely. Will the Minister confirm whether that is because the Government do not think our cyber-security is an important priority for them, or whether that is because even national security is not exempt from Tory austerity?
What the report shows very clearly is that the cyber-security of this country, and particularly of Government Departments and agencies, has been strengthened since the introduction and implementation of the national cyber-security strategy. The work that the National Cyber Security Centre, in particular, is leading on is helping Government Departments and the private sector alike to keep in touch with the developing and changing nature of the threat and to raise our defences accordingly.
The Government are committed to scrapping the arbitrary 15-year rule. We were disappointed that the Overseas Electors Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) did not succeed, but we remain committed to implementing votes for life and are considering the next steps to deliver that.
Is my hon. Friend aware that not everyone is enthusiastic about these changes, starting with me? Even though it would affect two of my daughters, who live permanently in America, I cannot for the life of me understand the justification for these changes. Will he also comment on reciprocal arrangements for non-nationals voting here?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, but I have to disagree with him. I am clear that we need to take the choice that is right for this country and our citizens who live abroad, many of whom have literally fought for this country and still retain very strong emotional connections to it and an interest in its affairs. That is why the Government’s view is that the 15-year limit is arbitrary and should be removed.
We are doing more than ever to encourage SMEs in public procurement. Recently published figures show an increase in spend from the previous year. Examples of measures that we have taken include streamlining procurement processes and improving transparency and, from September, we will be able to exclude suppliers that fail to pay subcontractors on time.
Research from the Federation of Small Businesses shows that 25% of businesses that are in supply chains for public infrastructure projects experience late payment more than half the time. Along with the Government lagging dismally behind their target of spending 33% of central Government procurement with SMEs by 2022, is this not yet more evidence that they simply do not represent the interests of small businesses?
I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome figures that show we are spending more with small businesses than ever before. On his point about prompt payment, we set a very challenging target of 90% of undisputed invoices from SMEs being paid within five days and we are meeting that for most Departments.
We are now moving towards the 20th anniversary of devolution in Scotland and Wales and we are making every effort possible to restore devolved Government in Northern Ireland. Under this Government, the devolved Parliaments have been given more powers than ever before, with new powers over income tax, transport and the benefit system, and we have been clear that, when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, a significant number of powers will flow back to those Parliaments. We are committed to upholding the devolution settlements and to strengthening the Union between all parts of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.]
Yesterday, during the urgent question, the Government were asked how many names of EU citizens were transmitted from this country to other countries after the 7 May deadline. What is the Government’s response to the fact that, under the directive, article 9.4 says that EU citizens shall remain eligible to vote in perpetuity and not have to fill in additional forms?
The process was exactly the same as for previous European parliamentary elections and I urge the hon. Gentleman to look at the independent review that the Electoral Commission will do following the poll.
The Government are committed to ensuring that all citizens feel empowered to participate in democracy. In the Cabinet Office, we have delivered projects to promote and encourage participation among young people, including a scheme to recruit and train some 1,000 youth democracy ambassadors. I know that my hon. Friend has personally worked very hard on this issue and I give great credit to him for that, because political parties have a role to play in getting young people involved in politics as well. I am very proud that, in the Conservative party, with his good work, we have seen over 100 new young Conservative branches in just a year.
The Prime Minister could not have been clearer yesterday that the future of the NHS will not be on the table in trade negotiations. The hon. Gentleman would be better advised to focus on the need to improve the declining standards in the Scottish NHS, for which his party is responsible.
Legislation allows returning officers to use schools as polling places to ensure sufficient provision of polling places. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there needs to be a balance, particularly because we need to find accessible buildings and in some cases schools will be the only ones, but there should be a discussion between returning officers and schools to ensure that the burden of this requirement is not too great.
The vast majority of liberal democracies worldwide, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, consider 18 the right age at which to enfranchise young people. Parliament has debated the question of lowering the voting age in a number of contexts and has repeatedly voted against doing so.
It was the First Minister herself who said that the 2014 referendum was a once-in-a-generation decision. I believe that we should take her at her word during that referendum campaign and uphold the clear will of the Scottish people as expressed in the 2014 referendum.
My hon. Friend is right. That is why such measures as the modern industrial strategy and the city deals programme bring benefits to every part of the United Kingdom. As he knows, Stoke-on-Trent has benefited from the transforming cities programme to the tune of more than £5.5 million and from the ultrafast broadband programme by more than £9 million.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) has said, Nicola Sturgeon laid the draft legislation for a second independence referendum last week, but with only one in five Scots supporting what she is doing. Can the Minister assure me that his Department is doing all it can to protect and preserve our United Kingdom, which we are so proud to be part of?
The Government believe, and I believe the majority of people in Scotland continue to believe, that all of us are stronger by being proud of being not only Scottish, English, Welsh or Northern Irish, but part of a union of four nations in the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I have been asked to reply.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Portsmouth today, with other world leaders, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings. The commemoration will involve more than 4,000 personnel in D-day events in the United Kingdom and France and representatives of every country that fought alongside the United Kingdom in Operation Overlord—and, appropriately, our former adversaries as well. I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will want to join me in paying tribute to the sacrifice of those who fought to secure the liberty and peace that we enjoy today, and to the courage which made possible the restoration of democracy, human rights and the rule of law to our continent of Europe. I am also sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our very best wishes to our Muslim constituents here in the United Kingdom, and to Muslims around the world who are celebrating Eid al-Fitr.
I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others earlier today, and I shall have further such meetings later.
As my right hon. Friend has said, today in Portsmouth and tomorrow in Normandy, we honour the veterans and the 150,000 British, American, Canadian and other allied troops who led the charge to liberate Europe from the real Nazi scum. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when a minority of hate-fuelled demonstrators yell “Nazi scum” in the faces of American tourists and intimidate others who are legitimately welcoming the visit of the American President, however we may take issue with him—and when, regrettably, they are spurred on by certain hon. Members—they attack the greatest alliance of free nations, and demean the memory of those brave troops and veterans whose sacrifice secured the right of all of us to free speech and lawful protest?
I agree with every word that my hon. Friend has just said. It is worth our reminding ourselves that the fact that we and our neighbouring countries across the channel enjoy today the freedom to express our views publicly, to assemble and demonstrate our points of view, and to argue peacefully against one another in this place, is derived from the courage and the sacrifice of the wartime generation, whether from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, or our other allies. We should remember and salute that courage and that sacrifice, and should not demean it by engaging in the sort of disgraceful behaviour to which my hon. Friend has referred.
