House of Commons
Monday 17 June 2019
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Housing, Communities and Local Government
The Secretary of State was asked—
Since 2010, more than half a million people have been helped into home ownership through Government-backed schemes, including Help to Buy and the right to buy. The recent independent evaluation of the Help to Buy equity loan scheme found that 63% of first-time buyers using it were under 35.
While the lifting of the housing revenue account cap is welcome and will deliver more council-built homes, which will be used to meet the long-standing demand for council housing across the country, we need more private homes. What more can the Government do to help the delivery of that private housing, which will bring prices down and increase the availability for young people?
My hon. Friend has made an important point about the housing revenue account cap and our desire to see more council homes built, but he is right to say that we also want to see a general increase in housing supply. Last year’s figures show that more than 222,000 homes were delivered, the highest number for a decade. As my hon. Friend says, there is more to do, but I should emphasise to him that the number of first-time buyers is at an 11-year high.
The Government are failing to meet the housing needs of young people in the south lakes, while ignoring the simple fact that thousands of local houses are sitting empty as second homes. Will the Secretary of State agree to change planning and tax regulations, so that we can limit second home ownership and give our young people the chance of a place to call their own?
The hon. Gentleman has highlighted the broader issue of the need to increase supply. We have made reforms to ensure that there is clarity in the planning process, and through the schemes that I have mentioned. However, if the hon. Gentleman’s challenge is that there is more to do, yes, there is, and that is why we are determined to see that increase in supply. I think that is the best way to address the issues that he has highlighted in relation to his own constituency and others across the country.
In my constituency, we are delivering homes at three times the rate of the country as a whole. Does my right hon. Friend agree that maintaining supply of all styles and tenures is the key to enabling young people to make a start on the housing ladder?
I do agree, and I am well aware of the housing opportunities that are being taken up in and around my hon. Friend’s constituency and the work that is going on there. He has made a powerful point. If we ensure that all types and tenures of housing are being developed, that housing will be delivered more quickly, and that is where the focus lies.
About £9 billion is being spent on the affordable homes programme, and half of that is going to London. I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in encouraging the Mayor of London to focus on the delivery of housing of all types for all people, and to ensure that there is that bright prospect in London as well as the rest of the country.
After nine years of Conservative government, why are nearly 900,000 fewer people under 45 able to own their own home?
It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman should make that point. He may recall saying in the past that falling home ownership was not “such a bad thing”. I should have thought that he would support the increase in delivery that I have mentioned, and, indeed, the fact that the number of first-time buyers is at an 11-year high.
Is not the truth that the Government have been failing young people on housing for nine years? One in five of those on the Help to Buy scheme are not even first-time buyers, the average age of those on the right to buy scheme is over 50, and not a single one of the new starter homes that were pledged in 2014 has yet been built. Where is the new hope, and where are the new housing plans, from the wannabe Tory leaders?
Is it not clear, after nine years of Conservative government, eight Housing Ministers and four Secretaries of State, that the Conservatives still have no plan to fix the housing crisis, and is it not clear that the only hope for young people with regular incomes is a Labour Government with radical plans for discounted First Buy homes, first dibs for local people on new homes, and a programme for the building of a million new affordable homes both to rent and to buy?
I wondered, given the right hon. Gentleman’s peroration, whether he was building up to Christmas, but I can say to him that a Labour Government are absolutely not that gift, because if we look at Labour’s record in office we see house building fall to levels not seen since the 1920s. I would underline to him the work this Government have done: last year there were 222,000 new dwellings; only in one year in the last 31 have we seen a higher number. So it is a bit rich of the right hon. Gentleman to make those points when, for example, Labour has opposed and voted against our stamp duty cut for first time buyers, which is absolutely about making the difference for young buyers. The Labour party opposed that measure, which underlines that it is the Conservative party that has the ideas, the innovation and the energy, whereas the Labour party, frankly, offers none of that at all.
Local Government Efficiency
This year we gave £20 million to the Local Government Association to fund council improvements, we introduced a programme to boost the use of digital technologies, and we are developing a tool to help councils improve efficiency. These measures will help councils continue their impressive work to manage budgets and deliver quality services.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that councils should do their utmost to learn from best practice so that hard-working taxpayers are not burdened with bills, and that it is disgraceful that my local council, Labour-controlled Sefton, has wasted £32.5 million on a dilapidated shopping centre?
My hon. Friend rightly makes the point about Sefton, and councils should absolutely be focused on delivering good-quality services and value for money. That is why we are investing in areas such as digital innovation and looking at how that can drive further support. My hon. Friend is also right about ensuring that good practice is shared, and we are working with the LGA and others on that.
I am sure the Secretary of State will accept that local government has had a 30% cut in spending since 2010 and also that councils have done incredibly well through efficiency savings and other measures to mitigate the worst impact of the cuts, but has he now seen the report by PwC for the County Councils Network saying that by 2025 there will be an £8 billion funding gap for councils? Does he accept that efficiency savings are not going to bridge that gap and that what we need now is an end to austerity and a major increase in funding for councils from the Government? Will he go to the Treasury and argue for that to happen?
I need no encouragement from the hon. Gentleman to make that case for local government and its power and ability to deliver good-quality local services. I recognise the challenge the hon. Gentleman brings to me in his question, but I highlight to him the real-terms increase in core spending power made available to councils this year. This Government have made that commitment to councils, but I absolutely want to be on the side of councils and commend them for their innovation and the work they do.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his answers thus far. May I commend to him a booklet published in 2011, with a forward by one of his notable predecessors, on efficiency in local government, which I had something to do with? May I suggest that no authority in the country has yet taken every single efficiency measure, and that we should roll that out right across the country?
I certainly look forward to perhaps continuing this discussion with my hon. Friend outside the Chamber, and I commend him for his work in rightly highlighting the issue of value for money. Of course we can and should do more, and it is important that where there is good practice we learn from that.
Is the Secretary of State aware that 544 homes across Kent managed by East Kent Housing have not been regularly subjected to vital landlord gas safety assessments, and has he had conversations with the four local authorities, cash-strapped themselves, across the affected parts of Kent to make sure that this never happens again?
I am very willing to talk to the hon. Lady about the issue she highlights, and obviously safety for residents is an absolute priority concern for me and Members across the House, so if there are further details that she would like to share with me I would be very happy to pursue this on behalf of her and her constituents.
Conservative-controlled North West Leicestershire District Council has frozen its council tax for the past decade. Can the Secretary of State confirm that council tax in 93 English local authorities is lower in real terms this year than it was in 2010-11?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the great work of so many Conservative councils up and down the country, with their sense of value for money, delivering for local people and local services and ensuring that council tax is kept low. This is absolutely about getting those priorities right and delivering for local people.
When the Secretary of State looks at those efficiencies, is he aware of the New Local Government Network’s findings that a no-deal Brexit could contribute to an increase in demand for services to provide vulnerable people and families with support? Is he also aware that council grants in England from central Government have been reduced by nearly 50%, not to mention the £80 billion black hole in UK Government finances that a no-deal Brexit would leave? Will he and any future Prime Minister tell us how they will protect the most vulnerable in our society from a no-deal Brexit scenario, because they will certainly not be able to do it through efficiencies?
I appreciate that the hon. Lady is making her own point in her own way. Obviously, local government is devolved in Scotland, and she also makes her own point in relation to no deal. Preparations have been put in place and funding has been provided to a number of local councils in England, and we are ensuring that the money designed for EU preparations actually gets to where it needs to go, whereas that has not always been the case with the Scottish Government.
Local Authorities: Government Funding
Our recent settlement confirmed an increase of £1.3 billion in resources for local government this year. This real-terms increase recognises the critical services that local government delivers. Core funding is nearly all un-ring-fenced, giving local government control over its local income and the freedom and flexibility to spend according to local needs.
We know only too well by now that central Government underfunding of local authorities has devastated many of our constituents through cuts to many essential services. Perhaps the most dismal funding failure of all from this Government has been on housing, with the building of social housing at its lowest level since world war two. When will the Government wake up and realise that our housing is in crisis and at breaking point?
I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that he has not recognised one of our biggest reforms in social housing, which has been to lift the housing revenue account borrowing cap. This will enable councils to borrow in order to build a new generation of council homes, and I want to see councils utilising and harnessing that so that we can build homes for people and ensure that councils play their part in that.
Lewisham Council is fully committed to using the public health model to tackle youth violence, but since 2010, its budget has been cut by more than 60%. The Home Secretary says that the Government are also committed to that approach, but how does the Minister expect local authorities to put sufficient funding into schools, social services, housing and youth services when their budgets are being slashed?
I would highlight the fact that £261.2 million is being made available in Lewisham in 2019-20—a £7 million increase. The hon. Lady makes an important point about knife crime, and this is why we have targeted support through our troubled families programme, with around £9.8 million pounds being made available to actually get through to some of these issues with young people and to see that some of the work around families is accentuated. I am sure she will have an opportunity to make further points in the urgent question that will follow Question Time.
Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that in counties such as Shropshire, where our elderly population is growing at a disproportionate rate compared with the rest of the country, adult social care costs are going up very quickly? What steps is he going to take with the Treasury to ensure that more money is provided to enable rural shire counties such as Shropshire to deal adequately with adult social care costs?
I know that my hon. Friend will recognise the £650 million in additional funding that has been provided to local government for social care in 2019-20. He highlights some of the differentials around rural services, and as part of our fair funding review, we want to ensure that that is properly captured.
Social care needs both urgent funding and certainty from year to year, so that councils can rely upon funding packages such as those outlined by the Secretary of State. What can he do to assure us that rural councils will be properly accounted for in any business rates review?
My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware of some of the business rates retention pilots that are under way. They are a core element of our reforms. However, the whole concept of assurance for rural areas is part of our work through the fair funding review, and I appreciate the representations that he and others have made.
This year’s funding settlement offers local councils up and down the country a real-terms increase in core funding. Equally, the additional £650 million for social care is intended to address and respond to some of the issues around those services. However, she is right about the need for further reform in the longer term, and that is what we as a Government are determined to deliver.
But back in the real world, 763 youth centres have closed, over 700 libraries have closed, Sure Start and early years services have been cut in half, and one in five children are now growing up in poverty. The legacy of this Government is a decade of neglect as local government takes the biggest hit at the altar of Tory austerity. So what is the Secretary of State most proud of: an entire sector at breaking point, or the increased inequality that his savage cuts have created?
There are now more children’s centres than at any time prior to 2008, and quality has also improved. In 2010, 68% of early years providers were good or outstanding. Today, the proportion is 95%. As for outcomes, 52% of children left reception with a good level of development in 2013. Today, the proportion is 72%. I know that local government faces challenges, which is why I have argued the case for the settlement that we have this year, but the picture painted by the hon. Gentleman is designed to inflame rather than to reflect the reforms made by this Government and the positive improvements that have been delivered.
Local Government Unitarisation: Northamptonshire
The Secretary of State recently announced his intention to implement the reorganisation plan submitted by the Northamptonshire councils. Subject to parliamentary approval, the new unitary authority will be in place in April 2021. I place on the record my thanks to the councils for their continuing constructive attitude towards ensuring that their residents will have better local government.
I thank the Minister for that answer and share his sentiment about the local authorities’ constructive work. What steps will his Department take to ensure that future decision making is at the heart of the new model and happens at the most local level possible, with strong area representation reflecting the different communities of north Northamptonshire?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of local decision making happening as close to people as possible. We expect new unitary authorities to support the creation of new parishes as part of this reorganisation, which has happened elsewhere, and we also encourage the formation of area committees to ensure strong local representation. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that local people must have a strong voice in the decisions that affect their communities.
Stronger Towns Fund: Scottish Towns
I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that the Government recently announced the stronger towns fund, which is part of a commitment to create growth and prosperity in all parts of our United Kingdom.
When the stronger towns fund statement was made at the beginning of March, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said he would set out details on additional funding for Scotland and how it will benefit towns in Scotland. When will my constituents in Stirling see those details, and when will the fund be open for applications from Scotland?
My hon. Friend’s constituents are, of course, already benefiting from £45 million through the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal. We are working to ensure that the benefit of the stronger towns fund can be felt in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are working with the devolved Administrations on the best way to achieve that, and we will release further details in due course.
We are still waiting for important details of the stronger towns fund. Whether it be in Scotland, England or Wales—all over the country—our towns have seen lower job growth than in our cities and have often been harder hit by austerity. We have lost sports centres, libraries, community centres and children’s centres, as services have been shrunk back by austerity into the cities. We urgently need the details of the fund, because we need investment in jobs and public services in our towns.
I am not sure I agree with the right hon. Lady that austerity is the reason for services being shrunk back into the cities. Successive Governments have failed to concentrate on creating growth in our towns across the United Kingdom, which is why we are working on the prospectus for the stronger towns fund. I hope to see exciting bids come forward, not least from her constituency, to see how we, as a Government, can back our northern towns and our towns elsewhere in England.
It speaks volumes that even the Scottish Tories are disappointed by the stronger towns fund, which represents a drop in the ocean compared with the estimated loss of €13 billion of European regional development fund money that towns, villages, cities and high streets will lose under the Tories’ chaotic Brexit plans. Can the Minister guarantee that not a single penny will be lost to Scotland as a result of this chaos?
I am not sure whether the hon. Lady has some sort of special insight. She seems to think that ERDF funding has already been lost. It is, of course, correct that the Government consult widely, not least with the devolved Administrations, on the future of the UK shared prosperity fund. It is absolutely right that we focus on delivering growth in every part of our United Kingdom, including Scotland.
It is undeniable that money we would have got through ERDF funding will be lost on leaving the European Union, and this Government have no plans and no guarantees to replace that money. What is more, this Tory Government are intent on stringing Scotland along with promises of money—promises that, by their very nature, undermine the principles of devolution. Does the Minister not understand that, or does he just not care? He needs to show that he respects the Scotland Act 1998. If not, we move on.
The hon. Lady says it is undeniable that money has already been lost.
That is not correct. If the hon. Lady has details, perhaps she will let me have them. We have been absolutely clear that we will respect all the devolution settlement as we move forward with the UK shared prosperity fund. But she does not have to wait, as we have already had 500 face-to-face engagements with stakeholders. I have engaged with all of England’s metro mayors, and we continue to have discussions with the devolved Administrations. I would have thought that, as an SNP Member of Parliament, she had been told that by her colleagues up in Scotland.
Planning Applications: Economic Opportunities and Housing Need
The Secretary of State has issued a national planning policy framework that provides details on how economic opportunities should be included in applications that look to tackle local housing need.
When a proposed economic development does not provide for sufficient good-quality jobs for our city, when proposed housing fails to address current and future need and when proposed car use only adds to an already gridlocked city, how will the Minister review planning so that ordinary residents have a real voice and so that councils and developers have to act on independent evidence to address local need, not their own interests?
