House of Commons
Tuesday 19 May 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
The House entered into hybrid scrutiny proceedings (Order, 21 April).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
Pubs as Takeaway Restaurants
The Government welcome the reopening of food-to-go businesses in line with social distancing measures and have relaxed planning rules so that pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways. We published guidance for restaurants offering takeaway or delivery services, which has been widely welcomed by the sector. The UK Government, along with the devolved Administrations, are working closely with the food and drink and hospitality sectors to support their gradual reopening and continued operations.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Pubs like the Fleur De Lys in East Hagbourne have been doing a great job, with takeaway pints of beer and food three nights a week, from fish and chips to roasts. Can he confirm that he actively encourages that but knows that it is not a substitute for being properly open and that the Government will work with pubs to guide them on how they can do so safely as soon as possible?
We were very clear when we imposed the original restrictions at the point of lockdown that those did not extend to takeaway food outlets. We were clear that we wanted to support those pubs and restaurants that wanted to remain open, offering takeaway food. Those that have done have made an important contribution to our food supply at this difficult time, and we very much welcome the steps they have taken. Of course, we also recognise that until things return to something closer to normal and they can reopen normally—hopefully later this summer—that will not give them all the trade they previously had.
I am encouraged by my right hon. Friend’s response. Our pubs are at the heart of the communities I represent in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton. What work will he be undertaking alongside his colleagues across Government and, more importantly, on a regional level with our West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, to ensure that pubs in the Black Country have all the means necessary to survive and thrive again once the crisis is over?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Pubs are at the heart of our community, and the fact that they have been forced to close has caused difficulty for many of them. As the Prime Minister has outlined, we intend that the hospitality sector, including pubs, will be able to tentatively start gradually opening, hopefully during the month of July, subject to the epidemiology supporting such a move. We are already working with the hospitality and pub sector to identify what social distancing measures they might be able to put in place to make that work properly.
Supermarket Supply Chains
We have worked closely with retailers and suppliers to ensure the security of supply chains, while also protecting staff safety. I would like to put on record again my thanks to the sector for demonstrating such resilience and flexibility in the face of the crisis. Staff have worked around the clock to ensure that people have the food they need. To support industry, we have introduced temporary measures, including temporary relaxations to competition law, and extended delivery hour regulations, and we have published guidance to help to ensure that workplaces and retail spaces are as safe as possible.
To support the resilience of the supermarkets and food shops on which my constituents in Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner depend, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that people who work in food supply and food retail are able to access priority testing for covid-19, so that they can get back to work?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that all essential workers, including all those involved in the food supply chain, are eligible for testing. We are working with the food sector to ensure that employees who are either self-isolating with symptoms of the coronavirus or who have a symptomatic household member are able to access those tests. Eligible workers who are self-isolating can apply for a test directly online or can be referred for a test by their employer.
The resilience of the food supply chains has been impressive, and we thank all those who work on our farms and in processing factories and the pickers, delivery drivers and, of course, shop workers who have kept the food flowing to our supermarkets. The foolish dismantling of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, now made worse by the covid crisis, means that we face an alarming shortfall in the 70,000 experienced people needed to pick our crops. The laudable “Pick for Britain” campaign may help, but it was reported only a few weeks ago that of the 50,000 applicants, only 112 had made it into the field. Can the Secretary of State tell us what those figures are today and what is his plan B?
We estimate that only about a third of the east European workforce who would usually come to work on our farms are here or have continued to come. That means that we will need a British workforce to step up and assist in getting the harvest in this year, and we are very encouraged by the results so far. The hon. Gentleman is right that a few weeks ago, when it was early in the season, there were not many jobs. But we are now approaching the peak season in June, and employers are starting to recruit more and more British workers. For instance, G’s salads currently has more than 400 British people working on its farms today
The food industry has responded quickly and impressively to the significant changes in demand that we have seen over the past month. That has ensured supply into stores and people’s homes across the country, and has demonstrated that the supply chain remains resilient. The Government have supported the industry with proportionate and temporary relaxations of competition law and drivers’ hours and extended delivery hours.
The Secretary of State is absolutely right: British farmers have been brilliant in getting food on the table. Does he agree, therefore, that there is no need for US-style industrial factory farming of poultry in this country, and will he look into the rotten proposal from my constituency, which I wrote to him about on 15 April?
I am aware, as it has been drawn to my attention, following my hon. Friend’s question, that there is a letter that I have yet to respond to; I will respond to that. Obviously, the issues that he has raised are predominantly issues for the environment agencies that carry out such environmental assessments. He mentions US-style poultry. Obviously, some approaches to poultry farming in the US will not be lawful in the United Kingdom, so I can reassure him on that.
The adequacy of the food supply includes the nutritional values and the production standards. The Government whipped their Back Benchers to vote against maintaining food standards for imports in the Agriculture Bill, and now we are hearing that it is a fire sale in the US trade deal. How can the public ensure that the food in our shops remains of the same quality as it is now?
This Government have a very clear manifesto commitment that we will protect our food standards in all our trade negotiations. Certain practices, such as chlorine washes on chicken or hormones in beef, are subject to a prohibition on sale in the UK, and that law remains in place. It is also the case that, as we advance trade negotiations with all third countries, animal welfare is one of the issues that we will be seeking to promote.
Supermarkets: Good Hygiene and Social Distancing
From the outset, we have worked extensively with retailers and Public Health England to establish best practice and publish guidance on social distancing and hygiene, to keep staff and customers safe. Industry has adapted effectively and quickly, and measures introduced include signage and floor markings to help customers maintain distance, screens at tills and limits on the number of customers in store.
On a recent visit to my local supermarket in Blyth, I was pleased to see that the supermarkets are taking all the necessary precautions to try to protect the public while they are out shopping. Those include cleaning stations, markings on the floor and regular announcements to tell people to maintain social distance. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as measures are relaxed and we move forward, we must all be aware and mindful while out shopping, to protect not only ourselves but the staff, who have been providing an invaluable service during this pandemic?
On the latter point, I take the opportunity to pay tribute to all those key workers working throughout our food supply chain, from those working on farms to those working in logistics and food manufacturing, and of course those working in our supermarkets. They have helped to ensure that the nation has remained fed, and the work that they have done has been truly phenomenal.
I also agree with my hon. Friend that as we seek to evolve the current restrictions and move back to something closer to life as normal, we all have a great deal that we can learn from the measures that have been put in place by supermarkets—and also in factory environments by our food processors.
I congratulate my local Sainsbury’s stores in Erith Road, Barnehurst, and in Crayford on their good organisation and friendly staff. Does my right hon. Friend agree that other businesses will be able to learn lessons from the actions taken by supermarkets to ensure good hygiene and social distancing?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: our supermarket retailers acted within hours—certainly within 24 hours—to implement social distancing when lockdown occurred. They acted swiftly, and we have learned a lot along the way, in conjunction with Public Health England. I can tell my right hon. Friend that the experiences of our supermarkets and food manufacturers have been shared extensively with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as it has developed safer-working protocols for other parts of the economy, because we can—absolutely—learn from the steps that supermarkets and others have taken.
The coronavirus response has exemplified the resilience of the UK food supply chain. Industry has responded quickly to significant changes in demand to ensure that people have the food they need. In the initial few weeks, when there was an episode of panic buying, our food manufacturers increased output by some 50%.
Although our food security depends on both international trade and domestic production, this crisis has brought home the crucial importance of domestic food production. We are fortunate to have some of the most innovative food manufacturers and producers in the world, and I pay tribute to all they have done in recent months.
Between April and September last year, the Trussell Trust reported a 23% rise in the number of food parcels provided across the UK. As of April this year, the figure has doubled. Given the World Bank’s recent warning of a covid-19 worldwide food price spike, as well as the alarming rise in unemployment we have seen today, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to alleviate the shameful growth in food poverty?
We recognise that, as a result of the coronavirus crisis, the financial vulnerability of households has also increased. That is why, last week, the Government announced a new £16 million fund to support food charities, including refuges and homeless hostels. The food will be distributed by our existing partners in FareShare.
Food bank demand is surging, up on average by between 60% and 80% from pre-virus levels. Now, unemployment is soaring, up by nearly 70% last month. It is clear that we need measures that match the scale of the crisis. Last week, the Secretary of State whipped his MPs to reject Labour’s sensible proposals for an emergency coronavirus food plan. With The Times reporting that the Prime Minister is now keen on a food plan of his own, dealing with obesity and coronavirus, will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government’s urgently needed food strategy, which must include a coronavirus focus, will be published before the recession bites?
The food strategy that is being developed by Henry Dimbleby, one of our non-executive directors, will involve an initial report in the autumn setting out the approach and the nature of the challenges, and the final report is expected in the early part of next year.
UK Food Producers
Our food and farming industry plays a crucial role in challenging times, and we are co-funding a £1 million campaign to promote milk, alongside industry and devolved Government partners. We are also supporting the fishing industry by promoting a wide variety of seafood species from UK waters. A further campaign is promoting beef across the devolved nations, and our Food is GREAT campaign, which showcases internationally products from across our four nations, has delivered successful trade and consumer focused marketing activities.
Given that there is already mandatory country of origin labelling for fish, fruit, vegetables, eggs, wine, honey, olive oil and beef, does the Secretary of State agree that now is the right time for mandatory country of origin labelling for all meat, so that consumers can never be misled by dodgy imports produced in conditions that would be unlawful here and which are sold as if they were British?
As my hon. Friend has pointed out, there has been a long-standing legal provision for mandatory country of origin labelling on beef, in which, to claim that the country of origin is the UK, the animal must be born, reared and slaughtered in the UK. Those regulations on mandatory country of origin labelling were extended several years ago to cover all principal meat species. They do not yet extend to processed goods that might contain multiple goods, but there have been significant steps forward in broadening the scope of mandatory country of origin labelling.
Financial Support for Food Producers
We are working closely with the agriculture and fishing industries to manage the negative impacts of covid-19. In addition to HM Treasury’s financial support packages, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced support schemes for the dairy and fishing industries, and we continue to monitor other sectors.
Will DEFRA Ministers go further and insist with their counterparts in the Department for International Trade on high standards for animal welfare, phytosanitary and food production imports to protect our domestic food producers?
The Government are very clear—and it was set out in our manifesto—that we will not compromise on our high food and animal welfare standards as we approach trade agreements. Specifically, that means that the UK will determine its own domestic standards when it comes to the so-called SPS chapter—those sanitary and phytosanitary issues—relating in particular to food safety. Those will be set at a UK level and we will not abandon or change those standards in response to demands from other countries.
I note that today’s announcement by the Department for International Trade does not change agricultural tariffs, so how will DEFRA Ministers ensure that the new tariff regimes after Brexit continue to favour our long-established and profitable trade in that sector with member states of the European Union? How will they ensure that the tariffs prevent our marketplace from being flooded with low-quality products from elsewhere in the world?
The new UK global tariff that has been announced today does retain tariffs for most key agricultural products, including those sensitive agricultural products that are often discussed in this House. The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that we would seek to grant tariff-free access to EU trading partners in future through a free trade agreement, and we have set out clearly the legal text of an acceptable free trade agreement should our partners wish to enter into such an agreement. Maintaining those agricultural tariffs also ensures that we do not expose our market in the short term to lower-standard products from other countries.
Covid-19 Lockdown: Air Quality
It is an absolute pleasure to be taking part today, Mr Speaker, although nothing really makes up for being there in person with you.
DEFRA’s roadside air quality monitoring stations continuously monitor air quality. Between 23 March and 5 May, nitrogen dioxide concentrations were, on average, 46% lower than this time last year, with reductions ranging from 9% to 65% at individual locations. That is largely due to the substantial reduction in traffic levels, although other factors such as weather may also have had some impact. Interestingly, concentrations of other air pollutants, such as fine particulate matter, have not shown similar trends.
I thank the Minister for her answer. That is some small good news, I guess, out of lockdown. In Manchester’s sister city of Wuhan in China, private car use nearly doubled when the lockdown ended, with the obvious effects on air quality. Is the Minister concerned that the Prime Minister’s statement of 10 May encouraged the use of cars?
It has been made very clear in all the guidance and by the Prime Minister that, first and foremost, if people can work from home, they should do so. Those who have to go to work were advised to go by car, and also to cycle and walk. I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his question, because he strikes a good note. He will know that the uptake of cycling has surged during this time, especially where businesses are providing a scheme so that their employees can have bikes. He will also know that the Prime Minister has announced that we are phasing out new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035—earlier, if possible. Lessons will be learnt. The Air Quality Expert Group has been conducting a big survey, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will be interested in the results when they are revealed.
Before I bring in the shadow Minister, may I just ask Ministers to speed up the answers? We have to get through some more Members.
It is my first time appearing opposite the Minister; hopefully we will have many fruitful discussions.
There is growing evidence that deaths due to covid are higher in areas of bad air quality, but lockdown means that right now we are breathing the cleanest air that we have had in generations. We need to do all we can to ensure that many of the survivors of covid, who will have weakened lungs, are protected. Air pollution currently kills 40,000 people each year, with 40 of our towns breaking the World Health Organisation limit. The Government and the Minister dismissed putting targets in the Environment Bill, but surely covid has changed all that. Will the Minister sit down with us and agree a form of wording that will require Ministers to set targets on air quality in order to reach the WHO standard by 2030 and help save British lives?
As the hon. Gentleman alludes to, the Environment Bill delivers key parts of the clean air strategy and introduces a duty to set an ambitious, legally binding target on PM concentrations of pollutants of greatest harm. I know that he will also be interested in the independent Air Quality Expert Group, which has been analysing the situation so that we can learn lessons from coronavirus, and from air quality and its potential impact on human lives. Air quality is a serious issue for human health.
Commercial and Household Waste Collection
DEFRA officials are working with local authorities and industry to ensure that commercial and household waste can continue to be collected safely during the coronavirus outbreak. I pay tribute to and thank all those working in local authorities and the waste sector who have ensured that nearly all household waste collections in England are operating as normal. On 5 May, DEFRA published guidance to help local authorities to reopen household waste and recycling centres.
Does my hon. Friend agree that waste collection is an integral part of ensuring health and wellbeing during this global pandemic? I know that she has thanked key workers, but would she particularly thank key workers in South West Herts? I am sure that they would appreciate her comments.
Of course, I would be delighted to thank those key workers. We must not forget that those who work in the waste sector are key workers, and they have done a tremendous job in keeping our waste systems flowing, with a terrific record of 91% maintaining normal collection services from our households during this difficult period. Many are now working in the waste and recycling centres that I am pleased to say have opened, and that are working efficiently in almost every area—albeit with strict guidance and slightly different services from those that they were operating before.
Covid-19 Death and Infection Rate: Air Quality
DEFRA has had extensive discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care on the relationship between air quality and health, recently considering the specific relationship between covid-19 deaths and air quality. DEFRA is actively working with Public Health England and the Office for National Statistics to assess further the relationship for the UK, and DEFRA’s chief scientific adviser is working with relevant experts in health, disease and air quality to assess the relationship between air quality and the risk of infection, based on the emerging scientific research into covid-19.
Research from Harvard University suggests that a change of 1 microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5 leads to a 15% reduction in covid deaths, and Queen Mary University of London has shown that short-term pollution gives rise to more infection. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State meet me and the academics from Harvard and Queen Mary on 29 May at the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution to discuss this, with a view to introducing World Health Organisation air quality standards into the Environment Bill?
I know that the hon. Gentleman works very hard in this area. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Public Health England and the ONS are working together to assess whether there is evidence of association between exposure to particulates—the PM2.5 that he refers to—and covid-19 mortality in the UK. The clean air strategy sets out the comprehensive action required across all parts of Government to improve air quality for everyone, and it includes measures to reduce key sources that contribute to fine particulate matter. Because of the lockdown, I think joining the APPG would be difficult, but I would be very interested to have some feedback from that meeting.
Tens of thousands of lives cut short every year—that was the UK’s air quality health emergency long before we had even heard of coronavirus. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) said, we now know that there is a strong correlation between long-term exposure to air pollution and covid-19 deaths, so clean air zones are needed more than ever. However, Nottingham’s taxi drivers tell me they are worried about their ability to invest in new clean electric vehicles as a result of lost income, and other businesses face similar pressures. As we come out of lockdown, how will the Government support local councils and small businesses to go even faster to protect the public from toxic air?
As the hon. Lady will know, we have supported Nottingham City Council to tackle its nitrogen dioxide exceedance through a £1 million investment to support the uptake of e-taxis and £1.7 million to retrofit 171 buses, which means that there is not a need for a clean air zone. Nottingham is also one of the Go Ultra Low cities. My officials will be working closely with and will be very interested to speak to Nottingham City Council to see how the impacts of coronavirus are affecting its plans. They are doing that with all local authorities across the country, just to keep a weather eye on how coronavirus will impact our new clean air zones and our drive to reduce air pollution, which of course is all important.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Isolation of House Staff: Gemma White QC Recommendations
Good day to you, Mr Speaker. In February this year, the House of Commons Commission agreed to establish the Member Services Team, which will deliver the recommendations of Gemma White QC, including on the isolation felt by MPs’ staff. I understand that the team is already working with Members’ staff to see how their ideas for greater mental health support can be delivered. The MST is also currently recruiting two MPs’ staff advisers to tackle the issues raised around isolation.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I know, Mr Speaker, that you are well aware of the excellent cross-party work that members of my team —Stephanie McTighe and Chloe Mclellan—have done on the issue of staff wellness and support, including by giving vital evidence to the board of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. The Gemma White report highlighted that constituency staff often deal with vulnerable constituents, many of whom can be suicidal and in deep distress. Those existing challenges are now compounded by the fact that staff are working from home. Will my hon. Friend meet my team and I to discuss their work and how staff wellbeing can be made a priority, and to ensure that the Commission does all it can to support staff in our constituencies so that we can continue to serve our constituents in a safe and supportive way?
I thank my hon. Friend very sincerely and commend her for the work she has been doing across the House. I also thank her staff, who have inputted greatly into the work on this terrain. I draw attention to the fact that £4,000 has been made available from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to help with those very issues, and I encourage her to use that resource as much as possible to ensure that her staff are assisted. The employee assistance programme is already available to MPs’ staff for counselling and support. I encourage all Members from across the House to access those services and that resource, and do everything possible to ensure that their staff are kept safe and secure.
Hybrid Proceedings in Parliament
The Commission has made no formal assessment of the effectiveness of the implementation of hybrid proceedings in the House. I should like to put on the record—on your behalf, too, Mr Speaker, as you have led on these issues—our appreciation of the broadcasting service and the digital service for delivering the hybrid functions and services at breakneck speed. It is quite extraordinary that they have done it under these circumstances.