It is a pleasure to step in on behalf of my colleagues today and, indeed, to stand opposite the right hon. Gentleman. I echo his comments about the marking of the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings, which are being commemorated in Portsmouth today. We must never forget the extraordinary sacrifices of all those who landed in Normandy on that day, and the achievements of our servicemen and women who came together to fight fascism and protect our freedom.
I, too, wish a happy Eid al-Fitr to all our Muslim friends throughout the United Kingdom. Let me also express solidarity with all the women who are fighting pension injustice in court and outside Parliament today.
I congratulate both English teams who competed in the Champions League final on Saturday. It pains me, as a Manchester United fan, to congratulate Liverpool on their victory, although—fair play—Liverpool fans did rename “Margaret Thatcher Square” in Madrid “Jeremy Corbyn Square”. I reckon that that deserves brownie points, even from a Man United fan.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister had to repeat to President Trump a journalist’s question about whether the NHS was on the table as part of a United States trade deal. Given that the Prime Minister was silent on the matter, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will clarify the Government’s position. Will the Tory party give US companies access to the NHS—yes or no?
May I first welcome the hon. Lady to these new responsibilities for her and agree with her comments both about D-day and the success of English football teams in the two most recent European finals, and also wish both the English and Scottish women’s elevens well in their forthcoming matches?
I welcome the hon. Lady. I feel slightly sorry for the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), who I have become used to jousting with and who seems to have been dispatched to internal exile somewhere else along the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Lady perhaps needs to watch out because I think there is a lesson there: anybody who outshines the dear leader at the Dispatch Box risks being airbrushed out of the politburo history at the earliest opportunity.
The Prime Minister has been very clear and she spoke for everyone in the Government and on this side of the House: when it comes to trade negotiations, the NHS is not, and will not be, up for sale.
The right hon. Gentleman is full of the banter today, Mr Speaker.
The President certainly seemed to think the NHS was on the table yesterday. So does the Trade Secretary, but who knows who speaks for the Government at the moment? The Prime Minister did nothing to allay concerns yesterday, so I hope she was more forceful in raising climate change with a President who initiated the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, opened up record amounts of land for oil and gas drilling and called climate change a hoax. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether yesterday the Prime Minister made any attempt to convince the President that climate change is in fact real?
Yes, the Prime Minister did raise climate change with the President yesterday and she made it clear at their joint press conference yesterday afternoon that she had done that. We are very proud of this country’s commitment to the international agreements to reduce global carbon emissions and we have a better track record in reducing those emissions than any other G7 member state.
The statistics that the right hon. Gentleman referred to relate to emissions cuts since 2010, when the UK benefited from policies put in place by the last Labour Government—policies that have since been dismantled. But how much authority do this Government actually have on this issue? Three current Cabinet Ministers have denied the scientific consensus on climate change, and several of those standing in the Tory leadership contest have close links with organisations and individuals promoting climate denial. It does not bode well. Figures released in April show that the UK is set to miss its own carbon budgets by an ever-widening margin. Would the right hon. Gentleman like to explain why the Government are off track in respect of meeting their own targets?
We are not off track in respect of meeting those targets. Since 2010, the United Kingdom has decarbonised our economy faster than any other G7 country. We generate now a record amount of electricity from renewable energy sources and we have just gone through the longest period in our history without relying on electricity generated from coal. That stands starkly against what appears to be the Labour party’s declared policy, which is to reopen the coal mines but not actually to burn the coal that they mine.
Let me be clear: the Labour party does not condone the reopening of any coal mine to be used for energy purposes. Once again, the right hon. Gentleman refers to climate emissions reductions that were implemented using Labour party policy—Labour policies that have since been dismantled. Not only are the Government failing to meet their targets, but last year actually saw the smallest drop in carbon emissions in the last six years: just 2%. At that rate it would take until the end of the century to reach net zero emissions. Just yesterday, the Financial Times reported that the Government are accused of trying to “fiddle its emissions figures”, ignoring their official advisers. So let me ask the right hon. Gentleman a simple policy question: the Labour party has committed to banning fracking. Will the Government ban fracking and allow new onshore wind in England—yes or no?
What the Government are committed to is to reducing emissions in line with our domestic and global targets. We have not only met but outperformed our first and second carbon budgets, and we are on track towards meeting the third. For some time into the future, there will be a need to use gas as a transitional fuel, but it is much less polluting than other forms of hydrocarbon-based energy and it will therefore be a good source during the transition period while we make ready to move to a completely decarbonised economy.
This is absolutely staggering. The Government promote fracking, which is backed by only 12% of the public, yet they effectively block onshore wind, which is backed by 79% of the public. New solar is down 94% and home insulation is down 98%. Parliament has declared a climate emergency, yet there is no evidence that this Government take it seriously. We need a green industrial revolution to tackle climate change. The Swansea tidal lagoon alone would have required 100,000 tonnes of steel, mainly from Port Talbot, but the Government refused to back it. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the Government have actually done to support our steel industry since signing the steel charter?
If we look at what is actually happening in the real world, rather than at the ideological tracts that the hon. Lady appears to spend her time reading, we see that there are already about 400,000 jobs in low-carbon businesses and their supply chains throughout the United Kingdom, with scope for much more low-carbon growth to support up to 2 million jobs in the future. We have now received advice from the independent Committee on Climate Change about how to time and to legislate for our transition to a completely decarbonised economy, and we will be bringing forward later this year our decisions on how and when we will be taking that action.
The independent Committee on Climate Change has repeatedly criticised the Government’s approach to decarbonising our economy. I note that there was not a single word in the right hon. Gentleman’s response on what support the Government will provide for the steel industry, and people from Redcar to Scunthorpe know that his empty rhetoric will not solve their catastrophe. Climate change is an existential threat. To safeguard our future, we will need to mobilise all our resources, just like we did when we rebuilt Britain after the second world war. If we took the challenge seriously, we could create hundreds of thousands of jobs in low-carbon industries, reverse decades of decline in our de-industrialised areas and lead the world in renewable technologies, but the Government are letting us down. They have recklessly run the clock down on Brexit, and is it not the truth that their failure is now running down the clock on our planet?