I believe the hon. Lady is referring to the planning application for the centre of York, on which she and I have met, and on which I have also met my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy).
The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) is aware that the Secretary of State is currently considering this application, so it would not be right for me to comment. It is also right for me to say that I have formally recused myself from making a decision on the application because of my meetings with her and others.
Planning applications that could deliver hundreds of new homes in Fareham are in limbo following advice from Natural England, which has instructed that planning permission should be refused unless developments are nitrate-neutral, after two rulings from the European Court of Justice. Will the Government work with me to look at suspending house building targets while affected councils work to find a solution to avoid being unfairly treated at potential appeals?
We will happily work with my hon. Friend as she sets out. I believe that the housing Minister is already looking into this issue, and I am sure he will be in touch with her in due course.
On Friday, I met a constituent who had been moved to temporary accommodation in Ilford, 17 miles from where her children attend school and where she works. The Government continue to place an unacceptable burden on councils, making them responsible for the lack of social housing while cutting their funding and refusing to increase their ability to build. Can the Secretary of State confirm that since 2010 the rise in homelessness has been caused by the cutting of council “Supporting People” budgets, the loss of more than 170,000 affordable council homes and a failure to stop soaring private rents?
I do not accept there is the causal link to which the hon. Lady refers. Local authorities have an obligation, which they should discharge, to house homeless individuals and to provide good-quality accommodation. If she believes her local authority is failing to do that. perhaps she could provide details and we could look into that further.
Will the Secretary of State revoke permission for Milford on Sea 1, in accordance with my written request?
As my right hon. Friend is aware, the Department sits in a quasi-judicial position in relation to all planning applications. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment on the individual application to which he refers.
Yes, but there is nothing to stop the right hon. Gentleman depositing a copy of his written request in the Library of the House, for its collective delectation.
Does the Minister acknowledge that one unintended consequence of extending permitted development rights to commercial and industrial property is that a significant amount of housing is now being generated that is below accepted space and safety standards? What action is he taking to correct that?
I do not accept that, but I will say that we are looking at PDRs more generally. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would, like me, celebrate the fact that this one policy alone has provided in excess of 40,000 houses for people to move into. We universally acknowledge, across this House, that we have a housing crisis and we need to build more homes, so I would have thought he welcomed that.
Many thousands of new homes are planned in Chelmsford, but pressure on our infrastructure holds back economic growth, and we especially need the second railway station for the city. Will my hon. Friend update us on the status of our housing infrastructure bid?
My hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for her constituents and really gets it: she understands that if we want to build the houses we need in this country, it is up to all of us, across this House, to get behind and support development. I know that she is in strong support of her housing infrastructure bid. The Department continues to review it and will give her the result of that review shortly.
Local Government Funding
The Secretary of State and I both meet our counterparts at the Treasury regularly. Future funding for local government will, of course, be decided in the spending review, and the hon. Lady can rest assured that we will be making a robust case.
Since 2010, North Tyneside Council has lost £120-million worth of Government funding and, like many other councils, has had to cut frontline services to the marrow, not just to the bone. With the Chancellor admitting that he does not have a clue about the state of regional economies, can this House be confident that the Minister will make him fully aware of how bad things are for local councils?
The Chancellor and my Department have already responded with an extra £1 billion to improve resources for local government. The hon. Lady may not believe me when I say that we are supporting local government, but perhaps she might listen to her own local authority. This weekend I glanced through the council’s plan, which shows that inequality between the least and most affluent areas is narrowing, that according to feedback from residents 80% of local people are highly satisfied with where they live, and that an increased proportion of residents think their local area has improved.
We note the Minister’s choice of weekend reading: the capital plan. I hope he found it stimulating or in some way therapeutic. I am sure we will hear his impressions on that matter in due course.
Given the importance of the need to demonstrate the effectiveness of spending through local government, will the Minister tell us when we will see the results of the successful bidders for the future high street fund?
Successive rounds of bidding are currently in process. I can write to the hon. Lady with an exact date, if one is available from my hon. Friend the high streets Minister. More broadly, the hon. Lady is absolutely right about the need to measure the effectiveness of what local government does. In particular, the troubled families programme, with its extensive evaluation, provides great evidence to everyone in the House on the valuable early years prevention work that local councils do.
We all know that the Minister is an industrious fellow—I am sorry to dwell on this—but I sincerely hope that he was not reading the capital plan on Father’s day. Surely not. I am sure he must have read it on Friday or Saturday, not on Sunday.
Licensing Act 2003: Communities and Local Planning Policy
I am in daily receipt of advice from colleagues from across the Government—indeed, from across the House, local government and the nation—on the efficient and effective operation of the planning system.
Will the Government agree to change licensing laws to give local councils the authority to issue licences—for example, to events in their area—only if the applicant agrees to use recyclable or biodegradable plastics?
The hon. Gentleman, typically, raises an extremely important issue. As he will know, the proliferation of single-use plastics—or, indeed, the restriction thereof—is a matter for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We have made other progress, on top of the ban of microbeads, with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs having recently announced the ban on the distribution or sale of plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stem cotton buds. The hon. Gentleman nevertheless raises an interesting point, particularly in respect of events, that we will ponder further.
More and more licensed premises are being granted extended opening hours, even when it has hugely negative consequences for local residents. Councils report that trying to stop there being too many licensed premised in an area through the use of cumulative impact assessments is too slow, burdensome and costly, as well as being ineffective. Will the Minister agree to work with his colleagues to amend the Licensing Act 2003 to ensure that there is a much greater community voice in licensing and greater alignment with planning policy?
The hon. Lady addresses a significant issue that I had to address regularly in my previous life as deputy Mayor for policing in London. I recognise the impact that the proliferation of licensed premises in a particular area can have, not only on the community but on crime generally. It is incumbent on local authorities to have an authoritative and assertive licensing policy that sits alongside their local plan and planning policy, such that they can defend their policies in court or under judicial review, if that is the case. If the hon. Lady is concerned that that is not happening in particular authorities, I am more than happy to look into them and offer advice, where possible.
Bellwin Scheme: Social Care Packages for Vulnerable Children
The Bellwin scheme can be used to compensate authorities for emergencies and disasters in their area. Children’s services funding is made available through the settlement, with flexibility for councils to target their spending according to the local needs. In the autumn Budget, we were pleased to announce an extra £410 million to address the pressures on social care.
Plymouth City Council’s children and social care budget is being sunk by a small number of exceptional care costs for some vulnerable young people, with 6:1 care ratios costing £40,000 a week. Will the Minister agree to meet Plymouth City Council’s Labour leader and Conservative leader of the opposition to look into how the Government can offer additional support for the rare but exceptional care costs for these vulnerable young people?
I will of course meet the hon. Gentleman, the group leader and the council leader. I understand the hon. Gentleman has been active in this policy area, because he recently met my hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families and the leader of Plymouth City Council, Tudor Evans. I thought he might raise this issue today, so I checked, and I understand that the Minister he met previously is going to write to him shortly to update him on the progress he is making with his campaign.
Over the past two years in Sandwell, my local authority, the number of children in care has increased by a third. Government funding has not kept pace and, as a result, the Children’s Trust is faced with a deficit of £3.5 million. This is pretty representative, in common with local authorities up and down the country. What will the Minister do about it?
The Government have their troubled families programme to tackle just the sorts of issues that the hon. Gentleman raises. No one in this House could be other than deeply concerned about the plight of our young people, particularly when they face the challenge of finding themselves in care, and that is why I am pleased that, since 2010, the amount the Government have spent on vulnerable children has increased by more than £1.5 billion.
Council Housing: Increasing Supply
We have given local authorities the tools that they need to increase the supply of council housing, abolished the housing revenue account borrowing cap, giving councils the freedom to borrow to build new homes, and provided a stable investment environment through a five-year rent deal from 2020.
As vice-chair of Luton Borough Council’s housing committee in the 1970s, I recall that we faced a crisis housing waiting list of 4,000 families, but with the support of the then Labour Government we built and bought thousands of council houses and housed everyone on the waiting list. Now Luton’s Labour council has a crisis waiting list of 12,864 with no hope of housing them all, so will the Government stop cosying up to the billionaires and speculators with promises of tax cuts for the rich and give councils such as Luton the powers and the massive resources they need to provide the millions of good council houses the country so desperately needs?
I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Gentleman has brought up that question, because, frankly, the answer is yes. We want councils to get on with building, which is why we have taken the cap off the housing revenue accounts. We expect at least 10,000 new council houses to be built, so I suggest that Luton gets on with it.
For any type of housing—council housing or private housing—to be built, we need to look at changing the rules around land banking. The Minister is aware that, in a Westminster Hall debate last week, I raised the problems that we have with a particular developer in Hull who is storing up different areas of land and preventing them from being developed. Will the Minister please meet me to discuss this problem in more detail and look at what legislative tweaks can be made to prevent this from happening?
The hon. Lady, as ever, puts her case terribly well. The appropriate Minister would be delighted to meet her.
Very well done. I think that we will put that down as a win.
Crisis and the all-party group on ending homelessness recently appealed to Ministers to prioritise for housing survivors of domestic abuse, but is not it the truth that it is difficult to prioritise anyone because of the social housing crisis—a crisis acknowledged just a few minutes ago by the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry)? Housing associations and local councils in particular have insufficient stock and limited capacity to build new ones to meet demand, and there are more than 1 million households on council waiting lists. Last year, just 6,500 social rented homes were built. That means that it will take 172 years for everyone on the current waiting lists to get a social rented home. Will the Minister please spell out exactly how she plans to sort out this crisis and offer our people some hope that they can also have a home of their own?
Again, I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Gentleman has asked that question, because we have actually put aside £9 billion for our affordable homes programme to deliver a quarter of a million affordable homes by 2022, including 12,500 for social rent. Let me repeat: we have given councils the ability to borrow against their housing revenue cap. We have taken the cap off. Please will councils get on with it? [Interruption.] As the hon. Gentleman is chuntering from the Front Bench, may I tell him that wonderful councils such as the ever present Conservative South Derbyshire District Council are doing exactly that?
Integrated Health and Social Care: Northamptonshire
Following the meeting I had with my hon. Friend, we were pleased to facilitate meetings for the chief executives of the various councils and health bodies with officials from the Department of Health and Social Care and my Department. Those conversations have been very constructive, and I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the Social Care Minister and I would both be delighted to meet him and other MPs once the proposals have been fleshed out in detail.
I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. There are still far too many patients in Kettering General Hospital and Northampton General Hospital who are classified as delayed transfers of care. They are mainly elderly patients whose medical treatment has been completed, but who face delays being put into the social care system. Does my hon. Friend agree that the reorganisation of local government in Northamptonshire presents a wonderful opportunity to create a social care and health pilot to combine these two services?
My hon. Friend is spot on. Delayed transfers of care undermine patients’ dignity while putting pressure on beds and costing the taxpayer money. Although we have seen fantastic progress nationally with delayed transfers of care halving since the peak, Northamptonshire is obviously not in that place. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the opportunity that greater integrated care could bring, and we are delighted to work with him and others to make that a reality.
I call Gordon Henderson. Not here.
Adult Social Care Funding
The Government recognise the pressures faced by adult social services and have provided councils with an additional £10 billion in dedicated funding for adult social care in the three years leading up to 2019-20. Of course, the future level of funding will be settled in the spending review.
Councils are already struggling to meet the overwhelming demand and pressure to fund adult social care, to the extent that there will soon be little money left to pay for anything else. Demand is only going to increase and the need for reform is urgent, but after nine years of inertia can we ever expect this Government to get to grips with the growing crisis we face in adult social care?
It is absolutely the case that the Government are gripping the pressures in social care—not only with £1 billion in extra funding at the recent Budget but, as we have recently heard, with greater integration of care between the NHS and social care. This is delivering real benefits on the ground, with a reduction in half of the delayed transfers of care showing enormous promise for what is possible in the future.
I am not quite sure where the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) was, but a number of Tory leadership contenders were queuing up on last night’s TV debate to pledge their loyalty to adult social care and their desire to see it properly funded. Now that there is a queue of Conservatives who are finally waking up to the adult social care crisis facing this country, what assessment does the Minister make of the amount of money needed to plug the gap?
We are doing that work with our colleagues in the Department of Health as we speak, to ensure an accurate reflection of the pressures as we go into the spending review. Those pressures are real; everyone acknowledges that there is an ageing demographic at the top end of social care, but working-age adults now account for half of the budget. It is right that we get the demographics right and that we go into the spending review with a robust case for the amount of funding that social care requires.
I call Clive Lewis. Not here—a second absentee. I hope these characters are not indisposed. We look forward to seeing them again erelong. The important point is that Yvonne Fovargue is here.
Weighting for Deprivation: Fair Funding Review
Deprivation is an important driver of local authority costs, which is why we have proposed that it will be taken into account in four significant service areas, including adult and children’s social care. Together, these account for up to two thirds of councils’ total spending covered by the review.
Will the Secretary of State agree to the Local Government Association’s calls for the Government to publish more of the analysis that has informed the fair funding review proposals?
Obviously, work continues and we see the recommendations and representations that have been made. Population is by far the most important factor for more universal services covered by the foundation formula; deprivation was shown to have a small effect over and above this. We continue to keep the matter under review, and will share data as and when appropriate as part of that work.
Last week, as communities celebrated Eid, we also reflected on those lives lost in the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. This House and other buildings were rightly illuminated in green light as part of the commemorations. It is also right that we continue to take further steps to support the community of north Kensington and drive a culture change on building safety.
The serious fire at Barking last weekend was a reminder of the need for vigilance. I visited the community on Monday and have maintained contact with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, and with Bellway, the developer. I have asked the Building Research Establishment to investigate the fire and the independent expert panel to provide recommendations on any steps that may be required.
Finally, we remain very conscious of the impact of flooding in Lincolnshire and those whose homes have been affected. My Department’s resilience and emergencies division remains in close contact with local agencies who are leading the response, as well as with colleagues in Whitehall.
I join the Secretary of State in his comments.
Rough sleeping is the very visible sign of the levels of suffering and failure that we see in our housing and social security systems. According to the Government’s own figures, rough sleeping has increased by 165% since the end of the last Labour Government. Does the Secretary of State accept that this is just not good enough—that we need to do much more? What is he doing to tackle this scourge?
I do recognise the huge issue that the hon. Lady highlights in relation to rough sleeping. While the latest data on rough sleeping—the count last year—showed a small decrease, I know there is more that we need to do. That is why we have our £100 million rough sleeping strategy and work with our rough sleeping initiative in council areas. But her challenge to me is right. That is why I do keep this issue under careful review, and if there are further steps that we need to take, we will take them.