The Commission has no responsibility for making changes to the House’s procedures. That is a matter for the House itself. The hon. Lady may wish to make a submission to the Procedure Committee’s current inquiry into the operation of proceedings. The Commission has responsibility for the staff of the House and the provision of services to Members and their staff on the estate. It is currently working to ensure that the House meets the Government guidelines to become a covid-19-secure workplace.
Thanks to you, Mr Speaker, the parliamentary digital service, the Clerks, the Commission, the House authorities, broadcasting and other staff in the House, the digital Parliament has been a huge success, but now the Leader of the House wants to abandon it and instead insists that 650 MPs—potential super-spreaders—should travel from across the country to cram into Westminster, putting constituents and staff at risk. Why would the Government choose to ignore their own advice that those who can work from home should, unless it is to cast a protective cloak around their floundering Prime Minister?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question, and I note her long-term interest in this issue. Unfortunately, it is a matter not for the Commission, but for the Government. The Commission’s responsibility begins and ends with our obligations and service to the staff of the House. I note her concerns, and she may wish to take them to the Procedure Committee. There are likely to be further announcements about the operation of the hybrid virtual proceedings in the course of the next couple of days, and I encourage her to engage fully with all debates and discussions concerning them.
I echo what has been said, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for making hybridisation happen in a Parliament where just getting TV cameras in took centuries. Given that social distancing is here to stay, it will take 40 minutes of votes to incorporate it into our jobs. We are told, on issues from ending air pollution to destroying capitalism, that we cannot go on with what was happening before. Is there any reason why the Government seem in such indecent haste to rush back to the bad old days? Is it to disguise the drubbings that the PM is getting every Wednesday from our new leader by having a few more of his own around him to cheer him on?
Unfortunately, the answer is going to be pretty much the same as the previous one. That is a matter for the Government; it is not within the responsibilities and obligations of the House of Commons Commission. All I can say to the hon. Lady is that I note her concerns. We have obligations and responsibilities to the staff of this House. The staff unions have been making representations to the Commission on behalf of their members. I encourage her to take up these issues with the relevant Ministers.
Covid-19: Parliamentary Estate
The House Service is currently working in conjunction with Public Health England to ensure that we meet the Government guidelines to become a covid-19-secure work- place and to build on our existing measures to ensure that all those working on the estate can do so safely. That is underpinned by the completion of a covid-19 risk assessment, which will be shared by all those working on the estate if the House returns after the Whitsun recess. The successful introduction of those measures will help to reduce the spread of covid-19, and they have been supported by those on the estate.
I thank the Commission and, indeed, the staff in Parliament for the work they have done in enabling Members to participate virtually while complying with Government guidelines to stay at home. Of course, returning to normal proceedings would involve not just 650 Members but several thousand staff on the estate, many of whom are currently shielding. As my hon. Friend will know, it is almost impossible to travel more than about 10 metres in Parliament without touching a door handle. So what work is the Commission doing to ensure that both staff and Members stay safe and do not become super-spreaders?
The House is doing everything possible to ensure that we do become a covid-19-secure workplace. But my hon. Friend is right to note that if we do abandon these virtual proceedings tomorrow, it will be necessary for 650 Members to travel from all corners of the United Kingdom to participate in proceedings in an environment that will be very, very challenging in order to ensure that we can maintain social distancing requirements. All I can say, again, is that this not a matter for the Commission—it is a matter for Government, who are driving the “return to this House” agenda. I encourage her to take this up with Ministers to ensure that we do have a safe environment and that we do nothing further to put our constituents at risk.
Parliamentary works sponsor body
The right hon. Member for East Hampshire, representing the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body, was asked—
Parliamentary Works Programme: Cost
I am sure that covid-19 is going to cause all of us to think afresh about many things. For the restoration and renewal project, value for money is clearly vital—indeed, it is a statutory obligation. With the Sponsor Body and the Delivery Authority now substantive, we will conduct a strategic review that will consider the trade-offs and compromises that could be available. But of course, any such decisions would be for Parliament to make.
May I associate myself with the comments made earlier about 650 super-spreaders returning to Parliament?
We are currently spending in the order of several million pounds to repair the roofs and the brickwork, and to stop fire damage to that marvellous building, the Palace of Westminster. That is all correct. However, as my right hon. Friend said, there is perhaps some doubt as to whether R&R will go ahead, so I may I ask him to ensure that huge amounts of money are not now spent on a project that would cost between £4 billion and £8 billion to complete, if it is ever done at all?
I think it is rather more than several million pounds that has had to be spent by Parliament just to keep its own operation going. However, I want to reassure my hon. Friend that the business case would have come before Parliament for decision anyway. It was always envisaged that once the Sponsor Body was set up in law, there would be a review of certain aspects of the programme. But in these current circumstances, and with what we know now, it is right that that review will now be broader and deeper.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Electoral Commission: Effectiveness
In accordance with its functions under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the Speaker’s Committee met on 24 March to examine the Electoral Commission’s main supply estimates for 2020-21 and its five-year plan. In doing so, the Committee had regard to the advice from the Treasury and the latest report made to it by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Committee was satisfied that both the estimate and the plan were consistent with the economic, efficient and effective discharge by the Commission of its functions.
May I congratulate the hon. Member on his new responsibilities? But this is not about figures— it is about the way that the Electoral Commission has hounded leave campaigners. There have been 34 investigations, eight court cases, and at least four people referred to the police for criminal investigation—and it has all come to nowt. Would the hon. Member support a review by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels that the Speaker’s Committee is doing a decent job in maintaining scrutiny of the Electoral Commission. It is entirely appropriate, from time to time, for Select Committees to look into public bodies that fall under their competence, and I suggest that he write to the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee making that suggestion.
Boundary Review in England
The Local Government Boundary Commission for England continues to recommend fair electoral and boundary arrangements for local authorities in England. Last week, it published final recommendations for Westminster and Richmond upon Thames. These local government boundaries generally become the building blocks for parliamentary boundaries, which are, of course, a matter for the four Boundary Commissions, reporting through the Cabinet Office.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. The covid-19 virus has, of course, had an impact on every facet of our lives at the moment. Will he tell us more about its impact on the commission’s boundary work and whether it has been able to co-ordinate its work with other Boundary Commissions, such as those working on the parliamentary boundaries?
When coronavirus-related restrictions were introduced, the commission shifted entirely to home working. It took forward work on reviews where further external information or input was not required, such as those for Westminster and Richmond. The commission aims to deliver external reviews informed by local needs, views and circumstances. It therefore paused some reviews that were part way through the review process while it considered how to proceed. It has now developed new ways of working, and commissioners are meeting today to agree how and when to restart paused reviews and begin others. On the wider issue of parliamentary boundaries using these building blocks, because that is a rolling programme, many of those building blocks will already be in place and other reviews perhaps would never have been ready in time for the particular parliamentary reviews.
Digital Election Campaigning: Transparency
At its meeting on 24 March, the committee approved the commission’s interim corporate plan, which includes plans to address voter concerns about digital campaigning. The commission’s recent report on the 2019 general election highlighted significant public concerns about the transparency of digital election campaigns, which risk overshadowing their benefits. The commission has set out actions that parties, campaigners, Governments and social media companies should take to support trust and confidence at future elections. The actions include extending the imprint rules for printed materials to digital campaign materials so that voters know who is trying to influence them.
This follows on from what the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) asked earlier. Last week, he said the Electoral Commission, which, as my hon. Friend said, is asked to do this important work on digital campaigning, was “arrogant”, “incompetent” and
“politically corrupt, totally biased and morally bankrupt”.—[Official Report, 13 May 2020; Vol. 676, c. 246.]
This was because it had the nerve to enforce the law and fine Vote Leave £61,000. Would the committee agree that to try to intimidate an independent electoral body in this way is more in the tradition of the politicians of Zimbabwe than of Britain?
The Electoral Commission has a regulatory role and regulatory authority which are the same as those of many regulators throughout the United Kingdom. I suggest that the track record of the Electoral Commission is one that perhaps does not bear some of the description that has just been repeated. In the past five years, it has carried out approximately 500 investigations into a variety of electoral offences. Only five of those have been challenged in the courts and only one challenge has been upheld.
Public Accounts Commission
The hon. Member for South Norfolk, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: Date of Eligibility
The National Audit Office’s work programme is ultimately determined by the Comptroller and Auditor General, and it is regularly reviewed to ensure that it reflects current issues. Dealing with covid-19 is, of course, a major task of the Departments, on which the NAO will report. The hon. Lady may be interested to know that later this week the NAO will be publishing a report summarising the Government’s actions on covid-19 to date, which will provide the basis for further work. This first report will set out the main measures adopted under the Government response, including the coronavirus job retention scheme.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that response, which may well have answered my question—that is unusual. The point I wanted to flag up with him is that although the Government coronavirus support packages have helped a great many people, far too many have fallen through the gaps and, for one reason or another, are not getting the help they need. I therefore ask him to bring this issue to the attention of the Comptroller and Auditor General, so that the NAO could look into the operation of these schemes to see whether they represented the best use of public money or whether lessons could be learned as to how we would approach an issue such as this if, God forbid, we ended up with another situation as serious as the current pandemic.
I would hate to be thought of as responsible for starting a new trend by actually answering the question, but as I mentioned in my initial response, the NAO is soon to publish this report, which will be just the first in a programme of work supporting Parliament in its scrutiny of covid-19. I am certainly happy to draw the hon. Lady’s concerns to the attention of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The future work programme will include how the large sums that have been committed to the health and social care response, and indeed, to mitigating the economic impact, will be being spent, and the quality of that spending. It will be important for the NAO to review whether the money is achieving the intended impact, as well as how the risks of fraud and error are being managed.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
With no access to our church buildings, considerable innovation by the clergy has seen the creation of virtual prayer services, school assemblies, study groups, fellowship meetings and craft workshops. That is in addition to online church services, bereavement counselling, marriage preparation and marriage support.
In normal times, churches engage with thousands of parents and children each week through playgroups, coffee mornings, church services and youth groups, providing support to families across all sections of society. In my constituency, groups such as these have been a lifeline to many families, including my own. During this crisis, what steps are churches taking to remain in contact with these families, particularly to support parents as they continue to raise children in very difficult circumstances?
I am so pleased to hear how the work of the church benefits my hon. Friend’s family and the families of many of her Penistone and Stocksbridge constituents. I also recommend that families check out the Faith at Home video resources of the Church of England, which nurture a growing faith and this month focus on hope, courage, love and humility—all qualities that we need at work and in the community, as well as at home.
Clergy’s Access to Churches
Clergy can now return to their churches to pray and live-stream services. For the time being, churches must remain closed for public worship, as set out in law. The Government set out their ambition to reopen places of worship from 4 July, subject to further scientific advice. No place of worship will be able to reopen before a final decision by the Government, the necessary changes to the legal position in the published regulations and the accompanying decision by the diocesan bishop, which will take into account local circumstances.
During this national crisis, there has been a vital role for the established Church to represent the concerns and fears of the whole nation. Does my hon. Friend agree that the physical presence of a parish church, open for prayer and attended by its priests, is an important signal that we are not alone in our struggle? Health workers, care workers, bin collectors, posties and now all those who are unable to undertake their work from home have been asked to accept additional personal risk to carry out their important work for the health and wellbeing of the nation. Should our clergy not be allowed to provide the same level of service to their—[Inaudible.]
Whatever you can answer of that.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend about the physical presence of churches, but while our buildings may be closed, the Church is very much alive and has been astonishingly present in the midst of suffering and need, providing comfort, inspiration and a great deal of practical help. Those who allege that we have done nothing or vacated the field are not correct.
Buildings, Liturgy and Worship: Adaptation
The House of Bishops guidance issued on 5 May shows that the Church of England is committed to reopening buildings in a phased and measured manner, in accordance with the legal position. We are working with the Government and representatives of the heritage planning sector to assess the need for building adaptations related to public health.
Polling shows that during the current crisis, one in four adults, and one in three of 16 to 30-year-olds, have joined a religious service remotely. Does my hon. Friend welcome that, and what is the Church doing to ensure that this continues more widely, even after lockdown?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing those figures to the House’s attention and I welcome them very warmly, particularly the large viewing figures among younger people. She is absolutely right that the Church will need to keep up a significant online presence well after lockdown has finished.
Support for People in Need
The priority for the Church has been to continue its vital service to those in material and spiritual need in all communities despite the restrictions imposed. Bishops and the Church are in regular contact with Ministers, and to this end the Church is represented on two Cabinet Office taskforces.
With a fantastic collection of Wisden cricket books, we go to Sir John Hayes.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have many interests, including cricket, as you do I know.
The smaller charities are struggling because of fundraising difficulties in the current crisis. Will my hon. Friend look at how the Church can work with those charities? It is true that our churches have closed, but the Church has many buildings—church halls and so on—that might be made available. Fellowship and faith are so important at this time, as is our charitable work. I wonder if he can help.
All food bank work in churches continues. For example, Christ Church in Eastbourne is feeding 200 people breakfast in its car park; churches in Alston Moor are delivering groceries in a refrigerated van; and St Luke’s in Buckfastleigh has delivered 18 sets of hearing aids among other items. There are wonderful examples of what the Church is doing, and no doubt that is happening in South Holland and the Deepings as well.
Clergy Discipline Process
I recognise my hon. Friend’s experience in dealing with these difficult issues. The operation of the clergy discipline measure is currently being reviewed, and it is hoped that less serious complaints could be referred initially to mediation or alternative dispute resolution, which would allow complaints to be dealt with more expediently and effectively.
Research has shown that the clergy discipline process leaves many members of our clergy vulnerable and, in some deeply saddening cases, has driven them to take their lives. What steps are the Church Commissioners taking to review these processes and to provide the right mental health support to those clergy subject to discipline, particularly where such discipline arises from a spurious or malicious allegation? Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that the Church Commissioners will provide our clergy with the support they need during the process?
Our hope is that the proposals under consideration, which I have just outlined, will mitigate the possible detriment to respondents from complaints that may be unfounded. Freeing bishops from direct judicial involvement in disciplinary matters would enable them more easily to offer the pastoral support my hon. Friend refers to. We are also exploring how to supplement ecclesiastical legal aid to support those responding to complaints.
Remote Access to Church Services
I can tell my right hon. Friend that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter day sermon was listened to by 5 million people and that the Alexa Church app has had a 70% increase in usage in the last month. Perhaps most notably, “The UK Blessing”, co-ordinated by Gas Street Church, Birmingham, has been downloaded 2.6 million times, and according to the Prime Minister is a sensational singing masterpiece to which he has awarded a point of light.
I warmly welcome the huge efforts going into ensuring that people have remote access to church services, but there are some situations when that is not a substitute for meeting in places of worship with one’s family, so can I urge the Church Commissioners and my hon. Friend to speed up the introduction of small-scale funerals within churches, with social distancing observed, because of the comfort they can bring to people bereaved by this terrible crisis?
I know what a deeply difficult issue this is. The Church will work with the Government on these issues to do safely what my right hon. Friend asks. She will be aware that cleaning in many of our churches is done by volunteers, some of whom are elderly and may have difficulty coming in between funerals, but the point she makes is very valid and has absolutely been noted.
Support for Hospital Chaplains
I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in and concern for our hospital chaplains, who have done such amazing work in recent months. The Church works closely with the College of Healthcare Chaplains to ensure support for our chaplains. Anglican chaplains, while being required to hold a bishop’s licence, are actually employees of the trusts they serve, not the Church of England.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Sadly, I was touched by the virus with the loss of my father, and Father John Diver of St Lawrence’s parish in Sidcup was a source of great comfort to him and my family at a difficult time. Would the Church Commissioner join me in recording our gratitude to hospital chaplains and to the clergy of all faiths?
I know that the whole House would want to extend our deepest condolences to my hon. Friend for the very sad loss of his father. What he says about all chaplains is absolutely right, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has himself been volunteering as a chaplain at St Thomas’s Hospital. I thank him very much for his kind comments, which will be deeply appreciated.
Church of England Schools: Support for Children and Parents
I would like to thank very warmly and pay tribute to all the teachers and staff in Church schools who are providing teaching and care for children at this difficult time. They have moved rapidly to provide online lessons and resources, and are looking after children of key workers and overseeing the distribution of free school meal vouchers. The Church is also delighted to have partnered with the Oak National Academy to provide assemblies and weekly collective worship.
Here in Cumbria and the South Lakes, headteachers of Church schools—in fact, of all schools—do want to return on 1 June, but of course they see protecting the safety of their school community as their first and primary responsibility. Will the hon. Gentleman make strong representations to the Department for Education about supporting those schools that decide to stay closed for the time being for safety reasons, especially given new Government guidance against schools using flexible approaches for returning pupils?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. In addition to being Second Church Estates Commissioner, I am a governor myself of a Church school, and I actually attended a governors meeting by Zoom early this morning looking at exactly these issues. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and I will make sure that his comments are fed in. I know that the Department for Education is taking these issues very seriously and will proceed cautiously, as we would all expect it to do.
Before the first urgent question, I have a short statement to make. The Government have called for Parliament to set an example as to how business can continue in this new normal. The Government should also set an example themselves. It is unacceptable that the business of answering written questions in a timely and substantive way has not continued. The Government simply must do better. The Departments that do not improve soon can expect to be called to answer an urgent question on this matter.
Coronavirus and Care Homes
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care if he will make a statement on coronavirus and care homes.
I call Matt Hancock to answer the urgent question. The Secretary of State should not speak for more than three minutes.
One of the first things we knew about coronavirus as it began its dismal spread across the world was that it reserves its greatest impact for those who are physically weakest, especially the old. In the UK, 89% of all deaths have been of those aged above 65. From the start, we have worked hard to protect those in social care. In early March, we put £3.2 billion into social care—half through the NHS and half through local authorities—and we have repeatedly set out and strengthened guidance for infection control and support.
For anyone who has a loved one living in a care home and for all the residents and staff, I understand what a worrying time this has been. I am glad that we have been able to protect the majority of homes, and we will keep working to strengthen the protective ring that we have cast around all our care homes. As I said in the House yesterday, last week we set out a further £600 million to strengthen infection control, and this comes on top of a substantial programme of support.
First, on testing, from the start we have tested symptomatic residents of care homes, even when testing capacity was much lower, and this has always been a top priority. We are now testing all care home residents and staff in England—those with symptoms and those without—and this is being done according to clinical advice, starting with the most vulnerable, and extending to working-age residents, too.
Secondly, we have strengthened the NHS support available to social care. We are putting in place a named clinical lead for every care home in England and have brought NHS infection-control expertise to the sector.
Thirdly, we are making sure that local authorities play their part. Councils are conducting daily reviews of the situation on the ground in local care homes, so that every care home gets the support that it needs need every day.
Fourthly, we are supporting care homes to get the PPE that they need.