The hon. Lady asks about Government help for the steel industry. The answer to her question is that we have provided taxpayer-funded subsidies to cut energy costs in the steel industry. We have also supported globally, and introduced here, trade defence measures to shut out unfair competition and the dumping of steel. When I was in Sheffield a few days ago, I talked to specialist steelmakers in South Yorkshire who welcomed this Government’s commitment to the advanced manufacturing centre there and to the work we are doing on technical and vocational training. They were optimistic about the future of steelmaking and manufacturing in this country under the policies that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been taking through. When I looked at the hon. Lady’s video about the Labour party’s new commitment to what it terms a green industrial revolution, I saw that it concluded with a focus on words about renationalisation and bringing industries back into public ownership, as if that were the way forward. We know from the CBI that the cost of that would be £176 billion, taken from the pockets of taxpayers throughout the United Kingdom. That money could be used to build 3 million new homes. Those Labour policies would put at risk the finances of decent working families in every part of this country.
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this important issue. We are committed to ensuring that people of all ages have access to the care and support that they need; that is why we have given local authorities access to nearly £4 billion more for adult social care this year.
However, we recognise that we also need to make sure that best practice is observed across all local authorities and NHS trusts, where the evidence is that delayed discharges are higher in some areas than others. We will be publishing the Green Paper at the earliest opportunity to set out the hard strategic choices that will face the Government, whoever leads the Government in the months to come, and to describe proposals to ensure that the social care system is sustainable over the longer term.
I associate myself and my Scottish National party colleagues with the comments of others. Our thoughts are with the veterans gathered in Portsmouth today to commemorate the anniversary of D-day. Today is also World Environment Day—an important reminder that climate change remains the biggest challenge facing the world. I also wish a very happy Eid Mubarak to all those celebrating across the UK today.
Yesterday, Donald Trump said that the NHS was “on the table” in the trade talks with the UK. Today, he says he is not so sure. This is someone who does not even believe in climate change—a President who simply cannot be trusted. Why, then, are the UK Government so obsessed with pursuing a trade deal that puts Scotland’s NHS at risk?
The Government are not putting the NHS at risk in Scotland or anywhere else, and the Prime Minister has made that very clear indeed. What I fear is putting standards at risk at the NHS in Scotland is the SNP’s obsession with constitutional matters and the referendum rather than focusing on the better delivery of public services.
We have the best performing NHS in the UK, with the highest number of GPs per head of population. If this week has proven anything, it is that there is no guarantee that our NHS is safe. In 2014, Westminster promised that Scotland’s NHS would be in public hands for as long as the people of Scotland wanted that. But now this Tory Government are actively working to deny the Scottish Parliament the powers to safeguard our NHS and protect our public services.
The truth is that, under this Government, Scotland will not have a veto—we may not even have a say. The Scottish Government will never allow our precious NHS to be signed away in a Tory-Trump trade deal. If the Minister and his fellow MPs cannot make that same pledge here today, they will never, ever be forgiven.
At the risk of repeating myself, under this Government, and under the stewardship of anyone on the Government Benches, the NHS is not going to be up for grabs in a trade negotiation with the United States or with anybody else at all. When the hon. Lady talks about the need for a voice for Scotland, she ought to have more confidence in the ability of herself and her colleagues to represent the interests of Scotland here in debates and in the Committees on which they sit. At the moment, they are leaving it to my 13 Conservative colleagues to be the true voice of Scotland.
The legacy of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be a country in which income inequality is down and wages have been rising faster than inflation for more than a year. We have the lowest unemployment since the 1970s and record numbers of people in jobs. It is about time that the hon. Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock) stopped talking our country down. On this side of the House, we want to raise our country up.
Let me say two things. First, I believe that freedom of speech is one of our most precious inheritances from previous generations, and we should do everything we can in this place and outside to uphold that principle. When it comes to any specific case, it would clearly be wrong for me to pass comment on something that is before the courts.
South Wales police is actually receiving up to £290 million of funding in the current financial year, which is an increase of £19 million on the last financial year. To get to grips with serious crime—no one would have anything but sympathy for the victims to whom she refers and their families—we also need to look at what drives young men in particular, towards gang membership and participation in violent crime. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in partnership with other Ministers, is now leading that work, which I hope will bring benefits to the hon. Lady’s constituency and many others.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point; the car industry is one of the most important sectors—but by no means the only one—in this country that relies heavily on just-in-time, cross-border supply chains with enterprises in other member states of the European Union. That is why the Government remain focused on ensuring that our departure from the EU is smooth and orderly, and with a deal that allows for those just-in-time supply chains to be protected.
May I first congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his partner—I have looked at his Twitter feed—on the imminent birth of their second child later this year? I wish both he and his partner well. On his question, it was this Government who went to the independent Committee on Climate Change to ask for advice about how, and over what timeframe, to make that move to complete decarbonisation. We have only very recently received that advice. It will clearly need to be considered within Government, and we want to bring forward our decision at the earliest possible opportunity, because I share his view of the importance of getting on with this.
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this initiative in Bolton. As he knows, high streets are changing, and the Government are committed to helping communities such as Bolton to adapt to that change. We have already set in hand the £675 million future high streets fund, and we welcome Bolton Council’s applications, which are being assessed, alongside other applications. We will make an announcement about the places that are successful later this summer, and I know that my hon. Friend will continue to be a very doughty champion for his city.
NHS England is, I understand, increasing the baseline funding of the Hammersmith and Fulham clinical commissioning group to ensure that it is not financially disadvantaged by hosting GP at hand. But to improve its service to patients, the NHS is going to need to embrace innovation. Digital technologies such as those used by GP at hand do offer convenience for patients and often allow clinicians to work more efficiently. That is why our new GP contract gives everyone the right to digital first primary care, including web and video consultations from 2021, if that is what they want to receive.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the particular example of Pegasus bridge and the heroism shown by servicemen from our two counties. He is right that today we need to pay tribute to the men and women who took part in the success of Operation Overlord, from whichever part of the United Kingdom or from whichever allied country they came.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I know that he is due to meet Ministers from the Ministry of Justice fairly soon to talk about whether the MOJ could introduce similar practices for its services; I will draw his question to the attention of the Minister for Policing, to see whether a comparable meeting can be established with the Home Office.
Petts Wood in the London Borough of Bromley is designated an area of special residential character, but it has suffered from inconsistent decision making at the hands of the unaccountable Planning Inspectorate. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to help me to secure the meeting that I have long been requesting but that the Planning Inspectorate has for some reason consistently declined?