It is very heartening to hear at least someone from Scotland standing up for aspiration and, in particular, home ownership. My hon. Friend is an example himself—a living embodiment—of the social mobility that home ownership can produce, and I congratulate him on his question. He is right that this Government have done quite a lot on home ownership, putting 542,000 people into home ownership who were not there in 2010, and through Help to Buy there is much more that we can do. I urge him to advertise north of the border that help to buy ISAs and lifetime ISAs are available across the whole of the UK, notwithstanding the barriers that are put in the way of home ownership in Scotland.
The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) amply warrants the panegyric that the Minister has just lobbed in his direction, so I hope he will not take offence when I say that at this sensitive time it might also be prudent to bear in mind that he is, in all likelihood, being lobbied.
The hon. Lady makes a very powerful and important point about accessibility. Everyone should be able to access a home that is right for their needs. It is crucial that we understand how the changes to the building regulations on access introduced in 2015 are working on the ground. She refers to the Habinteg report, and we will look at that carefully as part of a review of those requirements. I am grateful to her for highlighting it to me.
Forgive the love-in, Mr Speaker, but my hon. Friend is a constant and persistent champion for his constituents in the many beautiful villages that he represents. He is quite right to identify an issue that a number of people have raised with me across the country—namely, the transparency of the Planning Inspectorate. That organisation is in the process of implementing the measures outlined in the Rosewell review in order for planning inquiries to provide more transparency. We are, at the moment, procuring a new online IT system—dread words in Government, I know, but nevertheless we are—that will allow progress of appeals to be tracked, providing exactly the sort of transparency that he is looking for.
The hon. Lady might be interested to know that there are fewer houses being built as leaseholds in England since the mid-1990s. The numbers have come right down, but she is right to highlight the work of the Competition and Markets Authority. As she knows, I called for the CMA to look into these abuses. There have been appalling examples, and she highlights some. We are determined to bear down on this. We have the new industry pledge, but I keep this under close review, given the issues that have been raised.
I commend my hon. Friend for highlighting Cornwall, which I have a close affinity to, given that my family all come from there and my son was born there. I am very keen to see support for Cornish heritage, culture and language. We committed £100,000 to Cornwall Council over two years and continue to work with it to encourage the promotion of Cornish culture, which I know he will continue to champion, and I am pleased to support it on his behalf.
I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting our review. I am happy to look at all things as part of that review, but she is right to highlight that issue. We are keen to see what we can do to improve the collection process, while maintaining high collection rates to fund the public services that we rely on
I call Marcus Fysh. Where is the chappie? He was here earlier. He has beetled out of the Chamber prematurely, but he could have had another go.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful and important point. I commend her for the work she has done to champion the military covenant, which every local authority has signed. The Minister for Defence People and Veterans and my Department have just written to councils, to encourage them to have a covenant champion. It is through such practical measures that we want to ensure that the covenant pledges are upheld.
I continue to have discussions with the LGA and others to underline and champion the importance of sustainable local government finance and delivering good-quality social care. We also have discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care. It is right that we reform and challenge, and I will be taking that forward in terms of the spending review.
North Lincolnshire Council recently refused a planning application for a housing development in the village of Goxhill, and North East Lincolnshire Council subsequently refused an application in the village of Waltham. Both were overturned on appeal. The reason for the councils’ refusal was based on a lack of infrastructure, access to public services and the like. Will the Minister consider giving better guidance to inspectors, so that they take more notice of local opinion?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. He will understand that I cannot comment on specific planning applications, but he is right to identify that local communities often feel excluded from the planning process. The solution is for them to put in place a neighbourhood plan. The Government have pledged—and I have pledged, for however long I remain in this job—to strengthen neighbourhood plans, so that local people do not feel like victims of the planning system, but its master.
The Chair must always encourage new, young Members who are trying to develop their craft. I call Jack Dromey.
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government promised “Never again”. Two years on, not one penny has been forthcoming to help Birmingham City Council make safe 215 tower blocks, with 10,000 households. The Secretary of State quite rightly met private leaseholders before his recent announcement of the £200 million fund. Will he now meet council tenants from Birmingham? Birmingham MPs have asked that he do precisely that. It would be wrong not to hear their concerns, and they would regard it as a snub.
I recognise the points the hon. Gentleman has made on a number of issues in relation to Birmingham. We continue our discussions with Birmingham, at a whole host of different levels, on the services it is providing and some of the challenges it is dealing with. I will certainly continue to meet MPs from Birmingham and the west midlands, who have been convened in the past on some of these issues. I would be happy to discuss these issues further with them, and also in relation to the council tenants he refers to.
It is one of the purposes of this Conservative and Unionist Government to strengthen the Union. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what his Department is doing to strengthen the Union?
My hon. Friend makes a really powerful and important point on the issue of the Union, which I believe in hugely and passionately, and how we strengthen it and act on that. Through the UK shared prosperity fund, but also through the stronger towns fund, we do have the opportunity to ensure that all parts of our proud Union are playing their role in this country’s prosperity and future, and that is something I and my Department are proud to challenge.
The Government have provided some funding for the removal of aluminium composite material cladding, and they are testing non-ACM cladding on hundreds of buildings. The Minister for Housing has accepted that, if that cladding proves to be as dangerous as ACM cladding, it will have to be taken off. In that case, will the Government also agree to provide funding for the removal of non-ACM cladding?
I recognise the important point the hon. Gentleman the Chair of the Select Committee has highlighted on building safety. It is why I took the exceptional step of making £200 million available for remediation. It required a ministerial direction to be able to do so, because of its significance. Clearly, we have the ongoing testing of non-ACM materials. I will be advised by my team—the expert panel—in relation to the next steps, and I am clearly keeping the situation under careful review.
There is no point building thousands of new houses in greenfield areas unless we have the requisite infrastructure to go with them. A recent report shows that North Northamptonshire faces an infrastructure deficit of over £300 million in delivering the houses requested by central Government. What can the Department do to ensure that the infrastructure comes to North Northamptonshire?
My hon. Friend is quite right: one of the problems with housing development in the past in this country is that we have tended to build the houses first and cope with the infrastructure last. We have attempted to reverse that equation, and we now have £5.5 billion dedicated to housing infrastructure, which is specifically designed to release land to build the houses the next generation needs. I would be more than happy to meet him to discuss the possibility of a North Northamptonshire bid to the housing infrastructure fund either now or in the future.
When the Secretary of State meets the Chancellor to do the spending review, will he stress to the Chancellor that while a lot of money has been put into local government, it is inadequate to prevent the closure of libraries, or to cover issues such as social services and particularly youth clubs? Will he ensure that the Chancellor has a look at that and, more importantly, at social care in the community?
Through the last local government financial settlement, we increased the funding available to local councils for dealing with some of the issues of social care. If the hon. Gentleman is asking me to champion the needs of local government and to recognise the quality services it delivers, with the amazing work delivered by our councils up and down the country, I can assure him that I will absolutely be doing that.
The Department recently consulted on extra powers for local authorities and the police to deal with unauthorised encampments, a series of which we have had recently in Newport. Can Ministers update us on the progress being made so that our authorities have the powers they need?
As the hon. Lady will know, a number of those enforcement powers are led by the Home Office, and co-ordination between councils and the police is imperative. She will know that I laid a written statement on that a while back. Discussions continue with my ministerial colleagues, because I recognise the pressures. If there are specific examples that the hon. Lady would like to draw to my attention, I would be pleased to receive them.
Further to my last, if a decision could be expedited, the developer is now on the site, so any compensation will escalate.
I refer my right hon. Friend to the answer to my previous question.
Or even to his.
Many will have been surprised by the Secretary of State’s complacent comments earlier about Sure Start centres. He will have seen the Action for Children report, which shows a 20% fall in usage, hitting the most vulnerable hardest. Does he understand that not only is that reprehensible, but that it costs us more in the long run?
The hon. Gentleman will have noted the figures I gave regarding the improved quality of a number of providers and, indeed, of children leaving reception with good levels of development. Obviously, local councils determine how they prioritise their resources, but it is important to look at the evidence.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on what the Government are doing to protect people from violent crime.
It is with great sadness that I stand here today following events over the weekend, including a fatal stabbing in the constituency of the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), fatal stabbings in Tooting and West Ham, and a fatal shooting in Plumstead. Those incidents are subject to police investigations; arrests have been made in some cases, but I know that the House will understand that I cannot go into any more detail on those particular cases at this point.
These events are a stark reminder that serious violence is a continuing threat. There is no single or simple answer, and the police, local authorities, police and crime commissioners and others are working with us, taking action on a number of fronts, locally, regionally and nationally, in the immediate term and in the longer term.
In the immediate term, we continue to support the police response to serious violence. We have made it simpler for the police in those areas most affected to use section 60 no-suspicion stop-and-search powers. The new £100 million serious violence fund is already helping the police in those areas most affected: £65 million has now been allocated and work is under way to deliver the remaining £35 million to support the roll-out and expansion of violence reduction units.
As I think hon. Members acknowledge, however, the root causes of serious violence will take time to tackle. That is why we are focusing so strongly on prevention and early intervention, to stop our young people turning to violence in the first place. We are investing more than £220 million in projects under the youth endowment fund and our early intervention youth fund, and we have run a public consultation on a new legal duty to underpin the multi-agency, or public health, approach to tackling serious violence. We are reviewing the responses and will report as soon as possible.
We also continue to support police co-ordinated action under Operation Sceptre. The latest phase of the operation took place in March and saw almost 11,000 knives taken off the streets. Through our #knifefree media campaign, we have sent new lesson plans to 20,000 teachers in advance of the school summer holidays. Now that the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 has received Royal Assent, we will begin to bring its measures into force, including the piloting of knife crime prevention orders. As the House will know, following the Prime Minister’s serious youth violence summit at the beginning of April, a new ministerial taskforce is driving action right across Government to renew our efforts in tackling serious violence.
We are working closely with police and crime commissioners, including the Mayor of London, the police and other partners to tackle violence and to save lives. We remain determined to protect the public and to stop more lives being taken, but Members will appreciate that there is no short cut to tackling serious violence.
I am grateful to the Minister for her response and I share her opening sentiments.
There have been four murders in London in four days, with two murders in my constituency in two weeks. I commend Tower Hamlets police for early arrests in both incidents. Londoners do not want to see politicians scoring points and/or playing party politics; they want answers and they want action. Clearly, police numbers have an impact—Towers Hamlets has lost 200 officers since 2010—but I accept that the Minister says recruitment is under way. We need those recruits on the frontline. What discussions has the Minister had with the Mayor of London and/or the Metropolitan Police Commissioner about the deployment of those new officers and on the impact of the number of police on our streets?
On powers, will the Minister advise on the Government’s position on stop and search? She mentioned it, but the sensitivity of the bad old days of black and minority ethnic men and boys being disproportionately stopped should be prevented by the arrival of cameras for frontline officers. What has been the impact of the Government’s proposal from the end of March to reduce the level of authorisation required from senior officer to inspector? Will the Minister advise whether section 60 is actually still needed and whether consideration has been given to restoring discretionary powers to frontline officers? Mayor Biggs and Tower Hamlets Council have invested £3 million to fund additional police officers. Will the Minister advise on what discussions she has had with Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government ministerial colleagues in respect of more support for the local authority, and on how the Home Office feeds into the London violence reduction unit, which is trying to replicate the success of the Glasgow violence reduction unit?
This situation cannot go on. President Trump’s puerile intervention is not helpful. We need a more proactive and intelligent response. My constituents are anxious and they are frightened. They see low-level anti-social behaviour escalating to violent crime. We need a holistic approach to be advocated by the Government, the Minister, Mayor Khan and Mayor Biggs. The Government have control of the resources. I know it is not just about money, but it does help massively.
In conclusion, will the Minister advise on what representations the Home Office are making to the spending review to prevent more lives being lost? The police are working hard and they need our support, both moral and financial. Today, we all need to say clearly and bluntly that we join together in stopping this going any further.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his urgent question and for his attendance at the roundtable I hosted recently, along with the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, to update the House on our efforts to tackle serious violence. If I may say so, I think the hon. Gentleman has got the tone right. Putting aside comments from overseas or elsewhere, the job of work is to tackle serious violence.
The hon. Gentleman mentions police resources. He will know that London has already set up a serious violence taskforce and a violence reduction unit. The taskforce has some 300 dedicated officers—I have been out on a raid with them—targeting the hotspot areas within London. The commissioner and others in the policing world are doing specific work across the country to identify and target hotspot areas. I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomed the announcement in the spring statement of a further £100 million to tackle serious violence. The Met is receiving about £20 million of that to support surge policing. As I say, announcements will be made imminently in relation to the outstanding money and the creation of violence reduction units, as well as those that have already been created.
We have seen a huge increase in stop and search across the Met and other policing areas. We analyse this very carefully, and I am pleased that at the most recent meeting that the Home Secretary held with chief constables, they all reported that levels of complaints about stop and search have dropped dramatically. Many of us understand that to be because of the use of body-worn cameras, which provide reassurance not only to officers, but importantly, to the public.
In terms of discussions with MHCLG, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have welcomed the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the specific funding of knife crime projects.
On the spending review, we are working across Government to ensure that we have a cross-governmental spending review programme to help the children who are not just most at risk of serious violence, but have other forms of vulnerabilities, which, sadly, I have to deal with in my brief, including, for example, domestic abuse. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot go into the specifics of the spending review at the moment, but the fact that we have seen an increase this year of more than £1 billion, including the £100 million in the spring statement, and that we have the help of police and crime commissioners, is a firm statement of intention by the Home Secretary and the Government. I thank him again for his urgent question.
I was delighted to hear what my hon. Friend had to say about targeting hotspots. Does she agree that it is now clear that properly used and monitored stop and search is part of the answer, and will she confirm that the Government will continue along that line?
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for the experience that he brings to the House from his shadow portfolios over the years. We have always said that stop and search is a vital tool for law enforcement. We are all conscious in this House that a few years ago there was a real problem regarding the trust that certain parts of our society felt in relation to stop and search, and we wanted to try to reassure communities. That reassurance is now there, particularly with the introduction of body-worn cameras. Victims’ families and others I speak to welcome the intelligence-led targeting of stop and search, as well as the section 60 search powers for moments when police action is necessary and needs to be immediate.
Another blood-stained weekend in the capital, and this morning four families will have woken up having lost a son, a brother or a father. The Minister is correct to say that there is no single answer, and we congratulate the Met police on its work over this horrible weekend that we have endured, but does she accept that any strategy to combat rising crime must include hiring more police officers?
I note that the level of complaints about stop and search has dropped, which is very important. As the Minister intimates, that is to do with the use of body-worn cameras, because there is no question but that in the past, indiscriminate stop and search undermined communities’ confidence in the police and therefore undermined the fight against crime.