Fifthly, we have increased the social care workforce during this crisis and provided more support. Altogether, this is an unprecedented level of support for the social care system. I thank colleagues across social care for their hard work.[Official Report, 20 May 2020, Vol. 676, c. 2MC.]
We have also broken down some of the long-standing barriers, including between health and social care, and we have learned the importance of making sure that money for social care is ring-fenced specifically for social care, as the £600 million agreed last Friday has been. On top of that, we are requiring much better data from social care, because partial data has bedevilled the management of social care for many years and made policy making more difficult. Regular information returns are required in return for the latest funding, and we are looking to change the regulations to require data returns from every care provider, so that we can better prepare and support social care.
Our elderly care homes provide for people towards the end of their life. They do an amazing job and deserve the praise that they have received from the public during this crisis. Residents are looked after when they need care the most: their hands are held, their brows are mopped and they are made comfortable. As a collective result of our efforts—especially the efforts of care colleagues throughout the country—62% of care homes have had no reported cases of coronavirus.
The figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of deaths in care homes has fallen significantly and is down by a third in just the past week, from 2,423 to 1,666. This morning’s statistics confirmed that 27% of coronavirus deaths in England have taken place in care homes, compared with a European average of around half, but whatever the figures say, we will not rest in doing whatever is humanly possible to protect our care homes from this appalling virus, to make sure that residents and care colleagues have the safety and security they deserve.
In welcoming the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) to the Front Bench, I asked her to speak for no more than two minutes.
Over 23,000 more people have died in care homes in the first four months of this year compared with last year. This virus is the biggest health challenge of our lives, but Ministers have been too slow to tackle the problem in care homes, social care has not had the same priority as the NHS, and these services have not been treated as inextricably linked.
Will the Secretary of State explain why guidance saying that care homes were “very unlikely” to be infected was not withdrawn until 12 March, given that the chief medical officer warned about community transmission and the risks to the elderly on 4 March? NHS England rightly asked hospitals to free up at least 30,000 beds to cope with the virus, but will the Secretary of State explain why there was no requirement to test those being discharged to care homes—the very group most at risk—until 15 April? Care providers had serious problems getting personal protective equipment, as their normal supply was requisitioned by the NHS, when both are equally important. Why did that happen?
It took until mid-April for the Government to produce a social care plan, until the end of April for them to say that all residents and staff should be tested, and until 11 May for them to set a deadline for achieving this—and that deadline still is not until 6 June. Will the Secretary of State explain how he squares all that with his claim that Government have thrown a “protective cloak” around care homes right from the start? Despite all the warnings, care homes in my constituency told me over the weekend that they cannot access the Government’s new online testing portal, that tests are not being picked up and that it is often weeks until they get results back. When will this be sorted out?
Finally, the Government have said that the NHS will get whatever resources it takes to deal with this virus. Will the Minister now make the same commitment to social care and guarantee that no provider will collapse because of this virus? No one denies how difficult this is, but instead of denying problems and delays, Ministers should learn from their mistakes so that they can put the right measures in place in future and keep all elderly and disabled people safe.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her post and to her first question in this new role. I know that she enjoys a good working relationship with the Minister for Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), and that cross-party working during this crisis has gone on throughout. I thank her for that and for the approach that she is taking. She is right and perfectly reasonable to ask questions about how we can further improve the support that we are giving to the care sector, and, as I have said from this Dispatch Box before, and before her appointment, we have made social care a priority from the start. The first guidance went out to social care in February. She referred to the 13 March guidance. That was only a matter of days immediately after the risk to the public was raised on medical advice. The guidance that was in place until then, as she probably knows, explicitly stated that that guidance was in place while community transmission was low and that it would be updated as soon as community transmission went broader. That is exactly what we did.
More importantly, the hon. Lady raised the question of discharges, and I understand the questions that have been asked about discharges into care. It is important to remember that hospital can be a dangerous place for people. As well as saving lives, it can also carry risks, and does so, so it is an appropriate clinical decision in many cases for people to be discharged from hospital, and safer for them to go to a care home. What is important is that infection control procedures are in place in that care home, and those infection control procedures were put in place at the start of this crisis and have been strengthened, exactly as she says, as we have learned more and more about the virus all the way along. As the clinical understanding of coronavirus has strengthened, so too have we updated and strengthened our guidance.
The hon. Lady asked about PPE. As she and every Member of the House knows, there has been an enormous global challenge with the global shortage of PPE and the need to get PPE distribution out to tens of thousands of settings. The guidance that we have put out again, which is guided by clinical expertise, states the level of PPE that is required, and we are now delivering against those standards. We have processes in place so that all care homes that have shortages—the numbers are coming down, I am glad to say—can get in contact with their local resilience forum and make sure that they can get that PPE. Those processes are in place. It has been a huge challenge. It was called the biggest logistical exercise of the last 40 years by the head of the Army, and I think he was right.
The hon. Lady also asked about resources. Of course, if more resources are needed, we are open to those discussions. The fact that we put through £600 million more that will go directly to social care—it will not be able to be held by councils; rather, it will go directly into social care—is right, but we have also learned some really big things about social care, confirming some of the things many of us thought before. For instance, it is true that we need to have a more co-ordinated policy between health and social care. These social care reforms, which are long overdue and have not been put in place by Governments of all colours, absolutely must happen.
Clearly, tackling this virus in care homes is a very difficult thing, but the chief executive of Hertfordshire Care Providers Association is on record as saying that care providers in the county feel well supported during the pandemic. Does the Secretary of State agree that what is required to achieve this, as in Hertfordshire, is a very close working relationship—a partnership—between care homes, the councils, the Care Quality Commission and, of course, the clinical commissioning groups?
I entirely agree. We have seen much better partnership working in most parts of the country during this crisis. The partnerships between local authorities, with their statutory responsibilities, and, as my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned, all parts of the NHS, with its statutory responsibilities—clinical commissioning groups, trusts and the integrated care systems—is very important. They have worked much better over the last few months than they had hitherto. We need to make sure that that coming together—in a very difficult circumstance, which has broken down boundaries—continues. I look forward to working with him and others in making sure that the boundaries that exist in social care can be brought to the ground.
The London School of Economics reported that there were over 23,000 excess deaths in care homes in England and Wales, but only 12,000 were put down as due to covid. How does the Secretary of State explain the other 10,000? Testing of care home staff is critical to reduce the spread, but how will he improve the return of results to local GPs and public health teams? Concerns have been raised that a quarter of tests are false negatives, which could send staff with the virus back into care homes and hospitals. It is a difficult sample to take, so is any comparison being made between self-administered tests and those carried out by healthcare staff? Finally, where is the Green Paper that was promised in 2017?
On the point about tests, absolutely, work was done to assess the difference in efficacy between professionally administered and self-administered tests, and it found that their efficacy was very similar and not significantly different. That is why across England and Scotland, and indeed the whole UK, we use home tests, which are an important part of our testing regime.
The hon. Lady asks about the increased number of deaths, sadly, that there have been in care homes. She is absolutely right that there has been an increase. We analyse the causes of all the different factors that may have had an impact, which is something our clinical advisers are looking at. The same is true in Scotland, and I am sure that the Scottish medical advisers are looking into the same. When it comes to a Green Paper, at the moment we are working on crisis response, and I think that is the appropriate thing to do.
In Harrogate and Knaresborough, and across North Yorkshire, the county council has established a step-down facility for patients being discharged from hospital, using care homes with segregated spaces, and in Boroughbridge an entire care home, effectively as a form of quarantine facility. That is in addition to the testing and protective arrangements, not as a replacement. I view this as a welcome and valuable addition to the tools available for keeping some of the most vulnerable people in our community safe. Does my right hon. Friend agree, and can the idea of this facility be replicated further across the country?
Yes. I pay tribute to those working across Harrogate to improve services in exactly the way in which my hon. Friend describes. He is quite right to, and I would love to look into more details.
The Select Committee on Health and Social Care has just heard evidence that there has been not one single care home death in Hong Kong or South Korea, despite their proximity to China and shorter time to prepare for this crisis. In comparison, the UK has now tragically seen over 10,000 deaths of loved ones in care homes. How can Government describe this as a success? Is it not time now to learn from other countries that have genuinely put a protective ring round their care homes?
Yes, absolutely it is important to learn from everywhere around the world. This epidemic has had a different shape in different parts of the world and, as the hon. Lady knows, a significant impact throughout Europe.
It is good to see my right hon. Friend bearing up so well under the considerable burdens of his office. Can he reassure me that the PPE supply into the UK and within the UK is now flowing into all care homes in a timely and comprehensive manner? I am concerned that those who are running our care homes so well in Sutton Coldfield should have the security of knowing that they can rely on continuous supply.
Yes, I can reassure my right hon. Friend—I thank him for what he said about the work we are doing in the Department—first, that supplies of PPE into the country and buying around the world have improved significantly, and we have put huge amounts of effort into improving that. Secondly, the supply, once the equipment is in the country, out into the care homes and where it needs to be is improving all the time. The number of care homes reporting that they are within 48 hours of a stock out, which is the measure we use, has been falling and is less than half what it was a month ago, but we of course keep working to get that number down. When a care home is within two days of a stock out, we immediately work to get it the PPE that it needs.
At this morning’s Health and Social Care Committee, Care England said that care staff were suffering a constant cycle of bereavement. With so many deaths in care homes, staff are not only caring for, but comforting those they know well who are dying alone. So will the Secretary of State take steps this week to provide a 24-hour mental health phone line for all care staff, as well as fast-track access to professional mental health services, as is the case for the military?
I will absolutely look into the proposal that the hon. Member puts forward.
The Secretary of State is doing a phenomenal job. It is a huge crisis and a huge thing to mobilise everything that has needed mobilising.
I have spoken to most of my care homes and most of them are doing very well, but one, Milford Care, is having a problem with getting test kits. Six people in the home have died recently. The home requested test kits on 12 May through the Government portal, but they were told there was a very limited supply. They may get them on Wednesday this week, if they are lucky, but if not they will have to re-register for them. Staff and residents may be infected, but they are not aware. They have had somebody who was tested and seven days later was told they were positive, even though they had no symptoms, so clearly, the virus is spreading. What can my right hon. Friend suggest that they do?
I think the best thing they can do is raise it with their very effective local MP, who can bring it to my attention, and that is exactly what they have done. I will get right on to it, straight after this session in the House of Commons. We have the testing capability. Of course, making sure you get exactly the right test to exactly the right place and the right care home at the right time is itself a huge logistical challenge, but I will look into this immediately.
CQC data revealed a 175% increase in deaths of people with autism and learning difficulties last month, yet the new care home testing portal is only available to homes whose residents are aged 65 and over. What is the Minister doing to ensure that all care homes are able to access tests? Will the Government conduct a review of why there has been such a sharp increase in deaths among these groups?
I addressed this point in my opening response to the urgent question. We will roll out testing to care homes of all ages. This is an area that I take very seriously indeed. We are looking into the statistics that have been mentioned in the public domain. Some of the statistics are not quite as they first seem. We will make sure that we publish accurate and full statistics, because transparency is absolutely vital in this area.
Sara Britcliffe has withdrawn, so we go to Stephen Flynn.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Resolution Foundation has detailed that 61% of frontline careworkers in England are paid less than the real living wage. The Scottish Government introduced a real living wage for carers in 2017. Will the Secretary of State therefore follow their lead and instead of a badge or round of applause finally give frontline careworkers in England a real living wage?
I am a massive supporter of the living wage and, of course, the increase in the living wage that we have seen since its introduction in 2015 has had a very positive impact on the pay of the lowest paid people in our country right across the board, including many in care homes. I think it is an excellent policy and I am delighted that we have brought it in.
The £600 million presented by the Secretary of State for infection control is very welcome, and having a named clinician to help support care home staff is particularly important. That came out in the Health and Social Care Committee when Professor Lum talked about what happens in Hong Kong. One of the lessons they learned several years ago was to have a named person in a care home, but also to do yearly, effectively, virus drills, like a fire drill. Would the Secretary of State consider putting that in place to help to deal with the impact of possible second waves?
Yes, we are doing a huge amount of work now to ensure that there is protection in the future should there be a further increase, and in particular in advance of winter in case there is strong seasonality to this disease. As a clinician himself, my hon. Friend understands the importance of these areas and we will absolutely take the idea he put forward and run with it.
Brent Council was at the epicentre of the initial covid outbreak, with one of the highest hospital death rates in the country, but back in February it spent £1.5 million to purchase PPE, which it made available to its care homes. In March, it established a separate care facility to provide 14 days’ isolation for any patients discharged from hospital back into the care system, whether or not they had tested positive for coronavirus. Now Brent has one of the lowest number of care home deaths in London. I know the right hon. Gentleman will want to congratulate Brent, which actually did put in place a protective ring around its care homes, but what he must answer is: if Brent Council had the good sense and foresight to get this right, why didn’t he?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point and it comes to the nub of the challenge around care home policy. I do want to congratulate Brent. I think that the work it did was important, but, of course, formally and in the law responsibility for care homes is for local councils and some local councils, like Brent and others, have done a magnificent job. However, I also understand that it is a reality of political life and our constitution that I as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care am also responsible, and I take that responsibility very seriously. However, when it comes to longer-term reform, this does bring a conundrum because the policy levers that I have as Secretary of State are only through councils, which themselves have to then act.
On the funding side we have seen this challenge. We put in £1.6 billion at the start of this crisis through councils without a ring fence, and there are questions being raised about how much of that has got to the frontline, so for the £600 million we put through on Friday we have put in a very firm ring fence, so it must be paid in a timely manner through to care providers. I think this actually raises a question not just for the crisis but for the longer term. When I am held accountable at this Dispatch Box for the actions of local authorities, I can give support, but we do not have the direct levers. We have not even had the direct data flows through to the centre, and we are putting that right too.
On behalf of the care homes in Worcestershire, I thank the Secretary of State for the extra £7 million that will be reaching them to help them to tackle infection control. Can he confirm that that money will also be available to support the domiciliary careworkers, who regularly visit homes of individuals who need that care?
My constituent Sonya Kaygan lost her life to coronavirus. She was a highly skilled and committed careworker, but worked in a low-pay sector, caused by the near £8 billion cut to its funding in the past decade. Will the Secretary of State commit to ending the scandal of low pay in the care sector and reverse a decade of cuts to social care budgets, in honour of my constituent and others who have died doing their job, so that all careworkers are paid a fair wage and have the equipment to do their job safely?
We have put an unprecedented amount of funding into social care during the crisis. There is the important challenge of ensuring that that reaches the frontline through local councils. We have also increased, through the increase in the living wage, the pay of the lowest paid across society and in social care. I am proud to have supported that.
The Secretary of State is doing an extraordinary job in the most challenging of times. He will be aware that we have a testing centre down in Bexhill that is available to care home workers for testing, but if they follow the Government advice and go on the website, they will be directed further afield to Brighton or Gatwick. Will he help me to ensure that that testing centre is made available to care workers so that they have more protection locally?
Yes, absolutely. My hon. Friend texted me about that last week. I should have fixed it by now, then I would not have had the question. It absolutely needs to be sorted. We are working on it. We rolled out the testing centres at an unbelievable pace during April, so I hope he will forgive me and allow me to take a couple more days to fix the problem.
The Secretary of State may be aware of the comments of Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, to the Health and Social Care Committee. He said:
“We should have been focusing on care homes from the start of this...What we saw at the start was a focus on the NHS”.
He also criticised the discharge of patients from hospitals into care homes and said that there were,
“people who either didn’t have a covid-19 status or were symptomatic who were discharged into care homes”,
“full of people with underlying health conditions”.
Ministers, however, have said that fewer care home residents were discharged into care homes in March than in previous months this year. Will the Secretary of State commit to publishing those figures and the figures of how many people were discharged from hospital with covid-19 into care homes?
I am happy to look into that. Martin Green also said:
“It has become clear that in such a crisis we need further direction from Central Government.”
That is what we have tried to put in place by working with colleagues in local authorities to try to make sure that we get the best infection control procedures across the board.
Will the Secretary of State join me in praising the work of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight local resilience forum, which has meant that no care home has been without personal protective equipment during the pandemic? Will he also join me in thanking the resilience and hard work of all the careworkers in Meon Valley?
As the Secretary of State has already mentioned, the coronavirus crisis has highlighted the importance of the joined-up approach between the NHS and the social care sector. He has assured me that we will continue to build a more cohesive structure. Will he also consider appointing a social care commissioner to lead that work and be the voice of the social care sector?
Yes. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Hampshire and I am interested in talking to her more about her idea.
A resident contacted me whose mum is classified as clinically extremely vulnerable and is in a care home. The care home has interpreted the Government’s guidance to mean that her mum must be kept in solitary confinement for three months for her own protection.
In 2011, the United Nations concluded that solitary confinement beyond 15 days constituted a cruel and inhumane punishment. The resident is heartbroken. Her mum is deteriorating and has no quality of life. We believe that the care home has the best of intentions, but can the Secretary of State urgently give clear and unequivocal advice on exactly how care homes should treat residents listed as needing shielding?
The hon. Lady is right to raise that heart-rending case. I would be happy to look into the specifics if she writes to me with the details. Of course, the shielding programme is there for the protection of the shielded. If somebody who is being shielded would prefer to do things differently, that is not clinically recommended, but so long as it is within the broader social distancing guidelines, of course we understand why that might be the case. In particular, people coming to the end of their life may want to consider ensuring that they enjoy their last few weeks and months as much as they can. A proportionate approach is required here, and one that is guided by the individual clinical circumstances of that person. I very much hope that the care home will take a proportionate approach. I am sure, as the hon. Lady says, that it has the best intentions at heart, and I would be happy to take up that individual case.
Testing for my constituents in care homes has begun, but can the Secretary of State tell me when all care home staff and residents will be tested? Secondly, it has become apparent that some residents of care homes are refusing tests due to a fear of what the results could mean. Can he reassure them that getting tested will not affect their treatment and is the right thing to do, in the best health interests of everyone?
Yes, absolutely—being tested is the right thing to do if that is what you are asked to do. It is really important. We are rolling out testing both for people with symptoms and asymptomatic people, to try to find all the coronavirus in our care homes, to be able to trace it and then end this epidemic.
This being Mental Health Awareness Week, can we spend some time considering and reflecting on the mental health impact that the coronavirus pandemic will have on the frontline health and social care workers charged with tackling it? In particular, would it not be a great example of the good working of our four Governments if an action plan on mental health was constructed with the support of all four Governments?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise that. This is Mental Health Awareness Week, and I have front of mind the mental health impacts of coronavirus, particularly on staff but across the board. We work closely through the chief medical officers of the four nations of the UK and between Ministers to try to ensure that clinical advice is co-ordinated. After all, it is based on the science. I am happy to look at the proposals and discuss them with the CMO.
We will have to move on to Alyn Smith.