One does get a bit sick of these scare stories after a while. The hon. Lady might like to pretend otherwise, but the majority of contracting out to the private sector in the NHS did not take place under a Conservative Administration; it took place under the Labour Government, with Andy Burnham urging that it be accelerated. The truth is that during the NHS’s 70-year lifetime, it has had more years under Conservative stewardship than under Labour stewardship. If we look at what is happening today, we see the NHS getting the biggest cash boost ever in its history and a long-term plan for its future, made possible by Conservative policies.
I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I echo what the Minister said about our teams that are going to the World cup and their performances later this month. This country is further represented by the three match officials who have been selected: Sian Massey and Lisa Rashid from England, and my colleague from Scotland Kylie Cockburn. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating them on the dedication, commitment and ability as match officials that has seen them called up to the World cup, and will he wish all our match officials a successful and productive tournament?
I felt that perhaps the shop steward for the amalgamated union of association football officials was speaking then. I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Sian, Lisa and Kylie on their having been selected as assistant referees. It is a first-class achievement and I wish them, as well as both teams, all success for the World cup.
I think I can give the hon. Lady an encouraging message to take back to the pupils of St Gregory’s school, which is that, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Government have launched a resources and waste strategy, which includes consulting on plans to introduce consistent recycling for all households, consulting on a deposit return scheme to drive up the recycling of cans and bottles and plans for producers to pay the full cost of managing packaging waste for extended producer responsibility. I think that that makes a good package.
Thirty years ago this week, some 2,000 democrats—maybe more, but we will never know the number—were murdered in Tiananmen Square. Even now in China, a great firewall prevents Wikipedia, Google and others from communicating with the Chinese people. Although China has moved on, does my right hon. Friend not think it the height of hypocrisy that those who demonstrated against the President of America chose not to demonstrate against the President of China when he came here?
My hon. Friend makes a telling point about the inconsistency in standards among some leading members of this House. It was indeed 30 years yesterday since the tragic and shocking events in which so many people lost their lives while protesting peacefully in and around Tiananmen Square. The sad truth today is that people in China are still unable to exercise their right to protest peacefully—a right given to them by international agreements to which the Chinese Government have signed up. We continue to urge the Chinese Government to respect citizens’ freedom of association, assembly, expression and other fundamental rights and freedoms as is supposed to be enshrined in China’s constitution as well as in international law.
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price is commemorating the D-day landings at the Normandy memorial today. We share the feeling for all those people who were involved in that historical event.
I guess that, when President Trump’s visit was thought up months ago, the plan was that the UK would have left the EU. “Take back control”, they said, but what we saw this week was a vision of things to come: of razzle dazzle concealing the reality of sovereignty reduced to sycophancy. Some 68% of Welsh exports go to the EU. Only 14% of Welsh exports go to the US. Post-Brexit, the British Government will have to choose which deal to strike. Which deal would the Minister prioritise?
If the hon. Lady had been studying the various publications from the Government, she would have seen that our objective is to have a very close, deep future partnership on trade and other matters with our neighbours in the European Union while, at the same time, having the freedom to pursue trade deals with other parts of the world, including with the United States. I ask the hon. Lady to pause before condemning the state visit by the elected Head of State and Government of our staunchest ally at a time when we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings and trying to criticise that for political purposes. We can disagree with President Trump—any of us is free to do so—but he is here as the elected Head of State of our staunch consistent ally and we should honour and respect him during that visit.
My right hon. Friend will be aware from his recent visit to Cornwall of the development potential of the space sector there. Therefore, I am sure he will join me in welcoming the announcement yesterday of £7.8 million of Government support for the development of Europe’s first horizontal spaceport in Cornwall. Will he also join me in congratulating all the Spaceport Cornwall team on their successful bid? Will he use his offices to ensure that the Government do everything they can to make sure that the regulations are in place to allow satellites to be launched as soon as possible? While he is on his feet, will he congratulate the Cornish rugby team on its excellent win on Sunday against Cheshire to become county champions?
I am delighted to congratulate the Cornish rugby team, as my hon. Friend invites me to do. I was also very pleased to see the decision being made to give that support to the Cornwall spaceport initiative. I remember very vividly meeting representatives of the spaceport during my visit to Goonhilly Earth Station earlier this year. There are some really exciting commercial opportunities available for Cornwall and the United Kingdom.
In July 2016, my constituent Mr Goff was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. He was treated with two lines of chemotherapy, and he initially responded well, but he had recurrent infections that required antibiotics. He went into remission in 2018, and his personal independence payment was stopped in December 2018. Mr Goff appealed the decision. Despite the fact that he was receiving treatment, his appeal was refused. In February, he was told that his cancer had relapsed—it is incurable. He is now being told that his mobility car will be repossessed this week. Removing his PIP will leave him short of money, unable to get to most of his daily appointments and at risk of infection when travelling on public transport. I appeal to everybody on the Government Benches: show some compassion. Someone intervene and stop this injustice.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I do not know any more about the detail of his constituent’s case than what he has just set out before the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is in her place on the Front Bench and will have heard what he said. I shall ask her to make sure that a Minister from that Department speaks to the hon. Gentleman urgently to get to the bottom of what has happened.
The National Readership Challenge launches today, and I particularly recommend to colleagues the conclusions on further education in the Government’s post-18 education review—to reverse the decline of core spending, to increase the unit funding rate and to allow for three-year funding plans. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that should be essential reading for Treasury Ministers before the autumn spending review and that more funding for further education would be very welcome?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the vital role that further education plays not only in equipping young men and women with the skills they need to give them good career opportunities, but often also in providing a passport to higher education at a later stage in their careers. The Augar review provides a blueprint for how we can make sure that everybody can follow the path that is right for them, and my hon. Friend is right to say that we need to study Augar’s conclusions carefully in the run-up to the forthcoming spending review.
Police Scotland prepared a report for the Crown Office on extraordinary rendition flights stopping at Scottish airports. Counter-terrorism officers and the Lord Advocate have made it clear that they require full access to the unredacted Senate intelligence committee report from the United States Government, who have so far refused to provide it, and that is prohibiting them from determining whether a crime was committed. Given that intelligence sharing is supposed to underpin our relationship with the US, has anyone from the Government raised this issue with President Trump while he has been here? If not, will the right hon. Gentleman pledge to do so on behalf of Scotland’s law enforcement agencies before President Trump departs UK soil today?
Unsurprisingly, and in line with precedent under all Governments, I am not prepared to discuss security intelligence matters on the Floor of the House, but I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s question to the attention of those of my colleagues in the Government who are directly responsible for these areas of policy.