In relation to the President of the United States implying that the Mayor of London is responsible for the rise in violent crime, the Mayor must be held to account like any other politician, but in 30 years in Parliament I have never heard a President of the United States reference a London Mayor at all. It is hard to escape the conclusion that President Trump may be singling out Sadiq Khan because he is of the Muslim faith. Does the Minister accept that if that were true, many people would find it distasteful?
I welcome the fact that the right hon. Lady welcomes our action to ensure that stop and search has the trust of more people in communities. We see it as a vital tool within the portfolio of tools that police officers and others have. If she does not mind, I will decline to respond to the point about President Trump, for the simple reason that, as I know from the urgent question, we all have at the forefront of our minds today the four families who have been affected in the most terrible way this weekend. I hope she will forgive me if, today of all days, I do not dive into the political pool.
I thank my hon. Friend for her openness in engaging with colleagues on this difficult issue, particularly the roundtable she held a short while ago. Will she confirm that she, her Department and her officials will remain open to a proper independent assessment of all the evidence on the root causes of this issue and will engage with the evidence with an open mind?
I thank my hon. Friend for his participation in the recent roundtable. I can reassure colleagues across the House that hon. Members, particularly those representing the constituencies most affected by knife crime, will benefit from regular updates from the Home Office ministerial team. The roundtable was one example of that. We know that drugs and the gang culture around them are key drivers of serious violence—we have only to look at recent reports of what is allegedly happening in Liverpool—and one way we are attempting to tackle that is through the independent review of drug use in the 21st century led by Professor Dame Carol Black. We will consider the results carefully and, as he says, with an open mind.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing the urgent question. I cannot begin to comprehend the sense of loss experienced by those families who have lost loved ones to violence in recent days, and we too send our deepest condolences to all who are suffering. I agree with him that the totally wrong response is to tweet or retweet racist jibes about the Mayor of London.
As the Minister knows, my party fully supports a public health approach to stopping violence, which has delivered significant progress in Scotland and elsewhere, and that the SNP supports and has delivered on protecting police numbers. We support the Government’s commitment to a public health approach, therefore, but when will we see an end to the significant cuts, particularly to local authority budgets, that have seen the safe spaces and key services crucial to such an approach decimated? While we also welcome the Home Secretary’s recent personal commitment to repairing the dramatic loss in police numbers, does the Minister share our support?
Finally, the Home Affairs Select Committee has heard disturbing evidence from young people, particularly young black and minority ethnic people, about their very poor relationship with and lack of trust in the police in some parts of London. What will the Minister do to ensure that trust is rebuilt between young people and the police in all our communities?
The hon. Gentleman is always a constructive and critical friend of the Government in this sphere. I will deal with his last point first. We have to reiterate to young people, particularly in the areas most affected by serious violence, that the police are on their side. I do not underestimate the complexity of this piece of work. It will take a great deal of time for the police to rebuild their relationships. Just a couple of weeks ago, I invited into the Home Office current and former gang members to listen to them myself and hear about their day-to-day lives, the challenges they face and their thoughts on how we can improve not just the rates of serious violence but their lives more generally. I have taken great inspiration from those conversations, as well as from my meetings with the families of victims from across the country. There are various plans in motion to assist with the public relationship between the police and young people in particular, and there is one in particular I want to focus on. I hope the hon. Gentleman does not mind if I do not go into detail at very early stage, as I do not want to announce something before it has happened, but we are very conscious of the need to build relationships between the police and the people they are trying to protect.
While there is a definite link between drugs, criminal gangs and knife crime, and while the police response must involve a surge in visible policing and discretionary stop and search, surely we must place greater emphasis on intelligence-led detective work to break up the criminal gangs, and on exemplary sentences for the gang leaders who are caught.
There is an understandable tendency to focus on the law enforcement response and on our early prevention strategy, but an important part of this formula is the behaviour of serious organised crime gangs. These are the people who exploit our young people and children, these are the people who try to extend their drug markets across the country, and these are the people whom we absolutely must target if we are to bring an end to this. Along with the Minister for Security and Economic Crime, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), I have emphasised the need to target serious organised crime, including the profits that the criminals make from their disgraceful, disgusting business. I shall be happy to discuss the issue with my hon. Friend in more detail after the urgent question, but I can assure him that tackling serious organised crime is an essential part of our overall efforts to target serious violence.
Yet more lives have been lost, more families are devastated, and there are disturbing reports of older gang members paying young people to stab, maim and kill. However, the letter that the Minister has just sent to the Home Affairs Committee suggests that the surge funding for policing is for only one year, which limits police forces’ ability to recruit the officers they need, and also that the youth endowment fund will support only £6 million-worth of projects this year, which is a drop in the ocean compared with the scale of the cuts in youth services and interventions. Does the Minister not understand the real concern about the lack of grip, the lack of urgency, and the lack of scale in the Government’s response? Can she really put her hand on her heart and say, in the light of this escalating violence, that the Home Office is doing enough?
In the letter, we made clear that while the spring statement included £100 million for police forces, the Home Secretary had committed himself to making resources for them an absolute priority in our spending review. In our conversations with chief constables who are either already setting up violence reduction units locally in, for instance, the west midlands, or are beginning to do so as a result of this announcement, we fully acknowledge that the funds cannot be just for a single year.
As for the youth endowment fund, we have locked in the money over 10 years, precisely because we have listened to local charities and those who work closely with young people. They say that it is often the short-term resourcing that is a problem, so we are investing £200 million, although it is expected to be more over the 10-year period. To demonstrate the urgency that we have ascribed to this issue, we have managed to move £200 million off the Government books in, I think, an almost unprecedentedly short time—a matter of a couple of months—which will seem pretty extraordinary to anyone who has not served in a Government Department. We have put the fund into an independent charitable trust, which is running it. The bids for the first round will close on 23 July, so if there are local charities that Members think should apply, I ask them please to press them into doing so. We expect the trust to make the first announcements of bids in the autumn.
Our current focus is obviously on the tragic events that took place in London over the weekend, but may I urge the Minister not to lose sight of the growing concerns of my constituents, from Barton in the north to Cleethorpes and the villages in the south? Thankfully, Humberside police numbers have been increased significantly and they do some excellent work, but they need continuing reassurance that resources will be made available to provincial forces such as theirs.
It is always a pleasure to answer a question from my constituency neighbour. We might be separated by a constabulary boundary, but I absolutely understand the ripple effect of serious organised crime and of county lines gangs in areas such as ours. That is why one of our first actions to help those force areas that might not have the experience of gangland activity of some of our larger urban or metropolitan forces is the setting up of the national co-ordination centre on county lines, in order to help spread good practice. I am pleased to say that in just the few months it has been operating that centre has caused more than 1,000 arrests and the safeguarding of more than 1,300 vulnerable people.
Last night my community was violated yet again by a murder; it has been a terrible few years in West Ham, with nine young lives lost. The hon. Lady talks about money but we need proper funding. We do not need projects; we need police officers. We do not need overtime payments; we need something fundamental that raises the level of police activity. We are told that there are 1,000 county lines operations in this country. I want to be assured by the Minister today that there are 1,000 investigations into who is running those gangs and who are ultimately responsible for the murder, exploitation and enslavement of many young people in my constituency.
The hon. Lady has been a consistent advocate for her constituents, who have been so tragically affected by the rise of county lines. I remember a debate more than a year ago in Westminster Hall where she spoke passionately of the impact on mothers affected by serious violence and homicides in her constituency. The National Crime Agency has set county lines and the exploitation of children as a national threat; it is co-ordinating the national level operations because it has the national overview. That is where the national county lines co-ordination centre comes in, to help co-ordinate activities across force boundaries, because as the hon. Lady will acknowledge, these gangs to do not respect constabulary boundaries. We have the extra funding—the £100 million serious violence fund that is going into London and other areas affected—and of course we have just over £1 billion of extra funding for policing nationally. The hon. Lady will know from the many conversations she and I have had about this issue that it is as much about early intervention and prevention as about law enforcement, and the £200 million youth endowment fund, alongside the early intervention youth fund which is already operating and helping up to 29 projects across the country, will help reach those children she cares so passionately about.
How can the anger of the public be assuaged when, notwithstanding the powers granted to the courts, they see continually repeat offences rewarded only with a suspended sentence?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. That has to be the focus of everyone with any influence in this area, including the judiciary. I am not going to comment or be drawn into observations about the judiciary, because of course I respect the independence of the judiciary, but I believe Members of Parliament can have an impact in publicising the terrible toll of knife crime on their constituencies, whether through possession or the use of knives, so that when judges and magistrates make decisions they have in mind the deterrent effect of their sentences as well as all the other factors that we would expect them to bear in mind.
The most recent serious act of violence in London took place three and a half hours ago in my constituency: it was a shooting in a perfectly quiet residential street. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) said, we cannot go on like this; this has to be addressed. The police and council in my borough of Waltham Forest are throwing everything they can at this, including preventive strategies, but when struggling with seriously and profoundly constricted budgets it is very difficult for those preventive measures to have any real meaning. Will the Minister meet me and the leader of Waltham Forest Council, Clare Coghill, to talk about what the council and police are doing and what additional resources they need?
The hon. Gentleman is a consistent campaigner for his constituency and of course I am happy to meet him. At the risk of volunteering the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), I should point out that he is also the Minister for London and he may be a good person to meet as well. We will certainly get a meeting arranged.
As my hon. Friend will recall, I have frequently called on Ministers to bring to book the social media companies and ensure that they are doing everything they possibly can to ensure that this violence is not being encouraged through their social media channels. How is that dialogue going?
My hon. Friend is consistent in his message to social media companies about their huge responsibility in hosting videos, pictures and so on on their platforms. This is an ongoing dialogue and, in fairness to the social media companies, we are seeing some progress, but it is not enough. That is why we have helped the Metropolitan police to set up its social media hub, to ensure that drill music videos in particular, which can often incite violence, are taken down as quickly as possible. Also, through the online harms White Paper, we are advocating the idea of companies having a duty of care of towards the wider public.
We all agree that early intervention and prevention are part of the public health approach, but I sometimes worry that when we use that language, we are not actually following it through. Cross-departmental working is at the heart of the public health approach, so can the Minister update us on how that is going in relation to education, mental health, youth work, early intervention—Sure Start, for example—and the police? Also, has she done any work on pooled budgets, to ensure that the money follows the issue and that we do not simply have everybody fighting over their own departmental budgets?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. On the work that is ongoing across the Government, she will know about the Prime Minister’s serious youth violence summit, the purpose of which was to drive action across the Government. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that the Department for Education has a huge role to play, as does the NHS and others. Indeed, only last week I visited an alternative provision school to see for myself the work being done on the ground to help young people who are at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of serious violence. On the actions arising out of the summit, there is now a specific ministerial group attended by all the relevant Secretaries of State, as well as a unit within the Cabinet Office, to drive this work forward, so it really is at the centre of Government.
On the question of spending priorities, spending review discussions are ongoing and it will not surprise the hon. Lady to know that I have been emphasising the need for us to help vulnerable people—particularly those who might have been subject to adverse childhood experiences —at an early stage in life. That has huge benefits both for the way in which society enjoys itself and for the Home Office and its partners not having to pick up the pieces.
Yet more lives have been taken too early, and yet more families have been left to mourn their loss. Of course the police need resources, but they also need powers. In this instance, knife crime prevention orders are a power that the police and the Mayor of London have asked for. May I ask the Minister when we will be in a position to see these orders rolled out, in the hope that the entire House will give them the chance to succeed?
My hon. Friend is a consistent advocate not just for his constituency but for the young people he has helped to escape a life of crime in the past. He asks about knife crime prevention orders. The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 has recently received Royal Assent, and we are aiming to introduce the secondary legislation that we need to alter to enable the piloting of these orders as soon as possible. We are intending to do this in the autumn. The police asked for these preventive powers, and through the Offensive Weapons Act, we have been able to deliver them.
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the London Borough of Newham’s recent decision to appoint 30 additional youth workers? Does she recognise that drastic cuts in youth service funding since 2010 have made the current problems worse?
I genuinely thank the right hon. Gentleman for all that he does on this issue. It is a particular issue in his constituency, and I respect his work. I welcome that announcement about youth workers. The way in which youth services have been funded is, of course, a point of tension between the Government and the Opposition, but if the London Borough of Newham has been able to find the resources to invest in that, and if it thinks that that is the best way of spending that money, that is the sort of local approach that we fully support. I wish those youth workers the very best in their work in his constituency.
The recent murders in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) have sent shockwaves through our borough. Knife crime in Tower Hamlets has increased by 34% over the past eight years. We are having to come to the House week in, week out to ask the Government to intervene, to provide more policing, more youth facilities and more services, to protect people, to prevent crime, and to prevent the needless loss of lives. Does the Minister agree that this crisis is a national emergency? Although she has been put up to defend the Government and to explain the situation, this is not good enough. The Government must take serious action and invest serious amounts of money to tackle this problem, or we will sadly be back here again next week and the week after to raise these issues. Things cannot go on like this.
I respectfully remind the hon. Lady that if she reads the serious violence strategy, she will see the key drivers of serious violence that have been identified by my excellent Home Office officials. Looking at the evidence, she will also be reminded of the fact that those drivers include drugs, and she will know of our international work to draw together colleagues from across the world to share intelligence and operational best practice as to how to tackle serious violence. For example, at the Prime Minister’s knife crime summit we heard from an eminent professor from Chicago about how violence in the home is a high indicator that someone will be either a victim or a perpetrator of violence on the streets. That is why, for example, the domestic abuse Bill, the introduction of which I hope the whole House supports, is a key piece of work. Although I absolutely hear and understand representations about resources, we cannot just look at this as a resources issue. We must look at the wider key drivers of crime, which include drugs and violence in the home.
May I say to the Minister that anyone watching this session will be looking on with a sense of incredulity? Where is the passion, the indignation, and the horror about what is happening on our streets, not just in London but across the country? Violent crime is soaring and has been for months. Members across the House have raised the matter with the Government, but all we get is, “A million here, and a million there,” which is peanuts given the problems we face. This is a national emergency! Cobra should meet, and the Government should bring the same urgency and dynamism to the situation that they would bring if there had been—God forbid—a terrorist attack. It is about time that the Minister got a grip on the situation. For that matter, where is the Home Secretary? I have raised this matter again and again. He is absent without leave, busy fighting for the Tory leadership when he should be here doing his day job.
This is not about my tone or the hon. Gentleman’s tone; it is about action to help the families most affected by serious violence. I, for one, think there is a little too much anger in politics at the moment. Anger is not going to solve the problems of serious violence. It is our expectation that all our partners across the country will work together to address this, particularly through the new public health duty on which we recently consulted. It is by working together, and not through shouting and banging tables, that we will make progress.
Why does the Minister think we are still seeing an escalation in violent crime? She has read out a list of measures and projects that the Government are implementing, so why are we not seeing results?