We welcome the announcement by the UK Government of a £60,000 payment for care home workers who sadly lose their lives due to covid-19. Can the Secretary of State confirm that acceptance of that payment precludes subsequent legal action if that death is thought to be due to negligence, and will he outline the thinking behind that?
I will write to the hon. Member with the full details.
We now go to birthday boy Sir Christopher Chope.
Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the owners and managers of care homes who put the safety of their residents first and refused to admit any of the 15,000 hospital patients who had been exposed to covid-19, whom the Government were forcing to be discharged from hospitals at the end of March?
I say happy birthday to my hon. Friend and pass on the best wishes, no doubt, of the whole House. The question he raises is a difficult one, because in many cases, the best place for somebody is not in a hospital. Indeed, people can catch diseases in hospital, so it needs to be done on a clinical basis. That is why we have put in place the testing, isolation procedures and infection control of people who are leaving hospital to go into care homes.
At the Health and Social Care Committee on 5 May, the Government chief scientific adviser told me:
“We need to get on top of it in care homes. We have been clear about that.”
“What SAGE does is try to distil the scientific advice into a form that then others need to operationalise and take accountability for”.
Will the Secretary of State commit to publishing all the SAGE advice that his Department has received throughout this outbreak about infection control in care homes?
We do regularly publish SAGE advice.
We now go back to Jane Stevenson.
We tried. Sorry about that.
Future Relationship with the EU: Negotiations
(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for the Cabinet office, if he will make a statement on the third round of the negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
I am grateful for this opportunity to update the House on the progress of our negotiations with the European Union. I have today laid a written ministerial statement before the House, which provides a comprehensive update on the third round of our negotiations with the EU on our future relationship. We have also today made public the UK’s draft legal texts. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade has also published the new tariff schedule that we will operate at the end of the transition period for those countries with which we do not have a free trade agreement.
Negotiators from the UK and the EU held full and constructive discussions last week via video conference. The talks covered trading goods and services, fisheries, law enforcement and criminal justice, and other issues, with both sides discussing full legal texts. The discussion underlined that a standard comprehensive free trade agreement, alongside other key agreements on issues such as law enforcement, civil nuclear and aviation, all in line with the political declaration, could be agreed without major difficulties in the time available. There remain, however, some areas where we have significant difference of principle, notably on fisheries, governance arrangements and the so-called level playing field. The EU, essentially, wants us to obey the rules of its club, even though we are no longer members, and it wants the same access to our fishing grounds as it currently enjoys while restricting our access to its markets.
It remains difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement while the EU maintains such an ideological approach, but we believe that agreement is possible if flexibility is shown. The agreements that we seek are, of course, built on the precedents of the agreements that the EU has reached with other sovereign nations. To help facilitate discussions in the fourth round and beyond, the Government have today published the full draft legal text that we have already shared with the Commission and which, together with the EU’s draft agreement, have formed the basis of all discussions. The UK texts are fully in line with the Government’s document entitled, “The Future Relationship with the EU: The UK’s Approach to Negotiations” which was published on 27 February. Copies of the legal text have been placed in the House of Commons Library and are also available online at gov.uk.
The Government remain committed to a deal with a free trade agreement at its core and we look forward to the fourth round of negotiations beginning on 1 June, but success depends on the EU recognising that the UK is a sovereign equal.
We left the European Union at the end of January and we now have seven months to agree new arrangements with our nearest neighbours. It was always a tight timetable, but the Government have made it clear that they are sticking to it and we need them to get it right. The Government have promised an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership with no tariffs, fees or charges; the safeguarding of workers’ rights; consumer and environmental protections; and a comprehensive security partnership. Let me push the Minister on those issues.
First, on the economy, will the Minister tell the House what concrete progress was made last week on ensuring that British businesses will face no tariffs, fees or quotas on any goods exported to the EU? What assurances can he give to workers with regards to maintaining and improving existing labour standards?
Secondly, on our regulatory framework, leaving the European Medicines Agency, the Chemicals Agency and the Aviation Safety Agency means new regulatory bodies will need to take on this work. Can the Minister guarantee that they will be up and running by the start of January?
Thirdly, on research, international collaboration on scientific research has never been as important as it is today. What assurances can the Minister give on our future participation in the Horizon research programme?
Fourthly, peace in Northern Ireland was hard won. We must not jeopardise it. In January, the Prime Minister guaranteed unfettered access for goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland. Last week, it was revealed that the Government would implement checks on some products crossing the Irish sea and that there would be new infrastructure at ports coming from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland. Can the Minister confirm whether those additional checks are being planned for when the road map for implementing the protocol will be published?
To conclude, we must not add to the uncertainty already being experienced right now. We need answers to the questions I have put today. I urge the Minister to act in the national interest to get a deal that is good for jobs, workers’ rights and scientific co-operation.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her questions, which touch on critical issues in these negotiations. We believe that a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal is available; indeed, that is the explicit aim of the political declaration to which the EU has said it will apply its best endeavours.
On working standards, we are confident that we will continue to remain a leader, in not just Europe but the world, in workplace protection and the support we give to all our citizens. It has been the case all the time we have been in the EU that we have maintained higher standards than other European countries. Indeed, countries outside the EU, such as Norway, also lead the world in this way.
New regulatory bodies are in the process of being set out to ensure that all businesses have the certainty they need. When it comes to scientific research, we are committed to collaborating with European and other partners. As the hon. Lady knows, there are countries outside the EU that take part in the Horizon programme, including, of course, our friends in Israel.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that peace in Northern Ireland is critical, and we will shortly publish a framework document on how we intend to implement the protocol to ensure that we have unfettered access for goods from Northern Ireland into Great Britain and that we preserve the gains of the peace process.
The final point the hon. Lady asked about was certainty. She said uncertainty was a problem, and indeed it is—uncertainty over Labour’s position. On 2 January, the leader of the Labour party called for a two-year extension to our transition period. In April, he said once again that we should extend if necessary. But, then, earlier this month, he turned turtle and said:
“I’ve not called for a pause”.
Then, on Sunday, the hon. Lady said we “mustn’t rush this” and that, if the Government need to, they should come back and expand the timetable. So which is it? Is the Labour party committed to making sure that we leave the transition period on the 31st?
Order. Come, come, this is about your policy, not the Labour policy. You are much better than that. Mr Gove, you have a great future—don’t waste it here. Right, let us move on. We now call William Wragg.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Negotiations of this nature are always complex, but their resolution tends to be a matter of political will. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how much of the apparent impasse is due to practical impediments and how much is due to a lack of political will? Is he satisfied that his good offices have the capacity, currently, to make a success of these negotiations?
Yes, absolutely. We believe that flexibility on the part of the European Union is in the interests of all, and provided that it moves away from its current ideological fastness, we can secure the progress we need.
What a petit déjeuner de chien! The Government are wilfully piling a second hammer blow on to an economy already shattered by covid, in their obsessive pursuit of a hard-Brexit agenda and the self-inflicted economic misery that that will bring on top of a pandemic. Is it not the case that the Government are doing nothing other than playing political games with the futures of millions of people by pursuing this anti-EU agenda at all costs? As countries in the rest of the world get round to putting in place their various recoveries, this Government will still be blaming Barnier as the good ship Britannia hits that Brexit iceberg. Even the Euro dogs on the street know that this Government are making a pig’s ear of the negotiations with their petulant demands and their rewriting of agreements, yet it is still all the EU’s fault. For goodness’ sake, for the good of all our constituents, will the Minister just stop, seek that extension and engage in these negotiations like a grown-up?
I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman read it beautifully; it could almost have been set to music. However, the point that both of us have to accept is that we are democrats: we voted democratically to have one United Kingdom, we voted democratically for that United Kingdom to leave the European Union and we are honouring both those referendum results. I am sure that, on reflection, he would wish to as well.
Over recent weeks, we have seen how the European Union’s response to the unprecedented covid-19 pandemic has been fraught with internal divisions, as the German Federal Court ruled that the European Central Bank had overstepped its legitimate competence with its £2 trillion rescue policy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is now even more essential that we press ahead with negotiations and end the transition period by the end of this year, so that we can regain complete control over our money, our borders and our laws and therefore have the flexibility and the nimbleness in this country to chart our own path to recovery post covid-19?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Were we to extend the transition period, as some have argued for, including the SNP and, in a previous incarnation, the Leader of the Opposition, we would find ourselves paying additional sums to be part of the EU subject to new laws over which we have no say and without the freedom to regulate our economy in a way to ensure that our recovery works.
Under the single-use plastics directive, the EU is introducing a range of bands, labelling and extended producer responsibility on single-use plastics, as the Minister, who worked in this area, well knows, which will lead to increased recycling and producers covering the costs. In developing our own world-leading environment management system, what discussions are we having with the EU on its schemes, and when will we inform industry if we plan to align with the EU or to produce our own betterment plans, because they need to know soon?
Yes, during the happy years that I spent at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we made strides, as indeed did European nations, on improving recycling and reducing the use of single-use plastic. We pay close attention to what is happening in Europe and elsewhere as we develop our plans, but, in significant areas, our plans are ahead of where the EU is now. None the less, we want to work co-operatively because, even though we may be in different jurisdictions, we all share one planet.
I congratulate the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Office Minister and everyone in the negotiating team for robustly resisting attempts by the EU to set our laws via its playing-field clauses? Those clauses are not present in any other comparable EU trade agreement and are not wanted by the people of Dudley and beyond. May I ask my right hon. Friend to be equally robust in ensuring that the Prime Minister’s commitment to allow goods to flow freely from Great Britain into Northern Ireland in any future trade agreement with the EU is fulfilled, and, above all, that we shall be ending the transition period without extension and on WTO rules if an acceptable agreement cannot be reached?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on both areas. We will not be extending the transition period and we will be outlining, very shortly, our approach towards a Northern Ireland protocol to make sure that the UK, as a single customs territory, can take advantage of its new freedoms.
The Minister will be aware that an earlier version of the European Union withdrawal Act contained provisions that ring-fenced workers’ rights, namely a lock on EU-derived workers’ rights. That would have meant that, before the Government changed workers’ rights, they would rightly have had to consult employer bodies and trade unions. Those measures were removed and we were told to expect them in an upcoming employment Bill, the details of which we are yet to see. Given that the decision made in the UK-EU trade talks will have a huge impact on UK workers, what is the Minister doing to ensure that there is no period of time during which workers are left without sufficient rights in law? Very importantly, what discussions is he having with trade unions and the TUC to ensure that workers are protected?
The hon. Lady raises a very important point. EU law will continue until we choose to alter it, but it has always been the case, as I mentioned briefly earlier, that we have had higher standards of worker protection than some other European countries. I enjoy my discussions with the TUC in order to ensure that this country can continue, as great socialists such as Tony Benn have always proclaimed that we should, leading the world, whether inside or outside the EU, in protecting workers’ rights.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and warmly welcome the stance that the Government are taking in these negotiations, but can he confirm that, whatever the outcome of these negotiations, we will have control of our own waters? It will be we who decides who has access to them, which will mean that fishermen of places such as Mevagissey and Newquay can look forward to a much fairer share of the fish available in UK waters?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Access to our waters will be on our terms, and the beneficiaries of that will be our fisherman in Cornwall and elsewhere.
This morning’s figures for the claimant count show an alarming rise in the number of people in receipt of out-of-work benefits, and we expect that future figures will be still worse. What estimates have the Government made of the likely further rise in those figures if at the end of this year we are tackling not just covid-19 but a no-deal Brexit?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. As he knows, it is a source of sadness to all of us to see people who want to be at work, not at work. Of course, we need to protect the fragile economy of the island communities that he represents, and we do so strongly through the power of the Exchequer across this United Kingdom. We believe that, outside the European Union, we will have more freedom to protect people in employment, and we will also save some of the money that we would have spent on EU membership.
I believe that the Secretary of State, like me, thinks that the customs compliance obligations under the protocol can be implemented without new physical inspections or infrastructure at Northern Ireland ports. In that case, will he intervene with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to stop it making preparations for new physical inspections and infrastructure at Northern Ireland ports?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. We are one customs territory—the protocol makes that clear—and we will shortly be publishing further details about how we intend to ensure that Northern Ireland benefits from that.
We know that county lines—and the exploitation and grooming of our young people and the knife crime that goes with it—is driven by serious organised crime across our national borders. When I spoke to the National Crime Agency, it was clear that the tools available to it—the European arrest warrant, Europol and other things— are crucial in its fight against crime. Will the Secretary of State clarify what he meant when he told the Lords European Union Committee that we may not necessarily have concluded everything on internal security by 31 December? Will he reassure the House that we will be able to continue to fight crime by co-operating with our colleagues in the EU without interruption after 31 December?
Yes, it is the case that we want to have access to all the crime fighting, law enforcement and criminal justice tools that the EU has in order to be able to deal with crime. It is also the case that we cannot accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice as a precondition for so doing.
The UK is a world leader in workers’ rights and environmental standards. Does my right hon. Friend agree that they should be maintained in any future trading relationship with the EU, and in fact with the rest of the world?
You betcha—100% correct.
Following the point well made by the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), it is not just the wants of our economy but the needs of our society that depend on these negotiations. As she said, our membership of Europol and our access to the European arrest warrant are due to lapse unless new arrangements are agreed. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is not enough to bring in migrant flights for critical areas of our economy, but that we need to ensure the safety and security of our society? Will he guarantee that there will be some arrangement that will allow law enforcement in Scotland to access the European arrest warrant and Europol?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, the distinguished former Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the Scottish Government. We want to co-operate with all our neighbours on law enforcement, but we cannot submit to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is imperative that we leave on 31 December? On 1 January, new financial arrangements are coming into the EU. A massive net contribution would already come from the UK, but with the rejection of corona bonds and bigger EU budgets, our net contribution would be much bigger, and that would hamper our efforts to get our own economy back on track.
I am very grateful for the question from my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right, and that is one of the very important reasons why we need to extricate ourselves from any further payments. I also congratulate him on looking so well. I thought for a second that he had become the Member of Parliament for High Barnet.
The aerospace, shipping, haulage and freight industries have repeatedly pleaded with the Government to seek arrangements based on evidence, not ideology—in particular, through the Government delivering on their commitments to continue participation in the EU’s aviation safety regulator, and in security and safety zones. These sectors have managed under the incredible pressure of coronavirus, but clearly they cannot take any more strain than they are already under. Will the Minister listen to the experts and keep the Government’s promises on the EU’s aviation safety regulator, and on security and safety zones, rather than putting these vital industries at unnecessary risk?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. We are working with the aviation sector and others to ensure that we can have as seamless a transition as possible.
As I have said previously, I am honoured to represent the workshop of the United Kingdom, in the communities of Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton, but businesses in my communities are increasingly frustrated by the European Union’s standoffish approach to the negotiations. Does my right hon. Friend share the analysis of business owners in my constituency that the UK’s ask is a simple one—namely, a free trade agreement in line with the agreements that the EU has with other countries—and the EU’s refusal to recognise that is holding up progress in the talks? Perhaps he could give a message to businesses in my constituency, which are growing increasingly frustrated by the EU’s standoffish approach.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He stands up for the people of West Bromwich and Tipton brilliantly. He and those businesses are right that we need to move to a new, precedent-based relationship.
Our relationship with the European Union will have significant economic effects on our country. The Minister will have done modelling of the impacts; how many people in the country will be pushed into poverty as a result of us leaving the European Union?
As we leave the European Union, we have a saving in the amount of money that we currently remit to the EU. That money can be deployed here in the UK, on our NHS and to support the vulnerable.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that global trade was contracting before the covid crisis struck. Would it not be a major boost to confidence in the global trading system for the EU and the United Kingdom to reach a trading agreement in the time available, and is there not an increased responsibility on us to do so, given the covid crisis?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a very powerful incentive for the European Union to put the interests of its members and citizens ahead of ideology. The EU—as, I would hope, a body that takes its internationalist credentials seriously—would recognise that it would be a boost not just to its own economy and our economy, but to the world economy and the global trading system if we were to conclude a deal.
The International Monetary Fund and business leaders want the Government to reduce economic uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic. Recent polling found that two thirds of the public want an extension to the transition period. I know that the Minister is not always fond of expert opinion, but will he heed their warnings and buy business precious time to adapt to the economic headwinds that Brexit will bring?
I am very fond of expert opinion, and the universal view of experts is that Scotland operates the largest deficit of any country in Europe. Were Scotland to become independent, it would be perilous for the people of the country that I love, and that is why the Union that works—the United Kingdom—should endure.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we can only proceed to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU if the EU recognises that our basic approach to the negotiations is formed on the mandate of the British people—the same mandate that the people of Stoke-on-Trent Central gave me and voted for in December? May I also thank him and the Government for the positive support that we have had for the ceramics industry in all the international trade negotiations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The people of Stoke-on-Trent, whom she represents so ably, have consistently voted to leave the European Union and for politicians who have argued that we should leave the European Union, the customs union and the single market. In so doing, there will be new opportunities for the ceramics sector, which does so much for our economy.
In February this year, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster admitted that border checks would be inevitable, yet the Prime Minister promised voters that frictionless trade with the EU would continue after Brexit. What guarantees—not meaningless assurances—can the Minister give, based on negotiations so far, that British businesses will be able to export to the EU without any tariffs, fees and charges when the transition period comes to an end?
That is the agreement to which the EU committed itself in the political declaration, so I expect to hold it to it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that UK control of its own state aid regime will be essential as we seek to rebuild our economy in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak? Is not this another good reason to ensure that we leave the transitional arrangements completely on 31 December?
Yes and yes. As a distinguished former Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend knows whereof he speaks, and he speaks the truth.
Will the Minister give a guarantee that he will succeed in protecting vital supply chains, such as those relied on by Cadbury in my constituency and by Jaguar Land Rover, not least in the light of gloomy economic forecasts and today’s unemployment figures?
The hon. Gentleman is a consistent and strong voice for UK manufacturing, and I agree with him that we need to ensure that supply chains are protected. They have taken a battering because of covid-19, but it is instructive that some automobile manufacturers are talking about reshoring production into the UK because of the advantages of so doing.
The rural economy in Brecon and Radnorshire has been hit hard by covid-19 and the resulting lockdown. Does my right hon. Friend agree that any extension to the transition period would not only cause more uncertainty for rural businesses but hold the UK economy back further at a time when vital recovery is needed?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for our farmers in the beautiful part of Wales that she is so lucky to represent, and she is absolutely right that the uncertainty over whether or not we will leave on 31 December is deeply damaging. I am afraid that the uncertainty generated by the Labour party is a problem, because they cannot have their date and eat it.
What concrete proposals to improve workers’ rights will the Minister take to these negotiations, which he has just said is his ambition?