My thoughts today are with my 94-year-old step-father, who has once again returned to Normandy to remember that it was soldiers, sailors and airmen from not only the UK and the US, but our allies—especially those all over the Commonwealth—who fought for our lives. May we use this moment to thank them, to thank those who serve in our armed forces today and to thank our Prime Minister, who, in her last few days in the job, is serving our country with great dignity?
Twelve months ago, the Prime Minister told this House that she wanted a speedy resolution to the funding row between NHS England and Vertex regarding the drug Orkambi to treat cystic fibrosis. My seven-year-old constituent Oliver Ward wrote to the Prime Minister recently asking what progress she has made. Could the Minister please give Oliver some good news and tell him that he need not get up every day worrying about this terrible injustice?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Speaking on a day on which we commemorate the freedom of Europe, it came to my attention at the weekend that a fellow member of the Council of Europe—the Georgian state, and especially its Ministry of the Interior—will not provide security during Pride month to the first ever Pride march through Tbilisi. Given the history of anti-LGBT violence funded by the Russian state in previous years, I wonder, Mr Speaker, how we can convey not only to the Government of Georgia but to its ambassador in the United Kingdom that this House is not only concerned but gravely disappointed by their limitation on human dignity within the Georgian nation.
The hon. Gentleman has partly achieved his objective by the ruse—and I will call it the ruse—of a point of order, which conceivably could have been the substitute for a question that he might have wanted to ask. If that was his objective, he has achieved it. I cannot speak for the House as a whole, but to judge from debates that have taken place in this Chamber in recent years, my strong sense is that his point will have struck a chord. The idea that such a march should not be able to take place within a safe space, with its participants’ physical security underpinned, offends very strongly against our instincts, so I hope that such measures as are necessary to be taken by Georgians will be taken.
More widely, if I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, he made what struck me as a wholly uncontroversial observation about the record of the Russian state in human rights generally and, more particularly, the protection—or rather the non-protection—of the rights of LGBT people. That is a profoundly unsatisfactory state of affairs, and it is about time it became more civilised in these important matters. [Interruption.] It is always good to have the sedentary support of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), and I thank him for what he has said.
Interim NHS People Plan
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make a statement on the interim NHS people plan.
The NHS published its interim people plan on Monday, and I laid a written ministerial statement at the earliest opportunity yesterday.
The plan is a first, but critically important, step in ensuring that the NHS has the people, leadership and culture it needs to deliver the NHS long-term plan. The interim people plan has been developed by Baroness Dido Harding, the chair of NHS Improvement, in partnership with frontline staff, NHS employers and a wider range of other representative groups and stakeholders. It takes a tough look at the challenges facing people working across the NHS. It sets out how leaders will be supported to create cultures that empower staff and make sure that every member of staff, regardless of their background, will be able to progress.
Critically, the plan calls for all NHS organisations to set out how they will ensure that the NHS is the best place to work. The recently appointed chief people officer for the NHS will play a vital role in supporting the NHS to do this. The interim people plan sets out a number of practical steps to increase the supply of clinical staff. This includes an extra 5,000 additional clinical placements for nurse training places by September 2019 and a commitment to further expansion of medical school places.
Ultimately, the plan will ensure that the NHS is best able to retain the highly skilled and dedicated staff who choose a career in healthcare, including the most senior clinicians. Therefore, we have listened to their concerns that pension tax changes are discouraging them from doing extra work for patients. That is why Government will consult on how to introduce new flexibilities for this critically important staff group.
But we are not complacent. We know there is more work to do to secure the people, leadership and culture that the NHS needs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked Baroness Harding to lead further work over the summer to prepare the final people plan. As has always been intended, the final people plan will be published soon after the conclusion of the spending review, when there will be further clarity on education and training budgets.
I would like to take this opportunity once again to place on record my thanks, and the thanks, I am sure, of everybody across the whole House, to all the NHS staff who do a wonderful job in ensuring that our constituents—their patients—get excellent care.
It is a pleasure, as always, to see the Minister of State, but the Secretary of State should be doing his day job and be here answering questions about the health service, not playing his Tory leadership games.
Our NHS is struggling with vacancies of 100,000. Our NHS staff are the very best in the world—and none of them wants to be part of a trade deal with the Americans, of course—but they are working under immense pressure because of these chronic shortages. Shortages put patient care at risk, and that means that standards of care are falling. This means that our constituents wait longer to get a GP appointment because we have lost 1,000 GPs. It means that women are turned away from maternity units because we are short of 3,500 midwives. It means that cancer diagnosis is delayed because of shortages in the cancer workforce. As Dido Harding’s report shows, we are short of 40,000 nurses in the workforce, and that is now critical. It means that at a time when mental health problems are increasing—The Lancet reports today on an increase in non-suicidal self-harm—we have actually lost 5,000 mental health nurses since 2010. We have problems in the learning disability sector. Health Education England today warns that because of the shortages in learning disability nursing, we are set to
“hit critical levels in the next five years”,
with vacancies of 30%. We have an ageing population. Adult social care is short of 110,000 staff, and yet district nursing has been cut by 50%. We do not have enough nurses on our children’s wards. Health visitors and school nurses in our communities have been cut.
This NHS workforce crisis is linked to decisions of this Government. As Dido Harding’s report says,
“applications for nursing and midwifery courses have fallen since the education funding reforms”.
Those education funding reforms include the abolition of the bursary. Is not that therefore a damning indictment of the decision by this Government to abolish the bursary, and will the Minister now commit to bringing it back?
The report also references continuing professional development, where budgets have again been cut, by a third. It says:
“Employers have…been investing less in their people, as pressures on NHS finances have grown.”
Is that not an admission that Tory austerity, with nine years of underfunding in the NHS, has contributed to the workforce crisis of today?
The Health Secretary has said that he wants “a new Windrush Generation” of overseas nurses to fill the staffing gap, so can the Minister explain why a commitment to recruit 5,000 extra nurses a year internationally was dropped from the Dido Harding report? Did the Government put pressure on Baroness Harding? On international recruitment, can he guarantee that no one offered a job in the NHS or care sector will be restricted by the £30,000 salary cap, as the chair of Health Education England called for yesterday at the Health and Social Care Committee?