I am always very careful with statistics, because I am conscious that any use of statistics involves a family’s son, daughter, brother or sister, but I ask the hon. Lady to look at the Metropolitan police’s most recent statistics on knife crime in the city.
I recommend to the Minister the youth violence intervention programme run by Redthread, which sees trained youth workers embedded in A&E departments at certain hospitals in Birmingham, Nottingham and elsewhere to intervene and win the confidence of young victims of violent crime at a time that can make a real difference in breaking the cycle of their involvement in violent crime. It is a great project, but what assurance can she give me that such projects will receive the sustainable funding they need so that they can be rolled out into every A&E department in the country?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the work of Redthread. The Home Office is investing in Redthread’s projects in Nottingham, Birmingham and London hospitals, and I have seen its work at close hand. I am very impressed by what Redthread does.
We will, of course, look at rolling out the project further, but I hesitate because some A&E departments thankfully do not see the levels of knife crime that perhaps London, Nottingham and Birmingham do. We have invested in those hospitals because we are targeting funding at hotspot areas, but we will look at where the project could assist by being rolled out further.
The Minister should not selectively use statistics. Violent crime is significantly up, and we warned the Government when they were cutting police numbers that it would have an impact on crime. We were told that it is not about numbers but about the effective use of our police forces. She must now regret cutting 20,000 police officers, which must have an impact on what we are discussing today. What we want to hear from the Government is not about projects but about how much they will put into the police and how many of the police officers we have lost will be replaced.
I am not selectively using statistics. I referred the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) to the Metropolitan police statistics precisely because of the action that the commissioner has taken in London, including setting up the serious violence taskforce, which, as I said earlier, dedicates 300 officers to hotspot policing across the capital. The commissioner has said that the recent figures show a decline in the increase, which is what I was talking about. It was not selective at all. I am just looking at the most recent evidence we have.
I inform the Minister that Opposition Members do not feel anger but passion, upset and worry about the numbers of young people affected, including those who have lost their life in my constituency, and about the apparent lack of urgency from this Government in addressing what is a national crisis. We saw many lives taken in London this weekend, and I was at a knife crime forum in my constituency on Friday to meet families, stakeholders and constituents who are worried and angry about the lack of action by this Government.
Is it not now time for the Government to take this seriously and recognise that when they cut funding for the police, for education and for youth services, it means we no longer have enough youth workers to work with our young people? Will she finally take note and make a significant investment in youth services so that our young people have a future and a hope?
Action we have taken in the past 12 month includes: the serious violence taskforce, chaired by the Home Secretary and attended by the Mayor of London; the ministerial taskforce, chaired by the Prime Minister, to drive cross-governmental action; the establishment of the national county lines co-ordination centre, which has seen more than 1,000 arrests and more than 1,300 people safeguarded; the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, which is tightening the law on knives, acids and firearms, including through knife crime prevention orders; Operation Sceptre, which has been rolled out by police forces in weeks of action, the most recent of which saw nearly 11,000 knives taken off the streets; the anti-knife crime community fund, which funds small local projects—68 of them last year; the £22 million early intervention youth fund, funding 29 projects across the country; the #knifefree national media campaign, which has had more than 6 million views and 20,000 teachers receiving lesson plans in June; investing in Redthread intervention work in A&E departments in London, Birmingham and Nottingham; setting up the £200 million youth endowment fund; closing the public health duty consultation at the end of this month—and we are responding as quickly as we can; setting up an independent review on drugs; commissioning and receiving voluntary commitments from major retailers to prevent the under-age sale of knives in stores and online; giving more than £1 billion extra to the police this year, including £100 million from the serious violence and with the help of police and crime commissioners; making it easier for officers to use section 60 stop-and-search powers; investing £96 million to support victims and witnesses, through the Ministry of Justice; and supporting a new national police capability to tackle gang-related activity on social media.
That shows the complexity and range of the actions we are taking. I hope the hon. Lady is asking the same question of the Mayor of London, because we all bear a responsibility—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady laughs as I say this and does some funny actions. I do not know why she is taking this in such a light-hearted fashion. This is deeply serious. This is the commitment of the Government and our local partners, and we all should really be working together to stop this violence.
Whether we are talking about police officers required to tackle county lines from Liverpool to north Wales and Cheshire, or police officers needed to tackle the issues that my colleagues have mentioned in London, it must be clear to the Minister that there are not sufficient numbers of police on the streets. The Home Secretary himself, in his leadership bid, has said that we require 20,000 more police officers. Will the Minister tell us when she intends to secure additional officers? I am talking not just about through the spending review, but now.
The right hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that PCCs across the country are recruiting up to 3,000 new officers as a result of the new settlement that we—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service reminds me that Labour Members voted against this new settlement. As I was saying, this is as a result of the £1 billion extra we are investing in policing.
I thank the Minister for her measured response. The violence over the weekend continues to cause great concern. Does she agree that to combat the violence there is a need for a joint strategy, both nationally and locally? Nationally this should be done through Government policy resourcing and funding, and locally it should be done alongside chief constables, with community policing. Together, they can address the crime, reduce the violence, restore confidence among the general public and make the streets a safer place to walk again.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and he is absolutely right to say that efforts to tackle serious violence must be driven at the national, regional and local level. Efforts that will work in one part of the country may not work in another. That is precisely why when the Home Secretary has been meeting chief constables to discuss best operational practice we have been very careful to respect the fact that not only will the police tell us what powers they need—this is precisely why we introduced knife crime prevention orders, through the Offensive Weapons Act—but they will need operational independence to ensure that what they do locally is what they believe will best fit their local area.
The Minister has clearly outlined interventions and a list of preventions that the Government are seeking to administer, but what is she doing to support young people exiting crime? To what extent does she believe that discrimination and socioeconomic factors in particular affect care leavers, black young people and white working-class young people, and their ability to get ahead in life?
On the hon. Lady’s last point, in my meetings with former and current gang members, as well as with youth workers, I am struck by the fact that certain groups in a generation of young people find it particularly difficult to access opportunities. That is why one thing I am looking into is the development of opportunities for young people in the areas most affected by serious violence. If we are to steer young people and children away from a life of crime, we have to ensure that they have opportunities beyond that. There is, for example, a big role for large companies, which could help to invest in or set up traineeships and so on in hotspot areas, as part of their overall corporate social responsibility.
I could forgive any Minister for being overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of this problem, but surely this is not a time for more projects, for consultation and for taking refuge in strategy while blood flows unhindered down our city streets. Last week, the A&E consultant at my local hospital said to me that the damage done by knives is in their pointed tip. If more knives had curved ends instead of sharp points, we would reduce deaths through knife crimes by 90%. Will Minister consider that? It is a practical, realistic option that we could undertake here and now. Will she discuss it with manufacturers, importers and retailers? There is no reason why a knife should have a point: we can slice, dice, cut and shape with a curved-edge knife. It would save lives. It is a small, practical thing, but honestly it could be a lifesaver.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. We have previously looked into the idea. As we discussed during consideration of the Offensive Weapons Bill, there is a balancing act to strike between kitchen knives having a legitimate use—we all have sharp-pointed knives in our kitchens—and the real harm that these objects can cause if they fall into the wrong hands or are taken out of the kitchen or the home. Thus far, we have concluded that changing the design of knives would not assist, but I am always very open to looking into the idea. I will continue to review the evidence, but we felt that for the moment there were better ways to achieve the balancing act between the legitimate and illegitimate use of kitchen knives. Of course, helping mums, dads and carers to understand that if they are worried about their child, there are places they can go to seek help, particularly through the #knifefree campaign, may be one way for parents to understand how they can control what happens to the knives in their kitchen drawers.
Does the Minister not understand that we are reaping the whirlwind —that £1 billion has been taken out of the Met budget and we are being asked to be grateful for the small amount we are now getting back—and that youth services have been decimated, including in my own borough, where all funding was removed and we lost two thirds of all early-prevention services? Even Westminster City Council is now beginning to recognise, years later, the need to give something back. It is simply not good enough to read out a list of initiatives that are now expected to come into place. We do not want anger from the Minister; we want urgency.
I am a little confused, because earlier the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) urged me to be angry. I am sorry that the hon. Lady takes issue with that. I am not angry at all, in that this has always been my approach. I have prosecuted serious organised crime and I have seen the terrible aftermath of these gangs through my work in the criminal justice system. This requires a methodical, cool-headed analysis of the evidence. The reason I read out the list was to give a flavour to the House of the range of activities that is happening on a national and local basis to tackle knife crime. Of course, there is so much more that local authorities are doing, as we have heard from hon. Members already, but, to my mind, this is about a methodical and hard-headed approach to looking at the evidence to see what works. That is precisely why I assume that she will welcome the emphasis we are putting on the evaluation of the various charitable projects that will be funded through the Youth Endowment Fund. We have made that an absolute requirement of the way in which the fund is run, so that we can discover what works and what does not work and invest in those projects that do.
May I impress on the Minister the feeling that an Opposition Back-Bench MP has when attending a vigil of thousands of young people and are somehow made to feel responsible for the loss of a loved one? There is this utter sense of helplessness when you have had Backbench debates, when you have had a one-to-one with the Secretary of State—who by the way is not in his place today on this most important of topics—and when you have had a one-to-one with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to talk about early intervention. You have ticked every box: you have had the community meeting; you have had the listening meeting; and then you get the reply. This is after you have been to the vigil and held in your arms the mother who is crying, and the sister of the young man who was stabbed. The mother says, “Dear Catherine, my youngest son has been mugged twice in three months. What are you doing about it?” We feel the frustration, the anger and the tragedy of it. Please, we must do something much more than just put in place programmes and strategies. We must look at the £1 billion taken away and the £1 million being given back. It just does not add up.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know that constituency colleagues—constituency MPs—will be at the forefront of having to deal with the effects not just of the immediate family of those affected, but of the wider community. I do understand that. It is why I always say that the most important part of my role is meeting the families of victims. It seems to me that every time we meet across the House and every time we meet the victims, we learn more about the complexity of the causes and what we can do to help. I personally have benefited from the meetings that I have had in informing our work.
Resourcing is an issue that Opposition Members raise continuously, and I understand why, but we cannot escape the fact that the key driver of serious violence is the drugs market, and it is the serious organised crime gangs that are driving this. That is why our national efforts through the National Crime Agency are so critical.
The hon. Lady will also welcome the fact that the Mayor of London has set up the serious violence taskforce with the 300 dedicated officers who will go to hotspot areas. If there are issues with operational matters on the ground, I please ask her to raise them with him, because just as I benefit from hearing from colleagues across the House, I am sure that he too benefits from hearing from constituency MPs.
Here we are again after a weekend of shocking violence. My heart goes out to the families, friends and communities affected by these tragedies. Clearly, we must do better. What has clearly echoed across the Chamber is that this is about prevention. In her statement, the Minister mentioned the public health approach. Does she agree that we need a lot more training for the trauma-informed intervention in education, in healthcare, in prisons, in the police and in youth services?
I think that that is right. Let me give an example of some of the actions that have not been mentioned today already. We are acting ahead of the response to the public health consultation with a rolling programme of engagement events for all relevant agencies and bodies, the police and so on across the country to help them understand how they can share data better. The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) mentioned speaking to an A&E consultant. Sharing that data on an anonymised basis can help the police to target streets, areas and wards that may have a particular problem or be a hotspot. We are very much acting on the basis of spreading advice and best practice across the country, before looking at what further steps we need to take regarding the public health duty that we have consulted on.
In the answers today—and in the absence of the Home Secretary—the Government look aloof and simply as though they are not taking a national crisis seriously enough. Why is the Home Office still withholding tens of millions of pounds from the Met that its own advisers on the English Cities Fund said London requires for major demonstrations, sports events and visits of foreign dignitaries? When will that money come through to fund the extra thousands of police officers that London desperately needs?
I have the advantage of my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister next to me, who informs me that the Met has already received emergency grants in that regard. I will write to the hon. Gentleman with the details of those emergency grants.
The west midlands is just as important as London, and over the last 10 years we have lost about 3,000 policemen. Logically, we cannot expect the same level of service; crime will go up. Over the last weeks in Coventry specifically, there have been stabbings—one fatal and one very serious. The police in Coventry are firefighting, and I have raised this issue many times. It is no good the Minister going through a list of all sorts of initiatives. The Government have to reassure the people out there because that is their duty, and the only way they are going to reassure people is with adequate policing. It is fundamental for the Government to protect their people, but they are not doing that at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that his chief constable is one of the chief constables the Home Secretary meets regularly to discuss their approach to serious violence. West Midlands police is also one of the forces receiving extra money for surge policing through the £100 million spring statement money. I am pleased that the chief constable is setting up his own violence reduction unit; when I say “his own”, I mean that he is leading that work in the west midlands. We expect to see the results of that unit soon.
Last week we brought to Parliament the concerns of the 100-year-old community of Slade Road—a once fine community with Victorian houses and people who have lived in them for successive generations that is now wracked with crime. Fear stalks the streets and local people are angry about what has happened to the community in which they were born and brought up. Is the Minister seriously suggesting that there is no link whatever between the loss of 2,100 police officers in the west midlands—and 21,000 nationwide—and rapidly rising crime? Will she agree to meet local residents, the police, the local authority and me to discuss an action plan to restore peace to the streets of Slade Road?
The hon. Gentleman brought to life in this Chamber the impact of antisocial behaviour and crime on Slade Road in his constituency in his Adjournment debate last week. At the risk of repeating my answer to the previous question, the chief constable of West Midlands police is one of the chiefs that the Home Secretary meets regularly to share best practice and to hold to account for serious violence in their local areas. The chief constable is in the process of setting up the violence reduction unit in the west midlands, and we expect to see the results of that unit very soon. The hon. Gentleman will also know that West Mids is one of the constabularies that has received money through the extra £100 million in the spring statement. I would, of course, be delighted to meet him and his constituents.
Listeria: Contaminated Sandwiches
To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make a statement on the listeria outbreak related to contaminated sandwiches in hospital trusts.
I would like to update the House on the actions the Government are taking to protect the public following cases of listeria in hospitals linked to contaminated food. The NHS has identified nine confirmed cases of listeria in seven different hospitals between 14 April and 28 May this year, all linked to contaminated sandwiches from a single supplier. All the known cases involve in-patients. Very sadly, five people have died. I would like to express my condolences to the families of those who have lost a loved one. I promise that there will be a full and thorough investigation, with severe consequences if there is any evidence of wrongdoing.
Lab testing indicated a link between two cases in Manchester Royal Infirmary and one case in Liverpool. Contaminated sandwiches were identified as the likely cause by Public Health England. The manufacturer—The Good Food Chain—and its supplier, North Country Cooked Meats, have withdrawn the sandwiches, and voluntarily ceased supply of all products on 7 June. They are both complying with the Food Standards Agency on a full product withdrawal. The other cases have been identified at these hospitals: Royal Derby, Worthing, William Harvey in Ashford, Wexham Park, Leicester Royal Infirmary, and St Richards in Chichester.