When we think of workers’ rights, we need to recognise that the fragility of certain sectors of our economy has been exposed by covid-19. I think one of the things that we will all want to do is ensure that employers exercise a greater degree of social responsibility. One thing I have been struck by is that of course a flexible labour market can often be a way of providing people with easy access into jobs, but we have productivity problems in this country. Investment in skills and training, done in collaboration with the unions and with employers, is something that we should be thinking about for the future, and I think there could be a political consensus behind that across Labour and the Conservatives.
That concludes the proceedings on the urgent question. I suspend the House for 15 minutes, until 1.52 pm.
On resuming, the House entered into hybrid substantive proceedings (Order, 22 April).
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Minister Chloe Smith, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Priti Patel, Michael Gove, Secretary Robert Jenrick, Jesse Norman and Amanda Milling, presented a Bill to make provision about reports of the Boundary Commissions under the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986; to make provision about the number of parliamentary constituencies and other rules for the distribution of seats; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 127) with explanatory notes (EN-127).
Three items of business today are designated for remote Division. Mr Speaker’s provisional determination is that remote Divisions will not take place on the motion on human tissue, the motion on constitutional law, and the Finance Bill (Ways and Means) motion.
I call the Minister to move the motion. She is asked to speak for no more than 20 minutes.
I beg to move,
That the draft Human Tissue (Permitted Material: Exceptions) (England) Regulations 2020, which were laid before this House on 25 February, be approved.
Before I explain the draft regulations, I would like to say a few words about why we are changing the law on organ donation. Today more than 5,000 people in England are waiting for a transplant, but, sadly, by the time a suitable organ is found some people will have become too ill to receive one. Tragically, last year alone 777 patients were removed from the transplant list and 400 died waiting for a transplant. There is no option but to take decisive action to address the acute shortage of organs and save the lives of those waiting for a transplant. That is why we passed the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019, which amends the Human Tissue Act 2004 and sets up the new system of consent for organ and tissue donation in England, which is known as “deemed consent” or “opt-out”.
I wish to thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), a previous Member of this House, Geoffrey Robinson, and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath for their work and support, which has got us to where we are today. They all started this journey for us showing immense leadership, and they continue to show their strong commitment to this cause.
Subject to approval of these regulations, we aim for deemed consent to become legal on 20 May. While not many transplants are taking place earlier, during the peak of covid-19, NHS Blood and Transplant has already started the recovery process to get transplant units up and running as much as possible. Guidance on how best to restart or extend the transplant service was sent by NHSBT to all transplant units on 26 April. A letter was then sent on 1 May to all trusts with transplant units, asking them to actively review the situation where transplant units have reduced their services.
To illustrate the progress that is being made to get the transplant system up and running again, on a normal day NHS Blood and Transplant would have received about 55 referrals of a potential donor and would aim for five actual donors, and it would carry out about 70 transplants a week. During the peak of the pandemic, there were days when there were no referrals, many days when there were no donors, and many days when there were no transplants. As of last week, there have been 167 referrals, 11 donors and 38 transplants. Continuing the tremendous effort to restore all transplant services will enable us to reap the benefits of the deemed consent legislation as soon as possible; by “benefits” I mean save the lives of people waiting for transplants.
I understand that some have disagreed with the timing of going ahead with this law, but we assessed the impact of going ahead with deemed consent very carefully. This horrific pandemic taught us a lot about how precious human life is, and we know that the fight against it will continue for some time, while thousands of people will still be waiting for a transplant. I therefore believe very strongly that we have a duty now, more than ever, to push ahead with measures that will reduce human suffering and help people to improve their quality of life. That is exactly what this law does.
We are of course fully aware that public confidence is important. The deemed consent legislation was first introduced to the House in July 2017, and became law in March 2019, so it has had a long process of parliamentary scrutiny, alongside three public consultations. The Government have been raising awareness of the law and the choices available for over a year, and the 20 May implementation date has been used actively in communications since late February. Putting this legislation on hold would increase the anxiety of thousands of people, who see this law as their only hope to get a new lease of life, and would confuse the communications that have already been in the public domain for some time.
From the outset, we have been clear that deemed consent would apply only for routine transplants, to increase the number of organs and tissues available and help those that are on a waiting list. Examples of routine transplants are heart, kidneys or lungs. Novel transplants will still require express consent. The organs and tissues specified in the regulations are included because they could be used for non-routine transplants, such as a face transplant. Such transplants are outside the scope of what we want to achieve. Demand for novel transplants is very low, and people would not normally identify organ donation with them.
During formal scrutiny of the regulations, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments cleared the regulations with no comments. Meanwhile, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee drew the regulations to the attention of the House, and this is testimony to how integral the regulations are for making the new system of consent work, and how important the law change will be when it is introduced.
Let me now discuss the detail of the regulations. The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019 sets out that deemed consent to transplant activities in England will apply only to permitted material. The Secretary of State has a delegated power to specify in regulations what relevant material—meaning, what organs, tissue and cells—will be excluded from the system of deemed consent. To clarify, the organs, tissues and specific cells that are listed in the draft statutory instrument are organs, tissues and cells that cannot be transplanted without express consent being in place, as that would be a novel transplant.
Regulation 2(2) sets out the detailed list of organs and tissues that will require express consent in order to be transplanted under all circumstances—such as the brain, spinal cord and face. As a result of our consultation, we expanded the list of reproductive organs and tissues in this regulation, to provide clarity and put it beyond doubt that removing any parts of a reproductive organ will require express consent in all cases. This is to ensure that if and when such transplants are carried out in future in the UK, they will be outside the scope of deemed consent.
Regulation 2(3) sets out that some relevant material—for example, skin or bone—will require express consent if used for a novel transplant, but not if used for a routine transplant. This is to ensure that current practices for tissue donation, under which tissue from a leg, for example, is removed routinely, are not disrupted by deemed consent. So, although a leg transplant would require express consent, if only the skin from a leg is taken, deemed consent may apply; however, if tissue is required from reproductive organs, this will always require express consent. That addresses the feedback from our consultation.
Regulation 2(4) allows for the trachea to be removed under deemed consent when it is attached to the lungs. This is to allow routine heart and lung transplants, which also require the trachea to be removed with the heart and lungs, to continue under deemed consent. However, the trachea is also listed in regulation 2(2), as trachea transplants by themselves are novel and therefore excluded from deemed consent.
Regulation 2(5) excludes the removal of certain cells if they are to be used for advanced therapy medicinal products—also known as ATMPs—which are therapies made from tissue cells or genes after manipulation in a laboratory. They are used for treatment of a disease or injury, and often use human tissues and cells as starting materials. For example, an ATMP can treat knee damage by taking cartilage cells from a living patient, growing and modifying them in a lab, and re-injecting them into the patient’s knee.
ATMPs are an exciting technology, and new therapies are being developed all the time. Current ATMPs are being developed using tissue and cells taken from living donors, but it is also possible to use material from deceased donors to develop novel ATMPs. As such ATMPs are novel, we want to make sure that the donation of such cells cannot happen without express consent being in place. Our consultation raised questions about the public’s understanding of such novel technologies, so we want to ensure that express consent is required.
Now that I have set out the detail of the regulations, I must highlight that before deciding whether a change to the regulations would be needed in future, the Government would need to consider evidence, public acceptability and clinical need, guided by recommendations from NHSBT’s advisory group research and innovation in transplants. Any changes would need to be approved by Parliament, following the same procedure as we are now, so Parliament would have full oversight. The regulations restrict deemed consent to routine transplants, so they continue current practice, under which express consent needs to be in place for non-routine transplants. There is no additional cost to the health system, so no impact assessment has been prepared.
In conclusion, I am glad that I am able to present these regulations to the House today. They are an important part of the implementation of the 2019 Act, as they prevent deemed consent from applying to novel transplants. The new system of consent will help to save and improve the lives of many people waiting for a transplant. Donating organs is one of the greatest gifts a person can give. I urge everybody to talk to their families and their loved ones about their wishes. I am proud that all of us present are playing a part in making something positive happen in these very challenging times. I commend the draft regulations to the House.
Just before I call Alex Norris, I advise those waiting to take part in the debate that there is a 10-minute limit on contributions, so could they please have a timing device available?
I have to say that I am used to clearing rooms when I start speaking, but this is quite impressive even by my own standards. Nevertheless, it is a privilege to make my debut at the Dispatch Box as shadow public health Minister on a topic as important as this one. Currently, everything we are addressing is a matter of life and death, but when we are talking about critical transplants, that could never be clearer.
I thank the Minister for everything she is doing during this crisis, not only on this particular issue but on everything related to protecting us from the coronavirus. She and her ministerial colleagues are working around the clock and have been doing so for weeks; we appreciate that.
This is my first opportunity to express publicly in this place my thanks to our NHS and social care staff for all the wonderful things that they are doing in my community and communities up and down the country to keep us as safe as possible.
We clap with you on a Thursday, but we think about you always and we are really grateful for everything you are doing.
The transplant of organs and human tissue changes and saves lives. It brings hope, it can bring happiness and it is the ultimate altruistic act. The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019 promises a significant breakthrough in the ability to save and change lives. Those who campaigned for it spotted the public mood and understood the British people on this issue. However, a key part of understanding that fundamental desire of the British people to do well by each other is to understand that this change has to hold within reasonable limits. It is therefore right that we are completing the process today and setting out clearly the sort of tissue that goes beyond routine transplantation. That is a critical part of maintaining public confidence in the process.
The Opposition supported the Act during its progress and we support the regulations before us today. We have many people to thank for last year’s Act. I will start by thanking Geoffrey Robinson, the former MP for Coventry North West, for introducing the Bill. His legacy in this place is significant on a number of issues, and this legislation will certainly have long-lasting and far-reaching implications. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for taking up the baton in 2019 and getting the legislation over the finishing line—he continues to be an excellent champion of the Act, and I think we will hear from him shortly—and, in the other place, the noble Lord Hunt for his stewardship of the legislation.
Of course, I also pay tribute to Max Johnson and Keira Ball, after whom the Bill was known. Keira tragically died in a road accident, but her heart saved Max’s life at age nine, after an eight-month wait. They are truly inspirational and a huge part of why we are here today, as indeed is everyone who supported the campaign, not least the Daily Mirror and its readers. Each and every supporter has helped to bring us here today to do this important job.
It is impossible to talk about anything, especially anything health related, without referencing the coronavirus outbreak and its effect on all aspects of our lives. However, it is particularly pertinent when we talk about transplants, so I will touch on it now before getting into the substance of the regulations. From 1 April to 10 May, 155 transplants took place in the UK from deceased donors. In the previous year, that figure was 404, a drop of more than 60%. There have been no transplants at all from living donors, which usually make up close to a fifth of the total, and current waiting list figures will not accurately reflect the need that may have been created for organ transplant due to the pandemic, which will only cause greater strain in future months.
I do not say these things to criticise the Government. Kidney transplants are the most common form of transplants, and in answer to a written question, the Minister for Care shared with me the fact that the early data show that both dialysis patients and those who are immunosuppressed through a transplant are more vulnerable to covid-19. The fact that transplants have been taking place at all therefore suggests that decisions are being made on the balance of need and on a case-by-case basis, an approach that I think we would all support. However, we know that, as the Minister said, patients were dying on the transplant waiting list even before the outbreak because the supply of donor organs failed to meet the demand. Fewer transplants quite simply means that the mortality rate will increase.
What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of covid-19 on the mortality of patients waiting for transplants, and what plans do the Government have to deal with the increasing backlog? I have raised this issue with her colleague, the Minister for primary care and public health, in relation to cancer and have not yet heard clear answers. We need to know what efforts the Government will be making to deal with the bubble challenges that will be coming through the system in future weeks and months. The Minister in the other place talked yesterday about a tremendous effort to restore transplant services. Will this Minister take the opportunity today to outline what the recovery plan is likely to look like and what the timeframes will be?
At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis we all talked of it as a great leveller and said that the virus would not recognise our differences, but we have seen in the weeks and months since just how much that is not the case. The coronavirus has exposed what many Opposition Members have said for many years. Britain is an unequal country, across regions, across gender and across protected characteristics. These inequalities are terrible for our nation’s health, and tackling them must be a post-covid priority.
The black, Asian or minority ethnic community suffers particularly when it comes to transplants. In 2018, 21% of those who died waiting for transplants were from a black, Asian or minority ethnic group. There is a higher chance of a successful transplant if the organ comes from an individual of the same ethnic background, but that means that those from black or Asian backgrounds currently wait six to 11 months longer for an organ match. This inequality will not do, and there have to be practical things to change it, starting immediately. The culture change that the Minister talked about is at the heart of that—us all having those conversations with our loved ones—but we know that we have to be doing something specifically different to reach those communities experiencing the most unequal outcomes. For that reason, I would like to press the Minister on something her colleague in the other place said yesterday. He said that the Government would be following up with an awareness campaign aimed at BAME audiences. Can the Minister give a firm commitment today that this will take place, tell us when it might happen and critically—I had this conversation frequently during my time in local government—confirm that it will be developed by BAME communities, rather than on their behalf? If it is to be effective, it will have to be different from how it has been in the past.
A key aim of the 2019 Act, which the regulations will, I hope, supplement today, was to reach an 80% consent rate in England. This will take time but certainly seems possible. In Wales, where the opt-out mechanism was implemented by the Welsh Labour Government in 2015, the consent rate has risen from 58% to 77%. In England, we start from a base line of 67%, so we are better placed, and if we reach the target, we are talking about as many as 700 more transplants a year—700 lives that can be extended, transformed or saved. The Minister has been challenged on the timing of the regulations—I have reflected on that question myself—but that number seems a strong reason to push on. As she says, the recent weeks and months have shown us how precious human life is and that we should not waste moments if we can improve lives.
Yesterday, the noble Lord Bethell told the other place that the restoration of all transplant services would include training nurses on the new law as soon as possible after they return. I would be keen to know a bit more about that. It was not something we had heard of before, and we would want a sense of the scale of that and the precise timeline the Government are expecting.
As I said, the Opposition are happy with the regulations as laid, but I seek to make three points. First and foremost, we agree that deemed consent should only apply to routine transplants. This is a matter of ensuring that public policy going forward matches the public’s expectation. I share the Government’s view that this would not reflect rare or novel procedures, including to create advanced therapy medicinal products, taking place without explicit consent. I will reflect on those ATMPs in a couple of seconds.
Secondly, I welcome the Government’s response to the consultation on the statutory instrument. Following the responses received, they have rightly revised the regulations with additional clarifications on tissues from sexual and reproductive organs, which will not be subject to deemed consent. That is particularly welcome. It is nice—I dare say even novel—to see a Government consultation leading to such concrete changes. It is a good thing and long may it continue.
Thirdly, the Government indicated in their response to the consultation that they do not expect the list of accepted tissue to need regular updates, and I agree with that in principle. The Minister mentioned how a process might happen if things were to be revised later, but I would like to understand a bit more about what would have to change for her to start such a process.
On those rare and novel transplants, it is important that public policy matches what people expect from the legislation, but we should be proud that the UK leads the world on such transplants. It is a good sign of the health of our country in this regard. They are not currently included under deemed consent, but developing these new technologies and techniques enables us to save more lives. We lead the way in both development and implementation. We have pioneered the OCS—organ care service—heart system, a portable device that can preserve a donor heart in a near-normothermic beating state until it is transplanted, which is currently being used in three heart transplant centres in the NHS and is being introduced in a fourth. We have also shown that abdominal organs can be assessed and their function improved using normothermic regional perfusion technology. As is the aim with this legislation, these developments can save lives, and we should be proud of that, but we should not rest on our laurels, so could the Minister reaffirm the Government’s commitment to continuing the UK as a leader in this regard and to providing the necessary funding to transplant units to ensure they can take advantage?
I turn now to resources, because what we are agreeing today, though very important, will have resource implications for us to pick up. An increase in the number of transplants will necessitate increased support for families who lose loved-ones. It is a difficult and emotional experience for them, and they will require high-skilled care and support, so what extra support will be available for them as these numbers increase?
Similarly, we will need specialist nurses for donation, not just for the direct care but for the implementation, providing advice and support to families and playing the vital role of determining what the deceased’s last known decision was, so that no procedures take place without the appropriate consent. As I say, the Minister in the other place yesterday mentioned specialist training. Could the Minister here today expand further on that?
I welcome the Government’s commitment to ensure that there are enough staff to do this. Will the Minister also commit to providing the additional funding required to ensure that the required increase in specialist nurses continues in line with the increase in transplants, so that they are not having to be begged or borrowed from other parts of the service?
We support these regulations. This is the next staging point in a really important journey. It will make a difference to hundreds and hundreds of lives—lives of people who are completely unaware that these discussions are even taking place today, not knowing that they will need this. This is the right thing to do and the right time to do it, and we support the regulations.
I would first like to pay tribute to my predecessor, the former Member for Coventry North West, Geoffrey Robinson, whose life-saving private Member’s Bill will lead to significant changes in the way we approach organ donation. Geoffrey has said that it was one of his proudest achievements, and I am sure that Members across the House will join me in wishing him well in his retirement.
Through the hard work and determination of campaigners and Members from across the House and the support of the Government, the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act is now law. I commend the Daily Mirror for its awareness campaign and for raising support for Max Johnson, a young boy who desperately needed a new heart, whose story touched so many of us. Keira and Max’s story showed the many human sides of the campaign to bring about the change in the law.
The NHS estimates that 3,544 people are awaiting a transplant in the UK today, and in the last month, 186 have received a transplant. Too many lives have been tragically cut short because donors were not available, or the transplant was not received in time. However, we are lucky that science has allowed organ transplantation to overcome technical limitations and become the life-saving success it is today.
From tomorrow, the new opt-out system in England will provide a lifeline for hundreds of people desperately in need of a transplant. Indeed, with this change, more people will receive a vital organ to reunite them with their loved ones and allow them, in most cases, to lead an ordinary life. Of course, there are legitimate concerns about the timing of this change, patient safety and whether we should allow an opt-out in the midst of an epidemic. It is fair to say that no one saw this coming, at least not to this extent. But for many patients who have been on the waiting lists for a kidney or another vital organ, the change could not come any sooner.
As the Minister said, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) emphasised, patient safety must come first. Those with symptoms of coronavirus or any other life-threatening impediment will need to be sifted out. I seek further reassurances from the Minister that extra precautions are in place to reassure my constituents that any organ transplant conducted during this time will be appropriately screened. If confidence is lost in this new system, vital donors from a wide range of groups may be lost because they do not feel safe.