Finally, the Minister referenced the spending review. He will have seen that the Chief Secretary said yesterday at a Select Committee that the spending review is now unlikely to be ready for 2020-21. That means that new funding for training, for Health Education England and for capital investment in public health and social care will not come on stream until 2021—two years away. Does the Minister think that that is an acceptable way to deal with the NHS crisis we are facing? I urge the Minister, for whom I have a lot of respect, to accept that we cannot keep delaying this situation further. The Health Secretary needs to abandon his leadership games, focus on his day job and get a grip.
The House will have listened to the hon. Gentleman. It is important to put out some facts, which were missing from his fact-free analysis. For example, we have had 52,000 more professionally qualified clinical staff in the last nine years, almost 16,500 more doctors and over 17,000 more nurses on our wards. He set out a list of promises, but with little detail and no means to pay for them. He asked a number of questions, which I will respond to.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the number of nurses and said that there was no plan. There clearly is. Increasing nursing is a priority, and this plan sets out—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) would like to listen, this plan sets out a focus to ensure that we can recruit nurses. The hon. Gentleman talked about applications, but he will know that applications for nursing places are up 4% on the previous year. He will also know that the plan sets out 5,000 more clinical placements available in September this year, which is a 25% increase on the previous year. He will know that the plan sets out 7,500 more nursing associates. The plan also quite clearly sets out measures that will ensure that the NHS is the best place to work, and therefore more nurses will want to stay in it.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about a number of other issues. The Migration Advisory Committee has made recommendations, which he will have seen. He will know that the Secretary of State has made a firm commitment that we intend to continue to recruit internationally, as well as increasing domestic recruitment. He mentioned continuing professional development. It would be useful if he had read the plan, which sets out commitments to ensure continuing education and opportunities for education for all staff in the NHS. He will have seen that there will be a final level of commitment.
The hon. Gentleman speculates about the spending review. He speculates about a number of things, but it would be better not to speculate. It would also be better not to make allegations about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who was doing his day job yesterday. I know that the hon. Gentleman is always interested in soundbites, and one soundbite he should have taken notice of was when my right hon. Friend said yesterday:
“the NHS is not on the table in any trade talks. The NHS is not a bargaining chip in negotiations, with the US or otherwise.”
I welcome the Minister’s announcement that the Government are giving higher priority still to the recruitment and retention of staff in the NHS. It is an undeniable fact that there are acute shortages, particularly of nurses, in practically every part of the NHS, and we urgently need to improve our recruitment and retention. With that in mind, will he confirm that in finalising the people plan, serious consideration will be given to the immigration rules that will apply to recruitment after we leave the European Union? About one in 20 of the whole staff of the NHS at the moment are citizens of the European Union, and it would make no sense at all to put new restrictions of any kind on people coming from the European Union who want to make a valuable contribution to our health service. In Nottingham, we used to run recruitment campaigns for nurses in Romania. We are a long way away from being able to in any way put restrictions on staff coming from any part of the continent.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Father of the House is completely correct. We want to make sure it is clear that the EU nationals who work in the national health service—there are more than 63,000 of them—are valued and make a huge contribution to our NHS. He will probably be aware that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Home Secretary are in continuing negotiations, to ensure that there is no change to that position. I guarantee that we want to see EU nationals continue to work in and contribute to our great health service.
I welcome the interim NHS people plan. Workforce is the greatest challenge across all four health services, but the 41,000 nursing vacancies in NHS England are simply a patient safety issue and cannot be parked on some shelf or kicked into the long grass. The plan identifies the removal of the nursing bursary and the imposition of student fees leading to a drop of over 30% in new student nurses. Will the Minister commit to re-establishing the bursary? Scotland preserved the bursary and free tuition, and our nursing vacancy rate is less than half that. The plan also calls for 5,000 new GPs. I remember the former Secretary of State promising 5,000 new GPs by next year, and rather than being close to delivering that, there are 1,000 fewer. How will the Minister deliver 5,000 extra GPs? Will he increase funding to Health Education England to deliver it?
There is no question but that the NHS across the UK will need non-UK staff. How will the Minister attract both EU and non-EU staff when there has been a 90% drop in European nurses coming here, and non-EU doctors are leaving because of visa charges and the £400 a year they pay per member of their family to access NHS services? What is he going to do about the pension tax allowance rules that are driving young consultants out of the NHS?
I thank the hon. Lady for welcoming the plan. I think she will accept that this is a good interim plan; it is a stepping stone. She asks what we are doing to fill nursing places. I point out yet again that we are increasing applications and ensuring that there are 5,000 extra clinical placements available, which is a 25% increase on last year. Far from being complacent about the number of nursing applicants, we are looking to ensure that more nurses can be trained in this country, beyond the 35,000 who are being trained at the moment.
The hon. Lady asked about doctors. The Royal College of Physicians has made it clear that we need more medical school students. We are committed to increasing the number of undergraduate medical school places for domestic students by 1,500, with the first 630 being taken up last year. By 2020, there will be five new medical schools across England, helping to deliver—[Interruption.] Of course it takes time, but if we do not take that step now, we will never make the end of that journey. That has been a consistent problem for many years. There are still more doctors coming through now, but we need to do more, which is why this plan is being put in place.
The hon. Lady will have heard me say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Father of the House that there are more than 63,000 EU nationals working in the health service. That is more than there were in December 2017, and over 5,000 more than there were in June 2016. She is right to point out that we want those skills in the right clinical areas. I reiterate what I said a moment ago: we wish to make it absolutely clear that the contribution of EU nationals working in the health service is extraordinary and valued and will continue to be so.
The hon. Lady briefly mentioned pensions. She will have noted that we launched a consultation yesterday, setting out some ideas. I am pleased to say that the British Medical Association has welcomed them but asked us to look at other flexibility within the pension rules. I encourage the hon. Lady and all consultants to take part in that consultation.
The Minister knows from our time together in the Department how much I welcome the interim people plan. It simply is the turnkey without which our long-term plan just cannot work. He is aware of how important retention is, and that is at the heart of the plan. I know he has mentioned this several times already—and consultations are great, and I will encourage my constituents to take part—but may I ask him to look urgently at the changes to the NHS pension scheme in relation to the annual allowance and the lifetime allowance? My trust has contacted me to say that senior consultant doctors and senior nurses are receiving unexpected tax bills of tens of thousands of pounds—up to £50,000—which is starting to have an impact on decisions about their future and the additional sessional work they are prepared to take up. This is impacting on patient care now, so on behalf of my constituents, I urge him—I know he will take this seriously—to look urgently at the NHS pension scheme issue.