The risk to the public is very low, but any patients or members of the public with concerns should contact NHS 111 or, of course, 999 if they experience severe symptoms. Listeria infection in healthy people may cause mild illness but is rarely fatal. However, for certain groups it can be much more serious, as we have tragically seen. The NHS, Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency have acted swiftly to identify, contain and investigate the cause of this listeria outbreak. These deaths should never have happened. People rightly expect to be safe and looked after in hospitals, and we must ensure that we take the necessary steps to restore that trust that the public deserve to be able to hold.
This is not just about ensuring that the food we serve in hospitals is safe—the NHS served 140 million main meals to in-patients last year—but, importantly, is also about ensuring that food given to patients is healthy, nutritious, and aids their recovery. So I can inform the House that we are launching a root-and-branch review of all the food in our hospitals—both the food served and the food sold. The Government will work with the NHS to build on progress in three vital areas. First, there is eliminating junk food from hospitals. Since the introduction of the NHS action on sugar scheme, we have halved the sale of high-sugar soft drinks, and trusts are taking action to remove unhealthy food and drink items and replace them with healthier alternatives. After all, hospitals are places for good health. Secondly, on improving nutrition, new national standards for all healthcare food will be published this year. All patient menus will have to ensure that minimum patient nutrition standards are met. Thirdly, on healthier choices, we will work closely with the Hospital Caterers Association and others to ensure that healthier food choices are available across the NHS.
The review will identify where we need to do more, where we need to do better to improve the quality of food in our hospitals, and how we help people to make healthier choices. I know that this is an issue that many colleagues in the House feel strongly about, as do the public. We will do everything we can to ensure that the food we eat in hospitals is both safe and healthy.
Let me say at the outset that despite our often sharp political differences across the Dispatch Box, the Secretary of State has my commiserations over his entirely noble ambition to want to be the Prime Minister of this country—but perhaps, given Brexit, he has had a lucky escape.
Moving on to the substance of what we have to discuss today, our thoughts really must be with the families of those who have lost their lives. This is, first and foremost, an issue of patient safety and standards of care. Every patient deserves the very safest possible care and absolute confidence about the quality and safety of the food that they are offered. I am pleased that there is an investigation, and I welcome what he said about serious consequences if wrongdoing is found. I am also pleased that he talked about a root-and-branch review, which we have been calling for. As I understand it, NHS Improvement was already reviewing the hospital food plan, which was delayed from April. Is this a new review or an existing review that now has new obligations? Can he explain to the House how the review he has announced interacts with the existing NHS Improvement review?
I know that the investigation will want to get to the bottom of what went wrong and why, and it will no doubt make recommendations for the future, but we would be grateful if the Secretary of State offered some clarification. The first case showing symptoms of listeria was on 25 April, and sandwiches and salads were withdrawn on 25 May. When were Ministers informed, and what action was taken?
I am grateful that the Secretary of State listed the other hospital trusts affected, which include the one in my Leicester constituency. As I understand it, the Good Food Chain was supplying sandwiches to 43 trusts. Can he tell us the status of investigations or what investigations have gone on in the other trusts that he has not listed today? Does he expect cases to emerge in more trusts, and what action is currently under way to contain the spread?
What advice has the Secretary of State received from officials that microbiological controls for listeria need to be improved with respect to pre-packaged sandwiches? Will he consider introducing mandatory testing on all batches of high-risk food? Of course, this is not the first time that there has been a listeria outbreak. There was an outbreak back in 2016, and in response, the Food Standards Agency investigated and issued a report warning Ministers of the dangers posed by pre-packed sandwiches. Can he outline what measures were taken by Ministers in response to that report in 2016?
I have been speaking to hospital catering staff in recent days, and they raised concerns that tight finances and years of capital cuts have left kitchens substandard, which has driven a move to greater outsourcing of catering, with sandwiches and soups steadily replacing hot meals. Recent data show some hospitals spending less than £3 per patient per day. Does the Secretary of State agree that the review he has announced today should be backed up by investment in hospital catering facilities and legally backed, clear minimum-quality standards for hospital food? Healthcare is not just about medicine, surgery, bandages and procedures; it is about nutrition and hydration too. Patients will need urgent reassurance. Can he provide that today?
The shadow Secretary of State raises important questions, and I will try to address them all. Ultimately, I strongly agree with him that this is about standards of care. People deserve to be able to trust that the food they eat and are given in hospital is safe and, indeed, nutritious and good for their health—that is an important part of this too. Clearly, the most acute aspect of what we are discussing is safety and the lack of listeria in food, but it is part of a much bigger picture, which is why we are having a root-and-branch review.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the hospital food plan, which NHS Improvement has been leading. The review will be wider than, but will encompass, some of the existing work that is ongoing. It is about not only how food is procured by hospitals, but the quality of food. Work on the national standards in hospital food is important. It has been ongoing for several years and will come to fruition very soon. More broadly, dozens of hospital trusts have brought their catering in-house and found that they get better quality food that is more likely to be locally produced and is better value for money. We will be examining that model closely, because I am very attracted to it, and it has the potential to reduce the risk of safety concerns such as this.
The hon. Gentleman asked about timings. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy), was made aware of this outbreak on 4 June. I was informed on 6 June, and we published the details of the outbreak on 7 June.
Before that, Public Health England very swiftly identified that there was a link between these particular listeria outbreaks. It is only because of recent advances in genomic medicine and testing that we could work out—that Public Health England could work out—that the outbreak in Liverpool and the outbreak in Manchester were connected, and therefore identify that the source was outside those hospitals, rather than inside the hospitals, and that is what then identified that this was from the food source. The truth is that there are just over 150 listeria cases a year. It is a notifiable disease, so we are confident that we are properly notified of the various cases. Frankly, it was cutting-edge work by Public Health England that allowed us to connect these different cases and work out that a single source was causing these deaths.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the 43 trusts that we know bought from the Good Food Chain. We have of course been in contact with all hospital trusts, whether or not they bought from this individual company, to try to make sure that we have confidence in their supplies. The Good Food Chain has confirmed that it has followed advice and has disposed of all products. That is what the Good Food Chain company has said to us, but we are of course reconfirming that with the trusts because we want to get this right.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about investment in food and catering facilities. The truth is that it is important to have the best-quality food in hospitals. I am completely open to upgrading hospital equipment if that is what is necessary, and if it provides value for money. I have been struck by the number of hospital chief executives who have said that from the point of view of patient satisfaction, staff morale, and nutrition and the quality of food, bringing such food supplies in-house is the best thing they have done.
The Secretary of State will be aware that in my constituency of Stone, where the Good Food Chain is situated, there is obviously very deep concern, not least because we had the horrendous Mid Staffs hospital crisis. I had to campaign on that against the Labour Government’s refusal to give a full public inquiry, which our Government did give.
Having said that, is it not the case that the Good Food Chain is only responsible for the products that the patients consumed, and that the bacteria came from another company, which I am given to understand is called North Country Cooked Meats in Salford? I do commend Public Health England and the Secretary of State for the rapid way in which they identified the connections between these different places. Whereas it is absolutely essential that we have the root and branch review the Secretary of State has provided, is it not also the case that while the companies concerned will have to accept responsibility as far as it falls on them, at the same time there are really important reasons to identify exactly what did happen—where the food was contaminated, how it was contaminated—and then to exonerate the Good Food Chain, if in fact that is the case, because it is very unfair for companies to be caught up in something when it was not entirely their fault?
My right hon. Friend—[Interruption.] Not yet. My hon. Friend rightly raises the question of the supply chain, and it is true that the food in question came from North Country Cooked Meats. In turn, we are trying to identify the suppliers to North Country Cooked Meats to get to the real root of this outbreak. He is quite right to identify that this is a supply chain issue, and that there is a complex supply chain in operation.
I join my hon. Friend in commending the work of Public Health England. Within days, it spotted the links between individual cases and, from a local incident, made this into a national incident. At the appropriate moment, it raised the issue with the chief medical officer and with Ministers in the Department, and we could then explain the problem to the public. Its work has identified the problem, and undoubtedly it has potentially saved lives.
I hope the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) will not be saddened by the fact that he is not yet a member of the Privy Council. After all, he is a Staffordshire knight, he has served his constituency without interruption in this House for 35 years, and I remind the House that the hon. Gentleman has a whole chapter named after him in the late Hugo Young’s estimable tome on Britain’s relationship with Europe. There is a chapter in the name of Mr Bill Cash.
I, too, would like to express our sympathies with the families of the five patients who lost their lives, but also the four who remain critically ill. Obviously, we do not know what outcome they face.
As the shadow health spokesperson highlighted, these sandwiches were sold to 43 trusts, and while there have been no cases since 25 May, the incubation period of listeriosis is 70 days, so will surveillance of those 43 trusts continue alongside the Health Secretary’s investigation?
The Food Standards Agency published a report in 2014 about the dangers of hospital food. It cited 32 failures, including sandwiches spending hours outside fridges, and fridges often not being cold enough. Indeed, it has been highlighted that hospital sandwiches have been the commonest source of listeria outbreaks over the past two decades.
As the Health Secretary says, simple cases are often a matter of people being unwell for a few days, but listeria poses a major threat to pregnant women, who may lose their child, and is life-threatening for people who are already ill. Will the Health Secretary therefore pay particular attention in his review to why on earth people who were seriously ill or frail were being fed sandwiches? Someone who has no appetite and is recovering from illness is simply not going to be tempted by a pack of sandwiches. That really makes the case for bringing food preparation in-hospital and producing tempting meals, because nutrition is critical to recovery.
I entirely agree with and endorse what the hon. Lady has said. She is quite right to point out that a meal has to be appetising as well as nutritious. The best hospitals deliver that, and I would like that practice to be much more widespread.
I reassure the hon. Lady that the 2014 report by the Food Standards Agency was, as I understand it, looked into in great detail and assurances have been made that what it raised has, correctly, been followed through. Obviously, that was before my time as Health Secretary but I have taken advice on precisely the point she raises and I have been assured that what was necessary happened. I am open-minded, however, on what may have happened and what more needs to be done, and the review will absolutely look into that question.
Finally, the hon. Lady is absolutely right about the incubation period. We remain vigilant. Because listeria is a notifiable disease, Public Health England is told of every case and is able to analyse the links from every new case to existing cases. Notification of most cases takes place after the fact, given the nature of the disease, but we are then able to find genetic links, where they exist, and find out whether different cases have the same source.
As my right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks, one of the cases took place at the William Harvey Hospital in my constituency, and my constituent Tanya Marston, who is, happily, recovering from listeria, says that there should be a very urgent inquiry, so I welcome the announcement that my right hon. Friend has made today. On the specific safety aspect, however, rather than the wider inquiry on nutrition, what is the timescale for coming to some kind of conclusion so that people can be reassured that hospital food is safe?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and erstwhile campaign manager for his question. I am glad to hear that the patient who is his constituent is recovering. I am informed that all patients are either stable or have recovered, but for the five who tragically died. On the timescale, the urgent task at hand is to ensure that there are no further cases and that there is no more of the food that we know has the potential to cause problems in the food supply chain. That is what is going on right now. The timescale for the review will be a matter of months.
As the Secretary of State knows, two of the tragic deaths occurred at Manchester Royal Infirmary. Our hearts go out to the families. Nothing could be worse that going to hospital poorly and trying to get better, and then dying because of a sandwich provided by the hospital to aid recovery. Like the Secretary of State, I want to pay tribute to Public Health England and the Manchester Royal Infirmary for acting so quickly in identifying the source and closing it down. As others have said, however, there are some wider questions. First, we need a bit more transparency. It is only today that we have learnt which other trusts have been affected. The what, the why and the how—there are still many questions we do not know the answer to. On food outsourcing, I welcome the review he identifies today, but surely we have to be a lot firmer in identifying that the growth in outsourcing food supplies is leading to some real safety issues and, potentially, to deaths.
I agree with the hon. Lady on the need for food to be produced in-house whenever possible, especially as the evidence from some of the best hospitals in the country is that it is also very good value for money. There really is not a case against doing that and I look forward to best practice spreading across the NHS. I will, like her, do what I can to make that happen. She asks about transparency. I made it clear that there are hospitals trusts where further information needs to be published. There is a need to tell patients first, which is why the information has come out at the pace that is has. That duty of candour is important, but of course the review will lead to full transparency. All that everybody wants to do is get to the bottom of this situation and learn lessons for the future.
May I join those who have praised Public Health England? Not every hospital involved has necessarily had fatalities or major problems, but it was very important that Public Health England notified all those who might have been supplied by the same people. May I put it to the Secretary of State that we should not just think that there was one cause of listeriosis? It can come from processed vegetables, processed meats, ice cream and other things. May I ask him to recommend to everyone that people try to ensure there is safe handling, safe cooking and safe consumption to reduce the risk of cross-contamination? When an outbreak happens, that is the way, as well as through the work of Public Health England, that people can help to ensure it does not affect them.
I agree wholeheartedly with the wise words of my hon. Friend.
What is happening in hospitals? Surely we should be role-modelling fresh and healthy produce? Giving people packaged produce, including sandwiches, to eat gives them the wrong message about health and rehabilitation. Surely we should be role-modelling correct behavioural choices at every opportunity when somebody goes into hospital? Will the Secretary of State speak to the Government’s behavioural insights team to consider taking that forward? In my experience, kitchens in hospitals do exist. If he looks deeply into the issue, he will find that staff and visitors often have restaurants in hospitals. However, fresh food from those restaurants is not always made available to patients. We need to tackle and stop that inequality, particularly when patients are fragile, frail and elderly.
I will happily look into the last point for the hon. Lady. She is absolutely right that a hospital should be a role model of fresh and healthy food, because after all, what is hospital but a place to try to make us all healthy?
Although there is no evidence that cost is behind the tragic cases that we have heard about, will the Secretary of State look in his root-and-branch review at the price that the hospital is paying for food? Spending £1 per meal is not enough for a healthy, nutritious meal for patients. Some trusts are spending less than £5 a day on a patient’s food. Will he also look at legislating for safe staffing levels, so that there are enough nurses on wards to feed patients? About a third of patients are eating less than half the food that is served to them and are suffering from malnutrition. Will he look at both those issues to improve patient safety?
Making sure that there are enough nurses on wards is incredibly important for delivering good patient care not just in relation to food, but more broadly. My hon. Friend raises the question of price per meal. It is interesting that the hospitals that have brought food production in-house and source not necessarily locally distributed food but locally produced food have often found that that reduces costs rather than raises them. This is a question not of resources, but of good practice.
I welcome the announcement of the root-and-branch review and I know that patient safety continues to be a top priority for the Secretary of State, but can he reassure me and my constituents that the overall risk of listeriosis remains low?