We must understand that some communities are apprehensive about the donation of their organs, which can be due to cultural and religious sensitivities around the displacement of organs from the body. There is also a low uptake among ethnic minorities with particular blood types. The NHS estimates that over 1,800 black, Asian and ethnic minorities are currently on the waiting list for a transplant. Last year, 900 ethnic minorities received a donation from a deceased donor, and only 114 ethnic minorities donated their organs after they had passed away. The sad truth is that ethnic minorities tend to wait significantly longer for a successful match than other patients. In the light of tomorrow’s change in the law, more awareness building needs to be done, to emphasise the importance of organ donation within ethnic minority communities. Although those numbers will naturally rise, it is important that the Government do more to encourage vital donors to stay on the list.
Tomorrow’s change in the law is a welcome and long- overdue step. It was a hard-fought campaign and an example of the House coming together, and I will continue to champion this issue, like my predecessor. Overall, this is for the hundreds of people awaiting transplants across England who will receive a life-changing and life-saving transplant that will allow them to live their lives.
We have no audio, so we will go to Jim Shannon while we check that out.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to raise a few thoughts. The House may not be aware that my nephew, Peter, had a kidney replacement when he was a child, and that is one of the main reasons I have avidly supported organ donation. My family would have been devastated had that organ not been donated to save Peter’s life. I also absolutely believe that there must be the ability for someone to opt out if they have their own reasons for doing so, whether those are religious or otherwise.
I commend the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for what he has done—we look forward to his contribution—and I commend the former Member, Geoffrey Robinson; I was very happy to support and sign his Bill and we will see some of that become law tomorrow. I thank the Minister for her contribution and for bringing this statutory instrument forward—we are really pleased to see it. I also thank the shadow Minister for his contribution, which was very ably put together.
I will focus on one aspect of this draft legislation for organ donation. Three million people in the UK have chronic kidney disease, including some 1,000 children, and 65,000 people are being treated for kidney failure by dialysis or transplant. In the UK, 6,044 people are on the transplant list, and 4,737 are awaiting kidneys. That was data from the end of 2019, as the transplant programme is currently part-suspended. At least one person a day will die because they have waited too long. Eight out of 10 people waiting are hoping for a kidney. NHS Blood and Transplant estimated that this change in the law has the potential to lead to 700 more transplants each year by 2030—700 lives that can be changed, and 700 lives that can be saved. This may have to be extended by a year because of the pandemic.
When kidneys fail, three things happen: dialysis, a transplant or death. Dialysis is distressing and demanding, with four to five-hour sessions three days a week and dietary and fluid restrictions. Many of my constituents have had to go through this, as my nephew did for a period of time. People are often unable to continue to work. Families and relationships are strained and depression is common. It has been reported that the levels of pain are equivalent to those of people with terminal cancer. Patients are exhausted, with aching bones, reduced mobility and constant itching. A transplant is transformational in restoring quality and quantity of life, and we recognise the selfless generosity of organ donors, both living and deceased. We commend NHS Blood and Transplant on its achievements; more than 50,000 people are alive with transplants in the UK.
Kidney transplantation is also economically beneficial. I know that it is not always a good thing to look at the economics and the financial aspect, but a transplant has a cost of £5,000 per annum, compared with a cost of £30,800 per annum for dialysis, so there is a financial factor that we need to bear in mind.
I am so pleased that this SI means that even during this crisis we are continuing and prioritising the ability to donate kidneys and other organs. I congratulate the Government, the Minister and the Opposition on pushing this issue. There were 28 transplants in Northern Ireland last month, so I pay tribute to the team there. This legislation is tremendous news and I hope that the Northern Ireland Assembly will follow the lead of this place on the opt-out issue. The figures for transplants in Northern Ireland were way above and beyond what they normally are, so again this shows the good that can happen as a result of where we are.
We are pleased to see this legislation, but is clear that there must not be an end to the duty of care. We must also be sure to invest in new technology. There are new machines which, I am told, have shown great promise in preserving or even reconditioning donated organs. That must be investigated by the Department. Will the Minister, in her summing up, give the House some indication of how that will work and an update on those new machines and any other innovations in medicines for the future?
It is also imperative to ensure that regular monitoring is carried out and that the impact of the new law is reported back to the House. Again I look to the Minister for those assurances, because we will doing this from tomorrow, and the House will need to know how it is progressing and whether we are achieving the figures and stats that we should be achieving. It is also essential that we have education for healthcare staff and the public. Increasing transplantation requires appropriately trained staff working with families, who will still need to allow a donation to take place. This will require comprehensive, consistent and continuous education for members of the public and healthcare staff, and these things need to happen as soon as is practicable. Previously agreed funding for NHS Blood and Transplant’s work should be made available for this work, and I ask the Minister for an update on where we are in relation to that.
Adequate system capacity is needed to permit transplant procedures, as well as a culture that sees organ donation as the norm. I would love to see that happening. Perhaps after tomorrow we will see some of that taking place. There were already concerns, prior to covid-19, about pressure on theatre space, equipment and staff to cope with an increase in organ availability, including specialist organ donation nurses to support bereaved families. Modelling for the estimated additional transplants has been done, and NHS trusts have been asked to plan accordingly. That will need to be revisited as trusts emerge from the current crisis, and I am sure that the Minister will be all over that. In order for organ donation to be able to continue in the covid-19 age, support and discussion with bereaved families must be facilitated more than ever. We welcome the strengthened role for families in the code of practice, and we thank the Minister for bringing that forward. Technology must be harnessed to aid those vital conversations.
I concur with the shadow Minister’s comments about BAME communities. Covid-19 has brought the need to address the health inequalities faced by BAME communities into sharp relief. There is too much inequality in transplant deaths. In 2018, 21% of the people who died waiting for a transplant were from black, Asian or minority ethnic groups. People from BAME communities wait six months for an organ despite being more at risk of kidney failure, because fewer organs are available from donors in those communities. There is a higher chance of a successful transplant if the organ comes from an individual from the same ethnic background, and it is important that those groups are the particular focus of awareness campaigns. Will the Minister give us her thoughts on that as well?
We welcome the revised codes of practice having a greater focus on faiths and beliefs. We believe that that will support better conversations and give greater assurances to families when a potential donor’s faith or belief is an important part of that decision making. It is important that we have that, and we thank the Government for putting it into the code of practice.
I was pleased by the outcome of the consultation on the organs—[Inaudible.]—that deemed consent should apply to so-called routine transplants only, and that any rare or novel transplants should be subject to explicit consent. The statutory instrument is therefore limited. What we are talking about are routine transplants for heart, lung, liver, kidney, intestinal organs, small bowel, stomach, abdominal wall, colon, spleen or cornea.
This SI is important. I absolutely agree with Kidney Care UK when it says that our NHS staff will be exhausted and that resources have been stretched by the pandemic and are likely to be for some time. However, we urge efforts to take forward implementation at the appropriate time to give renewed hope to patients waiting for a life-transforming transplant. We say thank you so much and well done to the Minister, her team and everyone concerned.
Thank you, Jim Shannon. We will now try again with Dan Jarvis—can we hear you?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to be called in this debate—and hopefully to be heard.
From tomorrow, as we have heard, changes to the organ donation system following the implementation of the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019, more commonly known as Max and Keira’s law, come into effect. This means that every adult in England will be considered to be a donor unless they opt out or are excluded. This new law has the potential to save hundreds of lives every year. For all those desperately waiting for a transplant, the efficacy of these changes is literally a matter of life and death. We owe it to them to ensure that it is a success.
I would like briefly to pay tribute to the constructive spirit in which the Government approached the Bill from the outset, and to all those without whom the campaign to change the law would not have succeeded. First and foremost, my friend and former colleague Geoffrey Robinson, formerly of this parish, showed real leadership in promoting the Bill from the outset. The former Health Minister, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), was brilliant throughout the passage of the Bill, as were the right hon. Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), the current Secretary of State, and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. Alison Phillips, the editor of the Daily Mirror, and her fantastic team also championed this cause and very helpfully raised public awareness. Kidney Care UK provided outstanding support during the campaign and continues to provide outstanding support to ensure that Max and Keira’s law will be a success.
Most of all, though, I would like to thank Max Johnson, his mother Emma, and the family of Keira Ball. For those who may not be familiar with it, as stories go there are few more powerful than Max and Keira’s. Keira Ball was nine years old when, tragically, she died. Despite the unimaginable grief, Keira’s parents bravely and selflessly chose to donate her organs, including her heart, to a young boy, Max Johnson, who was in urgent need of a transplant. Max recovered from his operation and has been a tireless champion of the new opt-out system for organ donation. Tomorrow will be a very special day for many people, but for Max it will be especially poignant.
I am extremely proud to have worked with Geoffrey and with others to take Max and Keira’s law through Parliament. I would like briefly to reflect on the reasons I believe that it is so important. First and foremost, this law is about saving lives. We are all, I know, extremely grateful for the outstanding job that NHS Blood and Transplant does. In the year to this April, there were 3,763 organ transplants from deceased donors, in addition to 970 living donations. Yet despite the incredible efforts made, demand for organs heavily outweighs supply. Last year, as the Minister reflected on, more than 400 people died while waiting for a transplant and hundreds more were suspended from the waiting list after becoming too ill to undergo the operation they so desperately needed. There are currently about 5,000 people in the UK who, just like Max was, are living under a cloud of uncertainty, waiting and hoping for an operation that will save their life.
One of the many devastating knock-on consequences of the coronavirus crisis is the impact it has had on those in need of an organ transplant. Operations have been postponed and the number of people dying while waiting for a transplant has sharply risen. The coronavirus is putting huge extra strain on a system already under pressure.
As well as offering hope to families, I believe that Max and Keira’s law will also benefit society by helping to bring people together. The decision that Keira’s parents took was an act of compassion that represents the best of humanity—a lesson in solidarity from which we can all learn. We must be mindful, however, that the new organ donation system will not in itself be a silver- bullet solution. We all still need to play our part. We know that this law will improve the consent rate. The devolved Government in Wales introduced their opt-out system in December 2015. The result was stark: Wales now has the highest consent rate of any UK nation at 77%, up from 58% five years ago.
However, if we are going to make a success of the new system, NHS Blood and Transplant will require additional capacity to deal with an increase in donors. That means that the Government must ensure that our NHS trusts have the resources they need to perform the operations, to support the donors and their families, and to care for the patients after their transplants.
This also includes the medical staff, so they understand the new system and encourage bereaved families to talk, understand and support their loved one’s wishes. The Government must also maintain their support for the public awareness campaign, so that the changes are widely understood and everybody knows that the choice to donate is still yours to make. Donors should know that they will be treated with dignity and respect, and the family of the deceased will still be involved.
I am very aware of the Department of Health and Social Care’s work, including with the National Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Transplant Alliance and the launch of the community investment scheme, but it is essential that we continue to direct our efforts into BAME communities, which are often most affected. Nearly a third of those on the active transplant list are from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds, and it is members of that community who also wait longer for operations. Improving education and raising awareness is important so that everyone has an equal chance, regardless of their ethnicity, of having a life-saving transplant.
We also all have a responsibility to record our choice on the NHS’s organ donor register and, crucially, to tell our loved ones what our intentions are. The coronavirus has left thousands of families in mourning, shattered our economy and upended our entire way of life. Good news is in short supply, but the implementation of Max and Keira’s law affords us a rare glimmer of hope—the hope that more lives will be saved and the hope that we, too, can act with decency and empathy, even in the worst of times. Thank you to all those who made it happen.
Thank you, Dan Jarvis. We were the better for hearing, as well as seeing you. Please send our very best wishes for a long and healthy future to Max.
May I welcome the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) to his place on the Front Bench and say how very good it is to see him there? I thank him for his kind words at the beginning of his speech and for his constructive tone in this debate. I look forward to that in our future conversations. I also welcome all the helpful and constructive comments we have heard from those who have been able to contribute to the debate today remotely and the work of all of those who have been involved in getting this legislation on to the statute book.
As I said in opening the debate, thousands of people up and down the country are in desperate need of a transplant. While covid-19 has completely stopped transplant services in some countries, we have been able to continue with very urgent transplants, and that is testament to the great work of NHS Blood and Transplant and NHS England. We now want to go further, and we must increase the availability of organs for transplant, which this important legislation will allow us to do, especially at a time when covid-19 has taught us so much about how fragile life is.
I should say that patient safety and the involvement of the family in discussions about organ donation will remain absolutely a paramount consideration, and we will keep raising awareness of the importance of organ donation. The communication campaign from NHS Blood and Transplant has seen awareness as high as 62% of the population at the height of the campaign, and that must go further. We must continue tackling some of the myths about organ donation.
Coming to some specific questions and points made by other Members, the hon. Member for Nottingham North asked about the recovery plan following covid-19 and the unavoidable reduction in transplants that has happened during the pandemic. We are determined to see transplant units become fully operational as soon as possible. Most transplant units are working on their plans to reopen or to increase services if they have stayed open, and I expect to see a rapid ramping up of their activity.
The hon. Gentleman asked about specialist nurses, and I can confirm that specialist nurses have indeed been recruited and have training ongoing in, for instance, the principles of this legislation and in practical sessions on the conversations and approaches to families. I am happy to come back to him separately with some further detail about that work.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) made very important points about BAME communities. It is clearly of great concern that there is reduced access to organs for transplant, with a shortage particularly of donor organs for some people in BAME communities. We really want this law to address some of those very concerning health inequalities. Specifically, black and Asian people wait on average about 11 months and six months longer, respectively, for an organ match than the rest of the population. That is absolutely something that this legislation should and must address.
The hon. Member for Nottingham North asked about communications to BAME communities, because that is crucial for the success of this change. I should say to him that there has been specific funding to BAME and faith groups to raise awareness within their communities, but I agree that more must be done to make sure that this is successful.
The hon. Member for Coventry North West asked about screening for covid-19. There are two sides to this. First, a registry has been set up to monitor covid cases among those waiting for a transplant, and, secondly, I have been assured that the organs of those who have covid would not be donated and used for transplant.
I was also asked about the resources to fund this, and I can say that of course we will make sure that the NHS has the resources it needs to be able to carry out these crucial transplants.
It is important that this legislation is approved to provide legal certainty that deemed consent will apply only to the routine transplants that so many people in this country need. I want to thank everyone who has spoken and contributed to the work on these regulations. The regulations are an integral part of making the new system of consent work, and I would urge all my fellow parliamentarians to approve them. We owe it to everyone waiting for a transplant to make sure that Max and Keira’s law comes into force and makes a difference to all those who are waiting for a transplant.
I announced to the House earlier this afternoon my provisional determination that a remote Division would not take place on the question now before the House. This is also my final determination.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Human Tissue (Permitted Material: Exceptions) (England) Regulations 2020, which were laid before this House on 25 February, be approved.
We come now to the motion on constitutional law. I call Douglas Ross to move the motion. The Minister is asked to speak for no more than 20 minutes.
I beg to move,
That the draft Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Modification) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 25 March, be approved.
I start by reminding the House that my wife is a serving police officer in Scotland—a police sergeant in Moray—which clearly relates to the business in front of us today.
May I take the opportunity, for the first time at the Dispatch Box, to welcome the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) to his role as shadow Scottish Secretary, and the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) as the shadow Under-Secretary of State for Scotland? I look forward to working with them both in the weeks and months ahead.
May I also send our best wishes to the shadow Scottish Secretary’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd)? All of us in this House were extremely concerned when he spent 25 days in Manchester Royal Infirmary. He is a great servant to this House and his community, and we wish him continued success as he recovers from coronavirus.
I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this order. Police officers and staff are on the frontline each and every day protecting the public. Members will likely have seen some media reports showing that, in the first three weeks of the current restrictions, police in Scotland recorded more than 100 coronavirus-related attacks and threats aimed at officers. These included officers being spat at or deliberately coughed on. Attacks against our officers and staff are deplorable and completely unacceptable, and this order facilitates police officers in Scotland in receiving the support they need should that ever happen. This will be quite a technical speech about the orders and the legislation in front of us, but we should always remember that behind this important order are our police officers and staff who are unacceptably being attacked in Scotland, and we must do everything we can to prevent that.
This order is part of the Government’s ongoing commitment to devolution and is made in consequence of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014, which I shall refer to as the 2014 Act, and has been requested by the Scottish Government. This order is made under section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows for necessary or expedient legislative provision in consequence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament. In this case, provision is required in consequence of the aforementioned 2014 Act.
Through the 2014 Act, the Scottish Government sought to increase the support available to victims and witnesses of crime in Scotland. In doing so, the Scottish Government made provision for the creation of a new pathway called the restitution order to be imposed on offenders who assault a police officer or certain other prescribed persons. That will mean that those who assault police officers can be compelled to contribute towards the cost of support services for such victims. In the event of a non-payment of a restitution order, the Scottish Government were to enforce payment through a deduction in sums from benefits where appropriate. However, social security schemes for making deductions from benefits are not within the executive competence of Scottish Ministers.
The Criminal Justice Act 1991 introduces a process whereby fines can be collected through certain benefits. This order therefore amends Section 24 of the 1991 Act by referencing the restitution order and indicating that it should be treated in the same way as a fine for the purposes of that section. This facilitates the Scottish Government’s aim by allowing the recovery of the penalty via deduction from an offender’s benefits.
The process for collecting the restitution order from an offender’s benefits will follow the same process as for other fines or compensation orders. These are predominantly means-tested benefits such as income support and universal credit. The 1991 Act gives the Secretary of State the power to introduce a process whereby courts can apply for a deduction from an offender’s benefits to pay for a fine or compensation order through what is called a deduction from benefits order.
Once the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has secured a deduction from benefits order, the Department for Work and Pensions will recover the restitution order on behalf of the courts in Scotland by direct deduction from an offender’s benefits. The funds collected will be transferred to the restitution fund, which will be held and managed by the Scottish Government, although functions can be delegated to a third party.
The fund will directly benefit police officers and police staff by securing the provision of any type of treatment which is intended to benefit the physical or mental wellbeing of the victim. Examples of this include the police treatment centres in Auchterarder and Harrogate, where treatment ranges from physiotherapy to psychological wellbeing,
The territorial extent and application of this instrument is England, Wales and Scotland. The territorial application is required as the courts in Scotland need to be able to make the deduction from benefits order, and agencies in England, Scotland and Wales may need to carry out the processes to ensure that the deductions are made. In addition, it provides for the collection of the restitution orders imposed on offenders who move from Scotland to one of the other two territories after conviction, and it also provides for those who reside in England and Wales but committed the offence in Scotland and were therefore tried by a Scottish court.
To summarise, this instrument facilitates the recovery of the Scottish restitution order by deductions from an offender’s benefits in appropriate cases. The order only gives Scottish Ministers the necessary powers to apply to the Secretary of State for a deductions from benefit order; it does not set the policy. That is, of course, a matter for the Scottish Government, under the scrutiny of the Scottish Parliament.
The UK Government remain committed to strengthening the devolution settlement, and this order demonstrates the two Governments working together to deliver for the people of Scotland. It also reiterates our support and respect for police officers and staff across the country. These police officers and staff do so much to protect us; with these orders we are supporting them. I commend the order to the House.