Again, my hon. Friend was absolutely right at the start of his question to point out that this is a key stepping stone to making sure that the long-term plan works. He is also absolutely right to point out that we recognise and have taken extraordinarily seriously the difficulties that a number of clinicians have had with the pension tax changes. He will know from his time in the Department that we have been in continuous discussions with the Treasury about what options may be available. I have set out today that the consultation will propose a new 50:50 option for higher-earning clinicians to halve the rate of pension growth in exchange for halving contributions. I accept that that is only one part of the solution, but it is a step forward. I welcome contributions to the consultation, and I urge him and his consultants to take part.
In our area, GP practices have had serious problems recruiting, and one constituent has contacted me about surgeries being cancelled and having been told that the next routine appointment, for what is actually a serious condition, will be in August. My constituents cannot wait that long for GP appointments. Frankly, Ministers have had nine years to anticipate this crisis, and instead of making things better, they have in fact made things worse, with the King’s Fund warning that GP shortages could treble in the next five years. Frankly, the warm words the Minister has said are not urgent enough and not substantial enough to turn this around, so what is he going to do in the next six months to make a difference to my constituents, who are waiting far too long for important appointments?
The right hon. Lady is right to be angry because her constituents should not be waiting that long. If she wishes to speak to me afterwards, I will take that up directly, with her, on behalf of her constituents.
The right hon. Lady says that we are not taking this seriously and not acting urgently enough. She will know that this interim people plan makes sure we will have not only more people recruited to the NHS, but more people wishing to stay working within the NHS. One of the key issues the NHS has faced is that a lot of people have decided not to work within it, and the key part of the people plan—this being the interim before the final is published later—is actually about ensuring we have more staff there. I reject what the right hon. Lady says. We are taking this seriously, and we are acting on it now.
I welcome the record amounts of investment going into the NHS, but may I seek assurances from the Minister that we will be using those resources to ensure that specialist clinicians in areas such as blood cancer and heart disease are properly supported so that we have the training for those personnel to tackle those conditions in particular? I say that as the chairman of the all-party groups on both conditions.
My hon. Friend will know, because I have been in debates with him before, that I recognise the exceptional work that those two all-party groups do. He will know from the long-term plan that we have set out new commitments on diagnosis for all cancers and for cardiac. He will know that the reason why we have set out an interim people plan and will then set out a final people plan is that a long-term plan cannot work unless we have the people to back it up and are training the right number of people. This plan sets out how to recruit more people, how to train more people, how to give people the skills to deal with what will face the clinicians and the physicians of the 21st century, and that is key to delivering what he has asked for.
Baroness Harding, who is a Conservative peer, and Sir David Behan, the head of Health Education England, told the Health Committee yesterday in absolutely clear terms that both the abolition of nursing bursaries and Brexit are seriously exacerbating the staffing crisis in the NHS. Are they wrong?
I am sure they will also have said that one of the things Health Education England has explicitly set out is that one of the biggest barriers to more nurses was that there was not the placement capacity. I am sure Sir David Behan will also have set out that he therefore welcomes entirely the 5,000 extra clinical placements that are being made available, which is a 25% increase on last year.
The right hon. Gentleman will also know, as I have set out, that there are more EU nationals working in the NHS now than there were at the time of the referendum. However, one of the reasons why we are having an interim people plan is that we are not complacent. There are huge challenges, as I set out not only in my written ministerial statement, but in my opening remarks. That is why this plan is addressing the shortages in nursing, and it is right that we do so.
I welcome very much this initiative, and I am delighted by all that has been said. The chief executive officer of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital announced his departure on Monday, following a catalogue of failings. Despite these failings, formal complaints to Dido Harding and others and a series of calls for his dismissal, the CEO has apparently resigned of his own volition to take up another highly paid job within the NHS and is not going to work his notice because he has too much holiday to take. Does the Minister agree that senior management in any organisation, including the NHS, must be held to account for their performance, and will the people plan deliver this?
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful statement on behalf of her constituents about the change of leadership. I am obviously aware of the change of leadership, including the departure of the chief executive, and I am aware that it raises a number of issues, which she and I may wish to have a meeting to discuss. She is right to ask whether we are tackling the culture to make sure that we have the best leaders in the NHS, whether we are ensuring that they are properly trained for the challenges of the 21st century and whether we are making sure that they are not only held accountable but supported to make sure they are doing the best they can. That is why Sir David Behan led a chapter in the whole draft people plan, which will lead into the final people plan, on leadership. The right leadership for the NHS will make sure that our constituents get better care.
It has been reported this week that there has been a dramatic rise in self-harm, with one in five girls cutting, burning or poisoning themselves. Despite this, the NHS trust in my constituency has cut the Lewisham child and adolescent mental health services budget, due to central Government cuts. We desperately need more funding and more staff. Given that the Government are not on track to meet their mental health workforce target for 2020-21, is the Minister really confident that we can meet these new, larger recruitment targets?
I am confident that we are putting in place the measures that will allow those targets to be met. There is a comprehensive expansion of mental health services, with an additional £2.3 billion being invested over the next four years, which will make sure we resolve the problems the hon. Lady has highlighted. In particular, 350,000 more children will get the support they need, which I am sure will translate into dealing with the issues at local level that she has raised.
GP retention is a significant challenge in my constituency, and GPs do often raise the impact of the current pension system. May I say to my hon. Friend that I very much welcome the consultation on pension arrangements for clinicians, but can he set out the potential timing of when those changes may come into force? He will be aware that GPs are making decisions right now about things such as early retirement, and we need this as a matter of urgency.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The Department will launch the consultation at the end of this month. It will set out the proposals, which we spoke about yesterday, to introduce greater pension flexibility. They are designed to take away the disincentives not only for senior clinicians but clearly for GPs. That consultation will last for the normal length of time, and I hope we will be able to proceed quickly thereafter.
When I came to Parliament 35 years ago, I had served for three years on the royal commission on the NHS. We made many recommendations. When I hear the Minister talk about things that will be done and say that notice has been taken of reports, I am reminded that that report landed on Margaret Thatcher’s desk. The recommendations that we made were never carried out. One was about the shortage of doctors. Thirty-five years ago, we knew that there would be a shortage of doctors. We made many other important points, which should have been acted on. What assurances can the Minister give so that on this occasion the recommendations in the report will be acted on? What is the point of all these words and all this work done by people on things such as royal commissions unless the Government take action?