Yes, of course. Millions of meals are served in NHS hospitals each year. While we regret any death, especially a death that could have been avoided, the overall food in hospitals absolutely is safe.
The NHS is a pioneer of and, increasingly, an international authority on the new science of genomics. Will the Minister confirm that without this NHS expertise, the source of the outbreak would not have been identified nearly as quickly and that we could well have been looking at far more deaths than in fact occurred?
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point—even more than he says. Without genomics, which the UK is the world leader in, it would have been impossible to link the different listeria deaths. They would have looked like individual cases in separate, individual hospitals. It is only because through genomics it could be worked out that the exact strain of listeria was the same in cases in different hospitals that we could then work out that there must have been a factor at work that was not internal to the hospital. When it was then identified that the food provider provided food to many different hospitals, that link could be made, too. Science and scientific progress are saving lives here.
Recall of Tumble Dryers
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy if he will make a statement on his decision to recall 500,000 unsafe tumble dryers manufactured by Whirlpool UK.
The Government take the safety of electrical products very seriously. For our children, relatives and families, we all want our homes to be places of safety and security. I provided an update to the House at departmental questions last week on the most recent steps taken by the Office for Product Safety and Standards in respect of Whirlpool tumble dryers. This follows the OPSS review of the actions taken by Whirlpool in relation to its corrective action. The findings of the review were published on 4 April. The OPSS review examined in detail the modification programme put in place by Whirlpool as well as technical documents supplied by Whirlpool. The review concluded that the risk posed by modified tumble dryers is low.
The Office for Product Safety and Standards produced a list of required actions for the business to take, and Whirlpool was given 28 days to respond, outlining the actions that it would take. The response received from Whirlpool was considered to be inadequate. As a result, the OPSS has written to Whirlpool to inform the company of its intention to serve a recall notice under the provisions of the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 in respect of the unmodified tumble dryers that remain in homes in the UK. As required by law, Whirlpool was given 10 days’ notice of that intention, which allowed it time to submit its views prior to the service of the recall notice or to seek arbitration in line with the provisions in the GPSR. Officials in the OPSS are reviewing Whirlpool’s response to determine whether it fully meets the requirements laid down in the draft recall notice.
At this time, all enforcement options remain on the table, including serving a formal recall notice. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further while the legal process is ongoing, but I will update the House in due course. It is important to stress that consumers who have had their affected tumble dryers modified can continue to use them and that those with an unmodified affected tumble dryer have been urged to unplug them and to contact Whirlpool. I encourage all consumers to register their appliances to ensure they receive updates on product modification and recalls. The OPSS will continue to monitor the situation closely and will take any steps it deems appropriate to ensure that consumers in the UK continue to enjoy the high levels of protection they have come to expect.
I thank the Minister for her response, although, given the lack of action by Whirlpool, and indeed the Government, over a four-year period, there are many questions to be asked. If they cannot all be answered today, I would be grateful if she could write to me and perhaps meet me and other interested Members, as this is clearly an ongoing matter.
The fire that destroyed 20 flats in a 19-storey block in my constituency in 2016 was one of hundreds of fires caused by over 100 models of tumble dryer manufactured between 2004 and 2015 by companies now all owned by Whirlpool, but when I met Whirlpool a couple of weeks ago, it could not even say how many reports of fires it was receiving each week. This is the most serious consumer safety issue for many years. At one stage, it was estimated that one in six households in the UK had a faulty Whirlpool tumble dryer in use. Why has it taken four years to reach this point, despite repeated requests for recall from the fire brigade and others? What steps will the Government now take to ensure that unmodified dryers are recalled? I heard what the Minister said, but anything less than a recall now would be considered wholly inadequate.
What is the basis for the estimate of 300,000 to 500,000 unmodified machines in service, given that 5.5 million were sold and only 5,000 have been modified since Whirlpool estimated itself that there were 1 million unmodified dryers in December 2017? If it goes ahead, how will the recall process work, as a matter of law and in practice, given that, as the Minister said, it is unprecedented? What progress has the OPSS made on setting up the recall database that we were promised would be live by the end of this year? What further advice is being given to the owners of Whirlpool tumble dryers? Why has Whirlpool still not published on its website the list of model numbers affected, and why is it refusing to give one to Which? and Electrical Safety First? Why did the advice change from the OPSS? It seemed quite happy with the advice in April. Will the Government look again at the modification process and at the evidence compiled by Which? saying that the modified machines are still liable to catch fire?
Finally, does the Minister agree with what her predecessor, the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), said in asking the planted question last week, which is that there remain grave concerns about the “straightness” of Whirlpool? What will the Government do about this company, which has flouted the rules here? Is it not time to get tough?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concern, specifically for his constituency, given the desperately sad incident that occurred there. He is absolutely right to ask these questions and raise these concerns, as would any consumer be who believed they were at risk.
We carried out the review at the behest of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), who ordered a review of the Whirlpool modification process in 2018. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the review looked at the effectiveness of the technical modification and the adequacy of the outreach programme. It concluded that the risk was low, and was further reduced by the modification. Following the review, we issued a 28-day notice letter to Whirlpool, specifying issues on which we wanted more information and assurances. We were unsatisfied by its response, which is why, on 4 June, we issued a letter of intent of notice of a recall.
Following conversations that I had with the hon. Gentleman last week, he wrote to me at the end of the week asking for a meeting. As I said to him last week, I should be more than happy to meet him to discuss any of his concerns about the ongoing process. My absolute intention is to ensure that we hold companies to account when we do not believe that they are carrying out their legal obligation, which is to place safe products on the market.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to be concerned about the future prevention of fires. I can tell him that, according to Home Office data, there were 224 fires caused by tumble dryers in 2017-18, a 10% reduction on the previous year’s figure of 808. We will obviously do all that is required to ensure that consumers are kept free of harm. We are following due process, in line with the regulations, in order to ensure that Whirlpool carries out its obligations.
I am more than happy to answer any further questions from the hon. Gentleman in detail as the process continues, and, as I have said, I am also more than happy to meet any colleague at any time.
Can the Minister give us some indication of how many machines the Government think are still out there which could be risky, in the light of the high incidence of fires that she has reported?
In response to a query from Which?, Whirlpool said that 1.7 million cases had already been resolved. It estimates that another 500,000 machines are still in people’s homes.
Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on his relentless campaigning, and for securing this important question.
The Government stated their intention to initiate a recall notice to Whirlpool on 4 June, but that only became apparent in the House during topical questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Tuesday 11 June. Can the Minister explain why she did not come forward with a statement about the decision, which she has described as “unprecedented”, but which she considered not to be “unprecedented” enough to inform the House about it?
The issue of Whirlpool and its faulty products has been one of the biggest consumer safety issues for many years. The relevant fault affected more than 5 million tumble dryers under brand names that are now owned by Whirlpool UK, which were manufactured between 2004 and 2015. I welcome the recall notice regarding the 500,000 unmodified products, but I am seriously concerned about the millions of modified Whirlpool products that are still in people’s homes, and whose owners have reported fires and faults despite the modifications. Which? spoke to more than 30 owners who have said that their “fixed” tumble dryers have caught fire, or have produced smoke or a smell of burning. There are millions of those modified machines out there in people’s homes. Consumer safety must be our utmost priority, so will the Minister demand a full investigation of those reports, and go further by demanding a recall of the modified products too?
In April, the Office for Product Safety and Standards published findings of its inquiry into Whirlpool’s handling of the risk of the machines. It found that the risk of fire was “low”, and therefore no recall notice action was taken. Which? considered that the “inquiry is fundamentally flawed”, and that
“it appears to favour business interests over people’s safety”.
The investigators failed to speak to any affected Whirlpool customers as part of the review, and further failed to verify the history of the 28 Whirlpool dryers that it tested, which meant that it was unable to draw conclusions about when the machines had been modified and by whom. The inquiry was published in April and the Minister’s subsequent contradictory decision to issue a recall notice obviously raises serious questions about the OPSS. Will the Minister clearly outline why she came to a different decision from the OPPS in April? Does she now believe that the OPSS investigation was fundamentally flawed and will she announce an investigation into that review to look at whether it was properly undertaken and there are lessons to learn for the future?
I must start by outlining that the protection of consumers, the safety of consumers and the safety of products placed on the market are of utmost importance to me and this Government. I did indeed update the House last week in response to a question about the action that we have taken in regards to Whirlpool; it is part of a legal process, as I have already outlined. All complaints about modified or unmodified tumble dryers that have been duly registered were included in the review. The review was significant: it looked at many areas, took all the data into account, and carried out the assessments, as the hon. Lady has outlined, and I am absolutely satisfied that the review undertaken by OPSS was appropriate and robust.
I have not taken a different decision from OPSS. We were very clear. OPSS wrote to Whirlpool after the review outlining areas where it wanted a guarantee of further work. Whirlpool had 28 days in which to respond. It responded, and the OPSS reviewed that information and was not satisfied, finding that the commitment was inadequate. We therefore decided to issue a notice—an intention to recall. As I have outlined today, we will be reviewing what has been submitted by Whirlpool. There is no intention to put, as has been suggested, big business over the needs and safety of consumers, and we will not do that. Fundamentally, the safety of people in their homes is of utmost importance to me and the Government and I will do everything in my power to make sure that large companies and manufacturers absolutely comply with their legal obligation to place only products that are safe on the market. If they fail to do so, this Government will take appropriate action to hold them to account.
I congratulate both the OPSS and the Minister on having the cojones to hold Whirlpool to account, because there is no doubt that Whirlpool has been shifty on this and the Minister has called it out, so I say well done. Does she agree that it sends a clear message to business that either they have to put their house in order and ensure that their products are safe or the Government will act and have a product recall?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and acknowledge his role in instigating the review of Whirlpool’s modification programme last May. Let me reiterate that the law is clear: manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure that only safe products are placed on the market, and appropriate action must be taken when a safety issue is identified. We will make sure that any organisations placing unsafe products on the market are forced to comply with the law, and we will continue to hold them to account.
This matter does not seem to have been handled well, either by Whirlpool or by the UK Government, from start to finish. Surely our first priority should be, as the Minister said, to protect our constituents and ensure that they are not at risk from fire. If there are still 500,000 unmodified products out there, and if the risk of them going on fire is 1%, we are looking at a potential of 5,000 fires. If the risk is half that, we are still looking at 2,500 fires and the risk to life that comes with them. What assessment has been made of the risk from the modified tumble dryers? Concerns have been raised that modified dryers are also continuing to go on fire.
The other thing I am confused about is why the Government took so long to take action, given that this issue was first recognised by Whirlpool in 2015. If it takes the OPSS and the Government so long to undertake a review and put sanctions in place against a company, there is surely an issue with the system. Will the Government, as a result of the issues raised, look at the product recall system in general and ensure that a review is undertaken, so that we no longer have such incredibly lengthy waits when products are recalled, and so that the Government can take action more quickly than they have done in this case?
As I outlined earlier, the review of Whirlpool was a review of the modification programme. It looked at the effectiveness of the technical modifications and the adequacy of the outreach programme. The review concluded that there was a low risk from unmodified machines, and an even lower risk from modified ones. The wider review was concerned with the actions that Whirlpool took to resolve any risk of lint fires in its machines. I believe that its findings were robust and proportionate. The info that was provided to us via Which? and “Watchdog” and the testing carried out by Which? were also featured and taken into account in the review. However, the review very much focused on the technical effectiveness of the modifications.
The reason that this has taken so long, as the hon. Lady suggests, is that we followed due process in carrying out a substantial review, making our assumptions and providing Whirlpool with laid-down notice to come back to us with what it would do to rectify the situation. I would just highlight that part of enforcing consumer and product safety involves ensuring that we carry out a review when we believe that manufacturers are not fulfilling their obligations under the regulations, and that we follow due process in doing so. We will continue to do that where there are concerns about any product that is placed on the market. We will ensure that organisations and large manufacturers comply with the law.
All too often in my previous life I saw the damage, despair and devastation—not to mention the risk to life—that fire can bring to a family home. Will my hon. Friend confirm that product safety and standards remain a priority for this Government, and that manufacturers of white goods such as Whirlpool must act promptly and responsibly when faced with the evidence of goods not being fit for purpose? This journey of risk has been unacceptably long, but I thank her for the robust action that she has recently taken.
I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I note his particular interest in this as a result of his past career. He is absolutely right to suggest that we will ensure that large manufacturers such as Whirlpool comply with the regulations if they find that a technical change needs to be made to their products. We expect them to take appropriate action where a risk has been identified. This is indeed a priority for this Government. It has been a priority since I have been in post, and we will continue to ensure that these organisations comply with the law.
The recall has been far too long coming. As soon as Whirlpool became aware of the problem, it should have acted immediately and recalled every affected machine. As it is, it has sat back and waited years, and consumer safety has been at risk, with the Government finally stepping in last week. The public are rightly terrified of the danger that could be sitting in their homes. People who contact Electrical Safety First, Which? and other consumer bodies are struggling to find assistance because Whirlpool has refused to publish a list of the affected machines. Instead, members of the public have to wade through a series of hidden steps on the Whirlpool website to try to establish whether they have a potential fire hazard in their home. Why has Whirlpool been allowed to get away with that? A list should be readily available, so will the Minister commit to ensuring that Whirlpool publishes one immediately?
We are following due process, and we are taking action. This has been an ongoing piece of work. When issues with the modification programme were raised, my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), instigated the review, and OPSS has been working since then and has been in continual communication with Whirlpool. It is vital that we follow due process and, whether the organisation involved is small or large, that we ensure that any action is proportionate and correct. Any consumer with concerns about the tumble dryer in their home can get in touch with Whirlpool by entering the serial number and model to check whether their product is affected, and we encourage anyone who is worried about the product in their home to contact Whirlpool immediately.
I do not talk about this in public a lot, but I lost my father in an electrical accident when I was 10, and there has not been a Father’s Day in 40 years when I have not wished that he was still here. Consumer safety must come first, and I thank the Minister for the action she has taken. We have some of the strongest consumer safety standards in the world, but enforcement is sometimes challenging. Will she therefore take this opportunity to consider ways of strengthening the enforcement, and will she examine whether the penalties for producers are effective and strong enough?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am sorry to hear about her father, particularly since this urgent question comes the day after Father’s Day. She is absolutely right. This action serves as a warning to manufacturers that if they put unsafe products on the market, this Government will act to make them comply with the law. The beauty of the OPSS, which this Government set up in January 2018, is not only that it is a national body that takes responsibility for national crises, but that it supports local enforcers on the ground with scientific and research-based knowledge. I assure my hon. Friend that we are taking the matter seriously, and this is a warning to manufacturers that we will enforce the law if we believe that they are not complying.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on his dogged pursuit of this consumer scandal. Is not too much onus being left on consumers to understand the potential risks to their machines? If half a million Whirlpool machines are still unmodified, how exactly are the Government tracking progress? If they proceed to recall, which they should, how will they ensure that Whirlpool is successful in getting the message through to the owners of all those machines?