Before I call Ian Murray, I remind those taking part in the debate who are not in the Chamber that they have a 10-minute limit, so they should have a timing device made available to them.
I thank the Minister for his warm welcome at the Dispatch Box. I would rather that we were debating the debacle of Scottish football today, given his experience, which I am sure would be more amenable to our constituents. Perhaps we will get to one of those debates in future when we are back to normal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) and I appreciate the Minister’s warm welcome and his words about my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), who had a very serious bout of coronavirus. He is now out of hospital and I have spoken to him. You will be pleased to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that he has not lost any of his dry wit and sense of humour. We look forward to him being back in this place as quickly as possible.
I also thank the Minister’s wife. I had not realised that she was a serving police officer. I thank her and her colleagues for all that they are doing to keep us safe during the crisis, and not just during the crisis; police and other support staff keep us safe at all times, across not just Scotland but the rest of the UK.
We will work constructively with the Minister, his team and the Secretary of State when they agree with us and we will be a ferocious Opposition when they do not. We will work genuinely constructively when it is in the interest of the people of Scotland, but we will certainly scrutinise and hold both Governments to account for their decisions, because that is what they get paid for.
There is no disagreement this afternoon with regard to the order, which facilitates the retribution orders that the Scottish Government have put in place. It is disappointing that it has taken a bit of time to get here, but there is no better time than now to reassess how we punish those who assault our police officers physically, mentally or, as the Minister said in his opening remarks, by spitting during the coronavirus pandemic. It is time to get the legislation in place.
Retribution orders are useful tools for punishment and deterrence, and the fund that is developed is there for victims in the police service, and other associated people within the police, to seek retribution and have support. It is right for them to get that. We wish only that we did not have to have that kind of support for our police personnel, but we do, and we hope that it will reduce over the years.
It is also important, at this time, to look at the people who might be given a retribution order and how the legislation might affect them. There has been a massive increase in the uptake of universal credit. The unemployment figures released today are not a surprise, but will be a concern to us all. For people in receipt of a retribution order, this order will allow the retribution order to be deducted from their benefits.
I have big questions to ask the Minister with regard to that. How will he ensure the affordability of those orders for benefit claimants, particularly when people are stretched, so that they will not be made destitute by them? Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions last year revealed that a quarter of a million people across the UK had been sanctioned on universal credit, and 5% of those had been sanctioned for longer than six months.
Can we be sure that any deductions from benefits will be taken into account if someone is sanctioned, in order for them and their families not to be put into destitution? That does not in any way dilute the seriousness of why they were given a retribution order, but it is important that it does not put families into destitution. How can the Minister and the Secretary of State ensure that any changes in legislation at the Scottish Government level are analysed and assessed on the basis of how the order will now work, if people are having deductions from their benefits and pay?
As I said, we do not disagree with the order. Ultimately, compensation for the victims of any crime goes further than its simple monetary value, particularly for crimes of assault on police officers. It can be of great significance as a real recognition of the crime that has been committed against the victim, as well as acknowledging the suffering as a result of any offence. Therefore, this is a necessary statutory instrument that will allow the justice system to work for victims by allowing them to see that the perpetrator’s actions have serious consequences, and will play an important role in victims’ recovery. We are therefore happy to support the order.
May I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on his return to the role of shadow Secretary of State for Scotland after his sabbatical? One of the great disappointments to me in my time as Secretary of State was the announcement, following his departure from that role, and in the absence of a Front-Bench spokesman, that either the Leader of the Opposition himself or the shadow Chancellor would participate in Scottish questions. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, immediately before the first such occasion, a shadow Scottish Secretary was appointed.
This process is important. It is unusual not just because we are participating in a virtual Chamber but because we are in the Chamber more generally. Usually, section 104 orders and others that flow from the original Scotland Act are transacted on the Committee corridor and get very little attention, but, as the Minister said, they are in many ways the backbone of the devolution settlement and the relationship between the two Governments and Parliaments. It is very easy, particularly given some of the headlines and media reports that we have seen in recent weeks, to think that the devolution settlement is not working, but this order and all the others that go through Parliament are actually a manifestation of the fact that it is working. Behind the scenes, officials in the UK Government and Scottish Government work closely together to ensure that these orders and the things that really matter to people in Scotland—the provision of a police service and a criminal justice system—go ahead in a way that relates to the whole of the United Kingdom. As the Minister said, this order ensures that, if people are in England or Wales, such orders still apply and the benefits system recognises that.
It is very important, when we see the flare-ups that sometimes happen between politicians north and south of the border, that we understand that, in the day to day, the devolution settlement is working and has been tested through these systems. There were many times when I had to put through orders on matters of substance with which I did not agree, but I did agree that the Scottish Parliament had made that decision, in terms of the devolution settlement, and therefore it was appropriate that the Westminster Parliament and the UK Government ensured that that legislation was fully enacted.
I want to give my thanks and praise to the police in Scotland for the job they do more generally and what they have done specifically during the coronavirus crisis. I particularly commend the chief constable of Police Scotland, Iain Livingstone, for his calm, measured approach to these matters. He said right at the start that it was important that he continued on the basis of policing by consent. From my experience, and from feedback I have received from constituents, I think that has been achieved. That is very important. He underpinned that by setting out three key roles for Police Scotland: ensuring that social distancing is enforced to reduce the mortality rate during the spread of the virus; ensuring that the relationship of trust between the public in Scotland and the police is maintained; and, of course, ensuring the welfare and safety of not just police officers but their families.
I also commend the chief constable on his very reasoned approach. When there were some differences in the guidance between England and Scotland and we heard some unhelpful suggestions, from my point of view, that we should have border patrols, Iain Livingstone was clear that that would be a wholly inappropriate use of police resources. That was very helpful for my constituents, many of whom cross the border regularly.
The Minister and the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland have already alluded to the shocking report that in the first few weeks of the lockdown 100 officers had been attacked or the subject of abuse. As the deputy chief constable Fiona Taylor said, that is outrageous and disrespectful. Abuse and assault are simply not part of the job of police officers and can never be tolerated. I think that that is at the heart of the legislation in the Scottish Parliament and this subsequent order to ensure that we do not in any way accept that the abuse or assault of police officers is regarded as routine or tolerated. In the event of such behaviour they must be supported in every way.
I do not think that we waited six years for this subordinate legislation to come through just so that the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill), who in 2014 was the Justice Secretary in Scotland and brought forward that Act, could speak in this debate. I am sure he must be disappointed, given the passion that I know he has for this matter and for an effective criminal justice system, that it has taken quite so long for the legislation to be fully enacted and this order put in place, just as I am sure he was disappointed that it took until 2019 for the victim surcharge fund, which was also announced in 2014, to get up and running in Scotland.
This is not, Mr Deputy Speaker, the place to rehearse arguments that are rightly had in the Scottish Parliament, but it would be wrong for me not to ensure that the House is aware that my Scottish Conservative colleagues in the Scottish Parliament are concerned about the Scottish National party Government’s approach to the police and justice system in Scotland, particularly in relation to the ongoing issue of police funding and the ability of the police to do the job that is important to them. Indeed, my colleague Liam Kerr MSP has brought forward legislation in the Scottish Parliament which would give police officers even further protection. The events to which I have just referred, which have happened to police officers on at least 100 occasions, demonstrate that it is appropriate to have additional measures in place. Conservative colleagues in the Scottish Parliament will continue to advocate for that, and to call the SNP Government to account on their approach to policing and justice in Scotland.
The order, however late in the day, is to be welcomed. It is important that, wherever people who have been asked to make such an order are in the United Kingdom, the orders can be effectively approached. I therefore hope that the House will take the view that the order should be passed.
I have one specific query that I want to raise with the Minister, which is in relation to the Department for Work and Pensions and its ability to deal with such things at this time or in the immediate future. As we know, and as the shadow Secretary said, there has been an increase in the existing claimant count, so that is an increasing workload, but it has also obviously prioritised within its workload. I hope the Minister, in his closing remarks, will confirm that the DWP will in due course have the capacity to deal with these orders. We all want to see a minimal amount of these orders, because the optimum situation would be—
Order. We gave you a bit of injury time to get the question out and I know the Minister heard it. Thank you very much for your contribution. I call Kenny MacAskill.
The right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) has pre-empted some of the comments that I was going to make. This legislation does go back to my time in office in a different Chamber—indeed, in a different lifetime. It has taken a considerable period of time for it to come through, and I do not know the reason for that. The right hon. Member was correct to say that the situation is likewise with the victim surcharge. However, I think we all know that in dealing with subordinate legislation—with very technical not only cross-border, but multi-departmental legislation—the devil is in the detail.
I have no doubt that Ministers, especially those involved in drafting the legislation, would have found it very complex, as they would have had to engage across multiple jurisdictions and agencies, including the Department for Work and Pensions, never mind the police authorities and everything else. But we are where we are, and it is to be welcomed. It is rather regrettable that this matter should have been slightly politicised by the right hon. Member, as it should be welcomed and perhaps even considered south of the border.
It may be appropriate for me to mention the genesis of this legislation. The Minister pointed out some of the dreadful treatment experienced by officers during this time of crisis. As others have said, that should not be a matter of routine. It can never be accepted that it is just part of the job. No one’s job—a prison officer, a police officer, somebody working in the health service, or someone working in any other public or private sector organisation—should mean that they routinely have to put up with abuse and violence. It is simply unacceptable.
That said, we are aware that the police are required to go to incidents and deal with people who can be threatening and violent, and on occasions they do suffer injuries. Ultimately, it has to be for the court to decide on the sentence to impose, and it is appropriate that it has as many options available to it as possible. It can deal with such behaviour with imprisonment, which will often be the case for very serious offences, but it can also issue a fine or compensation order.
There is one other area that comes to mind, and that is the ability for police officers to receive treatment. The real genesis of this legislation came from a visit to the police treatment centre that is supported and sustained by individual officers. I believe that almost every officer in Scotland contributes voluntarily from their income to the upholding of the centre. There is one in Auchterarder, of which many Scottish Members may be aware. I understand that there is also one south of the border in Harrogate. Police officers can go to these centres to get treatment: to get them fit and well, to try to get them back to work, and to get their life on as even a course as possible. As I said, the centre is paid for by police contributions, and the cost is not insignificant. I do not think that a huge amount of public funds—if any—are put into it, because it is run on a charitable basis.
The service at the centre is professional. There are treatments available that may be available in some towns or communities, but certainly not to the same level of expertise. Indeed, hearing about my visit to the centre would put the Minister in mind of a football team, because it has professional support staff such as osteopaths and other experts, and it has its own swimming pool. Officers come to the centre in Scotland not just from Scotland but from south of the border. It is sometimes easier for officers from south of the border to get taken there or to access it, depending on where they are based in the north of England.
In summary, that is why we are here. This measure is not meant to take away from the right of a court to impose a prison sentence, a fine or a compensation order, but it is an opportunity for the court to impose a restitution order that would see some benefit. It would not simply—I do not mean to be disparaging in any way—be a penalty fine that might go into the public coffers, but one which can tangibly be put to use for the police service, and that can go to the benefit of the individual officer and of those more widely, because it will be used, in the main, to support the police treatment centres north of the border for officers from Scotland or elsewhere.
As I said, although it has taken a long time, we welcome this measure. It should not be routine, but officers who are injured are entitled to receive the best possible service. They cannot and should not always have to do so by going to their own private physiotherapist or whatever; they should be able to obtain it as part of the service. They currently do so through their pay packet. This measure can provide some alleviation of that and further support for it. I simply ask the Minister to consider whether, as well as ensuring that we have the relevant restitution order, other support can come from Governments north and, indeed, south of the border to support not just the institution in Auchterarder but the one in Harrogate, Yorkshire.
It is delightful to take part in this debate on something that, as has already been alluded to, may not appear as important or groundbreaking as some of the legislation we discuss but is vital to the everyday lives of our constituents. Let me take the opportunity to welcome back to the Front Bench the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and associate myself with his remarks about Scottish football—although perhaps the less said about the most recent decisions, the better for us all.
It is also an honour to follow the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill), who, as he said, introduced the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament. I, together with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, welcome the opportunity to enable the Act to be fully enacted through this order. It was fascinating to hear the hon. Gentleman’s account of the genesis of the Bill, which is now coming to fruition no less than seven years after he introduced it at Holyrood.
None of us dispute that, currently, Police Scotland, in common with police and other emergency services up and down this country, is working in extremely challenging circumstances. It has to balance its daily responsibilities of maintaining order with its extended role of protecting the public in the context of the pandemic. Police Scotland deftly responds to its emergency powers and protects the public by ensuring that we observe lockdown and social distancing, but, as the Minister mentioned, that has come at a price, with no fewer than 100 direct coronavirus-related attacks on our police service.
Until recently, safe working was something which many of us were lucky enough to be able to take for granted. But the police service as a profession never can, and its daily routine is not without significant risk of abuse or assault. In fact, over the past five years in Scotland, while we have been coming to this point with the Bill, there has been a gradual but sustained increase in the number of reported assaults on police officers. More than 3,000 police officers were assaulted—that is an average of almost 20 a day— between March and September last year. To assault a police office is of course already a crime under Scots law, but, as we have heard, this legislation allows for restitution orders to finally be brought forward into law. For those convicted of impeding or assaulting a police officer, a court will be able to impose this new financial penalty. This significant step ensures that police officers who are victims of crime receive support for their individual needs so that they continue their duty serving and protecting the public. It is perhaps fitting that this week is Mental Health Awareness Week as many victims of crime—police officers and others—suffer mental health issues as a consequence.
Victims of crime engage with support services whose funding will come as a direct result of restitution orders, something whose day has finally arrived in Parliament. That perhaps brings me to a slight difference of opinion with colleagues I am following in this debate. Like many others, I am extremely disappointed that it has taken so long for this legislation to reach this point—the length of delay by the Scottish Government in what was a flagship policy for the SNP. It went through the parliamentary process as the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill in 2013 and was given Royal Assent in 2014.
Police restitution orders which require this change were a vital part of that legislation, and just in case there is any doubt, this delay has not been in any way, shape or form the fault of the UK Government or Parliament. It is, however, reassuring that we can, at this final stage of the Bill, work together to make sure that our police officers in Scotland receive the restitution they deserve. I hope that none of us will use this as a political opportunity either to bash or to congratulate the Scottish Government. It is simply a fact that we have now come—finally—to the point where restitution orders can be put in place. I will take great pleasure in supporting this order.
I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues welcome this legislation, which will finally allow police restitution orders to be brought forward in Scotland. As other Members have said, this is long overdue.
As other Members have explained, restitution orders will make a fine payable if somebody is convicted of abusing or assaulting a police officer. The fines will finance an expansion of the support that officers receive, by helping to finance specialist non-NHS support for injured police officers. Today’s debate relates to the fact that Westminster approval is required to permit such restitution orders to be claimed from benefits payable. This is unequivocally a positive step forward for police officers and adds to the victim surcharge, which was finally introduced last year.
It is a sad fact that many police officers are injured on duty, and assaults on police officers are often the cause of those injuries. Members will know that I come from a family of police officers; I, my father and my husband have all served, and I have other family members currently serving in Police Scotland. All of us were assaulted during our police careers. My husband was knocked unconscious during the policing of a football match. My father was head-butted by a prisoner in the police cells and required stitches.
My own most vivid memory is from early in my police career—within months of leaving initial training at the police college in Tulliallan in fact. It relates to attending a call about a report of a domestic dispute in a high-rise block of flats in Edinburgh. On arrival at the landing in question, my tutor and I could hear a loud argument and decided to call for additional officers to make their way to support us in case they were required. I am glad we did so. The door was answered by a man who, after telling us where to go, was then attacked by his girlfriend, but from behind with a knife. A toddler was visible at the back of the flat hallway. My colleague managed to baton the knife from the women’s grasp, and in anger both of them then turned on us, and a violent struggle ensued.
Luckily for us, colleagues came quickly, and both people were arrested. The man, in particular, struggled violently throughout the arrest and attempted to spit at all the officers, claiming that he was HIV-positive. It then transpired that he had been responsible for an assault and robbery nearby earlier that evening. Other than bruising, my colleague and I were unharmed, but it was a salutary lesson to me in being prepared for any eventuality and in being responsive to events.
Police officers, like other key workers during the current covid-19 pandemic, are leaving their homes and families every day to carry out vital work and without knowing what that day will bring them. Restitution orders are not simply about a financial penalty for those who assault officers in the course of their duties, but about showing police officers that the work they do for us on behalf of society is valued. Now more than ever, we are relying on the police, who are doing a very difficult job in strange times. They are enforcing new emergency laws and keeping us safe from coronavirus, alongside tackling other types of crime. Other crimes, such as domestic abuse, are now more difficult to prevent and detect, and the police are therefore working on more innovative ways to encourage reporting of offending.
I pay tribute to my former colleagues in the Police Service for doing so much to get us through this crisis. I welcome the positive impact that the restitution orders will have on support for police officers. However—I do not believe that this is politicising; it is asking legitimate questions—while the end result of restitution orders is indeed positive, I am incredibly disappointed that these measures are being introduced far later than was ever envisaged. It is a matter of regret that this order is being brought forward nearly seven years after it was initially announced by the Scottish Government. The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2013 and received Royal Assent in January 2014. The legislation was brought forward by the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice in Scotland, now the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill), who has already spoken in the debate. The measures were welcomed at the time by the Scottish Police Federation, yet for a very long time two of the flagship features of the Act were missing.
All that was needed was a minor statutory instrument to be passed in the UK Parliament—in other words, what we are debating today—but for whatever reason the Scottish Government have chosen not to bring plans forward to make these features operational until this time.
The victim surcharge was finally established last year and now, almost seven years on, restitution orders are being brought before this Parliament. This is a flagship policy of the Scottish Government, yet, despite legislating, police officers are still waiting for support. There is clearly an unanswered question about why this has taken such a huge amount of time. As I mentioned, this proposal won the backing of the Scottish Parliament in the days of the tenure of the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill) as the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice. At that time, Police Scotland, the amalgamation of the previous eight Scottish forces, was just a few months old. Sir Stephen House was the chief constable and Vic Emery chair of the SPA. Since then, we have had another two Justice Secretaries in Scotland, two more chief constables and three more SPA chairs.
Clearly, these have been challenging times, and I note the turmoil of the SPA in particular. When the most recent chair, Susan Deacon, resigned in 2019, she stated that governance and accountability arrangements for the police service in Scotland were fundamentally flawed. A permanent replacement for the role of chair has yet to be appointed. But that does not excuse the extraordinary length of this delay. Someone who was undertaking their initial training at the Scottish Police College when the then Justice Secretary was championing the scheme and heard the promises made will now be in the seventh year of their police service.