I thank the Minister for grappling with the NHS pension scheme issue. I am not convinced that the 50:50 option is a long-term, sustainable option, so will he confirm, as the Secretary of State said yesterday, that the consultation will be open to exploring other mechanisms? In particular, will he keep banging at the Treasury’s door, because the ultimate solution is in its power? The way in which it has tried to dodge this and pass it to the Department of Health and Social Care is a bit of disgrace.
My right hon. Friend—I am sorry, my hon. Friend; I am only presaging something that will happen in future—will know that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State speaks he says what he means. The consultation will be open to looking at other schemes and other potential flexibility. My hon. Friend will know that the British Medical Association has welcomed the 50:50 option but would like to see other options. He will also know, much as the Department might like to make tax policy, we do not do so, so it would be injudicious of me to commit, but I am happy to continue our long-standing conversations with the Treasury on this matter.
There will be no people plan if Donald Trump gets his hands on our NHS. Unlike Donald Trump, the NHS does not discriminate, and staff value everyone who walks through the door as equal. Does the Minister agree that the NHS was not for sale yesterday, it is not for sale today, and it must not be for sale tomorrow?
The fishing village of Mevagissey risks losing its GP surgery because the last remaining doctor there has handed the contract back to the NHS. The people of Mevagissey have launched an incredible campaign to find a new GP for their village. Does the Minister support their campaign, and will he spread the message far and wide that there is an amazing community waiting for a new GP and that all expressions of interest are welcome? Can he reassure me that the new people plan contains measures not only to recruit more doctors but to ensure that rural and coastal communities can find the GPs they desperately need?
My hon. Friend is right, and I am happy to support the campaign by the people of Mevagissey, which is a wonderful part of the country to live in. I am happy, too, to assist him in that campaign if he wishes to come and speak to me about it. He is right that the plan sets out ways to recruit and retain more doctors, including GPs in rural and coastal locations, as well as those in urban locations.
Would the Minister join me, first, in congratulating the Royal College of Nursing on backing a people’s vote? Does he accept that one reason for that was doubtless that the number of nurses and midwives from the EU has dropped by 5,000 in the past two years? Will he set out what extra cost and complexity will be associated with the recruitment of nurses and midwives from the European Union, if indeed we leave the EU, in future?
I am sorry, I wholeheartedly apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. I certainly join him in welcoming the RCN’s welcome for a people plan. It is a great and sensible step forward, without being complacent about what needs to be done in the next phase, which will be published later in the year. He will know that we have been working with other EU members to ensure that, after what I hope is an orderly Brexit, there is continued recognition of medical qualifications. He will know that the European Commission has already set out its desire for a wide-ranging, extensive reciprocal healthcare agreement, and the Government continue to work to achieve that ambition.
I do not think that the Minister is taking this seriously. In the past two years, 5,000 nurses and midwives from EU countries have left the NHS, at a time when we are 40,000 nurses short. Does he agree with David Behan, the chair of Health Education England, who agreed yesterday that Brexit was exacerbating the NHS staffing crisis?
I have already set out the fact that the Department, the whole NHS management, the whole NHS, and we as a country welcome and recognise the huge contribution of EU nationals in the NHS. I have set out our desire to continue to ensure that EU nationals work in the NHS. Alongside that, I know that Sir David Behan will have also said to the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we have more routes into nursing to ensure that those 40,000 vacancies that he discussed do not continue, which is why we have set out in the plan more nursing apprenticeships, more nursing associates and more clinical placements. It is important to have both international and domestic recruitment.
The Minister has talked a lot about leadership. He said in his opening statement that there was a need to create in the NHS leaders who could create cultures that empowered staff. What is he going to do about the bullying at the top of the NHS, including in NHS England and NHS Improvement, which Dido Harding admitted yesterday at the Health Committee?
The hon. Lady is right: that culture is not acceptable and must be driven out. She will have read the interim people plan, which talks explicitly about ensuring that we create leadership that stops that culture. There is a chapter on making the NHS the best place to work. She will know that we have been working across the country to ensure that all staff know that they are valued, that they have the right to speak up and that the culture of bullying must be driven out. I shall speak with Baroness Harding, as I do regularly, to ensure that that message is spread throughout the NHS and that staff know that they are valued.
I realise that health is devolved to the Scottish Government. Nevertheless it has to be said that the Scottish Government are having enormous trouble with their workforce planning, which means that doctors and nurses have to pick up the slack and that we are wasting good money on employing agency staff, which need not happen. May I make a plea to Her Majesty’s Government to share workforce planning and best practice with the Scottish Government so that they can get that right?
Despite the vital role played by carers in society, they merit just a paragraph in the plan. Will the Minister ensure that his Department matches Labour’s commitment to publish a full strategy for carers and to increase carer’s allowance to the same rate as jobseeker’s allowance?
I welcome Labour’s commitment to publish a paper, but the hon. Lady will know that the Department is going to publish a Green Paper on adult social care. We are finalising that. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) shouts at me. I know he makes a lot of promises without detail. We want to make promises that have detail and can work.
This is an important report into NHS people planning. It is an interim report, so there is an opportunity to identify any deficiencies. My particular concern is about the cancer workforce, in particular the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South about the loss of bursaries not just for nurses but for therapeutic radiographers. May I draw the attention of the Minister, with due respect, to the fact that the radiotherapy and oncology course at Portsmouth University recently closed? Concerns are being expressed and not just by politicians on the Opposition Benches. Mr Richard Evans, chief executive of the Society of Radiographers, said that he has concerns about whether our hospitals and specialist cancer centres will be able to recruit enough skilled and trained personnel. This could even threaten the delivery of cancer treatment and the ambitious plans that the Minister has in the new cancer strategy.
The hon. Gentleman is right: this is a serious plan. As he rightly points out, it is an interim plan. It sets out a number of specific actions for this year. It also sets out a number of clear action paths and trajectories to ensure that the people plan is achieved. I would be delighted to meet him and other officers of the all-party group to ensure that we get the skills in the right places to ensure that the ambitious and deliverable plans set out in the long term plan can happen.
I raised the cost of the Babylon GP at Hand app and the cuts in the number of conventional GPs at Prime Minister’s questions but, with respect to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, he missed the point, astonishingly. Even if NHS England funds £21 million of the shortfall for this year, that is still money from the public purse and it does not address the past cost to Hammersmith and Fulham of at least £12 million or any future costs. Will the Government suspend the Babylon contract while there is a proper investigation into this privatisation of the NHS?