The hon. Lady raises an important point on how we reach consumers, and part of the review covered the adequacy of the outreach programme. Our review found that Whirlpool needs to do more in that space, which is exactly why we issued a notice for Whirlpool to tell us what it will do further on the intention to recall. Whirlpool had time to respond, and we asked for further information on how it will get that information out to consumers. That will be a key part of how we review anything that Whirlpool submits to us, and the process will be ongoing if the recall notice is served or if Whirlpool decides to undertake a recall itself.
We ought to recognise that Whirlpool took over Indesit Hotpoint in 2014. It identified the problem in 2015 and has been trying to take action, but not fully adequately.
Will the Minister ask Whirlpool to make sure that the website better identifies the EU product safety site, as with Creda, Proline or Swan? Will she also ask the search engines, especially Google, to feature product recall information on the first search page, preferably even before the advertisements? Finally, will she indicate that safe products have a green dot inside the door? If people want to know the serial number and model, that is also inside the door.
I thank my hon. Friend. As he requests, I will ask Whirlpool how it can make its website more user-friendly. I cannot give him any guarantees on Google’s actions, but I am sure that is something we can take forward. He has previously raised his final point in the House, and consumers will therefore have heard him. I reiterate that, if consumers are concerned about the products in their home, they can go on the website and call the Whirlpool helpline. If their tumble dryer has been modified, continued use is a low risk. We recommend that unmodified dryers are unplugged and not used and that Whirlpool is contacted.
By the Government’s own admission, there are 500,000 unmodified machines in existence, which equates to around 700 per constituency. The Minister has just reaffirmed that the Government’s advice is to unplug these machines. How are those 700 people in Delyn supposed to know that?
The right hon. Gentleman outlines that there are 500,000 machines, which is not a Government estimate—we have used data to estimate the number of dryers still in people’s homes. As I said to the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), Whirlpool has an outreach programme to communicate with individuals who have not yet contacted Whirlpool and who it believes to have faulty equipment.
We recommend that anyone who buys any kind of electrical appliance should register it so that the manufacturer can easily contact those who have a particular product—this is not just for Whirlpool but for any kind of electrical product that is sold. It is vital that consumers take the time to register their purchase so it is easy for the manufacturer to contact them if any faults or problems are found with the machine.
I congratulate the Minister on the action she has taken. One of the first cases I received as a newly elected Member of Parliament was on the safety of tumble dryers; the issue came up at my first surgery. As a member of the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, I have to say that I have been singularly unimpressed with Whirlpool’s attitude to this problem. Part of the problem lies in trying to find where these machines are, so is the Minister entirely satisfied with our current system for the registration of appliances in this country? It is sometimes very difficult to find serial numbers and model numbers, especially where appliances have been fitted in kitchens or utility rooms, for example. These are real, live issues. Is she satisfied that this system is adequate for purpose?
I thank my hon. Friend for that. He is right to raise concerns about whether the system is suitable, and whether all appliances are easily identified and registered. We definitely need to look, on an ongoing basis, at whether some of the products being placed on the market are easily identified. He is right to highlight the issue with built-in appliances, as it is sometimes difficult to remove them to get the serial number. As I have said, I recommend that all consumers register their appliances on the registermyappliance site. We will keep all information under review, but I remain determined to ensure that where manufacturers do not comply with the law we will take enforcement action. That is why I am pleased to be standing here today outlining the steps we are moving through to make sure that we comply with the regulation on the enforcement.
With an estimated 700 affected appliances per constituency, it is not surprising that I have been contacted by a number of constituents affected, including Linda Thomas, who was advised to contact Peterborough trading standards, it being the trading standards body responsible for this Whirlpool issue. She tells me that she feels very much that Peterborough trading standards are
“on the side of Whirlpool and ‘not the consumer’”.
What assessment has the Minister made of the impartiality of Peterborough trading standards, in the light of the emails revealed by the BBC as a result of freedom of information requests?
Trading standards, in Peterborough or anywhere else nationally, are carrying out, every day, the important work of enforcing safety issues; they are taking lots of enforcement action. I, for one, am very proud of and grateful to trading standards officers, who sometimes work in challenging circumstances but do some fantastic work. One reason the OPSS was set up was in January last year was to look at product safety and standards, and it was the body that carried out the review of the Whirlpool modification programme, working with regional trading standards, including Peterborough’s. Trading standards do have the ability to work with the OPSS on the scientific research and data, using the expertise the OPSS brings to help them carry out their duty locally. Therefore, I very much disagree on this; action taken by any enforcement body is being taken on behalf of the consumer, not in the interests of large manufacturers.
If any of my constituents correctly identify their tumble dryer as a potentially unsafe model, how quickly would the Minister expect them to be given a replacement by Whirlpool?
My hon. Friend asks when his constituents would have a replacement. I would say that the affected tumble dryer should be modified, but any action must be taken swiftly. The particular circumstance, the age of the model and the brand of the model would dictate which action Whirlpool takes.
I thank the Minister for her comments, but I am still extremely concerned that 500,000 machines are at large. As the chair of the all-party group on disability, I am particularly concerned about whether notifications have gone out in accessible formats, because if people have disabilities they might not see a fire so quickly or be able to leave their homes so quickly should one start. Will the Minister speak to Whirlpool and make sure that the notifications are in formats that are accessible for all?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that issue and will do as she asks.
The UK may well have one of the strongest consumer protection regimes in the world, but does the Minister agree that things need to be under constant review? Can she assure me that the OPSS has sufficient resources, powers and skills to do what we expect of it?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that the OPSS has the powers and funds necessary to carry out its work. The beauty of the OPSS is that it is absolutely focused on product safety and standards. Part of its £12 million per annum funding is for building scientific and technical expertise. It works with trading standards locally and nationally and provides the national leadership required on national issues such as this one.
The Minister will know that registration rates for white goods are typically less than 30%, which means that more than 70% of people typically do not register their products. That is understandable—they are frightened of being sold to or contacted for lots of other reasons—so surely it is now time to take the onus off the consumer and have a central register, from the point of sale, that can be used only in the event of a recall.
I thank the hon. Lady for that suggestion. I will commit today to making that a topic for discussion at the Consumer Protection Partnership, which is the group of organisations that sit together to consider consumer protections. Perhaps we can look into whether that would be more beneficial for consumers. I reiterate that the Government have a recall website that gives the details of all white goods that are subject to recall or fire risk. All consumers should register their appliances. It is down to the manufacturer to make sure that the products are safe, but if consumers take the simple step of registering their goods in the first instance, when they buy them, before any changes are made, that is the best way forward.
Might not many of these tumble dryers have been resold in the second-hand market? If so, what is the Minister doing to assess the dangers of the resale of such machines, bearing in mind that local authority trading standards have been decimated by Tory austerity cuts?
As I have outlined, it does not matter whether the product is second hand or has been with its original owners since purchase. If a dryer is affected and is unmodified, consumers should contact Whirlpool. I reiterate that when the OPSS carried out its review of the modification programme, it took all the data into consideration and the risk was deemed to be low and further reduced for modified tumble dryers. I therefore urge any consumer with a tumble dryer in their home to look to see whether it is one of the products affected and make contact with Whirlpool.
The Minister has said that modified machines are low risk, yet last year the BBC’s “Watchdog” live consumer programme uncovered cases in which machines had caught fire even after being fixed. Can modified machines be deemed to be low risk, even though they catch fire?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about modified machines. When any information or testing that had been carried out at any particular event by “Watchdog” or Which? was submitted to the Department or to the OPSS, it was scrutinised and looked at during the review of the modification process. The outcome was to put the risk level at low. However, anyone who has a concern about any machine should contact Whirlpool. In actual fact, if anyone has any concern about any electrical appliance within their home, they should stop using it and contact the manufacturer.
A number of my constituents contacted me with their concerns about Whirlpool. With Electrical Safety First research pointing to the fact that only 10% to 20% of recalled products are ever returned or repaired, we should perhaps consider looking at a statutory basis for online retailers to contact people who bought products online, because they certainly will have a means of contacting their consumers—they will have email addresses and other details for the products that have been dispatched. Perhaps that could be an easier way for some retailers to contact people to get that recall information to them.
I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting that point. One of the issues that we considered in last year’s review was the outreach programme. There are many ways in which Whirlpool should be able to contact the people who have bought its products. This is very much the responsibility of the manufacturer, and it is one of the reasons we are taking so much care with this review, and why we are asking so many questions. It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to make sure that it has a programme that is sufficient to reach its customers. We are dissatisfied with what it has done. That is why we issued the intention to issue a recall. She is absolutely correct: Whirlpool should be using everything at its disposal to make sure that it contacts anyone who has purchased its product by any means necessary.
The Whirlpool situation has highlighted a problem exposed by the Electrical Safety Council about the difficulty of identifying the owners of the defective appliances it recalls. Can the Minister say a little more about what progress has been made on requiring the registration of purchase of electrical goods at point of sale by the retailer, rather than by consumers registering afterwards? Consumer registration patently does not work, and the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) is not a new one; it has been knocking around for years and the retail industry needs to own up to its responsibility.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I know that he has a particular interest in this matter. He will know that, when I last sat in front of him at the meeting of the all-party group on fire safety, I was very clear that if action needed to be taken I was not fearful of taking such action. As I tried to outline to the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), it is a valid suggestion, and I do agree that we need to look at it. That is why I have said here today that I am prepared to bring that to the Consumer Protection Partnership to see whether we can progress it further. He is absolutely right: we need to do all we can to ensure that consumers are protected, but fundamentally I am here today to talk about holding Whirlpool to account, and I am proud to be standing here and doing that. This Government want to ensure that, no matter how big manufacturers are, we will still make them comply with the law.
Where is the Whirlpool list of model numbers that may be at risk?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As I have outlined, anyone who has one of the brands that are affected—Hotpoint, Indesit, Swan, Proline and Creda, manufactured between April 2004 and September 2015—should go to the Whirlpool website and put in their model and serial numbers to find out whether it is an affected model. If they do not want to go on to the website, they should ring Whirlpool’s helpline.
Gulf of Oman Oil Tanker Attacks
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office if he will make a statement on the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
The Government completely condemn the attacks on two tankers on 13 June. This is deeply worrying at a time of already significant tension.
Following our own assessment, the UK concludes that it is almost certain that a branch of the Iranian military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, attacked the two tankers on 13 June. No other state or non-state actor could plausibly have been responsible. These latest attacks build on a pattern of destabilising Iranian behaviour and pose a serious danger to peace and stability in the region. In targeting civilian shipping, international norms have been violated. It is essential that tankers and crews are able to pass through international waters safely. We call on Iran urgently to cease all forms of destabilising activity, and I reiterated that point during my meeting with the Iranian ambassador this afternoon.
The UK remains in close co-ordination with international partners to find diplomatic solutions to de-escalate tensions. I plan to visit Tehran shortly when I will seek to assist in that de-escalatory process aimed at establishing common ground and a peaceful way forward that will command the respect of all parties.
I thank the Minister for that reply.
Tensions are rising incredibly quickly in the wake of the recent tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman, and, of course, as the Minister mentions, the ongoing destabilising behaviour and threats from Iran to increase low-level uranium production. These attacks must be condemned forcefully by all Members from all parts of the House. The Government have yet to provide conclusive evidence beyond the grainy video footage. While the Leader of the Opposition has been quick to question British intelligence and lay all the blame for the escalation at the door of the United States, the German Foreign Minister has urged restraint in assigning responsibility for the attacks and is seeking additional evidence.
The Minister has repeated what the Foreign Secretary said at the weekend: that Iran is almost certainly behind the attacks in the guise of IRGC. Can he explain what the remaining area of uncertainty is and what additional information would be required to prove that Iran is in fact responsible beyond doubt? While fully appreciating that there are, of course, intelligence sensitivities, do the Government recognise that releasing additional evidence into the public domain where possible, or sharing that with allies on a confidential basis, would help to garner further support to build international agreement and, indeed, hopefully dampen tensions or to be able to take any action necessary? Does he agree that an independent inspection from a trusted third party to look at these vessels would be an important part of the answer?
The Minister talked about his talks and his wish to de-escalate the crisis and reach a peaceful diplomatic solution, which is hugely important, in partnership not just with the US but with our European allies. Of course, as he mentioned, the strait of Hormuz is a vital shipping lane, with nearly 30% of oil exports passing through it. What steps is he taking to protect civilian shipping in the region?
Finally, I want to ask about the impact on UK nationals. There are significant numbers of UK nationals living in the region who will look at these escalations and have concerns. What assessment has been made of what would be needed if an evacuation of UK nationals was necessary in the event that tensions were to escalate further, when were such plans last tested and what confidence does the Minister have that those contingencies, which we hope will never be needed, are in place? Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband have gone on hunger strike in protest at her treatment. What steps are being taken to ensure that whatever course of action is pursued does not have any adverse effect on securing the release of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other British nationals in prison?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comprehensive list of questions. I will do my best to answer them—perhaps in reverse order, given that I raised the issue of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with the Iranian ambassador this afternoon. Our position is that we want consular access to Nazanin, and we have reiterated to the ambassador our concern for her welfare. The hon. Lady will be aware that the Iranians will claim that we have no business in this matter because Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a dual national, but we will persist.
On what we are doing to protect shipping and individuals, I emphasise that our aim is to de-escalate the situation and turn down the temperature. I believe that our European friends and partners feel the same way. We will continue to act with the E3 in particular to dial this down, and that is our best way forward in ensuring that all are protected—that the vital trade routes through the straits are protected, and particularly that our nationals in the Gulf region are safe.
The hon. Lady presses me on intelligence. She knows very well that I am not going to comment in detail, or indeed at all, on intelligence. What I can say to her is that we make our own assessment. I hope that she will recognise the form of words that I have used, which is well understood. We are as sure as we can be of the source of this latest attack. Indeed, although the hon. Lady has not mentioned this specifically, we also associate Iran with the attacks of 12 May.
In relation to the assessments made by others, I think it is true to say that our means of determining provenance are among the very best in the world. Others will of course make their own assessments, which are of great interest, but I stand by my assessment that I have iterated to the hon. Lady; I believe that it is of high quality and is highly reliable. She mentioned the Leader of the Opposition, and he must speak for himself.
On the independent investigation, the vessels, which since the attack of 13 June were in international waters, remain the property of the ship owners. At the moment, they are being taken to Fujairah in the Emirates. It is for the ship owners to determine what investigation will now take place and who will carry out that investigation. I hope that gives the hon. Lady some confidence that we were approaching the matter in a balanced way, but let me reiterate the Government’s intention to do all in our power to de-escalate this difficult situation.