There are huge questions to be answered by the Scottish Government as to why this delay has occurred. Indeed, my Scottish Liberal Democrat colleagues at Holyrood have been asking this question consistently since the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 was passed. Each time they were assured that preparatory work was ongoing. It gives a sense of an idea, very laudable, but with no thought or plan on how best to implement it and no real impetus to prioritise it, despite the complexities that other Members have referred to. I hope that the passing of this legislation will be swiftly followed by the introduction of the scheme.
Where will the money raised by the orders go to exactly? At the time, the then Justice Secretary said the Police Benevolent Fund as well as the Scottish police treatment centre, Auchterarder, which has previously benefited members of my own family—yes, I did contribute to it myself financially—were going to benefit. Is that still the case? How much are restitution orders estimated to raise every year, so that we can establish potentially how much money the police support services have missed out on over the past six years?
As other Members have referred to, there were more than 1,600 assaults on police officers between April and June 2019, a five-year high. These orders might go some way to acting as a deterrent, so we have to ask: how many officers would have benefited from additional special support if restitution orders had been in place? There has been a human cost, sadly, to this delay, but this is about not just individual officers, but the public as well. How many officers have been forced to retire due to ill health as a consequence of an assault on duty? We are losing good people from the police service. How can we quantify the effect of this lack of prioritisation on police wellbeing and morale? These are questions that I wholly expect my Scottish Parliament colleagues to be pressing the Scottish Government on.
The significance of the support that the orders will provide to injured police officers has been overshadowed, sadly, by the seven-year wait for the scheme. I hope the Minister will agree that it is imperative that the Scottish Government now implement the restitution orders as quickly as possible. I thank all Members for their positive contributions and say that police officers cannot afford to wait any longer.
This has been a largely consensual debate, although I have to say that it is rather strange that I am not the most political speaker in debates on Scottish matters now. It seems that some of our colleagues when they were in the Scottish Parliament had a newfound zest for political points, as has the former Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell). Those points were rightly made across the board, from Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Members. I think the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill) also acknowledged that the pace of introducing this order has been far too slow. I agree with every speaker who has suggested that this should have been done far quicker, because members of our police force across Scotland should have been benefiting from this for years.
I want to pick up on a number of points that have been made. The hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), the shadow Scottish Secretary, briefly mentioned football. I thought long and hard about mentioning football, but I thought that this week of all weeks, with the sad demise of his club to the championship next season, it was perhaps not the right time to mention it. Clearly, that wound will be open for some time and we will bear that in mind as we go along with our proceedings throughout this Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman raised an important point on the affordability of these orders and any sanctions imposed. It is important to note that the court has discretion over whether to impose a deduction from benefits order and the amount imposed. Under section 253E of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service must take into consideration the means of the offender in determining the amount of any fine. In addition, the Department for Work and Pensions must take into consideration the ability to pay when deducting benefits, and this will apply to the restitution order. The offender can appeal against the imposition of the restitution order and the amount imposed, as well as appeal to the Department for Work and Pensions if they feel there is insufficient benefit for the payment deduction to be made. It was an important point, but I hope the clarification reassures the hon. Gentleman.
I now wish to deal with the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. It was clearly an important question, because it took him nine minutes and 40 seconds to get to it! However, I genuinely enjoyed his contribution. It was a well-thought-out and passionate speech in defence of our police officers across Scotland. He was right to commend the chief constable of Police Scotland, Iain Livingstone, for his approach and the guidance he is giving to officers the length and breadth of Scotland, who police by consent. I also thought it was important that my right hon. Friend considered in great detail the effects of this order across borders, because his constituency, like those of my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), is along the border between Scotland and England. As I said, the collection of the restitution order imposed on offenders who move from Scotland to England and Wales is covered in the order, which also provides for those who reside in England or Wales but commit an offence in Scotland and are tried in Scottish courts. That is important.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale also asked about the DWP’s capacity to deal with these restitution orders. I have raised this issue and been in discussions with the Department about it. There has been a steady increase in recovery applications, from 17,581 in 2010-11 to 24,362 in 2016-17, but the Department is content that it has the capacity to deal with any increase in work arising from this order.
The hon. Member for East Lothian brought his experience as the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the Scottish Parliament to this debate. He spoke of his visits to Auchterarder, which were doubtless made in that role. I have not visited the treatment centre at Auchterarder, but I have spoken to many people throughout Scotland who are unanimously in praise of the work that happens at Auchterarder—I am sure it happens at Harrogate, too. I know police officers who have tried to get professional and private help, who have had long-running injuries and who thought there was nowhere else to turn, but when they have gone to Auchterarder they have, almost by a miracle, received the treatment that has allowed them to get back to work, doing full duties, and has improved their private and personal lives. As well as highlighting the outstanding work of our police officers and staff across Scotland, we should also take the opportunity today to thank those who work at Auchterarder to get our police officers back on to the frontline on duty across Scotland. As is suggested by everyone I have spoken to and by the speech today from the hon. Gentleman, they clearly do excellent work and should be recognised for that.
I also wanted to pick up on one other point the hon. Gentleman raised. He was right to say that no one in the police or any of our emergency services, or indeed in any job in public or private life, should expect that part of their job is to put up, in whatever way, with abuse or violence. I do not always agree with him, but we can all agree that no one in society, including police officers, should have to put up with that type of abuse in their working life.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) spoke about us working together, and it is right that across parties and across this House we are working on this issue to get this order through to ensure that the restitution orders are in place as quickly as possible now. She was also right to talk about the length of time it has taken to get to this stage, which others have also mentioned. The Scottish Government have stated that the initial work to set up the victims’ surcharge model proved more complex than was initially anticipated and this had a knock-on effect on the impact and implementation of the restitution orders, but that should not have meant it has taken seven years, since the legislation was first passed, to get to this stage.
That means there have been a lot of missed opportunities for police officers and staff across Scotland, which is extremely unfortunate. I do not want to dwell too much on the past, though, and we now look at the positives of getting this legislation through, but it was a point well made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West while outlining her support for the order.
Finally, we heard an excellent speech from the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), who comes from a family of police officers. Having one police officer and one politician in our family, I cannot be sure whether our young son Alistair is going to follow his mother or father, but given that my wife continually buys him toys that resemble police cars and make noises, I know which direction she is pointing him in.
The hon. Lady was right to highlight her family’s involvement in the police and, sadly, how each and every member of her family has suffered assault or abuse in their duties as police officers. Whether it was her husband being knocked unconscious at football, or in her own case attending the scene at someone’s house, she put into sharp focus what this debate and the order is all about.
I wish to highlight the example the hon. Lady gave about her father, who she said suffered an assault in police cells. It is important that she put that on record because, as I said in my opening remarks, the order is imposed on offenders who assault police officers or certain other prescribed persons—and such a prescribed person could be someone working in police custody. They are not police officers, but the civilian staff in police custody also unfortunately suffer the abuse and assaults that we are discussing today, and they are also covered by the order. It is important that we discuss their involvement in respect of the order and policing in Scotland.
The hon. Lady asked about the potential number of applications for restitution orders. It is obviously difficult to put a precise figure on it, but the Scottish Government estimate that there will be in the region of 250 to 500 restitution orders a year, with an average value of around £350, giving a total somewhere between £87,500 and £175,000. Those are clearly rough figures based on the advice and best estimate of the Scottish Government, but I think the hon. Lady was right to seek that figure to show how much money could have gone towards supporting our police officers and staff across Scotland had restitution orders been available earlier.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. It has been a largely consensual debate of a type we do not often see on the Floor of the House of Commons; as others have stated, such proceedings would normally be held in a Committee Room. Although public and available online, such proceedings do not get the attention that proceedings in this place get. It is right that our police officers and staff the length and breadth of Scotland can see their Parliament uniting in a common goal to support them in the terrible circumstances where they face assault or abuse at work. We have heard an unequivocally clear message from both sides of the House and from all parties representing Scotland that we are behind our officers and behind our police staff. We thank them for everything they do, not only in these challenging times to deal with covid-19, but at all times, because they are on the frontline protecting us. With this order, we can help to protect them. I therefore commend the draft order to the House.
I announced to the House earlier this afternoon Mr Speaker’s provisional determination that a remote division would not take place on the question now before the House. That is also the final determination.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Modification) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 25 March, be approved.
I will now suspend the House for a technical break of 15 minutes. The House will resume at 3.48 pm.
We now come to the motion on ways and means. Mr Speaker has not selected any amendments and his provisional determination remains that a remote Division will not take place on the main motion. I call the Minister, Jesse Norman, to move the motion. He is asked to speak for no more than 10 minutes.
Finance Bill (Ways and Means)
I beg to move,
That (notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the practice of the House relating to the matters that may be included in Finance Bills) provision taking effect in a future year may be made amending Chapters 8 and 10 of Part 2 of the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003.
This ways and means motion enables the Government to amend the current Finance Bill in order to implement reforms to the existing off-payroll working rules. We are presenting it separately because we wanted to extend the date at which it comes into force by one year to April 2021 in recognition of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The off-payroll working rules have been in place for 20 years. They are designed to ensure that people working like employees but through their own companies pay broadly the same income tax and national insurance contributions as people who are directly employed.
In April 2017, the Government reformed the way in which the rules operate in the public sector by transferring the responsibility for determining whether the rules apply from individual contractors to the public bodies that engage them. Unfortunately, in the private sector, non-compliance with these rules remains widespread, and it is forecast to cost the Exchequer over £1.3 billion a year by 2023-24 if not addressed. This is not a sustainable position. It costs the taxpayer a great deal of revenue that is needed for our public services, it perpetuates an unfairness between individuals working in the same way but paying different levels of tax, and it prolongs the disparity with the public sector, where the rules have been in place now for three years.
At Budget 2018, the Government announced that the reform would be extended to medium and large-sized organisations in the private and voluntary sectors, but it would not apply to engagements with the 1.5 million smallest businesses. It is important to be clear that this is not a new tax. The off-payroll working rules have been on the statute book since 2000. This reform is focused on improving on improving compliance with the rules that are already in place.
Let me turn to the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) the hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden. I understand that it will not be moved today, but it is important to be clear about the Government’s position on it. To help businesses and individuals deal with the economic impacts of the coronavirus, on 17 March the Government announced that the reform to the off-payroll working rules would be delayed by one year from 6 April 2020 until 6 April 2021. The amendment would delay the introduction of reform by a further two years to April 2023, but it is hard to see any genuine rationale for this further delay.
The current measure was first introduced at Budget 2018. Since then, the Government have carried out two consultations on the detail of the reform. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has worked extensively to support businesses in preparing for the change. Draft legislation and guidance has been published. There was a further review earlier this year that resulted in several additional improvements. By delaying until 2021, the Government have already ensured that businesses and contractors will not need to make final preparations for this reform until next year. There is therefore no need for further delay. Moreover, such a delay would have very significant drawbacks. It would not address the intrinsic unfairness of taxing two people differently for the same work, it would extend the disparity between the private and public sectors, and it would come at a significant fiscal cost that other taxpayers up and down the country would have to make up.
I turn now to the substance of the measure. I want to address a number of further concerns that have been pressed by colleagues, including, in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell), for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) and for Watford (Dean Russell). The first of these is that organisations will no longer engage with personal service companies as a result of this reform, reducing the number of contracts available in the labour market. It is important to recognise that the Government are fully aware of the importance of the flexibility for individuals and businesses to agree working arrangements that suit their needs. We know that that has been one of the pillars of the success of the UK labour market in recent years.
In 2017, soon after the implementation of the public sector off-payroll working reform, the Government commissioned independent research to assess its effect on the labour market. It found that the Government and independent researchers had not seen any evidence of an overall change in the demand for the services and skills of contractors.
Some organisations have clearly decided to change the balance of their employees and their contractors. That can be for many reasons—for example, where that better suits the evolving business model of that organisation—but many organisations will still choose to engage contractors using personal service companies where that is appropriate to their business.
Nevertheless, the Government remain keen to ensure the long-term flexibility and success of the labour market. We will therefore use the additional time given by this one-year delay to commission further independent and robust research into the long-term effects of the 2017 reform on the public sector. We want that research to be available before the reform comes into effect in other sectors in April 2021, and I can tell the House that the Government will give careful consideration to the results of that further research and thereafter will continue to monitor the effect of the reform on the labour markets of those sectors, including by commissioning independent research six months after this private and voluntary sector reform has taken effect.
Secondly, colleagues have concerns that organisations might take a blanket approach to status determinations, categorising all engagements as employment, regardless of the facts. The Government have been very clear that determinations must be based on an individual’s contractual terms and actual working arrangements. Many businesses and public sector organisations have described processes that they have put in place to ensure that determinations are correct, based on the actual working practices of the individuals concerned. There is a vigorous contractor lobby, which has also shown itself willing and able to highlight cases where it feels that the rules are not being followed. The reforms themselves include a client-led status disagreement process, where contractors can lodge a complaint if they disagree with how they have been categorised.
Thirdly, HMRC is continuing to help businesses to get their employment status determinations right by ensuring that they have access to a wide programme of education and support. The independent research that we are announcing post-implementation next year will also evaluate from an external perspective whether decisions are being made properly.
Finally, HMRC has committed to a light-touch approach to penalties in the first year of the reform and has stated in terms that the reform will not result in new compliance checks being opened into previous tax years unless there is reason to suppose or suspect fraud or criminal behaviour, and the same is true for penalties for inaccuracies.
The Government very much value the important role that contractors play in the labour market and want businesses to be able to design their workforces in a way that makes sense for them. That should not mean, however, that contractors pay less tax than employees where their engagement meets the test of an employment relationship. The legislation is designed to remedy that unfairness and to support the tax base needed to fund our public services, and I commend it to the House.
I now call Dan Carden, shadow Minister, who is asked to speak for no more than five minutes.
I am delighted to contribute to this debate as shadow Financial Secretary. May I start by acknowledging the significant interest and the strong feelings of people across the country on this issue? We are considering a technical change to our tax system, reforming compliance on IR35 rules for the private sector, but for many people watching us, there is genuine concern that this technical change—this attempt to strengthen the system against tax avoidance—may affect their incomes and their livelihoods. I and the Labour party approach this matter with the seriousness and the consideration that it merits.
The ambition of IR35 rules and the associated difficulties have been a long-running saga over three decades, and it is a near impossible task to do the issue justice in the five minutes I have to contribute today.
Provisions were introduced by the last Labour Government in 2000 for HMRC to investigate and identify the relationship between businesses and contractors and to ensure that, where individuals actually perform the role of employees, they were contracted as such, to pay the correct tax and benefit from the correct employment protections, two issues that remain at the heart of the difficulty around IR35.
The nature of today’s economy, with the weakening of workers’ rights and employment protections and with zero-hours contracts, demands a radical overhaul. We need a progressive tax system, and we need to rebalance the relationship between those at the top and those at the bottom. In the meantime, what we have are piecemeal attempts to stop some, perhaps the more blatant, tax avoidance arrangements utilised by some companies. The challenge for tax authorities and for us is to understand, and differentiate between, fair and correct contractual relationships for the genuinely self-employed who are providing a crucial service to business and those who are all too often forced into bogus self-employment by unscrupulous employers, a practice that has become all too common and is designed to cheat the tax system and to deprive working people of their rights and even their entitlement to a minimum wage and fair pay. HMRC estimates such bogus self-employment schemes cost around £3 billion a year in lost tax revenue, and the February 2020 Treasury review put the cost of non-compliance with IR35 at £1.3 billion a year by 2023-24.
Having taken effect in the public sector in April 2017, these measures were initially meant to be rolled out to the private sector last month, but that is being delayed by a year due to the current pandemic, and the Labour party broadly supports the decision to delay. We have raised concerns about the implementation of this reform and have called for a proper and thorough review before the roll-out to the private sector, and, as the Financial Secretary recognised, the additional time now available gives him an opportunity to get to grips with these concerns, but we do need reform.
The Labour party is committed to modernising the law around employment status, including new statutory definitions of employment status, and the Government’s own Taylor review was right to conclude that the nature of the tax system acts as an incentive for practices such as bogus claiming of self-employed status, both by businesses and individuals. It called on the Government to make the taxation of labour more consistent across employment forms while at the same time improving the rights and entitlements of self-employed people. I would also add—as we consider these changes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that has forced 2 million people on to universal credit and millions to rely on the Government’s furlough scheme, unsure of their future—that we need a social security system fit for the modern era that can protect all of our people in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet.
I would just like to finish with a few points that I hope the Financial Secretary can respond to when he winds up. Can he explain how reforms will only affect people working like employees through a company, and does he agree that there can be no space in our economy for zero rights employment? Will he respond to concerns most recently set out by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Finance Bill Sub-Committee that lessons have not been learned from the roll-out to the public sector, and will he look again at serious problems highlighted with the “check employment status for tax” online tool?
We need a joined-up approach in the consideration of tax regulations and employment law. We need better protections for the self-employed, and we need to tackle tax avoidance, and the Labour party will work constructively to achieve that end.
I now call David Davis, who is asked to speak for no more than four minutes.
In the light of the impact that coronavirus is having across all sectors of the economy, the Government have rightly committed, in the motion, to postponing the planned reforms to IR35, but only until next April. The effects of the pandemic are going to be felt for considerably longer than one year. On this basis, in April next year self-employed contractors will be hit with unnecessary costs, confusion and uncertainty, just as many of them are getting back on their feet after the coronavirus has wreaked havoc across the economy. It is the self-employed and small businesses that make up the beating heart of our economy, and they will power the recovery of our economy out of this crisis.
The IR35 rules, as the Minister said, have long applied to the public sector. This is about applying them across the private sector. In that light, they were studied by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee in a report referred to by the shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury. The report stated that the rules
“have never worked satisfactorily, throughout the whole of their 20-year history. We therefore conclude that this framework is flawed.”
The report found a system riddled with unfairness and unintended consequences and called for a wide-scale independent review—not just a few research reports, Financial Secretary—focused on how the reforms would affect the wider labour market and the costs that would be forced on businesses. The Lords Committee said that IR35 had the effect of reducing contractors to
“an undesirable ‘halfway house’: they do not enjoy the rights that come with employment, yet they are considerably employees for tax purposes. In short, they are ‘zero-rights employees’”.
That is, zero-rights employees effectively created by the state.
The Lords recommended that the Government adopt the Taylor review proposals, which we as a Government promised to do years ago, as they offer the best long-term alternative solution to the off-payroll rules and provide an opportunity to consider tax, rights and risk together, as they should be. Despite what the Financial Secretary said, however, the Treasury has neither the time nor the capacity for a wholesale review right now. Therefore, the only sensible course of action is to pause these reforms and take the time to properly review the impact they will have on the self-employed. So, I will vote for this motion today, if we have the opportunity, but only in the expectation that will be back here in nine months’ time to do all this again.